“The Haunted Chamber”

Door Hinges
Door Hinges
Key and Lock
Key and Lock

http://museums.alaska.gov/asm/asmhome.html

These large, beautiful door hinges were in a glass case surrounded by artifacts from the time of Russian governance over Alaska, along with a beautiful old key and lock. The wood to which the hinges are attached says that they are from the “Haunted Chamber of the Baranov Castle in Sitka, Alaska 1889.” The hinges were given to the museum by M.C.A Farenholt in memory of his father, Rear Admiral O.W Farenholt. I found this intriguing; is there a Russian Castle in Sitka? Who was Rear Admiral O.W. Farenholt? What is the story behind the haunting?

Castle Hill, in Sitka, Alaska, was originally the site of a Tlingit village, but Russian Governor Baranov took the site by force in 1804-1806 and set up a headquarter for the Russian Governance. In 1836 a brick building was erected, and the Russian Governor lived in the building until it was handed over to the Americans in 1867. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1891, but the site remains a local attraction and National Historic Site.

Rear Admiral O.W. Farenholt was born in 1845 to German immigrants in Texas and passed away in California, 1920. He was a Navy officer who served in the Civil War and Spanish Amercian War, rising through the ranks and serving all over the world. In 1884 he was stationed on the USSPinta in Southern Alaska, protecting America’s interest in the seal and fur industry.

The “Haunted Chamber” was a local legend that seemed to spread in various form in the mid 19th century, but it was published as a poem, “The Legend of Baranoff Castle” by Henry E Hayden in 1891. The back of the door hinges’ plaque includes two lines from the published poem.  The legend refers to a Russian princess, name unknown, who fell in love with an American. Her father disapproved of the relationship and forced his daughter to marry a Russian of the father’s choosing. The princess was separated from her American lover and isolated in the castle until she was wed. The night after she was married, she saw her American lover’s ship returning to the Sitka harbor; she jumped out the window and fell to her death. Her ghost roamed the castle in a dark colored dress until her chamber door was locked, locking her in the room forever. The door remained locked until the castle burnt to the ground. However, the door hinges, the lock, and the key remain.

I had a lot of fun looking up the ghost story and comparing variations. The Alaska State Museum is great; I spent the entire morning browsing exhibits, and I did not make it through everything. The staff in the archival department was also very helpful with my more serious research project. What a fun day!

 

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