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

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