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Haunts in South County, Stockton
Mark McCool, of Manteca is shown taking readings in 2010 at the Banta Inn. - photo by Photo Contributed

• The Banta Inn – The building stands alone – tucked along a set of railroad tracks in a desolate area outside of Tracy. And the story of how it came to be, and its subsequent history, makes this rural destination popular with weekenders traveling through the Central Valley an interesting – if not unnerving – stop. It was originally built by Frank Gallegos, an alleged member of Joaquin Murrieta’s band of outlaws – a group that migrated from Mexico to California’s Central Valley during the Gold Rush, attacking wagon trains and allegedly killing upwards of 40 people. The man believed to be Murrieta and his most notorious associate were eventually cornered and killed in Coalinga, and the site where the incident took place is a California historic landmark. His notoriety was so large that the group that killed him placed his severed head in a jar of alcohol and it was displayed in Mariposa County, Stockton and San Francisco. But that’s not where the Banta Inn gets truly interesting.

In the 1960s Frank’s youngest daughter, who had turned what was a store into a restaurant and bar, suffered a tragic loss when her husband Tony succumbed to a heart attack dying instantly. It was rumored that he used to play one-man poker and stack the coins inside of the register a certain way when business was slow. It appears that he still does so – witnesses have reported seeing somebody playing one-man poker and employees have reported seeing the change stacked neatly in the register even after they close the drawer. People have also seen Tony tending the bar. The jukebox has been known to start playing on its own regardless of whether it is plugged in. Glasses have flipped off of shelves. The ghost stories of the Banta Inn are as legendary as its outlaw past – the upstairs supposedly housed a bordello in its early days – and make for good conversation over a cold beer.

• Mountain Mike’s Pizza – While less rich in history than other local haunted landmarks, this popular Manteca eatery became a destination for local ghost hunters after it was reported that owner Jeff Liotard saw a full body apparition of what appeared to be previous owner Garth Adams – who had passed away shortly after selling the business – while alone inside one night. Naturally freaked out, Liotard called up groups that investigate paranormal activity, and a Manteca-based outfit – the California Ghost Chasers – set up shop for the night to see what they found out. What they discovered was truly interesting. By recording questions that they asked with very sensitive microphones, the group picked up several answers to those questions – a technique known as EVP or Electronic Voice Phenomena – that clearly stated that the name of whoever was present was named “Dave” and that they preferred to sit on one side of the booth over the other. There was also an audible knocking sound when it was requested at the booth where two of the investigators were sitting, and a night vision camera clearly showed that neither of them were responsible. The group publicly requested information about who “Dave” might be through local media, but so far has not received anything concrete.

• Haunted Home on Pershing Avenue – It is one of more beautiful parts of Stockton with old architecture and tree-lined streets. But one home on Pershing Avenue across the street from Victory Park will forever carry a reputation as being haunted. Located at 1002 N. Pershing, the home – designed and owned by the same architect that designed the Stockton Hotel downtown – sits on the corner of Acacia Street and includes a beautiful stained glass window and an inviting walkway to the front door. It’s a true craftsman-style home. And anybody who grew up in Stockton speaks in hushed tones about how this particular home is haunted – never giving any specifics. Several groups have visited and performed various paranormal tests to see whether there are in fact any spirits present. The verdict? The Manteca-based group had a cameraman that was pushed while in the basement, and another outfit found that there was definitely something going on within those walls. What is it? Maybe it’s forever a Stockton mystery. But it makes for discussion when you pass by the beautiful property.

• Finley’s Bar and Grill – This spot on Airport Way has been featured on television for the strange and peculiar happenings that have included everything from the standard ghost happenings – footsteps, voices, changes in temperature – to things actually being ripped from the hands of an unwilling bartender. There have even been reports of lights coming out of a wall and floating in the room. The spot is popular with weekenders passing by on Airport Way and draws a diverse crowd, just like the paranormal stories that have come out of this charming haunt. The establishment is more than 100 years old, and when a Lathrop-based paranormal investigative group spent a night inside the bar, strange events like having a cell phone turn on by itself three times (it was previously turned off and subsequently turned off each time) and a large pot come crashing down off a wall stunned the group. An EVP voice stating “I’m right here” was also picked up.