With a past rooted in the Wild West and rich in Native American history, it doesn’t have to be Halloween in Truckee/Tahoe for spirits of yore to make their presence known. You may think it’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus, but for these folks, what they’ve witnessed is the stuff of ghostly tales.

Every spring, third-graders from Truckee and Glenshire elementary schools head to the historic downtown area to listen to teachers tell stories of the town’s early days. With a bit of a checkered past including saloons and duels and vigilantes, the town keeps a few of her secrets from the kids, who get a G-rated walking history tour of Truckee. They check out the rocking stone at Veterans Hall, the Truckee Jail, and stop by various stores that once housed some of Truckee’s most infamous establishments.

MYSTERY MAN: JJ Morgan tells Truckee third graders on a walking history tour about a mysterious visitor who appeared during renovations. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

The most awaited stop on the tour, however, is the Truckee Hotel and Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats. The kids crowd into the bar area, filled with excitement and maybe even a little fear. They’re going to hear a real live ghost story. They stand in dead silence as owner JJ Morgan takes center stage, standing before a grand mural on the wall.

“In general, my feeling about this building and ghosts is: I’m a nice guy, so what’s a ghost gotta have a beef with me about?” he posed to a group of students from Glenshire elementary in 2018. “I’ve been here when I’m the only person in the building and I’ll go up to the fourth floor and it just feels weird. Like the hair on my arms will stand up. It’s not like I see a sheet going down the hallway. But … it just … something feels off and I’ll just go downstairs.”

Morgan and his partner bought the place in 2002. They were working in the bar area one day, digging up the floor, when they experienced a strange phenomenon.

“We were digging and an old man came through the front door, which was locked or bolted up or something and said, ‘there’s a mural in the wall,’” he told the students.

“We took off our masks and looked up and nobody was there. A week later, we got call at 7 in the morning on Sunday from a contractor … who had opened the wall and found the mural.” It had been hidden by layers of sheetrock for about 80 years and was perfectly preserved.

“That’s my ghost story and that’s the truth from me,” he said. “There’s a bunch of different stories from the hotel. I don’t know if they’re true or not true but I know that this one is true.”

FRIGHT FEST: An apparition walks out of a bedroom on the fourth floor of the Truckee Hotel in downtown Truckee. Photo by Jenn Predmore, enhanced for clarity

Truckee native Chelsea Walterscheid has more ghost stories than there is space in Moonshine Ink to share. She, too, has haunted tales of the Truckee Hotel, but also of the Richardson House, downtown basements, better-to-remain-anonymous local establishments, and even her own childhood home in Armstrong Tract.

A good decade or so ago, Walterscheid and her friend Jenn Predmore used to go ghost hunting in the dark of night throughout downtown Truckee. A medium, Predmore was well-prepared for their adventures with all sorts of spirit-detecting equipment. One particular quest led them to an old Brickelltown house. There hadn’t been much in the way of ghostly action that night so they decided to poke around the outside of some neighboring houses.

The equipment suddenly got hot. “Oh, shit. There’s a man looking at us right now. He’s not very happy with us,” Walterscheid recalled her friend saying as they stood on the outskirts of the property. “He does not like that we’re here … He’s a doctor. He might even be a surgeon.” For Predmore, it didn’t make sense for there to be  a doctor inside this house-turned-retail shop.

“What Jenn didn’t know, and probably wouldn’t have known, couldn’t have known, what I know that kind of solidified the story for me, was we’re standing on the original footprint of the hospital,” said Walterscheid, who ran the Old Jail Museum for years and, as a fourth-generation Truckee resident, is a treasure trove for local history. “When Jenn pulls out those things and I can verify them because of historical knowledge, it just makes it that much more real.”

The White and Richardson houses both have a long history of ghost sightings.

Old-timers used to tell the story that the pianist wife of one-time White house owner C.B. White, who ran it as a bed and breakfast, would be dressed to the nines as she would greet guests arriving by train. Many people have claimed to hear piano music when there was no piano around, said Walterscheid. Then there was the time in the 1990s when a guest reported having an unwelcome visitor in her bathroom stall — a black dog. Or, rather, half a black dog protruding from the wall.

For years, Walterscheid worked at the Richardson House, where she saw all sorts of things happen, like the window shade moving up and down and the indentation of a full body on the bedspread she had fluffed just moments before. But things would get really crazy whenever a couple dubbed “the Bickersons” would stay. Known for their frequent bickering, the energy flow must’ve turned negative because whenever they would stay, there would be some serious manifestations in their room, like books flying off shelves and even a lightbulb bursting.

