Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas At The Gas Station

I first encountered this when it made the rounds of email a few years back. I saw it again a few days ago, so I know it is still alive and moving. I put this here because it is worth the time to read and ponder.

It is true that it is the little things that make Christmas; and if we can do the little things every day, then every day can be Christmas. How simple...

May the Lord bless you and keep you, this and every Christmas Eve.


Christmas At The Gas Station

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.

Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. "Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy, I'll just go."

"Not without something hot in your belly." George said.

He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty, "Stew ... made it myself. When you're done, there's coffee and it's fresh."

Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said. There in the driveway was an old '53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. "Mister can you help me!" said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken."

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead. "You ain't going in this thing," George said as he turned away.

"But Mister, please help ..." The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. "Here, take my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good."

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. He turned and walked back inside the office. "Glad I gave 'em the truck, their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new ........" George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it. "Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. "Well, shoot, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on.

"Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car anyway.

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Please help me."

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. "Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. "Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin'," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

"Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. "You hang in there, I'm going to get you an ambulance."
The phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car." He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. "Thanks," said the officer. "You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area."
George sat down beside him, "I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain."

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked.

"None for me," said the officer.

"Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain't got no donuts." The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. "Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.
"That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer.

"Son, why are you doing this?" asked George, "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!"

The cop was reaching for his gun. "Put that thing away," George said to the cop, "we got one too many in here now."

He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pee shooter away."

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week ..."

George handed the gun to the cop. "Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Bein' stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry officer."

"Shut up and drink your coffee." the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. "Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer.
"Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?"

"GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran."

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.

"That guy work here?," the wounded cop continued. "Yep," George said, "just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas boy ... and you too, George, and thanks for everything."

"Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems."

George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. "Here you go, something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day."

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It means something to you."

"And now it means something to you," replied George. "I got my memories. That's all I need."

George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours."

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

"And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too," George said, "Now git home to your family."

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good."

"Nope. I'm closed Christmas day," George said. "See ya the day after."

eorge turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left?"

"I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?"

"Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin' up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was gettin' a little chubby."

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. "But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man."

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man.

"Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again."

The stranger moved toward the door. "If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned."

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

"You see, George ... it's My birthday. Merry Christmas."

George fell to his knees and replied, "Happy Birthday, Lord."

Author Unknown


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

HIMT Press is pleased and proud.

HIMT Press is pleased and proud to announce the publication of Jesse Shepard & the Villa Montezuma: The San Diego Years in Print - see

Worked on on-and-off for the better part of a decade, this represents the sum of my research on the Villa Montezuma covering the years 1887 through 1889.

For the person interested in the Villa Montezuma or late nineteenth-century San Diego, directly or indirectly, this work for you.

Now available on Amazon kindle:


The above was the formal announcement of the release of my new work.

Allow me to add a few personal comments.



...I hope.

with humility, I thank you.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Possible Origins of Ghostly Tales in the Villa Montezuma




 The Villa Montezuma acquired over time a reputation for being a "haunted house" with all that that term implies.


In part this is due to her first flamboyant owner, Jesse Shepard. He was known among other things as a medium, channeling spirits during his concerts. Reports of his activities, as well as his own writings, would only enhance the Villa's ill repute. However, what was written about the Villa long after Shepard left San Diego contributed in turning a nineteenth century "palace of the arts" into a twentieth century haunted house.


This work will examine four articles. The first three, from The San Diego Union, will present tales concerning the Villa Montezuma, tracing the haunted house theme. The fourth will delve into the background of Jesse Shepard the medium from a more modern mystical perspective. No copyright infringement is intended. The articles  are reproduced in their entirety for educational and informational purposes only.


Word of mouth does not explain the spread of the urban myth concerning haunting at the Villa Montezuma. In the first half of the twentieth century, print media, especially daily newspapers, were the most effective means of spreading information. The three Union pieces build upon each other to implant in the reader's mind the "knowledge” that the Villa Montezuma is haunted.


During his residence in the Villa Montezuma, and indeed for sometime after, much was made of Shepard's mediumistic talents and his musical séances. But no mention was ever made of the house itself possessing any qualities aside from artistic. By the time the first article here presented was written, an inversion had taken place. Where before, Shepard was the driving force and the house was a support for him, by 1913 the Villa took on a life of its own and Shepard was just one of many past owners.






From The San Diego Union

July 20, 1913

Section 2, page 1, column 1

Sunday morning





Built by Spiritualist as Home of Spooks


Villa Montezuma, Temple of Art and Occultism,

For Years brought Ill Luck to All Who Bought It;

Now Happy Home With Evil Spell Broken.


View of Villa Montezuma. Built as Temple of Occultism by Slick Trickster, and of the Wonderful, Decorated Window the Builder and Designer Had Constructed for the Edifice.



There is a strange house on the corner of Twentieth and K streets, strange in appearance and strange in history. It is now the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lynch, who have lived in it in happiness and prosperity long enough to dispel the shadows of a somber and somewhat mysterious past.


Only the oldest residents of the neighborhood think of the odd structure, with its many gables and spires, its gargoyles and curious decorations, as the Villa Montezuma, temple of art and occultism, home of Jesse Shepard, Spiritualist, inspirational musician and brilliant entertainer at other people’s expense.


Shepard, who is described as a man of rare charm and the highest culture by those who remember him, built Villa Montezuma in 1887. But it was paid for by two brothers, William and John E. High, the simplest of men, who raised fruit and vegetables and peddled them on the streets in the days when San Diego was little more that a village.

Keeps Shepard Well

The investment kept Shepard in affluence for two years, during which he basked in temperamental plenitude, his exotic tastes, his brilliant but costly fancies indulged to the uttermost, his unearthly genius, which is vouched for even by his many detractors, the inspiration and delight of an esoteric circle. Incidentally, it ruined the two brothers, both of them dying in a state of tragic poverty.


Those who have lived in the house and know it say that it strangely reflects the personality of the man who conceived it. Externally it is impressive but fantastic, giving a rather studied effect of weirdness and secrecy. The interior is an artistic triumph born of a most felicitous blending of imagination, temperament and originality. Its whole atmosphere is one of harmony and repose. It is at once soothing and inspiring. Every one who has been in the Villa Montezuma says that it is possessed of an indescribable charm.


