Sacramento is a city built on broken dreams, a small metropolis spawned from a slew of crudely-pitched tents and decrepit wooden shacks that sprang up along the banks of the Sacramento and American rivers. A city that in some respects, was never meant to be a permanent settlement at all. The watershed event that arguably established the state of California ironically proved the ruination of the three men responsible for the phenomenon that brought hundreds of thousands to seek their fortunes in the stream beds, hills and fields of the Sacramento Valley and beyond. John Sutter, the Swiss-German immigrant who was looking forward to decades of prosperity on his land grant from the Mexican government, finally lost the battle to keep the hordes of fortune-seekers from overrunning and plundering his estate. Towards the end of his life, a despondent Sutter noted in his autobiography, “Without the discovery of gold, I would now be the richest man on the shores of the Pacific. (Gudde: 231).” James Marshall, the carpenter who noticed the first few chunks of a shiny yellow metal at Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma in 1848, also died destitute. For the remainder of his days, he was frequently hounded by greedy individuals who were certain that he still had a nose for sniffing out a fortune. Merchant Sam Brannan saw a golden opportunity, and marched up and down San Francisco’s Market Street with a bottle of water swirling with yellow flakes. “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” he proclaimed. A shrewd if not scrupulous businessman, Brannan began selling shovels and similar accoutrements to would-be prospectors, at ten to 15 times the normal value of the items. Although he did strike it rich peddling to panhandlers, in the end a bitter divorce and numerous other ill-fated legal proceedings left him penniless, as well.
As for the throngs who came from across the country and the entire world, very few prospered. For every one who did, there were hundreds more who succumbed to poverty and vagrancy. Many did not survive the perilous journey across the vast wilderness, or the arduous, four-month sea voyage around South America’s Cape Horn. Those who arrived at their destination had often spent every cent that they had getting there, and when their dreams did not pan out, had no means of returning home. Some adapted, finding other vocations and pursuing different goals. Others starved, or took ill and died, and a great many took their own lives. Crowded, unsanitary and lawless conditions accounted for a whole host of social ills and natural disasters that claimed countless more lives. Within a decade of the Gold Rush boom, most mining operations had been taken over by large, commercial interests, and the days of the plucky prospector with his pan, pick and shovel faded into history.
But not all of history is so easily put to bed. So many met vile, violent, unsettling ends that Sacramento is thought to be “alive with ghosts.” Much of this activity centers on Old City, the original spot at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers where dauntless gold seekers descended and intrepid entrepreneurs first set up shop. Restless spirits silently stalk their old haunts, some locked forever in their familiar routines. Others seek vengeance on those responsible for their unhappy conditions, oblivious to the fact that the perpetrators are far beyond mortal retribution. There are those who seem lost, wandering without purpose and having forgotten what they were originally seeking. A few actually appear to be happy, remembering all that was good and blissfully forgetting the unpleasantries that led up to their present circumstances.
The remaining tunnels underneath Old City -those still tangible remnants of the original street level- are gradually disappearing. Willful obliteration and accidental collapses have filled in much of the subterranean network. Spirits both ancient and modern reputedly lurk in the dark crevices of yesteryear, and even in the modern edifices that have grown on top of them and spread out across a hundred square miles of city. As the years pass and more and more of what was crumbles into oblivion, an occasional flickering light, dancing shadow or unexplained noise may be the only remaining connection to the rich history that gave rise to a state’s capital. But in the end, all we really have are stories.
Jeff Raymond’s ghost story
At five-foot six, 225 pounds, Jeff Raymond is built like a pit bull terrier, and about as easily intimidated. But a cold terror seized him one night in April of 2003 when he awoke to the sensation of hands clamped around his throat. Bolting out of bed, Jeff looked around for his attacker, but found that he was alone. The only other person in the house was his seven year-old son, Jason, who was sound asleep in the bedroom down the hallway.
The 40-year old ranch house, located in Sacramento’s College Greens section, had seemed like a good purchase to Jeff when he made settlement about two months earlier. When Jason told him one night “There’s a man in my bed,” Jeff dismissed it as a child’s overactive imagination. Then Jeff himself saw things -weird silhouettes dancing across the walls and the nearly-transparent figure of a man passing in the hallway. This was too much of a coincidence. Jeff put his house up for sale.
During the nine months that Jeff’s house sat on the market, several potential buyers made offers, only to suddenly rescind them. A Middle Eastern family saw the house three times, and Jeff was sure that he had a sale. When they departed somewhat hastily after their final visit, Jeff followed them outside and asked if there was a problem. “You have spirits,” the father replied tersely. That was the last that Jeff saw of them.
When Jeff originally looked at the house during what realtors call a “walk-through,” he specifically asked the agent if anyone had died there. No, he was told. This was not true.
