Cambrian: Slice of Life

‘Suddenly, a ghost came right at us’: 7 North Coast folks share their scariest stories

Rick Bruce dressed up as as Emmett “Doc” Brown, the character played by Christopher Lloyd in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy, to lead local kids in a West Village Halloween Parade in 2014. But the Village Wizard has got some scarier Halloween memories to share.
Rick Bruce dressed up as as Emmett “Doc” Brown, the character played by Christopher Lloyd in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy, to lead local kids in a West Village Halloween Parade in 2014. But the Village Wizard has got some scarier Halloween memories to share.

Walmart notwithstanding, there’s a lot more to Halloween than Spider-Man and Wonder Woman costumes, M&Ms and mini Reese’s.

It’s about the scary stuff, the ghost stories that make you wide-eyed terrified, movies that make you hide under the theater seat and strange happenings that make your timbers shiver.

I remember my own little trick-or-treaters jumping in terror as scarecrow decorations in a nearby yard came alive — the teens inside the scarecrow suits were posing at a standstill, just waiting. Meanwhile, a man hiding on the roof with a fishing pole dropped a pumpkin-sized plastic spider on 5-year-old Brian’s head.

For a quick fright, some entries in Cambria’s Scarecrow Festival can be pretty scary, especially on a dark night with wind whistling through the pines.

Some helpful Facebook friends wrote about their scariest moments:

Jennifer Franco Smith remembers a 1978 Cambria Halloween party and deciding “to check out the cemeteries.”

A group of them were walking up the hill to the Old Santa Rosa Chapel. They were “mellow and laughing and maybe a little afraid,” Smith said, “and suddenly, a ghost came at us, right through the locked gates, screaming! We screamed and turned to run, but the ghost was at the bottom of the hill! Then it leapt in the air and was gone!”

Family members had retold the tale for weeks before the cousin culprit confessed to “wearing a sheet and black pants” for the fright fest. Smith said, “We couldn’t see the legs, just a faceless ghost running at us and screaming.”

“She scared the chopsticks out of us,” she added, “To this day, it’s the most scared I have ever been. I knew we were going to be killed or haunted. A fabulous memory!”

Jennifer Wharton grew up living on the upper floor above what is now Caren’s Corner in Cambria. From the late 1920s to early 1940s, the building was the Benson Hotel, and was occupied from late September 1942 to mid-March 1944 by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The “house” upstairs “is totally haunted,” according to Wharton’s memories. “You would hear people running up and down the hallway and no one was there. Light-fixture covers would fall off and hit the ground and not shatter. Weird writings on the wall you would paint over, but they would never really go away. Love that house!”

Janice Peters of Morro Bay and her boyfriend were driving home one night “and saw what I thought at first was a plane or helicopter. It was a bright light that suddenly appeared and just hovered over the hills, but there was no sound.

“After staring at it for a few seconds, I said, almost in a whisper, ‘Do you see that?’ My ultra-logical, no-nonsense boyfriend whispered back, ‘Yeah ... so I’m not just imagining it?’

“Then it just disappeared.”

Michael R. Minadeo of San Simeon has “a spirit that crawls into bed with me. I think it’s the cat jumping on the bed, but when I look, there is nothing there.”

In a related series of scares, Neil Farrell of Morro Bay remembers being in bed and feeling “a heaviness on my body … like someone pushing down on me. It would last maybe 30 seconds, and then lift off of me like someone getting up.”

Another Morro Bay long-timer had lived in the same complex years earlier, and he told Farrell that “two guys had rustled a cow and butchered it” in the same apartment Farrell was occupying.

Farrell declared the story to be “definitely creepy.”

Deanna Haddow Voelker of Cambria recalls going through a haunted-house attraction, with strobe lights that distorted their vision. She said, “A very tall ‘zombie’ came toward me,” and Voelker backed up in fear. “Suddenly, my legs hit the edge of a coffin that was behind me.”

She stumbled and fell backwards into the coffin.

Reaching for help, she wound up “pulling my boyfriend in with me. We fell on the poor person in the coffin, who was acting like a mummy, and then I screamed more when the zombie reached for me (trying to help me up). Too funny! Great memory!”

Rick Bruce’s ghost-hunt search involved “looking for a ‘woman in white’ specter that was rumored to appear on horseback in a particular area.

“The night sported a full moon in the sky and a low fog on the ground. The road we were on changed from blacktop to a narrowing dirt road with high, shrub-crowned berms on either side that seemed to close in on the car. The atmosphere was perfect for setting the expectation of a ghost materializing.

“As our car crept along the sketchy road in the foggy moonlight, a white horse suddenly leaped from the side of the road into our path.

“Well, actually it turned out to be one damned big rabbit, but it leapt out at eye level, thanks to the high berms.

“The little beast charged away before we fully absorbed what had just happened. I couldn’t have been more startled if the woman in white leapt in front of our car that night.”

Bruce, a Cambria magician, also remembered “conducting a theatrical seance in an old San Diego house, the upper floor of which “had been decorated with black helium balloons. The seance room was downstairs.

“After the show, one of the balloons came downstairs … down the stairs one at a time as if it were walking. It slowly negotiated its way around the guests and into the seance room. It went around the room as if it were remote-controlled.

“This was all weird, but not unreasonable. The real eerie part was when it retraced its steps and went back upstairs.”

What are your favorite scares and terrifying Halloween movies? Just for fun, tell me on Facebook or Twitter.

Then have a hauntingly wonderful but safe Halloween.


Want to know more?

For more about the history of Halloween, go to:



Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune