Last year, Evie Ybarra did a deep-dive into the cold waters of haunted Heritage Valley, sharing tales of the eerie and strange told to her by eyewitnesses, weaving local lore and history into the supernatural thrills. She does it again, this time for Ojai and locations farther north, with Ghosts of Santa Barbara and the Ojai Valley.
There’s a particular flavor to these ghost stories, where Chumash history and the hillside geography play a large part in the legends that evolved in Ojai and Santa Barbara. Those common roots are one of the reasons Ybarra grouped these regions together. She also noted the number of Ojai and Santa Barbara residents who approached her during talks about her previous book, eager to discuss their own paranormal experiences.
“I interviewed various people,” she explains. “I put together the stories, trying to delve into the hidden history. The historical record we then integrated with what people have experienced.” The accounts of relatives and friends also served as source material. Most preferred to remain anonymous.
One tale, “The Tragedy in the Sespe Wilderness in 1969,” stands out because all the people involved — the campers trapped in the Sespe during a bad storm, and the members of the rescue team — are all identified by name, and the story is a matter of public record. (If you’re curious, Tim Zimmerman’s “Hell in High Water,” published in Outside magazine in 2008, is a detailed account of the incident.) “I was a teenager in 1969,” she recalls. “I remember that story so vividly. I was so interested in what happened in Ojai, because it was so tragic.”
A phantom thread runs through the book, but Ybarra’s works are as much about history as hauntings. In a section devoted to Johnny Cash, for example, Ybarra mentions his home in Casitas Springs, where he fished, where his children attended school. But the only supernatural experiences related to the Man in Black come from Cinnamon Hill, his estate in Jamaica. One Sespe tale is unsettling due to its relation to the Manson murders and trial, not the afterlife. Ybarra relates some of the history of the Ojai Valley Museum and the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts — none of which figures in any ghost stories. But the old pictures are interesting and her accessible prose makes it easy to imagine the Ojai of another time.
Ybarra notes that her research uncovered some spooky surprises. Strange objects hovering over Lake Casitas, accompanied by a loss of time — “I had never heard that,” she admits. “And Nordhoff Cemetery! I didn’t realize all the happenings that occurred there! It is so small, and it’s so beautiful. It’s right there in town! But at night — oh, it was very creepy.”
She also stumbled upon odd happenings at the seaside community of La Conchita. Some say you can hear voices, crying and faint music at the site where several houses were buried in the 2005 landslide that claimed 10 lives. But even weirder were the stories about a house rumored to have belonged to a couple of devil worshippers. So unsettled are the spirits that reside there that the owners can’t seem to keep renters in it.
The spookiest parts of the book (from a Ventura County perspective) reside, like many of the area’s best-known specters, on Creek Road. The horribly disfigured Char Man, victim of a long-ago fire; the Ghostly Lady, murdered on her wedding night; a headless motorcyclist and many others — there seems to be no end to the wicked things that come by way of Creek Road.
Why here? Ybarra admits she can only speculate. “I think because it’s so dark at night,” she says. “And I know that many Native Americans regarded it as a sacred place.” She’s heard vague rumors that some early people inhabiting the region regarded that area as a “highway to hell.” Ybarra herself has felt a sense of unease traversing Creek Road and Camp Comfort, which lies along it. “Old Creek Road is weird,” she says simply. “I wouldn’t want to be there at night. My sense is that the whole area is haunted.”
As someone who has spent a lifetime hearing about, researching and writing about ghosts, Ybarra has a bit of advice for those confronted with paranormal activity. “I think the best thing I can say is that anyone who has experienced something or seen something that they can’t explain . . . shelve it, don’t dwell on it. But if it happens again? Burn sage, be honest and live a good life — and they’ll probably leave you alone.”
Ghosts of Santa Barbara and the Ojai Valley is available through Arcadia Publishing (www.arcadiapublishing.com) and Amazon. Evie Ybarra will sign books on Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Four Brix Winery (https://fourbrixwine.com), on Oct. 28 at noon at Very Ventura Gift Shop and Gallery (https://very-ventura.com), and on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula (https://venturamuseum.org/visit-agriculture-museum/).