Monday, June 8, 2015

The White Lady of Birch Hill Cemetery, Fairbanks

I published this article back in 2014

APN Newsletter, July 2014, Vol.1, Issue 1

A prominent geographical feature in Fairbanks, Birch Hill rises on the north side of the city with its cemetery facing the Steese Highway. The peaceful cemetery I surrounded by dense woods and sports seven star planters in the form of the big dipper. The usual passer-by would never suspect that a mystery could be found among the gravestones and crosses up on the hill.

Birch Hill Cemetery was created in 1938 and took over as the main cemetery in Fairbanks since the Clay Street Cemetery was quickly filling up. Birch Hill Cemetery covers roughly 32 acres on the southwest side of Birch Hill and is still available for burials. It is also home to three ghosts: a little girl, a young boy, and the infamous White Lady. Who are these spirits and what do they want?

Having been a paranormal investigator in the Fairbanks-area for the last 14 years, I (Jessie Desmond) am pretty familiar with the allegations of the three spirits of Birch Hill Cemetery. In 2001, I got an EVP, electronic voice phenomenon, from the cemetery of a female voice simply saying “Hi”. Electronic voice phenomenon is electronically captured sounds that resemble speech, but are not the result of intentional voice recordings. PEAK, the Paranormal Explorers of Alaska, has always used the cemetery for training and to figure out more information on the resident ghosts. We would get orbs moving through our photographs and sometimes we would hear movement from areas where no one was present. In May 2012, I was joined by Neelie Lythgoe and Tony Hernandez of IOPIA (Investigators of the Paranormal in Alaska), up from the Anchorage-area; we were able to pick up a few EVPs and a picture of an apparition.

Before I go into detail over what we found at the cemetery, I should first go over the sighting reports that I have heard over the years. There is a ghost girl who wears a white dress from the early 1900s, is a fairly common report. Birch Hill Cemetery features a good size infant and child section. Since the cemetery opened up in 1938, it is hard to believe that there’s a girl in clothes from the “early 1900s” unless the witnesses who claim this are referring to the first half of the 20th century. The ghost at Birch Hill Cemetery was hung from a birch tree, is another report from witnesses. The answer is simply “no”. The death penalty in Alaska lasted until 1957 and only 8 people were ever hung in the state. Three of those hangings were in Fairbanks, but they took place over Second Avenue beside the old courthouse and post office building. The ghost of a young boy, about 7 or 8, from the 1930s is supposed to haunt the cemetery, is yet another report from witnesses. This would indicate that the boy was buried within a few years of the cemetery opening up.

In May 2012, I took Neelie and Tony to the general area where I had gotten my original EVP in 2001. We began shooting video, recording audio, and taking pictures. To most people we probably looked a bit crazy spending three hours roaming the lower part of the cemetery asking questions to those who are buried. We primarily asked about the “White Lady” since she seems to be the most frequently seen ghost. What we found was that we had an EVP of a male voice saying “Helen” in response to the question “Who is the lady in white?” This EVP occurred near the grave of Helen Findley and right around the time I captured an apparition with my digital camera. The apparition is speculated to be a male.

Helen Findley was a hard person to track down. She was 33 when she died on February 22, 1956. Her obituary appears on page 2 of the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer from February 23, 1956 and states that she left behind a husband named Sherman and that she died while at St.Joseph’s Hospital, where she had been admitted on February 12th. Thanks to a search on, I found that Helen’s full maiden name was Helen Maureen McLaughlin. Our initial problem with finding Helen, before I was able to make it to the library, was that she was not listed on any plot listings found online. This meant that we were searching for a mystery woman and we only had her gravestone information to go by.

Once establishing a little background information on Helen, I decided to seek out her death certificate for more information, including information on how she passed. Helen had developed a malignant adrenal tumor and died from a primary aldosteronism. There were other significant conditions that contributed to her death listed: subdural hematoma, nephritic syndrome, and hymolitic reaction. Not being part of the medical field, I looked each of these terms up. Helen had an adrenal tumor and was overproducing a hormone called aldosterone. The adrenal glands sit on the kidneys, if you’re curious. Nephrotic syndrome is a reaction to a malfunction with the kidneys where edema occurs and the body retains water and sodium. Hymolitic reaction, there are many different types, occurs when blood used in a transfusion does not mix well with the patient’s blood. The patient’s antibodies literally attack the new blood in some way.

The only other term on the death certificate that I needed to investigate was subdural hematoma. This sounded awfully familiar, but out of place since I was sure it just meant “a head injury”. To my surprise I was correct. A subdural hematoma is typically a traumatic brain injury caused by arterial tearing. The tumor, according to the death certificate, had formed 2 years prior to her death, the primary aldosteronism was onset 1 month before her death, the nephritic syndrome 2 months before her death, the hymolitic reaction was onset 5 days before her death, and the subdural hematoma was onset 4 days before her death.

What had happened to Helen? Had she fallen in the hospital? Had someone hit her over the head while she recuperated at St.Joseph’s Hospital? Was the subdural hematoma caused by the other symptoms? Without a medical log, it has to be left where it is. The simplest explanation is that Helen took a bad fall at St.Joseph’s Hospital while she was recovering from what was supposed to be a fairly simple and not-too-uncommon surgery.

Many people ask what it’s like to be a paranormal investigator; well, some cases, like this one, go unexplained for years until enough evidence can be collected. More often than not, the work is based on field work, research, and talking to locals until a conclusion can be reached. It’s certainly not a job for everyone and it sure can be spooky at times. If you do dare to visit the Birch Hill Cemetery when you’re in Fairbanks, be sure to be respectful and say hello to the newly recognized resident ghost, Helen Findley.


  1. Hello there.
    This is a great article, and I enjoyed it very much. And if it wasn't for Jessica's blog, I'd never even got to be able to read this.. Well, maybe in time I would get my way to this page.. but I'm glad to have "met" you.


    1. I don't write articles for all of my research, but I wrote one for this local cemetery (for me it's local) and tried to get it published. No takers. Isn't that funny? I self-published it in a little, almost unknown newsletter I put out for a while. I'm glad you like it and I'm glad you found me.


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