Tour Shows Tacoma’s Darker Side

For the past eight years, Chris Staudinger and his wife Tawny have traveled to more than 50 countries (45 together) around the world writing and reporting for outlets like BBC Travel and USA Today. But earlier this year, they embarked on their most incredible venture yet — they became parents.

Pretty Gritty Tours ghost tour. Photo by Joanna Kresge.

Pretty Gritty Tours ghost tour. Photo by Joanna Kresge.

“The travel blogging gig kept us on the road pretty much eight months of the year and we were basically doing promotions for other people’s tour companies,” Staudinger said of their life on the road. “We realized — since we were going to be here and we loved Tacoma so much — that having a baby ironically would give us the time that we needed to start something.”

In just a few short months (while preparing for and later raising their newborn), the duo started Tacoma-based Pretty Gritty Tours, playing off the city’s “Grit City” moniker.

Still a new business formed seven months ago, Pretty Gritty already offers a plethora of tour options that focus on different parts of the city. The coffee tour boasts the best java the Pacific Northwest has to offer, while the Antique Row tour allows patrons to experience intimate shops filled with Tacoma’s treasured past.

“We really just wanted to merge all the best things we’d witnessed from all over the world,” Staudinger said.

Possibly one of the most popular tours is the Grit City Ghost Stories tour, especially now as the leaves begin to change their colors and paper pumpkins and ghosts adorn the shop windows along Pacific Avenue.

Intimate groups (no larger than 12) gather just below the clock tower of Old City Hall where their tour begins and ends 90 minutes later. Before leading the group through the darkened streets of Tacoma by lamp light, Staudinger starts by asking “Who are my believers?” to which some in the group timidly raise their hands while others snicker. “And who are my skeptics?” he asks allowing the second group to chime in, some more enthusiastically than others.

Some tour guides might heckle the non-believers in the crowd and try to prove them wrong, yet every time a particular sassy patron (Staudinger said there is always one) chimes in with a statement of plausible deniability, Staudinger flashes a good-natured smile and whole-heartedly agrees. Anything is possible.

In order to feed the historical narrative, the couple spent weeks scouring newspapers and books, interviewing people who live and work in the vicinity, and possibly going places they shouldn’t.

“We sort of looked into local history and we also took all of the ghost stories we’d heard living in Tacoma and then we’ve woven them all together into a narrative which talks through old Tacoma,” Staudinger said.

Guides also come equipped with a tablet pre-loaded with photos of the historical sites when they were new, as well as photographs of the historical figures that weave themselves in and out of the narrative.

Moreover, Staudinger whips out a virtual reality headset for patrons to pass around and take in a room located in the bowels of the Pantages Theatre as they stand on the street outside the allegedly haunted structure.

The combination of historical facts and Tacoma lore combine into one hair-raising evening for believers and non-believers alike, culminating in a trip to a local watering hole for those who are inclined.

The ghost tours run year-round every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night from 9 p.m. until approximately 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.99 per person or spring for the Boos and Booze Tour for $39.95 per person for a more “spirited” experience at two Tacoma breweries before and after the tour. Tickets are available from prettygrittytours.com.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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