Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ghosts In The California Gold Country & More

File:Preston Castle 1.jpg
The Preston Castle
Dear Readers,

I wanted to do a story, a work of fiction, a ghost story of some sort for Halloween. But frankly, because I'm so behind getting ready for winter, I don't see that happening.

Then I started thinking about how back in the 1850s, people were crawling all over the Sierra Nevada Mountains up here looking for gold.

It's said that this area was the most populated area in the world for a little while, while everyone was chasing their dream. We do dream don't we. And no, dreaming is not restricted to Americans. 

Back during the California Gold Rush, dreams were of gold. Once it was found at Sutter's Mill up near Sacramento, people from all over the world were convinced there was enough for everyone. But the fact is, only a few got rich. Many Easterners returned East with empty pockets and heartache. And I'm sure they were glad to get away from the toil and the blood.

Because of murder, mayhem, suicide, and the like, there is no shortage of haunted places throughout California. While some are really well known, others are known only to locals who live in the area.

When I was living in Alameda County in the Bay Area, I remember being told that the USS Hornet (CV-12) docked in Alameda is the most haunted ship in the entire US Navy. It saw a lot of action in its day. Some say voices of sailors and Marines are heard in the passage ways when no one's there. Some even say the sound of someone hitting the metal hatches of compartments can be heard during tours. 

In Oakland, they say the old jail above City Hall is haunted by jailers who used to torture prisoners. But really, what do you expect from a murderous town?

In Piedmont, Mountain View Cemetery is a historic graveyard full of very prominent people in California's history. It is also loaded with spooks running around everywhere. Back in the late 1970's, when I was supervising security guards, I had a couple of guards at that location who swore they saw all sorts of things not of this world. Frankly, it was always very hard for me to find anyone who would work there.

Among other problems at the graveyard were the vandals who came through and busted into some of the crips and smashed open a few caskets. I remember one having a glass top. The bones and dress of the woman was on full display.

I found out later from the Oakland Police Department that the vandal who broke into that crip and smashed that 1890's glass cover on that casket was found dead soon after that break-in. He was found dead of unknown causes at the gate of the old cemetery. Later, on of the security guards reported that he and his partner saw the same vandal in the cemetery. When they went to escort him out, he ran and somehow vanished.

In Fremont, Mission San Jose is reported to be haunted after many tragic deaths that occurred after fires and earthquakes that damaged the mission property. Some say the pioneer graveyard across from the Fremont Train Station is active as well.

In the town of Pleasanton, the Pleasanton Hotel was built in the 1850s and is said to be haunted. During it's history, besides a hotel and saloon, the hotel served as a impromptu courthouse back in the 1800s and later had an opium den under it even though it was just a few yards from the town's police station. Its bar has seen its share of shootings and killings over the years. Its said that even Joaquin Murrietta made his way through there on more than a few occasions.

Down in Sunnyvale, at a Toys "R" Us store, employees have reported seeing unusual rearranging of toys in the aisles, and reported sightings of a man in his thirties dressed in old clothing. His name is believed to be Johan, and he's believed to be a farmer who used to live on the site of where that store sits today. It's said he's just keeping "an eye on the old place." The store remains open today but most customers are completely unaware of this legend. The manager there is said to have ordered his employees not to talk about the sightings.

Of course, that area has the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. It is supposedly haunted by the ghost of its eccentric builder, Sarah Winchester. She is said to have built the strange mansion to protect her from the spirits of all of the Indians killed with her late husband's famous line of rifles.

The problem with that story is that Oliver Winchester was never a Gunsmith like say Sam Colt or the team of Smith & Wesson. Actually, Winchester only got involved in gun manufacturing after becoming wealthy making shirts. I can't help but wonder if maybe the people who haunt the mansion are those who hated his line of shirts?

Over the range in Santa Cruz County, The Brookdale Lodge in Brookdale is reportedly haunted by the spirit of Sarah Logan, the niece of the former owner, who drowned in what is now known as the Brook Room. Up the coast in San Mateo County, there's the Moss Beach Distillery in Moss Beach. The bar and restaurant overlook the ocean and is reported to be haunted by the spirit of a Blue Lady. Yes, a Blue Lady!

When I was in the Philippines in 1975, there was a White Lady. When I worked down South off and on during the 1990s, I was told about a few White Ladies here and there. But in Moss Beach, their lady is blue. Not a dark Navy Blue, more a light blue. That's so she can be seen of course.

She supposedly died in the area awaiting her husband to come back from sea. The restaurant has been featured on a number of paranormal television shows where of course they report the accounts are true. Shocking as it might sound, one television show had props that helped reenact the experiences for guests. Can you say tourist draw?!

I have a friend who used to live up near Del Norte County. He told me about the Battery Point Lighthouse near Crescent City. It is reported to be haunted by a resident ghost that has been seen by six different people. And no, I don't know if it is the story about the Lighthouse Keeper who went mad and killed himself.

In Tracy, the Banta Inn is reported to be haunted since the 1930s, including the sighting of the former owner of the inn, Tony Gallegos, who died of a heart attack in the building. There are also reports of poltergeist activity that happens in the bar.

Over in Antioch, there is The Black Diamond Mines area where it has been reported to have had numerous accounts of paranormal activity. In fact, there is the story of the White Witch. Supposedly she was executed for being a witch after all the kids she was caring for died of some strange illness. Another story for that area is that of Sarah Norton, who haunts the Rose Hill Cemetery after she was run over and crushed to death by her horse and carriage.

