The Haunted History of the Seattle Underground

Seattle, Washington’s largest city, owes its growth in the Pacific Northwest primarily because of the logging industry. And the same industry that built the city almost ruined it.

The founders of Seattle constructed their fledgling metropolis at sea level, which didn’t fare well when the sea rose, causing heavy flooding to homes and businesses. Their second error was in building the town almost entirely of wood, an easily accessible material for the northwest, but which also made it highly vulnerable to fire. It was a gigantic tinderbox waiting for the inevitable match to set it ablaze. 

Seattle Underground: A Brief History

On June 6, 1889, that inevitable event occurred when the Great Seattle Fire wiped out 31 blocks of houses, businesses, and workshops, causing what would be today a half billion dollars in damages. Little survived the flames. 

The commonly accepted cause of the fire is attributed to the cabinetmaker, Jonathan Edward Black, who accidentally forgot the glue he was heating over a gasoline flame until it boiled over and caught the workshop on fire. Black further compounded the fire by attempting to pour water over it, thinning the already ignited turpentine and spreading it further.

By the time the fire brigade arrived, the fire was already out of control. And because of the number of hoses used simultaneously, the water pressure dropped, diminishing the amount of water available. And so the fire raged uncontrollably from 2:30 p.m. on June 6 until 3:00 a.m. the following day. Luckily, no one died, but over 5,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods, and the city was in ruins. 

Rebuilding a once-thriving city is no easy task, especially when you want to prevent the same disaster from reoccurring. This time, the city leaders decided to rebuild with stone and brick and add height to keep the streets and businesses above sea level, so they raised the streets 22 feet, leaving what remained as what would eventually become the Seattle Underground.

During this rebuilding period, the townspeople could shop in both the new city above and the underground shops that survived and were still in business, sometimes climbing from one level to another with ladders. 

But, in 1907, fear of the bubonic plague caused the city to condemn the underground, and it was evacuated, then abandoned or used as storage space for the businesses above. Still, a tiny portion of the underground remained open for more clandestine activities like prostitution, speakeasies, gambling, and opium dens. It also served as a haven for the homeless.

The underground became where the underbelly of the city thrived. It remained in this state until the 1950s when a local man and columnist for the Seattle Times, Bill Speidel, spearheaded a movement to preserve the subterranean ruins of the Seattle Underground. 

Paranormal Activity and Evidence

In its heydey before and after the Great Seattle Fire, Pioneer Square, where the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels sits, was rampant with violence and shootouts between the police, businessmen, and those who lived and traded within the underground. Unfortunately, many innocent bystanders also became victims of the crossfire and died. And where there is death, you’ll find ghosts willing to tell their story. 

One of these innocent bystanders was a bank teller named Edward, who worked at the city’s old Scandanavian-American Bank and was shot and killed during a robbery while working behind the teller’s cage in one of the most haunted underground sections.

Edward’s ghost has been captured via EVPs when asked his name and sometimes refers to himself as “Eddy” or “Edward.” His tall figure sporting suspenders and a top hat was also allegedly first spotted in the 1980s by a tour guide. However, his large handlebar mustache sets him apart from the other apparitions seen there. Orbs and cold spots attributed to a woman allegedly killed in the bank vault are also seen and felt. 

George Payne is another entity who’s made his presence known via EVPs. The reason he was locked in jail is unclear, but while there, an angry mob stormed the prison and hung him along with two incarcerated robbers in Seattle Park. He’s still hanging around Seattle and identifies himself through EVPs as “George ‘I’m Innocent’ Payne.” His favorite phrases are,

  • “You’ve killed an innocent man,”
  • “I am innocent.” 

Another paranormal hotspot is the underground entrance to the Oriental Hotel on the street above, which used to be a brothel. Interestingly, the code word ‘seamstress’ was used in place of the word prostitute. And Seattle had over 2,000 registered ‘seamstresses’ living there during this time. Ghostly female silhouettes are frequently seen in the tunnels near the area. 

Several other paranormal activities have been witnessed in the Seattle underground, among them being a transparent apparition of a woman dressed in all-white apparel. Another woman makes her posthumous presence known there, but this one sports a Victorian-era dress and frequently photo-bombs tourists’ selfies, to their great surprise.

Then, there are the spectral faces that are regularly seen peering through the windows of the underground tunnel’s entrance. So, there’s more to the Seattle Underground than things that go bump in the night; those other things make it one of the five most haunted locations in Washington

If you find yourself in Seattle, Washington, visiting the Seattle Underground is a must-see for the paranormal curious. But first, take some time to research the various tours in the area. The length of time underground varies; some tour companies provide investigative equipment so you can do your own ghost hunting while there.

Get Travel Directions

Looking to travel to the haunted Seattle Underground?

Use the Google map below to plot out your route, and browse our list of paranormal conventions and events to see if there are any happenings in the area!

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