Tag Archives: Portland

Cathedral Park in Portland Haunted by Stories of Ghostly Screams

Donna Stewart, author of Ghosthunting Oregon, researched the paranormal activity at Cathedral Park. Here is her report.

Today, Cathedral Park in north Portland provides a breathtaking view of the towering St. Johns Bridge, nature, and the east shore of the Willamette River. Families often picnic there on sunny afternoons, the occasional wedding is held beneath the statuesque bridge, and the smell of trees and wildflowers adds to the picture-perfect location. You could spend hours there, taking pictures and contemplating how little the scene has changed since the construction of the bridge in 1931. But times have changed, and most of the people who walked through Cathedral Park have faded into the past and are all but forgotten. All, perhaps, except for 15-year-old Thelma Taylor, who also thought the park was beautiful—until August 5, 1949. Since that date, the park has been haunted by stories of ghostly screams and shadowy figures.

Thelma was a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Portland in the late 1940s. Thelma was not an unattractive girl but was teased in school for being skinny, among other things, and she did not have many friends. One can see Thelma sitting slightly away from the rest of her class at the end of the bottom row of her elementary school graduation picture, as if she did not belong with the rest of the children. That feeling of not quite fitting in followed Thelma throughout her short life, even as she grew into a beautiful young woman with dark hair and a brilliant, contagious smile.

Thelma was devoted to her family and did what she could to help them financially during her months away from school. In the summer of 1949, she took a job picking beans at a farm in nearby Hillsboro. She would rouse herself early in the morning and make her way to Cathedral Park, where a bus would stop to pick up those willing to spend the day working on the farm and then drop them back at the same spot late in the afternoon or early evening. But on August 5, Thelma never made it onto that bus.

There are many versions of what happened that morning, and it takes some time and research to separate truth from exaggeration. I have sifted through the myths and the ghost stories, and what follows is the truth as it appears in documents and legal records. But I must warn you that the facts are sometimes more frightening that the ghost stories. We can alter tales to fit our needs and situations, but the truth never changes.

Despite her best intentions, Thelma Taylor did not make it onto the bus that humid summer morning in 1949, and it departed without her because she was nowhere to be seen. She had been approached by a 22-year-old ex-convict named Morris Leland. To this day, no one knows what Leland said or did to entice Thelma into following him away from the bus stop to the banks of the Willamette River beneath the St. Johns Bridge; it is one of the few questions that Morris Leland did not answer in the months and years to come. We know that Leland made sexual advances toward Thelma and that she vehemently refused them. And here is where the fine line between fact and fiction gets muddied. . . .

Thelma was not raped. Morris Leland’s own words were, “I got scared because she was a good girl and would make trouble with the police.” The rape scenario is what most people read about on ghost hunter websites, but the fact is that it simply did not happen. And it is important to me that we allow Thelma to maintain that small bit of her dignity.

Leland held Thelma near the riverbank throughout the night, well hidden in an area of thick underbrush. But when morning came and Thelma could hear the workers switching cars on a nearby railroad track, her first instinct was to scream for help. It was then, to avoid detection and certain arrest, that Leland struck Thelma in the head repeatedly with a steel bar. And then, to make sure she could not possibly scream for help again, he stabbed her, silencing her forever on that bank nearly eight blocks from Cathedral Park.

Six days later, the Thursday, August 11, edition of the Reading Eagle, a Portland newspaper, reported that Morris Leland was arrested by Sergeant Vern Nicholson on suspicion of driving a stolen car and immediately blurted out a confession to the murder that police did not even suspect at the time.

The police knew that Thelma Taylor, a 15-year-old farm worker, had been reported missing the previous Saturday by her parents when she did not return home. But there had been no evidence, no hint that she could have met with such a horrible demise.

Morris Leland’s trial began on October 4, 1950, and he entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. But after a 4-month trial, Leland was found guilty of the murder and, on February 7, 1951, was sentenced to death. Morris Leland was led to the gas chamber where his sentence was carried out in January 1953.

To those who know the story of Thelma Taylor, the Cathedral Park area is a place where innocence lived and died, where an evil man claimed a life and spent his last days of freedom.

