Voices of Our Past
By Robert Kreutzer
Disembodied voices pleading for help—or delivering dire warnings. Objects that move when nobody is around. Mysterious blips, flashes of light or images occurring at places of crime or tragedy. These are things going on all over the Inland Empire. The cliché slam against the IE is that it’s kind of dead, but the truth may be that it’s undead.
While Los Angeles and Hollywood, with all of their showbiz suicides, serial killers and questionable demises of all manner get the press, there’s some seriously weird crap going on all over 909 and 951. Paranormal investigators, of which there’s no short supply in Southern California, have found no scarcity of mystical phenomena at which to wave their meters.
The phenomena which they check takes many forms. Most ghost hunters will tell you 90-plus percent of what they find is explainable and nothing mysterious at all. Most approach their investigations as skeptics, looking to disprove rather than prove.
But once in a while, they find stuff even they can’t quite explain away. While full body apparitions (a.k.a. ghosts) are rare, they find other evidence, less vivid perhaps but still compelling: Orbs—circles of energy that hurtle about; objects, such as cups or bottles, that move without apparent help; unexplained shadows; unknown voices; cold spots; presences that can be felt though nobody can be seen; sometimes explorers to a paranormal site will feel aches and pains that disappear once they leave a haunted area; electronic devices that turn on and off spontaneously.
Most of the communities in our beloved IE have someplace where these occurrences— and more—point to the otherworldly. It’s hard to pick the most haunted of these, but a few have garnered local, regional and sometimes even national interest.
Granada Theater: The Wild West of the Supernatural
One such place is the venerable Granada Theater in Ontario. It is in limited use now, but for many years it was Ontario’s most hoppin‘ place. It wasn’t just movies and live shows, but also several other businesses attached to the building that made it one of the local destinations.
These days, it seems the ghosties are the ones making guests jump. The theater has earned a reputation for being a wild west of the supernatural, ranging from flying objects, unexplained voices, touching sensations, and even full body apparitions. Several organizations have poked around—and often came away hard-pressed to explain what they saw.
Steve Hembree, co-founder of the paranormal investigative group Claranormal says that many visitors have reported strange occurrences there, but one of the most macabre incidents was something he himself experienced.
“Some of the things we’ve been told have been quite scary,” explains Hembree, “so scary I can’t pass them along” But what Hembree did pass on was some of the theater’s sordid history, which is believed to contribute to all of the paranormal activity so many have described.
“There was a speakeasy underneath,” Hembree says. “A doctor, Calvert Emmons, had set it up for himself, his friends and his cronies. Not many people know that. That’s really important, because if you go back in time, Ontario was dry even before prohibition. There was Prohibition, [and] then Ontario was dry even after Prohibition.”
Of course, along with Prohibition came unsavory characters, some not above violence to get their way. Hembree tells of a creepy experience he had during one visit.
“I had these mental impressions that were like déjà vu but without the previous experience,” says Hembree. “They were like split-second movies that tell you a story. The story was like a 1930s gangster movie. There was a guy tied to a chair who was being beaten.
“I almost didn’t say anything about it. What I didn’t know was that six months later a paranormal investigation team from Orange County also went to the theater, and one of the guys later told me that he had the same experience. In mine, the guy was just getting the snot beat out of him, but [in] his the man got killed.”
The theater has also, on at least two occasions, housed abortion clinics—an illegal clinic first, then a legal one post Roe v. Wade. Hembree said several EVP—Electronic Voice Phenomenon have been detected. In ghost hunting parlance, EVP refers to the capture of voices emanating from the spirit realm.
“We got a callout from a girl named Emma,” Hembree explains. “Two of us heard it, but nobody else did.” The group also recorded several other voices, including screeches and phantom voices ordering people to quiet or calm down.
Another haunted spot in the theater is the projection room. Hembree explains that projectionists often have an outsized devotion to their job, one that, at least at the Granada, may last beyond their earthly days.
“We recorded EVPs of someone saying ‘Get out of the way’ and ‘This is mine,’” Hembree reports. “Projectionists love their job—they have to. They’re stuck in that small, hot room all day long, watching the same movie over and over again. We think we found one here that just stayed behind.”
Rialto Historical Society: Specter Central
It’s not just theaters that experience otherworldly visits. Churches, by their nature, are supposed to be spiritual, but the former First Christian Church in Rialto is, by many accounts, off-the-hook haunted. Today, the church is home to the Rialto Historical Society, but it also might be the home of many ghosts.
John Anthony Adams is no lightweight. Adams owns and operates Adams Acres, the last operating commercial orange grove in Rialto, a profitable grove his grandfather planted. Adams is also a member of the historical society. It is there that he saw things that turned his beliefs upside down.
Adams authored a book, The Little Girl in the Window, recounting his experiences at the building, and telling of the many sightings of the ghost of a young girl.
“One incident in particular caused me to take note,” Adams recalls. “There were some ladies—friends of a previous president of the historical society—who would come and play cards. The church building contained the ashes of Kristina Hendrickson, a little girl who had died some years earlier.
