Going Ghost Hunting

Exploring the catacombs beneath the Mission Inn.


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I’ve never been totally comfortable staying in old hotels. Maybe it was because I played with the Ouija board too much as a child, or perhaps I read too many Stephen King novels, but old places fascinate me and give me the willies. Plus, I have a very active imagination, which doesn’t help.

My partner and I were due in Riverside, Calif. for a funeral and so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to indulge my fascination with the macabre by spending the night at the Mission Inn Hotel, a historic hotel rumored to have ghost sightings, haunted rooms and a series of dark catacombs. On a less creepy note, the hotel has also served as a destination for celebrities like Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Judy Garland. It has also seen its fair share of political guests, like Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Taft and Nixon.

At the time, our visit seemed like a good idea. The hotel was built in the late 1800s and there are rumors that the original owners of the Inn still haunt the building. It was also gorgeous and charming. The rooms boast domed ceilings and stained glass, and the Mission Inn Restaurant’s patio makes you feel as if you are vacationing in Spain. My partner was dying to stay there, so, despite some reservations, I consented to the stay.

When we walked into our room, I immediately got a creepy feeling. It wasn’t something tangible, just a thick eeriness that we both agreed shouldn’t be there. I parked the thought and grabbed my camera to take a tour of the premises. I roamed the halls in an attempt to shake off the chills with some architectural shots. Look at that gloomy hall! Click. Where does that creepy staircase go? Click.

Although I was nervous, we signed up to take a tour of the catacombs, which run for several miles underground and some claim the layout forms a pentagram. Of course, they are rumored to be haunted. Even the hotel staff is smart enough to give the catacombs a wide berth. I, however, dove right in.

We went down several narrow halls that wound past the employee service areas. They seemed harmless enough, but when our guide suggested we grab a flashlight, dread began to build in the pit of my stomach.

As soon as we entered, my light began to flicker. Perfect. As we walked down the dank dark hallways, snapping photos, unbidden visions of corpses hanging from the rafters filled my head. And I realized belatedly, as I looked up to the street level, that I was at least 20 feet below the sidewalk and that should I run across a wayward ghoul in the dark I could scream all I like down here and no one would hear me.

Suddenly, there was a large bang. I swung around and grabbed my partner, who had just jumped toward me. Our guide hadn’t run into anything, so what was that thud against the pipe? He tried not to look ruffled, continuing with a litany of information about the hotel, but I was too busy trying to see what was around every corner to pay much attention to his history lesson.

“Do many people come down here at night?” I asked.

“No, not too many. People don’t feel very good about being down here, especially as the evening wears on,” he said.

I looked around and spotted a large exit light at the end of the catacombs. I was relieved when we got out of that place. We got safely back into our room and decided to rest a bit before dinner.

“I think I’ll catch the news,” my partner announced, disappearing behind a vaulted door into another room. It seemed like an entrance to something forbidden.

I tried to take a nap, but my mind kept returning to that TV room. Something was wrong in there and I didn’t want her to be alone. The room was creepy; moreover, I got the sense that someone—or something—didn’t want us there.

We obliged, making our way back to our room to get ready for dinner. I decided to lock the door into that room. Why? At the time I did not know, but my instinct was confirmed when my partner mentioned that she thought the room had an evil spirit too. “Something just didn’t want us in that room,” she remarked.

The following day we asked a few employees about ghost sightings on the property. “Well, there’s a couple that comes here regularly to photograph spirit orbs,” she explained.    

“What’s a spirit orb?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re those little round balls you see in your photos when you photograph ghosts,” she explained. “There are several places at the inn where they’re known to appear,” she added, bustling off to clean another room.

I dashed to the place she’d mentioned and took my shots, hoping to catch some of these orbs. I wondered what mystery would be present in my images. Sure enough, when I looked at my photos, there were spirit orbs all the locations had been mentioned to me. They look like fluorescent dandelions in your photos; one place had more than a dozen of them, many dangling from the ceiling like Christmas balls on a tree. Some were on the floor, or floating in the middle of the room.

Since then, orbs have been appearing to me regularly. I’ve mainly photographed them in old hotels, historic restaurants and abandoned buildings. But what about that black cloudy thing I captured in the catacombs? Only the shadow knows.

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