Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ghost in Old Town Pizza, Portland, Oregon

Nina was a low-class prostitute who worked in the always-wet basement of a high-priced Merchant Hotel on Davis Street in Portland. The circumstances of her death are not clear - some say that she was killed by a jealous lover, some that she was killed by a pimp when he discovered that she wished to leave prostitution, some that she had struck a deal with missionaries who offered to help her escape in exchange for information useful in shutting the brothel down, and still others claim that she simply heard something that she should not have heard.

Whatever the motive, she was found dead at the bottom of the hotel's elevator shaft, apparently having been killed by the fall. Although it is thought that she was murdered, her murderer was never caught or convicted - not surprising, considering that Portland was about as lawless a town as one could find in the west during the late 19th century.

Since the time of her death, Nina has been seen wandering the building, always wearing a black dress. The building is no longer a hotel, but is currently home to Old Town Pizza. Patrons and staff alike have reported smelling her sweet perfume, hearing voices, especially in the basement, and having objects move on them. The staff of the Portland Walking Tours, who run a ghost tour in downtown Portland, have placed a bowl full of scrabble pieces, and it is said that Nina will sometimes arrange the letters to spell out messages.

Commentary: Portland, rather like my own home of Santa Cruz, is a delightfully strange town. The flavor of the town is odd, embracing everyone from the straight-laced businessman to the itenerant artist struggling to make a name for herself. Portlands better known institutions and businesses cater to the intellectual (such as Powell's City of Books) to the just plain wacky (such as Voodoo Doughnuts, which not only offers voodoo-doll doughnuts, but will also perform wedding ceremonies). This story has become part of Portland's folklore and represents both the way that Portlanders view their town's past (both celebrating it's seediness and strangeness, and being happy to be distant from those days) and the nature of the tourist traffic that comes through Portland.

In a city like Portland, it's not surprising to see a business such as Old Town Pizza embrace it's local ghost story as a way of drumming up business. And teaming up with a walking tour company provides even more opportunity. To be fair, though, this place doesn't depend on it's curiosity value to attract business, it also makes damn good pizza.

Regardless of what experiences that people have had in and around the building, it goes without saying that the desire to use this as a business tool, both on the part of the tour company and the pizza parlor, has likely resulted in the stories being exaggerated, not to mention probably led to more than a few encounters due to little more than the power of suggestion. Of course, the admittedly creepy

Personal Experience: My girlfriend and I visited Portland last year, and knowing my enjoyment of ghost stories, she booked us two spots on the ghost tour.

The tour was run as an "investigation" - meaning that we were handed electromagnetic field meters (EMF meters, for short) and told to use them while we were in supposedly haunted places. Our guide, a rather adorable small woman whose name I can not for the life of me recall, spoke excitedly about the ghosts of Portland and her own personal experiences (I'll have more entries based on experiences from this tour in the future). The EMF meters tended to spike sporadically, as one would expect in a major city with numerous electrical devices scattered throughout the landscape. However, every time one spiked, our tour guide would talk about the usefulness of these devices in locating ghosts*.

By the time we arrived in the basement in which Nina is said to spend most of her time, Kay and I discovered how to manipulate the readings on the EMF meters by flicking our wrists in particular ways and standing under particular pieces of electrical equipment. The fact that we were clearly intentionall manipulating readings didn't sem to dampen our guides enthusiasm. Of course, she probably gets smart-asses like this on the tour all of the time, and the fact that she managed to maintain enthusiasm despite this really speaks well of her work ethic.

*I've never understood this, as I can see no reason to assume that ghosts would cause changes to electromagnetic fields, and even if they did, I have yet to hear of a ghost hunter actually using this equipment in such a way that stray signals from various different devices can actually be ruled out.

Photos: I took some photos during the tour, in the haunted basement, and here they are:

The bowl of scrabble pieces set out by the tour employees:

A photo from the haunted basement:

Another Photo from the haunted basement:

...and, apropo of nothing, looking up in the courtyard of the haunted building. This photo contributes nothing to the story, I'm just showing off:

Sources: Portland Walking Tours, Newspaper, Business Website

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Small Town Haunted House in Indiana

When I was a kid, there was an old house near the farm where I lived. It was abandoned, and had been for a long time. One day, a friend and I decided to investigate. We found a way in, and looked around the place. There was furniture there, and various stuff that belonged to whoever had lived there, but it was all dusty and kind of messed up.

