Antoinette May Herndon 286-1320
DORRINGTON’S SPIRITED GET AWAY By Antoinette May Herndon
In 1852, when Rebecca Dorrington Gardner with her husband, John, built their small inn as a stagecoach stop, Big Trees Carson Valley toll road was little more than a trail. A rider starting from the nearest town at sunrise on a summer day, might hope to arrive by late evening. Few but herders and stock men cared to make the journey.
Today Highway 4 is a popular route linking the San Joaquin Valley with the high Sierras. Skiers, vacationers and locals flock to the busy hotel with its lively bar and thriving restaurant.
What apparently hasn’t changed is Rebecca Dorrington Gardner whose maiden name was adopted by the mountain town that grew up around the Gardner hostelry. According to Bonnie Saville, who with her husband, Arden, bought the inn in 1977, Rebecca has never left.
“I began to feel her presence right away,” Bonnie says today. “It wasn’t exactly welcoming. Arden and I were the first owners to make changes since the Gardners built the place. Rebecca didn’t like that at all. I kept the restaurant open from 6 a.m. till ten at night which meant that my husband couldn’t begin his carpentry work until quite late. Rebecca let him work until three, then she’d start acting out. The radio shut itself off, extension cords came unplugged, lights went on and off by themselves.”
Over the years Rebecca seems to have come to accept
the renovations and the Savilles—most of the time. “Rebecca has very definite ideas about what she likes and doesn’t like,” Bonnie explains. “It would make my life so much easier if she’d just tell me ahead of time that she doesn’t want something in her house.”
Bonnie sites the time when she bought a stuffed goose to ornament one of the guestrooms. “It was kind of cutesy,” she admits, “but I liked it enough to splurge--$75 worth.” Bonnie set the goose on the bed and went off to do her chores about the house. An hour later she returned to find the toy face down on the floor. This was repeated several times.
Finally Bonnie carried the goose downstairs, muttering to Rebecca all the way. “It isn’t enough that I have to explain to my husband how crazy I was to spend $75 on a stuffed goose, now I can’t even display it where I want.” Bonnie carefully settled the goose on a chair in her office and went to work on her accounts. Several times that morning she had to retrieve the toy from the floor where it had fallen. Or was it pushed? Bonnie, who’d clearly had enough, gave her goose away.
Bonnie’s learned the hard way to shop with Rebecca in mind, and, in recent years has been more successful. The incidences of people being locked in their rooms, doors slamming by themselves, curtains moving and strange footsteps have diminished. “I think Rebecca’s gotten used to us,” Bonnie speculates. “She’s clearly drawn to the hotel energy
and enjoys the party atmosphere.”
Guests often report a shadowy figure who parts the curtains to look out of otherwise unoccupied rooms. A variety of wild stories have been told in an attempt to explain Rebecca’s presence in the house. Some claim that Rebecca went out on a cold winter night during a snow storm, lost her way and froze to death. Others say she was massacred by Indians or fell down the hotel stairs and bled to death. The truth is that Rebecca, who outlived her husband, was residing in Altaville when she died of natural causes at 83.
Bonnie, who says she’s seen Rebecca several times, believes that the spirit is drawn to the hotel by happy life. “The ‘ghost’ I see isn’t an old woman,” Bonnie explains. “She’s in her early forties, attractive and vibrant.” Bonnie frequently smells a fragrance—wild azaleas—that she associates with Rebecca. Sometimes she senses a man’s presence—probably John—and smells Ben Gay. Other times she feels teenage energy that she associates with the Gardners granddaughter, Reba, for whom Mt. Reba was named.
Still, the main presence is Rebecca. “She’s always there,” Bonnie says, “always a part of the house and of our lives. It’ll always be her hotel. We’re just the caretakers.”
The Dorrington Hotel is located at 3431 Highway 4, Dorrington. Phone: 795-5800. Among Antoinette’s books are Haunted Houses of California and Adventures of a Psychic. She can be reached at 286-1320.
Antoinette May herndon
Jerry Ward’s a cautious man. Feeling the effects of a lively party at Mokelumne Hill’s Hotel Leger, he took a room for the night rather than drive the treacherous Jesus Maria Road to his home some twenty miles away.
Ward’s sound sleep ended abruptly. He wakened suddenly smelling the acrid odor of burnt wood. Switching on a the light, Ward found the room charred Almost beyond recognition. A woman knelt in the corner, keening miserably and cradling a baby in her arms.
As he watched frozen with fear, the image slowly faded. The woman disappeared and the room resumed its normal appearance.
“Well, that surely sobered me up!” Ward says today. “I knew I’d never get back to sleep so I got up, dressed and drove home.”
That’s one story. The Hotel Leger (pronounced “luh-zhay”) has many. A hub of Mother Lode activity since 1851, the building once included the county courthouse with a convenient downstairs dungeon and a hanging tree out back.
