Haunted Downtown

By The Beacon | October 27, 2010 9:00pm

Once upon a time, on a spooky night... on the “Beyond Bizarre” Portland Walking Tour....

Underneath Old Town Pizza (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

By Laura Frazier, Staff Writer -- frazier13@up.edu

In the Halloween spirit, The Beacon sent one of our staff writers on a ghost hunt of a walking tour. Each person taking the tour was given an electromagnetic field detector (EMF) to help detect possible poltergeists. Read on to find out how our reporter fared.

1) Underneath Old Town Pizza

Underneath Old Town Pizza on Southwest Davis Street is an entrance to a secret tunnel. The basement opens up into a cavern that was once an opening to the infamous Shanghai Tunnels. Constructed in the 1850s, the tunnels were initially used for "crimping," which is the act of capturing young men and commandeering them to work as sailors.

The budding Portland economy needed sailors to work at sea, and recruiters were not afraid to whack a poor man on the head and toss him on board. Soon the tunnels became a center for several other illegal activities such as smuggling bootleg liquor and prostitution rings. During this time, the ratio of men to women was 15 to 1 and prohibition was in full swing. With the scarcity of both, womanly affection and alcohol were hot commodities.

There is one particular prostitute who is said to still haunt the pizza parlor. Built in 1880, the building the parlor is in was originally The Merchant Hotel. A prostitute named Nina often worked at the hotel.

One day a group of missionaries approached her and asked her to tell them who had forced her into prostitution. In exchange for the information, they promised to help her escape. Days later, Nina was found at the bottom of the basement elevator shaft with her neck broken. According to my guide Gretchen, Nina still haunts the building, sometimes appearing behind diners as a woman in black.

After hearing this, I was prepared to possibly encounter the supernatural when my group entered the basement. Supposedly two other men had died there as well. Perhaps that's why it smelled like dead bodies to me when I entered the dark room. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Regardless of the smell, the basement was far from warm and friendly. Maybe the ambiance of a room changes forever once it features a fatality or three.

2) Benson Hotel

Above ground on Southwest Broadway sits the Benson Hotel. Constructed in 1912, the hotel is considered the most lavish in Portland. It features Italian marble flooring, glass chandeliers and a now extinct Circassian walnut that was purchased from Russia. The hotel has hosted every president since Woodrow Wilson with the exception of George W. Bush, but the hotel claims to have a constant visitor of a different sort.

Simon Benson, a wealthy logging entrepreneur, funded the hotel. Benson was a teetotaler, which means he was completely against drinking alcohol. Benson therefore funded the bronze drinking fountains, called Benson Bubblers, found on the downtown sidewalks.

Ironically, the hotel now has one of the most expansive bars in the area with some of most expensive alcohol. Gretchen said Benson died in 1942, but is said to float around the hotel, legless and clothed in a dark suit jacket, particularly spiteful at customers drinking in his hotel.

There has been a handful of other unexplainable happenings, such as knives flying off hangers on the walls in the kitchen. Guests of the hotel have also reported seeing apparitions, such as a woman in a turquoise dress or red rings, in the large gilded mirror that sits in the lobby of the hotel. One woman even reported seeing a small boy standing by her bedside who disappeared when she went to grab him.

I stood and looked into the mirror, watching other people on the tours exclaim over the high activity readings on the EMF's as they gazed in it as well. They were all just hoping for a glance of something in the reflection. Honestly, I just made sure Gretchen didn't see me roll my eyes. She was yet to convince me to believe in any of the stories. But hey, I was trying to remain open-minded.

3) The Imperial Hotel

Across the street from the Benson, The Imperial Hotel, on the corner of Southwest Washington Street and Broadway, was constructed in 1894. The hotel was renamed Hotel Lucia, but the same old ghosts who have always haunted the Imperial are still supposedly actively tormenting guests.

About a year ago, a guest had just settled in her room on the fourth floor of the hotel. She arranged her toiletries in the bathroom, and then went out by the bed.

The woman heard a crash, and ran into the bathroom to see all of her things out of their original place yet rearranged in a perfect line on the counter. Terrified, she ran to the lobby and demanded a different room. The staff agreed, and went to help her gather her things. For some reason, the woman's room key and the staff key both failed to unlock the door. Then after several minutes of trying, the key seemed to magically work. They picked up all of the woman's things and moved her to a room on the first floor. But her hairbrush was missing. It was found a week later in a vacant and locked room back on the fourth floor.

