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The Ghost's Name Is George
by Kathleen Sollenberger
(Reprinted by permission from Big Bear Lake Magazine)
Hailing From: Big Bear Lake, California
Where it Happened: Captain's Anchorage Restaurant; Big Bear Lake, CA
The soft murmurs of an intimate conversation between a man and a woman drifted down the stairwell and whispered on the edge of our hearing. It was a windy, moonless Friday night at the CAPTAINS ANCHORAGE and we huddled next to the fireplace, straining our ears, watching the tape recorder we’d secreted on the stairs moments before. This was our third night staying after hours looking for evidence of a ghost.
There were only four of us in the building -- all female -- and we were all downstairs. Eventually we noticed that when we relaxed our vigil and resumed talking, the conversation upstairs would again become vaguely discernible; when we paid attention, there would be only silence. Pouring ourselves some fresh-brewed coffee, we decided to let the recorder do its work while we reviewed the events of our first night in the restaurant two weeks earlier.
Lorren Repton and I had spent the night with a few guests, assorted tape recorders, video and still cameras loaded with 400 AS and infrared film. We weren’t entirely disappointed in our efforts; a door was summarily slammed shut and a radio turned itself off. The best thing, though, happened in the kitchen downstairs when only three of us were left and we had relaxed our guard. It was close to dawn and we went down to the waitress station to turn off the coffee machine. It was very quiet. We flipped the switch and then froze; a god-awful racket erupted from the kitchen, scratchy and full of static, echoing through the empty room. Stunned, we clutched our equipment and crept into the kitchen, past the dumbwaiter -- and the sound was suddenly gone.
Later, after a quick nap, I reviewed the audiotape and then called the restaurant to ask if there was a radio in the kitchen that could have produced the sound and had it been on. There was, but the power switch on the radio was in the off position. I was also told that a dark figure had been seen in the past, hovering exactly where the three of us had been standing when the racket had started.
Stories of the ghost seem to have their origin in events that may have occurred in the late 40’S and early 50’s, when Big Bear Valley had an approximate population of 7,300. A secluded sportsman’s paradise -- easily reached by air -- was a frequent destination for film crews and movie stars. Two gentlemen from an aerospace firm began constructing a two-story restaurant in Moonridge with all the amenities: Two kitchens with a dumbwaiter to connect them, a bar, a dance floor with piano, large stone fireplaces and cabins out back -- professional ladies included. The finishing touch was a bank of slot machines on rails or wheels that could conveniently vanish into an upstairs closet.
Apparently they ran out of money and a very well liked, popular film star stepped in. The establishment, THE SPORTSMAN’S TAVERN, was opened in 1947, approximately two years after state laws prohibiting gambling were passed in California. Business was brisk and the books complicated. A man named “George” was hired as an accountant, and it’s probable that he had two separate books to balance -- one legal, and one for the extras.
Now the story gets confused. In one version, George was caught embezzling funds, probably from the extra books, and became so distraught that he hung himself in the upstairs office. Another version includes the embezzlement and adds that George had also discovered that his wife was having an affair with a local deliveryman. The combination being too much, he either hung or shot himself, once again in the upstairs office. The third version, and least explained, has it that George was assisted into the otherworld. In every version, the story ends with the same conclusion: George disappeared but never left the building.
Located at 42148 Moonridge Way, Captain’s Anchorage a.k.a. the Sportsman’s Tavern (approximately 1946-1952) was originally owned by the Sportsman’s Village, Inc. Title was tentatively transferred to Actor Andy Devine in May of 1952 when a deed was prepared but left unrecorded until 1959. He held title until August of 1966. It is theorized (there is no proof) that Devine may have been a “silent partner” in the affairs of the tavern up to 1959. It has also been suggested that he might have had a financial interest in it sooner (1947 forward). Everyone interviewed is adamant that George’s story took place while Devine was involved with the business (In fact, a descendent of the actor identified George in a photograph kept at the bar, and verified his employment as well -- although the date of the photo is unknown).
The most likely period for George’s unfortunate end is between 1952-1959; 1959-1966 is unlikely as by 1963 the Tavern was advertising as a family restaurant, and in the mid-sixties stood vacant. Using 1952-1959 as a guideline, I called the local sheriff’s office but there doesn't’t appear to be a police report. I was told that if one had been filed, it was so long ago the document would be housed in the San Bernardino County archives and virtually inaccessible. Considering circumstances, there may never have been a public record at all -- no one even knows George’s last name, making it virtually impossible to track him down.
The Captain’s Anchorage, haunted with the echoes of an unsolved mystery, is one place where the walls probably can talk if we could only figure out how to listen. If you want to try your luck, here are a few patterns and preferences we noticed in our visits there, and confirmed through the myriad amounts of narratives locals were kind enough to share with us. George appears to prefer females, and after hours, small groups between 3 and 6 people. Best time for activity seems to be between 10:30pm and 2am, but he also seems to like it when the house is really busy. Another thing to bear in mind is that George may have buddies with him, possibly one female and one other male. Activities don’t seem to be localized to one room at all, and the downstairs area proved very busy for us. One last tip: as ridiculous as it sounds, try to relax. Nothing happened for us until we did.
(Special Thanks: To Lorraine Little and Sue Batiste for being so helpful and pleasant during the course of writing this article.)
(This feature article, The Ghost's Name Is George," reproduced on Ghostories.com from the Big Bear Lake Magazine September, 1998 issue by permission from the Editor, Lorren Repton).
From all of us here at Ghostories, to the most wonderful people at the Captain's Anchorage and The Big Bear Magazine, thank you very much for allowing us the permission to reproduce George's story -- we really appreciate it. It was a real treat, and speaking of treats, I know they have great desserts up there at the Captain's Anchorage which makes me wonder (and I know I'm dangerous when I start wondering!): Maybe some night they could leave out a slice of angel's food cake and another of devil's food! With all his nightly conversing he must surely be hungry by now and if, just if George decided to sneak a nibble, it would be interesting to know which one he might choose! I mean if he's just hangin' around . . .
For reals, Loren, thanks for getting back to us so fast and letting us have Kathleen's story of the night time vigils at the "Anchorage." A big, big thank you to writer Kathleen Sollenberger.
Now, for those of you out there who do plan to visit this wonderful mountain community, please be sure to set aside an evening for dinner at the Captain's Anchorage -- they have the absolute best steaks, wine and seafood -- and grab a copy of the Big Bear Magazine. If you happen to see me when you're there, please send over a glass of their very best Cabernet. I'll be the one who looks like he's seated by himself, but I'll be talking to George!
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