The grity city we live in is more than just a cluster of brick buildings with quirky cup cake shops wedged in between. Tacoma was once coined ‘The City of Destiny.’ In this city, just bursting at the seams with ambition, was the same city where the transcontinental railroad obtained its manifested destiny and where noir found its origins under the Washington building, all the while: tragedies, bootleggers, and kidnappers acted as the catalyst for hundreds of urban legends, and whale of a tales, both fact and fiction. Here is a mapped out handful to vicariously read through, but if reading isn’t enough, explore carefully…
1. MISSING BANK VAULTS (FACT)
What actually happened with the gulch was that a mudslide washed away the shanty town as well as the wharf below. Since Tacoma was the end of the transcontinental railroad, vaults of money were kept here. The vaults were washed into the sea along with the gulch and wharf as well as other antiquated-ly named things. Supposedly the vaults of money have yet to be recovered. Wooden pillars, vestiges of the wharf, can still be seen to this day.
2. BIRTH OF NOIR (FACT)
When Dashel Hammet’s “Malteese Falcon” was published, the genre of noir is said to have been born. Within this book is a story told by the main character, regaled to a young lady about a Tacoma man named, Flitcraft, who was almost killed by a falling pillar. Scholars have said that while Hammet can be accredited with the genesis of noir, one can trace the precise moment noir was first captured in its purest and unadulterated form in, The Flitcraft parable, within “The Maltese Falcon.” What both scholars and Tacomans have neglected is the fact that the Flitcraft parable occurs in a real place. Hammet, having vacationed here for a winter became very familiar with Tacoma, most notably 11th & Pacific where the Washington Building was just being built, hence the falling pillar.
3. SHANGHAI TUNNELS (FACT)
Since Tacoma was built on a hill, underground tunnels were built on the east side of each street for easy access. Originally meant for builders, and city workers checking the meters and central heat, its original purpose soon became a more morally ambiguous one, as bootleggers used it for rum-runs and there were even stories of kidnappings with trap doors. Supposedly drunken sailors would fall through the trap doors and be thrown into endentured servitude via ships en route to Shanghai. Because the tunnels had glass panels to let natural light in from above, every once in awhile flash lights could be seen scurrying below the sidewalks. Most of these tunnels have either been filled or sealed, but one entrance way still exists by the Old Elk’s Temple.
4. OLD WOMAN’S GULCH (FICTION)
The Stadium at Stadium High school has quite the past. What was originally a would be tourist hotel, Stadium wen’t through a depression as well as a fire, eventually becoming known as, ‘brown castle,’ overlooking a collection of shanty’s, housing the widows of never-to-return longeshoreman, immigrants and those looking for shelter from the elements. This was known as ‘The Gulch.’ Legend has it that when it was decided a stadium would be built there, the city quite literally flushed out the shanty town with water, washing away the widows into the sea. While there was much tragedy here, washed away widows was certainly not one of them.
5. THE ANDELANA (FACT)
The legend of The Andelana is that this British vessel and its crew mysteriously disappeared the night after having a photo of them was taken. Wilhelm Hester, the photographer, supposedly vowed to never take a photo of a full ship’s crew again unless one member stepped out of the shot. The public ate this up and a group of psychics even performed a séance in the middle of commencement bay. A truer tail is that a wind storm capsized the Andelana, killing every person, and dog in the photo. Hester, an established photographer, has no record of maritime photos since then until his death in 1947.