Haunted Claremont never seemed so scary
In a town as old as Claremont, there’s bound to be a ghost story or two—from Walter at Bridges Auditorium to reported hauntings at Some Crust Bakery—residents have shared their tales with local Girl Scouts, who recently retold the tales at their Village Ghost Walk.
Outfitted with glow-in-the-dark necklace, Girl Scouts from Troop 1094 escorted roughly 200 people on a 75-minute, family-friendly walking tour through the Village. Produced by the Scouts in association with Claremont Chamber Village Marketing Group, the sold-out ghost walk was so successful; organizers have already begun plans on next year’s walk.
We’ve borrowed a few tales from the Scouts, with their permission, and added a few of our own. Enjoy this sometimes spine-chilling tour of Haunted Claremont.
Built in 1931, The Mabel Shaw Bridges Music Auditorium was the gift of Appleton and Amelia Bridges as a memorial to their daughter Mabel, who died in 1907 at the age of 22 while a student at Pomona College. There have been many unexplainable events that have occurred at Big Bridges, many are attributed to a spirit affectionately referred to as “Walter.”
Bridges Production Manager Kurt Beardsley has witnessed many occurrences and shares his stories with a warmth and curiosity that you might not expect from someone who has seen more than his fair share of the unexplainable.
The first is the story of Walter, a journeyman who took great pride in letting others know that he was working on “thee finest thee-ate-toor” in all of California. His pride was such that Walter was always the first man on the job in the morning and the last one to leave at night. On one especially hot summer afternoon while helping to brace rafters in the roofline, Walter became overwhelmed by the heat, lost his footing and fell to his death.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Beardsley returned to work after the summer break. He’d just finished some paper work in his office located off the stage loading dock and went about checking the stage area. All was dark in the auditorium, except for a few dim lights in the wings that provided enough light to keep him from stumbling in the dark. As Mr. Beardsley approached the apron in front of stage right, a bank of overhead lights attached to the right balcony came on at full power, illuminating the area where he was standing. “Well, this is strange,” he thought. The theater lights hadn’t been used all summer but he figured the lights were “ghosting,” a common event that occurs when lights are plugged in and an energy current bleeds through, creating a very dim glow. These lights, however, were shining bright.
Mr. Beardsley went to the light board to see if the balcony lights had been patched in by mistake. They weren’t. In fact, all of the balcony lights were unplugged.
Mr. Beardsley called over Dennis, the only other staff member in the building, to take a look at the situation. Together they returned to the stage. Starting at stage right, where the balcony lights were still blazing full power, the men crossed to center stage. As they did, the stage right balcony lights dimmed, then turned off just as the center stage lights came on at full power, seemingly following the duo across the stage.
More unsettled now, Kurt and Dennis continued their path across the stage. As they did, the center stage lights dimmed and turned off, just as the stage left lights came on at full power. They returned to the light board to assess the situation but not a single light was patched in—there was no possible way for those lights to be turned on, Mr. Beardsley related.
Many staffers have caught glimpses of Walter out of the corner of their eyes. There’s even a photograph of an image of what Mr. Beardsley believes is Walter.
“That was taken in the basement hall. There were no lights on, there weren’t any construction guys down there and we tried to recreate the photo but it can’t be done,” said Mr. Beardsley. “It’s bizarre. But it is what it is.”
Walter’s visits aren’t just with Big Bridges staff, visitors and performers have shared stories about eerie occurrences. One performer who was part of a Filipino dance company approached Mr. Beardsley and asked, “Do you have a ghost?”
“Umm. Yes, that’s Walter,” Mr. Beardsley replied.
“Well, Walter’s down in the basement,” the dancer said and then moved on to his next dance number, unfazed by the ghostly activity.
Not all performers have been as calm in their response to a visit from Walter. A few years ago, an actress performing with the Children’s Theater Experience came flying down the stairs from her third floor dressing room demanding a new dressing room.
“I need a new room!” she said. “There is a ghost in my dressing room! He keeps knocking on the closet door but when I open it he’s not there.”
The actress was moved to a dressing room closer to the stage but, after more activity, she refused to remain in that room and settled in the stage crew’s room where she wouldn’t be alone.
The basement and dressing rooms aren’t the only places Walter frequents, as one TV crewmember found out.
The West Wing production crew was filming a scene for the TV series at Bridges when one of the crewmembers stepped into the men’s bathroom off the main lobby. He later recounted what happened to one of his co-workers.
