Archive for the History Category

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…

[©2016 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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Plato on Ghosts

Posted in Commentary, History, Investigations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2014 by S. P.
Plato (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Plato (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

With the spirit realm we are dealing with the completely immaterial. This is the realm of the pure intellect. The rational beings which inhabit this realm include God, angelic beings (angels and demons), and human souls separated from their physical body. These beings have absolutely no material element whatsoever; no parts whatsoever. They are not “energy” since energy is a material phenomenon – in many cases, such as with electromagnetic radiation, we cannot see the energy with our bare eyes, yet it nevertheless remains a thing of the physical realm. Thus, beings of pure spirit cannot be called “energy;” however they do have existence and we are able to study and learn about this existence. While the natural sciences are, by definition, mute on nonmaterial things, we do have two sciences which directly study the immaterial: theology and philosophy. Theology used to be known as the “queen of the sciences” and Aristotle tells us that philosophy, particularly metaphysics (the study of being as such) and epistemology (the study of how we know what we claim to know), establishes the foundation from which all the natural sciences operate. Therefore, these are the sciences to which we should turn in order to learn more about the realm of the immaterial and what it means for an immaterial being to exist.

Perhaps it comes as a surprise to some, but the great ancient philosophers were not silent on the subject of “ghosts.” For example, in his dialogue of Socrates called the Phaedo, Plato specifically mentions how “ghosts” come to exist. Plato held to an idealist epistemology which viewed the world we inhabit as a “reflection” of the actual and unchanging world of “ideals.” Consequently, while holding to belief in the existence of an immaterial and immortal soul, Plato saw the physical body as merely the “container” or indeed the “tomb” of the soul. Death of the physical body “releases” this immaterial soul.

Having been “freed” from the body, the soul’s progress then depends on its connection to the physical world. The soul of a person who did not overly connect himself to the physical world is essentially “freed” of the physical world: “If [the soul] is pure when it leaves the body and drags nothing bodily with it, as it had no willing association with the body in life, but avoided it…A soul in this state makes its way to the invisible, which like itself, the divine and immortal and wise, and arriving there it can be happy, having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear, violent desires, and the other human ills and, as is said of the initiates, truly spend the rest of time with the gods.”[1]

What about the soul of the person who did not work in life to “detach” himself from the physical world? “But I think that if the soul is polluted and impure when it leaves the body, having always been associated with it and served it, bewitched by physical desires and pleasures to the point at which nothing seems to exist for it but the physical, which one can touch and see or eat and drink or make use of for sexual enjoyment…We must believe, my friend, that this bodily element is heavy, ponderous, earthly, and visible. Through it, such a soul has become heavy and is dragged back to the visible region in fear of the unseen and of Hades. It wanders, we are told, around graves and monuments, where shadowy phantoms, images that such souls produce, have been seen, souls that have not been freed and purified but share in the visible, and are therefore seen.”[2]

Interestingly, Plato proposes precisely what many who’ve never heard of him report: “ghostly” activity often seems associated with those who held a strong connection with the physical world in life. A connection indeed appears to exist between one’s attachment to the physical world in life and the likelihood of that person being associated with a “ghostly” presence after death. It logically follows that the more a person was connected to the physical world, the more difficult it would be for that person’s soul to “let go” of the physical world following death of the physical body. Certainly, this doesn’t explain every type of “haunting,” however it does seem to explain a certain type often encountered. At the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of the bigger picture of the Phaedo, which actually involves Plato making a very strong case, based on multiple arguments, for the continued existence of the immaterial and immortal soul following death of the physical body. This is merely one example of how the study of philosophy and theology brings us to an understanding of what the great thinkers of the past believed regarding what we now call “ghosts.” The more deeply we understand precisely what it is that we’re seeking to investigate, the more likely we are to actually understand the results of our investigations.

1. Plato, “Phaedo,” Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, C.D.C. Reeve and Patrick Lee Miller, eds. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 2006), 80e-81a, p. 119-120.

