Voodoo Donuts. The Saturday Market. Multnomah Falls. General Weirdness. There are many great reasons to visit Portland, and I love them all. But none of these were reasons why I wanted to visit Portland for Memorial Day. The sole mission of this long weekend trip was to visit a funeral home in the Sellwood neighborhood of southeast Portland. I don’t have any family resting there to my knowledge, but once a year on Memorial Day, Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home opens its doors to the public for a memorial service and tour of the facility. I came to Portland specifically for that tour given by Sara Lewis.
For those that are fascinated by history, art, and creepy places, Wilhelm’s mausoleum combines all three. Inconspicuous from the residential street corner that it sits on, it is the oldest and largest crematory west of the Mississippi River. Sitting at eight stories tall, the building is currently home to over 90,000 remains (with more still being added). Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as the “House of Death” or even “City of Death” (90,000 inhabitants certainly qualifies as a small city).
When I arrived to the Mausoleum by way of TriMet bus (details below), I was greeted with the bagpipers warming up for the memorial service and a table full of lemonade and cookies. A short 20 minute service was followed by a performance by the bagpipes (I always love bagpipes!), then they opened up the Rae Room for a special viewing in which the elaborate resting place is open to viewers a few at a time. After 90 minutes, the room is resealed and closed to the public for 364 days until next Memorial day. You can learn more of the history of the Rae Room here. After spending a few minutes taking in the beauty of this burial room, we were off on a 90-minute tour of the building that covered several of the floors including time spent viewing part of the magnificent and monumental mural painted on the backside of the building facing the Oaks Amusement Park and inlet. (Check out the entire building on Google Maps!)
Although the tour was fascinating and informative, I deviated a few times to closely inspect pieces of art that caught my eye or wander down a particularly spooky looking hallway. Each room has a unique feel to it, and around each corner you might find fine art sculptures, fountains, stained glass, or beautiful antique chairs. I absolutely loved the combination of eerie and reverent I experienced within the mausoleum.
In a city that is known for being weird, I found it strange that the huge mausoleum is one of Portland’s least known landmarks. Despite its historical significance and creepy factor, there were only about a hundred visitors total when I was there, and even less that took the tour. This is a perfect visit if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.
Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home
6705 SE 14th Ave, Portland, OR 97202