BY VANESSA SALVIA
Whether you’re prepared to be scared or you just want to contemplate mortality, there’s no better place than a mausoleum to get you in the Halloween spirit. It might sound like a macabre destination, but that’s the point—the architecture of the dead is often the stuff of horror movies for a reason. And the stories of the people interred there are as fascinating as the structures themselves. So, bury your jitters and join us as we work our way up from south to north, through Oregon, Idaho and Washington, to visit four of the Northwest’s best— and most atmospheric—memorials to the departed.
Hope Abbey Mausoleum
Nestled at the western edge of the Eugene Masonic Cemetery, the Hope Abbey Mausoleum features traditional Egyptian funerary symbols, such as papyrus bundles, lotus-blossom urns and a solar disc with snakes and outstretched wings on each side above its magnificent entrance.
“On the exterior wall is a cavetto molding which is fluted and curved out,” says Denny Hellesvig, a Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association board member and retired architect. “That is a very definite Egyptian architectural element. Just under the cavetto molding is a winged orb, which is another Egyptian funerary symbol. I’ve seen them in Egyptian tombs and they’re no different. It’s just a straight copy.”
The walls are Tokeen marble, quarried off the Alaskan coast. Sunlight shines through golden stained-glass windows clad in copper, casting a warm glow upon metal lotus blossom details and what Hellesvig presumes is a papyrus bulb on the window frames, both symbols of early Egyptian dynasties.
Ten-foot-tall bronze doors admit the public to attend occasional musical events, and visitors are admitted for tours on the last Sunday of each month, except December.
The cemetery surrounding the mausoleum holds most of Eugene’s historical names, including city founder Eugene Skinner. At the 1914 dedication of this nearly 2,000-square-foot mausoleum, optimistic Masons included a time capsule to be opened in 2914.
The Masonic Cemetery lies between East 25th and 26th avenues and University and Onyx streets in Eugene; 26th Avenue dead-ends at the cemetery. Park street-side and walk into the cemetery. The mausoleum sits at the top of the hill.
This mysterious Portland tomb is open one day a year, Memorial Day, unless you have a family member there. The Rae Room is a tomb inside a funeral home, behind 250-pound bronze doors installed by Elizabeth, the second wife of lumberman George Rae, one of Oregon’s richest men when he died in 1918. It’s a rare sarcophagus-type vault that is also a private room.
Rae’s first wife, Charlotte, died in a mental hospital in 1914. Rae scandalized the town by marrying Elizabeth, his 26-years-younger housekeeper, 10 months later. Although the couple appeared to be happy, Rae’s family assassinated Elizabeth’s character by any means they could.
“After his death, Elizabeth went through a court battle over his estate and his body and she won,” explains Michael Ashe, former owner and now general manager of Wilhelm Portland Memorial Funeral Home, where the Rae Room is located. Rae rewrote his will to cut out his daughter, and Elizabeth’s case went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court.
“At first Rae’s body had been buried in the family plot on the other side of the river,” says Ashe. “She built this room for both of them and then had his body exhumed and moved over.”
Inside the 15-by-15-foot tomb, George and Elizabeth’s huge marble sarcophagi rest side by side, each holding a coffin of solid bronze. Behind the sarcophagi is a large stained-glass panel of a tree scene and a mountain. At the bottom of the panel is a saying, “The end of a perfect day.”
Other than the open hours on Memorial Day, members of the public who don’t have family interred in the funeral home may request an appointment to view the room.
The Rae Room is in the Sellwood neighborhood of Southeast Portland at 6705 SE 14th Avenue.
Roche Harbor, Washington (on San Juan Island)
Set in a forest, the final resting place of the McMillin family is an open-air rotunda with a table in the center. Around the table sit stone chairs that contain the ashes of family members. While the date of completion is unknown, it was likely finished between 1930 and 1936, the latter being the year that patriarch John Stafford McMillin died.
“Besides the fact that it’s so unique is its woodland setting,” says Robin Jacobson, a member of the San Juan Historical Society board who gives tours of the cemetery. “It’s so peaceful here.”
The rotunda, more accurately called a tholos, is built of limestone and cement. While the “vista” is now obscured by trees, when the tholos was built it allowed for sunset views that imbued the entire structure with a rosy glow. Now, dappled and filtered light lend the site an eerie quality.
Both McMillin and his son were Masons, and the structure holds numerous symbols from that philosophy. The table and chairs are circled by six Roman columns and a broken one. There are six chairs, and space for a missing chair, which is also symbolic. “The broken column means that life is never done,” explains Jacobson. “Everything in the design means something to a Mason.”
McMillin built the structure at a cost of $30,000, a fortune at the time. A bronze dome was supposed to cover it all, but McMillin’s penny-pinching son canceled the order. Jacobson says legend holds that when it rains it doesn’t fall on the chairs, as if the dome were in place. “That isn’t true,” Jacobson says. “But paranormals say they can hear voices there.”
Visitors can access San Juan Island by Kenmore Air or Washington State Ferry. From Roche Harbor, a trail leads to the mausoleum site. One spooky fact: GPS won’t help you find Afterglow Vista.
John Green Mausoleum
Morris Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of the who’s who of Boise history, including John Green, a major in the U.S. Cavalry. Green was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service and lived a well-respected life… until he married a madam.
Green is buried in one of the cemetery’s three private mausoleums, dated 1909. Although his wife, Mary, moved to San Francisco after his death, upon her own death she was returned to Morris Hill and now rests beside him. There is no stone marking Mary’s grave.
Green came from Germany at the age of six with his parents and four siblings. In Boise, in 1908, he heard the bugle call to the next realm. Green was laid to rest in the Kinney mausoleum until his own mausoleum was erected and his body transferred in 1910. The Boise newspapers described his vault as “magnificent” and befitting the memory of a man who had served his country so nobly. Mary Green paid the handsome sum of $10,000 for the vault, made of Baker City granite and lined inside with marble. Massive bronze doors guard the entrance and a large stained-glass window faces the sunrise.
The cemetery sits across the Boise River from downtown Boise in the community of Morris Hill. From downtown, take S. 16th Street, which turns into S. American Blvd. and traverses Ann Morrison Park. Veer left at Latah Street to reach the cemetery entrance.