The W.E. James complex is one two California Baptist University buildings supposed to be original to a former retirement home reputed to have been an insane asylum. (CBU photo)
The W.E. James complex is one two California Baptist University buildings supposed to be original to a former retirement home reputed to have been an insane asylum. (CBU photo)

Baptist ghost story called urban legend

A legend that California Baptist University is built upon a former insane asylum over haunted catacombs is being challenged by a website that believes in ghosts.

By Bob Allen

A real-life ghost buster has labeled folklore that a Baptist university sits above haunted catacombs formerly attached to an insane asylum an urban legend.

Numerous paranormal websites list California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., as one of the region’s most interesting haunted locations. Legend holds that before the old mission-style buildings were a college campus, they housed an insane asylum with buildings connected by a maze of underground catacombs that allowed workers to enter and exit the hospital after the doors were locked.

Unruly patients were taken into the tunnels and tortured, the legend goes, and their souls remain there today in the form of knocking sounds heard and blasts of cold air felt coming out of secret entrances around campus found mysteriously unlocked by adventurous students.

Entering the catacombs is a violation of the university’s community social misconduct policy and discouraged by putting cameras over entrances, locking doors and posting threatening signs. All that, alumni say, makes students want to go in even more. The university website invites alumni to share stories about “the Haunted House in the catacombs” in a collection of “Lancer Legends.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment about the legend. The paranormal website San Diego Haunting, however, recently dug into the insane asylum story and found no evidence that it is actually true.

Instead, the researcher found, the “The New Homes of Woodcraft” opened in the 1920s and purchased for use as the California Baptist University in 1954, was a retirement and care home for members of a fraternal organization. The underground tunnel system, researcher B. Weston concluded, was used for storage. And while it is very likely that some persons died while living in retirement, she said, that doesn’t mean the area is haunted.

Weston speculated that the legend may have started because Frank Miller, a business owner and civic leader who donated the land for construction of the New Homes of Woodcraft also served as a trustee of the Southern California Insane Asylum, currently Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, Calif. Over time, she said, the connection between the two institutions may have gotten confused.