Conversations with a neighbor who has lived next door since 1968 revealed some disturbing information about the home’s former occupant, a retired army colonel who had purchased the property in 1966, and resided there until his death in 1999. The colonel and his wife had been awarded custody of their grandchildren after the parents had been deemed unfit. An irascible, mean-spirited man, the colonel flew into a rage one day and tried to strangle his eight year-old grandson. After hearing this, Jeff had a good idea about the identity of his phantom assailant.
Jeff’s girlfriend, Tammy, recalls her first encounter with the late colonel. She was in the den, talking to Jeff, who was in the sitting room downstairs. Behind Jeff, she saw a flash of light move from one side of the room to the other. Seeing the shocked look on Tammy’s face, Jeff asked her what was wrong.
“Nothing,” she barely managed to whisper. Later, however, she confessed.
On another occasion, she and Jeff were both in the sitting room when Jeff suddenly felt a chill course through his body, and the hair on his arms literally stood up. The time was late August, the weather was hot, and all of the windows were closed.
Though nearly being strangled in bed was admittedly a harrowing experience for Jeff, he is no longer afraid of “Al,” whom he maintains has lost a lot of his power, and all of his scare. The manifestations are limited to occasional flashes of light and maybe a fleeting shadow, but never anything as terrifying as the initial encounter. He has a theory about this.
“Spirits are only as strong as you let them be,” he explained. “They only have as much power as you give them.” And Jeff is determined not to give Al any power. The last paranormal occurrence was in January of 2005. While they were sitting in the den, Jeff, Tammy and Jason noticed that the dog’s wicker bed was rocking back and forth, as if someone were kicking it.
Tammy has also heard -and seen- a second visitor, though no one has a clue to the identity. Tammy has been awakened by the sound of a woman singing, a sound which seems to come from behind the house. Because there is a grocery store in back of the house, she first attributed the disturbance to a group of revelers in the store’s parking lot. But when she looked, the lot was empty.
The first appearance of the mysterious lady came when Tammy was standing in front of a mirror, a few feet away from an open door. A woman entirely dressed in black, who looked remarkably like Tammy, paused in the doorway, casting her reflection next to Tammy’s in the mirror.
“She didn’t look like a ghost,” Tammy recalled. “She looked exactly like a flesh-and-blood person. But when I turned around, there was no one there.”
According to an old superstition, a doppelganger (“double-goer” in German) is the ghostly duplicate of a living person. Seeing one’s doppelganger is supposedly a harbinger of impending death. But while Tammy is open to the possibility of ghosts, she doesn’t place much stock in doppelgangers.
86 year-old Stan Rose, who lives next door, remembers Al as a less-than-ideal neighbor. But he doesn’t believe for one second that Al’s essence still lingers in the house, and he shrugs off reports of the dark lady. Maybe that’s because so far, Al and his distaff counterpart have kept to their own haunts.
Johna DeRosier’s ghost story
Old habits die hard, and with some individuals, those habits never seem to die at all. Most ghosts are steadfast in their hauntings -usually attaching themselves to a specific location, object or person with whom they had a strong connection in life. But a few are fickle phantoms, like the one that social worker Johna DeRosier first encountered in 1997.
Johna thought that her roommate was crazy when she brought in her minister to bless their house on Charlaura Court in southern Sacramento. The roommate swore that there were strange sounds, inanimate objects seemingly moving of their own volition, and vaguely-human shapes that materialized out of thin air, then just as quickly vanished. One night, the roommate woke up in a panic, swearing that someone had been shaking her bed. When she moved out two months later without paying her share of the rent, Johna was convinced that she had simply concocted a poltergeist story.
But during the next decade, when Johna and her three children lived there, strange things indeed began happening, the most alarming occurring in 1998 when Johna walked out of the bathroom and clearly saw what she described as “a shadowy, smoky figure of an old man sitting on the bed.” Screaming, Johna dashed back into the bathroom and locked the door. When she finally ventured out, there was no trace that anyone had been there.
“He looked just like that statue of The Thinker,” a calmer Johna later recalled. “The same exact pose.”
Later manifestations tended to be more subtle, and eventually, less and less frightening, and Johna and her children just accepted their mysterious guest as another resident. Sometimes while sitting on her living room couch, Johna would glimpse in her peripheral vision a large, dark shadow darting down the hallway, as if someone were running. The fireplace tools were occasionally knocked over in the dead of night, making a loud clanging. The photograph of Johna’s oldest son, which hung in the hallway, was constantly falling off the wall. Occasionally, Johna’s daughter Kat (Kathleen) would hear rattling in the attic, or what sounded like someone running across the roof. Since these noises were not limited to Christmas Eve, she couldn’t very well blame Santa Claus!
