Andrew Arnett and Sonja Lessley checked into the haunted Grey Whale Inn in Fort Bragg, California. This is their report [Part 1/2].

by Andrew Arnett

A review on Trip Advisor written by a high school student named Carl, on a family trip, described some unusual occurrences during their stay at the Grey Whale Inn in Fort Bragg, California. He began with a description of the general creepiness of the place and, his bewilderment at discovering the inn was previously a hospital, back in the day. This explained the long ramps in lieu of staircases, big rooms, wide doors, and a basic institutionalized atmosphere.

The weirdness began when, finding a collection of old VHS movies in the lobby, they decided to watch 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea. The TV began fading in and out with static, accompanied by a horrible noise. Carl goes on to write:

We turned off the TV set, and that’s when my brother first heard it. “What’s that noise?” he asked. I looked at him in silence, and then I heard it too. Organs. Someone, or something, was playing the organs. The faint noise seemed to be emanating from the floor above us. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself, “we were just up there and it was empty.” What was also strange was that there were no musical instruments up there, just a vacant room.

“Screw that, I’m going to bed.” I quickly jumped into the bed, covered up my head with my blanket and dozed off. As nervous as I was that night, I was surprised that I had a solid sleep. The bed was comfortable to say the least. When I was just beginning to think that all the strange phenomena was just some weird natural occurrence, the next morning, my mom asked a question that made the hair on the back of my neck stand. “Hey boys,” she said, “was one of you standing next to me for some reason last night?”

“What do you mean Mom?” I asked. “Well I woke up during the night and felt someone standing right next to the edge of my bed. It didn’t really move, but I could feel that it was looming over me. I didn’t want to look at who or what it was at the moment because I didn’t want to know. Are you sure it wasn’t you guys?” When we told her no, she became a bit frightened.

The strange occurrences continued for Carl and his family, who were booked for a two night stay. However, after his brother Ira felt an invisible hand brush up against him while standing in the bathroom, the family decided enough was enough. They checked out before the second evening. There were other reports of weird goings-on at the Grey Whale Inn to be found at the Haunted Places website. “Jo” wrote about strange sounds heard by her and her husband during their stay at the inn. She writes:

Almost thirty years ago we spent an Easter weekend in the corner downstairs room in the front of the hotel. With the lights out after dark, the room was pitch black. At some point during the night, both my husband and I awakened to a “swishing” noise like the sound of a starched skirt coming toward us from the location of the door. In fact, my husband grabbed my hand, so I knew he heard it too. The noise stopped by the bed, and I felt a hand pat my thigh. While it was disconcerting, it wasn’t threatening but rather seemed to be a gesture of comfort. Then the swishing noise retreated. The next morning I asked at the desk about the room being haunted, and I was told that the room was once the labor room of the hospital and was likely haunted by the ghost of a nurse! It made perfect sense because I was about six months pregnant at the time! We never returned, but I did recently see a show on TV about that particular room being haunted. I seem to be the sort of person who attracts spirits, and this was only one of many times I have experienced a ghost. I am positive that’s what it was!

History of The Grey Whale Inn

According to their website, the Grey Whale Inn was built in 1915 and began its existence as the Fort Bragg Hospital. Its construction was financed by the Union Lumber Company, the biggest employer in town, as indeed, the major industry in Fort Bragg was lumber, extracted from the mighty redwood forest which lay inland from the coast.

Dr. F. McLean Campbell was the first doctor in residence and in 1920, he was joined by Dr. Paul J. Bowman. In 1923, Dr. Bowman bought the hospital from the Union Lumber Company. He reorganized and renamed it the Redwood Coast Hospital. He was the hospital’s chief surgeon from 1923 to 1965, which was sold in 1966. Beginning in 1927, Redwood Coast Hospital had the distinction of being only one of two hospitals in California with under 50 beds to be approved to perform surgery by the American College of Surgeons.

Hotel room at the Grey Whale Inn – note hospital light above bed (Image © Andrew Arnett)

Dr. Bowman put an emphasis on obstetrics, pushing women to have their babies in the convenience of his hospital, as opposed to the traditional method of home birth. The hospital was expanded to accommodate this popular trend.The Redwood Coast Hospital remained open until 1971, when the modern Mendocino Coast District Hospital opened on River Drive in Fort Bragg, serving Fort Bragg to this day. Since then, the building has been run as a rooming house, a bed and breakfast and a hotel, under various ownership.

