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Spirited Quest : College class will do fieldwork, seeking otherworldly activity at Hart ranch.


Do you believe in ghosts but have never been lucky enough to see one?

Richard Senate might be able to help you. And if he doesn't get an actual ghost to materialize, at the very least he'll tell you about the numerous experiences he has had with eerie creatures from the other world.

Senate, a renowned writer and ghost-hunter from Ventura, will offer a class at Glendale Community College to share his ghostly expertise.

The class is a beginning workshop in ghost-hunting. After registering, students will meet Sunday morning at the William S. Hart Ranch in Newhall, home of the silent movie actor who died there in 1944.

"That place is long rumored to be haunted," said Senate. "The people who work at the ranch don't like to talk about the ghost, but at one point or another, they've all had stories to tell."

Besides a lecture on ghosts and ghost-hunting, the class will include a variety of experiments to find evidence of psychic activity.

"It's like a laboratory experiment. We will be using dowsing rods to see if we can find areas of psychic disturbance, and then we will walk through the mansion, which is covered with art treasures. At the end, we'll conduct an ending experiment and compare notes with the findings of the previous teams that have been there with me."

Of course, it is unlikely that an apparition will materialize for such an eager group of intruders. Although a few students have reported sightings in previous excursions, Senate promises nothing.

"Unfortunately, some people expect the moon, and they get very disappointed when they don't get it," he said. "But I always tell them that if I could promise a ghost, I would be charging much more money."

Unlike the stereotype of the loony, gullible ghost-buster, Senate is a quiet, introspective man who is likely to be more skeptical than not when hearing a ghost story.

"I was very skeptical," he said, "until I saw a ghost myself."

This momentous sighting happened when Senate was about 23. "I was doing archeological work at Mission San Antonio de Padua," he recounted. "I was walking through the courtyard at about 12:30 at night, planning to go to the kitchen, when I saw a figure carrying a candle."

"I decided to see who it was and when I drew near it, I saw that it was a monk. This didn't scare me, because monks still lived at the mission. But when I got closer to it, the figure disappeared."

"The next day, I asked the monks about any ghosts, and they said: 'Oh yes, we have a lot of ghosts here.' " And they told me about a certain Brother Joseph, a pious monk who at 12:30 at night would light a candle and go to the chapel. Which is exactly what I had seen."

Through the years, the skeptic became a firm believer, as Senate investigated the matter long enough to shake off remaining doubts. "I was on an investigation once where six people saw the same ghost," he recalled. "I had them separate themselves after the event and draw a picture of exactly what they saw. All the drawings were the same."

The author is helped in his quest for the supernatural by his wife, who happens to be a psychic.

"My wife doesn't even like to do psychic work," Senate said, laughing.

"But give her an object, and she'll hold it in her hands and tell you who owned it. Go to a site with her, and she'll tell you details about the place she couldn't possibly know. When you research everything she's told you, you find out it's all true."

Still, Senate doesn't mind if people aren't believers.

"I expect people to retain their skepticism. The worst thing you can do is start believing everything that's out there," he said.

"From time to time, people will ask me: 'What are ghosts?' And my answer is that I don't know. Their true nature is still a mystery, and I keep hoping that one day I will find the answer. But I still have to come up with one that could stand the test of time."

One thing he knows, he said, is that "people have been seeing ghosts for thousands and thousands of years all over the world. There's no place in the world without stories about [people] seeing apparitions."


Ghost Watch at William S. Hart Ranch, Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Class fee: $25. Information: Glendale Community College, (818) 548-0864, Ext. 5015 or 5016.

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