There are many who, while recognizing its delightful qualities, used to believe the house was unlucky, holding that the destiny that overtook the men who paid for it still dwells in it chambers and that its rooftree is disaster. Be that as it may, it is certain that misfortune has dogged the footsteps of many a man and woman who has lived in or had to do with the Villa Montezuma.


Story is Incomplete

The threads of the story of Jesse Shepard and his strange dwelling have been assembled from many different sources and yet it is not complete. A number of people remember Jesse Shepard, but only in a general way. They recall that he was a Spiritualist, that he gave the most wonderful musicales and that he was reported to have exerted undue influence in persuading two old brothers to build him a house.


Sam High, a nephew of the High brothers, and now a liveryman in this city, being personally interested, remembers more about it than anyone else.


“Yes. I remember Jesse Shepard,” he said to a Union reporter. “I remember him well and a fine fraud he was. If my old uncles had never met Jesse Shepard they would have died about a half million dollars richer than they did and I’d have been a bit better of myself today.


Familiar Figures

“There were no more familiar figures on the streets of San Diego in those days than my old uncles. It was in 1887, the boom time, and San Diego was little more than a village. The uncles had a ranch, where they used to raise fruit and vegetables, and one or the other used to drive into town and peddle every day. They had acquired considerable property in the heart of town when process were low and when the boom came they were counted rich.


“I remember when this house was going up everybody was talking about it and wondering who was building it. I myself had no idea until one day when I was talking to Uncle William I asked him if he knew and he said to me: ‘Well, I’ll tell you. It’s me and my brother.’ That’s all he said and I asked him no questions.


People Began Talking

“Later on people began coming to me and telling me that it was a shame the way Shepard was getting money out of my uncles and that I ought to get everything from them I could; that they would need it later on. But I figured that they were grown men with more experience than I had had and knew their own business.


“Everybody wondered what had come over the old men, as they had never been men to spend money. A good many said it was Spiritualism. But it wasn’t. I learned long afterward what it was. Long after Shepard had gone, long after Uncle William died, I was sitting alone with Uncle John one night when I turned and put it right to him.


Just Hypnotism Did It

“’Uncle,’ I said, ‘what ever got into you and Uncle William to give that house and all that money to Shepard?’


“’Sam,’ he said, ‘it was hypnotism and nothing else. That man had us so hypnotized that we would have done anything under heaven he told us to.’”


According to the popular version of the story the High brothers became acquainted with Shepard through E. W. Hulburt, another Spiritualist, and Shepard gave them messages purporting to come from the spirit of William’s deceased wife, instructing them to build a monument in her memory, all the plans for which were to be left in Shepard’s hands.


The brothers, vastly impressed and deeming the carrying out of these instructions a sacred trust, proceeded to mortgage their property, obtaining $10,000 here and $10,000 there until the required amount, which is estimated at anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000, was made up. This was easy to do, as values were so tremendously high and money so plentiful that a mortgage of a few thousand dollars on a good piece of ground looked very small indeed.


Famous for Their Folly

People watched the progress of the Villa Montezuma with marvel and the two little peddlers, who had been well known for their vegetables, became famous for their filly. Art glass windows, jeweled and of the most exquisite workmanship, were imported from Europe. Carved mahogany, Persian rugs and the handsomest furnishings that money could buy were brought from the ends of the hearth and installed as crowning touches to the wondrous ensemble.


But it was not until the presiding genius moved in and began to give elaborate entertainments, usually dinner parties followed by musical séances, that people began to realize what a dream house had been built in their midst. A descriptive circular, printed at the time, of which Mr. Lynch has a copy, does eloquent justice to the details of the interior. Of the drawing room it says:


“Perhaps the great feature of this room is the splendid bay window, eighteen feet deep, of bent glass, the upper sashes containing life size heads in art glass of Shakespeare, Goethe and Cammille, these heads representing the poetry of England, Germany and France.


“The ceiling is exquisitely silvered and bronzed, relieved by deep panels of redwood. The bay window is separated from the main room by a beautiful arch in carved wood from which hang three large lace curtains, which show the jeweled and arabesques glass behind in the most artistic manner possible.”   


Next is a quotation from a long description of the music room, which is the largest and most impressive room in the house. The enthusiasm of the writer over the art glass, the woodwork and the permanent decorations, which remain unchanged today, is amply justified.


Sappho’s Picture There

“In the first moments of the day the rays of the rising sum illumine a life-sized portrait of Sappho, the Greek poet. Reclining on a couch and with a wrap thrown loosely about her form, she sits idly picking a lyre. Beside her are two Cupids, who accompany her with flutes. The forms of the figures are exquisitely moulded and the proportions are perfect. Through an open portal a marine view with rays of sunlight and great rolling storm clouds is pictured.


“Over the portrait is a heavy black and white graffito border, beneath which and about the picture is a crazy patch of Venetian opalescent and cathedral glass of rich colors. Throughout this and in the borders of all the figures in the room are interspersed heavy sapphires, rubies, emeralds, garnets, opals and other jewels, all cut and highly polished.


“To the left of Sappho’s portrait is a life-size one of L’Allegra, representing Milton’s poem. Corresponding with this is a portrait of La Penserosa, who stands admiring blossoms, which she is holding in her hands. Over these windows, which occupy the front of the bay window, in which they are situated, is an arch of carved black walnut, resting upon columns of walnut. In the north end of the room in circular windows are life-sized bust portraits of Beethoven and Mozart. At the other end are corresponding portraits of Raphael and Rubens.”


So the circular continues, giving detailed descriptions of every treasure that the house contains, and very beautiful it all was, according to those who remember the house in Shepard’s time.


Shepard a Musician

Everyone agrees that Shepard was a most accomplished musician, that his musical gifts, in fact, amounted to genius. His reputation was great abroad and he had played before the crowned heads of Europe. The walls of his bedroom upstairs, it is said, were covered with autograph photographs and gifts from hundreds of celebrities.


Shepard claimed to be what is known as an inspirational musician. He explained that the gift was not his own, but that the spirits of the great masters took possession of him and played with his fingers. In support of this contention people who have heard him say that Shepard, in playing, drifted from the works of one great author to another, his whole style and execution changing with incredible facility.


