By Mark Petruska
Welcome to Rose City Unwrapped!
Portland, Oregon is a vibrant and dynamic city full of interesting places (and people). There is nothing I enjoy more than venturing downtown and exploring its nooks and crannies. I’ve rubbed elbows with hippies, vegans, punk rockers, political activists, businessmen, college kids, and soccer moms – sometimes all on the same street corner. That’s what I love about PDX – its eclectic mix of diversity and culture of open acceptance makes me feel at home no matter the time of day or season of the year. Portland is like the cool hipster who marches to the beat of his own drum – he doesn’t care what anybody thinks, yet welcomes all into his home. Each month I’ll write about my favorite haunts in the Portland area – some well known, others, less so. Are you ready to hit the streets?
Haunts is not an accidental word choice for my first article. I have long been fascinated with the paranormal, and so a little over a year ago, I signed up for the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour from Portland Walking Tours . Where else would I have the opportunity to walk around with an EMF meter, attempting to contact the spirits of the deceased, Ghost Hunters-style?
Accompanied by my brother and his girlfriend, who were visiting from out of town, we met in front of Old Town Pizza on a balmy Friday night in August. There are two tours available, one for all ages at 7:00, and an “adults only” (18+) tour at 10:00. We opted for the latter. We were split into two groups, and our guide – a typical free-spirited bohemian type sporting a black derby and scarf tied around her neck – said the main difference between the tours was that they didn’t shy away from some of the more unsavory aspects of the dearly departed (ties to prostitution, grisly murder details) on ours. Plus, she promised a lot of cussing, and proved her point by assaulting us with a few choice profanities right off the bat. Most of us smirked like grade-schoolers.
F words out of the way, we hopped on the MAX train for a quick ride to the White Eagle Saloon & Tavern, a brick hotel dating back to 1905 (and now a part of the McMenamin’s chain) that is allegedly haunted by the spirits of Rose (a prostitute) and a former tenant named Sam. Armed with EMF meters that would light up in Christmasy shades of red and green in the presence of any electrical interference, we marched upstairs into the hallway of the so-called “rock ‘n roll hotel”, waving our devices around and hoping for “hits.” In theory, spirits manifest themselves by creating an electrical disturbance in the atmosphere. Nothing very exciting happened here, but I can vouch that my EMF meter worked fine, as it lit up crazily when I moved it over an electrical box in the wall.
Our sweep of the joint completed, and largely without fanfare, we exited the hotel and walked through the streets of Portland, where we proceeded to get heckled mercilessly by the late-night crowds, most of whom appeared to be in search of a different type of spirit. Apparently we were quite the sight, a dozen people walking around downtown while waving blinking devices through the air. We didn’t let their catcalls and slurs keep us from our appointed rounds with the dead, though, and soldiered on. Our guide talked nonstop about Portland’s haunted history and covered a myriad of ghostly topics like voodoo (which gave her an excellent excuse to stop at Voodoo Doughnut, where she emerged with a pink box full of goodies for us to share). We made various stops along the way, where she pointed out a number of paranormal hot spots, including a parking lot where – inexplicably – we did get a lot of activity on our EMF meters.
Eventually we circled back to Old Town Pizza for the grand finale. This former hotel is one of Portland’s most haunted spots; many people claim the spirit of Nina, a prostitute (again!) who allegedly fell – or was pushed – down an elevator shaft to her death there, roams the place. There have been a bunch of sightings and unexplained noises over the years, so I was eager to check it out! We were given flashlights and descended into the basement, a dank and dark room that contains a boarded-up entrance to one of the city’s infamous underground Shanghai tunnels. Some in our group got EMF hits, but most of us experienced nothing. I snapped a photo down there, and discovered later the presence of orbs in my shot, which – depending upon your beliefs – were either ghostly spirits floating about our heads, or dust. I’m going with the former, because it makes for a far more interesting tale!
Our tour ended there, and our group disbanded shortly before midnight, scattering into the dark in various directions. Even though we didn’t encounter any hard evidence of the paranormal, I enjoyed myself immensely, and learned quite a bit about Portland’s past. This is a fun tour for anybody interested in ghosts or history, or looking to do something different on a weekend night. Just be prepared to deal with occasionally rowdy passers-by.
Mark Petruska is in love and wants the world to know it. The object of his affection? The Pacific Northwest, where he has lived since 1994. Born in Hawaii, his father was in the Air Force, and the family moved often. Over the years, Mark has called many places home – Dayton, Ohio; Rapid City, South Dakota; San Jose, California – but his heart belongs to Portland.
Mark is also passionate about writing, and has cranked out a number of novels and short stories over the years. His dream is to become a published author.
“I’d love to walk into Powell’s Books someday, and pull a novel with my name on it from the shelf,” he says. “It will happen…mark my words!”
A recent corporate layoff prompted Mark to pursue his passion and begin a freelance writing career. With a steady and growing client base, he hopes to make a living solely through his writing. Hobbies include cooking, blogging, photography, hiking, and “mind-numbing reality television.”