Brisbane City Hall in Brisbane, Australia has several stories of deaths spanning the eras before and after its construction. During construction, workmen were said to have died while laying the foundations, which were on top of a former swamp. It is also said that the area was once a significant Aboriginal site – either a meeting place or campground. One story relates the death of a maintenance man, or lift attendant, who either fell to his death down the lift well or was crushed by the lift – this story likely results from a suicide from the clock tower that occurred during 1935. Another story claims an American soldier was stabbed to death during World War II during a fight. Staff have reported the sounds of an argument from the Red Cross Tea Room, and there are many reports of sounds and unusual activity in the areas surrounding these deaths. A third story claims the apparition of a woman is regularly seen traversing the main stairs in the lobby, and to look out over the foyer – a story which likely results from another suicide from City Hall’s Clock Tower during 1937, although recent photos of the stairwell exhibit a possible apparition.
The City Hall was once the tallest building in Brisbane. The building was designed by the firm Hall and Prentice, in association with four young New South Wales Architects: Bruce Dellit, Peter Kaad, Emil Sodersten and Noel Wilson.
Although not complete, the building was occupied from 3 January 1928. The lord mayor William Jolly presented a cheque, paying for his electricity bill, as the first official transaction in the new building.
Brisbane City Hall was opened in 1930 by Queensland Governor (Sir John Goodwin). The building was officially opened on 8 April 1930 by Lord Mayor of Brisbane William Jolly. However it had been partially occupied since 1927. In 1969 the council commenced the acquisition of the properties to the south of the City Hall, and in 1975 opened the Brisbane Administration Centre (or BAC), a 20-floor tower and surrounding plaza. Most of the Council’s offices then moved from the City hall to the BAC. The Council Chambers (located on the Adelaide Street side of the building), Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor’s offices remain however in City Hall.
City Hall Ghost
Brisbane’s majestic City Hall also has, or had, a ghost. From the 1950s onwards council workers heard strange footsteps and felt a sinister atmosphere in a series of small rooms known collectively as Room 302 on the third floor. The rooms were close to the spot where a caretaker is believed to have suicided in the 1940s.
For a time the area was used as a photographic darkroom, then abandoned when the ghostly activity reached its peak. In 1982 carpenters were sent in to demolish the interior walls and the area was added to the building’s kindergarten center. Fortunately for the young patrons of that center the ghost has not been seen or heard since.
Brisbane City Hall has earned a local reputation for housing at least 4 ghosts – one ghost is said to be female & frequents the foyer, foyer stairs and mezzanine balcony overlooking the foyer; one ghost is rumoured to haunt an entire wing of City Hall that was subsequently shut down for decades as a result, before being converted into a childcare centre; one ghost is alleged to be that of a WWII American sailor who was embroiled in a fight over a woman with another sailor, & was stabbed to death in the Red Cross Tea Rooms beneath City Hall. All of these legends are based & perpetuated on an element of truth, however we can savour them for a later date – for now, we shall focus on the 4th reported haunting: the Lift Attendant’s phantom that haunts the renowned tower of City Hall.
This legend has been retold extensively over the past 13 years, however the details differ slightly – a lift attendant or workman at City Hall, perished in his dereliction of duty (differing versions of the story claim he either fell, jumped, or was crushed by the lift during installation) early in the building’s history around the 1930’s – hence, his ghost rides the elevator of the tower & causes ongoing mechanical issues. Let’s survey the history: in June 1998, the Queensland Independent reporter Louise Rugendyke, reported that, “One [ghost] has been continually riding the lift since the 1930’s (he was killed while installing it).” In 2008, 10 years later during renovations of City Hall, an article written by Kelmeny Fraser published in the City News on the 21st November stated, “When the clock tower was renovated a construction worker claimed to have seen a ghost which presented as [a] silhouette of a man standing in an area off-limits to the public.” By 2009, Nicole Carrington reported in the City News that, “[The ghosts of City Hall include] a maintenance man who rides the lifts who is rumoured to have died in a freak accident.”
Ultimately though, the most popular & widely disseminated version of the story fingers the Lift Attendant as the ghostly culprit. Rumour has it that the unnamed Liftman either jumped to his death or slipped an fell from the tower in 1932, sparking an ongoing haunting and series of mechanical failures of the lift itself. A recently published book penned by a self-professed local “historian” (who has consistently perpetuated the “true” story of the tragically killed Lift Attendant for many years now), even goes so far as to admit that whilst there is no evidence to verify the death of a Liftman at City Hall, said man’s alleged death elsewhere (away from City Hall) is clearly the confused origin of the tale (and in turn the haunting?). That being said, however, no evidence is put forward in the book to either qualify the Lift Attendant’s death away from City Hall, or to verify that the unnamed Lift Attendant even died at all.
From historic records, we can unarguably verify that the tower lift experienced mechanical failures entirely of it’s own making from the moment of installation – in July 1929 a fire broke out in the lift well as a result of the lift being started suddenly at full power, causing dense smoke to pour from the well giving the impression of a major fire – the situation was quickly contained by workmen without the need for the fire brigade. Again, in April 1930 only 2 days after the City Hall had been formally opened by the Governor, a fire again broke out in the lift well requiring Attendants to jump to the rescue. Apart from these early teething issues, no further failures appear in the records outside what would be considered normal operational problems – & definitely nothing in the ballpark that would indicate that the lift itself had a mind of it’s own as a result of a maligned spirit.