“I was standing there, peeing, and I felt a presence behind me. Then I felt as if someone pressed his hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was but no one was there,” he said. “Yeah, I was spooked and I quickly finished up and went to the sink to wash my hands. As I was rinsing my hands, again I felt a presence. When I looked into the mirror, there was a man standing behind me. I quickly turned around and he was gone.”
This incident scared the crewmember so much that he refused to be alone again in the building, including the bathrooms, and took someone with him every time he had to go.
The Ushers Room, located in the basement, has also presented some unusual findings. Several years ago, Mr. Beardsley and the staff decided to renovate the room and remove some lockers that had been in place since the 1930s. The first bank of lockers was removed, revealing decades of dust and dirt about halfway up the east wall. When the second bank of lockers were to be removed from a south wall, a Modern Man magazine, dated February 1961 and sliced in half, was found underneath. When the lockers were removed a short time later, directly behind the locker where the magazine was found, the image of a woman and a heart were found branded in the dust. According to Mr. Beardsley, nobody could have put it there as the lockers were bolted to the wall. Shellac has been used to preserve the image and nothing has been done with the room since its discovery.
Interestingly, the lockers in that room were relocated to another part of the basement for storage. Across the room from where they were located, a wall filled with superfine Mica powder for insulation had broken and created a pile of dust.
“That stuff was crazy, if you got it on you, you couldn’t get it off,” said Mr. Beardsley. “No matter what you did, it just spread. After we moved the lockers in here, we came down the next day and coming from the locker to the powder – NOT from the powder to the locker – was what appeared to be a woman’s footprint, barefoot.”
Mr. Beardsley went on to explain that once you touch this stuff, you just cannot get rid of it. The footprints should have come from the pile to the locker, but it didn’t.
“The footprints walked from the locker over to here and walked in a circle,” he said, “And then walked to the locker and there’s white powder on the lift of that single locker, on the locker where the magazine was under. After that, there was not a skeptic in this place. For two or three weeks we were like, ‘Let’s not talk about this anymore.’”
Although some have been frightened by their encounters, Mr. Beardsley and the rest of the Bridges staff insist that the spirits are friendly. Not long ago, they had someone set up cameras throughout the known haunted spots and while using an EVP device they asked, “Walter, where are you?”
And what came back as a clear, very distinct whisper, “Right here.”
Built in 1887, Sumner Hall at Pomona College is the oldest building on Claremont. Originally named Hotel Claremont and located on College Avenue, the large, wooden Victoria-style building was built by the Santa Fe Railroad Company to accommodate settlers expected to build their life in the Claremont area. Paul and Gwendolyn Rose were two such people.
The Roses, originally from Chicago, stayed at Hotel Claremont in 1887, while searching for a home in the area. The move was hard on Gwendolyn and when her husband started sneaking around with another woman from town, the stress and embarrassment was too much for Gwendolyn to handle. She was found in the in the hotel basement, dead of a broken heart and is said to now haunt Sumner Hall.
For 25 years, Frank Bedoya has worked in Sumner Hall. As Dean of Campus Life, he can often be found in his office working late hours and long weekends. Mr. Bedoya knows most of the causes of all the noises in the building, including the glass double doors that lead into the campus life offices. With their bar-type latch on the inside, the doors make a distinct “crunching” mechanism sound when the bar is pushed down and a distinct heavy clicking sound when the door shuts. Frank is always cautious about making certain the doors are locked during late night hours. However, that doesn’t keep Gwendolyn from coming in and out of the building whenever she pleases.
“I will be sitting in my office and hear the front door open and close. Then, I’ll hear the basement door squeal open and close,” he said. “I’ll get up to see who’s there, I’ve even walked outside the building sometimes, but no one is there.”
Although Gwendolyn has never appeared to Mr. Bedoya in any type of physical form, there is more than one person who has seen her.
Ireneo DeLeon, a Sumner Hall housekeeper who has been with Pomona College for nearly 30 years, begins his duties in the late afternoon and doesn’t finish up until midnight. Mr. DeLeon has encountered Gwendolyn, who wears a long, flowing white gown lit by her own glow, on more than one occasion and has found that she likes to have her way.
After cleaning the second floor of Sumner Hall, Mr. DeLeon was making his rounds, shutting off lights and locking doors, and checking to make sure no one was still working on the second floor before making his way down to the first floor to do the same. When all was completed, he left the building and began making his way back to his room, however, something caught his attention: a light was on in one of the second story rooms. Mr. DeLeon was certain he had turned off all the lights and no one was left in the building. He returned to the building and made his way to the second floor, calling out to see if anyone was indeed still working inside but no one answered. He turned off the light, locked the door and made his way back outside.
