[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]
Halloween is a time for costumes and candy, when children dressed as ghosts and goblins trick-or-treat door-to-door.
But, while pretend ghosts and goblins are roaming the neighborhoods, real ghosts — or “energies” — apparently are strolling the hallowed halls of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, at 1100 Ancapa St. in downtown Santa Barbara.
A couple of weeks ago, a nationally renowned professional psychic toured the courthouse and “unveiled” a lively group of “energies” to Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation board members Rodney Baker and Loretta Redd and development director Jennifer Ono, and Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen.
The psychic’s timing was perfect. Many cultures believe that the gossamer veil between heaven and earth becomes more translucent toward the end of October, which allows spirits to easily “cross” over.
Yet, it doesn’t take a special time of year to feel the courthouse’s “spirited” activity. For years, volunteers and staff have reported ongoing supernatural silliness.
But, why would this 1929 historic building prompt a psychic reading? It was due to a note uncovered from courthouse docent archive files.
In the note dated Oct. 20, 2005, courthouse docent Betty Hendrickson wrote that an employee of the Public Defender’s Office “… told me that one of their offices has a ghost in it. It is the office across the Triumphal Arch, upstairs, overlooking the Sunken Garden in front and the arch on the side.
“I asked her how she knew … and she said that books fall to the floor or move side to side, a stapler flew through the air, and they see eyes on occasion. Also, she said, something (or someone) trips people when they are getting on the elevator.”
There have also been reports of creaking doors and whispering voices.
Peggy Hayes, a 93-year-old docent who has worked as an employee or volunteer for the courthouse since 1978, has heard rumors of ghost sightings for years. The whispering voices were traced to a homeless man who slept outside the building, she said.
But, the warped tiled floor in the main downstairs hallway of the courthouse in 1987? Now that’s something Hayes, a professed nonbeliever in ghosts, never could explain. Nor could the Public Works Department workers, according to an article that year in a local newspaper.
Hayes recalled that one day, while sitting in the information booth, she heard a thunderous noise. A visitor came running up and told her that something had happened to the tile in the main downstairs hallway. When Hayes checked out the damage, she could barely believe her eyes. A large portion of the original floor tile had buckled.
Ironically, the floor buckle was in the exact place that the psychic recently pointed to when she said she was encountering an unusual, energetic wall of spirits: 10 to 12 disgruntled, downtrodden male prisoners. Could their melancholic “weight” have caused the floor to buckle?
And, what is the link between them and the Spanish military officer pacing farther down the hall?
The psychic said the centuries-old officer had a historic name starting with the letter “G.” Perhaps de la Guerra, the group asked, referring to Don José de la Guerra y Noriega, aka “El Capitan,” the son of an established Spanish family who served as the Presidio comandante in Santa Barbara from the early to the mid-1800s?
No, the psychic said. It wasn’t de la Guerra.
The officer’s name was never figured out but Pearl Chase’s spirit was revealed.
Upon meeting Baker in the courthouse lobby, the psychic said that a proper, friendly yet guardedly appropriate woman was standing behind him. After she described the woman in more detail, everyone responded, “That has to be Pearl Chase,” to which the psychic nodded “yes.”
According to a 2006 Santa Barbara Independent article by Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the community activist Chase “… In the early 1920s … began focusing on civic beautification … one of her typical campaigns was a multiyear fight to keep billboards away from Santa Barbara’s roadways …
“For 40 years she sat on the advisory committee to restore and operate Mission La Purísima as a historic site. In 1962, she became the first vice president of the newly formed Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, which oversaw the reconstruction of Santa Barbara’s Royal Presidio.”
The psychic told Baker that Chase is constantly around him and is very proud of the job he is doing at the courthouse, where he serves as president and director of projects for the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Docent Council. It was a true compliment from someone as dedicated to Santa Barbara as Pearl Chase.
So, if Chase’s spirit hangs around Baker on this dimensional plane, does Ramon Lopez’s haunt the hallowed halls on another?
Lopez made Santa Barbara history in a much different way than Chase. In 1891, he was the last man to be hanged in Santa Barbara. His hanging occurred prior to the building of the courthouse but in the same location as what is now the arch between the service entrance door and the end of the building.
