Greetings, mortal souls!! This month our historian Lori examines the Afterglow Vista Mausoluem, just in time for Halloween! So sit down, grab a cup of cider or pumpkin spice latte, and prepare to be scared!
THE AFTERGLOW VISTA MAUSOLEUM
ROCHE HARBOR, WASHINGTON
October means Halloween and the celebration of “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night.” And what goes better with the “spirit” of the season than a reputedly haunted mausoleum? But first a few words of caution about cemetery hauntings and paranormal investigations. It is absolutely necessary to have the permission of the cemetery’s managers to investigate because many do not allow ghost hunting. Do not trespass: cemeteries are usually fenced and are often locked at night—this is not to keep the dead in, but to keep intruders out. Nonetheless, cemeteries can be notorious locales for another type of nocturnal entity: those (often teenagers) who use such secluded spots to party, commit senseless acts of vandalism, and generally scare the bejeebers out of each other. Please help keep cemeteries places of peace and respect: if you see inappropriate activity, report it to the cemetery managers and the local police. And, be aware that haunted cemetery stories can sometimes be too good to be true—experiences fueled by alcohol or hormones can approach the realms (and unbelievability) of campfire ghost stories and urban legends.
This month’s Local Haunts will venture to Roche Harbor, Washington and the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum. The Roche Harbor Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and this monument to the McMillin family is interesting for a couple of reasons: for its symbolic cemetery architecture and for the experiences people have reported here. This edition of Local Haunts is a two-fer in another sense as well: one of the spirits is connected to two local haunted locations!
Roche Harbor (on San Juan Island) owed its founding in the 1880s to lime, an essential ingredient in cement, fertilizer and other products. John Stafford McMillin (1855-1936) became wealthy when he acquired a controlling interest in the rich lime deposits nearby in 1886; these local works eventually became one of the largest producers of calcined lime in the West and McMillin’s Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company was the leading employer in San Juan County. As president and manager of the company for fifty years, McMillin developed Roche Harbor as a company town under his control. Cottages were built for married employees of the company, as well as a general store and company offices and other facilities in the town. A Methodist Church was built in 1892, which served as a schoolhouse for the children of the company’s employees on weekdays (it is now Our Lady of Good Voyage, the only privately-owned Catholic Church in the US). A number of the company’s workers were Japanese, who lived in “Japan Town” at the south end of the cove and were employed as cooks, waiters, domestic servants and gardeners. They and their families were buried in the Roche Harbor Cemetery, but their wooden markers have long since disappeared leaving their graves unmarked (their wooden houses no longer remain either). McMillin built the 22-room three-story Hotel de Haro (named for Gonzales Lopez de Haro, an early Spanish explorer) around an existing two-story log bunkhouse in 1886-7 as a place where customers for his lime business and other guests could stay. Nine of the cottages for married employees were also converted to accommodate guests. In 1975, yellow pavers (fire bricks) from the original lime kilns were used to line the road in front of the remodeled hotel.
The Hotel de Haro
(Photo source: “Historical Photos of Roche Harbor Lime Company”)
Macmillan built a large three-story clapboard house (that incorporated the original Custom House as its north wing) along the waterfront. This residence was remodeled for use as a restaurant and lounge for the resort in the 1950s. McMillin and his wife Louella Hiett McMillin (1857-1943) had four children: John (1878), Fred (1880-1922), Paul (1886-1961), and Dorothy (1894-1980). McMillin attributed his success to his religion, his family and his fraternal affiliations: John McMillin and his brother William had been members of Sigma Chi fraternity at Indiana Asbury College (now DePauw University). Both McMillin and his son Fred were 32nd Degree Masons. In addition to becoming a wealthy man, McMillin also became prominent in local and state politics as head of the San Juan County Republican Party. McMillin counted President Theodore Roosevelt among his friends; Roosevelt stayed in room 2A of the Hotel de Haro when he visited in 1906 (the room is now the Presidential Suite of the Roche Harbor hotel).
In 1936, McMillin built (at a cost of $30,000) the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum to hold his remains as well as those of his family members. The name “Afterglow” came from the play of the light at sunset on Spieden Channel and on its elevated site, the mausoleum commanded a view of Afterglow Beach and Haro Strait (the view is now much obscured by the growth of nearby trees). When one thinks of a mausoleum, the usual image is that of a solid-looking stone building holding coffins or cremated remains. Afterglow Vista Mausoleum is much different: it was designed as a tholos, an open, circular temple-like structure built of local limestone and cement. Moreover, Afterglow Vista Mausoleum incorporates interesting design elements drawn from the philosophies of the Masons and the Knights Templar.
