October 27, 2020

Argyle Winery’s Spirithouse has a Resident Ghost

Oregonian Logoby Michael Alberty

“The spirit of Argyle Winery’s resident ghost reportedly spooked a repairman who was trying to repair a copy machine.

Strange whispers in the dark and objects moving under their own power: does a restless spirit named Lena roam Argyle Winery in Dundee? I made a midnight visit to find out. While ghost stories at Halloween are usually a dime a dozen, this one is worth at least a dollar.

Lena Elsie Imus is her full name. She died on Dec. 19, 1908, at the age of 25. The Newberg Graphic newspaper attributed her death to a ‘despondent’ Lena swallowing a toxic liquid at her family’s home in Dundee.

The Imus family’s two-story house is better known today as Argyle Winery’s aptly named Spirithouse. Before Argyle opened its new Tasting House building a few years ago, Spirithouse was its tasting room. Spirithouse is where Lena reportedly makes her presence known with an array of spectral sights, sounds and the scent of her signature perfume.

I heard my first Lena story years ago at Lumpy’s Tavern, the official repository for all of Dundee’s best tales. A former Argyle employee described watching a glass move across the Spirithouse wine bar with no visible assistance.

I’ve heard dozens of stories about Lena’s mischievous nature. A favorite involves a service technician visiting Spirithouse to repair a photocopy machine. According to founding Argyle winemaker Rollin Soles, ‘He claimed his toolbox lifted off the ground and spilled his tools onto the carpet. It freaked him out, and he vowed he would never return.’

In 1998, Soles signaled Argyle Winery’s desire to live in peaceful coexistence by making a chardonnay and pinot noir named Spirithouse in Lena’s honor. The wines are now a mainstay at Argyle Winery, and Lena hasn’t chased away any more repairmen.

On Oct. 19, I visited Lena’s grave to introduce myself and wish her a happy birthday. An empty Spirithouse wine bottle resting on her grave reminded me I forgot to bring a gift. I must have apologized out loud because the man walking his dog nearby was chuckling in my direction.

A few nights later, I arrived at Argyle Winery, hoping Lena wouldn’t hold a gift grudge. A crescent moon shrouded in wispy white clouds illuminated Spirithouse. It was 10:45 p.m., and there wasn’t a soul on the streets of Dundee. Even Lumpy’s seemed dead.

At 11:17 p.m., while we talked about Lena’s telltale perfume scent, my cell phone snapped a picture. The camera app was not activated when I placed it on the wine bar, yet it took a picture without anyone touching its screen. My phone has never before taken a phantom photo. Did Lena make her first overture?

Seeley gave me the run of Spirithouse by adjourning with her husband to an upstairs lounge. I had some time to kill before the witching hour, so I sat down in the front parlor to dig into Lena’s history.

Lena’s parents ran the Dundee post office. Not keen on following in their footsteps, 23-year old Lena took a boarding house room to attend business school in Portland. Her dream was cut short when her father died. Lena returned home in 1907 to help her mother run the post office. A year later, Lena was dead.

Before midnight, I walked up the narrow stairs to visit the office that once served as Lena’s bedroom. In Lena’s honor, a window contains a black silhouette of a young woman. I wondered if Lena had anything else in store for me.

I turned on my tape recorder in case Lena had anything to say. At approximately two minutes after midnight, I noticed the tape recorder bars dancing up and down. I couldn’t hear any noise in Lena’s old bedroom that should be registering on the tape recorder.

When I listened to the recording, I could make out a sound I can only describe as a faint whisper or a woman singing. At that point, I recalled the coffee mug I used to have that stated, ‘During the day, I don’t believe in ghosts. At night, I’m a little more open-minded.’

After that, I quickly packed my things and headed home. As I drove away, I received the following email from Seeley: ‘As you left, there was an overwhelming scent of floral perfume, maybe gardenia? Or rose? My husband could smell it too.’ She said, ‘hello’ tonight for sure. Lena, if you are out there, I will definitely not forget your gift next year.”

View on Oregonian Website (Subscription Required)