Ghosts, ghasts, ghouls and also some fun things to do
Disclaimer: this article is intended as a fun, pre-Halloween look at the tales surrounding some of the historic places in our area. Many of these places listed are places of business or private property. As such if you wish to visit any of them, be sure to check hours of business, or call and get permission from property owners. Trespassing is a crime. Sources used for this article include: hauntedplaces.org, The Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Wine Country by Jeff Dwyer, ghosthauntings.org, allstays.com, ghostsofamerica.com and hauntedhouses.com.
In an area ripe with history like ours, it’s not surprising that some of its previous citizens may not yet have departed to the great beyond. As Halloween approaches, we’ll look at a sampling places known for their spooks, sightings, and specters.
Local to Cloverdale, the most famous area for supernatural activity is, of all places, the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery. Many Indian villages and burial grounds were submerged during the expansion of Lake Sonoma. The main haunters are said to be an elderly Native American couple who are often seen walking hand in hand, she in a serape and he in native garb. Meanwhile, a female spirit is said to occupy the main building at the hatchery, and is often heard to call out staff members’ names and change the radio station.
There is also a history of haunting at Vintage Towers (now known as Kelley and Young Wine Garden Inn) located on Main Street in Cloverdale. The house was originally built in the late 1800’s by merchant Simon Pinchower and was a grand dwelling with marble fireplaces and a grand staircase. In 1918, after the last of the Pinchowers had passed the house became the property on Alice Henderson. She died in 1923 and her companion, Judith Newton fought, and ultimately lost, a long and ugly probate battle. It is said that after her death Judith returned to the home she believed was rightfully hers and has settled in to the second floor. The house was used as a hospital between 1927 and 1945. Today, there have been reports of “the swishing of Victorian skirts, cold spots, and unexplained shadows,” according to Jeff Dwyer’s Ghost Hunter’s Guide To Wine Country.
Co-owner Kathleen Young purchased the property in June of 2015, and she is “aware that the previous owners had the Ghostbusters here, but we haven’t had any ‘paranormal’ experiences,” she said.
The Inn will be getting in the full Halloween spirit however, offering candy and trick-or-treating for any little ones who come by. “No ghosts and goblins as far as we know, but send the little ones for treats on Halloween,” she said. “We hope everyone will stop by with their little ones.”
In nearby Healdsburg, topping the list of the paranormally endowed would be Madrona Manor. California legislator John Alexander Paxton built this grand Victorian mansion in 1880, but passed away a mere seven years later. His wife Hannah, it is said, kept his body in a lead-lined glass coffin until she herself died in 1902 (and subsequently both her remains and those of John were moved to San Francisco). Their sons Charles and Blitz then inherited Madrona Manor, but Charles committed suicide there after his wife ran away with another man.
Sightings have included Hannah, roaming the halls and the grounds, supposedly to look for her husband, along with an unidentified young girl in period dress. Guests have reported feeling and seeing a presence, and having their belongings moved. Room 101 is reported to be a particular hotspot for this sort of activity. Hannah also built St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Matheson Street in memory of her husband, and there have been a few sightings and sensations there as well.
There are plenty of spooks in town as well. The ghost of Edith Smith, who lived, worked, and died in the building in the early 20th century, is said to walk the upper floors of the Kruse Building on Matheson, home of the Healdsburg Inn, and is often spotted peering out the window watching the Plaza. The Gobbi building is one of three remaining cast-iron fronts structures in Healdsburg and visitors may bump in to one the original Italian wine merchants. And it’s claimed that Giovanni and Louis Foppiano may still keep an eye on the wine dynasty they founded on Old Redwood Highway.
Finally, if ghosts are those who lived large in life, then no one lived larger than Bernadette “Big Red” Randall. In the 1870s Big Red “bucked social traditions and rules by wearing pants, riding horses astride like a man, herding cattle and sheep and fishing in the Russian River,” according to Dwyer’s book. Standing a towering, five feet, nine inches, Big Red is said to hang around one of her favorite spots in life—the century old brewery that now houses Hop Kiln Winery.
