Not Dead Yet
Monterey County remains a historic home for a host of ghosts – or so people say.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
When he went downstairs to visit the old Hotel Del Monte’s front desk, he left his new wife in bed. Then the 1906 earthquake hit. A chimney collapsed. She was killed instantly.
Decades later, witnesses say, the tortured newlywed left on the ground floor – known to insiders as The Man in Gray – continues his vigil in the halls of the now-Naval Postgraduate School’s Herrmann Hall. “Can you help me find the stairs?” he begs. “Please – I need to get upstairs.”
A former Naval officer and his wife were attending a dinner down the hall when she saw a dimly-lit apparition with a shimmering staircase behind it. Atop the stairs, a starlet beckoned and called to the man who kept asking, “Where are the stairs?”
At dinner, when the hotel manager inquired why the woman wasn’t eating, she admitted what she had seen. The manager called Randy Reinstedt, a Pacific Grove author and historian who has studied the area’s ghosts for years.
“When I got there, I asked her if it would be OK if we went back to where she saw the Man in Gray,” Reinstedt says. “In the middle of the interview, she stopped suddenly. ‘He’s back,’ she said. ‘Can’t you see him?’”
Reinstedt could not, but he was struck by her sincerity: “He kept asking her for help and she felt so bad. She started to cry.”
Unbeknownst to Reinstedt, the manager had also called his brother, a Monterey policeman. The brothers had worked in the hotel’s kitchen years ago and both had seen or heard the Man in Gray. During the interview, the policeman stood behind Reinstedt and the woman, and afterwards, he confirmed that the Man in Gray was there in the hallway, asking the woman for help.
“Let me ask you this,” Reinstedt says. “Did these two who had never met get together and decide to make this up?
Skeptics have their own explanations: The woman must’ve been senile, drunk or both; old buildings have squeaky joints that make noises. Those same people probably doubt the existence of dead baby curses, cholera victims who continue to haunt the house where they perished, or friendly phantoms in an old lighthouse.
But robust supernatural stories don’t just materialize out of nowhere. There are reasons people believe the Lara-Soto Adobe in downtown Monterey can feel so creepy, for instance.
“This was a baaaaad place,” says Gary Munsinger, who has run Monterey Ghost Tour for eight years. The building stood abandoned for a century due to legends of a curse: A young child died suddenly and mysteriously and his grief-stricken father went into the front yard, dug a hole and buried him. The cypress sapling which legend says his father planted above the grave still looms impressively over what is now Monterey Institute of International Studies admissions building.
So does the shadow of John Steinbeck. Having grown up with legends of the adobe, some say he drew inspiration from it for The Pearl. “In 1944, he bought it, had it exorcised by a priest, wrote the book, and moved out… ” Munsinger explains. “And what’s the book about? It’s about a Spanish couple who lose their young son.”
It gets spookier: For years, only sketchy squatters occupied the structure, adding layers of ugliness and bad energy, because no residents wanted to risk a gnarly fate for their families. And when MIIS workers began reconstructing the sidewalk near the house, they stopped after discovering bones.
Of course, official word differs: “They found an old conquistador horseshoe,” a security guard says. “No bones.”
Similarly, officials scoff at accounts of a ghostly keeper at Point Pinos Lighthouse, the longest continually operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
Emily Fish, a widow, took the post in 1893 and filled long nights with cocktail parties and social calls. According to Reinstedt, she is “still much in evidence.”
“Her presence has often been felt,” he writes in Ghost Notes, “several odd happenings are said to have taken place and a variety of objects are known to have moved about.”
The diversity and depth of local ghost reports is surprising, Reinstedt adds. “I’ve talked to hundreds of people who have sought me out – priests, doctors, policemen,” he says. “We’re talking sharp people, not the kind who would make these stories up.”
A park official whom I ask about the purported Lady in Black at the Stevenson House isn’t buying it: “We don’t comment on folklore,” he says. “We rely on scientific sources.”
Nonetheless, locals in the know continue to tell the tale of a doomed family who fell, one by one, to cholera there. The grandmother cared for her grandchildren after their parents passed away, but she died too, thinking the children would die (they survived). Tourists and locals have since reported seeing a woman in black in the children’s room, still caring for their sick souls.
Meanwhile, at Carmel Mission (and San Carlos Royal Presidio Chapel),priestly apparitions seem to continue their work: There have been reports of floating candles and wicks being burned to the base overnight – even when people remember blowing them out. “Someone seems to have more prayers to say,” Munsinger says.
But explanations exist for all these things, of course. Nothing to worry about. They’re just ghost stories.