Guest Essay: Haunted in Port Townsend

It's the holiday known as Samhain or All Hallows Eve—Halloween to you trick-or-treaters out there—and I thought it might be appropriate to repost this story from my friend, Laurie Harquail, who wrote about a very unusual experience she had on a visit to one of my favorite destinations, Port Townsend, Washington.

Chapter One: Arrival

It was not a dark and stormy night.

In fact, it was the longest day of the year, and I had taken a Summer Solstice jaunt to the historic seaside town of Port Townsend, staying in what appeared to be a charming Victorian hotel on the main drag.

The lovely setting for this tale.

After a four-and-a-half hour drive, I walked into the main lobby of The Palace Hotel—sun blazing a trail in the late summer afternoon sky—and immediately asked the front desk clerk, Bob, “Are you going to tell me this hotel is haunted?”

And why did I blurt out this odd question? Because the main lobby had a strange kind of filmy feeling—as if a layer of gauze or a veil was laid over it. Before I continue, I must digress. I have stayed in numerous “historic” B&Bs by myself, both here and abroad. I had also been in countless older homes for my previous job at Rejuvenation—and I had never encountered a place quite like this.

OK, now back to the story.

In regard to my question, Bob gave a nervous chuckle and told me the hotel “does have an interesting past” as a seaport brothel. In a half-hearted attempt at transparency, he offered me the hotel’s binder containing guest reviews.

For reasons I can’t fully explain (the reoccurring theme of the weekend) I told Bob I wasn't up for the binder, and that I’d prefer to remain objective. Bob then asked if I’d mind paying up front. And again, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I tentatively handed over my credit card and committed to my stay.

Chapter Two: Settling In

I followed Bob as he scurried up the main staircase which was presided over by a large portrait, "The Lady in Blue," and he planted my small suitcase in Room 4, Miss Claire’s room.

"The Lady in Blue"

Despite its tawdry past, Miss Claire’s room was airy and bright. I entered, but immediately froze in my tracks. The vibe overwhelmed me. It felt like something was in the room—but I couldn’t see it. More specifically, it felt like a patch of sad energy gently hovering overhead—kind of like an invisible, clinically depressed blimp.

My first instinct was to bolt, but after a few minutes of self-talk ("There is NOTHING WRONG with this room, Laurie.") I decided to stay. To get the weekend off to the right start, I sent “the presence” a telepathic greeting (no joke). Something to the effect of “Hey Miss Claire, you seem kind of down, and I’m sorry about that, and I know this is your room, and I’ll be a really good roommate."

I hit the telepathic “send” button and started to unpack.

Usually, for record-keeping purposes, I would take pictures in a historic hotel, but I decide not to use my camera (or for that matter, turn on the TV), fearing the camera flash or electronic devices might trigger a paranormal event. (Again, no joke).

I realized I was truly beginning to grasp the Victorian concept of "going mad."

“Shake it off,” I told myself. I pulled myself back from the brink, bucked up and headed out to dinner. After a lovely meal and a healthy dose of wine at The Silverwater Café, I headed back to Room 4. With the table lamp on, I went to sleep. Thankfully, the night was uneventful.

Chapter Three: Things Get a Little Lively

Saturday morning arrived, and summer light flooded the room early. “How ironic," I thought. “My own little version of 'The Shining.'" I got up and did a gut check on the room. I felt Miss Claire was not present—perhaps she was out running errands. (Do ghosts run errands?)

Miss Claire's room.

I headed out for a normal day of sightseeing, and made sure to leave the room extra tidy, thinking that if Miss Claire moved anything while I was out, I’d be able to tell. I returned later that afternoon after an invigorating bike ride to Fort Worden. The room felt normal. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed, then started to get ready to go out for an early dinner. Although at this point I was trying my best to apply makeup while NOT looking in the mirror, since I know from childhood slumber parties that mirrors and apparitions go hand-in-hand. (Mary Worth, are you listening?)

And wouldn’t you know, while primping, the closed door to my room popped open in that scary movie kind of way—creaky sound effect and all. “Hmmmm…” I thought to myself. “Pretty sure that was closed." I shrugged it off and attributed it to an old building with old locks. I continued to blindly apply mascara, when suddenly I felt something behind me.

That's when I broke out in goose bumps, quickly brushed my hair and left. “She’s back," I think, “So I’ll just let her have the room to herself for a few hours.”

I feared I was starting to lose it.

Dinner was another lovely meal at the the Silverwater, washed down with two very large glasses of wine. After taking in some live music and knocking back another stiff drink, I felt fortified and ready to return to Miss Claire’s room. “One more night,” I said to myself.

It was still twilight when I returned, but I decided to turn in early. I switched on the table lamp, got into bed, pulled the covers over my head and hoped for the best. I drifted off.

Fast forward a few hours. I was sound asleep—that is, until the locked door once again mysteriously popped open. I sat bolt upright in bed, and said loudly, “Hello? Hello?” No answer. I walked to the open door and looked out into the still-lit hall. I saw nothing.

And then I had a funny thought—an epiphany of sorts. I realized that I don’t really WANT to see anything. I’m tired of this ghost stuff, and I was now more annoyed with, than scared of, Miss Claire. She reminded me of so many roommates from days past, stumbling in late on a Saturday night, probably drunk, but meaning no harm.

At least she didn’t bring home a guy.


Sunday morning arrived, bright and sunny. My first thought of the day was, “I’m getting the hell out of here." I skipped the shower (no more creepy bathroom for me), quickly packed up and say goodbye to Miss Claire. This time I spoke out loud, for I was no longer in denial about her existence.

But before I left, I did review “the binder” which was chock full of experiences similar to mine—and then some. I also learned that legend has it Miss Claire was engaged to be married, but was jilted by a sailor who left her at the dock. Her never-used wedding gown was stashed in a trunk found in Room 4.

I hit the road. By the time I got to Tacoma, I realized I've spent the weekend with a broken-hearted ghost, and I had a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. For closure, I call Front Desk Bob when I got home and told him my tale. Bob confirmed that my story was “consistent with other events” at the hotel.

I guess that’s paranormal-speak for this stuff goes on all the time. As for me, I still sleep with a light on.

Photos from Palace Hotel and KOMO News.