by Taylor Kingsbury
photography by Sylvia Castellanos
Michael Kouri is not afraid of ghosts. Most people who could make this statement would be considered skeptics. But Kouri’s lack of fear is not motivated by disbelief in spiritual phenomena. In fact, he does not just believe in ghosts, he knows they are real. For more than 20 years, Kouri has conducted what he refers to as “parapsychological investigations.” The psychic/medium has appeared on television and radio programs and has visited historical haunted sites through-out the world. Kouri’s research has yielded four books on local ghost lore, accumulated many destinations for his monthly haunted house tours and allowed him to communicate with thousands of spirits. “They come to me telepathically,” Kouri describes. “I get their voices telepathically. But sometimes, they speak to me, and I see their lips move, and I hear their voices. I just kind of open up. I don’t have to close my eyes; I can see them. I can see them through my real eyes and through my third eye, which is considered the psychic energy center in the body. I feel them through my third eye, but I see them also through my naked eyes. I know right away if it’s male or female or a child or an animal. There are animal spirits too.”
“Ghosts are energy,” continues Kouri. “To me, the spirit is an electrical current that stays on the earth’s plain. Spirits come in hundreds of varieties of shapes and sizes, just like human beings do.” His view on the alchemy of spirits in many ways contradicts the bump-in-the-night reputation modern ghost legends have given the entities. Kouri describes spiritual phenomena as a “very natural” occurrence. “That’s what I try to get across in my books,” he relates. “It’s not supernatural. It makes so much sense.” It is clear that Kouri has a solid belief in his field of study, and he takes an almost journalistic approach to it. “I feel like I am a translator,” says Kouri. “You ask me a question, and I ask the spirit guides. They give me the information, and I give it to you. That seems to be the way it works.” Just don’t call him a “ghostbuster.” He really hates that.
March 20, Kouri is ready to make his first visit to the San Dimas Mansion, a site he studied for some time, but, until today, he had never been able to secure access to the building. The city landmark, also known as the Walker House, is “widely considered one of the most haunted houses” in the area, according to Kouri. Preparing to investigate the validity of that reputation, he pulls into the parking lot in his silver PT Cruiser. His license plate reads “ICGHSTS,” and that is why he has come. Before he gets to that, however, Kouri apologizes at length for his 20-minute tardiness. It seems even a psychic can get lost in Southern California.
Once inside, he gushes about how “cool” the house is. Kouri is also a historian, and his books explore both the historical and supernatural significance of haunted sites with equal zest. He is visibly delighted by the sight-obvious historical value of the house. He inspects every detail of each room and is able to determine what has been replaced in the house since it was built in 1887. He reveals the little clues of his age-determination: wallpaper made out of fabric not available when the house was constructed, and colors in the ornate stained glass windows that were not used at the time. But it is the original touches that are noteworthy to Kouri. He is immediately taken by one the home’s original mantles, dusting it off as he examines the surface. “These designs, this little inset, is typical of the Eastlake period,” Kouri appraises. “These tiles are American. These were made by a man name Ernest Batchelder in Pasadena who made tiles into the 20th century. This is marvelous. This is a beautiful, beautiful fireplace. They’re lucky to have this intact.” Kouri sounds more like a historian than a paranormal investigator, and this makes sense since historical research is the official reason he has given the city of San Dimas for being at the Mansion today. In fact, he says very little about spiritual activity during his tour, save for motioning to rooms that he has heard ghost stories about.
Though he says nothing about ghosts, it is clear from the thorough nature of his tour that Kouri is studying the house intently. He spends several minutes in each room, and his knowledge of every aspect of the Mansion’s architecture makes it hard to believe he has never set foot inside before. He takes several photos with his digital camera as he travels through the large house. Kouri explains that he has a heat sensor setting on the camera, so if ghosts are present while he takes the shots, their energy will show up in his photographs.
Once outside, after touring all floors of the property, including a deft navigation of the treacherous staircase leading up to the attic, Kouri assesses the feelings he assembled inside the house.”I did feel a presence of a woman who I would say is Mrs. Walker,” begins Kouri. “I felt a lot of presence in there. I felt the presence of a man. And I got the name Carter. I felt like I was being watched the entire time I was on the second story. I felt like people were watching me. When I come to a haunted house, sometimes they know I’m psychic. They’re afraid I’m going to send them away. They like being here; they like the space. they’re not going to want to leave. So, it’s possible that the spirits here may have thought that I was here to send them away. That’s kind of what I felt. It’s a peaceful feeling in here. It’s not scary at all.”
