Ghosts and ghouls of all sorts tend to lurk around all corners of the South Sound if you bother to look or talk to the right people. Within the shadows of Tacoma, whispers of the past echo through the streets and alleyways. From the haunted halls of the old Pierce County Courthouse to the eerie mist that shrouds Steilacoom Lake, spirits of the past linger, waiting to be discovered.

Ghosts of Tacoma
The Pierce County Courthouse was built in 1892 and served for 70 years until it was abandoned and demolished following the construction of the current County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue. The plans for the building included secret stairways, hideouts and a hanging room. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library/Richards Studio D49198-4

Pierce County Courthouse

The old Pierce County Courthouse is gone now. It sat at the corner of 11th and Yakima, only to be torn down in 1959. But as a place where criminals learned justice never sleeps, at least one soul sentenced to death within the walls of the building’s hanging room is said to still roam.

On April 6, 1900, at 7:10 a.m., Albert Michaud dropped into eternity from the gallows erected in the Hanging room for the slaying of his former wife. Michaud, a French-Canadian, was convicted of killing her as she tried to flee from him when he visited her home. Records indicate that Michaud tried to take his own life on the spot by putting the gun to his mouth and pulling the trigger. The revolver was empty, and he was seized before he could reload.

Michaud’s execution came just months later. About 80 persons witnessed the grim affair. The sheriff, a careful gentleman, made sure of a professional job by going to Spokane to learn the techniques of hanging at an execution scheduled there.

The story goes that Michaud, a black-haired man at the time of the conviction, suffered so much from fear that when he appeared at his execution, his hair was snow white, a detail noted by people who say they see a strange man walking the grounds only to disappear before their eyes.

The second gallows rider of the old Pierce County Courthouse, reportedly seen to this day, was a musician who hit a sour note before hitting his wife.

Eben L. Boyce was a wandering musician, drunkard and former member of the United States Army during the Spanish-American War. He had married a local waitress, only to leave her to seek his fortune in Canada without regard for his bride’s financial needs.

Scorned by the abandonment, she sought revenge by mailing bar owners around British Columbia with pleas to not hire her wayward trombonist. They complied, forcing Boyce to return to the City of Destiny with fire in his eyes and ice in his veins.

Boyce entered his wife’s restaurant on February 10, 1900, drew a revolver and shot the woman as she ran for a private booth. Tried and found guilty of the brutal killing, Boyce was hanged an hour after dinner had been served on August 9, 1901. The condemned slayer had tried to meet his doom calmly but did a poor job of it. The story is that he fainted in the presence of Father Peter Francis Hylebos, who helped carry Boyce to the gallows as he recited the prayer of the condemned from memory.

It is said that on cool fall nights, people can still hear a single trombone echoing along the street from no particular direction but just hanging in the air, only to abruptly stop mid-song, never to be completed.

Ghosts of Tacoma
Paul Ludwig Schulze’s house along North Yakima Avenue was built in 1891 for Schulze, who later took his own life there. The home was then used by President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s during a visit to Tacoma. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library/Richards Studio A2087-1

Paul Ludwig Schulze

The Queen Anne-style home at North Yakima Ave was built in 1891 for Paul Ludwig Schulze, who later completed suicide in his library. 

The son of a Hapsburg baron, Schulze had immigrated to the United States from Germany just after the Civil War and made his way west with the push of railroads to the Pacific. Schultze appeared in Tacoma as the new Northern Pacific Land Agent. In 1892, he rented a house for the prominent San Francisco actress Marie Wainwright and her daughters. Mrs. Schulze, therefore, got a divorce. A company audit found fortunes were missing, and transactions traced to Schulze’s personal accounts couldn’t be explained.

It was later learned that Schulze had spent much of his last day on Earth burning documents before going to bed. He awoke and had a light breakfast. His servants then heard a bang but thought nothing of it. They investigated later that afternoon and forced a locked door open to find Schulze with a bullet through his head. Some say they can still hear him walking the library floor or see him on his front step.

Ghosts of Tacoma
The home on the west side of Lake Steilacoom where James Merritt Arthur killed his wife and daughters, then died by his own hand on March 17, 1937, over a misunderstanding about a promotion. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library/Richards Studio D775-6

James Merritt Arthur

In another tragic financial misunderstanding, James Merritt Arthur, a 43-year-old Tacoma tire store manager, shot and killed his wife Anna, 40, and then their daughters Mary Ann, 15, and Janet, 8, before he took his own life on March 17, 1937, at their home on the west side of Lake Steilacoom. It is said that Arthur may have been despondent over his discharge from his job the day before. He was apparently unaware that his “discharge” was a transfer to California for a new position at one of the national tire company’s service stations. It was even a transfer and promotion he had applied to get since he was from Los Angeles and had arrived with his family less than a year before.

The miscommunication led him to kill his wife and then for his daughters, Mary Ann, to return from Stadium High School and Janet from Clover Creek Elementary. He shot them shortly after they entered the house. They were still wearing their jackets and backpacks. He then phoned a mortuary, requesting a hearse and a pastor about the crime. His insurance and other personal papers were laid out methodically on the table. He had also taken the family photographs out of their frames and burned them before he took his own life. The photos were still smoldering when police arrived.

The house is still there and is often credited as the reason Steilacoom Lake is haunted with random gunshots and mystic images of girls getting off school buses in the fog, only to disappear as they walk down the lane.

Whether you are a believer in the paranormal or simply enjoy a good ghost story, Tacoma holds enough lore to chill you to the bone. So, gather your courage and step into the shadows, where the ghosts of the South Sound’s past await.