Kolby LaBree co-owns Good Time Girls, an organization offering historical tours of Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham. During October, their “Gore and Lore” tours take people to some of the area’s spookiest locales. And each year she gives the tours, people tell LaBree their personal ghost stories, many of which involve historic local buildings.
Although she’s never seen a ghost, LaBree finds it fascinating that so many people believe in the supernatural. Bellingham, in fact, was once home to a large number of spiritualists – people who claim to communicate with the dead. In the early 1900s, the movement had particularly fervent believers.
“It’s always been a part of humanity,” she says of believing in a realm beyond our own. “Fear of death, I suppose.”
The Green Lady of Sycamore Square
At the corner of Fairhaven’s 12th Street and Harris Avenue sits a square brick building formerly known as the Mason Block. Currently home to tenants like Mambo Italiano Café and The Black Cat, the 1890-built structure has an illustrious history that includes the Cascade Club – a gentlemen’s bar where famous guests Mark Twain and William Howard Taft once drank.
But the upper floor of the building, now called Sycamore Square, is a place LaBree says she just won’t go. Especially at night.
“There’s a lot of activity in that building; chairs being moved to face the windows, things like that,” she says. “Most every building in Fairhaven has a ghost story, whether they’re old buildings or new buildings.”
LaBree has personal history at Sycamore Square. Her first job was as a dishwasher at The Black Cat when she was 15. While working there, she heard plenty of first-hand ghost stories.
“Another dishwasher who worked there actually saw a woman walk by the kitchen in period costume,” she says. “He just thought it was a person walking by, dressed up. But when he looked around to see where she went, she was gone.”
The dishwasher asked other employees if an event was taking place in the building, and they told him what he’d seen: a ghost known as “The Green Lady.”
Strangeness at Wardner’s Castle
Not far from Sycamore Square, on a hill overlooking Bellingham Bay, sits an opulent three-story mansion called “Wardner’s Castle.”
Built in 1890 for James C. Wardner, a Fairhaven entrepreneur and real estate investor, the Queen Anne-style home originally had 23 rooms and 7 fireplaces. Wardner and his family lived there only a year before leaving the area, and since then, the structure has been a restaurant, museum, bed and breakfast, and private residence.
In 1984, after a mural titled “Spirits of Wardner’s Castle” was painted throughout the building’s third floor, strange things reportedly began happening. According to Bellingham Observers of the Odd and Obscure (BOOO), the Harriman family, who owned and operated what was then Castle’s Bed and Breakfast, commissioned local artist Laurie Gospodinovich to create the mural. When it was finished, the artwork depicted Wardner and the castle, along with other relatives, the artist and several black cats, staring out from a foggy, moon-lit background.
According to legend, Gospodinovich died in a car accident the day after completing the artwork. She was 24. After her death, the mural remained until later owners covered it up with white paint. But some guests reported seeing apparitions in their rooms, and others had bizarre dreams after leaving. Eventually, the owners had the white paint stripped off the part of the mural depicting Gospodinovich’s face, at which point the odd occurrences mysteriously stopped.
“I don’t know how substantiated that is, but it’s an interesting story,” LaBree says.
Murder Behind the Redlight
At the turn of the 20th Century – with modern forensics still decades from existence – grizzly crimes were often committed in shrouds of mystery.
One of those crimes occurred near Bellingham’s Palace Meat Market, located at what’s now the Redlight Bar at 1017 North State Street. During the overnight hours of April 11 and 12, 1905, someone brutally murdered Frederick L. Dames with a hatchet in the shack behind his butcher shop.
Was it revenge or robbery? A random slaying or a calculated killing? Nobody was sure. There were suspicions and suspects: a hard-drinking duo known for petty theft; a chronic and crazed drunk; a serial killer from Maple Falls. Local papers ran unsubstantiated claims, and multiple municipalities offered cash rewards that failed to turn up leads.
There was no significant breakthrough in the case until three years later. The drunk, Charles Weatherford, confessed to the slaying, but his declining mental state made it impossible to know if he spoke the truth. Letters from a mysterious woman claiming supernatural powers and knowledge of the murder were even sent to the local sheriff. In the end, the crime went unsolved.
Today at the Redlight, meat hooks and refrigeration tubes still line the bar’s interior walls — reminders of the space’s bloody past.
Other Ghoulish Spots
Whether in Fairhaven or downtown Bellingham, spirits have no shortage of potential hangouts.
“Any building downtown that had a rooming house or a hotel upstairs, likely had a loss of guests,” LaBree says. “So, there’s plenty of places you could potentially have ghost activity.”
The Nelson Block (aka Fairhaven Bank Building), now home to Three French Hens, is one of those places. In the 1980s and 90s, the basement served as Speedy O’ Tubbs’ Rhythmic Underground, a bar and nightclub. Nirvana even played there in November 1988. But unsettling occurrences spooked employees so much that LaBree says the club owner allegedly hired a priest to cleanse the place of evil vibes. Since the place closed, the basement has remained empty, its entrance points barred and locked.
Some ghoulish spots aren’t even in buildings. South of Fairhaven is a train tunnel LaBree considers terrifying. As recounted in T.A.Warger’s book of early Whatcom County homicides, “Murder in the Fourth Corner,” a body was once discovered hanging in the tunnel. It was never identified.
“That place is creepy,” she says. “I remember as teenagers, we would go in there. And one time, there was definitely something dead in there, wrapped in a carpet. I think it was a dog or something, but it was disgusting and scary.”
Some Bellingham residents may be unknowingly living near or on top of old cemeteries. One such place, Mt. Calvary Cemetery, was a Catholic burial ground during the 1890s. The cemetery ground eventually became too difficult to continue burying people, and was uprooted in the 1970s. Remains were dug up and re-interred at Bayview Cemetery, but according to LaBree, not all the people supposedly buried in the cemetery made the trip.
Located somewhere off Lakeway Drive, around present-day West Racine, St. Paul and Whatcom streets, it’s possible that human remains are still there, lost to time and development.
“That’s some straight-up poltergeist stuff right there,” LaBree says.
So, as Halloween approaches, consider what restless spirits may be roaming an old building near you. Some history, it seems, doesn’t always stay in the past.