We had this creepy feeling the entire time we were there, as if we were being watched, and it really creeped us out. After a little while, we got pretty scared and had to leave. As we left, we looked back at the house, and in the window on the top floor, we saw an old woman looking at us, watching us go. She looked angry.

I know what you are thinking, but nobody could have gotten into the place while we were in there. She hadn't been there before, and had to have been a ghost.

Commentary: This story is a personal account from an ex-girlfriend of mine. She grew up in a small town in rural Indiana, and like the kids from every town I know of, they had their local haunted house*. In this case it was a an abandoned, or assumed abandoned, farmhouse.

These locations are often the object of legend trippers, usually kids or adolescents, either looking for a thrill, to impress their peers, or on a dare. Typically these excursions are harmless, though they may result in property damage if the legend trippers are of a malicious bent. However, if the location is not as abandoned as it is thought, the legend trippers may find themselves running afoul of trespassing laws.

*In my home town, the local "haunted house" was actually a church that had fallen into disrepair. It was eventually restored and became a community fixture, which makes me wonder what the current "haunted house" in the neighborhood is. Maybe I should ask my nephews.

Sources: Personal Account

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Haunted House in New Albany, Indiana

I was living in a house in New Albany, Indiana. I had rented a room in the basement, and my room only had one light source. Despite the fact that I had only one light source, and could clearly see if there was anything in front of it, I would frequently see unexplained shadows moving across the walls. I always felt kind of creeped out at that place.

Eventually, a man who had been a healer in the Creek tribe came to live in the house. One day he approached me and said "hey, man, we need to talk."

"Talk about what?" I asked.

"About the things flying through the air."

Right about then, the shadows began moving on the wall. "You mean those?" I asked.

"Yep. Those."


On another occasion, I was in the bathroom shaving, using an adjustable mirror, when I saw a girl, probably a teenager, leaning against the doorway to the bathroom. I tried talking to her, and she just vanished.


Eventually I asked the other people in the house about these happenings, and they all had stories. One person regularly saw people who appeared and vanished. One woman would leave the house having turned her computer off, only to return and find the computer turned on, and weird, cryptic messages typed on the screen.

Commentary: In many ways, this is a typical haunted house story - the house is host to many different repetitive events, none of which appear to be connected to each other, but all of which are found in the same location. Unlike many other haunted house stories, the events appear to have happened to each person uniquely - nobody experiencing anyone else's weirdness - although there was the shared experience of the shadows on the walls.

Regardless, the odd personal stories instead of a single communal story or single theme for the stories is interesting. What it means, if anything, is unclear.

Sources: Personal Account

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Need of a Spirit House

I was travelling in Thailand with friends. We noticed that many houses had a small pagoda on a platform outside of the house, and we asked what it was. We were told that it was a "spirit house", a shrine where spirits could live so that they wouldn't bother the people who lived in the actual house.

While we were travelling, we stayed at the home of a British ex-patriot who owned several houses and cabins on a piece of property. Unlike the Thai homes that we had seen, his property did not have a spirit house. We thought that this was interesting, but didn't make anything of it.

The first night that we were there, I was laying in bed with my friend Dawn. We heard the dog growling outside, so I got up to see what he was growling at. When I opened the door and looked to where he was growling, I say nothing. He continued to growl for a little while, maybe five minutes, and then whimpered and took off. I thought this was strange, but didn't make anything of it.

I went back to bed, and picked up the book I was reading. Then I started to hear the movement of the hammocks that had been strung up ont he patio, and heard some other noises I couldn't identify. After a few seconds of this, the lights turned off - and these lights were controlled by an old-fashioned switch, one that took some real force to turn off.

Maybe the owner should have set up a spirit house.

Commentary: This story came from a coworker who had spent a considerable amount of time travelling in Asia.

The belief in household spirits, whether conceived as the ghosts of the ancestors, the household gods (such as in ancient Rome), or as the spirits of nature is common across many cultures and across time. Religions and folklore that attest to the existence and importance of these beings ranges from ancient Rome to modern Asia, and appears to have been a strong element in many ancient versions of modern religions.

The measures necessary to appease or curry favor with these spirits likewise varies across time and space. In some cultures, it is necessary to give them their own dwelling place and make offerings. In others, veneration through prayer is necessary. Regardless, in most of these places, stories about what happens to those who fail to make proper respects indicate that the spirits will act malevolently, whether through acts of mischief and nuisance, or through more sinister actions including injury and death.

