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No Need to Look Far to Scare Up Some Tales About Hauntings

October 29, 1989|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They're back.

Back in the canyons, houses and museums. And in the minds of true believers in the supernatural.

Halloween makes its annual visit next week, with young, make-believe Jasons and Freddys ready again to stalk the streets. Meanwhile, some people believe the ghosts of another time and place stalk their own hideaways.

"Everything is possible," said Richard Senate, who has written a book about haunted places in California and lectures at area colleges about his research. "Anyone who doesn't believe is closing their eyes to a reality. So many people have seen them that they can't all be crazy. Ghosts have been seen by people all over the world for thousands of years. Who are they? We still don't know, but they are very legitimate to study."

Like rumors, ghost stories can't always be easily traced to an original source, and they sustain a life of their own long after they first emerge. Sometimes they are passed on by old-timers who heard the stories from the previous generation's old-timers. And sometimes the stories are chronicled in written documents, permanent testimony for future residents.

"I was open before to the possibility of ghosts, and now I'm a definite believer," Dan Hobbit, a documentary film maker, said after claiming to witness an apparition at a San Fernando Valley hospital. "And I know many people who have seen ghosts in their homes throughout the Valley. For obvious reasons, they don't want to make public where they live. They just want to get rid of the ghosts."

What follows are some of the ghost stories that have circulated through the Valley and surrounding areas for years, sometimes decades.

* The Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park: According to psychics, the ghost of Pierre Devon, a guest murdered by an unknown assailant at the inn in 1885, has stayed around to make periodic appearances over the last century.

The ghost was first identified as Pierre by psychic Sybil Leek in 1966, who came to the inn after employees claimed they saw a ghost. Earlier, in 1964, Beth Needham, 60, of Thousand Oaks visited the inn. By this time, the Stagecoach served as a gift shop, no longer a hotel. Needham was browsing when Judith McIntyre, the shop's longtime manager, introduced her to a "friend."

"She said, 'Come here, I want you to meet a friendly ghost,' " Needham said. "And then she introduced me to Mad Alice. I don't know why she called her Mad Alice."

Needham said that according to McIntyre, Mad Alice (who later was known as Pierre) would take huge bites out of the oak railing of the inn's long staircase. The railing, otherwise sturdy and in perfect condition at the time, had areas with large chunks missing.

Needham said she didn't feel or see anything at the time, but two years later, when she became an inn guide, she was standing by the staircase when "I felt a draft. I knew it wasn't a draft." She said she felt chosen by the ghost because of her introduction to the ghost two years earlier.

In 1965, the inn was moved 1 1/2 miles from its original site to allow for extension of the Ventura Freeway. The ghost reportedly made the move with the building.

According to "Resident Ghost of the Stagecoach Inn Museum," a written account of the apparition, when several workers took a break for a bite to eat, two 2-by-4s came flying out of the second-story parlor window. A quick check of the premises didn't reveal anything or anyone to explain the accident. The workers didn't wait around.

"They took a shot of something to drink and left," Needham said. "They thought the place was spooked. There was nobody else around but them."

In 1970, a fire, caused by faulty electrical wiring, destroyed the inn. The presence of the ghost--now being called Pierre--was never cited as a possible cause. After a fund-raising campaign by the historical society, the rebuilt inn reopened in 1976. Pierre was again a tenant, according to psychic Grace Coveney, 63, of Calabasas.

"I saw Pierre," said Coveney, who visited the inn in 1987, making certain that she wasn't too familiar with its history beforehand. Using her psychic abilities, she said, she immediately sensed an apparition, whom she also identified as Pierre. "He went to a certain room and went behind the door, but he was there."

In the 1960s, historian Pat Allen searched the records of 1880 to 1890, but failed to produce any written account of a Pierre Devon ever having lived in the area.

But California did not require death records during that period, Allen pointed out.

* A hospital in the San Fernando Valley: Dan Hobbit, 37, a film maker who is producing United Cable Television's "Psychic Connections," a discussion of the paranormal, claims to have filmed an apparition in March. Hobbit won't identify the hospital, saying he was threatened with a lawsuit by a hospital official if he ever released its location. The official, Hobbit said, told him to "leave our demons alone.' "

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