Local

Ghost stories from San Luis Obispo County

On Dec. 5, 1848, 11 people were murdered at Mission San Miguel: four men, two women, four children and one unborn baby. These murders are referred to as the 'Reed' murders, after William Reed, who owned Mission San Miguel at the time. Pictured above is the late Wally Ohles in 2003 inside the room at the mission where it's thought the murders occurred.  A man once told Ohles of seeing a ghost of a man wearing a navy pea coat. The ghost was thought to be William Reed, because he always wore his navy coat in the wintertime. Another time a lady who Ohles knew for 35 years was at the mission gift shop. She had her little granddaughter with her, who was about 3 at the time. The little girl came running to Grandma in an excited state. 'What's the matter?' asked the grandma. 'I saw a little Indian boy and he couldn't talk,' the girl said. She said that the little boy had 'an owie on his neck.' An ax, a cutlass and a knife had been used to kill members of the Reed family. Read more »
On Dec. 5, 1848, 11 people were murdered at Mission San Miguel: four men, two women, four children and one unborn baby. These murders are referred to as the 'Reed' murders, after William Reed, who owned Mission San Miguel at the time. Pictured above is the late Wally Ohles in 2003 inside the room at the mission where it's thought the murders occurred. A man once told Ohles of seeing a ghost of a man wearing a navy pea coat. The ghost was thought to be William Reed, because he always wore his navy coat in the wintertime. Another time a lady who Ohles knew for 35 years was at the mission gift shop. She had her little granddaughter with her, who was about 3 at the time. The little girl came running to Grandma in an excited state. 'What's the matter?' asked the grandma. 'I saw a little Indian boy and he couldn't talk,' the girl said. She said that the little boy had 'an owie on his neck.' An ax, a cutlass and a knife had been used to kill members of the Reed family. Read more » ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

No matter if the evidence was just a hunch or an actual sighting, the ghostly remnants of times past linger in San Luis Obispo County. Creaking steps, unexplainable coincidences and truly bizarre happenings have made believers out of skeptics.

With Halloween just around the corner, here's a few local ghost stories pulled from The Tribune's archives to get you in the mood.

Read on ... maybe you'll start believing, too.

Headless Halloran

It was the spring of 1898, and the Halloran family was driving their wagon to their new homestead along the Nacimiento River.

According to the local legend, when Michael and Alice Halloran, along with their baby, Clara, stopped in the ranch town of Jolon, American Indians warned them that the river was too high to cross. Thinking they were just after his land, Michael Halloran pushed forward, despite his wife's pleas to wait.

As they started across the high and muddy waters, Alice Halloran held baby Clara tight. Suddenly, the current caught the wagon and it flipped over and over.

Caught in the reins, Alice was decapitated and the baby drowned.

As the story goes, and witnesses insist it is true, Alice haunts the area that's now near Fort Hunter Liggett, looking for her head and her baby.

'Reed Murders at San Miguel Mission' told by Wally Ohles in 2003

Some of you people in the audience might be old enough to remember the murders masterminded by Charles Manson. Until those horrible events took place 34 years ago, the most terrible murders in California took place at Mission San Miguel, 155 years ago.

On Dec. 5, 1848, 11 people were murdered. There were four men, two women, four children and one unborn baby. These murders are referred to as the "Reed" murders, after William Reed, who owned Mission San Miguel at one time.

On the evening of Dec. 4, 1848, a group arrived at Mission San Miguel and William Reed invited them to spend the night.

The next morning, the six men headed south, by El Camino Real, they got all the way down to San Marcos Street, and they turned around and came back and asked if they could spend another day and night there. Naturally they said yes.

I have never seen a ghost at Mission San Miguel, or anywhere for that matter, but last April a man told me of seeing a ghost at Mission San Miguel. He saw a man step out of the wall on the south side of the mission church. This is a true story, he just stepped out of the wall wearing a navy pea coat. The ghost had to be William Reed, because he always wore his navy coat in the wintertime.

So we return to the cold night, Dec. 5, 1848, at the mission. One of the men offered to go get wood for the fire. He did so, but he also brought back an ax. He struck Reed several times with the ax. When they found the bodies, his face was slashed and he was cut in the back of the head.

A little boy had hidden himself in some boxes in the corridor of the mission. He called to the men and begged them not to hurt him. The leader seized the little boy, held him by his feet, and dashed his head against the pillars and killed him that way.

And the murderer headed south.

One final note, about three years ago, a lady who I have known for 35 years was at the mission gift shop. She had her little granddaughter with her, her granddaughter was about 3 at the time. The little girl came running to Grandma in an excited state.

"What's the matter?" asked the grandma.

"I saw a little Indian boy and he couldn't talk," the girl said. She said that the little boy had 'an owie on his neck.'

An ax, a cutlass and a knife had been used to kill members of the Reed family.

'Mr. Moody' told by Norma Moye in 2003

I did not believe in spirits until I moved into the house on 18th and Vine. We bought it in 1975. When we pulled up, there was no electricity, nothing was hooked up and my husband said, "Well, I gotta go to L.A., you go in the house." I slept in the car.

So finally I did go in the house and started working hard on it. And occasionally -- Have you ever had stairs that creak? -- I kept hearing "creak, creak, creak" but never did see anyone go up those stairs until my daughter one night said, "Mom, there's a ghost in this house." She said he wears a black jacket, a top hat and he's from about the 1800s.

About a month later, my son comes running down the hall and says "Mother, there's a ghost in this house and he's been banging on my wall!"

After a while I started to think maybe there was something there. Have you ever had hair on the back of your neck stand up? I started to feel that around my house.

