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Ghost Hunters

By: Michelle Miller, Journal Features Editor
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There's excitement in the air and Robert Reppert's eyes light up because he's just found something that's not on the menu at Latitudes Restaurant in Auburn - a ghost. Or a spirit, to be more exact, says Reppert, a paranormal investigator who was called in to the Auburn eatery Wednesday to substantiate stories that ghosts inhabit the house. One common sighting occurs when wait staff see a woman dressed in a shawl. "Servers will walk by and think someone's in that section," said Latitudes owner Pete Enochs. "They go to tell the other server and when they come, nobody's there." The structure dates to 1870 and was once home to a blacksmith by the name of White. Another common sighting is in the restaurant's basement, used as a juvenile detention pen back in the late 1800s. Latitudes staff report seeing something drifting across the front wall. "When I used to work here by myself, you'd just get the heebie-jeebies. You'd see a glimmer of light flash by that you don't expect," said Eric Donaldson, the sous chef at Latitudes. "You feel this other energy here, especially when you're by yourself." When Reppert arrives Wednesday in his pick-up truck and with his cases of equipment, he looks just like any other handyman you might invite into your home to exterminate pests or evaluate the foundation. But the decals on his truck read "Gold Rush Ghosts" - that's the paranormal investigation company he's run for 12 years. He makes house calls for people who believe they're not the only inhabitants of their homes. "I had to decide between a truck or a hearse," he said of choosing his company vehicle. "But you hate to pull up in front of anyone's house in a hearse." Reppert also dons his trademark top hat, a perfect touch to complete the uniform for his spooky profession. And his equipment is the latest in state-of-the-art ghost hunting. He uses electro-magnetic readers, forward-looking infrared devices and sound equipment to capture evidence of an other-worldly presence. He usually sets up the equipment - high-tech "toys" he obviously loves to "play" with, - to conduct overnight investigations. His methods have been able to record the sound of footsteps in buildings that have been locked up for the night and the heat imprint of hands on walls. "I've always been intrigued by the supernatural, I just wanted to prove it," says Reppert. "If science can prove there's all these energies in the air, why not prove spirits exist? I think it's arrogant for us to think everything exists on this one-plane dimension." Reppert said he finds spirits on 60 percent of the calls he goes on. "It's amazing how much is out there," he said. "On most calls, they already have an inkling." While Reppert is more rooted in science, his wife Nancy Bradley is a psychic who can tap into these spirits, finding out their names and reasons for being there. In the basement at Latitudes, Reppert first evaluates the light sources, searching for any real world explanation for the phenomenon. A window lets in light that reflects on a mirror and an air vent pushes dust particles, which may reflect the light and cause the "drifting" light across the front wall. "A ghost is an imprint, like a video that replays that you can't interact with. If three or more people see the same thing, it's a ghost," Reppert explains. "A spirit is when someone's passed on but you can interact with them. They still walk around and do the things they'd do back when they were alive." While he doesn't find anything downstairs at Latitudes, upstairs is a different story. Reppert takes out his infra-red heat meter, holding it at arm's length and walking around the room like he was holding a high-tech divining rod. He's looking for cold spots and in the corner of the dining room, right in front of the original entrance, the temperature dips. "There's definitely something here," he says, jazzed that the spirits weren't a no-show today. Reppert suspects that part of the house was a parlor, where most of the activity of the home played out in view of Auburn's historic courthouse. Reppert also finds a spirit energy upstairs in the law offices of Patrick Little. When Reppert walked into Little's office, his electro-magnetic reader that normally hoovers in the .1 range spiked to 1.7. "It was like it walked right past me," Reppert said. Indeed, the inhabitants of this office have reported some strange occurences, ranging from the creepy feeling someone is watching you to having an adding machine start "You just know you're sitting in there with someone," Little said. All of Reppert's spirit findings were confined to the original house. The building had some portions added on in 1980. "Spirits are just like us. They're intrigued with going back to their old houses