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Seattle Times 05/10/04


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Historic castle (plus ghosts) destined for highest bidder

By Jonathan Martin
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Manresa Castle, Port Townsend's most notable landmark, is assessed at $1.9 million. Auction bidders are required to have a $100,000 cashiers check on hand.
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The historic Manresa Castle in Port Townsend will be sold at auction tomorrow, offering 43 bathrooms, a 60-seat dining room, four separate heating systems, 112 years of rich history and perhaps two ghosts.

"The ghosts are no extra charge," said Lena Humber, the inn's owner.

The ghost stories were good for business during her 15 years of ownership of Port Townsend's most distinguished landmark. She said she decided to sell Manresa after her husband's death two years ago, and opted for an auction to expedite the sale of the 40-room hotel.

Legend has it that a woman named Kate leaped to her death from Room 302 after being jilted by her fiancé, and that a Jesuit priest allegedly hung himself in Room 306.

Ghost-hunters and TV shows about paranormal phenomena drop by once in a while to look for ectoplasm. Couples toting Ouija boards book rooms on Halloween.

Manresa Castle

The National Auction Group will conduct an auction of Manresa Castle in Port Townsend beginning at 4 p.m. tomorrow. Registration begins at 2 p.m., with bidders required to show a $100,000 cashiers check. There is no minimum bid. For information, call (360) 379-3387 or (360) 385-0587.

The ghost tales are mostly bunk, said general manager Roger O'Connor.

More than a decade ago, a bartender named Nick Gale got tired of being asked about ghosts. Using what O'Connor called a "fertile imagination," Gale invented the two tragic stories.

O'Connor authorized the tales, provided they were set in the inn's two most expensive rooms.

"It's good for business," O'Connor said with a laugh.

O'Connor said he contributes to the legends, sometimes dashing past the bar in a white sheet on lonely Saturday nights.

A group calling itself Amateur Ghost Hunters of Seattle, Tacoma (AGHOST) held a séance at Manresa in 2002 but left without finding "anomalous" readings. Members vowed to return.

The inn's history is the stuff of legends.

It was built with 12-inch-thick walls in 1892 by Port Townsend's first mayor, Charles Eisenbeis, who had earned a fortune in lumber, bricks and banking. He wanted a castle similar to those in his native Prussia.

After he died in 1902 , the castle lay empty for 20 years. Jesuits bought it as a college for priests in 1927, renaming it Manresa Hall after a Spanish town where the order was founded. As the tale goes, the priest's suicide was hushed up, explaining why it cannot be historically corroborated.

Humber is the third owner since the mansion became a hotel in 1968. "I fell in love with it in the middle of the winter," she said. "It was like coming home."

She shipped in antiques from her native Denmark and covered common rooms and some guest rooms with hand-painted Victorian wallpaper.

The kitchen and the wiring has been upgraded, but the building still operates off four separate heating systems, each with its own fuel.

Jim Striplin, an executive with the Alabama-based auctioneer hired by Humber, said the inn has generated less interest than expected. It is assessed for $1.9 million, and bidders are required to have a $100,000 cashiers check on hand.

"Someone will get a bargain," Striplin said.

If that sounds like a sales ploy, so does his view of the ghosts. "Where else can you go buy an old castle with ghosts?" he said.

Despite O'Connor's role in the myths, he said there actually is some activity in the old house that can't be easily explained. He has turned his back on closed doors in empty rooms, only to find them open when he looked back.

Guests have reported footsteps on the roof. Televisions have mysterious turned on, and light bulbs off. Pictures fall.

But was it the work of ghosts?

"There is some energy here, I'm convinced," O'Connor said.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or

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