Spectres in Residence: Spirits From the Area’s Past : Ghost stories: A quartet of tales endures, from a ghost named Pierre at the Stagecoach Inn Museum, to odd sights and noises at an area hospital, the Andres Pico Adobe and in a Saugus canyon.
Back in the canyons, houses and museums. And in the minds of true believers in the supernatural.
Halloween makes its annual visit next week, with young, make-believe Jasons and Freddys ready again to stalk San Fernando Valley streets. Meanwhile some people believe the ghosts of another time and place stalk their own hideaways.
“Everything is possible,” said Richard Senate, who has written a book about haunted places in California and lectures at area colleges about his research. “Anyone who doesn’t believe is closing their eyes to a reality. So many people have seen them that they can’t all be crazy. Ghosts have been seen by people all over the world for thousands of years. Who are they? We still don’t know, but they are very legitimate to study.”
Like rumors, ghost stories can’t always be easily traced to an original source, and they sustain a life of their own long after they first emerge. Sometimes they are passed on by old-timers who heard the stories from the previous generation’s old-timers. And sometimes the stories are chronicled in written documents, permanent testimony for future residents.
“I was open before to the possibility of ghosts, and now I’m a definite believer,” Dan Hobbit, a documentary filmmaker, said after claiming to witness an apparition at a Valley hospital. “And I know many people who have seen ghosts in their homes throughout the Valley. For obvious reasons, they don’t want to make public where they live. They just want to get rid of the ghosts.”
What follows are some of the ghost stories that have circulated through the Valley and surrounding areas for years, sometimes decades.
The Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park: According to psychics, the ghost of Pierre Devon, a guest murdered by an unknown assailant at the inn in 1885, has stayed around to make periodic appearances over the last century.
The ghost was first identified as Pierre by psychic Sybil Leek in 1966, who came to the inn after employees claimed to see a ghost. Earlier, in 1964, Beth Needham, 60, of Thousand Oaks visited the inn. By this time, the Stagecoach served as a gift shop, no longer a hotel. Needham was browsing when Judith McIntyre, the shop’s longtime manager, introduced her to a “friend.”
“She said, ‘Come here, I want you to meet a friendly ghost,’ ” Needham said. “And then she introduced me to Mad Alice. I don’t know why she called her Mad Alice.”
Needham said that according to McIntyre, Mad Alice (who later was known as Pierre) would take huge bites out of the oak wood railing of the inn’s long staircase. The railing, otherwise sturdy and in perfect condition at the time, had areas with large chunks missing.
Needham said she didn’t feel or see anything at the time, but two years later, when she became an inn guide, she was standing by the staircase when “I felt a draft. I knew it wasn’t a draft.” She said she felt chosen by the ghost because of her introduction to the ghost two years earlier.
In 1965, the inn was moved 1 1/2 miles from its original site to allow for extension of the Ventura Freeway. The ghost reportedly made the move with the building.
According to “Resident Ghost of the Stagecoach Inn Museum,” a written account of the apparition, when several workers took a break for a bite to eat, two 2 by 4s came flying out of the second-story parlor window. A quick check of the premises didn’t reveal anything or anyone to explain the accident. The workers didn’t wait around.
“They took a shot of something to drink and left,” Needham said. “They thought the place was spooked. There was nobody else around but them.”
In 1970, a fire, caused by faulty electrical wiring, destroyed the inn. Pierre’s alleged presence was never cited as a possible cause. After a fund-raising campaign by the historical society, the rebuilt inn reopened in 1976. Pierre was again a tenant, according to psychic Grace Coveney, 63, of Calabasas.
“I saw Pierre,” said Coveney, who visited the inn in 1987, making certain that she wasn’t too familiar with its history beforehand. Using her psychic abilities, she said, she immediately sensed an apparition, whom she also identified as Pierre. “He went to a certain room and went behind the door, but he was there.”
In the 1960s, historian Pat Allen searched the records spanning 1880-90, but failed to produce any written account of a Pierre Devon ever having lived in the area.
But California did not require death records during that period, Allen pointed out.
