Tourist in Your Own Town
5:00 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Flowers, Fish—and Phantoms? The Ghost Tour at Pike Place Market

Ten million people visit Pike Place Market every year, and that doesn’t even count the spirits haunting the place. There are ample legends, of course, and those ghost stories offer a window into Seattle’s history.

Even if you think all that ghost stuff is just bunk, the cool thing about the Market Ghost Tour is that it lets you see beyond the flowers and souvenir Space Needle magnets. It helps you imagine all the people who have worked and lived at the market since it was created in 1907.

Tour guide Mercedes Carrabba grew up hearing the stories from her parents, who own a store in the market. Her dad, Michael Yaeger, started Halloween ghost tours at the market in the 1980s. Carrabba took over and researches the stories. She pores over fire insurance maps, leases, old newspapers, but she admits there is a certain leap of faith.

Market Ghost Tour guide Mercedes Carrabba
Credit Aaron Hushagen / KPLU

Skeptics

Carrabba says she gets lots of skeptics (she even gave a tour to the Seattle Skeptics Meetup Group). But she says that's fine, because she's not trying to convince anyone of anything. 

"That’s not the point. We want people to feel like they’re on an adventure, and we want them to let go of their guard and truly enjoy the stories that we’re sharing with them," Carrabba said. 

The tour starts out in front of her cafe, Ghost Alley Espresso. Nearby, Carrabba stops at the bottom of an old ramp.

"Notice anything strange about the ramp you just walked down?" she asks. 

It's old, wooden, and worn out. Turns out it's so old, it predates the market. Carrabba says it was probably used for horses. Back in the market’s earliest days, farmers brought their food in by horse and left the animals in stables throughout the market. 

Stable Boys

Carrabba says orphaned boys took care of the horses and lived in the stables. A lot of them perished young, first from diphtheria, and then Spanish influenza.

"October 3, 1918. It hit Seattle. Seattle’s totally unprepared," Carrabba said. "The former hotels and stables in this area were used as quarantines." 

Pike Place Market in 1907
Credit Seattle Municipal Archives Photograph Collection

Carrabba says now, almost a century later, those boys still hang around. At the bottom of that wooden ramp is a commercial kitchen that, until recently, was a day care. A few years ago, a teacher there was closing up one evening when she saw something strange. 

"She looks inside and she sees the top of a little brown-haired boy," Carrabba said. "Really freaky—someone’s left their child."

She looked around, but couldn't find him. She called the security guards. They couldn't find him, either.

"Okay, now the woman who cleans these floors every night, she says, `Stop it. I know what you’re looking for, because I see him every night. He’s on this level, he’s very mischievous, this little boy. He likes to hide behind the desks. He likes to hide in the shops. He has brown hair, and he has no eyes," Carrrabba said.  

Oooh, no eyes? Even for a skeptic, that’s creepy. Carrabba says people theorize it’s because the boy was blind.

Jacob the Prankster

Not all the stories are that spooky. Some of the ghosts are just happy pranksters, like one folks call Jacob. 

Carrabba stops outside a store called Merry Tails, a pet-themed gift store. She says it used to be a bead shop. 

"And the bead shop was haunted," Carrabba said. "The former owners of the bead store, you could walk into that shop, go into one corner and yell, 'Jacob, do something!' And you could watch as beads went flying off their hooks on the walls."

Even after the store became Merry Tails, Jacob stuck around.

He moves stuffed animals. He knocks clocks over. But folks at the shop say they don't mind. They set up a little crib with toys in a back storeroom for him. Store employee Sherry Thomas says he surprised her once when she was unloading a shipment.

"All of a sudden I heard, a bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb, and I’m going, well, must be Jacob," she said. 

Duwamish Legacy

A photograph of Chief Seattle's daughter, Angeline.
Credit Aaron Hushagen / KPLU

At the market, there’s also a legacy of the Duwamish people, who were pushed out of the city named after their chief. Chief Seattle’s daughter Angeline refused to leave and still haunts the area.

Carrabba shares a quote from the chief warning that even after his people are gone, the shores will throng with the invisible dead of his tribe.

"The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds," Carrabba quoted.

Now as Bertha tunnels under the market, Carrabba says don’t be surprised if more spirits start to show up.