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Seattle Ghost Story: Good Shepherd Center

(Photo by Historic Seattle, Chris Robinson)
LISTEN: Seattle Ghost Story: Good Shepherd Center

Seattle’s Good Shepherd Center was built in 1906. Back then it was called Home of the Good Shepherd, a building commissioned by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a sect of nuns who take care of troubled girls around the globe. These nuns lived with the troubled girls they educated and cared for.

“I don’t think I would want to live here alone,” said painter Charles Emerson, one of six artists-in-residence living in the Good Shepherd Center. “The building is creaky, it makes all kinds of noises, you can hear people laughing down the hall. You’ll swear there’s someone alongside you at all times. It’s just that kind of building.”

The huge, beautiful Wallingford building sits on 11 acres of land, and used to house about 200 nuns and wayward girls at a time between 1907 and 1973.

“One Christmas Eve, I was here all alone in this building, totally alone, and it is spooky,” said Emerson. “I will never do it again. If there are other people here I feel fine, but but by yourself? Noooo!”

Seattle’s Toby Harris did an oral history project about the Home of Good Shepherd.

“It provided shelter, education and guidance to girls in need,” Harris said. “There were never unwed mothers there, that was a myth. They were girls who ran away a lot, maybe they were big risk takers. Some were referred by the court and some came because their fathers were fisherman and their mothers had died, so they put them there like a boarding school.”

The Home of the Good Shepherd closed in 1973 and after a proposal to turn the property into a shopping center was defeated, the city of Seattle bought it and transferred it to Historic Seattle. It’s now occupied by various nonprofits and the artists that live there.

“I used to walk up and down the back staircase,” Emerson said. “I live on the fifth floor, which used to be the attic. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d just go up and down until I was so tired I’d fall asleep. One night, I stopped on the second floor. All of a sudden this nun came through the door and paused in the hall, turned and walked away from me towards the main lobby. I didn’t think anything about it except it’s three o’clock in the morning and we haven’t had nuns here for a very long time. As I remember, she was made of little black, white and gray particles, not unlike when the television station shuts off, you get all this static on the screen? It was that. Now, it’s possible I fell asleep. It was three o’clock in the morning, after all. But I do believe I saw it.”

Harris interviewed several of the nuns and girls, now women, who lived in the building.

“I interviewed a girl who had lived there from 1959 to 1963,” Harris said. “She and her friends seemed to like to scare the new girls with some stories about dead nuns living on the third floor. So I can read you some of that: ‘We made up stories of nuns being pregnant and having babies and burying them in the walls. I had a special place on the third floor, above in the attic. I used to tell all the new girls about the dead nuns up there. Scare the hell out of them.”

But the girls also scared themselves with their stories; they were on edge, always suspecting a haunting.

“‘At two o’clock every morning we’d wake up to this sound like somebody was crawling across the brick wall on the third floor,'” Harris read. “‘We scared ourselves to death in that place at times. For weeks and weeks this went on. Finally we couldn’t take it anymore so we made Mother John get up and hear it. It was the new girl grinding her teeth. We thought there was a monster out there!”

I asked Harris if the Good Shepherd Center was haunted.

“No, it never felt haunted to me. But I could feel the presence of all the many people who passed through it. I felt history. The building itself just felt human to me.”

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