Northwest Nuggets Series: Nirvana’s Polly and the Creepy Story of Gerald Friend

The story of Gerald Friend, which inspired Nirvana’s “Polly,” isn’t a pleasant one. In fact, it’s downright disturbing.

In June of 1987, a 14-year-old girl was walking home from a concert at the Tacoma Dome when a stranger pulled his car over and offered her a ride. The girl accepted. There was no way for her to know she was getting into a car with a monster, but she would quickly find out.

The stranger’s name was Gerald Friend. He pulled a knife on the girl and took her to his mobile home. Once there, he tied her hands to a pulley attached to his ceiling. Over the course of the ensuing days, he raped and tortured her repeatedly.

Eventually the victim escaped. While Friend stopped at a gas station, she broke free from the vehicle and got help. The next day police pulled Friend over for a traffic violation. They recognized him and arrested him for the abduction.

Saddest of all in this story is that Gerald Friend shouldn’t have been on the streets to begin with. The 14-year-old girl hadn’t been his first victim.

The story of Gerald Friend and his debauchery had actually started 27 years before that Tacoma Dome attack, in July of 1960, in the town of Sumner a little ways outside of Tacoma. It was there that Gerald Friend kidnapped a 12-year-old girl while she was hitchhiking with her brother.

Friend assaulted the girl sexually, beat her, and cut her hair. The victim managed to escape and jumped into a river.

Friend hid in a field near his house. His father eventually discovered him. After a scuffle, Friend was injured and taken to a hospital, where he was arrested.

Gerald Friend was sentenced to 75 years in prison after his first attack, but he was paroled early in 1980, despite the violence of his first offense and despite two escapes. Seven years later, he took his second victim, a 14-year-old kid just trying to get home after a show.

After Friend’s second crime, he was sentenced to finish his original 75 year sentence, with another 75 year sentence on top of it. None of that helps his victims or changes the fact that Friend shouldn’t have been on the loose to begin with when he took that second victim. The girl later sued the state for the early parole.

Kurt Cobain read about Gerald Friend and his second victim in a local newspaper. From that story, he wrote the song “Polly.”

Cobain was no stranger to Tacoma, either. While he is primarily associated today with Aberdeen and Seattle, Cobain played quite a few gigs in Tacoma.

It was in Tacoma, in fact, that Nirvana first played under the name Nirvana. Previously they’d called themselves Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, and Fecal Matter. They first used the name Nirvana in a place called the World Community Theater, which lasted only about a year but hosted many big acts of the era.

“Polly” makes no bones about what it’s meant to be. The song is catchy but also creepy and morose. Knowing that it narrates a true story only makes it more disturbing.

The song’s horrific backstory seems somewhat odd, really, considering that Cobain was so outspoken about women’s rights and about compassion. Years later, Cobain was deeply disturbed to hear that two men raped a girl while singing “Polly” to her.

What, exactly, inspired Cobain to write a song about someone who must have disgusted him is unclear, but the creative mind is a multifaceted thing. Besides, there’s obviously something compelling enough to have kept people listening nearly 30 years later.

 

This is part of my Northwest Nuggets series.

Talking Ghosts at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma

Interesting Conversation

One of the great things about being the Northwest Nomad is that I have a permanent excuse to drink beer and chat with strangers at bars. It’s what I call “conducting research,” and I’ve found all kinds of interesting informational nuggets out there that way. A couple days ago I had such an encounter at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma.

I’ve been to Alfred’s Cafe a few times before. It’s one of my favorite breakfast spots in Tacoma, in fact. On this day, though, I heard something very intriguing — Alfred’s is haunted!

I’ve ordered some books to see what I can verify about the restaurant’s paranormal past, but for now I want to relate what I heard as I heard it, because it was an interesting conversation for sure.

Alfred’s Cafe: The Woman in the Corner

My conversation with the bartender and the patron turned to ghosts when the lights in the building started flickering. They did so in two clusters, roughly five flickers each, set about a minute apart. I didn’t think much of it, but the bartender and the patron smiled knowingly at each other.

I asked what they were smirking about, and they proceeded to tell me that it was probably the ghosts at it again.

