music in the park san jose

A trolley ride through historic Monterey takes visitors
on a hauntingly fun trip
I want to believe.
Or, to be more accurate, I do believe. Just about anything
anyone ever tells me. I am one of the most gullible people I know.
I believe in God, aliens, Santa Claus and Brett Favre, not
necessarily in that order. Tell me a sob story and I’m instantly
sympathetic
– I’d make a lousy bill collector.
A trolley ride through historic Monterey takes visitors

on a hauntingly fun trip

I want to believe.

Or, to be more accurate, I do believe. Just about anything anyone ever tells me. I am one of the most gullible people I know. I believe in God, aliens, Santa Claus and Brett Favre, not necessarily in that order. Tell me a sob story and I’m instantly sympathetic – I’d make a lousy bill collector.

So when it was suggested I take a ride on the Ghost Trolley of Old Monterey for a story, I was both excited and nervous. Spend a chilly Saturday night looking for spooks and specters in historic Monterey? It sounded like fun, but since I do believe in spooks, a tiny part of me wondered – what would I do if I saw a ghost?

Luckily, I didn’t have to find out. I didn’t see a single misty apparition on my two-hour expedition, but we did have a good time, and learned a lot about Monterey’s haunted history to boot.

The Ghost Trolley is run by Gary Munsinger, a long-time Monterey resident and historian specializing in stories with a supernatural bent. Munsinger created the Ghost Trolley in 2002 after taking London’s popular Jack-the-Ripper tour.

“I thought it would be a fun thing to do,” said Munsinger, as he sat on a stool behind a long glass counter in his store/museum, the Ghost Tour of Old Monterey. “I tried it, and it’s just blossomed into an entity of its own.”

Munsinger estimates 100 guests take the tour weekly, whether by trolley or by foot (the trolley runs for parties of six or more), although he said numbers always increase this time of year.

“They all come out of the woodwork in October,” he said. “It really does peak around this time, so it must be because of Halloween.”

On this particular Saturday night, there were about 25 of us, including approximately eight 9-11 year-old boys who seemed to belong to a Boy Scout troop. The tour began with a short walk across Hartnell Street, where the Ghost Tour store is located, to the Stokes Restaurant and Bar. James Stokes arrived in Monterey in 1833 claiming to be a doctor and pharmacist, Munsinger said. Munsinger related the tale of the strange man who carried two suitcases filled with various drugs and medicines, met and married the widow of a wealthy police commissioner (who died after Stokes treated him) and may have contributed to several deaths, including Governor Jose Figueroa.

We huddled under a large cypress tree as Munsinger talked about two ghosts who supposedly haunt the Stokes Adobe, while the boys chattered away in front of him. Munsigner tried speaking over them for a few minutes before saying, “I can’t give my tour if you are talking,” which turned into a common refrain throughout the evening.

From there we boarded the trolley, which reminded my daughters of the Knight Bus from the Harry Potter books. Passengers who make reservations online are given first dibs on the seats; telephone reservations and walk-ups receive standing room only tickets, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. I had four of my kids and a staff photographer, with me, and we actually preferred standing in the back of the trolley.

Our first stop was the old Monterey jail, which is just across the street from the Vasquez adobe, where bandit Tiburcio Vasquez hid from the law with his sister. Munsinger talked of other outlaws who had been caught and hung in the old courthouse, then gave his guests time to walk around the adobe before loading them back onto the trolley.

During the tour, Munsinger shared sad and spooky stories about various local spots and residents, such as Manuel Soto and Dona Feliciano, a married couple who built the Lara-Soto adobe in the 1830s. The couple’s first child, a son, died suddenly when he was 3 years old, and rather than bury him in the nearby Catholic cemetery, Soto buried him in the front yard of the family home. People felt this put a curse on the home, and after the family moved out, the adobe was abandoned until 1946.

We drove past several historical buildings, including the Perry House, where a young woman was reportedly murdered in her bedroom by her boyfriend and an adobe on Alvarado Street where the Sherman Rose is planted. Munsinger shared the buildings’ histories, and reminded us that more information on all the tour’s stops is available in print or online.

One of the highlights of the tour was the Monterey Cemetery. Guests were allowed off the trolley for a 10-minute walk, and those with flashlights tried to find the graves of some of the people Munsinger spoke of during the tour.

A drawback to going on a crowded night such as we did is that the noise level would more than likely scare away any potential paranormal sightings. The Boy Scouts ran through the cemetery laughing and jumping on larger headstones, and my feeling was that any self-respecting ghost would not honor those boys with their presence.

Munsinger claims to have witnessed several paranormal events, such as green fogs, flashing lights, loud crashes and footsteps, and catching mysterious orbs on film. He has a photo album filled with such photos, and his Web site features a gallery as well. He said several guests on his tour have seemingly had psychic events, including an older woman who claimed she could see dead people.

Personally, I was ambivalent about the tour. I really enjoyed hearing the stories and learning about Monterey’s history, but a part of me wanted to be able to tour the buildings during the day, to get a better look at what was being described to me. That sort of defeats the purpose of ghost hunting, though, as I’m told most ghosts prefer the night. I also felt it was a little pricey. Adult tickets are $28 per person, while children between the ages of 5-12 are $9 each (children under 5 years of age are not permitted on the tour).

We did have a good time, however, although I think the walking tour is more my speed. Honestly, the tour really seems to be what you make of it. I don’t think anyone on the tour that night expected to see a real ghost – but it was fun believing we might.

Ghost Trolley of Old Monterey

527 Hartnell St., Monterey

Runs daily at 8 p.m. depending on sign ups (it will be a walking tour for fewer than six people)

Meet in front of the Ghost Tour store at 7:45 p.m.

$28 for adults, $9 for children ages 5-12 (children under five not permitted)

Warm clothing is recommended

For more information, call 624-1700 or go to www.toursmonterey.com.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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