Haunted Art Deco Ferry Kalakala


By James Donahue


The rusting old ferry Kalakala rests at her moorings in Seattle’s harbor as area historians scramble to raise the money needed to restore the ship to its original glory.


After 32 faithful years of ferry and excursion service in Puget Sound, and another 31 years as a floating fish packing facility in Alaska, there is a promise here of a lot of restoration work to be done.


But Kalakala Foundation founder Peter Bevis, a Seattle sculptor, once believed the old boat was worth the effort. The odd-shaped craft is a one-of-the-kind with its ghostly art deco appearance. And the older residents of Seattle remember the ship as a popular excursion for more reasons than its strange appearance.


But short of funds and handicapped with the inability to get a restoration project underway, the foundation sold the old ferry to Stephen Rodrigues, who persuaded the Makah Native American Nation to give the vessel moorage on Neah Bay, near the Makah Museum on the Olympic Peninsula. There it rests today, still a rusted old relic.


Launched from the hull of another burned out ship in 1935, the Kalakala was rated as a luxurious craft. It boasted five decks with room for 2,000 passengers and 110 automobiles. It had three large observation rooms, a sun deck, a double-horseshoe lunch counter, a ladies lounge and men’s lounge and bar. An eight-piece orchestra, The Flying Birds, provided music for entertainment and dancing during night and summer cruises. It was so popular it drew a million riders during each of its first six years on the sound.


But the Kalakala also is remembered as a hard-luck ship that left destruction and a few dead bodies in her wake.


It was originally named the Peralta when launched as a double-ended ferry by the Moore Shipbuilding Company in 1927. The vessel was assigned to San Francisco Bay, carrying passengers between San Francisco and Oakland. But the old seamen shook their heads when she hesitated on her launch. They said it was a sure sign of a bad luck ship.


The following year five people drowned in a tragic accident after there was a ballast shift and five people tumbled from the Peralta’s deck and drowned. Then on May 6, 1933, the ferry caught fire and the superstructure was destroyed.

Alexander Peabody, president of the Puget Sound Navigation Company in Seattle, bought the hull and had it towed to Kirkland’s Lake Washington Shipyards for rebuilding as a new ferry. The plan was to carry traffic between Seattle and Bremerton, the location of the United States Navy Yard and entrance to the Olympic Peninsula.

Peabody wanted a fast, dependable ferry to make regular daily trips through the currents and thick weather of Puget Sound. He brought together a special engineering team to design what became a revolutionary superstructure that made the vessel unique in naval history. It was given the name Kalakala, a Chinook Indian name for “flying bird.”

The ship enjoyed a relatively successful career during its years on the sound. But she had one serious flaw. Its streamlined superstructure partially blocked the pilothouse from a proper view of the hull of the ship and its relationship to the water. Consequently the Kalakala was prone to accidents.

The ferry collided with numerous other ships including a towing tug and sister ferry Chippewa. The vessel caused extensive damage to the Coleman ferry terminal in Seattle numerous times.

The Kalakala also was remembered for its vibrations and the noise it made while underway.

Now that the ferry is back home in Seattle, people there have discovered something literally spooky about her. The old boat is quite haunted. People have reported seeing lights in the windows and Bevis admits seeing strange and unexplained footprints on a snow-covered deck that lead nowhere and heard women’s voices laughing.


A Seattle Tacoma ghost research group successfully photographed lights flashing across the boat’s windows.


Owner Rodrigues is attempting to raise an estimated $500,000 to restore the old boat. This year the vessel became listed on the Washington Heritage Register and also the National Register of Historic Places, thus insuring its preservation. 



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