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Meet the Ghosts Who Haunt the 100-Year Old Dew Drop Inn

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The Dew Drop Inn, just off Highway 49 in Grass Valley.
The Dew Drop Inn, just off Highway 49 in Grass Valley. (Courtesy of Lori Holcomb Godfrey)

Lori Savageau was three days into her new job at the Dew Drop Inn the first time something weird happened. She’d arrived at the down-home Grass Valley landmark at 8 o’clock that morning, locked herself inside, and got to work cleaning the women’s bathroom.

“I heard the back door open, so I assumed it was the bar owner,” Savageau tells KQED via Facetime. “And then I heard a great big crash. It sounded like someone had dropped a shelf full of groceries. So I came out of the bathroom, and called out, ‘Are you okay?’ And I heard a woman’s voice call back, clear as day, ‘Oh, don’t worry! It’s just me!’ So I went to see if I could help.”

Once in the back room, Savageau found the back door still locked, nothing disturbed or broken, and no one to be found anywhere in the building. About an hour later, when owner Lori Holcomb Godfrey arrived, Savageau relayed the morning’s strange events. “And [Godfrey] just very casually said, ‘Oh yeah, the bar’s haunted,'” Savageau recalls. “Like this is perfectly normal.”

Behind the Dew Drop's bar, bartenders Kalli Scogna, owner Lori Holcomb Godfrey, Lori Savageau, and Vanessa.
Bartenders of the Dew Drop Inn. (L-R) Kalli Scogna, owner Lori Holcomb Godfrey, Lori Savageau, and Vanessa. (Courtesy of Lori Savageau)

When Savageau moved to Grass Valley from San Francisco in 2016, she did so in search of a quieter life. She had recently left her job as a program manager at Google after an accident at home left her with second- and third-degree burns across her chest, neck and arms, and the long recovery process forced her to reevaluate her life. Grass Valley, she thought, seemed like the perfect small community in which to recuperate. And for a while, it was. But toward the end of her first year in town, Savageau started noticing this little corner of Gold Rush country wasn’t quite what it had seemed.

“I’ve never lived anywhere like it,” she explains. “When you hear about ghosts up here, they’re never a surprise to anybody. The south county of Grass Valley is accepted as a haunted place by everyone who lives here. I certainly haven’t met anyone around here who doesn’t believe—it’s just treated as common knowledge. And that stuff,” she continues, referring to paranormal activity, “introduces itself gradually to newcomers. Then slowly you just begin to accept it. If you didn’t, you’d go crazy trying to explain things that can’t be explained.”

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The list of things Savageau can’t explain about the Dew Drop Inn is long. Working alone in the bar, she has felt the back of her shirt pulled by unseen hands. She has witnessed heavy cigarette smoke emerge from nowhere, glasses shatter on their own, doors opening and closing of their own accord, and the jukebox turning itself on and off. (Usually to play Patti Page’s “Mama From the Train.”) She and six other witnesses once saw a speaker lift off the wall, drop one foot, then fly across the room towards a woman who was yelling at her husband. The speaker narrowly missed the woman’s head. The woman’s response? “Why are ghosts always throwing shit at me?”

Patrons of the Dew Drop Inn, seated at the bar.
Patrons of the Dew Drop Inn. (Lori Holcomb Godfrey)

Savageau says she has seen two different entities on the property. The first is a black-haired man with a sour face who sits hunched on a corner stool next to the pool table. (“I’ve noticed no one ever sits in that spot,” she notes. “A couple of people have seen a blurry black cloud there.”) The other is a child of about six years old that locals have long referred to as Tag. “He was wearing little overalls and a hat, and swinging on the back gate,” Savageau says.

Godfrey, the owner, was taken aback by the activity in the bar when she first bought it in April 2017. But like everyone else who frequents the Dew Drop, she has come to expect it. Godfrey backs up Savageau’s claims about thrown objects and phantom cigarette smoke in the bar, and says she’s also encountered spirits.

“The weirdest one happened when I was alone at the bar,” she says. “I came out of the kitchen and there’s a guy with dark hair, wearing ’70s country clothes—bell-bottom jeans and a plaid shirt with pearl buttons. And I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t hear you come in…’ And he looked at me and just disappeared. Oh my God, he was so solid.  And then the next day, one of our customers was sitting at the end of the bar and she saw the same guy.”

Godfrey came to find out that not only were many locals already familiar with the disappearing man in the bell-bottoms, they referred to him by name—Wade. Wade is believed to be the spirit of a beloved regular from the ’80s, who died in his early twenties from a seizure caused by a traumatic brain injury. Most sightings have him striding towards the jukebox, as he apparently often did in life.

