INDEPENDNCE  -- On Saturday’s clear night, the adventurous returned to the downtown streets of Independence in search of tales of the paranormal and, perhaps, with hopes to catch sight of an actual apparition.

The Independence Downtown Association’s annual Ghost Walk returned for its 19th season after a year off due to the pandemic. Marilyn Morton, city councilor and author of “Haunted Independence Oregon,” said the event has grown in popularity over the years, from a humble 300 at its onset to more that 1,000 at its height of popularity. It appears the community was eager to welcome back a popular tradition.

“We think it was a very successful event,” Morton said. “Based upon number of maps handed out and amount of donations received, best guess is that we had 1,200 people in attendance. That’s pretty good after missing a year!”

Instead of guided tours, this year participants were given maps marked with 18 locations, from The Tap Station furthest north to Gilgamesh south and the side streets between. Each stop featured a guest speaker regaling listeners with yarns of the location’s history and brush with the paranormal.

Outside the former location of the Red Front Saloon on C Street was the longest tenured volunteer, City Councilor Tom Takacs. He started about 11 years ago as a guide before transitioning into a storyteller. This evening, he was in full character – the Ghost of Hops Picker Past. While no one specific, Takacs centered his tale on the city’s hop heritage.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s like herding cats. These groups just kind of go everywhere. We tried to keep it a little more organized back in those days, but it never worked. Now it’s more a free for all,” Takacs said. “A lot of these people have been here year after year. To have this many people. I think it’s just a fun, community event, you learn about history. the ghost stuff is kinda fun It’s just a fun evening.”

While most of the stops along the tour route were outside the building, a few invited guests indoors for a longer tale and closer look at usually members only areas such as the Elks and Masonic lodges.

Inside the gathering hall of the Masonic Lodge, Scott Freeman welcomed guests from the dark, back lit to enhance the eerie ambiance. Word is, the Masonic Lodge was the most active stop on the tour for ghostly sightings.

“Independence is a great place. I’m pretty sure that’s why spirits like to stay around here and why we get really cool ghost stories,” Freeman said. “Places like this, wood-brick buildings, are warm and inviting. And I think they pick up the flavor of the people that have been in the building. Not in a bad, zombie way. But in a warm ambiance way.”

Morton added overhearing the exclamation of an excited youth upon leaving the lodge.

“One young man of about 8 years of age exclaimed, rather loudly, in the Masonic Lodge that this Ghost Walk was the ‘Best One Ever!’” Morton said. “One other person that I spoke to said he’d gotten photos of orbs (plural) in the Masonic Lodge.”

This is where, as reporter, I must interject, and confirm the sighting for the skeptics among the readers. As I was setting up my camera phone for a shot of Freeman while he narrated his tale, I noticed a small light, darting up and around the chair in which he sat. Looking away from the screen, I saw nothing with the naked eye. But a glance back showed I was not mistaken. The “orb” remained and slowly darted around my screen, proving it was not something on my lens or an unseasonable, glowing moth.

The orb was captured in several photos. Then I switched over to video and it continued to move around the room, almost as if to stay centered in my recording as I swept from side to side.

The saying is with today’s technology, it’s too easy to fake paranormal activity unless you see it for yourself. The DIA’s Ghost Walk is the perfect opportunity to become a believer for yourself.

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