The temperature is dropping and people are putting on their comfiest sweaters. This can only mean one thing… the fall season is upon us! And if you love Halloween as much as the Independence Hotel does, then you are ready for changing leaves, hot apple cider, pumpkin carving and… spooky encounters! That’s why we were so excited to chat with Marilyn Morton, an Independence local and author of “Haunted Independence, Oregon.” We have shared some of her experiences below but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, so make sure to pick up her book (available at the Independence Heritage Museum – or ask for it at the front desk) and, of course, visit downtown Independence and see what you encounter!
Q&A with Marilyn Morton:
Independence Hotel (IH): Can you tell me a little bit about your background? What brought you to writing about haunted Independence? And what first made you interested in ghost stories?
Marilyn Morton (MM): I spent 20 years volunteering in my community while my children were in school. During that time I had lots of opportunities to talk to local businesses, and from time to time “ghost stories” popped up. As I shared the story from one business to another, many more stories surfaced. Soon it was apparent that every building in town had some kind of story.
In 2002 I was involved in a local festival and asked the committee if they would be interesting in including a Ghost Walk into the schedule of events. I was told that if I would do all the work they were all for it. So we launched in 2002 with three stops. There hadn’t been much publicity and I had hoped for 30 people to be downtown – I would have considered our first year a success with that population. But instead, there were over 300 people.
In 2012 a publisher called me and said they’d heard about the Ghost Walk and asked if I’d write a book about it. How lucky is that – a want-to-be author being asked to write a book! So I did, and it came out in 2013.
One of oldest buildings in downtown, Independence….if walls could talk.
IH: What do you think makes Independence special when it comes to spirits and/or the paranormal?
MM: Every ghost story I’ve heard is characterized by being friendly, perhaps a bit mischievous, but not evil. I think that, as the hallmark of Independence ghosts, and the fact that the Ghost Walk is for entertainment only, is what makes us special.
IH: What does the word “ghost” mean to you?
MM: To me a ghost is a remnant that has the capacity to be interactive.
IH: Have you ever encountered a ghost?
MM: I have had ghostly experiences. One I recall with fondness is thinking about my grandmother one afternoon, who had passed on about 2 weeks prior, and hearing her laugh right out loud in my living room.
IH: What makes a space haunted? Does there need to be an encounter with a paranormal figure, or can it be a feeling or instinct? A gut reaction?
MM: All of the above! Cold spots, goose bumps, visible sightings, orbs, swaths of light, and more.
Participants gather to hear Indepndence’s haunted history.
IH: Do you have a favorite ghost story?
MM: There are so many in town. I suppose one of my favorites is about a little boy with a red ball that likes to fiddle with electricity, heating and cooling equipment, and rolling or bouncing his red ball through local buildings.
IH: What scares you?
MM: Not too much scares me except the usual mom thing of being concerned for the happiness/safety of our children.
IH: How do you go about “collecting” ghost stories? Do you research people? Do they come to you?
MM: The best method is telling a story. During Ghost Walk night, someone will tell one of the local stories and it will shortly be followed by one of the guests saying, “you’ll never believe what happened to me…” And so it goes.
IH: What are some of the most common reactions to ghost encounters?
MM: Interest and joy. People love to share photos of orbs they have collected. And people love to talk about their unique Ghost Walk encounters – again, everything friendly…maybe a little bit of mischief.
IH: Tell us about your tours/walks!
MM: We have between 22-25 stops on 3 blocks of Main Street and 1 block of C Street. After a request for volunteers, we assign a volunteer storyteller to a site, give our guests a map and times of presentations, and let them self-host, from 7 to 9 PM. This year the walk is October 2nd
IH: Do you have a favorite route?
MM: I just enjoy telling the stories to people who are interested.
IH: Are some scarier than others?
MM: No, but some have more history attached to them.
IH: What is the strangest experience you’ve had on a tour (could be from a ghost or from a customer)?
MM: One person claimed that someone invisible sat on her lap; Twice people have seen images in mirrors of people who don’t appear in real life; Lots and lots of orbs. Those are what I can think of now.
IH: Do people ever wear costumes? (If so, what has been your favorite?)
MM: I don’t wear a costume, but many people choose to do so. My favorites include a zombie, a Civil War Soldier, a bride, and a woman in “widow’s weeds.”
IH: What’s one thing you should always bring with you on a haunted tour?
MM: Your imagination and good listening skills.
IH: Are tours family-friendly? What about dog friendly?
MM: Family friendly, yes. Dog friendly, depending upon the personality of the dog. The biggest difficulty is that a couple of places have stairways. That limits people who are in wheelchairs, strollers, or who can’t navigate stairs.
Marilyn Morton, keeper of Independence’s haunted history, sits down at Indy Commons to record some of these ghost stories.
IH: What are the top reasons to try a ghost tour? I bet it’s a fun way to see a city!
MM: You get not only spectral stories, but local history, anecdotal material, and other people who tell their own stories.
IH: What was the process of writing “Haunted, Independence,” like? Had you always wanted to write a book? Or did this opportunity present itself to you?
MM: I had always had “write a book” on my rotating list of 25 things I wanted to accomplish. As I said, how special to have someone call me and ask me to do just that! I had pictured myself being at the beach, looking out at the waves, and writing a book. So a couple of times I did just that, for the experience!
IH: What is your favorite part about the annual ghost walk?
MM: The energy and enjoyment of our guests.
IH: How did the ghost walk have to change after the pandemic started? Will the tour be happening this year?
MM: We cancelled it last year and offered QR codes with stories that could be accessed through cell phones. This year we’ll be doing a “Ghost Walk” light, focusing on 10-12 locations instead of all of them.
IH: If you could return to Earth as a ghost (in the way future of course) what would be your particular style of contacting people?
Author, Marilyn Morton is now working on a 2nd book chronicling Independence History.
Old school Independence
IH: What is your favorite horror movie, author, or character?
MM: I love the old Godzilla movies and B-movies featuring monsters. I read lots – at the rate of about 2 books every 3-4 days.
IH: Where is the best place for people to A) Buy your book, and B) take a tour with you?
MM: Books are available on Amazon, on eBay, and in local bookstores. The best way to take a tour is to come to the Ghost Walk. I have done private tours for people and continue to be willing to do that depending upon time and opportunity.
IH: What do you like to do when you’re not exploring for ghosts in haunted cities?
MM: I am working on a second book, am treasurer for 2 non-profits, sit on our City Council, publish a monthly on-line magazine, and some other things.
IH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with me that I haven’t asked about?
MM: The Ghost Walk has always been a gift to our community. I can’t see asking so many people to volunteer and help, and yet charge a fee for the walk. Of course, we accept contributions, but the Walk is free and will continue that way as long as it’s under my purview.
There are 32 identified sites that are part of the Ghost Walk, check out the map by the Independence Heritage Museum for a self-guided tour.
Ghost walks and tours don’t only cover the paranormal, but also the interesting history of Independence and surrounds.