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Investigating The Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch in the Santa Teresa County Park Historic Area

Our group had been invited to investigate the old Bernal Ranch and sadly, was not even aware of its existence. I truly enjoy learning about all the history there is in our valley. It makes me realize that we are only a piece of this puzzle and I wonder what history we will be able to leave for generations to come. I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that future generations will only see the new development and not what was originally here. We need to make an effort to make the history come alive for our children so they can see where they came from and understand that there were people who walked this land and tilled the soil and farmed animals to make this land valley what it is today, a thriving, beautiful area.

Settled next to the beautifully green hills of South San Jose in a very quiet area of town is the Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch House. This house is part of the Santa Teresa County Park Historic Area and extends for acres throughout the green hills with walking and biking trails and plenty of history. There are interpretive boards which detail the history of the land you are standing on and the few buildings which are still there as part of a cooperative venture undertaken by the City of San Jose and the County Parks Department. I met with County Parks Educator and Historian, John Dorrance who willing lent me his time and effort to take me through these sprawling grounds and give me a one-on-one tour of the ranch house and its buildings. The area is rich with history of Ohlone Indians who first came to the area and then the Bernal family who worked the farm land and surrounding areas building a cattle ranch, working the area as farmland and eventually selling fresh bottled water out of the still running stream that fills a local pond area complete with turtles, koi fish and plenty of haunted legends.

Allow me to discuss the history of the land that the ranch house and buildings stand on to date. The land that the Bernal House currently stands on was originally owned by the Muwekma Ohlone Indians. In 1834, Rancho de Santa Teresa included a vineyard, orchard, fields and 5,000 head of cattle with an arena for bear and bull fights. He did this on his land that totaled 9,647 acres given to him by the Mexican government.

Our investigation was conducted on a beautiful Saturday evening. There were more stars in the sky than I have seen in many months. It was crystal clear with nary a cloud in the sky. The day had been warm and the ranch house was wide open. The ranch house is usually open for a few hours at a time during the weekends. We felt very privileged to be allowed in this house after hours as it can be an inconvenience to the rangers. They have a large concern about vandalism in the park after hours and need to make sure that the people who are there have permission to do so. Although we attracted a bit of attention, our stay was without incident.

The ranch house, although small, is a wonderful trek back into time. There are antiques and pictures that depict life as it may have been back in the 1800's. I found it difficult to sit on the chairs that were provided as I was afraid of breaking it or anything else that was in the house.

The night progressed smoothly, however, we did make it a point to do what we could to achieve a more quiet atmosphere. We needed to close the windows and doors although it was very warm inside. Once we did so, it was very quiet save for an occasional car zooming by on the nearby street. After a half hour or so we began to notice sounds within the house that were not the usual creaks and groans of a house settling for the evening. The wooden sounds we were hearing sounded more like thicker wooden sticks that, when held over one's knee and bent, make a rather distinct snapping sound. This was a bit unsettling as no one was moving in the house. This was not the floor creaking nor the heated ceiling cooling down and creaking or groaning. These were first floor level sounds of wood breaking. They seemed very close to where we were sitting. These noises progressed throughout the evening while we were in the kitchen and living room areas.

The parlor seemed to produce the most activity and in combination with the kitchen and living room sounds made for an exciting evening. As we did not expect any activity we received more than we had bargained for at that time. The parlor contains reproductions of clothes as well as the actual antiques and furniture reminiscent of bygone days. Apparently the parlor was also used for entertainment whether of guests or family.

We discovered that our members in varying degrees heard the sounds of whispering in the kitchen, in the living room but more so in the parlor. There was also what seemed to be the shuffling of cards as though someone was playing cards in the parlor. There were sounds in the kitchen of footsteps, however, there were not creaks of the floor boards, just the sounds of footsteps as though it was an adult (different from a children's footsteps) walking through from office to living room.

There were flashes of light in the southeast corner of the living room, however, because there was a fluorescent light some feet away from the house and a window close by, we were unsure if these flashes of light were from the light outside. One of our members, Brian, also happened to hear the sound of wind just next to his ear but there were no drafts, no temperature changes, no curtains rustling and no actual wind felt by anyone.

I have come to the conclusion that although the park rangers would rather not know that their wonderful ranch house is haunted, many things are happening that they are not aware of during the evening when no one is in the house.

The Ghost Trackers would like to thank County Park Educator John Dorrance for his patience, information and assistance during this investigation. Without him, we would not have been able to discover this beautiful park and its wonderfully haunted ranch house. Thank you also to Brian for his help during the evening and all the stories and information he was able to give.

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