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Simple & Sassy: Meeting ghosts in Napa Valley
Simple & Sassy

Simple & Sassy: Meeting ghosts in Napa Valley


Whenever a host asks for a volunteer, I always put my head down and become transfixed by the ragged state of my nailbeds. I’m an introvert, not an attention seeker, and I know there are others who are excited to take center stage and raise their hands to signify they are willing participants. But sometimes, you get picked anyway. And when a ghost picks you, you just go with the flow.

Being a journalist, I am all about facts and having proof to back up claims, so I am naturally skeptical. I’m never sure where my thoughts are when it comes to the paranormal. My opinions tend to fluctuate. I’ve had things happen to me that I can’t explain, but maybe it was all in my head. Maybe it was something else. I’m open to the suggestion that spirits move about the earth, but I can’t full-heartedly say I believe it. I like the idea of loved ones watching over us, but I don’t like the idea of malevolent spirits causing mischief. You can’t have one without the other though.

My skeptical nature is heightened during Halloween when I can feast my eyes on hours of TV specials about Halloween history and haunted locales. My DVR is bursting with specials featured on the Travel Channel and Destination America. I don’t know what I believe, but I am fascinated by the possibilities. And when it comes down to it, my paranormal curiosities are linked to my love for history. Whether the stories are true or not, I love to learn about local legends.

Chuck indulged my curiosity for the paranormal by agreeing to go on the Sixteen Spirits Historical Ghost Winery Tour at Flora Springs Family Estate in St. Helena. Napa is home to several ghost wineries. These are wineries that were abandoned in the era of prohibition – it doesn’t necessarily mean they are haunted by spirits. However, Flora Springs claims to be home to 16 spirits, hence the name of the tour.

In honor of its history as one of Napa Valley’s few remaining ghost wineries, Flora Springs Winery  is celebrating the spooky season with new …

Paranormal investigators Ellen MacFarlane and Devin Sisk, who regularly lead Napa City Ghosts & Legends Walking Tours in downtown Napa, seemed like worthy guides. They came with all kinds of gadgets and offered stories to justify their street cred. They lead our group of 14 into one of the wine caves, and Sisk used dowsing rods to commune with the local spirits and confirmed that, as advertised, all 16 spirits were present.

I knew Chuck doesn’t believe in this stuff, but I told myself that I needed to keep an open mind and did my best to leave my reporter’s skepticism behind as we took a lap through the cave. I thought it would be a longer walk, but we were back to our starting point in the corner of the caves near the entrance. Sisk and MacFarlane asked if anyone felt or saw anything during the walk, and one by one, we said no.

MacFarlane then mentioned that the spirit of a teenage boy was lingering along the wall where we made a left turn deeper into the caves and proceeded to tell us about his tragic death.

Hmmmmm. I felt a tightening in my chest when we turned that corner. I just figured it was breakfast coming back to haunt me – not a spirit.

Sisk asked Matthew if he wanted to chat, and the dosing rods crossed to confirm he was in the room. Sisk asked if there was anyone in the room he wanted to talk to. Dosing rods crossed again. Would you show me, Sisk asked as the dosing rods began to point to the left side of the group. I began to smile thinking Matthew would pick my non-believing husband, but suddenly Sisk as standing in front of me.

“Congratulations, you are our volunteer!”

Of course, I thought. Teenage boys showed no interest in me when I was young, but now in my 30s, a ghost teenager has taken a liking to me.

Being a reporter, I was looking forward to my first interview with a ghost, but it was more of a demonstration. Sisk asked me to pick two women from our group to join me, and with dosing rods in hand, I asked Matthew to prove his presence by moving the dosing rods in the direction of the woman on my left or right. He was a little shy, but eventually the rods moved. Oddly enough, I felt nothing when the rods moved even though I was the one holding them and could attest that I was doing nothing to move the rods in either direction.

I traded places with one of the women. She asked Matthew to direct the rods to the woman on her left. After a few minutes, the rod moved. Then she asked Matthew to point to me. Within seconds, the rod was pointing at me. Looks like someone has a crush.

Chuck said the woman, who said she’d been on other ghost tours, moved the rod so that the demonstration could move along and we could “meet” other spirits. Maybe yes. Maybe no.

I’d been holding back on our hosts. Before we walked the caves, we stood in a dark area near the entrance and were asked to close our eyes. Sisk and MacFarlane asked the spirits to be kind to us on our journey. We were asked to open our minds and let images or feelings pass over us as the spirits welcomed us to their home.

Sisk and MacFarlane asked if we felt or “saw” anything in these moments, and we all said no. But I lied. I didn’t want to be the only one who claimed to see something. I didn’t want to be the weirdo on the ghost tour.

During the guided meditation, I saw an old metal pail. MacFarlane would latest tell us Matthew died in a horse-related accident that killed him instantly. Was Matthew carrying that pale? Maybe he was carrying feed or water and was kicked in the head. It’s fun in hindsight to connect the dots and create a story. It makes you wonder.

Am I crazy? Did I make it up? We interacted with other spirits, but my mind wondered back to the ranch boy and his untimely death. As we exited the cave and stepped into the light, I whispered a quiet goodbye to my new friend. You never know who is listening.

Samie Hartley is the Napa Valley Register online editor. Simple & Sassy runs every other Sunday. She can be reached at

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Online Editor/Calendar Editor

Samie Hartley is the Napa Valley Register online editor and social media manager. She also assembles the community calendar. Her column Simple & Sassy runs on alternating Sundays.

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