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December 1, 2022

Don’t get spooked on Pacheco Pass Highway

Those notorious things that go bump in the night. When the
autumn winds creep around your Halloween house, there’s nothing
more fun than to sit by a crackling fire while drinking hot cider
and listening to ghostly tales.
Those notorious things that go bump in the night. When the autumn winds creep around your Halloween house, there’s nothing more fun than to sit by a crackling fire while drinking hot cider and listening to ghostly tales.

Everyone loves a scary story — and I’m not talking about the recent election to recall Gov. Gray Davis. Any locale with any kind of history always has a spook or two to go “Boo!” And this region has its share of people who possible encountered beings from beyond the physical dimension – myself included.

Pacheco Pass on Highway 152 is one location said to be a gateway to an other-world realm. Legend has it travelers driving through this scenic route east of Gilroy often experience unexplained terrors suddenly striking them. Some people have claimed time became “distorted” during their trip, and their car journey of many miles only took a few minutes.

In the book “Haunted Houses of California,” the well-known psychic Sylvia Brown related her experience of horror while traveling through Pacheco Pass with her husband, Dal. Driving by the San Luis Dam, Sylvia suddenly felt powerful emotions flooding her body. She described her anxiety attack was like suffering in hell.

Images started to appear: “A little girl in a covered wagon cowering with her fists pressed against her eyes while Indians raged around the wagon train. Her sense of hopelessness was overwhelming. Scenes from a series of battles followed involving Spaniards, Mexican, American settlers.”

Were Brown’s vivid images some kind of residual psychic effect from a traumatic attack on pioneers? Or did they spring from the imagination of a woman whose livelihood is based on “contact” with the spirit world?

Pacheco Pass is one of the deadliest roads in the county. Over the years, many people have died on this “blood alley” in traffic accidents. It’s no wonder stories of hauntings associated with the highway have risen up.

One story tells of a woman who was struck by a semi-truck as she walked along the side of the highway. Occasional reports describe the woman appearing in the passenger seat of the truck. Some say they’ve seen her screaming in terror as she peers out the window. And then she and the phantom truck vanish mysteriously.

Another similar story recalls the 19th century days when Pacheco Pass was a stagecoach road connecting Santa Clara Valley to the San Joaquin Valley. There have been many sightings of a Victorian-dressed woman searching for her child along the road. Witnesses of this apparition say they hear the thunderous rumble of a stagecoach rolling by and the snorting breaths of hellish horses. Was the Victorian woman the victim of a traffic accident long ago?

There’s something in the human mind that wants to believe in ghosts. As spooky as haunted encounters are, they serve as possible evidence that death is not a dead end along the highway of life. Maybe it’s a comfort to imagine that a deceased loved one still hangs around.

My only possible encounter with a ghost involved my dad. Raymond Cheek was a high school music teacher in San Benito County in the 1950s and 1960s. After a lengthy illness, he died in early January 1985.

A year later on the anniversary of his death, my mom and I spent the afternoon repotting in fresh soil the cactus plants my dad had loved to tend. I smelled a powerful scent of roses. It was everywhere. But in mid-winter, no roses bloomed in the garden.

Finally, I asked my mom, “What kind of perfume are you wearing?”

She said she wasn’t wearing any.

“Well, I keep smelling roses. Do you smell it?”

She said she didn’t.

Later, she told me that on the day of dad’s funeral, she had smelled a strong fragrance of roses in the house. Dad had loved tending the roses in the garden, and mom believed his ghost attempted to comfort her during that difficult day. She told me she had said out loud, “Raymond, are you there? I love you.”

She said she thought dad appreciated my tending his cactus plants and he wanted to thank me. The rose fragrance was his way of doing it.

I didn’t want to debate mom’s belief of dad’s “ghost.” It comforted her to think he still stuck around. But the skeptical side of my mind said the rose smell had come from another source. I searched but never found it.

No verified scientific evidence has ever proved the existence of ghosts. The escape-artist Harry Houdini tried to provide evidence of the afterlife by promising to contact his wife Beatrice using a secret code developed for their mind-reading act. During one seance, Beatrice received the word “believe” reportedly from Houdini using the code, but she denied it was a breakthrough.

Solid proof of life after death would have a far greater impact on humanity than even proof of existence of extraterrestrial life. It’s virtually impossible to prove a negative – that something does not exist, so any debate on the existence of spiritual-worldly beings will long continue. And if it comforts people to believe it’s possible to continue after death in a spirit form, who am I to say ghosts don’t hang around us?

So if, while sitting by the fire drinking cider and telling ghost stories, the doorbell rings and you do encounter some spooky guy or ghoul going bump on this Halloween night, please give my regards. And don’t forget a cordial greeting of “Happy Halloween.”

Martin Cheek is a regualr contributor to The Gilroy Dispatch and is the author of “The Silicon Valley Handbook.”

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