While it may have seemed like a normal weekend in Mokelumne Hill, something out of the ordinary was occurring on Main Street.
From Nov. 8 to Nov. 10, the second annual Mother Lode Para-Quest, a paranormal conference and ghost hunt, took place at Hotel Leger.
The event featured presentations from experts, book signings, a seance and ghost hunts at the hotel and at the old courthouse and jail in Jackson.
Speakers ranged from psychics to paranormal investigators; from an ordained Catholic priest to a “good” witch. Many have authored books and appeared numerous times on radio and television shows.
Event organizer Doug Carnahan first became involved in the paranormal after experiencing the phenomenon firsthand.
“I’ve been involved in the paranormal field for 35-plus years. I’m known as an extreme haunted survivor, and I’ve been through a demonic entity-type of case for six months that kicked me off into the paranormal field in the early ’80s,” he said. “Back then we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have the avenues that we have today where we can go out and talk to people about it. I was kind of on my own.”
Afterward, Carnahan decided to dedicate his life to exploring paranormal phenomena.
“If it was happening to me, it had to be happening to other people, so I took the avenue of going out and reaching out to other people and sharing my story, and learning that people and families were having the same types of issues,” he said. “What’s really cool about the paracons is being able to get together, share information and become a family for a couple of days.”
Henry San Miguel, host of the “Paranormal Perception” podcast, spoke about his own experiences.
“How many of you have had some type of paranormal experience sometime in your life?” he said.
Almost every hand in the audience was raised.
“None of us are ever really going to know what’s over there until we get over there, but all these people here and around the world sharing these experiences; it’s gotta be real,” he said.
Jamie Bruce, an employee of Hotel Leger, spoke on the history of the hotel and on her experiences while working there.
“I don’t know if you guys saw ‘Tombstone’ and ‘Deadwood,’ but Mokelumne Hill is considered to be deadlier that both of those places. We had a lot of violence here during the Gold Rush, which I think lends a lot to the things that occur here,” she said. “I spend a lot of time here alone … I know that George himself follows me around upstairs, and he’s looking over my shoulder sometimes when I’m cleaning and taking care of the place.”
George Leger, who founded the hotel in the early 1850s, is said to have met a violent end in one of the rooms of the establishment.
“He had a room upstairs; it’s room No. 7,” Bruce said. “He is still here, and I think he still keeps an eye on the place.”
Patti Negri, a Hollywood psychic, medium and “good” witch, said that it was her first time visiting Mokelumne Hill.
“I love the whole feel of the place; it emanates with magic and life force and energy,” she said. “It reminds me of Hollywood. People go there with big dreams; people give up everything. They give up their life; they give up their comfort; and they want to be famous or rich or make their mark on the world. It takes a certain kind of person to actually do that; to risk everything and go. So it’s heavy life force … You get that here in these old towns … You feel that in every nook and every cranny.”
Psychic, medium and paranormal investigator Ann Bender demonstrated how dowsing rods can be used to communicate with spirits.
“(Dowsing) has been around a long time,” she said. “I come from a long line of farmers, and my family has been dowsing for centuries … To this day, you can still hire a dowser to find water and graves in the Yellow Pages.”
Bender explained how she used the two L-shaped rods to ask questions of spirits. Crossed rods mean “yes,” separating rods mean “no,” and parallel rods are neutral.
“It is very different from a seance, where you’re actually opening a door,” she said. “It’s simply interacting with who or what is there at that time.”
Negri had been using dowsing rods in the cellar the night before to communicate with spirits.
“The second she started talking, these lights started flickering,” Bender said, pointing to the chandeliers in the conference room.
Author, investigator and researcher Dr. Jeff Dwyer spoke about his experiences with the paranormal while working at a hospital.
“Sometimes, I’ve actually seen an amorphous shape leave a body … There are other times where a few minutes later, when I get up to leave, I’ll look back at the bed and see that patient standing at the bedside looking at the dead body. That’s a pretty creepy experience,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time in ICU after this happens, because I don’t want that dead spirit latching onto me.”
Dwyer said that his co-workers have also reported paranormal experiences.
“You may wonder if my colleagues at the hospital think I’m nuts, and I have to tell you they don’t. It’s amazing to me that many doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, even our engineers, will come to me and they’ll say, ‘Guess what happened last night?’” he said.
The Rev. David Deerfeeder, an ordained Catholic priest and multisensate medium, described the spirits that he saw in the conference room.
“We have five people who are in the room, who maybe want to get in touch with some of you,” he said. “I really hadn’t intended to come in and do a gallery reading – it’s not my stock in trade – but I also didn’t intend to run into these people.”
Deerfeeder described an older woman pacing back and forth; a slim man dressed in black and holding a rope and knives; and a younger woman with a bicycle.
“Some of them may make sense, some of them are maybe just connected to the hotel,” he said.
Paranormal researcher, psychic and medium David Bender spoke on his years of experience.
“We spent a lot of time and energy trying to prove that the paranormal exists, but trying to prove the paranormal exists to people that don’t want to believe that the paranormal exists is really hard. It’s like trying to prove that air is here. So, a lot of energy is wasted on that,” he said. “All of our personal experiences are different, and we perceive information differently.”
Steve Field of Calaveras Paranormal Research, based in Valley Springs, detailed his research in the area. In a prior investigation of Hotel Leger, he had witnessed lights suddenly going out, voices in the cellar and electronics mysteriously dying. His presentation featured pictures of ghostly apparitions and audio of utterances from the other world.
“This whole area is just steeped in folklore, legend, truth, mystery and history,” he said. “An event like this is great, because it brings together people who have had similar experiences.”
When the sun went down, Negri led a seance in the cellar. She sat at the head of a long table, illuminated by the glow of candlelight. Shadows flickered against old stone walls as Negri reunited members of the group with their lost loved ones.
Following a dinner break, the group reassembled at the old courthouse and jail in Jackson for an investigation into the paranormal.
A clown mannequin, hunched over on its chair, greeted the group as members entered the building. Carnahan had organized a haunted house in the building earlier this year, and many items were still on display.
The lights were turned off, and presenters and attendees set out to explore the building. Some used flashlights, while others went by the dim glow cast through opaque windows from street lamps outside.
“I don’t like it here. I’ve got a stomach ache,” one woman said.
“That may have been the shrimp dinner,” her friend replied.
Many members of the group used smartphone apps to aid in their investigations. They sat or stood in old jail cells with phones and other detection devices, looking for answers from the other world.
At one point, a steel door suddenly slammed shut, echoing throughout the building. Some members of the group rushed to the site, while others quickly headed in the opposite direction.
“I’m not scared, but my heart won’t slow down,” one attendee said.
Psychics and mediums described their experiences, while newcomers to the paranormal struggled to see.
At midnight, the group filed out of the building, members chatting excitedly about their experiences. They left one by one, bound for another ghost hunt at Hotel Leger, where most stayed the night.
Carnahan is hosting the 10th annual Virginia City Paracon in Virginia City, Nev., from May 1-3, 2020.