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Originally published Friday, October 26, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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Mom and son revive a creepy castle in Georgetown

Peter Gessner built the house and ran a brothel and gambling saloon out of it before he committed suicide there by drinking carbolic acid. Or was he murdered?

Special to The Seattle Times

LYNDA BAZAN and her son, Micah Schlede, may have pooled their resources to buy a historic Georgetown mansion, but they scarcely feel like the sole proprietors. The neighbors share a sense of ownership. And the castle's spooky history is so well known that some people cross the street to pass by.

The grand Queen Anne-style home, built in 1902, had decayed over the decades into a dilapidated rooming house with deadbolts on every bedroom door. "Everyone I talk with around here says, 'I used to live in this room or that,' going back 40 or 50 years," says Bazan.

Peter Gessner, owner of the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square, built the house in what was then Seattle's red light district. Gessner ran a brothel and gambling saloon out of the house before he committed suicide there by drinking carbolic acid. Or was he murdered by his young wife and her chicken-farmer boyfriend? It's said that a later resident threw a baby out a window and buried the child beneath the porch.

"We've had several paranormal investigations here, using sensors like in 'Ghost Busters,' " says Schlede. The videos taken by the investigators show glowing orbs impressive enough to get the house on "The Montel Williams Show" and Seattle's Haunted Happenings Tour. Both mother and son have sensed weird vibrations on the third floor and hear unexplained noises on the stairs. "I've had a few sleepless nights," Schlede admits.

That could be because the pair bought the 5,000-square-foot house on a whim eight years ago. They sold their houses in the neighborhood to pay for it. Both mother and son cheerfully admit they had no idea what they were getting into. "Nothing in this house is level," says Schlede, and that was the least of their challenges.

A couple of rooms were habitable, so they moved right in. Holes pocked the walls and floors, and there was but one working shower in a house with nine bedrooms. No one would insure the place, because the castle wasn't insulated and the old roof was a mess.

The pair set to work replacing the roof. They painted the castle pumpkin orange with mustard trim. They beat back the blackberries that had taken over the garden. Sometimes the work seemed as much archaeology as gardening as they uncovered old walkways, steps and flower beds long smothered in weeds and debris. They removed a massive poplar behind the house, and lots of shrubby ash trees in front to let in light and air.

Aided by their neighbor, horticulturist Ben Hammontree, Bazan and Schlede added a patio to the back garden and planted the narrow side gardens with shade-loving ferns and hostas. They got rid of a hedge of 40 laurels so they could see the exotic garden Hammontree tends next door.

The castle's front garden is now lush with variegated foliage and big-leafed plants. Schlede planted a small vegetable garden out near the sidewalk, the sunniest spot on the property. Now that the castle is painted and planted, what's next? Bazan answers without hesitation: "A garden shed and chicken coop."

Only recently, after replacing all 52 windows in the house, the family added a new heating system. "We're going from wearing Pendleton to Tommy Bahama," jokes Bazan, who remains remarkably upbeat about all the work and costs of bringing a haunted castle into the new millennium. The ghosts remain firmly entrenched in the past.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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