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Ghost walk rattles residents

In a place as old as Claremont, there’s bound to be a few spooky ghost stories peppered around town. The city is full of beautiful old homes that have tales of otherworldly mischief hiding around every cobwebbed corner.

The Claremont Ghost Walk, now in its third year, brought the City of Trees’ creepy history to the forefront on October 3 and 4. Organized by the Claremont Girl Scout Troop 109, the event also featured a Gypsy caravan complete with tarot readings, card tricks, fortune telling and a spine-tingling string quartet.

At the rear of the caravan, a projector screen played scenes from classic horror films of the 1920s and 1930s, including Nosferatu, Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.

According to event coordinator Joan Bunte, the troop created and staffed almost all of the booths at the Gypsy caravan. “It lets the Girl Scouts shine,” she said.

The walk first started out as “just a troop thing,” according to troop mom Holly Pugno. As it grew in popularity, the girls teamed up with Ms. Bunte and turned it into an event all Claremont families can enjoy.

This year, the event was completely sold out—225 people enjoyed the frightening festival, according to Ms. Pugno.

The centerpiece of the festivities was the walk itself. Ms. Pugno, clad in a black cloak and holding an old lantern, led the group through the Village to locations that some say carry hair-raising histories.

“Whether the stories are old or new, all the stories are true,” Ms. Pugno said. “Nothing is made up.”

The first stop on the tour was Some Crust Bakery, a Claremont institution that apparently contains a pesky poltergeist.

The building was originally constructed in 1889 as Claremont’s first general store and became a bakery in 1916. Throughout the years, employees and customers have reported objects, ranging from coffee cups to 40-pound menu boards, flying across the bakery.

In an alarming anecdote, one of the bakery’s cake decorators, Katrina, was working one evening when a roll of cellophane launched from the shelf and landed on the table between her and her co-worker, as if possessed by a malevolent spirit. Another cake decorator felt something hit her in the back, which turned out to be a glob of buttercream frosting. Nobody else was in the room.

Scott Feemster has experienced his run-ins with the specter as well. One night, while working the graveyard shift to prepare pastries for the morning, Mr. Feemster witnessed coffee cups careening across the room. He was the only one in the room at the time.

The second stop on the tour was Barbara Cheatley’s gift shop. The proprietor’s tale didn’t involve the store itself, but instead took place at Ms. Cheatley’s 1880s Victorian farmhouse home in Ontario.

It began when Ms. Cheatley bought a long, narrow antique chest from a dealer. Once Ms. Cheatley brought the chest home, people in the house began to see shadowy figures in the corner of their eyes. Eventually, apparitions revealed themselves in their full form.

One ghost was dressed in an old blue military coat with brass buttons, and another was dressed in a gray military coat. The two spirits appeared frequently in different parts of Ms. Cheatley’s house, including on her driveway and in the bathroom.

The ghosts even bothered guests in Ms. Cheatley’s home, at one point causing a worker who was remodeling her home to pack up his tools and leave.

Eventually, Ms. Cheatley found out the antique chest was actually something more macabre: a holding coffin, used to temporarily house dead bodies during the Civil War.

The third stop on the tour was Olga’s Underground Furniture, located on 262 Fourth St. Before it was used as a one-stop shop for the dearly departed, a man named Timmy tried to turn it into a hair salon. He never realized his vision, dying in the desert of a drug overdose before his shop opened. It remained vacant for a short time before it was once again turned into a hair salon.

During the house’s second salon stint, strange things began to happen. One of the stylists, Ray Riojas, felt a creepy, otherworldly presence touch his shoulder and send a chill through his body. 

When Mr. Riojas turned around, he saw a dark, shadowy figure turn the corner at the end of a hallway. He could only make out a vague description of the visitor: a man wearing a black mink coat with shoulder-length hair.

When a beauty representative arrived at the shop, Mr. Riojas described the strange encounter to him. The shocked representative told Mr. Riojas the figure was none other than Timmy, the doomed entrepreneur.

From that time, ghostly encounters regularly occurred, even after Mr. Riojas and his wife left and a floral shop opened at the space. To ward off Timmy’s spirit, the new owners burned sage in the house. But once they returned the next day, every flower in the house was frozen solid.