2. Ibid., 81b-d, p. 120.

[©2014 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

The Ghost and the Saint

Posted in History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2012 by S. P.

St. John Bosco (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Not only does Christianity acknowledge the existence of the spirit world, even great saints sometimes experience encounters with “ghosts.” One such saint was John Bosco (1815 – 1888). While a young man, Bosco made an agreement with his friend Comollo that whichever of them died first would give the other some sign as to the state of his soul. As it happened, Comollo’s death came first, on April 2, 1839. The next evening, following the funeral of his friend, Bosco sat sleepless on his bed in the dorm room he shared with twenty other seminarians. At this point, we take up the story in Bosco’s own words:

“Midnight struck and I then heard a dull rolling sound from the end of the passage, which grew ever more clear, loud and deep, the nearer it came. It sounded as though a heavy dray were being drawn by many horses, like a railway train, almost like the discharge of a cannon…While the noise came nearer the dormitory, the walls, ceiling and floor of the passage re-echoed and trembled behind it…The students in the dormitory awoke, but none of them spoke…Then the door opened violently of its own accord without anybody seeing anything except a dim light of changing colour that seemed to control the sound…Then a voice was clearly heard, ‘Bosco, Bosco, Bosco, I am saved.’… The seminarists leapt out of bed and fled without knowing where to go. Some gathered in a corner of the dormitory and sought to inspire each other with courage, others crowded around the prefect, Don Giuseppe Fiorito di Rivolo; thus they passed the night and waited anxiously for the coming of day. All had heard the noise and some of them the voice without gathering the meaning of the words. I sat upon my bed and told my comrades that they had no cause for alarm. I had clearly understood the words; they were ‘I am saved.’ Some had also understood them clearly as I had done, and for a long time afterwards there was no other subject of conversation in the seminary.”[1]

[1] As quoted in: Abbot Alois Wiesinger, Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology (London: Burns and Oates, 1957) 228-229.

Poe Toaster Fails to Show

Posted in Commentary, History, News with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by S. P.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s one, two, three strikes, and you’re out at the ol’ ball game. Apparently the authentic Poe Toaster is no more. As we previously reported, the Poe Toaster who had visited the Baltimore Edgar Allan Poe Memorial on the anniversary of Poe’s birthday every year since 1949 failed to appear in 2010 and 2011. With his failure to appear again this year, it looks like, to quoth the Raven, the tradition is “Nevermore.”

Is It the End of the Poe Toaster?

Posted in Commentary, History, News with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by S. P.

Poe Memorial (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As previously reported (here and here), despite having appeared every year since 1949, for the past two years the mysterious Poe Toaster has failed to appear for his annual ritual at the Edgar Allan Poe monument in Baltimore, Maryland. We are two weeks away from the January 19th anniversary of Poe’s birthday. The question on everyone’s mind: Will he or won’t he show up?

Despite a small band of imitators, Jeff Jerome of the Edgar Allan Poe Society remains convinced the authentic Toaster has not visited for the past two years. Jerome believes if the real Toaster fails to appear this year, the tradition has ended. Considering 2009 (the last visit by the apparently authentic Toaster) marked the bicentenary of Poe’s birth, the Toaster might have decided to end the tradition on this symbolic date.

So, will he or won’t he? We will know for sure in a couple weeks.

There’ll be Scary Ghost Stories…

Posted in History, Locations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2011 by S. P.

Railroad Convict Labor (Image: http://www.learnnc.org)

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago.

Gentle readers, in the “spirit” of the Season, I present my humble contribution of a “scary ghost story.” Turn down the lights, curl up with your computer in that big comfy chair by the fire and enjoy. Don’t worry, that noise outside is just the wind, or Santa, probably…

The metallic tink of a chorus of pick axes striking rock filled the crisp air like a bizarre industrial age symphony. In the best of conditions building a railroad was hard work. In rough terrain it was hell. This was rough terrain. Had it not been for the winter cold, the laborers would have sworn they were in hell.

