Truckee’s haunted history: Fussin’, fightin’ and fornicatin’
October 29, 2010
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; Jezebels beckoned in back alleys, drunken men swaggered the streets and gunshots shattered the dusky, darkening Truckee sky. A full moon cast a milky eye on the Old West town, clouds passing ghostly gray, a foreshadowing of the mysterious evening.Groups of 10 traipsed behind docents rustling in period skirts who stopped at intervals to recite Truckee’s past, to relive the history through the eyes of those who’ve passed on, artfully portrayed by locals.Every story and reference is historic fact, blended from the flowery prose of one-time Truckee Republican publisher W.F. Edwards’ 1883 tourist guide, and reports from Virginia City to Grass Valley of the town’s gritty reputation.andamp;#8220;We scoured old editorials, which conjured up a negative image of brawls, desperadoes and ruffians,andamp;#8221; said Chelsea Walterscheid, Truckee Donner Historical Society president. andamp;#8220;It is a very accurate description of what people thought of Truckee.It was a hub for lumbermen, ice harvesters, brewers and construction crews, Walterscheid said, with 22 saloons that had a reputation for bar fights, cheats and gamblers.andamp;#8220;That’s a lot of testosterone,andamp;#8221; laughed Walterscheid.The tour is billed as historical: Although Truckee has its share of ghosts, this is not necessarily a paranormal hunt. Walterscheid describes it more of a feeling of andamp;#8220;Truckee’s haunted past,andamp;#8221; from arson to murder and prejudice.Attendees emerged from Moody’s patio to find Greg Van Loon, portraying W.F. himself by the Truckee Hotel. He warned the trip was not for the weak of heart: The night’s tales would be of fussin’, fightin’ and fornicatin.’Reina Markheim as Ms. Rosie, a 100-year occupant of the building, and Lois Moore as Mrs. D.H. Woodbridge, a woman who died while staying there and who still haunts the Truckee Hotel, told tales of a murderous husband who shot his wife and bought a round at the bar moments after, of a kidnapped and murdered child and a man who died trying to escape fire, tumbling down the stairs to break his neck.Watch your step, they said, as they ascended the stairs, where ghost cats rub, lazy air flows cold in the corridors: a breath of death, they say.A hasty departure and turn on the landing takes you by a large, ornate mirror andamp;#8212; an original remainder after several hotel fires andamp;#8212; where a dully luminous SOS cries for help. Guests stepped quickly to the relative safety of the sidewalk.Down the road, over railroad tracks and to the River Street Inn, its turret silhouettes a visual perch for the moon. A woman out front bemoans her husband’s death with an earsplitting rifle shot; he, laid to rest, casket open, coins on his eyes. Before entering, the corpse jumps to the group’s horror (and delight), and residents are escorted to the candle-lit parlor’s comfort.Jean Fournier plays the ghost of Lavender; be-gloved, laced and buttoned to the collar, she croons the tales of historic fact: a stonemason’s wife, who laid out endless Italian suppers for family and boarders. Rakish trysts and bawdy behavior might have disturbed the original owner, who does not rest in peace. Lavender exhorts us to exit with caution, the wooden stairs spiraling down the tower, parallel to a sinking, yet excited anticipation. Then out the door, by a staged grave site with R.I.P. headstones, skeletons and iron fence.Chatter and nervous laughter mix in the group as it approaches Truckee Book and Bean, when a horrific scraping shovel noise startles them. A stout coverall-clad man warns they better andamp;#8220;git inside,andamp;#8221; where they hear the mournful tale of Truckee’s Chinese, the first laborers on the railway, then as skilled workers who stayed on, told by Katie Holley as a celestial Truckee resident.According to legend, a committee was formed: The Caucasian League, to harass the Chinese. A Chinese cabin was set on fire, and as two men emerged, they were shot. Then a boycott was ordered for Chinese businesses, and they slowly starved, or got out, if possible. After 1886, no Chinese remained, the camps were burned to the ground, the unmarked, unidentified graves a stain on Truckee’s past. The group was warned to watch were they walk, and wonder on whose bones they tread.Heather Ford as andamp;#8220;Miss Haddie,andamp;#8221; a saloon owner on Front Street (Squeeze Inn) who dealt with desperadoes in town, was a lively antidote. She offered spirits, vodka being the house special, and admonished the crowd: andamp;#8220;You better be good, y’all, you don’t want me to call on those 601 boys: 6, for six feet under, 0, for zero tolerance, and 1, for just one bullet.andamp;#8221;Miss Haddie in full saloon red regalia sang a sexy andamp;#8220;Dream a Little Dream of Me.andamp;#8221; Exiting the saloon en masse, another round of gunfire pierced the air, when Railroad Regulator, Josh Susman, kept the peace as Truckee’s Constable Ledbetter.The path begins a climb to the Richardson House, built by successful lumber baron Warren Richardson in 1887 for his wife Maggie. As the group approaches, sadness saturates the air, a sense of desperate loss is dramatically portrayed by Jane Pedrazzini as Maggie Richardson, the first wife of the house, who is tormented by her young son’s death and her own untimely demise.A black-robed grim reaper escorts the group out of the finely remodeled establishment, onto the Old Jail Museum, where Kira Yannetta as Nurse Wycoff, who worked upstairs in the hospital, tells a bleak tale of alcoholism, pneumonia and death. On the final leg of the tour, raucous ladies cat call and pander their profession, making and breaking deals and hearts on The Pour House railing.The darkened alley sets the final scene as the group rounds back to the Truckee Hotel to fill out surveys, have a cup of joe and some cookies andamp;#8212; and settle their souls.