Illustration by Bryce Snyder

San Luis Obispo County has its fair share of haunted places, including the Sunny Acres Children’s Facility and the Mission San Miguel.

Celina Oseguera
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If you’re seeking out ghosts and ghouls this Halloween, you don’t need to go far. In fact, there are four places in San Luis Obispo County that have their own haunted history.

Sunny Acres Children’s Facility

 building sits alone atop a hill, harboring the lost souls of young children and juvenile delinquents. A baby cries uncontrollably. An unruly child pounds on the steel door of the cell he was put in to. He wants to get out. Every soul there wants to escape.

This is a great setup for a horror story. Unfortunately, not all of it is true.

Yes, there is a building on top of a hill, northwest of Flora and Bishop streets in San Luis Obispo. It used to be called Sunny Acres. But it is not necessarily haunted maybe it is spooky, but not haunted.

“There’s no ghosts there,” said San Luis Obispo County Library volunteer and writer Joseph Carotenuti. Carotenuti researched, explored and wrote about the facility in 2010.

Sunny Acres was built in 1931 in response to the growing number of poor and abandoned children during the Great Depression. The founders wanted to give these children a safe home, and thus, the Children’s Home at Sunny Acres was created.

The staff soon realized some of the children they had admitted were more deeply disturbed than the others. So they installed steel cells for those who had to be restrained and secluded from the other children.

The number of these disturbed children grew over the years and, soon enough, the facility began to accept juvenile delinquents. By the 1950s, the building became a juvenile center — hence the name change to Sunny Acres Juvenile Hall.

Partly because of security issues and partly because the county built another juvenile center, Sunny Acres was closed in 1974. It has been abandoned on that hill ever since.

Although Carotenuti did not believe the ghost sighting accounts at the facility, he does admit it is a spooky place.

“It is quite a scary place,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that building at night.”

Paso Robles Inn

It’s Dec. 12, 1940.

Paso Robles Inn night clerk J.H. Emsley is on his night shift. He walks along the hotel halls and when he gets to the second floor, he notices a fire has erupted. Panicked, he runs downstairs to sound the fire alarm. After sounding it, overtaken by shock, Emsley drops dead. But his actions allow all the guests to evacuate the building before it burns down.

After the fire, the inn was rebuilt and a few of the original rooms were restored, including the ballroom. 

When the ballroom was reopened in 2001, strange things began to happen.

A phone in room 1007 would “randomly shoot out a bunch of calls, mostly to manager extensions,” Paso Robles Inn chief engineer Mike Childs said. 

And when the phone was picked up, no one was on the other line.

One night, that phone called 911 twice. After the ordeal, Childs went to inspect the phone, and used it to call the front desk. 

“I was talking to the girl at the front desk on the phone,” he said. “The phone has two lines. My line goes dead and the second line goes active.”

Childs immediately called the girl on a radio and asked what was happening.

“Your line clicked off and the other line kicked on and all I’m hearing is static, like white noise,” he said.

Because of this, Childs came to the conclusion that all the calls were made by Emsley, trying to warn guests of the fire he discovered in 1940.

“He didn’t know anybody got out of the hotel,” Childs said.

Emsley continues to badger the front desk with his calls, Childs said.

But the night clerk is not the only ghost that supposedly haunts the inn.

Childs mentioned three other ghosts: a young girl who haunts the hallway above the ballroom, a ghost that rearranges guests’ clothes in the middle of the night and a young lady in a blue nightgown who makes her home on one of the bridges in the inn’s garden.

Cuesta Interact Theater

Cuesta students and staff would be busy preparing for an upcoming play in the former Interact Theater, and a light or mirror would suddenly fall over. This did not seem like anything to be worried about. But according to the former performing arts chairwoman Nella Girolo, these incidents happened too often to be overlooked.

In the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Girolo recalled another strange happening at Interact Theater, which is now the college’s shipping and receiving center.

“We were putting on ‘Damn Yankees’ and when it was time for the guy who played the devil to come on stage; suddenly all the lights in the house went red.”

That was impossible, because the theater was not equipped with red lights, Girolo said.

Due to these incidents, students and staff were convinced a ghost haunted the building and, according to the history of the theater, that was plausible.

Before Interact Theater existed, there was a young woman named Ellen Hollister. She bought an adobe house near the future location of the theater.

“Just one year after she purchased the place, and six months after the death of her youngest daughter, she passed,” Cuesta professor Dennis Judd said. 

It is her spirit that allegedly haunted the theater, he said.

But, according to Judd, not all the incidents were the spirit’s doing.

The happenings “started as a prank on a Cuesta maintenance man that would nap behind the stage,” Judd said. “Faculty members who knew this would sneak in and drop things in the shadows and frighten him.”

That explained the falling objects.

The shipping and receiving center replaced the Interact Theater in 2009 and, according to employee Alex Lau, the ghost or ghosts is no longer on the grounds.

“I haven’t encountered anything,” Lau said.

Mission San Miguel

William Reed was working on his anvil. The rest of the family and his employees were circled around a fire in the kitchen.

All was silent.

The peace was broken when one of the six male guests Reed accepted into his inn a few days earlier came back with an axe. The man struck Reed with the weapon, and the rest of his gang killed the 10 people remaining in the home.

This was the story of the Mission San Miguel Reed family murders.

Mission volunteer Lynne Schmitz knew why this gang of men brutally murdered the family.

“Mr. Reed decided to wander up to gold country and try his hand and apparently, he was successful,” she said.

Reed stashed this newly obtained gold in his inn/general store, now known as Mission San Miguel.

After his success, Reed met six male travelers and allowed them to stay at the inn. The gang eventually heard of Reed’s gold stash and conspired to steal it.

A few days passed at the inn and the group of travelers decided it was time for them to leave.

The soon-to-be-murderers, “started to leave to go south, but they talked it over and decided to go back and try their luck at the gold,” Schmitz said.

They returned and killed everyone in the mission, including Reed, his family and his employees and their children. Eleven people were murdered.

Lynne said the family’s souls still haunt the mission, especially the gift shop that is now a part of the facility.

“Sometimes, when my friend goes in to open the gift shop, she finds things kind of messed up and sometimes finds things on the floor,” Lynne said.

Another one of Lynne’s friends, W. Greggory Stoulil, had his own encounter with the Reed ghosts.

One night in 1997, Stoulil was walking along the mission wall, near the mission cactus garden, when he spotted something.

“All of a sudden, out of the wall, comes a man and a woman,” he said. “The woman was looking at me with a sorrowful look in her eyes.” 

The man donned a pea coat, just like the one Reed owned.

“I thought it was a couple of hippies from San Francisco walking down to L.A.,” Stoulil said. 

That hunch was disproved a second later. 

“They went into this bed of cactus and disappeared right there,” he said.

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