168 South Jackson Street
Sitting on the ashes of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, the Cadillac Hotel has seen its share of ghosts. From the more famous crying mother and child, to dozens of workmen from decades past, this historic three-story Victorian Italianate-style building is bustling with paranormal activity.
Designed by James W. Hetherington, the building first opened as the Elliot House in 1890 and included fifty-six rooms. In the years after, it would become known as both the Derig Hotel, and the Star Lodge, but it wasn't until 1906 that it would take its final form as the Cadillac Hotel until, a year that was also marked with the addition of three more rooms.
At its opening, the upper floors mostly housed workmen and laborers, local men who were paying anywhere between twenty-five to fifty cents a night. The first floor, on the other hand, served as the home of several local businesses, including a lunch counter, a bar, a drugstore, and a few affordable restaurants.
In 1889, a blaze started in the basement of Clairmont and Company’s cabinet shop on Front Street and Madison Avenue, causing millions in property damage and destroying all twenty-five blocks of the Business District. Surprisingly, the fire itself only claimed a few lives.
The same cannot be said for the cleanup, which, despite the city's best efforts, led to the deaths of dozens of workers in the following days. It is those among them that have left the biggest mark on the neighborhood and can still be seen to this day, haunting the city they tried so desperately to save.
The Klondike Gold Rush began in earnest in 1897, and it wasn’t long before Seattle became known as the Gateway to the Gold Fields.” As many as seventy-thousand hopefuls would flock to the city over the next few years, hoping to try their luck at striking it rich.
A notoriously dangerous job, many of the men who came to the area looking for a new life were never seen again. Some were lost to the wild, working long days and cold nights in some of the county’s most dangerous conditions, while others fell victim to their peers, casualties of a lawless dog eat-dog-society where greed and jealousy quickly turned men into murderers.
To this day, the spirits of these men can still be felt in the Cadillac Hotel, where many of them had stayed during their quest for gold.
The most well-known paranormal activity in the hotel is that of a woman and her child, both of whom can be heard crying throughout the hotel, especially at night. It’s said that the woman was a single mother who had fallen on hard times, forced to find refuge at the Cadillac after being evicted from her house.
But life did not get easier for the young mother. As her luck continued to deteriorate, so did her sanity, until one night she committed the most unforgivable of acts—taking the life of her only child, followed by her own.
While the Cadillac didn’t see any flames in the fire of 1970, the Ozark Hotel at Westlake Avenue and Lenora Street did—killing twenty-one people and injuring thirteen more. As a result, the Seattle City Council quickly passed the Ozark Ordnance, a new law that required all hotels and apartments to be equipped with fire sprinkler systems.
Unable to afford the necessary updates, the Cadillac was forced to close its doors for the next thirty years, leaving only the business space on the first floor still operational.
In February of 2001, a six-point-eight magnitude earthquake shook the Cadillac with such extreme force that the brick facade completely collapsed. Fearing that the rest of the building would soon follow, the owner petitioned to have it demolished by March of that year.
But, as luck would have it, this unfortunate event wouldn’t prove to be the end of the historic Cadillac Hotel.
Historic Seattle, a preservation organization founded in 1974, came to the Cadillac’s rescue after previously saving the rest of Pioneer Square and registering it as a historic neighborhood.
At the cost of a $2.4 million Section 08 loan, they purchased the building from the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development and immediately began restorations, repairing the original wood frame windows and exterior masonry walls, as well as adding steel braces to the east, west, and south elevations for reinforcement.
Parapets were reconstructed, brick wall ties were added, and the building saw the addition of both roof and floor sheathing, as well as new interior shear and load-bearing frames, making certain that an earthquake would never threaten the Cadillac’s foundation again.
A nightclub called the Phoenix Underground was the last business to operate out of the Cadillac’s ground floor. In 2005, the space was repurposed as the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, a facility run by the National Parks Service that explores the history of the region.
The original hotel sign still hangs from the brick wall around the corner, located by the entrance to the new permanent exhibits. There you can witness the ‘Cadillac Legacy’, a history of the hotel from its first cornerstones to the current day.
A slew of mostly black-and-white photographs and informative blurbs will quickly immerse you in history. Stare long enough and they say you could find yourself graced with a ghostly presence, many of which seem to walk right out of the pictures.
If you peer up into the second-floor windows, you may just catch sight of an old stampeder or workman walking around. You may even hear some ghostly noises inside, or feel a presence while taking the elevator.
The Visitor’s Center of the museum—and by extension, the Cadillac exhibit—is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Friday through Sunday and admission is free. There are guides on hand who will likely tell you all you need to know about the old hotel, as well as the notorious gold-seekers who still claim it as their own.