Preston Castle 900 Palm Dr., in Ione, (209) 256-3623. Tour Sat 10-1, Apr-Sept. $10, 6-12 $5. Built atop a hill in 1894 in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, and using hand-carved Ione sandstone and bricks from Folsom, this massive building was a boy’s reform school until 1960. Owls and bats live here now. One of the oldest reform schools in the country, it saved delinquents as young as 8 from being sent to prisons such as Alcatraz and Folsom. Celebrity inmates include Beatnik Neal Cassidy, country-music singer Merle Haggard, and actor Eddie Anderson (he played Rochester on Jack Bennie’s show). But infamous killer Caryl Chessman was also confined here. The tour includes seeing a massive dormitory room and a vertical circular “waterslide” on the second floor, and hearing the story of the female staff member who was killed in the kitchen pantry in 1950 (the killer was never found). Not surprisingly, many people think the place is haunted. Though the inside has been ravaged, the plan is to restore it and perhaps even eventually turn it into a restaurant and lodging. “Ghost Hunters”, and “The Great Escape” TV shows have filmed here. Special events include ghost-hunting nights--when participants bring their own sleeping bags--and an annual Halloween haunt.
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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers