First Street in Snohomish has all the rustic charm one could imagine. A collection of quaint shops indicative of the city’s early history and revolution line the streets in a cozy, picturesque display. At the end of the road, you’ll see a two-story structure that looks just like a scene from a Wild West Show, complete with a brick façade, cornice, and decorative elements adorning the upper story. This little gem is the Oxford Saloon, and at the time of its resurrection in 1900, it was the largest grocery store in the entire county. Now, over 100 years later, the building still stands, making a new name for itself as one of the most haunted spots in all of Washington.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
Before it was a saloon, the Oxford was a grocery store known as the A.M. Blackman Store. Photo courtesy: Snohomish Historical Society

Arthur M. Blackman Opens the A.M. Blackman Store in Early Snohomish

In 1865, Arthur M. Blackman was born into a family of grocers of the Blackman clan from Maine, who initially settled in Oakland, California. Needless to say, the grocery business was in his blood, and when he arrived in Snohomish on Christmas Day in 1885, he had the goal of opening his very own grocery store.

The dream was realized just a few short years later when he hired Snohomish’s first architect, J.S. White, to construct the store, along with Blackman’s own house at 330 Avenue D, which still stands today. His cousins were only a few blocks away at what is now known as the Blackman Museum, having moved to the area in 1872 to open the city’s first logging camp at Blackmans Lake.

It cost Arthur $5,000 to build the store, a pretty penny at the time and equivalent to about $180,000 today. Upon completion, the A.M. Blackman Store was home to the most extensive stock of groceries north of Seattle, boasting 20,000 items and engaging in wholesale and retail sales.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
An illustration of the A.M. Blackman Store in Northwest Magazine in 1890. Photo courtesy: Northwest Magazine

The Shelf Life Expires at the A.M. Blackman Store

The grocery game may have been in Mr. Blackman’s blood, and even though his business may have been the largest in the city, no one could escape the wrath of the Panic of 1893. It didn’t help that he was well known for giving extensive credit to men who were unable to meet their monetary obligations with him. The further economic impact of the recession proved to be too great and accumulated in his financial downfall.

The A.M. Blackman Store had no choice but to close. Arthur turned to logging work on the river until he was eventually appointed as Snohomish Postmaster in 1896, which he served with distinction until his retirement in 1913.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
Though things have calmed down in recent years, the Oxford Saloon was once a play of women-of-the-night, card games, and bar fights and is pictured here in 1950. Photo courtesy: Snohomish Historical Society

From Grocery Shopping to Unruly Nights: The A.M. Blackman Store Transforms Into the Haunted Legend that is Oxford

Once the aisles had been cleared, the building temporarily served as a furniture store and then a shoe shop before finally being transformed into the legacy that is Oxford in 1910. In the years following, it changed owners and uses a few times, but each one managed to incorporate “Oxford” in the name, serving as the Oxford Pool Room during Prohibition. It would not be used as a drinking establishment until World War II, when it served as a tavern.

During these transformations, the Oxford would accumulate a rather dark early history involving ladies-of-the-night, bar fights, and even ghosts. Shortly after being bought from Arthur in 1910, the new owners remodeled the second floor to make space for boarding rooms. These rooms were mainly rented out by a businesswoman named Kathleen (or Katherine), who is said to have used the rooms as a bordello. While she did not go into the saloon, she kept an office at the local Eagle’s Lodge, where she watched her girls and made reservations for high-class clientele.

That is, until one day when Kathleen was mysteriously found dead on the second floor of the Oxford Saloon. Her lifeless body was found decapitated in a claw foot bathtub, having been murdered while taking a bath. To this day, there is still no record of anyone ever being convicted of the crime. The bathtub in which she died is still on the premises and, according to some witnesses, occasionally appears to be covered in blood.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
An apparition of what some believe to be Kathleen walking around the basement bar. Photo courtesy: The Oxford Saloon

Spirits of the Old West Continue to Haunt the Oxford Saloon

These days, Kathleen occupies the second floor of the Oxford, where she died. Patrons describe her as an older woman dressed in a purple dress with purple bows. And she’s not alone.

Another woman, Amelia, is said to be on the second story with her, having been one of Kathleen’s girls who also tragically died on the property. It is said that her dead body was found curled up in her bedroom closet in room number 6 with a broken neck. It is speculated as to whether or not she died by suicide to prevent herself from being sold into prostitution or was murdered in a blind rage. During a paranormal investigation with a spirit box in 2019, voices picked up on audio recordings seem to indicate that Amelia was pushed down the stairs and then placed in the closet to make it look like suicide.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
Today, the Oxford is a place of good food and live entertainment, even with some of the spirits being known as pranksters. Photo courtesy: The Oxford Saloon

Perhaps it was the known violent tendencies of the establishment that attracted the now ghost, affectionately known as Henry the Cop, during his lifetime. Either that, or he just really liked a tall one after a long shift of busting bad guys. Either way, he was a regular in the late 1920s and early 1930s and is believed to have also moonlighted as a bouncer for the establishment.

At the time, the basement was home to a men’s card room, and fights were known to break out when the stakes were high and all bets were off. One night, a fight broke out on the staircase leading to the basement. In Henry’s true nature to serve and protect, he attempted to break up the altercation. It seems this would be one fatal instance where Henry would overestimate his hand as he was brutally stabbed to death.

Though Henry has technically been relieved of duty as far as the land of the living is concerned, it seems Henry is still on the case, keeping patrons on their toes with his continuous antics.

Oxford Saloon Snohomish
Fun Fact: Signs hanging from the ceilings are from previous businesses at the location, like Oxford Tavern, seen here, which is one of the original signs. The mannequin from the ceiling? Why, that’s Kathleen, of course! Photo courtesy: The Oxford Saloon

The Oxford Saloon Continues to Serve Up the Good Times in Snohomish

It is believed that anywhere from eight to ten lively spirits, including a paranormal doll that refuses to leave the property no matter what, have allegedly been removed several times only to reappear. Perhaps they’re sticking around for the nostalgia, or maybe it’s the saloon’s mouthwatering smells from the kitchen keeping them coming back for more, or perhaps they enjoy the nightly live entertainment performed for the masses and the chance to interact with patrons.

As far as the “why” these spirits are still sticking around, we may never know as the Oxford Saloon doesn’t particularly like to host ghost investigations anymore after multiple events led to people getting hurt. Still, it is easy to see why this historic establishment in the heart of downtown Snohomish, with its rich and storied history, keeps patrons coming back for more with its mysterious atmosphere, spooky tales, good food and flowing spirits, both from the bar tap and in apparition form!  

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