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Ghost hunters search Tor House for Jeffers, find his wife instead

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: March 1, 2013

IN ADDITION to being one of America’s greatest poets, it appears the late Robinson Jeffers was also a marketing genius.

In his poem, “Ghost,” Jeffers said he would one day haunt the home he built, Tor House on Carmel Point. Intrigued by the poet’s prophesy, the producers of a television series, “Ghost Adventures,” sent host Zak Bagans and a crew of paranormal experts to investigate. The show devotes an episode, “Tor House,” to Jeffers. It made its television debut on the Travel Channel last November and is available on Netflix and YouTube.

In an effort to prove Jeffers’ ghost does indeed haunt the Carmel landmark, Bagans and his team interviewed local authorities and subjected the building to a variety of tests using gadgetry that looked like it came right out of “Ghostbusters.”

And after spending one spine-tingling night in the spooky old stone house, the crew came to the conclusion a ghost does inhabit the place — but it doesn’t belong to Jeffers. Instead, it belongs to his wife, Una. According to them, an image captured by a thermal camera — which looks like a bright-pink blob — is likely Una. And they heard her say a few words as well.

Before embarking on his search for Jeffers’ ghost, Bagans examined the poem, “Ghost,” in which Jeffers describes a future encounter with a mortal and his poodle. In the show, Tor House Foundation President Vince Huth reads the poem.

“I imagine 50 years from now a mist gray figure moping about the place in mad moonlight examining the mortar joints, pawing the parasite ivy,” read Huth, channeling the late poet.

Bagans points out that 2012 is precisely 50 years after Jeffers’ passing — a sure sign his crew is on to something big.

So is Tor House really haunted? Carol Dixon, an administrative assistant for Tor House, told Bagans said she’s convinced it is. “I feel as if there is a presence here and I feel I’m not truly ever alone,” Dixon said.

As evidence, Dixon recalled how a particular book about Una fell off the shelf — on three separate occasions. “I read the book and it stopped happening,” she claimed.

Docent Kathleen Sonntage said she believes Jeffers and his wife are never far away. “They’re here in every stone and every room,” she said.

Also interviewed for the show is local attorney Aengus Jeffers, the poet’s great-grandson. While the younger Jeffers doesn’t share any ghost stories, he confessed he’s never felt at ease in the old house.

“It was a very scary property as a kid,” Jeffers recalled. “It’s dark and full of creaking stairs. I’m still not entirely comfortable in this house at night — there are too many recesses and corners and deep shadowy areas.”

Just in case viewers aren’t feeling sufficiently creeped out, Huth casually mentions “there are occasional unsubstantiated reports” that Una Jeffers conducted seances in the home’s distinctive stone tower. To conjure up images of such a scene, an unsettling soundtrack sets the mood while shaky footage is presented of a woman waving what appears to be a hawk’s feather. Candles flicker around her.

On a foggy night last year, Bagans and his crew spent a sleepless night at Tor House, where they rigged up a variety of ghost-hunting devices and waited around for something scary to happen, which of course it did. “I can’t help but feel we’re going to make contact tonight,” Bagans predicts shortly before the fun begins.

While they believe they managed to communicate with Jeffers’ wife, Bagans and his crew were unsuccessful in their efforts to draw the late poet back to the land of the living.

Perhaps lacking answers, Bagans ends the show with a pair of questions.

“Did something draw us to Jeffers’ sanctuary?” he asks viewers. “Is it just a coincidence we wound up here on the 50th anniversary of his death  — the very year he predicted he would return from the grave?”

While some are convinced Jeffers’ spirit haunts Tor House, others understandably have their doubts. But one thing is certain — the television show has generated great publicity for Tor House and the effort to preserve Jeffers’ legacy. And for that, the Tor House Foundation owes the long-dead poet a debt of gratitude for his marketing savvy.

“It was good publicity for the Tor House and the foundation,” Huth said of the show. “They treated the property with respect, they treated the poetry with respect, and they have a large audience. It was a positive experience.”

Huth adds that tours of the Tor House, which is located at 26304 Ocean View Ave., are available Fridays and Saturdays. For details, call (831) 624-1813 (Monday through Thursday) or (831) 624-1840 (Friday and Saturday), or visit www.torhouse.org.


- Robinson Jeffers and Taelen Thomas

Perhaps if Bagans and his ghost-hunting crew had really wanted to capture Jeffers’ attention from beyond the grave, they would have played him a recording of contemporary Carmel resident Taelen Thomas reading the late poet’s works.

Presented by Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore, Thomas will read Jeffers’ poems Friday, March 1, at the Carmel Art Association.

One of the Monterey Peninsula’s leading theatrical talents, Thomas has portrayed a wide range of historical and literary figures on local stages, including Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Jack London and many others. Just last week, he paid tribute to poet Dylan Thomas at the Works bookstore and coffeehouse in Pacific Grove.

“Jeffers’ message is seldom easy, but of his fierce and original genius there can be no doubt,” said Alex Vardamis, a past president of the Tor House Foundation. “A poet for the ages, he produced some of the most disturbing political commentary of his time and some of the most sublime nature poetry ever written in the English language.”

Cynthia Fernandes, co-owner of Pilgrim’s Way, described Jeffers’ work as “a love sonnet to the land, nature and this place.” She also called Thomas a local treasure.

“Taelen is known for his ability to celebrate in high regard local knowledge, lore and creative expression,” she added. “Rather than just trying to make a living — something we see all too often in our society — Taelen has dedicated his life to valuing rhythm, art and language.”

Thomas will kick off Friday’s performance by reading from his new chapbook of original poetry, “Inside of a Galloping Buffalo.”

The event starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $10. The Carmel Art Association is located on Dolores between Fifth and Sixth. Call (831) 624-4955 or visit www.pilgrimsway.com.