The nuts and bolts of the tale are the standard pictures-falling-off-walls and mysterious-footsteps kind of stuff, but one particular aspect of the tale lent it more validity than the typical haunting story.

At least two Alfred’s Cafe employees have quit the restaurant after seeing the reflection of a woman sitting in the corner of the eating area. The sightings occurred on two separate occasions, while they employees were shutting down at night.

Quitting one’s place of employment isn’t the sort of thing people normally do for a hoax, especially not a hoax that brings them no fame or fortune.

The Little Girl in the Window

Alfred’s restaurant occupies the bottom floor of one of the oldest buildings in Tacoma. That bottom floor has been renovated for the modern age, but the upper two floors remain as they were when the building was built. There’s a massive grand staircase that connects the top two floors (the employees told me about this). The staircase used to run down to the ground-level floor, too, but it was taken out a few years ago.

The upper two floors are today used only for storage, giving plenty of time and space for the ghosts to scamper about at will.

One of the entities living up there, I am told, is a little girl who can occasionally be seen looking out of one of the top-story windows. But how did she get there in the first place? Well, the story behind that little bit is rather interesting.

Prostitutes and their Daughters

The reason why ghost is a young girl and the other is a grown woman lies in the history of the structure.

The building that now houses Alfred’s used to be a brothel. This much I was actually able to verify with some internet sleuthing.

Brothels were notoriously dark and violent places in early America, and the legend is that some ugly, ugly things went down in the building that now houses Alfred’s — things as ugly as murder. Does this mean the woman’s ghost is some ill-fated prostitute? We can’t be sure, of course, though evidence leans that way.

As for the little girl, the Bull’s Eye indoor shooting range across the parking lot from Alfred’s was supposedly once a school for little girls. The prostitutes working the brothel would send their daughters over there during the “work” day.

Well, according to legend, decades ago that school burned down, killing seven girls.

So, perhaps the woman and the little girl are mother and daughter?

Or, perhaps there’s a whole host of women and little-girl ghosts there, singing and crying to each other. Maybe the many sightings have actually been of multiple different people.

There’s no way to know for sure, but I do intend to find out.

Let the Paranormal Adventure Begin

The Alfred’s conversation has inspired me to add a new section to this blog and a new mission to my travels. I’m going to begin covering paranormal destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ll get to the bottom of this Alfred’s thing soon enough. I’ve got my books coming, and I’m going to do some gumshoeing.

So, stay tuned, friends. Also, please do let me know if you’ve got any tips on this or any other Pacific Northwest paranormal story.

 

The Weirdest Damn Building in Tacoma, Washington

I have no idea what the place is.

I have no idea who built it.

I have no idea what purpose it serves, if any.

I only know that, just outside the south side of the Tacoma Dome parking lot, north side of Bull’s Eye Indoor Shooting Range, there stands a building advertising dentistry for 25 cents.

It is, in short, the most beautifully bizarre and weirdest thing in the city of Tacoma. The only possible competition I know of, in fact, is the mysterious suspended bike of Ruston.

As you can see in this photograph, there’s a blue door, a tooth promoting 25 cent dentistry, and a dental chair perched atop an overhang. I don’t know whether the dental work is done on that chair or whether it’s purely ornamental (I hope for the former).

I imagine an old man with a twisted spine and a lab coat two sizes too small for his body scrambling up to the chair at night and performing dental surgery by moonlight. For all ailments, the same solution: removal of every tooth in the mouth.

And yes, that is an enlarged toothbrush just above the door, as well. Let’s not forget that bizarre piece of evidence.

The door is always locked and, far as I can tell, gives no indication as to what is inside.

Also, on the broad side of this most bizarre of buildings is another strange sight, facing an alleyway with a crumbling warehouse on the other side.

Several “windows” are marked out with blue tape, but no actual windows are there. I would say that the tape had been put there as outlines for carpenters to cut actual windows into, but that doesn’t make sense. You don’t cut windows into a building from the outside, far as I know.

Besides, these tape-windows have been on this wall for at least three years. I recall first seeing them that long ago.

