Go If You Dare: Ghost Tours Take Participants to Sonoma’s Haunted Places
Wine isn't the only spirit to be found in the town of Sonoma.
By JILL KOENIGSDORF
September / October 2019 Issue of SONOMA MAGAZINE
From Mountain Cemetery to the Sebastiani Theater, Sonoma has a number of haunted places, including several wineries. Here, an angel statue graces the headstone of the Sartori family in Sonoma's Mountain Cemetery.
Cue the minor-chord organ music: it’s that time of year when we give our inner paranormal detective permission to play, and the town of Sonoma is reportedly a place that many a ghost calls home. From Mountain Cemetery to the Sebastiani Theater, Sonoma has a number of haunted places, including several wineries where wine isn’t the only spirit to be found.
For those who want to delve deeper, one local tour stands out. The Haunted History Tour led by Carla Heine, author of “Sonoma Ghosts.” Heine is a local historian and the city’s reigning poltergeist-laureate.
Heine has lived for over half a century within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic Plaza and she has been interested in the paranormal since early childhood.
“I grew up in an adobe built for General Vallejo by Indian slaves. There were five murders in the house. We had eight ghosts. I was terrified from the moment we moved in, but on the morning after our first night in the house, Father said, "Live with it; the escrow’s closed!"
Heine used to conduct tours in Ter Phantom Limo, which has since " gone to limo heaven,” she says. These days, the curious can walk in the actual footsteps of the ghosts she introduces, and she has taken great care to research the locations, history, and background of each location and story. She often bringing electromagnetic resonators and dowsing rods, "to find out more about who these people were, and why they haven’t moved on.”
At the top of her list of locations for spotting ghosts in Sonoma is the empty lot behind the Mission San Francisco Solano, at First Street East and East Spain Street. “There is an amazing opportunity to see the ghost of Sem-Yeto (Mighty-Strong-Arm) right here," says Heine. "He was over seven feet tall and the Pomo Chief of Chiefs who led the Bear Cult sacrifices that took place here every October full moon. The Bear Spirit has also been seen there after sunset on a regular basis over the last 150 years. If you go looking for him, aim high: he is about seventeen feet tall, and deep neon-blue with sparks.”
The town whipping tree on First Street East. The haunted carriage drive at The Vallejo Home is at Third Street West and West Spain Street. On the west side of City Hall in the center of The Plaza is a recurring auditory phenomenon, which is the ghost of a fire-wagon driver yelling "Out of the way! OUT OF THE WAY!!!" in a vain attempt to save a small boy's life at the start of the fire that almost burned Sonoma to the ground in 1923.
The Depot Park up by the Field of Dreams on First Street East and the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery are also paranormal hot spots.
“If you want to see a ghost, you have to go where they have been seen often, at the same time when they have been seen before. In Sonoma that usually means twilight.” Ahhh...The witching hour!
The Sonoma Plaza is heavily haunted. You can go there at any time of the day or night and feel it. People have seen the apparition of a Mexican soldier at the Mission, a 22-foot long rattlesnake, and a robed monk carrying two flaming lanterns across the balcony of The Barracks building. People have also a little boy in The Plaza, and sometimes in the evening, when there are no other children there and no breeze, he will swing on the swing in the playground. Sometimes the swing moves back and forth by itself for quite some time.
Then it just suddenly stops.
In Sonoma, ghosts do as they please.
A “Lady in White” has been spotted frequenting the dining room porch behind the Toscano Hotel.
No place in Sonoma houses as many restless phantoms as the house at 205 East Spain Street in which Carla Heine grew up, but The Sebastiani Theater runs a close second. There three female ghosts who make regular appearances there. The most famous is Barbara, a stage manager who fell to her death in 1949 from the catwalk up above the stage and she still works backstage during (she should pardon the expression:) live performances. Barbara walks the catwalk still … from beyond the grave.
Wash your hands in the Ladies Lounge of The Sebastiani Theatre, and you may be startled by Trixie, a fashion-obsessed 16-year-old ghost in a 1930s yellow satin drop-waist dress, glancing over your shoulder into the mirror, scrutinizing your hairdo, your makeup, and your outfit.
And should you attempt to sit in the center of the front row of the theater, be prepared for the chubby disgruntled countenance of a deceased elderly patron who still thinks that is her personal seat and you have no right to even think of sitting there!
The Haunted History Walking Tours take place in Sonoma's beautiful Historic District. And every Friday evening at Six pm, you can find Carla Heine waiting for you in her favorite haunt, right in front of the Mission Chapel.