Friday, January 4, 2013

That Was Then, This Is Now: Haunted Merchants Cafe

Airing tonight on the travel channel is the Burned Alive episode of The Dead Files featuring Seattle's Pioneer Square Merchants Cafe.

Steve and Amy inspect alarming paranormal activity at a Seattle restaurant. While Steve unearths evidence of a bloody massacre, Amy encounters several disturbing entities that want to harm the living.
My Ghostly Experience
Last night, I did my own non-scientific walk-through investigation of the Merchants Cafe prior to the airing of Dead Files.  I was curious to see if I'd pick up on anything and if so, would it be similar to what Amy discusses?  Above, is the first photo I shot. Before even entering the building, and at about this point on the street, I started getting a tightening in my chest.  The best way to describe it is similar to getting a squeezing cramp around my heart area.

Once inside, we chose a table in the rear of the restaurant directly beneath the portrait of the Oriental Dancing Girl.  Despite the space heaters, there were patches of ice cold.  For me, this cold lingered.  It remained concentrated to my thighs. It was as if a ghost was sitting on my lap for the majority of the time I
was seated at the table.

I promptly asked Darcy, the owner of Merchants Cafe, about her experience with the Dead Files crew.  She told me that they truly did not have any contact before or during the investigation and that yes, Amy does not know where she is going prior to the walk through to ensure validity to her claims.  It took hours to cover and conceal everything that might be suggestive to Amy and yes, everyone was kept separated until the reveal.  Darcy stated that besides what was discussed in the reveal, she still has no idea what else Amy experienced on her walk through.  She will be seeing it for the first time tonight when the Dead Files airs!  In addition, Darcy asked crew members what they thought and believed.  A few said that they personally hadn't seen anything during filming UNTIL, well....the Merchants Cafe.  A particularly skeptical cameraman prior to  shooting said he's never experienced anything paranormal.  However, that all changed on the night they filmed the Merchants Cafe. While setting up downstairs the man saw something that frightened him so much that he literally screamed and ran up the stairs and out of the building.  He had no desire to re-enter.

After spending time downstairs and beneath Merchants I can honestly say, I believe his ghostly account was the real deal.  I had my own experience with a white mist.  While I was trying to take a photo of my son and his girlfriend a white mist formed (quickly) near the floor (viewed in the left corner of my camera frame) and shot up in a diagonal fashion and exited through the ceiling.  It was close enough to me that I yelped and jumped backwards due to being so startled.  I was solely focused on getting a good photo of the couple. I wasn't thinking paranormal at that precise moment, but something was trying to manifest and make its presence known.  With the group a little freaked out, we went upstairs.  We were just entering the upper dining area when another mist ball shot horizontally from left to right (moving towards the bar) in front of us.
Mist forming behind Lauren
Since I'd already taken up so much of Darcy's time, I hesitated telling her what just happened, but my daughter encouraged me to do so.  I recanted the experience and was immediately validated by Darcy.  She said that many people have described the exact same thing -- even down to the location and movement. However, it didn't stop there!  While I'm telling Darcy about what I just saw, I begin having trouble breathing.  The feeling got so intense that it was difficult not to express my discomfort.  It felt as if I'd just gone for a run at a high altitude.  At the time, I didn't know that other people in my group were also experiencing the same sensation. BUT wait...there is more!  As I'm talking, and not breathing very well, my eyes keep darting to the right because I am seeing this black mass slithering up the wall and around the ceiling in the corner of the bar. It's moving like an amoeba halfway up and across and then repeating this strange 'globby' motion. I'm desperately trying to maintain eye contact with Darcy, but this thing is so distracting. Finally, I interrupt our conversation to let her know what I'm seeing. At this point, she'll either believe me or think I'm a total nutter! She calmly responds that yes, that is also something people claim to see and in fact, just last week a gentleman was sitting at the bar and announced he had to move because the black mass was so distracting.

Just a reminder, I have no idea what Amy's experiences or findings will be tonight on Dead Files. All of us who were at the Merchants Cafe last night will be having a viewing party at my house. The Merchants Cafe is also hosting a viewing party at the bar. I will be finding out Amy's finding (with the rest of the world) when the show airs.

