Ghost stories and pubs go together like Tacoma and grit. So launching a new 21-and-older ghost tour at the Dome District’s Wingman Brewers just in time for Halloween seems like a no-brainer for Tacoma Ghost Tours, which spices up the late-night, adult-only tour with plenty of gory stories that get left out of their all-ages Downtown and Stadium tours. But if you want something scarier, the company also is hosting two ghost hunt nights this month at one of downtown’s reportedly most haunted spots: Brandy’s Attic.
As the five of us stand on a dark street corner, the rain backlit by a solo street lamp, the tale seems pretty believable. Just across the street inside Freighthouse Square — now closed and silent — a kid had gotten lost on a ghost event one previous Halloween. When he was found, he suddenly screamed and grabbed his wrist. As he let go, the others could see burning red finger marks on his skin.
As Tacoma Ghost Tour co-founder Andrew Hansen finishes the story, two of us are paying rapt attention. One couple, though, is giggling, just a bit drunk, and the last guy is checking his phone. Following Hansen, we traipse across the wet road, staggering slightly as cars approach to avoid becoming ghost stories ourselves.
It’s the very first night of Tacoma’s first 21-and-older ghost tour, and everyone’s discovering what happens when you mix beer and spirits.
“At Tacoma Ghost Tours we take accounts of paranormal activity, most of which we hear first-hand from other people, we look into the history of (those) areas and we take the connections and present them to the public,” Hansen said.
This approach worked well for the locations on the original downtown tour, begun in 2012. But it didn’t work so well for other supposedly haunted locations discovered by Hansen and his father Charlie, who co-own the company and lead tours. Some, like the Puyallup tribal cemetery and the Tideflats, were too far to walk to on a 90-minute tour. Others, like the Brown & Haley candy factory, weren’t keen on letting visitors in to hear about their ghosts. Still others, like Wingman Brewers, were 21-and-older venues.
The solution? An outside 21-and-older tour in the Dome District, running Thursdays-Saturdays and beginning with beer.
“We’re starting inside, as Tacoma doesn’t allow drinking on the streets,” said Hansen, leading our merry group over to the giant barrels by the front door. As people sip, he tells us about the Wingman ghost (heavy doors that slam by themselves, strange noises) and possible reasons why (the location might be an ancient Native American burial ground). Talking a mile a minute with a historian’s enthusiasm, he also tells us about how the Tideflats shantytown burned down during the Great Depression, and the mysterious ghostly figure in a plaid shirt that’s seen walking around the area.
But we’re not walking all the way to the Tideflats, thankfully. Finishing our beers, we follow Hansen out into the cold, rainy October night and stop on various street corners to hear local stories: the lost kid in Freighthouse Square, the shadowy man who disappears out of a locked window at Alfred’s Café (formerly a brothel), the figure people see on the catwalk high up in the Tacoma Dome, the odd noises in the former Puyallup administrative building opposite the cemetery (formerly a tuberculosis hospital, now a parking lot) and the Fourth of July trolley disaster up the hill on Delin Street. There’s the elevator that seems to move by itself in the Brown & Haley factory, where there are so many incidents there is even a three-ring binder to hold all the reports — or so the rumor goes, Hansen said.
We hop on the light rail and finish the tour at Union Station, where we hear about the firefighter who died in the 1908 fire in the Garretson Woodruff and Pratt building and still apparently messes with the thermostat, and the woman in blue seen hovering inside Union Station itself.
Of course, you can’t go inside any of these buildings at 10 p.m., which is when our tour ends. But with a tablet full of historic photos and a head full of historic tales, Hansen keeps the possibilities open — while amicably dealing with tour guests who have imbibed more spirits than they saw.
“It was really interesting,” said tour guest Tylar Strong from Olympia. “Not being from Tacoma, learning all the different history that has gone on.”
As Hansen puts it, seeing an actual ghost isn’t really the point.
“Even if nothing happens, just the potential for something happening is enough,” he said.
I’m holding a haunted photo album, standing by a haunted cabinet in one of downtown Tacoma’s most haunted shops: Brandy’s Attic antiques. Sadly, I’m not feeling a thing.
Of course, it’s hard to feel spooked when loud ’80s rock is crashing through the sound system — but don’t get too complacent. Apparently, that’s just the kind of music that Wilhemina disapproves of.
“I was a total non-believer in the afterlife when we moved in here,” says Jason Brinar, co-owner of Brandy’s. “Not so anymore.”
Sit Brinar down on one of his antique chairs in the Broadway shop and you’ll hear some stories that might convince you, too.
Formerly the Mecca Theater building, the space was notorious in the neighborhood for paranormal incidents. For Brinar and his wife Brandy, they began the night they moved in three years ago. A feeling of being pushed as he stood alone in the shop, sorting jewelry. Eerie, unexplainable knocking noises in the wall. Creaking sounds 10 feet up in the air, exactly where a former second floor used to be. A bathroom door that opens by itself. A heavy frame knocked over by nobody. Complaints from neighbors about loud noises all night long — while the store was empty.
It was enough to convince the Hansens, and when they set up Tacoma Ghost Tours they began their itinerary at Brandy’s. Brinar has seen private paranormal investigations of all kinds, visits from psychics who’ve advised him to burn a certain Victorian photo album (he just burned the most disturbing photo instead) and a woman customer who began talking to something called Wilhemina inside a cabinet, who apparently didn’t like Brinar’s rock music and showed it by knocking things over. The cabinet is still there, as well as the photo album, with a woman in high-necked Victorian dress staring from the second-back page.
After Hansen attended an investigation last year, he wanted to offer something to the public. So this month, Tacoma Ghost Tours will offer a public ghost hunt at Brandy’s. Participants will sit in the darkened antiques shop in the spot — currently hedged protectively with stacks of goods — where most of the activity has been recorded: sudden dips in temperature, weird sounds, nasty feelings. You’re encouraged to bring your own recording device.
“On tours we see people have a physical reaction,” Brinar said of the store’s paranormal presence. “Kids cry, dogs bark. It’s intermittent, maybe 50 percent of the time. But we’ve caught these things on camera, customers hear it. I believe in this now.”
The ghost hunts might be your last chance to investigate for yourself. Brinar is moving out early next year, though it’s not because of anything supernatural.
“The landlord’s raising the rent,” he said prosaically.
Tacoma Ghost Tours
Downtown tour I (Theater District): 6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; begins at Brandy’s Attic, 755 Broadway, Tacoma. $16 general; $14 senior, student, military (two for one at groupon.com).
Downtown tour II (Dome District): 8:15 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; begins at Wingman Brewers, 509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma. 21-and-older. $12 general; $10 senior, student, military (two for one at groupon.com).
Stadium District tour: 4 p.m. Saturdays; begins at King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma. $10.
Public Ghost Hunt: Oct. 22 and 28; Brandy’s Attic, 755 Broadway, Tacoma. Not for young children. $12/$10.
Reservations: 253-732-3532, tacomaghosttours.com.