Biz Beat

Modesto ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Businesses, landmarks share their haunted lore

Owner Dana Walters fits a costume on Faruk Attayib at Daydreams and Nightmares in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.
Owner Dana Walters fits a costume on Faruk Attayib at Daydreams and Nightmares in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. aalfaro@modbee.com

It’s no mystery that Halloween is big business. Last year Americans spent some $9 billion during spooky season.

But for some Modesto businesses and landmarks, Halloween is just business as usual. Haunted happenings, they say, are just part of their every day. A look at some of the most persistent ghost stories to haunted happenings in the Modesto area.

The McHenry Museum, 1402 I St, Modesto

Built in 1912 and serving as the Modesto Library until 1971 when the current library just down the street was completed, the building has long been a repository for area history. But for decades the museum had a more mysterious inhabitant — a haunted loom. Yes, you read that right.

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haunted loom taken in the McHenry Museum in Modesto, Calif. in 1994.

Back in 1994, the late Heidi Warner, longtime curator of the McHenry Museum, told The Bee about the ghostly weaver who mysteriously kept adding more than half a dozen inches to a piece of cloth. The museum acquired the loom in the 1970s. In 1994 the museum decided to lean into their loom ghost story and displayed it with a index card that read:

“This loom, believed to have been used on a local ranch in the 1800s, was brought to the museum some years ago. When it was set up, about four inches of cloth was woven. Over the years, the length of the cloth has grown. To this day, no one has been seen operating the loom, yet the work apparently continues.”

Sadly, the loom stopped weaving forever in 2007, when it was destroyed in a fire along with a number of other artifacts that had been stored in the old John Muir schoolhouse. But, you can still get your spooks at the museum this Halloween as it hosts its annual haunted house event. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County’s Haunted Museum will run from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26. Tickets are $5, free age 5 and under. For more visit www.bgcstanislaus.org.

The Old John Muir Schoolhouse, 800 E. Morris Ave.

Speaking of the former Modesto schoolhouse, stories of its haunting persisted for years. The stately looking two-story brick building on East Morris Avenue served as John Muir elementary school from its completion in 1923 until the early 1950s, when it was deemed seismically unsafe. The City of Modesto purchased the building in 1953 and turned it into a community service center.

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The Morris Community Center, formerly the old John Muir School, pictured in 2003 before it was destroyed by a fire. Adrian Mendoza 07/25/2003 Modesto Bee

On Oct. 14, 2007 the building was badly damaged by a fire. Later that month The Bee wrote about an enduring legend attached to the school, namely that of the sound of school children running through its halls. At the time city workers reported hearing “the voices and thundering feet of children being let out of school between 2:30 and 3 p.m. daily.”

But the fire ended the stories, and took out a staggering amount of city history as well. Besides the so-called haunted loom, the two-story brick building was storing about half of the city’s historical artifacts dating back to the 1800s. In 2008 what was left of the burned-out structure was torn down and the lot remains vacant next to Thomas B. Scott Park.

McHenry Mansion, 906 15th St.

Older than both the McHenry Museum and old John Muir School, the mansion dates back to the Victorian era. But longtime mansion curator Wayne Mathes said he knows of no ghost stories associated with the historic home, built in 1883, nor has he ever seen a ghost on the premise.

“People definitely ask about ghost stories, but in my 42 years with the mansion I’ve been inside it every time of day or night and never run into any ghosts,” he said. “So Robert McHenry (the mansion’s owner and namesake) has never appeared to me.”

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Visitors walk past the McHenry Mansion during the Dickens Faire in Downtown Modesto on December 1, 2018. It will be dressed up very differently this Halloween season. John Westberg jwestberg@modbee.com

Still, the mansion is getting into the Halloween season for the first time this year. They are hosting Morbid Obsessions, a self-guided tour of Victorian-era funeral customs Oct. 28-30. The mansion will be draped in black crepe for the occasion. The tour will feature an assortment of 19th Century funeral-related displays including death masks, an antique embalming table, children’s coffins, and more.

