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JAUNTS : If You Feel a Chill, You Are on the Right Path : A walking tour will trace the steps of ghosts and goblins who supposedly haunt some of Ventura's downtown sites.


Tranquil downtown Ventura doesn't seem like it would harbor ghosts, but if you tag along with ghost expert Richard Senate this weekend, you might find it, well, spirited.

Senate is leading a two-hour walking tour of rumored haunts Saturday as part of a series of ghostly goings-on offered by the city this month. Naturally, Saturday's spook-filled tour is after dark--6 to 8 p.m. (The cost is $6.)

By the end of the evening, you'll know all about Sylvia, whose restless spirit is believed by some to be residing at the elegant Bella Maggiore Inn on California Street.

It was back in 1986 that the inn decided to get to the bottom of all the ghost talk at the historic hotel. A team of "ghost hunters"--14 lay people and psychics--was invited to spend a night there, according to Senate's book, "Haunted Ventura."

Of the ghostly presences that supposedly emerged that night, Sylvia's was the clearest. She is believed to have been a lonely, desperate prostitute who hanged herself in a closet in the inn in 1947.

She's not a gloomy or threatening presence at the inn, though. She likes men, according to Senate. "She likes to pinch them on the bottom," he said. Sometimes it's the aroma of cheap perfume that signals her presence. Or the sound of dancing feet.

"She's been real active the last few weeks," said Roger Porter, assistant manager of the inn. She roams all over the hotel and seems to be a friendly presence, although mischievous at times.

Guests report that they hear or see something strange, he said. Sylvia has been blamed for trying to pull the covers off guests at night, or even unpacking a suitcase.

Up California Street at Ventura's majestic City Hall, walkers on Senate's tour will hear more ghost stories. Spooks here have been blamed for buzzing police on a hidden emergency line after hours or making the elevator stop where it shouldn't. And then there is the account of one psychic who claims she saw a 1940s-looking woman in high heels, red lipstick and tight blue dress striding down the corridor, only to vanish with a gust of cold air.

Nearby, the old San Buenaventura Mission hasn't escaped ghostly tales either. There is the phantom Indian maiden who supposedly wanders the mission in a long white dress stained with sea water, the gray-robed figure walking the mission grounds, and the most frightening, the headless horseman, perhaps a desperado from the last century, according to Senate's book.

"In the old days, if you saw a ghost it was a terrible thing--you had one year to live," Senate said. "Now it's a good thing to see one; your prayers will be answered."

Senate, employed as a historian by the city, had his own run-in with a ghost back in 1978. He was taking part in an archeological dig at Mission San Antonio de Padua near King City, when a monk, dressed in robe and cowl, suddenly appeared, and then vanished. That encounter steered him toward further psychic research.

In addition to Saturday's "Ghosts and Ghouls" walking tour, Senate is leading a "Phantoms and Folklore" bus tour around Ventura on Oct. 21 and 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. The bus will stop at several sites including the Olivas Adobe, Cemetery Park, and Eternal Comforts, a casket store. The cost is $6.

Then, on Oct. 29, Senate will be at Olivas Adobe for spooky candlelight ghost tours of the home, built in 1849. It is here that people speculate the dark figure wandering the grounds and rooms is the ghost of Dona Teodora Olivas, the wife of the adobe's builder and the mother of his 20 or so children.

Half-hour tours of the Olivas Adobe run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and cost $3 for adults and $1 for children. The tours are billed by the city as "bone-chilling." Don't be surprised if chairs rock by themselves, lights flicker mysteriously, and phantoms skulk about.


* WHAT: "Ghosts and Ghouls" walking tour, led by Richard Senate.

* WHEN: Saturday, 6 to 8 p.m.

* WHERE: Ventura's City Hall, California and Poli streets, downtown.

* COST: $6.

* FYI: Advance registration is required for this popular tour. For information on this tour and others, and to register, call 658-4726.

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