Seattle Times travel editor and true-crime enthusiast Megan Burbank and ghost-averse reporter Crystal Paul take a tour of haunted Seattle to learn about the city’s spooky/criminal history. What could possibly go wrong?
Crystal: Two intrepid (soon to be just “trepid”) Seattle Times journalists and a paranormal specialist drive around Seattle in a van on a Monday night for Private Eye Tours’ “Haunted Happenings” tour of Seattle … It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s more like the beginning of a 1½-tomato horror film. Happily, we already know the ending, and the Black girl doesn’t die in this movie.
Megan: First of all, I AM SORRY. This might be the theme of the night for me? As a morbidly curious Ann Rule fan who grew up following the Green River Killer case in Seattle (and then covered an update on it as an adult, AMA), I usually have a pretty high tolerance for this stuff — visiting places where terrible crimes happened, or that are maybe haunted — but this tour was def worse than I thought it would be. I was VERY scared and I take full responsibility! But yes, the key TL;DR here is that we made it! Nobody had to be the final girl! Yay?
Crystal: No lie, I was kind of relieved when we were unknowingly standing in the wrong parking lot thinking we’d been stood up by the Private Eye Tours van. I like my horror in fictional TV land where the people are pretty Hollywood actors who I can Google later to remind myself that they did not die horrible deaths and are still pretty, rich and happy somewhere. This was 100 percent your idea, Megan.
Megan: I take full responsibility!
Crystal: Once we found the right pickup point and saw the van waiting for us, I was torn between feelings of “Whelp, there go three freaking hours of my night” and “I always knew I’d die in a mysterious white van waiting for me in a parking lot …”
Megan: Was it better or worse than when you thought you might die doing SoulCycle?
Crystal: Aaand now I’m gonna have nightmares about SoulCycle ghosts. Thanks, Megan!
Megan: Maybe the SoulCycle studio you went to will be on the tour someday!
Crystal: This ish was legit scary tho! I really expected to be rolling my eyes at kitschy, silly stories the whole time, but things got so real so fast.
Megan: Yes! It also didn’t help that the van definitely looks like a child-snatching vehicle, and we were the only two people on the Monday-night tour, so we had the ghosts all to ourselves.
Crystal: I wonder if it’s less scary with more people. Like when you watch a scary movie with five characters and you start taking bets on who’ll be the first to get eviscerated by the angry fisherman who knows what you did last summer. But you also know that at least one of them is coming out of this thing alive — you know, for the sequel.
Megan: There’s definitely safety — or improved odds of survival/not getting killed first — in numbers. Although I feel like I would be the person in the horror movie who’s like, “Come ON, guys. There HAS to be a logical explanation.” So, you know, my odds of survival probably wouldn’t be great! Also, I’m not too proud to admit I was genuinely scared for a lot of the ghost tour. I mean, I knew Ted Bundy’s house was in the University District. But there is a difference between being vaguely aware of that fact and then being driven down the alley behind it knowing what happened there.
Crystal: Scariest part for me was definitely the Comet Lodge Cemetery on Beacon Hill … I. Still. Cannot. Believe. That we walked in a cemetery full of unmarked graves and creepy tree circles in the middle of the night (I may forgive you one day, Megan). My saving grace was just imagining that Seattle ghosts are basically the same as the Seattle living and they’re not trying to go out and be wild on a Monday night.
Megan: That part was so upsetting. I kept thinking I was seeing things out of the corner of my eye — I mean, I’m very suggestible and it was nighttime and we only had flashlights, and the cemetery was not laid out in an intuitive way, so there were definitely shadowy objects everywhere that COULD HAVE BEEN people crouching. I DON’T KNOW! I consoled myself with the reassurances our guide gave us: that the ghosts there have been reported to be nice ghosts, and that people who have been dead and buried for a long time in a forgotten cemetery are probably lonely and like having visitors.
Crystal: That was such a sweet notion. I think I audibly “Awwww”-ed.
But, um, can we also talk about the significantly less “aww” moment when we stood in an alley at the site where 13 people were killed …
Megan: Yes, that part was genuinely disturbing for reasons completely unrelated to ghosts. Maynard Alley was the site of arguably one of the worst things that’s ever happened in the city — the Wah Mee massacre, which left 13 people dead in 1983 after three men entered the Wah Mee Social Club and restrained and shot everyone there. Standing in that alley wasn’t scary. It was sad. It just made me think about the impact the shooting had on the community and how it affected perceptions of the Chinatown International District and businesses there — and about how segregated and judgmental Seattle can be sometimes.
Crystal: I feel like owner/guide Jake Jacobson was actually super chill and really sensitive to both of our fears/beliefs/suspicions. But I also feel like she had NO idea what to do with all my “Nooooopes!” and “Uh-uhs!” I literally couldn’t control myself though when she started talking about little ghost boys hanging out in apartment hallways like they got lost on the set of “The Shining.” Nooope!
Megan: Little ghost boys in sailor suits bouncing red rubber balls in the Chelsea Apartments? Are you kidding me? That’s terrifying! That is very “Come play with us, Danny.” No thank you! But yes, I liked that Jake asked us if we were OK and gave us the choice to opt out of the cemetery. I felt like we were in good hands.
Crystal: Def. I think my favorite thing about our guide was how much room for discussion she offered up — asking about our beliefs, talking about different cultural beliefs about spirits, and getting real about how much of Seattle is constructed on land belonging to Native Americans … Oh, and that time she told on all of humanity and said, “I think the living are more likely to harm you than a ghost.”
Megan: Seriously. Put that on a T-shirt.
Crystal: This was a really good, really creepy tour. Honestly, beyond the paranormal element it was just a really interesting tour of Seattle. We covered a good chunk of the city from Queen Anne down to Georgetown, and Jake shared so much interesting history that you might not find in a standard history of Seattle. Not to mention, I feel like all the crazy ghost stories and fear made for a combination that will make me actually remember those history tidbits.
Megan: I agree! I grew up in Seattle and I felt like I came away having learned a lot. I think you’re right that there’s something to learning while you’re afraid you might see a ghost at any moment — maybe the stress helps you absorb the information? I don’t know, you’re the one with the neuro degree.
Crystal: Ha! There are studies that support something like that, but, honestly, the only “science” my brain was doing while we were standing in a cemetery full of unmarked graves (Un. Marked. GRAVES, Megan!) was figuring out which way to run if things started getting a little too “Thriller” on me.
Megan: I was just thinking to myself, “It’s OK, the ghosts are nice. The ghosts are nice.”
If you go
Bring a jacket. You will be getting out of the van a couple of times during the tour and it’ll be after sundown, so bring a coat or risk looking like you’re shaking with fear when you start shivering from the chill.
Bring a friend. Debriefing afterward is a fun way to connect and learn fun facts about your friend’s fears. Also, having someone to laugh with takes the edge off the spooky when it’s time to wander into your creepy old apartment late at night.
Grab an early dinner. The tour goes from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. You might be too freaked out to worry about hunger, but no one will appreciate your stomach growling while you’re cruising past Ted Bundy’s old house.
Private Eye Tours’ “Haunted Happenings Seattle Ghost Tour,” 6:30-9:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday; $35; 206-365-3739, privateeyetours.rezgo.com