Every city has its stock of ghost stories that involve the grittier side of its past. Tacoma is no different. What is also true is that the ghost stories are often at least based in facts – even if those facts have been spun into urban legend by the passage of time or the evolution of tales with each retelling. Or maybe they are simply true from the start. You decide.
To help you on your decision, here is a list of the top five haunted tales of the City of Destiny.
University of Puget Sound
University of Puget Sound’s Schiff Hall is likely the most well-known local ghost story. The story involves college students seeking the image of a girl lingering around the dark corners of the lowest floor who disappears as the students investigate. Some versions claim students hear shuffling feet and see wet slipper marks on the floor that abruptly stop. Most of the stories liken the story to what many believe could have been the first murder by serial killer Ted Bundy. Ann Marie Burr was eight years old when she disappeared from her bedroom in 1961. She was never found. On the porch was a small men’s shoe print. Only a few blocks away from her house lived Bundy’s great uncle. The uncle worked at UPS as did then 14-year-old Bundy’s mother. Construction of Schiff Hall started two weeks earlier. Urban legend holds that Bundy kidnapped and murdered Burr and then dumped her body into the foundation. Bundy was executed in 1989 after confessing to 36 murders, but always denying any involvement in Burr’s disappearance.
As the story goes, people walking around the mouth of the Puyallup River can see the ghost of a man in tattered clothes with a deep scowl on his face. He greets passersby only to disappear. The history behind this tale is that the area on the tideflats was the site of a large homeless encampment during the Great Depression of the 1920s. This shanty town and many others like it were referred to as Hoovervilles, a name that highlighted resentment for Herbert Hoover, who the public scorned for his inability to provide economic relief. City officials struggled with controlling the rising population in the area, eventually resorting to the controlled burns of more than 50 shacks in 1942. Many of the residents simply rebuilt their shacks and continued to live in the area for another decade. The final resident allegedly took his life during a stand-off with police, who had been sent to remove him.
Five Mile Drive
Five Mile Drive is the location of another popular story with a similar theme. This disappearing walker is described as a young girl who has been reportedly spotted strolling along the side of the road at dusk. She gives an eerie smile and vanishes. The origins of this story can be traced back to 1986 and the disappearance of 13-year-old Jennifer Marie Bastian. She went missing on August 4, 1986, and her body was found several weeks later by joggers, just off of the main drag of Five Mile Drive. Her killer was never found, but most fingers point to Terapon Adhahn, a convicted rapist and killer most notorious for the abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman, the namesake of the AMBER alert program.
Port of Tacoma
Tacoma’s working waterfront has a well-rooted tale, at least historically speaking. The story goes that people can see a rowboat disappear into the water and swimmers suddenly vanish into the fog. People can hear cries for help that simply fade. Well, since Tacoma is a port city, that means ships, and that means shipwrecks. Tacoma’s largest maritime disaster occurred on January 14, 1899, when the four-masted Andelana broke from its ballast logs during a storm and capsized. The 18-man crew drowned. Two divers then also died while trying to recover the ship. The Andelana was never raised.
Old City Hall
Tacoma’s now-vacant Old City Hall building is said to have a ghost named Gus. Stories have him moving the elevator between floors, turning lights off and on, and unlocking doors. He was so active that seeing him was a rite of passage for new workers at the restaurant that was once the go-to spot for lawyers and politicians. Gus would knock bottles of alcohol off the shelf only to then line them up on the counter in front of the startled newbie employee. Dishes and glasses, however, would simply rattle and break, as the stories go. There isn’t much history in the story since no historian has found anyone named Gus linked to the building.