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Ripon offers tales of ghosts, bones & tunnels
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Ghost tales, finding of a skeleton in a downtown building, bones dug up in a residential section near the cemetery, and longtime rumors of tunnels underneath the business district will haunt Ripon on Halloween.

The stories of the tunnels date back to the days of prohibition when supposedly one of those tunnels ran from a bar on Main Street to a bakery three doors to the west and was believed to have been an escape route used to flee the “revenuers” in search of illegal alcohol in the 1929 era. 

Stories surfaced this week of a murder that occurred near the now defunct Markham Hotel where a school master defended the honor of his sister by a man who claimed she had seduced him.  Too much for him to stomach, he shot the man dead near the intersection of Main Street and Stockton Avenue.  He was tried for murder, but a hung jury followed.  A second trial found him not guilty, as the tale goes.

Apartments in the downtown were established over 100 years ago – some in hotels and others above store fronts.  One restaurant owner this week told of strange noises coming from one of those apartments above the dining area in his 107-year-old hotel room that have been unexplained.  He said the last three occupants have moved out after reporting strange occurrences and sightings of unknown spirit strangers.  Others were said to have no problem with living in the second story room at the front of the building.

He said one woman told of having the urge to jump out the window, she had become so frightened with her experiences.  A small 4-year-old girl told her mother she couldn’t sleep in the front bedroom upstairs because of the bad man she always saw when awakening in the midnight hours. 

The last to occupy the apartment was there only three weeks before he left without a word to anyone – a young man who it is suspected experienced too much when trying to sleep.  

The restaurant owner said he and his staff just about every morning when they open the business, find chairs moved from where they left them the night before to drawers having been pulled open, a cookie cutter taken off the wall and left out of sight along with the refrigerator door standing ajar.  The cookie cutter was found in the center of a table later in the week.  One little two-inch-tall stainless steel coffee creamer – one of four – went missing one night but turned up a week later standing with the others near the coffee machine. 

He said he is curious to see what is below a boarded up cellar in the back of the building where a staircase ends at the top of that cellar.  

Some 15 to 20 years ago a skeleton was found by contractors that were refurbishing the two-story, brick Odd Fellows building, also on Main Street, to the east of the intersection.  They found the skeleton in an upstairs wall of the two story century old brick building. It had been place in a prone position on a horizontal shelf behind the wall.  Police Chief Red Nutt was out of town on vacation and his lieutenant was in charge.  Without any clue as to the origin of the skeleton, he set up a crime scene and called in investigators to help in the case.

When the chief returned he explained that the human remains were a part of the Oddfellows initiation of incoming members and probably hadn’t been involved in any foul play.  He noted that the leg bones had been wired together to hold the skeleton in form.  Chief Nutt further explained that back in the 1800s there was only one size of casket that didn’t work too well for tall men.  There was a practice used back then to make them fit by cutting off the legs and placing them in a pine box next to their body.

“That skeleton disappeared,” he quipped. “For all I know it is somewhere in Calaveras County. The case was closed.”

Another investigation involving the find of human bones occurred in the Ripona neighborhood north of Highway 99 where a resident’s dog dug up part of a human skull.  Interestingly enough the teeth in those skulls had been worn down through their eating practices in the 1800s. 

Police were called and the entire yard was cordoned off with yellow crime tape.  A grid was set up covering the entire lot and digging began square by square.  During the dig more bones were found in the back corner of the property along with three skulls.  

A subsequent investigation determined that the original owner had brought the skulls and the bones – believed to have been those of prospectors from the Mother Lode – back to his home in Ripon.  He had spent much of his free time in the foothills searching for gold where he allegedly stumbled on the remains of a few of the Forty-niners. 

After he and his wife had both passed away, their children came from the Bay Area to dispose of the contents of the house.  They found skulls and other human bones displayed on shelves in the living room of their parents’ home.  Not knowing what else to do with their find, they buried them in their back yard.

Early Indian tribes lived along the Riparian Forest of the Stanislaus River before the Ripon community was established.  It is believed the spirits of many of those early Americans still roam the open areas along the river in the nighttime hours – especially on Halloween.