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Spirits, shadows and things that go BUMP in the night

-  Paranormal investigators look into claims of activity at the former Gresham Inn

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Janet Tackett, a medium, was part of a paranormal investigation at The District Friday, April 17. Tackett said she identified the spirit of a despondent young woman in one of the apartments above the former Gresham Inn, in an area thought to have been a brothel at one time. Earlier this month, Jake Helfer was burning the midnight oil installing new flooring inside The District, a soon-to-open tavern in the space formerly occupied by the Gresham Inn.

Helfer, The District’s general manager, had propped the back door open for ventilation, when it suddenly slammed shut. Initially annoyed, Helfer figured someone had pushed the door closed to scare him.

He wandered outside and found a lone smoker behind the M & M Restaurant two doors up. The guy, Helfer said, claimed no responsibility for the action.

Baffled, Helfer thought maybe the wind caught the door. He tried several times to recreate the noise.

“That door has a slow release,” Helfer said. “You can’t slam it and I tried — I really tried.”

Turns out, the slamming door was only one of several odd occurrences Helfer and others have experienced since remodeling the building’s interior began. Helfer says he’s heard crying, footsteps on the stairs leading to two apartments above the bar and a creepy feeling of being watched.

Is it possible previous patrons and proprietors still frequent the confines of the old Gresham Inn?

“I think so. I think it’s hard to let go of places where you feel at home,” Helfer said. “To a lot of those people, this is where they were most comfortable, even if they’re spirits now.”

Historical documents show the community watering hole at 117 N. Main Ave. has been a bar, tavern or saloon since the 1920s, when it was called Murphy’s Pub.

It is one of the few establishments left in the downtown core that has retained its original brand of business — a pool hall and tavern. The bar changed hands a few times over the ensuing decades before becoming the Gresham Inn around 1990.

It closed at the end of January 2015 after bar owner Ray Salvi and building owner Mark Darrach parted ways. Its latest renaissance, as The District, is scheduled to start with a mid-May opening, with new management and ownership — and perhaps more information about its past.

Shortly before remodeling began, Helfer and his girlfriend, Heather Hendren, decided to film a quick video of the tavern’s interior. Their intent was a “before-and-after” record of the project.

Upon review of the short clip, which was taken with a cellphone, the pair witnessed two small, unusual lights float across the screen. They weren’t caused by dust or dirt, Helfer said, because no power equipment had been in use.

Once renovation began in earnest, the frequency of strange sounds and even stranger sensations increased. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Kris Lively, right, is the founder of the Gresham-based Portland Oregon Paranormal Society. Lively was consulting with Tackett Friday, April 17, as he set up equipment for the groups two-night investigation.

“I’d always heard stories about the place being a bar with a brothel upstairs,” Helfer said. “It’s like an urban legend, but I don’t think it’s an urban legend now. There’s so much history in here and in the building. I’ve seen and heard things that are very hard to explain. There’s definitely something weird here.”

Pam Wallace and Karen Anderson, owners of Norma Jean’s Closet next door to the tavern, concur. Since opening their upscale ladies consignment boutique 10 months ago, the women say there’s just some weird stuff going on.

“We have a bowl with wrapped chocolate candy on the front counter,” Anderson explained. “I came in one morning and went around turning lights on like I do every day. I found a candy wrapper on the floor that I know wasn’t there when I shut the lights off the night before.”

Wallace’s daughter, Sherri Young, operates a jewelry business in the back of Norma Jean’s Closet. For months, Young has come into work and discovered items have been moved or tinkered with.

“I’ve found neckless knotted together, like they were braided,” Young said. “Sometimes, they will be swinging together from side to side. There’s one (necklace display) that is always turned sideways to face a mirror, too.”

Hendren’s short video ended up in the hands of Kris Lively, a Gresham resident and founder of the Portland Oregon Paranormal Society — POPS for short. Lively’s 9-year-old business utilizes the talents of paranormal investigators and two mediums to uncover or refute the presence of spirits in buildings and homes across the metro area and occasionally, around the state.

Over the course of two evenings — Friday and Saturday, April 17-18 — POPS’ team (and one tag-along newspaper reporter) brought in their equipment and expertise to determine if, indeed, the spirits of past inhabitants still belly up to the bar or roam around the two apartments upstairs.

Channeling the past

Janet Tackett is a medium, hypnotist and energy healer, who works frequently with the POPS crew. Well respected by Lively for her skills, Tackett arrived with no knowledge of the building’s questionable past. She became particularly interested in the exterior entrance to the two apartments located above the bar. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Tackett exits a narrow passageway that leads to roof access above the bar. The enclosed area is a small space between The District and Norma Jeans Closet next door. As she walked through the doorway, headed toward a pitch dark stairwell, she turned to Helfer and asked if there was anybody upstairs. He shook his head no.

“Oh yes there is,” Tackett said.

Surprisingly, given that I have about as much courage as my golden retriever in dark places, I followed. Over the next 20 minutes or so, Tackett revealed a rather unsavory story.

“There’s a woman,” she said. “She’s crying. She’s just heart-broken. She’s here against her will and she keeps saying she wants to go home.”

