Hunting for haunted places around the Northwest

We Palmers have not been woo woo people historically; no astrological charting for us, no razor blades under our crystals, nobody born with a caul and the subsequent ability to predict rain.

Then three years ago we were given a new book by Dennis William Hauck titled "Haunted Places: The National Directory," a state-by-state listing of "Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings and other Supernatural Locations," ranging from a haunted chapel in Alabama to evil mud pots in Yellowstone National Park. Our son Ned inhaled deeply from this book, especially the parts about the Northwest states.

Now, whenever we go somewhere, even on some short hops around Seattle, we check out the local ghostly abodes. (We don't care about Sacred Sites and UFO Landings. We're specialists.)

Ghost-hunting is a pleasant diversion on a slow day in, say, Multnomah Falls, Ore. (Upper Falls, suicidal Indian maiden), and it's also a great way to learn something about an area besides the principal exports and recreational opportunities — usually a little tawdry story the local Chamber of Commerce doesn't care to mention.

And of course, there's always the chance we'll run into an actual ghost and get scared witless.

Meeting a ghost isn't the point, however. When people hear about our ghost-hunting, they always ask whether we've actually seen any ghosts, ha ha ha. Now, after years of visiting Northwest haunted places, from the Robert Louis Stevenson-haunted ship in Everett to the haunted public-relations office of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, our answer is still no.

But that doesn't mean our trips have been wasted. People hunt for all kinds of things they never find — rich relatives, the Northwest Passage, elk — but they keep doing it anyway for the joy of the hunt, and whatever else might turn up. Even if we never see a ghost, just knowing that in the 1940s a poltergeist at a Seattle housing development often sang "Blue Moon" in a "deep, rich, captivating baritone" is enough for us.

Transylvania West

Whether the Northwest is fertile ghost country depends on who's talking. "The Field Guide to North American Hauntings" lists Washington as a state with few haunted sites compared with the East Coast. But "Classic American Ghost Stories" reports that some ghost hunters claim the Pacific Northwest is the most haunted part of America — the "Transylvania of the Western Hemisphere" — partly because ghosts play an important role in the culture of our indigenous peoples and mostly because our gloomy weather is the kind ghosts like.

Ghosts naturally seek damp, gloomy places because they are almost always people who died roughly. The top 10 causes of ghost-creating demise, according to the field guide, are poisoning, starvation, disease, drowning, immolation, strangulation, severe trauma, shooting, stabbing, decapitation and dismemberment. Which just about covers it. No wonder ghosts are depressed; no wonder they seek Northwest-style dripping gloom in which to spend eternity.

One of our first ghost hunts was at Seattle's Kinnear Park, which can be downright dismal during a damp dusk. That's when people in the park have heard a ghost baby crying. We don't know who the baby is, or how it became a ghost. But if it achieved ghosthood by one of the top 10 causes, we can understand why it cries. Although not when we were there, of course.

Another good, spooky Seattle ghost site is Pike Place Market, with its long, dark hallways, mood y lighting, and many dead sea creatures staring at you. Ghost-population-wise, if the Northwest is Transylvania, then the Market is the old, abandoned mill. Resident shades include a "Famous Name Ghost," Kick-is-om-lo (a k a Princess Angeline), who was the daughter of Chief Seattle. She died in her shack near the Market in 1896, and now appears most often to elderly people, a harbinger of The End being nigh.

The Market also is haunted by a fat woman ghost — a barber who used to sing her clients to sleep and then pick their pockets; a mischievous young poltergeist who hangs around the Craft Emporium rearranging the stock; and perhaps dozens of other spirits.

Another "Famous Name Female Ghost" haunts the Harvard Exit Theatre on Capitol Hill. Among the many women in old clothing who have floated through the lobby over the years is Bertha Landes (1868-1943), who in 1926 became Seattle's only female mayor. The Harvard Exit was originally the Women's Century Club, where Bertha was a member. We assume that's why she's haunting the place, waiting patiently for all the latte-sipping cineastes to disperse so the meeting can begin.

Other Seattle public places with ghosts include Green Lake, where a "shadowy apparition" was blamed for some kidnappings in the 1920s; a dorm at the University of Washington where a student committed suicide 40 years ago but still won't move out; Pier 70, with a phantom ghost ship off the end of the pier; and West Beach, near Alki, where in 1933 an old Indian gentleman materialized before dozens of witnesses, then disappeared in that irritating way ghosts have of not being there when we show up.

And though we haven't visited this one, for 20 years duffers at Glen Acres Golf and Country Club on South 112th Street encountered a naked man who did Indian dances on the fairways — a Naked Dancing Ghost Hazard, surely good for a penalty point.

One of the best things about ghost hunting is going to places where they don't know they have a ghost, and telling them.

