Sometimes, ghosts run in the family. Sometimes, the family runs from the ghosts.
Many times, getting the willies is just a matter of geography.
But whenever things go bump in the the night (or day), people never forget what made their skin crawl and their hearts jump.
Readers have heard the clatter of children dismissed for the day from a school closed more than 50 years ago. They have seen phantom trains that stopped running years before pull into foothill stations. There were demons trapped in mirrors and ghosts caught in bed by an unwary photographer.
Here are their real-life Halloween stories, with some possible answers by a woman considered an expert in paranormal circles.
Otha Lee Faltermier is a former Modesto county librarian and business owner. She says she never believed in ghosts until 30 years ago. Now she has three stories to make folks shiver.
“My son and I returned to Modesto in March 1977. My family still lived here. In August of 1977, I was working in the library. I bought my current home in December of 1977. I moved in January 1978. I felt something strange in my new home, but couldn’t put my finger on it. My two grandchildren asked me if I believed in ghosts. I asked, ‘Why?’ They both said, ‘Every time we come here we feel someone’s here.’
“I noticed I sometimes felt a touch and there wasn’t anyone around. One day, I was running the vacuum cleaner. I definitely felt a weight on my shoulder and back. I had heard if you tell a ghost to leave, it will. So I said, ‘Go away, I have had enough.’ The weight lifted and I have never again felt the pressure.”
Faltermier’s second story:
“Shortly before my second husband died, we were sleeping and something woke me up. There at the foot of our bed, a man was standing. I could not see his face because the room was dark, but the large windows on the side wall in back of him let light in through the sheer curtains. A neighbor had a yard light on. I saw the outline of his body clearly. I beat my husband on his shoulder and he raised up, and I pointed and said, ‘There is a man at the foot of the bed.’ About that time, the man disappeared, but my husband had gotten a glimpse of him.”
Faltermier’s final chapter:
“My friend had a minor surgery and I took her home with me for overnight. She said she wanted to sleep on the couch. So I brought her a blanket. Next morning, I went in to make coffee. I asked her how she had slept.
“She looked at me and said, ‘OK until something woke me up. I looked around and saw an old lady sitting across the room in your rocker.’
“I said, ‘What old lady?’
“She said, ‘Don’t ask me, she disappeared while I was looking at her.’”
Kim Meu of Modesto was a young single mother working the night shift when a ghost routed her from her rented home.
“About seven years ago, I used to live at a house on 13th Street in Modesto. Every night I would have dreams, seeing a dead cat, a skeleton in the back yard and a dead baby in the basement. During the day while I was asleep, I would hear male voices telling me to get out of this house.
“And when I used to sit up using my computer, I heard noises like someone was coughing or a little boy saying, ‘Mama.’ But I never thought anything of it.
“Until one day, after a year of living in the house, at about noon or 1 p.m. — I was working night shift — and my little boy was about 2 years old. He woke up and said, ‘Mommy, I want to watch TV.’ I was fully awake. I walked him to the living room and turned on a cartoon for him.
“I stood there with him and watched cartoons, then all of a sudden I felt something like a finger scratched me across my shoulder. I turned around really slow and my heart raced to about 150 beats per minute at the time, and there was nobody (there).
“I ran to the door to grab my son, milk and the diaper bag. I was in my pajamas (and went) straight to my mom’s house. I came back home a week later with my mom and sisters and never stayed there alone anymore. I moved out a month later.”
Kyle K. Ford of Merced shared his family haunting of the father who wouldn’t let go.
“In 1989, I was 15 years old and lived outside of Atwater. That winter, my father died at home from a massive heart attack. Though dead, he was not gone. We would sit in the living room and, while watching TV, you could hear him walk down the hall (he had a limp). Even the dogs would look up to see if Dad was coming.
“My mom and I had the same experience when we finally moved away. As we drove off, it felt like cold hands wrapped around us and then went through us. We then drove to the landlord’s house to give him the keys, only to get a call from him later asking for the correct keys because the ones she gave him would not work. My father was a locksmith.
“I know the house was rented many times over and then it was finally bulldozed.”
Clyde Klose of Modesto told of a hitchhiking ghost who followed his family from house to house.
It began when they lived next door to his in-laws in north Modesto.
“We had a ghost who walked the hallway and turned lights off and on. We could be watching a TV show and down the hall we’d see the lights going off and on. When we moved across the street, the ghost came with us. I saw her and so did my wife and oldest son. She had long hair. We thought she was a Native American.”
Klose said the family finally shed the ghost after imitating something seen on TV. “We told her we didn’t need her presence anymore and would she please go away.”
The long-haired ghost did not return.
One of the enduring legends of Modesto is the sound of children in the old John Muir School on Morris Avenue. For 50 years, it’s been the Morris building or Morris Youth Center. The former school was badly damaged by a fire Oct. 14.
As the story goes, city workers in the basement often would hear the voices and thundering feet of children being let out of school between 2:30 and 3 p.m. daily. The workers would fly up the steps, go onto the main floor and find no one.
