The McLoughlin House is a Haunted home of pioneer Dr. John D. McLoughlin (1784–1857), located in Oregon City, Oregon, a community in the Willamette Valley near Portland, Oregon. Phenomena include a shadowy figure thought to be McLoughlin’s Ghost, mysterious footprints and voices, and Poltergeist activities.
Dr. John D. McLoughlin is one of the most colorful figures in the pioneer history of Oregon State. He founded Oregon City and is popularly known as “the Father of Oregon.” A towering man with streaming white hair, he was renowned for his generosity yet was spurned by many of his contemporaries.
McLoughlin was born to a Quebec farming family in 1874. He became a physician for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1821, he was sent to the Oregon Territory to preside over the company’s new headquarters at Fort Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Oregon (now Vancouver, Washington). The company never had clear title to the land it claimed, however, and when the fur trade dwindled and the wagon trains of American pioneer settlers moved in, McLoughlin saw the writing on the wall: British claims to the land were doomed. He began to aid the settlers, sending them south to the Willamette Valley and extending them generous credit for food and supplies. He rescued settlers who became stranded on treacherous portions of the Oregon Trail.
In 1829, McLoughlin founded Oregon City. He laid out the town himself and gave away more than 300 lots to settlers, churches, schools and organizations. In 1845, he placed the land in his name in exchange for $20,000 paid to the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was forced to resign from the company in a power struggle, and so retired to his new home in Oregon City in 1846. He devoted himself to serving the growing community as coroner, physician, mayor and councilman.
McLoughlin’s saltbox home was luxurious by local standards—most of the pioneers lived in one-room log cabins at best—and locals dubbed it “the house of many beds” because of McLoughlin’s famous hospitality. The doctor also was renowned for his many loans to business enterprises and to individuals.
Even so, many in the community resented him because he was British, wealthy, a Catholic (in a Protestant town) and was married to a Chippewa woman. So when the American government disputed his claim to the land, few were on his side.
In an effort to retain his title, McLoughlin became an American citizen. Nonetheless, Congress stripped him of ownership, and as insult to injury affirmed the rights of others to land given them by McLoughlin. He was still bitter and disillusioned at the time of his death in 1857. His home was then used to board Chinese laborers and later became a bordello for a time before it was abandoned. In 1909 it was moved to another site, its present location on a hill overlooking the city. It was restored in the 1930s and opened to the public. In 1970, the graves of McLoughlin and his wife were moved to the new grounds.
Although McLoughlin might be said to have had plenty of reasons to haunt his home, no phenomena manifested for nearly 120 years, until Nancy Wilson became curator in the mid-1970s. Wilson, who had no beliefs in ghosts, was surprised when inexplicable things began happening on the average of once a week, typically during hours when the house was closed to the public.
One of Wilson’s earliest and eeriest experiences was receiving a firm tap on her shoulder while she cleaned the upstairs one day. She turned around, but no one was in sight. The only other person in the house was another employee, who was downstairs. It gave Wilson a fright.
The phenomena increased. Wilson and others on the staff began seeing a hulking shadow—McLoughlin was 6 feet, 5 inches tall—walk in the upstairs hall and duck into McLoughlin’s bedroom. Footsteps of heeled boots have sounded on the upstairs hall when no one is there. When carpet was installed in the mid-1980s, the footsteps be came muffled. The Smells of pipe tobacco and brewed coffee have wafted about the dining room occasionally. Every year on September 3, the anniversary of McLoughlin’s death, his portrait that hangs over the downstairs drawing room fireplace emits a strange glow as sunlight strikes it. Hanging prisms on candle lampshades have swayed unaccountably, without aid of wind or vibration. One night in the 1980s as one of the tour guides was closing the home, she went into the drawing room where a pair of prismed candle lamps was located and found the prisms of one shade swinging wildly while the prisms on the second shade remained still.
Other phenomena include a child’s bed that mysteriously appears slept in when staff arrive to open up in the morning; a ladder-back rocker in one of the bedrooms that rocks by itself; tracks that resemble chicken feet trailed across a carpet vacuumed the night before; and the movement of objects, such as a button lost by a visitor which suddenly appeared rolling in the middle of another room. Once the cash register turned up 10 dollars short; Wilson later found the money in a drawer that had been locked. Wilson heard mysterious voices, including a woman weakly calling for help, and noises of phantom objects crashing to the floor.
The phenomena reached a peak of activity around 1981, when Wilson organized an exhibit of pioneer women’s clothing inside the McLoughlin House. One of the dresses was a wedding dress belonging to Mrs. Forbes Barclay, wife of an associate of McLoughlin. The activity remained high during the entire length of the exhibit, with something happening daily.
Around the late 1980s, the house became quiet, though McLoughlin’s presence continued to be felt. None of the staff ever felt menaced by the ghost or sensed any negative energy in connection with the hauntings.
Wilson believed her family history played a role in activating the phenomena. After the hauntings began, she researched her past and found a link to McLoughlin. Among her ancestors is a family named Wells, pioneers who arrived in Oregon City in 1842. Less than one year after their arrival, Mr. Wells died, leaving behind his wife and children. McLoughlin gave them fi nancial help. Mrs. Wells later married another man named Wells, but she never paid back all of the money. At the time of McLoughlin’s death, she still owed him $43. Wilson thinks that perhaps McLoughlin’s ghost saw an opportunity to collect on one of his many outstanding debts. Or, perhaps he wished to express his satisfaction with Wilson, who has a great interest in preserving the home and promoting the good name of McLoughlin.
Next to the McLoughlin House is the historic Barclay House, once owned by Dr. Forbes Barclay. It too is said to be haunted, though it is less active than the McLoughlin House. A small red-haired boy has been seen on separate occasions, appearing so real that visitors ask who he is. One guide even called the police, thinking the boy to be lost or an intruder. A phantom black-and-white dog that leaves its paw prints on the carpet may be associated with the boy, Wilson speculates.
The Barclay House also has been haunted by “Uncle Sandy,” the seaman brother of Forbes. In times past when the house was still used to shelter guests overnight, Uncle Sandy sometimes appeared beside his former bed, apparently to see who was sleeping there. Around the turn of the century, a woman who slept in Uncle Sandy’s bed said she felt that a boy had died in the house, though there are no supporting records.
- Melvin, Robert. “Does McLoughlin’s Ghost Haunt Oregon City Mansion?” The Oregonian, January 4, 1983.
- Riccio, Dolores, and Joan Bingham. Haunted Houses USA. New York: Pocket Books, 1989.
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