I have visited Cathedral Park on many occasions. During the day it is a beautiful area, surrounded by trees, the sound of the Willamette River, children laughing, and couples walking their dogs. If you stop to ask people if they know of Thelma Taylor, most locals tell you yes, and even many visitors know her story. And it is easy to talk about during the daytime. But when darkness falls, the feeling in the park changes. Perhaps this is because I know about Thelma. Or, perhaps, the stories of spectral screams and ghostly shadows hold some truth to them.

Over the decades, many people have reported hearing a young girl’s voice calling, “Help! Somebody help me, please!” Cathedral Park is a hangout after dark for the younger genera- tion who want to party, have a few beers, and the like, so many of those stories must be questioned, if only because alcohol is involved. But it is not only inebriated young people who have reported the ghostly voices and apparitions that they say dart quickly around the place.

Many paranormal researchers say that the area surrounding Cathedral Park has been primed for a haunting, and the flowing water of the river and the limestone blocks used to build St. Johns Bridge all are associated with a “residual haunting.” Residual haunting is a new term made popular by paranormal television for an old parapsychological theory proposed in the 1970s called the Stone Tape theory. This theory speculates that inanimate materials, such as stone, can absorb energy from the living, much as a tape recorder absorbs the voice of the living, especially during episodes of high tension, anxiety, and fear. Once this energy is stored, it can also be released, resulting in the display, or replay, of the recorded events.

“We have to postulate that some very emotional scene has somehow become registered on the environment, almost like a sort of psychic video has been created,” late Scottish paranormal researcher Archie Roy was quoted as saying about Stone Tape theory in the 2011 book Ghosts by Malcolm Day. “Someone who comes along who is sensitive enough acts as a sort of psychic video player and will actually play that ‘tape’ and see the figures or perhaps even hear the voices.”

Leland threw the steel pipe and the knife into the river, hoping that the current would carry them far away; he wiped his fingerprints from Thelma’s lunch pail, gathered his cigarette butts, and buried Thelma in a shallow grave underneath a pile of driftwood on the riverbank.

Color photos of Cathedral Park courtesy of Bill Reynolds from Lake Oswego, Oregon (Cathedral Park Portland Oregon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Witch’s Castle, Portland

 

A feud about the land gives rise to wicked laughter at the Witch’s Castle in Oregon.

Folklore, legends, and ghost stories abound regarding the Witch’s Castle.
As with so many purportedly haunted locations in the Portland area, one must carefully sift through the lore in order to filter out the truths. Even then, it is sometimes difficult to paint a completely accurate portrait, and one is left with a dramatic narrative at best. But this is also what makes traveling to haunted locations so intriguing. Visitors are left to decide whether their own experiences and senses reflect paranormal activity. But what most ghost-hunting travelers do know is that they should expect the unexpected.

What is left is the eerie shell—roofless and covered with moss, clinging ivy, and graffiti. It has been called the Witch’s Castle for decades and has a reputation throughout the state of Oregon of being haunted. It is all that scary movies are made of—an odd, out-of-place structure; a bloody tale of former tenants; and the haunting of the land on which it resides.

One of the most accepted stories about the Witch’s Castle is that of an ongoing ghostly feud on the land that gives rise to wicked laughter, sinister whispers, screams of terror, and angry specters—phenomena that give many a hiker second thoughts about venturing down the trails after dark. Many have also claimed to see dark figures darting between the trees and behind the shrubbery and in and out of the old stone structure.

There have been reports of bright, glowing lights encircling the building before disappearing into the woods and even a few reports of full-bodied apparitions of young women and children. People I spoke with who have experienced what they feel is paranormal activity at the Witch’s Castle, however, do not stray from their accounts, and

Donna Stewart ComedySportz Portland
Donna Stewart

I tend to believe them and that this consistency points to the spirits of the Balch family haunting their old homestead. I can assure you that, after dark, each noise, whether it is the falling of a leaf or the crack of a twig, is amplified around the Witch’s Castle. So whether the old stone building is haunted or not, it is not the most comfortable place to be when the sun goes down. I didn’t see a ghost during my visit, but that doesn’t mean they do not reside there—only that I was not in the right place at the right time. And, as we all know, history never dies.

If you enjoyed the story of the Witch’s Castle, check out Ghosthunting Oregona book by Donna Stewart in which she covers more than 30 haunted places throughout the Beaver State, all of them open to the public.

