Halloween thrills needn’t break the bank. I’m in the mood for an old-fashioned scare of the kind that arises “naturally” from places that are actually haunted. Nate, my husband, is not entirely sold on the idea, but Alex, our fifteen-year-old was invited to a haunted house experience run by one of the local businesses in town. I really wanted to go with him, but the “experience” cost $20 a person. Also, Moms who scare easily are probably not invited, either. However, for much less than half that amount, I could sit in a cozy bar, drink some beer, listen to a sick band, and possibly get the wits scared out of me. The destination? The Oxford Saloon in Snohomish, Washington.
Holding my liquor at the Oxford Saloon would never be a problem. Holding my bladder, on the other hand, would be, but I’d have to try if I wanted to avoid trouble.
“Whatever you do, don’t use the bathroom,” Nate warns me.
“Why?” I ask.
“That’s where the ghosts are. If we’re going to a real haunted place for ‘fun’ this Halloween, let’s just not bring anything home with us.”
“Right,” I say. “That’s why I’ve got holy palm in my wallet.”
“Did you bring any for me?”
“Why? You’re like a camel or something. You can survive long spells without having to use the restroom in a public place.”
“Still . . . we’ll be in a genuinely haunted place,” he insists.
“Relax, I have plenty for both of us,” I reply as we drive to the “most haunted” site we know in town.
Armed with our holy palm, we enter the saloon. I open my wallet to make sure the faded green leaf is still nestled between my dollar bills. This blessed palm is a family tradition with which I can’t part. Any scary event in my childhood home, was quickly extinguished with the holy palm. My parents would light the leftover leaves from Palm Sunday Mass in the event of a storm or other threat. Technically, this blessed palm, according to the United States Catechism, is a sacramental or “sacred sign that bear(s) a resemblance to the sacraments” (United States Catechism for Adults, 2008, p. 299). These sacramentals do not replace liturgical sacraments or going to mass, but they can enhance the spiritual life of a family at home, if they are used with reverence and respect. However, the Baltimore Catechism website also cautions that they “have no power in themselves, and to put too much confidence in their use leads to superstition.” I fully admit that I border on being superstitious and I may have a holy palm problem. I’ve placed blessed palm leaves in all of our cars, our luggage, and I’ve actually taped pieces of them to our furniture when we moved from Ohio. I’m pretty sure these uses are not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, but they make me feel better.
As we enter, we can see a sizable crowd has already gathered and very few seats are open. The server offers to seat us downstairs, but there are two open seats at the bar.
“We are definitely not going downstairs,” Nate says as we walk over to the bar.
He has good reason to not go down there. According to the Oxford Saloon’s website, the building we have just entered, which became a saloon in 1910, also once housed a high-end brothel on the second floor, and a place for rather dangerous and violent crowd of men who gathered in what is now the basement below. One woman, whose name was Amelia, was forced into prostitution, and she either killed herself, or was murdered in one of the rooms above. People who have seen her say she wears a purple dress with purple bows. (Oddly enough, I’m wearing a purple blouse tonight and I chose it before I found out about Amelia’s dress. Ooooh! A scaaaary coincidence–oh no!)
Also a part of the saloon’s history is a man named Henry, who was a policeman who frequented the bar. He tried to stop a knife fight one evening, but he was stabbed and killed. It is believed that he still remains near the staircase leading to the basement and women have said that they have felt his presence in the form of a pinch when they were using the restroom. Usually, according to these accounts, Henry will leave if confronted. My theory is that it’s bad enough that women may have to endure this kind of behavior from real, live men nowadays. Why do they have to put up with this from dead men too? No way am I going downstairs! No way am I going to the bathroom!
“You can always go to the bathroom if you want, Nate. Henry probably only harasses the women.”
Nate shakes his head no. Unlike me, he read the full description of the hauntings of the Oxford Saloon on the website before coming here tonight. The Washington State Ghost Society came to investigate in 2005 and, according to the account on the Oxford Saloon site, “at the end of the investigation, one group member used the bathroom. As he was relieving himself, he heard a man’s voice whisper in his ear, ‘Get out!’ Remembering to zip up his pants, the man did as he was asked, and in the future he always remembered to go before he arrived at the Oxford Saloon.”
Tonight though, it looks like the chances of a ghost yelling, “Get out!” are pretty slim. If the ghosts decide to protest, they definitely won’t be heard. It’s loud, lively, and the band is setting up to play. I order a Diamond Knot Blonde Ale on tap and enjoy the first set from the Bill Mattocks Band, featuring blues, soul, and funk. Their first song, a unique cover of The Letter awakens the dancing spirit of many a couple. They are a joy to watch. (Some look like zombies who might not have danced in public for a while, but I’m not judging. You go, zombies! Go!)
Nate orders a beer and chips and salsa and the server talks me into a second beer. Great. Now I really will have to use the bathroom. The more I think about it, the more tempted I become. I finally work up the nerve to ask the server about the restrooms.
Me: So . . . are the restrooms . . . downstairs? Are they haunted?
Server (laughing): There are restrooms right up here and the ones downstairs . . . well, some people say Henry might pinch you on the rear end, but that doesn’t happen too often.
Suddenly, I don’t have to use the restroom anymore. The thought of using “un-haunted” bathrooms upstairs is no longer enticing. We tab out, but we are not disappointed. For a little over $20 (for the beer and chips) we enjoyed the possibility of spotting or experiencing the presence of a real ghost. Now, I can use my perfectly un-haunted bathroom at home, which will stay that way thanks to all of the blessed palm leaves I’ve been saving in case I ever visit a scary saloon.
Your Turn: Are there any haunted places where you live? Have you visited them? Any spine-tingling tales to share?