West County Wraiths
West County is rife with tales of the paranormal, doubtless thanks in part to Mr. Hitchcock filming his terror opus The Birds there. But there are still plenty of stories to go around that extend beyond Hitchcock’s feathered friends.
Mays Canyon Road is the rare haunting that is not focused on a house or structure. Over the years, multiple people have spotted the figure of a woman in the middle of the road, some traumatically believing they had stuck someone only to discover no one there. She has even been said to have stopped pedestrians looking for “the boys who walk down the road.”
But the granddaddy of haunted spots in West County is surely the Potter School House. Utilized by Hitchcock in the Birds, his film cast and crew were the first to report spine tingling encounters on the property. According to ghosthauntings.org “Built in 1873, this building served as the schoolhouse and also the town center where dances and social functions were held upstairs. The building was closed to the public in 1962 and remained vacant for a few years. Then it was purchased by a private party and turned into a private residence. Since then there have been many reports of ghostly activity with this structure and was even featured on the television show ‘Sightings.’”
Reports include sounds emanating from the building of children playing, a woman singing, thumping sounds coming from the walls, disembodied footsteps coming from the stairs and in the hallways, voices whispering unintelligible words, doorknobs turning, a rocking chair that rocks on its own, and sounds of a noisy party in the second floor room that once served as the community’s social hall. Outside the building, people have seen apparitions and heard the sounds of children playing. It’s said that you can even hear them from the street without even having to set foot on the property.
Fort Bragg is also said to have its share of ghostly inhabitants. The Glass Beach Inn was built as a private home in the 1920’s, and it’s said to possess a supernatural chair. According to the tale, many who have sat in it mysteriously die afterwards. The Grey Whale Inn was built in 1915 and once served as the Redwood Hospital in Fort Bragg. The inn is said to be haunted by a couple—a woman who roams the garden areas and a man who has been seen peering from the windows. Atop the bluff above Noyo Harbor, the historic Lodge at Noyo River has provided a commanding overlook of the river, harbor and Pacific Ocean beyond since the 1860’s. It is said to be haunted by an unfortunate honeymoon couple who lost their lives in a car accident near the hotel. Immediately after the accident, the groom was said to have been heard crying for help just outside the lodge. His bride, dressed all in red is said to pace within the lodge. Other strange occurrences include the sounds of ghostly voices and laughing, and well as lights that mysteriously turn on and off by themselves.
Of our area, Windsor has been the quietest on the paranormal front, though there have been a few sightings around the historic areas of the Shiloh Cemetery. The site was originally a Methodist Church and the earliest burials at the site are believed to have occurred in 1836. However, the earliest headstone dates to 1850. The Church burned down in 1867 and the site was left dormant until 1885 when community members formed the Shiloh Cemetery Association and provided donations for upkeep.
On the website ghostsofamerica.com, an individual describing themselves as a lifelong Windsor resident relays a story of sneaking into the old trailer park on Old Redwood Highway after dark. The person describes becoming lost and disoriented among the ruins of the park, and hearing strange noises coming from an old lavatory building. As they searched frantically for the hole in the fence they had climbed through, they saw the apparition of “a woman with black hair and pale skin with a white dress” who appeared and disappeared amongst the trees. They managed to emerge from their encounter unscathed, but they have the following warning for any considering following in their footsteps. “If whomever reads this decides that they wish to experience what I did, make sure you have a friend with you. That place at night is, to say the least, unnerving.”
However the fact that the Bell Village shopping center now covers a significant amount of the former grounds, will probably make the spooks harder to spot.
Aside from possible hauntings, Windsor will be hosting a couple of other Halloween events. Parks and Rec is hosting its Halloween Fright Night for Middle Schoolers, at the Community Center at 901 Adele Drive on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 6 - 10 p.m.
The event will feautre a haunted maze, scary movie, jump house, pumpkin decorating, costumer contest and more. The event is open to sixth- through eighth-graders and is free for members of Club Blend, the town’s middle school activities club. All others must pay $8. Pizza, drinks and other treats are included. Register online at townofwindsor.com or at the office at 9291 Old Redwood Highway. For more information call 707-838-1260.
In addition, the Lions Club Halloween Parade and Barbecue takes place on Monday, Oct. 31 also at the Community Center, starting at 5 p.m.