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February 1-7, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

The Ghost in The Basement

By Gary Singh

WHEN DISCUSSING haunted places in the South Bay, the first three locales that usually come up are the Winchester Mystery House, the Rengstorff house in Mountain View and the Toys "R" Us in Sunnyvale. But after some recent adventures, we may have discovered another one: Mission Ale House at Third and Santa Clara streets in San Jose. The building itself has a long sordid history. Mission opened in 1996 and before that it was a dive called Dot's Bar & Grill. Before that it was several different bars, including one called the Interlude from 1960 to 1980.

Downstairs, underneath the building, one finds all sorts of hidden rooms, nooks and crannies ripe for underground urban exploration. If it was affordable, they could easily turn the place into a speakeasy. And it was on the way down the stairs to this cavernous part of the structure that a current employee claims to have once seen a ghost. Unfortunately, nowadays he refuses to even talk about it. All I know through secondhand hearsay is that it was a woman in a blue dress. That's it.

But now comes the spooky part. On a Monday night a few weeks ago, around 8pm, a group of us, including the aforementioned employee, were sitting in the back patio of the place underneath one of the heaters talking about whether the building was haunted or not. And then, suddenly, the power in the entire place went out for no reason right as we were discussing all this.

Hmmm, we thought. As soon as we start talking about ghosts, the power blows out. Go figure. We ventured outside onto the sidewalk, and except for the traffic light at Third and Santa Clara, all the nearby buildings still had their power on. Only Mission Ale's power was out. As if that wasn't strange enough, check this out: I called PG&E, and it confirmed the outage, saying that it affected 390 people, but it didn't have any explanation of why it happened. I called again a day later, and there was no record of the outage at all.

Back inside the bar, the bartenders distributed candles along the bar, and an eerie silence gripped the place as the customers continued to drink—on the house, as all the computerized cash registers were down. The owners were nowhere to be found.

And then came the ghost tour. When one of the bartenders offered to give us a tour of the "untrodden" area of the downstairs by candlelight, I just couldn't resist. She led our procession down the metal stairway, around a few corners and down a dark hallway that we couldn't keep track of. And then she led me straight into a pile of chairs that I tripped over and I nearly hurt myself.

Again, this is all in near pitch-black conditions, underground, with only the candles barely illuminating the scene. You were just waiting for Vincent Price to appear from around the corner, and the only thing missing was spooky organ music, which I actually could have provided had I known about this in advance. And I admit, downstairs at Mission is quite eerie when the power is out. Half of the downstairs is used for the main offices, but the other half still contains a bizarre labyrinth of pathways and rooms filled with all sorts of stuff, although we just couldn't see what. After showing us the area, she led us back upstairs, and we continued into the evening.

But that's not the end of it. Just last week, the same group of us gathered out in the back patio underneath the heater to try and figure out what this was all about. About five minutes into the conversation, the heater suddenly went out for no reason. It was almost as if the ghost had heard us talking about her.

Now, it could have just been a short circuit, and there probably exist rational explanations for all these events, but still, sometimes you just wonder. I felt like I was transplanted into an episode of the '70s TV show In Search Of, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, except that I wasn't wearing plaid slacks while standing out in front of the Great Pyramids.

In any event, this is exactly the type of urban adventure that needs to be exploited. Turn out the lights at Mission Ale House and scare people to within inches of their lives. I'll provide the spooky organ music.

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