PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “On a scale from one to 10, how much do you believe in ghosts?”
-That’s what Brick Andrews asks people at the start of every Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour in Portland’s Chinatown district. Later, he leads a séance of sorts in a basement believed to be haunted.
Andrews is the manager of Portland Walking Tours. The company offers several different tours highlighting the unique culture and history of the city. Guests can cozy up to Portland’s beer scene or indulge in its chocolatiers.
Or they take a walk on the supernatural side.
The Beyond Bizarre tour focuses on many of the historical buildings in the Chinatown district long said to be haunted, such as Kells Irish Pub, the Erickson Saloon and a parking lot on SW 2nd and Pine across from the old police headquarters.
The lot may or may not have been the location of hangings.
It’s also said to be “Portland’s vortex.”
“It’s basically Travelocity for ghosts,” Andrews said. Think of it as a rip in reality that allows ghosts to hop from one place to another.
While other haunted tour groups may dress up and sprinkle their experiences with a heavy dose of theatric scare factor, Beyond Bizarre sticks closely to legends and folklore without any garish garnishes.
“We try to educate on the various different kinds of hauntings,” Andrews explained. “We do our best to kind of take a skeptic’s look toward it. It’s more investigative and trying to find out what this is all about, as opposed to trying to find cheap thrills.”
Andrews said the point of the tour isn’t necessarily to frighten anyone.
“We’re not trying to be a haunted house,” he said. “We’re here to actually investigate, we’re here to try to learn.”
The educational element translates, for guests, into better-understanding the study of the paranormal. Guests at each tour are given special handheld devices that measure electromagnetic fields (otherwise known as EMFs) which ghost enthusiasts believe can reveal the presence of an unseen spirit. Lights on these devices indicate strong or weak EMF signals in a given area.
They’re also given a brief and illuminating peek into the history of the building in which the tour begins.
The Merchant Hotel
Today, the Merchant Hotel is a far cry from the rowdy establishment it was in the late 1800s when men outnumbered women 17 to one in the bustling port city.
“What we were was a dirty western town filled with sailors and loggers,” Andrews said.
All of those men allowed certain businesses at the time to flourish.
“These are sailors who would be out on the boat for 6 months at a time,” said Andrews. “They come back into town for a weekend — what are they looking for? We like to say that they were lookin’ for the three B’s.”
Beer, beds and beauty.
“Basically every business in the area was here to cater to one of those needs,” Andrews said. “The Merchant Hotel was one of the few places where you could come and get all three needs met.”
While the Merchant was a fully-functioning bar and a true hotel, it also had a special floor “where you could go and rent a room for an hour in case you want to — (Andrews pauses) — take a nap.”
Women on that floor were advertised as “seamstresses” but their true work was a far cry from mending torn trousers.
One of those residents of the upper floor of the Merchant was Nina.
A tragic life
Andrews introduces the guests of the Beyond Bizarre tour to Nina at the end of the night. He leads everyone down into the Merchant’s basement, where an opium den once thrived.
It’s dark, silent and empty save for a few historical pictures and old newspaper clippings hanging upon the stone walls.
Guests take their seats along the far back end of the basement and Andrews tells Nina’s sad story.
She was brought over as a teen from her homeland of Ireland and forced into prostitution at the Merchant.
After 15 long years of work, she was approached by some traveling Christian missionaries who helped her come up with a plan to get out and make a better life for herself. But before she could act on the plan, the missionaries went to the police to expose the illegal business being conducted at the hotel.
“The bosses at the Merchant got wind of what was going on,” Andrews said. “They felt that they needed to set an example and send a message to the other ladies. So in the middle of the night, they broke into Nina’s room — yadda yadda yadda — and then they threw her lifeless body down the elevator shaft.
“And she was stuck here and she’s been here ever since,” Andrews concludes.
The guide then calls upon Nina’s spirit, asking her if she’d like to meet the newcomers in the room.
The experience that follows is unique to each tour group.
Afterward, Andrews ends the session by thanking Nina for her time and expresses his hope that whatever is keeping her from moving on can be taken care of very soon.
“In the meantime, relax and rest in peace — you’ve earned it,” he concludes.
Whether buildings like the Merchant Hotel are inhabited by ghosts or just over-active imaginations remains unclear. But what better time than now to decide for yourself?
Two Beyond Bizarre ghost tours run each night: one is billed as being family-friendly while the second, later tour is “rated R” and is only for adults.
Tickets for the 6 p.m. tour are $23 for adults, $19 for seniors (65 and older) and youths (11-17), $9 for children (5-10) and free for kids under 5. The 9 p.m. adults-only tour costs $29 per person.
Andrews recommends booking a tour as soon as possible if you want to go before Halloween.