The most common disruption, like all of the others, was innocuous- a strange tapping on Johna’s shoulder when she was asleep. First she assumed that one of her children was responsible, but soon knew better.
In January of 2005, Johna met the man who was to become her second husband, and the two moved into their own home. The night before her wedding, August 12, 2005, Johna stayed at the Elk Grove home of her friend, Cindy Hicks. And someone else came along with her.
In the next few weeks, Cindy began experiencing many of the same phenomena that Johna and her children had. Cindy’s mother, Sherry, who is 66 and hard of hearing, was busily working at her sewing machine one afternoon while Cindy was in the kitchen. Later, Sherry asked Cindy “Why were you shaking my chair when I was sewing?” Cindy didn’t have a clue what her mother meant. On another occasion, Sherry asked her daughter if she had come into her bedroom the previous night. Cindy had not.
But the wandering spirit didn’t limit his attentions to Sherry. One night when Cindy was in bed, she felt strong hands pushing down on her hip and shoulder, preventing her from moving. When she was finally able to get up, she was alone.
Apparently, the spirit has a lascivious side, as well.
“Once after I had gone to bed, I covered myself up, and I felt someone rubbing the covers over the contours of my body,” Cindy recalled. “I was really tired, so I just hollered ‘Knock it off!’ and it did.”
Animals are perhaps more attuned than anyone to psychic energy, and Sherry’s dog -a little terrier named Angel- was no exception. She began erupting into fits of loud barking and snarling, apparently at no one. In addition, the normally well-behaved canine started chasing invisible entities, and running around in circles, nipping at her own tail. The dog’s antics usually precede the spectral activity, Cindy has observed.
For the most part, the spirit likes to keep a low profile, and as yet has never shown himself to Cindy or Sherry. The occasional groping and shaking aside, he seems to prefer rattling small objects late at night, or turning lights on or off.
Johna admits that she has no idea who the inscrutable spook is, or was, and never made any attempt to find out. But at least for now, he appears to be someone else’s problem.
Marcie Rice’s ghost story
Film and literature are rife with examples of buildings that are magnets for supernatural activity. Some theories run that the structures rest on sites marred by ancient violence or injustice, or were unknowingly constructed on the grounds of some long-vanished necropolis. Other explanations suggest that the very edifices themselves somehow absorb psychic energy and the restless emotions of previous inhabitants, taking on a life of their own. “If these walls could talk,” people muse. Sometimes, it seems as if they can.
In 1977, 19 year-old Marcie Rice and her husband Ron lived in a house that her parents had bought for them, next door to one that her grandparents purchased for $4,000 in 1940. According to Marcie, spirits seem to bounce back and forth between the pair of homes, located at 3041 and 3043 Marysville Boulevard, respectively. Incidents over the past three decades have ranged from mildly annoying to terrifying, beginning late one evening when newly-weds Ron and Marcie were in bed.
Air vents on the wall directly behind the couple’s bed amplified any noise coming from the downstairs. Ron, a sound sleeper, slumbered unperturbed. But Marcie, plagued by insomnia that accompanied her first pregnancy, lay wide awake, and clearly heard what sounded like someone racing up and down the staircase at superhuman speed. After a few moments the frenzied footsteps subsided, at which point the doorknob jiggled back and forth. This occurred a number of times. Whenever Marcie got out of bed to check, the result was always the same: there was never anyone on the other side.
Four years later, Ron and Marcie divorced, and Marcie moved next door, to 3041, with her son, Ronnie, and daughter, Kristen. Any suspicion on Marcie’s part that the unexplained noises at 3043 might have been her imagination were dispelled one summer afternoon when she was sitting outside on the front steps, waiting for her boyfriend, John, to arrive. Visiting Marcie that day were her nieces, Tracey and Angie. All of a sudden, Tracey and Angie ran shrieking out of the house, followed closely by Ronnie and Kristen. After a few moments, their frightened babbling gradually subsided to coherent speech, and they explained to Marcie that as they were playing in Ronnie’s room, the white-robed apparition of a young woman with long blonde hair floated into their midst, and hovered silently above the terrified children. Investigating, Marcie found nothing unusual, but all four kids stuck by their story.
Later, there were other strange phenomena. Frequently, packs of John’s cigarettes would be missing, invariably turning up under the cushions of the living room couch. At first, John suspected Marcie’s children of playing pranks on him, but the kids vehemently denied this. Often, Marcie and John would be lying in bed, when inexplicably, a cool gust of wind would sweep over them, always when the windows were closed. The mysterious lady in white never made a second appearance, but on several occasions, neighbors saw lights in the house and the figure of a woman in the bedroom window, during times that Marcie was certain that no one was home.
