HAUNTED HIGHWAYS: PROSPECTOR ROAD
Prospector Road is a haunted road in the gold rush country. The pavement and adjacent hills are over old mines, most of which have caved in. In a few the collapse of tunnels gave miners premature burials.
Prospector Road is a winding, half paved, often one lane path of a road which runs the seven mile stretch adjacent to the more traveled county built and maintained Marshall Road, constructed in 1957 to accommodate the ever increasing traffic.
Marshall Road follows a narrow cliff from Lotus to Georgetown. Prospector, often called the “old road” having been utilized since it was built by Chinese labor in the 1800’s, cuts the winding mountainside connecting with Marshall at both Lotus and Garden Valley.
The barely traveled road and surrounding terrain has a history as colorful as any of the gold rush era. Because of the treacherous nature of the countryside, many a wagon and later automobiles overturned, spilling their passengers down the hillsides to their death.
A stagecoach stop, though moved to another site, is still visible on private acreage along Prospector Road. It was built as a half-way mark between Lotus and Garden Valley for the comfort of weary travelers.
Later a line shack and check station were built along Prospector Road at the O’Brien and Maxwell Cromite Mines, both prosperous businesses, as cromite was a needed commodity during World War I for ammunition. The area produced one of the largest cromite finds, and the rock was often hauled by wagon down the winding path to Coloma, and then on to Placerville where it was shipped out by rail.
In the 1800’s several lone miners made substantial gold discoveries in these hills, which account for its name. As with the age-old story of prospecting and claim jumping, many a miner who bragged a bit too openly about his “find” was strangely lost among the hills of Prospector, their bodies never recovered.
It is suspected that many a spirit roams the Prospector hills, at least one still seeking the gold he never discovered while having his life cut short while trying.
Perhaps it was his specter who frightened a young couple with poltergeist-like pranks soon after they settled in a new home on Prospector Road. This is the story of Frank and Ruth Cooper.
Late one night Ruth awakened from fretful slumber feeling cold and strangely apprehensive. She knew she had made a good fire in the woodburning stove before retiring and the two-story cabin should still be warm. Still she felt something was wrong. Was there an intruder in the house? She awakened her husband and together they went down the stairs.
Frank had locked and bolted the front door earlier in the evening. Now it was ajar. The bolt pin remained in the outward position, yet the wall slot where it should still be secured had not been torn. They could find no evidence of forced entry.
Except for the mystery of the unexplained open door, everything appeared to be as it should. That is, except for the dog. Hearing a frightened yelp, they turned to find their pet huddled and trembling in a corner of the room. Ruth hugged her husband as they looked outside into the darkness. They could see nothing unusual. Thus was the family introduced to the ghost of Prospector Road.
This apparition is described by residents as attired in work clothing. To those who are able to see him, he appears semi-transparent, tall and craggy, sporting a beard. To those who cannot see him, he is a pesky, annoying trickster. Most folk believe his purpose is to keep people away from a claim he never recovered.
The Cooper cabin is in dense underbrush, barely visible from the road and an ideal place to allow a dog to run at will. This was a deciding factor in the couple’s decision to rent the cabin. The boxer, however, doesn’t take advantage of his privilege. He refuses to go far from his owners side, passing up each opportunity to corner a rabbit or chase a deer.
Frank and Ruth have observed the tall field grass spreading as if someone is walking through it when there is no one there. Occasionally they hear the sound of footsteps. At such times Buster will growl softly, with tail frantically, and cause the hairs on his back to bristle.
Not from their landlord, of course, but from the neighbors, the Coopers learned that former occupants of their cabin had hurriedly left the premises – once in the middle of the night leaving their possessions behind. “We moved here because we like the country,” Ruth said. “We often find dishes and other small objects moved around and sometimes something will be broken. Anyway, we have decided to stay here.”
“At least until something really, and I mean really, disturbing happens” Frank added, glancing over his shoulder.
“Strange things have happened since we moved here,” Ruth continued,” and the matter of the front door lock was only the first. One evening we heard the children shouting and banging on the door to their bedroom.
