Lore and Legends
Mysteries of the Wood River Valley
ILLUSTRATIONS Michael Wertz
(page 4 of 4)
THE LEGEND OF MRS. OSBORN
By Mike McKenna
For some of us, home really is where the heart is, and for those of us like the legendary Mrs. Osborn, that’s where it will always stay.
The night of May 26, 1901 was a particularly chilly and damp one in the friendly confines of Hailey; a booming mining town in the wild remotes of the young state of Idaho. To warm things up, Mrs. Sara Jane Osborn had started a fire in the library of her family’s home, just north of town on a thousand-acre homestead, then known as the Cloverly Ranch.
Her husband, the revered Reverend Israel Tremain Osborn, had built both the home and the community’s Episcopal church back in 1885. On this fateful night, the good Reverend was in Shoshone spreading the word and saving Gem State souls.
Just after midnight struck, Merton Olson, one of the couple’s three sons, was awoken from his slumbering spot in the dairy barn next to the house by the cries of his mother: “Fire! Fire!”
Merton raced from the barn to the house where he saw his mother trapped on the second floor. She hollered for him to save his brother, nine-year-old Joseph, the only other family member in the house. Merton grabbed a ladder but it proved to be too short. He then raced around to the rear of the house to help but was too late. The house, and all inside it, was quickly engulfed.
When the fire was finally put out, it was theorized that a beam had fallen and taken the lives of Mrs. Osborn and her youngest child as they tried to make their way downstairs. Her body was found lying next to him, one arm reaching out and just barely touching her son.
It’s said that you couldn’t find a dry eye in all of Hailey the next day when news spread of the tragedy. Most of the residents of the Wood River Valley, including folks from Ketchum, Bullion and Bellevue, attended the services with a funeral procession reported to be half a mile long.
Mrs. Osborn and her son were laid to rest in the Hailey Cemetery—although legend has Mrs. Osborne actually never left her house.
Reverend Osborn quickly rebuilt the house, adding a stained glass window on the second floor in honor of his late wife and son. In 1941, the Chapman family bought the home from the Osborns. And for about as long as anyone can remember, there have been steady and numerous reports of encounters at the house—always on the second floor—with a woman, usually wearing a white or blue dress
“She’s certainly not a dangerous type of spirit.
She’s very helpful and loving.”
House guests of the Chapman’s have long told stories of seeing an apparition. But unlike other ghost stories, it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Osborn is very frightening. She’s said to have a lot more in common with “Casper the Friendly Ghost” than with “Zuul,” the demonic spirit from the film "Ghost Busters"—though she doesn’t seem to care much for parties.
John Chapman was just four when his family moved into the house, and while he reports to have never seen Mrs. Osborn himself, he has certainly felt her presence. Besides being inspired to do a few odd things when he remodeled the house in the mid-1990s—like buying a fireplace front on a whim that turned out to be from the same year the house was originally built—there were some odd occurrences during a Halloween party one year.
While the house was filled with revelers, a picture flew off a wall and a lead and glass chandelier fell in what was described as a “floating” manner. Miraculously, not a single plain of glass on the chandelier was broken. The party was, however, broken up a bit by the phenomenon.
Those who claim to have seen and spoken to Mrs. Osborn said she has explained that she’s simply “caretaking” her home and that Joe left long ago. She also reportedly approves of the Chandler’s remodel.
As John Chandler told the Wood River Journal years ago, “She’s certainly not a dangerous type of spirit. She’s very helpful and loving.”
And thus the legend of Mrs. Osborn lives on.