(click to enlarge photos)
Published in The Seattle Times online on Oct. 26, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Oct. 29, 2023
Ghost stories arise from horrific Georgetown steam plant casualty
By Jean Sherrard
You might say they see dead people.
As Cari Simson and Elke Hautala researched the Seattle Electric Company’s Georgetown steam plant, erected in 1906, they found grim accounts of a horrific accident.
One of the first West Coast reinforced concrete structures, the steam plant originally powered the Interurban Railway between Seattle and Tacoma and supplied direct current for Seattle streetcars and alternating current for Georgetown.
In April 1908, a defective steam pipe burst in the boiler room, hurling two Georges — George Tucker, chief engineer, and George Love, oiler — 25 feet to the concrete floor below. Despite their gruesome injuries, observers reported that Tucker coolly directed workers coming to their aid with “wonderful nerve.”
The men were taken to nearby Seattle General Hospital, where Tucker, 32, lingered for 10 days before succumbing to his burns. Love was sent home three months later, finally able to walk again.
Here, Hautala and Simson introduce spine-tingling elements to the narrative.
Since Tucker’s demise, they assert, tales of paranormal activity have proliferated. Pallets of tools and equipment have moved inexplicably. Plant visitors have been startled by footsteps on vacant stairs and machines springing to life on their own. Talk about Halloween-ish things going bump in the night!
Simson, an event producer and environmental consultant, has a hair-raising but benign explanation.
“We believe that George Tucker’s ghost is benevolent,” she says. “He may be stuck with unfinished business, trying to make sure his men complete their work safely.”
Puckishly, Hautala, visual anthropologist, filmmaker and performer, adds, “Call us ghost-curious.”
Skeptics might note that this knowing credulity serves a purpose. “Covering these hidden histories and coming up with ways to share them with the public is part of what inspires us,” Hautala says.
“We think of these as echoes of history,” Simson says, “here to remind us of something important.”
Their spirited partnership began during the pandemic, when they researched a lost cemetery at the nearby Duwamish River. From 1876 to 1912, impoverished and dispossessed locals were buried in the Duwamish Poor Farm Cemetery, most in graves unmarked. In 1912, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, before dredging and straightening the river, disinterred this Potter’s Field.
“There were 3,260 people buried there, of whom 855 had names associated with them on headboards,” Hautala says. “All of them were cremated and essentially erased to history.”
Dedicated to unearthing and documenting these forgotten lives, neither researcher is shy about their goal.
“We aim to create a visceral thrill and engagement surrounding history,” says Simson.
“The haunted, spooky and paranormal,” Hautala adds, “provide the perfect framework.”
To view our narrated 360 degree video, click here.
A few photos from this year’s Georgetown Haunted History Tour below: