Oregon Urban Legends

Oregon is home to dozens of spooky, spine-chilling urban legends, haunting residents for decades, some even centuries. Dive into some of our state’s creepiest rumors with this rundown, just in time for Halloween.  

Sackett Hall at OSU   

Starting out on the home front, legend says that one of Oregon State University’s student residences buildings, Sackett Hall, is haunted by the horrible tragedy that was the abduction and death of student Kathy Parks in 1974 by infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.  

Though Parks is reported to have been taken while walking from Sackett Hall to the Memorial Union, rumors have flown for years among students that Bundy hid in the catacombs of the residence hall and abducted her there. Other legends say he left her body in the basement. In reality, Parks’ body was sadly later found on Taylor Mountain in Washington State.   

Still, legends persist among the students who dorm in Sackett Hall, with claims of banging in the night and ghost sightings in the building’s basement, likely a way of trying to understand the tragic murder of Parks.   

The Ghost of Kuhn Cinema in Lebanon  

Not far from Corvallis lives another urban legend, taking place in Lebanon. Kuhn Cinema opened to the public in 1932 and is rumored to have had a ghostly presence for years. The story goes that a young girl fell to her death from the theater’s balcony and now, sightings of the child in a white dress have been claimed at various spots within the building.   

Most notably, the presence is felt in the projection room, and employees have reported that they’ve felt a small child hugging them while working in the room. Other accounts say lights turn on and off by themselves at random, giggles can be heard when no one else is in the room, and items have gone missing and turned up in other locations.   

The Bandage Man” at Cannon Beach  

On the coast, one particular rumor has haunted the town of Cannon Beach for over fifty years. Legend says that a ghost wrapped in bandages and smelling of rotting flesh, called “The Bandage Man,” likes to scare visitors, allegedly often jumping into their vehicles and leaving behind bloody bandages. The first documentation of The Bandage Man appeared in the 1950s, and some say the phantom was once a logger who was maimed in a mill at Cannon Beach.   

Oregon State Hospital  

Almost every native Oregonian has heard of the horrors of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem. The hospital was built in 1883 as an insane asylum and was home to years of malpractice, leading to the deaths of many patients. One incident in 1942 was particularly horrible, in which 263 patients fell ill and 47 died after being served their morning breakfast. An investigation was conducted, and it was found that a patient helping in the kitchen had mistaken roach poison for powdered milk. The poison went into the scrambled eggs, poisoning hundreds of residents in the hospital.   

Considering the stories of malpractice that are said to have occurred at Oregon State Hospital, it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is now considered haunted. Particularly, the underground tunnels of the building are said to have an “overwhelming sense of evil” and footsteps, doors opening and closing on their own, and screams have been reported within the tunnels.   

The Lafayette Curse  

Many in the town of Lafayette still hear rumors of the curse on the town that was set centuries ago by a woman who was accused of witchcraft and hung. It is said that before her execution, she claimed the town would burn down three times – Lafayette has since burned twice.   

The real story actually begins in Corvallis with the Marple family: a man named Richard, his wife Julia, and his mother Anna. The family moved to Lafayette in 1885, and Richard was unable to keep a job and allegedly became a criminal. Richard’s mother Anna became involved with a local shop owner, David Corker, between 1885 and 1886, and Corker was eventually found to have been killed brutally with an ax. Richard was brought in for questioning by police but maintained his innocence.   

However, evidence of the murder was found at Richard’s home, and since nobody could confirm his alibi, Richard was convicted of first-degree murder in April of 1887, with his mother being indicted as an accomplice – though, these charges against her were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.   

In 1887, Richard was hung in front of the town, the strangulation lasting 18 minutes before he succumbed to death. His mother Anna allegedly then yelled that the town would burn and never thrive. Many are still waiting for town to burn down for the third time, concerned about the curse that is said to have been set so long ago.   

The Shanghai Tunnels   

The legends associated with The Shanghai Tunnels in Portland are unfortunately grounded in awful truths about what happened inside the city from about 1850 to 1941.   

“Shanghaiing, a problematic and controversial term, was the practice of capturing and illegally selling able-bodied men to sea captains in need of crewmen. Abductors earned money for the men they stole, and victims were forced to work on ships for no pay.   

The rumored Shanghai Tunnels lie beneath the city of Portland. The underground system was created to link Portland’s Old Town to the central downtown area. The tunnels, according to rumor, were used for shanghaiing – victims were often drugged or kidnapped while intoxicated and then taken to the underground and held captive before being sold to the captains. Some businesses are said to even have had trapdoors called “deadfalls” for the kidnappings.   

Now, The Shanghai Tunnels are said to be haunted by lost souls who died within them. Interested Portland visitors can even take a trip into these tunnels, though they are currently closed due to COVID.   

Polybius  

Known as one of Portland’s craziest urban legends, Polybius was a video game rumored to hypnotize its users in the 1980s. Most notably, two teenagers disappeared after playing the game, further sparking the rumors surrounding the arcade attraction.   

The game itself was a black box with no name and was considered to be addictive with its geometric patterns and colorful shapes. Some say Polybius was a tool used by the government to experiment on users, others say it was part of the CIA’s MK-Ultra attempts at mind control.   

There have been some accounts by those who played the arcade game at the time that say they were abducted after playing Polybius. One man named Bobby Feldstein told PDX Monthly that he was taken into Portland’s underground tunnels (connecting back to the urban legend of The Shanghai Tunnels) and then was found the next day in the middle of the Tillamook State Forest, 60 miles from his home.  

A podcast about the Polybius legend can be listened to here  

By Cara Nixon