San Benito History

The Munsters search for spirits in San Juan Bautista

Exploring town legends and history, ghost hunters leave with ‘significant results.’
B. B. Barker tintype, restored and proper orientation. Photo courtesy of Lee Chandler
B. B. Barker tintype, restored and proper orientation. Photo courtesy of Lee Chandler

It was nearing sunset on July 19 at the highest point of the San Juan Bautista cemetery, and supernatural researchers Frankie and Tish Munster were there to have a chat with the late B. B. Barker. Shot to death in a saloon in San Juan in 1866, Barker’s short and violent life makes him a perfect candidate as a departed soul who is not at peace.

“Is there anyone here that would like to speak with us today?” Frankie said. “We mean you no harm. We are here for positivity. You need not be afraid.”

For the seance, the duo set up three different instruments to detect paranormal activity. Toy cat balls that flicker when touched, were scattered about Barker’s grave. An Electromagnetic Field Tester, used to check for specific energy waves that indicate ghostly activity, was placed against Barker’s grave marker. And a “spirit” box, which spun quickly through radio frequency bands playing a fraction of a second of one broadcast before moving to the next, was chattering away.

“Would you like to share your stories?” Frankie said. The radio box answered with a sharp “yes.” Frankie continued. “Is this B. B. Barker?” Another sharp “yes.” One of the cat balls flickered. 

Perhaps Burwell Branch Barker, dead for 156 years, had come to play.

San Juan Bautista is fertile ground for their investigation, and tales of ghosts and spirits are key to its charm and folklore. A tour of haunted sites is held every Halloween, and almost every old timer has a supernatural story or two to share.

A recent survey by research firm OnePoll suggests that 57% of Americans believe in ghosts and paranormal activity, though with San Juan residents, it is easy to get the impression that, for longtime residents, the number comes closer to 100%. 

The Munsters have been visiting San Juan recently to compile information for a podcast about the town’s ghosts for their channel, “You Didn’t Ask.” They adopted their first names from classic horror characters, “Frankie” being short for “Bride of Frankenstein”; “Tish” derived from Morticia Addams of the Addams family; and their last name from the ’60s television show “The Munsters.” 

“We have been best friends for a really long time and have both been fans of horror all our lives,” Frankie said. “Over the years, we have talked about doing a podcast because we play off of each other really well, and whenever we talk about the supernatural and other dark stuff, people are always interested in what we have to say.

They started “You Didn’t Ask” last August and first thought it would be on “anything and everything.” Their first podcast was on ghosts, and it got such a good response they decided to stick with occult subjects.

“The reaction we got from people was, ‘this is what we want,’” Frankie said. ‘We decided that since we have so much to talk about with the occult and any related subject, we should just take that route.”

The Munsters have also found a very receptive audience at live events.

“We have people coming up to our booth and wanting to talk about their experiences,” said Tish. “We have to do a lot of research because they expect us to know the answers, which has led us to learn a lot about our own spirituality. We tell people, ‘we are not professionals. This is a journey we are starting, and we are taking you with us.’”

Their approach to ghost hunting actually begins with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“We are all about debunking,” Frankie said. “And also trying to find logical explanations. We just don’t walk into a location and say, ‘oooooh, there’s a ghost!’ We are the first people to say ‘no.’”

Indeed, at Barker’s grave, one of the cat balls flickered at a significant moment, an indication it had been touched. I did not see anything touching it, and I was intrigued. Frankie, however, had noticed it too and—showed me that walking too close to it had set it off.

As the seance in the cemetery progressed, Frankie listened to the radio box through noise-canceling headphones while Tish called out questions and recorded the sounds. At certain points, the questions met with intelligible answers, such as when the question “who is this?’ was asked again, and a voice very clearly said “B.B.” 

There was moaning, and the words “cold, thirsty, pain” would be repeated. On more than one occasion, when I would suggest areas of Barker’s life to ask about, the response would come back as “Robert. Stop. Danger.”

Thinking it wise to not anger the spirit of a man who shot two people and cut another man’s throat in two different incidents in San Juan bars, we moved to Barker’s old property, just below the cemetery.

The Munsters, searching for B. B. Barker. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The Munsters, searching for B. B. Barker. Photo by Robert Eliason.

There were more foreboding voices, more wild chatter, another flickering cat ball, and more pleas for us to stop and go away. Were we reading too much into the fractions of seconds of broken phrases we heard? Or had we exhausted Barker’s patience? 

The Munsters were guarded in their appraisal of both this evening’s attempt to contact Barker and in their hunts through the dark corners of San Juan.

“Usually, it takes a while to get a response from the equipment,” Frankie said. “But in the cemetery, it was pretty much instant. And in some of the other places we checked in the town, we got some significant results.”

The Munsters have taken their hours of research back home with them to Union City and will be studying it all in preparation for a mid-August podcast. If their first impressions hold, it should be a very spirited show.

“Certainly, the activity we saw in the cemetery and a couple of other places is intriguing,”  Frankie said, “People in San Juan so want it to be a haunted place, and it is definitely a place that deserves more investigation.”

 

 

 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.