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Haunt hunt

(Originally published Oct. 29, 1988) HOUSES HAVE their own personalities. You believe that, don't you? But can you believe some of these personalities are formed by the ghosts who live in the houses?

"The mansion really has a personality all its own," Terrence Black, says of the Grand Island Mansion on Steamboat Slough in the Delta, that he has owned for 10 years. "Personally I haven't experienced any paranormal incidents, but guests have told me about strange things happening to them. My psychic friends tell me the mansion is a turmoil of energy."

One of those friends is Sherri Bolling a Sacramento woman who calls herself a "professional clairvoyant" making a living exercising her psychic powers.

"A few years ago I was at that house for a huge Halloween costume party," Bolling said. "The house was wall-to-wall people, but I was more aware of the other spirits who were there. The energy was overwhelming. It was all positive and so compelling that I wanted to be drawn back into the eras they came from."

"Take the area above Biba's restaurant. It's another real interesting place," Bolling said of second floor rooms in Sacramento's historic Old Tavern Inn building. "They were once rooms in a brothel. People tell me strange things have happened up there since it has been refurbished."

"At the old Stanford House, there's a lot of very strong feminine energy, even if there are no ghosts that I know of. It is interesting that nuns would have taken over that house for so many years."

Bolling says it doesn't matter how old a house is. "It can be haunted even if it's new. There are some that have negative vibes because they are built on Indian land and the Indians are mad about the intrusion. Things that are passionate always stick to a building."

As for the Delta's Grand Island Mansion being haunted, Black said it could seem like it to some people. The family's housekeeper, for instance, will not stay in the house alone.

"I HAVE TO ADMIT that the house is absolutely terrifying at night," Black said. "There are gargoyles carved into the fireplaces and it's always making its own set of noises. Until you get used to them, they are scary. I don't even worry about security because it's so frightening."

"So much energy goes into building and keeping up a 58-room, 24,000- square-foot house like this that it's bound to reflect some of that energy. Some of the previous owners have died broke, but I have a good feeling about the house. It likes me," Black said of the mansion, which was built in 1917 by a German financier named Louis Meyers who died shortly after it was completed.

"Only after I bought the house did I find out that I had some connection to it. I didn't even know it existed until the first time I saw it. Soon after I bought it, I was going through the attic one day and found a set of blueprints of the mansion that were signed 'J.W. Dolliver.' He was my great uncle. I never knew he had designed a mansion in the Delta."

Black, 42, also owns a 500-year-old hotel in Knaresborough, England, near Harrogate, and the Grand Island Inn (formerly the Ryde Hotel). He says people have told him there's at least one ghost at his Delta inn.

"It was owned by Lon Chaney. Talk about someone who might have had ghost stories! Also, one of Jean Harlow's husbands owned it before he was married to her. His first wife drowned mysteriously in the slough and her ghost is still supposed to haunt the place. An old piano tuner told me that."

ANOTHER DELTA MANSION about which ghost stories are told is Rosebud, now owned for a year by Cheryl and John Cox, also owners of Sacramento Theatrical Lighting.

"We've been told there are ghosts, but none have turned up so far," said John Cox. "One of them is supposed to be the wife of William Johnston, a '49er and California state senator who built the mansion in 1868. Mrs. Johnston's supposedly around guarding her hidden jewels."

As for personal experiences, Cox said, "The owls in the attic scared us to death one time and, yeah, there was one other eerie thing. On Oct. 19 last year, about the second weekend after we bought the house, I was pulling up some of the old thresholds in a back hall. Under one of them, there was an old rolled up newspaper. It was dated Oct. 19, 1919."

THE PERSONALITY of a departed piano teacher is said to inhabit a downtown Sacramento bed-and-breakfast named for her memory; the owners lovingly call it "The House Where Lucy Dwells."

"I know she's here," says Dorothy Kingren, speaking of the ghost named Lucy. "Her room is the front bedroom and sometimes she's downstairs in the front parlor which used to be her music room. She lived here in the 1940s." Kingren and her husband, Gibson, also have lived in the circa-1882 Delta Italianate- style house for about a decade now.

"I grew up in Pennsylvania and always lived in old houses with plenty of history, but when we moved into this house things started to happen that really scared me. This was my first experience with suchthings. So many incidents occurred that I was on the verge of moving. Mainly, I heard footsteps on the stairs. My husband, who is a very rational person, said it was acoustical and somehow came from across the street."

A new security system allayed Kingren's fears, plus a little help from passersby.

"Besides the security, soon after we moved in, people started telling me not to worry, that the things that were happening were just Lucy," Kingren said. "Three Victorian-type ladies came by and told me stories about the house and Lucy. They were the ones who knew she had been a piano teacher."

"No one seems to mind that there's a ghost here. We've even had a few honeymoon couples who've stayed in her room. We've had no complaints," she said. "There have been a few stories of the lights being turned on in her room. A guest will come down in the morning and ask me if I turned on the lights during the night. I have to say that I haven't -- that it was probably Lucy doing it.

"People must believe there is a Lucy because they send her Christmas presents."

WHEN THIS REPORTER moved some furniture in Lucy's room to facilitate photography, the ceiling lights flashed twice in succession. When asked if the lights in the rest of the house had flashed accordingly, the owner of the home who was in the kitchen at the time said "No. Did they flash upstairs?" Yes, I replied. "Oh, it must have been Lucy. Maybe she likes the way you rearranged the furniture -- or maybe she doesn't."

Lucy apparently isn't the only ghost in Sacramento.

"I HAVE BEEN TOLD the house at 912 E St. is haunted, too," says Bonnie Fitzpatrick of a veteran vintage-house saleswoman from Lyon Realty's Heritage office in downtown Sacramento. "I have sold that house three times and never seen the ghost, but I sold it in 1978 or '79 to a young woman who got so freaked out by the house that she moved after only three months of living in it."

Fitzpatrick says she gets bad vibes from houses, but always feels them through the bottoms of her feet, not in her head.

"It's generally something structural," she said.

Debbie Elliot, another Sacramento real estate saleswoman and a Delta native, says many haunting incidents have occurred in an old estate near Cortland.

Says Elliot: "I heard that there were two murders and one suicide in that house and that one of the owners was always feeling strange drafts and getting locked out because the locks would change."

Two relatively new state laws (sections 1102-1102.14 and 1710.2 of the civil code) require people to disclose anything that will materially affect the value of real estate including defects or malfunctions of equipment, common fences, landfill and flooding and any murders committed on the property within the last three years.

The basis for the latter code was an incident that occurred in Grass Valley, says Larry Alamao , staff council to the state Department of Real Estate. A multiple-murder and suicide had taken place in a house and that information had not been revealed to buyers who eventually sued the sellers, Alamao explained.

"The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff saying that the mere fact that something like that had happened in the house had an impact on its value. They cited the fact that if George Washington slept some place, even though it didn't change it physically, it affects the value of the property," Alamao said.

"I may not believe in ghosts, but if everyone in the community believes there are ghosts in a house or that it's generally known as a death house or something, it might definitely be a factor which would materially affect the value of a property," he said.

WHAT ADVICE does Bolling have for people who seem to have ghosts sharing their homes?

"Make your ghost comfortable," Bolling said. "If I moved into a house that had a spirit, I'd play up to it. I'd get to know it as well as I could real fast and then I'd do whatever it liked me to do. I know a lady who has a spirit who likes shawls with roses on them, so she has a few around for the spirit."