Take a walk through Old Town Auburn and you’ll find a flurry of activity. Fall leaves are exploding into vibrant colors and slowly drifting streetside. The sound of laughter and conversation rings out the doors of local eateries, bustling with activity and delectable aromas. Local shops, boutiques, and galleries welcome guests through their doors. Visitors pause and snap pictures of the Gold Rush-era Post Office and fire station and the beautiful 19th century buildings.
On a bright fall day, it’s almost impossible to think Old Town Auburn could be anything but vibrant colors and warm memories. But Old Town is nearly 170 years old, and with that much history you’re bound to find some details that are a bit …. macabre.
The Undertakers of Commercial Street
Today, Commercial Street in Old Town Auburn is home to a variety of businesses. Zhush Modern beckons passersby with modern fashions in clothing, home, and lifestyle offerings. Next door, Porch Swing Pickings sells the wares of multiple vendors, a handmade and vintage boutique that offers unique gifts, home decor, re-purposed and up-cycled items and collectibles. Realty Works is comprised of a team of local agents have decades of combined experience in all aspects of real estate. Stylists at Salon G3 and The Hair Smith pamper clients with a range of services. And Crimson Tattoo is literally abuzz as clients line up for fresh ink.
But Commercial Street once welcomed a much quieter type of clientele.
The 11th block of Commercial Street operated as an undertaking and embalming operation for 20 years.
In 1875, V.V. Mann began operating two businesses from 337 Commercial street: an undertaker’s service and a furniture store. Mann’s specialty?
In 1890, the undertaking and furniture-making business on Commercial Street changed hands to J.C. Crowell and John Safford. Crowell was in charge of undertaking while Safford took over furniture making.
J.C. Crowell along with John Safford and his son, Lucius Safford, in front of the Commercial Street Undertaking and Furniture Making business.
Crowell and Safford relocated their undertaking and furniture-making business out of Old Town Auburn in 1894. They left behind a 20-year legacy of preparing the deceased to go to their final resting place on Commercial Street.
And perhaps a restless spirit or two, as well.
For many business owners, setting up shop in the old undertaker’s building may give one pause. But Brittany Hendricks at Crimson Tattoo has fully embraced the building’s past. In fact, the haunted history and resident “shop ghost” have decidedly inspired Crimson Tattoo’s decor.
A vibrant, blood-red wooden coffin is nestled in front of a sofa in the tattoo shop’s waiting area. Skeletons, skulls, and vintage oddities are on full display. Hendricks has two embalming tables that once were used by the Commercial Street Undertakers at the front of her shop for visitors to see. (Sorry, no … you can’t get a tattoo on the old, rusty tables. They’re for decor only.)
Ask Hendricks about her shop’s history and she’ll gladly describe the details of the undertaking operation. “Horse drawn carriages would pull up to the alley in the back and they’d bring the bodies into the basement. That’s where they’d do the embalming.”
And she’ll be glad to tell you about her shop ghost, too.
“Everyone has a good feeling about him,” Hendricks says about her resident spirit. “We get a good vibe, we don’t get a scary ‘ghosty’ vibe. He’s friendly.”
“We had a medium come in one time who described our ghost for us. He’s wearing one of those circle, bullhorn hats and he smokes a cigar,” says Hendricks. The medium told Hendricks that their spirit is happy with them there; he likes having them around.
Hendricks and company have seen traces of their spirit around but have never caught him on camera. But Hendricks did see another apparition caught on film next door when the neighboring wine bar was still open.
According to Hendricks, the wine bar owners had set up a camera and one evening caught a wisp of white passing over a bannister. They showed Hendricks the apparition the next day.
Are there more ghosts haunting the businesses on Commercial Street in Old Town Auburn? That's for you to discover! Come down to Old Town Auburn and take a walk around the historic district. Keep an eye out for otherworldly visitors and ask shop owners if they’ve seen any ghosts.
And if you really want to get a taste of the haunted history of Commercial Street, be sure to pop into Crimson Tattoo and see some of the artifacts - and hear the stories - for yourself.