PORTLAND MEMORIAL MAUSOLEUM
6705 SE 14th Avenue
Portland, OR. 97202
Acres: 2.5 City Blocks
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
The 8-story Portland Memorial Mausoleum is also known as Portland’s Indoor Cemetery… an apt name for this sprawling complex which keeps each and every one of its “residents” eternally indoors. If you’ve ever been to Portland, you might be able to imagine how unlikely the location for the Indoor Cemetery is…at least at first glance. Driving down a series of small (often one-way) streets, visitors may well suppose they have taken a wrong turn; however, those who are persistent will be richly rewarded, though that might not be apparent at first glance. Pulling into a parallel parking space on SE 14th Avenue, the mausoleum appears almost diminutive. But don’t let that fool you!
First...a bit of history...
In 1901, a group of Portland businessmen joined forces to form the Pacific Northwest’s first cremation association. The first building to be constructed on the newly-purchased property was Sunset Chapel. This chapel is still in use today. Close on the heels of Sunset came the crematorium and then the Rose Room which was destined to receive the mausoleum’s first urns. The popularity of the columbarium (for that is what the building was initially intended to be) saw additional glass-front niche rooms (all named after flowers) continue to be added beneath the chapel floor. By 1910, however, demand for crypt entombment was sufficient to convince the owners to begin adding vaults to the building. For the next seventy years, crypts and niche rooms continued to be constructed, making the ever-expanding mausoleum seem almost Winchester Mansion-like in its never-ending growth. By 1970, a funeral home was added to make things easier for patrons of the Indoor Cemetery. In the early 1990s the latest vault wing was completed and opened for occupation and in 2003 the newest niche wall was made available to the public.
Back to the mausoleum...
As you approach the main door, and depending on the season, you may be greeted with the cheerful quacking of groups of ducks paddling lazily through a man-made lake which extends half the length of one of the main hallways. Indeed, some of the private family crypts inside afford views of the duck pond. Visitors to the Portland Memorial Mausoleum will, upon entering the main door, be treated to an original Tiffany stained glass window. Other visual treats include an exact replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” a skylight in the Rose Room, a graceful sculpture of two nude, intertwined women, numerous religious figures and a host of absolutely breathtaking urns. Some of these resemble the gargantuan urns found in Colma, California’s Chapel of the Chimes and Chapel of Memories.
Portland's Indoor Cemetery is truly one of the most remarkable mausoleums we've ever had the pleasure of visiting. The seemingly-endless corridors offer something new, exciting and often beautiful at each and every turn. When we visited, we turned to our right and began to explore. It would be several hours before we discovered the old, flower-named rooms beneath the chapel. But more on that later.
It was chilly in the mausoleum the day we visited. Early November in Oregon. This, of course, did not deter us for a second...and, in fact, the cool added to the already-eerie atmosphere. Many of the corridors were dark (the staff having left the lights off—presumably to conserve electricity). We would often wander through them in the encompassing black before switching on a light and tracking back. Most of the halls in the newer section of the building feature rooms for private crypts. Traditional crypts line many of the marbled halls, but there is, on each floor in the newest wing, a right-angle turn which opens into a room featuring crypts against the walls and enormous urn banks in the middle. One such urn bank boasts a fountain in front of it. This was meticulously-maintained and added the strangely out-of-place music of trickling water to the otherwise silent tomb.
Did I say "otherwise silent?"
Well, that may have been true most of the time, but there were a good number of our hours in which our journey was accompanied by a truly eerie wailing sound. A banshee? We hoped not as they are precursors of death and we were not yet ready to cross over. It took us some time to discover the source of the disconcerting "music," and when, at last, we did—there was yet another surprise. Following the "cries," we crossed one of the afore-mentioned rooms with a niche bank. At the far end, we discovered a window which was slightly ajar. It was the wind, whistling through the tiny opening, which caused the creepy sound. Delightful! But what lay outside the window was, in its own way, even more eerie. Before our eyes stretched a vast, shallow pond which was surrounded by reeds. Actually, it looked more like a marsh than a pond. This, we later discovered, was the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. At its most distant shore, a Ferris wheel rose up, its steel arms and slowly swinging baskets making us feel we'd stepping onto the set of "Something Wicked This Way Comes."
We enjoyed the wailing as we continued to explore the newer corridors, surprised at the distance the sound carried in the vast building. While these halls were certainly not without charm, they would not have merited the 5-Tombstone rating this mausoleum earned. It was when we went back to the main entrance, passed it, and headed towards the funeral home and offices that we hit real pay-dirt! Hidden in the depths of this part of the mausoleum, the flower-named rooms beckoned with their enormous urns, steep staircases, damp velvet curtains and rich stained glass windows.
Speaking of staircases, it was in this area, standing at the base of a set of marble stairs, that one of the staff of Bella Morte had an actual, sustained, ghost-sighting! She stated a fog-like figure appeared at the top of the stairs and began a swift descent. Unfortunately, the digital camera she was using was too slow in turning on for her to get a shot before the apparition drifted by and literally vanished into thin air. Of course, she was also too transfixed to take her eyes off the spirit to properly man the camera. Nevertheless, this Bella Morte proprietor is absolutely trustworthy and has never before (or since) seen anything similar. Even without photographic evidence, we count this as a bona fide "ghost" sighting. How wonderful is that?
In one of the "flower corridors" we came across something we'd not seen before. Crypts which lined the wall had been recessed in such a way that there was room to fit a number of urns in front of each vault. Groups of urns had been thus placed and glass was put in place to protect them from theft or vandalism. Quite unique!
Several more hours were spent in blissful abandon as we examined countless urns and enjoyed the delicious ambience. Just as we thought we had explored every avenue, we discovered what is probably the mausoleum's newest vault wing. For the most part, the variegated green marble crypt fronts were unremarkable. That is, until we came across the tomb of Cossandra Megan Brown (1983 - 2003). Beneath her name, golden letters proclaimed: "Beloved Sister To Women And Dogs." Photographs (she was a truly-attractive young lady), poems, flowers and little baubles had been taped over the marble front of her crypt and also on the one adjacent, which we suspect belonged to her still-living mother. We think this because Cossandra's mother has left several of the afore-mentioned cards and baubles on the front. She obviously adored her daughter and it seems logical she would wish to have her remains rest near those of her beloved child. Also taped to the tomb was the tragic story of Cossandra's murder at the hands of her boyfriend. After slaying the young woman, he dismembered her and left the pieces of her body near a river where they were later discovered. She was interred at the Portland Memorial Mausoleum where we had the privilege of visiting and sending our best wishes to this vibrant, spirited woman who was so terribly wronged. It is our hope that she is at peace and well now.
Reluctantly, we left Portland's Indoor Cemetery, thankful for the hours we'd spent and the magic we would keep with us forever. Need we say this place is not to be missed if you happen to be in Portland?