Haunted Oregon

Photo courtesy of Debra Monsive

How an ancient tradition came to Cottage Grove

October 27 - “Can’t we have some kind of a good time on Halloween — do something to remember this one particular night, for ye shall never all be together again” was the first sentence of a story titled, “Our Halloween.” Printed on the back page of a Portland newspaper, The New Northwest, published Dec. 10, 1875, the story tells a peculiar tale of a “mad frolic on Halloween” where a group of young women decide to cook and invite the spirits of their future husbands to eat a cold meal they prepare that if left unwanted overnight, they can enjoy the next day, after their fun. Instead, later that evening as night crept in, a “Centaur, grinning skulls, sheeted dead, and every horror one could think of appeared.”

The story continues that “the girls were in hysterics,some screaming and some shivering in fear” and alluding that those terrified girls that fainted were “blissfully unconscious” and spared from witnessing the horror. It’s the earliest surviving document and searchable artifact referencing Halloween as an event and observed day in Oregon. The story may have frightened many readers because Halloween wasn’t mentioned again in another Oregon publication until an article printed five years later, on Dec. 17, 1880, and now a bit further south of Portland, in the Pacific Christian Messenger in Monmouth. The author reflects on a delivered telegram received with extremely sad and painful news of a friend’s death due to typhoid several days before Thanksgiving, a month before.

The author also reminisced about Halloween, when it was celebrated Oct. 30 in their town, and “20 guests arrived wearing white masks, pillowcases on their heads, and gathered in the parlor of Dana Hall and tried to recognize each other.” The author noted that everyone in attendance were unaware about the legends and origins of Halloween so, they depended on an encyclopedia to provide the educational service.

Hallowmas Eve was originally a celebration of Halloween instituted by the ancient Druids. Unfortunately, written records were prohibited by the Celtic culture, and traditions slightly morphed while it was developed through the ages. The Druids had performed spiritual practices on what was previously known as Hallowmas, where bonfires were lit deep between dense forest and partially cleared woodlands and mystic rights were performed in regalia.

All Hallows’ Eve, became the Christian observance of All Saints Eve, and the old customs pertinent to its celebration did not pass into disuse: on the contrary, they became more and deeply established, accumulating new superstitions. The event begins with the observance of All Hallowtide, during a seasonal window dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and other departed souls.

The pendulum of time swung to and fro, with legends of Halloween appearing and then disappearing mysteriously from the press. Its tradition wasn’t noted in Oregon print again until Nov. 6, 1885, when The Corvallis Gazette ran a very short notice which read, “Saturday night was Halloween, and passed unobserved in Corvallis as far as we are informed.” But by then, its early customs began to branch out throughout the state.

In Salem, the Willamette Farmer’s editor ran a short recommendation the following year on Oct. 29, 1886, referring to a recent magazine article that read, “The weird superstitions and hilarious customs clustering about the evening of the 31st of October are the subject of a clever article by William Sharp in the November Harper’s entitled ‘Halloween: Threefold Chronicle.’ Mr. Sharp describes the striking features of that festival universal throughout Great Britain, and relates from personal experience some remarkable instances of its celebration in Ireland, Scotland, and at sea.”

And by the next year in 1887, endearing traditions that our older generations may remember were beginning to unfold, as reported by The Daily Morning Astorian, “Last night was ‘Halloween’ and in numerous families was the scene of a merry evening, bobbing for apples, burning nuts, telling fortunes, etc.” Halloween finally made its way to Lane County by 1889. However, it was reported that Eugene’s evening of charming traditions became an obnoxious nightmare of destructive vandalism with gardens trampled, mischievous spirits smashing pumpkins, property gates and fences being torn down, with the mayor’s gate spirited up a flagpole.

The following year, Eugene flat out canceled any observations of Halloween, with city officers simply not in the mood to resurrect the experience. Although fascinating ghost stories frequently ran in many Oregon city and state papers, a large variety of which are searchable using the University of Oregon’s Historic Oregon Newspaper online archive, it wasn’t until 1905 that Cottage Grove observed Halloween. With at least three events held at The Women’s Club social, the Methodist Church at Jones Hall, and the Presbyterian Church. The events were seen as social achievements in Cottage Grove.

In the Nov. 1,1905, Bohemia Nugget, it was reported that “the Halloween party given by the ladies of the Methodist Church at Jones Hall last night was a huge success, and a jolly good time was had. The witches and goblins, fittingly attired, paraded up and down to the great enjoyment of everyone. Refreshments were served in pumpkin shell plates, and many odd and funny costumes were presented to please and fool the eye of the curious. “

Inside the same edition, another interesting and detailed account at The Woman’s Club was given. The members were “entertained at the parlor of the Commercial Club where the room was transformed into a witches cave, lighted only by Jack-o’-Lanterns and the fire under the big iron kettle. Roll call was responded to by personal Halloween selections read in a delightful way. Wooly kittens, clammy hands, prickly vegetables and crawly bugs were passed around but nobody wanted to keep them.”

The observation continues that “a ghost was summoned by Mrs. Thompson with a fitting ceremony and by the light of the ghost fire told of a harrowing tale. Teas and wafers were served with Mrs. Abrams and Mrs. Chambers presiding at a table afterwards telling fortunes from the tea grounds. It was one of the most enjoyable social meetings the club has ever had.”

And the Cottage Grove Leader’s Nov. 4, 1905, edition gave a vivid account of a large crowd of Presbyterian Endeavorers and their invited guests gathering at the Currin & Veatch Hall. The evening was documented poetically with a supernatural and mystical air. “The ferries had already been there with their tasteful decorations of Autumn leaves, vines, berries, pumpkins and fruits. And old witches astride a broomstick with a herd of black cats enough to make night hideous.”

The details went on, “and Jack-o’-Lanterns were also very much in evidence. A figure in ghostly apparel meant all the guests at the door, silently but relentlessly demanded the admission fee of one red apple, there was bobbing for apples, the horseshoe, and two genuine spooks right from the highlands, one in the white, the other in black, these with canny subtleness glided among the young people, now with mysterious mind reading telling their thoughts, then taking them to the spooks corner and there with lighted candle floating in a cauldron revealed their future.”

Sharp’s article for Harper’s Magazine, comparing early Halloween traditions, introduced American audiences to its everlasting appeal. “Its superstitious observances will likely pass away and to a greater extent have already become obsolete. But the good fellowship, the laughter, the nut roasting, the apple ducking, the candle-singing ought long to be especially associated with the 31st of October.”

Halloween in Cottage Grove has since become a longstanding event for many folks every year as it evolves through the ages. The Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Cottage Grove is putting on another Halloween Hootenanny this week at Bohemia Park on Monday, Oct. 31,between 3 and 6 p.m. Families will line up for a chance to walk through a gauntlet of spooky businesses passing out candy and goodies to thousands. This is an all ages event and those in line by 5:30 will be served.