Benson Hotel – Portland, Oregon

Image of the Benson Hotel 1920's in Portland Oregon

The Benson is home to several ghosts. The hotel originally opened in 1913 under the name “The New Orleans Hotel” but was later named the Bendon hotel when Simon Benson purchased it in 1914. Simon Benson the teetotaler that owned the hotel was known to be well dressed and perceived as upper class. It is reported that Benson still haunts the hotel. USA Today reports that Benson’s ghost is sometimes seen in meeting rooms but is mostly known by his penchant for knocking over visitors’ drinks. Maybe this is related to the prohibition era he lived through. Allegedly a young boy maybe aged 3 to 4 and a woman wearing a turquoise dress also haunt the hotel.

Although there are no reports of this ghost The Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell died in his room while staying at the Benson on November 12, 2008.

Cathedral Park – Portland, OR

In 1949 the murder of a Roosevelt High School girl occurred at Cathedral Park. This park has been reported to be haunted since that date. Several people have reported hearing a woman’s scream come from the park only to find no one there. Have more stories or information about this haunting? Please let us know in the comments.

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

History and Haunting of The White Eagle Saloon in Portland, OR

White Eagle Saloon image from early 1900's

On Russell Street, the White Eagle Saloon has been serving drinks to the community of Portland since 1905. Today, the building stands a regular hot spot on the Eastside of Portland for musicians and travelers alike. Notably marked on the National Register of Historic Places, the building has acquired a set of ghost stories and tales that expands over a century. Polish immigrants, William Hryszko and Bronisław Sobolewski, opened the saloon with intent to help serve other Polish immigrants around them. Yet shortly after opening, the White Eagle Saloon garnished a reputation for itself that would endure a century later: as a puzzle piece of the past in the Albina district. Prostitutes, kidnappings and an opium den are some of the rumors circling what the building, possibly, could have hidden within the walls. The mysterious and mischievous past are never far behind us, and many who stay at the hotel today experience frequent paranormal activity. Stories surrounding the saloon aren’t soon to die, and neither are the spirits still roaming the grounds. 

Oregonian newspaper clipping from early 1900's about Polish Society not being anarchistic

Shortly after opening, the White Eagle Saloon made headlines regarding who occupied the building and what it stood for. Multiple publications in the Oregonian helped to circulate rumors. The Saloon was thought to be an opium den, a brothel, the headquarters for an anarchist group or possibly all three combined. In June of 1906, press surrounding the White Eagle alerted the Secret Service to investigate the happenings within the saloon, believing the Polish members were planning to assassinate President Theodore Roosevelt. Although cleared after investigation, Portland natives were wary of the White Eagle Saloon after this press, which helped secure the saloon’s reputation on the mischievous side. Later that same June, the Oregonian printed an article clarifying that the White Eagle Saloon had, “been misrepresented by enemies”. (1) The Polish immigrants were often thought of as anarchists. Perhaps other members of the community saw them as violent members, as it was reported that many disturbances, such as beatings and brawls, occurred within the property. The Polish immigrants who came to Portland created a circle where they could retain their traditions and share their faith with other Poles. Many of these disturbances were due to politics or religion, as any Pole who did not believe in the Catholic Church was considered an anarchist (1) and one of the founders, Broinslaw “Barney” Sobolewski, was also the Minister of Justice on the Polish Cabinet (7). Regardless of the disturbances within the Polish community, the Saloon stood as meeting hall and refugee for Polish immigrants (3) where, “an immense emblem, a Polish eagle with the American and Polish flags underneath, occupies a prominent place on the wall.” (1)

newspaper clipping early 1900's about a war on vices such as prostitution being planned by the US government.

