Towers of Terror: Haunted Skyscrapers of the WorldThe landscape of human habitation has changed dramatically over the centuries, as we have gone from the small hamlets and villages of centuries past to ever more grandiose mega cities of towering steel and concrete. As society becomes ever more crammed into sprawling cities and our buildings become higher and higher in feats of architectural wizardry, it seems that the landscape of hauntings has in some respect changed as well. Far from being confined to old, secluded houses, ghost stories too have moved into our cities to inhabit our highest buildings. As our cities soar higher, so too it seems do the specters and phantoms that prowl our nightmares, evolving right along with us. These are the stories of those haunted places of the world that lie not around us but over us, from which spectral eyes gaze down upon our city streets below. These are the haunted skyscrapers of the world.
There are few cities on the planet where there are skyscrapers that are more ubiquitous, more advanced, and more awe inspiring than Tokyo, Japan. This is a place full of bright lights, neon, giant TV screens, and vast skylines of towering buildings. The crowded streets of Tokyo’s many districts, which churn with tireless activity and bustling people, are lined with soaring monoliths of steel and concrete that loom over their domain like colossal giants. Among these many skyscrapers is one of the most famous in the country, and certainly the most haunted; the majestic, yet cursed, Sunshine 60.
Located in the Ikebukuro area of Tokyo, Sunshine 60 lies within a sprawling complex of upscale shopping buildings collectively known as Sunshine City. At 60 stories high and looming 239.7 m (786 ft.) over the streets, Sunshine 60 was the tallest building in Asia when it was completed in 1978 and retained that crown until the construction of the 63 Building in Seoul in 1985 usurped its throne. It was also the tallest building in all of Tokyo right up until 1991, with the completion of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Sunshine 60 was one of the first to embrace the “city-in-a-city concept,” mixing shopping areas, entertainment, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, convention centers, banks, post offices and even a full blown aquarium, theme park and planetarium all into one massive building. This innovative design philosophy was groundbreaking at the time of its construction, and it has had a tremendous influence on the architecture of Tokyo ever since, with many other such buildings and vast complexes around the city emulating it.
Although in modern times Sunshine 60 is an impressive, thrumming center of shopping and entertainment, it also has a dark past. The site where this urban entertainment complex now sits was once the location of the notorious Sugamo Prison. Originally built in 1895, by the 1930s Sugamo Prison was mostly used for the incarceration of political prisoners, including dissenters, anarchists, communists, and spies. It was during this time that the suspected Soviet spy, Richard Sorge, was put to death by hanging here. After World War II, during which the prison avoided destruction during the bombing of Tokyo, it was taken over by Allied occupation forces and used to house prisoners of war. Eventually, seven war criminals were executed at the prison by hanging, including Hideki Tojo, who had been the Prime Minister of Japan during the war. During its time under control of Allied occupation forces from December 1945 through May 1952, Sugamo Prison housed around 2,000 inmates. After the occupation, the prison passed to the Japanese government and most of the prisoners were steadily released or paroled until the eventual shutting down of the facility in 1962. In 1971, the prison buildings were demolished to make way for the construction of the Sunshine City complex, including the ambitious Sunshine 60 skyscraper.
The somewhat ominous reputation and history of the site made a lot of people in the area nervous at the time, and in fact the very name “Sunshine” was chosen to somewhat lighten things up and take the edge off, yet there were sinister events that would convince many that the site was cursed. Construction of Sunshine 60 was beset by many setbacks and freak accidents, with an unusual number of construction workers dying under sometimes strange circumstances, such as faulty safety equipment that had showed no signs of having any problems or falls that could have easily be prevented. Spooky rumors started to orbit the whole project, with many claiming that the restless spirits of the Sugamo Prison’s condemned were plaguing the construction site. Nevertheless, the project went ahead as planned and Sunshine 60 was officially opened to the public in 1978.
