Done in a Day: Haunted Hikes
Upgrade your campfire tales with these spooky day trips.
Lake Crescent OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, WA
Maybe they were intrigued by a dark mass bobbing in the water near Sledgehammer Point. Or maybe it was a small, white flash at the surface that caught their attention. Or perhaps they simply cast a line for steelhead and were surprised to discover a 5-foot-long bundle on the other end. But for some reason on a day in July 1940, the two trout fi shermen reeled in a nearly perfectly preserved corpse. Lake Crescent had surrendered one of its secrets.
Lake Crescent is nestled in a glacial valley south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. Four-thousand-foot peaks rise on either side, as if to guard it—and maybe they are. The native Klallam and Quileute people tell a story of a once-beautiful region that was marred by war. Mt. Storm King, which soars over the lake’s southern banks, grew angry at the tumult and threw a chunk of rock from its peak into the river valley where the tribes were fi ghting. The boulder killed every one of the battling tribespeople and dammed the water, creating an undisturbed, crescent-shaped lake.
There’s some historical truth to the legend. Geological surveys indicate that a massive landslide decimated the area 8,000 years ago, effectively separating Lake Crescent and Lake Sutherland. One result of the partition is the former’s crystalline water. Without major inflows, Lake Crescent lacks the usual amounts of plant nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, preventing algae growth.
It’s no wonder a floating body looked so out of place in the clear water.
The two fi shermen, brothers, reeled in the corpse. It was wrapped in a gray, striped blanket and bound with rope, but tears revealed a shoulder and a foot, both so pallid the body looked less a woman than a mannequin.
“It’s like a statue,” Sheriff Charles Kemp later concluded after the coroner’s examination. “The flesh has turned to some rubber-like substance.” There was no odor, nor any sign of decomposition. Something about Lake Crescent’s unique makeup had not only preserved the body—including a ring of still-purple bruises circling the girl’s neck— but had also actuated a chemical process called saponification, essentially converting the tissue into soap. What remained was the body of a woman in her mid-30s, around 5 feet, 6 inches tall, obviously strangled, and, to an extent, easily identifi able: Hallie Illingworth, missing for three years.
But Illingworth was only one of Lake Crescent’s victims. In 1956, an ambulance careened off US 101 at Meldrim Point, plunging into Lake Crescent, killing one. In