In 2002, Ronnie purchased the house at 3041, and moved in with his fiancée, Nina, and their daughter, Angelina. Marcie had moved back into 3043 with her brother, Michael, and youngest son, John. Marcie and her siblings had grown up in that house, and she had always felt comfortable and secure there. But that changed one day in the wee hours of the morning, as Marcie lay in bed alone.
Previous manifestations were usually mischievous at worst, but this time, there was a strong aura of malevolence. An evil presence seemed to settle over the prostrate Marcie, and she found herself unable to move. At last, a low, deep voice growled some unintelligible message in her ear. Then slowly, Marcie felt the presence gradually move away from her, on its way to Hell or wherever. Relief flooded over Marcie as she realized that she was alone once more.
For the most part, the alleged spectral activity seems to be in remission, with the exception of phantom feline footsteps across Marcie’s bed some nights. This she attributes to her cat, Princess, who died in 2004, but seems to have never left.
Phantoms at Fulton’s
Standing across the street from Fulton’s West End Bar and Grill in Old Sacramento, one might easily get the impression that an entire building is missing. But closer inspection reveals an opening in the wrought-iron fence, leading to ancient brick stairs that descend surreptitiously into a quaint courtyard. The surrounding walls that form this secluded, outdoor café hold 150 years of often turbulent history, which supposedly manifests itself in occasional unexplained occurrences.
Situated at the confluence of two rivers, Sacramento was plagued by repeated floods, with no less than five during its first 12 years. After 1862, residents decided that the existing levees were insufficient, and raised the level of the entire city by 12 feet. As a result, the first floors of the existing buildings became the basements, or were abandoned entirely. The building that houses Fulton’s predates the raising of the city, and the old brick retaining walls which were constructed are clearly visible in the restaurant’s main dining area. Much of the labor was done by Chinese immigrants, who came to California in droves during the Gold Rush.
Being the manager, Brian Rodriguez spends a lot of time at Fulton’s late at night, after the customers and most of the staff have already gone home. He admits that he doesn’t particularly like being in the building alone.
“You get this weird feeling,” Brian said. “It’s like someone’s watching you, someone’s checking you out. You don’t even have to see anything.”
He admits, however, to glimpsing occasional shadows, which he tries to tell himself “must be explainable.” The restaurant’s previous owner, who sold the business in November, 2004 and moved to Denver, Colorado, swore that there was something very strange about the place, Brian said.
Brian believes that Fulton’s may have been the site of an old mission. The building later served as the assessor’s office, and at one time, may even have been used as a jail.
April Williams has tended bar at Fulton’s for six years. Shortly after she started, she found that on some mornings, chairs inside the restaurant had been turned backwards during the previous evening. April, as well as other employees and patrons, have also felt certain cold spots -a phenomenon often associated with spiritual activity. As an experiment, a customer once took home a vase of dried flowers from one of the “haunted” dining booths, where patrons had sometimes complained of chilly drafts. When she woke up the following morning, the chairs at her dining room table had all been turned backwards. She promptly returned the flowers.
April said that the staff usually warns new waitresses not to be alarmed by the occasional tugging on their skirts by unseen individuals. In the past, servers have been so unnerved that they have quit. April has never had a ghost tug on her clothing, but she recalls standing near the back of the restaurant one day, and feeling drops of liquid on her head. Looking up, she expected to see wet paint or leaking water from the rafters, but there was no sign of either.
In 1992, a waitress claimed to have seen the spectral figure of an Asian man with a ponytail. Although the apparition was first spotted in the banquet room, he has appeared other places since then.
In October, 2005, a pair of mother and daughter psychics visited Fulton’s, and pointed out certain areas where they said that people had died. The so-called Mafia Room – a large, private space with an oblong table and paneled, wood walls- gave off such negative energy that the two women refused to even enter.
Shortly after the two psychics departed, Brian got a lesson in humility. He was joking with some of his employees about their haunted workplace when a large, potted fern about 20 feet from where he was standing suddenly fell over, making a loud clang. The group bolted from the room. Brian is a bit more careful about what he says now.
Ghosts of the Delta King
Constructed in Stockton, California between 1924 and 1927 with its sister ship, Delta Queen, the luxurious, five-decked sternwheeler Delta King is a repository of colorful anecdotes, myths and memories. Flagships of the California Transportation Company, the pair shuttled passengers, freight and mail between the capital and San Francisco, a dusk-’til-dawn voyage that spanned 125 meandering miles along the Sacramento River. This proud legacy endured for 13 glorious years, but the decades that followed saw the ships’ gradual descent into disuse and disrepair. In the 1980’s, the King was raised from the muddy riverbed where it had lain half-sunken for 18 months. After five years of extensive repairs and renovations, the King was resurrected as a floating hotel permanently docked in Old Sacramento. Much of the original ship has quietly disappeared over the years – the engines long since scrapped, the paddlewheel replaced by a perfect replica, sections of the hull sealed and re-riveted, the 88 guest rooms consolidated into half as many. But something lingers aboard the 75 year-old vessel, something intangible, yet somehow intransient.