In Portland at a former funeral home-turned-vacuum-cleaner-sales office, we told the amazed receptionist that our National Registry says the place is haunted. "Well," she said, "that explains a lot" — just the reaction every good ghost hunter seeks. A librarian at Seattle Central Community College was just as surprised to hear that Burnley, a 1913 Broadway High student who was killed in a fight, still haunts his old ... haunts. But she didn't have any personal experience with him.

Trappings of a ghost hunter

There's very good ghost hunting both north and south of Seattle. The good thing about ghost-hunting trips, unlike camping, boating, or mountain-climbing excursions, is that you don't need any special equipment. At least we don't think you do. Peter Underwood, a Briton who's the self-proclaimed "world's leading paranormal investigator" and author of several books, says in his "Guide to Ghosts and Haunted Places" that the true ghost hunter should have:

"Cameras with slow, regular, fast and infra-red films; a camera with time exposure; an instant camera; a movie camera; notebooks; graph paper; writing implements of various colors; sound-recording apparatus (including normal, miniature and very sensitive); thermometers (regular, maximum/minimum and thermographs); flashlights of various kinds with spare batteries and bulbs; several measuring tapes; black cotton and thread; colored adhesive tape; gummed labels; thin wire and self-adhesive labels and impact adhesive (which should enable the investigator to seal rooms, passages, doorways and windows in such a fashion that he knows immediately whether they are opened or used without his knowledge); tie-on luggage labels; a couple of mirrors, including one that can be swiveled in any direction such as an old car rear-view mirror; candles and matches; an assortment of small screws, nails, tin tacks and push pins; a small hammer, screwdriver and pliers; luminous plain and a strain gauge (for measuring the force necessary to close or open a door or drawer); a spring balance (for measuring the weight of any article removed by paranormal means); a reliable watch; apparatus for measuring atmospheric pressure, wind force and humidity; metal detectors; walkie-talkie sets; sound scanners; magnetometers and electric field measuring devices; capacity charge recorders ... "

But then Peter Underwood is obviously nuts. The flashlight's a good idea, though.

Northwest haunts

In Northwest Washington there are two great ghost places.

In 1938, very rich Californian Donald Rheem bought the mansion on Orcas Island that would become Rosario Resort from ex-Seattle Mayor Robert Moran. Rheem said he was going to use the 54-room bungalow as a summer home, but some say he bought it as a remote place to stash his wife, Alice Goodfellow Rheem. Alice was ... wild. She liked to have a good time, and she liked to be well-refreshed while having it. There are still people on Orcas who remember her zooming around on her motorcycle, wearing either a red evening gown or a red nightgown — apparently Alice didn't always make a distinction between them.

Around Christmas 1956, she took a header off the Rosario library balcony and landed on the back of her neck in the music room below. (Rumors still abound about how this might have happened. And to be accurate, some reports concerning her passing don't even mention the accident.)

Exit Alice, but not for good. She returns each year around the holidays, bringing an "odd presence" to the music room, just as she did in life. A few guests have sensed her there, although Rosario concierge Bill Humes has yet to have a near-Alice experience, and talks like a man who believes there is less to Alice the Ghost than doesn't meet the eye. Although the balcony from which she departed is closed to the public, you can visit her beautifully maintained landing site in the music room.

Another odd female ghost haunts the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. Judy was a very popular girl with the local sports until her house was demolished in 1927 to build the theater. So she haunts it — especially the balcony — and has been known to give the old come-hither to male projectionists and other gents. The refurbishing of the theater in 1996 didn't drive Judy the Overly Friendly Ghost away, so we wonder how she enjoyed the recent Pink Floyd Laser Show.

Southern haunts

Down south are some of the best and most accessible haunted places in the Northwest. The souls of those who died in the eruption of Mount St. Helens reportedly haunt Spirit Lake nearby. At Old Fort Vancouver, a Native American exorcism was held in 1993 to calm the spirits that manifested themselves as glowing mists on the parade ground.

Oregon offers the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, the White Eagle Café and Saloon in Portland, and Crater Lake.

Also in Portland is a good drive-by site. KWJJ Radio, located in a beautiful 1893 mansion on Southwest King Street, is haunted by at least three specters — a servant girl, a man in a white suit and an elderly man who hangs around in the attic. Just the idea of a radio station with an attic is refreshing.

There are dozens more Northwest haunted sites listed in various ghost books — if you can find the books. A Seattle Public Librarian told us that the two subject areas most often filched from the library are ghosts and kung fu. (We assume live human beings are taking the kung fu books.)

And we've been most encouraged by the fact that in any group of people, at least one person has been or is being haunted, and wants to talk about it. New haunted places, in other words, are popping up all the time here in Transylvania West. It's time to gather in the town square, light the torches and get out there.

Greg Palmer is a Seattle-based writer currently working on a PBS documentary series about the American experience in World War II.