The Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown—Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood—is reportedly a very haunted place, but you couldn’t prove it by me (see photo). The popular eatery, which opened in 1970 in a former grocery wholesalers at 53 Water Street, houses an old trolley car and assorted other artifacts and antiques. It is also, reportedly, home to no fewer than four ghosts, one that of the old tram conductor himself.
The tales about the ghost come to us in different versions—evidence of the folklore process at work. For example, “Some say” that the conductor was killed in an underground collision on the rail line that ran beneath the site, but that can’t be true: all of the trolley cars operated above-ground. Hence “Many say” the alleged specter must have already resided in the building, yet the place has no historical link to the electrical car company. Undaunted, still others conclude the ghost must have somehow arrived with the tram car when it was installed in 1969 (“Ghosts” 2016; “Haunted Tales” 2016). But then where was the ghost before it showed up in 1969—possibly for half a century or more?
The spirit—what some believe a form of life energy—appears “in full uniform,” although such clothing and accouterments would have been entirely inanimate objects. But Ghosts—being expressions of the imagination—can be any way people want, and ghosts are typically attired and equipped as appropriate to the mental imagery and the storytelling drama (Nickell 2012, 25–30).
All this said, I had an extended lunch at the restaurant, even being able to get a table inside the trolley itself. I spoke with several employees, one of whom gave me a guided tour of the premises, and examined an antique “ghost” photo on display that showed two figures—one dark, another transparent—exiting an old rail car. (I attributed this to the camera’s slow shutter speed, with one figure standing still and the other in motion, getting off the car.)
I never saw the old conductor’s ghost—or any of the other three ghosts said to haunt the place (“Haunted Tales” 2016)—nor did I have any other ghostly experience. Neither did four of the six employees I interviewed: the hostess and servers, one a man. Another young man, having had a waking-dream”-type experience as a child, told me about a medium who had accompanied a TV crew there. She impressed him by telling him things she couldn’t have known, but he seemed unaware of the fortunetelling technique of cold reading. (In this, the psychic may artfully fish for information and/or say a lot of things, prompting the person to count the hits and ignore or rationalize the misses.)
The sixth person, a young woman who breathlessly related many experiences, seemed different from the others. Although she had not actually had a direct apparitional experience, she often perceived movement out of the corner of her eye (a common illusion). She showed me a set of swinging doors (leading to the kitchen) which she said she saw move once when no one else was there, but I suspect that was another misperception. She admitted to believing most New Age claims, like astrology—and talked of “energy,” the “third eye,” and “portals” (supposed openings to the Other Side). If she were not actually fantasy-prone, she certainly seemed quite credulous.
I have often found this difference in people at other supposedly haunted sites. Those who are credulous and especially more fantasy prone are those most likely to have ghostly experiences, even to be subjected, sometimes, to the pranks of others (Nickell 2012, 121, 323–324). As the late psychologist Robert A. Baker used to say, “There are no haunted places, only haunted people.”
Ghosts of Vancouver. 2016. Online at https://ghostsofvancouver.com/spaghetti_factory.htm; accessed May 27, 2016.
Haunted Tales from the Old Spaghetti Factory. 2016. Online at https://www.gastown.org/arts-culture/item/8347-haunted-tales-from-the-old-spaghetti-factory; accessed May 27, 2016.
Nickell, Joe. 2012. The Science of Ghosts. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.