The White Eagle underwent a remodel from a wooden structure to a brick building, and beginning in 1914 lodging was offered. The original intent Hryszko had to serve their Polish community proved true, as a census taken in 1920 showed that all the guests at the White Eagle were Polish men. (2) Although there is no substantial evidence to prove that the White Eagle Saloon was also a brothel along with the offered lodging, that is not to say that “working women”, or prostitutes, did not frequent the rooms available to rent on the second floor. Proof that prostitution existed in this way on the streets of Portland is shown in an Oregonian article from October of 1917. The article discusses cracking down on prostitution, and that the policy involves, “not only in eliminating regular houses of prostitution, but in checking the more or less clandestine class that walks the streets, and is apt to frequent lodging-houses and hotels”. (4) With Prohibition beginning in 1917, the saloon began to offer “soft drinks”, but it is largely eluded that regular activities were engaged in within. 

Gritty stories surrounding shanghai-ing patrons and enslaved women in the basement have circled the saloon for decades, with little truth ever found behind them. Tim Hills, a historian who researched the origin of the White Eagle, clarified that, “the opening in the basement that is usually identified as the shanghai tunnel is actually a coal chute leading to a trap door in the front sidewalk”. (2) Not only this, but Shanghai activity decreased at the turn of the century, making those dark rumors difficult to believe – thankfully. Nevertheless, rumors of spirits from the shanghai tunnels continue to proliferate even as recently as to my last visit to the bar in late 2019. When asked about the haunted hotel the staff reported that several ghosts from the tunnels have been heard over the years.

It’s natural for a destination of this notoriety to be believed to be haunted. The White Eagle Saloon was a notable location for dozens over the decades, and the idea that spirits of the dead are still attached to the building is not a unique idea. There are a couple of prominent ghosts known to haunt the grounds, with other ghosts poking fun at current hotel guests. Recounting’s of the tales vary in dates, names and other details. With something as intangible as ghosts, these differences are bound to appear. It has been reported that a prostitute named Rose met an untimely fate within the walls of the saloon. The general tale is that Rose was a favored and frequent prostitute around the area, who was often at the White Eagle. Sadly, a customer happened to fall in love with her and schemed up a plan for the two of them to run away together. Hoping to convince her to run away with him, he met up with Rose one night, pleading with her to leave her life of prostitution. Rose refused his advances and chose to remain. In desperation and anger, whether she was pushed down the stairs or stabbed to death in her room, the man then killed Rose. Guests at the hotel reported having seen an apparition of a beautiful woman, with some experiencing the feeling of being touched while in their beds. (5) While the spirits of multiple prostitutes may be tied to the saloon, guests have been reported to experience a run-in with some sort of female energy. Local staff report that most of the activity is rumored to come out of Room #2 in the hotel where she allegedly frequently stayed.

Another prominent ghost is a man rumored to be named Sam Warrick. (6) The tale surrounding Sam is that he was born on the second floor, believed to be birthed by a prostitute. Orphaned at birth, Sam grew up in the White Eagle trading his services for room and board. It is reported that he was a bartender amongst other jobs at the White Eagle. The saloon would be his final resting place, as he never moved away and eventually passed away in his room. Some of his possessions are said to still be in the guest rooms, appearing to have been moved on their own. It’s told that Sam is one of the faces you can see in the old photographs hung upon the walls on the White Eagle, keeping a dutiful eye on his forever home. 

A quick check on youtube has several paranormal investigators who have stayed at the hotel with various measurement tools. Their reports vary and some even report that room 3 has more paranormal activity than room 2. If you get the chance to walk the halls you will see why this hotel maintains such a vibrant haunted past. It is truly spooky in the hotel although it does maintain a warm vibe regardless of the low lighting, creaky stairs and stories of hauntings.

Perhaps it’s the spirits of Bronislaw Szelaszkewiez and William Hryszko that roam the halls, as their spirits are no doubt also tied to the White Eagle Saloon. Regardless of the truth, which many may never truly know, these tales that come from the White Eagle Saloon is an honor itself to the significance the building has had in Portland. The White Eagle Saloon has seen over a century of happenings occur within its brick walls, fluctuating between a safe haven for immigrants or a final meeting place for some souls. Spirits are still welcoming new guests, so feel free to book one of the original boarding rooms any night of the week and test it yourself. If you are brave enough perhaps add the Stanley hotel and Crescent hotel to your list as well, those are certainly on mine!

