It’s amazing what can inspire a story. The arson fire of a 93-year-old mansion along the Columbia River in eastern Washington sparked the plot of my novel-in-progress, The Windwilder Haunting, first book of the BELLA trilogy.
The James A. Moore House, also known as the Moore Mansion and the Big House on the Columbia, had enjoyed a colorful history and was one of the Tri-Cities’ last historical buildings. This grand home underwent many transformations: Originally the water-front home of a well-to-do family, it became a speakeasy, a nursing home, a hippie camp, and finally a restaurant.
During my time there it was a restaurant, one I often passed as I crossed the blue bridge spanning the Columbia River between Pasco and Kennewick. While curious, I never visited, which I regretted after the fire. That conflagration, however, drew me deeper into the Moore Mansion saga than a restaurant visit ever would.
On May 9, 2001 I was working as a programmer/analyst at the Kennewick hospital. It was one of those clear, fresh Mid-Columbia spring days that made you wish for a wide open field and the energy to run across that field forever. A former I/T employee who now worked in the business building next door called our department around noon to report she’d just heard that the Moore Mansion had caught fire. My imagination sprang into action even before my curiosity. I dashed outside, stared for a moment at a tall column of smoke rising from the northeast, then jumped into my car.
Sunroof open, I headed for the blue bridge, planning to follow the highway west to the nearest interchange and then reenter the highway, crossing the river again in the southbound lane. Even before I reached the top of the bridge I knew there would be no coming back on that highway. Already southbound traffic had stopped, creating a jam extending for miles. The house itself had become a torch, shooting red-orange flames 30-40 feet into the air. Smoke and embers spread themselves upon the breezes, fanning out across the river and town. The smoke didn’t smell like smoke. It had a heavy, musty, almost moldy odor. I wanted to stop but there was no place to pull off, and the state police were struggling to keep people moving. You can read the Tri-City Herald account here.
Unable to return by the same route, I sought an alternate route, getting a last look at the doomed house from the cable bridge farther east. The creative juices not only flowed, but gushed! Already my mind had conceived a cast of characters and a plot entailing adultery, murder, dark secrets and ghosts. I wrote the story, but never truly finished–until now.
And the Moore Mansion’s fate? The day of the fire I figured the flames would burn the house to the ground. When I drove past later that afternoon, the house, minus its third floor, still stood. For two years the ruined structure awaited its doom. Several declared its era over and called for its demolition, I joined forces with six other Tri-Cities women, and together we managed to raise enough interest to prompt one couple to step up to the plate. They totally rebuilt the mansion and, in my opinion, the house is now more beautiful than before. Today the Moore Mansion serves as a setting for weddings and other special events. You can read more about it here.
NOTE: My novel is purely fictional, with no historical references pertaining to the Moore Mansion or its owners, or to the Moore family. I hope to release it in late April or early May. Stay tuned!
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