Unlike its namesake in Massachusetts, Salem cannot boast
a nearly four-century history, or a dramatic event such as
the witch hunts and hangings of the 1760s. Nor can our City
lay claim to any reputation for being haunted like those early,
early towns on the East Coast: Still, there are unexplained
and documented cases of paranormal activities in the annals
Native American haunting
Before white men appeared in the Valley, there were tales
told amongst the Native-Americans of a Kalapuya goblin, a
fearsome, "iron-hide" entity who roamed the mountains
and prairies of Western Oregon, skulking about to grab and
devour unsuspecting wanderers. Its name was Chuchonnyhoof,
and that name may have been invoked by concerned Indian parents
to keep recalcitrant children in line. "If you dont
behave, Chuchonnyhoof will get you!"
Pioneer early haunting
A site in South Salem has long had a reputation for haunting.
Even before it was investigated officially in1878, the old
house was known to be occupied by ghostly presences, including
a "great yellow dog." Long-vacant of earthly inhabitants
and kept locked up, the house gave evidence to three investigating
parties of paranormal manifestations:
-the sounds of tramping feet in the second story
-a shadowy figure inside the house that appeared and then
-and the sudden apparition of a yellow dog in the street before
Whether this is the same house as that in the Rosedale area
on Bates Road south of Cole which, today, is reported to be
haunted cannot be ascertained. (This is doubtful, as a house
standing in 1878, is unlikely to still be in existence a century
and a quarter later with no residents to keep it in repair.)
The old yellow house on Bates Road has long been known to
be "peculiar." An early resident in the house, when
but five- or six-years-old, reported to her parents she had
seen a strange woman in the yard. It is thought, the youngster
had seen a young mother, and earlier resident, who had died
in childbirth years before.
If there were any site in Salem that should be haunted, its
the location on lower Church Street that served as the towns
hanging ground in the early years. At least four executions
were carried out there on the bank of Mill Creek dated, 1851,1859,
and two in 1865.
The first was a result of questionable justice and could well
have prompted a haunting but, as no residence currently occupies
the property, we can never know if the ghost of William Kendall
still roams the premises. At present, this is the site of
a covered parking lot for the SAIF Building; should there
be any strange activities reported after dark in the parking
structure, it could be a ghostly Kendall still trying to capture
someones attention and protest his innocence. With all
the State and Federal institutions located in Salem - - the
Penitentiary, Insane Asylum, Blind, Deaf and Mute Schools,
Chemawa Indian School, Feeble-minded Institute, and Reform
Schools - - its hardly surprising that some of their
former deceased residents might still be hanging around to
send a tingle up someones spine. Its understandable,
as well, that current officials of those facilities would
be reticent about verifying reports of haunting, but former
employees are less inhibited in their accounts of supernatural
happenings occurring in the various institutions.
Oregon State Prison.
Oregon State Prisons north guard tower has long had
a haunted feeling clinging to it. A former long-time guard
at the Penitentiary, who began work there in 1956, was told
at the time of his employment, that No. 4 Tower had a history
of strange phenomena; while on solitary duty during the graveyard
shift, a guard never felt quite alone - - there was always
the feeling of another presence there with him.And the name
of that shift duty should give a clue to the origin of that
feeling, for the tower is built over the former prison graveyard.
Abandoned in 1917, the area was paved over for a recreation
yard in 1923, and later was the site of the vocation building.
The specter of an old woman has been seen to patrol the grounds
at Fairview, so reports a former employee at the Home. Late
at night the ghost has been observed around one of the cottages
at the school, which opened in 1913 to care for the States
mentally retarded children and adults. A cemetery for the
Institution behind Holderness Cottage was in use for five
years there before being abandoned. Nobody in authority seems
to know what happened to the two dozen bodies buried there,
whether they were exhumed and re-interred elsewhere, or were
simply left there in the old cemetery.A former employee at
Fairview, who worked the graveyard shift at Holderness Cottage,
was witness to one of the restless spirits that roamed the
grounds. While working in the basement lounge of the cottage,
he saw - - on three separate occasions - - a "30-ish"
man passing through the kitchen and lounge area whose description
matched none of the staff then on duty. Nor did the entity
use a key to open any of the locked doors of the facility.