Oregon has several other haunted hotels also worth investigating including Hood River, Oregon’s Hood River Hotel and The Gorge Hotel.

Index 

  1. Article: The Oregonian, June 25, 1906 “Polish Society Not Anarchists”
  2. Article: Hills, Tim. “Oregon Places: Myths and Anarchists: Sorting out the History of Portland’s White Eagle Saloon.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 101, no. 4, 2000, pp. 520–529. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20615097.
  3. Article: The Oregonian, “White Eagles True Story”, Sep 27,2001 
  4. Article: The Oregonian, Oct 13, 1917, “Vice War Planned” 
  5. Ghost Hunting Oregon by Donna Stewart 
  6. Ghost Hunters Guide to Portland the Oregon Coast by Jeff Dwyer 
  7. Article: “Journal of the American-Polish Chamber or Commerce and Industry June/July 1921” 
Atlas of Lore #1
Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends: The Legendary Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, Oregon

The city of Portland, Oregon is known in modern times as America’s most “livable cities,” but it wasn’t all too long ago that the seedy underbelly cause it to be one of the most dangerous port cities on the west coast—possibly even the entire world. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the ports of Portland saw all of the criminal traffic that filtered through from the ships that docked with supplies—every time a new ship hailed the arrival of the opportunity to make money. Drinking, prostitution, and general criminal activity reigned supreme due to this exceptionally active port.

The Shanghai Tunnels in Portland are talked about all over the world—they’re often said to be one of the most haunted places in all of America—and their dark, creepy nature draws in the skeptics and phobophiles (someone who loves dark, nightmarish, and macabre things) alike. The tunnels are located under the streets of the old town and the tunnels were in constant use for nearly a century, between 1850 and 1941 with illegal activity including human trafficking and prostitution. So many people died in these cheerless, filthy tunnels which visitors believe have left the ghosts of their tormented spirits behind. Nowadays, tourists are led through these dreary tunnels; many investigating the possibility of hauntings, where they hear disembodied voices, moaning, and screaming.

The Shanghai Tunnels of Portland

Downtown Portland has more of a draw than the simple shops and restaurants that tourists tend to enjoy visiting, in fact, there is something that lies just below their feet that they might not even be completely aware of. The 150-year-old tunnels that connect the basements of the city’s oldest buildings to the Willamette River and Portland’s own Chinatown are known across the world, but at the same time, there is a mystery and ambiguity to them. It’s said that the tunnels were originally built by Chinese workers during the time when Chinatown was the center for trade business. They were designed for transporting goods from cargo ships to the inner city so that the crews of the ships could avoid the hassles of traffic within the inner-city—this was excellent for the businesses of Portland because many of them used their basements to store their goods, which meant their deliveries would be sent directly to their storage space.

The Criminal Underground

Shanghaied Sailors

Once a small town, the port of Portland was quite large and was able to host several ships—these ships would have sailed for long periods of time to cross the Pacific Ocean before they would be able to unload in Portland. This long travel time meant that they had quite a bit less downtime after their months at sea and would spend most of their time in bars and saloons, drinking or fighting. Some of them took this downtime as an opportunity to abandon their career at sea, because of their increased fear of death by disease or injury. This abandonment of their post meant that ship captains would be left with a post unmanned and an inability to leave port without filling this position—the shadier of these captains would use crooked tactics to “shanghai” replacement sailors, capturing them through the tunnels and paying $50 a head for each man.

The way it was made possible, is that any man looking to make a quick buck would watch men who were drinking alone, then creep into drug their drinks—after the lone-drinker was sufficiently drugged or unconscious, they would be abducted and carried through the series of tunnels that led to the waterfront. These poor unsuspecting men would awake once they were at sea, with no way to escape and having been sold to the ship’s captain as slave labor—the only choices they had were to work or die of starvation. While it may seem as if it’s no more than a cautionary tale, but these stories are backed up by real evidence and are trusted as fact.

