LOCATION: Ione, California
BACKSTORY: Originally established as the administrative building for the Preston School of Industry, a boys' reformatory, Preston Castle was in use from 1894 through 1960, when it went vacant as the school relocated. Throughout its years of operation, reports of poor living conditions and student mistreatment were common.
Except for trespassing teenagers and the authorities who chased them, the castle was neglected until 2001, when the Preston Castle Foundation was formed, with the intention of acquiring and rehabilitating this prime example of Romanesque Revival architecture.
Karl Knobelauch, president of the Foundation, says, "It's all that's left, historically speaking, of the youth-corrections-reform movement from the 1890s, when the state transitioned from housing juvenile offenders at Folsom and San Quentin State Prisons, with the adult inmates."
By the time the castle came into the Foundation's ownership, the five-story, 77-room building was in a desperate state of disrepair, with floors in dire need of replacement, and some areas without a roof.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: Preston Castle is home to an active paranormal community, which holds nighttime investigations, a.k.a. ghost hunts, seeking out the spirits many believe still inhabit the massive space. Mysterious voices, doors slamming, items falling with no explanation, and sometimes even sightings of orbs or whooshes of air within the castle have all been reported.
For more than 30 years of involvement with the castle—first as a local law-enforcement officer and later working for the foundation—Knobelauch says he never doubted the stories. His standard line used to be, "Just because the spirits aren't talking to me, doesn't mean they're not talking to somebody else."
That is, until 2014. One summer night, he was out in front of the castle helping set up for the annual outdoor movie-night programming. All of the guests were in the back, so it was just Knobelauch and a guide, in front. Or so they thought.
Knobelauch says, "Suddenly I heard what I would describe as a calm, adult male voice, about six feet behind me, state my first name. I turned and looked, and she and I are the only two people in the parking lot. So of course, my initial reaction was, I'm cracking up. I looked at her, and asked, 'Did you just hear something?' And she said, 'Yes. I heard somebody say your name.' And I looked around and said, 'Who?' And she said, 'There's no one here.' And I said, 'Yeah, exactly. There's no one here.' That's the only time that's ever happened to me."
THE MYSTERY OF ANNA CORBIN: Reports of mysterious deaths in and around the castle abound—anywhere from 23 to 26—depending on which blog or article you read. But the one that has gotten the most attention over the years is the 1950 murder of Anna Corbin, a reportedly well-liked woman and Preston's head housekeeper at the time. While there have been outside reports that she is the source of some of the unexplainable activity in the castle, Knobelauch says there hasn't been any evidence to support that: "Our paranormal people say they've never connected with a spirit they believe to have been Anna Corbin's spirit, or who has identified themselves as Anna Corbin's spirit."
CLAIMS TO FAME: Preston Castle has been named a California Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been featured in books including Behind The Walls: A Historical Exposé of The Preston School of Industry, by J'aime Rubio; Arrested Innocence, by Gary W. Stout; Capturing the Castle: Images of Preston Castle 2006-2016, by Angelica R. Jackson; and The Preston School of Industry: A Centennial History, 1894-1994, by John F. Lafferty. Movies based on the castle have also been made, including A Haunting at Preston Castle (2012), which is noted as being "inspired" by true events.
SEE FOR YOURSELF: The Preston Castle Foundation regularly holds tours, wine tastings, its annual (scary) movie night, an annual Halloween event, and even an annual benefit, called ParaCon. Proceeds go toward the ongoing rehabilitation of the massive facility. In 2016, an estimated 15,000 people visited the castle.
Join the guys as they explore the castle. Watch the full episode now!