A hospital in the San Fernando Valley: Dan Hobbit, 37, a filmmaker who is producing United Cable Television’s “Psychic Connections,” a discussion of the paranormal, claims to have filmed an apparition in March. Hobbit won’t identify the hospital, saying he was threatened with a lawsuit by a hospital official if he ever released its location. The official, Hobbit said, told him to “leave our demons alone.’ ”
According to Hobbit, his friend was being treated for a foot infection at the hospital when his friend observed various unnatural happenings: nurses’ clipboards flying out of baskets, lights flickering on and off, sounds of people crying in empty rooms. Hobbit’s friend asked him to bring his video camera to record the strange events. And so he did.
For several nights, Hobbit filmed a dark examination room and, when he viewed the tape, saw a transparent ball of light that floated across and off the screen. One morning, he brought the camera back to the hospital, placed it on a tripod and let it run for two hours while he ate lunch in another room. He came back and immediately watched the tape in another part of the hospital.
On the tape, Hobbit saw the same ball of light “materialize into a very slender man in his 40s. He looked like he had an examination coat on,” and he kept getting up to actually turn the camera on and off. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Hobbit said a hospital official who viewed the tape told him that the unidentified man looked like a former patient who had died of cancer three years ago. In addition, Hobbit added, the same official told him about the presence of a former female patient who periodically reassures the terminally ill that “things aren’t so bad on the other side.”
Soon afterward, on Hobbit’s urging, Nonie Fagatt, a psychic in Beverly Hills, visited the hospital and said she sensed the presence of a ghost.
“In my mind, I felt a man in his wheelchair,” Fagatt said. “That hospital is quite an infested place. You’d have to resort to some type of exorcism to get rid of the ghosts.”
For now, Hobbit plans no immediate return to the hospital. He said he has sent his video to the Psychic Research Institute in England and has shown it to other prominent psychics. He may use the hospital tape on “Psychic Connections” when it airs later this fall.
Andreas Pico Adobe in Mission Hills: Because of neglect, the adobe was in ruins until it was restored in 1930 by Mark Harrington, an anthropologist who purchased the property. According to Elva Meline, the adobe’s curator since 1976, every night when Harrington would go to bed, he’d hear heels clicking across the tile floor and up the staircase.
Meline said Harrington told her the story soon before he died in 1970. She said he would wait until the sounds got closer to his upstairs bedroom, then sneak out of bed hoping to catch the ghost. Each time, he saw nothing. He lived in the adobe until 1945 and said he heard the sounds frequently.
The ghost, according to Harrington’s account, is Catarino Pico, who lived in the adobe from 1874 to 1895. At 14, Catarino married Romulo Pico and helped modernize the adobe. Meline said she doesn’t know why Catarino would stick around, “other than the fact that this was her home for so long.”
In recent years, Meline said, there have been few sightings, or senses, of Catarino’s presence, although something strange happened just three weeks ago when two women toured the adobe.
“These two women both remarked that they felt a very strong presence in the adobe,” Meline said. “One said she felt it on the patio, the other the living room. They both said it was a very peaceful feeling, which is what people have said about Catarino in the past.”
Meline said she hasn’t encountered Catarino. “I’m so busy running this place that perhaps I haven’t been open to the possibility of it,” she said.
Plumb Canyon in Saugus: Herman, 73, a longtime resident of the area who asked that his last name not be used, said he was hunting for cottontail rabbits one day in 1938 or 1939 when he spotted something unusual in the canyon between Bouquet and Mint canyons.
“I saw this Spanish-looking woman by the path,” he said. “She had some kind of strange hairdo and had something in her hand. She wore a light satin dress and a blue shawl. I don’t know why I saw it.”
At first, Herman said, he thought it was one of the Cortez girls, members of a family that inhabited that part of the canyon. But he knew the family and soon realized that it wasn’t one of them. Herman was about 23 at the time.
“I know I wasn’t drunk and hadn’t been drinking,” Herman said. “and I don’t want people to think I’m nuts, but I know what I saw. If I had only seen it myself, I would’ve thought it was my imagination, but people for years have claimed to see the Spanish woman.”
Jerry Reynolds, curator of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, couldn’t give actual figures, but said there have been frequent sightings of the Spanish woman since the mid-19th Century. As recently as last year, Reynolds said, he heard that a resident spotted the woman floating along the path from the east side of the canyon to the west.
“It seems to be more of a summer phenomenon,” Reynolds said. “We’ve done research to see if there was some kind of murder or other tragedy that took place there but we haven’t found anything. We do know there were a lot of Spanish settlers in the area in the early 1800s.
“People here say their grandparents saw her in the 1860s. We don’t who she is or why she is still around.”