Sam High, who professes to have grounded opinions against the possibility of spiritual manifestations, says he went to one of Shepard’s musicales and, though the spirit in which went was contemptuous, he says that the experience was one of the most wonderful in his life and he could never explain, to save his soul, what he heard.


Invisible Choir Heard

“Everybody gathered in the music room,” said High, “and sat in chairs facing the piano, which was in one corner. Shepard stood by the piano, with his back to the keys. Then the lights were put out. In a moment the most wonderful music started, first the piano alone, and then far off what sounded like a choir of voices coming down the street.


“The voices came nearer and nearer and the volume of sound grew louder until finally it seemed to be right in the room. Then in a few minutes it began to die out, gradually growing fainter and fainter until it was gone, and only the piano was heard. Then the piano stopped, the lights were turned on and it was all over, and there was Shepard standing and bowing to the audience.


“He certainly was a peculiar genius. I never understood how he worked it, and I guess no one else did either.”


According to High, his uncle after the house was finished continued to furnish Shepard money to support his menage, and to pay for his entertainments.


“Sad as it was in one way, I can’t help laughing,” and the nephew, “to think of Shepard with his secretary and his servants, rolling in luxury, and the two poor old uncles, who were putting up for it, driving by in their little wagon, peddling their vegetables from door to door.


“In 1889,” he continued, “when Shepard saw that the game could not last much longer, he sold the house, or rather traded it for one in Cheyenne, Wyo., and disappeared. I remember sometime afterward Shepard sent a deed to the Cheyenne property to Uncle John. The old man was mighty pleased for a while, particularly when he found out that it was worth about $10,000. But all his pleasure disappeared when he learned that Shepard had already mortgaged it for $12,000. I guess Shepard sent him the deed to plague him. I don’t see any other reason for it.”


Sells Home to Banker

The records of the property at K and Twentieth streets show that Shepard sold it to D. D. Dare, receiving, in addition to a cash consideration, the property in Cheyenne. Dare was vice president of a bank, which afterwards failed. He fled to Europe, a fugitive from justice, and J. W. Collins, the president, committed suicide in the Brewster Hotel.


From Dare the fateful Villa Montezuma went to H. P. Palmerston, who also got into financial difficulties. He borrowed $5000 on the house from W. W. Whitney. Dare and Collins indorsing the note.


“I came in for my little share of trouble,” said Mr. Whitney, speaking of the transaction the other day. “I got the $5000 out all right, but promptly lost it on another deal.”


Owing to Palmerston’s indebtedness, the property was attached by a bank in Chicago and Hiram Duryea, a New York millionaire, the next owner, got it under foreclosure. Duryea promptly sold it to Dr. George Calmus, who, with his wife and her mother. Mrs. G. W. Luke, lived in the house until disaster following disaster, their considerable fortune was wasted and a permanent cloud descended on their lives.


Mrs. Calmus, who is still living in San Diego, tells a sad and strange story about their experiences in the house.


Loved Unlucky House

“I loved that house and still love it very, very dearly,” she said. “We passed some very happy years there. Of course, there were a great many peculiar stories about the house, even before we went into it. Some said it was haunted, others that it was unlucky and many that they would not live in it for any amount of money. People used to say that at night they could see forms moving about behind the stained glass windows. Children would not go near the place.


“But we never took any stock in these things. We liked the house as soon as we saw it, and bought it for $10,000, which was wonderfully cheap. During all the time we were there, I never saw nor heard any supernatural manifestations. There used to be peculiar cracking sounds in the wood at night, but the cooling off of the wood after the heat of the day, I think, caused that.


“The atmosphere, far from being alarming, was wonderfully soothing and beneficent. One had a feeling of extreme security in it. This was particularly marked in the case of my mother, who had always been a very timid woman, particularly at night. Yet, in that house she never knew what it was to be uneasy. Another thing, the spirit of my father, who is dead, seemed to be so very near us there.


“We are not Spiritualists, but there is no denying the spiritual influence in the atmosphere of that house. Everyone who came there used to notice it. Friends who stayed with us always wanted to come back, and it was the same way with servants..


Their Troubles Begin

Mrs. Calmus said that they had been in the house several years before their misfortune began. Her husband began to speculate in Los Angeles, growing more and more reckless and losing steadily, and finally becoming almost obsessed, according to his wife.


“I think it finally affected his mind,” said Mrs. Calmus. “It is hard to believe that the house had anything to do with it. Yet, when he was away he used always to say that we should not come back to it. It would take hold of him again and he would say, ‘No, no, we can’t leave this.’”


Dr. Calmus Disappears

Dr. Calmus, after losing practically all he had, went away, disappearing entirely. Mrs. Calmus has not seen him since.


The only occupant before her time, known to her, Mrs. Calmus said, was a man named Milliken, who rented it  from one of the previous owners. Milliken had a son who died there.


The next owner was George Sinclair, now dead, who got the place by foreclosure from Dr. Calmus. The Sinclairs never lived in the house, but rented it to a Spiritualist named Montgomery. This, of course, tended to revive many of the forgotten stories.


“Montgomery and his daughter, Mrs. White, used to hold séances there,” said Mr. Sinclair, son of the late owner, “but I imagine the meetings were not very successful, as they got behind in the rent. When father was thinking of selling it to Mr. Lynch, Montgomery said, darkly, that he would never live there owing to the disturbance and rapping of the spirits.”


Mr. Lynch, who is president of the Benson Lumber Company, moved in four years ago last May. He hasn’t heard any rappings yet, and doesn’t expect to. The house is beautifully furnished and makes and ideal home.


When asked if he is interested in Spiritualism, Mr. Lynch laughed.


“No, I never trained with that bunch,” he said.




In the above 1913 article, the following excepts are selected for consideration:


-"Weird House of Ghosts" - the title and also subtitles of this article

-"temple of art and occultism"

-"weirdness and secrecy"

-"dinner parties followed by musical séances "

-"spirits of the great masters took possession of him"

-"a great many peculiar stories about the house"

-"some said it was haunted, others that it was unlucky"

-"Children would not go near the place."

-"The atmosphere, far from being alarming, was wonderfully soothing and beneficent."