Frank and I investigated, we found that their door had been locked. From the outside! This was impossible, as the only other people in the were Frank and myself. When this happened several times, Frank took the lock off. I figured this would be the end of the problem.”
Ruth lit a cigarette with a somewhat shakey hand. “It wasn’t though,” she continued. “There was also an old-fashioned lock on the door. You know, the kind where you have to insert a key. Well, our landlord said he didn’t know of the existence of the key, so not to concern ourselves with it.
So one day the kids were locked inside their room, but this time an invisible key was turned by an invisible something. Maybe the ghost really likes the kids after all. Anyway, Frank removed the door, and the children will just have to make do with a doorless bedroom.”
“The gun incident was the craziest,” said Frank, gesturing into the air. “One evening when the children had all gone to friends’ houses to spend the night, I did not bother to unload my .22 rifle.
There was no one here who could get hurt with it, so I just propped it up against the front door for the night.” He shrugged his shoulders the way one totally baffled would do. “When we got up the next morning and went downstairs, I found all the bullets next to the gun lying on the floor.” He paused, frustrated. “Now, how is this possible?”
His neighbors feel the sameway, although times can be trying. “I just want to know what causes all the commotion around here,” said George, a man in his early 40’s. “Something’s amiss, unnatural, but we have lived with it so long it is beginning to seem normal to us. I guess it doesn’t frighten me any more, but just when you think it is gone for good, something unheard of and inexplicable happens again!”
Little things like objects being moved around and strange noises could be tolerated, but last summer things came to a frightening crescendo.
“My son Billy and three of his friends had decided to take a walk just after dark,” he began. His son interrupted. “Why do things always have to happen to me? I never believed in ghosts, and I don’t want to now,” the seventeen-year old, straight A student said. “But I have to. I saw him clearly, and so did my friends.”
Billy’s ghostly encounter happened on a warm summer’s evening while his parents were entertaining several friends. Billy was occupied with companions of his own age, two who came along with their parents, and another who is a school chum. Soon the teenagers became bored with parental chatter, and excused themselves to take a walk down Prospector Road.
As all kids do, they needed a chance to vent their extra energy. Their walk consisted of laughing and joking, pushing each other into the bushes, and treating each other with casual lightheartedness, happy to be free of the regimented behavior expected of them while in the company of their parents.
Billy took the lead, taking pride in parading his friends around an old shed, and then allowing them to explore the loft in the cattle barn. Afterward, by a criss-cross pattern, he led them back up the hill toward the road, to display his new baby lamb in the pen just beyond the house.
But, as they turned the curve, Billy saw something shining in the moonlight. He instinctively put his arms out to stop his friends.
Billy and his buddies took a step backward, as a filmy outline, not of this world, materialized and faced them on the path. With the moonlight and dim light escaping from the back porch, they could see the figure of a tall man draped in tarp-like material which appeared to be a tattered rain garment.
Whether the apparition heard the startled teenagers, or if he was to do so from some twisted coincidence of fate, the enraged swaying specter turned and glared fixedly at the boys.
“You cannot understand real fright until your eyes meet those of a ghost,” Billy exclaimed, perspiration on his forehead. “We didn’t know whether to run or stand still so that it wouldn’t come after us. My biggest fear was that it would touch me.”
The boys stood still as living tombstones, as the apparition pointed a finger at them, accusingly. Later upon separate interrogation, each boy was to confirm the same description and order of events.
From Billy’s own words, “It appeared his feet were not standing on the ground, but maybe a foot above. He swayed slightly from side to side. We couldn’t really see through him, but there seemed to be a transparentness around his frame.
He looked cold and wet, bluish in color, though the evening was hot, at least 85 degrees, and we had no rain in months. With his finger still pointed directly at us, he opened his mouth to say something we could not hear. He slowly, deliberately mouthed soundless words.”
At this, one of the boys broke away, racing for Billy’s house. Perhaps this broke the “spell”, or perhaps because it was simply time, the unearthly vision turned, and floated down the embankment.
“When we told our parents, and we all went back to the spot where we had seen the ghost, we could find no trace of him. There were no footprints, broken twigs, nothingl We were really upset, and it took several hours for our folks to calm us down. All of my friends will admit to sleeping with the lights on for several nights.”
