- Haunted Places
Elsinore Theatre, a true movie palace, is reportedly haunted by its former owner
Paranormal Activity at Elsinore Theatre
- Shadows are seen on stage at night when the theater is lit only by the stage's ghost light
- Many people report hearing and seeing the former owner, George Guthrie
- A cold spot seems to always exist somewhere on the stage, without explanation
- An unknown spirit supposedly moves props around and plays pranks on performers during rehearsals
- Blood stains mysteriously appear and disappear from a bathroom mirror
History of the Elsinore Theatre
Named for the castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and built to match the grandeur of a medieval fortress, the Elsinore Theatre looms large over central Salem, Oregon.
The theater’s Tudor Gothic architecture helps it stand above its more modern neighbors on High Street, a true theatrical cathedral that beckons the fans of screen and stage to come and witness their favorite works play out upon its altar of artistic expression.
Shortly after the Elsinore opened, Capital Journal writer D.H. Upjohn lauded its sturdy beauty, saying, “When the grandsons and granddaughters of those who are now infants in the cradle have graying hair, the Elsinore will still stand, immutable, imperishable, a thing of beauty and joy forever.” Little did Upjohn know just how right he would be.
But another fact the good writer didn’t know was that while those grandsons and granddaughters do still enjoy the Elsinore’s immovable presence today, the spirits of their long-passed grandparents may still be enjoying films and performances at the Elsinore Theatre.
Timeline of Elsinore Theatre's History
Swipe or use timeline points to see Elsinore Theatre through the years
The life of the Elsinore Theatre began on May 28, 1926, when owner George Guthrie first opened the doors of his silent movie house. Designed by regionally renowned architect Ellis Lawrence, the Elsinore Theater was a grandiose project from the very beginning. Opening night was the crowning moment for what would be one of Salem’s longest-lasting theatrical treasures. Quickly, the Elsinore made a name for itself as one of the finest silent movie houses in the state, and a luxurious performance venue with superb acoustics.
A few short years after opening, the Elsinore followed the interest of the movie-going public and made the switch to talking pictures. But, regardless of modernization, the Elsinore couldn’t avoid the hardship of the Great Depression. To reduce costs, George Guthrie rented the movie house out to Fox Theaters, and later to Warner Brothers, who operated the theater until the early 1950s. After over a quarter century of ownership, Guthrie finally sold the Elsinore in 1954 to a group called the Foreman Brothers.
Ownership of the theater changed hands over the following decades, with the 70s and 80s bringing new problems to the aging theater. By this era, the Elsinore Theatre was reduced to a second-run movie house plagued with neglect. Many locals feared that High Street’s medieval castle would be lost to a wrecking ball. Luckily, community organizers created the Save Elsinore Committee in 1980 and helped raise $130,000 to restore the grand venue. The restoration was finished by 1986, in time for the Elsinore’s 60th anniversary celebration.
In 1993, the theater was sold and sat in limbo for a few years before a complete restoration project was taken on in 2002. Restorations were completed in 2004, and the Elsinore Theatre has attracted tens of thousands of visitors since then, continuing to thrive as a movie theater and performance venue today. But, with its revitalization has come stories about strange occurrences and ghostly experiences patrons have had in the 95 year old theater. And that’s left more than a few people wondering: is the Elsinore haunted?
Ghost of George at Elsinore Theater
One of the most popular ghost stories about the Elsinore Theater stems from George Guthrie himself. As the long-time owner and operator, it is only natural that Guthrie would want to keep an eye on his life’s work, and many patrons and employees say he still watches over his theater.
Performers have reported seeing his apparition watching them rehearse from the theater seats, and night shift workers have reportedly seen his shadow drift across the stage when it is lit only by the stage’s ghost light.
Elsinore Theatre’s Paranormal Prankster
Others have sworn that it is Guthrie’s spirit that repeatedly moves props around and plays little pranks on performers like dropping pebbles on their heads while they’re running lines.
It’s also believed that Guthrie’s ghost is the source for an infamously permanent cold spot frequently reported to hang around on stage. But, while George Guthrie is the most commonly reported spirit at the Elsinore Theatre, he is far from the only one.