Some incidents by their very nature sow the seeds of enduring ghost stories. At least two probable suicides have occurred on board the King, and most likely a number of other deaths, the latter during the 1940’s when the ship was used as a troop transport and hospital ship.
On September 6, 1932, aspiring actress Dorothy Millette boarded the Delta King, and disappeared the following day. A week later, her body washed ashore, and it was presumed that she drowned herself. The day before Millette took her ill-fated cruise, her former lover, film producer Paul Bern, had been murdered in the home that he shared with his new wife, actress Jean Harlow. Speculation arose that Millette shot her ex-boyfriend and then took her own life, but this was never proven. The sighting by a night watchman of a mysterious woman on one of the decks some 50 years later spawned one of many ghost stories about the ship (Garvey: 47-48).
The frequent appearance of a little girl dressed in 1930’s-era clothing has been observed by numerous employees and hotel guests alike. Sometimes, the child is seen bouncing a ball along the decks or the stairways. She is alternately playful and frolicsome, or melancholy and morose. Sales and Catering Manager Kim Johnson thinks that the girl is the daughter of a woman who worked as a server on the Delta King. While on board, the child took ill and died. Unaware that she has “crossed over,” she is looking for her mother.
Guests unfamiliar with the rumors sometimes complain that a child is bouncing a ball outside their hotel rooms late at night. Obligingly, the front desk sends someone to investigate. When this invariably fails to find the source of the disturbance, the staff generally asks the guest to open the door and see if anyone is there.
According to Kim, the consensus among Delta King employees is that there are three dominant spirits on board – the little girl, a gentleman, and an elderly woman. Granted, not all of the staff is convinced.
In February of 2005, Kim was standing in the hallway outside of the Paddlewheel Saloon, located aft on the second deck, when she noticed out of the corner of her eye a man dressed like a butler. “He was just floating by the window, inside the room.” The sighting was in the middle of the day, and the saloon was closed and locked at the time. Upon investigating, Kim found no one inside. Later that year, she observed the same mysterious man standing just outside the saloon. Just as quickly as he had appeared, he faded from view.
Karen Macais, who works at the front desk weekdays from 3:00 ’til 11:00 p.m., has heard on several occasions the sound of a girl’s crying, coming from the hallway behind her. Kim Johnson apparently encountered the ghost in a lighter mood. In December of 2004, Kim and one of the bartenders were in the Delta Lounge on the fourth deck, when the drinking glasses started shaking and rattling, and the sound of high-pitched laughter and a child’s running footsteps filled the room.
Karen and other employees have also seen a man wearing a captain’s hat, a white shirt and dark blue pants. He always appears in the periphery of vision, and seems to approach the front desk before suddenly turning in another direction. To no one’s surprise, he strongly resembles the individual whose portrait hangs in the Captain’s Suite – the lavishly-furnished quarters on the fifth deck that rents for $550 per night.
Jenny Johnson is not particularly unnerved by “the captain,” but she was shaken by the eerie, unseen presence that seemed to hover over her when she worked as a “turn-down”- making beds and preparing vacant rooms for future guests -in the Captain’s Suite. Concierge Katerina Toulopoulos agrees that there is some kind of presence. “There’s no denying it,” she said. “Something’s there.”
During her second day on the job, Katerina spoke with a hotel guest who swore that he encountered the ghostly little girl while he was on the way to his room.
“He said that her expression was really scary,” Katerina recalled. “She had these deep, sunken eyes, and he could see right through her. He was spooked.”
Pastry chef Stephanie La Rue once brought a friend, Todd, to work with her. Claiming to be attuned to spiritual energy, Todd said that he sensed the presence of four entities on board the ship, among them a little girl and a man named Elmer. Elmer, Todd claimed, used to be in charge of the Delta King’s steam room, where the banquet kitchen is presently located. While walking around the room, Todd paused suddenly in one of the corners where dry goods are now kept, insisting that someone had died in that particular spot. While Stephanie was not certain whether to believe him or not, she acknowledges a number of strange occurrences, notably finding a line of spoons, ladles and sundry kitchen utensils arranged neatly in rows on the floor one morning when she opened. Her co-workers denied playing tricks on her. Other times, she says, “Elmer” hides whisks or measuring cups.
DeeDe Griffin says that people react differently to allegedly haunted places. In some cases, they are eager to visit and investigate for themselves, or they are skeptics anxious to disprove the rumors. Other guests, however, want nothing to do with restless spirits.
