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Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town - Yermo, California
This location was investigated and documented by Heidi.

The Location

A photo of Calico as it looked in
the late 1800's.

The Mojave desert can prove to be a harsh and untamable force, and this was no exception for a little silver mining town within its midst called Calico. Calico was developed in 1881 during the largest silver strike in California when ore discoveries found in the towering mountains nearby brought about a rush of prospectors and the filing of many claims. The town was named for the myriad of colors in the mountains, which were "as purty as a gal's calico skirt".

Calico produced $86 million in silver and $45 million in borax during its glory years; at its height, the town boasted a population of 1,200, 22 saloons, a "Chinatown", and a well-known red light district. When the price of silver plummeted in the 1890's, the town survived on borax revenues until 1907, when it was entirely abandoned to the Mojave Desert from which it had sprung.

It wasn't until 1950 when Walter Knott, the founder of Knott's Berry Farm, bought the town and began restoring it that life stirred in this silent, sleeping village once more. In November 1966, Knott donated Calico to San Bernardino County, and it now operates as one of the area's many regional parks. Today, thanks to the assistance of Mr. Knott, Calico is one of the few historic mining towns still in existence; one-third of its original structures still stand, while the remaining buildings have been carefully reconstructed to capture the Old West spirit. It is said, however, that actual spirits from the Old West can be found here...

The rise and fall of Calico.

Many visitors to Calico claim to see the ghosts of John and Lucy Lane, who ran a general store during Calico's heyday and who loved the town so much they made it their home even after it was abandoned. There are also reports of the spirit of a young girl who can sometimes be seen within the old schoolhouse, and of an angry old cowboy who has been known to assault visitors to Hank's Hotel.

Spook lights are also said to be seen around the town in the dark, silent hours of the night, sometimes accompanied by the whispers of voices from the town's inhabitants of long ago. There are even tales of a shadow-like specter of a dog, once known as Dorsey, who can be seen near the cemetery and the print shop, which was once the post office. And the many mines, too, are believed to be haunted by the souls of the men who toiled there in the hopes of finding fortune.

The Investigation

Hank's Hotel.

Calico is a lovely place to visit, whether you're looking for history, fun, or ghosts. I reserved a cabin in the campground to get a whole day and night of ghosthunting in, and then began my sojourn into the town to experience the old wild west. There are many activities to do, and I made sure to fit as many of them as possible into my day, while plying the guides with questions about the reported hauntings in the town. I found that none of them will bring the subject up on their own, but when asked, they're more than happy to share their experiences and pass along stories.

As I walked the dusty streets of Calico, I tried to imagine how the families here must have felt all those years ago. So many hopes and dreams were made - and destroyed - during the silver rush. Fortunes were won and lost, and all that emotional impact seemed as if it had soaked into the very ground on which Calico stands. The desert is a harsh environment, and many lives were lost carving out the mines and building the town. Our way of life is very different nowadays, and seeing the way folks from yesteryear struggled to survive every day of their lives gave me a newfound appreciation for the pioneers of the west.

"I have free candy in my pocket..."

Fortunately the town wasn't very crowded, and so I was able to get quite a few pictures and uncontaminated audio recordings as I did EVP work. I took the tour of Maggie's Mine, which is believed to be haunted by the souls of the men who toiled and died here. Several lifelike mannequins are set up in display areas within the mineshaft, and since the tour is self-guided, I was alone with these eerie figures, which, admittedly, creeped me out quite a bit! The ruins of the Chinatown area were also eerie; the day was windy, and the wind blowing through the stone ruins almost sounded like whispering at times.

As sunset drew near I left the perimeter of the town to hike the surrounding canyon area, and here I found a wealth of caves and tunnels, as well the entrances to abandoned mineshafts and the ruins of more roughly made stone homes. You must be careful where you go outside the town, however, because many of the old mineshafts have collapsed and could be dangerous for unwary hikers.

Once the sun had set, I returned to my cabin, which was a stone's throw from the Calico Cemetery, and fetched my videocamera and a fresh audio recorder. Traveling over to the graveyard, which was still and dark, I set up for a video and audio session. It was very lonely sitting there amongst the weathered wooden planks of grave markers and the piles of stones, as though time itself had slowed without a thought for the busy world of men and machines.


Calico Cemetery.

Having only been to Calico once, I would very much like to return for another investigation. While I did not capture any evidence of paranormal activity, I honestly feel there may be something to the claims of ghosts haunting the town. I did not get any EVP's, nor anything on my video or audio. Oddly, not even dust orbs were captured. I did, however, get a sudden spike on my K-II meter around the crumbling stone wall of one of the old houses outside the town's main area, which was brief but very strong. And there is just a feeling one gets from walking the ancient streets, as if at any moment the sounds of miners hard at work and horse hooves on the dirt-packed roads will start up.

The whistling of the wind throughout the ruins and the old wooden buildings in the town may explain the claims of disembodied voices and odd sounds; it does indeed make an eerie, lonely wail at times. And although I pranced about on the porch of Hank's Hotel, no angry cowboy came out to push or pinch me or shoo me away. Maybe he has a soft spot for red-headed lasses.

One other event that occurred was during my nighttime session in the cemetery. At one point, I could have sworn I heard the soft nicker of a horse, yet no horses are kept at Calico and there is nothing for miles around the town. However, as it wasn't picked up on my audio, I can only document it as a personal experience.

Although inconclusive, my trip to Calico was highly enjoyable. If you're ever near the Mojave Desert, I highly recommend checking it out…you just never know if one of those eerie mannequins in the mine might wink at you and wave out of the corner of your eye.



The Calico town site is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk with an admission price of $6.00; in the canyons below town, a full service campground and cabins provide the opportunity for extended stays. Calico is located at 36600 Ghost Town Road in Yermo, California.

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