Tag Archives: haunted

The Lucky Ghost in Aisle 2C

It sounds strange describing someone who died from bleeding to death from an axe wound as “lucky,” but that could be the case for Johnny Johnson.

Johnson, as the story goes, was a Sunnyvale, California farmhand in 1881, who was in love with Elizabeth, his boss’ daughter.

Unfortunately for Johnny, Elizabeth loved someone else, and refused to marry him.

It was a bad week for Johnny, because a short time later, he was chopping wood when the axe slipped and lodged in his leg, killing him.

Moving to the present day, we find a Toys R Us store built on the exact spot where Johnny died.

For the record, despite having spent more time in cemeteries than is healthy finding the graves of the famous and infamous, I have never experienced anything paranormal. So when talk turns to all things “spiritual” – I’m a skeptic.

Still, I’m nothing if not curious, so this past weekend when Kimi and I were in the Bay Area, we went over to Sunnyvale for a walk on the weird side.

According to the book Weird California where I first heard mention about the ‘”Haunted Toys R Us of Sunnyvale,” Johnny is usually found hunting for his beloved Elizabeth around aisle 15C.

We traversed the store and couldn’t locate the aisle because as we later learned, the store had recently been remodeled.

This forced me to ask an employee for directions to the current hangout of their resident ghost; something I felt a bit embarrassed to do.

Trying my best not to sound like a Ghost Hunters groupie, I stopped an employee, who we will call Mike, and told him I was a writer doing a piece on the store’s “supposed ghost.”

You mean Johnny,” he said, as matter-of-factly as if I were inquiring about a living stockroom attendant. “You can usually find him in Aisle 2C.”

Mike explained that Johnny likes to knock toys off of shelves, roll balls down empty aisles, and trip sensors which open doors in the middle of the night when no one is in the store. He also explained that Johnny only seems to pull his pranks on employees, generally leaving the customers alone.

We were standing in Aisle 2C, which was lined from floor to ceiling with dolls. While he was talking, dolls on both sides of the aisle were gurgling and gyrating, which was to be expected, as they were activated by motion.

But what was strange was that as soon as Mike left the aisle, the dolls stopped moving.

Although Kimi and I ran up and down the aisle, the majority of them remained inert until Mike returned, which brought them to life again. We were able to get some of the dolls to move without the employees around, but we basically had to shake them.

Odder still was a baby doll that would giggle when Mike was around. This doll was not motion activated. (Although, it did appear to be activated by heat. We were able to get it to giggle by nearly touching it. When Mike was around, it went off even though he stood several feet away.)

Am I now a believer? Hardly.

There are several possible explanations for the happenings in Aisle 2C that have nothing to do with anything supernatural. And had I not known of the story ahead of time, I wouldn’t have paid any notice to the peculiar actions of the dolls.

But who knows?

Should it turn out that there truly is such a thing as a disembodied spirit, and that the ghost of Johnny Johnson is responsible for the shenanigans that are said to happen in the store, then it makes his death a bit less tragic.

That’s because this “lucky” ghost gets to spend eternity playing with skateboards, action figures, and toy trucks, rather than having to creep around dank, spooky cemeteries and haunted houses.

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Stars & Spectres: The Santa Maria Inn

The Santa Maria Inn, where lots of famous guests have stayed ... and some have never left.

Back in the 1920s, when El Camino Real was the main thoroughfare between Hollywood and William Randolph Hearst’s castle, the Santa Maria Inn was a popular stopping-off spot for Hollywood’s glitterati making the trek.

The Inn, in the city of Santa Maria, was originally constructed as a 24-room English-style hotel in 1917. Later additions brought it to its current total of 166 rooms.

The hotel proudly publishes an impressive list of past guests which contains over 100 names, including President Herbert Hoover, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, and Shirley Temple. Cecil B. DeMille stayed here while filming his epic silent film The Ten Commandments nearby in 1923.

But the one famous guest who is said to have liked the accommodations so much that he never bothered checking out, is Rudolph Valentino.

Room 221, with former (and current?) guest Rudolph Valentino's star on the door.