There have been reports of a woman in a teal dress wandering through walls, and a tailless cat has been seen pacing the halls. The poor cat fell victim to infection after a workman lopped off its tail. All I have to say is, I would rather be haunted by a deformed cat than a hairbrush bandit.

4) Vacant parking lot

Next Gretchen led us to a vacant parking lot, explaining that it has more electromagnetic activity then anywhere else downtown. Across from the club Venue 126 on Southwest 2nd Avenue, the "parking lot of mystery" is eerie with the harsh brick walls and graffiti.

My EMF was certainly picking up some serious "spirits." There are two theories that explain the haunted parking lot. One theory is that the parking lot was built over an ancient Indian burial ground and is haunted by the Indians who died from the diseases brought over by settlers. The second is that the area used to be the location of the city prison in Portland's early days. It is rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the criminals who died in the jail. Either way, I still think the telephone poles are the real reason my EMF was lighting up like crazy.

5) Kells Irish Pub

Known for rowdy St. Patrick's Day festivals and great beer, Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub on Southwest 2nd Avenue also has a resident ghost. The establishment caught fire in the early 1900s and has been haunted ever since.

The fire started across the street and traveled to the building via the underground tunnels. Gretchen explained that the pub has an old entrance to the tunnels in the basement, and guests have reported seeing a fireman wearing a helmet crawling around.

So basically, go for the beer and the Irish tradition, just watch out for the man in uniform carrying a helmet. And don't be surprised if he seems to crawl right through you.

Were you scared?

For those looking for the supernatural, there are some historical sites in downtown Portland that are worthy of exploring.

Though a skeptic when it comes to ghosts, I embraced the opportunity to learn a little more about who or what is really haunting downtown.

Thanks to Portland Walking Tours, a handheld Electromagnetic Field reader (EMF) to point out the ghosts and a tour guide named Gretchen, I now know the spots to avoid on Halloween night.

After the tour, I still consider myself an adamant skeptic when it comes to the paranormal. Gretchen did her best to convince me and the others on the tour that ghosts really do exist. But Halloween or not, I wasn't buyi ng it.

Ghosts aside, I appreciate the new bits of Portland history that I now know, and if I am ever lucky (or crazy) enough to see a spirit downtown, I can explain why.

Want to brave it? 

  • Cost: $19 per adult
  • Duration: under 2.5 hours
  • Distance: less than 1.5 miles, no hills
  • Time: 7 p.m. or 10 p.m.
  • For more information check out: www.portlandwalkingtours.com

5 other frightening Halloween things to do in Portland

13th Door Haunted House

Located in Beaverton, 13th door has been reviewed as Portland's number one haunted house. The haunted house boasts terrifyingly real terrors. This one is not for the faint of heart. Find more info at www.13thdoor.com.

Fright Town

Held in Portland's Memorial Coliseum, Fright Town is a combination of horror museums and a haunted house. Its creepy characters, gruesome sights and residents in a haunted mansion are all combined into one. Fright Town is considered one of Portland's most popular Halloween activities. Visit frighttown.com for more information.

Scream at the Beach

At the Jantzen Beach Center guests can enjoy Halloween shows, fair style rides and haunted woods. Visitors can also participate in costume parties and pumpkin carving. Check out screamatthebeach.com for specific events and times.

The Maize

Out by St. Johns, Sauvie's Island is home to both a regular and haunted corn maze. The mazes are open rain or shine, so grab a pair of rubber boots if it's raining and try your luck at making it out alive. Details at portlandmaze.com

The Bloodshack

Located at Southeast 11th and Ankeny, this haunted house is definitely not for the easily offended or horrified. Open late, there are horror-themed arcade games for customers while they wait. Emphasis on the gore at this one. Look it up brotherfish.com.

Creating Spooky Suckers, A fun Halloween decoration

Supplies Needed:

  • Kleenex or tissue
  • Suckers 
  • White yarn 
  • Scissors 
  • Black marker 

How to assemble:

  1. Cut a small piece of yarn.
  2. Center the Kleenex over the top of the sucker.
  3. Tie the yarn in a bow right around the top of the sucker stick.
  4. Draw eyes and mouth on tissue with black marker.
  5. Instant and fun Halloween treat for a friend!

Benson Hotel (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

The Imperial Hotel (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

The Vacant Parking Lot (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

Kells Irish Pub (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

Spooky Suckers (Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)