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Saturday, May 30, 2009
I have a vivid childhood memory of my parents taking me to a family restaurant built inside an old house. This was back sometime in the mid-'80s. It was a summer place, likely out on the coast or somewhere along the Columbia River Gorge. I can't remember the name and neither can my mom and dad but one thing sticks out in my mind: the bathroom.
At some point during the meal, I ran upstairs to use the facilities, completely oblivious to what was sitting in an old, claw-foot bathtub in front of the toilet. When I turned around, I found a life-sized dummy in a top hat and tails slouched in the tub, gleefully hoisting a champagne glass. It looked sort of like WC Fields.
I started screaming and ran back to the table. I've told this story to other people who have grown up around Portland. A few of them also remember the restaurant and the mannequin in the bathroom but none of us can remember where the place was or the name.
It's probably long gone by now. Thankfully, the McMenamins empire is around to inspire nightmares in a whole new generation of Oregonians. Each location has at least one creepy mural. The dark halls of the Kennedy School are lined with fuzzy, black and white photos of eerie school kids. Edgefield's corridors contain the same sort of vaguely sinister, blown-up historical photos of its inhabitants during its days as a poor farm.
This freestanding doorway in one of the gardens is pretty disconcerting. It seems to whisper, "Come, children. Pass through this door into a darkly enchanted world, most likely inhabited by the scariest puppets in the Jim Henson Workshop and/or an '80s-era David Bowie dressed in tights. Prepare to "Dance, Magic Dance" FOR ALL ETERNITY! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!
Is that a reference to Labyrynth? Absolutely.
But I think the award for the creepiest bit of decor in all of the McMenamins restaurants should go to a painting at the top of the stairs on the third floor of the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. The original restaurant, built inside a 19th century farmhouse, is now only used for special events and was upsurged by the newer, larger Imbrie Hall Pub out back.
Last summer, I met up with some people out there for dinner. I arrived before everyone else and, with some time to kill, I wandered into the house and started poking around. When I looked up the darkened stairs, for a good five seconds, I was convinced the painting of the girl below was real. While I didn't run out of the house screaming, the incident immediately reminded me of the bathtub dummy. And, yeah, of the twins from The Shining too.
I tried to play a prank on two colleagues during a trip to the Roadhouse a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, someone left all the lights on, thus ruining the illusion. I climbed up to see what the girl is pointing at and a chill made it at least halfway up my spine. The third floor of the roadhouse has a low ceiling and there's only one door. A tiny, old wooden door.
With a deadbolt.
What are the staff keeping in there? A terrible secret? A somewhat terrible secret? Or pot plants?
I think it's pot plants. Or old table cloths.