A bedside lamp at Portland's Heathman Hotel turns on and off on its own. Children in 1920s garb lurk in the carousel at the Jantzen Beach mall. Specters roam the halls of Pittock Mansion after the tourists have left for the day.
These local accounts of brushes with the otherworldly were recorded and researched by Leslie Rule, the 48-year-old daughter of true-crime doyenne Ann Rule. Last month, the younger Rule, who grew up in a haunted house on Puget Sound, published her third book on ghostly encounters and places, When the Ghost Screams (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.95).
WW talked to the Puyallup, Wash.,-based author last week about haunted Portland, the ghost-writing biz and what really scares her.
WW: So, I imagine Halloween is a crazy time of year for you.
Leslie Rule: It is. People don't think about ghosts that much the rest of the year. The public is always interested in ghosts, but the media is focused on Halloween. The climate has really changed in our country in the last decade. Just look at TV—half the shows are on the paranormal.
There's a lot more evidence of the existence of ghosts than there was a couple decades ago. I think the new technology is feeding the frenzy.
When did you first realize the house you grew up in was haunted?
It was common knowledge in my family. My parents talked about it matter-of-factly. I actually thought everyone lived in a haunted house. I thought it was normal. It sounds like something out of a Spielberg movie, but it was actually on a Native American burial ground. I remember my mom digging in her garden when we were kids and pulling up a bone. She said it was a human bone.
What did she do with it?
She just stuck it back in the dirt.
How do you do your research?
I like to visit places where ghosts have been seen. Places on the water will have the most activity. That could be because they were usually settled first and have the most history and more death, and that results in more ghosts. I go to these towns and I look for people who are credible witnesses who will let me use their real names and quote them directly. I interview them about what they've seen, and then I do historical research. What I'm usually looking for, and often find, is a history of violent death that took place in the vicinity.
Like your story of the Heathman Hotel in Portland, where you got background noise on a tape recorder and the light went off and on?
I did some research on that afterward and discovered that there was a suicide.
Did you know the Heathman was haunted before you stayed there?
I didn't—this happens to me a lot.
You write about children's ghosts hanging around the carousel at Jantzen Beach and give some theories as to why that might be.
It's fun to come up with theories. Nobody really knows what a ghost is. We think we know. The leading theory is they're simply dead people who haven't moved on for a variety of reasons. That makes a lot of sense, but the more I do this, the more I realize how little I know. It seems that these two kids were killed in an accident or even murdered near this carousel in the 1920s.
How many ghosts have you seen?
In my research, as I've gone to haunted places, I, that I know of, haven't yet seen a ghost. But I've had things happen. I've heard voices, and I've had the sensation of being touched. But in my lifetime there have been several times where I saw things through windows, and that seems to be one of the most common places they appear, in windows.
Why is ghost tourism so popular now?
One thing feeds another. The interest in the media and entertainment is feeding the tours, and I think that as entrepreneurs in popular cities see that it's working in other cities, they start their own ghost tours. And if they're good storytellers, then their tours become popular.
So, here are these people that are hanging on for whatever reasons. Is it at all exploitative to be a tourist and come and gawk?
Yeah, I guess that it would be. You're right, it would be exploitative. But it also could be helpful, because sometimes ghosts are rooted to the spot until they're acknowledged. Some people will try to talk to them and urge them to move on—to go toward the light.
What scares you?
Aliens. And real-life killers. I'm not afraid of ghosts. I look at ghosts as being like trapped animals that deserve our compassion and not our fear.
Do you believe in UFOs?
I haven't done much research, but I find it frightening: the idea that they could be among us and they may be able to control us. I hear those stories and I don't know if I believe them, but it chills my blood to think about people coming down in spaceships and taking us away.
Is it hard to be a writer in your mom's shadow?
I think for the most part it's very helpful. It certainly doesn't hurt to have the Rule name, but there are people who have said, "You're just able to publish because your mom's Ann Rule." But they're not going to publish something unless you're able to write. I did a lot of article-writing before I published my first book. And I'm not able to publish everything I write. I have a number of manuscripts that I haven't been able to sell.
So there's no mother-daughter rivalry?
No, we're very proud of each other. We tease each other. She'll say something like, "I hate to say this, but I think you're almost as good as I am."