by Dennis William Hauck
By many easterners' reckoning, it's not very surprising that more ghosts are seen in California than any other state. Something about our state's New Age proclivities seems to make the sighting of specters, expected here. Some say we're more open to ethereal vibes; others insist we get too much sun. In any case, Californians report more encounters with spirits than anyone else in the Union, and there are over three-hundred places recognized as haunted within the Golden State's borders.
One place recognized by the State of California as an Official Haunted House is San Diego's Whaley House (2482 San Diego Ave., San Diego 92110. Phone: 619-298-2482). It was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, who also rented out part of the house as a county courtroom and records depository. But the $65-per-month rent never made up for all the grief he received because of it. His beautiful home became the center of a power struggle between people in Old Town, where the mansion was located, and the New Towners, who wanted the county records kept in their section of the growing city. One day while Thomas was out of town, a gang of New Towners broke into his house, terrorized his wife and daughter, and stole all the records. For nearly twenty years Thomas tried to collect damages from the County for his ransacked house, but he died without ever receiving a dime.
Almost a century later, when the County bought the house and started restoration, strange things began to happen. Workmen told of ghosts walking on the second floor, windows that opened by themselves, and alarms which went off for no reason. Visitors to the house have reported seeing the ghosts of Thomas and his wife in the hallways and descending the staircase, as well as the ghosts of his dog, little girl, and baby son (who died at 17 months). Several people have reported seeing a man hanging in a doorway in the house. He is thought to be the ghost of Jim Robinson, who was caught stealing a boat and sentenced to death by a drunken judge. When he was hung on a gallows on the Wharton property, the noose failed to snap his neck, and he hung flailing in the air for nearly an hour, cursing and screaming, before he finally strangled to death.
California has another Official Haunted House in San Jose. Sarah Winchester started building this house in 1884 and never stopped. She was told by a psychic that as long as construction on the house was going on, the ghosts of people killed by the rifle that bears her family name would not bother her. Work continued around the clock for thrty-eight years! She eventually spent nearly six million dollars and ended up with a house of 160 rooms, 950 doors, and 10,000 windows. Although she had a special room for seances, most of the reported spirit contacts did not occur until after her death in 1922. Psychic researchers have all reported contacting ghosts within the house, and both staff and visitors have seen moving balls of light and a gray-haired female apparition floating through the halls. Others have reported hearing organ music, whispering voices, and slamming sounds. The management of Winchester House maintains a file of affidavits by witnesses of unusual events there. The address is 525 South Winchester Blvd., San Jose, 95129. Phone: 408-427-2101.
Toys `R' Us This modern warehouse/store was built in 1970 and has been haunted ever since. Employees first thought someone was scattering roller skates and books thoughout the aisles as a practical joke, but when they started hearing voices and being touched by phantom hands, they asked manager Judy Jackson for help. She discovered that customers had also been reporting strange things: faucets that turned themselves on after being turned off,
and disembodied hands tapping their shoulders or stroking their hair. Finally, psychic Sylvia Brown was called in and she discovered a presence by the name of Johnny Johnson, who worked on a ranch that had existed on the site of the store. Johnny was mentally impaired and came to be known as "Crazy Johnny". In 1884, he hit his leg with an ax while cutting wood and bled to death near a well on the property. Records showed that a well did exist beneath the store at a spot indicated by Johnny's ghost. Photographer Bill Tidwell has taken an infrared photograph, which he believes shows Johnny leaning against some shelving in the store. (Toys `R' Us, 130 East El Camino, Sunnyvale, CA 94087. Phone: 408-732-0331)
Easkoot House Captain Alfred Easkoot had a way of turning adversity into good fortune. He was only a thirteen years-old when caught in a fire at sea that left his face disfigured and turned one of his hands into a useless stump, yet he overcame his handicap to become captain of a merchant ship and eventually bought his own lumber schooner. When his schooner went aground on Duxbury Reef off Stinson Beach, he used the lumber that drifted ashore to build a house. Soon he became a respected businessman and in 1861 married into a wealthy family. For some unknown reason, he became obsessed with the beach property he had acquired and constantly patrolled it looking for trespassers, whom he frightened away with a glistening gold hook attached to his withered hand. When he died, his coffin was dropped and opened while he was being carried across the sand from his house. Somehow, his gold hook fell off and got carried away by the tide. People say that every night at 2:00 AM (the hour of his death), he comes stomping out of his house to search the beach for his lost golden hook. Such tales are verified by residents of Easkoot house, which has been resold many times because of the hauntings. The latest owners, Judy and Leonard Chapman, have reported several unexplained happenings, including the sounding of a burglar alarm at 2:00 AM. The alarm was completely disconnected but continued to sound for over ten minutes. (Easkoot House is a private residence located in Marin County at 3548 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach, CA)
Country Treasures This antique shop was opened in 1974 by Charlene Warner. The previous owners of the one-hundred year-old storefront house had warned her that it was haunted, but she thought they were just trying to add some color to the deal. After all, Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" had been filmed in this town, and she was sure the locals knew the value of a little publicity. Then she acquired a life-size doll of an eight year-old girl. The face of the doll was made from the death mask of a real child; the hair, eyebrows and lashes of the corpse were removed and pasted onto the doll. With the arrival of the doll, stranger things began to happen. One night the glass in the case holding the doll broke to pieces for no apparent reason. Zither music could be heard at odd hours of the night. Customers reported seeing a tall, bearded man who disappeared when they tried to move closer to him. Some have seen him bent over a child's bed. At a recent seance at the house, contact was reported with the spirit of the original owner, a Captain McCuen. Research revealed that his brain-damaged child was confined to a crib until her death. (Charlene's Country Treasures is located on Bodega Road, Bodega, CA 94922. Phone: 707-876-3104)