It did not take long for the dark past of the site to seep into the façade of a bright and cheery entertainment center that the government wanted to portray to the public. Almost immediately people were reporting seeing mysterious apparitions within the soaring mega complex, which continues to this day. In particular, maintenance workers who were tasked with cleaning the warrens of corridors and malls after the throngs of people had left reported seeing dark shadows moving about, as well as hearing strange laughter, groans, screams, whispers, and chanting when no one else was there. A commonly reported occurrence was the sound of something scraping over the floor, loud banging on the walls, or the violent rattling of the grates that closed the shops off at night. It was not only the night workers who experienced these phenomena in the lonely quiet after dark. Customers reported seeing fleetingly glimpsed apparitions or disembodied faces lurking within secluded places such as dressing rooms or bathrooms, but also sometimes even in brightly lit shops in broad daylight with other people around. There were numerous instances of people complaining of sudden, inexplicable gusts of frigid cold, or of suddenly tripping and falling when nothing was in their way. Stories of shoppers being tapped, pushed, or hearing whispers right in their ear when no one was there were also common. Poltergeist activity was also not unheard of, with items sometimes hurled off of shelves or store clerks opening up in the morning to find their stock rearranged or even strewn about the floor. The cheery sounding Sunshine 60 quickly gained notoriety as being the world’s first haunted skyscraper and indeed one of the most haunted places in Japan, and all of these occurrences reportedly continue to this day.
These alleged ghosts are not even necessarily ones that can be readily linked to the former prison which used to stand on the site and its war criminal inmates. One entity spotted on numerous occasions on the 60th floor observation deck is said to be a young, pale, and forlorn looking woman who appears to be doomed to eternally jump to her death. Here on this dizzyingly high platform far above the city streets, the woman is said to silently make her way to the railing and hurl herself over the edge, often in full view of multiple witnesses. Startled visitors, thinking someone has just committed suicide, will sometimes rush the edge expecting to see the lady falling to her doom only to find that no one is there. This mysterious apparition is said to completely ignore visitors as if she is not even aware that they are there. Another regular is the specter of an old lady with black sockets instead of eyes who is said to roam aimlessly about the office floors mumbling “where is it?” over and over again. She will apparently vanish immediately if spoken to.
The operators and tenants of Sunshine 60 are quick to dismiss such stories. It is perhaps understandable that they wish to snuff out the memory of the former prison and any talk of ghosts which could tarnish their businesses. However, the stories continue and show no signs of letting up. The skyscraper has been the focus of various Japanese TV programs on the supernatural, and is a favorite of psychics, who say that they can sense a profound spiritual presence there, as well as an unbearable sense of hopeless despair. Anyone wishing to visit this famous haunted skyscraper for themselves can do so by going to the Ikebukuro train station in Tokyo, from which Sunshine 60 is just a short walk. The haunted observation platform on the 60th floor is completely open air and offers spectacular views that allow visitors to see for up to 100Km on clear days. It can be accessed by way of an elevator that travels at a speed of 600 meters per minute (36 km/h, 22 mph), one of the fastest in the world. I have personally ridden this elevator and I can tell you it is a rather unsettling and slightly alarming experience, with visions of shooting up straight through the roof to careen through the air likely to dance through many people’s heads, I would imagine.
Despite past claims that billed Sunshine 60 as the world’s only haunted skyscraper, this is actually far from true, as there are other such towers of terror to be found. Indeed, Sunshine 60 is not even the only allegedly haunted skyscraper in Asia. Moving over to the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, there is another haunted high rise that looms over the brightly lit streets below. However, in stark contrast to the bustling crowds of Sunshine 60, Thailand’s ghost tower is a mere crumbling, empty husk which sits abandoned and unused; in a way a ghost itself.
The 49 story Sathorn Unique Building was constructed in the 1990s and at the time was envisioned to become a fancy luxury apartment complex that overlooked the Chao Phraya River, which meanders through the center of the city. Designed to have 659 apartment units and 54 retail outlets, the Sathorn Unique Building was the most ambitious and largest residential project ever attempted in Thailand. The daunting construction project got off the ground smoothly, with most of the building completed according to plan until the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and subsequent crash of the Thai Baht put the brakes on it and the massive building was left an abandoned derelict. The Sathorn Unique Building had been very close to completion at the time, with bathtubs and lighting connected in the various units, wooden flooring installed and immaculately polished, and most of the apartments fully fitted out. It was a very extravagant and attractive building, complete with grand archways and columns, right in the center of downtown Bangkok with no one in it and simply left to the elements to rot.
