Seattle Now & Then: Georgetown ghosts, 1909

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Three engineers adjust steam-plant settings on boiler-room control panels at the 85-foot-tall Georgetown steam plant. Seattle City Light purchased the facility in 1951. The plant continued to generate backup power into the 1970s, when it was decommissioned. Little information accompanies the original photo aside from an approximate date of 1909 (Seattle Municipal Archives)
NOW1: Elke Hautala, Cari Simson, and Genevieve Hale-Case, executive director of the Georgetown Steam Plant Community Development Authority, assume equivalent poses. Since the 1980s, the steam plant has hosted City Light and community events in its vast industrial-era chambers. (Jean Sherrard)

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.

Cari Simson (left) and Elke Hautala stand in front of the steam plant near the northwest corner of the King County Airport. In addition to their ongoing research, they share duties of event production with the Friends of Georgetown History, a group that this month hosted its 20th annual Georgetown Haunted History Tour.

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.

Hautala examines the plants controls

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 steam plant’s turbine room, next to where George Tucker was critically injured in the boiler room. For more stories of ghosts and history, visit, and stay tuned for a podcast in 2024 about the Potter’s Field.

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!

Steam plant interior

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.”

Hautala performs a seance in this year’s Georgetown Haunted History tour.

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.

Near the site of the Georgetown potter’s field, removed in 1912

“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.”

The crematorium stood in this field behind Simson and Hautala

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:


7 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Georgetown ghosts, 1909”

  1. You have surprisingly little information on the “then” photo. Who are these engineers? What year was the photo taken? Do we know these things?

      1. Thanks, Jean. I’ve done some research on the steam plant, and know that there are records of who worked there at various times. But even knowing the names of employees, it is hard to know who these three men might be. I have sometimes wondered whether this photo was made to commemorate the explosion – if these were workers who had been involved in it.

      2. Yeah, the only info from the archives is that the photo was most likely taken in 1909, but even that is uncertain. I’d love to get my hands on the photo album it came from. What a turn up if it *was* connected with the explosion. Interestingly, neither Cari, Elke, nor I could find a single definitive photo of George Tucker, the chief engineer who died.

      3. There is a photo. It was published with a newspaper article related either to the explosion or his death afterward.

      4. Very cool! I may have missed it in the archival search of the Times and P-I. Or was it somewhere else? The Star? Do you have a copy?

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