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San Francisco Call

Friday, September 13, 2002


B. C. Stangl



"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 there.

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.