- PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE E. MILLER
- THEY AIN’ ’FRAIDA NO GHOST! : The Far Western Tavern is one of the best-known haunts on the Central Coast. The Central Coast Paranormal Investigators—founder Mitch Flores, Darin Dyroff, Mike Owens, Nikki Ortega, and Matthew Kramer (not pictured)—take New Times for a tour—in the name of science!
“Wait a minute—what the hell am I doing?”
Driving southbound down Highway 1, rolling past the Guadalupe Cemetery under the full moon of a crisp autumn night, it suddenly dawns on me: I’m being forced to spend the night in a haunted building or I don’t get paid. I love my job.
I first met Mitch Flores and the Central Coast Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) at the Santa Maria Public Library, when, on the eve of Halloween, I arrived to cover the team’s presentation to a room of high school students.
They were explaining methods for detecting and communicating with the otherworldly, such as using electromagnetic field (EMF) detection, thermal sensing, and other jargon I didn’t understand. Flores played—to our amazement—some pretty freaky audio clips the team recorded of electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), the unexplained voices picked up on their digital voice recording equipment while on their investigations.
After the presentation, I introduced myself to the team—founder Flores; Nikki Ortega, public relations liaison; investigators Darin Dyroff and Mike Owens; Sandra Cortez, the team photographer; and occult specialist Tom Burbank—in the hopes of securing an interview. They offered me one better.
Flores started the Nipomo-based nonprofit CCPI in October 2007 after a long obsession with the supernatural. But these are no geeks. With their carts of equipment and black uniforms, Flores and the team look as if they could be hunting bail jumpers.
This motley crew applies its combined expertise to helping those on the Central Coast who might be too afraid of ridicule to step forward with their paranormal problems and find explanations for what seemingly can’t be explained.
“The difference between us and the shows [like Ghost Hunters] is that we are all believers, but when we go into a case, we are there to disprove,” Flores said. Sometimes, he said, there’s no other explanation than paranormal activity.
To date, CCPI has conducted 25 full investigations, including 16 residences, six businesses, and three cemeteries.
Tonight, I join them on their 26th.
The Far Western Tavern is a famous local haunt, with vintage flocked red wallpaper and lined with trophy moose heads and portraits of old-school cowboys. Over the years, it’s developed a reputation for—aside from a great steak dinner—being the home of a number of spirits.
It’s said that in the 1930s, a guest named Mr. Franconeti was asleep when a fire broke out. An amputee World War I veteran, Franconeti was burned alive after he couldn’t attach his artificial leg in time. Restaurant guests and staffers still report hearing a peg-legged phantom stomping around above the dining room.
The team has been to the Tavern before. Their last visit in 2008 yielded more than 200 EVP recordings and even a number of disembodied voices (unexplainable voices audible as if they were right next to you). Last time around, a camera nearly smashed as it inexplicably fell over on its tripod when the closest team member was across the room.
The investigators would usually spend considerable time researching a property and the distressed party, but since the Tavern’s activity is well-documented—and because Owens and Cortez already heard the same disembodied voice shout, “Hey!” while they were running cable earlier—we jump right into it.
The lights go off, the group splits up into twos, and Dyroff runs a laser light along the walls in the downstairs barroom. The team will use these to document changes in temperature throughout the night.
Next, we meet Ortega and Flores, who are taking EMF readings in the upstairs dining room. Then the investigation officially gets under way, with Flores and team introducing themselves to any spirits in the house who might be listening, trying to provoke a response. Sometimes you have to be a little pushy.
Cortez takes a series of shots in the dark without flash, cranking down the shutter speed, and comes up with some green light seemingly revolving around Flores. They later try to duplicate the effect, without success.
They call midnight “Dead Time,” when everyone sits quietly in the dark—no noise, no movement. Ortega and I are sitting in the upstairs barroom and suddenly feel a chill go over us. Dyroff tosses me his EMF meter: “Here, hold this a minute. If it turns yellow, run.”
He grabs his laser thermometer and measures a 40-degree reading, 15 degrees lower than the same spot roughly 15 minutes earlier. Strange, I think. Better grab another jacket.
It nears 4 a.m., and I have yet to see or hear anything definitive. The team agrees there’s not much going on tonight, but will reserve judgment until they’ve reviewed all video, still photos, and audio recordings, which can take a few weeks. If something can’t be explained, the team will return to the spot to try and repeat it.
I say my goodbyes to the team, return their EMF meter, and depart the Tavern in one piece. Although it was a blast creeping around an old bar talking ghosts all night with the crew, I wouldn’t say I overcame my skepticism just yet—not until I hear my first disembodied voice. Apparitions? Never met one. Deadlines scare me.
Contact Staff Writer Matt Fountain at email@example.com.