Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Ghost of Dr. John McLoughlin

John McLoughlin is one of the most compelling characters from Oregon’s pioneer history. He founded Oregon City while he was working for the Hudson Bay Company. He is known as the “Father of Oregon”. 

He built himself a large saltbox house in Oregon City, which was in sharp contrast to the typical one-room log cabins of the time. The locals called his home “the house of many beds” because McLoughlin was famous for his hospitality. 

But his kindness and generosity would eventually backfire on him leaving him an embittered man. Some state this is why he still haunts his home today.

McLoughlin was born into a family of farmers in Quebec in 1774. In 1821 at the age of 47 the Hudson Bay Company sent him to preside over the companies new headquarters at Fort Vancouver—this fort was across the Columbia River from Oregon and is today Vancouver, Washington. 

The British who owned Hudson Bay Company did not own the land they sent him to claim as a base of operations for their fur trade. 

McLoughlin a shrewd businessman was also a fair man. He often helped American pioneer settlers who braved the Oregon Trail. He sent many of these settlers south to the Willamette Valley extending them generous credit, food, and supplies so they could survive their first winter. He even rescued many who found themselves stranded on the trail. 

In 1929 he founded Oregon City planning and dividing the city into lots. He generously gave away 300 of these lots to settlers, churches, schools, etc. In 1845 he paid the Hudson Bay Company $20,000 and placed this land in his name--in an attempt to forestall Americans laying claim to the area. A power struggle ensued and McLoughlin was forced to resign from the Hudson Bay Company.

McLoughlin served as Oregon City’s first coroner, physician, and mayor. Always generous the doctor provided loans to many businesses as well as to individuals in the area. Despite his generosity and kindness, many resented McLoughlin because he was wealthy and British. 

He was also Catholic in a city that was mostly Protestant. To add insult to injury the doctor was married to a Chippewa woman. So when the American government disputed his right to the land few citizens in the area took his side.

In an attempt to retain his property McLoughlin became an American citizen but Congress would not recognize that he owned the land and took it from him—which sadly meant many of the people and organizations that he had given the 300 lots to also lost their property. 

Bitter and disillusioned McLoughlin died in 1857. His house was then used to board Chinese laborers and later was used as a bordello after which it was abandoned.

In 1909 his home was moved from its original location by the river to prevent its demolition. It is now on a bluff overlooking the city. In the 1930s it was restored and opened to the public as a museum. 

In the 1970s McLoughlin and his wife’s bodies were moved to this new location as well. For many years it appears his spirit rested in peace but when the bodies were moved this changed.

A former curator of the museum was working alone late one night when she felt someone tap her shoulder when she turned around no one was there. 

Soon after this encounter others started to see a dark figure moving down the hallway and into the bedroom where McLoughlin slept. Museum employees have heard odd noises and footsteps upstairs when they were alone.

Many witnesses have smelled the scent of tobacco throughout the house despite the fact that smoking is not allowed on the property. McLoughlin was known to enjoy his pipe. 

Voices have been heard in the distance, their origin has never been found and one bedroom in the home is often found in disarray—the bed unmade and the pillow removed. 

It is said on the anniversary of McLoughlin's death a strange glow is seen around a portrait of him that hangs in the home's drawing room. Heavy glass prisms on several lamps have been seen swaying when there is no vibration or wind to cause this movement.

One tourist on a tour of the home who lost a button off her outfit saw it rolling along the floor in a room she had not entered before. 

Yet others have seen a rocker in one of the bedrooms moving as if someone had just arisen from it. 

Another tourist saw a woman in an old fashioned dress standing at the bottom of the stairs, she assumed this woman was a guide until she saw her move away and then just disappear.

All of this strange activity over the years has placed “The McLoughlin House” on many lists as one of Oregon’s most haunted. 

In 1941 it was designated by Congress as a National Historic Site--the first in the West. This museum is open to the public five days a week--Wednesdays through Sundays. In the winter months, it is closed.

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