Tackett expressed a feeling of overwhelming sadness in the room. She described the presence of a “young woman, 19-21 years old,” with brown hair and “old-fashioned clothes.” The woman had a Peter Pan collar on her blouse and Tackett estimated she was from the early 1920s. She died in the room, the medium said — a suicide.

Suddenly, Tackett turned and demanded to know, “Was this a whorehouse?”

Her angry tone was surprising. It wasn’t until she repeated the question that I confirmed that was the belief.

The two apartments above the bar haven’t been inhabited for 45-50 years, Helfer said. They are identical in design — a parlor, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom — and in serious disrepair from peeling paint and chipped plaster. Helfer and Hendren reported seeing the curtain sway in the room where Tackett identified the presence of the young woman and Hendren said an old-school cowboy hat just appeared one day — resting on a sink.

Back at Norma Jean’s Closet, Tackett learned of a basement under the shop that Wallace, Anderson and Young all refer to as “creepy.” Musty smelling and noticeably chilly, the room has no windows, cement walls and what appears to be a packed dirt floor.

Tackett did not like the place.

“Oh this is bad,” she said, walking in a wide circle around the cavernous space. “This is where they kept the girls — where they were indoctrinated. I don’t like it here.” OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - In the cellar below Norma Jeans Closet, co-owner Pam Wallace, center, and her daughter Sherri Young, back left, listen as Tackett describes her impression that the basement was once used to house dozens of young women against their will.

Young explained to Tackett she had unfurled a large piece of black leather several months ago, laying it on the floor at the bottom of the basement stairs. When she returned a couple days later, the top side of the leather held dusty, heavy boot prints. The underside was covered with imprints of small, bare feet.

“I called the (building’s) owner to see if somebody had been down here and he said no,” Wallace said. “I don’t like going down there by myself anymore. I’m not afraid, but I’m just not real comfortable.”

Explaining the unexplainable — maybe

Saturday night, POPS investigators Damah Stearns and Tom Kordowski began their search for paranormal activity in the basement of Norma Jean’s Closet.

Armed with tiny video and digital cameras, voice recorders and a bevy of handheld instruments that measure temperature and electromagnetic fields, we descended into the cellar and shut off the lights.

Paranormal investigators say pockets of cold air in a room indicate the presence of a spirit or entity. Twice, Norma Jean’s co-owner Anderson and I felt a cold breeze pass by, which set off lights on a meter that measures electro-magnetic energy in my hand.

Was it the spirit of one of the more than 20 young women Tackett had felt in the space the night before?

Stearns, Kordowski and I moved upstairs to the two apartments above the bar. For nearly three hours, we monitored the infrared static cameras placed in what became known as “Mary’s room,” after Tackett identified the despondent spirit as “Mary.”

The pair of investigators asked numerous questions into the still night air — “Were you a regular customer here?” “Did you play cards or pool?” — hoping that later review of their small voice recorders would yield a disembodied response.

Paranormal investigation, I discovered, involves a lot of sitting, listening and waiting.

But Stearns and Kordowski, who have both been conducting investigations for more than 10 years, take a scientific approach to the paranormal by essentially myth busting when something defies logic.

The three of us witnessed a circular white shadow shoot across the ceiling of one room and disappear into the opposite wall. Stearns and Kordowski immediately attempted to recreate the shadow’s location on the ceiling by moving around in front of the window above a streetlight and watching the reflection of traffic along Main Avenue.

They were unable to conclusively determine what caused the shadow or where it came from.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Its believed the two apartments above The District, which are identical in design, havent been inhabited for 45-50 years. Tackett explored the kitchen off the parlor where she felt the presence of the young woman.  Spirit entities require energy in their effort to communicate or manifest, Lively said. And with investigators using an assortment of handheld devices dependent upon batteries to operate, Lively said it’s not uncommon for power to drain from a camera or meter during the course of an investigation.

Saturday’s lock down was unusual, however.

“I’ve never had that many problems with my electrical equipment,” Lively said. “Everything we tried to use both nights was a problem — even walkie-talkies. How basic is a walkie-talkie? We’d hit the button and all we’d get is high pitched static. I can’t explain how those batteries drained so quickly. We don’t use cheap batteries, either.”

POPS investigation of The District, its upstairs apartments and the basement in Norma Jean’s Closet produced countless hours of audio and visual recordings.

Since analysis of the recordings hadn’t been completed by The Outlook’s press time, Lively said it couldn’t yet be determined if evidence pointed to a possible paranormal presence.

He did say, however, that one voice recorder did pick up distant footsteps on the stairs during the hours when no one was in the building beyond Stearns, Kordowski and the tag-along reporter.

Helfer said the name of the new bar — The District — is a nod to its somewhat questionable history. The turn-of-the-century atmosphere will offer “Red Light Specials” (otherwise known as Happy Hour) and beverages will be served in Mason jars. The bar’s new logo and exterior signage are done in classic Western-style lettering and feature a subtle female silhouette.

But will staff at The District be welcoming more than simply regular paying customers when it opens its doors?

“The investigation was an opportunity to validate what we’ve been seeing and hearing,” Helfer said, laughing. “So our doors are open to everybody — past and present.”


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