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Sacramento's Most Haunted
by Dennis William Hauck
"Sacramento is a hotbed of occupants from the Other World," says Robyn Street, who is listed in the city's Yellow Pages under "Parapsychologists". Armed with a Master's Degree in Psychology and a psychic's sixth sense, she makes a living helping people with unusual problems. In the last ten years, she has freed over 100 local residences from things that go bump in the night -- and we are not talking about visiting relatives searching for the bathroom at night. These unwanted house guests are the disembodied spirits of the dead.
Robyn's many clients in the Citrus Heights' neighborhood near Antelope and Roseville Roads can attest to her skills. She rid them of tormented souls that dated back 50 years, to the days when the region was the home of a Japanese Internment Camp and later, a toxic dump site. She also helped residents along La Riviera Drive, when several different households reported the same mysterious presence. And the owners of nine downtown buildings between 8th and Front Streets hired her to expel a troublesome demon. "Something was trapped in the maze of tunnels running through that area," she said, "It was a sinister thing that had to be removed."
While Robyn has worked with a dozen ghosts at once, Alan Frio, News Anchorman for KXTV, had his hands full with just one. His family lived with a ghost in their Carmichael home from 1982 to 1984. "Every Saturday night around 3:00 AM," Alan recalls, "something would fall off the wall or bang, or the radio would blast at full volume. Several times, my 9-year-old daughter reported seeing the transparent image of a blue man staring at her from her closet."
He remembers one Saturday afternoon: "After jogging, I laid down on a bed in the back bedroom. Suddenly the door opened and then slammed shut, and I heard someone sighing in the room. I called out my wife's name. No answer. Then I heard the sighing noise again, even louder. I got up and found the door was locked, and there was absolutely no one in the room."
Mr. Frio later discovered that the house's former owner had hired a psychic in a vain attempt to clear the house of the spirit. After the Frio family moved away, two more families were to experience the same phenomena.
"It occurred on such a regular basis," he continued, "that we eventually got used to the apparition. It did no harm to us. After awhile, you started talking to the darn thing -- without knowing who or what you were talking to!
But I still don't believe in ghosts. I feel there's some plausible explanation that we just can't understand right now. We're not at that point in evolution where we can comprehend it."
While many people have difficulty comprehending the nature of ghosts, researchers believe even the dead may not understand what is happening to them. Ghosts have told people that they don't know if there is a hereafter, because they haven't gone anywhere yet. One area ghost told the family she haunted that she was not sure if she was going to end up in heaven or hell, so she decided to stay where she was.
Last year, a whole family of ghosts refused to vacate a Sacramento home. A professional couple moved here from the East Coast and bought a renovated Victorian house near the edge of town. Before long, they started having the odd feeling upon entering a room that someone had just left or vanished. Then they started seeing the fuzzy figures of a whole family of adults and children, who simply stared back at them. Only one specter, a little blonde-haired girl wearing an old smock, would move toward them if they spoke to her.
The owners tried burning bundles of sage and beeswax to get rid of the ghosts. They even called in a Catholic priest to bless the house. They finally hired professional ghostbusters. For $75 an hour, Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach and a team from the Office of Paranormal Investigation took on the case.
Records showed that one family had lived in the house for over 80 years. The team tracked down a relative still living in Sacramento and secured an old family album. They showed it to the couple, who recognized pictures of the original owners and many of their descendents. They also identified a little girl in the photos, who turned out to be still alive. Though the woman was in her 90's and confined to bed, Auerbach theorized that her spirit was leaving her body to return to the old family home. After weeks of pleading with the ghosts to depart, the phenomenon stopped suddenly in the summer of 1991.
Other Sacramento homeowners have not been so lucky. A ghost in a house on Franklin Boulevard not only refuses to leave but will not allow the house to be sold. The house was built in 1924 by a couple who were unable to have children. The husband eventually conceived a daughter out of wedlock and brought her into the house to live. His wife treated the child very badly, and whether out of remorse or penance, the wife is said to haunt the house to this day.
The present owners knew the house was haunted before they bought it, and strange things started happening as soon as they moved in. Their dog froze in terror when he came within five feet of a mantel in the living room and refused to fetch treats or balls thrown in that direction. Polaroid photos showed a nonexistent candelabra and mantel clock, and the apparition of a woman was seen behind their daughter and sitting on the child's bed.
