Sutter Creek
Spirited Getaway?
Stockton Record 10/31/04
by Antoinette May

Antoinette May


By Antoinette May

The Sutter Creek Inn is alive with ghosts—both naughty and nice. Not only does the house—a New England clapboard—attract ghosts, but so does its owner, Jane Way. When Way confided that one was a flasher, my husband, Charles, and I were intrigued. The Gold Country B & B sounded like just the place for Halloween.

Once we arrived, it was obvious that Way's spectral visitors aren’t the only attraction that draws guests to the inn. Victorian antiques are combined with sweet and sensual touches that can’t help but raise one’s own spirits. Rooms have tubs for two, their own secret gardens and swing beds—more about that later

As we listened to Way’s story, I began to wonder if every night wasn’t Halloween for this remarkable lady. Since buying the place in 1966, she’s been hostess to a passing parade of ghostly guests.

“I bought the house on a whim,” she says today, “can’t imagine why. It was an all time low. My son had been killed in an accident, my husband had split, my health was terrible—I’d had cancer twice. I was a sad, angry woman.”

Way was driving aimlessly through the Sierra foothills when she spotted a pretty little house in Sutter Creek. On a whim, she knocked on the door and asked the surprised owner if the house was for sale.

“The property had been in her family for a100 years,” Way remembers. “She was emphatic about not wanting to sell. Three months later, I got a call. The owner had died, someone had found my card. The house was mine.”

That was just the beginning. Six months later while passing through San Francisco, Way stopped at a spiritualist church. “It was crazy,” she admits. “I was driving down a strange street looking for a freeway on-ramp when I saw the sign. I’d never been to a place like that before, but suddenly there I was parking my car.

“The minister—a medium, it turned out—didn’t know me and yet knew everything,” Way recalls. “You’ve just lost you son,’ she said and then described him in detail. She was so accurate that I began to cry.

“‘You’ve bought an old place in the mountains,’ she continued. ‘I see people coming and going— must be a hotel. That’s right for you—but you’ve got to stop the bitterness

before it destroys you.’”

Jane Way left the church and drove on to Sutter Creek. Again and again her mind returned to the medium’s words. A few nights later, she saw her first ghost.

“It was Saturday evening and all the guests were out,” she recalls. “I was getting ready to leave too; some friends were having a costume party. Suddenly conscious of being watched, I looked up. There was a tall man wearing old-fashioned clothes standing in the doorway. For a moment I thought he must have been going to the same party. I heard the words. I will protect your inn. He smiled and then faded away.

“Well, really, how could I be bitter after an experience like that? Surely somebody out of this world had decided to take an interest in my affairs. What more could anyone ask? I suppose what had bothered me most was the apparent futility of life, its seeming transience. Now here in my own house was living proof of the continuity of the human spirit.”

Way believes her visitor was State Senator Edward Voorhies, an early California statesman.

Charles and I loved the story and hoped we’d see him too. The inn, we discovered, was lovely—the original four bedroom having grown to 18. We could see why a ghost—or anyone—would be reluctant to leave.

Way told us that it had been built in 1860 by John Keyes as a home for his young bride, Clara. He hoped that its New England lines would ease the loneliness for her native New Hampshire. Keyes died leaving Clara a widow at 34.

Two years later Voorhies came to town and courted her. They were married in 1880. The couple had two children. Earl died in infancy, but Gertrude lived to be ninety. It was she that Way had originally spoken to.

“Gertrude lived in the house all her life and loved it,” Way told us. “I suppose that’s why her spirit returned one evening as several guests were gathered in the living room. She just wanted to check on things.”

Way’s experience with Senator Voorhies, following soon after her psychic reading, seems to have triggered mediumship ability within herself. Over the years, she’s experienced a variety of phenomena.

“There was a German ophthalmologist who tried to help me with an eye problem,” she recalls. “He didn’t—but I know his intentions were good. Way’s less certain

about a spectral exhibitionist —a flasher. "He seemed very proud of his endowments," she recalls. "You'd think death would be the end of earthly hang-ups; but, if he's any indication, we take them with us.”

Guests have experiences too. A doctor and his wife were sitting in the garden when a solicitious ghost asked: “have you been served?” Reeca Martin, a frequent visitor, retired early to her room to send an e-mail. Seated at her lap-top, Martin looked up to see an elderly man standing beside her. “He looked as real as you do,” she told Way, “then just faded away .

“I tried to tell Reeca that it was just her psychic self emerging,” the innkeeper says, “but she didn’t want to hear that. Reeca was more interested in having her room changed—-‘Right away!’”

Once a cat was flung against the wall by an unseen force— perhaps a ghost who doesn't like cats. “They don't like garlic either,” Way believes. “A good fettuccine should eliminate any chance of an encounter."

Returning from dinner at Susan’s Place—light on the garlic—Charles and I went straight to the living room Many ghosts have been reported there. Serene and lovely with its peach and green décor, the room’s livened by floor to ceiling bookshelves Anyone would love it—including a ghost.

A checker-board was set up before a crackling fire. I hadn’t played in years. Charles said he hadn’t played in years. There’s a name for people like him. I think it’s hustler. The ghosts left us to our grudge match. We didn’t even hear the sound of laughter or the clinking of glasses as many guests have.

Finally we retired to our room. In a past life, the enchanting Tool Shed was really a tool shed. Today’s incarnation has a cozy fireplace, a private garden and one of Way’s innovative swing beds, a kind of glider suspended from the ceiling. What a place to celebrate ghosts—or exorcise them. As you will. In fact, if truth be told, Charles and I were so into the rock-a-by baby thing that we missed the ghost entirely.

Antoinette May is the author of Haunted Houses of California and Adventures of a Psychic.

In the heart of the Gold Country, Sutter Creek Inn is located at 75 Main Street, Sutter Creek on historic highway 49. Breakfast are included. (209) 267-5606.

Copyright © 2002-2004 Antoinette May