or home towns," Reppert said. "They come and go as they please." Enochs admits he's embellished the ghost story that had been repeated often before he established Latitudes Restaurant there in 1991. "KVIE called one time and said, 'We heard there's a ghost there.' So I kind of made up a story," Enochs said after Reppert's investigation. "It's kind of funny it turned out to be real." Gold Country is rife with spirits, five times more than you'd find anywhere else, Reppert said. He chronicles them in the book he wrote with his wife, "Gold Rush Ghosts." "It's such a charged area, so many people came here during the Gold Rush," he said. "The spirit energy is really connected here." That also makes for plenty of opportunities for supernatural tourists to visit these locales. Enochs said many people have stopped by Latitudes specifically to sit at the table that is purportedly haunted. Likewise, Nichol's Quarters at 1558 Lincoln Way where the "Lady in Red" sits at a window, staring and waiting for her love Archie to return to the spot where her house once stood. "You just have to be open to it," Reppert said, giving advice on how to have a supernatural experience of your own. "Take notes and bring a tape recorder and you can catch things. Just try not to force it, just let it happen." Shan Hultin, 37, of Meadow Vista wasn't expecting to have a ghostly encounter, but it made him a believer. He was doing electrical work on an addition to a house on Rattlesnake Bar Road when he and other contractors started experiencing some strange phenomena. One time, the homeowners where hosting a children's birthday party with several neighborhood kids as guests. The parents drove the horde of children to a pizza party and Hultin was left alone to finish some work. He was standing on a ladder working on an electrical box. "All of a sudden there was a kid standing, staring up at me. I looked her straight in the eye and said, 'You missed them. They already left for pizza.' I thought she was a neighbor girl who missed the ride. I looked back at the box and when I looked back, she was gone. I didn't even hear her footsteps. I ran up the hallway 'cause I wanted to get a good look at her, my heart was pounding in my chest, but I couldn't find her." Hultin did some research, talking to old-time residents, and learned that a girl had died in the well at the home. "I was never really interested in ghosts," he said. "But this really started my fascination." Modesto paranormal writer and researcher Jonna Miller gets asked a lot about how to know if your house is haunted. "People say, 'I think my house in haunted, but I'm not sure,'" she said. "First, rule out the obvious. Are there any loose hinges on the doors? Do you have a tree brushing against an attic window?" Then, Miller suggests you start to interact with the ghosts. Talk to them and photograph them, always asking permission first, because it's polite, she said. "Polaroid cameras are great because they can write on the film," she said. "You can use digital, but there's no negative to prove it." Miller first had a connection to the spirit world as a child, when she saw her grandfather asking for a kiss goodbye shortly before he died. "I didn't have a choice," Miller said. "It wasn't something I was given a choice in." She also cautions against using Outja boards to contact the spirit world - they can be an invitation for all spirits - good and bad - to contact you. In researching the history of your haunted place, Miller said county records are a great place to start. They can tell you everyone who has ever owned your house. Death records can also show anyone who has died in your house. But keep in mind the property, Miller said. The land may be haunted, not necessarily the house. Also talk to older locals who can serve as a living history resource. Miller writes novels on the paranormal. Her next is set during the Gold Rush in Colombia (visit www.hauntingfortime.com for more information). "If you think about it, the Gold Rush brought a lot of greedy people. They had gold fever, and if somebody gets gold, they'd shoot them for it and throw them in a mine. This was the wild west." Add to that the sacrifices people made just to get here with their lives. "Have you ever walked into some place and felt cold or felt like you were being watched? I think most people have and they want to know why. They think there must be more answers. "My goal is to not mess with these people, that's what they were at one time. They may not realize they're dead or don't know what to do next. I want to help them move on." Says she's lived in several haunted houses and had ghosts follow her around, she said you too can have a paranormal experience. "Just hang around with me," she said, laughing. "But you just have to have an open mind and no fear." The Journal's Michelle Miller can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com.