October is a month of many traditions. Haunted houses, costume parties, trick o’ treating, pumpkin carving, and, of course, stories of ghosts and ghouls. Stories that are meant to amuse and entertain, as well as to occasionally give a fright to those who take the time to listen and believe in the superstitions.
In honor of these traditions, Sierra News Online has decided to tell a brief history of Sierra Sky Ranch and to share some of the first-hand accounts that can be found written by the hotel’s guests in a small red book, claiming to have experienced mysterious and even supernatural events during their stay. As tales are told, these are just a few of the stories of Sierra Sky Ranch and the four ghosts that are said to still reside there to this very day.
Sierra Sky Ranch was first built in 1875. The current estate’s original main hall is still used as a common area and foyer for the hotel; adjacent to the reception desk and the restaurant.
Located high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the ranch served as a homestead for its residents as well as a central hub and way station for traveling cowboys moving cattle through the area. The ranch would be used for this purpose until sometime in the early 1900’s when it would undergo its first transformation, becoming a tuberculosis sanitarium caring for terminally ill patients. The ranch would remain this way until the 1940’s when it would again be transformed. This time into a rehabilitation center for survivors from the second great war; acting as a halfway home for soldiers recovering from their wounds and reacclimating to normal society. Then, in the 1950s, the ranch underwent its final transition; entertaining its first true hotel guests as they traveled from the valley and beyond to enjoy the scenic beauty of Yosemite National Park. Reportedly the hotel became a favorite spot for Hollywood celebrities as they traveled to the mountains looking to spend time enjoying the natural splendor of Yosemite Valley; even entertaining the likes of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe.
So, who are these ghosts that some say still haunt the historic halls of Sierra Sky Ranch? When did they first appear, and are they friends of the guests who stay there now, or something better to be avoided…? Read through the rest of the article to find out!
The oldest ghost to call Sierra Sky Ranch home found residence there not long after it was first constructed in 1875. The spirit belongs to the original ranch hand, a man known today only as Elmer. Elmer lived his life caring for the cattle, horses, and other livestock who lived at the ranch, while also taking care of the day-to-day operations. He spent his days and nights in relative solitude, being secluded from much of normal society. The rumor is he took to heavy drinking in order to ease the pain of his lonely nights before eventually passing away while hanging from the end of a rope. No one knows why Elmer took his own life, but it’s said that his boots can still be heard in the halls of the ranchhouse, and many guests say they’ve felt his presence while drinking at that bar in the hotel’s existing restaurant, Cowboy Tavern. Which should come as no surprise to those who believe the stories, after all, what more likely place is there to be favorited by the spirit of an old ranch hand who enjoyed a strong drink than that of the bar at the local tavern?
One guest wrote that, while returning from a walk, “I could see a pair of black boots sticking up over the railing as if someone was sitting in a chair…I was only a few seconds away but by the time I got to where I could see who the boots belonged to, there was no one there! There wasn’t even a chair for someone to be sitting in.” Elmer has never been reported to be hostile or angry, and it is likely to assume that he simply wishes now as he did during his days alive, for nothing more than to find a friend with which to share a drink.
The second ghost is that of a woman named Sarah. Sarah was a nurse at Sierra Sky Ranch while it was used as a tuberculosis ward, giving care to children and patients who were all but guaranteed to never recover. Sarah is the spirit that is most commonly written of in the small red book that guests use to recount their tales of mysterious and supposedly supernatural occurrences.
One such journal entry, made on February 18, 2020, by a woman called Mrs. Valentine, reads as such,
“My childhood friend Soshu and I came up to see our mothers…we went together to face my mother because she was very ill. I needed a lot of protection from God and have asked my friends to cover me in prayer…after a day of emotion and tears, we came back to our room. We went to sleep and I woke up out of a dream & someone was patting my feet. I thought it was Soshu touching my feet, saying “you did good.” Then again I woke up to someone patting my feet…this was not Soshu. I did not feel fear at all. It was a safe touch. So I got up and went to the bathroom and then I went back to sleep. And once again, sweet pats on my feet. I feel someone was comforting me to let me know I was safe. I knew nothing of the history of this place before it happened, and was hesitant to ask if there was a ghost or angel. Then I heard about the nurse, I think she came as an angel to let me know I did good with my visit to my Mother, and I was safe. Thank God for this hotel and the comfort it has brought my heart.”
Almost every journal entry that mentions Sarah, or the presence of a female spirit, claims to feel a sense of peace and kindness, without ever being made to feel afraid. A far cry from the average ghost story, but perhaps Sarah was a far cry from the average woman when she was still alive, having devoted her life to volunteering to help provide comfort for patients who she knew were already doomed to lose their own.
The last two ghosts are said to have been siblings in life. They can be heard and seen wandering the halls of Sierra Sky Ranch, laughing and running about, moving objects in bedrooms when guests are out enjoying the grounds, and being as children often are, playful and mischievous. Many of the accounts told by guests of the hotel mention hearing children laughing when there are none to be found, doors left open that were sure to have been shut, and objects found somewhere other than where they had been left; things any parent knows children are more than happy to do.
One guest wrote on January 16, 2021, “So during my stay here with my Mom and her friend Tawnya we all shared a room together. My Mom and Taywna were out in the lobby and I decided to go to bed. I heard a light knocking and was freaked out so I decided to go to bed. I went and closed the door to the back patio and locked it. I even pushed it to make sure it was locked because I was paranoid. When they came back to the room they said it was freezing! I was sound asleep, but sure enough, the back door was wide open. This place is definitely haunted! Also, someone moved my bag from the bathroom to the floor next to my head.”
How true these stories are is a matter of speculation. Hotel manager Karen said during an interview, “ We say we have Caspers.” referencing the original 1940’s comic strip “The Friendly Ghost”, and the cult classic 1995 movie, “Casper.” Many people feel a little brush on the back of their neck…we’ve heard this multiple times from multiple people, all unconnected, over multiple years.”
Hotel receptionist LeEtta Kramer said when asked if she had ever had any supernatural encounters, “Now and again the hand paper roll in the bathroom, that is touch operated, just goes off by itself, so I’ll go back there and say “thank you” and it’ll stop.”
History can often be mysterious, and stories have a way of growing into something much more than the truth they came from. So, with a history as long and as rich as the one found at Sierra Sky Ranch, it should come as no surprise that there are more than a few stories surrounding the remnants of the past that may or may not still have a reason to linger on. But, if you want to see for yourself what’s going on at Sierra Sky Ranch, feel welcome to stop Cowboy Tavern by for an evening to enjoy a drink and dining experience rarely found outside of a big city; featuring a fully renovated restaurant and kitchen helmed by the classically trained world-class chef Brandon Bollenbacher and a cocktail program robust enough to compete with any lounge in town, while remaining classic enough to be welcoming to guests of every kind; whether you’re just a traveler just stopping by, or an old ranch hand who’s been known to live in the area for what might seem like serval lifetimes….