Clayton, CA

The Most Haunted Town In California Might Surprise You

Vince Martellacci

Clayton, California has a dramatic past. Those drawn to Clayton over the past 200 years brought their hopes and dreams with them. They brought their treasure, their skills, and their resources. They sustained Clayton through industry, hospitality, and the virtue of their labor. And one by one, these brave settlers died tragically.

As Fall comes to Clayton, you can see people on their front lawns decorating for Halloween, run into old friends and neighbors on the trails, and… hunt ghosts? Yes. Hunt ghosts.

Clayton ranked as one of the most haunted cities in the bay area. According to the website Haunted Places, which lists haunted hot spots across the country, Clayton had the most haunted hot spots of any city in the east bay and even the larger bay area. It even beat all of the city of Los Angeles. And Clayton is one of the smallest cities in the bay, spanning only 3.84 square miles. When poring over the hauntings, a dramatic and traumatic past for Clayton revealed itself. A midwife accused of witchcraft killed in a buggy crash, a Union soldier shot dead in front of our saloon, and a little girl caught in a shootout between rival miners all haunt Clayton today.

The cool thing? You can still drink at the same bar, eat at the same restaurant and visit the site of the haunted hotel, all in Clayton Town Center.

Trouble In The Town Center Goes Back 120 Years

Moresi’s Chophouse was once known as La Croquet Restaurant. Like the Clayton Club Saloon, the 1857 building also still stands unaltered in structure to this day. Across the street is the somewhat new Grove park. But in the mid-1800s, it was a wild eucalyptus grove, which became the site of a massacre. Bullets flew between miners in the eucalyptus grove. According to author E. Byrd in their local book, Legends And Lore Of Clayton, California, the rivals “missed their targets” as bullets zoomed through trees and branches.

As the event got bloodier and the diners of La Croquet took cover, Byrd says, “One of the bullets entered a window of a family residence, hitting a little girl who was playing quietly in the front room.” When current owner Ed Moresi bought the space to turn into Moresi’s, there was a blood stain he could not remove. They’d bleach it and it would disappear, but within a few days it would come back. After many attempts, Ed ended up having to carpet over it. According to accounts from people who were working the days leading up to Moresi’s inception, if the carpet was removed, “that blood stain would be as prominent as any time in the past.”

Blood? That’s nothing. Factor in the spigot in the kitchen turning itself on and off, lights that come on and turn off on their own schedule, and oh yeah, that time Ed put a glass down and saw it move across the table as if by magic. Ed has never reported any out-of-the-ordinary occurrences at his other restaurant across the Town Center, Ed’s Mudville Grill.

These and the following paranormal experiences have been cross-referenced with earthquakes, weather, and other natural factors, and each time these natural factors have failed to provide a reliable explanation for the strange happenings.

Just a few hundred feet from Moresi’s is the site of the old Pioneer Inn. Now church offices, those offices retain part of the original hotel’s structure. After an 1860s fire tore through the wooden hotel and spread to most of the Town Center, they rebuilt and rebranded as a concrete “fireproof” hotel, adding a second story in the process. In 1956, another fire led the current owners to revert to a one-story inn. Centuries of strange incidents began following the first fire.

Many diners and guests felt hands on shoulders, people behind them, and otherwise being touched by “nothing.” There have also been reports of shadowy figures lingering toward the back and near the attic. When the local church purchased the building in 2002, the bulk of the congregation dropped out of a prayer ritual to bless the building, one by one developing strange and pervasive headaches. Once the prayer around the building stopped, so did the headaches.

Haunts About Town

Black Diamond Mines, Morgan Territory Road, and Clayton Community Library are all thought to be haunted. Our own “White Witch,” was a midwife who died in a buggy crash due to an inexperienced horse and a frantic horseman. She haunts the mines and the old, abandoned mine towns around Black Diamond.

People still search for Joaquin Murrieta’s buried treasure, reportedly under an oak tree off Morgan Territory Road. There have been reports of an “apparition'' near one Oak Tree in the area, starting in the 1950s.

The Clayton Community library is built on the site of a prominent settler family’s mansion’s barn, which was later discovered to have been built on an indigenous Miwok burial ground. Electric doors stick, heat rises up from the ground, and clocks reset themselves to specific times more than a little frequently (perhaps the spirits’ time of death? A well-meaning warning of things to come?).

The Clayton Club: Who Are Its Permanent Residents?

The Clayton Club Saloon was physically transported from San Francisco to Clayton (ferried in by way of Martinez) in the 1860s, and its invisible residents moved along with it. It is possible that we brought the spirits here by boat. Already properly haunted, The Clayton Club honors its patrons who have passed away with a pair of cowboy boots with the deceased’s name on them. The honoring of these deaths fits right into who and what the club is as a building.

According to Byrd, “Paranormal activity is not a daily thing here, but when it does happen it is made clear to anyone willing to listen.” There have been nights where, with the customers gone and everything shut tight, clean up crew employees have felt frigid and sharp changes in temperature. Accounts are all very clear that it was a cold with no obvious cause, including wind, that none had experienced before.

One night, the bartender stopped where he stood as he was overwhelmed by this frigid air. One singular pair of cowboy boots on the ceiling–just one–started spinning back and forth in both directions and moving side to side. Then all at once, it stopped. Even the bar manager, who did not believe in ghosts, ran right out of there. Another time, employees working in the closed bar heard footsteps above them, which no one thought was weird–until all of the employees in the bar could see each other.

What is it that makes Clayton such a haunted town? Some believe that land itself can hold magic and call to people. It asks them to pack their dreams and ambitions and come to California. But this land is storied and ancient. It belonged to indigenous peoples before us, and for much more than two centuries they practiced their spiritualism and buried their dead here. Is it possible that this land carries native spirits who protect that spiritualism? And are they protecting it in a way we should fear, or simply respect, accept and enjoy?

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I've covered stories of unknown immigrants from places like Cambodia, been an opinion editor and opinion blog writer, managed blogs for my own businesses & for other brands. I'm looking forward to getting back to more classical journalism.

Walnut Creek, CA

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