Hunting for the Haunted

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By Heather Caro

Photos by Jennifer Dagdagan

From horror movies to haunted houses, being scared silly is big business — and for good reason. Nearly everyone likes to be frightened once in a while. And since we’re heading into fall and the season for haunted happenings, we thought we’d poke around some local places that are reported to be haunted themselves.

Yakima patrons have plenty to choose from when searching for their phantom fix. Check out these downtown hotspots that might send a shiver down your spine.

Depot Restaurant and Lounge[slideshow id=43]

Putting a whole new spin on its menu offerings of beer, wine – and spirits – The Depot is pretty well known for its “otherworldly” ambiance. Stop in for a chance to dine with the “lady in white,” but don’t be surprised if you feel someone watching you.

The Depot was built in 1910 by Northern Pacific Railway. Photo courtesy of Yakima Valley Museum

The Depot was built in 1910 by the Northern Pacific Railway to be a focal point for the growing city of Yakima. Over the years, an untold number of people have passed beneath its signature white tiled dome (including a famous traveling hobo who used the pseudonym “A#1”to escape capture by the authorities … his signature is carved into the marble of what is now the ladies bathroom).

Passenger service stopped in 1971, but the station – now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway – found new life with Karl and Kristie Pasten. In 2002, they transformed the historic site into a popular railway-themed restaurant and bar.

Haunted happenings

Patrons and staff of The Depot have reported ghostly happenings since the opening. Reports of hearing children playing and lively organ music coming from the attic are frequent,  and often heard from the ladies bathroom. Kitchen staff have reported faucets turning off by themselves, doors shutting without visible assistance and other spooky happenings. And the “lady in white” – a woman dressed in a long white apron with her hair tied back in a bun – has been sighted on the staircase leading to the attic by both patrons and staff, including the 3-year-old daughter of the bartender.

What the experts say

With spooky findings such as a videotaped door closing by itself,  photographed orbs and EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) during a 2008 investigation and a reinvestigation in 2009, Yakima’s P.A.S.T. is Present Paranormal Investigations (PIP) found the old train station to be haunted by both “residual hauntings and intelligent hauntings,” though “harmless in nature.” In July, Paranormal Investigators of Historical America also investigated the site with similar findings.

Fear Factor

The train station furnace was once used to cremate bodies during a typhoid epidemic in the early 1900s. The Depot’s basement also once included an entryway to underground tunnels running beneath Yakima. The entrance is now cemented over, but still clearly evident. One word: eek.

The Depot Restaurant and Lounge

32 N. Front St. Yakima


Yakima Sports Center[slideshow id=42]

Casual dining and a high-spirited music scene are staples at this downtown Yakima hotspot.  Share a pint with a friend and stay for the entertainment — but be sure to leave room at the table for patrons past.

A Little History

Historical photos of Sports Center are scarce. This picture of a store at 415 Yakima Ave., just down the street shows a building's interior from the era in which Sports Center was built. The cash register in the foreground is the same model as one currently in Sports Center. Photo courtesy of Yakima Valley Museum

Built in 1908 as a hotel and diner for the fledgling city of Yakima, the Sports Center has a long history as a nightlife hub. The locale’s raucous past includes playing host to a variety of stores, gambling establishments and bars. Upstairs – in an area now closed to the public – The Columbia Hotel (a brothel and apartments) once housed rowdy patrons for a number of years. In 1968, the now-iconic rotating neon hunter was installed and Yakima Sports Center took its name. The establishment changed hands in 2005, when new owners Chris Malland, Dave Eastlick and Eric Phillips took the business in a more family-friendly direction.

Haunted happenings

Sounds of clinking glassware and unexplained eerie chills have been reported by Sports Center staff. Some believe the colorful characters (such as writer Raymond Carver) who once frequented the establishment have ignored the cosmic “last call” and made Sports Center their full-time haunt.

What the experts say

In 2009, members of PIP investigated the site and, after gathering audio, video and photographic evidence, concluded Sports Center is haunted by “several residual and intelligent spirits.” They gathered so much data during the investigation they claim it may rank among the “most active locations in the Pacific Northwest.”

Fear Factor

Rumors of murder and mafia connections swirl around the building’s colorful past – and that’s just for appetizers. Get a peak of the old hotel upstairs all “ghouled” up from Oct. 22-30 during a haunted house hosted by PIP during this year’s Halloween festivities. Our thoughts: we’d give it a thumbs up … if our hands weren’t over our eyes.

Yakima Sports Center

214 E. Yakima Ave., Yakima


The Capitol Theatre[slideshow id=44]

From ballet to Broadway, patrons of this Yakima theater have been entertained for 90 years. What’s the secret to its success? That could be a spirited stage manager who makes sure that some shows are spooktacular.

A little history

Built in 1920 as the brainchild of Fredrick Mercy, The Capitol (first dubbed Mercy Theatre) was once the largest vaudeville theater in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, as technology changed, motion pictures made their way to the stage. But by the ’70s, interest in the theater had waned, and the building was placed up for sale. In 1975, the theater was purchased by the city of Yakima in part due to imploring community interest groups such as Allied Arts. Calamity struck when just days after the sale, an electrical fire left the building in ruins. The community rallied behind The Capitol Theatre,  and before the fire had cooled, restoration plans were in place. Eventually, the theater was meticulously reconstructed using molds of original ornamentation. In 1978, the theater reopened and today remains a cultural hub of the Yakima Valley — with multiple expansion projects in the works, including the new Black Box Theatre.

Haunted Happenings

From doors opening and closing, curtains lowering and stage lights malfunctioning, staff at The Capitol Theatre has long reported tales of a prankster poltergeist. Credited with paranormal activity ranging from missing props to toilets mysteriously flushing, “Shorty” is believed to be the ghost of the Capitol’s circa 1930s stage manager. Though passage of time has led to many versions of Shorty’s origin, most involve unrequited love. As the story goes, a distraught Shorty, torn over the love of an actress or perhaps fear of losing his job due to the arrival of motion pictures, took his life on the theater’s stage. Since then, Capitol staff has reported eerie activities they attribute to Shorty putting in some afterlife overtime.

What the experts say

One of Yakima’s most famous ghosts, Shorty has been investigated by multiple ghost hunting groups over the years. And according to Gay Parker, general manager of the Capitol, few leave empty-handed. Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, and photographed orbs have been recorded during many investigations, including a July investigation with Paranormal Investigators of Historical America.

Fear factor

Shorty is actually credited for once saving a girl’s life. According to lore, a piece of light shutter broke loose high above the stage, where a girl stood below. Suddenly the light shutter changed direction in mid-fall and stuck into the stage instead. Still, we’d rather view the stage from the cushy seats.

The Capitol Theatre

Historical photo of the Capitol Theatre. Courtesy of Yakima Valley Museum

19 S. Third St., Yakima


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