California Castle

Warning: long post today, and there's some ghostly creepiness if you don't like that. Click on the photo above to be taken to my Preston Castle gallery.

In my next novel-length project (there are some poems and a novella that need to happen in there somewhere too), I am planning on featuring a local landmark, Preston Castle. Built as the Preston School of Industry for juvenile offenders in the 1890s, it was closed in 1960 and pretty much left to the elements. Most of the fixtures were stripped, but the Preston Castle Foundation is trying to make repairs and recreate some of the castle's former glory.

Last Saturday, I went to the castle for their photographer's day. This is the third time I've been there in as many years, and it was cool to see some new areas that weren't previously open to the public. Although this was billed as a photographer's day (and there were plenty of shutterbugs there) I was puzzled by some groups of people that were touring the castle. They traveled in tight clusters and were kind of edgy and chatty, not the most ideal companions if you're trying to concentrate on getting the shot you want.

Then I overheard one of the group squeal, "Something's pulling my hair!" and I got it. They weren't there for the photo opportunities, they were there for the ghosts. Apparently since I was first there in 2007, there have been numerous paranormal investigations of the site, and when Ghost Hunters featured an episode on the castle it increased traffic tremendously.

I just watched part of an episode on You Tube (I embedded it below) and I'm glad I hadn't seen it before I went in, I'm kind of wimp for scary movies and such. All I can speak for is my own experiences at the castle, some of which are more disturbing than others.

When I'm taking photographs, I'm extremely focused (no pun intended) but I have to always keep some awareness of my surroundings so that I'm not caught by surprise when someone's about to walk into the frame. There have been a few times at the castle that I've felt someone on my radar, so I wait to hit the shutter but then I don't see anyone.

The most dramatic encounter was on my first time inside, with a smaller camera club so that we were pretty well spread out. I was alone on one end of the first floor, where there is a woman's bathroom with a storeroom off of it. I was trying to get a shot of the old sink filled with leaves that had come in through the broken window. The storeroom was between me and the sink, and it was pitch black in there.

I was involved with balancing the bright light coming in, but I gradually became aware of a wave of what could only be described as hostility coming from the dark storeroom. I said something like, "Just let me take these last few shots and I'll leave you alone."

Without missing a beat, a voice grated, "Who do you think you are?" I took my shot and moved on to another part of the castle, thank you very much.

The only odd thing that happened this last Saturday was in the alcove off the kitchen. I don't remember being able to go into there before, but I was waiting for another photographer to finish up in the pantry so I thought I'd see if there were any photo opps in the alcove. I had my lens set to auto focus while I was setting the exposure, and it kept zooming in and out. It usually only does that when it's trying to "decide" whether to focus on a near or far object, or if there is rapid movement within the frame. Neither of those situations applied, I was just pointed towards a doorway and a locker.

The kitchen is where the school's cook was killed, and I just learned from the Ghost Hunters episode that her body was found stuffed in the alcove. The kitchen is also the place where a lot of people say they feel a touch or smell cookies baking. The general belief is that the cook returns to the site of her murder because it was a violent death (bludgeoning) but that wasn't the sense that I got on another trip.

My second time at the castle was a private tour so I could get shots for an article that appeared in the April 2008 issue of Sierra Heritage. I was in the kitchen by myself and spent a good chunk of time in there while I waited for the slow shutter speeds. And my sense was that it was a very peaceful place; I think she comes back because it was a place she was happy. She loved the bustle and the hectic pace, and especially the lulls in the evening where she could sit down and appreciate all the things they'd accomplished that day.


Ellen said...

So cool! I love ghost stories. and Ghost Hunters. :D

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I just had to post a followup: I watched all of the Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures episodes on Preston Castle yesterday afternoon. And, you guessed it, I could not get to sleep last night! Every little sound in the dark jolted me awake, "What's that????" I'm feeling the fatigue now, but I have no one to blame but myself. I could have turned off the videos at the first sign of genuine freakiness, but noooooo . . .

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