Cannibalism

There have also been some incredible tales regarding the shanghaied victims—disturbing tales of ship crews eating some of them—with trapdoors and pits within the tunnels filled with corpses. There is particular reference to the local legend of Bunko Kelly, the Kidnapping King of Portland, as being the first local reference to the plague of cannibalism.

Human Trafficking and Prostitution

Eventually, men traveling alone became wary of Shanghaiers and as a consequence became more difficult to abduct—instead these Shanghaiers began kidnapping women instead, since solo women who frequented drinking establishments were easy prey. Many such women had trapdoors opened out from under them and they would fall into the tunnels without any possibility of getting back out. These women were abducted into prostitution rings and ended up being held as groups in cages over long periods of time, which gave them enough time to secure buyers outside of Portland.

The Mob and Prohibition

During the days of prohibition, the Shanghai tunnels became an underground expressway—they would be used to transport shipments of liquor and spirits from ships on the Willamette River to bars, hotels, and taverns all over Portland. Bootleggers used the tunnels to conduct their illegal activities away from the eyes of police and prying eyes, but law enforcement would regularly raid bars making the day to day operations impossible for bar owners. In an effort to get around those difficulties, they would stash their liquor supply deep in the tunnels in order to avoid arrest for maintaining a supply of alcohol—this led to hidden doors being installed within bars so that when they were raided, there was an escape route until the police officers would leave the premises.

The Hauntings in the Tunnels

Unsurprisingly, these tunnels and their history of abduction, abuse, and corruption has caused them to be of huge interest to historians as well as the supernatural and paranormal investigators as well. To be honest, there is no better venue for ghosts than the musty, neglected, underground sites of this century-old criminal underground. The Northwest Paranormal Investigations teams have declared the Shanghai Tunnels to be the most haunted location in all of Oregon—and the Cascade Geographic Society regularly offers the “Shanghai Tunnels Ghost Tours,” as well as the “Heritage Tour.”

First-Hand Experience

In 2013, Ghost Mine hosts Kim Lunman and Patrick Doyle decided to conduct a ghost hunt inside of the tunnels due to the sheer number of reports of paranormal activity. Many visitors have shared that while on tours they have experienced ghostly encounters both in and around the tunnels—it’s common for them to report the sounds of people crying, moaning, and screaming while in the tunnels, but there are also experiences from the locals. In the nearby tavern and pizzeria, there have been reports of hearing, seeing, and smelling odd things during their visit to the business.

Dark Dreary Tunnel
Photography by Casey Horner

Experiences of Claustrophobia in the Cinema

While these movies might not exactly be about Portland’s infamous Shanghai Tunnels, they are great horror movies that give us that claustrophobic feeling and send chills down our spines. We invite you to check them out and let us know what you think!

White Eagle Saloon & Hotel – Portland, Oregon

Date of Establishment & Haunting

Established in 1905, the White Eagle Saloon & Hotel has been haunted for nearly a hundred years.

Name

McMenamins White Eagle Saloon & Hotel

Physical Description

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Room 2 of the White Eagle Hotel

A two-story building lacking much in the way of fancy architecture sits as a relic of a different time, yet is not lost in the more modern era, now stands covered in sprawling ivy. With a saloon on the first floor, hotel rooms overlook the street where anyone might spy the famous ghost of Rose.

Origin & Location

Said to be one of the most haunted hotels in Portland, Oregon, the White Eagle Saloon & Hotel is known to have been haunted by the ghost of a prostitute named Rose. Murdered by a jealous lover in the 1920’s she has roamed the halls of the hotel ever since; she’s frequently spotted in room 2 of the hotel.

Mythology and Lore

There’s a lot of history attached to this historically haunted hotel–check out this article to learn more!

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Is there anything we missed about the White Eagle Saloon and Hotel? Let us know in the comments section below!