There is not another person in Ventura County that has taken to local paranormal activity as ghost hunter and local resident Richard Senate has. His experience and dedication to the ethereal has even landed him on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. Because the VCReporter comes out on Halloween this year, we figured it would be a good time to talk orbs, shadow figures, disembodied voices, tortured souls and more. While the actual list of creepy tales extends well beyond this story, if you want to get your spook on this holiday weekend and do some ghost hunting yourself, this is a good place to start. For more information on Richard Senate and his ghost tours, find Richard Senate Ghost Hunter on Facebook. — Michael Sullivan
A misty figure on camera in a local ghost hunting expedition.
Perhaps the best-known Ojai phantom said to wander the valley, is that of the Char-Man, the burned figure that stumbles along, its tattered garments charred by flames, with a face that resembles nothing so much as a burned skull. It has been said that if you are unlucky enough to encounter this ghost, you will first smell the sickeningly sweet stench of burned human flesh. The thing is mostly seen on Creek Road but he doesn’t restrict himself to this one two-lane road. It has also been said that he hates teenagers. If some of the stories about this apparition are true, he has good reason to hold a grudge against teens.
The origins of Char-Man There are several stories of how Char-Man came to be. One links the phantom to the tragic fire of 1948. Others say it was a car wreck or even an airplane crash, but the most persistent account is the following: He was a farmer who drank too much. His love of strong drink caused his family to leave him and he tended his farm on Creek Road (some say Shelf Road) by himself. It was in the early 1950s (some say 1951) and at that time, as today, there were few things for teenagers to do. To pass the time local teenage boys would build hot rods out of salvaged wrecks with souped-up engines and drive them around the valley. The locals started to drive their hot rods onto the old farmer’s property to party with their pony-tailed girlfriends. It wasn’t long before the old man got sick of their parties and the cars messing up his land. He got so mad that he threw some of them with their hot rods off of his land. He didn’t like their rock and roll music or their racing about. When they mocked him, he resorted to threaten them with a shotgun before they moved off his land. One of the teens, drunk, so it is said, returned that night to the farm and set fire to a small shed just to teach the old man a lesson. That night the wind came up and the flames were carried to the main house. The sleeping farmer was so drunk that he didn’t realize the danger until it was too late. He was unable to get out in time, and was horribly burned to death. Now his ghost walks Creek Road, looking for the people who set the fire and ended his earthly existence.
Other Creek Road ghosts
There are other specters on that lonely highway; a phantom woman in a tattered wedding dress stands beside the road. They say she was murdered by her evil husband on her wedding night so her new husband could steal her dowry. There is also a woman riding a ghost horse re-enacting her last ride when a snake frightened the horse, bucking her off. She hit her head on a rock and died. Some report the restless shade of a Native American Shaman with feathers in his hair. It is thought he might be protecting a burial ground or sacred site. There is, as well, a new variation on an old yarn, a headless motorcyclist who rides Creek Road seeking the pick-up truck that forced him off the road and into the wire fence that decapitated him.
The ghost of Nordhoff Cemetery
The old pioneer cemetery off Del Norte Road is a typical 19th-century burying place, with upright tombstones and monuments. Here rest the early pioneers who built the Ojai Valley. This is a special place and if the witnesses are to be believed — it’s also haunted.
Many figures are seen here; many tell of “shadow people” who walk the grounds late at night; but of all the reports, it is the grave of young Vera Miller that seems the focus of much paranormal activity. People have heard a little girl humming here. Several report seeing a little girl in an old-style party dress near the grave. One woman who lives near the cemetery walked through the grounds as a shortcut one warm summer day. She saw a little girl crying, wearing a fancy dress with ribbons and with a bow in her hair. The girl appeared about 8 or 9. Curious, the woman approached the child and asked what was wrong. The girl looked up and said, “They buried me here,” and vanished.
The Beachcomber Tavern
The Beachcomber Tavern is one of the last of a dying breed, the neighborhood bar. This Silver Stand watering hole can trace its roots back to 1938. It’s not very impressive, sandwiched between two homes not far from the ocean, but if the stories of the staff and owners are true — it is one of the most haunted spots in Ventura County.
“I was counting out the cash behind the bar in front of a large mirror,” Clarissa Swallows, part-owner of the establishment recalled. “When I looked up I saw something standing by the shuffleboard.” There was no one there. She would see it almost every night and finally wouldn’t look in the mirror, out of fear she might see it again. This unsettling event was just the beginning of a chain of unexplained happenings that she and other staff members experienced in the next months. Asking around, and with the help of a psychic, Clarissa was told it was the ghost of a Navy man who was murdered in the tavern in the 1970s. He was involved in a lovers’ triangle and was stabbed to death in the bar. That was when the place had a bad reputation and fights were a common event — not so today. One night when two staff members were closing up, the place was empty; but as they closed, both of them heard a loud “sigh” from the end of the bar.