Recently, a hotel guest and several of her co-workers were flown into Sacramento by their employer for a company conference. The woman did not want to stay at the Delta King, but was out-voted by her less superstitious colleagues. Upon checking in, she emphatically stated to the front desk that she wanted a suite that was “not haunted.” They did their best to oblige her.
Ghosts in Mary Terry Leathers
The majority of alleged hauntings consist of subtle, unobtrusive activity. A passing shadow glimpsed in the corner of one’s eye. The inexplicable disappearance or displacement of certain objects. Noises seemingly mundane in origin, but with no identifiable source. And the most frequent, the strong sensation that someone or something is watching, lurking.
In the 13 years that they have owned a leather shop in the basement of what was once the Union Hotel, Mary Terry-Pilcher and her husband, Greg, have experienced all of these phenomena to some degree. If the couple were the only people to have ever noticed anything unusual in the bowels of this 19th-century structure, that would understandably detract from their credibility. But customers, cleaning staff, and even former tenants have been witness to some truly strange events.
Constructed circa 1848, the Union Hotel has survived the glitz and glamour of the Gold Rush, numerous fires and floods, an 1890’s blaze that nearly gutted the building, and several decades of urban blight. Mary and Greg share the L-shaped, subterranean corridor with several other stores, including two gift shops and a tattoo parlor, the latter on the opposite end of the hallway. A century and a half ago, this was the first floor of the hotel. Walking past a vacant store space in the east wing reveals one of the old, red brick retaining walls, the first step residents took in the raising of the city in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
Customers have related to both Mary and Greg that there is a certain spot in the hallway, roughly the bend where east meets west, where they sense a strong, unnatural presence. Perhaps unwisely, this was the same spot that Mary and Greg chose to work on a wooden frame for a new sign for their business. The frame was propped up between a chair and a table, in the mysterious corner, when it slid forward onto the floor. Noting what she assumed was a minor inconvenience at worst, Mary then secured the frame so that it couldn’t slide forward, and set to work. Instead, the frame slid off to the side, again landing on the floor. This occurred no less than five times before Mary and Greg were able to finish the project. The incident reminded Mary of a story that she heard from the former tenants, who ran a small gift shop called The Scottish Castle, in what is now Mary Terry Leathers. Merchandise placed on a certain shelf near the back of the store invariably fell off. Testing the shelf with a level found it to be perfectly straight. A breach in the laws of physics seemed insufficient to explain the two similar incidents.
At one time, Mary and Greg had a screen door, in addition to the regular door, on their shop. This was mainly to keep their cat from wandering into the hallway. One evening, as the couple was sitting on a bench in the hallway, outside the shop, the screen door opened and closed, seemingly of its own accord.
“There is no breeze in the basement,” Greg explained. “and the screen door was difficult to open and close. You had to literally lift it up to keep it from scraping the floor.”
Sightings certainly add verisimilitude to alleged hauntings. One evening, during a trip to the restroom down the hall, Mary was certain that she saw someone walk in behind her. When she turned around, she was alone. She and Greg have both seen what they describe as sudden flashes of light, with inscrutably dark areas in the background. Mary maintains that through one such flash, she saw what looked like a man’s cloak, leading the couple to believe that their “friend in the basement” is male.
Greg and Mary often work late hours, frequently until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. During one such shift they both witnessed the strongest manifestation to date. A dark, human-shaped figure passed through the closed door of the tattoo shop, floated several feet down the corridor, and disappeared through a set of double door in the corner. Turning to Mary, Greg asked, “Did you see that?” He didn’t need to ask her twice.
Ghost in the schoolyard
That the sudden circumstances of their deaths has caused some ghosts to be oblivious to their condition has been offered to explain many supposed hauntings. Among them is the case of the mysterious little boy spotted in front of the Old Schoolhouse Museum at Front and L streets.
On a cool October day in 1850, the ship New World crept into port at Sacramento’s embarcadero, greeted by throngs of city residents cheering and waving flags. With her she brought the news that California had officially become the 31st state. But along with the joyous tidings the vessel carried a deadly cargo, one that would wipe out nearly one-sixth of the city’s population in less than a month. As the passengers disembarked, one man, burning with fever, stumbled down the gangplank and collapsed onto the dock. The city had dealt with fires and floods, mob lynchings and murders, but never anything as virulent as the strain of Asiatic cholera which would claim its first victim that day. The onset of the disease was characterized by sharp abdominal pains, which were followed by severe diarrhea and death from dehydration, often within a day. Estimates put the death toll at close to 1,000. Hundreds more fled, often leaving behind sick friends and relatives. Of the brave physicians who stayed to care for the afflicted, 17 succumbed to the illness. Two years later, the Old City Cemetery erected a memorial plaque to commemorate those who had perished in Sacramento’s deadliest plague.