-there is no denying the spiritual influence in the atmosphere of that place"

-"used to hold séances there"

-"owing to the disturbance and rapping of the spirits"


In this article, aside from gossip and picturesque descriptions of the artistic nature of the Villa Montezuma, the only thing that is really stated is that the Villa is creepy! The excerpt that stands out to me is "some said it was haunted, others that is was unlucky." This succinct quote reveals the true nature of the "ghostly" Villa Montezuma represented in this article as hearsay. Indeed, one of the owner’s of Villa stated that the house was “soothing” and not scary at all!!






From The San Diego Tribune-Sun

October 22, 1948

Section B




Villa Montezuma,

San Diego Mystery Mansion,

Still Guards Secrets

of Musician Builder


Buried Treasure

Rumors, Music from

Space Tale Lingers




Here is how Villa Montezuma, built in 1887, looks today.  The old house, also described as a "Palace of Arts" at 1925 K St., now is owned and occupied by Edward L. Campbell, who quotes rumors that a former owner buried money there.


Iron gargoyles grin sardonically atop the tower and turrets of Villa Montezuma, mystery mansion, at 1925 K St., where they have kept a silent lookout for 6 decades.


Secret passages . . . ghostly tappings . . . music coming from hidden pipes behind paneled walls . . . buried treasure . . . a man hanged in the old tower . . .


These are some of the rumors, never confirmed, that San Diegans recall about the villa, built as a “Palace of the Arts” in 1887. Within, the mansion retains some of its old, pretentious beauty, but gives no clues to its mysterious past.

Strange as any of the tales is the life story of Jesse Shepard, the mystical man who built it, filled it with art objects and mementoes of his musical triumphs in Europe, then quietly left San Diego after residing there 2 years.


Probably few persons here who have heard of Jesse Shepard know that he was Francis Grierson, author of “Valley of Shadows,” published in 1909 and recently reprinted. Some scholars and critics are now hailing it as an important contribution to Americans It is a sensitively written book about his boyhood on the Illinois prairies in the portentious years just before the Civil War.


Shepard took his mother’s maiden name, Grierson, after he left here in 1889. His real name was Benjamin Henry Jesse Francis Shepard. He was born in England. As an infant, he was brought to the United States by his parents. He went to Europe when a young man and won recognition for his musical improvisations and as an essayist. He studied literature in France under Alexander Dumas and gave music recitals before Alexander II of Russia and other royalty in Europe.

He died of malnutrition and heart disease in Los Angeles May 29, 1927, when 78, records and newspaper files reveal.


At the request of Miss Grace Arlington Owen, head of the Reference Department of San Diego Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library has supplied the following information from newspaper accounts of Grierson’s death:


Police reported he dropped dead while playing he piano. Grierson, according to L. M. Conners, with whom he resided, was playing one of his own compositions when stricken. A few days before, Grierson had pawned a watch given to him by Edward VII of England.


The New York Times printed an editorial a few days after Grierson’s death, and articles about him appeared in literary publications.


Shepard (Grierson) sold Villa Montezuma in December 1889, and it is believed he and Waldemar Tonner, his secretary for 41 years, left San Diego soon after. Newspaper of that date mentioned a farewell recital in Unitarian Church here.


A description of one of Shepard’s musicales at Villa Montezuma is given in The Union in 1913. Sam High, former San Diegan, was quoted as saying he went there “contemptuously.”


“But it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I could not explain it. Shepard stood with his back to the piano keys. Lights were put out. Wonderful music started, first the piano, then far off voices like a choir coming down the street. They came nearer till they seemed to be in the same room. They died out gradually till only the piano was heard. Then the piano stopped, the lights came on and there was Shepard standing and bowing to the audience. He was a peculiar genius. I never understood how he worked it I guess no one else did either.”


“A good many people said it was spiritualism,” but it wasn’t, Sam High said. “Long after Shepard was gone and after Uncle William High had died, I put it to Uncle John High. (The uncles were acquaintances of Shepard, and were said to have financed the building.)


“He said, ‘Sam, it was hypnotism and nothing else. That man had us so hypnotized we would have done anything under heaven he told us to.’ “

Years later, the house was rented and occupied by a man who held séances there. The Union’s story in 1913 said. The man told of “rappings” when the owner, George Sinclair, spoke of selling the house.


Frank Lynch, then president of the Benson Lumber Co., bought the place in 1909 and resided there 30 years, undisturbed by “rappings or manifestations.” He died there in 1939. His wife remained there a year, then moved to La Mesa. After her death in 1942, the estate sold it to Mr. and Mrs. James F. Craig, who operated it as a boarding house and moved four houses onto the grounds.


Edward Campbell, 80, bought the property last June 23 and occupies the villa now. He is a native San Diegan and an old-time cattle buyer in Mexico. He remembers when the villa was being built, he said, but cannot vouch for the tales about it.


However, he disclosed, he is following up the rumor that a former owner buried money there. Metal-finding devices have indicated only iron so far, he said.


“But I’m going to try again,” he declared. Campbell calls the villa the “mosque of Bagdad” because it reminds him of buildings seen in Bagdad during his world travels.


Newspaper stories of the villa the day after its opening in 1887 described its elaborate furnishings in detail. They even called the jewel-cut insets in the stained glass windows “rubies, sapphires and emeralds.”


The music room’s windows have colored portraits of Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael and Rubens. Sappho still plucks her lyre in the east window. The wood-paneled walls downstairs are well-preserved. The upper rooms are dingy. Shepard’s study has been cut into several small rooms.


From the observatory tower, one can see the mountains of Mexico, the city of San Diego and the sea.


Did a man dangle there from a rope? The gargoyles, peering in, won’t tell.




In the above 1948 article, the following excepts are selected for consideration:


-"Secret passages...ghostly coming from hidden secret pipes behind paneled walls...buried treasure...a man hanged in the old tower..."

-"These are some of the rumors never confirmed."

-"He remembers when the Villa was being built he said, but cannot vouch for the tales about it."

-"he is following up the rumor that a former owner buried money there"

"Did a man dangle there from a rope?"


This 1948 article provides more historic background for context. However, aside from a grief narration on Shepard's life and a concise report on the outre circumstances surrounding Shepard's death in 1927, the remainder of the historic background is a re-hashing of the 1913 Union article. Whatever is left that concerns the weird and ghostly is rumor and hearsay.