Spirit of Tragedy at Elsinore Theatre
Another commonly reported entity is said to be that of Guthrie’s young daughter, who reportedly died after falling off the theater’s upper balcony, though this death could not be confirmed by our researchers.
Now, visitors and performers all report seeing the shadowy figure of a little girl playing around the balcony. And, this little girl is not the only child spirit said to reside in the Elsinore.
Elsinore Theater’s Ghostly Little Boy
In another currently unconfirmed legend, a young boy was murdered in or around the theater and is now said to haunt one of the bathrooms. The most common report associated with this young boy spirit is the sudden appearance and disappearance of blood on one of the bathroom mirrors. He is also said to be another spirit causing mischief by moving props and messing with rehearsals.
Elsinore Theatre: Salem’s Spookiest?
Over the near century that the Elsinore Theatre has been open, countless big names have come and gone, including John Philip Sousa, Clark Gable, Jack Benny, Bonnie Raitt, and Gregory Peck. Throngs of patrons waiting to see these great performers have come and gone as well. And, if you believe the local legends, a good few of them never truly left the castle-like theater.
So, if you ever get a chance to visit the Elsinore Theatre on your trip to Salem, keep a close eye on the shadows around the ghost light. It just might live up to its name in more ways than one.
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Tales of Elsinore Theatre's benevolent ghosts
The ghost light, which is a light bulb on a stand, glows center stage at the Historic Elsinore Theater. When the stage and theater are empty, the ghost light remains casting shadows against the walls of the stage and the back of the auditorium. It's there for safety, so people entering in the dark don't fall off the stage.
But this is theater. A light isn't just a light. It's a ghost light. Shadows take on a life of their own. The wide open auditorium and the hollow fly space over the stage make for echoes that beg explanation and birth ghost stories.
Terry Rohse, auditorium coordinator at Chemeketa Community College, has been involved in local theater for nearly 30 years. He taught classes about technical theater at McKay and McNary high schools and for Children's Educational Theatre. Before working at the college, he was the Elsinore's technical director. He was responsible for the lighting, sound, stage and scenery. He spent many nights in the Elsinore alone.
One night after the theater was empty, Rohse made his rounds locking the doors. As he walked across the upper balcony, he noticed the ghost light casting not one but two shadows on the back wall of the theater.
"There was only one source light, so therefore there should have been only one shadow on the wall. I had stopped and the shadow that I saw walked across the back wall and disappeared into the projection booth," Rohse said. "I stood there for a long time trying to think, 'Did I really see that?' "
"At no time did I ever feel threatened," Rohse said. "It felt good. Well, Guthrie's checking to make sure I'm locking the doors. So I just finished up and went on home."
Guthrie is more than a ghost. Art entrepreneur George Guthrie built the Elsinore, which opened in 1926.
"The lore of the place is that Guthrie never left," Rohse said. "There are stories about him sleeping up in the projection booth."
"Most (theaters) have such a history," Stephen R. Martin, executive director of the Elsinore, said. "It's always fun to have a story in the background. You have spirits to protect you, to lead your way and help you have a good time."
During a rehearsal for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Rohse was onstage with a group of actors when they noticed a man standing before the theater's front row watching. No big deal. People regularly entered and watched the rehearsals. After a few minutes, the man turned around and walked out.
"We really didn't think much of that, except it didn't use the aisles," Rohse said. "This man walked through the seats and got to about the fifth row and just disappeared."
Rohse and the others confirmed that they'd all seen the same thing. They explored the rows of seats and found no one.
"Our first thought was that it was Guthrie, who was standing out there watching what we were doing and decided that we were doing OK, so he could leave us alone and he walked out," Rohse said.
According to Rohse, theater legend includes ghosts like Guthrie, who watch over theaters and their occupants making sure everything is safe and good. There are also sprightly spirits who move things around and make it difficult to find props.
When Rohse was working on the the comedy "Noises Off," pebbles kept falling on the people who were rehearsing onstage. He and another climbed 60 feet up to the grid in the fly space to see who was pelting them.
"(We) looked around and couldn't find anything or anyone," Rohse said. "We found a stack of neatly stacked pebbles up there that we thought they were throwing at us. We have no idea of who 'they' were."
