While some Oregonians bemoan autumn’s shortening days, spooky folks like me welcome the long nights and ghostly visits. From Jacksonville to Astoria, Oregon is filled to the brim with pioneer cemeteries and haunted old buildings worth exploring when the wind whispers on a cool, brooding day. And I know, because my deep dive into Portland’s cemeteries led me to co-write a book on them. Check out these local tours to get into the Halloween spirit, outings that combine a history lesson with the presence of the dead — but not departed.
Sons Carry on Ghostly Tours
Salem journalist Tim King hosted a local ghost tour starting in 2014 and was the author of Haunted Salem, Oregon. When he died in 2020, his sons Austin and Christian decided to carry on. This year the brothers pledge to make the tours even more exciting.
Some dark incidents from Salem’s past include public hangings in downtown’s Pringle Park and terrible fires. Austin created the guided walking tour from his father’s notes, memories of taking the tour and his own research. The tour promises “mass disaster, sudden death, murder and ghosts.” Typically, they offer a 1.5-hour Friday night tour and a one-hour Saturday tour, which is a bit easier of a walk. Check Tim King’s Salem Ghost Tours for the current schedule.
Shanghai Tunnels and Bubbly Ghosts
US Ghost Adventures operates a Portland Ghosts tour that visits eight of the Rose City’s most specter-acular spots. The basic tour lasts an hour and covers about a mile of Old Town. If that’s not enough, you can sign up for the extended tour to check out four more. You might go deep beneath Old Town buildings to see the dark Shanghai Tunnels, reportedly the site of the infamous mid-19th-century practice of Shanghaiing — that is, drugging an unsuspecting young man, then selling him into servitude to a ship captain. Other haunted stops include the Roseland Theater, formerly an Apostolic church and site of a 1990 murder involving counterfeit tickets, and the historic Benson Hotel. (If you see the ghost of Simon Benson wandering the halls, you can thank him for his eponymous bubblers, the public drinking fountains he donated to the city.)
Ghostly Schooners and Bootleggers
People visit the Oregon Coast to chill out and stroll on the beach, especially Lincoln City’s 7 miles of sandy coastline. You might just catch a glimpse of the Ghost Schooner while you’re beachcombing for the town’s famous glass floats. Ghost tours of Lincoln City’s historic Taft District will introduce you to spectral bootleggers and even a mystery celebrity as you walk the coastal town’s dark streets. The Haunted Taft walking tour departs every Saturday in October (except for October 1), covers a mile and lasts about 1.5 hours. The route can be accessible upon advance request.
Creepy Art Critics and Haunted Trolleys
A small historic gold rush-era town just north of Ashland in Southern Oregon, Jacksonville claims the first group of buildings in Oregon to enter the National Historic Landmark Register. Perhaps the town is so rich in spirits because minimal modification of these buildings has allowed energy to accumulate, theorizes Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville, which leads haunted history tours in the area.
Monthly ghost tours — which involve about a mile of walking — run May through October, with multiple one-hour tours going out each evening. Reserve well ahead of time at Historic Jacksonville Haunted History Tours, as they usually sell out. Participants can choose between the Courthouse tour — featuring stories of old brothels, epidemics and hangings — or the Britt Hill tour, which reveals stories of arson, saloons and Oregon’s first Chinatown.
Kingsnorth also collects tales from locals who have seen ghosts or ghostly activities. On the Britt Hill tour, for example, participants learn about a spirit who provided art critiques in the home of two artists. “They would come into the studio in the morning and they might find paintings turned to the wall,” says Kingsnorth. “Or they might find a picture occasionally enhanced, particularly nudes.” The tours evolve as more ghosts come out of the woodwork.
If you prefer to ride rather than walk, reserve your spot on Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s Haunted Trolley Tour. The tours run Oct. 28-30, 2022 and promise a lighthearted, not-too-gory approach to hauntings with special effects and interpreters.
Haunted Houses and Tragedies
Willamette Falls has been an important Native fishery for salmon and toothy, eel-like lamprey for more than 8,000 years. Then white settlers established a lumber mill in 1829, and soon Oregon City was Oregon’s territorial capital.
Tour guide Rocky Smith has collected so many ghost stories about his highly historical hometown that he offers four different guided tours — two of sites downtown and two of sites in the historic McLoughlin neighborhood. Two-hour walking tours run through Halloween and cover 1 to 2 miles. (The tours include stairs, so visitors may text Smith ahead of time at 503-679-4464 to arrange an alternative route.)
Depending on which tour you join, you may hear stories of a little girl and a boat captain who haunt the Francis Ermatinger House — built in 1843, Oregon City’s oldest dwelling — or the tragic 1854 explosion of the steamboat Gazelle. You couldn’t ask for a more knowledgeable guide. Smith has run Northwest Ghost Tours since 2006, is a two-term city commissioner and is a director of the Oregon Ghost Conference.
Looking to make your holidays even more creepy? Smith has you covered. He’ll run special Spirits of Christmas Ghost Tours on the second and third weekends in December, which include tales of curious Victorian holiday traditions, Oregon Christmas tragedies and seasonal cookies.
Butcher Basements and Talking Tombstones
On Oregon’s North Coast, tour owner Diana Gulley lost one of her tour guides. He “literally ran out of the room we call the ghost room and didn’t come back, call or even text,” says Gulley. “He saw one of the spirits materialize in front of him.” Yep, he was so scared he took off running.
So where is this terrifying place? Believe it or not, it’s a butcher shop in Astoria. Gulley opened Gulley’s Butcher Shop downtown in 2016. While using the basement as her office, she kept seeing moving shadows and hearing doors closing when nobody was around. So she called in ghost investigators. They found so many spirits that Gulley decided to launch a public Astoria Ghost Tour.
“I set everyone up with an EMF [electromagnetic fields detector],” says Gulley. “We wander around in the dark and look for spirits. I tell ghost stories about my spooks, then they usually come out and meet the guests.” For larger groups, Gulley invites a tarot reader along.
Guided walking tours of the haunted basement and part of Astoria’s famed underground passageways last 45 minutes and run Thursday through Sunday.
If you prefer your hauntings above ground, Clatsop County Historical Society hosts a Talking Tombstones annual tour at a different local cemetery each year. Costumed docents take on historic personas while standing near their graves. This one-day free event runs dawn to dusk on the last Sunday of October.
In Bend, Jools Sinclair, local author of the Forty-Four paranormal mystery book series, and her daughter Meg Kehoe — who writes mysteries under the name Meg Muldoon — display their storytelling skills in real time. After talking about starting a ghost tour for years, the pair began Bend Ghost Tours in 2021.
Though Bend was incorporated only in 1904, ghosts abound, they say. “There’s a ghost story everywhere,” Kehoe says of specters haunting downtown buildings. Judging by how much people love Bend — the population increased almost 42% from 2010 to 2020 — it’s no wonder spirits want to stick around.
The tour covers local spirits including the shadowy Top Hat Man, Lady in Green and Gretchen, who haunts the Pine Tavern, Bend’s oldest restaurant. Gretchen’s paranormal tricks include relighting extinguished hurricane lamps and repeatedly turning the TV on. Some people have seen her silhouette, complete with a Dutch-style hat.
Tours run March through mid-November (depending on the weather), last about 90 minutes and cover a 1.2-mile loop. They include a mix of standing, sitting and slow-paced walking, and they are accessible to all mobilities. Kehoe recommends the regular tour for ages 8 and up. A younger kids’ tour called Light on Frights runs from mid-September through Halloween.