Steeped in Gold Rush lore, Southern Oregon and Northern California are the site of numerous haunts associated with legends of the Wild West. In mid-July and early August, I embarked on two road trips that took us into the heart of Gold Rush country and straight into the haunted history of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Oregon Caves Chateau, Oregon Caves National Monument
Built in 1934, the Chateau at Oregon Caves is a rustic 6-floor (three stories in the front and six floors in the back) lodge right across from the caves themselves, which you can explore on a guided tour during the summer months. The road to the caves is winding and steep, but its easily accessed every summer by thousands of vehicles filled with families eager to explore the caves.
The exterior of the Chateau is cedar bark, giving it a rustic appearance. Inside, giant log posts support the structure, and the designers brought the outdoors in with wooden beams, stone fireplaces, and wooden floors and staircases. In the lobby, giant windows look out on a vast expanse of towering evergreens.
The Chateau is an old building, and it’s ready for refurbishment. In fact, 2018 is its final summer for a few years. Staff members told us it was closing for the next two years to refurbish it, but it will reopen for the summer season of 2020.
Like many old, rustic buildings, the Chateau has its own haunting tale, which surrounds the rooms on the third floor. Rumor has it that on the third floor, a new bride either jumped or was pushed to her death out a window when she found her new husband in a passionate embrace with a Chateau employee.
Guests and employees report the bride, Elizabeth, as an unhappy and unfriendly ghost who is heard moaning and crying in closets, empty rooms, and hallways on the third floor.
No historical records show of any deaths at the Chateau, and the sad new bride who kills herself is a popular origin story for ghosts in all kinds of haunted locations. So while proof is low, anecdotal reports run high. Many people believe something supernatural occurs on the third floor.
Jim and I stayed in a third floor room (in fact, I was in the room next to where the bride supposedly killed herself). And while I have no proof there is any haunting, there are two incidents somewhat of interest. First, every time I stepped onto the third floor, I was uncharacteristically angry, and that anger continued until I left again. Additionally, when Jim and I were in our room changing clothes so we could go on our cave tour, our door opened itself. That’s not to say it wasn’t improperly latched, but again, it’s interesting but inconclusive.
Regardless of whether the Oregon Caves Chateau is haunted, it is worth a visit just for the cave tour. Tours will be open during construction on the Chateau, and the Chateau re-opens for the summer of 2020. More information: http://www.oregoncaveschateau.com
House of Mystery, Oregon Vortex
If Zak Bagans is to be believed, he is the chosen one because a bird pooped on him at the Oregon Vortex. That’s right – last season Ghost Adventures filmed at this well-known Southern Oregon tourist attraction. As the story goes, the forces in the vortex are so powerful, there are no animals that will come within the most intense sections, which is why a bird pooping on someone is apparently an indication of the supernatural. With me so far?
I kid, Zak Bagans, I kid. Kind of.
But visit the Oregon Vortex we did (I watched the GA about it after my visit). The House of Mystery is a small one-room cabin that slid down a hill, so it’s embedded at a slant in the ground. But, it sits smack in the middle of the Oregon Vortex, a place where mysterious forces screw with physics.
Visitors are only allowed on group tours where scripted guides offer demonstrations to show how people’s height changes on level ground and other funky phenomena. They also tell ghost stories about how it is haunted by John Lister, an owner of the property who is said to have performed hundreds if not thousands of physics experiments at the Vortex, so fascinated was he with the property.
The Vortex is slightly interesting – probably more so with a skilled and entertaining guide, and the physics effects while subtle are interesting. If you’re prone to motion sickness, I recommend avoiding stepping into the crooked house because it can mess with your sense of spatial perception, but if you start to feel wonky, step to the window and look out it at the horizon. It should calm you right down.
I will say that on the property, I definitely felt odd. There was some kind of a shift. My friend Kristen felt something similar; it was as if gravity was a bit heavier there or something. We saw no evidence of ghosts.
The House of Mystery at the Oregon Vortex is worth a visit as a curiosity, but don’t expect a bird to poop on your head unless you, too, are the chosen one.
More information: http://www.oregonvortex.com/
Nestled in Southern Oregon southwest of Medford, Jacksonville is an adorable Gold Rush town that has preserved its historic buildings beautifully. The main drag is now mostly upscale touristy shopping, but it’s cute as can be and gives you a little taste of the Wild West.
The town has haunted trolley tours, and the Jacksonville Inn is reported to be haunted, as well. We didn’t experience anything there, but we had a lovely chat with a man at the historical society who told us all about the town back in its Gold Rush days, and we enjoyed the rustic and beautiful buildings. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the area.