After their children grew up, the couple decided to sell the house. Yet whenever they showed the house to prospective buyers, disaster would strike. Great brown blotches appeared on the walls, red liquid oozed from cracks around doorways, or thick black smoke bellowed up from the registers. Once, while showing the basement, every water pipe started to leak at the same time. If the house is taken off the market, the problems cease.
While most ghosts are stubborn, others are downright irreverent, like the spirit of a 40-year old man who appears only when someone is sitting on the toilet in a tiny apartment in Old Town. Or the ghost who pulled down his pants in front of a group of elderly ladies in the sitting room of the Sutter Creek Inn. "It's a true story," says Manager Jane Way, "People don't believe in ghosts, but they surely exist."
Believe in them or not, River City is home to some famous ghosts. The image of Governor Leland Stanford's dead son appeared to him in the mansion on the corner of 8th and M Streets. The Perrault house at 5848 14th Avenue became notorious in 1964 for its well documented instances of light bulbs bursting in their socket, objects hanging in midair, and fires starting in the furniture. In 1973, the Martinez home in East Sacramento gained national attention for its family of apparitions. Other celebrity spooks include the phantom of a man in his twenties sighted on the beach at the American River Sailor's Bar (near Sunrise Boulevard) and the ghost of an old prospector, who emerges from the weeds along Prospector Road in the foothills.
According to Janey Potts, Marketing Director for the Sacramento Theatre Company, their 50-year-old building at 1419 H Street is full of ghosts. A male ghost has appeared so often there, that theater employees have nicknamed him "Pinky". In 1991, a group of three clairvoyants uncovered five more spirits in the building. Two phantasms appeared in the upstairs, stage-left dressing room. One was a very sad Hungarian woman who wanted to be a famous actress, but never succeeded. The other was a tall, thin man with a mustache, wearing a beret and Ascot. An elderly Board Member remembered him as Joe, a fellow who used to help around the building and was always impeccably dressed.
Indians are also part of Sacramento's ghostly heritage. Tara Pierce's house, on the north edge of the Pocket area, is still haunted by an old Indian Chief, who is seen by both family members and house guests. The phantom is usually observed ascending a staircase, and late at night, the sounds of his plodding footsteps echo through the house. Robyn Street has nearly a dozen cases of similar hauntings in the area south of Pocket Road and Greenhaven Drive. Some homes there were constructed on top of an old Portuguese cemetery, while others border an earthen levy that was built over Indian burial grounds. Other tribal grounds located in the Woodlake area near Royal Oaks Drive are the alleged source of five more hauntings.
The dead, like the living, are driven by strong emotions. When Roland Johnston's daughter Annabel told him there was a man with a white beard in the cellar of the Mid-Town apartment building he managed, he thought it might be a vagrant. When he and his wife went into the cellar, they found the red-eyed phantom of an old man pointing to a shovel on the ground. Roland picked up the shovel in self-defense, but the ghost kept pointing to the ground, as if it wanted something dug up. Roland dropped the shovel, rushed out of the basement with his wife, and padlocked the door behind him. Within weeks, he moved his family to Tehachapi, where he eventually became Chief of Police. Four years later, the apartment building was torn down, and workers found a box of gold coins buried in the cellar.
The ghost that appeared to the Nathan Schmidt family was also driven by strong emotions. Soon after the Schmidts rented a two-bedroom home in Davis in 1985, their twin daughters began having nightmares and seeing the apparition of a Red Lady standing in their room. The incidents became so intense that the family performed an exorcism, which seemed to lessen the effects. They decided to move out of the house that same summer.
While the Schmidts were still packing, a neighbor stopped in to say goodbye. She had been a regular babysitter for a family that lived in the house years earlier. When Nathan told her about the Red Lady, she nearly fainted. The couple for whom she babysitted had a terrible fight one day. That afternoon the wife went into the children's room and slit her wrists. When the children returned from school, they found their dead mother covered in blood.
Traumatic events like these must now be divulged to prospective homebuyers, according to California's two-year-old Haunted House Law. The law requires that Realtors disclose if a property has had a violent incident or is considered haunted. Some of Robyn Street's clients are Realtors or developers, who seek her expertise in dealing with such matters. One example is the housing project she is now working on, located off Sierra College Boulevard in Roseville.
"I can't say very much about it," she confides, "except that it's a very difficult, abnormal situation by any standard. It's almost like a powerful vortex that acts like a negative magnet, affecting not one house but several blocks. The developers can't get the houses to sell. They asked me what's going on here, and can I fix it?"
"What's going on here?" That is a question which we may never be able to fully answer. We can only hope that someone will know how to fix it.
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