illustration by Michelle Mruk
Portland is home to many so-called “haunted” businesses, residences, and public spaces. (See “Portland’s Most Haunted Places [That You Never Knew Were Super Fucking Haunted]!” on pg. 5 for more examples.) But how haunted are they really? The Mercury decided to find out by picking four of Portland’s most famously spooky places and testing their alleged paranormality with SCIENCE. How? By purchasing the most scientifically stringent ghost hunting app on the internet, the Ghost Tracker EMF EVP Recorder™ from trusted Swedish ghost-hunting company LaxTon. This app comes with an EMF scanner (testing for electromagnetic fields, or “ghost stink”), a motion detector, and the ability to record EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), which doesn’t sound at all made up.
Did it work? Read on to find out, as the Mercury tests and then once and for all rules on whether Portland’s most ghostly places are “haunted as all get-out” or “bull-fucking-shit.” As always… you’re welcome.
by Wm. Steven Humphrey
Let’s get one thing straight, people: When it comes to ghosts, I’m skeptical as fuck. I despise all things that are superstition-based (sorry God!), and when anyone mentions their “actual, really true” encounters with other-worldly spirits, my eyes get dangerously close to rolling out of my head. All that said…
Lone Fir Cemetery is straight up haunted, y’all!
Established in 1854 as a resting place for the 24 victims of a boat explosion (and therefore dozens of unidentified body parts), Lone Fir is now the permanent home for some of the city’s most famous founders, including James C. Hawthorne, who remains well-known for running the Oregon Hospital for the Insane (roughly located where the Lucky Lab is now) and generously burying the bodies of patients who were conveniently forgotten by their families.
Lone Fir Cemetery features acres of crumbling mausoleums, ornate timber-themed gravestones, and even a marker that simply reads, “Random Person.” In short, it’s seemingly the perfect home for moaning, chain-clanking spirits who want nothing more than to scare the shit into your pants.
As I solemnly stroll the grounds, making careful note to avoid stepping on the faces of any dead people (I’m not superstitious… but I’m not stupid, either), my trusty Ghost Tracker EMF EVP Recorder™ ($2.99 in the app store) remains silent. Tombstones that one would naturally assume are wicked haunted elicit nary a tick, boop, or squeak. For example, on the ground in the middle of a mysterious circle of tall trees, I notice a strange cement object that looks like a rudimentary sundial, surrounded by what appears to be objects one might find at a séance: melted candle, a small burlap sack containing god-knows-what, a rock bearing ancient indecipherable script, and a stalk of broccoli. (That last one might be someone’s leftovers.) Shockingly, not a single peep from the app.
I don’t believe in ghosts, and yet, I’m disappointed there are no ghosts.
But then… as I pass by the Civil War Veterans’ monument, the app squeaks to life! It’s not a howling, moan-of-the-damned squeak… more like a Casper the Friendly Ghost squeak. Or rather the kind of annoyed squeak a perplexed Civil War vet might utter when wondering why he died to vanquish racism and people like Milo Yiannopoulos still exist.
Likewise, when I aim the app at the “Random Person” headstone, it angrily boops and blips! (I mean… I get it. If I were a ghost, I wouldn’t want to be called “random” either—but you know when I die, they’re gonna label me a “Basic Bitch”… so stop complaining and rest in peace already, Random Person!)
While those two incidents could be dismissed as anomalies or technical malfunctions, that didn’t explain what happens next. As I walk along, the air suddenly becomes still. The temperature suddenly drops. And my ghost hunting app goes batshit bazonkers. There was no gravestone around… what’s going on? I looked down at my feet. Kicking away dead autumn leaves, I see it: A heavy rectangular metal plate inscribed with the words, “Portland City Water Meter.” I hold my app closer… the readings are off the chart. There can be only one logical explanation: The ghosts of that 1854 ship explosion are eternally trapped in the city’s water supply and crying out in anguish, “Help, I’m drowning!” and “Has anyone seen my foot? It has a blue sock on it!” And the most horrible thought of all? EVERY DAY WE DRINK THOSE GHOSTS.
Without wasting another second, I get the fuck out of there. And I run straight to Bed Bath & Beyond. (They’re having a sale on Brita water filters.)
