GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
History & Hauntings of America
- GHOSTS OF WOLF HOUSE -
BY TROY TAYLOR
The SONOMA VALLEY is located in the heart of wine country. It was here that the first wine north of San Francisco was made. The area is not only rich in history, but is the jewel of northern California. It is not only a place of beauty and wonder, but according to some, a place of mystery as well.
Wolf House was once one of the most unusual houses in the state of California and
had it survived, would have been the showplace of the Sonoma Valley. It had taken more
than 30 men, working full time, to carve the mansion from solid volcanic rock. Huge
redwood trees were felled to provide wood for timbers, rafters and the floors. Many or the
rooms were more than 50 feet long and the dining room had been constructed to play host to
more than 30 guests at one time. In an attempt to protect the house from earthquakes, the
structure was built atop a floating slab which was big enough to support a much larger
The mansion was built by successful author, Jack London, and he and his wife planned to move into it in September 1913. However, just a few weeks before the place was completed, in August, Wolf House was destroyed by a terrible fire for which the cause was never determined. Only the strongest walls and the redwood timbers remained among the smoldering ruins. "The walls are still standing, I shall rebuilt it," London said.
But for some reason, the project was never started again and three years later, London was gone, his life ended at only the age of 40. Today, the remains of Wolf House remain as an eerie memorial to one of America's greatest writers.
Although Wolf House is gone... spirits remain here. In years past, before the Jack London State Park was closed after dark, visitors who came to Wolf House (located in the park) at night reported hearing strange sounds and experiencing odd things among the ruins. They often claimed to be touched by unseen hands or to hear footsteps climbing stairs which burned away long ago. Occasionally, visitors reported that seeing apparitions who bore no resemblance to anyone associated with Wolf House. Stories began to be told about these strange spirits. The legends claimed they were the ghosts of characters from Londons stories.... as if the vivid and fevered imagination of the author had brought them into existence.
Jack London's widow, Charmain, lived in a house nearby for 40 years after her husband's
death and she always maintained that London's spirit was close by. After the mansion had
burned, the London's has stayed in a nearby ranch house until the author's death in 1916.
The house was also said to be haunted. Relatives of London had converted the place into a
guest ranch in 1933 and visitors often complained of hearing footsteps in the middle of
the night and of the door to the den, opening and slamming shut on its own.
According to reports, London did most of his later writing in the den and would often pace the hallways (where the footsteps were heard) whenever he would be having trouble coming up with a line or story.
But London's connections to the occult began long before his death....
When he was young, London's mother supported the family by conducting seances at home. She was a devout Spiritualist and Jack was exposed to this at a very young age. While he never really delved into the occult in his own life, some of it does crop up in his own writings on occasion. He was also a close friend of Harry Houdini, who wanted to believe in ghosts but was never convinced of their existence. It was said that after London's death, Houdini maintained a very close relationship with Charmain London, until his own death a decade later.
As the years passed, there were many unverified accounts of Jack London's spirit
communicating with various Spiritualist circles across the country. The Rev. Edward Payne,
who was a close friend of London and conducted his funeral service, claimed the he
communicated with Londons spirit many times. In 1933, he wrote a book about his
seances with London called THE SOUL OF JACK LONDON. Payne, and other Spiritualists who
were close to the writer, felt assured that the statements made during the seances could
have only come from London. They stated that the spirit used expressions and had
mannerisms that only those who knew him personally could have been aware of.
Those who were present also reported cold chills in the room when Londons spirit was present. Rev. Payne stated that he had an overwhelming feeling of the actual presence of Jack London.
The authors last alleged contact was said to have come during a San Francisco seance in the late 1930's. Regardless of the fact that there has been no further contact with this adventurous author, many believe that his ghost still walks.... and he may not walk alone!
In the early 1980's, author (and one of my personal heroes) Richard Winer spent the
night in the ruins of Wolf House. Armed with a flashlight and two cameras, he later stated
that " a sensation that he was not alone". At one point, when he reached a
chamber where Jack London had planned to store his manuscripts, he felt a coldness which
he described as being 20 degrees colder than the air around it. Later, after his infrared
film was developed, he learned that he was notalone in the ruins!
Several weeks after his trip ended, he returned home and had his 35mm slides developed. One scene, taken just after the intense cold that he experienced near the vault, showed the form of what appeared to be a woman in period clothing from the early 1900's. She seemed to be floating about two feet off the ground. The apparition seemed to be very small.... and Winer recalled that Charmain London was only five feet tall!
A few miles from the ruins of Wolf House is the JACK LONDON BOOKSTORE. While it still
operates as a thriving, specialty bookstore today, Richard Winer interviewed then owner
Russ Kingman during his trip to the Sonoma Valley. Kingman was widely known as one of the
worlds leading scholars on Jack London and visitors came from around the world to
pursue their studies of the California author. But according to some, not all of the
visitors who arrived in the small Glen Ellen bookstore were among the living!
Kingman reported that books would sometimes disappear from the shelves, only to reappear again weeks later. He also recalled a time when he had gone through his files to re-arrange them for some items going to a Jack London museum. He left town for a few days and when he returned, all of the files had been put back in their original place again. The problem was that no one could have gotten into the shop without setting off the alarm... and no one had!
In addition to the spirits directly related to London, there have also been other ghostly happenings in the Valley of the Moon, the valley which Wolf House would have grandly overlooked. Valley of the Moon was actually Londons mistranslation of the Indian word Sonoma. London later titled a book VALLEY OF THE MOON, further adding to the mistake and thus creating a name still in use today.
The story goes that the nearby Blue Wing Inn is haunted. The building was constructed around 1836 by General Mariano Vallejo as a guest house. It later became a notorious saloon during the Gold Rush days and played host to visitors as diverse as Kit Carson, the bandit Joaquin Murietta and an Army officer named Ulysses S. Grant.
According to the legend of the place, a Mexican man killed a prostitute here many years ago by throwing her off a balcony. There is an apparition here of a young woman in a full-length dress who carries a candle. She wanders the hallways at night and it is said that she is the ghost of the murdered prostitute. There are also the heavy footsteps of a man, who continuously climbs the staircase after midnight. The footsteps always pause on the third step from the bottom before continuing to climb. When the footsteps are heard, the stairs are always empty.
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR
HAUNTED PLACES: THE NATIONAL DIRECTORY by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
HOUSES OF HORROR by Richard Winer (1983)
WINE COUNTRY: A COMPASS GUIDE by John Doerper (1998)
THE COMPLETE STORIES OF JACK LONDON
THE STAR ROVER by Jack London (1904)
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