Archive for February, 2016

Ghosts of the White Eagle Saloon

Posted in Commentary, History, Investigations, Locations with tags , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2016 by S. P.
White Eagle

White Eagle Saloon (Photo: McMenamins)

Located in one of the oldest sections of Portland, Oregon, close to the docks and railyards, the neighborhood around the White Eagle Saloon has held a reputation as rather “rough and ready” for most of its history. As the decades progressed, many of the older buildings around the White Eagle found themselves demolished and the area becoming increasingly industrial. However, in keeping with its tough reputation, the White Eagle soldiered on, continually operating as a bar, but also at times alternately as a brothel, cheap hotel, and rooming house. The building itself is two-story brick, about thirty feet wide, seventy feet long, and forty feet tall. The White Eagle is currently a “hip” corporate-owned saloon hosting live music on the main floor and a small historic hotel on the second floor. Along with continuing to host spirits of the alcohol kind, the White Eagle also, apparently, continues to play host to a number of spirits from beyond the grave.

Ghostly manifestations include disembodied voices and mysterious apparitions. Previous owners and employees reported hearing a woman crying on the second floor, only to find it completely deserted upon investigation. In connection with this voice, there are also reports of a vaguely human, teardrop-like form appearing in one of the second floor windows. Additionally, witnesses have reported hearing voices and people walking around in the main floor bar area while working alone in the basement after closing. One unusual report involves a toilet in the men’s room. Witnesses claim to hear in the quiet after closing footsteps leading to the men’s room, the men’s room door open and close, and then the toilet flushing. The only truly distressing report occurred several years ago when a waitress claimed to have been pushed from behind by invisible handles while going down the stairs to the basement. A bartender and doorman who rushed to assist her claim a mop bucket at the top of the stairs came flying towards them. Not surprisingly, the waitress reportedly quit her employment the following day.

The White Eagle certainly has a reputation as a tough and shady joint. The first bar at the location, B. Soboleski and Company Saloon, open in 1905 in a 1880s wood frame building. The present brick building opened in 1914 with a change in ownership and name to the Hryszko Brothers Saloon. During its heyday, the area teemed with saloons filled with dockworkers, rail workers, sailors, and prostitutes. The neighborhood itself served as a melting pot of Chinese, Russians, Germans, Slavs, and Poles. Many saloons in the area, including the Hryszko Brothers Saloon, were rumored to have tunnels leading directly to the wharfs used to shanghai sailors. Reputedly, prostitutes lured unwary drunks to the basements of the establishments with a promise of fun, where waiting thugs rendered the man unconscious, robbed him, and then used the tunnels to dump him on the streets (if he was lucky) or sell him to sea captains in need of crew (if he was especially unlucky). According to legend, the “shanghai tunnel” at the White Eagle was filled-in during the 1910s. However, the Hryszko brothers’ establishment held a reputation for gambling and prostitution. Even after Oregon Prohibition in 1917 forced a name change to the Hryszko Brothers Soft Drink Emporium, old-timers claimed illegal activity and alcohol continued to flow freely.

In 1938, another name change brought the Hryszko Brothers Restaurant and Beer Parlor and an improved reputation. During World War II the bar became known as the Blue Eagle Cafe and business boomed with workers from the nearby shipbuilding yards. A further change in 1941 ushered in the current name: the White Eagle Cafe and Saloon – reportedly a nod to the white eagle on an early Polish flag. Never considered a great neighborhood, the area around the White Eagle slipped into economic decline during the 1960s, with the White Eagle changing hands from the Hryszkos family to Tony Ferrone and becoming known as a rowdy “biker bar.” Things changed in 1978 when a tool and die maker named Chuck Hughes fulfilled his dream of owning a bar by purchasing and “cleaning up” the White Eagle. He continued to run the White Eagle for many years until it finally passed into current ownership by the McMenamin’s company in 1998.

There are certainly spirits of one kind or another still holding court at the White Eagle. Whether only of the liquid kind or also of an otherworldly nature is left to the decision (and imagination) of the reader…

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