Honolulu Fire Department captain Kenison Tejada gamely checks the lockers -- each big enough to conceal a human body, living or dead -- on the second floor of the abandoned fire station on South Street in Kakaako.

The Haunting

Intrepid Star-Bulletin staff members
brave a night at the old, haunted
fire station on South Street

By Pat Gee

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, it was dark, anyway. And I wished there had been some rain so the abandoned building would have been less stifling. A bit of lightning also would've helped illuminate our way as we carefully climbed the wooden staircase to what we hoped would be a rendezvous with a ghost or ghosts that have haunted the old Kakaako Fire Station on South Street.

The spirits of thousands of smallpox victims, buried in mass graves during an 1853 epidemic, are said to hover where both old and new fire station, just a stone's throw away on Queen Street, are located.

We weren't sure if we were dealing with one ghost or a hundred. It didn't matter. Star-Bulletin photographer Richard Walker and I just hoped to see or experience at least one of them and live to tell about it for Halloween.

An exterior view of the fire station, built where hundreds of smallpox victims were buried in mass graves after a 1853 epidemic.

It seems our ghost likes firemen, and who would blame her/him. All those stout-hearted, hard-bodied hunks congregated in one building! But I digress.

This particular ghost has an affinity for sitting on their chests, or choking them as they sleep. This has happened to so many of the Kakaako firemen over the years they call it "the choking or pressing ghost," said Capt. Richard Soo, the Honolulu Fire Department spokesman, now on leave.

He chuckled through his story but was quite serious. The ghost visited him when he was a rookie firefighter in the late 1970s at the new station, which was built not to escape the spectral visits, but because the old one was no longer structurally sound.

Soo was sleeping when "I had the feeling someone was pressing or sitting on my chest," he said. "I woke and there was this figure. I couldn't move my head or my body. I felt numb; it was an unnerving sensation. I started to yell for help." That woke the full dormitory of men, so "the apparition left the area."

"The guys just said, 'Go back to sleep. A ghost lives here, and he just wanted to say hello,'" he said. "I guess the rookies get it. After that, I slept with ti leaves under my bed for two years. It was enough to make me a believer."

Nadine Kam, left, and Reiko Tom attempt to contact spirits via a Ouija Board in a room on the second floor of the abandoned fire station on South Street in Kakaako.

THE OLDER firefighters have also reported "seeing things moving at the old station on the second floor -- unexplained movement" late at night, Soo said.

(The old station was constructed in 1929, and was boarded up with an alarm system in the mid-1970s after the new station was built. The old station is on the State Register of Historic Places, and will be renovated into a museum and department headquarters.)

So the plan was for Walker and me to hunker down for a few hours on the second floor late at night to catch the ghost in action, if we could stand it that long. Interim HFD spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada led the way with the tiny beam of his penlight. I guess it's only Boy Scouts who come prepared.

We managed to tour the second floor with the aid of the golden-orange glow of streetlights casting long shadows in some of the dorm rooms.

No one could have designed a better setting for a haunted house. If we had to make a frantic break for our lives as we ran screeching in terror, we would have had to jump across gaping holes in the second-story floor and rotting planks that sank under our weight, tearing cobwebs off our faces and skidding on piles of termite wings and droppings, definitely breaking our legs in the process and becoming food for the giant roaches that are among the inhabitants of the building.

A cat never budged from its position in front of a locked gate at the fire station. In folklore from Egypt to Malaysia, the cat -- which is said never to lose its way -- is believed to be a guide to the underworld.

Quick escape was not a possibility even if we managed to find one of two staircases and make it downstairs in the pitch black before cracking our heads into one of the wooden beams that braced the ceiling.

We lit three candles in the middle of a filthy floor with dust thick enough to slide on, and set up a glow-in-the-dark Ouija board to encourage supernatural activity. Hey, any little bit helps.

Today section editor Nadine Kam and friend Reiko Tom entered at this point to join the ghost hunt. They took over the Ouija board, posing the question, "Are there any spirits here?" But there was nary a quiver. Tried an easier question: "What did we eat for dinner?"

If there were any ghosts about, we probably kept them away with our numbers and our laughter. Walker suggested a woman should stay upstairs alone and pretend to sleep. But no one volunteered.

We were to disband and stake out a room apiece, but instead gravitated to the one room flooded with streetlight. We had all seen too many scary movies.

Walker said he believed in ghosts enough not to "make fun of them or show disrespect" and not to do anything to make one of them "follow me home."

Star-Bulletin writer Pat Gee is silhouetted against a window at the end of a long, narrow corridor on the second floor of the abandoned fire station on South Street in Kakaako.

HALF OF ME wanted to see the ghost; the other half was afraid he would appear -- but not too afraid, because I didn't think he would show up, and if he did, I wouldn't be by myself.

Kani Muller, a retired fireman who spent 14 years at the new station, encountered the ghost more than a dozen times. He said it was probably because of "a certain bed I was in," the one designated for the engineer, who drives the firetruck.

"One time I couldn't get out of bed, like I was stuck in bed" for a few minutes, but he said it didn't feel as if anyone was sitting on him. Another time, he woke and "saw an old man standing next to my bed. I turned over and went back to sleep. It didn't bother me."

At least 10 times he was awakened by someone nudging him, as if trying to get him up for a phone call, as was the usual practice. But when he looked around and checked every bed, there was no one else in the dorm, according to Muller, who usually went to sleep and woke earlier than the rest of the men.

For about seven years he was the only one the ghost visited. "Nobody believed these things were happening when I told them," he said. But he heard of one fireman "who refused to go upstairs by himself, not even to change clothes.

"Before I got there (in 1976), under every bed there were ti leaves to keep the spirits away," Muller said. Even his father, who worked in the old fire station, told him of ghostly visits, he added.

But "it didn't bother me," Muller said, repeatedly. A Hawaiian firefighter once reassured him, "'Don't worry about it, they're not going to bother you.' So that's the way I felt. They're saying, 'We're here, but we're not here to hurt you.'"

Soo, who is part-Hawaiian, said about half the firemen have Hawaiian blood and are familiar with "night walkers" and other manifestations of their ancestors' spirits.

The Kakaako ghost is "kolohe," meaning "mischievous, a prankster, not hurtful."

"The kind you can have fun with!" he said, laughing again.

He was right. In spite of our trepidation, a good time was had by all on the stomping grounds of our ghost. We left disappointed, but also relieved.

(Epilogue: I couldn't sleep that night, avoiding sleeping on my back so the ghost, if it followed me home, couldn't sit on my chest.)

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