"Two of the five or six that I saw I would attribute to Guthrie, just because I felt like it was someone watching over us to make sure we were doing good things and taking care of the theater," Rohse said.
Rick Parks, the Elsinore's house organist, vouched for the ghosts' goodwill. Years ago while descending from the balcony, a lady tripped halfway down the stairs.
"She was falling forward down on her face and something lifted her up and landed her on the landing down below the Romeo and Juliet (painting)," Parks said. He was serving as house manager in the lobby but had his back to the stairway. "So many people saw that. I wish I had."
Parks estimated that 45 or 50 people saw the inexplicable event, but the importance of theater lore is not whether it's proven true. The ghost stories add character to a space. They preserve the spirit of entrepreneurs like Guthrie or others who were dedicated to the stage in years past. The stories keep tradition and history alive.
"The theater spirit needs to be honored and people need to be honored before each show. Because if you don't pay homage to the past, you're not ever going to have a future in theater," Rohse said.
[email protected], (503) 983-6030, facebook.com/RastrelliSJ and on Twitter @RastrelliSJ
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Elsinore theatre, having a theatrical “full house,” thrills the in-house spirits who still find ways to help., spectral accident or murder victims who stay announce their presence in startling ways., the first owner still oversees with enthusiasm the staff and performers., description.
When it opened, The Elsinore Theatre was proclaimed “largest and most lavish theater between Portland and San Francisco.”
Oh My! What a truly glorious labor of love! George Guthrie’s 1926 castle movie and live entertainment theatre, The Elsinore, was built to be one of those breath-taking theatres defined as being an “atmospheric place” that was designed to be part of the entertainment offered.
It’s design and “atmosphere” both inside and outside, was inspired by the 16th Century Danish castle; Elsinore Palace in Shakespeare”s play, Hamlet. It is a wonderful blend of Tutor Palace and Gothic cathedral styles both outside and inside, with other elements of Late 19th and 20th Century Revival architectural styles also added.
The structural bones of this wonderful building are cement, steel, with 30 foot faux stucco stone walls. The roof was made of built-up asphalt. No way was The Elsinore Theatre going to burn down or be destroyed by other climate elements! The Elsinore withstood the terrible Columbus Day Storm in 1962; only loosing their Marquee sign attached to the lower overhanging entrance roof.
Looking at the outside front of Elsinore Theatre, one notices design and shape that the average person doesn’t see every day. There is a tall rectangular middle, with two square attachments. The tall middle section has two levels and an interesting top. On each of the two levels, there are three Tudor Gothic windows. There are interesting Tutor/Gothic decorative designs around the windows. The top of the building has what look like six swords mounted on the front, hanging down.
The Povey brothers handled all the stained glass windows. The upper balcony windows above the entrance of the theatre are made of stained glass pieces from a cathedral in Germany that was bombed in World War I. These window depicts Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, and Portia greeting players to the Elsinore Theatre.
Each of its side square attachment also have a stain glass window. There are steel lines that attach each section to the roof of the marque, making it seem that there are three drawbridges into the place.
The inside of the Elsinore Theatre was designed by Fred S. Allyn in the Tudor Castle, Gothic cathedral styles, making the decor wonderfully atmospheric indeed.
This awesome auditorium was built with 1,450 seats for patrons who enjoyed the fantastic decor as well as a show or movie. The auditorium features “a 30-by-60-foot stage, framed by a decorative proscenium arch, a 40-foot fly loft, and 17 dressing rooms.” The acoustic quality in the auditorium is so spectacular that many musicians have been “drawn to play on this stage,” throughout the years.
The inside has two lovely, carpeted grand staircases and a gloriously intricate Foyer and Lobby that takes one’s breath away.
Equally stunning are the two large, hand-painted Shakespeare-themed murals, by Nowland B. Zane, that are located over the lobby staircases. Also hand crafted are the wrought iron staircase railings, by Henry Jaegler of Salem’s Jaegler Steelworks. A new large Wurlitzer organ was installed and was the cherry on top!
Elsinore Theatre’s 1926 Reputation; “largest and most lavish theater between Portland and San Francisco.”