The McMillin Mausoleum
(Photo source: “Roche Harbor”)
The Afterglow Vista Mausoleum is located along a trail through a wooded area northeast of the workers’ cottages and the cemetery at the northernmost part of the Roche Harbor Historic District. The filigree metal archway above the gated masonry entrance the reads “Afterglow Vista” and a sign at the gate identifies those who are interred in the mausoleum and explains the symbolism of its design. After passing through the archway, visitors climb three flights of stairs: the first flight has three steps symbolizing the three ages of man (childhood, adulthood and old age); the second flight has five steps symbolizing the five orders of classical architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite); and the third flight has seven steps symbolizing the seven liberal arts and sciences (the trivium: grammar/ literature, rhetoric and dialectic; and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). At the top of the stairs is a raised platform with seven Tuscan columns in a circular arrangement; the columns (each 30 feet tall) are supposed to be the same size as those of Solomon’s Temple. The columns are connected by a ring with a fleur-de-lis worked seven times into the design. One of the columns on the west side is broken (it was designed that way) to symbolize life’s work interrupted and left unfinished at death. The mausoleum was not fully completed as McMillin intended—his original design called for the columns to support a bronze dome topped with a Maltese Cross (a symbolic connection to the Sigma Chi fraternity). The plans for the $20,000 custom-made dome were scrapped at the last minute to save money. On the platform in the center of the seven columns is a limestone table surrounded by six limestone chairs–the traditional gathering place for families and a symbol of reunion after death. (In the recent past, the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum was victimized by vandals who removed one chair completely and damaged the backs of two others.) Each of the chairs is inscribed with the name of a McMillin family member, whose cremated ashes are interred in a niche in the seat of the chair. John McMillin’s chair reads: “John Stafford McMillin, A.B., A.M., LL.D., A 32° Mason – Knight Templar – Noble of Mystic Shrine Sigma Chi – Methodist – Republican”. The monument is reputedly oriented so that the sunset in June shines through the broken column in the west and falls onto the chairs holding the ashes of McMillin and his wife.
Strange lights have been seen and photographed at the mausoleum, including blue lights hovering over the chairs. Cold spots and the sounds of voices have also been reported. Visitors have sensed the presence of spirits near the table, and those who sit on the chairs experience an uneasy feeling as if they have violated a sacred space. Those who go so far as to sit on the table reportedly have felt hands push them off. Visitors have also reported seeing members of the McMillin family seated around the table laughing and talking on full moon nights. Interestingly, people who visit the mausoleum on rainy days have reported that no rain falls on them when they are seated on the chairs, as if the bronze dome that was intended to cover the tables and chairs was actually in place.
And what about the spirit who may haunt two locations? For that we need to return to the Roche Harbor hotel, which was built around John McMillin’s Hotel de Haro. The second floor of the old hotel is reportedly haunted by a middle-aged woman in a long dress. One hotel employee recounted hearing the sound of a woman’s clothing rustling when no one else was there. Many believe that the woman was a hotel maid or housekeeper; however, some think that this is the spirit of Ada Beane, the McMillin family’s governess (sometimes identified as McMillin’s secretary), who apparently was considered a part of the family rather than an employee. Beane lived in her own cottage next to the McMillin family’s house in Roche Harbor. Although Beane died of natural causes, rumors persist that she actually committed suicide. Beane’s remains were cremated and the ashes kept by the McMillin family until they were later placed in the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum. In the mid-1950s, the resort’s manager was surprised to learn from Paul McMillin that Beane’s ashes “were in the mason jar on the mantle in Paul’s office. Ever since that day we put her ashes into the copper urn in the family crypt, she’s refused to leave us alone at the resort. Lights go on and off. Doors open and close. The blender turns itself on. The usual ghostly pranks.” Beane’s former cottage was incorporated into the resort, to become the McMillin Dining Room. The resort’s restaurant manager recounted, “Late at night after I’ve closed up the restaurant and I’m on my way out, I’ll look back and a candle will have reignited. I’ll go back to blow out the candle and she’ll turn all the hood fans on.” Over the years, employees have reported appliances turning on and off by themselves, and have witnessed a storeroom door open on its own. Furniture and other contents stored in a back room have been found shifted and moved. The resort’s gift shop seems particularly active: there an employee watched as several glass shelves cracked or shattered one-by-one.
Jefferson Davis, A Haunted Tour Guide to the Pacific Northwest (2001)
Jeff Davis and Al Eufrasio, Weird Washington (2008)
Jeff Dwyer, Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound (2008)
Margaret Read MacDonald, Ghost Stories from the Pacific Northwest (1995)
Linda Moffitt, Washington’s Haunted Hotspots (2009)
S.E. Schlosser, Spooky Washington: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore (2010)
Joe Teeples, Pacific Northwest Haunts: A Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide (2010)
“Historic Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington”
“John Stafford McMillin,” Find A Grave
“John S. McMillin Memorial Mausoleum,” The Sigma Chi Historical Initiative
“San Juan County: Thumbnail History,” HistoryLink
“Historical Photos of Roche Harbor Lime Company”
“San Juan Island and the Town of Friday Harbor” (http://www.sanjuanislands.com/sji-sanjuan.shtml)
National Register of Historic Places: Nomination Form for Roche Harbor, Washington (1976)