Millions to watch Manresa Castle TV ghost show

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What may be the pinnacle of publicity for Port Townsend pops up Saturday, Sept. 5 when the Travel Channel airs an episode of "Ghost Adventures" filmed at Manresa Castle.

"They tell me that 11 or 12 million people will watch the show," said Preston Massey, whose family business has owned Manresa since 2004.

Paranormal investigations are nothing new at Manresa, which was built in 1892 as a private residence for the Eisenbeis family before Jesuit priests used it as a training school from 1927 to 1968. Since then, it's been operated as a hotel and restaurant.

A variety of cable and broadcast television programs have filmed at Manresa over the years in hopes of finding ghostly evidence. Paranormal groups, large and small, continue to conduct individual investigations at the castle, which is available for tours upon request.

"The phone just rings off the hook" after Manresa Castle is featured on this type of show, said Massey, who expects a substantial boost from this Saturday evening's show. "It helps us and it is good publicity for Port Townsend in general."

The hotel does not plan to host a viewing party for the 6 p.m., Sept. 5 debut.

"People are welcome to come into the lounge," said Massey. "That's the only place we have a public TV."

Publicity is also a good thing for the fully furnished property listed for sale at $2,935,000, though only a few of the furnishings are original to the building.

Massey suggested a 30-second commercial on a popular show like "Ghost Adventures" could cost $175,000.

'GHOST ADVENTURES'

"Ghost Adventures" has become one of the Travel Channel's top-rated programs. It sprang from an award-winning documentary filmed in 2004 and released in 2006. This documentation of alleged paranormal activity led to a TV show that premiered on Travel Channel in 2008.

The show centers on Zak Bagans, lead investigator, and co-investigator Aaron Goodwin, with audio and video technicians Billy Tolley and Jay Wasley. They seek out what are reportedly the most haunted locations available, from Wild West ghost towns to historic buildings. The quest is for visual, thermal and/or audio evidence.

First, background research is done on a "haunted" location. Sites are toured, usually in the daytime, with people who live or work at the location. Sometimes, locals are used as characters in reenactments of spooky experiences.

During site lockdown, the show's cast is literally locked inside the location for several hours on end. A variety of recording and imaging devices are used to document and/or debunk supposed paranormal behavior.

The owner or employees of a potentially haunted property, along with other paranormal investigators, are interviewed on camera and sometimes participate in attempts to make contact.

For those who believe in the paranormal, "Ghost Adventures" has produced provocative evidence.

For those who don't or are unsure, the show has a track record of both debunking evidence and letting viewers decide whether something spooky might be paranormal.

GHOST CENTRAL

Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures" is not the first television show to highlight Manresa Castle's haunted history.

"Real Scary Stories," an ABC Family program, filmed here in 1997, and the Discovery Channel and History Channel filmed at the castle in the early 2000s.

Dozens of paranormal groups, travel companies and businesses have rented all or some of the castle for seminars and meetings, including a "Strange Escapes" workshop in February 2015 hosted by Amy Bruni, a former cast member of "Ghost Hunters."

"When Strange Escapes came in February, it not only filled our hotel, but a lot of other hotels, too," Massey noted. "We're glad to have them back next year."

The next Strange Escapes session, called "Spirits of the Bay at Manresa Castle," is set March 11-14, 2016 and promoted with this message: "Overlooking Port Townsend Bay, Manresa Castle has cemented itself in Washington State as one of the most haunted buildings in the Pacific Northwest."

Massey said the three-day Strange Escapes event hosted at Manresa in February 2015 sold out the lodging's 40 rooms within days of its announcement. People buy an event ticket and are responsible for their own lodging.

Overall, ghost stories have been good for business at the 40-unit accommodation and food service business that also handles weddings, reunions, auto club gatherings and other group events.

Paranormal groups are allowed to conduct investigations within specific rules, one of them being that no Ouija boards are allowed.

Manresa's owners through the years have not worked to dispel ghost stories, although Massey noted, "I personally have not seen a ghost."

FILMING MANRESA

Past publicity led the Travel Channel to Manresa last year.

"They had seen us on other things and wanted us for their new season,” Massey said.

The show had contacted Manresa Castle in 2014 and intended to do an investigation there in early December 2014. A week before their intended arrival, a show representative asked to reschedule to late January 2015.

Manresa was reserved for three days, with cast and crew on site Jan. 27-30. Windows in any rooms that were being used were taped from the inside with black plastic to eliminate outside light.

The hotel was kept empty during the filming; some 13 cast and crew stayed elsewhere in town. "Ghost Adventures" would not allow media interviews during filming.

"Ghost Adventures" also filmed at Laurel Grove Cemetery, at the site of Charles Eisenbeis' grave, and took some other shots around town.