More information: http://jacksonvilleoregon.com/
Wolf Creek Inn, Wolf Creek, OR
Located about 30 minutes north of Grants Pass right along I-5, the Wolf Creek Inn is a historic and picturesque inn on a lovely and peaceful piece of property. It has nine guest rooms, and the owners have done a fantastic job of preserving its historic character, including a room frequented by Clark Gable appropriately called the Clark Gable Room and another frequented by Jack London called – you guessed it – the Jack London Room. Others who have stayed included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, and Orson Wells. And, of course, Karen Frazier. I’m pretty sure they’re going to name a room after me.
The Inn was built in 1883 as a stage coach stop along the Applegate Trail, and it boasts nine guest rooms and beautifully preserved public areas. It also has a restaurant that makes tasty food, and the rooms are, quite frankly, adorable.
It turns out Wolf Creek Inn was another haunt featured on Ghost Adventures last season; I watched it after our trip to see what all the hubbub was about. According to GA, the inn and area are haunted by some kind of vampire creature. So I saw no sign of that in case you were wondering, and if I did, I’d imagine I’m one of the undead now and wouldn’t tell you if I was because I want to be able to surprise my victims. But I digress…
Other reports of hauntings include Jack London, who loved it so much he spent a summer there writing a book, and a female stage coach driver who dressed as a man calling herself One Eyed Charlie.
I was unaware of these legends when I entered the hotel, and the first thing I saw was a woman that was a man. But that was just in my head and I immediately dismissed it until I heard the whole one-eyed Charlie story.
My friend Kristen Gray who was with me on the trip talked to the innkeeper, who took over after GA filmed there. She said things were pretty stirred up for a while and a lot of weird stuff happened, but that she just talked to them as she went about her business and things calmed down.
Points of interest for people interested in ghosts include the Jack London Room, the Clark Gable Suite, and the second floor ballroom.
While we didn’t have any haunted experiences, we loved the hotel. It’s charming, the service is good, and it has really good food. The room rates are reasonable, as well. I recommend going and staying for the charm and history – and maybe a ghost or two.
More information: https://www.wolfcreekinn.com/
I’ve got to say – it seems as if we were unintentionally walking in the footsteps of Zak and the Ghost Adventures gang on our Southern Oregon road trip in early July. Because surprise, surprise; they went to Golden, Oregon, as well.
Golden is a ghost town about five miles from the Wolf Creek Inn along a shady tree-lined country road. It was settled near Coyote Creek during the Gold Rush in the 1840s, first as a gold miners’ camp and then a Chinese miners camp. Later, a Campbellite church was built along with a general store, a school, and a minister’s house.
So picturesque is the abandoned ghost town, Bonanza filmed there (the fake graveyard they added still stands next to the church), and well, so did Ghost Adventures. Guess what I watched when I got home?
Currently, the school, general store, church, outhouse, and minister’s house still stand. You can go in the church and the school, but the other buildings are pretty dicey including an outhouse that’s about to fall over but is shored up by a few long planks. Feel free to use it if you like that sort of thing. (I’m kidding. Do NOT go use the outhouse and say, “Karen Frazier told me to,” or they won’t name a room after me at the Wolf Creek Inn.)
Reports include a dark energy in the church (I bet you can’t guess who, on a certain television show, was possessed from the moment he entered there) and some kids in the schoolhouse. GA also reported some kind of demonic activity in the woods. I saw no evidence of that, but I wasn’t there long.
I thought Golden was lovely and historic. It was picturesque, pretty, and I didn’t experience a thing. That’s not to say you won’t. Go visit. It’s a great little piece of history and a fun ghost town with a few buildings to explore.
More information: https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=189
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA
I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of this place – or at least dedicated ghost people have. It’s on the bucket list of many.
Kristen, Kasci, Rocky, and I went there on a whim since we were sort of in the neighborhood (if you consider being within 118 miles being “in the neighborhood”, which we did) during our early August Northern California road trip.
If you’ve seen the movie Winchester (I just watched it today), you may be familiar with the broad strokes of the legend-y story of Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. According to legend (and the movie), after the death of her daughter and husband, Sarah visited a medium who told her she was cursed by all the people Winchester guns had killed and told to move to California and build a house, never stopping, to keep the ghosts at bay.
The movie takes a bit more license with the story, but legend holds the house to be supremely haunted by both protective and unhappy spirits. There is very little historic fact to uphold the legend; Sarah Winchester was the subject of a ton of gossip in San Jose given the bat crap crazy house she was building, and stories may have arisen from that.
