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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spooky Times at California's Preston Castle

High atop a hill lies the former Preston School of Industry - a reform school - known locally as Preston Castle.

It literally looms over the town of Ione, California.

A monstrosity of sandstone Romanesque Revival, built in the late 1890's, is where once thousands of homeless, incorrigible and violent state "wards" learned trades like farming, carpentry and auto repair until the 1960's. Merle Haggard and 50's cowboy star Rory Calhoun once lived here.
Driving up the hill to the Castle I began to experience a sense of the uneasy.
Nothing was visibly amiss. The bright blue skies with puffy clouds under which the lush green hills of Amador County made for the kind of a perfect bucolic photo visitors bureaus place on brochure covers.

Stepping out of the car my eyes scanned across dark elongated windows some boarded others caged above and below towers and turrets. Despite the temperature being in the 90's a chill, and not the refreshing kind, ran across my shoulders.

Under a massive arch my guide, Marie Nutting, smiled and took my initial outburst of "wow, this place is really creepy" in stride. As board president of the Preston Castle Foundation, a band of intrepid volunteers committed to saving the structure, my comment was not new to her.

Entering the facility nothing supernatural hit me. No flying plasma or disembodied voices. The two front rooms were rather bland in fact except for a large steel safe, topped with a man' head and a unique drinking fountain.

Then a second set of doors slowly opened, and the chill returned. Not with icy fingers dancing lightly but handfuls of thrusting fear. Peeling paint, deep shadows and unseen light sources immediately gave me the sense that others, besides Marie and myself, were present.
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