House of Illusion
In 2009, I was working for Richard Hugo House, a writing center in an old Victorian house with a long and storied past as a former mortuary, funeral home, and theater. On the glass window of one of the front doors were the words “House of Illusion” in faint cursive that I somehow missed the first few months I worked there. But House of Illusion it certainly was.
The stories were many. When they first renovated the house in 1997, a construction worker reportedly saw the ghost of a little girl in a basement hallway. He quit that day and refused to return to the site. Infamously in the basement was a baby coffin lying prone in a dark boiler room that no one had dared move for several decades. Beyond that, and I don’t believe many people knew about this, was what haunted me most: a room with a dirt floor and several tiny school desks, lined up in rows and facing toward a blank wall as if a classroom for ghost children was always in session. If the rest wasn’t spooky enough, the basement at this time was being use for the nonprofit Ruby Room, and housed hundreds of old prom dresses. The Carrie vibes were strong.
Two of the founders of Hugo House, husband and wife Frances McCue and Gary Greaves (may he rest in peace), were living in an apartment on the second floor of the building with their young daughter as they renovated the building. Their own strange experiences, perhaps spirits stirred up by the construction, led them to invite an exorcist to the house to perform a clearing.
But some spirits seemed still to remain.
Upstairs in the zine library, ZAPP, in the room where the morticians reportedly used to prepare the bodies, were the most encounters. Things moved from place to place, a friend heard whispers over his shoulder, and as we slowly came to realize, no one could concentrate when trying to work in the room. A buzzing often seemed to resound in your head when you were in there, making focusing on anything difficult.
One September, we began talking about Halloween plans. Historically, Hugo House had hosted a party called Haunted Hugo that was open to the public to come trick or treat, drink, and go on tours to the baby coffin. This year though, they weren’t planning on hosting a party. The front desk manager Amy and I were openly bummed — Halloween was both of our favorite holidays and the house was just too perfect for a Halloween party. The directors said they’d allow us to have a party if we didn’t mind planning ourselves, and we enthusiastically accepted the challenge. Our coworker Joe said he knew a ghost hunter he could put us in touch with, who could maybe do something for the Halloween party. I programmed his # in my phone as the Ghost Hunter, alias Ross. Ross was more than excited to come to the house for a hunt with his ghost hunting team (!), AGHOST (Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma). They’d done a hunt there in the 90s that had been featured on Dateline and had apparently been dying to coming back.
They had stipulations: the hunt must be after midnight, and no more than 4 other people could join them. We drew from a hat and as the staff member who had to let them in and set up the alarm system, I was one of them.
We met at the house at 2 in the morning, sometime in the few weeks before Halloween. The night was foggy. Ross arrived with about 6 other members of AGHOST and they brought with them the most amazing arsenal of ghost tools: ion detectors, high sensitivity voice recorders, night vision cameras, EMF meters; the works. I got to hold the ion detector.
We split up into four groups, and spread out all over the house, with a plan to reconvene in about two hours. I was in a group with a clairvoyant medium and another clairvoyant women who wore dangling jack-o-lantern earrings.
The medium described the spirits she felt in terms of color, gender, and mood. She said on driving up to the building, she’d felt the wide berth of a dark blue masculine spirit emanating from a room at the top left of the house, describing its energy as “brushing up against hers like two yachts passing each other in the night.” In the upstairs kitchen area, she felt the yellow spirit of a women who seemed to pace back and forth. In the back room of the house bar that I managed, was the sad green spirit of a young boy. I had felt it.
In each room, we sat in a circle and the ghost hunters would turn on the EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorder, otherwise known as a “spirit box.” The medium would say something like “spirits, if you are here, please make yourself known. Knock on the wall or tap on the floor, something to tell us you’re here.” Then we would wait. If any of us moved or made a sound, we would announce it so that on listening back, we would know if it was us, or a spirit attempting to make contact.
All throughout the house we did this, including in the basement full of prom dresses. I was most terrified being down there, afraid to look at the mirrors from the dressing rooms for fear I would see something staring back at me. But all throughout the house we heard nothing until we went up to the theater. In the audience area, the medium described the sound of “residual applause,” explaining that rather than a ghost, a residual phenomena was the echo of an event that had repeatedly occurred in a place and seemed to “linger.” But it wasn’t until we got to the backstage and sat there in the the dark, the darkest room of the whole house, calling on the spirits, that we seemed to receive any contact. Listening back to the recording we heard the distinct sound: Tap. Tap. Tap. We listened back several times. It was distinct. As unremarkable as it seemed, the women said it was significant — something trying to reach us.
Reconvening with the group, the other activity center of the house, the zine library, had been the most lively (or should I say…deadly). Another group, taking pictures with the digital camera, appeared to have captured the figure of a man in a tuxedo jacket, standing a the window of the former autopsy room, taken from the window opposite in the kitchen where the yellow woman paced.
The AGHOST team told us they would email a copy of the picture and any other evidence they found when they enlarged the pictures on the computer. However, we lost touch, and I have never seen the pictures to this day. I have just written to Ross to see if he might have anything remaining from that hunt. It would be incredible to finally see the picture of the ghost in the tuxedo. I will send an update if I ever receive one.
The House of Illusion, aka Richard Hugo House, has since been torn down, and a new building built in its place, with a new version of the writing center opening soon. Who knows what the construction might have done to those remaining spirits, but I’m curious if they remain and what the new staff of the house may experience should the renovation have stirred them up again. I have no idea what became of the baby coffin or the ghost classroom. Perhaps they still remain there in the darkness.
Submitted by Emily W.