According to USA Today, Portland is among the top 10 haunted cities in America.
However, it would appear that some of the ghosts have escaped the confines of the city and taken up residence in the Columbia River Gorge. October, the month of Halloween hauntings and fall foliage, creates a good excuse for a visit.
Starting in Troutdale, on the western end of the Gorge, we encounter our first ghosts at McMenamins’ Edgefield Inn. The McMenamin brothers —known for restoring and repurposing historic properties into hotels, restaurants and pubs —purchased the old Multnomah County Poor Farm and converted it into a destination re-sort. Built in 1911, the rambling, brick structure served as home to the county’s destitute who, in turn, provided the labor to operate the surrounding 300-acre farm.
It was a busy place during the Depression, but by the end of World War II, most residents were elderly and it took on the role of a nursing home. The last patient left in 1982, and the place deteriorated over time, its future looking grim until the McMenamins arrived.
Today it hosts a brew pub, winery, theater and restaurants, and serves as a popular venue for weddings and concerts. The main building is now a hotel with a variety of rooms from private suites to dorms.
Guests have reported a number of ghostly experiences and sightings including a woman reciting nursery rhymes in the wee hours, and a woman in white wandering the grounds. Guests report having had their feet tickled, and serenaded by a flautist. Room 215 and the winery, located in the old infirmary, seem to experience the most paranormal activity.
Continue east along the Historic Columbia River Highway for the next reported ghost sighting. This historic road was built in 1913 to connect a series of waterfalls and stunning vistas along the south side of the Columbia River. It was the first scenic road in America and combined traditional European and modern road building techniques to create a spectacular highway that blended well with the landscape.
After a while, it was determined that a rest stop along the way would be very desirable and plans were drawn for a modest wood and concrete structure on the promontory at Crown Point.
However, Edgar Lazarus, a Portland architect, had other ideas, and designed Vista House to be the remarkable German Art Nouveau masterpiece we know today. Volunteers have reported ghostly appearances of Mr. Lazarus. He apparently arrives in autumn and enjoys messing with the buttons on the elevator.
Not far from Vista House is the natural wonder of Multnomah Falls, dropping 620 feet in two steps. A Native American legend claims the falls are haunted by a young woman who jumped to her death from the top of the falls to save her village from a mysterious disease. Visitors have felt her presence and glimpsed her face within the mist of the falls.
Next, it’s on to the town of Hood River, home of the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Constructed in 1921 by lumberman Simon Benson, it replaced an earlier hotel built to service passengers traveling the Columbia River on steamships. Benson wanted to create a luxury property for the up-scale motoring tourists visiting the Gorge, a “Waldorf of the West.” The attractive Spanish/Mission-style structure was sited amid manicured gardens featuring a 208-foot waterfall and panoramic view of the river. Italian stonemasons who helped build the Columbia River highway were enlisted to construct stone bridges and walls.
The hotel drew the likes of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, and top celebrities of the era including Clara Bow, Myrna Loy, Rudolf Valentino and Shirley Temple.
However, the Depression brought hard times for Benson and he sold the property to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, a fraternal order for lumber industry workers. They, in turn, operated it for several decades as a retirement home for their members.
In 1979, it returned to its original use as a hotel and has undergone several renovations over the past years.
Like Edgefield, overnight guests have reported paranormal happenings including the unaccountable smell of cigar smoke, sightings of a man in a top hat and formal frock coat, and the wanderings of a woman in white who jumped from the hotel balcony.
The reported Gorge ghosts all seem harmless and friendly, and shouldn’t discourage anyone from an overnight visit at either hotel.
But it might actually be fun to have your toes tickled by ghosts.