Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wolfe House/Andleberry Estate, Clovis, CA

Edited 1-15-2011: Photos Added

Now known alternately as the Wolfe House, Andleberry Estate, and the Clovis Sanitarium, this large, imposing house sits on Clovis Avenue in the city of Clovis, near Fresno, California. Built in the first half of the 20th century, the house is said to have served as a private home for two different owners, an insane asylum, and a convalescent hospital before finally closing. It was bought by Todd Wolfe, who decided to use the creepy old building as a Halloween "Haunted House" attraction. He created a new name and implied fictional history for the house, and i became "Andleberry Estate" founded in 1871.

Local lore, and Wolfe's own stories, hold that he got a real haunted house and not just a Halloween attraction.

Talking to locals indicates that this place was rumored to be haunted before it was even abandoned. After it was abandoned, stories about mysterious lights being seen in the windows, screams heard coming from the house, and just general creepy feelings when passing the house began to proliferate. One of my coworkers has even said that, during the 90s, his father would tell him ghost stories about the house every time that they drove past it. Local legend holds that it was used as a sanitarium, that it housed over 100 people at a time in bad conditions, and that there were thousands of deaths at the house. It is also claimed that, when used as a convalescent hospital, it was known for neglect and mistreatment of patients. Needless to say, rumors abound that the doctors working in the sanitarium would use patients as experimental subjects, causing them misery.

Since the house was bought by Wolfe, more stories have come out. People who have stayed in the house overnight on Wolfe's invitation (usually members of various ghost hunting groups, though national television shows have also filmed here) report hearing loud banging noises throughout the night, drafts of cold air moving through the house, the sounds of footsteps in rooms where nobody is present, having clothing tugged on by unseen forces, and hearing conversations taking place in empty rooms. Some who have stayed in the house report that doorknobs can be heard turning on doors which no longer have knobs, that clanging noises can be heard, that doors open and objects move of their own accord, and that tape recorders pick up ghostly voices that seem to interact with the conversations of the living also recorded on tape. The basement is cold, even in Fresno County's very hot summers*. Lights have been seen moving in the basement. Many of Wolfe's guests report feelings of dread, emotional (and in one case even physical) pressure, and general unease. Some visitors have even reported bringing a guest home with them - a male presence that is manifest as the smell of cigar smoke and low voices and laughing, a presence that the people had to return to the house to be rid of.

Three particular rooms are said to be the most haunted. In one, called Mary's room, if a chair is moved it is said that the chair will move back. Another, called the Red Room, is said to be the site of numerous ghostly sounds, all of them related to a busy hospital ward. The third, called George's room, is said to be special, but none of the web sites that I have found tell you anything specific about it.

The house is easily accessible, though it is on private property and therefore shouldn't be approached without the owner's permission. If the stories that I have heard from friends and coworkers are any indication, it is now firmly ensconced in the folklore of the Fresno area.

*Okay, I just have to say that this is not all that weird, and the people who comment on it are generally from outside of the San Joaquin Valley area. As someone who, for professional reasons, spends alot of time in holes in the ground, I can say with some authority that the sub-surface of the San Joaquin Valley is typically cooler than the surface during the summers. In fact, there's a popular Fresno attraction - the Underground Gardens - which was constructed for this very reason.

Commentary: Someone on another entry thanked me for my "investigation." While I appreciated the thanks (it's fun, but not always easy, to put these entries together), I have to admit that I am not an investigator. How can you tell that I am not an investigator? Easy, I have not gone down to the Fresno County Assessor's Office to look up the ownership history of this parcel of land, nor have I gone to the local historical society for information on the medical history of Clovis. Of course, neither have most of the self-proclaimed investigators, which is how you know that you should take their conclusions with a heaping spoonful of salt. Doing this sort of background research is a long, often tough, and typically tedious process. I don't do it because I have a job, a partner, and other hobbies, but it's okay in my case because I don't call myself an investigator, I'm just a guy who tells the stories and doesn't claim any special knowledge. If you are going to call yourself an investigator and claim some sort of objective backing for your claims, then you have a responsibility to do this sort of basic background research. Unfortunately, most self-styled paranormal investigators don't, opting instead to swallow urban legends regarding the history of a property in place of doing basic research.

One thing that became very clear as I began to do Internet research on this house is that there is very little about it online that has not been directly influenced by the current owner, Todd Wolfe. As I read what accounts I could find, I have to admit that I began to develop a very real admiration for Mr. Wolfe - this guy is smart, a good showman, and likely a clever business man. Sounds like a really cool guy, and I'd love to meet him. However, when you start learning about his operation, it puts most of what is readily available about this house into doubt.

