Spirited Secrets of the Napa State Hospital

Napa State Asylum

by Rebecca Yerger

Some Napa County buildings have gained distinction, and even notoriety, not only from the architectural style they possess, but also the spirits that possess them. One such place is the Napa State Hospital. Through its long history, its sheltered separation from the community-at-large has generated numerous stories of paranormal activity.

Opened in 1876, the Hospital was considered to be a state-of-the-art, progressive, treatment facility. The Hospital was originally called the Napa State Asylum – a place of refuge for the troubled being.

The Asylum was a self-sustaining and sufficient facility, with orchards, livestock, farm buildings, workshops, a cemetery, and more. Many of the patients worked within the Asylum facility as part of their treatment. The philosophy of those times was that if the patients were given a sense of purpose through constructive and physical activity they would heal.

However, there were some patients who were restricted to their quarters housed within the main building. This massive stone building with its towers became known as “The Castle.”

Near the former “Castle” site, the unexplained has occurred frequently. In one building within this area, a paranormal prankster called “Freddie,” likes to play “keep-away” with the mortal hospital staff. Items such as jewelry, socks, pens and patient files disappear. After about two days, “Freddie” returns to continue the game. It begins with the staff feeling a brush of cold air at their sides and a tug at their pockets. When they reach into their pockets, they find the missing personal item. As for the files, they are eventually found in one of “Freddie’s” favorite hiding places in the building.

Another paranormal incident that occurred in a building near the former “Castle” is far more chilling. It is said that within a small room that served as a supply room for many years, many mortals have been assaulted by a pair of malevolent spirits.

The terror begins with a loud crash, as if heavy wooden doors are torn from their hinges and locks. Then, with great speed, two, large, shapeless forms charge towards the mortal who they pin against the wall. Those who have endured the incident have all said the freezing-cold forms emit a horrible stench as they vocalize unearthly laughter. The assault ends just as the forms raise what appears to be knife-wielding hands. Understandably, many mortals request transfers out of that ward following their paranormal assault.

As previously mentioned, originally, the Asylum grounds contained numerous buildings, such as a dairy and workshops. Regarding the latter, each shop had a specific purpose, such as plumbing repair. For many years, when the plumbing shop was still in use, one Obsessive-Compulsive male patient essentially ran that shop.

About a decade or so after that patient’s death, circa 1907, the new shop foreman, a mortal, was perplexed by a daily oddity. Every night the mortal would layout the tools and materials he would need for the next day’s projects. However, the next morning he would find all those tools and materials had been neatly put away. And, every time the he tried to reorganize the shop, the next morning he would find even the heaviest of equipment returned to its long-standing locations. Eventually, the foreman gave into the
“Phantom Plumber.”

In addition to the workshops, the Asylum grounds featured residences of late–Victorian, architectural styles. These buildings served as housing for the doctors-in-residence and their families. One of these residences is said to be occupied by a genteel, Victorian-era lady. Her form, while faint, is full length and dressed in clothing typical of the 1880s. On the rare occasion when she is seen, she is sitting in a chair in what would have been the parlor. At first, she seems to be focused on some handwork, such as needlepoint. When she looks up to notice the mortal in the room, she smiles, sets down her project, gets up and walks towards the person as if to welcome him or her into her parlor. Then, as she leans forward as to kiss the person’s cheek she fades, to leave behind a faint and chilled scent of rose for the bewildered mortal to experience.

Another location of paranormal activity at the Asylum is the old cemetery. It is said that a number apparitions have been seen at this location. According to these stories the apparitions are only partial in form, but clear in detail. One account tells of two male ghosts, dressed in early 1900s clothing, who seem to be fighting violently until they eventually vanish from view. Two other apparitions appear to be a young mother and her toddler daughter from the 1930s. While holding her daughter, the woman sways about and seems to be singing, silently. Suddenly, the child is torn away from the woman who then appears to sink as if she has fallen to her knees as she sobs. She vanishes shortly thereafter.

These accounts are just a sampling of the Napa State Hospital ghost stories told over the years. Whether true or not, they have added yet another layer to the mysterious mystic of this 138 year old Napa County icon.

If you enjoy hearing local ghost stories and paranormal tales, please join me as I share yet another sampler of Napa County’s supernatural events on Wednesday, October 29 from 6 – 7 P.M. at the Napa Library – 580 Coombs Street. For more information call 253-4235.