Needless to say, The Elsinore has long been an integral part of the city’s cultural scene. Performers such as Clark Gable, Jack Benny, Bonnie Raitt, Gregory Peck, Bernadette Peters, James Earl Jones, and Itzak Perlman have performed on this stage.
The story of the Elsinore Theatre began with the wealthy attorney, former Salem Theater operator, and art connoisseur George Guthrie. He spent a boatload of money;250,000 dollars, to create his artistic “atmospheric” theatre which was quite a chunk of change in 1925-1926! Guthrie built it on land he owned that was the former home of a livery stable.
George Guthrie hired the best architects and artisans that he could find. The grand exterior of the Elsinore Theatre was the creative effort of Ellis F. Lawrence, who earned his bachelors and master degrees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became the co-founder and Dean of University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.
Ellis found other talented people to help with design inside. One of Lawrence’s associates, Fred S. Allyn, designed the interior. Nowland B. Zane, a member of the University of Oregon’s Fine Arts faculty, painted the two large Shakespeare-themed murals over the lobby staircases.
When it had its opening premiere on May 28, 1926, Elsinore Theatre opened as a silent movie cinema with a presentation of “The Volga Boatman” by Cecil De Mille, making good use of its wonderful Wurlitzer organ.
The Elsinore Theatre entertained huge audiences showing silent movies and having live vaudeville shows. It also hosted well known musical groups such as John Phillip Sousa. The Elsinore had a seating capacity of 1450. Main floor seats were upholstered in blue and gold with arms and backs of Flemish oak matching the wood used to decorate the auditorium and all three sets of entrance doors.
Sometime in the 1970s, Tom Moyer bought the land that The Elsinore Theatre was built upon. As it would cost 2 boatloads of money to restore this now more than funky fixer grand upper opportunity, This grand old funky dame was heading for a date with the wrecking ball. Oh No! However, local preservationists stepped in to form the Save Elsinore Committee, raising $130,000 to begin restorations, which was a great encouragement to Tom Moyer who now had a partner to help him. He relented on the tear-down plans, seeing how much the community loved this place.
The 1980s’ was a time of good changes and events. In 1984, all three sets of entrance doors were restored to the original Flemish oak in 1984. In 1986, Tom Moyer and the Save Elsinore Committee hosted the theater’s sixtieth anniversary celebration. Also in 1986, Clayton and Rick Parks donated and installed the largest theater pipe organ in the Pacific Northwest—a stunning 26-rank, 1,800-pipe instrument—as a tribute to the silent movie era.
In 1989, The Elsinore had been renovated and upgraded enough to actually attract buyers. Tom Moyer sold this property to Act III Cinemas. They lasted three years in business presenting films in the grand Elsinore Theatre auditorium before they offered the Elsinore to the Salem Theatre- Auditorium Group Enterprises (STAGE). They were determined to find the money to fully restore Elsinore Theatre, as well as make her a profitable enterprise one more.
The Elsinore was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Starting with a $400,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust, STAGE bought and started this process by first evolving her into a modern performing arts center. This brought back an audience, and more supporters of this grand lady.
Thirteen years later in 2002, the time was right for STAGE to start an extensive $3.2 million campaign to fully restore the Elsinore to its 1920s, breath-taking original glory, but with contemporary technology. They apparently had no trouble reaching their goal. Today, it is fully restored, with modern production bells and whistles. Its glorious fully restored Tudor/Gothic decor draws the public in to see ” silent films, concerts, live performances, and regional and national entertainers.”
Some spirits attached to this grand atmospheric theatre were very happy indeed.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Sudden death accidents or surprise deaths that happen in theatres can cause these unfortunates to continue to want to work their old positions or still yearn to be involved in production on stage even in spirit.
People who worked on the catwalks of theatres sometimes fell and died in the theatre. This may have happened in the Elsinore Theatre.
People who die because of illness, by suicide or are murdered inside or nearby a theatre space like to stick around and still enjoy what they loved to do by watching others or finding ways to interact.
A small daughter of one of the theatre owners or more likely a theatre manager fell from the balcony where she was playing.