Sources: Personal Account

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Phantom Hand

I lived for a time in Richmond, Virginia. One night, while lying in bed, I felt a hand grab my ankle. After a moment, it let go. I looked down to see what was going on, and I saw a hand slowly sinking down below the edge of the matress, as if someone was under the bed. I cowered in the bed for a few moment, but finally worked up the courage to look under the bed. When I did, it was empty - nothing and no one there.

I ran out of the room and into the next room, where my housemates were talking. As soon as they saw me, one of them said "wow, you look like you've seen a ghost."

Commentary: This is a personal account from a coworker, one that I heard earlier today. When I first heard it, I loved the story, but wasn't sure what to put in the commentary. After all, it isn't tied to a particular storied location, nor is it part of local folklore, the story doesn't seem to serve any particular social purpose, and I have already written about the ghost sightings of sleeping people.

But, damn, it's a good story. And then it hit me - why not talk about what makes it a good ghost story?

Well, for starters, it's short - not a requirement (some very good stories are not short), but it helps the teller to keep the attention of the audience. And there is another element - that the hand was not simply felt, but seen. Creepiness within a story depends on a delicate balance. Too little detail and it's just someone shooting their mouth off and insisting that something mundane isn't. Too much detail, and the story becomes ponderous, and often sinks under it's own weight into a see of incredulous nonsense.

But just the right amount of detail...

See, if my coworker had simply stated that he felt something grip his leg, I would have nodded my head, collected the story in my personal notes, maybe eventually posted it here, but not given it much further thought. If he had claimed to have seen something under the bed, well, it might have been creepy, but it could just as easily left me rolling my eyes.

But seeing the hand,and then having it vanish...well, everyone in the truck this morning shivered a bit when that part of the story was told, and it helped that the storyteller used his own hand to illustrate how the phantom hand moved. It was creepy, unnerving, and you could tell by the grin on his face that the coworker loved the effect that this story was having on us.

Sources: Personal Account

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Big Yellow House, Summerland, CA

The Big Yellow is a Santa Barbara County landmark. Visible from Highway 101 as it passes through the small town of Summerland, the house is visible to anyone passing between Santa Barbara and Ventura (of course, this visibility is helped slightly by the enormous sign calling attention to the house, but whatcha' gonna' do?). The Big Yellow House gained prominence as an up-scale local restaurant, but is currently closed (though it is slated to be re-opened as the less-descriptively named "Yellow Rose of Summerland").

The house, originally a private residence turned eatery, is reportedly home to numerous spirits, and is often described as one of the "most haunted places in California" (ever notice that almost everywhere with a ghost story seems to get the label "most haunted"?). One ghost, a spirit named Hector who dwells in the basement and in the upstairs library, was described by the author Rod Latham in his book The Spirit of the Big Yellow House. Another commonly reported ghost is that of a woman dressed in 19th century garb who can be found in the first floor women's restroom. Other than that, mysterious voices, creepy feelings, and other symptoms of haunted houses are routinely reported.

The ghosts, however, don't appear to have hurt business - bad service was more often the cause of business problems. Indeed, in the face of often bad service and a difficult location, ghosts often seemed to have been one of the main draws for this place.

Commentary: The town of Summerland sits on a beautiful stretch of coast in southern Santa Barbara County. The community was founded as a colony for members of the Spiritualist religion, who believed that spirits of the dead could communicate with the living, providing information, guidance, and wisdom. It is therefore not surprising that the area quickly became a hotbed for ghost sightings.

The decline of the town as a spiritualist center came as a result of many factors, among them the fading of spiritualism as a religious movement (though it still survives today, it's hey day was the mid-late 19th century) and the discovery of oil natural gas in the area, leading to conflict between the spiritualists and oilmen.

The Big Yellow House began as the residence of Henry Lafayette Williams, and served as the headquarters for the colony. I have not been able to find any information regarding the ghosts said to inhabit the house, outside of rough description (though, I must admit, I have not yet read Latham's book, as I have not been able to lay hands on a copy), and therefore I have little to discuss about them.

What was interesting to me when I lived in Santa Barbara, however, was the ambivalent way in which the management of the house treated the ghost stories. They never discouraged them, which was probably wise as the stories were a draw for people who otherwise might not be interested in dining there (I even once brought a date there myself, as we were both curious about the stories). However, the management also never seemed to go out of their way to encourage the stories - which was probably unnecessary as they had become prominent in the local folklore.

