Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ghost Lady of Paxton Lodge

Highway 70 - Feather River Canyon

Paxton. It’s across the river from the highway, just underneath the WP tracks. We stopped on our first trip to Bucks Lake. Up the new road. Highway 70. Smooth paved highway that snaked up the canyon. Mom and dad oohed and ahhed at the water cascading down the canyon walls in various places. We twist our heads around and maybe get a glimpse of yet another trickling waterfall. Big deal. Brother Bill and me, we just wanted to get there. The old road, the Oroville-Quincy Highway was shorter but it was hardscrabble dirt. The longer route up Highway 70 was quicker, overall, and the old ’54 Ford Ranch wagon wouldn’t need a washing once we got home.

Paxton was a little more than half way. Brother Bill and me had had about enough of each other – Mom would attest: “That’ll be about enough!” more than once on this trip. So we needed a break and dad would be happy with a cold can or bottle of Lucky Lager.

Across the Paxton Bridge and up the hill, we tumbled out of the station wagon in front of the once grand old hostelry.

There was a great room adjoining the bar where dad ordered his beer. Maybe a dance hall? In it was an upright grand piano that I wanted to pound on. A tattered woven rug covered at least a portion of the pocked, nearly black wood floor. Filmy, aged-to-yellow curtains danced in the gentle breeze that slipped through the almost closed double-hung wood framed windows.

Positioned to look out one of those windows, the one with the best view of the tracks was an empty rocker. I advanced toward it and slipped my fingertips along one arm.

“I wouldn’t do that, boy,” came a voice punctuated by a spasmy cough. The man who’d served up dad’s beer had come around the end of the bar. He was half the size of Dad with a tattered plaid shirt tucked over a round belly and partially into blue jeans. A half-spent Chesterfield dangled from his gray lips.

My hand retreated.

“Boy,” he said, “the woman who owned this old place, why, that was her chair.”

I looked at the old wooden rocker. It was just an old wooden rocker.

“Yep, she and her husband built and ran this old hotel way before the turn of the century. Ever’thing’s original, just like she left it.”

I remember looking at the faded curtains, the old piano and into the shadowy darkness of the dance hall room. Then out the window again at the WP tracks that wound down the canyon and disappeared.

“One day, her man, he hopped on that train to head down to Oryville to conduct some bid’ness or other.”

The barkeep had grown closer. I could smell the toasted aroma of his cigarette. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and pointed down the tracks with the hand holding the smoke.

“Yep. The train pulled a whistle stop and let him on and off he went.” Barkeep exhaled some and coughed a deep phlegmy cough. “Never returned.”

“Never?” my voice squeaked wonder.

“Nope. Never did.” He paused. “Old woman, why she positioned that rocker just exactly so and sat at that window mornin’ ‘til night, rockin’ ever so gently. Waiting. Just waiting…” A thoughtful pause and an exhale. “Waiting for her man to return.”

I felt my eyes getting big.

The barkeep took a final drag on his Chesterfield and snuffed it out in one of those old glass-yellow Harrah’s Casino ashtrays.

“One day, ‘bout dusk, she was sittin’ in that chair when a train rumbled up the canyon. Why you could hear the engines straining to pull a mile o’ box cars up the hill. By and by, it passed…”

I looked up at the man.

“…and so did she.”

I stepped away from the dead lady’s chair.

“But you know what, sonny?” he said resting his hand on my shoulder and giving it a little squeeze, “’Round midnight, ever’ night, when I come down stairs to kinda check things out an’ make sure the doors is all locked up, why, she’s here…

“Right there…

“Rockin’ in that chair…

“Ever so gently.”

Another spasmy cough.

“I figure she’s still waiting for her man, her true love to return.”

I turned to find dad.

“I seen her…” the unkempt little barkeep whispered as I wiggled away.

I needed to find dad or mom. Dad was finishing his beer at the bar singing, “It is Lucky when you live in America.” Mom was standing by the door, wishing we’d a get a move on. I found her skirts and clung to them.

In a moment we opened the door. A shaft of afternoon light bathed a section of the wood floor. A breeze quaked through and disturbed the yellowy curtains. I shot a glance over my shoulder back toward the pot-bellied barkeep and squeezed mom’s hip ever more tightly. The proprietor was tapping a fresh Chesterfield on the old bar.

He coughed a bit and acted as if he needed to spit. “We’ve got rooms tonight,” he laughed, “Spend the night, sonny boy. I’ll wake you and you c’n see her too.”

© 2004
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. (March 17, 2011) This story is up for a revision and possible submission for publication. Should an improvement be offered to the text, I'll so note in the blog.

  2. Mr Brilliant,
    I live below the Paxton Lodge... and was just in there today(Aug. 16, 2012). The Lodge looks nothing like what you described. The rocking chair is not in that spot anymore, it has been moved, to where I don't know. There has also been alot of resorations happening up there. I wonder... if the chair got put back would she return to it or would she just roam around.

  3. Good question. I just did a little math in my head. I'm 60 - just barely. The story took place when I was, like, eight. A lot of water has probably passed under the Paxon Road bridge.

    On my bucket list of things to do is to revisit the old Lodge and see how she has aged. (I drove past there just the other day, but the smoke in the area prompted me to keep going.)

    Thanks for the update! And thanks for reading, Rachelle.

  4. ooooh, every time i drive past the paxton hotel, i look really hard to see if someone....or someTHING is lookin back from one of those darkened windows. that place is just flat spooky! sexy

  5. I've heard it is haunted over the years. I have also heard that some famous musicians have used the lodge as a studio? Can anyone tell me if this is true? and if so, who.

  6. I stayed there with my family when I was a kid. My dad was working in Quincy so we stayed there. Very cool place but very very creepy.

  7. I'm the niece of Sherilyn and Terry Schwartz. And although the family does not own the property anymore this is a pretty accurate timeline and has lovely pictures of the property.

  8. Thanks for sharing the historic account and the terrific photos! It is a pleasure to journey back and examine what really went on back then. Paxton Lodge is a great place; one that I hope to revisit on a future trip up the canyon. Thank you for contributing.

  9. There is a FaceBook page for all of the friends of Paxton, people who lived there, visited and fell in love with her. She is magical and has touched so many people.

    1. Thanks for this, Sandy! I'll be looking into the FB page.

  10. I went to Feather River College 1982 - 1985. I had a couple different boyfriends and friends that lived at Paxton Lodge. I spent several nights there. There were some interesting sounds in that place on the bottom floors at about 2am.

  11. I was just there this weekend and yes they are remodeling. Very beautiful place I enjoyed my time there

  12. She is still there and her chair...

    The place looks lovely

  13. I lived in Paxton, house number 2 in 1996 -98. The rocking chair was there then.

    I've heard all kinds of stories about that place. Love to see some real historical data on it.

    Looking, that's how I found this.