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Haunted Salem

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 of Salem.

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 don’t 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 faded away,
-and the sudden apparition of a yellow dog in the street before the house.

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.

Hanging grounds
If there were any site in Salem that should be haunted, it’s the location on lower Church Street that served as the town’s 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 someone’s 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 - - it’s hardly surprising that some of their former deceased residents might still be hanging around to send a tingle up someone’s spine. It’s 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 Prison’s 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.

Fairview haunting
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 State’s 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 Fairview’s 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 school’s medical officer, remembers the tragedy vividly, even though he was very young at the time. One of Fairview’s 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 school’s well, apparently a drowning victim. Although the old cistern has long been boarded over, Hollie’s 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 boy’s 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.

School haunting
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 make them,
- "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 anyone’s 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 fact.

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 phenomena:
-candles lighting themselves at night,
-windows opening and closing on their own,
-poltergeist activities (where objects move around of their own volition),
-nightmares afflicting the young people living there,
> and malevolent energies creating dissension in the adult relationships.
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 present.
-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 they’re particularly attracted to live performances - - never having shown up during the Elsinore’s brief run as a movie theater:
-The legendary "cold spot" on stage,
-sightings of people in the scaffolding,
-a man’s 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 present
- - 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 Salem’s 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 Salem’s 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, 4:1

Susan N. Bell, "The Asylum Cemetery 1883-1913" (Salem: Willamette Valley Genealogical Society, 1991), p. 15


Hanging Tree
Salem's hanging tree
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State Penitentiary

State Penitentiary
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Aerial photo of Fairview
Aerial photo of Fairview
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Tombstone with spirit above it

Tombstone with "spirit" above it
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Haunted school
Haunted school
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Thomas A. Livesley
Thomas A. Livesley
still frequents Mahonia Hall
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Haunted house

Haunted House
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Elisnore Theater

Elsinore Theater
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Mr. and Mrs. Guthrie

Mr. and Mrs. Guthrie - good souls
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Spirits or spots on
a lens?
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Tombstones (Note floating ethereal presence at top right)
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