According to a 1983 Santa Barbara Magazine article by Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation board member Carol Fell, Lopez murdered his love interest, a 20-year old woman, at her Laguna Street home near Figueroa Street on Oct. 20, 1890. He then turned the gun on himself and fired the pistol twice. Nothing happened, and Lopez was tackled by a uniformed deputy marshal.
Two months later, he went on trial for murder, and it came out that he and the woman had been secret lovers and that she was pregnant. Letters proved the romance but nothing proved the pregnancy. Twelve jurors returned the verdict in 20 minutes: guilty.
On the morning of Jan. 26, 1891, 200 ticket holders were admitted to the execution. Lopez clasped a crucifix to his chest and walked the steps to the gallows. And, with that he became the last man to hang in Santa Barbara.
As traumatic as the death was and as much as it would seem that Lopez’s energy would remain, the psychic said nothing about him.
The downstairs hallway teems with ghosts, but most of them are from dimensions from a very, very long time ago. It took climbing the spiral staircase to the second floor to discover some of the courthouse’s more contemporary spirits.
Outside Department Five, the psychic detected a strong reading of a judge who was more recently deceased. She described him as a taller man, silver hair, a judge completely and utterly dedicated to the law.
It took a trip to the Law Library and an examination of a photo to determine that it was Judge Patrick McMahon, a man revered for his life’s dedication to the law.
Further down the hallway in the very much alive Judge Brian Hill’s courtroom, the psychic said there was strong mental energy with very intellectual conversations going on. She said she saw an overlay of a judge (meaning a deceased spirit) sitting in Hill’s seat. She couldn’t name the apparition who still presides.
And, Mildred Pinheiro, the founder of Casa Serena, a safe, sober living environment for women and their children in Santa Barbara, was identified as hanging out in the courthouse’s second-floor Mural Room. The connection to the Mural Room was undetermined, although it once housed the county Board of Supervisors. The psychic said Pinheiro remains dedicated to seeing that justice is done for whoever needs it.
Up past the steep staircase to the courthouse’s long-closed jail, the most spine-chilling of energies was discovered. The psychic said a soulless man like none she had ever encountered, a man from around the 1950s, kept saying over and over that he didn’t do whatever crime he was accused of.
But, did he do it? No one will ever know.
According to Hendrickson’s note, the one culled from the docent file, the one that started this otherworldly investigation, protection from “spirits” can be obtained by carrying a piece of obsidian, silver, or a packet of salt. An iron horseshoe at an entrance stops ghosts from entering. And, a corpse carried out feet first means his/her ghost won’t return. (Lopez was carried out head first, by the way.)
And, according to her note, legend has it that when a human dies, all doors, windows and cupboards should be opened to release their spirit.
Supernatural nonsense? Or not?
On the day of this pre-Halloween otherworldly jaunt, no staplers flew and no books fell to the floor. But, in a few days, Halloween will be here and the veil between the dimensions will, purportedly, grow ever thin.
Will greater numbers of spirits want just one more trek down the courthouse’s hallowed halls?
If walking by on Halloween, perhaps an obelisk of obsidian, a slice of silver or a packet of salt should be slipped into pants pockets or purse for protection — just in case. After all, whether touring with a psychic or not, otherworldly observances have been going on at the courthouse for years.
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The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation was founded in 2004 to fund the conservation, preservation and restoration of projects for the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Although the courthouse is a county building, the county only serves to maintain the courthouse. It does not have the necessary funds or resources to complete historic preservation or artistic conservation. SBCLF ensures all conservation, restoration and restoration projects meet federally mandated standards as a National Historic Landmark.
The foundation is embarking on a $700,000 capital fundraising campaign for the restoration of the Mural Room. The room’s 83-year-old historic paintings (a mural timeline of Santa Barbara), ornate ceilings, furniture, ironwork, lighting and draperies will be restored as part of this campaign. To date, more than half of the money has been raised, including a recent gift of $10,000 from the City of Santa Barbara. Work on the Mural Room is to begin in January 2015.
» Click here to make an online donation to the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation.
» Click here for more information about SBCLF.
» Connect with the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation on Facebook.
— Nancy Shobe is a Noozhawk contributing writer. While writing this article, her recorder died, her computer shut down by itself, and the lights blinked on and off at her home. She can be contacted in this dimension at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on the ethereal dimension of Twitter: @shobebiz. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.