"They are the number one show on the Travel Channel and they have tons of fans," said Jody Reuther, front desk manager. “We tried to keep it quiet that they were here investigating because we didn't want people storming the castle.”

Reuther is a fan of the show, though she did not know what to expect when the "Ghost Adventures" team arrived.

"We have paranormal groups that come through here all the time,” said Reuther, an employee since 2011. “This is the first real big show that's been here. I was surprised how nice they were. No Hollywood at all. Totally nice."

Per agreement, Reuther remained on site from beginning to end while Travel Channel personnel were present, although not in the rooms where filming was taking place.

Reuther has a long connection to the castle; her mother worked there in the 1980s, and at age 15, it was Reuther's first summer job.

"I'm not afraid of the building," she said. "I'd stay here by myself."

After working at Manresa Castle for four years, has she seen what she believes to be spirits?

"Oh, yes," she said. "My experience will air on the show."

Reuther was filmed giving a tour, and as part of a reenactment of one of her "breakfast room" experiences.

Alanah Holt, daughter of a Manresa employee who is starting the fourth grade this fall, portrayed a ghost girl in a reenactment.

"We all played parts where you won't see us, but we're there," Reuther said of staff and some family members.

GHOST STORIES

For skeptics, strange noises seem fairly easy to debunk (it's an old building), and suspicious smells simple enough to snuff out (the paper mill comes to mind). But for many, seeing is believing.

"When you see something, you can't take it away," Reuther said.

During a 2011 snowstorm that canceled the hotel's reservations, Reuther found herself alone in the castle. While cleaning room 306, she glanced down the hall and saw the faint figure of a woman she suspects may have been the ghost of Kate, Charles Eisenbeis' second wife.

“That's the first time I saw an apparition,” Reuther said. “I was freaked out. Everything I thought I knew about life in this world went out the window and I just stood there crying. I still can't shake the feeling I had.”

Guests have recorded their own sightings of Kate, as well as Charles and a young girl, in guest books kept in each room. Those guest books are no longer in the rooms, but one is available at the front desk for guest perusal.

Reuther said she doesn't try to convince guests that the hotel is haunted.

"It depends a lot on a person's belief system and if they are open to it," Reuther said. "When I first started working here I did not believe in anything that had to do with the afterlife. I didn't believe in ghosts or spirits or nothing. Since my time here, I am a firm believer that there is something."

Fortunately, none of the spirits supposedly seen or heard or felt at Manresa Castle are of the demonic variety: No guest or staff member has been scratched or otherwise attacked, Reuther said. The "Ghost Adventures" hosts do have a history of provoking what they believe to be evil spirits, and dealing with scratches and what are said to be possessions and spirit attachments.

Reuther doesn't believe that's a concern at Manresa.

"Whatever is here is not mean or vicious at all," Reuther said, although she has been startled. "They just want you to know they are here."

That could explain things like cell phone chargers that turn up in odd places, electronics that suddenly lose battery power, and drawers that are found opened.

“A lot of people freak themselves out,” she said. “If you want to have an experience, you will.”

Reuther believes a spirit is more likely to show itself when the place is quiet, and not full of a lot of activity.

"I stay here all the time by myself, doing the on-call shift," Reuther noted. "If there is a noise, I always investigate, even when I'm alone in the building."

Guests and staff report such common occurrences as humming or singing, and the apparent sound of a tray of glasses crashing in an adjacent room.

Reuther said there is a shadow figure in the breakfast room, which was a chapel added on when the mansion became a Jesuit school.

She does prefer not to enter the laundry room alone, where she said she has been touched, and had water faucets suddenly turn on.

It is fairly common for people staying on the third floor to contact the front desk and complain about people talking loudly and, especially for those staying in room 302, walking in the attic, above their room, she said.

"The first thing I tell them is, 'We keep the attic locked',” she said. “Then I walk them up there and let them look for themselves. Most of them try to play it off as being the noise from some other guest's TV. I know there is no one in rooms near them."

Statistically, most reports come from rooms 302, 304 and 306.

"If you want to be here at night you must rent those rooms," Reuther said. "A common report comes from guests in bed who feel the pressure of someone apparently sitting on the bed. It freaks people out, especially people who don't believe.”

People ask, 'Is the castle haunted?' and I honestly feel that's a loaded question," Reuther said. "I've learned to answer, 'Do you want it to be?"

Reuther does not know what the "Ghost Adventure" team may have found in the hours spent inside the castle. She is eager to watch the program this Saturday.

"On their way out they told me that we had the most interesting place they've seen lately," she said.

(Nicholas Johnson contributed to this story.)

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