"That’s my grandmother!" she screamed. And we were
live on the radio.
It was a wee bit after midnight, Halloween,
twenty-five years ago, and I was holding her hand. Fee Waybill of the
Tubes (White Punks on Dope) was holding my left hand. My face was red,
white and blue. Fee’s was whiter than Orca’s underbelly.
The scene was KSJO’s third annual séance broadcast
live at midnight from the Winchester Mystery House. Sarah Winchester,
a distant relative of the man synonymous with the rifle he had
invented and manufactured, no doubt smiled from her grave.
Sarah had added more than one hundred of the oddest
shaped rooms, mostly teeny, some beneath staircases, in hopes it would
become the tourist attraction it is today.
Not really. She had added so many rooms to her
wood-framed Victorian off Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose at the
turn of the last century to celebrate the millennium.
Not really. It was the turn of the previous century.
Some maintain she added all those rooms to accommodate
genial spirits. Others still argue today that she built those rooms to
allow evil spirits to escape, thus leaving her alone. We cynics
thought nothing and merely exploited the mansion.
It was KSJO’s third year soliciting on-air winners to
join hands with celebrities – there would be twelve of us and I as an
evening DJ was marginally a celebrity – holding hands at Winchester’s
own round "spirits" table in her fabled séance room. My face was
painted red and blue, the colors of KSJO’s logo. Sammy Hagar was
I forget the medium’s name though I probably
shouldn’t. No one I know thought she was more than a gimmick.
Tell that to the granddaughter.
Some spirit or other was drawn to an ancient graveyard
. She walked in. She admired a tombstone. It read, "Here lies Martha.
She was hearty, loving, and fair. Now she is missed."
"That’s my grandmother!" yelled the chunky brunette on
my right. She was one of the half-dozen contest winners to sit at the
table. The chunky brunette, not the grandmother.
However, when the grandmother appeared, I think even
the medium was blown backward. Legendary Bay Area photographer of the
stars, Dennis McNally, shot flashes in the dark that clearly showed my
and Fee’s reactions.
Fee, who in actuality disdained drugs, was caught with
his hair literally at attention, with his mouth as wide open as Monica
Lewinsky’s. I was certainly no stranger to drugs, and my painted face
and rigid composure showed at least that, but also a shock I have
never experienced before or since. My surprise was reflected in each
raised hand a foot off the table. The listener’s face was rigid too,
with a determined, searching look.
Many thought she was a "plant." Not a rhododendron but
a hoax we had dreamed up. She wasn’t. I sometimes wonder if her
grandma ever reappeared to her.
I promised last week to deliver quaint goods on Steve
Perry and Neil Schon of Journey, and Sting’s first arrival in the U.S.
But this story is hastily scribbled from Seattle, the scene of this
year’s annual radio convention, and frankly, I am too lazy. So next
week… And meanwhile, I will most certainly have an expense account
cocktail for you.