The only ghostly item added by this article mentions "a man hanged in the old tower..." Wow! This is incredible! Unfortunately, there are no newspaper articles or known personal accounts referring to this death. A suicide in the house would make a great addition to a haunted  house. However, without any historic corroboration, the hanged man in the tower must remain folklore.


However, a new twist was introduced in this article - buried treasure! To be fair, at least on of the previous occupants of the Villa Montezuma had a shady enough reputation that burying money was in the realm of possibility...D. D. Dare. The second owner of the Villa, Dare was president of a bank in San Diego. Due to questionable practices, he left town just before his bank collapsed. Whatever the case may be, the owner of the Villa Montezuma in 1948 reportedly used metal-detection gear to aid in his search.







From The San Diego Evening Tribune

September 05, 1957




Old Villa Holds Legends

Home Built In 1887 as ‘Arts Palace’




It has no ghosts or mysterious rappings in the woodwork


No music from hidden pipes drifts through it paneled halls.


And there is no buried treasure within its mellowed walls.


But all of these things have been attributed to the Villa Montezuma, located east of the downtown district, at 1925 K St. and owned now by Mrs. Karl F. Jaeger.


It was believed to be haunted because a man was said to have hanged himself there, Mrs. Jaeger said.

Groom Kills Self

Actually the man was a groom who, grieving over the death of his wife, hanged himself in the second story of the carriage house in which he and his wife had lived.


At that time the grounds of the villa occupied a city block.


It was built for Jesse Shepard, and outstanding pianist and musician and literary figure of the time, who wrote under the name of Francis Grierson.


The story goes that the house was built by San Diego civic leaders in 1887 as a “Palace of Arts.”


Shepard was to be San Diego’s official greeter and host to visiting dignitaries.

Piano Recitals Given

But he lived in the house only two years.


Shepard had studied literature under Alexandre Dumas in France, and had given piano recitals before Czar Alexander of Russia and other members of European royalty

At the age of 78, he died in Los Angeles in 1927 of heart disease and malnutrition. He dropped dead while playing a piano in the slums. A few days earlier he had pawned his watch.


The house has colored glass windows, made to order in Italy.


The walls of the drawing and music room are paneled with walnut and mahogany from floor to ceiling.


Carved mahogany beams form a design on the ceilings. The fireplaces are surrounded with mosaics also from Italy.


In the drawing room, colored glass windows have pictures of Shakespeare and Goethe. A large stained glass window in the music room shows Sappho playing on her lyre.


Colored glass windows over double sliding doors, have semi-precious stones inlaid in them.


Pieces of colored glass, cut like gems, have been pried out of windows by boys who broke into the house, thinking they were jewels.


The real gems, however, were left untouched.


One owner, Edward L. Campbell, who, at 81, bought the place in 1947, used electronic devices to search for treasure believed to have been buried thee by a former owner.


Under the cement floor of the basement he found a small bricked-in compartment and in it was a tin box – empty, he said.


Gas lighting fixtures remain in the house.


A stained glass window leading down to the kitchen has a likeness of St. Cecilia.


During World War II the house was a rooming house and some rooms having been divided into three.


Mrs. Jaeger as torn out the partitions, however, and is working to restore the house to its original beauty.


She said the house attracts many visitors.


“I conduct regular Cook’s tours,” she said.




In the above 1957 article, the following excepts are selected for consideration:


-"It has no ghosts or mysterious rappings in the woodwork."

-"No music from hidden pipes drifts through its paneled halls."

-"And there is no buried treasure within its mellowed walls."

-"believed to be haunted because a man was said to have hanged himself here..."

-"the man was a groom who, grieving over the death of his wife, hanged himself in the second story of the carriage house..."


The 1957 article again goes over the basic history of Jesse Shepard and the Villa Montezuma. It also re-hashes parts of the 1948 article presented earlier. The owner of the house at this time is Mrs. Amelia Jaeger. Mrs. Jaeger stated what she has heard and what she knows about the tales surrounding the house. She was far more interested in bringing the Villa back to it former beauty than in any possibly supernatural incidents.


The article refutes earlier stories concerning ghosts and buried treasure, but actually provides more information on the tale of the suicide. Mrs. Jaeger expanded the story with more background details, making the tale more believable. She also said that the suicide victim lived in the Villa's carriage house. Very little information on the carriage house has survived to this day; that she should included this fact possibly makes the tale even more mysterious.






From FATE magazine

June 1972 issue



JESSE SHEPARD The Musical Medium



Jesse Shepard, mystic, seer and author, displayed many unusual psychic abilities. In the field of music he has no parallel.$T2eC16dHJGgFFm3)NHolBRbGl97dyQ~~60_57


Lionized by the rich and royal of two continents, master pianist played improvisations unlike anything in this world.


By Vincent Gaddis



At the royal residence of Prince Adam Wisniewski in Rome on a day in September 1894 members of the Italian court, social personages, patrons and performers of the arts gathered to witness a musical seance. Seated at the piano was the medium, a tall, slender middle-aged man with a trim dyed moustache and large brown eyes. On his head was a wig of dark wavy hair. His cheeks were lightly rouged.


The guests sat in a circle around the piano and the room was darkened. As the pianist, his huge hands covering an octave and a half, struck the first chords, tiny lights flickered in every corner of the room. The great composers of past centuries had arrived, some to listen, others to perform from the beyond their latest compositions through the dexterous fingers of the medium. Thalberg was first with a rippling fantasia, then he was joined by Liszt in a rhapsody for four hands.

"Notwithstanding this extraordinary complex technique," wrote the Prince in Vessillo Spiritista, "the harmony was admirable, such as no one present had ever known paralleled even by Liszt himself, whom I personally knew and in whom passion and delicacy were united. In the circle were musicians who, like myself, had heard the greatest pianists in Europe, but we can say that we never heard such truly supernatural execution."


A globe of light and three raps on the Prince's knee announced the appearances of Chopin and George Sand, respectively. Then Chopin's spirit, with the expressive tones that distinguish  his compositions, played first a fantasia followed by haunting and exquisite melodies "with a pianissimo of diminishing notes and tones full of despair – a prayer to God for Poland."


The somber mood was dispelled by Mozart who played with the agility and lightness of a sylph, the genius of his unique and melodious style displayed by notes that danced to an airy climax above a Lydian measured undertone.