According to most reports, Wolfe works with the various ghost hunter groups in order to try to piece together the history of the house. The history that has been developed by these folks indicates that the house was built in the 1920s by an Italian immigrant who was in a competition with his brothers regarding who could build the most impressive house. From there it was sold to a family who lived in it until they sold it to a couple who developed it into a sanitarium. The sanitarium is said to have been a horrific place, with thousands of deaths over its functioning years. From there, it became a convalescent hospital, which was rife with troubles from neglect and mistreatment of patients.

Now, don't misunderstand me. For all that I know, this history could be absolutely true. the problem is that it has been put together by people who are looking for a reason to think that this place is haunted, and as a result it is likely that the people cobbling it together selected the more sensationalist information that they received without necessarily scrutinizing it for accuracy. This is pretty common in the paranormal investigator circles, where distorted death figures, local folklore, and urban legend are often accepted without the investigators doing even the most basic of research at the local Assessor's office, county courthouse, library, or historical society - all of which have documents that could confirm or discredit many of the claims. The ghost hunters understandably want to find ghosts, and in my experience tend only to be willing to go so far in trying to vest the information that they gather, so only the easiest to dismiss tends to get dropped, and even widely disproven information gets propagated (). Todd Wolfe has used this land as a haunted house attraction, has offered tours for a fee, and has made public his intention to develop the property into a "haunted hotel" to lure paranormal tourism to Clovis.

So, in the end, it's possible that the history of the property available on line is accurate, at least in the broad strokes, but it was put together by individuals with a definite interest in finding the place to be as sensationalistic and spooky as possible. That the "insane asylum" angle gets played up more than the time that the house was used as, well, a house is no surprise then. Nor is it a surprise that Mr. Wolfe apparently puts his gifts as a showman to work when allowing various ghost hunter groups to take night time tours of the house. One account by a member of a group invited by Wolfe describes the evening in detail. While the author of the account seemed ready to take everything at face value, a few things should be noted:

1. The Assistant. Mr. Wolfe provided an assistant to stay with the tour group. On the whole, this is pretty normal, for liability reasons if nothing else. However, the author of the essay says that the assistant was there in case "anyone was injured or had an emergency." B-movie fans may remember this sort of ploy from the opening of The Screaming Skull. Start the creepy evening off with something that is made to sound ominous and scary. A good way to set the psychology of the tour group, and the term for this sort of thing is "ballyhoo." It's cool, it's fun, it sets the scene.

2. The News Media. In this case Wolfe had arranged for the ghost hunters to meet and be interviewed by members of the press. The result, as the writer of the piece notes, is that everyone felt special. Of course, underlying that is that everyone felt special because they were there to find ghosts, which adds pressure to them to find said ghosts. It gets publicity for the house, and gives the people intending to investigate a push to reach a particular conclusion.

On other occasions, the people brought their own television shows (such as the cable show Ghost Hunters) and had their own reasons for acting to the cameras.

3. Placement of props/creepy atmosphere. Halloween haunted house props were left up in some rooms, taken down in others, preventing anyone from getting used to them. The basic effect of this is likely to be that they remain a little disorienting, and one isn't sure what to make of a room that does have them or a room that doesn't have them - which room is special?

4. Verification of the Real. At the end of the tour, Mr, Wolfe allowed members of the group to go into a room where records pertaining to the house were kept. While these records had little to do with the house's alleged hauntings, they did allow the members of the groups to get a feeling of the antiquity of the house, and for the stories related to the house to seem grounded in reality.

Yeah, no pressure at all from the props.

Okay, biasing or not, the props are pretty damn cool.

Read the entry to see how effective this was. While the author was certainly inclined to see ghosts from the get-go, he began to interpret everything as ghosts: drafts (not uncommon in old houses, even with windows and doors shut) were thought to be not only ghosts but specifically the ghost of a child, all strange sounds (even those that one would expect in an old house) were interpreted as supernatural, and every light-reflecting mote of dust (likely the actual cause of these particular "orbs") was interpreted as a spirit photo.

Mr. Wolfe is, to his credit, very open about his ongoing business interest in the house, and is not trying to hide it while the mythology is being spread. He may not admit to the showmanship, but he doesn't appear to be trying to hide that either. This allows those of us who want to look past the hype to see that there's something more at work than a simple quest for the truth. There is business to be done here. Hell, the description of the "most haunted" rooms (George's Room, Mary's Room, and the Red Room) are even geared towards renting these out as rooms when the hotel is operating.

Is there something truly spooky happening here? I don't know. Certainly some of the stories pre-date the use of this place as a haunted business. But there is reason to be doubtful of the accuracy of the reports coming out of this place. Is this a cool place that deserves some attention from ghost story collectors and enthusiasts? Oh, it most definitely is. If and when Wolfe opens his hotel, I intend to book a room for a night.

Oh, and there's a YouTube channel dedicated to this place. check it out.

Special Videos:

Because I love my readers, here's some special videos. I love how the first video uses music in an attempt to make the most boring or silly of images seem scary.

Sources: Ghost Map, AP Investigations, Internet, Internet, The Illustrious Internet, Internet