Sources: Internet, Internet, Newspaper, Richard Senate

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gold Hill Hotel Ghost

Gold Hill, Nevada was founded as a mining town in the 19th century. Unlike the placer mining towns with which I am familiar in California, Gold Hill has a number of tunnels, shafts, and adits running through the town itself. Much like the mining settlements of California, the mines of Gold Hill often proved deadly to workers laboring in them. Local tradition holds that 37 workers died in the Yellow Jacket Mine, which opens up directly behind the Gold Hill Hotel.

Patrons and staff of the hotel both report strange sounds, voices without sources, footsteps when nobody is around, doors opening and closing, lights turning on and off, and beds shaking. Two rooms, known as "Rosies Room" and "Williams Room" appear to be the focuses of this activity.

A film crew staying in the hotel reported all of these events, as well as a strange late-night scratching at the door to William's Room.

When the well-known ghost investigator Richard Senate stayed in the room #2 at the hotel, reportedly haunted by the ghost of a woman named Rosie, he experienced a strange, strong smell while taking a bath. Unable to find a source for the smell, he interpreted it to be a manifestation of the ghost. He later learned that many other people had the same experience in room #2 (although some folks say that it's room #4).

Commentary: Hotels with reputations for hauntings are very common, even more so when the hotel is historic. Mining towns throughout the American west seem to be especially susceptible to ghost stories. Every still-existent mining town that I am familiar with has at least one haunted hotel, and usually a few other haunted locations to boot.

The reason that the ghost stories rise in these mining towns seems clear - the image of the grizzled miner is permanently seared in the American imagination, and it's part of both historical fact and national folklore that many of these people came to unpleasant ends, through mining accidents, hard living, inter-personal violence, and sometimes just plain ol' getting lost in the wilderness. Add to that the fact that these hotels were often the sites of violence, and more often the location of daily actvities that we would now consider sordid such as prostitution, heavy drinking, and gluttony (when the miners had the money).

One of the most interesting aspects of hotel hauntings is how they are treated by the hotel management. Often they are welcome as free publicity - the hotel doesn't even have to promote them, plenty of enthusiastic tale-tellers will do it for them. Others actively promote them - one hotel near Half Moon Bay in California used to have a billboard on Highway 1 advertising their reputation for being haunted - the hotel is now under new management, the sign is gone, and when I have stopped in and asked about the haunting the staff claims no knowledge (in other words, the original claim was probably nothing but a marketing move). While not all hotel management openly embraces their resident ghost stories, I have yet to hear of a hotel that actively suppresses such stories. In the end, these stories are good for business.

Sources: Richard Senate, Internet, Internet

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Curse of SLC-6

Vandenberg Air Force Base is located just north of the California Bight - the point where the California coast turns from a north-south course to an east-west course. The Chumash, the native people of the region, considered Point Conception and the surrounding area to be the gateway to the afterlife*. When Camp Cook was established in the first half of the 20th century, and later expanded as Vandenberg air Force Base, this upset members of the Chumash community still present in Santa Barbara County. To make matters worse, when the Air Force built Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6, AKA "slick" 6) during the 1960s, it is said that the construction disturbed an archaeological site containing human remains. Whether due to the disturbance of the human remains, or the actions of a shaman, the site became cursed (or did sure to read the commentary below).

The project became embroiled in political problems and government blunders. The SLC was originally developed for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, but this project was shut down after construction. The SLC was then to be the site of space shuttle launches, but these were cancelled after the Challenger exploded in 1986 (an event that some people lay at the feet of the curse). Several rocket launches were attempted, and all failed.

The construction of the complex was also not without problems - bad welds, exhaust ducts trapping gases, extremely bad winds (which, in truth, is normal for this area), and cost over-runs all plagued the project.

Finally, the contractor running the facility on behalf of the air force contacted a shaman, who performed a ceremony to lift the curse. Ever since then, the facility has run smoothly.

Commentary: Okay, alot going on here. Let's start with the "dry facts" and then get into the interesting stuff. First off, this is a classic "built on an Indian burial ground" story. In this case, as in most other such stories, there was in fact no archaeological site at the location of SLC-6, and therefore no burials.

