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Sonoma County, CA.
The scenic oceanfront locale in Northern California that has been immortalized in such films as The Birds, The Goonies, Puppet Master, The Fog and Sleepwalkers lies about an hour and a half north of San Francisco. Surprisingly - given its notoriety as the backdrop to such historic horror and suspense films - it is a small town with a population of only around 1400 people.
Its earliest known inhabitants were the Pomo and Miwak (pictured below) Indian tribes who led a peaceful existence, enjoying the benefits of a plentiful ocean and wilderness that met their essential needs of food and shelter.
This would change in the Fall of 1775 when Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra Mollineda, accompanied by a group of fellow explorers arrived there aboard the Spanish sloop Sonora. This was part of the many Spanish excursions north from Mexico into North America, the purpose of which was to claim vast areas of land for Spain. The natural beauty of what would become California was a particularly appealing attraction.
White settlers eventually made their way to the area in the early 1800s, first led by Russian fur traders from Alaska looking for new sources of merchandise. The Russians enlisted the help of local tribes in constructing Fort Ross (below) in 1812, which still stands 24 miles north of Bodega Bay. The Russians would use the bay as an outpost until 1841.
By the late 1800s, a now-independent Mexico granted the land to Mexican citizens and military personnel. The majority of the land was developed into vast farms and ranches by its new inhabitants, one of which was General Mariano G. Vallejo (below) who had been named Comandante-General of California in 1838 who was a great supporter of the American cause and advocate and a friend to immigrants to the country.
Among the new settlers in the region was a man named Stephen Smith, a sea captain from New England who saw a tremendous business opportunity in the vast timber resources the area held. He saw the abundance of wood and the close proximity of the bay as a perfect environment for the production and subsequent shipping of materials. He had previously married a 15-year-old Peruvian girl named Manuela Torres and petitioned the Mexican governor of California Manuel Micheltorena in 1844 for Mexican citizenry which was granted. This was done primarily in order to secure a land grant. He then established the Rancho Bodega which constituted a large portion of what is now Bodega Bay - some 35,000+ acres - and brought in steam equipment for use in the saw mill he had already established there. This would be the first steam-powered saw mill in California
The town itself was founded in the late 1800s by Firman Camelot who originally called it "Bay", which later would become Bodega Bay. The smaller town there called Bodega, that shares its name with its "larger" neighbor has a current population of around 100 people and was founded by Captain Smith in 1846.
THE SUPERNATURAL SIDE OF BODEGA BAY
Tippi Hedren driving toward the Potter School in "The Birds"
Without question the most recognizable and historically significant building in the small town of Bodega is the Potter Schoolhouse (above), which served as a crucial backdrop for the 1962 Alfred Hitchcock movie classic, The Birds. Almost every other prominent building shown in the movie has either burned down or been razed and replaced by more modern structures. The Potter School however - through the good graces of intrepid ownership and tourist's curiosity about the building - has survived. There is one other reason for its longevity and high-profile status:
It is reputed to be extremely haunted.
The school was built in 1873 from redwood trees that were so abundant in the area, and also served as a meeting place for the townspeople where they could conduct their business and watch plays performed. The land on which it is built was donated in 1872 by Sheriff Samuel Potter. It had sat empty and abandoned for some years after being sold at auction before Hitchcock arrived in Bodega Bay in 1961 as part of his search for a suitable location for his latest film, a horror/fantasy about the peaceful co-existence between humans and our feathered friends coming to a violent and horrible end. Based on a short story by Daphne DuMaurier, the film would eventually take its rightful place amongst the true classics of the film world.
(Hitchcock's initial foray into Bodega wasn't a classic celebrity experience. Seeing a waterfront home that seemed to be perfect for the film, his dispensed a messenger in to speak to its owner, a rancher named Rose Gaffney, who had previously fought vigorously to keep a nuclear power plant out of Bodega. When the word was given that Mr. Hitchcock was in a limo outside and would like to speak with her, she bluntly replied, "Who?")
Hitchcock immediately sensed that he had found the right spot for his newest project - a quaint seaside community with breathtaking scenery, a non-assuming "everytown" feel to it and the foreboding presence of....fog, which added to the gloomy tone of the film even though it displayed an actor's temperament and forced many scenes to be tinted gray when it did not cooperate with what was called for in the script. The famous shots of the school children running from the school while under attack (below) were filmed at the school and then on Taylor St. in Bodega Bay. DuMaurier's story had a backdrop of Cornwall, UK and Hitchock felt the rugged seashore and sparsely populated area most closely resembled that of Cornwall.
It is widely accepted that the film saved the school from the fate that many of its contemporaries met. The building remained empty after filming until it was purchased by Tom and Mary Taylor. He, a physics professor and she, an educator herself, moved their family there in 1966 with plans to open it to the public as a bed & breakfast inn. Together with their children, they took on the daunting task of renovating the school house. The building had fallen into such disrepair that two feet of bird droppings - perhaps life imitating art - had to be removed from the second floor alone. Daughter Leah - who now owns the building and opens it for public tours - tells of unusual occurrences inside their new home almost immediately after they moved in.
(It perhaps comes as no surprise that the citizens of Bodega Bay seem to have a preponderance of ghostly sightings. A 16-month study by parapsychologists and paranormal investigators showed high readings of geological and electromagnetic energy flows throughout the town, creating what some in the paranormal field surmise is a type of "energy vortex" that effects both the people and the environment around them and creates a "passageway" from the spirit realm into our own.)
Young Leah would hear footsteps one night when no one else in the family was awake. The footsteps seemed to climb the stairs and then abruptly come to a stop. Seconds later she observed a rocking chair in her room begin to move on its own.
As an adult, Leah would watch the apparition of a little girl with shoulder-length hair appear to her. She described the girl as being surrounded by a "white aura" and speaking to her in a small girl's voice, saying simply, "Hi!" The sighting disturbed Leah to the point where - not wanting to deal with it at that time - she left the room.
A visiting couple from Washington state were inside the building when they saw a girl at the top of the second floor stairway. Asking her to move so they could take a picture of the stairway, she moved down the stairs toward them and....simply vanished into thin air.
A woman who was working inside the building by herself one day heard a rapping on the kitchen door. Looking up from her typing, she saw the knob of the door start to turn by itself. In that same vein, a door in the building has been filmed opening and closing by itself. The sounds of children on the now-vacant playground are also heard from time to time.
Leah Taylor also witnessed the apparition of a young man with a slightly balding scalp, bushy eyebrows and a handlebar moustache staring at her inside the building one day. To her astonishment, this same face appeared on a blackboard on the second floor and despite attempts to erase it - would reappear. Upon looking at a class photo taken in 1874, she saw a male teacher that bore an uncanny resemblance to the man she saw. His name was Clive Keefely, who had a daughter named Clara who died of measles. Might these explain the sightings of both the male and young female on the premises?
The Organization for Scientific Investigative Research (O.S.I.R.) conducted extensive experiments inside the Potter School (pictured below as it is seen today) and some of the phenomena they captured, particularly on video remains quite compelling to paranormal buffs. They caught the aforementioned door opening and closing itself on thermal imaging equipment as well as a chair that seemed to rock itself without any human assistance. More intriguing is the thermal video of a figure displaying human shape leaning against a wall on the second floor during an investigation. The most puzzling experience of their investigations though may have happened as they were leaving the school one day. Looking up at a second floor window which had been painted shut and unopened for many years, they saw a handwritten word - "hi" that had been scrawled on the glass from the outside.
And now, a few words from...."The Master" himself.