Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Haunted Northern California

Dear Friends,

Usually, around September, I start getting requests for stories dealing with ghosts. Yes, ghosts. Maybe it has to do with October and Halloween right around the corner, but it's been pretty constant for a few years now. About September, people want to know about haunted places in the Old West. My most recent letter is from a readers who wants to know about haunted Northern California.

This had me thinking about a relatively modern story of the World War II aircraft carrier the USS Hornet (CV-12), which is right now docked at the old Alameda Naval Air Station in the San Francisco Bay Area. That ship is supposedly the most haunted ship in the entire U.S. Navy. It saw a lot of action in its day. And today, well some say voices of Sailors and Marines are heard in the passage ways and even in the engine room.

The ship is today a floating museum piece. Of course there are areas where only volunteers and other authorized personnel can enter. When voices are heard in those areas of the ship, and they are thought to be lost visitors, visitors who've gone astray, volunteers are used to track the down and find them. In more occasions than not, no one can find the source of the voices. No one's there. The same goes for when a docent has to check out the sound of a compartment hatch closing and finds that nothing has been disturbed.

I was told the story of the sound of a hammer or wrench being hit on a bulkhead near the engine room. When investigated, the sound stops. The slow tapping on the bulkhead has been compared to an SOS. Some say it has to do with a Sailor who died in the engine room.

In the city of Oakland, some folks say the old city jail located on the top of its City Hall is haunted by both jailers and prisoners. Some tell stories of hearing the groans of tortured prisoners. 

In the city of Fremont, Mission San Jose is reported to be haunted by those who died tragically during a fire and as a result of the earthquakes that also damaged the mission. There are also stories of local Indians who were killed by the hands of Spaniards, both Priests and Soldier alike. Some say the souls of those Indians refuse to rest. Also, there is pioneer graveyard across from the Fremont Train Station that some say is active with the sights of unsettled souls.

In the town of Pleasanton, the Pleasanton Hotel was built in the 1850s and is said to be haunted. During its rich history, besides being a hotel and saloon back in the day, the hotel served as a impromptu courthouse and had a tunnel that led from it to the police station next door. When the hotel was no longer being used to hold court, there are stories of how the tunnel's entry to the police station was cut off. Some say that it was collapsed. Others say it may have been flood with water.

Then again, that may have only been a portion of it since it's believe that the abandoned tunnel may have been used as an opium den. Yes, right under the hotel just a just a few yards from the town's police station. I was once told that there were a number of dead Chinamen pulled out of that tunnel over the years. Most dead from overdoses and poisonings, others are said to have been Chinese women. Yes, prostitutes who may have killed themselves.

While San Francisco and Oakland's Chinatown has a number of haunted places where the ghost of Chinese prostitutes are said to show themselves now and then, so do other places where the Chinese made a start during the Gold Rush. Of course, as many already know, the cribs that made up many of the Chinetowns lasted for decades following their humble beginnings.

As for the Pleasanton Hotel, its bar has seen its share of shootings and killings over the years. Its said that even famed Mexican bandit Joaquin Murrietta made his way through there on more than a few occasions.

The famous Winchester Mystery House is located in the city of 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 herself from the spirits of all of the Indians killed by her late husband's famous line of rifles.

The problem with that story is that Oliver Winchester was never an actual 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 mountain 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!

Just for the record, when I was in the Philippines in 1975, the locals talked about a White Lady who was a specter seen here and there. When I worked down South in Georgia and Louisiana off and on during the 1990s, I was told about a few White Ladies here and there. But in Moss Beach, their ghostly lady is blue. Not a dark Navy Blue, more a light blue. 

How do I know this? I remember hearing the story many years ago on a trip down the coast to Moss Beach. After hearing about the ghostly Blue Lady, I asked someone there if their Blue Lady was a dark Navy Blue, or if she was more a light blue? I will always remember how sincere the person was when he said that she was a light blue so that she can be seen.  

The woman who now haunts that place had 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 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 the town of 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 the town of 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 of the kids in her care 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.

As most know, because of the 1849 California Gold Rush, people were crawling all over the Sierra Nevada Mountains looking for gold by the 1850s. In fact, it's said that the California Gold Country was the most populated place in the world for a little while. And while everyone was chasing their dream, back during the California Gold Rush, dreams were of gold.

Once it was found at Sutter's Mill 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 those areas.

Up at the north 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. The ghost of a young woman has been reported as being seen standing by the room's window. No one really knows why she haunts. Some believe she was jilted and watches for her lost love. Other say she was a young woman who mourns the loss of her child.

Also, the Truckee area is where the Donner Party met their end. The Donner Party was a wagon train party headed to California. George Donner was the principle organizer of a California-bound wagon train from Springfield, Illinois. The Donner Party actually departed Missouri on the Oregon Trail in the spring of 1846. They were following behind many other pioneer wagon trains, all attempting to make the same overland trip.

The wagon train's were known to take between four and six months to get to California. The Donner Party lost precious time because they decided to follow a new route called the Hastings Cutoff. This was meant to bypass established trails and save time. Instead, it crossed some of the most desolate and rugged terrain imaginable. To make maters worse, they loss of cattle and other wagons. Because of infighting, the group splintered.

All of this resulted in them reaching Truckee Lake, which is now called Donner Lake, in early-November, they were trapped by an early heavy snowfall. They were snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter of 1846. With their food supplies low, by mid-December some of the group set out on foot to find help.

At the same time, rescuers from California attempted to reach the party. Sadly, the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February of 1847. That was almost four months after the wagon train became trapped in the high mountains. Legend says they resorted to cannibalism to survive. Supposedly, the survivors ate those who died from sickness and starvation. Of the 87 members of the Donner Party, only 48 survived the ordeal.

