Bowers Spook Factory
It’s that time of year once again… again! Spooks and eeriness lurk at every maligned corner; costumed kids, hidden hooligans and scary skateboarders with tricks (never treats) roam as far as the eye can see; an unreasonable number of black cats stalk store windows and decorate office desks; your neighbor is flexing with an enviably well-carved pumpkin and a friend or loved one is pretending candy corn is safe for human consumption—you’re worried about their wellbeing—mostly though, you know it’s got to be Halloween. Whether you enjoy the annual October celebration or shut the blinds and turn off the lights in hopes that you won’t receive any bite-sized, sugar-fueled solicitors, celebrate in the usual Bowers fashion by sitting down with your favorite witch’s brew and reading the second volume of Bowers Museum Ghost Stories! In today’s post we take a closer look at the main claim to the Bowers’ ghastly fame and then dive into a few other otherworldly experiences.
As we mentioned in Ghost Stories of the Bowers Museum Vol. I, the Bowers was never the site of a graveyard. More even than that, no one has passed away at the Bowers since the building was erected and opened in 1936. One might assume there would be no good cause to haunt the hallowed halls of this cultural institution, but there is something that happened here before construction was even begun in 1932. The Bowers Museum is on the site of the old Charles and Ada Bowers residence. The pair were Santa Ana residents who were described as quiet and conservative people who took great interest in history. Above all else they wanted an institution to preserve the history of Orange County and to do so set up a trust that, upon their deaths, transferred ownership of their property to the City of Santa Ana for the specific purpose of constructing and maintaining a museum. The important take away, though is that at least Ada Bowers passed away in her home, which was later demolished to make way for the museum. The old house was situated so that it would have been on the exact site of our current historic wing. Most stories describe a neutral presence, perhaps Ada is just checking in on things?
In the Dark
The Bowers Museum’s Collections Storage is arguably the most secluded part of the museum. Given that the space is designed with no windows, it remains in a state of darkness except when someone is actively working in one of the rooms. Filled with the 90,000 some objects that constitute the Bowers Museum’s permanent collections, it has been a host to a whole range of supernatural stories over the years. Just as with the Old Wing of the Bowers, the stories tend not to be associated with malevolent forces, but instead with the sensation of there being another presence in the room. A note from 2009 indicates that certain ex-staff members were so scared that they have vowed never to enter Collections Storage by themselves after they had had a run-in that is tragically not described in detail.
Supernatural stories from the Bowers don’t just come from museum staff and volunteers though. There have been a few recorded instances of patrons experiencing paranormal activities. One retired park ranger was in what is now the entry space to California Bounty when suddenly they felt an abrupt tug at their sleeve. When they looked around to see who had been trying to get their attention, they saw that there was no one within ten feet of them. One of the few ghost stories from our exhibition space that did not happen in the Old Wing, was a guest who felt a chorus of voices rising from one of the quilts in Quilts: Two Centuries of American Tradition and Technique (2010).
And the Medium Field Was Blank!
Moby Dick had his white whale, Linus his great pumpkin, and Bowers ghost hunters have “the orb,” as it is lovingly called by believers and non-believers alike. Though June is at least in part a summer month, Californians know it well for gloominess. On June 27th of this year, at 5:24 am a motion alarm went off in the Bowers Museum’s Old Wing. it was in the sunless, pre-dawn hours of the morning that a Security Officer arrived to check on the situation. Having previously been party to one of the ghost stories told in the first volume, the intrepid keeper of the Bowers peace, boldly stepped up to the plate once more, unknowingly involving themselves in yet another Bowers ghost story. When they came to check on the Old Wing, they saw the scariest thing of all: nothing. No windows or doors had been opened or broken, no paintings or cases disturbed and all through the museum not a creature was stirring. All the same the alarm had gone off. When the officer checked the security footage, he saw the above image of an almost imperceptible transparent orb travelling through the frame. Take a good, close look and have a happy Halloween!
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.
If memory serves right, the 2009 incident involved repeated reports of movement triggering security alarms in Collection Storage. Guards were spooked by the wonderful Egyptian mummy mask in the Bowers Collection that had been out in preparation for display. Convinced the mummy’s presence was visiting they vowed never to go back alone!
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