There are a lot of those stuck in my head … The Milk Farm (always known as “The cow that jumped over the moon” amongst us Hanks kids), The Golden Eagle Hotel where we roamed at will, Grandma Hattie’s apartment in San Francisco … but what popped immediately into my head was a sometimes stop in my father’s wanderings of the back roads between hunting and camping trips on hot summer days.
Whiskeytown, California … In the 1950s and 60s my father used to drive us through a small Northern California town of a couple of streets with clapboard houses, a store and very little else. It was scenic and pioneer-flavored, being a relic of the days of Gold Fever and expansionist mentality. We’d stop, buy a soda and stroll around soaking up atmosphere and sensing ghosts amidst the minimal hustle and bustle a population of under 100 could manage to stir up.
Dad was big on history, so related much about the time the town thrived, including tales of hardships and hangings, imagination fodder for hot and thirsty pre-teen kids primed for adventure after hours in a car, even with all verses of “Sixteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” and “The Big Black Bull Came Down From the Mountain” sung loudly while passing the miles.
Sometime in the mid-60s we made a special trip … the final visit. Within a week, the town was to begin the process of being covered by millions of gallons of water that would fill the space behind the new Whiskeytown Dam.
Whiskeytown looked exactly as it always had to my brothers and me, with one exception … there were no people. The houses, rundown as always, stood, but doors were ajar offering a view into formerly private spaces littered with broken bits of furniture and odds and ends of life not worth toting away. Ghosts seemed much more tangible as we walked from building to building, tentative in our snooping but fascinated.
In my mind, the town remains, somehow preserved in all its dilapidation at the bottom of the lake and the ghosts still walk there, unaware of the elemental changes to their old haunt.