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Touring the ghostly sites of Seattle's Pike Place Market

By Gina Kim
Seattle Times staff reporter

JIMI LOTT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Michael Yaeger, co-owner of a Pike Place Market shop, leads an informal ghost tour that lasts about an hour.

Michael Yaeger halted midstep. He knew he was seeing a once-in-a-lifetime apparition. Cold chills overcame his body, and he couldn't tear his gaze from the old lady's intense blue eyes.

He blinked. And then the woman in the Native American garb was gone.

"I've had ghostly experiences my entire life," said Yaeger, who co-owns Studio Solstone, a watercolor shop in the Pike Place Market. "It's nothing formal, I just have that kind of sensitivity."

After that ghost sighting while walking through a Pike Place hallway in the early 1980s, Yaeger learned of multiple ghosts living in the bowels of the historic market. There's the young boy who likes the colorful baubles in a bead store. The fat lady who used to work in the barber shop. And the fighting spirits in the meat locker of a Greek deli.

"The Pike Place Market is center stage. It's where people congregate," said Yaeger. "The spirits, if they're going to stick around in a spiritual way, will definitely find a place comfortable for themselves, or where they died. ... The market is a congenial atmosphere, and they're not really threatened here."

JIMI LOTT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
An old gate at the Livingston Baxter Apartments leads to the lower Pike Place Market area, where unexplained singing is sometimes heard after hours.
At the request of ghost-hunters and those interested in the supernatural, Yaeger began leading tours through the Market along with Sheila Lyon, another store-owner, almost 20 years ago. People pay what they can, and for the first decade or so, the proceeds went into Rachel, the Market's 550-pound bronze piggy bank, benefiting the Market Foundation's medical clinic, senior and child-care centers and downtown food bank.

"The purpose is fun," said Lyon, who hasn't had a first-hand ghost experience, but would like to. "Who really knows, right?"

A sharing of spirits

Snowy-bearded and bespectacled, Yaeger tributes another era in his black top hat and overcoat. And his tales are best told around oil lanterns and wood-burning stoves.

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To arrange a ghost tour of the Pike Place Market, call Michael Yaeger at Studio Solstone, 206-624-9102, or Sheila Lyon, 206-713-8506. Tours are informal and last about an hour. Tour-goers are asked to pay a $10 donation.

For more information about Amateur Ghost Hunters of Seattle, Tacoma (AGHOST), see www.theresaghost.com. The group celebrates its second anniversary with a Halloween party tomorrow, 8 p.m.-2 a.m., at University Heights Center, 5031 University Way N.E., Seattle. Food and dancing, plus a midnight tour-by-flashlight of the allegedly haunted center, are included in the $15 admission. Tickets are limited, and may be purchased through the Web site.

"When you see a ghost or feel a ghost, it's different than imagining a ghost," he informed a recent tour group, accentuating each point with a wand-like baton.

After meeting a group of serious ghost hunters armed with cameras, cassette recorders, temperature gauges and electromagnetic energy readers at the brass pig, Yaeger pointed out where the ghost of former Market director Arthur Goodwin allegedly likes to dawdle. Although Yaeger has never seen the nephew of Frank Goodwin, the real-estate developer who built much of the early Market, there are constant reports that he frequents the site of his office.

Goodwin watched the goings-on at the Market during the 1920s and 1930s from his upper-level office, now the Goodwin Library. Although long dead, he still sticks to his old routine, said Yaeger.

"I think ghosts have a want-to-be-seen thing about them," he said.

Inexplicable visions and feelings have peppered Yaeger's life. But he didn't take them seriously until his early 20s in Los Angeles. He had climbed into his car and was about to drive down a one-lane road when an overwhelming force told him not to start his car. He and the force sat there and watched as another car roared up the hill, without concern for anything in its path.

"If I had started and left, I would have been hit hard. I might have died," recalled Yaeger, now 62. "It was so shocking and flabbergasting that I even leaned over and opened the door so the spirit could get out."

Soon after moving to Seattle in 1979, Yaeger found himself face-to-face with the Native American woman who had the brightest blue eyes he had ever seen. And the stories of others caught between worlds have since found him.

The Market haunts

About a decade ago, an elderly woman stopped by Yaeger's shop to tell him about the man who gave her the dance of her life.

