This is a draft for a photojournalistic story I’m working on with a friend of mine. It’s set in Placerville, near my temporary home back in the States. I’m hoping to do more articles in this vein. Check back soon for photographs to be added to the story.
The Cary House
Downtown Placerville, California sits The Cary House, a long, rustic, red-brick, four-story block building that serves as the town’s most popular hotel. All locals know of this vine-enwrapped building; it’s landmark. More than that, it’s surrounded in arcane mystery and possesses a suspicion of haunts, strange encounters and paranormal experience.
The two most haunted rooms are purportedly on the second story, rooms 212 and 214, at the far end of the hall. There are various stories for what may have happened, though most conclude that a murder or suicide took place. The question is only whether it was by fire, bullet or strangulation. Some also suspect that another murder took place in the back of the lowest level near the fire escape. And most recently, on Thursday, July 28th, a guest, a Mrs. Kurtenbach, saw in her hallway—which happened to be on the second floor—a pretty young girl in a white- and cream-blue dress with dandelion-colored hair half covered in a bonnet. She walked from one end of the hallway toward another, away from Mrs. Kurtenbach. “She looked back at me when she got to the far end of the hall. I tried to smile, or wave, but I was so struck by the strangeness of the situation, I . . . It was like she was from another era. And yet so real. Then, after she turned around, she just vanished. Just like that. And all I saw was the Exit sign above where her head had been. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Such experiences, apparently, are not rare. In fact, they are commonplace to visitors of the Cary House, although the Hotel has yet to gain notoriety for its supernatural aura. Local historian, Mr. Crocker, however, discounts any ghost stories as fiction. Crocker said that, contrary to local belief, “The Cary House is not old, not by historical standards. It was made to look old in the 1940’s. Really, what you’re looking at is the Raffle House, a re-creation of the Cary House which was in Placerville, or shall I say, Hangtown, during the good old gold mining days. So there’s no way you’d see some ghost from the 1800’s.” Crocker, moreover, claims that most of Placerville’s old town is just a Disney-like reinterpretation of the olden times and that most history stories of Placerville require deeper digging than looking at faux-historical architecture.
Nevertheless, the Cary House contains the oldest elevator on the west side of the Mississippi. And despite Crocker’s claims, there is a guestbook which goes back to the late 1800’s. One eerie entry for 1888 contains the words “3 moar.” This supposedly appeared all of a sudden after the second murder took place.
And the Cary House continues to exert an imposing force over its occupants. My first time there was just two days after the latest paranormal report. As I approached under its overbearing shadow in the heat of a summer’s day, I felt ill-at-ease, mesmerized. Inside, in the air-conditioned halls, I was captivated by the marble-green carpet, the lush upholstery, the stained-glass windows and the old western artifacts beneath the front clerk’s counter. Standing near the fire exit in the back, where the second murder reportedly took place, I felt the tension of trapped air accompanied by a dim electric hum and, as I began to walk away, I felt the sensation of featherweight fingers tapping my shoulders.
The Cary House, doubtless, induces a feeling of the bizarre and weird upon the psyche. Upstairs, the hallways appeared slightly off-center; walking down them you feel gravity in a warped and uneven way, as if the building had modified, for a moment, the universal laws of physics. The stairwell creaks; light comes through the skylight in dispersed, but sharp, piercing rays. Imagine staying the night there; after midnight when you lie down to sleep, it might not be difficult to mishear the sound of the ancient piano warily playing an outmoded dance tune, or the murmur of a child, in an unfamiliar colonial accent, speak brashly to its sibling. And later on, breaking your dreams, you hear a horse trot up in front of the building, waiting for its halter and water in a mangy trough, while footsteps plunk over the porch below.
For better or worse, be it a real historical edifice or a farcical refurbishing, the Cary House allows residents of Placerville, and of all the West, to come into contact with the unique history of their surroundings and the nebulous folktales and rumors that spawn around the presence of the past, a thing often lacking in the hives of condominiums and sprawling McMansions which cover so much of the state. The 10,389 residents of Placerville should count themselves lucky to live in one of the more historical cities in California.