A Trip to Fort Bragg, a Seaside Town on California’s North Coast by Ian G. Wilson

Part Two:  The Grey Whale Inn, The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and The Guest House Museum

There are many theories as to what makes a haunted place.  Most, however, concentrate on the idea that such spots are associated with a person who once lived there.  Often, one hears of a violent death in the locale as being the source of a restless spirit.  Other times, the ghost just seems to be someone who frequented the place (which could be anything from a house to a town or even an area of open landscape). The Grey Whale Inn, as a former hospital, has seen enough death and suffering in its time to produce ghosts, but who are they?

Graveyards often thought of as places of ghostly activity, perhaps because of the concentration of dead bodies which can potentially house unsettled souls, or perhaps just because cemeteries can be spooky and atmospheric, especially if they are really old. This is a grave from the Parrish family cemetery at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

Reportedly, there are at least two spirits at the Grey Whale Inn, a man and a woman.  Accounts of their exact appearance are sketchy, though it is said that the woman wanders the gardens and the man looks out of the windows.  Some have described the spirits as either patients or workers at the hospital. For example, one witness describes seeing a woman dressed as a nurse.  It is true that the basement of the inn was once the hospital morgue, a clear indication that many people spent their last days in the building. It is probable that some of them suffered pain or psychological distress during their time there.  As the rooms were once those in which patients stayed and where surgical procedures were performed, the possibility of tormented souls in them seems reasonable, assuming you believe in ghosts.  Is it not also possible that the caretakers of those patients—doctors and nurses and orderlies—might also be present in spirit form due to their long association with the hospital?

Certainly, if you want to see a ghost, a hospital turned hotel seems like a great place to start, but it can be disconcerting entering The Grey Whale Inn and seeing the wide corridors and doors, the ramps, and the odd layout of rooms–including a guest chamber completely inside the building, with no windows having views of the outside yet with a pane of glass which looks into the hallway.  Enough traces of the building’s old function remain that you know, even without being told, that this was some sort of medical institution.  I’m not sure that those traces could ever be completely erased by remodeling; only by tearing down the structure and building it afresh.  And who would want to do that to a cool spooky hotel?

Could there be ghosts at Fort Bragg’s Grey Whale Inn?

At least that’s my opinion as a ghost enthusiast and lover of historic places.  I enjoy the possibility that a hotel may be haunted, and I am more than happy to put up with a few oddities in the architecture if it adds to the atmosphere.

On my first morning at the Grey Whale Inn, I awoke and discovered that it was not, in fact, a bed-and-breakfast.  Once again, the innkeeper was absent from his desk, and I couldn’t find where the morning meal was to be served.  I searched the ground floor, listening for plates and silverware clanking together, or even cheerful conversation, but the place was as quiet as a (dare I say?) tomb.  A room with a large table and chairs, clearly the dining room, was devoid of both people and food.  What to do?

I knew that there were some old artifacts of the hospital which had been transferred to the Guest House Museum, a few blocks away in the historic district, and I wanted to see those, but first I needed to find a place to eat. Egghead’s Restaurant is a local favorite, but was full with a twenty-minute wait (reservations are recommended), so I headed down to Mara’s Coffeehouse on the south side of town. I had been there several times before, and had always found the staff to be friendly and the coffee excellent. They also have an array of pastries, so I chose a blueberry scone and a Bavarian cream bun and grabbed a seat at a large, unoccupied table to compose some e-mails and have a pleasant meal.  After finishing breakfast and washing my sticky fingers, I decided to tour the botanical gardens next door.

Breakfast at Mara’s Coffeehouse, Fort Bragg. They serve superb coffee from the local Thanksgiving Coffee Roastery as well as delicious pastries.

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are a must-see for anyone visiting this part of the California Coast.  Pleasant at any time of the year, they are most vibrant with color in the summer when the dahlias come into bloom.  A very popular attraction, the dahlia garden draws crowds the like of which I hadn’t seen

The dahlias are spectacular in August.
There are many sculptures at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

 

 

 

during earlier trips in fall and winter.  But that doesn’t mean you are standing shoulder to shoulder with people. At forty-seven acres, there is plenty of room at the Botanical Gardens. There are also many secluded pathways that wind around beds and ponds, across creeks, though forest areas, and finally down to the ocean.  The sea air is a good tonic for frayed nerves, and benches offer views of the spectacular cliffs and surging waves of the Mendocino Coast.

Paths and bridges await visitors to the gardens.

 

Once you get to the west end of the gardens, you have reached the sea!

After enjoying myself wandering and photographing the gardens, I made my way back to the inn and discovered that my room had been made up.  There was no sign of the housekeeping staff; I hadn’t seen anyone who worked there except the caretaker with his hedge clippers, and yet the place is immaculately kept up and functions well as a lodging house.  In most hotels I have stayed at, I have seen quite a lot of the employees, so I really found the lack of staff to be curious, and yet somehow in keeping with the silent atmosphere of the inn.

The Guest House Museum, downtown Fort Bragg

Around one o’clock, I headed downtown to the Guest House Museum, a sprawling Victorian mansion located at the top of a green hill near the Skunk Train Depot.  Admission is by donation, and the museum houses a comprehensive collection of artifacts depicting both Fort Bragg’s history and prehistory.  I was most intrigued by the physician’s desk, rattan wheelchair, and tall pharmacy cabinet (stocked with bottles of chemicals) that were once part of the furnishings of the old hospital.

This old pharmacy cabinet was part of the furnishings of the Redwood Coast Hospital, now the Grey Whale Inn.
An old wheelchair, once at the hospital, now at the Guest House Museum.

There is something about looking at old furniture which I find fascinating—perhaps it is the craftsmanship, the use of wood, or the pre-ergonomic discomfort that the chairs must have offered.  But in this case, since they were imbued with the creepy air of an old-time doctor’s office, they were especially enticing.

A doctor’s desk from the old hospital, now at the Guest House Museum.

I had slept quietly at the inn on my first night, though I stayed up past midnight in case there were any ghostly apparitions.  I saw nothing, nor was I awakened by strange noises in the dark, which was a little disappointing, but my faith in the atmosphere of the old hospital hadn’t flagged, and I was determined that I would fit the hotel in to The Mendocino Room series somehow, so odd did this place seem.  I returned there after my expedition to the museum for a cup of coffee and a nap.  When I awakened, it was time for another trip out for dinner.

After dining on linguine and clams and homemade chocolate gelato at the Mendo Bistro in the historic area, I returned to the inn and wandered a bit in the garden, thinking I might catch a glimpse of the elusive female ghost.  The sun was low in the sky and its bright rays made visibility difficult.  In addition, I often had to push overhanging shrubs out of my way as I moved, so choked were the meandering paths.  A trick of the light under these circumstances could certainly lead to thinking you had seen a specter, and the solitude of the garden would make for an ideal ghost tale setting.  Unfortunately, I was not so fortunate as to spot the mysterious woman.  Maybe the following day would bring better luck.

Next Time:  Day Three:  The Glass Beaches

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