"But the most marvelous incident of the evening was the presentation of the spirit of Berlioz by his two chaperones, Liszt and Thalberg," the Prince reported. "That was the first time Berlioz had played through Jesse Shepard. He began by saying that the piano was toned too low for his music (Shepard is also clairvoyant and clairaudient) and he tuned it a tone higher himself. For 10 minutes we hear d the spirits working with the piano, which was closed. At the first sound we observed that the instrument was about tow notes higher.


"Then Berlioz played sweet, ideal music. It seemed as if we heard the little bells of a country church; as if we saw and heard a marriage procession . . . entering the edifice; then a music which imitated to perfection the sound of the organ and continued piano, pianissimo and morendo, as if indicating that the marriage was celebrated . . . This piece finished, Berlioz, with the aid of several other spirits, restored the instrument to its first tuning and began playing on its ordinary tone while the lid was still shut."


Jesse Shepard could speak English and French only, but after the musical seance he entered a trance state and the spirits  spoke through him in other languages. Prince Wisniewski said that Goethe came and recited passages in German, while other spirits spoke in Hebrew and Arabic.


"After the seance," the article concluded, "Mr. Shepard was much exhausted and had to retire to rest."


As the late Dr. Nandor Fodor wrote in his book Between Two Worlds, "No musical party by the Mad Hatter could sound more preposterous than this account. It leaves breathless the most ardent spiritualists."


Did Prince Wisniewski report accurately or was he guilty of exaggeration?

Whatever the source of his inspiration, Shepard was a master pianist whose improvisations left his listeners dumbfounded. Varied in style, emotionally powerful, his music sometimes had a delicate lilting beauty; at other times it was haunting, primitive. His renditions roamed the world and the centuries. With processions of chords, he evoked the antiquity of Egypt, the mystery of India, the agelessness of China and the sophistication of the West.


John Lane, the English publisher, was a guest one evening at a Shepard musicale when the performer improvised on the sinking of the Titanic,. The treatment was so stupendous, so overwhelming, Lane said it caused him to postpone his departure for America for a fortnight, although he had arranged to sail the very next day.


Edwin Bjorkmann, writing in Harper's Weekly, described a Shepard concert: "Something more than sound issued from that piano; it was a mood, uncanny yet pleasing, exalting, luring. He seemed to keep notes suspended in the air for minutes. Now and then he would make a shining vessel out of such a chord and then he would begin to drip little drops of melody into it, until the Grail seemed to rise before you vision, luminous with blood-red rubies . . . Then the music swelled and became strangely urgent – I felt there was an image that wanted to break through – a consciousness of some mighty presence."


Prof. Harold P. Simonson, author of the only book-length biography of Shepard, writes that to Shepard "music was the medium to supra-conscious experience. An intransigent foe of positivism, relativism and determinism – of all 'isms' denying the power of the invisible and the reality of absolute spirit – (he) by means of musical seances, sought to lead others to transcendental perception."*


Unlike Rosemary Brown, the contemporary English housewife who has produced hundreds of astonishing compositions said to have been dictated by Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven and other musical geniuses of yesteryear, Shepard's music was never committed to paper. He believed that to do so would nullify the rationale of his gift. Some of his improvisations had titles and basic tonal structures but his renditions were never exactly the same.


~  ~  ~

Born in England in 1848, Jesse Francis Shepard was brought to the United States as an infant by his parents. The family settled on the Illinois prairie, in Sangamon County, in the heart of Lincoln country. For a time his log home was a station on the Underground Railway, and at the age of 10 he listened to the final Lincoln-Douglas debate, as the Civil War got underway, he was a page to Gen. John C. Fremont in St. Louis.


Later the family moved to Niagara Falls and then Chicago. Shepard, in an biographical article in The Medium, a London spiritualist publication, said that his first psychic abilities, clairvoyance and psychometry, appeared when he was 19. Meanwhile he was taking piano lessons and developing his skill in a normal manner. In fact, for a time, his sister Letitia played better than he did. When and where did the baptism of transcendental proficiency take place?


The mystery of this musical medium is noted in Twentieth Century Authors: "With only two years of formal musical training, Shepard exhibited an extraordinary talent at the piano. At barely 21 he set out for Paris with scarcely enough money to buy his own passage, and almost overnight became a sensation."


Without a knowledge of French, letters of introduction, companions or a reputation a a musician, he received immediate acclaim as piano improvisator par excellence. Within a month he was a welcome guest at the Parisian salons where he entertained those distinguished in titles, society and the arts.


In addition to his instrumental endowment, Shepard was blessed with a remarkable voice. He sang in Saint-Eustache and the basilica of Montmartre by special invitation and was chosen by composer Leon Gastinelle to sing the leading parts in his Mass written for the fete of the Annunciation and performed with orchestra and chorus in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.


"With your gifts you will find all doors open before you," Alexandre Dumas the Elder told Shepard at a reception. Now the darling of French nobility, Shepard received so many social invitations that he sought the advice of friends in dealing with them. But in time the Franco-Prussian War brought his happy stay in the City of Light to an end.

He went to London where he was a guest at the home of Viscountess Combermere. He continued his recitals for the distinguished and socially elite and also advertised that his psychic service were available – "clairvoyant, prophetic, psychometric sittings, diagnosis of disease and discovery of mediumistic faculties," with the added note that "music manifestations are not given at the same sitting."


After eight months in London he spent a delightful summer in the German resort city of Baden-Baden where his circle of aristocratic friends included the King and Queen of Prussia. In October, with no knowledge of the Russian language and with only enough money to pay expenses for one week, he moved on to St. Petersburg. After spending the week in a hotel room reading the works of Lord Byron, he took his limitless optimism and a letter of introduction to Madame and Monsieur Hardy, owners of the opulent Restaurant Dusseau. They took him in and while the fierce Russian winter raged and howled he moved among the high and mighty, his days "crammed with pleasure and amusements of all sorts."


Princess Abamelik introduced him to General Jourafsky, the noted Russian mystic, who discussed with him the proper conduct of seances. Shepard climaxed his visit in the spring by performing before Czar Alexander II, then returned to London.


