We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

Julie Black was working late into the night, painting and wallpapering the old Victorian she and her husband had just bought in Petaluma, when she first sensed somebody else in the room.

She felt it like a light rush of air, perhaps someone just brushing past. It was 3 a.m. The feeling persisted for the month she spent working alone in the house, getting it ready for her family to move in.

Black wasn?t superstitious, but she found herself reassuring the presence, ?I hope you like what I?m doing to the house.?

The Petaluma mom is quick to explain, ?I didn?t want to get on anyone?s bad side.?

Still, she kept her sightings to herself. But when her 5-year-old daughter reported seeing a white-jacketed gentleman in her room who made dust bunnies float in the air, Black was convinced maybe there was something to it. Later, she said she met a man whose mother had worked in the house years earlier when it was used as a medical office. He said the doctor died there, in her daughter?s room.

?I never felt scared. I just tried to make peace with him in the beginning,? said Black, who saw whooshing dust and heard a rocker in the attic creak often during the 12 years she lived in the house.

Whether a house is haunted or merely old, drafty, creaky and infested with vermin, a lot of otherwise smart, normal people like Black say they have experienced spooky phenomena they can?t explain in their homes.

A 2008 Associated Press survey found 34 percent of the respondents believe in ghosts; 23 percent reported seeing one. The ?reality? show ?Ghost Hunters? about paranormal sleuthers is one of the highest rated shows on the Syfy network.

Healdsburg Museum Research Curator Holly Hoods said someone comes in every six months or so to report a ghost in their house.

?Usually it?s lights flickering or doors being unexpectedly left open. If someone comes in with a ghost story, I treat it like historical research,? said Hoods. She makes no claims about what causes the weird happenings. But sometimes buried in the history of a place is a spine-tingling tidbit.

She recalls one house that seemed to have ?an unbearable sadness about it? and a strong impression of music. New owners doing some work on the 1870s Victorian found a time capsule with a girl?s name on it, containing a school paper and sheet music. Hoods said she found a news clip from the time about a 13-year-old girl who taught music lessons in that house house and was the fourth child in her family to die ? one month after the date on the capsule.

Despite the fact that most people love to hear a good ghost story, people who experience the bizarre are slow to spread it around.

?You?re afraid of being mocked or laughed at or considered a crackpot. And old buildings do make funny noises. There?s also the difficulty in verbalizing the experience,? said Kit Schlich, who as a member of Petaluma Heritage Homes has heard a number of ghost stories from fellow old house owners. She also confesses with a laugh there is something uncanny that goes on in her own ornate little Victorian.

?There?s one place in my house we call The Hall of Madness,? she said.

It is in this one spot only, between the kitchen and dining room, that her cats freak out.

?As they?re walking through they?ll just stop, arch their backs and jump up and down in a circular way, sometimes with their tails puffed and their eyes really wide,? she said. ?They remind me of Halloween cats.?

Every cat she?s owned has gone into the same whirling state in that hall. They come down to earth when she catches their eye.

Ron Badaglia says something similarly strange happens in just one spot in the century-old home in Petaluma that his wife?s great-grandfather bought in 1933. Badaglia, who now lives there with his family, sometimes catches a whiff of cigar smoke in the corner of the parlor where the old man used to sit and enjoy a stogey. It always happened on a Tuesday.

?When it first started, I would look outside the window to see if someone was outside smoking,? said Badaglia, who is in real estate. No one was ever there.

The stereotypical haunted house where things go bump in the night may be a neglected Victorian with cracked mirrors and cobwebs. But if there really are ghosts, they don?t seem to favor any particular architectural style.

Scotty Muria?s Forestville home was built in 1976. But she said she long wondered if a spirit or a poltergeist had taken up residence after a series of creepy doings that went on for years. They started from the moment she and her husband, a retired Santa Rosa schools principal, moved in 22 years ago today ? Halloween.

?The most dramatic demonstration was witnessing the lightbulbs rocket out of our ceiling fan?s light fixture and lie glowing on the floor,? she said.

?That happened two or three times with no warning. I?m not kidding. That?s the kind of thing you don?t tell many people because it?s not supposed to be possible. And yet we both witnessed it more than once,? she said.

Numerous times they would find themselves locked out of the house, unable to open the door even with a key. When they got inside through a separate entrance, they found the front door unlocked. The most annoying thing was the answering machine. They?d find their message tape completely filled with their own outgoing message. One time the machine erased their outgoing message altogether and replaced it with a new message in a very slow, low male voice.

Over time, the creepy occurrences became commonplace and the couple just came to accept them as normal until they went away.

Jane Doroff said she has made peace with a presence she feels in her Cloverdale home, a woman she affectionately calls Bea, named for the wife of the man who built the house in 1950.

Doroff, who works for the Council on Aging, noticed things falling off counters and doors open that she knew had been closed.

?Wherever we were, there would be an energy there,? she said, recalling the strange experience of painting a room and discovering, under an old layer of paint, the exact same shade she was using. She and Bea had picked the same color for the room. Another night, a friend she considers credible was adamant that he had seen a woman bending over his bed in the moonlight.

Bea is benign, and Doroff believes maybe she?s calmed down now that she knows her house is being cared for.

?She?s just there,? she said. ?When I?m gardening I think of her and ask, ?Bea, is this right? What should I put here?? I think she likes us. She knows we?re happy here and we?re comfortable and we love our home.?

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.</em>

Show Comment