SPOOKY SÉANCE: A BBC film crew caught footage of a séance at the Cal Neva during which the spirit of Frank Sinatra was summoned, but it wasn’t he who showed up. Courtesy photo

Truckee isn’t the only haunted hotbed around Tahoe, however. The Tahoe Biltmore, the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park, Vikingsholm, and the Thunderbird Lodge are all said to have had haunted happenings. But some of the more publicized sightings have taken place at the Cal Neva Resort and Casino, Frank Sinatra’s old place along the California/Nevada stateline. It’s long been rumored that Old Blue Eyes himself and Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe were still hanging around the property.

“There have been many stories about paranormal activity,” former Cal Neva director of sales and marketing Lee Koch told Moonshine Ink. “Jim [the chef] would often be frequented by a spirit dressed as a shaman.” Research revealed that the land upon which the Cal Neva was built had been an old Washoe burial ground; a sanctuary for the dead.

There was the time a worker was clearing off the stage when he felt something pass by him. “It was very cold and he saw the curtain move,” said Koch, an admitted nonbeliever-turned-believer after all the things she witnessed in her three years at the resort and casino. This was in the early days of camera phones, she said, explaining that the man had taken out his phone and just started taking pictures all around the room. What the shots revealed, said Koch, was “similar to what Jim saw — a big person dressed in white garb.”

And then there was the time a distributor strolled into the walk-in cooler with a beer delivery. “He came flying out and refused to go back in,” Koch said. They never did find out what it was the delivery man had witnessed inside the cooler that had him so spooked.

There is one story, however, that until now has rarely been shared with the public. At one point during her tenure, Koch was contacted by folks from the BBC. They had heard about the supposed sightings of Sinatra and Monroe and “wanted to grab a voice recording of Sinatra,” Koch explained. “They wanted to bring back Frank and hopefully get some stories that were good enough to share with the world.”

The plan was to use an electronic voice phenomena (EVP) audio recorder to try to catch not only Sinatra’s voice but also spirit voices from the Monroe Cabin and the Indian Room, where bigger events were known to have occurred.

“They went to the stage area, then in the restaurant by the cold storage,” Koch said. “They wanted to bring a film crew to do a full séance.”

In the meantime, audio from the EVP used in Monroe’s cabin was played back: “Do you want to see a movie?” Over and over, the question was repeated in what eerily sounded like Marilyn Monroe herself. Things got a bit more serious when the Frank Sinatra Show Room stage area recording was played: “Do not come.”

The words, in the voice of what sounded like an old woman, were chilling. The recording from the walk-in cooler that had left the beer delivery guy looking like he saw a ghost contained much in the way of scratching noises. “They couldn’t interpret it, but there was enough to confirm activity,” Koch said.

Wheels were set in motion and a 23-year-old medium from Chicago — who had no knowledge whatsoever of the Cal Neva or its haunted history — was brought in for a ceremony that would be run by two professional séance hosts from Reno.

“At the time, I was a nonbeliever,” Koch reminded. She and her husband agreed to be part of the séance, along with chef Jim, who most certainly was a believer having had countless kitchen encounters.

The lights were turned down and candles were lit as the group joined hands while seated at a round table on the stage. The hosts cautioned everyone to not stop holding hands and started to summon the spirits when suddenly, the young medium’s face began to contort. He was making motions as if he were smoking a cigarette and was rubbing one eye. Sinatra’s Brat Pack buddy Sammy Davis Jr. — known smoker and blind in his left eye — always took the stage first, Koch told Moonshine.

Suddenly the young man started fiercely convulsing and making noises like he was choking. “I thought this kid was choking to death,” said Koch, noting that the hosts started to yell, “Break!” for the group to stop holding hands. “Then the kid started freaking out. He was having convulsions, like an epileptic seizure.” He seemed to be talking in some unknown language.

After the hand chain was broken, Koch said the séance professionals couldn’t leave fast enough. “They said, ‘we’re out of here,’” Koch recalled.

It was later discovered that the odd-sounding words coming from the medium weren’t just ramblings. “The kid was speaking in tongues,” Koch said. A team of language experts at University of Nevada Reno had determined the “ramblings” to be the Washoe language. The translation? “Do not come. We will kill.” It was the same thing recorded on the stage: “Do not come.”

And with that, Koch said, “I am, without question, a believer.”

The question now is, are you?