George Leger built the inn. A fire destroyed it in 1854—could Ward have relived the grim aftermath?— but within a year Leger and his wife, Louisa, were back in business.
The 1870 census no longer lists Mrs. Leger but there’s a daughter named Louisa. The story goes the mother died in childbirth. Does that explain the eerie sounds of a woman crying that hotel guests report?
Stories proliferate. In Room 2, visitors see a Victorian woman. In Room 3, it’s a little boy. Maids make beds in Rooms 10 and 11,then return to find them torn up. The wildest story is the midnight cattle drive down Main Street—sounds of mooing, hoof beats and cowbells. Guests—as well as Ashley Canty, a current owner—have rushed to the window only to see a dark, deserted street.
Ashley’s mother, Jane Canty, cleaned the dining room after a party, using three keys to lock three doors before leaving late at night. She returned the next morning, unlocked the doors and found the room in disarray. Tables were shoved together.
Dishes, glasses and silver used. “A hoax seems unlikely,” she says. “It was so elaborate—a lot of trouble to execute and difficult to conceal.”
The hotel owners called in Bay Area Paranormal Investigators, a ghost busting team headed by Mark Boccuzzi. Dagmar Morrow, a Mountain View medium, accompanied the squad. At first she felt overwhelmed by impressions “So many spirits are connected to the hotel,” she said. “Imagine 150 years of passion and intrigue. Some are mischievous. They tease: ‘Find out about us if you can’.”
Slowly, Morrow sorted them out. In the dungeon, desperate men speculated on their fate. In the lobby George appeared, still keeping tabs on the hotel.
Morrow’s most vivid image was the “Gray Lady,” a thirtyish woman wearing Victorian clothing—nipped in waist, lace at the cuffs and neckline, a short frilly apron. “She was shy, diffident, looked at me questioningly as if asking, ‘Is everything alright?’ Some of the young women investigators were drawing diagrams of the hotel. She didn’t approve of them sitting on the floor, didn’t think it ladylike.”
While Morrow communed with her Gray Lady, Boccuzzi detected an electromagnetic anomaly; a column of energy recorded on his tri field meter. When he tested the spot later, the anomaly was gone.
I’ve always liked such stories. The scarier the better. When the tale was told, I’d laugh and say, “Naturally, no sensible person believes such things.” Now I’m not so sure. Consider the case of Bathroom Machineries—a chain yanker if there ever was one.
Not only does the Murphys emporium have antique plumbing, light, keys and hardware, but a resident ghost. The 100-year-old I.O.O.F. Hall is high spirited to say the least—just ask the folks who work there.
Tom Scheller, the business’s owner, has been hearing and seeing things about the place since 1976. Then not long ago two prospective customers he’d not met before came in. The couple started up the stairs to look at tubs on the second floor. Suddenly they stopped dead in their tracks, paused and turned around. They had felt a presence on
the stairs, “saw” a woman’s form stumble and hurtle downward. The couple knew that the woman had died as a result of the floor.
“It really didn’t surprise me,” Scheller said. “Only a week before I’d heard noises on the stairs and run up to investigate. The motion light in an upstairs room went on before I could get there. I was six or eight stairs away, the ghost was just ahead of me. I call it the ghost. What else can it be—there was nothing human or animal up there.”
John Vienop, a clerk, was joking with Scheller about the now legendary ghost when a soap dish suddenly flipped off a shelf. “There was no way that it could have slid off by itself.”
Another time Vienop and Brian Wynne, another employee, were speculating about the ghost while moving an antique tub. “Just then a tub shelf from another tub flipped up at us. We tried jumping around, thinking that vibrations might have caused it but that was clearly not the cause.”
Jim Muller, another long time employee, has often heard footsteps coming from the floor above when he was alone in the store. I went up to investigate and a door slammed shut in my face. Other times merchandize has just flown off the shelf. There was no breeze, just a big “boom!” as it landed on the floor.
Once while working upstairs, he saw a woman out of the corner of his eye. He turned to say, “May I help you” and she disappeared.
Why should a bathroom supply house be haunted? Nobody knows. The building enjoyed lively days when it housed the I.O.O.F. Hall. Echoes of laughter and conversation are still heard by all three men. It’s also known that club members were embalmed in the building and that commemorative bricks are imbedded in the floor. Perhaps, too, the vintage fixtures—tubs and toilets—dating from before the Civil War carry a kind of psychic energy. It’s all very human—in an inhuman sort of way.
The Hotel Leger is located at 105 Main, Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 286-1408. Bathroom Machineries is at 495 Main, Murphys. Phone: 728-2931. Antoinette’s books include Haunted Houses of California and Adventures of a Psychic.