Lone Fir Cemetery, SE 26th & Stark, daily 7 am-sunset
by Blair Stenvick
Portland institution Old Town Pizza is located above the infamous haunted Shanghai tunnels, for which you can probably find a tour right now on Groupon. A page on its website titled “Haunted Past”—a page title I’m stealing for the “About Me” section of my personal website—kicks off with this tidbit:
“Don‘t be surprised if an unexpected guest joins you for a slice today,” it reads.“A constant presence at Old Town Pizza is Nina (pronounced ‘Nigh-na’) [pronounced “Nigh-na”???], our resident ghost. If you feel a presence behind you, or smell a faint waft of perfume, you may have just received a visit. Nina is often seen in a black dress observing diners and wandering the basement below.”
During the exactly 22 minutes I spent at Old Town Pizza, I learned a lot about Nina based on what she did—and did not—haunt.
She did not haunt the employee who sold me my pizza slice, a floppy Portland mid-thirties man prototype. She also didn’t haunt the table full of similar men I very smoothly walked past several times, with ghost hunting app in hand, definitely not attracting any weird looks. Either Nina’s a picky lady…. or she’s a queer ghost! Considering this is Portland, I’m going with queer ghost.
She did, however, haunt my pizza. As soon as I put my phone near my veggie slice, the odometer thingy on the screen started shooting way up. So sheâ€™s queer and vegetarian… “Just like me,” I muttered under my breath, as the table full of men glanced at me with concerned eyes.
Nina isn’t a loiterer. As I paced around the restaurant—a very normal and cool thing to do during a lunch rush—I didn’t catch much activity. But that changed when I went to use the restroom, and my ghost tracker app started flashing erratically. Was Nina hiding out in the bathroom to get some alone time, or was she channeling Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter?
The similarities between myself and Nina were stacking up, and I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I hunting a ghost, or was this this queer, vegetarian, literary ghost woman hunting… me?
I could’ve stayed and contemplated that question all day, but I was on a deadline. As I headed toward the door, I spotted an old Mercury issue on the counter. I ran my phone over it, and again the screen jumped with activity.
So, Nina, since there’s a good chance you’re reading this: Thanks for a lunch break that will haunt me forever.
Old Town Pizza, 226 NW Davis, Sun-Thurs 11:30 am-11 pm, Fri & Sat 11:30 am-midnight
by Ned Lannamann
My entire understanding of ghosts comes from a book I had when I was a kid. Published by the British publisher Usborne, The World of the Unknown: Ghosts was a slim but copiously illustrated guide to ghosts around the world—from the phantom hound, Black Shuck, who they say was as big as a calf and had one enormous eye in the center of its skull, to the most haunted village in England, the tiny town of Pluckley, which some claim is the stalking ground of 12 different ghosts. I spent many terrified nights leafing through the book’s pages, getting legitimate shivers from a black-and-white photo of the Newby Monk, a partially transparent, nine-foot-tall specter with a shroud covering his face, looming before an ornate church altar.
If the rumors are to be believed, Portland has its own bounty of ghosts—far more than 12. (Suck it, Pluckley!) The Wikipedia page for “Reportedly haunted locations in Oregon” lists 17 different locations in the Rose City that are supposedly homes to ghostly presences, although they’re all public places with no private residences, which makes you wonder how many of these claims arise from clever marketing schemes rather than actual supernatural encounters. Unfortunately, none of the local lore is quite as bone-chilling as the tales of Black Shuck or the Newby Monk.
McMenamins’ White Eagle Saloon has a swirl of such stories around it. Legend says that the brick building, built in 1905, has long been a house of ill repute, and once boasted a brothel upstairs and an opium den in the basement. But the place—listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Hryszko Brothers Building—originally functioned as a social club for the local Polish community, and hosted meetings for the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church and the Polish Library. One wonders if its supposedly sordid past is partly the result of whiskey-fueled wishful thinking.
During a recent happy hour, I stationed myself in the White Eagle, armed with my Swedish ghost-hunting phone app, ready for the spirits to reveal themselves. The electromagnetic field (EMF) meter did not detect much in the way of paranormal activity, holding steady at 53 µT as I anxiously downed a pint of Oktoberfest beer. At first, the only ghosts I spied were those of recently demised culinary trends on the menu: Sliders! Cheese curds! Berry-enhanced hard cider! I tested the EMF meter in a few different spots around the bar, noticing only a slight uptick to 60 µM during a trip to the not-scary-at-all men’s room.
But then! “Sugar Magnolia” by the Grateful Dead came over the loudspeakers. (I was in a McMenamins, after all.) And sure enough, the EMF meter began to inch upwards, topping out at 86 µT. I took this as empirical evidence that the White Eagle was indeed haunted—maybe not so much by prostitutes and opium fiends, but by the ghosts of wretched hippie music from the past. It was, indeed, terrifying.