Also, the initiation and cancellation of programs related to SLC-6 makes perfect sense in the context of the nature of and changes to military spending throughout the 1960s and 1970s, so you don't really need a curse to explain that. Likewise, the construction problems are rather typical of the sub-rate contractors who sometimes manage to wrangle their way onto military bases, as well as unique elements of the weather and environment on the base that make construction difficult to begin with.

In other words, you don't need a curse to explain what happened.

Which leads to an interesting question - why did the story of the curse arise to begin with, and why does it persist?

In order to understand that, you have to understand when the story originated. And that would be the 1970's.

As Dwayne Day points out, the story began in the 1970's, during a time of social change and ethnic empowerment movements. The Native American movement resulted in the organization of tribes into politically vocal (and eventually effective) groups that began to protest the treatment of Native American archaeological sites as well as the mis-treatment of Native American individuals and groups. In the midst of this, the development of Point Conception became a hotspot for protests, and, to a lesser degree, so did the development of southern Vandenberg.

Day argues that the curse story began as a way to place blame for the problems at the expensive complex. There may be some validity to this argument, but I think that the explanation may be simpler. The stories probably began as jokes, engineers talking about how the place was "cursed". But regardless of how they started, the stories probably spread for two reasons: A) everyone loves a good spook story, and will tend to share it whenever possible, and B) alot of people hold to the, frankly racist, belief that Native American sites are filled with, for lack of a better term "bad mojo" - which is why the old "built on an Indian burial ground" trope gets tossed around whenever weird things happen at a particular location.

Regardless, the story annoys and offends many of the local Chumash (although I have met a few who think that its funny). This is understandable - how would the average baptist feel if they heard that a place was haunted because their church's pastor had cursed it? Also, beliefs such as this reinforce the "mystical red man" stereotype that has, unfortunately, helped to keep many racist beliefs about the native peoples of the Americas alive.

For this reason, when the contractor hired a shaman to "lift" the curse, this upset the locals, and resulted in the Air Force brass having to do some fast work to try to mend the damage to an improving relationship with the Chumash community.

Wackiness: When I was an intern in the environmental conservation office at Vandenberg, we had, in our library, a paper that had been written by a student at the local community college about the curse. The paper, filled with all manner of hokey pseudo-intellectual silliness, demonstrated that the author was overly-reliant on spell check - the paper constantly made reference to "viscous underworld beings."

So, if the site is cursed, it's okay, the underworld beings who haunt it move reeeeeaaaaalllllll slow, so you can make your getaway without breaking a sweat.

Sources: Personal Accounts, Local Folklore, Internet, Internet, Internet

*Or so it is typically believed, the truth is a little messier, and there are alot of different stories concerning the afterlife and how to get there. The Chumash were not a single monolithic group, but were comprised of numerous different autonomous villages who all shared a language family and material culture. There were probably alot of different beliefs concerning the afterlife, and the confusion regarding whether or not Point Conception was important to it probably comes from the conflation of alot of different stories from alot of different groups.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Night-Time Cry on the Beach

When I was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, I used to study until quite late in the evenings, taking a break for a few hours in the late evening (usually around 10:00) to take a walk and clear my head.

One of my freuqnet haunts was a cliff overlooking the beach south of Santa Barbara Shores Park, off of Hollister Avenue in Goleta. One breezy night, it must have been in the Spring of 2004, I was walking out there by myself. As a walked on a pathway overlooking the beach, the wind picked up, and above the wind, I heard what sounded like a baby crying. I moved towards the sound, but no longer heard it. Assuming it was just the wind, I began to walk back towards my car, when, through the breeze, I heard it again. I wasn't as certain of the direction this time, so I walked back towards where I had thought the sound had come from previously. Again, the sound faded away, and I was uncertain. This time, however, I spent time looking for possible sources, never finding one. I eventually left, feeling rather unnerved.

Although I suspect that it was just the wind whistling through the trees, I must confess that I returned to the location on a number of nights and never heard the sound again.

Commentary: This is my own personal story. I debated putting this up on the site due to the fact that I am inclined to think that there was a perfectly mundane explanation for what happened - likely just something odd about the wind on that particular night. However, as I thought about this, I realized three things:

A) It has all of the markings of a classic ghost story (dark night, atmospheric location, weird noise)

B) Although I see no reason to believe that this sound was anything supernatural, years of collecting ghost stories has taught me that there are many people who would likely either assume that it was, or tell it as such because, hey, it does make a good story.

