Editor's note: With Halloween drawing near, we searched around the National Park System and rummaged in the Traveler's archives for some ghostly stories.
Ghost stories and old buildings just seem to go together, and the national parks have their share of old buildings -- and ghosts! If you spend a night at The Chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument, you just might agree.
The Oregon Caves Chateau is a six-floor rustic hotel built in 1934. It is typical of other rustic national park structures from the period. You know the type -- huge log posts and beams, rock fireplaces, and lots of exposed wood. The exterior walls are shingled with tree bark.
What is untypical of The Chateau is the location: it is built between the steep banks of a creek-bed, spanning the stream like a dam. The front of the building stands three floors high, but due to the steep slope of the site, the back of the building towers a full six floors above the creek below. The creek actually flows through the building.
Like most old wood buildings, The Chateau's floors creak, the entire building makes weird noises as it expands and contracts, and the wind whistles through the trees outside on dark stormy nights, which are frequent. You reach the top-floor hallway by climbing a steep, narrow enclosed staircase; the hallway at the top is narrow and dim. A strange window to nowhere stares out from the hallway ceiling; no light comes through it since it looks up into the dark attic. It can all be a bit creepy, and is the perfect setting for a good ghost story!
Elizabeth and her new husband were honeymooning at the Chateau back in the 1930s. On the evening of their wedding night he took leave of her, and when he didn't return she went looking for him. Shortly after, she found him in a passionate embrace with one of The Chateau's chambermaids. Distraught over this discovery, Elizabeth fled to her small top-floor room, #310. Some say her new husband rushed up to the room, where they argued, and in anger he shoved her out the window. But most say that she was alone in the room and in her anguish she leaped to her death from the window.
Room 310 is an attic-style room, with a dormer window set high in the steep roof of The Chateau. The window fully opens by swinging into the room over the bed, making it very easy to climb from the bed, or be pushed from it, out onto the roof. Once Elizabeth was out the window there was little hope for her. She would have slid quickly down the very steep, rain-slick shingles to the edge of the upper roof. From there she would have dropped one floor, crashing onto the roof of the shed dormer below.
Dazed by the fall, and clawing frantically at the slick shingles of the shed dormer roof, she struggled against a horrifying slide to the edge, off of which she fell five stories past the large picture windows in the lobby to a bone-crushing impact on the rocky creek-bed below.
It is said that as a result of her untimely death at The Chateau, Elizabeth's ghost haunts the building. As ghosts go, Elizabeth is not the friendliest one. The good news is that she doesn't stick around to bug you if you check into "her" room. Whenever a guest checks in, she leaves the room and wanders the hallways. She is said to often go hide in the third-floor linen closet, where she moans and cries. Sometimes she visits the kitchen, where she expresses her displeasure by dropping stuff on the kitchen help's heads, particularly aiming for those employees who dismiss her story or otherwise show her disrespect.
So should you visit The Chateau, don't worry if you stay in Room 310, as Elizabeth will leave when you arrive. But if you hear sounds coming from the third-floor linen closet, you might not want to open the door!
True Story... or Ghost Tale?
How well does this story hold up as history? Truth is, not too well. There are no official records of any deaths at The Chateau -- ever. No records of deathly leaps from windows, no reports of suicidal, jilted brides, no deaths at all.
Do you think it is likely that a great story like that of a jilted bride who did a swan dive from The Chateau roof would have not been covered in the local papers? At the least it would seem the monument's rangers would have made record of it. Admittedly, The Chateau's management might have wanted to avoid negative publicity and kept the event out of the local papers. But could they have kept the coroner away, or suppressed issuing a death certificate? Did they just sneak out and bury poor Elizabeth in the woods at night? Surely her family would have noticed she never returned from her honeymoon!
Also casting doubt on the story of Elizabeth are the many variations on the story. One variation says that Elizabeth jumped from the larger Room 210 on the next floor down. I must say that Room 210 would be more likely to be a honeymoon room, as Room 310 is a very small "budget" room. But I like to think this version is just a mix-up on room numbers. The cheaper attic room seems to fit better with the story of a philandering groom who cheats on his wife on their wedding night!
Another variation on The Chateau ghost story is that Elizabeth didn't jump out the window. Instead, she slit her wrists and bled to death in the bathtub of Room 310. Not enough variations yet? There is yet another version of the story that says she hanged herself in the room. With all these variations of the story floating around, it's no wonder her poor ghost is unhappy!
So, does Elizabeth's ghost really walk the halls of the Chateau, or hide out in the linen closet? The ghost story here follows a familiar line and is similar to those told at many old hotels around the country. This is the classic story line of "jilted bride and suicide." Sure, it probably has happened, someplace, sometime. Did it happen at the Chateau? Possibly, but the National Park Service thinks it is unlikely. But who cares. It makes for a good story, and every old lodge needs at least one good ghost story!
Don't like ghosts? Then perhaps you would prefer to look for Sasquatch. Another local legend says Bigfoot was sighted walking in the woods surrounding the Chateau!
See the Chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument Virtual Tour at Historic-Hotels-Lodges.com for lots more photos and the history of the Chateau, including photos of all its haunted rooms and hallways.
The Oregon Caves Chateau is one of the finest examples of rustic hotel architecture in the West, and due to few visitors it is in almost original condition. A visit is worth braving an encounter with a ghost, or even Bigfoot.