Although the specter seemed unaware of his presence and was
in no way threatening, the young man made it a practice from
then on to avoid working in that particular area. (It should
be noted that Holderness Cottage provided housing for the
more aggressive patients at Fairview.)
The old cistern near Withycombe Cottage on Fairviews
grounds is said to be haunted - - and with good reason. A
Salem resident, who was born on the property during the time
his father served as the schools medical officer, remembers
the tragedy vividly, even though he was very young at the
time. One of Fairviews students went missing in late
November of 1923; it was presumed Hollie Pollock had simply
run away from the Institution. Three weeks later, his true
fate was discovered when bits of his hair and skin came through
the water pipes; his body was found in the schools well,
apparently a drowning victim. Although the old cistern has
long been boarded over, Hollies spirit energy very definitely
still clings to the site. Another former staff member at Fairview
recalls a most unsettling incident when a young resident had
an epileptic seizure while unattended. Someone informed the
staff that the boy needed help but, after he was calmed and
out of danger, the worker was stunned to find that no one
on the staff fitted the details she remembered about her informant.
The description did, however, fit that of the boys mother
- - who had been dead for a number of years. Now that Fairview
is officially closed and access is prohibited to visitors,
the spirits have the place to themselves. A security guard
patrols the grounds to keep watch for intruders, and he has
seen what he believes to be people on the grounds at night,
only to investigate and find no one there.
Two apparitional entities make their home at Hillcrest, the
youth correctional facility south of Fairview. On the third
floor of the present Administration Building, which was once
a girls dormitory, the spirit of an elderly woman roams the
premises. Even those who have not actually seen the apparition
report a "creepy feeling" while on the third floor,
now used only for archives storage.
Some years ago, old pictures of former employees were found
in the basement, and several employees who saw those pictures
immediately identified one of them as the spirit seen patrolling
the third floor. She had been a housemother (or matron) in
charge of the residents housed there, and she had died on
the premises many years earlier.
Another restless spirit at Hillcrest hanging out at the School
Building is believed to be that of Robert S. Farrell, for
whom the High School is named. While serving as Secretary
of State, he was killed in the crash of a light plane in late
October of 1947, along with Governor Earl Snell, Senate President
Marshall Cornutt, and the pilot Cliff Hogue. Farrell may return
periodically to his namesake school to oversee its operation.
Oregon State Hospital haunting
The State Hospital has its share of ghostly visitations, not
surprising considering the disturbed mental condition of most
of its residents, and the fact that many were taken there
under duress. The labyrinth of underground tunnels connecting
the various buildings of the complex on both sides of Center
Street is spooky enough, or so ex-employees and former residents
have reported. Add to that, the strange happenings of :
-doors closing on their own,
-sounds of wailing and footsteps when no one is around to
- "cold spots" in the halls,
-and shadows that persist in corners and doorways but disappear
when looked at directly - -these are sufficient to raise the
hairs on the back of anyones neck. Explained by skeptics
as simply the creaking and idiosyncrasies of old buildings
as they settle, others declare there are definitely spirit
energies still attached to the Hospital, particularly to the
original "J" Building - - which dates back to 1883.
Some of the buildings on the north side of Center Street were
constructed over the abandoned asylum cemetery (including
the Dome Building); when the crematory was installed on the
grounds in 1913, burials in the 30-year-old graveyard ceased
as any subsequent unclaimed bodies were cremated as well as
those previously interred in the cemetery. These remains were
later installed in the Memorial Circle near 25th Street.
Governor's mansion haunted
The ghost in our governor's mansion, Mahonia Hall, appears
with some frequency -- every three of four days at around
7:30 A.M., according to reports from previous owners. The
Fairmont Hill home was built in 1925 by Thomas A. Livesley,
the wealthy hops broker, former Salem mayor and state legislator.
The state came into possession of the mansion in 1986, long
after Livesley ,the first governor, resided there. When Governor
Neil Goldschmidt moved in, he was warned that he could expect
Livesley's specter to regularly appear in the master bedroom
robed in a blue-gray dressing gown. Though Livesley died in
1947, the original owner apparently still feels attached to
his earthly home.
