Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ghost Walk at Bowers Mansion

Eilley Orrum Cowan was one of a few women living in the Comstock Mining District when the 1859 strike occurred. She was a twice divorced woman living in Gold Hill and making her living washing clothes. According to local lore, a local miner could not pay his room and board, so in lieu of payment he gave Eilley ten feet of the Lode. Sandy Bowers came west from Missouri and worked as a Gold Canyon miner before the strike. He possessed ten feet of a claim next to Eilley Cowan's. When the two married, Sandy and Eilley Orrum Bowers became a couple of the first millionaires of the Comstock Era. Eilley was thirty-three, and Sandy twenty-nine. Most of the original Comstock claimants sold out within a few months, but Sandy and Eilley Bowers kept their holding. That decision made them rich.


In 1861, Sandy and Eilley built a mansion in Washoe Valley costing several hundred thousand dollars (a fortune back then). Wanting the finest furnishings, the couple traveled to Europe on an extravagant spending spree in 1861. They attempted but failed to meet Queen Victoria, probably due to the fact that Eilley was a divorced woman. On the return voyage in 1863, the couple adopted a newborn whose mother had just been buried at sea. They named the girl Persia after the ship. When they arrived home in Nevada, Sandy found his ore body depleted and his health failing. He died in 1868 of lung disease. Eilley suffered financially and emotionally. The death of Persia at the age of 12 in 1874 added heavily to her struggle. To remain solvent, Eilley turned the mansion into an inn. Eventually, she raffled off her furniture and possessions. She managed to keep her home for a while, but ended in foreclosure. Eilley claimed she was psychic. The fact that she once struck it rich added her reputation, which she exploited working as a fortuneteller in Virginia City, Reno, and California. She became known as the Washoe Seeress and was credited with predicting Virginia City's great fire of 1875. Ultimately, Eilley went blind and deaf, ending her career as a clairvoyant. She died penniless in 1903 in California.

On October 24, Paula, Jessie, Mariah, Megan and I met at Bowers Mansion for the annual Ghost Walk. This annual event is hosted by the Washoe County Parks Service, along with The Ghost Posse, a local paranormal investigation group.

Mariah, Megan and I arrived at Bowers Mansion at around 6:15 pm. Paula and Jessie showed up not long afterward. It was just starting to get dark. We bought our tickets and were given a quick introduction to the tour and how it was going to be conducted. We would be able to take pictures, film and record during the entire tour. We joined in the next group headed out.

Our first stop on the tour was the hot spring fed pool located to the left of the main house. There is a smaller house where the resident park ranger lives with his family. It has been reported that there was a drowning there in the past, and the ranger mentioned that his son had seen a shadow near the pool before. The pool is no longer in use. The pool was of particular interest to me since it is believed among the local tribes that hot springs are the home of water spirits, or “water babies”, a malicious, deadly elemental spirit that is not to be trifled with. We took several pictures there and we agreed among our little group that we might want to revisit this spot after the tour.

The tour resumed with more history as we made our way to the front of the mansion. We were told that at one time there was a third floor to the mansion. During renovation, it was removed because it had been added on as a remodel, and not a part of the original design. The tour guide pointed out that the Ghost Posse had picked up some paranormal activity on the right side of the porch area. Moving around the left side of the house, we were taken around to the back of the mansion. The location of the root cellar and the direction to the cemetery was given and we were turned over to members of the Ghost Posse waiting for us in the courtyard behind the mansion. The two ladies described how their group had investigated the mansion in the past and what they have found. It is their opinion that there is definite paranormal activity at the mansion.

We entered the house from the back side and entered a small bedroom that opened out into the courtyard. The room was decorated with furniture of the Comstock period, and there were personal items such as clothes as well. It struck me how small people were back then. Paula, Mariah and I all had cameras and had been taking pictures through out the tour up to this point. Once we entered the house I switched on one of the digital recorders and kept it running throughout the tour of the house. There was no unusual paranormal activity reported in the first bedroom we were in. The bedroom led off into a sitting room of sorts. This room was decorated with a piano and sofas. The guide talked about the renovations that had been done to restore the mansion to its original glory. Apparently it had stood abandoned and in disrepair for years and in fact, cows used to wander through the very room we were standing in. We took some more pictures, but both Paula and I agreed; we didn’t get any strong feelings about either of these first two rooms.