Benson Hotel Portand

Five Spiritual Apparitions Reported at the Benson Hotel in Portland

Benson HotelWhile most purportedly haunted locations in the Portland area are home to a single ghost or type of haunting, the Benson Hotel reportedly houses five spiritual apparitions, each similar in description and related activity.

People have reported numerous ghosts in the Benson Hotel, and many guests check in hoping to meet one of them face-to-face. Paranormal experiences have occurred throughout, with ghosts seen wearing anything from formal attire to lumberjack clothing. An employee was setting the tables for a banquet when the ghost of Benson entered the room and then just as quickly exited into the wine storage area, vanishing before her eyes. Shaken, she nervously finished her job as quickly as possible, glancing over her shoulder to make sure she was still alone in the room.

Other employees claim to have seen the ghost of Benson in one of the meeting areas, standing quietly and attentively in the back of the room as an important meeting commenced.

Is the Ghost of Jimi Hendrix Experience Drummer John Ronald “Mitch” Mitchell Haunting the Benson Hotel?

Another popular ghost at the Benson Hotel is that of a young boy, around the age of 3 or 4, who witnesses describe as thin and with short, light brown hair. Some local psychics have said that it is the ghost of Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer John Ronald “Mitch” Mitchell, who died at the Benson Hotel in 2008. Mitchell was a famous child actor in England before embarking on a career in rock and roll, and the psychics believe he remains at the Benson as the child version of himself. While anything may be possible in the afterlife, this does beg the question as to why this young boy has been seen at the hotel for decades whereas Mitchell died in 2008.

One guest who was in Portland on business checked into a room on the seventh floor of the Benson Hotel. She was in bed and growing weary of the movie on television, so she turned off the set and checked her cell phone one last time for any messages from her family before turning in. Then, when she rolled over, she came face-to-face with a little boy who stood at the side of her bed. She estimated the child to be about 3 years old, and as a mother with a son the same age, her instinct was to reach out to him. She touched his arm, and for a moment it felt solid and warm. She recalled thinking that the little boy could not possibly be a ghost because he was not cold, and from all that she had seen on television, ghosts were cold. As she thought about this and watched the little boy, he unexpectedly jumped at her face, assuming a scary expression. Startled, but not really frightened, she covered her head for a moment, thinking the boy might be simply playing a game with her. When she peeked out from the covers, the boy was still there. Again she touched him, and again he quickly made a scary face. This time the guest carefully positioned the blanket in front of her face so she would not have to see the boy again and, after a few minutes, assumed he was gone. Then she felt movement on the blankets at the bottom of the bed. Spooked by what she had just experienced, she did not look to see what the movement was.

Benson hotel 1When she checked out of the hotel the next morning, the woman asked the desk clerk if anyone else had ever described anything like she had experienced the night before. She was not surprised to hear that others had seen the little boy, although the desk clerk told her that most of those sightings had occurred on the 12th floor.

Some Benson Hotel Ghosts are Friendly and Helpful

Although they have a sense of humor, some of the Benson Hotel ghosts are friendly and helpful. Another guest, one with a disability, was having difficulty getting into bed one night when a porter appeared in front of her and gently assisted her into bed. When she turned to thank him for his kindness, however, he vanished before her eyes. No one has been able to describe well what the porter looks like, perhaps because he helps and vanishes so quickly, but he is known to assist guests in rooms when they need a helping hand.

Ghosthunting Oregon
Ghosthunting Oregon

The Lady in White is another helpful ghost. When she is not checking on guests, she wanders the floors and admires the decor. The Lady in Blue is the ghost of a middle-aged woman who has been seen wearing a turquoise dress and bright red rings. She is a different form of apparition than the others, however, and people have reported seeing her only as a reflection in a lobby mirror looking back at them.

If you are looking for a beautiful and mysterious place to spend a night or two in the Portland area, check into the Benson Hotel, which has everything and more that you would expect from a fine luxury hotel. The rooms are not inexpensive, but they are not grossly overpriced either. Spend some time in the gym, enjoy dinner at the London Grill, and relax in your room with a few friendly ghosts.

Donna Stewart’s book Ghosthunting Oregon covers more than 30 haunted places throughout the Beaver State, all of them open to the public.