The Pacific Northwest is rich with unique history and culture, but did you know the South Sound has a dark and eerie past? From its 100-year-old buildings known for their resident ghosts who just aren’t ready to move on, to bizarre local lore, the South Sound is home to some spine-chilling secrets, unsolved mysteries, and spirits who make their presence known.
Tacoma’s haunted history dates back all the way to the 1800s, but some of its original buildings are still standing to this day.
Stadium High School
Best known for its feature in the iconic 90s movie 10 Things I Hate About You, Stadium High School has a much more complicated history than most people know. In the late 1800s, the school was originally built to become Tacoma’s newest tourist hotel. But this wasn’t going to be just any hotel; it was designed to be the grandest, most beautiful and ornate hotel that the Pacific Northwest had ever seen. Just after the walls and roofs had been completed, the economy took a hard hit during The Panic of 1893, forcing construction to halt and turning the enormous structure into a lumber warehouse for a number of years. In 1896, a fire devastated the building, completely gutting the structure.
What is now Stadium High School became known as Brown Castle. Brown Castle sat high on a hill overlooking Commencement Bay and the ravine beneath it, which locals called “Old Woman’s Gulch.” The gulch, lined with shacks along the Puget Sound’s shoreline, was home to the displaced widows of longshoremen who would never return home from sea. As the tale goes, widows lived out their lonely days watching intently for their husband’s ships to appear, but would jump to their death after realizing that their lovers would never return. Today, students and faculty at Stadium High School have claimed to encounter seeing a woman in black overlooking Old Woman’s Gulch. The woman’s spirit has been seen for only a few seconds just before leaping off the cliff and disappearing into thin air.
The Pantages Theater, the cornerstone of Tacoma’s historic Theater District, was constructed in 1918, and is well known for its paranormal visitors. Alexander Pantages, an early motion picture producer and theater entrepreneur, originally built the Pantages along with his gorgeous mistress, Kate Klondike. Kate was a beautiful, well-to-do woman who funded the new theater, investing her entire fortune into the Pantages to prove her love for Alexander; but in the end, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Alexander left Kate for another mistress, leaving her heartbroken and penniless until the day she died. Both the spirits of Alexander Pantages and Kate Klondike are believed to frequent theater to this day. Both were lovers of live entertainment and have been seen in different places throughout the building. While the ghost of Kate Klondike doesn’t leave the theater and waits for her love to return, Alexander’s spirit is thought to split time between Tacoma’s Pantages Theater and his other prized Pantages in Hollywood, California.
But those aren’t the only ghosts known to call the Pantages home. Theater-goers and staff claim to have caught a glimpse of a different ghostly woman in the balcony. This entity is dressed in beautifully extravagant Vaudeville-era clothing, loves to sing Italian ballads, and has been known to stare the living straight in the eyes before vanishing from sight. Others who have arrived late to a show or performance have claimed to be escorted by the blurred figure of a former usher who guides them with his cold hand on their shoulder to find their seat or will stop guests dead in their tracks when they reach their assigned row.
The Tacoma Hotel
Downtown Tacoma is also home to one of the South Sound’s most bizarre and unique apparitions. Just down the hill from the Pantages once stood the infamous Tacoma Hotel. The Tacoma Hotel was built downtown in 1884 where the State Farm Operations Center stands today, and was designed to host the Tacoma’s wealthiest visitors. Mark Twain, Babe Ruth and President Theodore Roosevelt were some of the hotel’s most notable guests, but the Tacoma Hotel was also home to a resident of a different sort. Jack, an 800-pound living brown bear was the hotel’s pet.
Jack was kept in the hotel’s “Bear Garden” that overlooked Commencement Bay. Each morning, he took a bath in his French hogshead bathtub and was given a cocktail with his breakfast. The bear was known to casually stand on his hind legs against the wall to wait for a Manhattan or would sit directly at the bar just like a human and drink a beer, eventually wandering the hotel to the billiards room, leaving hotel guests in amazement and awe.
Jack was relaxed and friendly, and went seemingly unbothered by the drunken patrons and locals who would affectionately poke and prod at the gentle giant. But on occasion, Jack would slip out from his collar at night and escape his enclosure to take a stroll through the streets of Tacoma. One night while wandering down Pacific Avenue, Jack took a rookie police officer by surprise. The officer shot him twice in the side, which later killed him after hotel staff and friends carried his body back to the Tacoma Hotel.
Over a century later, some say that they have seen Jack the Bear’s ghost staggering through downtown Tacoma in late hours of the night before vanishing into the darkness, leaving witnesses perplexed by their anything-but-ordinary ghost sighting.
Also known for its haunted happenings is Fort Lewis at Joint Base McCord. While much of the fort was built after the turn of the 19th century, older areas were constructed in the mid-1800s with hopes to put hostility between settlers from the Oregon Trail and local Native Americans to rest. Some say to have heard the cries of Native Americans warriors who were forced to leave their land, while others have experienced paranormal activities of ghostly soldiers carrying our their duties. Employees have reported hearing songs of cadence sung at odd hours, among the sounds of marching of soldiers in grassy fields only to find nobody around.
The Washington State Ghost Society is certain that the level paranormal activity throughout Fort Lewis is significant, especially in the woods.
For decades rumors have circulated that an angry spirit haunts the historic Fort Lewis Military Museum, formerly known as the Red Shied Inn. But in 1927, a tragedy occurred in that very building. While filming a scene at the inn for a silent western movie, The Patent Leather Kid, a worker was mysteriously murdered upstairs in one of the rooms. For years after the murder, visitors reported seeing and hearing the ghost of an angry and emotional cowboy. The sightings became so frequent that building management brought in a group of priests to perform an exorcism. Legend has it that during the exorcism the cowboy’s ghost appeared and was upset due to the nature of his death. The priests gave him permission to cross over to the next life, when the cowboy stopped crying and faded away.