Not as terrifying as the Newby Monk, mind you, or anything else in the pages of that wonderful book I had. So for actual chills, I’d avoid risking exposure to anything that has Bob Weir on vocals, and instead track down a copy of The World of the Unknown: Ghosts. Happily, it turns out that, as the result of a successful change.org petition, it’s just been republished by Usborne, unchanged from its 1977 original text. Turns out I wasn’t the only kid spellbound by its pages.
White Eagle Saloon & Hotel, 836 N Russell, Mon 11 am-11 pm, Tues-Thurs 11 am-1 am, Fri & Sat 11 am-2 am, Sun 3-11 pm
by Erik Henriksen
Forget about your supposedly ghost-filled bars and pizza joints: If you want to find someplace really haunted, go to a creepy old mansion at the top of a hill! (For scientific proof, please see: The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.) And especially go to the libraries in creepy mansions, because ghosts love to haunt libraries! (For scientific proof, please see: Ghostbusters, my favorite movie as a kid, and also one that, thanks to that very scary ghost librarian, I always had to watch, wincing, through my fingers.)
Thankfully, Portland has a creepy old mansion at the top of a hill: The tourist-filled Pittock Mansion, built by old-timey millionaire and Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock in 1914, a long-ago era when people made money running newspapers. Plus, 1914 was before Netflix, so there’s a library in there! When my editor told me to go find a ghost at Pittock Mansion, I laughed in his face for five straight minutes, because obviously I can find a ghost at Pittock Mansion! This, I figured, would be even easier than my childhood ghostbusting days, when, in a noble effort to emulate Mssrs. Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore, I invented “ghost-melting acid” by mixing together all the toxic household cleaning products I could find and pouring them into a Super Soaker. I also played with various combinations of matches, gas cans, and hairspray.
Anyway! The Pittock Mansion’s library? NOTHING. Ghost count? ZERO. Same with the Pittock Mansion’s kitchen, bathrooms, driveway, music room, and smoking room. Zero ghosts! ZERO, ZERO, ZERO.
But then I went upstairs.
All seemed fine… at first. My Swedish ghost-hunting app blurped and bleebled, but never sounded an alarm as I crept through the sitting room, the writing room, and a dozen other rooms that rich people had to make up names for because they had too many rooms. But then I came across two “sleeping porches,” built to expose residents to nighttime air, under the belief that doing so would cure what old-timey millionaires called “consumption” and what we call “tuberculosis.” One of those sleeping porches? Just a room. It was fine! But the other sleeping porch?
FULL OF DEAD-EYED DOLLS.
I counted no fewer than four horrifying Annabelles in that forsaken crypt: One lay limp on a dust-choked bed, as if her soul had been gnawed away by consumption. Two sat side by side near the cold window, their lifeless faces staring into the void. One rosy-cheeked nightmare was curled in a blackened, creaking baby carriage, ready to spout fangs and lunge. “NO THANK YOU,” I shouted at the old Belgian tourists behind me and bolted down the hall…
… Only to encounter another fetid hellmouth, bearing the ominous name “Child’s Room.” Formerly the joyous bedroom of Pittock’s grandson, this foul place has been corrupted into the accursed domain of HORRIFING CLOWNS.
One clown doll was splayed at the bottom of a splintered toy ladder, as if its spine were snapped in two—now it can only hunt you by crawling forward, pulling itself along by its ragged, bloody fingernails. Another clown doll sat slumped in the rotting remains of a decrepit puppet theater, performing a silent show that drives all who see it beyond the edge of madness. And, in the dusk-shadowed corner, on a small, hollowed-out bed, lurked a forgotten, unloved teddy bear—posed as a festering corpse awaiting an autopsy. An autopsy performed by clowns.
Shoving aside any and all old Belgians—I pushed one into the Child’s Room, and now she is surely dead, but better her than me—I threw myself downstairs, out the doors, into the cold black rain. Only then did I realize I had forgotten to use my Swedish ghost-hunting app. Then again, I thought, there is no need. As I gouged bloody furrows into my cheeks and screamed into the empty night, I knew that my heart—now clutched in the ichor-slick claws of unspeakable terror—was the most accurate Swedish ghost-hunting app of all.
Pittock Mansion, 3229 NW Pittock, Sept-May 10 am-4 pm, June-Labor Day 10 am-5 pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas, $8-12 admission, along with your immortal soul