Urban legend claims that a boy was murdered inside the men’s bathroom, probably during the Mickey Mouse Matinee days.
Dedicated theatre folks in various positions and actors as well keep working and helping out despite of being in spirit form. They make themselves clearly known with the living people who are running the theatre: from owners, staff to managers. Restoration an old building can bring enthusiasm to participate.
George Guthrie built the Elsinore Theatre, and as owner kept a close eye on his staff and made sure quality was at the highest standard. He still does with gusto.
All the spirit people love it when the theatre has a “Full House,” suggesting that they were all involved somehow in the productions of the Elsinore Theatre.
There is a welcoming aura to all, especially to patrons.
A COLD SPOT is always felt on stage. This could be a spectral stage manager, curious spirit children, perhaps one of Guthrie’s wives who may have been a director, or even George Himself.
Spirit people are seen on the scaffolding
Disturbed dust falls down from the lighting area when no one is up there.
The Spectral peanut gallery has been known to throw little stones at actors 60 feet up from the stage at actors they think are doing an awful job or if they don’t like the play.
The entity of George Guthrie
He never left the building. He has been seen sleeping up in the projection room soon after he died.
Still keeps a close eye on all stage productions with two female entities by his side. Sources disagree on the age of these female entities. Some report that they are younger girls, and others claim that they are George’s two wives he had while alive. They have been seen separately in various places around the theatre.
He watches to see the quality of the acting and lighting during rehearsals. He would observe rehearsals on stage, and if he was satisfied, he walks away.
In the Statesman Journal digital video, a long timer said that during a rehearsal for Midsummer’s Nigh Dream, this happened. “Everyone on stage saw a man standing in the front aisles watching them rehearse. Everyone thought he was alive, until he turned and walked through the seats before disappearing altogether.
For people who aren’t living up to Guthrie’s standard of high quality performance or work competency get this extra spectral perk, courtesy of George Guthrie.
Living people involved with a productions feel the strong presence of someone looking at them intensely and even breathing down people’s shoulders.
While locking the building up, the staff member saw on the stage a shadow that should not of been there. While there was a light bulb, called a ghost lamp, it didn’t account for this shadow. As soon as he finished locking the last door, the shadow walked off the stage went up the aisle, disappearing through a wall.
The entity of the little girl
Has been visually seen playing up in the balcony and down in the auditorium where she fell.
Perhaps an entity of a murdered little boy
Supposedly, the living can see blood in the mirror, but not much else is reported about this one.
Perhaps it is he up in the rafters of the auditorium throwing pebbles at the performers.
Yes Indeed! The amount of personal experiences reported throughout the years, points to theatre-loving spirits who still would like to be involved somehow and still enjoy all the shows that are presented every year. Plus, The Elsinore Theatre has been renovated and fully restored to her former glory, a big environmental factor that excites and draws back spirits who loved this place.
I’m not so sure that a boy was murdered in the men’s bathroom. Though plausible, no hard evidence such as a newspaper article describing the murder, or photos being caught of the blood in the mirror. Plus, if this spirit was murdered and was still here, he would be active and mischievous.
Actors, directors, stage hands, managers, and other theater personnel for many years have experienced these spirits throughout the years. Though listed on paranormal investigation internet sites, I couldn’t find any hard evidence that has been made public.
170 Hight Street, SE, Salem, OR 97301
The Elsinore Theater can be found in the historic downtown area at the corner of State Street and High Street SE. It is only 2 blocks from Willamette University.
- Haunts of Western Oregon By Kent Goodman Schaffer Publishing 2009
- “Tales of Elsinore Theatre’s benevolent ghosts” By Tom Mayhall Rastrelli Published October 22, 2014 Updated October 23, 2014 Retrieved August 20, 2018
- Oct 22, 2014 – Ghost stories are part of the theater’s rich history and character. elsinoretheatre.com/about-elsinore.html
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A database of folklore performances, hauntings at elsinore theater.