But again, as he made his way back to his room, the noticed the light was on again in the same second story room. Spooked, he decided to let the light burn all night.
Mr. DeLeon doesn’t find Gwendolyn scary or dangerous, in fact, he’s quite matter-of-fact about his encounters. When people doubt him and ask, “Is there really a ghost in Sumner Hall?”
He answers, “Oh, yeah. She’s down in the basement.”
Now home to Pomona College’s Department of Alumni Affairs, the Seaver House originally stood at the corner of Holt and Garey Avenue in Pomona. Built in 1900, the house served as personal residence of Carlton and Estella Seaver as well as their six children, all of whom graduated from Pomona College. Manilla “Nila” Seaver, the youngest of the children, remained in the home until 1978 when she died at the age of 80. Upon her death, the house was willed to Pomona College and relocated to its current location the following year. And according to Nancy Treser Osgood, director of alumni relations at Pomona College, Nila’s spirit moved with it.
“I have never seen her, but I am certain she’s here,” Ms. Treser Osgood said of Nila.
For over 20 years, Ms. Treser Osgood has worked at Seaver House and each time she leaves, she is sure to secure the windows and doors and turn off any lights. However, on many occasions, she has returned the next day—sometimes even that same night—only to find the attic lights on and the door unlatched. “In fact, it just happened last weekend,” Ms. Treser Osgood said in early October. “I locked up on Friday and came back Saturday morning to find the lights on and the balcony door wide open. No one with access had been in the house.”
Although Nila’s attic antics have never really scared Ms. Treser Osgood, they have been frustrating at times. The attic serves as a storage space for important alumni documents, college files, and the occasional artifact and it’s important they remain intact. One rainy afternoon, Ms. Treser Osgood was sitting in her office and could hear the distinct “bang-banging” of the balcony door opening and closing. She went to the attic and secured the balcony door, but before heading back to her office, scolded the ghostly resident. “Nila, we need to keep this door closed!”
Ms. Treser Osgood returned to her office but no sooner had she sat down then she heard a tremendous crash above. She ran back to the attic, thinking a filing cabinet or shelf had fallen over, but found everything exactly in its place. Nothing moved, nothing damaged.
“Now, I know this is an old house and old houses have creeks and moans and rats, but this was different,” she explained. “I think it was Nila’s way of getting back at me for scolding her.”
Ms. Treser Osgood quickly apologized to the spirit. “You’re right. This is your house. Please keep the door closed,” she told Nila.
Ms. Treser Osgood has a deep respect for Nila’s spirit, bidding her a good morning when she arrives to work and saying goodbye when she leaves at night. She even finds Nila’s presence comforting when she’s in the house alone at night.
“I don’t think Nila likes being alone in the dark attic and that’s why she turns the light on. I’ve never felt spooked,” she said. “I’m glad to have her here.”
Some Crust Bakery
The building now housing Some Crust Bakery was the original home of Claremont first general store. Built in 1889 and opened by John Urbanus, the shop was like any general store, selling a variety of goods from shoes to cider and groceries to garden tools. In 1916, Herman Friedman took over the store and opened a bakery, a business that remained intact for nearly 100 years although it’s changing hands several times throughout the building’s long history.
In 1978, Dorothy Demke purchased the business and renamed it Some Crust Bakery. Ms. Demke remained the proprietor until 1997 when Larry Feemster bought the business and, with his son Scott, continues to run the business today.
The owners and employees at Some Crust Bakery have witnessed both apparitions and paranormal activity.
During one of the bakery’s 2 a.m. bake-offs—a time when bakers come in to prepare the breads and pastries for the coming day—the elder Mr. Feemster had an encounter.
He was standing at the long work table in the kitchen when he saw the dark shadow of a man move past the doorway that joins the kitchen to the back area of the shop. He was certain there was someone in the building as the shadowy figure was distinct and clear.
He called out, “Hello, Hello?”
He made his way into the café area to investigate but no one was there.
Mr. Feemster’s son, Scott, had a similar experience.
One evening while alone in the kitchen preparing pastries for the following morning, he went into the old walk-in freezer and began pulling trays of pastry dough from the shelves.
He felt a presence behind him.
“No doubt, there was something standing behind me,” he said. “It didn’t feel good. I thought an intruder had come in.” Scott turned around to confront the person, but found no one. A search of the bakery turned up nothing.
Another morning, Scott was making a cup of espresso when the many stacks of coffee cups flew from the counter. This was not a gentle tumbling, the cups flew with such force and such a distance, it was as if someone or something had taken a hard, solid smack at the stack. But no one was nearby. No one.
