When you think of haunted places, you might tend to think of ancient cities like Edinburgh or York, but the American Victorian-era city also excels at exuding a feeling of hauntedness.
In northwest Washington state, three such old Victorian-era towns that come to mind are, of course, Port Townsend, one of three National Victorian Seaports in the US (the other two are Galveston and Cape May), Port Gamble, and the old Victorian city that is Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.
And, of course, each of these places comes with their ghost stories attached and has attracted paranormal investigators and ghost tours.
On each of these tours, the question sometimes arises, “why are these places haunted?” An honest answer would be that nobody knows. Brothels and Native American sacred sites or burial grounds seem to be hotbeds of paranormal activity. The latter’s connection with hauntings has become somewhat of a cliché due to books like Amityville Horror and Pet Sematary. Pioneer towns in the west have an abundance of both.
Seattle: Haunted History Tours
We are standing outside the Korn building in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, built in 1889, right after Seattle’s great fire. Signs around the area read,” Seattle’s First Neighborhood,” reminding people that this is where the pioneer city of Seattle began. Pioneer Square is Seattle’s Victorian neighborhood and the prime location for any ghost tours in Seattle.
Our tour guide, and founder of Seattle Haunted History Ghost Tours of Seattle, Aten, is sporting black Victorian-ish garb and impressive sideburns. He’s also trying to find a way to talk about the history of Seattle’s “seamstresses” (most of which didn’t do much sewing) and brothels in a way as “family-friendly” as possible, as there are kids in our group. It’s difficult to talk about haunted places near Seattle without talking about its “seamier” side (bad pun intended). To save tender ears, the term “brothel,” morphs into “pillow-fighting establishment.” Mentioning the various types of pillow fighting establishments and their associated hauntings turns into somewhat of a theme throughout the evening. (Note: Saturday night tours are 21+ only; pillow-fighting language is out, and stronger language is acceptable.)
As the evening proceeds, we walk down streets like Yesler and Occidental, and under the Pioneer Square Pergola, past places “known” to be haunted like Merchant’s (apparently there’s a spirit of a boy who can sometimes be seen looking out an upstairs window, and they couldn’t keep tenants so now the upper portion is an AirBNB.) and Aten talks about such various things as the (Seattle pioneer family) Yeslers’ connection to the occult (they were spiritualists and were known to have held seances) and symbols of Freemasonry in the Smith Tower (here he jests about it being a “Portal to Zuul”.)
Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives #111170 Henry and Sarah Yesler in front of their home at First and Jefferson July 4, 1883
The Smith Tower: A Portal of Zuul and a tool of the Illuminati?
We enter the Bar Shoppe & Lounge in the Korn building, which otherwise is mostly run-down and boarded up. The Bar Shoppe, which still has very cool décor, was the home of a “very special type of pillow-fighting establishment” (Asian) back in the pioneer days. A black-haired ghost can sometimes be seen looking from an upstairs window. Peering out windows seems to be a popular activity for Seattle ghosts. We also enter the Central Saloon, Seattle’s oldest tavern, which sports a sort of altar wall to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, who played there during the bar’s long history. What haunts me in this location is the sudden memory of feeling like I was going to be crushed to death during a New Year’s Eve sometime in the early ‘90s. Would I then have been one of the establishment’s ghosts?
Otherwise, we peer in the door of other places and hear of their interesting paranormal tales. I wistfully wish we could enter, but then remember that I live nearby and can go back next week and haunt these places myself if I choose.
The tour ends on an unexpected note, peering at a site that housed a restaurant called “The Dairy” in the 1890s. The most astonishing factoid about the place is not its hauntings (though our tour guide claims it’s haunted), but the name of the man who ran the restaurant: Frederick Trump. Is this building Trump Tower I?
A note for tourists or other people not familiar with Seattle taking this tour: Pioneer Square has always been a rough area, and it’s still so. It has a large and visible homeless population, and it’s not unusual for tour groups going through the area to have unwanted “encounters” – and not of the ghostly variety. When I got home, shaking my head a bit, my husband asked, “What? Did you get peed on?” What did happen was that a man wielding TWO pizza boxes threatened to “bash our f$#*ing heads in.,” — fortunately, without any attempt to make that threat real.
Pioneer Square at night, under the glow of its old, original streetlamps, can be lovely, and Occidental offers a pedestrian-only walking area – both make me like Pioneer Square at night. But the charms of the former “Skid Row” are counterbalanced by its seedier side.
- Run approximately 1.5 hours in length.
- At the time of this writing cost about $15 with discounts for seniors and people with diabilities.
- Saturday nights are 21+ only.
Other Seattle ghost tours in the Pioneer Square area include:
- These tours on Viator , one of which includes a haunted pub crawl .
- Spooked in Seattle ghost tours.
- Haunted Happenings Seattle ghost tour.
Twisted History Tours Port Townsend
Port Townsend is one of the ten most haunted cities in the US, so claims the website of Twisted History Tours. Grymm, who founded the tour company in 2013, sports a dark/macabre/Victorianish/Steampunkish look that fits the tours, and the town perfectly. During the tour (the one we took was a daytime history tour during the Port Townsend Victorian Festival), he also has his young daughter in tow, who adds a bit of humor. At one point he reminds participants to watch out for traffic and jokes that if we don’t there may be a new ghost for his tours. Later, I overheard his daughter telling someone in the group, “Nobody has died on these tours yet,” and then adding in an ominous tone, “but my dad wishes they would.”
