Thursday, October 28, 2004
Last year, my girlfriend and I took one of Gary Munsinger’s Ghost Walk tours of Old Monterey, and we experienced something strange. The air felt like a decaying, clammy hand trying to reach under our rain jackets, and the wind crashed through the trees like a pack of Hell Hounds. Actually, I don’t remember the weather that evening, but I vividly recall what happened when our tour took a stop at the San Carlos Cathedral.
Munsinger had just finished a story about Father Menstres, a former priest at the cathedral who seems to still be holding midnight masses, despite the fact that he died almost 75 years ago. After staring at the cathedral’s grotto, something caught our eye. Over at the rectory, we noticed that every single light was blinking in a creepy irregular manner like a batch of bug zappers being assaulted by a swarm of mosquitoes.
Tonight, I am with my girlfriend and Munsinger, again searching for paranormal activity. This time, we are in an upstairs office section of the Casa Munras Garden Hotel. Munsinger believes that the ghost of Maria Antonia Munras Field, who he says was born in one of the rooms upstairs, haunts the building. According to Munsinger, Field used to own the building and the surrounding land, but she sold it and immediately regretted her decision. “She obviously had a strong connection to the building,” he says. “It seems like her spirit is trying to keep people out.”
Over the last year, during which Munsinger says he has done about 300 ghost walks, he says he has encountered the most unexplainable phenomena at the hotel. Munsinger repeats one story about a group who experienced something strange at the old building. Apparently, while gazing down a hallway in the upstairs of the establishment, they heard pounding in the ceiling above. Then a guy on the tour decided he would do a little knock on the building as a joke. But the building or an unexplainable entity in the building gave a similar knock back. Suddenly, the knocking sound grew in volume and frequency causing Munsinger to flee down the stairs.
“At the very end, it sounded like a sledgehammer,” he says.
Right now, we are looking down the same hallway where the knocking occurred. It feels really creepy. Maybe it’s because all the lights are off and it’s dark. Maybe it’s that mirror at the end of the hallway that distorts our reflections. Or it could be that a fan keeps turning on in the men’s room down the hall, despite the fact that no one is down there.
One thing is for sure: Munsinger knows how to ratchet up the fear. He keeps asking if we hear something. He also keeps noting that doors are open that shouldn’t be.
Before leaving the upstairs, we poke our head into a small conference room called the Larkin Room. Munsinger says that the room is where Fields was born. I note that a ceiling fan is on in the small, dark room, despite the fact that it is not exactly a balmy fall evening. My girlfriend says she smelled roses when we first passed by the room. Now, she smells nothing.
On the way out of the hotel, we ask Ben Phillips, who works at the front desk, if he has ever seen anything unexplainable on the job. He admits that one time a water cooler suddenly flipped over for no apparent reason. Then, he starts talking about the hallway where we just were.
“I don’t like that hallway at all,” he says. “There’s so much energy; it’s weird.”
Munsinger says he has experienced plenty of other weird occurrences on his 90-minute to two-hour walking tours of Monterey over the past year. He says that a woman on one of his tours admitted that she could see spirits. While walking past California’s State Theater, the lady told Munsinger she saw the ghosts of dead prostitutes haunting the premises.
Despite the fact that Munsinger had experienced some paranormal experiences before starting the tour, that was not what compelled him to start the Ghost Walk of Old Monterey. He got the idea after taking a Jack the Ripper tour in London and from reading local author Randall Reinstedt’s book Ghost Notes.
And with so much history, Monterey seemed to be the perfect spot for a ghost walk.
“Monterey is number two in the nation and number one in the state in historical landmarks,” Munsinger says.
Since history is full of tales of success against all odds and life-affirming love stories, it is also full of evildoers and regular folks meeting gruesome ends. “There was a lot of murder here,” Munsinger says. “There was a lot of bloodshed here.”