Halloween season is a ripe time to explore the dank, dark and spooky passages of deserted batteries that once guarded the entrance to Puget Sound.
FORT CASEY STATE PARK, Whidbey Island — The cold, dank concrete tunnel receded into the inky black. Groundwater stained walls and old rusty hinges caught the beam of my failing flashlight as I inched forward into the subterranean maze.
Somewhere in the labyrinth, I hear a scuffling noise — perhaps another visitor or, more likely, a ghost waiting to terrorize me.
Haunted Fort event at Fort Casey Oct. 20-21
Head for Whidbey Island for a family-friendly haunting of Battery Kingsbury during the Haunted Fort event Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, at Fort Casey Historical State Park, near Coupeville. Take the Haunted Fort and Haunted Switchboard tour (for 10 years old and up) and grab a snack from food vendors. For younger kids, there’s the Children’s Trick or Treat Lane, games, ghost stories and a bounce house. 6:30-10 p.m. both days; $8 per person or $30 for a family up to six; Discover Pass required. Proceeds finance restoration of the neighboring Admiralty Head Lighthouse.
Even if you don’t think ghosts are real, it’s easy to believe they’re lurking in this place — hiding around corners of unlit passageways deep underground at historic Fort Casey.
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I love scaring myself in October. With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the only time that I feel like watching scary movies, and I actually seek out creepy places that make my skin crawl.
The underground bunkers at Fort Casey, as well as at nearby Fort Flagler, on Marrowstone Island, and Port Townsend’s Fort Worden are unnerving places even on bright summer days. Once you’re a few steps underground, your surroundings transform into a real-life horror movie set.
If you’re looking for a place to have a frightfully good time, the three forts are off the charts on the shiver scale.
Forts Casey, Flagler and Worden were military bases known as the “Triangle of Fire” in the late 1800s and early 1900s when they were built to guard the entrance to Puget Sound against a naval invasion.
Massive shore batteries were built across beach and bluff positions hosting “pop up guns” that could pound enemy vessels from three positions.
In the 1950s, the federal government decided the sprawling bases were obsolete and turned over control to the state park system. Much of the year they are wildly popular for their historic officer houses, beachcombing, lighthouses, kite flying, camping and hiking opportunities.
But by far, the catacomb-like bunkers are the most interesting attractions. The surreal collection of concrete defenses, underground tunnels, dark echo-filled rooms and rusty metal doors are almost too good to be true when organizing your own personal spook fest.
The first time I realized the scare potential behind these forts was when I was a teenager on a fall camping trip to Fort Worden. My buddies and I dressed head to toe in army fatigues and spent a long weekend underground blasting one another with Super Soakers.
The network of bunkers is extensive and totally confusing the first time you wander them. But by the end of the weekend, we had the corridors memorized, and could run through them at full speed without lights, finding small corners and tiny rooms to ambush one another.
Ripe setting for ghouls
It normally takes a bit of work to imagine ghosts, but at these old forts, sensing the supernatural comes easy — perhaps because they’re a real presence.
“For more than 100 years, residents and visitors have reported strange sightings and unexplainable sounds within Fort Worden,” says Megan Claflin, a spokeswoman for the public-development authority that oversees various entities operating at the fort.
Building 298 was once used as a military hospital and morgue and you can still see the old bloodletting table inside.
That alone is creepy enough, but there have been frequent reports of a mysterious woman appearing in the second story window. “She is said to appear at the same time each night, around 10:30 p.m., with a light in the window,” says Claflin.
In 2016, Red Ball Paranormal Investigations launched a detailed examination into Fort Worden’s prominent structures. Using specialized photography equipment, EMF (electromagnetic field) sensors and EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorders, they captured numerous images of orbs and EVP recordings.
Claflin says that one investigator felt the presence of a spirit that scared her so badly she decided to never go inside the structure again.
Fun for the whole family
This past summer at Fort Casey, I met Dana Larson, of Olympia, who described a game she plays with her young girls. She takes them deep into the bunkers at night and confiscates their lights. Then she makes them find their way out by feel and sound alone — a practice that always leads to shrieks as they scare one another.
Deep within the tunnels I followed the sounds of cackling howls and laughter where I met three generations of a family touring the fort.
I tried to think of another activity that preteens, parents and grandparents could enjoy equally. But that’s part of the wonder of these forts. It’s so unusual, creepy and cool that I’ve never met someone who didn’t enjoy a visit.
Grandfather Wayne Wille, of Topeka, Kansas, reveled in the military history, while his daughter, Tara Coleman, of Marysville, enjoyed scaring her girls Ashley and Katlyn in the dark rooms.
Tara showed me a Ghost Observer app on her phone that revealed the locations of nearby spirits. They appeared on her screen like creepy Pokemon characters, shining in eerie silhouettes as she panned around.
“They whisper and shriek,” Ashley told me. “And if you pay extra, they’ll even say your name!”
“There are lots of ghosts here,” grinned Tara.
If you go
Visit one or all three
All three forts have large underground bunkers, beach access and camping opportunities nearby. You can also rent one of the houses that formerly housed officers.
• Fort Worden has the most extensive bunker system. More information: parks.state.wa.us/511/Fort-Worden.
• Fort Casey probably has the most scenic location. More info: parks.state.wa.us/505/Fort-Casey.
• Fort Flagler has hiking trails to hidden bunkers that allow you to explore without the crowds. See parks.state.wa.us/508/Fort-Flagler.