Some historians contend Sarah’s continuous building had nothing to do with ghosts or guilt about the Winchester fortune, and everything to do with her belief in Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry, which actually pretty neatly account for her obsession with certain things like the number 13 and spider webs. One historian insists her obsessive building was to create a giant, Rosicrucian themed puzzle, while another insists her continuous building was an act of charity to keep locals employed. Sarah was notoriously generous with her staff; she paid them well and they were fiercely loyal to her, so not one of them after her death ever confirmed or denied rumors surrounding her and her most interesting house.
With all that said, the house is pretty amazing. It sits right in the middle of downtown San Jose surrounded by the most beautiful gardens, grounds, fountains, and statues. The front façade is a beautiful Victorian style, and it’s only as you walk around the sides and back that you can see all of the various add-ons, styles, and materials as building continued over the decades. At one point, the house was as tall as 7 stories, but the Great San Francisco Earthquake took care of the top four.
I can’t definitively say I had an experience, but from the moment I walked in the energy of the house was disorienting. But it was also hot, narrow, claustrophobic, I hadn’t eaten for hours, and I was probably dehydrated, so….
As we walked through the first few rooms, I grew more and more disoriented, especially once we entered her claustrophobic séance room which was in the exact center of the house. Leaving that room through a closet (because why wouldn’t you exit a room through a closet – I felt like I was going to Narnia), we passed through the bedroom where she died and into a large open area where I experienced a wall of black moving up over my eyes, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I left the tour at that point, went and had something to eat and drink, and felt better as I explored the exterior grounds.
Does that mean I experienced a haunting? Who knows. However, what I will say is one of the employees mentioned sight loss as something people experience in the house. So yeah there’s that.
Should you go? Heck yes because it’s ridiculously cool and a great story! Drink lots of water and understand there’s no climate control in the house. Stay with the tour or you could wander forever, and if you have the money, take the secondary tour (it’s only ten dollars more) which gets you into a lot of extra spaces.
More information: https://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/
Ione Hotel, Ione, CA
What’s a good haunted location tour of the Wild West without at least one brothel? That’s what the current Ione Hotel reportedly once was, with ladies of the evening serving the lonely gentlemen of the California Gold Rush.
The hotel was built in the 1850s as a boarding house for miners and a stagecoach stop, and it has extremely rustic rooms (complete with water closets). In 1910, it was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt. I don’t know when it was a brothel, but claims are it was, and there’s even an image of the madam painted on a brick wall. So there’s that.
One of the rooms supposedly was the sight of a murder during the brothel days and now bears images on the walls and carpets of roses and hummingbirds that won’t go away despite the fact they were never put there and have been painted over repeatedly. I saw them; it was a stretch but it’s a fun legend. There’s also a rumor of a boy drowning in the downstairs well. These are all common stories associated with such buildings. Are they true? No idea.
There are numerous reports of ghostly activity from both guests and employees, but as far as I know, none of us (several of us stayed there) experienced anything except slightly lumpy and uncomfortable beds. I wouldn’t stay there again, but you might have an experience if you visit. If you happen to be in Ione, it’s the only hotel in town anyway. My advice is get your quoted rate in writing and don’t expect anyone to make up your room, be there to give you fresh towels, check you in or out, or anything else. On the plus side, temperatures were about 103, but there were window air conditioning units in the rooms, and there were no bed bugs.
More information: http://www.ionehotel.com/
Preston Castle, Ione, CA
Our final destination on our Northern California haunted road trip is a place many people’s bucket list, Preston Castle (and surprise surprise, guess who’s been there? That’s right! Ghost Adventures way back in the early days). We were there for a ghost conference event to raise money for the Preston Castle Foundation, which seeks to preserve the giant, crumbling castle that was opened in about 1895.
The castle served as a reform school for boys aged 7 to 25, and when they closed it, it was because they built a new version right next door complete with a guard tower, razor wire, and a whole bunch of California condors floating above the property.
Preston Castle sits on a sprawling property with many other buildings associated with the school – all also abandoned years ago. It looms over the city of Ione, a beautiful red brick giant from another time.
The castle is in rough shape which is why preservation is so important. It’s a piece of history, and there are many reports of ghostly activity. There are also a ton of bats and owls and heaven knows what else that makes the castle home.
I didn’t have any experiences at the castle, but I know many people have and it’s such a cool and interesting piece of history (and haunted lore), if you have the opportunity, go. There’s a small museum on the first floor, and even walking around the outside of the castle is pretty darn impressive. If you are able to go in beyond the museum, I recommend dressing in sturdy shoes and being prepared for dust, bat guano, bats, and owl feces. If the opportunity arises, go.
More information: http://www.prestoncastle.com/