I did ask Darcy if they have done any of the things recommended by Amy.  She confirmed they have saged and salted the building. She also noted that when they put salt in the front right corner of the entry to the building, the light bulb in the floor lamp exploded.  However, they have yet to do the other two recommendations.  With the activity in this place, I encourage Darcy to follow through with what Amy suggests and continually sage and salt the place.  With the history, high activity, and nature of the building, paranormal activity will always be coming and going -- but the darker entities oozing in the ceiling need to be seriously dealt with because it is negative and will make employees and customers highly uncomfortable.
History of the Merchants Cafe 
*historical info. obtained from link

Merchants was constructed in 1890 and designed by W. E. Boone (a direct descendent of Daniel Boone). The café is one of the oldest operating restaurants at its original location in the Seattle area and possibly on the west coast. When it opened its doors as a saloon, they served five-cent beers to miners waiting to visit the upstairs brothel. 
The rooms of the upstairs brothel are now private apartments, but visitors can continue their exploration of Merchants Café by visiting the main dining area and underground bar. Tucked away under the sidewalk that was once lit by the purple glass of the old city skylights, sits a bar perfect for that time.

The land upon which the building rests was once owned by Doc Maynard, who donated a large portion of land to Henry Yesler. Maynard did this to entice Yesler to build his famed steam-powered sawmill in Seattle. In 1857, Yesler then sold a small portion of this land to Charles Terry, famous for opening the first store on Alki Point in 1851. By 1864, a two-story clapboard structure settled on this site, with a shop on the first floor and a photographer’s studio on the second floor. Here, Seattle’s first resident professional photographer, E.M. Sammis photographed the only known pictures of Doc Maynard and Chief Seattle. This two-story structure was destroyed by the Great Seattle Fire in 1889. 

John Hall Sanderson, then owner of the burnt remains, developed plans for building a brick terra cotta structure, which remains to this day. Intentions for this building were to house a wine and liquor shop on the ground floor with offices on the upper floors. This building eventually became Merchants Café, but was then known as the Sanderson Block. 

Portrait of the Oriental Dancing Girl
By 1892, the building had passed onto Charles Osner, who changed the building’s name to Merchants Exchange Saloon. At this time, the building was operating as a restaurant, hotel, saloon, and a card room. Osner also offered other services for those young men taking a break from the hardships of lumbering in the greatly wooded northwest. Prostitution was a very popular and lucrative past time for a male-dominate city, and Osner took advantage of this by offering a brothel on the third floor. Here men would find pictures of the lovely ladies aligning the saloon walls. If any gentleman requested their services, he would point at one of these pictures and then be directed to her upstairs room. See photo: Behind me is a portrait of one such lady who worked in the brothel, titled Oriental Dancing Girl, still hangs in the Merchants Cafe.

In 1898, a year after the gold rush madness, Franz Xavier Schreiner purchased the Saloon. More popularly known as FX, Schreiner gained a small fortune in the Klondike as a supply salesman. FX then added a “Sunday Bank” in the basement where he exchanged cash for miners’ gold dust fresh from the Yukon. Then, he cashed in on the dust with Monday’s bank deposit, collecting as much as $100,000 worth. He continued this until 1910. In fact, the old safe that protected this gold still remains on the property upstairs behind the bar. Apparently, the ghost who still guards this safe does not like anything being put above it. The previous owner warned that if anything was placed there, it would end up broken. Darcy, the current owner decided to put in a wine rack.  One morning her bartender arrived to find every bottle of wine smashed on the floor.  The wine rack was still in place and nothing else in the entire place had been touched. Someone or something took each bottle and threw it in a pile by the front door. Photos of the mess are at the bar and also, Steve the detective on Dead Files will hear the story first-hand from the Merchants staff. 

By 1916, stricter laws and Prohibition (also known as the dry laws that prevented the selling of alcohol in the state of Washington) caused many bars, taverns and saloons to lock up shop. Owners, who were smart enough, switched over their businesses to restaurants and cafes. FX continued his success by secretly paying off local police. By doing so, he continued to offer bootlegged alcohol and illegal gambling in the basement, as well as the pleasure services of a “high class” brothel in the upstairs hotel.