It was not long before what had been supposed to be lavish and palatial residence for the affluent rich became overrun with dense tangles of trees and weeds, as well as a haven for homeless vagrants, drug dealers, drug addicts, and roving packs of the city’s many stray dogs. Today, it stands as a decrepit, crumbling monolith which is in a sense a sad, forlorn gravestone for Bangkok’s former excess of the 90s. The once sumptuous halls are now strewn with litter and standing pools of fetid water, and defaced with graffiti; transformed into claustrophobic shafts leading into impenetrable darkness. The once opulent, million dollar suites with their spectacular views of the city and river are now rat infested, refuse streaked dens of drug addicts. Besides the decay and more undesirable elements of society taking up residence here, there are also numerous other dangers within the structure, including falling debris, unfinished shafts that drop straight down into hundreds of feet of darkness, high rise apartments without windows installed, unsteady flooring strewn with broken concrete which creaks, groans, and threatens to send visitors hurling down to their death, and marauding packs of vicious feral dogs. The building is known for dead bodies turning up here with frightening frequency, some from the building’s various dangers, some murdered, some suicides, and others unceremoniously dumped here for inscrutable reasons.
If locals are to be believed, there are also ghosts here. The Sathron Unique Building is mostly known to locals now as the “Ghost Tower,” and is well known as an intensely haunted site that most sane people generally avoid. Those who brave the dangers to enter the abandoned structure routinely report hearing disembodied voices or seeing numerous wraiths and specters stalking through the dim corridors and rooms. It is said that if one stands too close to any of the buildings many highly dangerous shafts they are likely to be pushed to their death by unseen ghostly hands. Strange smells are also known to waft about the air here, such as sudden gusts of perfume, food, gunpowder, and other various aromas one would not expect to find in a decaying derelict apartment building with no one else around. There is also an inexplicable current of sheer dread that pervades the air here, said to be so potent that some visitors refuse to enter or are overcome by a sudden, terrifying urge to flee. Nowadays, there are many thrill seekers who come in search of ghosts or merely to satisfy their curiosity about this bizarre building. Although officially off limits to the public, it is apparently remarkably badly secured and can be accessed by simply jumping a chain-link fence. Interestingly, there is an exact replica of the Sathorn Unique Building not far away, called the Lebua State Tower, which was completed and is in operation. It is a glimpse of what the haunted Sathorn Unique Building might have become if it had reached fruition, and an eerie juxtaposition between its grand splendor and the decomposing, ghost infested husk of its forgotten twin down the road.
Asia does not have a monopoly on haunted skyscrapers. In fact, moving across the sea to the United States, we have perhaps the most haunted one of them all. The Union Building, formerly called the Union and New Haven Trust Building, is a Georgian-Colonial Revival skyscraper which was completed in 1927. It is located on a corner of the historic New Haven Green, a 16-acre (65,000 m2) park and recreation area which is a National Historic Landmark District known for holding the settlement of the first Puritan settlers of New Haven as well as for its three 19th-century churches.
One of the more famous accounts of ghostly activity at the Union Trust Building is what is often referred to as “The Great Ghost Meeting,” in 1984. One night, two security guards were working together in shifts, with one walking about the premises while the other stayed in the lobby. The guard conducting the rounds came across the unusual sight of lights on on the 10th floor conference room, which was odd since the building had long since closed for the day and there were no meetings scheduled. As the guard approached, he could hear an excited din of voices as if indeed a meeting was going on in the room. At this point, the guard did not think anything particularly paranormal was going on. He merely chalked it up to a late meeting that he had not been properly informed of and went back to tell his partner about it.
The two went about their duties as usual until several hours later, when the guard in the lobby noticed that no one had left the building yet. Thinking this to be a little odd, one of the guards went back to the conference room to check up on the status of the meeting only to see that the lights were now off and the room was totally quiet. When he opened the door, the room was found to be completely empty, with no signs that any meeting had ever taken place. A complete search turned up no sign of anyone and the lobby guard was certain not a single person had left the building. A review of the security cameras for the building’s two exits also turned up no evidence of anyone coming or leaving the entire night. It was then that the two guards realized that whatever the meeting was, it was not among the living.