Like Savageau, Godfrey arrived at the Dew Drop after walking away from the stresses and strains of a more conventional life. She had worked as a paramedic for 14 years in and around Sacramento. When she realized the Dew Drop was at risk of being demolished, Godfrey and her husband Marcus saw an opportunity and bought the bar. “I mean, this place has ties to my family and the community,” Godfrey says. “But I’m also really big into history. And the Dew Drop is kind of an unsung landmark in the county. People don’t realize the history it’s had.”

No one knows exactly when the Dew Drop Inn first arrived—Godfrey has tried and failed to find a solid date—but locals swear that it’s well over 100-years old. One neighbor, Kit White-Thomas, says she can prove it. She recently told Godfrey that her family property in Grass Valley was won by her great-great-grandfather in a poker game at the bar sometime during the Gold Rush. White-Thomas told Godfrey via text: “The original deed written up between my ancestor, Patrick Hurley, and the man that lost, Mr. Allison, states: ‘Property was won in a poker game for a 10$ gold piece at the Dew Drop Inn.’ And I can tell you that my grandmother was born on that property in 1895.”

The original Dew Drop was, locals tell me, surrounded by miner’s cabins, a brothel, a restaurant and a small market. Later, the inn was connected to a gas station. Then, in 1936, a huge stream-fed pool was constructed 100 yards away. The Dew Drop Inn has occupied what used to be the pool house since 1942. And though it’s long since been filled in, swimming pool stairs eerily remain out on the lawn outside the bar.

Old stairs from the swimming pool remain on the lawn outside the Dew Drop Inn.
Old stairs from the swimming pool remain on the lawn outside the Dew Drop Inn. (Lori Savageau)

Today, the bar’s handyman, Jimmy Drouin, lives in the building that housed the original Dew Drop Inn. “Jimmy’s got really weird things that go on on his property,” Godfrey explains. “He even got shoved off his roof once.”

Another Dew Drop regular, H. (she asked me to only use her first initial), used to live in one of the old miner’s cabins. Like Jimmy, she experienced inexplicable events at home. Regular occurrences included disembodied footsteps (“It was loud. Like a man in heavy boots walking slowly through the house”) and the sounds of a horse and carriage outside. Sometimes the smell of cigars would emerge in her house from nowhere. And it gets worse.

“One summer night I heard someone shouting in anger,” H. says. “I ran outside to see who it was and it felt like I ran into an icebox. There was a cloudy white silhouette of a woman in a dress in the road, just past my cabin. I heard a blood-curdling scream, and then she disappeared.”

On another occasion at the cabin, H. was grabbed by what felt like “a large, calloused, man’s hand.” It scared her to such a great degree, she ran to a neighbor’s home wearing only her robe. “Still gives me chills just thinking about it,” she shudders.

Ask any Dew Drop regulars about the ghosts at the bar, and they’ll happily tell you about the three children who play outside (including Tag), along with a regular apparition inside named Dutch. When Dutch was alive, he always sat on the same stool at the end of the bar. (Dutch is believed to be the source of the phantom cigarette smoke, since it always emerges near his stool.) Then there’s Millie, Godfrey’s paternal grandmother, who was a staple at the Dew Drop in her own lifetime and worked behind the bar. Millie’s Bloody Mary recipe is still used at the inn today. (“People tend to see Millie more when [Godfrey] is working,” Savageau says.)

A Bloody Mary on the bar of the Dew Drop Inn. The recipe comes from the current owner's grandmother Millie, who is believed to still visit the bar as a spirit.
The Dew Drop Inn’s current owner uses her grandmother Millie’s Bloody Mary recipe in the bar. Millie is believed to be one of the spirits still in residence, having worked in and frequented the bar during her lifetime. (Courtesy of the Dew Drop Inn)

For the record, everyone I spoke to in Grass Valley knows exactly how bizarre all of this sounds. Many of them wouldn’t believe it if they weren’t living through it.

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“I’ll talk to friends from out of town,” Savageau says, “and they’re like, ‘It’s just mass hysteria.’ But no one’s hysterical. Everyone’s very calm about all of this. And there’s also a certain level of respect around it. And sympathy for the spirits. People are very protective of them. Living somewhere with so much history does make you feel a little bit special,” Savageau continues. “But it does feel like there’s some gravitational pull toward spiritual unrest here. Something in Grass Valley just… traps you.”

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