Charlie and Andrew Hansen are the worst kind of people.
Night after night they walk the streets of Tacoma, spreading horrible stories about people who are unable to defend themselves.
But the father-son team can be forgiven. Those stories, which mainly focus on ghosts, are highly entertaining. And ghosts can’t sue for slander.
The Hansens alternate as tour guides for “Terrified in Tacoma,” a thrice-weekly 90-minute walking tour through downtown Tacoma and into its sordid past of murder, kidnapping, curses and hauntings — plus Bigfoot, UFOs and Men in Black tossed in for good measure.
And, like a parent sneaking vegetables onto a child’s plate, they throw in a lot of local history.
All of the ghost stories are allegedly true. “Allegedly” is a word we newspaper types use to put a mile of doubt between us and the people we’re interviewing.
I met up with Andrew Hansen in the eclectic rambling antique store Brandy’s Attic on Antique Row. It should not come as a surprise that Brandy’s is haunted. Allegedly.
“We try to be as factual as possible. At least as factual as these things will allow,” Hansen said. The Hansens are partnered with Spooked in Seattle, a group that runs several ghost-themed tours in Jet City. Would-be entrepreneurs take note: “Frustrated in Fife” is all yours.
Hansen informs the half-dozen people on this night’s tour that Washington is the Bigfoot capital of the U.S., and Pierce County is the Bigfoot capital of Washington. But that’s not our only claim to fame.
“Pierce County is where the term ‘flying saucer’ was first used and coined back in 1947,” Hansen relates in his polished presentation. In happened when a pilot was looking for a downed aircraft near Mount Rainier. “He claimed to have encountered several disc-like silver objects that hovered and then took off at 1,000 mph.”
It’s also the first appearance of the Men in Black — government agents who clean-up after extraterrestrial appearances. (See Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones for more on that.)
Two of this nights’ tour members were father and son Ken and Dominic Passmore. Dominic mixes the enthusiasm of a 7-year-old with the scholarly expertise of a 60-year-old. Ken doesn’t say much.
“Ghosts, where they die, they show up. Mostly,” Dominic sagely observed after we left Brandy’s Attic and headed down Broadway to South Ninth Street.
Dominic was visibly disappointed when Hansen informed the group there would be no entry into buildings on the tour, including the Pantages Theater, which we were now standing outside.
The Pantages opened in 1918 and has seen a lot of drama since then.
Inside the theater, Hansen said, is a carved likeness of founder Alexander Pantages. “According to reports, the expression on this mask will change from a smile to a frown based on the quality of the performance,” Hansen said.
Everybody’s a critic.
But Pantages, who died in 1936, is also a helpful ghost. Hansen said another legend involves cold air blowing on the legs of theater patrons when they reach the row where their seats are located.
“Some ghosts have died a horrible death in places and then they blow cold air and do stuff to spook people. Very bad,” Dominic said shaking his head.
In a parking lot between Court A and A Street, Hansen tells the story of Tacoma real estate tycoon Allen Mason. In the late 1880s, Mason took a Grand Tour of the World, which included a cruise up the Nile River.
“In that time, oddities were very popular, and mummies were the big-ticket item,” Hansen said.
Mason bought one of those mummies, a 2,600-year-old priest named Ankh-Wennefer. Mason’s wife refused to have the mummy in the house. Undaunted, Mason apparently drove Ankh-Wennefer around in his carriage and brought it out for parties. It’s easy to see why mummies curse the living.
Ankh-Wennefer and his coffin are now in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society. This did not seem to assuage Dominic.
“If these mummies’ curses are real, don’t you think we’re kind of trespassing on his land right now?” he asked the group as we walked through the parking lot. For a few seconds, we gave the idea thoughtful consideration.
Hansen then took the tour to Fireman’s Park and explained Shanghaiing — the act of kidnapping someone to work as a sailor on a ship usually bound for Asia.
“Every port city in the 1800s, early 1900s, participated in this to some degree,” Hansen said.
The area once was filled with secret tunnels to aid in Shanghaiing and smuggling. Today, the only remnant of them is below Meconi’s Pub & Eatery, Hansen said.
We cross the street to the imposing and vacant Old City Hall, built in 1893.
“The clock tower itself is a freestanding structure. Apparently, if the rest of the building falls, it will continue to stand,” Hansen said. It uses a Disneyland architectural style — the walls lean in as they rise. “So, when you’re looking up, it gives off the sense that it’s a lot more grand and bigger than it is.”
It’s at Old City Hall where Hansen relates the story of a Tacoma serial killer who put a hex on everyone involved in his prosecution. People dropped like flies.
That gave Dominic pause.
“Maybe they’re going to haunt us forever because we trespassed on those ghosts’ land,” Dominic said rather optimistically.
“You better call Ghost Busters,” Hansen told him.
“Yeah,” Dominic agreed. Watching “Ghostbusters” with his father was how Dominic said he obtained much of his phantasmic information.
That and “Scooby-Doo.”
The Hansens’ tour has been so popular — 3,500 participants since its inception in fall 2012 — they plan to add another ghost tour focusing on Tacoma’s Stadium District.
“There’s a couple of famous haunted buildings there,” Charlie Hansen said with an enthusiasm only Dominic could match.