Built in 1859 Pearson’s Soda Works was used as a brewery, soda works, and ice cream parlor in the Gold Rush days. More often than not, ice blocks, beer, soda, butter and other perishables were stored in the 155 foot tunnel cut into the hill behind the place. The narrow mine tunnel at that time extended in a u-shape through the mountain, ending near the Empire Theatre down the street.
It’s rumored a second mine tunnel was started in an old house behind the Empire Theatre and ran under Placerville, California, coming out somewhere in the vicinity of what is now Coloma Street. Several years ago I had occasion to go into that old house. The shape of the roof makes it look Asian.
While I was inside, the owner started telling me about the history of the place. He took me into a back room and showed me a hole cut into a rock wall. As I remember it, the space was about two feet wide and maybe five feet long. He said the tunnel coming from the Soda Works was used by men who didn’t want to be seen coming in and out of the Chinese run bordello. There were several of these holes cut in the building and they were used by the prostitutes as their “beds” when the men would come for their “comfort.” It amazed me that anyone could be so desperate as to use the small, uncomfortable space.
An upper floor was added to the soda works building in 1897 and, although some restoration was inevitable, the majority of the original building is still the same along with fixtures and keepsakes. The beautiful stained glass doors were brought from a gambling hall in Montana, the hanging globes from the old San Francisco library, and marble bathroom fixtures from the ancient Tahoe Tavern.
The building is damp, it’s drippy, and from sunset to sunrise, it’s also dark. Shadows glide effortless through the old place. Spirits whisk by in the reflection as employees clean store mirrors and windows. Labored breathing is heard permeating the thick rock walls of the empty old mine shaft inside the structure. Stories about ghosts have been told for years.
There’s a burly man with a bald head in the mineshaft at the back of the main part of the building. He ordered psychic Nancy Bradley out of the tunnel. He told her women were not welcome past that particular point. She determined it was not a ghost, but a spirit. Two women spirits from the 1800’s sat in old chairs in the alcove to the right of the tunnel. They seemed to get a kick out of the old codger getting his comings up when Bradley told him he had no authority anymore. As it turned out, the spirit’s name was Charley and he was about 40 years old, but looked much older. He’d been a victim of a cave in. Several large rocks came down and hit him in the back of the head. Even though the wound was severe, he didn’t die immediately. Afraid to move him, the miners left him in the mine shaft as they ran to get the doctor. He told her he was dead before the doctor returned with the men. Bradley asked him why he stayed in the place where he died. “I am not always here,” he said, irritated. “I come and go when I want. I am here to protect people from the mine, but also because of THEM!” He pointed to the two women in the alcove.
Bradley inched her way past the spirit to the two women. “What are you doing here?” she asked. They were dressed in frills, full skirts and ragged stockings. One had a blouse that fell off one shoulder. They were clearly not washerwomen or wives. “We stay for the money,” the one that called herself Louise said. “And he’s one of our best customers.”
Information taken from “The Incredible World of Gold Rush Ghosts, by Nancy Bradley and Robert Repppert.