Ghost stories haunt Lode's Hotel Leger
By Antoinette May - From the Sunday, October 26, 2003 edition of the Stockton Record.
They don't have TVs at the Hotel Leger. They don't even have telephones. Guests make their own entertainment. Or someone ... or something ... makes it for them. One of the most historic hostelries in the Mother Lode, Mokelumne Hill's Hotel Leger (pronounced "luh zhay") has always been the hub of town activity. Now, it's getting attention for supposedly being haunted by its founder and early guests.
A hotel on the corner of Lafayette and Main dates to 1851. Until 1866, the building included the county courthouse with a convenient downstairs dungeon and a hanging tree out back. Since "the Hill" was the biggest, baddest, most important mining camp in Calaveras County (according to records, 17 people killed there in 17 weeks, then five more were shot the following weekend), it scarcely seems surprising that such riotous history would inspire a legion of restless spirits.
At least that's one theory. Very little is known for sure. George Leger, born in Germany but claiming French descent, came to Mokelumne Hill in 1851. Catering to the town's large French population, already ensconced on Lafayette Street, he erected his "inn" -- probably a tent -- fronting Center Street. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1854 but left the stone courthouse still intact. Within a year, the 40-year-old bon vivant was not only back in business, but also had acquired a wife, 23-year-old Louisa Wilkin. The 1860 census lists the couple with two children. Ten years later, there's no mention of Mrs. Leger, but there are three children, the youngest named Louisa. The story goes that the mother died in childbirth. Does that explain the eerie sounds of a woman crying reported over the years by hotel guests? Some think so.
Leger added a stone annex to his hotel and changed the name to Hotel de Europa, then to the Grand Hotel. He could call it anything he pleased; for townspeople, it was "Leger's place." In 1874, fire gutted the hotel once again, a loss estimated at $50,000. But on April 26, 1875, Leger celebrated its phoenix-like rise with a grand ball. More than 100 carriages pulled up in front conveying couples from every town in Calaveras and Amador counties.
Today, the hotel looks exactly as it did then -- including original stones dating from 1851 and the 1862 annex addition. People love to embellish the story by saying Leger was gunned down by an irate husband. Whatever his indiscretions, the man died of natural causes in 1879. His remains were taken from the hotel and interred in a nearby graveyard. Some say that was the end. Some say not.
"George walks the town," says Ron Miller, the Leger's former owner. "I've seen him. He looks exactly like his picture on the stairs." Miller's wife, Joyce, remembers the time she showed a prospective guest through the hotel. Suddenly the woman turned pale and ran outside, later explaining that a spectral man had stood behind Joyce, nodding his head approvingly as she recounted the building's history.
Shortly afterward, the Millers' son, Ronnie, asked them who was staying in "George's room."
"No one right now," his mother replied.
"Oh, yes there is," the boy answered. "A man just came out and asked me to be quiet."
Stories proliferate. In Room 2, guests report seeing a Victorian woman -- maybe one of George's girlfriends. In Room 3, they see a little boy. Maids make the beds in rooms 10 and 11, returning later to find them torn up. The wildest story is the midnight cattle drive down Main Street -- sounds of mooing, hoof beats and cowbells.
Guests -- as well as Ashley Canty, a current owner -- have rushed to the window only to see a dark, deserted street. Ashley's mother, Jane Canty, cleaned the dining room after a party, using three keys to lock three doors before leaving late at night. She returned the next morning, unlocked all the doors and found the room in disarray. Tables were shoved together. Dishes, glasses and silver used. "A hoax seems unlikely," she says. "It was so elaborate -- a lot of trouble to execute and difficult to conceal."
Then there's the afternoon that hotel manager Shana Molotch leaned against the ice machine in the former dungeon chatting with a plumber. "Is this place haunted?" he asked. Molotch shrugged. "People believe what they want to believe." The next moment, Molotch became an instant believer when something shoved hard enough to knock her forward, leaving red marks on her shoulder for two days.
Toni Marie Ostronski, who manages the hotel coffeehouse, has also had strange experiences. Her truck unlocks itself -- but only in front of the hotel. On one occasion, she packed up for the day, locking her computer in the truck, only to recall some soiled linens she'd intended to take home. Ostronski returned to the coffeehouse, picked up her laundry and walked back to the truck. As she scrambled for her keys, the lock jumped up before her eyes.
Another day, while sitting in front of the hotel with Pat Martin, a volunteer at the sheriff's substation next door, Ostronski's lock began to pop up and down. Click! Click! Click! Martin said, "That's funny. When I parked in front of the office this morning, my car locked itself. To get out, I had to roll down the window and unlock it with a key from the outside."
The best tale is Toni Dark's. Late one evening while working alone, Dark, the hotel bookkeeper, gathered up her papers and opened the door leading to the basement/dungeon. To her amazement, the stairwell was filled with colored balloons. "I pushed them aside and descended the stairs," she recalls. "After placing the books in the safe, I turned to find the stairwell completely empty--the balloons gone."
The hotel owners decided to call in a team of "ghostbusters." Mark Boccuzzi heads Bay Area Paranormal Investigators, assisted by Scott Mossbaugh, co-founder, and five field technicians, Nancy Benson, Stacey Ellis, Ryan Morris and Lori and Jamie Fike. Their "day jobs" include teaching, engineering and accounting. The team began its case study by drawing a detailed floorplan to establish a frame of reference. Experiments were recorded on the map, tests for environmental anomalies--anything out of the norm. "Cold, hard science is where it's at for us," Boccuzzi says. "We get a visceral rush from exploring something new, finding ways to best examine the situation to determine what's really going on."
The team uses a tri field meter to measure electric magnetic frequencies. They have thermometers to record cold spots, compasses to mark deviations from the field map and a wide variety of cameras and recorders -- thousands of dollars worth of highly advanced equipment.
Dagmar Morrow, a Mountain View medium, accompanied the team. At first, she felt overwhelmed by impressions. "So many spirits have memories of the hotel," she said. "Imagine 150 years of passion and intrigue. Some of them are rather mischievous. It's as though they're teasing, 'Find out about us if you can.' " Slowly, Morrow sorted them out. In the dungeon, she saw drunken men, heard them speculate on their fate. In the lobby she saw George, "still an entrepreneur, on to other projects somewhere else, but still keeping tabs on the hotel."
Morrow's most vivid image was the "Gray Lady," a thirtyish woman wearing Victorian clothing -- nipped-in waist, lace at the cuffs and neckline, a short frilly apron. "She was shy, diffident, looked at me questioningly as if asking, 'Is everything all right?' Some of the young women investigators were drawing diagrams of the hotel. She didn't approve of them sitting on the floor, didn't think it ladylike." While Morrow communed with her Gray Lady, Boccuzzi detected an electromagnetic anomaly, a column of energy recorded on his tri field meter. When he tested the spot later, the anomaly was gone. The paranormal investigator is cautious. "Other things can cause this type of disturbance, so I'm hesitant to say that what I detected was directly related to what Dagmar was picking up, but I did find the timing of it very interesting."
Boccuzzi and his team were up until 5 a.m., prowling every room with their video cameras and recorders. Their data proved inconclusive, but no one's giving up. "We hope to return soon to the Leger to resume our investigations," Boccuzzi says. "What better use is there for our spare time than the attempt to document the survival of the human spirit?"
* Antoinette May is author of "Haunted Houses of California" and "Adventures of a Psychic." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org