In 1922, it seemed FX was ready for change, and so he sold his café to his son Carl and his nephew John Schreiner for $10 each. He then moved to Los Angeles for the weather and real estate opportunities. By 1926, the sale was completed by including the rest of the building to John who ran the business from 1923 to 1965.

During this time, Merchants also operated as a cigar shop, and the “Havana Cigars . . . Lovera” in stained glass over the entrance is a reminder of that. This sign remains to this day and can be seen above in the most recent photo taken on January 3, 2013. The basement saw service over the years as a German restaurant (which can still be identified by the brass sign at the top of the downstairs entrance), a Spanish restaurant, a card room and a speakeasy. 

During the Great Depression, patrons were offered free food, such as finger sandwiches and hardboiled eggs, with their nickel beers. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the sign was changed to read, “Merchants Café – Beer and Restaurant.” The building remained in the Schreiner family until the 1970s. Merchants Café was always famed as the saloon on skid row. By this time, the phrase had double meaning as Pioneer Square was thought of as the slums.  The property passed through many hands and changed as the surrounding atmosphere grew to the historic district that it is today. Now in the hands of Darcy, the new owner has taken much pride in restoring the property and business to its natural beauty. Along with obtaining this historic building, she has inherited its ghosts.
"oriental dancing girl" by Nathaldi Siehel.
On the far back wall hangs the haunted painting known as “oriental dancing girl” by Nathaldi Siehel. This painting strangely revealed its ghostly past to the new owners while being photographed.

Doll given by patron for the ghost girl
Another tale that is told among the employees is that of a little girl and boy that haunt the basement of Merchants. A fire in 1938 struck Merchants and took these young lives. Here, many encounter sights of small shadowy figures lurking about and play games on the staff. Also, an unfamiliar man appeared one day with a doll. He gave it to the owner and asked for it to be kept for the 'ghost girl' so she'd have something to play with. The doll remained at the bar and over time showed all the signs of actually being used i.e. hair messy, dirt on clothing, ribbons undone and moved position. Sadly, one day the doll simply disappeared or became 'lost.'  Panicked, the bar offered a reward, but the doll never returned. Darcy, searched the internet for the exact same doll and when found, ordered a replacement. That doll now sits in the bar for the ghost girl. 

Merchants Café has survived many obstacles like the Gold Rush, Prohibition, the Great Depression, a fire, and even the changing of ownership throughout her 121 years. Today, Merchants Café’s brochures heighten the aura of naughtiness-past by proclaiming, “Only a mere shell of its former decadence, The Merchants now welcomes women and children.”  All are welcome, including the ghosts. 

Seattle, 1907
Photographer Webster & Steve
espatch Transportation Co.
New York Central Lines.
The Merchants Cafe. 109 Yesler Way. 1930's
* Older photographs and historical information obtained from
Recent photos and personal accounts belong to Charlie Courtland - Obtained January 3, 2013 during a visit to Merchants Cafe.
Merchants Cafe
Yesler, Pioneer Square, Seattle WA
January 3, 2013


  1. So how did the screening go? What did the owners think? Did anyone see any phenomena after or during the screening?

    1. I just posted a following up :)

      The screening was interested, validating and confirmed a few things. I personally did not see or experience anything besides tingles after or during the screening. I haven't talked to the owner to see if anything happened at the Merchants Cafe. That would be very interesting to find out!

  2. My wife and I have been fans of the show for a couple of months now. I would label us sympathetic skeptics, but we're not ready to rule anything out. So to find someone blogging about a location with paranormal "Dead Files issues" is a real treat. Thanks for all the great work you've done. I hope the owner continues to follow Amy's advice. If I'm ever in Seatlle, I'll be sure to check out the bar for a beer.

  3. My friends and I visted the Merchants Cafe a few days ago. I have to say I am a firm believer in the story's I experienced things myself when we were down stairs. The feelings I got from there were not in any way good. I have not seen the Dead Files episode yet but intend to do so very soon. I am curious to see if what she talks about was any of the things I felt myself.


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