Few things are creepier than a hospital, or former hospital, if you consider all the death, illness and general suffering that must have taken place within its walls. A breeding ground, if there ever was one, for anxious spirits and restless ghosts. But what about the land itself? Fort Bragg is a peculiar town of less than 8000, isolated, as it were, on a headland accessible by a two-lane road that winds through thick mountainous redwood forests. Maybe the trees themselves keep the strangers out? Or in?

Abandoned airport in Fort Bragg, CA. (Photo © 2019 Andrew Arnett)
Abandoned airport runway in Fort Bragg, CA. (Photo © 2019 Andrew Arnett)

Mendocino Indian Reservation

During our visit in Fort Bragg, Sonja and I hiked the dramatic coastline. We hiked the trail along the tall cliffs overlooking a jagged coastline. The path itself cut through private property, formerly owned by the Union Lumber Company. There was something distinctly unusual about the land, and sure enough, when we discovered a decrepit runway, we learned that this was once the sight of the old airport owned by the Union Lumber Company.

A 1984 aerial view looking northwest at the Union Lumber Company Airfield (Photo by Gonzalo Curiel)

Even more startling was coming upon a plaque by the side of the road which read:

You’re standing on land that was, in 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation. You might imagine that the 25,000 coastal acres were a refuge for our people, a place where survivors of European diseases, land theft, and white persecution could finally live in peace. Unfortunately, this was not the case. ‘Freedom and justice for all’ did not apply to the Indians.

The plaque describes how the Bureau of Indian Affairs illegally gave the Noyo River Lumber Company permission to build a factory on reservation land, then committed atrocities against the natives including abduction of native children, and forcing them into child labor. Women were brutalized, rations were stolen and starvation was rampant.

(Plaque on coastline of Fort Bragg, CA. (Photo © 2019 Andrew Arnett)

So often, in the case of haunted houses, there exists a back story that includes the land being built on the sight of an ancient Indian burial ground or, where horrific battles and atrocities have taken place. Sure enough, the same holds true for the Grey Whale Inn.

Researching the topic in greater detail, we learn that the Mendocino Indian Reservation, established in 1856, which includes present day Fort Bragg, was home to the people of the Pomo, Southern Pomo, Salan Pomo, Yuki, Whilkut and Wappo tribes. Conditions on the reservation were dire indeed. An appraisal of the situation by Lieutenant H.B. Gibson of the U.S. Army described the poor quality of food, wherein sawdust was mixed with flour for sustenance, and the desperate need for a competent doctor. Indeed, Fort Bragg (the military post) was established in 1857 within the Mendocino Indian Reservation for the purpose of protecting the Indians there, as well as controlling them.

(Original Caption) “Enlightened Christian warfare in the 19th century. Massacre of Indian women and children in Idaho by white scouts and their red allies.” Engraving (1868).

As bad as things were on the reservations, it was still a lot better than being off the reservation, for the Indians. According to Dr. David G. Lewis, author of The War of Extermination and Traditional Food Gathering by Tribes in California (1856), the reservations “offered the only safety for the tribes. They knew that if they left, they would be subject to being murdered by gun-toting Americans bent on their destruction…The killing of Indians was reinforced by state laws that allowed repayment for costs of killing Indians by the state, the proof of such activity being to turn in the scalps of the redskins (hence the origin of the word). The policy was reinforced by forceful pro-extermination statements in regional newspapers and by the first American Governor of the state Peter H. Burnett… ”

The Fort Bragg military post was closed in 1864 and the Mendocino Indian Reservation was discontinued in 1866 after the Indians were forcibly moved to a reservation in Round Valley. The most notorious of these marches was known as the Conkow Trail of Tears. It began on August 28, 1863, wherein armed soldiers rounded up 461 Conkow Maidu people and forced them to march hundreds of miles to Round Tree. Only 277 made it to their destination. The rest were left behind with barely any rations, and many died from exhaustion, sickness, thirst and starvation.

After the closure of the Fort Bragg military post, the reservation land was sold to settlers at $1.25 per acre. In 1885, C.R. Johnson, and his partners, began operating a sawmill there, which became the Union Lumber Company in 1893.

No wonder they didn’t teach us about the Conkow Trail of Tears in grade school. The episode reeks of greed, wickedness and treachery, highlighting early American crimes against Native Peoples. Best to keep such things buried in the past. Perhaps though, the past doesn’t always stay buried. It may rise from the grave, seeking atonement – one way or another.

[End of Part 1/2]


The Grey Whale Inn