Ghosts in the Wine Country

As many Napa County residents prepare for Halloween festivities on Saturday, some locals tremble with fear-filled recollections of their encounters with local paranormal incidents.

This group of frightened mortals includes the unfortunate souls who have witnessed the revelation of the terrifying secrets hidden within a few unassuming Napa County barns.

About 80 years ago, a Jameson Canyon area ranch was plagued by bizarre events that escalated following the arrival of a family I will call the “Smiths.” They had agreed to work that ranch partly because both the house and ranch were fully equipped—all of this furniture and equipment had been inexplicably left behind by a long-ago resident.

Not long after settling into their new home, the family’s patriarch made constant and disturbing discoveries. Every day, prized livestock were found dead from an unknown and unnatural causes. Upon closer examination it appeared the animals had been hit and killed by numerous lightening strikes that left odd burn-marks and patterns. But yet there had been no thunderstorms in the area.

Months later, this livestock killing stopped abruptly. With relief, the rancher and a local veterinarian tried to make sense of the deaths and the odd burn-mark patterns. After struggling with this mysterious puzzle, the weary men decided a good night’s sleep would help. They parted ways, agreeing to meet again soon.

Later that night, the rancher’s teen-aged daughter woke up to see a strange light shining through her bedroom window. She got up to investigate and noticed that the barn’s interior was oddly aglow.

Filled with fearless curiosity, she quietly slipped out of the house and into the barn. The next morning, she was found curled up in a ball at the back porch by her parents. It is said, whatever she saw that night was so horrible she instantly aged to look decades older and was forever rendered speechless.

About a week later, her mother saw the same strange light. Bent on justice for her daughter, the mother went into the barn. When she was finally released from the barn the degree of terror she had experienced was obvious. Her once dark hair had instantly turned white.

Shortly thereafter, she started packing. Refusing to stop or speak of her experience, she and the children left the next morning. The rancher stayed behind to deal with the animals, landlord and another puzzle of what happened to his wife and daughter in the otherwise unassuming barn.

At that moment of pondering, he was given the answer, at least in part, as he passed by the table covered with the diagrams of the burn-mark patterns. Shortly thereafter, he too quickly abandoned the property. It is said, some how those diagrams were mysteriously rearranged to spell out, “Leave or die, ‘Smith’ family!”

This horrifying sequence was repeated numerous times until the eventually dilapidated ranch buildings and their contents were razed.

Not too long ago, the question of what had happened to those women and why was answered during a communication with a “Smith” family descendant. It was said, eventually the 1930s mother apprehensively recounted her experiences in that barn that terrible night. But first, she rolled up her shirt sleeve to reveal a faint but constant reminder of that night, a faint burn-mark on her upper arm. Her speechless daughter also bore the same scar.

She vividly recalled walking into the barn and seeing a nearly blinding greenish light. A terrifying, human-like but immense form accompanied by a nauseating stench suddenly zoomed towards her. As it angrily yelled at her at a deafening volume and said, “Leave or die, ‘Smith’ family!,” she felt the terrible pain of an intense heat burning the skin of her upper arm. She was then thrown out of the barn.

It is believed by the “Smith” family the ranch was possessed by the ghost of its long-ago owner. With some research, primarily talking with area residents, they found out he had lost his beloved ranch and home of 52 years to a scheming and unscrupulous banker. Purportedly, while being dragged off of his ranch and forced to leave behind all of his worldly possessions, the long-ago owner swore vengeance and cursed unspeakable fates upon anyone who dared to “squat” upon his ranch.

Not too far from this malevolent site is another haunted barn. Located in the Carneros area, this building has been standing since the early 1900s. During the day, the barn has always seemed ordinary and unpretentious. But with the arrival of dusk came strange things and occurrences.

The paranormal activities in and around this barn included sounds of muted males voices. Also, the animals made unusual sounds as if extremely agitated or frightened. There were also unusual sights, such as lights randomly flickering as if someone holding a lantern or flashlight was walking through the barn.

But when the alarmed people went to investigate, no one was there. However, while in the barn they did witness some odd sights, such as the hay bales stacked in weird formations. Plus, the large farm animals were in the hayloft with no possible means of getting upstairs.

But the most startling, unnerving and annoying incidents were the stampedes. Purportedly, the entity or entities scared the barn animals into a frenzy. It took the humans hours to corral the animals and even longer to calm them down.

Some believe the entity was a former property owner’s trouble-making son. Still others say the entities were former farm-hands getting even for being fired decades ago. While the barn still stands, the paranormal activity has stopped, at least for now.

The last beguiled barn story is far more tame than the previous accounts. Located north of Lake Berryessa in the eastern Napa County hills, this barn is the scene of an everlasting hoe-down. This paranormal activity occurs during weekends and holidays between June to December and from dusk to just before dawn.

It usually begins with sounds of music accompanied by the faint voices of dance-callers. There are also drifting sounds of laughter, voices and footfall. Occasionally, split-second sightings of partial apparitions dressed in the circa 1920-1930s “Sunday best” clothing have been seen.

Then just before dawn, distant and fading sounds of vehicle doors opening and closing are heard, as well as fond farewells and laughter. Following the sounds of these vehicles driving away comes the sunrise and silence.

On rare occasions, there have been daytime sightings of faint partial apparitions. The sightings of these entities as they busily clean up after the hoe-down are brief and just after sunrise. Also on rare occasion circa 1920-1930s objects have been left behind, but only momentarily before they vanish. Mortals have also heard faint strains of hoe-down music during the daytime.

Apparently, the barns of Napa County are favorite haunts for local ghosts.

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Rebecca Yerger is a Napa historian and writer, who, each Halloween, tracks down new local ghostly tales for the Napa Valley Register.