The email came in several months ago. It said that Oracle’s Santa Clara campus, which used to be the Agnew State Hospital (aka The Great Hospital for the Insane), has been haunted for years. Did I by chance want to come and visit and see the ghosts?
Stories of the asylum are on the Internet. The situation at the campus has been well documented. Then again, I’d never been there before. So maybe I could see firsthand what I’d heard secondhand.
I show up this past Monday for a private tour. The gentleman who provides it seeks to stay anonymous. But I can say he’s an Oracle employee, one with a marked fascination with his strange workplace surroundings. Having worked there for 10-15 years, he’s accumulated many stories about the ghosts.
The ghosts seem to stem from the San Francisco Earthquake, which cracked some structures at the insane asylum back in 1906. The source showed me photographs of the wreckage. Roofs got caved. People got killed.
And now three of the dead seem to still be walking around.
THE WOMAN IN THE WHITE DRESS
She wanders the perimeter. She’s often spotted by night. She seems to be, according to witnesses, in search of something. One time, security personnel saw her walking the perimeter. They later pulled up to a building, where they again saw her in the lobby. There was no way, they said, that she could have walked from her spot outside to the building faster than they were able to get there in their car.
The question is, What – or who – is this woman searching for? Well…
THE LITTLE GIRL PLAYING HIDE-AND-SEEK
Around the campus, as well, is a little girl. She shows up commonly in hiding spots, such as a particular janitor’s closet to the left of a woman’s restroom. Onlookers often think she’s playing hide-and-seek. She wears a long dress. She seems to be around six-to-eight years old. And speaking of restrooms, there’s also…
THE JANITOR IN THE LONG BROWN COAT
This ghost’s believed to be a janitor because he has an interest in the campus restrooms. He can often be seen walking around in a long brown overcoat. When my source began to work at Oracle, he was stationed in a brand new building which had cost millions of dollars to erect. Right away, though, the bathroom began malfunctioning. They brought in plumbers to fix it. It broke again. This cycle went on for months and months. During a women’s event, among visitors, the plumbing ceased to work and the bathroom became unusable.
The ghosts are not only seen but heard. In one story from a staff member who was working downstairs, a rubber ball could be heard bouncing upstairs – the kind of ball a child uses when playing a game of jacks. She asked a fellow staff member to go look into it, but the other person wasn’t able to find the noise’s source.
In another story, a staff member heard a party going on upstairs, then grew hurt after having realized he’d not been invited. In a huff, he hurried up the stairs, only to see that nothing was going on up there. Then there’s a story about the aftermath of an event held in the auditorium, when during cleanup a worker could hear a fork (courtesy of unseen hands) being hurled across the floor.
Sometimes the ghosts remain unseen yet their actions are visible. For example, one janitor became accustomed to seeing a light turn on in the auditorium at 2AM. He attributed this action to the janitor ghost, whom my tour guide referred to as a poltergeist – a ghost or spirit who’s able to touch and move things in the physical world.
On another occasion, a worker who went to school at night and worked at Oracle by day was working late into the evening. She took out a book and began to study. Suddenly, the blinds near her began to open and close. She closed her book, got up, and left the building.
My source is always pondering these incidents and their details. Regarding the little girl, he says, “She is stuck here.” And her game of hide-and-seek seems to never end. In one story, a janitor (a living one, not the ghost) opened a closet and saw her hiding inside. Alarmed by having found a missing child, he quickly called the authorities. The fire department came and searched the building (a log exists of both the call and visit), but no child was ever found.
Per the source’s speculation, the woman in the white dress is the little girl’s mother. Hence the woman always searching and the girl always hiding. Perhaps the girl was hiding when the earthquake killed them. Since the mother never found her child in real life, she continues to search the campus for her, endlessly.
“They look as real,” says the source, “as you and me.”
The maintenance man doesn’t fit in with the girl and the lady, but like the lady, he does not seem to have been a patient of the asylum. He seems to have been an employee there. Moreover, he’s not only visible and audible; he also carries what the source calls “a distinctive smell.” One day, as my tour guide was walking across the campus, a pungent odor struck his nostrils. The first thing that crossed his mind was the word “decay.”
“You can’t miss it,” he says. “You know it. It’s not a high-tech smell,” he laughs. He asked himself, Did I brush my teeth this morning? Then he looked around the area for spoiled food but couldn’t find anything.
In Building 15, another employee smelled something pungent near the restroom. Point of origin: unknown. Then a figure walked past her office window. It was the man in the brown coat. She thought to herself, It’s the middle of summer. Why would somebody be wearing a long coat?
My tour guide leads me to the Women’s Room near which the scent was detectable. To its left is the aforementioned janitor’s closet: the little girl’s favorite hiding spot. I ask him if it’s open or locked. He’s not sure; he checks.
My heart stops working.
He pops the door open.
Nope — sigh — nothing. I lift my iPhone camera up to snap a photo. He gave me a nice scare, but it was all build-up/no outcome. Which is not to say that I’m a non-believer…
He shares more stories about the guy in the long brown overcoat. A security guard saw him in the hallway once. Thought to himself, This guy does not belong here. Tried to approach him, but the guy just ran away, never to be found.
‘Til of course he was seen again.
Another janitor, a woman, was working late one night when she saw the man in the brown coat passing through the lobby. She thought it was someone coming in late for work. Then again, like other staff members before her, she didn’t think the fella looked like he belonged there. So she went up to him for a word, and a closer look.
When he turned around to greet her, he had no face.
She screamed and cried. Called her husband to come and pick her up. The whole story gave her husband a laugh, but she didn’t find it funny. She got transferred to another campus. Since her husband was a janitor with the same company, he got put in the slot abandoned by his wife.
Soon he wasn’t laughing. He requested a transfer, too.
