Thursday, April 28, 2011

Army Aviation Support Facilities, Stockton, California

The Army Aviation Support Facilities in Stockton, California, is the home to a fleet of helicopters and the crew who maintain and fly them. I have a family member who works there, and he has told me that there are some peculiar things that occur in the building.

The first I heard of weird happenings at the facility was a few years ago, when I was told of a strange scent that workers were noticing. A woman had previously worked in "the shop" (as the employees refer to the aircraft maintenance building), but had left, and subsequently suffered ill health leading to her death. She was known for wearing a perfume with a particular floral scent. After her death, people working in the building began to report that they would smell her perfume. Initially, it was assumed that one of the other women who worked there had taken to wearing the same type, but this was quickly found to not be true. To this day, the perfume is still smelled every now and again.

My relative also reports hearing phantom voices in the aircraft hanger and attached offices. He says that the voices are clearly human, but always seem to be speaking at normal conversational levels in another room, and specific words can never be quite made out. Although most of the staff are willing to work alone in the building, the voices are spooky enough that they prefer not to have to. Following the voices to their source always reveals the location from which they were emanating to be empty.

Commentary: The Army Aviation Support Facilities is staffed by a mix of Army National guard members who work full time, civilian employees, and part-time National Guard members. Known for it's Chinook Helicopters, the facility has a seasoned staff of military veterans who have seen and done alot. So, naturally, when confronted with the supernatural, these rather tough individuals use the unnatural as a source for playing practical jokes on each other.

My relative tells me of times when various members will start to sniff the air, asking if anyone else smells anything, just to see how people act. Likewise, it's not unknown for someone on late-night duty to make noise and book it out of a room just to see if another person stuck with a similar responsibility will come running or become frightened.

Can I explain the hauntings? Well, the fact that these folks are playing practical jokes on each other probably explains quite a bit of it right there. I could probably come up with perfectly plausible explanations even without the practical jokes, but I have to admit that the fact that people are essentially living the folklore as a way of harassing each other amuses me, and I would be hard-pressed to discourage it.

Sources: Personal Account

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meux Home, Fresno, CA

Updated 4-30-2011, photos added

Victorian mansions-turned-museums are common enough in California's Central Valley. My own old stomping grounds in Modesto had the McHenry Mansion, and Fresno has the Meux Home. It is a beautiful Victorian building, open for public tours and surrounded by a scenic garden.

Unlike the McHenry mansion, however, the Meux home is said to be haunted. Symptoms of the haunting include the sounds of children laughing in the upstairs of the home, even when it is known to be empty; strange knocking sounds and general noise are said to have been reported by people in the house after-hours; claims that objects (including fixed objects such as door knobs) have gone missing or been moved after everyone had left for the night abound in local folklore; and there are stories that a fuzzy, but clearly human apparition has been seen looking out the windows at passers-by. Although there are numerous claims about the activities of the ghosts, there is little information regarding their origins.

One local, but completely untrue, story holds that the ghosts are the spirit of slaves kept in the house prior to the civil war. The claim is that their cruel masters treated them horribly, and that their restless spirits continue to haunt the mansion, making mischief and frightening whoever they can.

The museum management does not publicly acknowledge the hauntings, and at least one local enthusiast claims to have been given the brush-off when he asked for a chance to investigate. Though, to be fair, there are enough strange people with an interest in ghosts that anyone running such an establishment has good reason to be wary of people asking to investigate.

Commentary: One of the things that fascinates me about this story is that it illustrates how distanced from reality the local folklore can become when describing the past.

The house was built between 1888 and 1889 by one Dr. Thomas Richard Meux, a physician and former Confederate soldier who came out west int he decades following the American Civil War. Dr. Meux died in 1929 (at the age of 91, quite old now, especially old in the early 20th century), leaving the house to his daughter, who lived there until her death in 1970. The house subsequently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and became a museum dedicated to illustrating 19th century life in California. Pretty simple, pretty straightforward. While there was, no doubt, much drama and excitement in the lives of the people who lived in the house, it wasn't the stuff normally associated with ghost stories.

So, of course, people began to make things up. One popular story holds that the house was built in the 1820s and that the homeowners had numerous slaves. They were, of course, very cruel masters, and the ghost stories are attributed to the restless spirits of the slaves. There are a few problems with the story though, notably that Fresno didn't exist until the 1860s, California was never a slave state, and the house wasn't built until 60-70 years after the slavery story claims. The fact that Dr. Meux served in the Confederate army may be the source for this story.

So, I am torn. As a ghost story/folklore enthusiast, I love the fact that the story has changed for the sake of drama and to place it within a broader tradition of folkloric versions of American history. As someone who is trained and works professionally in historic preservation, this sort of fast-and-loose-with-facts history annoys me.

Sources: Local Folklore, Published Book, Weird Fresno, Meux Home Website