Chemeketa-Court Historic District house haunting.
The old Bush House on Mission Street is said to be afflicted
with spirits, but no one has come forward to confirm that
The Chemeketa-Court Historic District, east of 12th Street,
contains a collection of old original homes dating back to
the 1870s. One home in that area has long exhibited unexplained
-candles lighting themselves at night,
-windows opening and closing on their own,
-poltergeist activities (where objects move around of their
-nightmares afflicting the young people living there,
> and malevolent energies creating dissension in the adult
A succession of home owners fled the property before the evil
spirits were "released."
Another home nearby housed :
-an angry male spirit in the hallway and back bedroom who
stubbornly refused to leave.
-A crying child could also be heard when there was no child
-And the familiar "cold spot" that persisted for
three years before the energies were encouraged to leave.
Still another home in that historic neighborhood presented
a visual image, repeated over and over, of a crime that had
been committed in the house a full century before: a "Dutchman"
strangling his wife.
Madrona area haunting
While the age of a home seems to increase the likelihood of
spirits still in residence, that is not always so. A home
in the Madrona area, built in the 1930s, has had a multitude
of owners and disasters: burned twice, it has each time been
rebuilt. Seven restless spirits have been identified in the
house, all Native-American, for the house was built over a
burial ground which contained the bodies of a group of women
raped and killed by early lawless settlers. One of the entities
still attached to the house, a warrior, guards the area and
refuses to leave; the present owners have long tried to convince
him to move on.
Elsinore Theater haunting.
The current remodeling project on the Elsinore Theater may
or may not dislodge the star-struck entities that reside there.
The shadowy presences seen could be either male or female,
but theyre particularly attracted to live performances
- - never having shown up during the Elsinores brief
run as a movie theater:
-The legendary "cold spot" on stage,
-sightings of people in the scaffolding,
-a mans figure walking into the theater - - not down
the aisle but through the seats,
-dust drifting down from a lighting grid when no one was there
to disturb it,
-and intense feelings of someone beside you when no one was
- - these are the reports of actors, directors, stage hands,
managers, and other theater personnel over the years.
Opened on May 28, 1926, the new Elsinore was a stellar addition
to Salems downtown. The creation of George B. Guthrie,
the theater was built at a cost of $250,000 and declared "the
most beautiful theater in America" and "inspiring
in aesthetic beauty." The male presence has been identified
as Guthrie himself, who still oversees his most glorious achievement
and the productions on its stage. Two female entities connected
with Guthrie - - professionally and martially - - also roam
the theater, but these and other spirits are all happiest
when people are around, either rehearsing for a production
or enjoying a performance.
Pioneer Cemetery haunting
Graveyards have long possessed a reputation for being scary
places to be after dark. In the spring of 2002, a group of
paranormal investigators visited Pioneer Cemetery at night.
Greeted upon entering by an angry spirit perched in a tree,
the group was warned to leave as they were unwelcome on the
premises. Once the spirit was calmed, they proceeded through
the cemetery. Unexplained noises came from the graves, including:
-a clanging sound inside one of the crypts,
-footsteps recorded on the audio equipment when no one was
at that end of the burial ground,
-and a baby crying.
Videos were taken of the strange ethereal presences, often
unseen by the human eye but clearly visible on film. All the
participants in this excursion proclaimed Pioneer Cemetery
a "very busy" place after dark.
So despite Salems lack of ancient history, there are
instances of ghostly visitations. Most of these accounts,
to be sure, are anecdotal but, perhaps in the future, with
the development of more and more sensitive recording instruments,
the phenomena can be visually and auditorially documented.
Written and compiled by Sue Bell, December 10, 2002
Maude Rucker, "The Oregon Trail and Some of Its Blazers"
(NY:Walter Neale, 1930), p. 187
Daily Oregon Statesman newspaper, 18, Jan. 1878, 3:3; Dec.
1923, 1:3; 24 Mar. 1995, 1D
Capital Journal newspaper, 29 Oct. 1947, 1:7 and 28 May 1926,
Susan N. Bell, "The Asylum Cemetery 1883-1913" (Salem:
Willamette Valley Genealogical Society, 1991), p. 15