Tacoma is rich with history, and according to some folks it also harbors ghosts of the past who can still be sensed in the present. Andrew Hansen and his father, Charlie, founded Tacoma Ghost Tours in October 2012 and bring a wealth of historical knowledge to a field that relies heavily on sensory perception. They are quick to acknowledge that some people do not believe in ghosts — but either way, most folks who take their tours enjoy themselves, ghosts or not. At Brandy’s Attic, the antique-and-knick-knack shop on Broadway in downtown Tacoma, Andrew Hansen started the tour by telling us the truth.
“This city is over a hundred years old, with many inhabitants passing through over those years,” he said. “Therefore, we are as factual as this subject matter would allow.”
The Hansens are history buffs, meticulously researching the stories they tell. We began the tour from Brandy’s Attic to the corner of Broadway and Ninth, looking up at the beautiful Pantages Theater.
“The Pantages Theater,” Hansen bellows over the mish-mash of early evening traffic, “looks, today, almost exactly as it did when it was built in 1918.”
He explains the backstory of its namesake, Alexander Pantages, and his partners William Jones and Kate Rockwell (Klondike Kate). All three were avid theatergoers, and all preferred Tacoma’s Pantages Theater to any other on Earth. They said as much in press interviews, according to the Hansens research of newspaper articles from the early 1900s. Hansen explained that the distinct hauntings reported at the Pantages seems to be firmly rooted in historical evidence. One of the more frequent hauntings at the theater is reserved for people who are late to their seat for a show.
“These people experience a rush of cold air on their legs,” Hansen says, “and can’t find the source of the air when they look for it.”
On other ghost tours, the legend may stop there, passing off an anecdote and marching to the next stop. But Hansen, wielding a tablet as his reference for photos, explains their theory as to why this particular haunting occurs. Jones, one of the original proprietors of the theater, also held a stake in an Alaskan refrigeration company. Hansen can’t help but wonder aloud if the ghost of Jones greets guests with that signature chill.
Next, we cross Pacific Avenue and Hansen tells us it was once called, “Indian Henry’s Trail.” We pass by the One Pacific Building.
“By the way,” Hansen says as we trod over the nondescript sidewalk, “ … this is a confirmed Native burial ground.”
The Hansens are full of stories of how Tacoma came to be. Every sidewalk seems to hold a bit of history, and we can’t possibly unlock all the secrets of the area during the 90-minute walking tour. Still, sticking to a regimented schedule, Andrew Hansen can’t help but divert now and then, passing on more of the wild particulars his research has yielded.
The last stop of the tour (and the only indoor stop) was B Sharp Coffee on Opera Alley. Hansen led the group through the low-light café, past the coffee counter, past the couches, all the way through the back doors of the building until we settled in a tight corridor where two benches were set up.
The space, white-walled and damp, gave off the vibe of a Poe story. Hansen rested his arm on the mantle of a fireplace as the group settled into the benches. He told us the story of the building: that it’d been the headquarters for The News Tribune for quite a long time, and that one man worked there for 55 years. Like the owners of the Pantages Theater, Hansen says, some believe the newspaper man loved the place so much, he doesn’t want to move on. The hauntings reported at B Sharp have been of a less-intimidating nature. There are reports of a looming, domineering presence felt by patrons who visit the restroom, and this does not settle any nerves. But the haunting that is believed to be perpetrated by the old newspaper man, the Hansens believe, is positive. He’s said to leave money.
The owner of B Sharp remembers one lazy afternoon waiting for people to arrive for a show that night. He walked out to Opera Alley to see whether anything interesting was happening. Nothing was, and he went back inside. When he came back outside, just a few minutes later, he was surprised to find two $5 bills placed perfectly parallel in the doorway of his café.
“We believe it’s (him), trying to get people to return to the building and fall in love with it as much as he did,” Hansen said. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Jack the Bear
The Tacoma Hotel’s most famous resident was an 800-pound brown bear named Jack. The hotel, built in 1884 and designed by famous New York architect Stanford White, was a luxurious destination for the wealthiest of Tacoma’s visitors, and it also served as Jack’s favorite drinking spot.
Jack, raised by people since he was a cub, was renowned for not spilling a drop of the drinks he was given. He was a big fan of beer and cosmopolitans, and would stagger around the hotel’s bar and billiards room, mesmerizing visitors and locals alike in the 1880s.
Jack’s pen overlooked Commencement Bay and had an easily subvertable fence. Tacoma residents were not surprised to turn the corner of A Street and see Jack touring the streets of downtown Tacoma after a long day of drinking.
Jack was beloved by all, and became a main tourist attraction at the Tacoma Hotel.
One night, after slipping his collar and getting out of his pen, Jack startled a policeman. The policeman was not familiar with Jack or his harmless demeanor, and shot the bear twice in the side on Pacific Avenue.
Jack was carried back to the Tacoma Hotel by friends and doctors, but could not be saved. Jack then stuffed and placed on the wall of the hotel, greeting guests outside the dining room for years.
The Pantages Theater in Tacoma was Alexander Pantages’s favorite venue, and it seems he doesn’t want to leave. There is a large plaster bust of Pantages placed over the stage in the theater, and reports have the expression of the bust changing from a smile to a frown depending on the quality of that night’s performance.