Kouri says that he did not see any direct visual manifestation of the ghosts in the Mansion, but he detected movement in the house. “I can’t say I didn’t see anybody,” clarifies Kouri. “When we were in the first parlor with the beautiful fireplace, and I bent down to look at the tiles on the floor, I kind of, in my peripheral vision—I thought I saw a little girl run by. I got the name Rebecca for her. It’s possible that there could be children’s spirits here.”
Kouri also has the alarming habit of notifying you when you are in close proximity to a spirit. As he stands on the Mansion’s porch, facing the front door, he insists that someone is moving behind that door.”I just saw a shadow of someone walk by,” Kouri motions to the front door. “You can see the cars reflecting. It wasn’t like that; it was like a dark shadow just walked by behind the glass. It’s possible that it’s Mrs. Walker, or whoever’s here. Maybe she wants to know, ‘Well, why are those boys still on my porch? Why don’t they come inside? Why don’t they have tea?’” Kouri reveals his humor several times while discussing the Mansion. One suspects he really would like to sit and have tea with Mrs. Walker. To some, the thought of sharing tea with a dead person sounds disturbing, but for Kouri, communicating with the spirits comes very easily. “Sometimes they’ll joke with me, and I’ll joke with them,” Kouri says deadpan. “You have to remember ghosts are people who take the same personalities they had with them in life, in death. The same fears, the same joys, the same experiences they had in life; they take on those characteristics in death. A ghost is not a dead person to me. A ghost is someone who is alive. They’re living in the afterlife.”
Based on what he experienced inside the house, Kouri maintains that the San Dimas Mansion is haunted. “I would call this a haunted house, but it’s certainly not a negative house,” asserts Kouri. “It’s a wonderful house. It’s a house that wants love. I feel that this house is very welcoming. I feel that the spirits here are very happy to be here. I think that they are going to be even more excited when the house is transformed and refurbished.”Kouri also thinks that the apparitions he felt inside the Mansion were closely tied to the area while they were alive. He says though spirits are free to roam wherever they wish, most tend to frequent a site they are intimately familiar with. “They don’t know where to go, so they go back to a place that’s familiar to them in their life,” Kouri explains, “their house, their place of business, a school, their car, their favorite park, a cemetery, the hospital where they died—wherever. Some spirits don’t travel because they feel comfortable where they are,” the researcher continues. “This is their home, and they’ve made it their home, so they want to stay there. Many times that’s the case. They don’t know they’re dead. So they go back to a place that’s familiar to them. They might stay in the same town, but go to an area where they see other spirits. Somehow, they learn on their own that they are in spirit. So they congregate with other spirits.” This notion of spirits having a postmortem social life may sound odd, but Kouri maintains that since spirits are just human beings on another plain of existence, the same rules of interaction apply. “It seems to be similar to that,” Kouri ascertains. “These ghosts that are here, they search, they roam the earth looking for other spirits like them, hoping that those spirits will be able to have more knowledge than they did. Remember, you take the same amount of knowledge you had in life to death. If you were a Ph.D. in life, you’re a Ph.D. in spirit. If you’re a nincompoop in life, you’re a nincompoop in spirit. It’s the same thing.”
Kouri claims that everyone has some degree of psychic sense, and cites his research as ongoing training of his ability. “Everybody has the psychic sense,” empowers Kouri. “It’s called intuition. We’re all born with that gift. Some people are stronger than others. Some people have dreams or premonitions, and they come true. And that happens all the time. For some other people, it only happens once in a while or with someone they are close to. They are psychic, and they are utilizing their psychic ability, but they haven’t gone out of their way to study it, to enhance it, to use every day like I do.”
Kouri acknowledges that, though he was born with the same potential abilities as anyone else, a lengthy series of events has developed the talent he now uses to make a living. “I am a religious person,” he admits. “I believe God gave me this gift like he gave me the gift to sing, to write, to play the piano and so on. A medium is someone who not only hears spirit and speaks to spirit but sees spirit. I am what’s considered clairvoyant, which means that I can see into the present and into the past, and I can see spirit. There are different levels of psychic, and you can’t really train yourself to become a medium. You either are a medium, or you’re not.” He relates a childhood accident that first made him aware that his psychic ability had such potential. “I got hit by a car when I was 8 years old, and after that time, I started to see colors around people. But I thought everybody could see the colors. I didn’t know that I was any different.” Upon this initial revelation, Kouri was compelled to further understand what he was seeing. “I figured out how I could train myself and understand what my abilities were and what my powers were, and what I could do.”
