In the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, most of the homes are single story and predictably house shaped. But if you’re the sort who seeks out a Lynchian heart of darkness wherever you go, look no further than Carleton Avenue S.
Here stands the Georgetown Castle, a three-story mansion with a tragic and tawdry past. The castle, a former brothel, somehow manages to look demure, set back from the street and sheltered by unusually lush gardens on either side.
Come closer, and a metal placard appears, seemingly out of nowhere, to offer tantalizing details about the mansion’s history. Architecture buffs will recognize the building’s Queen Anne style, resplendent as it is with overhanging eaves, mismatched gables, and overlapping textures.
Of course, the castle’s spooky aura is more than just cosmetic. The abode was built in 1902 by a wealthy blackjack dealer named Peter Gessner. But poor Gessner didn’t get much of a chance to appreciate it (while he was still alive, that is).
It’s said the second floor is haunted by Gessner himself, who only lasted a year after moving into his castle. In 1903, he died by suicide. There were rumors of foul play, but Seattle papers reported it as a case of lovesickness over his young wife Lizzie, who had recently left him for a chicken farmer.
Before his death, Gessner made use of Georgetown’s location on the outskirts of Seattle to run a brothel and gambling saloon. It was a sordid start that would prove hard to scrub away. By the 1920s, the place was once again functioning as a brothel. Decades later, the castle was finally turned into a somewhat respectable boardinghouse, though it would remain haunted, quite literally, by its untoward beginnings.
The castle’s second-most famous ghost, after Gessner, is said to be a disgruntled former employee. She’s a hazy figure at best, the details of her life and death obscured by a century of local gossip. In one version of the tale, she’s inexplicably strangled by a magician. Another, more likely story sees her shot dead by an abusive pimp. One moment, her name is Sarah. The next, it’s Mary. Today, the ghost has flowing red hair and a white nightgown. Tomorrow, it’s dark hair and kohl-rimmed eyes.
Then there’s the story of an unwed mother, perhaps Gessner’s niece, locked in the castle’s tower and forever separated from her baby, a truly infernal infant whose wails rise up nightly from the garden weeds. Some say that it was a john or a pimp who murdered the newborn and buried it on the property. Others say it was Gessner himself.
These days, the Georgetown Castle is privately owned and well maintained. The exterior is painted a pinkish orange and trimmed in chartreuse: a dish of ripe melon glistening at some hellish garden party. But the colors are only queasy if you’ve just eaten from the castle’s paranormal picnic of ghost lore.