Helsinki City Museum organises three different ghost walks around the Finnish capital. I checked the Promenade Ghost Walk which focuses on the hauntings at the very centre of Helsinki.
Through an hour and a half long excursion, the walk promises to feature “the city centre’s park-lined streets, Esplanadi and Bulevardi. The Plague Park Haunters, The Kappeli Restaurant ghost and the restless soul residing in the Alexander Theatre”.
We start at the City Museum, which resides in the city’s oldest building, Sederholm House, completed in 1757. “Let’s move to more fitting surroundings”, the guide says as we start climbing the stairs. We go through a part of the museum dedicated to children and I can’t help feeling a bit awkward. Is this kids stuff we’re onto?
Few steps more, and we enter into a dark attic, lit only by small candles. This surely is a suitable place to start. As the guide starts telling about the old wooden house and it’s own spirit, only the sounds of trams passing by remind us that we really are at the very heart of the city.
After heading outside, we hear the sad story of the Grey Lady strolling around the Senate Square quarters, a seemingly harmless soul. According to the story, she is a nurse who worked in the building in the beginning of the 20th century, when it worked as a hospital for Russian marine soldiers. And this is just one of the three stories on offer about this particular haunting.
At this point we’re also told of the meaning of color regarding ghosts. White ghosts are thought as pure and innocent, thus their stories are tragic and ill-fated. On the other end, black ghosts are considered evil and their stories are filled with crimes and wrongdoings. Grey ghosts lie somewhere in the middle. The may have broken the norm, engaged in adultery, fallen in love with someone from wrong societal class – but ultimately, they have done nothing as grim as their black counterparts.
Next we head towards Esplanadi park, and stop there besides the classic Kappeli restaurant. According to the story, the late restaurant keeper Josef Wolontis, has remained in the restaurant cellar. Luckily, he is what one might consider a friendly ghost. He just makes sure everything runs smoothly: he moves and raises chairs, drops glasses, opens doors and signals the occasional last call – but does nothing particularly freightning. And that’s exactly what makes ghost stories so interesting as a phenomenon: they are not just spook tales, but also stories with history and substance.
We walk through the park and arrive at Mannerheimintie, which is under heavy construction at the moment. That definitely affected this part of the walk, as it was hard to keep focus on the guide as the traffic and construction kept such a terrible noise. Nonetheless, here we go through the same poltergeist story of an old woman which I heard on the Helsinki Horror Walk last summer.
Plague that never died
Across Mannerheimintie we arrive at the Plague Park, where the victims of the plague epidemic in 1710 are buried. A new fact (for me at least) was that most of the victims were actually buried all over the area and also under the cobblestoned Bulevardi and not in the park itself.
Here on Bulevardi we hear the next urban chiller. It’s a story about a pharmacist who once went down to his cellar to pick up some supplements. The light in the cellar hallway didn’t turn on, so the pharmacist thought he’d just walk down and switch on the storage light. On the way he noticed a faint light and thought a colleague had simply forgotten the light on.
But he hadn’t. The light came from a shining, hovering figure in front of the medicine room. Then he saw the figure starting to move towards him, as if begging for something. The pharmacist ran to the stairs hoping to escape, but as he arrived upstairs, he noticed the figure was still coming after him. “Go, in the name of Jesus!”, the pharmacist shouted and ran to the fully lit pharmacy.
Since, the incident has been linked with plague victims buried in the area, and it is fairly easy to think the ghost was looking for a cure – albeit all too late.
The haunting murderer
Then we head on to talk about Matti Haapoja, quite possibly the most well known thief and serial killer in Finland, though statistically not the most brutal one. Officially, he is known to have killed “just” three people, with seven more cases counted as probable and various folk tales adding the number up to 25.
In 1890, Haapoja had just escaped from exile in Siberia and returned to Helsinki. Only a month from returning, he strangled and robbed a courtesan named Maria Jemina Salo. He was soon captured in Porvoo. During questionning, Haapoja couldn’t name any particular motive for his actions. The act raised a stirr, and was well documented in the press at the time.
Later in prison, Haapoja committed suicide by hanging. So, the urban story goes that both lost souls, Haapoja and Salo, wonder around Albertinkatu in Helsinki, looking for peace and redemption.
Ars longa, vita brevis
We end our tour in a beautiful art nouveau (or “jugend” as it is called here in Finland) castle along Lönnrotinkatu, Glo Hotel Art. Already the entrance to the building is impressive: large, heavy wooden doors create the feeling of grandeur.
Just a couple of floors climbing up and we arrive in what is called a tower cabinet. Inside, the whole ceiling is covered with a strikingly beautiful fresco. But the haunting here doesn’t originate from the ceiling, it stems from the cabinet’s fireplace. One comes to wonder, what has been burned there?
To conclude, the walk has a lot to offer for both tourists and locals. In the end, it is hosted by the Helsinki City Museum. As a result, all the historical facts are accurate and even as a local, I learned some new things about my hometown. The price (10€) is actually really cheap and the experience well worth it.
Read more: The Walking Tours at Helsinki City Museum.