Afterglow Vista – Visiting The McMillin Memorial Mausoleum

If you’re in Washington and want a unique experience, I have one for you.

How does going out onto a pacific island and visiting a nearly 100-year-old Masonic-Family Mausoleum sound?

What if I told you that you could also walk through a wooded graveyard and sit around a stone table surrounded by chairs that contain the family’s ashes in their bases?

The McMillion Family Memorial Museum (commonly known as Afterglow Vista) is one of the San Juan Island’s most unusual attractions. Located on San Juan Island itself the Mausoleum is open to the public and receives thousands of visitors every year.

So whether you’re hunting for ghosts, want to appreciate some unique architecture, and fancy talking to old Mr. McMillion, here’s what to expect when you visit Afterglow Vista.

How To Get To Afterglow Vista

The Mausoleum is hardly a secret but getting there is still a bit of a chore. You’ll have to get to San Juan Island via a ferry. As the mausoleum is on the far side of the island it might be a bit much for a day trip. We ended up spending a night on the island as there are many resorts and plenty to do.

The mausoleum is located just past the Roche Harbor Cemetary. To access it you’ll park in a pullout along the road (many spots are listed as “private”) and walk through the cemetery.

The cemetery is heavily wooded by the path to the mausoleum is well marked and easy to follow. If you can find the archway you can find the mausoleum.

If all else fails, Siri will help out as you can easily just get directions on your phone.

The History Of The Mausoleum

The McMillin Family Mausoleum is the brainchild of John S. McMillin.

John McMillin was the president and general manager of a Washington-based company that sourced lime for use in cement, steel production, fertilizers, and more.

In 1886 at the age of 31 his company, the Tacoma Lime Company, bought Roche Harbor with the intention of expanding his company and exploiting the rich deposits of limestone on the island.

The McMillin family moved to San Juan Island where they started a restaurant, the (still-standing) Hotel de Haro, and were prominent members of the island’s society.

McMillin soon became interested in politics, running for United States Senate in 1895 and serving as a member of the Republican National Convention from Washington in 1924 and again in 1932.

Most of this background serves to illustrate that, not only was John McMillin important and influential, but he considered himself to be important and influential.

In 1930, about six years before his death, ol’ John started considering ways that he could create a memorial for his family on the island. Somehow or other he landed on a mausoleum.

Drawing, no doubt, on his life as an ardent Freemason John McMillin drew up the unusual plans for his family’s memorial and ordered it to be constructed at a cost of $30,000 (over $600,000 in today’s money).

John McMillin was cremated upon his death and his ashes were interred in the base of the chair containing his name. His wife and their 3 children who had survived into adulthood followed later and were placed in their own chairs.

The last person to find rest in the memorial was Ada Beane (the children’s caretaker & John McMillin’s personal secretary) whose ashes were placed in the family’s crypt on the grounds.

Unusually, it wasn’t until Ada’s ashes were placed here in the 1950s that people started reporting unusual and ghostly happenings in Afterglow Vista.

The memorial site itself is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to some other interesting tidbits, the signs on the small grounds give a brief history of the memorial as well as more information about the construction.

The main plaque reads:

“The structure is approached by two sets of stairs, representing the steps within the Masonic Order. The stairs on the east side of the mausoleum stand for the spiritual life of man. The winding in the path symbolizes that the future cannot be seen. The stairs were built in sets of three, five and seven. This represents the three stages of life (youth, manhood, age), the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Iconic, Corinthian, Composite), the five senses, and the seven liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy).

The columns were created to be the same size as those in King Solomon’s temple. The broken column represents the broken column of life-that man dies before his work is completed.

The center of the mausoleum boasts the round table of limestone and concrete surrounded by six stone and concrete chairs. The chair bases are crypts for the ashes of the family, while the whole represents their reunion after death.

The construction of the mausoleum began in 1930 and was completed to its present state by the spring of 1936 at a cost of approximately $30,000. McMillin had planned to erect a bronze dome with the Maltese cross atop the edifice. He had ordered the dome, but his son, Paul, cancelled the order, as the company did not have the $20, 000 it would cost.”

-McMillian Memorial Mausoleum Placuard

All-in-all, the Afterglow Vista is an incredibly interesting space not only for its historical significance but the singular experience of visiting the opulent grave of a religious eccentric you’ll never know.

Is Afterglow Vista Haunted?

Surprisingly, Afterglow Vista is not typically found on the list of haunted places in Washington. Whether that’s just because it’s not haunted or just not widely known I can’t be sure.

What I can be sure of is that it’s quite creepy walking through a wooded graveyard to sit on a stone chair filled with ashes that are supposed to be a family’s meeting place when they “meet again”.

However, locals and ghost hunters who are in the know have reported many strange happenings at Afterglow Vista:

  • Laughing, conversation and movement sounds are heard at the mausoleum, particularly around the table.
  • On nights with a full moon, several visitors have reported seeing ghostly people (members of the McMillin family) sitting around the table in their respective seats.
  • The seats themselves seem to be the focal point for activity. People have seen blue lights above the chairs at night and felt cold spots near them during the day.
  • Sitting in the chairs is an unnerving experience for many people. Personally, I just felt unwelcome but some people have felt hands using them and trying to get them out of their spot. They must have had dibs.

There are supposed to be many haunted locations in Roche Harbour ranging from the McMillin Family governess who haunts the restaurant to ghosts that frequent the beaches.

Luckily, none of them appear violent, just maybe a bit discontent with living people sitting in their chairs.

As an interesting expansion to what I mentioned above – that there was no ghostly activity until Ada Beane’s ashes were there – is that she seems to be the most restless of the spirit associated with Afterglow Vista.

Ada’s presence is most often seen and heard at the family’s old restaurant and the Hotel de Haro. The reason for that is that in the 1950s when the Roche Harbor Resort was sold to the Tarte family they found an urn in a resort room. The urn turned out to be filled with Ada Bean’s ashes and the Tarte family thought it proper that the urn be interred with the family.

However, her ashes were not placed near the table (as she did not “sit at the table with the family” in life) but in the nearby McMillin crypt. Since that time the reports of “haunted” activity have increased exponentially.

Conclusion

If you are on the island, I cannot recommend the visit to Afterglow Vista highly enough.

Everyone in our group enjoyed the experience despite the fact that none of us are grave robbers or witches. It’s an interesting historical place to reflect and learn from as much as anything else.

Just watch out for ghosts!