Cathryn Chatterton of Meadow Vista, who conducted a series of “Lantern Tours” through the Old City Cemetery in October of 2003, claims to be able to see and communicate with spirits. So later that month, when Channel UPN 31 decided to do a segment about the reputed ghost of the Old Schoolhouse Museum for their Good Day Sacramento program, they contacted her. Accompanied by a camera crew and her fiancé, Ric Windmiller, Cathryn set off for the schoolhouse, not really expecting to see anything. Since the original structure was not in Old Sacramento, Cathryn reasoned that the 49′ x 27′ building – a clever replica of an authentic schoolhouse in an adjacent county- was not realistic enough to fool a ghost. Apparently, she was mistaken.
Neither Cathryn’s fiancé nor the camera crew saw anything out of the ordinary that fall morning, as Cathryn and Ric stood in the yard of the Schoolhouse Museum, where the phantom marbles player was reputed to haunt. This did not surprise Cathryn, who explained that most people do not have her gift. But Cathryn saw him, quietly continuing a game that he had perhaps begun over 150 years ago, peacefully oblivious to the distractions of the 21st century.
“He was on one knee, and he was playing marbles,” Cathryn recalled. “He was tow-headed, with a boxy haircut, brown pants, suspenders, white shirt, and the little brown shoes that children used to wear, shoes that looked like miniature work boots. He had a leather bag with some marbles in it, and I saw three or four marbles in position on the ground. My impression was that he had died suddenly, and didn’t even realize that he was dead. He looked happy, and didn’t seem to know that we were there.”The only children whom curator Suzanne Hicklin has seen are live ones, many of whom are on class field trips. But she agrees that the mysterious little boy has attached himself to the place. “For whatever reason, he feels comfortable here,” she said. The consensus is that he is one of the many children who perished in the 1850 cholera epidemic.
Ghosts in the Library
The tremendous power of suggestion might explain some of the strange phenomena in an 89 year-old building that already has a reputation for being haunted. The sensation of being watched or followed, unexplained noises, even flickering apparitions, might plausibly be attributed to the imagination. But even the stoutest skeptics are hard-pressed to explain magnetic glass bookshelf doors that suddenly swing open, heavy objects moving by themselves, and items that mysteriously turn up in unfamiliar locations.
As an institution, the Sacramento Library was established in 1857. The New Central Library, a six-story edifice which adjoins the original one, was added in 1992. A $30,000 grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie funded the main building, which was erected in 1917 and was the first such structure with an all-steel frame. Located at 8th and I streets, the Old Central Library contains meeting rooms, offices, and a Rare Book Room, in the corner of which sits a vault where hundreds of old books and manuscripts are stored. According to branch manager Clare Ellis, this vault seems to be the hub of the supernatural activity.
Staff members and volunteers alike have been frightened by thumping and rustling noises, which usually occur at night after closing. Even more alarming is the counter-inertial behavior of the aforementioned glass bookshelves. Clare admits that the perpetrators seem more mischievous than malevolent, and sometimes a verbal admonition suffices to halt the spectral shenanigans. Other times, she says, the phantom pranksters are more stubborn, determined to be rambunctious despite repeated requests. In those cases, Clare usually decides to adjourn until morning.
Less frightening but equally perplexing are the books that seem to enjoy playing hide and seek. One staff member will look for a certain title exactly where the book should be, and find nothing. Several minutes later, when someone else is searching, the book will reappear in its proper location.
A custodian on duty at about 4:00 a.m. one morning was startled by a loud crash after he had turned off the lights in one of the administrative offices on the third floor. Flicking the switch back on, he discovered that a typewriter that had been on one of the desks was now lying on the floor. This was especially puzzling because the desk was perfectly level, and the typewriter had not been sitting near the edge. The custodian put the typewriter back where it belonged, then hurried out of the room.
Strange sights and sounds are not limited to the old building. There have been intermittent reports of a spectral woman on the third floor of the New Central Library. Sometimes she is dressed in red. Although most sightings are brief and indistinct, an employee in 1992 recalls seeing a deceased co-worker standing at the end of the check-out line in the main lobby. The library had just re-opened after a week-long hiatus following the fatal shooting of two staff members by a deranged patron. The co-worker was standing at the end of the check-out line in the main lobby, dressed in her familiar white pleated skirt, and holding several books under her arm. The librarian on duty thought nothing of it at first, then realized that something was terribly wrong. When she glanced again, the lady in the white skirt was gone (Sacramento Library).