In the autumn of 1874 he returned to the United States. Within a month he was in Chittenden, Vt., attending the seances of the Eddy brothers in their farmhouse. He spent 10 days there with Madame Blavatsky and Col. Henry Steel Olcott, later the co-founders of Theosophy, as crowds of the curious came and went. According to Olcott, in his book Old Diary Leaves, Shepard not only gave "mediumistic musical performances" but entered into the spirit of things by going into trance and singing Russian songs "under the control of Grisi and Lablache."


Back in New York Shepard continued to visit Madame Blavatsky, but a personality conflict finally developed. She told Olcott Shepard was a charlatan and accused him of having paid a music-master o teach him the Russian songs he had sung in the Eddy farmhouse. But Theosophical teaching were another matter and years later he lectured on the doctrine.


During the next 12 year Shepard roamed the world living by his wits and talents in northern California, Europe and a year in Australia. In Chicago he held a series of seances in the home of another medium, and according to the daughter of Hudson Tuttle, "strange and unaccountable phenomena nightly occurred." Tuttle is the noted author of classical books on spiritualism. Shepard, Tuttle's daughter reported, said he was controlled by a band of Egyptian spirits, the leader of whom had lived on the earth when the pyramids were young.


The medium's most amazing performance was simultaneously singing in two voices, in bass and soprano, his control singing in one voice and an Egyptian in the other, while another spirit accompanied on the harp.

"Between the musical pieces," Miss Tuttle added, "Mr. Shepard, 'under influence,' gave tests describing spirit friend, etc."


Throughout his career Shepard's dual-tone singing left his listeners in states of bewildered shock.


And it was in Chicago that he met Lawrence W. Tonner, his self-effacing modest secretary, man Friday and dedicated admirer, who would be his companion the rest of his life. A few months later they came to San Diego, Calif. Here Shepard would build his magnificent Victorian mansion, the Villa Montezuma, and enter a new profession. He had reached life's midpoint , a mid-west farm boy who had become a globe-trotter over three continents; a cosmopolite honored in the salons and palaces of society and royalty. Now would come a time for inner searching, a change in goals, a personal renaissance.


~ ~ ~


Designated an historical landmark, the Villa Montezuma is currently being restored by the San Diego Historical Society, the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Save Our Heritage Organization. Upon completion of the work it will be furnished with period furniture and opened to the public. Its exterior is somewhat weathered but the main floor of the interior with its polished redwood walls, ornate tiled fireplaces, silvery Lincrusta Walton ceilings and cathedral glass transoms is almost the same as when the house was built in 1887. There are ebony panels inlaid with bas-relief figures of ivory and mother-of-pearl. A mantel designed to look like a medieval castle tower is made of walnut shingles and imported English tiles.


It is the colored art glass windows that Shepard had made to order that are the home's outstanding decorative feature. On the long east wall of the music room the huge window depicts the Greek poetess Sappho attended by two cupids. At the north end of the room circular windows contain art glass portrait heads of Mozart and Beethoven, while on the south wall are similar window with portraits of Rubens and Raphael. In the drawing room are the heads of Shakespeare, Goethe and Corneille. Other art windows included allegorical representations of the Orient and Occident (the face of the figure representing the Orient is a portrait of Shepard himself), the four seasons, and St. Cecilia playing the organ.

While Shepard lived in the house, the floors were covered with heavy Persian and Turkish rugs and there was a large polar bear skin in the music room. An elaborate Oriental candelabrum hung from the ceiling and throughout all the rooms were life-sized busts, exotic plants and polished candelabra. The second floor, since remodeled into rooms, was originally an art galley and museum displaying along with sculpture and paintings, memorabilia and gifts Shepard had received from royalty, titled patrons and others during his tours. A Spanish cedar stairway led up to a third floor tower room beneath a Moorish roof. This was Shepard's study.


Private seances were held in the music room. So beatific, so unearthly was his music that contemporary accounts call it "simply indescribable." There were listeners who said they heard drums, tambourines and trumpets accompanying the piano with voices issuing from the trumpets. Other guests claimed they heard choirs of voices led by Shepard's own singing, now soaring to the heights in melodious soprano, then dropping down to an euphonious bass.


Two changes occurred in Shepard's life during his San Diego period; one was temporary, the other permanent. There was a crisis in his spiritual and religious thinking. Although he continued his musicales and was associated with a group of wealthy local spiritualists who had contributed heavily to the cost of his villa, he seemingly tried to break away from spiritualism. He attacked what he called "phenomenal spiritualism" which lead to a bitter counterattack by Hudson Tuttle in an article in the Religio-Philosophical Journal. His upheaval was climaxed by his becoming a member of the Roman Catholic Church.


The permanent change was his decision to embark on a literary career with music taking second place. This career began with the writing of essays for The Golden Era, a west coast journal that published much of the early work of Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Shepard's friend, the poet Joaquin Miller. Most of them were written in the tower room where in later years it is said a butler hung himself.


Late in 1888 Shepard and Tonner went to Paris to arrange for the publication of his first two books, both containing some of the earlier Golden Era essays. They returned the following September. Shepard decided that to achieve literary success he should move permanently to Europe. He needed money. On December 17, 1889, he completed the sale of Villa Montezuma and all its furnishings to David D. Dare, a bank executive, and that night gave his farewell concert before a large audience at the Unitarian Church.

In a biographical sketch Tonner wrote: Certain rich town people gave the land an some of the money to build the Villa, the idea being to attract attention to the town (which it certainly did) . . . When the boom died out in San Diego in 1889 we had to sell for what we could get. We gave half the proceeds to those who had supplied the money, which they considered quite generous, for it was not thought necessary to return any; and the following year we went to Europe.


~ ~ ~


Shepard and Tonner's arrival in Paris marked beginning of a 23-year residence abroad. Shepard resumed his European tours. Published reports revealed that he was still the musical medium. In Austria he played at a reunion of three royal houses as the guest of the Duchess of Cumberland. The Queen of Denmark said that the piano playing was so marvelous that it seemed four hands were engaged instead of two. Again he was welcomed in royal courts and cosmopolitan salons.