Our next stop was to the parlor where Eilley reportedly held her séances and readings. We were anxious to check that room out, but the tour ahead of us was still in there. Our group waited in the entrance hall of the mansion. The stairs to the upstairs area are also in the entrance hall. Unfortunately, the upstairs was off limits for this tour. We took a few pictures of the stairs leading up, and then Paula and I went toward the back of the entrance hall. From there we had a view of the second floor landing we both took pictures from that angle. By then, the tour before us had moved out of the parlor, so we went in.

In the parlor was a tour guide dressed on a black period dress, similar to what Eilley is wearing in many of her photos. This was an interesting lecture. She spoke of the tragedies that brought Eilley to a place of belief in the paranormal, specifically the death of Persia. We were shown examples of ghost photography that was popular back then. Of particular interest is a photo of Eilley in the foreground with a dim figure of a child in the background just behind Eilley left shoulder. It is believed that this picture is a hoax, using trick photography. Eilley, however, believed in its authenticity, and developed a real interest in communicating with the other side.

From the parlor, we moved into the dining room and then on to the kitchen. One thing I noticed is there were no indoor bathrooms build in the mansion. I don’t know about upstairs, but I saw no evidence of any downstairs. We made a quick stop in the kitchen, took a few shots there, and headed outside to the root cellar.
The Ghost Posse is another paranormal investigation team in the area. Besides giving a talk on their investigation of the mansion, they had set up out at the root cellar with all their equipment and some the evidence they have captured at Bowers Mansion with examples of EVP, and ghost photography. This team was very friendly, open and forthcoming. Since we are new to the field, seeing the type of equipment other teams are using was very helpful. The Ghost Posse had set up a row of laptops with EVPs they had captured in the investigations. Each laptop was equipped with a set of noise reducing headphones, so the EVPs were pretty clear. They had a camcorder set up in the root cellar to demonstrate how one would be set up on an investigation. They were all very willing to share their expertise. One guy answered all of Paula’s many questions about IR lights and such.

Mariah and Megan headed on up to the cemetery, Paula and I headed up soon after. It’s a pretty steep climb, probably a quarter of a mile uphill with one switch back. There are three graves there, Sandy, Eilley and Persia Bowers. The three graves are enclosed by a metal fence. We started taking pictures of the grave, and suddenly, my camera went dead. It showed that the battery was dead, which was unusual, since I had made sure to recharge the battery pack that very morning. We stayed up at the grave sites for half an hour or so, then headed back down.
Once we were back down at the root cellar, my camera started working again. A member of the Ghost Posse said that can happen when a spirit is trying to manifest. It will pull from surrounding energy sources in order to make it self visible. Interesting. We gathered Mariah and Megan and went around to the right of the mansion. We took a few pictures of the area of the porch where the Ghost Posse claimed they had gotten some readings. Afterward we headed back over to the hot springs fed pool. We stayed for a few minutes and took a few more pictures. I turned on my digital recorder in hopes of capturing an EVP at the pool. All in all, it turned out to be a fun evening and we learned a few things too.

The next day, I looked at the pictures I had taken. I had not captured anything but a couple of dust orbs. (I’m not in the, “orbs are spirits trying to manifest” group). Here is a shot I took just a few seconds apart. The first picture shows an orb up near the ceiling and a smaller, more dense orb just above the stairs. The second photo is completely clear. Energy or dust? You can make up your own mind.
Paula emailed me a few images she had captured. In several of her pictures there are mists; that is the best way I can explain it. The first one was outside of Bowers Mansion; it looks almost like a fog at the top half of the picture; it is blurred, like she snapped the picture while it was moving. The second is of a white blur in front of another of the visitors, that picture was taken in the dining room. The third picture is really interesting because I had taken a similar picture just seconds before. We are looking up at the second story landing and there seems to be a mist of some sort between the railing and the ceiling. This does not show up in any of my pictures. If you want to check Paula's photos out, go to: myspace.com/w_i_g_s, and click on My pics. The file is Bower's Mansion. We did not get anything on the digital recorders. We both agreed that we would love to go back and investigate the upstairs of the mansion someday.

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