The Feemsters aren’t the only ones to have witnessed unwelcomed activity. Employees have seen objects like measuring cups and wire whisks fly from the shelves with incredible force. Katrina, a cake decorator who has worked at Some Crust for 13 years, has had her share of scares and prefers not to be alone in the bakery. Katrina wasn’t alone when she had one of her first paranormal encounters.
She and a co-worker were in the kitchen decorating cakes and chatting. Katrina was facing her co-worker, who had his back to one of the large, metal shelving units about three feet away. Without warning, a large heavy box of cellophane flew from the top shelf behind the young man, over his head and landed with a bang on the table. The young man had not bumped against the shelving. If the cellophane had been teetering on the lip of the shelf and fallen, it would have simply dropped to the ground and certainly not flown with force over his head.
And that wasn’t Katrina’s only experience. She and her co-worker Crystal were in the kitchen decorating cakes and chatting when Crystal felt something smack her hard in the back. She reached around to the spot where she had been hit and felt something stiff and gooey; it was butter cream frosting. No one else was in the kitchen but the two women. There was no way a co-worker could have played a naughty trick and launched the frosting from somewhere else in the room.
Last year during the Ghost Walk, two employees had just finished closing up shop, and came out the front door and spoke with the group.
“Yes, it’s all true,” they said. “Strange things happen all the time.”
They went on to tell the group that the week before, they had just finished their closing duties and sat down for a cup of coffee before going home.
“My cup was sitting in the middle of the table between us and then it just flew off the table,” said one of the girls. “I mean FLEW off the table!” She went on to explain that neither of them had bumped the table and they weren’t even touching it at the time. “This place IS haunted,” they said.
“I’ve always been a skeptical kind of guy but because of my experiences, my dad’s experiences, the employees experiences, I think ghosts are possible,” Scott said. “Yep, there’s definitely something here!”
A Claremont Residence
For over 20 years, newspaper editor Kathryn Dunn has worked for the Claremont Courier. Many years ago, Ms. Dunn rented a small wood-sided cottage at 1113 Yale Avenue in the Village. The cottage, which has been rented by many people over the last 75 years, is all that remains of a much larger house built in 1910 that may have burned decades ago. The small 900 square foot home could have been used as a home for service staff or as a mother-in-law or guest quarters.
In the back bedroom was a heavy, two-foot-by-two-foot door, cut into the wooden floor that could be lifted by a thick rope anchored to the cellar door, which was used to access to the dark, cinderblock storm cellar below.
The day Ms. Dunn moved into the home was busy with unpacking and, when night came, she lay down in bed exhausted and quickly fell into a deep sleep. In the middle of the night, she was awakened by an unsettling dream of a woman dressed from the 1940s in a brown tweed suit, her hair done-up in victory rolls and a snood, just like Betty Grable would have worn. She looked like a woman put to work during World War II—perhaps a secretary or a phone operator—and she was clearly agitated and anxious, pacing back and forth, back and forth, murmuring to herself and breathing heavily. Ms. Dunn woke feeling the heavy anxiety of this woman. It was a very vivid dream, so vivid she says, she can still see it all crystal clear today.
The following day was busy with work at the COURIER, so Ms. Dunn had no time to recall the dream from the previous night. That night when she went to bed, she readied herself for a good night’s sleep, however, once again, she was awoken in the middle of the night by the same dream. This time, Ms. Dunn got the clear feeling that the woman was worried about her husband at war. She could see and feel the pressure and responsibility the woman was under. The stress was very clear.
The dream came to Ms. Dunn again the following night, more intense than before, with the anxiety and the stress of the woman evident in her constant pacing back and forth. However, something was different when she awoke this time—she heard someone pacing back and forth, back and forth and the noise was coming from the cellar underneath her bed!
When the pacing didn’t stop, Ms. Dunn knew something had to be done. She rose and pushed the bed out of the way to gain access to the cellar. Pulling on the rope and opening the heavy cellar door, she then got the wooden chair from her dressing table, flicked on the cellar light and carried the chair down the basement stairs.
“Here,” Ms. Dunn said aloud, placing the chair in the middle of the concrete cellar floor. “You can sit down now. Rest.”
When she went back to bed, the pacing stopped. Ms. Dunn lived in the cottage for eight more years, and neither the dream nor the pacing ever occurred again.
“I don’t know why she came to me, perhaps she needed some attention,” said Ms. Dunn. “Maybe she needed someone to acknowledge her pain and give her permission to go. Maybe she just needed someone to tell her it’s okay to rest now. I think of it as a dream with a purpose.”