In 1883, the directors of the Western North Carolina Railroad were determined to build a line linking Bryson City and points west with Dillsboro and the outside world. They’d be damned if trifling things like mountains or even the lives of workers would stand in their way, especially in the case of the men working to complete the Cowee Tunnel near Dillsboro, North Carolina.

These were no ordinary railroad workers. The area was considered so dangerous, few men signed up for the job. The state of North Carolina came to the aid of the railroad by supplying prison convicts, mostly black, for labor.

The prisoners and their guards camped across the Tuckaseegee River near a hairpin bend which Cowee Tunnel was being built to bypass. Each day groups of twenty prisoners were shackled together in ankle irons and ferried across the river in rafts under the watchful eye of a guard.

On that cold fateful winter morning in 1883, tragedy struck. The river was running high and the current swift that morning. Before they even realized what was happening, the angry river capsized one of the rafts and tossed twenty prisoners and their guard into its frigid waters. Weighed down by the heavy chains, nineteen of the prisoners met a horrific death by drowning. Only one prisoner, Anderson Drake, managed to free himself and rescue the guard, Fleet Foster.

Unfortunately, Drake, unwilling or unable to part with his criminal ways, stole Foster’s wallet during the rescue. What should have been a heroic triumph became brutal punishment when the wallet turned up at the bottom of Drake’s duffel bag. The guards whipped Drake and sent him back to work on the tunnel.

The bodies of the nineteen less fortunate convicts were pulled from the river then hastily buried in unmarked graves on the hillside near the mouth of the tunnel. Since no one much cared about the fate of a few prisoners, their unmarked graves were quickly forgotten as work immediately resumed on the tunnel. Even today, the exact location of the graves remains uncertain.

What seems not so uncertain is the restlessness of their spirits. From shortly after the time of the mishap itself to the present, witness after witness near Cowee Tunnel report hearing unexplained sounds of splashing water, clinking chains and axes, and perhaps most disturbing of all, loud, mournful, pitiful wails of anguish. Do the dead still haunt Cowee Tunnel, seeking to remind us of the presence of their nearby, but neglected, graves?

If you’re brave enough to find out for yourself, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Their excursion train runs from Bryson City to Dillsboro, passing through the infamous Cowee Tunnel. Just to be safe, you might want to keep the windows of your carriage closed…

Merry Christmas and have a spook-tacular holiday!

Sources:

Baldwin, Juanitta. Smoky Mountain Ghostlore. Virginia Beach, VA: Suntop Press, 2005.

Osment, Timothy N. “Railroads in Western North Carolina.” Learn NC, no date. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newsouth/5503.

Taylor, Troy. Down in the Darkness: The Shadowy History of America’s Haunted Mines, Tunnels and Caverns. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2003.

©2011 S P Schultz, All Rights Reserved

The Real [Non-] Pagan History of Halloween

Posted in Commentary, History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2011 by S. P.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For most of its history, no one in the United States connected Halloween to “paganism” or “wicca.” Only within the past few decades has it gone from a harmless “kid’s holiday” to an urban legend taking root among both New Agers and fundamentalist Christians about Halloween’s supposed “pagan” past.  Thanks to continued repetition of this urban legend by venues such as the History Channel and various New Age and “paranormal” publications, as well as fundamentalist Christian anti-Halloween “crusades,” most people today accept it as fact, never bothering to investigate it further.  Today’s urban legend claims Halloween directly dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic Druid festival which the (evil) Catholic Church co-opted in order to “suppress” pagans.  As with most urban legends, this one contains a dash of truth in order to hold together a bunch of complete nonsense.

