At least two men have plunged to their deaths from upper stories in Salem; one was a deranged long-ago Woolen Mill employee who is said to have run the length of the long top story and burst from the window; the more recent was a robber trying to escape the police in Gatke Hall on the Willamette University campus. Running feet and shadows are still sensed in upper levels of the mill; the robber has been seen, disoriented and disappointed, on the hard ground where he landed.
These are some of the tales told on a Spirit Expeditions tour, a business that arrived in Salem in June of this year. Participants learn about a man who was unjustly lynched on the courthouse grounds in March of 1875 and shoves and scratches people who lunch on benches there to this day; they hear of a woman chased for blocks by her husband, then stabbed and killed on the ornate steps of the Oregon Court of Appeals.
And, for those who don’t know it, Salem has its own serial killer, Jerry Brudos. The tour takes participants to the site at which he left a victim in the 1960s, the swirling waters of Sheldon Ditch beneath the Liberty Street Overpass, a location which also saw two men murdered in 1979.
Dawane and Denise Harris lead the expeditions; he’s an extroverted skeptic who majored in biology and history; she’s a shy “believer” and spirit medium who will give readings to tour members on request. Participants are outfitted with “the same equipment as seen on the TV ghost hunting shows.” These include copper witching rods, radios with the ‘scan’ disabled, digital laser thermometers to identify sudden drops of temperature and other paranormal-sensing equipment.
Spirit Expedition tourists learn huge amounts about Salem’s past, thanks to Dawane’s love of history. He tells of thousands of Chinese who lived in Salem in the 1880s and 1890s but weren’t allowed on the street after dark. He relates the tale of the underground tunnel built to spirit the Governor to the State Hospital in case of attack and another tunnel to convey cash from the thriving Reed Opera House box office to the Capital Center.
There was a “tent city” for several blocks just west of Commercial, an outdoor ghetto for the very poor from 1903 through 1917, where people in overcrowded, unsanitary, unprotected conditions died at a rate of one every three days. Dawane can describe it.
And he’ll tell you about the guests of today’s Grand Hotel, who still occasionally smell the smoke and hear the screams of people killed in the former Marion Hotel, which burned to the ground in 1979.
The Harris family gave similar tours in Tombstone Arizona for eight years and hopes to expand the Salem business to Albany and McMinnville. They currently offer Ghost Cruises on the Willamette as well as Ghost Trolleys in both Salem and McMinnville. They recently received permission to conduct paranormal explorations in historic Pioneer Cemetery.
Tours can be booked by visiting cruiseofthedead.weebly.com or by calling 503-383-2368.