“There’s a story about the Elsinore Theater in Salem. It’s supposedly supposed to be haunted. I’ve heard that they’re actors and actresses that use to perform on the stage in the past that died, and now they’ve come back to haunt the theater and to watch those who use the stage now. My friend said she read somewhere that the original owner’s daughter died in Elsinore and that she also haunts the theater. There’s supposed to be some place on the stage that’s a cold spot. If you’re on that place while performing, you’ll suddenly feel the temperature drop, and you might see a weird figure watching you. Also, there have been reports of people in the scaffolding area, and also of a dark figure visible from the stage, walking around the aisles during performances.”
This information was told to my informant during a choir benefit concert. She was there with her orchestra to play Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” with the choir. As she was in the waiting room before her performance time, she was talking with some of her choir friends, and they passed on these stories of the theater. She said it was definitely a bit creepy for her, as it was late in the evening in winter, so there was a lot of howling wind and dreary rain. She refused to go to the bathroom by herself, after hearing these accounts, as she was afraid she would encounter one of these ghostly apparitions. Although she does not really believe these accounts to be true, she said something about the theater just seems eerie to her now.
I have been to the Elsinore Theater myself, although I have never heard about these possible hauntings. It is an old and beautiful theater, and I could see how rumors like these could have arisen. For me, places where art is made such as music and plays, these places seem a bit romantically scary. It is almost as though past performers or composers, or the subjects of the plays or music seem to linger around in these areas of high emotion and passion. Elsinore Theater seems to be one of those places where even fairytales can come true.
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COLUMN: The ghosts of the Elsinore
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This column was originally written for the Willamette Valley Genealogical Society’s publication in a slightly different form and is shared here with permission.
Salem has a lot of scary stories in its history. Before his death in 2020, Tim King conducted ghost tours in Salem. Starting in 2015, his tours were extremely popular, entertaining, and scary!
Tim published in 2018 the only fully researched book, “Haunted Salem, Oregon”, as part of the Haunted America series.
While Tim’s book covers a wide number of story locations, I do have my favorite stories. I remember going to see movies at the old run-down Elsinore Theatre, not realizing its tragic history.
The Elsinore Theatre
The beautiful gothic building originally cost over $200,000 to build in 1926. Theaters in the early 20 th century were opulent palaces, transporting visitors to a magically setting for several hours daily for just a few cents.
The well-researched online Oregon Encyclopedia article by Joe Fitzgibbon notes that the theater was named after the Danish castle that served as background for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which has its own ghost in the form of Hamlet’s father.
The Elsinore Theater opened for silent films and vaudeville shows on May 28, 1926. I remember going there to see the first run of Star Wars in the 1970s. The waiting lines wrapped around the block. By the late 1970s the theater due to neglect and vandalism was relegated to running low budget B movies and other types of live entertainment. Plans were made to demolish the theater and replace it with a parking lot, as happened to the old Salem City Hall building.
It is rumored that a young boy was murdered in the men’s room. In the past, visitors to the theater have reported feeling a cold chill and the presence of lost souls and whispering. Perhaps this was just the wind blowing through cracks in the floor with the sound echoing within the sound enhanced building. It has been suggested that the sounds have come from the ghost of the builder/owner George Guthrie, moaning the sad state of his once beautiful theater. Perhaps it is more likely his daughter, who reportedly fell to her death from the balcony, many years ago. Guests claimed on occasions to see the ghostly outline of a woman ghost appearing up in the balcony. Scary indeed!
Tom Moyer, the theater giant, had purchased the Elsinore as a part of his movie empire. When reconsidering the great cost of renovation he chose to offer the rundown Elsinore building to the Salem Theater-Auditorium Group Enterprises (STAGE). Beginning in 2002 a major effort has been undertaken to restore the theater to its former glory with some added modern technology. “The restored Elsinore has attracted tens of thousands of customers for silent films, concerts, live performances, and regional national entertainers,” the Oregon Encyclopedia said.
The Elsinore now beckons for all to enter. Let us hope that George Guthrie and his daughter and other ghosts will now rest in peace, as all is well with the Elsinore.
Editor’s note: This column is part of an effort from Salem Reporter to highlight local history in collaboration with area historians and historical organizations. I f you have any feedback or would like to participate in Salem Reporter’s local history series, please contact managing editor Rachel Alexander at [email protected] .
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By Craig A. Smith - Special to Salem Reporter