Ghostly occurrences such as this have happened intensely up until the present day, usually with night security guards. Disembodied footsteps are very common, with the sound of women’s high heels clicking being especially persistent. There are also the sounds of screaming, moaning, and even children’s laughter. Sometimes voices can be heard that sound as if they are engaged in normal conversation even though the building is apparently empty. Guards frequently report hearing their own names whispered or even shouted from the darkness, and one guard allegedly became so upset by this that he quit his job and never worked for Union Trust again. There are other anomalous sounds that are frequently reported as well, such as banging on the walls or high pitched screeching noises. There is even the sound of old fashioned music wafting through the air reported from time to time. Some of these weird noises are rather intense. An account from 2003 described how there were the sounds of two large individuals fighting in the next room, yet no one could enter because the room was locked. Allegedly, when the violent confrontation was over, the door mysteriously was open again and no one was anywhere to be found in the room. One guard in 1999 reported feeling a sudden sense of panic which was followed by an ear splitting bang that sounded like a piece of the building or a wall had collapsed. However, later inspection showed no signs of damage anywhere and security cameras showed no one on the premises. In fact, in every one of these cases security camera footage has turned up no sign of anyone else in the building.
In addition to the weird sounds heard throughout the building is the persistent poltergeist activity. In one incident in 1993, the building manager was repairing a toilet seat in the men’s washroom when all of the toilets began to flush by themselves one after the other. Doors are known to open and close on their own, books frequently fly off of shelves in the building’s library, and furniture is often moved around in many of the rooms as well. Additionally, lights and other electrical equipment will often switch on and off inexplicably.
There are also various apparitions and orbs frequently sighted throughout the building, including some that make regular appearances. The most famous of these and the most active are probably the shadow people that are commonly spotted. These are typically human silhouettes that are completely black and typically suddenly appear from nowhere to startle people. On occasion they are known to rush towards people only to vanish before impact. Some of these shadows have been described as wearing what looks like a cape, and others seem to have disproportionately long limbs or necks. The shadow people are sometimes reported as being seen on security cameras, only to be absent from the footage on later viewing.
Another recurring entity spotted in the Union Trust Building is called Old Man Scott, and is believed to be the ghost of a man who died in the penthouse after drinking way too much. A heavy smoker in life, a telltale sign of the presence of Old Man Scott is a strong smell of cigarette smoke in the otherwise strictly non-smoking building, as well as the smell of alcohol. Joining the ranks of Union Trust Building ghosts is a specter said to look like an obese man which likes to hang out in the building’s café. Even creepier is an apparition that is described as looking like a charred or burned dwarf which frequents the 8th floor of the building.
It is unclear as to why this particular building should be so heavily imbued with paranormal activity, but there are theories. The nearby New Haven Green was once used as a cemetery for the city until 1812, when all of the headstones were removed in order to move them to the nearby Grove Street Cemetery. Unfortunately, the city ignored the minor detail of actually moving the bodies to go along with the headstones, and so thousands of corpses remained under the Green without headstones. Whether this has anything to do with the alleged hauntings of the Union Trust Building or not is not known, but perhaps these restless spirits have been drawn to the structure for some reason. Whatever the reason, there are various spooky phenomena reported from the building to this day, and it is considered to be one of the most intensely haunted places in the country.
It seems clear that even as we build ever grander buildings, the ghosts of our past will move in to inhabit them. Is there anything to these spooky stories? Is this just our need for tales of mysteries and ghosts, or is this all evidence that something continues to operate even after death, no matter what the locale might be. There are very few allegedly haunted skyscrapers in the world, but perhaps this is just the beginning of a trend. Whether ghosts truly exist or not, there certainly seems to be an inclination for us to take them with us regardless of where we may reside or how high in the air. Are there ghostly eyes peering down upon us from their perches high in the clouds? Perhaps time will tell us the answer to that someday. Until then, we will continue to push the limits of our mega cities, push the buildings higher into the atmosphere, and maybe we will continue to be plagued by ghosts as we always have, whether they are real or not.