Eventually their company stopped scheduling Oracle cleanings in the daytime.
So he’s got stories, and I’m interested, but then again, I haven’t seen anything. All I’ve seen is a sleek technology campus dotted with red-roofed historic buildings preserved from the asylum. Their interiors all hum with cleanliness. We’re a long way from 1885, when the mental hospital’s doors first opened. Ditto the disaster in 1906, when 117 people (staff and patients) were killed — the highest at any site in Santa Clara County — and buried there. And aside from the fact that random staff members are now making me jump whenever they walk by, I’m not witnessing anything ghostly or paranormal.
Until the clock tower…
It’s the main event. He’s saved the best for last. We go upstairs, stopping a floor shy of the tower itself, then duck into a room where my source presumes medical operations used to happen, perhaps lobotomies. Reason being, this room does not share a wall with any other. Its door wall leads to a hallway; its other three walls are on the outside of the building.
My source quotes the tagline from the movie “Alien”: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
He thinks it’s the same deal with this room. In here, at a remove from the guts of the building, maybe psychiatric patients screamed their heads off.
He always knocks before he enters – a courtesy to the ghosts. When we walk in, the place feels to me like a sauna. Not hot, but dense. Something’s in here. It’s heavy.
We take a seat at the table. He’s got a Ghost Radar app running on his phone. On its screen is a bright green radar configuration. I saw it earlier; it picked up my cell phone, apparently, and displayed a green dot. It also occasionally displays random words, allegedly ones picked up from entities nearby.
The source shares fun stories about words he’s seen. Once, when experiencing the symptoms of an illness, he saw the word “DISEASE.” Another time, when hosting a group of Asian visitors, he saw the word “CHINESE.”
This time, shortly after he and I enter, the screen shows us the word “FRIEND.”
There and then, I look up the ghost app on my phone. The reviews seem legit. It’s not a toy from the joke store. The intentions seem to be sound.
The two of us sit down in chairs around a table. I ask him if it’s OK if I stop being a reporter and start functioning as a mystic. He doesn’t skip a beat; he welcomes it.
“If anyone,” I say to the room, “is here…please give us a sign.”
The source’s eyes fill with moisture. It’s not emotion; it’s acute awareness. The holy charge of the uncanny.
The Ghost Radar begins to dance. More green dots appear: first one, then two. Soon we have ourselves three. And these aren’t green, they’re blue.
I get a mild electroshock, a static charge in my body. On instinct, I raise my hands to my sides – palms outward, something of a yoga pose.
The screen shows us another word: “BALANCE.”
Ah, nice. Good enough for me. I have myself a neat story. It’s not wild, or shocking, but at least it’s something. Enough for me to run with.
He’s saved the best for last. First we go up to the clock tower: the building’s top floor. Nothing odd happens up there; the energy feels light and clean. So we go back down, knock, and re-enter the lobotomy suite.
Sit back down around the table, ask the spirits for more signs.
But nothing happens.
‘Til the man stands up.
He shows me a photograph on his phone. It’s of a coworker of his at Oracle. The man is seated, in the photo, behind his desk. The tour guide tells me that this picture was the very first one taken on a brand new iPhone. A coworker of his coworker took the phone out of the box and snapped the photo. Neither the man who took the picture nor the one who’s in the picture had heard a thing about the campus ghosts — yet.
The shot looks ordinary: just a man behind a desk. Not posing – only talking. Casual.
“Do you see it?” the source asks.
I can’t see anything.
He smiles. Keeps on holding up the picture.
I jump out of my skin. I grab his forearm. It’s a taut grab; I feel bone.
In the picture, beside the man at the desk, so translucent that I almost missed her, is the little girl who they think died in 1906. She’s wearing the aforementioned dress. And she’s staring ahead – not at the camera, but at the computer on the man’s desk.
I ask the source for the photo. He says he can’t release it; he’s saving it for a book. So I’m left with spouting hearsay, on the sheer basis of my reputation (such as it is). Fine. No problem. I know what I saw. Was it photoshopped? Maybe. But to the eye, it looked authentic.
We say goodbye in the parking lot (“GOODBYE,” incidentally, being another thing the app once said to the source, as he exited the operating room). I say that I had fun. But to be honest, it was mild. Though I believed all the stories, I didn’t experience much. Had I been able to take the ghost shot with me, then maybe I would have had something. As it stood, I had the stuff from the radar and the electric feeling in my body.
I drove to Whole Foods for lunch. In the car, while texting friends, I sorted through the shots I’d taken. Threw out this one, saved that one.
Felt my whole body clench.
It was the shot of the janitor’s closet that got me. I remembered taking it. I even had audio from the moment: I asked the source to clear the frame, then I aimed the camera, set the frame, and snapped the shot. It hadn’t been haphazard. I hadn’t rushed it.
And yet for some reason the final picture showed a vortex.
I sent it to the source. And my wife. And of course my mother. And as well, my good friend R.J. Sevin, who’s a special fx artist in Louisiana. Could he replicate it?, he wondered. He gave it a try. He spun his own phone camera, fired off a shot. But what he got was a holistic swirl: in other words, everything in the frame except for its center seemed to be twirled up in a spin.
My shot was different: you could see the items in the closet behind the vortex, almost like the vortex was a clear layer, or a membrane. To be sure, it looked physical. Coated. Laminated.
The source texted back, excited: “Yup, that’s her favorite hiding place.”
R.J. asked me if I had other shots like that. The answer was a flat no.
My opinion? Even though this isn’t my opinion column? I snapped the portal between this world and the one beyond the veil. It’s the vortex through which the little ghost girl travels. She’s over there sometimes, but sometimes – yeah – she’s over here. I think I caught her in transit. Maybe she was coming. Maybe she was going.
Maybe this world is stranger than we know.