Brothels are, again, a common theme here and both haunted hotels we visit in the tour – the Bishop Victorian Hotel and the Palace Hotel have that in their history. Both hotels play up either the dark Victorian or “Pillow-Fighting” aspect of its history in some way – the Bishop with its lovely hallway displays of Victorian-era photos and mourning garb and the Palace with its various rooms with names of the girls who once “pillow-fought” there painted on the rooms’ doorways.
Mourning garb on display at the Bishop Victorian Hotel.
Plenty of other haunted locations exist in Port Townsend. PT is full of old Victorian houses, and, of course, there’s Manresa Castle, visited by the likes of Ghost Adventures. The “castle” is said to be haunted by the spirit of monk that hung himself in the attic.
While you can stay at Manresa Castle, Twisted History Tours will take you to other haunted spots in Port Townsend. Uptown Haunts visits some of the lovely homes in the area, while Downtown Dare looks at (I think) downtown spots like the shanghai tunnels and the hotels. If you want it all, you can do both and take the Twice as Twisted Tour.
Or, only in October, you can do a tour called “Grymm tales.” But, whatever you choose, you’ll hear plenty of stories, and Grymm is a good storyteller. Port Townsend’s history seaport abounds with scoundrels and tales of debauchery and such that lend themselves to ghost stories.
Tour lengths vary at Twisted History tours; most last around 2 hours.
Haunted Port Gamble with Port Gamble Paranormal
Port Gamble is a town with a kind of wistful vibe that hearkens back to earlier days – old homes, open spaces, a historic cemetery, and the town’s white picket fences all add to this effect. Autumn’s falling leaves add to this effect and to the town’s charm – and also to its feeling of being a haunted place, especially at night.
The town came about in the mid-1800s because if its mill, still in existence until 1995. Port Gamble and its homes are still company-owned and, despite that, I love to go there; I didn’t even realize that fact until I took a ghost tour.
And that’s one of the things common to all of these ghost tours, to a greater or lesser degree – they’re also history tours.
The Port Gamble ghost walk tours, run by Port Gamble Paranormal, are perhaps at the top of the list in this aspect. Their tours take a good three hours and take you through the fascinating history of the small mill town as you walk through the cemetery, past many of the town’s houses (many of which were, interestingly, barged here from Port Ludlow; taking your home with you wasn’t that unusual) and telling the ghost stories of each, through the Port Gamble Historic Museum, into the community center building which houses the Port Gamble Theater and Post Office (maybe I’ll move my PO Box here just to get one of their art-deco style boxes), and, of course, into the Walker-Ames House, which is said to be the most haunted house in Washington State.
Does the ghost of a girl sometimes occupy this chair at the Port Gamble Historic Museum?
Port Gamble Paranormal, which also runs a paranormal conference in Kitsap County every fall, is run by Pete Orbea, who also runs the tours. Pete, as the name of his business implies, is a paranormal investigator. He also gives the impression of being a likable, regular guy who doesn’t feel the need to dress up in gothic garb to lead his tours (not that the other tour leaders aren’t likable, just to make that clear). He also runs weddings in Port Gamble which is a popular venue due to its picturesque church.
Pete describes having both seen and heard ghosts during paranormal investigations both here and in other homes and buildings. He likes to refer to them as “long-term residents.”
As we walk through the Walker-Ames house, he explains that childrens’ ghosts, as well as a nanny haunt the upstairs. I notice a row of dominoes in an empty room and ask Pete about them. They’re there, as I expected, to see if they get knocked over.
Pete has marked several spots in the house as off-limits to the living. The intention is that the spirits will have a place to go to get away from interloping humans in the house. An effort to calm them down for better behavior?
And, in the basement, he points out that there was a spirit here that had a dislike of women – especially blonde women. Women have reported nausea down here, and I note that I have been feeling queasy, but decide to chalk it up junk food rather than spirits. However, I secretly hope that if there is any blonde-hating spirit here, he can see that I have a lot of gray mixed in with my blonde stripes.
People have reported feeling either “jovial” or sadness in the home, especially in the attic. What strikes me in the Walker-Ames house is a sort of sadness – but it’s sadness at the state of the residence itself, and imagining what it once was, and what it could be. The house is gorgeous from the outside, and the inside has beautiful fireplaces, a lovely main stairway, and gorgeous stained glass windows. But, otherwise, it has fallen into a state of disrepair. As Pete talks about the ghosts, I am distracted by fantasies of having enough money to buy it if and when Port Gamble ever decides to sell and starting a repair project. Spirits, I’ll stay out of your rooms. There’s enough room here for all of us.
(Incidentally,Port Gamble uses the Walker-Ames house for some events besides ghost tours and paranormal investigations – if you go to Port Gamble’s Christmas festivities, you might find yourself doing Christmas crafts in this haunted mansion.)
- Last about three hours.
- Run frequently in October, and with less frequency into the Spring.
- Include a tour of the Walker-Ames house, but not an actual investigation (which takes time).
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