La Verne Magazine
The Haunted Mansion Disney Didnt Build
by Taylor Kingsbury
photography by Sylvia Castellanos
While there are some who allege the San Dimas Mansion is far from uninhabited,
today the building stands vacant, awaiting renovation.
Michael Kouri is not afraid of ghosts. Most people who could make this statement
would be considered skeptics. But Kouris 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. Kouris 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 dont 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 its
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 earths 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. Thats what I
try to get across in my books, he relates. Its 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 dont 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 homes
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. Theyre 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 Mansions 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 Im psychic. Theyre
afraid Im going to send them away. They like being here; they like the
space. theyre not going to want to leave. So, its possible that
the spirits here may have thought that I was here to send them away. Thats
kind of what I felt. Its a peaceful feeling in here. Its not scary
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 cant say
I didnt 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 visionI thought I saw a little
girl run by. I got the name Rebecca for her. Its possible that there could
be childrens 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 Mansions 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 wasnt like that; it was like a dark shadow just
walked by behind the glass. Its possible that its Mrs. Walker, or
whoevers here. Maybe she wants to know, Well, why are those boys
still on my porch? Why dont they come inside? Why dont 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
theyll joke with me, and Ill 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. Theyre
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 its
certainly not a negative house, asserts Kouri. Its a wonderful
house. Its 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
dont know where to go, so they go back to a place thats 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 diedwherever. Some spirits dont travel because they feel
comfortable where they are, the researcher continues. This is their
home, and theyve made it their home, so they want to stay there. Many
times thats the case. They dont know theyre dead. So they
go back to a place thats 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, youre
a Ph.D. in spirit. If youre a nincompoop in life, youre a nincompoop
in spirit. Its 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. Its called intuition. Were 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 havent 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 whats 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 cant really train yourself to
become a medium. You either are a medium, or youre 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 didnt 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 doesnt 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 dont do this kind of work. They couldnt be bothered with
this. Theyre 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
its glorified. When youre watching a TV show, you have to remember
that these shows are edited. They dont want to show them when theyre
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. Thats 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. Theyre famous for
the scare tactics, and its a shame, because its not scary. Some
of these shows, they add fog machines, or they speed up the film, or they make
you look like youre a cartoon character, and you dont 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, Im not a doctor. I dont have a Ph.D.
I dont even have a college degree, but Ive been doing this for years,
and Ive come to understand people in life, so Ive 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 hes
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 dont 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, thats what they