C) The story was a good place to point to a basic principle that is useful for others who are interested in these stories: that the fact that the source of the sound is unexplained doesn't mean that it must be supernatural or that it was unexplainable, simply that it was unexplained. In this case, I think that there was something unusual going on with the wind int he trees that night,a nd that this was the source of the sound, but it may be some other explanation as well. This is especially useful to keep in mind if you are trying to talk to someone who is not inclined to believe a story - the lack of a known explanation is not the same as no explanation being possible.

Anyway, so that is a personal experience of my own.

Sources: Personal Experience

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Porter College, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz campus of the University of California is divided into multiple residential colleges - individual semi-autonomous units where the students live and where administrative duties relevant to the students are taken care of. Each college has a specialty, and Porter College, on the western side of the campus, is primarily dedicated to the arts.

Porter is also home to some of the most ominous-looking buildings on the UCSC campus - grim concrete structures that loom more than stand. The residential halls (AKA the dorms) have basements in which students are allowed to live (or were allowed to live as of the time I graduated in 1998), an unusual feature for student housing buildings in California in general and Santa Cruz in particular.

Most of the stories concerning this place involve two buildings - Residence Hall A (aka Building A) and Residence Hall B (AKA Building B). In late 1998, a student killed himself in Building A. The suicide took place at a time and place that resulted in a large number of his fellow students witnessing his death - whether that was intentional or not I have not been able to determine. Since then, people have reported seeing this student wandering Building A, dressed as he was on the day that he killed himself.

Building B hosts two different stories. The first concerns a trio of rooms on the first floor known collectively as "the Bermuda Triangle." Reports from these rooms include objects moving on their own (sometimes as if they are being thrown violently), strange noises, and voices from unseen sources. All of this is accompanied by a general feeling of dread that permeates the rooms and their surroundings.

The other story for Building B concerns the third floor, where people report waking up and feeling as if they are being strangled and/or held down on the bed.

The Meadow - a large...well...meadow located in Porter College is also home to a ghost named Lily, the spirit of a transient woman who stayed there during the 1970s. She is usually seen dressed in rags or completely naked which, well, wouldn't really have differentiated her from many of the students at UCSC back when I was there.

I have heard these stories, and many others concerning generic feelings of dread, strange voices, briefly glimpsed apparitions, and the like from many of the Porter residents that I knew when I was a student at Crown College, across the Campus. Most of these stories were either clearly being told for entertainment purposes, or were told by rather overly-dramatic people who wanted solely to be the center of attention, and as such I was interested in the stories purely as entertainment and thought little else of them.

However, there is one exception. A woman who attended Porter, and has , eleven years later, become one of my closest friends, had some rather odd experiences. She is generally level-headed, and not given to fantasy-prone episodes, and so her stories are weightier to my mind than most of the others that I heard about Porter College.

She told me of numerous different happenings, most of them subtle, and most of them based either on perceived objects moving or sounds, or on general feelings of fear or malevolence experienced when in the residence halls. On one occasion, she opened the door to her room, and was left with a feeling that she describes as "being as if I had walked in on something, like a wolf had been breathing heavily, but suddenly became silent when the door opened and prey appeared."

On another occasion, she reports waking up in her bed with her arms stretched straight at her sides, and a general rigor-mortis-type feeling throughout her body.

Commentary: As stated above, Porter College is primarily dedicated to the arts, and as such it has the expected assortment of legitimate and talented young artists mixed in with overly-dramatic wannabes. Colleges in general are breeding grounds for ghost stories, and a place such as this even more so.

Porter's ghost stories are unusual in that the most famous undead resident, the student who killed himself, was a real person and not simply a fictitious construct. Stories of suicides-turned-ghosts are as common as college dormitory buildings, and usually are based on nothing but imagination. However, in this case, there really was a suicide, and it really was as public and disturbing as is usually described. Whether this occasioned new stories, or was simply meshed with previous stories of the ghost of a suicidal student, I do not know.

The experiences of my friend are somewhat difficult to explain. On the one hand, if I did not know the person, I would be quick to dismiss it as an overactive imagination. Certainly, some of the experiences she described to me (only two of many are described above) are consistent with well-known phenomenon such as sleep paralysis and waking dreams. Others, though, are more difficult to explain. Which is not to say that they can't be explained, but rather that I personally have not been able to do so, nor has anyone else provided a suitable explanation insofar as I know.

