By Zach Hagadone
It was a dark and not-so-stormy night about 10 years ago when Jon Arnhold awoke in the wee hours, sure that he was dying. He and his wife, Patty — then Washington residents — were in Sandpoint visiting friends to celebrate the Fourth of July at their 100-year-old farmhouse on Baldy. Arnhold had been suffering from a nasty cold and went to bed around 9:30 p.m. in an upstairs bedroom. At about 3:30 a.m. he jolted awake, choking on a combination of sinus drainage and chest phlegm.
After a few moments of frantic hacking and backslapping, he was able to breathe, took another sinus pill and somehow managed to get back to bed. At 5:30 a.m., his wife went downstairs to make some coffee, leaving Arnhold alone in the room where, only hours before, “I literally thought I was going to die,” he said.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, with the dog on the floor next to him, Arnhold said he suddenly heard “what sounded like a large maple leaf that the wind is blowing across the pavement — a skittering.”
“I look down and the dog is on alert, tail up, ears up, and it’s looking at the closet,” he said. “Here out of that closet came this form; it was about three-foot tall, it’s body consisted of what I think of as volcanic ash … that roiling, uncoagulated volcanic ash. It had little white arms and little white feet and it was running from the closet to the bathroom. It took about half a second to get clear past the doorway. I looked at that and my rational, reasonable mind did not believe what I was seeing.”
The image stuck with him, and Arnhold — then a college counselor in Auburn, Wash. — shared his experience with a few colleagues.
“That was basically when I transitioned from not being a believer in ghosts to being a believer in ghosts,” he said. “It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”
Some disbelieved him outright, attributing the apparition to an illness-induced hallucination. Others, however, were eager to share their own paranormal encounters — so many others, in fact, that Arnhold and a like-minded co-worker put together a continuing education college class focused on stories of the supernatural. The powers-that-be were less than receptive.
“They said, ‘We don’t do that woo-woo stuff here; that kind of pissed me off,” he said.
Arnhold retired and relocated to Sandpoint with his wife about three years ago, and occasionally returned to the idea of some kind of story-telling event themed around ghostly encounters. He found a willing partner in the Pend d’Oreille Winery, which is hosting the first-ever Sip & Spook on Thursday, Oct. 17 from 5-7:30 p.m.
Formatted like an open mic, those wishing to share their stories will sign up for a slot of no more than five minutes. Others are invited simply to cozy up with a beverage and listen to the mysterious tales.
Arnhold is hoping for a robust turnout. On a recent Pend d’Oreille Winery lake cruise, he polled a group of about 15 people on whether they’d ever had a paranormal or ghost experience. About seven raised their hand, suggesting that the potential number of participants is larger than might be expected.
“If we’ve had these experiences, how many others have had these experiences?” Arnhold said.
“People who’ve had the experience want to be validated for the experience,” he added. “I just think that people who have stories like this want to be in communion with others who’ve had a similar experience.”
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