By Rachel Wesche
Is Hot Lake haunted?
One La Grande family got to see for itself last weekend.
Brenda Jackson, her sons, Ian and Jeff Clark, and Jeffs girlfriend, Sarah Lathrop, were given a rare opportunity to explore the ruined Hot Lake Hotel after nightfall as part of a Fox Family Channel project for its show Scariest Places on Earth.
Rumors of ghostly activity have enveloped Hot Lake like the haze from its steamy springs since shortly after the establishment shut its doors as a rest home in 1974.
The ghost stories, true or not, were enough to attract a visit from Triage Entertainment, which produces segments for Scariest Places on Earth.
The late-evening Fox Family Channel show combines documentary-style facts and testimonies with reality segments of adult families spending time after dark in supposedly haunted sites around the world.
Producer Mike Burns said that he first became aware of Hot Lake, nine miles south of La Grande, through the Internet.
Through Hot Lake historian Shirley Peters, Burns arranged for several local couples and families to audition Friday afternoon with Triage Entertainments Tom Kramer and Matt Karchesky, an independent film-maker from
La Grande and associate producer for the project.
Sara Collins and Janelle Collier of Elgin made up one of eight groups that auditioned.
Collins, who said she believes in ghosts to a point, was enthusiastic about the possibility of exploring Hot Lake.
I think it would be exciting, she said.
Maybe I just want to see for myself if things are real.
The crew interviewed former owners, recent caretakers and others for background information on the spooky history of the Hot Lake hauntings.
They also spoke with Peters in an interview at the Elgin Opera House, which she and her husband own, and filmed the theaters antique piano.
Saturday afternoon, Kramer took three groups, including Collins and Collier, on a tour through the old building, guided by a caretaker.
Collier recalled that the daytime tour was more interesting than eerie.
It really is a neat old place, she said, admitting, it would have been scarier at night.
In daylight, she said, the famous bloodstains were a really icky brown, and looked more like mold from the areas excessive humidity than like blood.
Only one of the three groups would return that night for a seance with a well-known Tri-Cities psychic and experience firsthand Hot Lakes alleged after-hours activity.
It was hard to choose, said Kramer, who says he picked Jackson and her family because they demonstrated the most dynamics.
Kramer, Karchesky and their cameramen met the family and the guest psychic just before sunset at the site.
The group sat in the gazebo for a seance at 8:30 p.m. to get into the ghost world, according to Ian Clark.
After that, they entered the building, armed with only flashlights, candles and night-vision cameras.
As the psychic gave readings of spiritual activity in various rooms, the group experienced firsthand some of the hotels famous noises, including footsteps, a slamming door in the surgery area and a distant elevator bell.
At one point, according to Kramer, Jackson fell and swore someone or something pushed her down.
Both Kramer and Karchesky reported experiencing eerie sensations during their time inside. Karchesky describes their overall observations as hearing, sensing and feeling no sightings.
Before midnight, the group was out of the hotel.
Everybody was ready to go. Theyd had enough, said Kramer.
There was no way anyone was going to spend the night.
Several days after his experience, Clark was skeptical, believing that any unexplainable phenomena had been rigged.
Karchesky, however, insists, There were no tricks.
To assure the authenticity of the experience, moreover, he even arranged for police assistance to secure the area from the danger of meddling interlopers during filming.
There were definitely some really freaky moments, said Karchesky.
Kramer also found the haunted hotel convincing.
Im not a firm believer, but I dont have an explanation for some things, he said.
He strongly recommended curious people not visit the hotel.
Its an evil place.
As for Jacksons family: It was super fun, said Clark.
Kramer has since returned to California with last weekends film footage for editing.
While the date for Hot Lakes Scariest Places segment has not been finalized, Burns projected that it will probably air sometime around Halloween.