The items come from Mathes’ own collection of Victorian artifacts. The tour runs 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. each day. Tickets are $7 per person. For more information call the McHenry Mansion Visitors Center at 209-549-0428 or visit www.mchenrymansion.org.

Daydreams & Nightmares, 1219 7th St.

This former funeral home turned costume shop makes no bones, ahem, about its haunted history. Owner Dana Walters bought the building five years ago. The funeral home had only closed three months before, and Walters said when they moved in there were still ashes on the ground near where the crematorium had been. It was shortly after moving in she said her and her employees began experiencing, and recording, paranormal phenomena.

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Costume masks at Daydreams and Nightmares in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

They say the supernatural scares include everything from heavy footsteps, doors opening and closing, items disappearing and reappearing elsewhere, floating orbs and lots and lots of voices. Walters has taken to posting surveillance camera video of many of the incidents on the shop’s Facebook page.

The store has garnered such a haunted reputation that in the last two years they estimate groups have come through to do about 30 paranormal investigations in the building. Groups like Chill Seekers TV, Skeleton Crew, Nor Cal Paranormal and Calaveras Paranormal Investigation Team have all been at the site.

In 2017, perhaps their most famous fan came through to do her own investigation — former Playboy star Bridget Marquardt. The star of the shows “The Girls Next Door” and “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches” (plus, famously one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends) brought her own equipment to record her experiences.

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Gaylene Cornell, right, gives Jasmine Snyder a psychic reading at Daydreams and Nightmares in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

If you want to have your own experience inside the building, the shop is hosting local psychic reader Gaylene Cornell on Friday, Oct. 25. A 15-minute session is $25. For more information call 209-575-0023.

North Point Landing Shopping Center, 3848 McHenry Ave.

Believe it or not, the north McHenry Avenue shopping center (now home to the city’s Walmart Supercenter) was once a skate park. And not just any skate park, but stories in The Bee at the time billed it as “the largest skate park in the world.” According to internet legends, the site is haunted by a boy who broke his neck and died in a skating accident at the park.

Now, the skate park was very real. The 100,000 square-foot center opened in 1977 and was owned and operated by Mountain Recreation Parks Inc. whose chief shareholder was the late Maxwell Salter, the former mayor of Beverly Hills and chairman of Beno’s, an L.A.-based clothing chain that was once popular across the state.

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The Modesto Walmart on the 3800 block of McHenry Avenue. Bart Ah You Modesto Bee

But nothing could be found in our archives about a death at the site. Still, former employees of the Blockbuster Video in the shopping center reported strange happening in the store, which has since been closed. In 2007 a Fuddruckers opened in its place instead, and so far there are no reports of haunted burgers.

Dry Creek Running Trail, 2001 Edgebrook Drive

Local lore claims the popular recreation trail that runs for 4.5-miles from the La Loma bridge to Claus Road is said to be haunted. You can pick your poison for the kind of ghost, though. Some say it’s a Native American spirit who haunts the scenic running trail and watches over the joggers. Others say it is a young man, possibly a jilted lover, who jumped from the Claus bridge and died.

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The eastern entrance to the Mensinger trail next to the Claus Road over pass of Dry Creek in Modesto. Adrian Mendoza Modesto Bee

A thorough search of The Bee archives (which date back to 1895) could not find anything on a young man throwing himself from the bridge into the shallow water below. But Stanislaus County is named after Yokuts Chief Estanislao. The Yokuts were the native people of Stanislaus County, and in fact the entire San Joaquin Valley, and thrived in the area until around the California Gold Rush Era, which stated around 1848. Stanislaus County was incorporated in 1854.

While it’s not a ghost, a statue of Chief Estanislao stands in front of the courthouse on I Street.

Modesto Bee research and information specialist Maria Figueroa contributed to this report.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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