FLORENCE, Ore. — An apparition of a gray-haired woman wearing a late Victorian-era dress.
A wispy gray figure floating down the hallway.
Sounds of sweeping and furniture being moved at night coming from the locked, empty attic.
These are the stories that give the former keeper’s house near Heceta Head Lighthouse north of Florence its reputation as one of the most haunted places on the West Coast.
The pleasing white, Queen Anne-style house with a red roof has overlooked the craggy rocks and pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean for more than a century.
From 1894, when the lighthouse first cast its beacon out to sea, to the early 1960s, it housed the men who kept the lighthouse running and their families. It served as a military barracks in World War II and as a satellite campus for Lane Community College in Eugene from 1970 to 1995.
For the past 21 years, it has operated as a bed and breakfast, with room for 15 guests — 16 if you count the resident ghost, known as “Rue.”
She has been called that for decades, ever since a group of LCC students huddled around a Ouija board asking questions, and the board spelled out “R-U-E,” manager Misty Anderson said at the house a few days before Halloween.
“She doesn’t ever do anything scary or harmful or threatening,” Anderson said. “It’s more like she’s watching over the place. Watching the house and looking for her daughter.”
There are many versions of the story, Anderson said, settling into a parlor chair.
“Do we even know the truth?” she asked. “It’s just our version.”
The theory is that Rue was a lightkeeper’s wife, although records can’t confirm that because they don’t list keepers’ wives or children, Anderson said. Rue had two daughters, and one of them drowned, she said.
“We don’t know if she drowned in the ocean or in a cistern,” Anderson said. “There is an unmarked grave up on the hillside. It’s all overgrown and has been left undisturbed.”
As the story goes, Rue left Heceta Head and after she died, she returned to the keeper’s house looking for her daughter, Anderson said.
The inn doesn’t play up its resident ghost. It doesn’t have to. Some guests are drawn to Rue — requesting Victoria’s Room, where the lightkeepers are said to have slept, or the Cape Cove Room, where a closet contains the steep stairs leading to the locked attic. Other guests prefer not to know.
“It can be an asset to a business or a hindrance depending on how people feel about it, but we’re doing fine,” Anderson said.
The year-round inn typically is at full occupancy from late March through September and is a popular venue for weddings and other events, she said.
The keeper’s house and grounds are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, which in 1995 chose Mike and Carol Korgan, executive chefs from Portland, to operate a bed and breakfast in the house. Today, their daughter, Michelle Korgan, chef at Ona Restaurant and Lounge in Yachats, runs the inn, which is known for its elaborate seven-course breakfasts.
Probably the most startling encounter with Rue was reported by the Siuslaw News in 1975. Workman Jim Anderson was cleaning a window in the house’s attic and noticed an odd reflection in the glass. He swung around and saw an apparition of an elderly woman wearing a late-Victorian-style gown, according to the report. Anderson fled the house and didn’t return for several days.
When he returned to work on the house’s exterior — he refused to go in the attic — he accidentally broke an attic widow. He repaired it from the outside and left the broken glass on the attic floor.
That night, the house caretakers were awakened by scraping sounds in the attic. They said it sounded like someone sweeping broken glass, although they hadn’t learned yet about the broken window. The next morning they found the glass swept into a neat pile, according to the report.
Anderson said one guest recalled that she and her husband were relaxing in the parlor one afternoon when she saw a gray figure float across the hallway near the base of the stairs to the second-floor bedrooms.
Guest Carol Henderson, who stayed overnight in the Cape Cove room five years ago, wrote of her encounter with Rue in the inn’s notebook of “ghost stories.”
She said she awakened at 4:30 a.m. and felt a “presence” climb into the bed beside her for a couple of hours.
“Need I say I feel strange about this experience but in a way honored,” she wrote. “Concerned but not harmed.”
Many guests have noticed items in their rooms being moved or rearranged, when no one had been in the room, Anderson said.
In some cases, items go missing only to be returned later, she said.
“Things don’t go missing for long,” Anderson said. “If anything has been moved in their room, it usually stays in their room. I can’t think of anything that’s completely gone. It’s just moved.
“It’s nothing scary or negative. We just accept (Rue) as part of the house.”
However, Anderson, a self-described “scaredy-cat,” said enough has happened over the years that she doesn’t like to spend the night at the inn anymore.
Beth Mozzachio, who does housekeeping, serving and other jobs at the bed and breakfast, said she often feels a presence when she goes about her work.
“Usually after I get the bed made, there will be a depression, as if someone has sat there,” she said, as she recently changed linens in The Mariner’s II room, with a stunning ocean view.
Mozzachio said she probably would scream if she ever actually saw Rue, but she never has, so she isn’t bothered.
“My job is to take care of the place and make it look nice, and I think she likes that,” she said.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com