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Ghost tours in Tacoma

Where to go for a haunting good time

The former Tacoma Elks Lodge is a popular stop during Tacoma Ghost Tours outings. The historic site is currently under renovation. (JBLM PAO photo)

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TACOMA — If you’ve ever wanted to know some local history or enjoy a hauntingly-fun time when it’s not even Halloween, a local family offers Tacoma Ghost Tours, a 90-minute tour of downtown Tacoma’s creepiest buildings and establishments.

Two additional tours also are offered on request, one of the Stadium District and another that includes travel on the city’s light rail service. The most popular tour is the downtown tour, according to Andrew Hansen. With his dad, Charlie Hansen, he created Tacoma Ghost Tours in 2012.

The most likely haunted building in the downtown area? Hansen said it’s the old City Hall, an Italianate five-story structure with a tall clock tower on Seventh Avenue, between Commerce and Pacific Streets.

The structure was built in 1893 and served as the town’s city hall and jail until the 1950s. Numerous “ghost stories” about the old City Hall are told, embellished and retold by locals.

“We don’t say a building is haunted, but we do tell some of the stories we’ve heard and let people decide for themselves,” Hansen said.

The Hansen family has lived in Tacoma for generations, and Charlie Hansen said he is an avid history buff. His love of history goes hand-in-hand with paranormal studies, and he first began providing tours of the ghostlier facilities in this town as a school fundraiser back in the 1980s, when Andrew was a high school student at the Tacoma School of the Arts.

Public interest and the family’s fascination with frightening facilities quickly pushed forward the popular walking tours.

One of Tacoma’s notorious stories is of the waterfront city’s worst maritime disaster — that of the Andelana, a four-masted British cargo ship which sank Jan. 6, 1899 during a severe windstorm while moored about 500 yards from shore. All of the crew went down with the ship. Local stories vary on the number of those killed, between 17 and 21 men — save one man who had a toothache and had gone ashore to find a dentist, Andrew Hansen said.

“The lone survivor was one of the few people lucky to have had a toothache,” he said.

The story goes that the captain of the ship had written letters to his wife prior to the ship sinking, telling her of a recurring nightmare. The nightmare turned out to be a premonition, Hansen said. Bits and pieces of the ship have been found through the years, including a porthole that’s currently an artifact at the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma.

According to Hansen’s story, the porthole has its own ghostly tale: In the 1940s, a group of divers went looking for pieces of the ship. One diver died trying to retrieve the porthole section. A second diver left the piece below and swam back up to the surface of the water after seeing a ghostly man’s face through the small window. A third man swam down, didn’t see the apparition and was able to retrieve the porthole.

Hansen also tells stories of “Gus,” a mischievous ghost said to haunt the old City Hall. Depending on whom you ask, Gus is a friendly character who just wants folks to bring him a cup of black coffee or, to others who claim to have witnessed his antics, wants to break glassware and give visitors to the landmark a good scare.

Other tales at that site include a haunted bell system in the clock tower, which was a donation to the structure by the parents of a young girl who died of tuberculosis while a student at a local boarding school. Although the bells were installed on an electrical system — which was dismantled to try and stave off the mysterious ringing in later years — the bells are said to ring out to this day on their own

during the night and early morning hours.

Perhaps the most benevolent ghost is said to inhabit the B Sharp Coffee House on Opera Alley. That site, used in the early 1900s as a production facility for the Tacoma News Tribune, is said to be still occupied by one of its workers, who was employed for more than five decades.

The funky facility now offers drinks, live jazz and poetry and has a vintage restroom area where many guests claim to have been spooked by whispers while in the stalls. Why some folks visit there is because of the money that randomly appears on the coffee shop’s floor, when no one is seen or claims to have dropped it, believed to be provided by the ghost of the TNT worker.

“It’s believed he drops the money because he liked the place so well and wants others to like it too,” Hansen said, adding that his family’s purpose is similar.

“We try to show people what Tacoma was and what a positive place it has become,” he said.

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