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Ghost and Alaska politics collide in new novel

Posted: Thursday, August 05, 2010

Start with an old ghost story, add a dose of politics, subtract almost all semblance of ethics and what do you get? The answer lies in the plot of "The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm, a Murder Mystery," by Jonathan Faulkner of Homer.

Much of the book is fictionalized, a creation of Faulkner's imagination. However, it is inspired by actual events set in real-life locations, such as the historic Van Gilder Hotel, a site familiar to Faulkner, one of the hotel's owners.

Built in Seward in 1916, the hotel serves as the story's backdrop. Equally important is Fannie, who was murdered in the Van Gilder in 1950 and whose spirit is believed by many to still inhabit the hotel. One suite is even named in her honor.

During the hotel's lifetime, it has offered temporary lodging to such notables as U.S. President Warren G. Harding during the first presidential tour of the territory of Alaska. But it is the presence of Fannie the ghost, rather than any of the hotel's colorful guests, that Faulkner chooses to weave in and out of the book's 296 pages.

"It's my first book and the subject matter is kind of compelling because, number one, the ghost is real to a lot of people and, number two, it's an actual murder that took place. So, it has that historic flavor to it," said Faulkner.

Lest readers doubt the hotel's claim to its resident ghost -- even Faulkner shies away from saying he's witnessed Fannie's presence -- there are those who swear she is there. Such claims have led to the hotel being the subject of at least one Halloween television special, the most recent offering an on-camera interview with a hotel guest willing to share his experience.

"He sent a formal letter that recounted his encounter with the ghost of Fannie," said Faulkner. "I didn't think much of it at the time. You hear a lot of that so I just kind of blew it off, but he took the time to write it down."

When KTUU-TV Channel 2 in Anchorage asked Faulkner about doing a haunted house special, he put the station in touch with the letter writer, Carl Hild, an Alaska Pacific University professor.

The letter is included in the book, with only Hild's name changed by Faulkner. In it, the professor details being awakened around midnight by the presence of a woman who seemed tired and appeared to move "through" furniture and the door. The following morning, the professor was unnerved when the hotel management shared with him another person's encounter with the ghostly presence. He ends his letter by conculding the room did indeed house the ghost of Ms. Guthry-Baehm.

But that is only part of Faulkner's story. The rest lies in his version of Alaska's political scandals, complete with arrests, trials and sentencings that have made the front pages of newspapers across the nation. Characters and events have been fictionalized to create a plot of corruption that leads to a second murder in the Van Gilder. Anyone vaguely familiar with the less-than-stellar aspects of the state's political history will recognize Faulkner has created a puzzle with snuggly interlocking pieces.

"It's a work of passion," he said. "The Alaskan intrigue is largely based on actual events, so it was kind of interesting in the sense that the ghost story revolves around actual history. That was my history side coming out. It was fairly fun to write."

In addition to being available at the Van Gilder Hotel, copies of "The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm, a Murder Mystery" also can be found in Homer at Land's End Resort and the Homer Bookstore.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.



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