The fright of the boys was doubtless genuine. Billy acquired temporary psychological problems. At the insistence of their parents, all of the boys went through counselling.- Never did any of them deviate from their stories of the ghost and how they had observed him.
Of course, Billy’s Dad has his own stories to tell. “It wasn’t very long ago that the tools disappeared,” he said, looking at Billy who shook his head agreeing. “We had a shop in an old outbuilding on the property. Along the wall are hooks and shelves I erected to hold my tools. Well, one afternoon we made a commitment to some friends to go to Sacramento and help them work on their car.
My son, a friend from the mountain, Dave, and I took the tools off the shelf, and making several trips to be certain we had everything, loaded them into the back of my truck. We covered the tools with a tarp, went back into the house for a quick glass of water, and got into the truck to make our drive. Well, the punch line is, when we got to Sacramento, the tools were gone.
“I have to admit,” the father told us, “I was upset and angry. How would you like to think that 400 dollars worth of tools had been stolen? I could only surmise that they had been taken when we stopped for a hamburger on the way. We had to call around to all of our friends and neighbors-to gather up enough tools to get the job done.”
“Luckily, I was insured,” the man continued, “and as soon as we returned home, I intended to call my insurance agent. But it wasn’t necessary,” he added, a look of disbelief in his eyes. “When we returned to the house, the tools were all where they should be, in their proper spaces on the shelf, as if they had never been removed. Someone, or something, still as yet unknown to this world took them out of the truck. My God… that’s spooky!”
“Then there is the other story about that shed, Dad,” Billy was quick to remind his father. “The same shed has a lock that can only be hitched from the inside,” his father said, taking up the story.”
The shed has no windows, and only one door. This door has a lock and a key so it can be locked from the outside too, but sometimes when I am inside, and don’t want to be disturbed, I will lock it from the inside. Well, one day we found the door locked from the inside.
The lock is one of those with a bar across, not one that could trip up by itself. It would definitely take someone on the inside of the building to lock it. Yet when I called out, no one answered from inside.
When Billy got home from school we broke the door down, taking half the door casing with it, to get back into the shed. I made Billy wait outside, and I went into the building with a gun, thinking perhaps a vagrant had gotten into it, actually not knowing what to think but there was no one inside. Not a trace of a person! Somehow the door was locked from the inside and without a way for whoever locked it to get back outside, that is impossible. It’s simply impossible!”
Billy’s father continued, thoughtfully. “This is the same shed,” he said, “which was a stagecoach stop in the 1800’s. We moved it to this site on our property. Do you think that could have something to do with the strange activity around here? Do you think moving the building might have upset the ghost?”
On a cold, blustery night about 10:30 p.m., a waitress returning from her job in Coloma drove the winding cliff on Marshall Road just above the area where the ghost had been seen on Prospector Road. The road was slick, the going slow.
Wanting to get home as soon as possible, she had only rubbed the front windshield on the driver’s side of the car clean enough of frost so that she could see. The rest of the windshield remained covered with ice. As she turned the curve which placed her car just above the area where the stagecoach stop rests below her, she heard a loud crash.
On the passenger side of the windshield, imbedded in the frost, appeared the distinct outline of an outstretched hand and arm. She feared she must have hit someone, though the mountain road was deserted at this time of the night, certainly no person in their right mind would venture to walk it.
The driver pulled off to the side, taking out her flashlight. Trembling, she got out of her car, and searched the road and embankment for a body. There was none. She looked for fallen branches, anything that could have crashed into her windshield leaving the mark. Nothing!
Shaking, she got back into her car, looking at the mark on the windshield.
The hand and arm did not begin to fill with frost again until she reached her home, four miles away.
That same night, at approximately the same time, a strange voice was heard outside the young couple’s cabin. They had seen the waitress’ car lights ascending Marshall Road just above their house and the old stagecoach stop. As the family carried a final load of firewood from their truck into their cabin, the voice was heard distinctly.
It said: “Stay away from my claim.” (HAUNTED HIGHWAYS: PROSPECTOR ROAD)