Valentino, who died suddenly in August 1926 from a ruptured appendix, once stayed in Room 221, and if the reports made by several guests since that time are to be believed – he never left. He is said to enjoy reclining on the bed and knocking on the walls.

If true, it makes Valentino a very well-traveled spectre, since he has regularly been spotted making personal appearances at former homes in Benedict Canyon and Oxnard, and occasionally at Stage 5 and the Costume Department of Paramount Studios.

Room 221 seems to be a gathering place for otherworldly presences. A former sea captain and his mistress have supposedly taken up residence there as well. The woman, who was reported to be  murdered, has been seen floating at the foot of the bed. Once, a housekeeper who was making the bed in the room got so frightened by an icy touch to her shoulder that she fled the premises never to return.

Guests in other rooms have also encountered “bumps in the night.” One man missed being struck by a light bulb that flew out of a socket. Another woke to discover a ghostly party of guests in 1800’s clothing gathered at the foot of her bed.

The staff at the Inn tell tales of clocks wildly spinning, furniture mysteriously stacked up in closed rooms, doors on ovens spontaneously slamming, and a piano (not a player piano) that comes to life behind locked doors when no one is around. One housekeeper was seen being followed by a mysterious balloon all around the second floor.

I’m not sure if the Santa Maria Inn is truly haunted, or if ghosts even exist. In matters of the afterlife, my mind is reinforced by a strong sense of skepticism.

But that doesn’t stop me from being curious. Who knows? Maybe on my next trip up the coast I’ll get the nerve to spend the night in Room 221.  I’ve always wanted to meet Valentino.


Scarier Than Ghosts?

Is this the most haunted house in America?

We crossed an item off the bucket list on Saturday when Kimi and I visited the Whaley House in San Diego’s Old Town district. The Whaley House is reputed to be the most haunted house in America by many psychic researchers, and if the stories about the property’s past are true, it’s easy to see why. 

Thomas Whaley was a forty-niner who made a small fortune selling supplies to miners in San Francisco before relocating south to the sleepy settlement of San Diego, where he built this house in 1857. Whaley must not have believed in ghosts because he constructed his home on the bad juju site of the public gallows, where a few years earlier he witnessed convicted row boat thief Yankee Jim Robinson pay the ultimate price for his minor offense. Whaley soon became a believer when footsteps began appearing in empty rooms in the house, and his family members started dying on the premises in mysterious ways. 

The Ninth Step.

The docents who work on the grounds dress in period costume and all seem to have had personal encounters with a host of otherworldly presences, such as footsteps, slamming doors and smells of perfume and cigar smoke coming from empty rooms; an invisible baby crying in the nursery; and even a disembodied dog who will occasionally hump a tourist’s leg. A sour-faced Whaley is said to appear on the second floor, and his long-deceased wife sometimes shows up at a back window to inspect her gardens below. One particularly haunted spot is said to be the ninth stair leading to the second floor, which was the same spot where Yankee Jim once dangled. Guests at the house have reported choking at the spot, and some have even found rope marks around their necks after climbing the stairs. 

We felt nothing unusual during our visit, but many a skeptic has become an immediate convert during a tour, including Regis Philbin, who reportedly once encountered a ghost at the house. 

Mrs. Whaley checking on her gardens? Nope, just a tourist.

The Whaley House was still worth the $6 admission cost, but there is another place two blocks away that comes with a large creepiness-factor, free of charge. 

Yankee Jim's grave in El Campo Santo Cemetery.

Nearly 500 bodies, including the unfortunate Yankee Jim, were buried in El Campo Santo Cemetery from 1849 to 1880. Sometime around 1899, the city government decided that a horse-drawn trolley was a greater need for the citizens of San Diego than the preservation of burial sites, and a line was cut through the cemetery without anyone bothering to relocate the bodies first. Eventually the street was paved, and today when tourists drive over San Diego Avenue or walk down the sidewalk next to the street, they are crossing over at least twenty graves that are now marked with small brass plaques that read “grave site.”  

Which just goes to show you that dead people are often less scary than the living ones in city government. 

A grave in the middle of San Diego Avenue.