A lovely historic home on Helena’s lower West Side has generated numerous credible reports of paranormal activity. Built in the late 1870s, it was the longtime home of Christmas Gift Evans, a pioneer businessman. Born on Christmas Day, his parents considered him a gift and named him accordingly.
“Chris” Evans acquired the stunning French Second Empire style residence when he and his business partner traded homes in 1883. After his first wife died in 1894, Evans remarried and the couple had two children. Then in 1915, circulatory problems necessitated the amputation of Evans’ leg. The surgery took place in the home as was sometimes customary. Evans died later that night. He lies beneath a fine marble monument at Forestvale Cemetery, minus the leg he lost shortly before his death.
Evans’ widow and his daughter lived in the home until their deaths in 1940 and 197. Evans, both his wives, and his daughter all died in the house. Although Chris Evans might have the most pressing reason to come back for something he lost, his may not be the home’s only ghostly energy.
New owners purchased the house in 1979. They carefully rehabilitated and modernized the home and did extensive research to list it in the National Register of Historic Places. While the owners wintered in Arizona, Mike and Dee Ann Cooney rented the house from November 1986 to April 1987. The Cooneys thoroughly enjoyed the historic home. During that time, Dee Ann had two remarkable experiences.
The first occurred late one evening. Mike and their son Ryan, then a toddler, were already in bed upstairs. The house was still and dark. Dee Ann sat in the living room in a small circle of lamplight, reading. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught light or movement on the dark stairway. An odd object about the size of a basketball — kind of misty, whitish, and glowing — was moving slowly up the stairs. Dee Ann felt nothing extraordinary. The ball slowly ascended the stairs until it was out of sight. It was such a weird experience that she didn’t even react and didn’t think to follow it. She almost thought she was hallucinating
Then it happened again. Dee Ann was reading in a small room off the kitchen and the house was very still. She saw the three-dimensional ball of light hovering on the wall. As before, it moved very slowly. This time, though, it seemed to take longer and she stared at it for quite a while as it crept up the wall. She was more startled than before and remembers thinking how the ball looked exactly like the one from her previous experience. Finally it moved through the ceiling and disappeared. As before, Dee Ann was not afraid and didn’t think to follow it upstairs.
The house went on the market in 1990. It was vacant more than occupied as stories about it circulated. In 1992, Denise King was house hunting and asked to see it. The realtor handed her the key saying that she would wait in the car. Denise wandered through the downstairs, noticing the antiques, especially the dining room breakfront. As she moved to the back of the house, she heard a cupboard door open and close in the breakfront. She thought the realtor had changed her mind and come in, but returning to dining room, she found no one. She started up the stairs, but stopped halfway up, thinking she didn’t want to be there. She let herself out and found the realtor waiting in the car. Denise thought about the cupboard and asked, “Did you change your mind and come in?”
“No way,” said the realtor. “I won’t go in that house. It’s haunted.”
A Great Falls legislator rented a room in the house for the 1995 session. The owner was never there and it seemed ideal. He lasted three nights. Horrible banging from the cellar terrified him. For three nights the banging kept him in a cold sweat, unable to sleep. Lights turned off that he had deliberately left on, and twice he came home to the radio blaring upstairs. Exhausted, he packed his things. Could the banging have been the spirit of Christmas Gift Evans, showing frustration over the loss of his leg, and wondering where it was?
A few years later another family had quite a different experience. The late Darlene Raundal called me in early 2004 to look at some photos. Her son, Garth, was a single parent renting the Evans House. She invited me over. The house was truly stunning with high ceilings, tall narrow windows and original furniture. Darlene ushered me into the dining room where some thirty family members had recently gathered for Christmas dinner. They had taken many pictures, and Darlene spread them out.
“What do you see here?” she asked, pointing to a few shots that included the breakfront behind the seated guests. I could see the reflection of a stern-looking man with a distinctive goatee in the beveled glass of the cabinet doors — the same ones that Denise King thought she heard open and close. There was no one at the table who looked like that.
Darlene pulled an envelope from the breakfront. “I found the National Register nomination for the house in here,” she said as she extracted a photograph, “And this is Christmas Gift Evans.” The image was identical to the reflection. Furthermore, it had appeared on Chris Evans’ birthday. Was this a coincidence?
Garth came in and we chatted briefly. I asked if his two kids — a six-year-old son and high school-age daughter — were afraid at night. He said that his son was fearful at first, but now loved the house. And thinking of the legislator, I asked him if noises kept him awake. “Oh,” he said. “No. I sleep with earplugs.”
Years passed. In October 2012, I started my tenth season of Haunted Helena tours on the Last Chance Tour Train trolley. Sonia was a new driver. As I talked her through the route, we paused at the Evans House, and I told my stories. Suddenly she gasped.
“You’re talking about my brother, Garth!” she burst out. I couldn’t believe it. I had long wanted to further question Garth, but I did not know his last name and Darlene had passed away in 2010.
So that is how I came to interview Garth Scott in November of 2012. I asked him about his impressions of the house. He knew the homeowner but never heard him comment about the home’s reputation. Garth, however, heard plenty of stories. They didn’t bother him. He and his kids spent a wonderful year in the house. They did hear noises, but he and the kids slept close together upstairs, and they never experienced anything negative.
Was Christmas Gift Evans banging on the walls in frustration over his lost limb? And did gentler spirits focus upon the joy of having children — the Cooneys’ toddler and Garth Scott’s children — in the house?
As Garth and I finished the interview, I asked him, “Do you believe the stories?”
He answered, “The house is very special. And let’s just say it has something extra.”
Reprinted by permission. "Haunted Helena, Montana's Queen City Ghosts is available from the publisher online at arcadiapublishing.com