One city worker who used to work at the Morris building admitted that was her experience, but she refused to allow her name to be used. She was afraid she might be branded a kook.
Gary Hines of Modesto said that while he lived in the old Angels Camp train depot in the 1980s, he had several ghostly encounters.
“I would sleep on the tracks, or where the tracks used to be 50 years ago. I would see the train coming and would think that ‘This isn’t possible. How did that train get here?’ The train would pass through me, but I never felt anything. Maybe it was a dream state.
“I actually saw more ghosts of people, though. I saw my mother and my dog who died several times.”
Gary Metzger of Modesto told the only story that might have been about a malevolent demon. Metzger was working as a busboy in an Italian restaurant in the Sacramento area in the late 1970s. His boss was an old Sicilian.
“My boss told me to clean all of these gilded mirrors along one wall of the restaurant. He told me to leave alone one really old, dusty one at the end. Well, by the time I got to it, I forgot his orders. I dusted it off, squirted it with water and wiped it down.
“There was one smudge in the lower bottom corner that wouldn’t rub off. I looked at it real close, and it was like I was looking through it at this tiny pinpoint of light. And then the pinpoint got larger and this demonic face was jumping at me. It stayed in the mirror, but I yelped and my boss heard me. He came and took me to a table. He asked what I saw.
“He told me he had bought it in the old country and the salesman warned him there was a demon trapped in the mirror. He said the salesman also told him not to break the mirror or the demon would go free.”
Sheila Allsup of Modesto believes her mother is still with her, six years after the funeral. “We have a ghost living with us. I think it’s my mother. The ghost appeared after my mom’s funeral on Oct. 31, 2001.
“My mother loved Halloween! So when the mortuary told us that Halloween was the only available day for the funeral, we said OK. That night, before my husband and I went to bed, we started seeing orbs in the bedroom.
“The weight of someone sitting down at the foot of our bed was eerie, too. Our front bathroom light (now) turns off by itself. We also see a woman’s shadow flowing throughout the house, after 10 at night.
“My children once called me at work, screaming, to tell me that their grandma’s picture just bolted off the shelf. But before that, it never once moved during the 12 years that it had been sitting on the mantle.”
Jennifer Joy of Hughson remembered a sleepover with a friend when they were teenagers.
“I grew up in a haunted house in Ceres, just behind Ceres High. Many unexplained things happened there, including doors opening by themselves and items disappearing. One morning, when I was 17, I woke up and that feeling of being watched came over me.
“I looked around the foot of the bed and I saw what appeared to be a tall, black shadow of a man. As I watched, it faded in on itself, getting lighter until it was gone. The next morning, I told my friend that I had seen the ghost last night.
“Her face went pale. ‘I saw it, too,’ she said. She described the figure exactly as I had seen it, right down to the way it disappeared. Except for one difference. She saw it in the middle of the night on my side, leaning over me, watching me sleep.”
Mike Moon and Kent Scarlata sent in their story of a historic haunting.
“We live in the only home in Oakdale that is officially recognized as having a ghost. The A.S. Emery home, built in 1885, has been the home to Mr. Emery’s spirit since he died here in 1913. He is content to share his home with us and his antics to date have been mild.
“We have experienced doors shutting on their own, lights coming on without assistance and creaking stairs when no one is upon them. We had a psychic to the house and she commented that the back of the house, which was added on after his death, was cooler than the rest of the place. She said that this was because he refuses to enter those areas of the home that he did not frequent in life!”
Annette Martin lives in Campbell, a community just southwest of San Jose. She has made numerous national and international appearances on TV, including “48 Hours,” “Montel,” “Good Morning California” and shows on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, the Travel Channel and BBC.
Martin said she has been seeing ghosts since she was 7. As does the character in NBC’s “Medium,” Martin sometimes works as a psychic detective with her partner, retired homicide police Lt. Chuck Seymour of Novato, in assisting law enforcement agencies.
Martin said there is a difference between “bad vibes” and a ghost. “If it’s a ghost,” she said, “there will be some interaction with the environment.”
Most encounters, she said, are really bad vibes, which come from something intense or negative, such as memories of an intense or horrific event — a murder, rape or battle. Those powerful negative memories leave what could be called a psychic scar or imprint on a location.
“The best thing to do then with bad vibes is hold a party,” said Martin. She said an event with lots of happy emotions usually masks or covers negative emotions like a bandage covers a wound.
For honest-to-goodness ghosts, Martin and other ghostbusters test environmental factors such as magnetic activity or temperature drops.
“When I go into a (haunted) room and I notice them, they are usually very grateful someone can finally hear them,” she said of the ghosts she encounters.
Martin told a Campbell Express interviewer, “Sometimes the ghost doesn’t know it’s dead, sometimes it doesn’t want to leave and sometimes they just don’t want to go into the light.”
Despite common depictions of ghosts seeking revenge, Martin added that no ghosts she’s encountered have been aggressive. “No, they’re peaceful. Maybe upset and confused, but never murderous.”
So the next time you hear something go bump in the night, remember: If it’s not a ghost, you may be in serious danger.
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2311.