The Seattle Underground

The history of Seattle is a rough one, but the history of Seattle’s Underground is even rougher. 

Washington was originally the home of the Coast Salish, specifically the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes—the name “Seattle” actually comes from the Duwamish Indigenous leader, Sealth. Like most of the land in America, the land was taken by white settlers and eventually the town became home to a thriving lumber mill in 1853. Seattle was primarily built around Pioneer Square, the same historic square you can visit today. 

Because the town was so far removed from the rest of America, Seattle had rules of its own. Seattle was hopelessly lawless. The town was home to duels, hangings and shootouts. It was a free society with little-to-no law enforcement, instead opting for the mob mentality when dealing with justice. 

They also allegedly saw the best brothels around. Victorian ideals were a thing of the east, and the settlers of Seattle took full advantage of it. This hedonistic society only increased when the railroad came to town in the early 1870s. 

So, pack your bags and grab your horse and pistol because we’re taking a wild ride through Seattle’s history.

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History of the Seattle Underground 

The history of Seattle is a rough one, but the history of Seattle’s Underground is even rougher. 

Washington was originally the home of the Coast Salish, specifically the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes—the name “Seattle” actually comes from the Duwamish Indigenous leader, Sealth. Like most of the land in America, the land was taken by white settlers and eventually the town became home to a thriving lumber mill in 1853. Seattle was primarily built around Pioneer Square, the same historic square you can visit today. 

Because the town was so far removed from the rest of America, Seattle had rules of its own. Seattle was hopelessly lawless. The town was home to duels, hangings and shootouts. It was a free society with little-to-no law enforcement, instead opting for the mob mentality when dealing with justice. 

They also allegedly saw the best brothels around. Victorian ideals were a thing of the east, and the settlers of Seattle took full advantage of it. This hedonistic society only increased when the railroad came to town in the early 1870s. 

So, pack your bags and grab your horse and pistol because we’re taking a wild ride through Seattle’s history.

Seattle’s toilets: modern but not so luxurious

With the railroads brought news from the east, along with the modernities populating the cities. And one modern luxury, in particular, brought great trouble to Seattle: the toilet.

When toilets were installed in the White House, they became a necessity throughout the country. This caused problems with old nonexistent plumbing systems, and it was no different with Seattle. 

Because the city was built so close to the sea and on unstable tidelands, the settlers would have to time their bathroom breaks perfectly. Due to the sea level and these muddy areas, the contents of the toilet could and would force it’s way back up the pipes and flood your entire water closet. Some say the force of this explosion could actually blow you off the toilet. 

To evade this, settlers placed their water closet on the top floors of their houses and that is said to be the beginning of Seattle’s building structure. These tidal regurgitations also caused the city to smell, and we mean smell. The city smelled not only of the city’s waste, but also must and mold. 

These advances were only further set back by one of the area’s greatest disasters: The Great Seattle Fire. 

The Great Seattle Fire

On June 6th, 1889, a carpenter’s apprentice was heating glue over a fire, an everyday occurrence back then. Leaving it alone for a few minutes too long, the glue boiled over and spread across the floor, taking the fire with it. 

While this normally would be nothing to worry about, rumor has it that the Fire Chief was out of town that day, so it was left to the volunteer firefighters to put out the blaze. Unfortunately, none of the firemen coordinated their hoses and the water pressure was less than ideal to put out a blaze that size. 

The next victim on the fire’s list was Dietz and Mayer’s Liquor Store. From there, it quickly spread to the neighboring saloons, both of which were filled to the brim with alcohol. The heat caused an explosion and, by that time, all was lost. Once the fire hit that alcohol, there was nothing that could be done until the fire burned itself out at around 3 A.M. That’s the worst part: they couldn’t even drink their sorrows afterwards. 

Let’s also not forget that everything was made out of wood at that time. Alcohol, wood, and fire, yeah, it wasn’t a great combination.  

The fire destroyed about 30 blocks of Seattle surrounding Pioneer Square, leaving only a few buildings untouched. Luckily, it’s reported that no one was killed in the fire, the only things killed were said to be thousands of rats that lived in the streets. 

The losses were estimated to total around $8 million at the time.

Re-building the underground in Seattle

The townsfolk learned from this disaster and enacted two requirements for the town’s rebuild:

  1. First, the buildings could only be made of brick or stone; and
  2. The streets would be raised one-story. 

This led to the town being rebuilt on top of the old one and that’s how the tunnels were created, but it was not an easy feat. The city ran out of money shortly after the fire. Not knowing where the money would come from to build the new streets and sidewalks, the project went forward until they hit a budget wall. 

This resulted in retaining walls being built for new sidewalks, but left incomplete. For a year or so, townsfolk would have to go up and down ladders to get between levels. There were holes cut in the sidewalk to allow this and it caused more than a few drunken deaths. 

Seattle was left in a precarious position. They wanted to capitalize on the economic boom of the railroads and Gold Rush, but needed to rebuild the town in order for that to happen. But they finally managed to get money from an unlikely source: brothels. 

Brothels were popular in Seattle and did so well in business that one in particular allowed the city to tax her girls—called the entertainment tax. This gave the city so much wealth the rebuilding of the town sped up considerably. 

While people on the topside went about their business, some shops still operated underneath the town. This was mostly store owners who owned the buildings they were in. But slowly, the store owners realized that they’d be shut in below the main levels, so they migrated their way up a level, if they could. The Seattle Underground stayed in operations until 1907, when fears of bubonic plague—carried by the rampant rat problem—threatened the livelihood of the city. 