“There was one woman who was usually very level-headed, but we could hear her keep saying ‘Leave me alone. I can’t help you’ even though no one was around. A few days later, a newspaper in Northern California reported the girl’s brother had died. I wrote and got the death certificate.”
Many others have witnessed other ghosts besides Hendrickson’s. Historical society member Rich McInnes snapped a famous photo, which appears to show an illuminated skeleton standing atop a staircase. McInnes claims he did not see the image when he snapped the picture.
Adams tells of another ghost sighting made not by just one person but by two third-grade classes.
“Third graders used to study Rialto history,” Adams says, “and they made regular field trips to the historical society. Two classes from Boyd Elementary were visiting, and several girls saw a ghost right where the photo was taken. They were well-behaved up to then, but when they saw the ghost they went berserk.”
It’s possible that, rather than just one or two ghosts, the Rialto Historical Society might be Specter Central. Adams says portals have been found that may bring hosts of ghosts to the building.
“The portal was reported by different psychics,” says Adams. “Tom Hagman (a veteran parapsychologist and psychic) noticed one by the church’s kitchen. This would allow ghosts from other places to enter from the kitchen. He put his hand around it to make the size and shape.” Adams said two other psychics independently confirmed that portal and suggested there might be others.
Castle Park: Magnet of Ghostly Energy
It doesn’t just have to be old or historic buildings that are haunted. Sometimes relatively new places have also shown signs of great interest from another spiritual plain.
Downtown Riverside is rumored to have several landmarks that are haunted, including its jewel attraction, the Mission Inn. Any place that has catacombs gets a head start on creepy. Those catacombs connect it to Mt. Rubidoux, also a place of interest to some paranormal sleuths. But Riverside’s epicenter of eeriness may be Castle Park, a popular destination for ghost hunters.
Civilian and spook hunter alike have reported myriad strange occurrences. Peaches Veatch, Director of California Paranormal Private Investigations, has seen—and recorded—all kinds of activity at the amusement park.
“We’ve been there half a dozen times,” Veatch says. “We’ve gotten quite a few EVPs, some whispers saying ‘get out.’ It was weird enough that it has scared a few investigators into quitting.”
One of the ghosts rumored to stalk Castle Park’s grounds is a female phantom of unknown origin.
“There’s a lady in white who hangs out by the employee dressing room,” Veatch confirms. “We checked out the area and did get some cold spots. If something is trying to manifest itself or make itself visible, it can cause the environment around it to become much colder.”
Other figures have on the grounds, some of which are just difficult to classify altogether.
“We saw a shadow by the train tracks,” Veatch recalls. “It was also near the employee dressing room. Something walked in front of us and made a 10-foot shadow, but we couldn’t see anything pass by. It was humanoid but we couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.”
Veatch said that history makes Castle Park a prime haunting location. A few paranormal researchers say the grounds were once part of a Native American burial ground, but Veatch said there’s no evidence of that. She pointed to the park’s rides as the magnets of that ghostly energy.
“All of the rides have come from other places,” explains Veatch. “All of these items had a lot of attachment to someone, and their spirits followed the items here. For example, the carousel is very active. Even though we don’t know its exact history, we get a lot of EVPs on it.”
The Others: They Still Exist
Perhaps the most obvious place folks like Veatch to poke around would be a cemetery. Many inland cemeteries are alleged to be haunted. Veatch mentioned Redland’s Hillside Cemetery as one of the most active.
“We did an informal investigation of Redlands Hillside Cemetery,” says Veatch. “We visited a couple’s grave and could hear the sound of footsteps. The woman had passed away in her ’40s. My friend actually got an EVP that said ‘Turn your face.’” On many occasions, fires have been seen that disappear as visitors get closer.
These are only a few of the Inland Empire’s most well-known haunted hotspots. Just a list of public places and businesses would reach from here to the Netherworld, nevermind private residences. Others include Agua Mansa Cemetery in Colton, said to have it’s own La Llorona, the fabled crying ghost of Mexican folklore; the J.J Live Oak Steakhouse in Corona may be home to the ghost of a waitress who was murdered in 1988; and San Bernardino High School, located near Mt. View Cemetery, is thought to be frequented by the spirit of Vicki Baxter, a student killed on her way to the prom in the late ’20s.
It would be easy to dismiss all of this as pranks or publicity hounding, or people looking to cash in on the popularity of TV shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters and its dozen or so knock-offs. But none of the investigators or witnesses interviewed for this story sound like cranks or cynics. Adams, for example, has a Ph.D. in soil sciences and a solid scientific background. Before his experiences he was quite a skeptic. That has all changed.
“I would say I was an atheist until I was 53,” says Adams. “I was sure there was no creator or nothing happening beyond death. As a result of my repeated experiences, I’m convinced there’s an existence beyond death. I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, but these experiences have turned my life upside down. I used to be horrified by someone’s death, thinking their memories and experiences were gone. Now, even if they’re dead, I still think they exist.”
Cover photo of Mission Inn courtesy of Mission Inn Hotel & Spa