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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : OUTINGS : JAUNTS : Santa Paula Offers a Walk on the Weird Side : Ghost tours to be held for the next two weekends will visit the city's oldest residential area to survey architecture and meet some colorful characters.

October 19, 1995|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For the next two weekends, you can take an evening stroll through the streets of Santa Paula, past turn-of-the-century homes, where colorful figures step from the shadows with haunting tales.

You'll hear the one about a freak blizzard that struck Santa Paula in 1933, how the marshal was gunned down in 1913, and how a benevolent ghost still pops in on a local funeral director.

It's all part of the Santa Paula Theatre Center's Ghost Walk, a series of walking tours through the city's oldest residential neighborhood. It's a chance to see some classic architecture--and meet some amazing characters along the way.

This is the second year for the Ghost Walk. The one-hour tours run from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and on Oct. 28 and 29. They leave every 20 minutes. The cost is $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under.

Tour guides, leading the way with old-fashioned lanterns, will start at the The Mill, a one-of-a-kind hardware-general store, originally built in 1888 to warehouse lima beans.

The walk, which covers about a mile, swings by the First Christian Church, finished in 1900, then turns down Santa Paula Street, the city's oldest neighborhood. This was where the town's prominent folk lived when the area had just begun to boom with oil production and citrus farming.

The tour takes you by homes once owned by the town's postmaster, its first druggist, executives with the Santa Paula Building and Loan Assn., the Santa Paula Citrus Assn., and the then-new Limoneira Ranch Co.

You'll see some Queen Anne-style architecture with fancy woodwork, cupolas and stained glass windows. (Check out the White Gables Inn, the most gussied-up example here.) Others have a cleaner Craftsman look.

But the houses aren't the real show here. Actors from the theater group step forward at spots along the way with short monologues that add a chilling touch to the evening.

Frank Ellis, featured in the theater group's recent production of "To Kill a Mockingbird," will do a snippet based on the ghost that funeral director David Risher says has dogged him for at least 20 years.

The ghost, a woman in dark prairie-style clothes of the 1800s, does mischievous things, like turn lights on, close doors, put a toothbrush in the refrigerator or a comb under the water bed.

"It's nothing threatening," Risher said. Sometimes she appears in full form, sometimes she's transparent, and sometimes her presence is just a feeling that someone is there.

His wife and children have seen the ghost, even the neighbors have spotted a strange woman in the window. At night they've heard what sounds like a dinner party in the dining room, with muffled voices and glasses clinking. But it's mainly Risher she visits.

"One night I was coming out of the bathroom and she walked through me," he said. "It was cold; I couldn't breathe."

*

It all started in San Diego when Risher was 18 or 19. He doesn't know why, but she began appearing not long after he received a painting of a landscape--a gift from the mother of a friend who had died mysteriously.

He likes having the ghost around. "She's like a guardian angel. I don't want her to leave."

Risher's house isn't on the Ghost Walk tour, but there is one stop where some ghost sightings purportedly have been made. Most of the monologues are based on real characters or real events, but some are pure fiction, like the twin sisters who bicker incessantly.

There really was a freak blizzard in 1933, and an old "trapper" tells of the search for a father and son who disappeared while hunting in the snow-blanketed Sespe Wilderness.

And the marshal really was shot--the gun battle relived by a "deputy" who tells of "bullets flying everywhere."

One of the funnier monologues is based on the not-so-funny incident of John Mears, who died of a gunshot wound to the back of the head in 1905. "John" comes back from the dead to clarify how it happened.

At other spots, a cowboy named "Slim" tells how his luck ran out in the rodeo arena, a spinster piano teacher sadly waits for her fiance, and a young girl falls victim to the St. Francis dam disaster.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

DETAILS

* WHAT: Santa Paula Theatre Center's Ghost Walk.

* WHEN: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Oct. 28 and 29. Tours run every 20 minutes, from 6 to 9 p.m. (Last tour starts at 8:40 p.m.)

* WHERE: Tour starts at The Mill, 212 N. Mill St., Santa Paula.

* HOW MUCH: $6 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under.

* FYI: 525-3073. Reservations recommended.

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