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The Iconic Greystone Cellars

Greystone Campus

By Rebecca Yerger

Envisioned by William Bowers Bourn, Jr., the son of an Irishman, the visually impressive Greystone Cellars is the perfect historical subject for the month of March; the time to celebrate all things Irish.

With its solid, native-stone edifice rising from its terraced hillside site, Greystone has commanded notice and attention since its 1887 construction. While being physically solid, stately, and even formidable, Greenstone’s history has changed over time due to the influences of socio-economic changes.

Greystone began as a brain-child, business concept of William Bowers Bourn, Jr. who was the son of the late William Bowers Bourn, Sr. The elder Bourn had amassed a great fortune from his shipping company partnerships, and especially from his Empire Gold Mine during the mid-1800s. While both Bourns had many business interests and residences throughout California, they had strong ties to Napa County, and especially to St. Helena where Bourn, Jr. spent the summers of his youth.

Although an heir to his father’s estate, Bourn, Jr. was a savvy businessman in his own right and created an even greater financial dynasty. This entrepreneurial aptitude helped him recognize the opportunity and potential of a facility such as Greystone.

The genesis of Greystone was Bourn Jr.’s response to the autocratic, price-fixing conspiracies found throughout the Bay Area wine mercantiles. By imposing those unfair practices, wine dealers forced local grape growers and winemakers to take below-market prices for their commodities.

As a remedy to those underhanded tactics, the Greystone concept included creating a cooperative. In addition to building the one-million gallon winery, terms and options were drafted for those wanting to conduct their business with proposed Greystone. First off, it was emphatically stated, “NO Malvoisie, Mission, inferior grapes or grapes in bad condition will be received for winemaking.” As for the options, they were: 1) Greystone would produce wine, on shares, from anyone’s grapes, plus store the wine separately. 2) That wine, or any wine stored at Greystone, would be held until the highest price could be secured. Then, following the sale, the wine owner would be paid his share of the profits. 3) Any grower could sell their quality grapes directly to Greystone.

Bourn, Jr. began his Greystone campaign by first forging a business partnership with another young businessman, Everett Wise. Both of these men were in their early 30s. The next step was to find and/or rally support for the cooperative within the Napa County wine industry. To that end, Bourn, Jr. met with Henry Pellet, president of the St. Helena Vinicultural Club before meeting with the general membership. Pellet fully endorsed the idea and strongly encouraged his fellow associates to do the same.

After successfully gaining the backing of the local wine industry, Bourn, Jr. and Wise hired the San Francisco architectural firm of Percy and Hamilton to design Greystone Cellars. Some individuals believe Greystone was designed to resemble a castle in Ireland.

The final plans called for the use of cutting-edge materials and technology of that era, such as the brand-new, Portland cement. During the construction, that cement was used as mortar, as well as poured over the iron reinforcing rods built within the first and second floor elevations. The heavy timber construction of the third floor provided structural support for not only that floor’s cask, barrel and bottle aging space but also for the gravity-flow crushing area located within the floor above.

As for technology, Greystone was the first California winery to be operated and illuminated by electricity. A boiler and gas generator, located in a mechanical room below the central front wing of the building, produced the electricity. Another accolade garnered by Greystone was due to its massive dimensions. Greystone Cellars was the largest winery in California.

All that grandeur and state-of-the-art design came with an equally grand price tag, $250,000. That figure was an exorbitant amount of money in the late 19th century, even for the ultra-wealthy.

Then, within less than a decade of its completion, Greystone began its succession of property owners. By 1894, it was owned by Charles Carpy, and became the trademark for the CWA – California Wine Association. By late 1924, CWA had removed all of the 200,000 gallons of wine stored at Greystone. A year later the Bisceglia brothers of San Jose purchased Greystone, where they produced sacramental wines until 1930. Following a three-year hiatus, the Bisceglias restored operations at Greystone in October 1933.

Christian Brothers entered the picture in 1945 when they signed a lease agreement for the cellar. Five years later they bought Greystone. Decades later, faced with declining market shares and vineyard yields, as well as the very costly prospect of seismically retrofitting Greystone, Christian Brothers winery was sold to the Hueblein Company of Canada in 1991. A year later they sold Greystone to the Culinary Institute of America for $1.68 million. In three short years, after opening in August 1995, Greystone had been retrofitted and remodeled into the western CIA campus.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Greystone Cellars is now enjoying a renaissance in purpose and popularity. However, it still lives up to the sentiments expressed in a circa-1900, CWA brochure. “Whoever visits Napa Valley…must inevitably have his attention called to ‘Greystone,’ our magnificent stone cellar which is a landmark for miles around, and which, for centuries to come, will be an enduring monument to its builders and owners…” and community.

