On a full moon night, if you look across the waters of this lake in northwest Idaho, you may see something haunting. A lost love and spirits trapped in the water of Spirit Lake give its name more than just a way to identify the lake, it’s named after a terrible tragedy and the lost souls of two lovers. You might see them on the lake, drifting in a phantom canoe, together in the afterlife. The lake is beautiful and a source of recreation for those nearby, but it wasn’t always named Spirit Lake.
Originally, the lake was called “Clear Lake,” named for its pristine and calm waters. Only 16 miles from Coeur d’alene, the lake is infamous for a gentle fog that sometimes covers the waters, and for the sound of ice cracking on the lake in the winter that sound eerily like screams from the water. A town nearby on the arm of the lake takes the same name, Spirit Lake, and has become a resort town for those looking to connect with nature in a picturesque location.
Spirit Lake was originally settled in 1907, growing and adding buildings until 1910, when the town was open for investors. Travelers from Spokane arrived on the train and found themselves in a place they felt was special, settling down on the shores of Spirit Lake and investing in the growing frontier town. A bridge was built over a channel from the lake to ease travel, but later the bridge would be replaced with rock and dirt fill.
The lake is an ecological wonder, being one of the few alpine lakes with a completely sealed bottom, meaning no water escapes the lake. It’s one of only two lakes identified with this unique trait, but some say it adds to spirits being unable to escape the afterlife in the deep waters. Nearly a 100 feet in depth at its deepest point, the lake is said to hold the spirits of a pair of lovers from legend.
Decades before the first white settlers would ride the train to the town on the shores; before the town was even thought of, a legend was told by local indigenous populations about two lovers who met their tragic end in the waters of the lake. The nearby Kootenai Tribe tells the story of a beautiful maiden, the daughter of the chief, who fell in love with a Brave from her tribe. The maiden was named Hya-Pam, or in English, Fearless Running Water. Her lover was known as Shining Eagle, or Hasht-Eel-Ame-Hoom.
The lovers attempted to get permission to marry from Hya-Pam’s father, but were denied as the young maiden was already betrothed to a chief from another tribe, hoping to make a peace pact with the sometimes hostile neighbors. To avoid war, as the chieftain was threatening if the marriage pact was not honored, her father denied her the freedom to marry the man she loved. Tragically, Hya-Pam and Hasht-Eel-Ame-Hoom were distraught and took their grief in not being allowed to marry to the cliffs of what was then known as Clear Lake. They proclaimed their undying love for one another, took each other’s hands, and leapt off the cliff into the waters below, drowning together in more than just their own heartbreaks, but the calm waters of the lake as well.
After this tragic legend, it’s said the local indigenous population renamed Clear Lake to “Tesemini” or “Lake of the Spirits.” The lovers were never found and are believed to be trapped in Spirit Lake to this day. Dozens of sightings of the lovers have been reported in the centuries since the heartbreaking end of their lives and their desire to be together forever. The couple are sometimes seen on foggy nights drifting through the clear water in a canoe. Sometimes, the act of their jumping off the cliff is seen to repeat, with some onlookers calling what they witnessed to the proper authorities. No bodies are ever found, but the cliff was renamed to “Suicide Cliff.”
Heartbreaking and haunting, the story of Hya-Pam and Hasht-Eel-Ame-Hoom still haunts the shores and memories of the lake, its name being more apt than ever. Some say the sealed bottom of the lake keeps spirits trapped in the waters, but at least the lovers are together in their afterlife, as they wished to be in life and were denied. Sometimes, on a clear night, the low, haunting sounds of crying and moaning can be heard across the waters, keeping the name of Spirit lake to be descriptive as well as tragic.
Spirit Lake is still a popular tourist attraction, the lake’s beauty outweighing its haunting past. The town nearby is a destination for recreation and enjoyment of the cool waters, but many still tell the tale of the two lovers denied their happiness in marriage, and their decision to defy the will of their family.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.