The fourth stop on the tour was none other than Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College’s historic and famous theater. Legend has it that a handyman named Walter, who was working on the auditorium and adored the building, fell to his death from the rafters during construction.

According to storyteller Chuck Ketter, Walter never really left the theater he loved so much. Over the years, people have seen his figure in the corners of their eyes, and stage lights have been tampered with when nobody was around.

When the theater was used during filming of the television show The West Wing, a crewmember taking a break in the restroom had a close encounter with the spirit world.

“While he was washing his hands, he felt a presence behind him,” Mr. Ketter said. “He looks up in the mirror, and in the reflection behind him, he sees a man in 1930s clothing standing behind him and looking at him. He quickly turned to look, and there was no one there.”

It seems as if Walter will always be a part of Bridges Auditorium.

The fifth stop was at Pomona College’s Sumner Hall. According to speaker Gina Capaldi, the hall was originally a hotel and is among the oldest buildings in Claremont.

Paul and Gwendolyn Rose, who were originally from the Midwest, were guests at the hotel while looking for a permanent place to live. Paul was a womanizer and, after he was caught with another woman, Gwendolyn was found dead in the basement of the hotel. She was said to have died of a broken heart.

Over the years, people who work in the building have experienced strange events. Frank Bedoya, Pomona College’s associate dean of campus life, has heard doors slam in the basement area when he was alone in the building.

Another school employee, Irineo De Leon, saw Gwendolyn when locking up the building for the night. After checking for unexplained sounds coming from the basement, Mr. De Leon saw the apparition of a woman in a Victorian dress walking across the basement and disappearing through a closed door. After he opened the door, the room was empty.

The sixth stop on the tour was the stately Seaver House on College Avenue. The house, built in 1900 by Carlton and Estelle Seaver, was originally located on the corner of Holt and Garey. It was moved to the Pomona College grounds in 1979 after Mr. and Ms. Seaver’s granddaughter, Nilla Seaver, died.

Nancy Treser Osgood, the college’s director of alumni affairs, has worked in the building for 28 years and has experienced the ghost of Ms. Seaver on numerous occasions.

Once, after Ms. Osgood shut off all the lights in the house, the attic light was on when she returned the next morning. Loud, disembodied sounds have been heard coming from the attic over the years, becoming so bothersome that Ms. Osgood once screamed into the air for Nilla to quit making noise.

Immediately afterward, she heard a huge crash coming from the attic. When Ms. Treser Osgood raced upstairs, fearing a file cabinet of important documents had toppled over, there was nothing; everything was where it should be.

“This was Nilla’s way of saying, ‘this is my house,’ so she apologized.” Ms. Pugno said.

As Ms. Pugno was delivering her story on Seaver Hall, an eerie, unexplainable green light was faintly flickering from a second-floor window. Was Nilla Seaver listening?

The seventh and final story takes place at a private residence on Springfield Street, about a mile south from the Village. The house belongs to Beth Garvin, the daughter of Ms. Bunte.

According to Ms. Pugno, the ghost of a little girl haunts the house. At first, the family cat was seen hissing and arching its back at the closet in the room of Ms. Garvin’s son, Jack. Then, some of Jack’s electronic toys began moving on their own.

One evening, Jack saw the little girl sitting in the corner of his room. Another time, he called his mother into his room to tell her the ghost was writing on the walls with a red marker. Ms. Garvin turned the light on, and nothing was there.

After a few more instances of unexplained visions in Jack’s room, Ms. Garvin hired a medium to check the house. As soon as the medium went into Jack’s room, she felt an eerie energy. When the medium asked if anyone was there, the disembodied voice of a little girl plainly responded, “Yes.”

The medium then concluded the closet in Jack’s room was a portal to the “other side,” and spirits were using it to haunt Ms. Garvin’s house.

Throughout the tour, children were clutching their parents’ sides as they learned about Claremont’s creepier side. As night fell, the stories began to take a more sinister form, the darkness adding an unsettling ambience.

According to Ms. Pugno, there are new additions every year to the ghost walk. One can only wonder what terrifying tales will be added next year.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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