People are not the only ones who have seen unsettling things in the Sacramento Central Library. Youth Services Librarian Rebecca Higgerson trains service dogs for an organization that pairs the animals with disabled people. Rebecca often brings the dogs to work with her so that they can get used to a variety of different environments. Her first protégé was a playful, ambitious Golden Retriever and Yellow Labrador mix named Tori.
One morning before the library opened, Rebecca and Tori were playing fetch in the Children’s Department. While dashing madly after a tennis ball that Rebecca had just tossed, Tori skidded to a halt, stopping a few feet from a corner where the rest rooms are located. The animal seemed to be staring at something, and was unresponsive when Rebecca called her name.
“I finally reached her and pulled her away, because quite frankly I was a bit spooked by the incident,” Rebecca recalled. “I walked back to my original position with her and tossed the ball again. She refused to go after it. We headed for her leash and I took her outside for a break. Immediately upon our return, I walked her into the area on leash, but she was resistant and started to whimper. I gave up, now completely wigged out by her reaction.”
The following month, during another tennis ball session, Tori again stopped cold in the middle of chasing the ball, in exactly the same spot, and stared once again at the restroom corner. Even her favorite dog treats could not lure her away this time. That was the last incident that Rebecca had with Tori in the library, but one that Rebecca will never forget.
Ghost of the Eagle Theater
Raymond Closs, manager of the Eagle Theater at Front and I streets in Old Sacramento, has been blamed on more than one occasion for minor acts of mischief that he swears were committed by former manager, Clif Hagle. Stage props will be moved or missing, someone will tamper with the stage equipment, strange sounds will interrupt a rehearsal. Ray and the other staff and volunteers merely shake their heads and say, “Clif is at it again.” But Clif has a very good alibi. He’s dead.
At is inception in 1849, the Eagle Theater catered to the throngs of ragtag fortune hunters that filled the squalid city. In addition to whiskey and women, the men craved entertainment. Like many structures, the original building that stood on the spot was hastily-erected from the wood and canvas of a dismantled ship whose crew had deserted upon arrival in Sacramento. On January 8, 1850 the Eagle Theater washed away in one of the many floods that were to strike the burgeoning city. The current building was constructed in 1971 (Tracy).
“Clif loved this place,” Ray said. “He would sometimes be here 18 hours a day. It’s no wonder that he still hasn’t left.”
When Clif died in 1998 at the age of 61, he had been at the Eagle Theater earlier that day, Ray recalled.
Elyse Bagley has been a volunteer at the theater since 1997, which is when she first met Clif, who would dress up as a 19th-century undertaker while giving a presentation to the new docents. She thinks that her last encounter with Clif was in 2004, but she admits that she didn’t actually see him.
After appearing in one of the theater’s productions, Elyse was walking down the stairs to the dressing rooms in the basement.
“The stairs are very steep,” she explained. “and they have two turns. They’re almost C-shaped. I should have been holding the banister, but I wasn’t. I was wearing a large, hooped dress, and the heel of my boot caught the hem of my skirt. I felt myself pitch forward, and I was about to tumble headlong down the stairs. Suddenly, two strong hands grabbed my shoulders from behind, and guided me down the steps.”
Usually, Ray explained, Clif makes his presence known when he feels that strangers are not showing proper respect for his beloved theater. In 2001, a high school acting troupe known as the Lookout Players was putting on a play called “Bleacher Bums.” One of the students, Joey, and his art director, were sitting in the theater lobby during the performance. Suddenly the front door opened and close, and a chilly breeze wafted over them, through the audience, and all the way to the end of the stage.
Shortly afterwards, another production group, known as Runaway Stage Productions, had just finished setting up the lightning prior to a show. When the production started, all of the 22 stage lights were pointing in different directions. As usual, Ray got the blame.
“Now how do they suppose that I climbed up to the ceiling lights 25 feet in the air?” Ray asked.
Other times, according to Assistant Manager Mel Picanco, Clif’s footsteps can be heard pacing up and down the stairs to the dressing rooms. Once, a crew filming a documentary wanted to use the Eagle Theater in a brief sequence, to simulate a meeting hall. The crew occupied the theater for several hours, backed trucks up to the door, moved props and equipment around, and generally overstayed their welcome. Apparently, Clif was not pleased, as indicated once more by the fitful footsteps.
Not all of Clif’s pranks are expressions of disapproval, Mel noted. During the city’s annual Jazz Jubilee parade, which is held around Memorial Day, Mel’s wife Dorothy came into the theater, dressed in period costume. She took of the several pieces of jewelry that she was wearing, which included a pair of earrings, and put them into her hat. Then she and Mel noticed that one of the earrings was missing.
“It was big, looped gold earring,” Mel said. “We would have easily seen it if it had fallen on the floor. Finally, Mel said, “Okay, Clif, give it back.” When they turned around again, the earring was lying on the floor.