Porter is also host to many non-supernatural legends. It is rumored that the architect who designed had as his primary occupation the design of prisons, thus explaining the concrete blocks that stand-in for buildings at the college. This is, in fact, not true. The architect was attempting (and failing) to imitate traditional Japanese architecture, but did so using materials that resulted on one butt-ugly set of structures.

Also, it is rumored that Porter college was nearly named after Alfred Hitchcock, who had a home in Santa Cruz during the 1970s, but this is probably not true.

Also, general to UCSC and not just Porter, it is rumored that UCSC's non-centralized design (the various colleges are spread throughout a set of ridges in the forest) was intended to prevent student gatherings such as those at UC Berkeley. Given that the University was planned and built throughout the 1960s and 1970s, this seems reasonable. However, as someone who has gone through alot of the founding documents because of a job that I had while a student, I can tell you that there is no real truth to this rumor, and that the campus was designed as it is primarily for aesthetic reasons. Also, I can tell you from experience that the design of the campus has never prevented student protests.

All-in-all, Porter is one of the stranger parts of a very strange campus, even if you leave all ghost stories aside. However, the ghost stories give it that added element that just makes it particularly special.

SOURCES: Personal Accounts, Internet, Internet

Friday, May 8, 2009

Christie Ranch

The Christie Ranch on Santa Cruz Island boasts two seperate ghost stories. The first is a classic "white widow" story - a young woman married the captain of a ship, and the two made their home on Santa Cruz Island at the ranch house. One day, he headed out to sea, and every day she stood at the window at the top floor of the house, waiting to see his ship. He is late in returning, and the young woman becomes worried, despite the assurance of her friends and family. Eventually, word comes that the ship sank, and that the captain went down with the ship. Her grief devoured her, and she stopped taking care of herself, eventually withering away and dying. To this day, her ghost can be seen, dressed in white, standing at the house's window, still watching the sea.

In a slightly more sinister version of the story, the husband was a slave trader, a fact unknown to the wife until she paid an unexpected visit to his ship while it was in port. On discovering her husband's true business, she scorned him and returned to the home. On his next trip, his ship sank and he drowned, and the wife again wastes away and dies, though this time torn between guilt and disgust over her husband's trade. This version of the story often features the ghost not as a passive watcher of the sea, but as an angry and vengeful force.

The second story is centered on a bridge that crosses a ravine that separates the main ranch house from the ranch hands quarters. One night while crossing this bridge, a Chumash servant girl began to scream. The ranch hands rushed out to see what had happened, and found the girl sobbing and gibbering incoherently. They brought her back to the ranch house, where she continued to spout incomprehensible nonsense. Eventually the girl was taken to a hospital on the mainland, where she died many years later, never having recovered her senses. However, to this day, people report hearing a weird, inhuman scream in the dead of night coming from that bridge, and nobody has ever seen its source.

In addition to these stories, the ranch also has reports of strange lights and odd shadows seen moving about in the ranch house, weird happenings on the land, and the occasional odd noise from an unknown source, usually occuring late at night.

Commentary: The land now known as the Christie Ranch served as the headquarters of a ranch that occupied the seaward-portion of Santa Cruz Island during the 19th century. The ranch is no longer used, although descendants of the pigs that were bred there now run rough-shod over the islands native flora and fauna. The ranch headqaurters has not been abandoned, however. The University of California runs a research facility on the island, and the Christie Ranch is a satellite base used by researchers on the southwest portion of the island.

Alhough there is running water (and hence showers and toilets), what electricity there is comes from a gas-powered generator, and the telephone lines to the ranch were long ago cut. Although there are standing buildings suitable for use as kitchens and work spaces, they have not been retrofitted for earthquakes, and as such are not suitable to sleep in, so workign there comprises an odd mix of camping and domestic life. Signs posted throughout the buildings warn of the danger of earthquakes, as well as other signs noting that Hanta Virus is a known danger in the area. Also, there is a telephone in the ranch hands quarters, but the line has long since been cut, and as such the "in case of emergency call 911" sign has been altered to read "in case of emergency call God."

A cozy place, all in all.

People usually work in groups out there, and the main form of entertainment in the evenings is sitting around the firepit outside of the ranch hands quarters. And this is when the stories come out. However the stories got started, they are passed on by researchers staying at the ranch.

Personal Experience: I stayed at the ranch for a week in the summer of 2003, while working on an archaeological research project with my advisor, one of his other graduate students, a graduate student from the University of Oregon, and a set of professors and undergrads from CSULB. On the first day, before we set up our tents for the night, we began telling each other what we knew about the place, including the ghost stories.