Up at the far end of the California Gold Country is Placer County. Christine's room at The Richardson House in Truckee is said to be haunted by Christine Richardson, a young woman who mourns the loss of her child. She has been reported as being seen standing by the room's window.

The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City is reportedly haunted by spirits that have died during the night. The Stonehouse Brewery in Nevada City is reportedly haunted by Chinese immigrants that were killed in the tunnels underneath the property.

I remember being told that the Del Oro Theatre in Grass Valley is haunted. Its said to have "a few resident ghosts." The Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley has housed many famous residents including Mark Twain and three U.S. Presidents.  It is also home to the famous suicide gambler, a man who slit his own throat and was found dead in a pool of blood. While it is hard to believe that anyone is capable of cutting their own throat, his suicide letter can be found at the Doris Foley Library in Nevada City.

The Holbrooke Hotel spooks don't stop with a gambler at the end of his string of luck, that hotel has plenty of spooky stuff taking place there. It has chairs moving across the floor, lights turning on and off, and voices lingering in the air, guests report hearing the sounds of little ghost children jumping on old mattress springs, as well as sighting the notable cowboy ghost who appears only from waist up and a Victorian-dressed maid who walks the halls of the Holbrooke.

Old Sacramento is reportedly haunted by victims of influenza, fire, and flooding. The other part of Sacramento that most folks don't know about is that it was actually more violent than Dodge City and Tombstone combined. The spirits of those who died during those gun battles are said to roam Old Sacramento.

The Cary House in Placerville is reported to have a haunt that dates back to the 1930's involving a lot of unexplained noises and phenomena. And yes, since the town was originally called Hangtown, they have had their share of sighting of convicts who were hung by Vigilantes.

Closer to home in Amador County, in the town of Ione where my Mom lives, is what locals call "The Preston Castle" or simply "The Castle." Real name is The Preston School of Industry. It was once a home to troubled youths. "The castle" had its share of deaths and suffering. Allegedly, the ghost of a caretaker who was bludgeoned to death by students still resides there.

But for me, when I visited the castle, I remember feeling a cold presence of the lady who was the school's cook. She was killed and put in a closet, only to have her body found later the next day. It is said that she scratches the closet door to be let out. The boys who killed her were never found.

The National Hotel in Jackson is another place that was built in the 1850s. It is reported to house some specters that have died on the hotel premises. Supposedly one is the ghost of a depressed miner who hung himself. Another is said to be a bartender who was shot in the Hotel bar by a jealous husband. 

Across the Mokelumne River here in Calaveras County, we have our share of spooks. The Hotel Léger in Mokelumne Hill is reported to be haunted by the spirit of George Léger, the former owner of the hotel. His presence is most felt in the room he died in. That would be Room 7.

In San Andreas, they say a women who was jilted by her lover can be seen waiting outside of the old library. People say she has waited there for him for more than a century. In Angles Camp, its said that famous writer Mark Twain has been seen once on the sidewalk downtown heading for a bar that he used to frequent when he lived there.

Of course, there are the ghosts of those who fought the tough Sierra Nevada Mountains to get to California by wagon train. Up on Highway 88 near Immigrant Pass, it's said that the crying of a baby has been heard by a few folks camping up near the summit. Some think that it may be the spirit of a child that may have died along the way and now rests in an unmarked grave up there somewhere.

Over on the other side up near the summit at the end of Highway 4 is the Lake Alpine Lodge. That place is said to be haunted by a couple who died when the top floor of the lodge collapsed in a massive snowstorm back in the 1920s. There's also the tale of a lady that haunts the lake. There are reports of sightings of that lady since she drowned in the lake and her body was never found. That was back in the 1950s, and both locals and summer visitors have said that she can be seen sitting on the rocks at the lake during the spring and summer months.

In Sonora, the Tuolumne General Hospital is reportedly haunted by miners and patients who died from neglect. I really don't know too much about the rest of the state, but I'm sure there are places throughout the rest of California where spirits linger.

A local writer put together a series of books which are clippings from the archives of local newspapers in the Calaveras County Glencoe area here. The news articles talk about runaway wagons and teamsters who meet their end, miners who fall down shafts that go hundreds of feet into the earth, loggers crushed, Indians found dead, and murders by those who wanted to get rich off some else's hard work.

As for those who broke the law, it's said that justice was swift in most cases and the murderers were hanged. Sometimes those who broke the law got away with it and are never found. One example of this was noted in among those clippings.

The story goes that back in the 1930s, a man was digging a post hole and came upon a human skull. When he dug more and more, he unearthed the bones of many killed very violently. The county authorities were called in and more bones and skulls were unearthed. Come to find out his property was the site of a gold mining camp, a small town. There was a saloon at that spot. It was called a Fandango House.

It was a sort of brothel, gambling place, and dance hall. The bones belonged to young travelers and miners who stopped there and were murdered for their goods and gold. Those found were never identified. They left their families to get rich in California and were murdered instead. Of course, unlike today, those who left and went missing were not thought of as missing, but only out on their own.

Death and calamity follows man wherever he goes, that's just a part of life. Some say that there are those who still call out for a rope from the bottom of a mine shaft. Some say that the old Indian who froze to death along the trail up near Alabama Hill can still be seen now and then over a hundred years later.

Some say that there are those who search for their way home after being met with a club or a bullet because of another man's greed. It's as if their spirits simply can't find rest. I can't help but wonder if they ever will. I can't help but wonder if they ever find peace.

Tom Correa

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