Unless he knew his listeners were sympathetic Shepard did not refer to psychic inspiration. Few would believe such claims and those who did were regarded with suspicion by the others. According to Dr. Fodor, the penalty for belief could be great. Henry Kiddle, Superintendent of Schools of New York, was forced to resign when he publically said he believed in Shepard's spirits. The school official said he heard Shepard play a magnificent impromptu symphony under he control of Mozart, give philosophical dissertations under the influence of Aristotle and speak in six different languages while in trance.


During his European years Shepard was writing essays, articles and books on art, philosophy, human nature, biographical sketches and his own experiences. With the publication of his book Modern Mysticism in 1899,  he took one of his middle names and his mother's maiden name "lest  his literary efforts be regarded as mere diversions." Thus, during the last 23 year of his life the former Jesse Shepard became Francis Grierson.


Included among his published books were The Celtic Temperament (adopted as a textbook by Japanese universities), Parisian Portraits, The Humour of the Underman, and Abraham Lincoln, the Practical Mystic. In 1911 his Invincible Alliance foresaw World War I.


He won the admiration and praise of the leading critics and literary great of his day. Maurice Maeterlinck found his writings mystical, romantic and profound. The Westminster Review noted his "rare intuition and a profound knowledge both of art and human nature."


Grierson's greatest work was The Valley of Shadows, the story of his boyhood on the prairies of Illinois, in Lincoln country, at the time of the spiritual awakening as the Civil War approached. It presents a poetic and vivid picture of a bygone time and was used by Carl Sandberg as an information source in writing his Abraham Lincoln, the Prairie Years. When the fifth edition appeared in 1948, 39 years after it was first published, Bernard DeVoto called it an American classic. Edmund Wilson, reviewing it in The New Yorker, said it fills a "niche which no other book quite fills."

Grierson and Tonner returned to the United States in 1913. He continued his writing and piano recitals. For a time he was in Toronto giving lecture on Theosophy. He made many friends. Judge Ben Lindsey introduced him to Henry Ford and he was invited to be a member of the Chevy Chase Club. He discussed the fourth dimension and occult theories with Claude Bragdon. His literary friends included Edwin Markham, Sara Teasdale, Mark Van Doren, William James and Edwin Arlington Robinson.


In 1920 he settled in Los Angeles and a year later published his final book at his own expense. It was titled Psycho-Phone Messages, and its 82 pages contained communications allegedly received through a phone-like device from illustrious but deceased persons. Abraham Lincoln predicted the failure of the League of Nations; Henry Ward Beecher assailed the sins of the Jazz Age; Elizabeth Cady Stanton preached Women's Lib. Other messages, warnings and diatribes came from General Grant, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes and other great personalities of yesteryear.


Grierson's final years were sad ones. The public was no longer interested in his music. Despite efforts of admiring fellow authors, publishers failed to accept his manuscripts. Occasionally he gave a lecture or lessons in poise and practical psychology. Tonner taught French and for a time was a partner in a small dry cleaning establishment. Despite the recommendations of Mary Austin an anthology of poetry Grierson had compiled and edited could not be sold. Eventually all sources of income failed; the pair were destitute.


Zona Gale, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, was staying at the famed Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif., where Grierson sometimes gave concerts. He visited her at her request. When she arrived back home at Portage, Wis., she wrote friends in Los Angeles and encouraged them to arrange a benefit dinner to honor Grierson and to raise money for him. In the meantime he pawned the last of his valuable possessions, a gold watch given him by King Edward VII of England.


The benefit was held the evening of May 29, 1927. Following the dinner Grierson entertained with what Tonner called "marvelous instantaneous composition on the piano." Finally the pianist told the 39 guests that his final number would be his Grand Egyptian March. It was a moving rendition, haunting and mystical, with mighty chords alternating with soft melody that invoked thoughts of dark antiquity, of temples, of the ever-flowing Nile, of gods dethroned and empires gone.

When he finished he sat perfectly still as he often did as he rested, his head slightly bent forward, his fingers on the key. There was applause but he failed to acknowledge it. Long seconds passed. A grim suspicion gripped Tonner. He walked over and touched his companion of over four decades. It was true! Dramatically, yet quietly, surrounded by friends, Jesse Shepard had entered the realm of his visions and found peace.



The final article is taken from the June 1972 issue of FATE, a magazine devoted to the strange and mystical. This piece is included to supply a detailed description of the nature of Shepard's mediumistic practices and a history of Jesse Shepard's life before, during and after his time in San Diego and the Villa Montezuma.





In regards to the Villa Montezuma as reported in the three articles, it becomes clear very quickly that tales of actual haunting are nonexistent.

The article from FATE gives a detailed depiction of the kind of medium Jesse Shepard was. The belief in spiritualism encouraged a gentle form of medium-ship. There is no indication that anything else was ever practiced at the Villa Montezuma even after Shepard left. Though there is an account of a later occupant of the house conducting séances at the Villa for a very short time.

Medium-ship and the practice of séance are not the same as having an encounter with a ghost. It is completely possible that as time passed the concepts of spiritualism, séance and medium-ship (all of which did take place in the Villa) became confused with the idea of ghostly occurrences or haunting. I think that it is more akin to the difference between opening a dialogue with a stranger and dealing with a stalker.

In the 1913 article, aside from the title, there is no mention of ghosts or haunting at all anywhere in the text. The other articles, 1948 and 1957, each reference in turn the previous article as a source. For example, the 1948 articles refers back to the 1913 article and the 1957 article makes reference to the 1948 article. The account of the possible suicide, if true, is very tragic. But it has nothing to do with haunting; nor is there any corresponding ghost tale. And because several owner's of the Villa did come to unhappy ends does not mean that there has to be ghosts!

It is my belief that these articles, published over the course of forty-plus years, were designed, whether intentionally or not, to instill in local folklore the idea that this elegant Victorian mansion is a "haunted house."



Almost ten years ago, a man who loved the Villa very much told me this, when I asked him what he thought about the tales of hauntings at the Villa Montezuma. He said that, to him, the Villa Montezuma was not haunted, but rather "enchanted."

For myself, I believe that what permeates the house is not an unquiet spirit; but rather a pervasive melancholy. When one walks through the Villa Montezuma, even if alone and in the dark, the house is not ominous. It feels old and tired and it wants to rest.


Good Evening.



* Francis Grierson, by Harold P. Simonson, Twayne Publishers, Inc., N.Y., 1966.