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MUSEUMS : STAGECOACH INN : Ghostly Guest : Landmark Hotel's Historic Appeal Spiced Up by Legend of Apparition Sightings in 'Haunted' Room


"When anything strange happens, we say Pierre, our ghost, did it," said docent Isabel Lee as she showed visitors a small "haunted" room at the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park.

Lee invited "those brave enough" to scan the space that some believe is occupied by Pierre Duvon, who was murdered at the hotel in 1889. "Some people claim he's here and they can feel his presence," Lee said. "We've had several occurrences reported. It's debatable if they're fact or fiction."

The museum, a California historical landmark, surprises visitors with its legend of Pierre and some other, more tangible, attractions. A nature trail, carriage house, 300-year-old sycamore and miniature village are featured on the complex's four acres.

A Spanish adobe and outdoor beehive oven, a Chumash Indian bulrush hut, a three-room pioneer house, a blacksmith shop and a working windmill all help to recreate the Conejo Valley's past.

Inside the Stagecoach Inn, myriad exhibits range from an authentic Todd Lincoln bed and a 1875 Chickering rosewood square piano to fossils and Indian artifacts found in the area.

Built in 1876 as a resort with "shooting, fishing, bathing and a first-rate table," the inn later served as a post office, tearoom, boys' military school, movie set, restaurant and gift shop.

When mid-1960s freeway expansion threatened the former hostelry, the Conejo Valley Historical Society saved it from demolition. A 1970 fire destroyed the inn, which was reconstructed and reopened in 1976.

The society's docents, wearing 1880 pioneer attire and stationed throughout the museum, enliven exhibits with their commentary.

Of the Inn's downstairs hallway, said Jean Cook: "Look closely at that photo of the burning inn. Some people have seen a hazy apparition rising from the flames. Could it be Pierre? Nobody knows."

Of the upstairs family wing Ethel Myers said: "That's called the walking wheel because the woman walked back and forth while she spun thread. It took 20 miles to spin four skeins. In those days everything required more time and muscle."

Said Pat Johnston, in Anderson Hall, pointing to a jawbone fragment: "This fossil is 150,000 years old. Ironically, this fossil was found near the Ventu Park Freeway off-ramp!"

In the carriage house, visitors examined the stagecoaches and an authentic 1875 California mud wagon. "The driver was a horseman, veterinarian, carpenter, blacksmith and dictator," Terry Trefz said. "Those who didn't do as he said had to get off and wait three days for another coach."

As Trefz told about passengers wading through muddy water, his listeners viewed their nearby parked cars with new appreciation.

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