Ghosts are coming out of the windows of Pittock Mansion, a historic house landmark.
Illustration by Umi Caldwell

Paranormal PNW: Pittock Mansion’s haunted history

Hidden among Portland’s winding and well-manicured West Hills sits Pittock Mansion, a 23-room, 16,000-square-foot estate. While this French Renaissance-style château designed by the famous architect Edward Foulkes initially brings images of luxury and extravagance to mind, the property also harbors an eerie paranormal history.

According to the Pittock Mansion website, Henry Pittock, the patriarch of the mansion’s founding family, was born in London in 1834. His family then moved to Pittsburgh where he spent most of his young life. Pittock came to Portland in 1853 to pursue his fortune, landing his first job as a typesetter at The Oregonian. He would later own the paper and transform it into the success that it is today.

Pittock’s future wife, Georgiana Pittock (née Burton), was born in 1845 and came to Portland with her family a year after Henry’s arrival. The couple married in 1860, five months prior to Henry becoming owner of The Oregonian. 

While Henry Pittock is best remembered as a newspaperman, he also amassed a great deal of his wealth through real estate, banking, transportation and even sheep ranching, according to the Pittock Mansion website. 

As Henry worked on his many business ventures, Georgiana Pittock went on to found the Portland Rose Society in 1888, and created the annual rose show, which evolved into the now-famous Portland Rose Festival. Mrs. Pittock also founded the Ladies Relief Society, the Women’s Union and the Martha Washington Home, which provided housing for single and financially independent women. 

While the family’s mansion was the crowning jewel of their immense fortune, Henry and Georgiana died soon after the house was finished in 1914, dying in January 1919 and June 1918, respectively. 

After their deaths, the rest of the Pittock family lived in the mansion until 1958, when, according to the Portland Tribune, the couple’s grandson Peter Gantenbein put the property up for sale. 

The mansion remained unoccupied for four years, and took on serious damage after the Columbus Day Storm of 1962. After a developer expressed interest in demolishing the home to turn it into a subdivision, a group of Portland citizens raised $75,000 to help the city purchase and restore the property, arguing that it had immense value as a Portland historic landmark. The City of Portland, impressed by the citizens’ efforts, ultimately agreed with the historical value of Pittock Mansion and purchased the estate in 1964 for $225,000.

In the summer of 1965, the mansion was opened as a historic house museum, and ever since countless visitors have reportedly witnessed paranormal activity both inside the mansion and on its grounds.

According to the website Portland Ghosts, the hotspot for reports of paranormal activity occurs in the upper rooms of the mansion. Many visitors have reported an intense smell of rose perfume upon entering the top floor’s rooms, which many argue is Mrs. Pittock’s way of making her presence known. While the scent proves startling to many guests, the vast majority claim that the presence did not feel malevolent. 

Another popular spot for ghost encounters takes place on the northernmost side of the mansion. Visitors often report the sounds of a shovel hitting the ground followed by heavy footsteps walking back towards the mansion. According to Portland Ghosts, many staff believe that these sounds come from the spirit of the groundskeeper, who, like the Pittocks, lived and later died on the property in his own separate quarters, Gate Lodge, which sits to the south of the house. 

If you are interested in exploring the property, the museum is open Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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