JIMI LOTT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Tour-goers stop at The Point Sculpture, at the Pine Street stairwell and Western Avenue. The sculpture is said to be a meeting place for the spirits. The artist, the late Michael Oren, did the work to honor the area's indigenous peoples.
It was during World War II, and the woman worked the swing shift at Boeing. Although most of the men were away fighting the war, the female workers frequented a dance hall in the Market. One night a dapper man asked her to dance and swept her off her feet, she told Yaeger.

But she could never be his exclusive dance partner since he was a ghost.

Lyon heard the story as well and did some research. She interviewed a dozen women who went to the dance hall but didn't know each other. They all described the ghost who wore a double-breasted suit and was light on his feet, she said.

"It was uncanny," said Lyon, who asked one woman how she knew when it was her turn for a dance.

"Oh, everybody just knew," the woman replied.

Although the dance floor was destroyed during a fire in the 1960s, the snappy dancer was seen about three years ago, dancing in the air.

Yaeger doesn't believe in hell, but he thinks ghosts and spirits are trapped in a sort of limbo. Perhaps their deaths were sudden and shocking and they weren't able to find their way to the afterlife. Perhaps they had unfinished business.

ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The popular Harvard Exit theater has been the site of inexplicable footsteps and laughter.

Some speculate that the young boy ghost who plays in the 27-year-old bead shop, unraveling thread and sometimes throwing beads at customers, feels cheated out of his childhood.

Ram Menon and his wife, Nina, bought the Bead Zone a year ago and have noticed beads falling off their hooks and objects finding their way to new spots.

"It's quite a big space so in the beginning, you tell yourself that you've been careless," said Menon. "But how do you separate between our carelessness and this mystery?

"I don't get a sense it's bad, whatever it is. It's kind of mischievous. It's just childlike."

A paranormal attraction

Tom Lee is a ghost hunter. And he has the tool belt to prove it.

Lee, 43, a Seattle real-estate agent, was on the recent tour with his ghost-hunting gear strapped to his waist. Along with a flashlight and gloves, Lee bleeped through the Market with his electromagnetic energy reader. And if he felt a shiver, he pulled out his infrared thermometer to see if it was a possible cold spot.

"I've never met a ghost I didn't like," said Lee, who is a member of Amateur Ghost Hunters of Seattle, Tacoma (AGHOST).

Lee became interested in the paranormal as a child living in Illinois. A friend lived in a house where an old captain could be heard creaking up the stairs, clinking liquor bottles together and even singing a ditty.

"I'm an intensely curious person and this field right now has not been proved," he said. "I know there's something going on that we don't understand. ... And there's answers out there to all those questions."

Another tour-goer, Darren Thompson, 41, of Issaquah, has visited haunted spots around the world.

"Do you like roller-coasters? It's just like that. It's a rush," said Thompson, who manages engineers for T-Mobile. "There's that feeling of fear."

Thompson brings a digital camera on tours in case he might capture an unexplained orb. (Ghost hunters say these are spirits unseen by the naked eye, though orbs also look a lot like what you see when bright light is refracted through a lens.) He's never faced a ghost, but he's heard one on a New Orleans tour.

"No one can prove it does exist, but no one can prove it doesn't," he said. "It's like faith, like religion."

Ghosts or ghost stories?

The Pike Place Market sits on a cliff above Puget Sound, perhaps symbolizing a physical meeting place between this world and another. And because of the personalities that have made up the almost 100-year history of the Market, it's a setting ripe for stories and tales.

"Most people seem to love the concept of the history involved in the Market," said Andrew Krueger, the marketing director of the Market. "And also just the location, in such close proximity to the waterfront and important to the early development of Seattle as a city, it provides for quite a bit of lore."

Those who believe in the spirits of the Market are adamant about their faith. A man who cleans the lower levels of the Market is said to often hear singing after hours. And he has found the red handkerchief he carries in his pocket inexplicably thrown onto the ground, said Lyon.

Perhaps it's the fat-lady barber who lulled her customers to sleep so she could steal change from their pockets?

"If you want to believe in ghosts, you'll open yourself up to seeing ghosts. If you don't want to believe in ghosts, you'll just shut it out of your mind," said Yaeger. "I look at it like Santa Claus. If you want to believe in Santa Claus, chances are, you might just get a Christmas gift."

Gina Kim: 206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com