At the ripe-old age of 118, a building as weathered and worn as the Goleta Depot is bound to have its fair share of legends and, yes, ghost stories. Even recently it’s been reported that our historic railroad station has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events that border on the paranormal. In an information bulletin recently released by the South Coast Railroad Museum, we seek to set the record straight and put to rest the rumors and worries currently circulating in the community. Let’s start with a bit of historical context.
From 1901 to 1973, 10 stationmasters and their families spent the best years of their lives within the brown-and-yellow walls of the old Victorian edifice. As they single-handedly managed all the passengers and freight that a small-town station could dispatch, they watched their children grow up and their own faces grow lined. And every night as they laid their weary heads down, the music of the rails would accompany their dreams — the clickety-clack of engines rushing down the tracks, the hard-edged screech of brakes, and the lonesome wail of the train whistle. With so many days lived to their fullest, it’s easy to believe that perhaps one or two declined to depart their dearly loved depot once death beckoned.
The Southern Pacific Railroad closed the Goleta Depot in October 1973. The boarded-up station was left to the desecrations of passing hobos, local delinquents, and nesting mice. Steve Wagner, board president of the South Coast Railroad Museum, confesses to being one of those hometown kids who snuck into the depot when it was a forgotten relic. The abandoned building, Steve declares, was a “distinctly scary place.”
Tales of phantoms and creatures of the night spread among the youth of Goleta. Little did they know, the stories were just that — fictions fashioned by the depot’s defenders. As Gary Coombs writes in his classic Goleta Depot: The History of a Rural Railroad Station, members of the community, like Albert St. Clair, spread rumors of ghosts in a calculated effort to frighten off vandals and others who might injure the community treasure. Yes, not just the dead fiercely held onto the depot, so did the living — the Goleta community.
But here we want to report corroborated facts, not whimsical fancies. These are the specifics as currently known about the bizarre events occurring in fall 2017:
One early gray morning, our museum director escorted an exterminator to the doors of the depot. It’s a fact, perhaps unpleasant, but old buildings attract their share of vermin. So director and exterminator approached the building at dawn prepared to do battle.
And, yes, it’s a fact that old buildings creak and have faulty wiring, and when the wind blows, it tends to howl through cracks. Our admin recalled those facts as she stepped into the freight office and the lights suddenly dimmed. She remained cool, but the exterminator was distinctly rattled, calling out, “Now hold on, just hold on a second. I am getting very strong sensations.” Our director, suitably impressed, inquired whether the pest-control pro was sensing rats or insects
“It ain’t that at all,” the exterminator responded. “I didn’t mention it, but I and also my daughter are very sensitive to the presence of paranormal manifestations.” Less impressed our diligent director asked, “There’s no extra charge for that is there?”
As the pair mounted the depot stairs to the old living quarters, the director brushed away any worries over “the lights going crazy” and the complaints of the wood stairs squeaking underfoot. She gave no thought to the depot’s 10 station masters and what joys and regrets they may have felt as they passed their days inside those four walls. So when she opened the door to the living quarters, a sheer flash of fear and wonder seized her as bottles tumbled from the shelves, flying straight at the pest control professional.
It’s a fact that the visiting exterminator was terrified. Our intrepid director, however, was unperturbed. A job was a job, and she forced the pest pro to complete the inspection. She tells us, “I acted like bottles fly off shelves every day. No big deal. It’s just a ghost, whatever.”
Our museum head did what any normal red-blooded American would do when confronted by such an eruption of the paranormal, supernatural, or unknown. After the inspection was complete and the exterminator had stopped shaking, our administrator phoned Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters, asking them to come investigate.
So those are the unadorned facts, just as they were reported to us. We are still waiting for Ghost Hunters, but we invite all locals to conduct their own fact-finding research into our paranormal infestation and ascertain the facts of the matter.
But if you find the thoughts of real ghosts too scary, enjoy our free fun-filled Halloween celebration on Sunday, October 27, 4-7 p.m. Beneath every ghost and goblin mask, you’ll find a real, live, smiling museum volunteer.