The customs we now accept as associated with Halloween are actually of much more recent origin than New Age urban legend suggests and are a mix of traditions and practices from throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland.  As with most things which began across the Atlantic and reached American shores, these various customs and traditions were blended, “Americanized” and repackaged into what we now call Halloween.  What we do know for certain is that the modern Halloween celebration has no direct religious connection with the ancient Druids of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

It’s true the Druids celebrated a minor festival at the end of October, as they did at the end of every month, but they had long since ceased to exist as an organized people when Halloween developed.  At the beginning of what eventually became the New Age movement, Druidism saw a “revival” in the 1700s and 1800s, but just like the current New Age movement, this involved people with no real connection to ancient Druids – except in their minds – and no real connection to actual ancient Druid practices.  Just like today’s New Age “pagans” and “wiccans,” a bunch of people pretended to be “Druids” with little actual historical knowledge (other than what they invented for themselves) of actual ancient pagan groups and practices.

Let’s examine the ancient Druids a bit closer.  First, unlike the image today’s self-styled “pagans” like to project, the Druids were not peace-loving “greenies” who liked to get naked and commune with nature.  Instead, they were a rather violent and blood thirsty Celtic people who inhabited pre-Roman Britain and Ireland.  The ancient Druids had much more in common with brutal peoples like the Aztecs than Kumbaya-singing hippies.  Our earliest records of the Druids come from the Romans.  It’s significant to note that even the Romans found these people excessively brutal.  We also find that it was the Romans who suppressed Druidism.  Tiberius (Roman emperor from AD 14 to 37) first outlawed the practice of Druidism.  Under Claudius (emperor from AD 41 to 54), the Druids were completely wiped out.

The Roman record brings out two extremely important points regarding Druidism.  First, very clearly, the suppression of the Druids had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, which had not spread much outside Judea at this point in history.  So claims that the Church co-opted a Druid festival to create Halloween and force the conversion of Druids are flat-out false.  Second, a hallmark of the Roman Empire was allowing conquered territories a large amount of relative autonomy as long as they continued to acknowledge Rome and pay tribute – this included allowing people to maintain local religious customs (we see this very clearly in Judea).  The fact the Romans felt compelled to stamp out Druidism shows the Druids were anything but peace-loving nature freaks.

So how does the Catholic Church get drawn into all this?  In the fourth century, the Church instituted a feast day to honor all Christian martyrs of the faith.  This feast day was originally celebrated on May 13.  In 615, Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” and commemorated it with the dedication of a basilica in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs.  By 741, the feast had grown to include remembering not only all martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well.  As a result, the name was changed to the “Feast of All Saints” in 840.  In 844, long after the passing of the Druids and long after Christianity had become the predominate western religion, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st.

October 31st itself held no special significance in the Church calendar until 1484 (again, long, long past the time of the Druids) when Pope Sixtus IV declared the “Feast of All Saints” a holy day of obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass – in addition to Sundays) and gave it a vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast (the octave of All Saints was removed from the Church calendar in 1955).  For Catholics, the vigil is celebrated on the evening before the feast – hence Christmas Eve.  Saints were known as “hallowed” in old English.  Therefore, the vigil for the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” – Halloween.  The fact that “Halloween” is derived from old English and the Druids happened to inhabit ancient Britain is as closer as we come to a direct connection between the Catholic Church, Druids and today’s Halloween.

While it’s true that traditions such as dressing in costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and Jack-o-lanterns were originally inspired by ancient religious practices to ward off evil spirits, even by the time these practices made their way to America, they had long since lost their religious meaning. Instead, they’d become much more along the lines of cultural traditions. Most telling is the fact that there is no mention of Halloween being a “pagan,” “wiccan,” or “evil” celebration in the past historical record. Only in recent decades has this notion taken hold. Once we consider the true facts, it leads me to ask just who exactly is it that has actually co-opted Halloween for their own purposes?

So, carve your Jack-o-lantern, throw on your costume, and go Trick-or-Treating all without fear that you’re participating in an “evil,” “pagan,” or “wiccan” celebration. Happy Halloween!

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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