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Cold Spots: Billy’s Bar and Grill

Aberdeen, WA – Stopping in to an historic old building for a bite to eat can be a dicey game. On the one hand, the food is great and the atmosphere is second to none. On the other, however, there’s something there that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s the phantom figures of scantily-clad ladies that lurk in the upper floors. Might be the miserable-looking sailors who disappear before anyone can ask them what ship they’re on. More than likely, it’s the bartender. Not the one wearing modern clothes who serves drinks at a rapid pace, but the one who sits glaring behind the bar, his eyes cold and hard, his lips curved in a cold smile. One can tell by looking at him, there’s murder on his mind.

Billy's Bar & Grill!

Washington is well known for a great many things now. The birth of “Starbucks” and the “grunge” movement, to begin with, gives the state a reputation of being on the cutting edge of things, thoroughly modern. But before there was a coffee house on every corner, before Doc-Marten’s and Flannel were merely a fashion statement, Washington had its share of colorful characters, the likes of which legends are made. Far from being the “Paul Bunyan” or “Johnny Appleseed” variety, this character held infamy as one of America’s earlier serial killers, and his actions left quite a scar on the land.

History

The building that now houses Billy’s Bar and Grill began as the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific. During the 1900’s, sailors from every port of call would stop in the union building, where they could collect their mail, deposit valuables, and connect with old friends. According to many, the top floor of the building allowed for another type of “connection,” as it was a center of operations for prostitutes. The bottom level was used as a bar and eating establishment while more carnal desires went on in the rooms upstairs. It was in 1903 that a German bartender named William F. “Billy” Gohl became an official Agent for the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific. While he seemed, at first, to be a good guy and many believed Billy to be a good fellow, history shows him to have been a failed Yukon miner who, by the time he showed up in Aberdeen, was already a serious criminal who was quite proud of his accomplishments.

Billy GohlIt was Billy’s job to take the money and, as a union official, prevent strikes. An impressively sized man, he also used his reputation and demeanor to recruit new union members. After a while, he began taking the money from the sailors, then shooting them in the head and dumping their bodies out the convenient chute out back that lead directly to the Wishkah River. But Billy wasn’t done with just that. Because of a dispute with a hotel bar, Billy reputedly lit the place on fire, burning it to the ground, killing not only the owner, but another man with whom he’d had an argument. There are a great many stories involving Billy Gohl and the horrors he committed, many of them told by his former accomplice, John Klingenberg.

In 1910, Billy made a foolish mistake when he mistakenly identified one of his own victims by a name on his pocket watch. On February third, he was arrested and charged with murder. Two months later, his trial began. Though Gohl is believed to have murdered more than forty people (some say the number is more like 124), he was convicted of only two and given life in prison. For years, people who were seeking the reinstatement of the death penalty in Washington would point to Billy Gohl as a prime example of someone who should’ve died for his crimes. Instead, in June of 1910, Billy was taken to Walla Walla Penitentiary to begin his life sentence. Later, he was transferred to a mental asylum, where he died in 1928.

Ghosts

The most common and frequent phenomena talked about by employees and guests of the building are the random, and seemingly sourceless cold spots that can be felt everywhere. That, combined with lights that flicker and turn off for no reason, might be enough to raise a few eyebrows. However, there are more overt phenomena that have startled many employees and patrons.

One of the more disconcerting events seems to point to the restless soul of Billy being the culprit. According to reports, items such as shot glasses and mugs will fly off the bar, smashing into the bar on the opposite wall. Also, items have been reported to jump violently off the shelves in the kitchen, only to crash against walls and the floor. It is believed that this is Billy, letting his temper get the best of him.

There have also been numerous reports of apparitions, both upstairs and down. Several are reputed to be the ghosts of former prostitutes, while others are believed to be victims of Billy’s greed. At least one was identified as Billy himself by an employee, who locked the doors at the end of the work day, then saw a man sitting at the bar, staring out at her. When she moved to confront him, the man vanished. There have also been a few EVP’s captured, most notably by the Auburn Paranormal Activities Research Team, who recorded a voice upstairs that whispered “Whore.”

Present Day

billys bar and grillThe man who was one of the most feared in Aberdeen, who gave the port the nickname of the “Port of Missing Men,” has achieved cult and folk hero status in the town, with Billy’s Bar and Grill being named in his honor. The building has been investigated numerous times, and while many of the investigating groups have come away with little hard evidence, most agree that there is something there. While no one has been hurt by Billy (after his death, anyway), he seems like a very angry spirit.

Best Times

Phenomena happens at all times, during all seasons. Cold spots are reported during the hottest months of summer, while flying dishes and glasses are reported during every shift. Most apparitions, however, seem to occur after closing time, though they may appear in the busy restaurant at other times and just go unnoticed. It seems, then, that the best time to visit Billy’s Bar and Grill is the obvious one: When you’re hungry and looking for something cold to drink. Just watch the bartender.

See you in two weeks!

- Scott A. Johnson

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Sifu Scott