The Ghosts of Hang Town aka Placerville, California

The Ghosts of Hang Town aka Placerville, California

Hang Town AKA Placerville, California

Placerville is a small town in Northern California that boasts much history from its pivotal past during the Gold Rush. After gold was stuck nearby in 1848, this small town boomed. Within a year it had grown in population and reputation, earning itself a fittingly dark new name. Vigilantes carried out frequent and swift justice to wrong doers and soon the name Hang Town was born.

Over the next few more years the buzz surrounding these hangings decreased. The decision to re-name Hang Town to Placerville was made in the hope of changing perceptions of the town to a more inviting place. Now, modern day Placerville is certainly an inviting place. A popular tourist getaway with a quaint Main Street, cluttered with eateries and historic buildings for visitors to explore. A far cry from the once treacherous place of Hang Town. Glimpses of this dark past and its residents can still be encountered by looking in the right places.

A plaque in Placerville aka Hang Town.
A plaque in Placerville paying homage to its original name Hang Town.

Ghosts of Hangman’s Tree

A great white oak tree once stood tall and proud in the center of Hang Town. An omen of death and the site where many hanging executions took place. From 1849 this tree saw the last breaths of many robbers, murderers and potentially innocent people as the hangman’s noose was slung over its strong branches. The tree met its own demise in 1853 after being cut down, yet its story and energy were to live on.

The stump is all that remains of this great tree, covered by a two story building erected in 1895. This building hosted a saloon right up until 2008 when it fell into disrepair and closed. Historic preservation lobbyists were able to save the building, which has now been restored and declared a California Historic Landmark. Today, the building is occupied by an unmissable ice cream parlor aptly named the Hangman’s Tree. The business demands immediate attention from those entering Placerville with an eye-catching effigy of a man symbolically hanging from the top of the building by a noose.

The exterior of Hangman's Tree.
The Hangman’s Tree built over the top of the Oak Tree’s stump that assisted Hang Town executions.

With such a strong past and permanent marker of death located directly underneath the Hangman’s Tree, it is no surprise that ghosts roam the building.

Staff and guests have interacted with a spirit named Daryl, believed to be the original hangman who executed numerous people on the site. He is described as a tall man, wearing dark clothing and a top hat, similar to that of an executioner of the time. He commonly appears as a shadow figure sitting at one end of the bar.

There are other male spirits that frequent Hangman’s Tree. Their identities are a mystery, yet they make themselves known by moving items around the bar, standing close to visitors giving off a sense of unease, producing cigar smoke and have even been sighted adorned in 1800’s era clothing.

You can visit the haunted Hangman’s Tree Ice Cream Saloon at 305 Main Street for a scoop of paranormal activity.

The historic marker for Hangman's Tree.
A historic marker noting the site of Hangman’s Tree and the stump that sits underneath this building.

Ghosts of Cary House Hotel

Sitting directly across from Hangman’s Tree is the very haunted Cary House Hotel. The original building on this site was in a prime location, with great views of Hang Town’s main execution spot. That original building, the Eldorado Hotel and Saloon, was also a pickup area for Wells Fargo, rumored to have had $900 million in gold and silver transported from its front porch. The Eldorado Hotel was lost to fire before the now Cary House Hotel was constructed in its place in 1857.

Today, Cary House is still open for business yet caters to different clients compared to the wealthy travelers it once housed in the 1800’s. Remnants from its past heritage remain and are displayed throughout the themed lobby and rooms. In the 1920’s more treasures from the sites gold rush era past were discovered in the hotel’s basement, which was the only surviving structure from the original Eldorado Hotel. The then owner uncovered gold dust that had slipped through floor boards on the front porch during transportation. This find was enough to pay for the addition of the hotel’s new fourth floor. The hotel has managed to hold onto other markers from its past that are a little more spooky.

The haunted Cary House Hotel
The exterior of the haunted Cary House Hotel, built in 1857.

Cary House’s most famous and active ghost was once a concierge staff member at the hotel and quite a character. Stanley Devine worked the front desk at Cary House during the late 1800’s. He was well known as being a womanizer, constantly seeking young blonde women, regardless of their interest in him or relationship status. Although his preference was for women, he also liked to drink and on occasion would chase after men. Stanley was murdered within the hotel, stabbed whilst on the stair case in the main lobby. It is unclear if his murder was linked to his promiscuous behavior, yet this is certainly rumored. Having taken pride in his work during life, Stanley has decided to keep a watch over the hotel’s operations in death. He is thought responsible for testing doorknobs, disembodied footsteps roaming the halls and has even been known to pinch women’s behinds in the lobby. An omen to Stanley is on display in the hotel today, a replica uniform similar to what he would have worn is shown adorned with a metallic silver skull.

Interior of the haunted Cary House Hotel.
The themed interior of the haunted Cary House Hotel.

More death has occurred within the walls of Cary House. Multiple families perished during a flu epidemic that swept through the town and a gambler lost his life at the hands of others. These souls are thought to make up some of the other ghosts who continue to share the space.

Many sightings and disturbances have been reported by visitors and staff. It is thought that the souls of a little girl, an entire family, a priest, a prostitute, an old employee, a cat and a few more male spirits are bound to the hotel. Many of these spirits have been sighted, footsteps have been heard whilst no one is around, poltergeist activity has moved objects around, shadow figures have been seen and disembodied voices heard. Quite disturbingly a guest even reported a sleepless stay due to an unseen woman laughing from within their room all night.

Stairs in Cary House.
Staircase inside the Haunted Cary House Hotel.

Whilst paranormal activity has been reported all throughout the hotel, the lobby and rooms 208 and 406 have shown particularly high levels of ghostly occurrences.

You can check into the haunted Cary House Hotel at 300 Main Street, Placerville, California. Be sure to ride the 2 person elevator installed in 1926. It is rumored that Stanley Devine will sometimes share the same ride.

Old fashion concierge uniform on display in the Cary House Hotel.
A similar uniform to the one Stanley Devine would have worn during his life and work at the Cary House Hotel.

Visiting Placerville, California

Placerville is just a two hour drive outside of San Francisco and definitely worth the scenic trek. For those interested in the history of the gold rush era or those wanting a quiet getaway outside the city, Placerville is perfect.

There is plenty of history down Main Street and more haunted places for paranormal buffs to discover than is covered in this article. By talking to some of the friendly locals you’ll quickly find that almost every building down main street has a ghostly story to tell.

If you liked this blog and are interested in more ghostly gold rush era haunts, check out my post on the Goldfield Ghost Town in Arizona.

Thanks for reading.


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Amy is a world traveller and explorer of creepy locations. She has visited some of the most famously haunted places around the world in search of evidence of the paranormal. Follow Amy's Journey:

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