Haunted History: Port Townsend Washington
If anyone has ever ventured to Port Townsend in Washington State, you’d see why I based “Lacey, New York,” my fictional setting of my novel, almost entirely off of it, and you’d understand why I long to return, and why I find it hard to be satisfied with where I currently live, surrounded by traffic and glass modern buildings that all look the same.
Port Townsend has an air about it that is very difficult to describe in words. When you stand alone on the old cobblestone sidewalks early in the morning, it’s almost like you lose a sense of who, when, and where you are. You may even find yourself saying aloud, “What year is it?” in the same way Robin Williams did in the movie “Jumanji.” You are surrounded by timeless old buildings that were built in the 1870s and 1880s, at the height of the late Victorian architectural period where buildings were dominated by elaborate Queen Anne, Second Empire, and Stick design.
Port Townsend stands with New Jersey’s Cape May as the last of the original Victorian-era shipping ports in the US (in the days where windjammers were reaching the final stretch of their glory years). Before the capital city of Washington State was Olympia, Port Townsend was actually considered. In its heyday, notable figures such as Charles Eisenbeis, a lumber tycoon, and Captain Tibbals, a retired captain who owned a few hotels and saloons in the area, had grand homes built in Uptown Port Townsend. Downtown Port Townsend consisted of the brothels, inns, and opium dens. Blood and opium ran the streets of downtown Port Townsend as rowdy sailors from all over the world stopped for booze, drugs, and girls; some of these sailors did not leave Port Townsend alive. Seattle Times dubbed the town as ‘Bloody Townsend’ and wealthy Seattle-ites who considered moving there and bringing their businesses quickly changed their minds, not wanting to be associated with such atrocities. The town’s financial concerns were another problem, and, toward the end of the 1890s, plans for a railroad fell through. With other Puget Sound towns surrounding Port Townsend advancing, Port Townsend gradually fell into a decline. Because of this, several buildings stood abandoned. In the 1970s, as the hippy generation from large cities such as Seattle and Portland began to have families of their own, they searched for quiet places close to nature to raise their children, and they decided Port Townsend was the perfect candidate. “Hippies” were against waste, so instead of tearing down the buildings in Port Townsend, they saw the potential in them and had the buildings restored to their original splendor. Businesses began to move back in as the old buildings, which were being torn down elsewhere, became a tourist attraction. Port Townsend was declared, and is protected, as a National Historic site, and several buildings, such as Manresa Castle, Jefferson County Courthouse, and Carnegie Library, were registered as National Historic Buildings.
Of course, aside from the architectural features that make some of these buildings stand out, some of them have an extra addition; a specter that has decided to make Port Townsend their permanent home.
The Palace Hotel, one of the more famous hotels in Port Townsend, was formerly a brothel, and is considered the most haunted building in Port Townsend. The former sea captain who constructed the hotel is said to stroll the hallways. Spectral prostitutes are seen hurrying to and fro from room to room. The more comical of the stories likely involves the ghost of young sailor who paid for the services of a prostitute in one of the rooms where she allegedly robbed him before stabbing him to death. His apparition has been seen in the hallways on occasion but this sailor seems to have returned to the site of his grisly murder not to be seen, but instead to play pranks on unsuspecting guests. He likes to open windows in rooms when it is bitterly cold outside, he is said to pull hair, tap people on the shoulder, and trip people as they walk down the stairs, and, funniest of all, the young prankster has been blamed for toilets being flushed right under the bums of guests who are seated on them!
The Hastings Building is home to the ghost of a man in late 1800s clothing who hates it when the lights are off and the windows are closed. The building which now sits empty and up for sale used to be a law firm, and those who worked at the law firm would come in to find lights on that had been off and windows flung open even though the had been closed and locked.
Ann Starrett still haunts her home (The Ann Starrett Mansion) which had been a wedding gift to her from her husband. She is often seen in the upstairs hallway and out in the yard.
Manresa Castle, constructed by lumber tycoon Charles Eisenbeis, is still home to the ghost of Eisenbeis’ niece, Kate, who leapt to her death in room 306 after her lover never returned from sea, and also the ghost of a monk who hanged himself in one of the third floor rooms during the late 1920s when Manresa Castle was used as a training college for Jesuit priests (It was the Jesuits who gave the Eisenbeis home ‘Manresa Castle’ that it is still known as today).
Walking down the streets of Port Townsend is like seeing the past come to life, in a way. You have a better experience when it’s early in the morning and you’re standing at the edge of the Sound, looking out from Water Street, and it’s just you and the old buildings. You’ll see some old faded advertisements that stand as a relic of a time long gone. You’ll see the old buildings that will make you forget what time you’re in. You might even find yourself face to face with a former Port Townsend resident of the past.