Swallows also recalled a strange event when she was playing old 1940s music in the tavern for a few weeks. She just felt it was appropriate. One night a group of Navy men came in and were drinking and playing shuffleboard. They were not happy with the old music and wanted modern hip-hop tunes. She undid the old music and put modern songs on the sound system. After a time the music abruptly stopped. She checked the unit — nothing seemed wrong until she noticed that the plug was pulled from the wall — the cord rolled and put under a shelf. She was the only person behind the bar and no one else could have reached it.
Another night the bar was featuring Bloody Marys and had a tray set up with the cut vegetables used in this drink. The tray was at the end of the bar, and in front of everyone, it flew off the bar. The witnesses were positive that whatever happened, the tray could not have just fallen — it literally flew off the bar.
The haunted church
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church stands on the corner of Seventh and Main streets. It is a newer building, constructed in the 1960s, but it is built on the site of a smaller church built in 1890. It is a modern structure today but one of the few with a mausoleum. It also is rumored to be haunted. Even the pastor tells of feeling odd things in the chapel and attached rooms. Recently, a team of psychic investigators visited the church and discovered several anomalies. One team member managed to record an odd voice on his recorder. EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, has been around for decades and many believe they are the best tools yet available to confirm the presence of ghosts. One investigator toured the site asking questions by himself. A voice answered him, yet there was no one about. He asked, “Can you tell us your age?” And there was an answer on the tape: “Yes.” Another member felt a touch and another felt an unwanted hand touch her in a private place; when she turned there was no one there. A psychic believed there was a ghost boy who had died in a carriage mishap in 1907. Still another went into the chapel to meditate and saw a tall mistlike column of energy. Still another felt a burning sensation on his arm; two others also felt the burning impression. Some of the team felt there was some sort of “presence” there linked to an old grandfather clock that once stood in the original church. It was fashioned in England and is dated to 1794. It still works even if it is four minutes off.
The ghosts of the Glen Tavern Inn
It is called the hotel at 134 N. Mill St., “the place where time stands still,” and that is right. It still holds the charm of the past. It is like some grand lady who has carried her age well. Built in the popular Tudor revival/Craftsman style in 1911, the Glen still remains a popular stop in Santa Paula. If the many stories are true, it is also one of the most haunted hotels in the West. Its ghosts are well-known and they have been featured in several TV shows and books on the paranormal. Various places at the hotel are said to be haunted.
The outside People tell of seeing strange things outside the structure, like glowing orbs of energy floating about and once flying at three children. Others have seen a man standing on the porch in overalls, a man who vanished away. Others say that a phantom woman with red hair looks out a window on the third floor.
The lobby For decades staff and visitors have seen ghostly children in the lobby. Rumor holds that they are the spirits of children who died tragically in a fire long ago — searching the records there is no account of such a tragic fire. Another account says a young boy drowned in a bathtub when he was unattended. Now his unhappy spirit runs down the stairs late at night and plays in the lobby. Perhaps the best-known shade is the ghost “Calvin,” a forgotten cowboy actor from the silent-film era. He had once worked on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and dressed in fringed leather, wore his hair long and had a goatee like his former boss. He was working with a film crew in the 1920s and was shot when caught cheating at cards. Now he haunts the ladies’ bathroom off the lobby and stands on the staircase. Sometimes people smell the smoke of his cigar. He is the best-known ghost at the inn. Once, the night staff saw the lobby filled with dancing figures dressed in the styles of the early 20th century. There was phantom music as well.
The restaurant The hotel restaurant has its own set of phantoms. A ghostly cook has been seen in the kitchen. There are reports of silverware flying about and once, a night staff person was walking though the restaurant and had the chairs slide out by themselves to block her. The strangest specter is the image of a little girl in an old-style dress riding on a red tricycle.
The ghost of Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen was one of the most popular actors in the post-war years, starring in many films, such as The Great Escape. He grew tired of the fast-paced lifestyle of Hollywood and bought a ranch near the Santa Paula Airport on South Mountain Road. It is a rambling collection of buildings, including a large barn the actor once used to house his collection of old motorcycles. He lived here before his tragic death due to cancer in 1980. Rumors persist to this day that the old ranch is haunted. One interesting fact is that when McQueen was moving into his new home, he saw a ghost figure looking out the window of the empty house. He rushed inside and checked, only to find no one was there. Few realize that the actor who once made Santa Paula his home became very spiritual in his last years. He came to believe that he was the reincarnation of the controversial western lawman Tom Horn, with one story having McQueen sleeping on Horn’s grave in Boulder, Colo. Some tell of seeing McQueen on his motorcycle on South Mountain Road. He is seen wearing a brown jacket and driving away from the airport. Others tell of encountering him at the Santa Paula Airport, wandering near his old hangar. It is as if he’s looking for someone or something. He did have several airplanes there once.
