Years ago, I interviewed a couple who lived up Albion Ridge. They wanted to share the story of their home, a small two-story hippy hovel, totally off the grid and self-sufficient, with a big vegetable garden and lots of chickens. The history I was interested in was more supernatural: I always want to know if a house has ghosts. As it happened, this couple’s house was haunted, though they didn’t know why it was—nobody had died there, and it wasn’t a “murder house” or linked to any other traumatic events. One of their stories had to do with the sounds of children crying in the woods. Another was about a helpful spirit who took care of their dogs. There were also the usual eerie tales: doors opening and closing, the sound of footsteps upstairs, and the hair-raising sensation of someone watching them. I loved all the stories and I wanted to see the house.

Cabin surrounded by woods

Spend the night alone in a house like this and get to know the other inhabitants.

The couple told me that they were leaving for the weekend and offered to let me stay at their place, if I looked after their two dogs. I jumped at the opportunity and packed a bag. They lived way up the ridge on a road named for a letter of the alphabet. When I pulled into the driveway, it was already getting dark. I looked into the trees for a while and then, sure enough, I heard what sounded like a sobbing child. It started as a low quiet whine and stretched into the long wail of a crying baby who refuses to take a breath. It was chilling, to say the least, but I convinced myself that it could have been a fox.

I opened the unlocked door to the cabin and let the two dogs out.  They ran around the front of the house sniffing rocks, looking in bushes, investigating my car, and quickly wanted back inside so they could show me where the dog treats were kept. I built a fire in the wood-burning stove and made a bowl of soup. I was sitting down with my notebook when I heard a door close upstairs. I walked up the steps into the bedroom and saw the door in the east wall that led to a landing outside on a staircase down to the back patio. Needless to say, the door was closed.

I jotted this down in my book and reclined on the couch beneath a blanket. There was a scratch at the sliding glass door. One of the dogs had been outside and wanted in, but before I could get up and open the door, she looked away and darted off. Moments later, I heard what sounded like an adult wearing boots stomping around upstairs and the door opening and closing, which was followed by the dog trotting down the stairs into the living room. I got up and went to the bottom of the stairs, but it was dark in the stairwell and that unnerved me. I looked into that chilling black space for a few seconds and decided that I’d be sleeping on the couch, nice and warm with my blanket and the stove. I stayed in my daytime clothes and kept my shoes on. Once the fire went out, I froze in my blanket for the rest of the night.

There were no other strange happenings, but I was so happy to see the owners when they returned. They asked if I had heard the baby crying. I said I had, though it wasn’t the spookiest encounter I had there. When I described what I’d heard upstairs, they did what I had done: both stood at the bottom of the dark stairwell looking up, staring into nothing. Notwithstanding my night on the couch, it was an exhilarating experience for me. Collecting stories about haunts and specters is a good way to uncover bits of local history. I’m going to do some research on that house and the area around it in hopes that I can flesh out (as it were) this ghost story.

For other local ghost stories, join me for a Haunted Mendocino Walking Tour on May 25th at 7 pm. Tickets are $25.

The Kelley House Museum is open from 11AM to 3PM Thursday through Monday. Visit the Kelley House Event Calendar to schedule a Walking Tour of the Historic District.