While it was officially condemned in 1907, the storefronts were quickly filled with opium dens, speakeasies and gambling establishments. The seedy underworld became exactly that. It lasted until the 1940s, which is when most of the tunnels were sealed up and completely abandoned.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, when the Underground’s journalist in shining armor saved the abandoned area from demolition. Bill Spiedel, now known for his famous historic tours of the Underground, saw the past and potential future of the tourist attraction. He arranged to pay rent to the store owners and started hosting tours in 1965. 

Ghosts of the Seattle Underground

The underground is considerably spooky with dark tunnels filled with old storefronts and perhaps ghosts? Visitors often report feeling a presence, hearing odd noises and even feeling cold spots, but there are two notable ghosts to talk about. 

Edward the handlebar-mustached bank teller

The bank teller cage is reportedly one of the most haunted areas of the tunnels. This cage, part of the Scandinavian-American Bank, was once open 24/7 and catered to the Klondike Gold Miners. 

It’s said that during a robbery, Edward, the bank teller at the time, was shot and killed and now he operates his teller cage from the afterlife. He’s said to wear a handlebar mustache and a white shirt with suspenders. He, of course, pulls it all together with his classy, big, black top hat. He’s very vocal in his area—there are numerous EVPs recorded in this area. Investigators report that when he’s asked his name, he’ll respond with “Edward.”

There’s also reportedly a woman who hangs around the vault with Edward. It’s said that she was shot behind the vault, although there is very little evidence behind this. Maybe it’s a little afterlife love affair? Who knows?

George “I’m Innocent” Payne

Another specific ghost is a man by the name George Payne. George’s tale is a little more depressing. 

In 1882, he was locked away for an unknown reason. While in jail, a mad mob stormed the jail and hung two robbers out of anger. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough and the mob pulled George from his cell and hung him as well in Seattle Park. 

Despite proclaiming his innocence, he was still hanged, which resulted in him getting the name, The Innocent Man. 

It’s said that he can be seen hanging (literally) around the tree in the center of the park. There have been EVPs with a man’s voice saying “I’m innocent. You killed an innocent man.”

The other place you’ll want to pay attention to is the former Oriental Hotel. This was a place where “seamstresses” (read: prostitutes) would work. There’s said to be women’s shadows walking about and loud, unexplained noises coming from the area.

Visiting the Seattle Underground

There are a number of tours of the Seattle Underground you can take today. 

We recommend sticking with the original Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tours which started it all. While Spiedel himself died in 1988, his tours are still conducted on Fridays and Saturdays, September through May, and daily June through August. 

These tours are done at night, which makes the experience even spookier. You’ll need to show up 15-minutes early for paranormal equipment training. That is, if you can get them to answer. While they have an overall rating of 4.5 on Tripadvisor, there were plenty of complaints that they aren’t great about answering phone calls and occasionally don’t open, even if tours are booked. 

Becky P warns you “do NOT book this tour.” She says: 

  • I purchased tickets for a tour last week for a friend and I, whom was visiting from out of town. There was no announcement on the website that indicated the tours had been suspended. We showed up, along with two other folks. We waited, and no one showed up. After a while, we called the number on the tickets and there no answer, not even an answering machine indicating any information about the tours being cancelled. We waited some more, unsure what to do. Then, one of the folks who was also there for the tour suggested to check the Facebook page, where we saw a post that stated the tours have been suspended until further notice and to “call back then they reopen to get a refund. This is not a way to run a business and very bad customer service. If the tours are suspended due to Covid, there should be a clear announcement on the website, and customers should not be allowed to purchase tickets online. My credit card was charged. I guess the tour company’s plan is to take people’s money for now, then IF they reopen, give them a refund? But the customer is expected to call themselves to resolve this? Nope. Bad business. I’m very disappointed. Do NOT this tour.

Another reviewer, Cathye, wasn’t in love with the scenery, they said:

  • Hated tour. Dirty. Extremely musty odors.Could have seen a short video to explain Seattle’s early history. Charge is too much. Very disappointed. Watching [out] for rats is not my idea of a vacation experience.

…but we’re not sure what she was expecting in an abandoned underground ghost tour…

If you want a broader sense of hauntings in Seattle, Spooked in Seattle has ghost tours throughout the city, not just the Underground. They’ve paired up with the Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle Tacoma and boast that they’ll give you actual haunted tours with actual evidence. Though, Amy G, didn’t love it. They said:

  • “We try to do historic ghost tour in the large cities we visit. Have been to excellent ones in wilmington nc, charleston sc, san diego ca and albuquerque but this was not one of them. Hubby summed it up…painful to endure. We did the haunted pub tour. We were taken underground..with rats, and also down several sets of stairs at various establishments so this is not for those w mobility issues. She talked loudly but was hard to understand when walking. It is also a R tour for potty mouth. This tour might be fun for some but just was not for us. In hind sight we would not have done this one.”

If you ever do visit the Emerald City, be sure to take in the sights and sounds, but don’t forget the city underneath it.

Looking for more ghost stories? Check these out:

  • Canada’s allegedly sunniest city has a few ghosts lurking around, learn about which ones you might encounter in Medicine Hat.
  • What is The Mummy’s Curse, you ask? Check out the episode to find out and see who might or might not have died from it.
  • Looking to visit a haunted theme park? How about Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio?

The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with this information themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:


The Lady Dicks was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion and Tae Haahr. “What Ghosts are Lurking in the Seattle Underground?” was written by Julianna Foster, produced by Tae Haahr, and edited by Rory Joy. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.

Written by Julianna Foster