The Love House, located at 119 S. Figueroa St. in Ventura, is rumored to be haunted.
The ghosts of the Olivas Adobe
On Olivas Park Drive in Ventura stands the two-story Olivas Adobe. Now it is a museum dedicated to the early Latino pioneers. It was built as the main house of the vast Rancho San Miguel cattle ranch by the wealthy Olivas Family and it was, for many years, the social center of the Santa Clara River Valley. In 1972, it was opened to the public and since then rumors of ghosts and paranormal events have swirled around the old hacienda. This monograph lists some of the many sightings and encounters at the adobe home.
The Lady in Black
The first ghost documented at the site is that of a woman wearing a long 19th-century black dress. The first accounts came from the gardening crew working at the house. They saw a woman looking out the second floor windows. Since the place was closed, they assumed it was someone who broke into the adobe and so called city police. When the police came and checked, they found that no one was there and none of the doors and windows had been tampered with. Not long after that, reports came in of a woman wearing a black dress on the balconies, both front and back. She was seen even in broad daylight. Who is this mysterious woman and why does she haunt the site? From the many sightings this much can be documented:
She is a young woman in her 20s.
The style of her dress is a mourning dress from the 1880s-’90s.
The fact that she is seen on the second floor implies that she is a member of the family.
But who is she? Her exact identity is still unknown but several candidates are debated. Each one would have her own reasons to haunt the place. The candidates include:
Teodora Lopez Olivas. The wife of the builder, Raymundo Olivas, and the mother of his 21 children. In life she ran the home while her husband was away. She died of a long illness at the adobe at the age of 82. Still, the ghost woman appears to be in her 20s and not her 80s. Some psychics and spiritualists believe the dead can return and take on the shape they had at any point in their lives. Teodora has many links to the house and because her husband died years before she did, mourning costume would be in keeping with her status as a widow.
Dominga Olivas. Married the youngest son, Raimundo Olivas. (He spelled his name differently from his father.) She gave up a career as a professional singer to marry the handsome and successful gambler. (He once won a racetrack in a card game.) She died in childbirth with her first child, Halloween night, 1890, in the parlor. She was 40 years of age. One could make a good case for her as the lady because several sightings tell of her holding a baby. But why would she be wearing black? Her husband lived many years after her death but he never remarried.
The Lady in Black was seen for years; then the house was reconditioned and she has not been seen again. The last sighting was when a worker who was in the house turned and saw her behind him. But if she is on a phantom sabbatical, the house is not at peace for other ghosts have taken her place.
Maria, the ghost girl
The first sighting was visitors seeing a little girl looking out the window of the children’s bedroom on the second floor. She was described as being about 7 or 8, wearing her hair up in pigtails with a white night gown and a small cap on her head. These few sightings were replaced by major events starting in 2001. The girl was seen by a group on a nighttime tour. After that she appeared repeatedly with as many as 100 people seeing her in one night. She would appear in the master bedroom, come toward the people and abruptly vanish. Some saw her clearly enough to make out a face; others saw a blurry, glowing form.
The phantom cook
Many of the ghostly sightings are located on the second floor but there is one mysterious ghost that stays on the first floor. She is seen many times in the old kitchen and she is nicknamed the phantom cook. She wears a white blouse and a gray skirt. She has a dark complexion and black hair and could be a Native American. Most of the servants in the adobe were of the Chumash tribe and that would be in keeping with history of the site. One witness saw her with a large wooden spoon in her hands, further reinforcing the idea that she was a cook. Besides the kitchen, the ghost has been seen in the parlor (sala) and the herb garden. Two witnesses saw the cook standing in the doorway of the parlor. One of the cooks was Candalaria Valenzula. Candalaria also had a romantic affair with one of the sons that produced two children. (They were recognized by the family, given the Olivas name and raised at the house.)
The misty lady
An interesting encounter took place at 2 a.m. one night this year on the road near the adobe. It echoes other sightings years ago so we cannot call this a new spirit. It is a form, a humanoid shape made of mist. The image was seen standing by the road near the sign that tells of the adobe. It was just standing next to the road. When the witness saw the apparition, she was filled with fear. Though it was an indistinct apparition she somehow knew it was a woman, and an angry one at that. The witness put her pedal to the metal and raced past the thing, getting as close as 10 feet from the apparition. The road itself seems to be haunted with the sighting of a misty figure.
Nicholas Olivas, the oldest son of Raymundo Olivas,
ranch foreman and father of 14 children,
is said to haunt the Olivas Adobe.