Vanessa Ivey knows Bend’s ghosts and its history.
So when the Des Chutes Historical Museum manager combines the two for the annual historical haunts walking tour in downtown Bend, it’s like taking a class designed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
“People love hearing these stories,” Ivey said.
The ghosts featured on this tour aren’t malevolent spirits like the ones in “The Exorcist” or “Poltergeist” that gave Generation X nightmares as children. Bend’s spirits are a playful lot who spook folks with laughter and random noises instead of screams and rattling chains. These ghosts might make a statement by shutting off your music or taking down a picture. At least one ghost likes to tease by hiding things.
While these tales are fun for the Halloween season, it’s also a chance for local historians to talk about a little-known part of the Bend’s history — a population explosion that surrounded the city’s connection to the railroad and the rest of the world in the 1910s.
George and the girl
During the early 1900s, Bend grew fast because the Great Northern and Pacific railroads had made the small town more accessible and prosperous. Those years also were marred with tragedy. In 1918, a devastating Spanish influenza outbreak killed nearly 4,000 Oregonians in less than six months.
Two spirits that haunt the Des Chutes Historical Museum — a businessman and a little girl who likely died during the outbreak — provide a glimpse into that moment in history.
Ivey said they’ve been seen by museum guests and staff alike and are often to blame for “little coincidence things people could explain but are super common.”
George Bernard Brosterhous was a stone mason and a carpenter who ran a construction business with his brother Edward. Their firm won a $20,000-contract the city issued to build a new, modern school building in 1914 to teach children moving to Bend during the mass migration.
The Reid School was named after Ruth Reid, the city’s first school principal. The 10-classroom building operated for 65 years. It was leased to the Deschutes County Historical Society in 1979 and later converted into the history museum where Ivey works.
Unfortunately, Brosterhous never witnessed any of this building’s construction. He fell three stories down a gaping hole where the staircase would eventually go and died June 1, 1914.
But Ivey says some museum visitors think he’s watching now.
About 10 years ago, Ivey set up a small exhibit that included pictures of Brosterhous and other dignitaries who were involved in the building’s construction.
Soon after, a musician visited the museum and got a brief scare while playing a grand piano on the museum’s first floor.
Ivey said the piano player noticed an older gentleman was watching her practice from the other side of a room. She tried finding the man, saw Brosterhous’ picture hanging on the wall, and asked a county employee where she could find him.
“(The county employee) said: ‘That’s the man who was watching you?’” Ivey said. The employee had to tell the pianist she had just seen a ghost.
The unnamed little girl is believed to be from the same time as Brosterhous and tied to Reid School. She is described as 9 or 10 years old — which is old enough for her to have attended the school — and wearing an outfit from the 1910s or 1920s. It’s also possible she died in the influenza outbreak because the city used the Bend Amateur Athletic Club Gymnasium, which was just across the street from the Reid School, as a hospital that treated the victims and disposed of their bodies.
“It’s hard to say exactly why she’s here,” said Ivey, who really couldn’t answer why the girl was at the school. “Children died all the time back then.”
Ivey knows the little girl’s ghost is around because she can be heard giggling and running around the museum.
The girl apparently also finds amusement in removing documents from files when museum staff are looking for them and then later puts those papers back, Ivey said.
Nick and Hugh
Ivey’s tour includes a pair of buildings where two of Bend’s most colorful founders — Nicholas P. Smith and Hugh O’Kane — ran businesses that helped the city weather this transformational time.
The first is a wood frame Smith built on Wall Street in 1909 to house his hardware store, the N. P. Smith Pioneer Hardware Store, and an upstairs apartment he and his wife Cora called home.
“Mr. Smith was 34 years old when he moved to Bend and from that time was very active in business, civic and political affairs,” reads a document describing the hardware store’s significance in the National Register of Historic Places. The entry then lists several of Smith’s accomplishments, including establishing a Knights of Pythis lodge, serving with the volunteer fire department, assisting with the effort to bring a railroad to Bend, chairing the local Democratic Party, serving on the election board, serving as a bailiff for the county court and supervising the construction of Wall Street’s first board sidewalks.
Shedding a little bit of light into the Smiths’ personal life, Ivey said Cora Smith would get frustrated with her husband’s activities because he was often working late and missed dinner. The banging sound people heard in the building long after Smith and his wife died in 1955 might just be Cora in the kitchen.
Kay LeTourneau, who opened her gift shop Lone Crow Bungalow in the Smith’s building’s first floor in 2001, said she’s never heard the banging. But she admitted, “We have had a few things where we’re like, ‘Ooh, how did that happen?’”
LeTourneau said one event that sticks out in her mind is a morning when one of her employees opened the store and found a picture and painting he hung on its walls the night before lying face down on the store’s counter. The artwork was undamaged by the fall, and the hook it hung from was still securely fastened to the wall.
“That’s a very common occurrence,” said Chris Fisk, a ghost tour guide from Butte, Montana, who has appeared on reality television shows “Haunted Collector” and “The Dead Files.” “(Ghosts or spirits will) manipulate objects in our world simply as a way to prove that they’re there.”
The world of science is constantly finding new animals, learning about the basic structure of the universe and making new breakthroughs such as the discovery of flowing water on Mars, Fisk said. Believing in ghosts and other paranormal beings fits nicely into the ever-changing world view, he said, because while science hasn’t proven they exist, it also hasn’t proven they don’t.
Fisk also said weird incidents such as the one LeTourneau described often have simple answers — maybe her employee forgot to hang the painting before he left work and created the story about Smith’s ghost to cover up the mistake — that doesn’t involve the paranormal at all.
But the more these incidents happen, he said, the harder it is to find an answer and “when you can’t find an answer to believe in … ghosts are a pretty good option.”
That’s the case for Dee Long, the owner of downtown Bend’s La Magie Bakery and Cafe, who has seen several odd instances over the past five years at her business in the O’Kane Building.
Located on the corner of Oregon and Bond streets, the O’Kane Building is a two-story, 26,000-square-foot commercial structure O’Kane built out of reinforced concrete, brick and plaster in 1918 after his previous two wood-framed office buildings burned to the ground.
“Hugh O’Kane truly represented the spirit of the western pioneer adventurer,” reads a document that accompanies the O’Kane Building’s entry in the National Record of Historic Places. “(He played) just about every role imaginable: enterpriser and builder, lightweight boxer, wrestler, foot racer, sailor, filibusterer, miner, stagecoach driver, dispatch rider among hostile Indians, racehorse owner, horse trainer and packer.”
The O’Kane Building’s tenants were an equally colorful crowd, and over the past 90 years have included everyone from shopkeepers and theater owners to local politicians, the county government and the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, Ivey said. She refused to say which of these tenants was haunting the O’Kane Building — wanting to keep that information for the people on her tour. She also would not confirm reports posted to paranormal websites that describe people seeing smoke in the building when there is no fire or hearing voices and footsteps when no one else is around.
Long said the only time she’s seen smoke at the O’Kane Building was when a nearby restaurant’s cook forgot to turn off his fryer at the end of his shift. She has, however, heard reports from a few of her employees that describe weird things nobody else can seem to explain.
One of these incidents involved a baker who was listening to some very loud music while working alone at the store early one morning. Long said this baker went outside to run a quick errand and was a little freaked out when she came back to the bakery and found somebody or something turned the music off.
But that’s nothing compared to what happened with a contractor who stopped by the O’Kane Building so he could hang up a new sign. Long said the person was standing outside the bakery when he saw the sign flip off the counter and land on the ground.
She added, “He pretty much left and said, ‘I’m done!’”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org