Island Experience

Haunted Hotels of the San Juan Islands

Island ghost stories abound, but the better known apparitions lurk in the hallways of the islands’ historic lodgings

The San Juan Islands are well known for wildlife watching, adventure sports like sea kayaking and fresh, local food. What you won’t see in the guidebooks are the ghosts. The Moran Mansion at Rosario Resort, the Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor Resort, the Orcas Hotel, and the Outlook Inn in Eastsound are a few of the residences of island spirits.

You can watch this film about one of them, called "The Ghost in Red," by Cali Bagby, which tells the history of how the Moran Mansion's ghost found her home:

 

The Lady in Red

The ghost of Alice Goodfellow Rheem, known as the "Lady in Red," is said to haunt the Moran Mansion of Rosario Resort. Her presence is most often felt in the mansion’s former living quarters on the second floor and is occasionally felt in other spots in the Mansion (there are no longer guest rooms in the mansion, however, the second floor is a museum preserving the rooms much as they were when Alice lived there). Mrs. Rheem was the colorful and somewhat eccentric wife of the mansion’s second owner, industrialist Donald Rheem (of Rheem hot water heaters).

The Moran Mansion, Orcas Island

Considered harmless, if a little mischievous, visitors and employees report feeling touched, or seeing peripheral flashes that look like someone is passing, when no one is around. Staff has also reported faucets turning on and off on their own and laundry being messed up by unseen hands. Ghost or not, it’s worth a visit to the Mansion to see the museum and take in a free history presentation by the resorts longtime general manager, Christopher Peacock.

 

Moran Mansion Music Room, Orcas Island

Every day in summer (except Sundays), Peacock, offers a presentation of music and photography that walks guests through the history of the Moran family and the Rosario estate. Highlights of the presentation include the historic Moran Photograph Collection, Phantom of the Opera music performed on the Mansion’s 1,972 Aeolian pipe organ with the silent film and stories of the Mansion’s most colorful residents, including Mrs. Rheem.

Peacock said the sightings started with guests hearing high-heeled footsteps walking through the hallways, then turned into visions of a figure in red wandering the rooms of Rosario.  Islanders remember the larger-than-life figure driving around the island in her big old car, playing poker with the locals, and creating juicy scandal and rumors in their otherwise quiet lives.

Orcas Hotel, Orcas Island

 

Octavia's Ghost

Guests of the Orcas Hotel have made numerous reports of ghostly activities, usually attributed to the spectre of Octavia van Moorhem, one of the first innkeepers who moved into the historic hotel in 1904. Octavia was an excellent cook, and cooked for grateful guests and travelers. After she passed, guests started to report hearing the footsteps of a woman in heels, along with strange sounds emanating from the walls of the top floor.

The hotel's restaurant, Octavia's Bistro, keeps the spirit of this talented cook alive, serving traditional fare and entertainment overlooking the Orcas Ferry Landing.
 

Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island

Haunted de Haro

On San Juan Island, the Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor Resort has its own spectral occupant – the ghost of Adah Beeny, governess and secretary to the McMillin family, who owned the local lime works around which Roche Harbor was founded. The Hotel de Haro, built circa 1886, is the oldest continuously run lodging in the State of Washington.

Afterglow Mausolerum, Roche Harbor, San Juan Island

Employees have reported a store room door open on its own, appliances turning on and off and items in a store room shifting from time to time and the sound of rustling clothing when no one was there. One woman’s hands went numb when she went to enter the lobby because “the hotel is so haunted.” She couldn’t go in.

Outlook Inn, Orcas Island

 

Look out for ghosts at the Outlook Inn

The Outlook Inn has a fascinating and storied history. Spectral figures have been reported over the years. One guest said that she once was the only guest on a winter's night at the Inn years ago, and although she knew she was alone, she woke in the night to someone running up and down the hallways, but saw no one there.

The Outlook Inn's owner, Sara Farish, tells of the Inn's colorful history in the Outlook Inn's blog:

"I always think of the Inn as a grand lady.  But it wasn't always like that.  She has a wild past, full of color and controversy.

She was an outcast.  They called her a commune, full of freaks

That's right.  It wasn't always the Outlook Inn, full of friendly people, although the freaks were never accused of being unfriendly, just weird.  In 1968 when the Inn was purchased for a song and a prayer, the buyer was the renowned mystic, Louis Gittner, and the Outlook Inn was the spiritual center he created to live and share his teachings.  It was the 60's, but Orcas Island was a rural island flush with loggers, farmers and folks who had never heard of a chakra, crystal therapy or Buddha (I know it's hard to  imagine but follow me here).

View of Main Street, 1930s, Eastsound, Orcas Island

People here lived a simple, country life, revolving like many small communities around church and tradition.  The Outlook Inn was about to shake things up.  In looking through old newspaper clippings from 1969 I came across a quote in the local paper by the pastor of a local church.

"God lives on this side of the street and the devil lives over there".

This new spiritual community at the Outlook Inn was not welcomed.  Tourists had not yet discovered the Emerald Isle, but the spiritual seekers had and they were putting down roots.  There was a school, admittedly having only 3 students.  There was a chapel, with regular Sunday services and daily meditation for the entire staff.  There was a community of people.  The Inn sat on a log foundation, didn't have indoor plumbing, kept a few goats and chickens in the back yard.  Everybody worked for free "in service of humankind".  To support the community food was served, at owners whim, in the little water view dining room.  Menus appeared on pieces of driftwood.  Louis gave readings, sold books, and traveled the country as a speaker.

Despite the controversy, the power of the place, this view down the bay, could not be denied.  It was a powerful place.  For people to come who needed help.  Who sought peace.  Who imagined a different world." 

West Beach Resort, Orcas Island

 

Cabin 10 at West Beach Resort

 
If you are up for a spooky night on the beach, look to West Beach Resort. Guests have reported experiencing paranormal activity, such as the sounds of shuffling feet and knocking on doors and walls while staying at this beautiful waterfront cabin resort. The staff asks "are you staying in cabin 10?" The answer is almost always yes. The staff member said that a man and his son had died elsewhere and their ashes had been scattered near the beach and since then they have had other reports of strange phenomenon in that cabin.
 
Whatever the truth or myth of these stories, they bring the misty history of the islands to life. Historian Robin Jacobson says that maybe we are "fascinated by people that lived before as a way of hoping that our families will remember us as we go into the future."