I lived just on the outskirts of Ellensburg, Washington, while I went to college for four years. The neighborhood was pretty peaceful, except for the time a wildfire threatened it. When there weren’t evacuees and sheriff’s department vehicles going down the street, though, it was a quiet, country area. About the only sounds you heard there were bird songs. You'd never expect this neighborhood to be the site of a ghost story.
There was one exception to this, however. In the warmer months of the year, “the crier” would appear. No one in my family knew what it was. Indeed, my mother, who also lived in the house, claimed that she never heard it. The neighbors acted as if it didn’t exist, but it was so loud that I don’t know how they didn’t notice it.
The obnoxious noise always followed the same pattern. It started off loud with a sudden “BUUUHHH!!!!” This was immediately followed by a deranged “ha ha ha ha ha ha” sound, which would subside into a series of mournful sobs. It sounded very much like a drunk woman who busts out laughing and suddenly decides to cry instead.
It never came from the same place twice. Once I thought I heard it over the fence in my neighbor’s yard. Another day it sounded like it came from across the street. Then another time it sounded like it was coming from somewhere in the middle of the road. Wherever it came from, it was always at ground level, never in the trees or roofs.
Whatever the source of the noise, it had a strange reaction from me every time I heard it. The sound was irritating and instantly anger-inducing. Every time I heard it, it grated on my nerves, and I just wanted to find the source and punch it. I don’t know why. It was actually concerning to me.
One summer afternoon the noise repeated itself, over and over again. Sometimes the sequence was cut off and I just heard the initial “BUH” with nothing else. I was working in the yard and every time it sounded it felt like nails on a chalkboard. I finally lost my temper and shouted at the top of my lungs, “For the love of God, shut up, you irritating son-of-a-bitch!!!” Silence followed. I didn’t even hear the expected muttering and cussing that might come from a neighbor getting yelled at. There was just nothing.
I felt bad. Perhaps I’d just yelled at someone for no good reason. The noise wasn’t heard again that day, telling me that it must’ve been coming from something intelligent, someone I probably offended. I decided to seek out the sound and eliminate its possible sources.
There were three human suspects in the neighborhood. Suspect number one was the little girl across the street, who often made strange noises to get her family’s attention. I eliminated her based on three things. First of all, she wouldn’t have heard me yelling at her because she was stone deaf. Secondly, the noise that day came from a completely different direction than her house. And third, she was not present when the incident occurred. Also, her vocalizations were far more high-pitched. This sounded like a very obnoxious but mature woman.
Second suspect was the neighbors’ teenaged grandson, who also made strange sounds whenever he was around. He often laughed or shouted loudly when he visited his grandparents, and his laugh was strange. However, it did not sound quite like the crier. Furthermore, the noise came from the complete opposite direction of his grandparents’ yard and, like the little girl, he was not present when it occurred.
The third suspect was the neighbor on the other side, who was a middle-aged woman who liked to drink in her back yard. Yes, the noise came from the direction of her yard. However, she was not home at the time and there was no car in her driveway. This also did not explain why the sound often emanated from across the street or down the road.
Suspect number four was a neighbor’s dog who had a very strange bark. He must have had basenji in him somewhere, because instead of barking like a regular dog, he let out a series of yodels and whines. Sometimes he would attempt to bark and instead of a bark he would utter a “BUH!” type sound that was very similar to the crier. However, the sound was not quite the same and, like the others, he was not out when this particular incident occurred.
After I had eliminated my four main suspects, I was left to scratch my head. Who or what was left? I eliminated the birds first. There were no birds native to the Ellensburg area that sounded like this. I went over the vocalizations of several large animals that lived in the area, including foxes, coyotes, and skunks. None of them sounded the same. Eventually I eliminated all animal suspects.
So what did that leave? Well, not much. There were no speakers or toys in the neighborhood that made this sound. There were no animals or people that could’ve caused the disruption. This left nothing but a mystery, one that I would never solve. For four years I lived in that neighborhood, and for four springs and summers I heard that irritating cry, both before and after the shouting incident. I never did explain it.
Was it some sort of bird or other animal that I had yet to discover? Was I the victim of a foul prankster who never showed their face? Or was this neighborhood haunted by some unknown ghost? The mystery of the Ellensburg Crier remains irritatingly unsolved.