• Kaitlyn Scott

Folsom’s Haunted History

Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.

This week I am going to go in a different direction than normal and talk about rumor instead of fact. Typically, I am rather staunch with the facts and diligent about researching and researching until I have found the absolute best information so bear with me as I try to overcome that mindset…for this blog post at least.

Rumors and myths have their importance in history because they typically hold a kernel of truth or a belief held in the community or time-period they were created in. Today, they give us an alternative way of looking at the past and perhaps we can reflect on reasons why certain rumors, in this case, ghost stories, have prevailed throughout Folsom. Plus, they are just plain fun to read about.

Hauntings have long been a topic of interest in the area, The Folsom Telegraph often published paranormal fiction as early as the late 1880s. Could this be how local ghost stories came into being? Possibly. Regardless of their origin, the ghost stories are here to stay and the next time you visit Folsom, maybe you can stop by some of these locations and see if you believe the rumors.

First on our list is the Folsom Hotel, formerly the New Western Hotel owned by German immigrant Charles Zimmerman. The hotel was the second in Folsom owned by Zimmerman and opened in 1880. It was three stories and housed a shoe store, butcher and saloon besides rooms for rent. The story is that Zimmerman commissioned a silver backed mirror from Samuel Levitz of Germany and after making the long journey around the horn, Levitz asked Zimmerman for the keys to the hotel so he could lock up after installing the mirror. While cutting the mirror, Levitz accidentally cut himself as well and in the process of trying to find help, bled to death in the hotel. His body was found the next morning with the keys and today, his ghost is supposed to wander the hotel where his mirror still hangs. Levitz, however, is reportedly not alone in his hauntings.

New Western Hotel with Charles Zimmerman

Guiseppe “Joe” Murer purchased the hotel in the 1920s and changed the name to the Folsom Hotel. By the 1950s, the Folsom Hotel was in hot water for prostitution, a newspaper article during this time confirms that a bar owner leasing some of the hotel space for a bar, not Joe Murer himself, was responsible. One night (because these hauntings always begin at night), a man got too rough with one of the girls and pushed her down the stairs, killing her. Her screams are reportedly still heard on the staircase.

The Folsom Hotel

Execution Chamber at Folsom Prison

Next, we have Folsom Prison. I don’t think I could write a post about haunted places and not include one of Folsom’s most popular landmarks, one for its fame and two because it has been a place of tragedy since it was built. Folsom Prison opened in 1880. Starting in 1891, California decreed that State prisons would be the sole location a legal execution could be carried out. On February 13th, 1895, Folsom Prison’s first hanging was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. and the public was invited. 92 executions followed throughout the years, inmate violence and riots caused further deaths, of other inmates, guards and even a warden. The prison’s violent history makes the perfect backdrop to ghost stories, real or not. The so called “Folsom Phantom”, a murdered prison guard, is said to haunt the prison on foggy mornings and prison guards have reported seeing inmates in the older parts of the prison that end up not really being there. Retired prison chaplain Thomas Maguire blessed many rooms at the prison while he still worked there at the request of staff who believed evil may lurk throughout the prison.

Warden Larkin, killed during an escape attempt

Prison Yard in the late 1890s or early 1900s

Folsom Prison

Wells Fargo Assay Office and Blacksmith

Lastly, I would like to cover the Folsom History Museum. As some of you know, we are at a historic location, our rotating exhibit space is located in the old Wells Fargo Assay Office, once used by miners to sell their findings before the gold was melted down and sent off to San Francisco. Our newer space is built over an old Blacksmith’s shop and stable once used as a Pony Express stop. One of our long time volunteers and gift shop manager said many years ago a Ghostologist came to visit and asked if he could sit in the Wells Fargo room, he later came out and said we had a female spirit living in there and since then, our gift shop manager has experienced a few instances of unexplained air blowing in her face while in the Wells Fargo room and has since named our ghost Elizabeth.

Another volunteer came in on Thanksgiving morning of last year and was alone in the museum when he heard our bell downstairs ringing. He left his desk to make sure he didn’t accidentally leave the door open, but it was dark downstairs with nobody in sight…when he went back upstairs, his computer stopped working. As for my personal experiences with our ghost, I typically have the same issue over and over again. For the past few years I am often the first person on site and have heard what sounds like someone walking in the archive behind my desk and moving boxes. Eventually, I just ask Elizabeth to stop and it seems to quiet down.

Do we really have a ghost at the museum? I can’t say for sure. As with the Folsom Hotel, the Prison and other locations throughout the area that I didn’t mention but have had ghostly sightings, there could be a reasonable explanation for everything. I am often tired in the mornings and could be hearing the building settle, prison guards on the graveyard shift could be letting their imagination run wild or deaths at the hotel could be embellished for the sake of a spooky story.

No matter if these stories and experiences are real or not, I hope that they have inspired you to learn more about the history of Folsom, the good and the bad, the haunted rumors or the fascinating truths that have both become important to our little town. And if you happen to see something that might not really be there while you are visiting, I hope you let me know.