Spooky Portland: A grisly murder, a haunted castle, bodies in the Keller!

Spooky Portland: A grisly murder, a haunted castle, bodies in the Keller!

PORTLAND, Ore. - Halloween is upon us, and while many may have heard about Stumptown's history of shanghaiing, there are other dark tidbits of Portland history that aren't quite as known. You may have passed by these landmarks and neighborhoods without ever knowing the heartache and horrors that occurred there in the past.

The Keller Auditorium - 222 SW Clay St.

History’s most fatal plague, the Spanish Flu, took hold of Portland twice between 1918 and 1923, with the deadliest period running the last two and a half months of 1918, when nearly 1,000 Portlanders perished from the disease. During the initial outbreak, which killed as many as 25 people daily, city leaders were forced to use the Civic Auditorium (now the Keller Auditorium) as a makeshift hospital and morgue.

Hoping to stem the outbreak, Portland Mayor George Baker ordered all public meetings off-limits, including school, church or outdoor gatherings, off-limits, for fear that the flu would spread. The city required that quarantined homes place large red cards in their windows to warn others and even considered requiring that masks be worn by citizens. 

The final death count for the Spanish Flu in Portland topped 1,500, which would be comparable to the deaths of 3,300 Portlanders today.

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Multnomah Field - 1844 S.W. Morrison St.

Before PGE Park, before Civic Stadium, there was Multnomah Field. Constructed in the late 19th Century between what are now Burnside and Taylor streets and 18th and 20th avenues, Multnomah Field offered a running track, the Multnomah Clubhouse and the massive Exposition Center, which took up nearly four square blocks and stood three stories tall.

At 12:50 a.m. on July 14, 1910, the Exposition Center caught fire and spread so quickly that residents of the area were forced to evacuate in nothing but their sleeping attire. Pandemonium soon took hold as looters raided residences and businesses, while the cries of nearly 200 horses and dozens of dogs caught in the blaze filled the night air.

Thousands of Portlanders gathered to watch the inferno and the explosions caused by igniting fuel reserves. The final survey of the damage found more than a dozen buildings spread across seven city blocks destroyed but, fortunately, only two lives were lost.

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Charles Henry Piggott's Mt. Gleall Castle - 2591 S.W. Buckingham Ave.

Portland industrialist Charles Henry Piggott was a man of many interesting beliefs. He believed doctors should be paid only if their patients were well, that lazy people should be ground up into fertilizer and that bathing more than once a month could be fatal. But his lasting, and strangest, impression upon Portland is his Mt. Gleall Castle, which sits on Buckingham Avenue in the West Hills, overlooking Portland State University.

Piggott designed the castle and built it in 1892 without the benefit of right angles or consistent shapes between rooms. His favorite room was what he called his "sanctum sanctorum," which sat atop the home’s turret and was a room from which women were excluded. After only a year in the home, Piggott was forced to move out, as he couldn’t afford to live there any longer.

For years afterward, Piggott’s castle sat empty and was explored by kids who often claimed to have encountered paranormal occurrences there, and the home gained a reputation as being haunted. In 1920, Piggott claimed that no occupants of the home that he built can be happy there, as they will be tormented by his spirit guardians who curse his beloved castle.

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St. Johns - Eight blocks north of the St. Johns Bridge, off St. Johns Avenue

On the morning of Aug. 5, 1949, Roosevelt High School sophomore Thelma Taylor disappeared as she walked to a friend’s house. Despite being missing for six days, Taylor’s family held out hope for her safe return - until police arrested 22-year-old transient Morris Leland on a charge of auto theft.

Leland subsequently admitted to a heinous crime of which he had not even been a suspect: the murder of Taylor. Morris led police to the site of the crime, eight blocks north of the St. Johns Bridge, in a wooded area just off St. Johns Avenue. Leland had taken Thelma by force and driven her to the area, where he held her captive for more than 24 hours. Finally tiring of Thelma’s company, Leland stabbed her in the heart and crushed her skull with a piece of scrap metal that he had found.

Upon the discovery, Portland Police Bureau Chief of Detectives William Browne described the killing as "the most brutal murder I’ve ever heard of." Leland was tried and convicted of Taylor’s murder. Upon hearing the verdict of death, Leland reportedly yawned. When later asked what he thought of the verdict, he was quoted as saying, "That’s business."

Prior to his execution, Leland blamed the crime upon his self-diagnosed mental illness, forever ensuring that his motive for the crime would remain a mystery.

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- Eric Holmes is a freelance writer who lives in southeast Portland. He is currently finishing the Master's program in Writing at Portland State University and can be reached at holmesea@hotmail.com.