Ghostly secrets of the U-District

The UW seems pretty mundane when it comes to good ghost stories. But that's not to say that the U-District is devoid of the supernatural.

The Jolly Ghost at the College Inn Pub

In 1909, an old sailor headed to the gold fields of Alaska was brutally murdered in an upstairs bedroom of the College Inn.

His name was Howard, legend has it.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, guests occasionally reported seeing an old man in a yellow foul-weather jacket walking the corridors late at night. This all changed in 1973, when the College Inn Pub opened in the basement.

"Since the bar opened, he's been down here with us," said Shea Wilson, the current owner. "If you had the choice between spending eternity in a hotel or a bar, which would you choose?"

Wilson has never seen Howard, but has felt his presence around closing time, or seen the kitchen faucet come on by itself - as well as the glasses above the bar swinging back and forth.

"One waitress doesn't believe," Wilson said. "Howard likes to mess with her the most."

Howard seems to be benevolent. Wilson said he has never felt threatened working alone at night. The ghost seems to be more a prankster than anything else.

"He gets the credit and the blame for the little things around here," Wilson explained.

The Gray Lady of Neptune theater

The Neptune theater on 45th Avenue Northeast is supposedly haunted by a presence called the "Gray Lady." One of the most famous hauntings took place as the night crew cleaned up after a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A worker taking a break by the candy counter spotted a girl in a gray dress standing by the entrance. As he told her that the theater was closed, the figure vanished into thin air.

The current ushers at the Neptune are skeptical about the ghost stories. Mary McCate, a UW junior who works the late weekend shift, said that she understands why there are legends.

"This place is old and should be haunted, but it's really not," said McCate.

Her coworker, Brandon Turpin, a senior majoring in astronomy, was even more skeptical of the stories.

"It's employees blaming accidents on spooks and janitors hopped up on cleaning supplies," he said.

Suzzallo Library: Has Fiction Become Fact?

When university bookstore manager Nick DiMartino was doing research for his 1997 novel "University Ghost Story", he planned to set part of the story in Suzzallo. With its brooding stone arches and gothic reading room, the library was a perfect place to set an imaginary haunting.

"The Suzzallo ghost is a subplot I used to set up the fact that the main character is psychic," said DiMartino.

In the book, a teenage girl who comes to UW as an early entrance student suddenly finds the ability to communicate with spirits. The ghost she sees in the grad reading room was based on an actual librarian who used to work at Suzzallo.

When the book was published, the librarian who served as the ghostly model was still alive. About eight months ago, she passed away.

DiMartino knew the librarian as a stern looking woman who regularly walked the Ave frequenting the used bookstores. She had devoted her life's work to the university library but when the cataloging system went electronic she resigned in frustration.

After her early retirement, DiMartino heard from other librarians that she lived a recluse's life in a rundown apartment and lived on a poor diet of instant noodles.

"It was like she took a vow of poverty," DiMartino said. He also described how she donated her life's savings to create a scholarship for librarians as something a saint might do.

DiMartino was quick to point out that before her death parts of the library had a creepy atmosphere. For example, the children's literature section in Suzzallo (now under renovation) was an area that both janitors and librarians wanted to frequent at closing time.

However, both construction workers and librarians told DiMartino of a cold area on stairway 13, a dark winding passage that leads up to the reading room.

Could the real ghost of a librarian who dearly loved Suzzallo now haunt the library?

DiMartino found it a strange twist of fate that his fiction so closely parallels what has happened in the last few months. "The person I modeled as a ghost is now no longer among the living. A Suzzallo Ghost, who would have guessed?"

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