Searching for the spirits in the dark that haunt Stokes Restaurant and Bar.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
uring business hours, Monterey’s Stokes Restaurant and Bar gives off a warm glow, due in part to its amiable staff, delectable locally sown food and inviting atmosphere. But once the restaurant’s diners and bar patrons drift into the chilly Monterey night, the 185-year-old building takes on a different, darker feel.
With the lights dimmed, the upstairs chandeliers dangle from the ceiling like oversized spiders. Beneath the chandeliers, lights from nearby passing cars glide across the adobe’s aged walls like ghostly apparitions. Outside, the barks of sea lions seem to sound more and more like a pack of mad dogs.
Stokes has long been rumored to be haunted by several apparitions, including the ghost of Hattie, a Monterey socialite who lived in the adobe until her death in 1948, and the spirit of Dr. James Stokes, an early owner of the structure who is said to have hung himself from a chandelier in the building.
Recently, to verify or disprove claims of the presence of ghostly tenants at Stokes Adobe, Weekly photographer Nic Coury and I spent a whole night (10 hours) in the restaurant.
We arrive at Stokes and meet up with paranormal investigator Norene Balovich and her husband, Jim Balovich. Norene lives in Walnut Creek and works for www.livescifi.tv, a website that broadcasts live paranormal and sci-fi based content. “I’m a real estate agent at day, and I ghost-hunt at night,” she says.
Before all the Stokes employees leave for the evening, our small ghost-hunting crew learns about some recent unexplained occurrences. Manager Dino Giannetta leads us into the adobe’s oldest room: the lounge. He tells us that people have felt invisible fingers tapping their shoulders, and one chair in the corner has inexplicably moved when several patrons have dined in the spot. “This has a lot of activity,” he says, looking around the room. “Voices, cold spots, touchings, pullings.”
“I’M STARTING TO GET MY PARANORMAL CHILL. THERE’S SOMETHING HERE.”
Waiter Cesar Cuevas also has an unusual story to tell: While in the busser’s station a year ago, he and another employee witnessed a football-sized dark spot hovering above the floor.
After the goosebump-raising stories, our crew retires to the foyer, where Norene starts unloading her ghost-detecting gear. I show her my plastic Ghost Meter, a cheap arrowhead-shaped electromagnetic field gauge I bought at www.Ghost-Mark.com for $30. It’s supposed to detect electrical fields including energy from appliances and passing spirits. Meanwhile, she pulls out a more impressive collection of ghost-hunting devices: a digital voice recorder, a flashlight, a digital camera and her own electromagnetic field (EMF) meter that looks like a TV remote control. Then Norene holds up a brick-sized black box with an antenna mounted on the top. “This is the big one,” she says. “This is the Mona Lisa EMF.”
As the restaurant’s customers slowly drain out into the night, we move to the lounge to begin our investigations. Upon entering the room, Norene’s personality changes. She flaps her hands at her side, and shivers, “I’m starting to get my paranormal chill,” she chatters. “There’s something here.” It’s her first vist to Stokes
We place all three of our electromagnetic detectors on a table in front of us as Norene begins to ask the spirits a series of questions in a gentle, maternal tone. It’s as if she’s a schoolteacher addressing a classroom of invisible students.
“This here– you probably haven’t seen one– is a camera,” she says, holding up her digital camera.
Hoping to forge an open, trusting relationship with the inhabitants of the spirit world, Norene decides to reveal our plans for the evening. “We will be talking to you, and Stuart and Nic will be staying overnight,” she says.
I suddenly experience my own flush of chills.
Though Norene politely invites the ghosts to join us, they decline– until we head upstairs to the wine room. Now, with the time sliding past midnight, the darkened, creaky building starts to mess with us. Coury swears a chandelier overhead slowly swings to and fro. Norene and I hear a dull thump above us. Undeterred, the paranormal investigator continues her questioning.
“If you are here, give me a sign,” she says.
A moment later, her camera, which was sitting on the table, falls over. It’s not much, but it’s our strongest response yet from the spirit world.
Our crew continues on, visiting different rooms and asking similar questions. We get an occasional flurry of lights on our electromagnetic field meters– which means that we are either near an electrical appliance or a ghost has just floated past– but nothing happens that can prove without a doubt the presence of spirits.
By the time we move into the lounge again for one final sweep, the ghost-detecting team is on its last legs. While Norene once again tries to start a conversation with the spirits, her husband snores. Her final query to the undead is more like a plea.
“Come on,” she says. “Do something… please.”
As Jim and Norene pack up, the paranormal investigator notes a few reasons why we might not have seen any significant activity. She says that a lot of the major sightings in Stokes occurred a few years back, and sometimes it takes multiple visits to a place before a spirit becomes comfortable enough to make itself known.
Following the couple’s departure, Coury and I settle in for the rest of the night. We choose to sleep upstairs in “Hattie’s Room,” because it has been the site of many unexplained occurrences– and because the carpet there looks more comfortable than the bare floors of other rooms.
After lying down and bidding Coury goodnight, I am swallowed by a deep, dreamless sleep. Until 4am. Then an explosion of sound awakens me: Quick blasts of a siren blare intermittently.
“What the hell is going on, Nic?” I ask.
“I don’t know!” he yells back. “I got up to go the bathroom, and I heard this alarm. I thought it was a cop outside pulling over a car, but it wasn’t. It’s inside.”
The siren continues erratically for the next 10 minutes. A quick shrill blast followed by graveyard silence. “Maybe it’s a motion-detecting security alarm,” I suggest. “Or a fire alarm.”
“I don’t know,” Coury says. “I think we should get out of here.”
Did Hattie’s spirit try to contact us via the alarm? Or was it the ghost of Dr. Stokes trying to scare us away from his long-time home?
It’s hard to know. I definitely do know that walking out of the Stokes Adobe into the morning a few hours later, I felt an incredible sense of relief.