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Doors of Dawson’s historic home open to another realm

Jude Griebel doesn’t have to lay eyes on a ghost to believe they exist.As the current resident of Macaulay House, the Vancouver-based artist…

Jude Griebel doesn’t have to lay eyes on a ghost to believe they exist.

As the current resident of Macaulay House, the Vancouver-based artist may have been living among spirits for the past month.

“I haven’t actually seen anything, but I’ve felt things,” he said in an interview from the historic Dawson City house.

Over the years, Macaulay House, which sits on the corner of Princess and Seventh, has seen creative minds from all over the world. They have come to Dawson for the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture’s artist-in-residence program.

It’s also been the site of many unexplained occurrences.

Several former artists-in-residence report having seen ghostly figures in the house.

And over the past 18 months Griebel has been collecting their stories to use in his own artwork.

One woman told Griebel she spent a terrified night face-to-face with the spirit of a child.

She was roused from a sound sleep by what appeared to be a young girl who came into the bedroom and began moving towards her.

The girl was trying to speak, but no words came from her mouth.

Many of the stories Griebel has heard are remarkably similar.

But the artists who tell them have come from all over the world, and many have never met each other.

Halfway up the home’s creaky, L-shaped staircase there’s a landing that many people have reported having trouble crossing, said Griebel.

They sense something there. The hair on their arms and neck stand up. And they feel physically sick.

One artist described it as “trying to pass through a dark forest,” said Griebel.

Several of the residents have also had “problems” with a mysterious closet in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

On the inside door of the closet hangs an old mirror whose glass has been smoked with time.

“A lot of people have seen a figure pass by the mirror, but only in the mirror’s reflection not in front of it,” he said.

Griebel’s ghost stories have also come from locals and elders in the community, who are split on whether the house is haunted or not.

“A lot of the older people who knew the families that have lived here say they don’t believe in ghosts,” said Griebel.

“But a lot of the younger people tell me that they’ve heard rumours that it is a haunted house.

“The issue here is really black and white – either you believe or you don’t believe.”

Griebel is not out to confirm or discredit the supernatural stories. His goal is to simply record them. And use them as fodder for a series of paintings.

“The project isn’t meant to prove whether ghosts exist or not,” he said. “It’s basically cataloging and interpreting the rich mythology of stories that have been built around the house.”

As second-generation Canadian, Griebel grew up in a world where ghosts were commonplace.

His grandfather came to Canada from Germany, with his own phantom lore.

“Because the houses are so much older in Europe, it was a pretty natural thing,” said Griebel.

For him, dying and being dead is just a part of life. It’s as natural as being born.

“I’m comfortable with the idea of there being old houses and families that have been born and lived and died in them,” he said.

 “Being in Dawson City, you’re very aware of all the history that has happened around you.

“And I believe that history can stain a place.”

As part of his research, Griebel has been poring over Dawson’s death records trying to piece together the stories of the spirits who may be haunting the house.

But the records up to 1950 are spotty, and the ones he has uncovered show a history of violence.

“A large number of the deaths, at least in the early history of Dawson, were suicides and murders,” he said.

“It was part of the desperation, I think, of people coming here with hopes of being rich and then losing everything.”

Like the town, Macaulay House has its own rich history that Griebel has uncovered through months of research.

Owned by Henry Macaulay, a merchant who became the first mayor of Dawson City in 1898, the home was built in Victoria, BC, and shipped to Dawson in 1901.

It has a transient history, changing hands numerous times over the years, said Griebel.

The Yukon Gold Corporation used it as office space.

The Yukon government used it as a home for troubled youth.

Now it is maintained by Parks Canada as part of the Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site of Canada.

Griebel, who has been working in the house since the beginning of September, found out about the residency through former Yukon Arts Centre gallery curator Scott Marsden.

The pair were having a drink in a Vancouver bar and swapping stories of the supernatural when Marsden began talking about all the former artists who have had ghostly encounters at the Dawson City house.

“The idea of ghosts really interested me,” said Griebel.

It’s a natural progression from the work he’s done in the past — large-format paintings depicting childhood memories of lost and lonely youth.

“A lot of my work has to do with the interplay between real and imagined space and people disappearing or leaving those spaces,” he said.

Griebel plans to take the history of Macaulay House, the ghost stories and the paintings he has made in response to the stories, and combine them in a book that will be published through the Canada Council for the Arts in December.

This weekend he will mount a public exhibition in the house, dubbed Footsteps in Macaulay House.

“It’s a chance for the community to come into the house and see the space,” said Griebel.

“I’m hoping that people will come in and give me feedback and tell me their stories about it.”

Though Griebel has spent the past year knocking on the door to another realm, it’s not something that gives the experienced artist the willies.

“It doesn’t really scare me,” he said. “It gives me hope that there is something else out there after