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Visit a haunted hotel and a creepy castle on a weekend trip to Ione

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Preston Castle, a former boys reform school that now acts as a real-life haunted house, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Among those who served time there was country singer Merle Haggard.
(Mike Morris)

There’s something a little eerie about Ione, an hour‘s drive southeast of Sacramento. It could be this historic city’s haunted hotel, or maybe it’s Preston Castle, a former boys reform school that’s now a real-life haunted house. At either place you’ll probably experience something spooky. The tab: A night at Ione Hotel costs $85 to $145, plus tax; lunch for two at the Burke Family Restaurant was $25 plus tip; and general admission to the Preston Castle Haunt costs $30 per person.

THE BED

The Ione Hotel, less than a mile from Preston Castle, was built to house miners and was a stagecoach depot during the Gold Rush. The hotel was rebuilt after a fire in 1910 and renamed the Golden Star of Ione. Fire again destroyed the building in 1988; it reopened after extensive renovations. The Ione Hotel has 14 rooms, including some with clawfoot bathtubs. Its charming lobby features a chandelier, antique furniture and mahogany staircase. Look closely and you can see the stained glass above the entrance still reads “Golden Star.”

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The Ione Hotel’s lobby features a chandelier, antique furniture and mahogany staircase.
(Mike Morris)

THE MEAL

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The Burke Family Restaurant, inside the Ione Hotel, has a dimly lighted dining room with an old Native American stone well that allows you to look down into the darkness. They were serving Sunday brunch when I ate here with Ediza, my 12-year-old daughter, but we chose the regular menu. Ediza got crispy fries, creamy mac and cheese and a homemade veggie burger — all washed down with root beer served in a Mason jar. I was trying to eat healthfully, so I chose the quinoa salad with sliced almonds and raspberries. Our friendly waitress brought me a book filled with hotel ghost stories to leaf through while we waited for our food. (Chapters include “The Sexy Lady Ghost” and “The Civil War Ghost.”) Ediza was convinced she had encountered a ghost in the restaurant’s restroom.

THE FIND

Spirits are said to linger at Preston Castle, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The Preston School of Industry opened in 1894 with seven teenagers transferred from San Quentin Prison; their crimes included grand larceny, burglary and robbery. At the military-style school, the boys spent half their day in class and the other half learning a trade that could support them after their release. Among those who served time was country music icon Merle Haggard, who had a small “PSI” tattoo on his wrist. What struck me most during a self-guided tour was a list of those buried in the Preston School cemetery. Their causes of death varied: meningitis, tuberculosis, drowning, a gunshot wound (to a 19-year-old who tried to escape in 1919). Although the school has long since closed, its creepy vibe remains.

THE LESSON LEARNED

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Preston Castle, a former boys reform school that now acts as a real-life haunted house, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Among those who served time there was country singer Merle Haggard.
(Mike Morris)

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Preston Castle offers tours and special events throughout the year, including self-guided and docent-led tours from April to August. Volunteers are prepping for the Preston Castle Haunt. The Halloween-themed event will be Oct. 11 and 12, 18 and 19, and 25 and 26. The place is already macabre without dramatic lighting and costumed actors, so I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Ione Hotel, 25 W. Main St., Ione, Calif.; (209) 274-6082. Not wheelchair accessible. (Rooms are upstairs.)

Burke Family Restaurant and Bar, 25 W. Main St., Ione, Calif.; (209) 274-4161. Wheelchair accessible.

Preston Castle, 900 Palm Drive, Ione, Calif.; (209) 256-3623. For mobility-restricted visitors, there is a 35-minute closed-captioned “virtual tour” on the accessible ground floor (basement) of the castle.


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