Set in one of Napa’s historic neighborhoods is a circa 1900 residence that is the birthplace of the loudspeaker and the Magnavox company.
And it’s said that the spirits of the inventors, among others, still inhabit this modest yet historically significant house.
“I think the activity is related to that pivotal moment when Peter Jensen and Edwin Pridham realized they had invented a new and important piece of technology,” said David Meagher, a Napa native, tour guide and the current property owner. “They did this work in the alcove area of the living room. A lot of people feel or sense something paranormal in that area of the house.
“It’s interesting and not frightening at all,” Meagher said. “Pridham and Jensen were working on improving the telephone. Basically, they invented the loudspeaker by accident. They moved into the Napa house in 1911 at the insistence of the primary financial backer Richard O’Connor. He wanted them to move out of San Francisco to the country, Napa, to provide a private and adequate workspace.
“The official invention date for the loudspeaker is May 1915. Jensen and Pridham left Napa for Oakland, Calif. (in) 1917. The corporation headquarters were eventually moved to Fort Wayne, Ind. Magnavox is now a just brand name owned by the Phillips Corporation.”
As a historical side note, Jensen, Pridham and O’Connor, along with Hugh McGinnis and Matthew Brady, founded the Commercial Wireless and Development Company, later Magnavox, on March 3, 1911 in Napa.
One incident related to the invention of the loudspeaker sent chills down the spines of many Napa residents of that time. On a spring day in 1915 fractured strains of music and disembodied voices echoed through town as if emanating from the great beyond. This unexplained phenomenon created a minor panic in until the source was discovered to be the loudspeaker apparatus attached to the lab’s chimney and played at full blast.
This property passed through various owners and occupants until the mid-1900s. “My parents bought the house in 1970,” Meagher said. “When they decided to move out of town I bought the house from them.”
When Meagher lived in the house with his parents and brothers, they all acknowledged the house was home to “the living impaired.” Meagher said, “My dad felt there was something unusual going on here. Then one night I woke up to feeling as if someone was leaning over me. Then they whispered something in my ear.”
Meagher continued, “One particular school friend, Tim, had quite an experience. One night he stayed over and slept, or tried to sleep, in the room next to the kitchen. The next morning he said, ‘There was a lot of ruckus last night’ in reference to some paranormal activity.”
Some of his family members’ encounters were more significant. “My mom felt something one time,” Meagher said, “But one night it was much more than feeling something. While in her bedroom my mom saw a white-haired woman standing at the foot of the bed. My mom tried to move and call out for me. But she was so scared she couldn’t move or talk. The next morning she told me all about it and how the hair on the back of her neck stood up. It was quite an unnerving experience for my mom.
“My mom called the female apparition Maralyn for some unknown reason. She saw that ghost only once but did hear her moving around on a few occasion after the sighting.”
This female apparition could have been one of the inventors’ wives in later years or a one time resident of the house. While obviously petrifying Meagher’s mother, this spirit apparently was a more benevolent type as she caused no true harm or damage to mortals or physical objects.
Meagher said he believes over time the activity has diminished. “I believe since I have made peace with them and they know they don’t bother me, they don’t try to interact with us,” Meagher said.
“However, my daughter Kelsey says, ‘No way!’ to that theory of activity subsiding. She is very sensitive. She hears knocking and movement in her bathroom and in the kitchen. Kelsey has a hard time being in the house alone.”
He added, “Fortunately our dog Mitch, a former shelter dog, keeps her comforted and company. Actually they are inseparable. What’s interesting is that he seems to sense the paranormal activity, too. He will start to growl just before and as the activity occurs.”
Most of the recent activity is subtle. “It’s just a feeling or vibe,” Meagher said. However, recently there was quite a significant event at the house. “Two months ago in the middle of the night, my daughter came screaming down the stairs. I bolted out of a sound sleep to meet up with her in the kitchen. While my daughter was telling me about the moving black ball, I noticed a gas burner on the stove was on full blast, but not lit. Without a second thought, I turned it off as I was listening to my daughter and trying to calm and comfort her.”
Meagher continued, “Then I realized that ‘the big black ball’ saved us as the fully functioning carbon monoxide detectors had not gone off. If it hadn’t woken Kelsey up and we hadn’t met up in the kitchen, I wouldn’t have discovered and turned off that gas burner. I then told my daughter what had happened and tried to assure her that they were here to help us.”
Regarding the paranormal activity at his home, Meagher said, “They mean no harm or malice. Compared to the ones I have sensed at work, Stag’s Leap Manor, the spirits at my place are benevolent.” He added, “Occasionally, I work as a bartender at the Uptown. There is definitely something there as well.”
Whether visited by the former inventors, charged by residual energy from a significant moment in history or home to some other beings, the site of the birthplace of the loudspeaker is a spirited place.