I had the day off work on this last Memorial day. It was a typically gloomy Portland May day, so “normal” memorial day activities such as barbecuing or being outdoors in the sunshine were out of the question. I checked the paper for any interesting indoor activities to do that day. Low and behold there indeed was something interesting to do: An annual tour and festival at a historic mausoleum and crematory. There was to be vintage cars, food, crypt tours, music and refreshments. Holy crap. PERFECT. I also remembered seeing this place as one of the top weirdest things to do in Portland on some website I looked at when I first moved to city. I also knew from the website that the facility was only open to the public a few times a year. I knew exactly who to call to join me on this strange activity. I called up one of my oldest friends and asked her if she would like to go. Hell yes, she did.
There was a slight problem. As you know from my last blog post, my camera hasn’t been working properly. After it totally let me down while I was trying to shoot a family wedding, it needed to go to the shop for repairs. There was no way in hell I was going to this event without a camera. I mean, what’s the point? The camera on my half-broken iphone 3 wasn’t going to cut it either. The camera on that thing has less clarity than a homemade pinhole camera made from a shoe box. I decided I would stop and get some disposable cameras on the way there and use those. They suck, but its something. Then I had a moment of clarity.
What do all goth kids (and most first-year film students) do? Shoot black and white pics in a graveyard, right? Well this is like the ultimate graveyard and I just so happen to have my old film SLR and 2 rolls of black and white film in my house! YES. HELL YES! Don ye black clothing, wear extra eyeliner, and light a clove-we’re going to do goth-tivities today!
It’s probably time for you to press play and enjoy some background music for your reading
It took us forever to get there. I wasn’t familiar with the area it was in at all. My GPS on that afore mentioned crap phone I own was little to no help. After driving up and down the same street 5 times and after falsely entering a posh country club (a blog for another time, perhaps) we finally pulled in to the parking lot. Quickly we discovered that this bitch was PACKED! Seriously? Other people wanted to spend their memorial day looking at crypts? I was honestly surprised. The facility was also big. Big enough we really didn’t know how to get in or where to begin. We followed the crowd and entered one of the main buildings. Bianca led the way, and soon yelled back for me to get out my camera.
I’ll take take this moment to mention that I’ve only been in a funeral home two times in my life-once when mom died and the second when dad did. They all have a certain look and feel to them, and the mere sight of one turns my stomach. No one has ever been happy about being in a funeral home waiting room, and you can feel it the minute you walk in. It seem like these places saturate the misery held by its visitors into its walls. I did not realize that was a open facility and was still accepting people for burial. When we first entered the main building, we had to pass through the lobby of the funeral home to get to the other parts. The beige carpet, potted plants, and sad drapes and chairs made me almost throw up when I saw them. All that driven home by the multitude of Kleenex boxes dotting tables and counter tops in equally sad, beige colors. Bianca hurried me past this personal horror and into the historic portion.
It was open for business in 1910. I had never seen anything like it. Creepy statues, stained glass, wall engravings, seating areas…it really is hard to describe. It contained every type of way to bury someone imaginable-coffin, urn, fancy or meager. Because they just kept adding on to the existing structure, the layout was totally bizarre. Twists, turns, staircases going up and down everywhere you looked. Some areas were very modern and sterile in design, whereas the older ones were creepily elaborate. I’m not sure if I even need to mention this, but yes this place was spooky as SHIT. It doesn’t even matter that it was daytime, and crowded with people. This was an inherently creepy place with creepy looking shit everywhere you looked. it was obviously the more antiquated wings of the facility that raised the most goosebumps. Even if you’re a person that doesn’t believe in ghosts, such as myself, you really can’t help but be struck with the overwhelming magnitude of the graves contained within the structure, as well as the prolific history. I must say, I’ve become fascinated by the way humans feel a need to honor the dead. Seeing these elaborate memorials piqued this interest immensely. We began to wander. We didn’t see any maps, and we both began to feel a concern that getting lost in there was a very real possibility. Bianca asked me, “What time does this place close?” I told her the event was over at 4. She then said, “We’re going to want to keep a real close on eye on the time. I sure as hell do not want to get locked in here.”
The majority of the wings were very well-lit. Curiously, others were very dim and in a few cases, completely black. I’m not joking. I get that this is a very large building, thusly costing plenty to light and maintain. You’d think, however that only being open a few times a year they’d go ahead and splurge on lighting the whole thing. I’m not really sure why entire hallways and wings were open and pitch black. They were neither roped off, or populated with on-lookers. We walked through all of them, taking in the atmosphere. The graves went floors below ground level, as well as spiraled stories high. Every time we found a staircase, we explored it. Every turn was something unexpected and visually stunning.
The modern portion of the building was built in sort of a spiral. The center of the building, at the ground floor held an impressive water fountain, adorned with cherubim. The floors above and below were built around this so that when one looks up or below when standing in the very center, the fountain is visible. When we stumbled upon the level in which this fountain is meant to be viewed head-on, it took our breath away. Yes, it was also fucking creepy-looking.
Time for a new song, I suppose.
Most of the crowd there that day were elderly people. Not just older folks, but people that were near their own ends. It was a little morbid to see these people shuffling along looking at graves.
There was one area of the mausoleum was more awesome then the rest. It was in a portion for cremated remains. Rather than just the glass cases containing various urns, the family had turned the space into a little diorama of their loved-ones lives. There were hundreds of these, and each one was filled with trinkets, photos, even ashes housing their beloved pets. Each little glass case told a story about who was in there and what decade in time they lived. You guys can see to it that this is how I’m memorialized. Put Ham in there with me.
As we got to the very top floor, it was obvious how high up we were in a very old building. It was hot, stuffy, and overall very hard to breathe. Bianca kept saying that it smelled like dead people in there. I knew what she meant. The dead flowers on the gravestones, the lack of air circulation, the elderly folk… it was time to get some fresh air. We agreed that we needed to get the hell out of there. We began a hurried descent down about 6 floors, though endless hallways and corridors. Luckily, exits were clearly marked and there would be no chance of getting lost and trapped in there.
Not to forget, this is a festival after all! Just after you come out of the large portion of the main building, you are met with the anachronistic shock of a cheerful refreshment stand. Somehow touring a crypt doesn’t make me want a hot dog and popcorn. Oh and also eating food isn’t very goth.
In addition to the elderly that were there, there was also a good handful of goths there. Some total mall-goth kids, but a few serious ones as well. We walked past a young girl dressed in full-on victorian garb getting her portrait taken in front of one of the stained glass windows. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only irreverent asshole there to take pictures. I desperately wanted to get a picture of the mall-goths for you. It just didn’t happen. Film camera in a low-light situation doesn’t bode well for quick, candid shots.
After our tour, we were exhausted. Being goth is hard work! Frankly, there was a lot of shit to look at in there. Even though we covered a lot of ground, we probably only saw about half of it. There were way too many hallways and hidden staircases to explore it all. We decided we had enough. We also decided we needed lunch and I needed a drink.