“I saw a man with a hat sitting down at a table. I went to get him a menu,” Marsh said, “and I turned around and he was gone.”
Marsh’s tale of the mysterious man adds to a growing list of ghost stories about the Banta Inn, 22563 Seventh St., which has attracted ghost hunters for years.
The Chill Seekers, a paranormal investigation team from Modesto, were the latest group to search the Banta Inn for ghosts during an investigation Monday night.
The group’s lead investigator, Carissa Simpson, said she had been waiting for a chance to check out the restaurant and bar.
“Banta has been on my list for awhile,” Simpson said. “We heard it was extremely haunted.”
When Henry Tosta took ownership of the Banta Inn in 2006, he knew he was buying a building with a history. He said a lawyer warned him that the deed to the Banta Inn stated that the building was haunted.
Tosta said he had seen lights go off and on in the bar but stopped short of saying restless spirits inhabit his building.
“I don’t even think about it,” Tosta said. “They say the ghosts are just playing jokes on people.”
An Internet search yields dozens of reports of ghosts at the Banta Inn. Many of the stories mention a 1937 fire that destroyed the second floor of the inn, killing a woman and her daughter. The ghosts of the woman and her child are said to wander the halls of the Banta Inn today.
The only report about the location in Tracy Press archives for 1936-37 is an article in April 1937 announcing the opening of the new Banta Inn that replaced the old building. There are no reports from that period of a fire in the inn.
Tosta has heard from patrons and employees who said they heard a child calling for her mother. He said a dishwasher quit after claiming that a box of coffee flew at his head without anyone nearby.
“After years of the stuff in the same place, who knows,” Tosta said.
The Banta Inn general manager, Jennifer Bogetti, said she’d had her share of strange experiences in the bar through the years.
“There are a few little things, lights flickering off, things getting messed up,” Bogetti said.
Recently, she was startled when a beer bottle smashed on the floor in the middle of the bar when everyone was in another room. Bogetti said there were also stories of wine and beer glasses sliding mysteriously across the bar and tipping over.
Among the more famous ghost stories is one involving a former owner, Tony Gukan, who died while tending bar in the late 1960s.
Tosta — who recalled taking bottles as a youth to the cigar-smoking former owner to collect the deposit — said that Gukan died of a heart attack while he was behind the bar and was laid on the wooden bar top as rescuers tried to resuscitate him.
Bogetti said stories of Gukan’s ghost had floated through the Banta Inn for years. Employees have reported finding coins stacked in the register the way he used to stack them and seeing a man in a hat sitting a table, sometimes playing cards, as he was known to do.
Fueled by stories of ghostly activity, the bar has become a destination for paranormal activity investigators.
Bogetti said about six investigations have taken place at the Banta Inn recently.
“People always contact me to do stories,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool they are coming to check it out. It’s nothing bad.”
Investigator Keith Weldon took the Chill Seekers team of five to the rural bar to conduct a three-hour investigation Monday night because of stories he heard from other investigators.
“The history of the place and the stories, it pops up as one of the well-known haunted places,” Weldon said.
The group produces a 20-minute show on each of its investigations and broadcasts the Chill Seekers Ghost Hunt Online Series on YouTube and Roku, a television subscription service.
In two years of chasing after paranormal activity, the group has filmed 13 episodes, which include investigations of the U.S.S. Hornet museum in Alameda, the Mare Island cemetery and the Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles.
The Chill Seekers team at the Banta Inn included Simpson, Weldon and Andrew Gonzales, who conducted a technical investigation, while psychics Kriste Accurso and Ellie Gould checked for spiritual presences.
Simpson said they were looking for two types of spiritual interaction — residual activity, which she described as similar to an echo, and intelligent activity, in which a spirit acts directly on the environment.
The crew unloaded boxes of equipment including several digital video cameras equipped with infrared sensors, digital voice recorders, motion sensor cameras, electromagnetic field monitors and a “spirit box” — a device that sweeps radio frequencies for a ghostly signal.
“You never know how the spirits will interact, so we have a plethora of equipment,” Simpson said.
With the bar closed, the doors locked and the lights off, the Chill Seekers began their investigation. Video cameras set up throughout the building would record any movement to give a second perspective and provide added accountability for the team’s findings.
Weldon carried a camera as Accurso and Gould wandered the Banta Inn searching for psychic evidence of spirits.
The psychics settled at the bar, where they had a conversation with what they described as the presence of a man at the bar with them.
In a banquet room at the rear of the building,
Accurso described a small, timid child she perceived near a wall.
In another room, Gonzales watched their progress via remote cameras that recorded the investigation on a computer.
Gould’s sketchbook, left at the bar, was later found to be torn, and she claimed there was no damage to the book before the investigation started. A pencil left atop the bar could be seen to move, but an air-conditioner fan was blowing nearby. Simpson said the group would have to review the footage of the bar cameras to see what happened to the sketchpad cover and how far the pencil moved.
The evening finished with the technical investigation, which used sensors to monitor electrical field disturbances and record sounds throughout the building.
Simpson said it would take some time to determine what sounds and effects had been caused by team members and what might be evidence of spirits.
“It’s really hard to evaluate the evidence with a large number of people,” Simpson said.
The Chill Seekers’ findings from the Banta Inn investigation should be online in about two weeks at their YouTube site.
• Contact Glenn Moore at email@example.com or 830-4252.