Tuolumne County Museum Curator Billie Lyons spends a lot of time alone in the history center annex. When everyone is gone and it’s very quiet, she can hear shuffling, footsteps and, in her peripheral vision, sees someone walking by.
When she looks up from the computer, nobody is there.
And for about eight months, each night when she locked up she set the alarm. Everything was in order.
When she opened the next morning, papers would be strewn about. One morning she noticed some silk flowers from a basket atop the water cooler were on the floor. She figured someone nudged it and she hadn’t noticed when she left.
The next day, the flowers that she had put back and shoved firmly in the basket were on the floor in a line.
“That’s when I knew there was something else going on,” Lyons said.
A paranormal investigation group called Sinister Sightings, out of Reno, contacted Tuolumne County Historical Society President Angela Brown, asking if they could come investigate supposed ghost activity in the jail.
Lyons checked the group out and found they followed her “debunk and explain” philosophy when it comes to paranormal investigation.
In late March, the group of four men and two women drove in from Reno.
They arrived about 5 p.m. on a Saturday night and set up their gear. They brought audio, video, electronic and other high-tech gear. They even brought a “ghost box” that sends out high-frequency white noise that is supposed to feed into the being and enable it to make its presence known.
The sound it makes is similar to the fuzzy, loud noise televisions made when the cable went off (back in the day).
The investigators came to check out stories about Tom Horn, a Gold Rush miner who got drunk, got arrested and set his jail cell mattress on fire.
The doors of his cell warped, and jailers couldn’t get him out. Horn died, and the jail burned down in December 1865. The jail was rebuilt the next year. The annex was built semi-recently, Lyons said. However, the annex houses thousands of historic relics. The oldest, save Indian artifacts, is a bed warmer from 1870 Ireland that was brought over in the Gold Rush.
Investigators didn’t find evidence of Horn’s ghost, but they did find evidence of “residual” ghosts in the jail/museum.
Residual ghosts are unaware they are there and it’s like a movie clip on repeat. They keep repeating the same moment in history, Lyons explained.
There was a spooky moment about 2 a.m. in the jail when one of the women abruptly bolted from the cells and left the museum. Apparently something touched her arm and she got spooked, Lyons said.
Investigators found evidence of an “intelligent” ghost in the annex believed to be named “Robert.”
Audio recordings picked up a voice saying “Robert” twice, when asked what its name was.
Recordings also picked up faint knockings, when the being was asked to knock on the building’s glass window. After one knock, the investigator asked the ghost to do it again and a voice can be heard saying, “No.”
The investigators picked up most of the annex activity in the rear by the emergency exit, where Lyons has previously noticed a lot of shadow activity. During the rear annex investigation, they kept hearing a “clicking noise,” but nobody knew what it was.
At one point, the crew had moved the equipment from the rear of the annex to the front (through a doorway and around a corner), when one of the men went back in for something.
As he went through the doorway, he saw one of the rolling shelving units moving on its own.
They had all been bolted and locked closed before the investigation started, Lyons said. To unlock them, a bolt must be twisted “just right.”
They realized the “clicking” they had been hearing was the noise that is made when you try to move the shelves when they are locked, Lyons said.
Investigators also picked up unexplained light orbs in digital photos in the courtyard that couldn’t be reproduced or explained.
Unbeknownst to investigators at the time, most “orbs” were near the site of a filled-in well where a Gold Rush-era sheriff is said to have disappeared.
The investigation went really well, said leader Jason Nels. They plan to return in August and see if they can pinpoint which shelving unit in the annex “Robert” might be associated with, so they can narrow it down to see if he is attached to a certain artifact, Lyons said.
Ever since the investigators left, Lyons has started talking to “Robert.”
“I say hello and goodbye. And I asked him to please not mess up the upstairs (of the annex), and it hasn’t,” Lyons said.