The mediums encountered in films often seem unstable and haggardly wear the physical and emotional scars that could be triggered by conversations with the beyond. But affable and friendly Michael Kouri doesn’t seem to fit this stereotype. He explains that adjusting to such a powerful gift has been a lifelong learning process. “I had to learn to turn it off,” Kouri remembers. “I was bombarded by spirits for so many years as a child and an adult that I had to literally learn how to turn off the ability. Otherwise, it would drive me crazy, and I would never be able to live my own life.”
Kouri feels that his profession is grossly overlooked as a science and research-driven vehicle. He blames the media guided perception of his peers as quacks, and loads of misinformation about spirits in Hollywood films for the skepticism he encounters. He avoids comparing himself to more contemporary television seers. “Not all mediums are the same,” Kouri asserts. “John Edwards and James Van Praagh don’t do this kind of work. They couldn’t be bothered with this. They’re only interested in making money and being on TV and all that.” Kouri is saddened by this exploitation of his gift. “I think that sometimes it’s glorified. When you’re watching a TV show, you have to remember that these shows are edited. They don’t want to show them when they’re not right.”
He has also been personally offended by the treatment his stories have been given by major media outlets. Kouri wishes the shows he has appeared on were more focused on fact than fanaticism. “Hopefully, people will tell my story in an accurate way,” Kouri muses. “Unfortunately, the media are famous for taking out the important facts and putting in what they want, which is a romanticized version of what I should be. That’s unfortunate. I mean, Barbara Walters did it to me on ‘The View’; Fox Family Channel did that to me on a show called ‘Exploring the Unknown.’ They’re famous for the scare tactics, and it’s a shame, because it’s not scary. Some of these shows, they add fog machines, or they speed up the film, or they make you look like you’re a cartoon character, and you don’t need to do that.” Kouri wants to be recognized for the research he conducts and not dramatized to a fictional caricature of what he has experienced in his line of work. “You have to approach this with a psychological attitude,” corrects Kouri. “I mean, I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a Ph.D. I don’t even have a college degree, but I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve come to understand people in life, so I’ve come to understand how to treat the spirits as well.”
However, Kouri remains undiscouraged in his work by the lack of understanding his field is granted. He admits that the concepts he deals with daily are too abstract for many to embrace, and he sympathizes with this, since he’s not even sure he fully understands it. But Kouri certainly trusts the knowledge he has accumulated about the other side, mainly because he trusts the source. “I don’t have all the answers,” Kouri concedes. “I only have my theories from my research for 23-24 years. But of the spirits that I have worked with and spoken with, which is thousands, that’s what they tell me.”
Walker House Captures San Dimas’ Past
Late in the 19th century, the completion of the transcontinental Santa Fe Railway sparked a brief area land boom. A great hotel was constructed in 1887, intended to serve prospective buyers of San Jose Ranch Company land (now San Dimas). The bed and breakfast was designed to provide an opulent glimpse of the region’s expected future prosperity. But the travelers never came. The economic flurry disintegrated, and the 13,200 square foot hotel never housed a single paying guest in any of its 30 rooms. The statuesque estate was first purchased for private residence in 1889 by James and Sue Walker, who acquired the First Street and San Dimas Avenue hotel and 40 surrounding acres. Their home remains a central point of interest in the community, while their 40 acres has become part of the prosperous western-themed city of San Dimas. The San Dimas Sheriffs Station rests on land once occupied by the Walker’s barn, and downtown businesses thrive in an area that was once vast citrus groves. Six generations of Walker descendents lived in the Mansion from 1889 to 1978, when the property was leased to Don Wilcott, who dubbed the Walker House the San Dimas Mansion for his business venture, though the restaurant was named the Mansion Inn. Wilcott opened the home to the public as an elegant formal dining facility, which operated until the mid-1980s. One selling point of the restaurant was its addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant was a success, if only briefly, and served meals to luminaries such as John Wayne and Richard Nixon.
After Wilcott terminated his lease, the Carruthers family trust (Walker family descendents) maintained ownership of the Mansion. For several years, it was leased out for private functions. In early 1998, it was put up for sale; the following year, a three year lease-purchase agreement was forged with the San Dimas Festival of Western Arts, which began preparations for the conversion of the site to facilitate the San Dimas Western Arts and Learning Center. In 2000, the San Dimas City Council voted to assign the lease to the city of San Dimas, while the Festival retained responsibility for organizing funds to manage the upkeep of the vast property. Though the city was now spending a great deal of money to finance the building, it remained largely unused. Most San Dimas residents’ only contact with the house was during the annual Western Days celebration, where the porch of the Mansion functioned as an information center. In November 2000, the city officially purchased the Mansion from the Carruthers family trust and has plotted repairs and possible usage since then. It remains closed to the public.