Seattle's Museum of the Mysteries leads ghost tours on Capitol Hill, and spotlights otherworldly conundrums from Sasquatches to crop circles.
Tales of a woman in white floating near a stairway. Empty bathrooms locking from the inside. A poker game calling forth the spirit of a long-dead bon vivant. This is the Capitol Hill Ghost Tour: Part local history, part spooky stories, it emanates from the poetically named Seattle Museum of the Mysteries.
About five years ago, director Charlotte LeFevre and librarian Philip Lipson set up the paranormal museum in the basement of the Deluxe Building, which has its own checkered past. “It’s the site of Seattle’s first post-Prohibition bar, and before that it might have been a speak-easy,” says LeFevre, who points to blueprints that suggest the building may contain secret passageways.
Certainly, it had interesting neighbors, sharing a wall with the Woman’s Century Club, a community-service society that continues even now. LeFevre notes that long ago and on occasion, discreet traffic passed between the two sides of the wall.
Today, museum visitors are greeted first by a life-size troll statue at the entrance, and then by Grover, a furry (plush) Sasquatch at the foot of the stairs. Considering its otherworldly purpose, the tiny museum feels cozy, with comfy couches and book-lined walls. Display cases hold evidence of unsolved mysteries, including plaster casts of giant footprints, remnants of a B-25 involved in something called the 1947 Maury Island UFO incident and photos of crop circles in Eastern Washington.
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Browsing gives way to the ghost tour, and for that, on the night we visit, there’s a full house — a few 20-somethings, a group of friends, families with young children. “This is actually quite a family-friendly place,” Lipson says. Referring to the street outside that has a decidedly adult reputation, he adds, “We’re probably the most family-oriented thing on Broadway.”
To get us into the mood, LeFevre leads off with a video on the Prohibition era, then gives a short talk on Seattle history and local mysteries. She asks a woman on the tour to carry the museum’s electromagnetic frequency detector, sort of like a TV remote-control with flashing lights at the top. Normal “EMF” is a steady green light, but the story is that if ghosts join us, it could jump to yellow and sometimes red. LaFevre holds it next to the TV to demonstrate. Green immediately flashes yellow.
Passing through a narrow hallway decorated with photos of the deceased Bruce Lee — they have photos of several famous Seattle dead people — we ascend a staircase. Suddenly, the EMF volunteer cries out: “It’s going from yellow to red! It’s lighting up!”
“Mom, I’m scared,” says a young boy, leaning into his mother.
“It’s OK,” she says. “Here. I’ll hold your hand.”
Ever the pro, LeFevre soothes with pragmatic analysis. “It’s either activity, or the battery’s going out. I’ll put a new one in when we get back.”
She leads us outside, calling the surrounding brick walls “old Seattle, unchanged since the 1930s.” Indicating a nearby stairway, LeFevre tells us that a woman in white has been seen hovering there. We’re asked to report any strange feelings, sightings, hunches or sounds. On a recent tour, right on this very spot, a woman with a tight ponytail felt small tendrils of her hair being gently but clearly pulled from the clasp. But she didn’t tell anyone until later. Thus the need to report.
Now facing Roy Street, our group heads to what is said to be the most haunted place in Seattle, currently known as the Harvard Exit Theater. By the ticket window, LeFevre points at some double doors “where there may well be a secret passageway.” Then she aims her flashlight above the main door. “People don’t look up enough,” she says. Revealed in the circle of light is a crest and its sign, The Woman’s Century Club.
We walk past the popcorn and candy counter to the theater’s main salon. Apparently ghosts favor the fireplace seat, where women dressed in old-fashioned clothing have been seen to linger, then vanish.
“Once, during some renovation, construction workers reported seeing women floating overhead here,” LeFevre says, “and there’s a lot of activity upstairs in the women’s restrooms — doors locking from the inside, rattling doorknobs. The men’s room has reported recent activity. People have also seen things floating down the staircase.”
It seems one local apparition has a fetish because here, too, theatergoers have reported someone messing with their hair in the dark. But there was no one there.
A ghostly poker game
Outside, we’re introduced to the Tudor-style Loveless Building, across the street. LeFevre thinks it may be occupied by the spirit of its architect, Arthur Loveless. Employees in a coffee house have witnessed the radio volume going up all by itself, and one person claims to have seen the old man himself.
Nearby, the original Cornish art school also is said to host a ghost. A longtime employee there told LeFevre that she once saw founder Nellie Cornish sweeping down the hall in a long black dress.
What to make of these spooky stories? “I’m open-minded,” says Greg Aoagi, 26, of Seattle. “It’s fun. It’s odd. I’d like to see a ghost.”
Less certain is his mother, Julie Schwartz. “This is Halloween-ish, so that’s good,” laughs Schwartz, “but I don’t know. I guess I’m skeptical.”
Back in the museum, sitting around a poker table, we conclude the tour with a “lock-in.” The doors are shut and a round of “ghost poker” is played (no money, just chips), all in an attempt to entice an appearance by the building’s resident ghost — gambler and bon vivant Peter Alexander Dunnovitch.
LeFevre pours a shot of his favorite whiskey and places the EMF next to his cards. Kristina Bloom, of Bellevue, a self-identified “sensitive,” sits next to Dunnovitch’s chair and almost immediately feels ill “because of the energy.”
She gets up, and 26-year-old Mony Ty takes her place, requesting a new card from dealer LeFevre. Does he feel sick in the chair?
He looks down at his new poker hand. “I feel sick that I gave that card away.”
While Ty got a kick out of the tour and the museum, he remained unconvinced. “As a kid, it was fun playing scary games and seeing scary movies. My family is Buddhist, so we had a shrine at home to please the spirits. But I grew up in the age of computers. I don’t really believe all that stuff.”
From the sidelines, museum co-founder Lipson watches the poker game unfold. He takes the middle way, neither a skeptic nor true believer. “In our museum, we try to offer ideas you might not have considered before.” He smiles. “It’s like what Rod Serling said on the TV show, ‘Twilight Zone’: ‘submitted for your approval.’ We find these things interesting, and we think you might, too.”
Freelance writer Connie McDougall of Seattle is a regular contributor to NWWeekend. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org.