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Friday, October 27, 2006
A Night at the White Eagle - Part 1
The Shanghai Tunnels, Old Town Pizza and Cathedral Park: all locations that immediately spring to mind when locals think of Portland's most haunted places. Perhaps less known is the White Eagle Cafe and Saloon over on North Russell Street.
Bleak tales harken back to when the bar opened its doors over a century ago in 1905. Located close to the waterfront, its clientele mostly consisted of men working down in the shipyards. The White Eagle developed a nasty reputation for brawls and violence. Back in those days, the drivers on a trolley line that passed through the area often called out, "next stop, Bucket of Blood," the bar's nickname, as they rolled up Russell Street. Originally owned by Barney Soboleski and William Hryszko. two immigrants from Poland, the Eagle offered patrons a brothel upstairs and an opium den in the basement. The building was also supposedly connected to an underground network of tunnels leading to the waterfront, linking it to the local legends surrounding "Shanghaied" sailors.
Prohibition drained the blood out of the White Eagle's bucket and it became a neighborhood soda shop. In the '30s it turned into a working class bar serving bottles of Oly and burgers. It remained that way until the '70s when the owners added a stage for live music. The Eagle was taken over by the McMenamins empire in the '90s.
The opium den and the brothel are long gone but at least two employees from the old days are still lingering in the White Eagle's dark corners. Reportedly, a bouncer named Sam died in one of the rooms upstairs. Now his spirit likes to hang around on the main floor, tossing around tissue paper in the bathrooms when he isn't flushing toilets or slamming doors. This may have been the same spirit that supposedly pushed a waitress down a flight of stairs years ago. When two other employees ran downstairs to see what happened, "something" threw a mop and a bucket down at them.
Rose, a prostitute that was killed in the White Eagle by a jealous lover, now lingers on the second floor and, as the stories say, can often by heard crying. One internet account claims that at least one other former prostitute wanders the hallways and likes to throw her arms around unsuspecting men.
Earlier in October I decided I wanted to something "spooky" for Halloween. I put up a poll on the blog and asked readers whether I should go on a tour of haunted buildings around town or spend a night at the White Eagle. The later won, hands down. While I was unable to track down a Ouija board by the time I headed over there last Friday, (I went looking in four different stores around town and couldn't find one), my sister and her boypal dropped off a box of Boo Berry cereal as a joke. At least I wouldn't be checking in without something the White Eagle's spirits might dig.
The two of them hung around for about an hour and we chatted about the place's history over a few rounds. So far, so uneventful. Eventually, they bid me adieu, preferring to spend the night somewhere that doesn't involve potential encounters with dead hookers. Even while packed, the White Eagle is creepier than your average McMemamins. The renovators played up the bar's mysterious past. There's little lighting and an archway leading to the bathrooms is lined with an eerie mural with images of palm readers and magicians. Over the door is a shelf filled with geisha dolls and creepy figurines.
As things began winding down around the bar, I chatted with the staff about the White Eagle's "goings-on." One bartender claimed he hadn't seen anything unusual himself but was still freaked about the "bad things" that had happened on the second floor. He said that he's been told by others that the spirits aren't nearly as active as they once were. Still, he'll hear a story from a hotel patron about something they had seen after a night spent in one the thirteen rooms upstairs. A few weeks ago, one claimed they woke up in the middle of the night to find a semi-transparent dress floating through the wall in front of their bed. Others say they've experienced "cold hands" touching them as they head for their rooms. Also recently, a few people have woken up in the middle of the hallway. That might have more to do with sleepwalking and too many pints of the bar's Hammerhead ale than the hotel's spirits.
As I paid my tab, an older employee wandered over and related an incident that had happened to him one night a few years ago. As he was washing dishes in the bar alone after hours, he caught an imposing figure standing in the doorway across the kitchen. He figured it was his imagination playing tricks but the figure appeared twice more. At that point, he decided to lock up and head for home.
I don't believe in ghosts, or at least I didn't up until this point. Every room on the second floor is named after a lyric from a song. I headed upstairs around a quarter to two and discovered I would be sleeping in the one named for a "Happy Rolling Cowboy." The room is located directly over the stage and it would be another 45 minutes before I would able to get any shut-eye. I passed the time using the bar's wi-fi connection to catch up on a week's worth of Boing Boing and Ain't It Cool News. With trains passing by every twenty minutes with their horns blaring, it was beginning to dawn on me that I wouldn't be getting any sleep.
Around the time the music stopped, I looked over at the Boo Berry. I hadn't noticed the cut-out poster on the back of the box:
And that's the last thing I wanted to see while alone in a now completely quiet haunted hotel. I flashed back to something I had read on the internet earlier in the day. Either Rose or Sam had died in the last room on the left, the one I was now sitting in.
To be continued on Monday...