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Sacramento Secrets


by Dennis William Hauck



      Most Sacramento residents have no idea how many ghosts are hiding in the closets of our staid capitol city. But I am not talking about some politician’s dirty linen here – I mean the real thing: spooks, spirits, and visitors from the Other Side. Sacramento is one of the most haunted cities in the country. There are nearly a hundred cases of paranormal activity currently under investigation, and some of the older cases have become textbook examples among researchers.

      Current hotspots include the Citrus Heights' neighborhood near Antelope and Roseville Roads, site of a temporary Japanese internment camp. Forlorn Asian ghosts have appeared in the bedrooms, living rooms, garages, and front yards of homes in the area. Several households along La Riviera Drive are trying to cope with a ghost that splits its time among them, and the owners of nine downtown buildings between 8th and Front Streets got so tired of dealing with one sinister presence that they hired a local ghost-buster to get rid of it. Another haunted hotspot is 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 more hauntings.

      Sacramento also has its share of 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 old Perrault house on 14th Avenue became notorious in the late 1950s for its widely-witnessed 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 whole family of apparitions. Other legendary spooks from River City include the phantom of a man in his twenties sighted on the beach at the American River Sailor's Bar (beneath the Sunrise Boulevard bridge) and the ghost of an old gold miner, who emerges from the weeds along Prospector Road in the foothills. 

      Another well-documented location for ghost sightings is the Sacramento Theatre Company at 1419 H Street. One ghost appears so often there, that theater employees have nicknamed him "Pinky," but this 50-year-old former vaudeville stage is full of other ghosts too. In 1991, three clairvoyants uncovered at least five more spirits. Two phantasms hang around the upstairs, stage-left dressing room. One was a tall, thin man with a mustache, who has been identified as a former volunteer. The other is a very sad Polish actress by the name of Madame Modjeska, who image is often seen in one of the large mirrors in the room. In 1994, investigators recorded unexplainable footsteps crossing the McClatchy Mainstage and photographed numerous infrared anomalies during a séance in the Stage Two area.

      Other haunted theaters in the area include the Woodland Opera House, where the ghost of a fireman killed fighting a fire there haunts the north balcony and basement dressing rooms. The ghost of Madame Modjeska has also been detected staring into a mirror in one of those dressing rooms. The CSUS Theater is haunted by a young man fell from the second floor and was impaled on the steel girders of the site while it was still under construction. His presence has been felt near the elevator that runs between the Scene Shop and the Costume Shop, on the catwalks, and in the lightbooth.

      Sacramento’s favorite ghost has to be May Woolsey, whose gravestone at the Old City Cemetery is said to emanate a positive energy.  The 12-year-old girl died in 1879 from encephalitis, then appeared to her parents and told them she was not yet dead but just “waiting” for them on the Other Side. A century later, in 1979, a trunk of her toys and other "secret things" was found behind a wall in her former home. The contents of May’s trunk are now on display at the Sacramento History Museum.

Probably the area’s spookiest ghost is Robert Chalmers, who haunts Vineyard House in Coloma. In 1879, he went mad, and for his own protection his wife chained him in the cellar where he eventually starved to death. Later residents were so spooked by shimmering apparitions and the sounds of rattling chains, that no one would live there. Now remodeled into a hotel, Vineyard House has been the scene of dozens of eerie poltergeist events witnessed by employees and guests alike.

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