After I had told the story of the bridge, my advisor, Mike, decided to place his tent right by the bridge, leading to great amusement for all of us.

Later that night, I told the story of the widow in the ranch house. This led to me being dared to enter the house after sunset (yep, here we were, a bunch of adult researchers, behaving like 13-year olds). I agreed, nervously crossed the bridge in the dark, and made my way towards the house.

I had expected that the house would be locked, and I could return with that news. I tried the door. No such luck, it opened and allowed me in. Now, it was clear that the house had been built in two stages, and that there was a newer "outer" layer to the house, to which I had gained access, and an inner layer comprising the original structure. The doors to the inner part of the house were locked, and I could not enter. Nonetheless, I had done what was asked, I had entered the house, if only the outer portion, and I could now report back.

After all, the sooner I reported back, the sooner I could be an adult again.

Sources: Local Legend, Folklore, Personal Accounts

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Hound Outside The Door

A friend has provided the following story:

"When I was a kid, probably eight or nine, I woke up one night and heard a sound outside my door. I got up and walked toward the door, opening it slowly, and when it was just cracked open, less than an inch, I heard a sound like a large dog snorting. I slammed the door shut, and held it there, hearing the creature move around outside the door. Once I was sure it was gone, I went back to bed."

Commentary: A lage number of stories start with the teller explaining that they had just woken up before the events unfold. This is unfortunate, as these stories don't tell you much or provide anything particularly new. There are a number of different plausible explanations for these events, ranging from the person having a particularly lucid dream but never being awake to the person being partially awake and mobile and yet still dreaming, all of which explain the events perfectly well. It's worth noting that, after the horrifying event took place, the teller usually reports that they went right back to sleep, which I, for one, wouldn't do if I had just lived through a disturbing event, but would do if I had simply dreamt it.

And, for the record, I have had some very weird, creepy experiences that I perceieved ot be occuring immediately after I woke up, including seeing a spectral platoon of WWI-era dougboys, and seeing my girlfriend intone strange and unfamiliar words in a voice filled with deep menace. However, in each of those cases, during each of which I believed myself to be awake and have my wits about me, but I decided to do a bit of follow-up investigation after the fact and determined that, in each case, it wasn't a ghostly experience, but simply my sleepy brain doing its own magic. So, for anyone who wishes to know, yes I have had this kind of experience, it has happened to me.

While these "I just woke up" stories are themselves not particularly interesting, what is interesting is how important they can become to the teller. When you suggest a plausible explanation that is natural (such as that it was a dream) you can expect to be greeted with a very hostile reaction - usually having the person shout some variation on "I know what I saw!" or "I wasn't asleep!" Why is it that these types of events become so important to the people who perceived them? I don't know, but THAT is what is interesting about them to my mind.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haunted Bathroom

Some years back, my girlfriend moved with her then-husband (yes, they are now divorced) back to Santa Clara County after having lived in Sacramento. They rented a two-bedroom/two bathroom apartment in a modern apartment complex. On the whole, it was a nice place, but there was one thing that always bothered the couple: one of the bathrooms didn't feel quite right. The couple rarely used that bathroom, guests avoided it and used the other bathroom, the cats wouldn't go into the room, and whenever anyone would take a shower in that bathroom they would report feeling on-edge the entire time, as if they were expecting someone or something to attack them. One time, a cat was locked into the bathroom while the rest of the apartment was being cleaned, and when it was let out, the cat attcked my girlfriend, something that it never did when locked in the other bathroom.

Commentary: I have come across a number of similar stories - a room that simply doesn't feel right, nothing is ever sean or heard, no truly weird or unexplainable events occur, but the room just feels wrong, and everyone seems to notice it and react to it whether they have been told about it or not.

I am fascinated by this type of story for a simple reason. While some of these stories have pretty obvious explanations (if you tell everyone that a particular room is creepy, the power of suggestion can go along way), others don't. To be certain, there is not shortage of possible explanations, running the gamut from the reasonable to the absurd, but I have yet to see one that clinches the deal. In other words, this is one of those places where a clear explanation as to what is really going on is completely lacking, and that makes it interesting.

I have little else to say, but this sort of story, where I don't yet have an explanation, is one of the things that keeps me interested in ghost stories.

Sources: Personal Account