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A drawing of the Ghost Cabin at Chophouse Row.

Drawing by Jed Dunkerley

Truth of the matter was, we didn’t really know what the ghost wanted. Sometimes it was like listening to a baby cry. Sometimes it was really sweet and not scary at all.

Liz was the first to bring it up. You could tell she was nervous about it. You could tell that she struggled with how to explain it. There are always other possible explanations. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s paranormal activity. And no one wants to be the person trying to convince their friends that ghosts are real.

Like most good stories, it started with Liz offering a disclaimer.

“So I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think the Chophouse building has a ghost.”

Then she paused and looked around the room to read the expressions on our faces. We weren’t exactly the Ghostbusters taking on a new client. We were artists and architects and friends of hers. She trusted us.

I had dealt with ghosts before. Old buildings are chock-full of them. It’s not like I was out looking for ghosts, we just happened to share similar tastes in architecture. After a while it’s like getting used to a new roommate that doesn’t pay rent and stays up too late.

The Chophouse ghost, according to Liz, wasn’t a total brat—it wasn’t dragging chains down the hall or filling the pipes with blood. I actually think Liz was concerned about it. Like maybe, just maybe, it needed our help.

There are a few things that all ghosts have in common:

1. Ghosts eat pigeons.
2. Ghosts don’t like elevators.
3. Ghosts are extremely patient.

The ghost at Chophouse had a few specific traits that we learned over the course of last winter:

1. The ghost was a woman.
2. Her favorite song was “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd.
3. She loved to dance.

Opening up a line of communication was pretty easy—two pounds of soil from the basement, a half-cup of sea salt, one cedar sprig, 18 yellow number-two pencils, and a lot of tongue clacking. It was like playing charades with a shy kid. The first time we made contact, the only thing she said was C-H-E-E-T-O-S. We thought it was Holly just messing with us, but it turns out the ghost has a thing for those cheesy corn puffs. We bought a bag at Texaco and sprinkled them around the Cloud Room. Liz was afraid they would attract mice, but they were always gone by morning.

Over the weeks and months that followed, we slowly learned who this ghost was, and what she really wanted.

The ghost wanted her home back.

Liz confirmed that indeed they had found an old foundation deep below the Chophouse building. Before Capitol Hill was an arts district, before it harbored Seattle’s gay culture, before it was auto row, it was a heavily forested landscape with a creek and a few modest cabins (before that it was Native land, but by most accounts it remained forested and uninhabited).

The ghost kept spelling out S-H-E-D. We asked if she wanted her shed back and a door slammed and four pigeons took flight. S-H-E-D. P-R-E-N-T-I-S. And we asked, confused—Prentis Hale, the architect?—and two pencils tapped on the table like a snare drum. Some people still don’t believe it, but that’s how SHED Architecture got the job—the ghost asked for them by name.

With Prentis and Kara on board, the project moved forward with ease. We learned that our ghost had been an entertainer, dancing for the thousands of young lumberjacks, fishermen, and gold prospectors that populated early Seattle. We learned how she was able to get on the internet and turn on the stereo.

Most importantly, we learned what a ghost looks for in a cabin:

A roof?

Don’t need it.

A bed?

Can’t sleep.

Electricity?

Sweet baby, I am electricity. Just make it out of cedar and give me a stage to dance on.

Things are quieter now that the ghost cabin is complete. Sometimes I sit on the stoop and look at the stage, wondering if she is there, kicking the air and ruffling her ghost dress. Sometimes I sprinkle Cheetos on the ground and wait for them to disappear.

I’m pretty sure the new building across the street doesn’t have a ghost. Maybe someday it will. If they are lucky.

Ghost Cabin is an art installation created by SHED Architecture and Plumb Level Square. It is located in the courtyard of Chophouse Row in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.