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3 Ghost Stories from Washington’s outdoors

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Oct. 30, 2008 at 12:02 am with No Comments »
October 30, 2008 12:02 am


Had we remembered what the woman in white told us 24 years ago, we would have known precisely when Mount St. Helens was going to ooze lava in 2004.

“You are right,” said ghost expert Barbara Smith, her voice wavering momentarily as if she was chilled by the idea (or the snow she was watching fall outside her Edmonton, Alberta, home). “However, people had long since written that story off as an urban legend.”

But urban legends have to start somewhere. And, yes, there are even urban legends about the Great Outdoors.

“Most of the time they start with a real encounter,” said Smith, author of ” Ghost Stories of Washington” and 21 other books about apparitions. “Then the stories get better and better as the story gets retold.”

Maybe that’s what happened with the woman in white.

For nearly five months after Mount St. Helens blew its top on the morning of May 18, 1980, stories of a spooky female hitchhiker started to make the rounds.

So many people said they saw the woman that the stories were retold in mainstream media reports. Police in Southwestern Washington towns were even notified that drivers might report seeing the woman, Smith said.

Driving at night on Interstate 5 and local highways, many drivers were stunned as their headlights revealed a woman in a white dress walking on the shoulder and signaling she needed a ride.

When cars stopped, she crawled into the back seat and sat quietly as they continued on their way. But eventually, the woman would talk about Mount St. Helens.

The volcano’s dynamic display that spring was a common conversational icebreaker at the time, so drivers certainly weren’t surprised by the woman’s choice of topics.

But what happened next certainly sent chills down their spines.

The woman in white would lean forward and say something like, “You know it’s going to erupt again.”

When the driver glanced at the woman in the rear view mirror, she was gone.

Similar stories circulated in the area, getting more and more specific each time until, in some of her final appearances, she told drivers, “The volcano is going to erupt again between Oct. 12 and 14.”

As the date approached, the sightings became more rare until they stopped altogether. When Oct. 12, 1980, came and went, people started kicking themselves and laughing at each other for giving validity to such a tale.

Some people, Smith said, wrote off the ghostly prediction as a morality tale, a reminder to always respect the power of Mother Nature.

“It would have been natural to assume she meant Oct. 12, 1980,” Smith said. “But years don’t matter to ghosts.”

When Mount St. Helens awoke in late September 2004, the story of the woman in white had almost entirely vanished from local lore. As St. Helens spewed ash and steam, scientists theorized that the main event would be molten lava punching through to the surface.

They were right. After weeks of anticipation, scientists recorded lava finally pushing through the crater floor – on Oct. 12.

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