Tamsen Donner was the wife of George Donner. When rescuers finally came, George was too weak from a gangrene infection of his arm. Of course he was also too starved to travel. Tamsen refused to be rescued and stayed with her husband. They both died, and Tamsen's body was never found. Some say she haunts Donner Lake. It's also said that guests who visit the Donner State Memorial Park have seen a "weird yellowish figure floating above the ground" there.

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 that property. Again, no telling if it was a situation where the tunnels were opium dens or cribs. 

I was told that the Del Oro Theatre in the town of Grass Valley is haunted. Its said to have "a few resident ghosts" there. The Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley has housed many famous residents including Mark Twain and three American Presidents.

The Holbrooke Hotel 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's real 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's 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 my home over in Amador County, in the town of Ione where my Mom lives, there's a place simply known as "The Preston Castle" or "The Castle." It's real name is The Preston School of Industry. It was once a home for 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.

When I visited the castle, I remember a few folks on the tour having an eerie feeling and feeling a cold presence of the lady who was the school's cook before being killed and put in a closet. Her body was found later after disappearing for a few days. 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 the town of 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.

In the town of San Andreas, they say a women who was jilted by her lover can be seen waiting outside the old library. People say she has waited there for him for more than a century. South of San Andreas in the town of 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 was living there. He was actually a young reporter there. It's where he wrote his most famous yarn.

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 sits 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 the town of Sonora, the Tuolumne General Hospital is reportedly haunted by miners and patients who died from neglect. Neglect, you ask. Well, that's what legend says. But really, it was probably more a case of medical folks back then not knowing how to treat something that we today take for granted. For example, the flu. The influenza virus, what we all refer to simply as the "flu," of the 1830s affected 20 to 25 percent of the world's population. In reality, it killed more people than gunshots, accidents, most other ailments including cancers, and wars at the time. 

At the Yosemite Valley, in what is today the Yosemite National Park, there have been visitors who swear that they have seen the ghosts of Indians killed during the Mariposa Indian War. Some say they have heard the cries of the starving Ahwahnechee children -- those who were the victims of the Mariposa Battalion who burned the Ahwahnechee villages and took their food stores. Yes, to starve those Indians into submission.

In Calaveras County, we have our share of spooks who refuse to rest. The Hotel Léger in the town of 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 that he died in. That would be Room 7 for those want to explore such things.

As for ghosts of those who have been shot in an Old West street, Mokelumne Hill was one of the most violent towns in the West. People took their life in their hands just crossing Main Street. That's why the people there dug a tunnel from the Hotel Léger that led to the other side of the street. It's believed some of the dead still haunt the town.

Yes, including those Chinese who were killed there as victims of the Tong War. No telling who was killed when one Chinese gang burned down a Chinese temple. As for the dead being restless, I'm sure race after death means very little. So no, there's no telling how many Chinese do not sleep.

As for news articles out of the Mokelumne Hill area, news of what was taking place back in the day, all talk about runaway wagons and teamsters who met 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 someone 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 were never found. As for people getting away with murder, especially murdering travelers new to the gold camps, there were those who got away with it.

Back in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, a rancher whose property was near Mokelumne Hill was digging a post hole while putting in some fencing. Soon, he started pulling out pieces of a human skeleton. It wasn't long before he unearthed a human skull. After digging more and more, he reveled the bones of a number of people. Yes, more than just one or two skulls.

He immediately contacted the sheriff. The county authorities arrived on his property and went to work. The area of interest was expanded, and soon more bones and skulls were unearthed. More than a dozen bodies were found.

After examination of the bones, it was determined that the bones belonged to young travelers and miners who were all killed very violently during the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. All had been buried there for decades.

The rancher had no idea that such a thing existed on his land. Then local records where checked and it was reveled that his property was once the site of a gold mining camp, a small town, back in the 1850s. Along with human remains, authorities found clothing and shoes. The clothing and shoes both pointed to the period when the victims lived.

Also, they unearthed evidence pointing to the existence of a saloon at that spot. It was called a Fandango House. It was a sort of brothel, gambling place, dance hall, hotel, and store. All of the dead are believed to have stopped there. All were murdered for their goods and gold, then buried in a shallow mass grave.

Of the bones found, none were ever identified. Fact is, there was no way to identify the victims. It was a just a part of life to strike out on one's own. It's believed they left their families in the East and headed to California to get rich. Instead, they were murdered before ever reaching the gold fields in most cases.

Of course, after contact with their relations stopped, it's a safe bet to say that someone in their family may have suspected foul play. But then again, life was seen differently at the time. It was a given that the world was not a safe place and that death could come by a number of ways, including illness, drowning, getting kicked by a horse, and even food poisoning. Some today believe those who were murdered still wonder the hills and are seen at the rivers panning for gold.

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 air from the bottom of a collapsed mine shaft. Some say that the old Indian who froze to death along the trail up near Alabama Hill in Glencoe can still be seen now and then over a hundred years later.

There are those who say the screams of those horses where that runaway wagon wrecked near the middle fork of the Mokelumne River can still heard. Others say they hear the weeping of the woman who still searches for her husband who died when crushed falling timber back in the day.

If ghosts are those souls who met a violent end as a result of being beaten to death in a bar brawl, by being shot to death by a single bullet fired by some dry-gulcher intent on stealing another man's hard earn wages, or by way of getting trampled by a cattle stampede, there are those who believe that ghosts simply cannot find peace. Thus, they haunt. Thus, they are restless.

Of course, if you are a person who believes in ghost, you may wonder if they'll ever find peace since they haven't by now.

Tom Correa

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