There’s no way this oddity is accidental. Somewhere out there is a beautifully mad surrealist who has turned this building into a work of psychotic art.

I’m throwing this story out into the Supreme World Net to see what kicks back. Someone out there, surely, knows the story behind this place.

Contact me. Tell the Northwest Nomad from where this strange place comes, and why. I’ll buy you a beer, and if I buy you one, it’ll probably become twelve.

Is 25 cent dentistry any good? I must know.

Until then, thank you, Weird Architect, Builder of the Strange, whoever thou art who made this mystery a reality. Tacoma owes you a debt of curiosity and wonder.

 

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront: Weird Melodramatic Poetry Version in Honor of William Blake

Oh, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront, who made thee?

Who shaped thy strange handlebars?

Who bound up thy body in wood and left thee, as though in flight, suspended over the Sound?

Where did you come from, you weird artifact?

From the depths of someone’s imagination? Or from some place darker? Are you drawing us toward madness, or bliss? And is there a difference, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront walk?

Oh, your strange character has confounded me for generations…generations before my own birth. You hearken back to pre-birth memories, so strange and beautiful and terrible you are.

A surrealist’s dream of lost childhood, or childhood found? Or just an accident with no meaning at all?

Are those wooden posts crosses? The spirit of Dali shivers with delight.

I await you.

In my dreams.

In my nightmares.

Strange, suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront…do you love or fear at all?

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Suspended Bike of the Ruson Waterfront: Less Melodramatic and Non-Poetic Version

It turns out I’m not the only person whose fascination has been captured by the mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront.

Grit City, an excellent Tacoma publication, has done more serious gumshoeing on this topic.

Teaser from that Grit City piece: “Here’s what we know: The bike is a Sears Tote-Cycle and is actually fairly old; probably from the ‘60s. The Tote-Cycle was one of the precursors to today’s foldable bikes.”

I’ll write no more, as I’d just be stealing their content, something the Northwest Nomad will never do (and I’ll fight any man who claims otherwise).

Tacoma Day Trip: Three Free Museums Every Third Thursday

Low to No-Cost Tacoma Day Trip

The Tacoma day trip I’m outlining here would be entirely free, except for whatever gas you use getting to Tacoma and whatever you elect to spend on food.

Every third Thursday of the month, three Tacoma museums offer free entry. Even better, all three of these museums are within 10 minutes or less walking distance of each other, and all within the University of Washington, Tacoma cultural hub, which happens to be one of the most enjoyable areas of the city.

You can start your trip by taking the free Tacoma Link light rail, which you can catch from the Tacoma Dome Station right outside the Tacoma Dome parking garage. You’d take the rail to its second stop, which is directly in front of the Washington State History Museum.

Washington State History Museum

This is my personal favorite of the freebies. The Washington State History Museum is full of fascinating stuff. The giant model railroad alone is an experience worth the trip. The permanent exhibits in the museum illuminate the evolution of Washington state with full sized replicas of early tools, machines, vehicles, and houses of early Washingtonians. They even have a mummy!

The museum also happens to stand at the end of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which is a 500-feet long foot bridge decorated with hundreds of glass art pieces from the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The bridge itself is worthy destination, but it also leads to the Museum of Glass, which we’ll cover next.

Museum of Glass

The Museum of Glass is one of Tacoma’s most iconic attractions. It stands on the shore of the Thea Foss Waterway and is, as the name suggest, full of glass art. You can also watch glass artists at their work.

The exhibits are both in and outdoors. The cafe in the museum has good food with a lot of options, and the Social Bar and Grill right next door has a nice, relaxed atmosphere, drinks, and great eats, as well, though it may be a bit pricey for a budget trip such as this one.

Tacoma Art Museum (TAM)

The TAM is a five minute walk from the history museum and an eight minute walk from the glass museum.

The museum has more of Dale Chihuly’s work, but also a wide assortment of other fine art exhibits. They cycle in new exhibits pretty regularly, so the TAM always feels fresh and new.

Back on the Rail and Back Home

The Link station is five minutes from the TAM. From there, it’s a quick ride back to the parking garage and your car.

Have fun!