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

By Rebecca Yerger

The Rhine House 1884 WP

 

October is a very spirited month in Napa Valley and County as winemaking and ghost stories abound. One Napa Valley winery, well known for both, is Beringer Brothers Winery, with its iconic Rhine House, fine wines and, it is said, extraordinary paranormal activity.

Beringer Brothers, located near the northern edge of St. Helena, was founded in 1876 by its namesakes – Jacob and Frederick Beringer. Jacob was the visionary who made the wines and managed their winery. Jacob also supervised the construction of the winery buildings and wine-aging caves. The cornerstone for the first winery building was laid in March, 1877. A year later,  Chinese laborers began excavating the caves.

The first Beringer Winery ghost story involves those very caves and laborers. The late Kathleen Kernberger, a local historian and author, recounted the story told to her by her aunt, Virginia Hanrahan. She spoke of how, on windy nights, crying and sad moans would come from deep within the caves. According to Hanrahan, those sorrowful sounds were the wails of the ghosts of the Chinese laborers who had been entombed deep within the caves. That theory was dispelled when records proved that no laborers had been buried there.

Kernberger also explained the eerie sounds were created by strong winds forcing air through fissures in the rocks. Following the application of a spray-on, cement compound throughout the caves, those openings were sealed off, which silenced the chilling wails and moans. However, even after the caves had been coated with that compound, people continue to report feeling exceptionally cold spots in the caves, and hearing faint whispers of the long-since-gone Chinese laborers. Also, photographs of the caves frequently capture images of odd orbs of light.

Returning to Jacob and the creation of the iconic winery; he and his family lived in the L-shaped, wood-frame farmhouse, originally built around 1860 by David Hudson, an early Napa County pioneer settler. However, this residence, with its Greek Revival influenced architectural features of a low pitched, gable roof with a wide band of trim, front porch supported by prominent columns and overall symmetrical form was originally located about where the Rhine House stands today. The Hudson House was moved to its present location using logs placed under the house and rolling it into its current position.

Frederick, the financier and promoter of their winery, was accustomed to living in grand style. In 1883 he commissioned San Francisco architect, A. Schropfer to design his country wine-estate home which was to be built on the visually prominent site formerly occupied by the Hudson House. Frederick was very specific about its design. The future , three-story house was to be a replica of the brothers’ ancestral home located in the Mainz, Germany area.

According to its Historic Resources Inventory form, the Rhine House was, and is, “…a residence in the Chateau style…” The Rhine House possesses this style’s impressive visual mass and scale; steeply pitched, hipped roof with many vertical elements, such as shaped chimneys and roofline crest details; multiple dormers; stone walls; elaborate moldings, doorways and more. To enhance the authenticity of the Rhine House, many of its architectural elements were imported from Germany, including the interior moldings, stairs, mantles, flooring and art glass windows.

The Rhine House also features Stick, style elements which are clearly evident at the second floor level with its smooth exterior plaster walls, ornamented with decorative patterned boards, or “stickwork.” The Stick style also features steeply pitched, hipped roofs similar to the Chateau style found on the Rhine House.

Purportedly, the Rhine House also possesses considerable paranormal activity. In fact, the winery has an overflowing file, documenting numerous encounters.

For example, one evening, just after closing, two employees were cleaning up the downstairs of the Rhine House when all of a sudden a loud crash came from the upstairs, Founders’ tasting room. That room had been Frederick’s bedroom and the place where he died in 1901. The two employees each took a different staircase upstairs and did not pass any mortal on their way to the room. They entered the room to find a heavy silver tray had been thrown across the room, and broken stemware was strewn everywhere. Many attribute this occurrence to Frederick and his apparent disapproval of his private quarters being used as a public space.

While others have heard footfalls ascending the stairs when no other mortal was present, there have been even more unnerving encounters within the Rhine House that have profoundly frightened workers. After hours, the night crew thoroughly cleans the house. And, on numerous occasions, those workers have been startled, or worse, by the sight of Frederick walking through his Rhine House walls. In fact, one worker was so frightened by the sight he ran out of the Rhine house and has never returned to Beringer Brothers Winery.

Apparently, the iconic and architecturally grand Beringer Brothers Winery and its Rhine House offers mortals more than one kind of spirit to sample.