Once a lady who used to live there came up to visit. I asked if anyone had ever died upstairs, and she said yes. I asked what he looked like. She said he wears a black suit all the time, he's thin and he wears a top hat. That matches the same stories my daughter told me!

Well, then one day we were giving a tour of the house. I said, "This is Mr. Moody's room." I said I wanted Mr. Moody out of the room, and a man said this is what to do: Get a glass of water a put it in the room, and he won't bother you anymore. I put the glass in there, but one night my husband got very sick, so I gave him that glass of water and thought, "Ha! There goes Mr. Moody, down the river!"

Sometimes we have to believe and sometimes the ghosts never leave. But I know he is at my house because he follows me around all the time on the back of my neck.

'The Ghost Who Didn't Like Musicals' by Dr. Marie Rosenwasser, former president of Cuesta College, in 2003

I speak first as the spirit of Interact Theater: Who are those people coming into my chapel? What's that they're saying? Why are they so surprised it's clean? Of course it's clean! Do they think I would let mice or rats or those spiders with their nasty webs accumulate? My, they are amazed! My building, my chapel, is not like those other sealed-up Army building finally opened so long after the war ended. Well, they should know, I would never let my chapel, a place of worship, get dirty. But you know it is nice seeing people coming to the chapel. It will be good to have them worship again.

Wait a minute. They're not praying. They're making loud noises. They're talking of turning the chapel into a theater! A theater! My chapel!

Well, I will let them know it's already taken. They hear me. They don't know where I am, or why they're hearing footsteps on bear wood steps. They hear the creaky old door. I am here. Pay some attention.

Oh, I'm so disturbed. They heard the boards creak above their heads when they're down on the stage. They heard me scraping my foot -- I am so angry! I will rant even more! I will make this building shake! Don't they understand that I am here! I want them gone!

Oh, nothing works. Now, they're putting up lights, on what they call the stage. My alter.

What's that they're saying? They're rehearsing "Damn Yankees?" "Damn Yankees," a musical! Yankees in California! Yankees don't belong out here.

I'm awfully upset. I've tried everything, nothing has deterred them. I don't want "Damn Yankees" in my chapel. At least they left. I'll go into the choir where my old piano sits and soothe myself. I'll play one of my favorite sonatas, oh the beautiful sonata.

What's that? I hear footsteps! They're coming up the stairs! A heavy man's footsteps, he's opening the door where I am! He's talking into the door, "Hey students! Get out of this theater!" Ha ha ha, he can't see me, he doesn't know where the music came from but he knows he heard the sonata. He's frightened, as well he should be.

I lost my chapel. But I'll roam the campus in San Luis Obispo. The students and staff will feel my presence.

Now I'm going to tell you the historical facts -- perhaps with exaggeration here or there -- about where this spirit comes from, and you can decide. There's known to be at least two women who had tragic lives on that land.

Ellen Hollister lived in Ohio with her husband. She was married at age 16 and had three daughters already before she was 20. At which point her husband decided he had to go west. So he crossed the continent, came to California, left his wife and daughters, and he settled north of Santa Barbara.

Ellen was unhappy, all alone, and so she decided about 10 years later to follow him. But when she got there she didn't like it. So she set out on her own and found land north of San Luis Obispo. She liked that land and that's where she settled. Her husband joined her. They had an infant daughter.

Alas, it was not to be a happy time even now. Less than a year after moving there, the baby had died and Ellen had died, and that may be the spirit that haunts the Old Army Chapel and the Cuesta College Interact Theater.

There was another woman. Lilly Hanson lived on the property that her parents bought from the Hollisters. It was called San Luisito Ranch. Their lives were good until poor little Vernon Junior died in a barn fire at the neighbor's farm. Well, that barn was later rebuilt and is now known as Mailpouch Barn, here in this county.

Lilly so grieved the loss of her little boy that she was not ready for the final blow. The U.S. Army, by right of eminent domain, claimed the land. And Lilly so grieved that not soon after she too died.

Maybe the spirit is Lilly, not Ellen. But you know Camp San Luis Obispo? Why did it have a chapel? Because it was a place of a lot of anxiety. So perhaps the spirit of the Interact Theater is a young soldier, for the first time away from home, seeking a moment of prayer and serenity in that old chapel.

Well, I'll tell you that, as the president of Cuesta College, I don't really mind that there's a spirit or two on that land and in the chapel, now Interact Theater.

But I doubt that the North County campus in Paso Robles is free of spirits, because that land has a long history, too.

Is the Paso Robles Inn really haunted?

The answer probably depends on how you, personally, explain the unexplainable.

But, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, the Paso landmark hotel has a history of bizarre events, said Paul Wallace, vice president of Martin Resorts, the company that owns the Inn.

"I believe we have unexplainable things that happen here," he said.

In 2001, The Tribune reported on a rash of spontaneous calls coming from the hotel's Room 1007. Many went to the hotel's front desk, but one was to 911.

Wallace has a theory that points to the 1940 fire that leveled much of the inn. During that fire, the night clerk -- J.H. Emsley -- sounded the alarm and immediately died of a sudden heart attack.

He had no idea that his warning saved the 200 people staying at the hotel that night.

"I call it a spirit with unfinished business," Wallace recently said. "He's still trying to warn everybody of make sure the people in his care are taken care of. This has been the one thing I have not been able to give any equipment-failure explanation to. Whether that makes me a believer or not, I don't know."

And the lore of Room 1007 has a following.

"To this day, it is one of our most requested rooms," Wallace said.

And here's another ghost story from the inn's past: It's rumored that a cook, just two days on the job, approached a woman wandering the courtyard only to have the woman disappear before her eyes. The cook quit on the spot.

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