Historic community has haunting history

Posted 10/24/18

With as much history as Port Townsend and Jefferson County boast, it is no wonder the region has built up its share of ghost stories.

Plenty of the area's vintage buildings are purported to be …

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Historic community has haunting history


With as much history as Port Townsend and Jefferson County boast, it is no wonder the region has built up its share of ghost stories.

Plenty of the area's vintage buildings are purported to be haunted by the spirits of those who apparently cannot let go of that extensive swath of past.

The Jefferson County Historical Society has compiled a number of spooky tales of the supernatural, which its members have graciously shared with The Leader's readers to enliven their Halloween.


In 2012, Marge Samuelson wrote about a strange experience she had as the librarian of the Jefferson County Historical Society's Museum of Art and History in Port Townsend, when a search for supplies in an antique dresser one winter revealed a sheaf of documents dating back to the 1890s, belonging to Judge James G. Swan, who died in 1900.

"Did he put them there so I could find them?" Samuelson wrote. "I always felt he was looking over my shoulder when I was entering them in our database, just to make sure there were no mistakes. Old buildings can really get the imagination going."


Lois Venarchick, proprietor of the Wynwoods Gallery and Bead Studio in the James and Hastings building on Water Street in Port Townsend, might agree with Samuelson's sentiment.

In a 2004 correspondence with Laura Reutter of Ravenstone Tiles, also in Port Townsend, Venarchick recounted how she heard what sounded like chains, while she was staying late at work one evening.

"Investigation revealed nothing amiss and no one about," Reutter wrote. "She returned to her work only to hear the noises repeated, then unmistakable sounds of the chains being loudly handled or dropped, metal links clinking against each other."

While a second check again revealed no signs of disturbance, Reutter wrote Venarchick that she "prefers not to work late any longer."

According to Reutter, the large Victorian building on the corner of Water Street was built in 1889 and is prone to disturbances on its ground floor and basement levels late at night. Closed windows have been found opened and vice versa, merchandise moved from one area to another, and shop items tossed about. Skeins of yarn have even been found pitched over the railings and unrolled.

"The ghostly prankster seems to enjoy scaring the shop owners and clerks, especially women," Reutter wrote. "Lois notes that this pesky poltergeist seems especially attracted to red items."

Sanderson drew from history for a few other accounts, recalling reports of "a mysterious light" in the Laurel Grove Cemetery in 1913, which was initially dismissed as lights from Port Townsend reflecting off the tombstones, until those lights disappeared a few days later.

Sanderson said the lights could have been grave robbers. However, she added this was far from an isolated account during that decade since 1919 included reports of ghostly pedestrians in the Chetzemoka and Lucinda Hastings parks.

This was before she mentioned the spirits that supposedly haunt Manresa Castle.


The Manresa Castle, at 651 Cleveland St., is one of a number of Port Townsend hotels gaining fame for claims of being haunted, along with the Palace Hotel at 1004 Water St.

According to information supplied by Jefferson County Historical Society Executive Director Shelly Leavens, Manresa Castle was completed in 1892 and originally served as the home of Charles and Kate Eisenbeis.

Its two most famous allegedly spectral guests are a man described variously as a "monk" or a "preacher" in Room 302, who hung himself due to a loss of faith, and a young woman in Room 306, who supposedly threw herself out of the window when her lover either failed to arrive or was said to have been lost at sea. A cruel twist in the tale is that the reports of his death were apparently exaggerated.

Kimberly Smith, the front desk manager at Manresa Castle, has worked for the hotel under both the previous and current owners and said the hauntings weren't "as promoted" under the current owners, whom she described as more neutral to the phenomena.

"We still have a lot of people who see things, though," Smith said. "We hear from them at least two or three times a week, so it's still going on."

When asked to describe the nature of the phenomena, Smith characterized it as "nothing negative or evil. They just seem to be making their presence known."

In addition to Manresa Castle's more infamous spectral guests, Smith has received accounts of a "sad" unseen violinist, as well as a giggling child and a woman named "Natalie."


The Palace Hotel is in the Capt. Henry L. Tibbals Building, which was built in 1889, making the structure three years older than Manresa Castle.

Among its many former businesses, the Palace Hotel building once housed a brothel, and has been said to be haunted by at least 10 spirits.

This includes the former sea captain who constructed the hotel and the "Lady in Blue," also known as "Miss Claire," who mostly appears in Rooms 3 and 4, in an old-fashioned blue dress, and is often accompanied by the aroma of perfume.

Gary Schweizer, general manager of the Palace Hotel, noted he hasn't seen or heard anything that seemed supernatural during his 20 years of working there, but he added the hotel maintains a "ghost book" for those who have, so they can record their experiences.

"About once or twice a week, our guests will tell us they've seen something," Schweizer said. "We get reports from housekeeping about once a week too."


In 2004, JoAnn Bussa submitted an anecdote to the Jefferson County Historical Society about the Bishop Victorian Hotel, built in 1891, in which guests of Rooms 15, 17 and 19 have all reported an "unnerving spirit."


Meanwhile, Leavens pointed to The Leader's own archives, including two news stories published a century apart.

On May 4, 1899, The Leader published an article about a Chinese ghost haunting "the disreputable waterfront" of Port Townsend. Capt. William Breeze and "Night Inspector Bropoy of the customs service" both reported encounters with the apparition in "a dark alleyway in back of the offices of Rothschild & Co. ship brokers."

Both men described the ghost as a Chinese man "with his head split in the center," attributed to a tomahawk wound, who appeared in the alleyway between midnight and 1 a.m.

On Oct. 31, 1999, The Leader published a ghost story connected to the Mount Baker Block Building in downtown Port Townsend which was, like Manresa Castle, commissioned by Charles Eisenbeis Sr., the town's first mayor.

Annie Welch, the great-granddaughter of the elder Eisenbeis, became co-owner of the building and told The Leader she suspected it was haunted by two ghosts, one being Charles Eisenbeis Jr., who committed suicide in the boiler room after apparently failing to live up to the family name.

Although Welch relayed accounts from people who claimed to have been spun around and pushed against walls by an unseen force in the boiler room, she said, "It's not scary. He's just messing with you."

On the upper floors, Welch reported encountering a more sanguine spirit. During her time living in the building in the early 1970s, she would hear movement on the third floor when no one else was present, or catch a glimpse of something, or someone, out of the corner of her eyes.

Welch insisted this was the ghost of Charles Eisenbeis Sr., whom she said "liked the fact I was working up there," helping to restore the building.