Heathman Hotel Exterior/Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani

Portland’s haunted places

Three locations with a terrifying history

Have you ever wondered why some moments, both ephemeral and temporary, make you feel unsettled, as if some undetected force is present?

This intuition doesn’t normally come with conscious reasoning, but is our body’s way of telling us that something is off. This instinctive feeling can become deep and sometimes incurable—staying with you from place to place.

In that ethos, we currently find ourselves subscribed to a stretch of Pacific Northwest autumn weather, which brings a wealth of gloomy darkness, saturated greys and harsh shadows to the region. Paired with Portland’s historic indelible folklore, we quickly find plenty of spaces, places and things in October that appear to have a bump in the night written all over them.

Cathedral Park Bridge

One of the more melancholy tales comes from 1949 via the Cathedral Park Bridge, and a horrific teenage kidnapping.

Known for its sweeping gothic arches, Highway 308 and its elongated section above the east shore of the Willamette River commonly frames some of Portland’s more iconic scenic landscapes. While sweeping restoration projects have developed over the years, the park has still retained a rather ghostly chattering effect when occupying the spaces beneath—partly due to the materiality of the bridge and the geometry of its structure.

However, at the time of the Roosevelt High School student abduction, sections of the beach underneath it rife with junk and foliage spreading uncontrollably. Police subsequently found the missing teen seven days later under a pile of driftwood. Now, some 70 years later, it is said that you can still hear a person screaming out for help at night.

In June of 1980, the park decided to seal a time capsule into one of the walls of Memorial Garden with plans for opening it slated for 2030. Given the fascination that people have with both the past and the future, we should be wary of what’s in store.

The Benson Hotel

Simon Benson, the philanthropist who made his mark in the timber industry, is at the center of another eerie materialization.

His iconic “Benson Bubblers” pepper Portland’s downtown streets, his childhood home is stilted and preserved on the corner of SW 11th and Clay. Yet something is left undone—something is still incomplete—with a man dressed in a dark suit coat and hat in a constant state, place and condition of transition.

This takes us to The Benson Hotel, which made USA Today’s list of most haunted hotels in the world. Opened in 1913 and quartered with 287 rooms, Benson successfully ran the operation of the building himself for seven years, establishing a world-class hotel during the first half of the 20th century, which saw periods of prohibition and dramatic social and political change.

A known supporter of prohibition, Benson has been accused of battering guests’ drinks, silently observing ongoings of business travelers in meeting rooms and skirting the boundaries of the hotel’s two chandeliered cathedral ballrooms.

Maybe Benson still disagrees with inebriant behavior, maybe he wants to ensure his hotel retains its venerable demeanor—in either case, if you ever find yourself on the grounds of The Benson Hotel, be mindful of its host.  

The Heathman Hotel

The Heathman Hotel, constructed in 1927, is a 10-story concrete structure wrapped in a brick façade that continues to cause unrest while providing swanky accommodations in a nationally registered historic landmark.

Located at the edge of Portland’s downtown Cultural District on SW Broadway, its connections to the number three and ghostly encounters run extraordinarily deep. Pair these connections with one of the oldest remaining buildings in Portland, and you get a hot spot of activity between its urban intersections.

Despite its zeal and luster, unseen movements continue to assemble, massing in every space of their guest’s occupation. Over the years, stories at the Heathman have continued with a common thread—screams can be heard in rooms ending in the number three. Ultimately, one of these cantilevered spirits exposed its tracery, and a staff member was able to snap a picture. Today, that photo still hangs in the employee break room, encapsulating a vision of the past, cementing its remains.

With guests reporting persistent spiritual misgivings throughout the property, management has yet to uncover its root cause, leaving those who enter to determine how much angst they can handle.

What we have found in these stories, like many, is that dredging up the tales of the past can make their folklore more ambiguous, alarming and chilling than originally perceived. Preparing yourself for the chills that go along with brushes of death, sorrow and obscurity have become all too easy to attain in the origins and traditions of Halloween.