Old Mortuary Inn in Dunsmuir
Not Nancy Brown-Warner. She fell in love with a haunted mortuary.
With an extensive remodel almost wrapped up, the Old Mortuary Inn in Dunsmuir stands ready to welcome guests, who have been regularly knocking on her door at 5957 Sacramento Ave. to learn more about the place.
Though it hasn’t been authenticated, Brown-Warner suspects that the building was designed by Julia Morgan, one of the most significant American architects of the 20th century. Morgan is responsible for such renowned works as Hearst Castle and San Simeon, but she also designed the Wyntoon estate on the McCloud River for William Randolph Hearst. It is still pending verification, but local historians believe that Morgan worked on the Old Mortuary Inn while she developed nearby Wyntoon.
Brown-Warner and her husband had always wanted to run a bed and breakfast. “We were looking for a big home, and this was rumored to be a Julia Morgan and it was the right size to be a B&B,” the former San Franciscan says. “It’s on the Sacramento River for fly fishermen, it’s right down the block from Café Maddelena, and it’s perfectly situated for ‘location, location, location.’ We fell in love with the bones.”
While some might be turned off by a place that once housed dead people, the opposite is true. “People are drawn to the fact that it was a mortuary,” Brown-Warner says. “It has a 100-year history.”
Indeed, the basement remains largely as it was, and tours will soon be hosted there. A mortician from Cottonwood is donating some tools of the trade for effect, and it remains unpainted. “There are still bolts in the wall for the embalming table, and the drain in the concrete floor still flows to the Sacramento River. There are still faucets for washing the bodies,” she says. “There’s a long hallway where the horse-drawn hearse would come through.”
Named “History Hall,” the area will showcase information about people who went through the mortuary. “If people have family members who came through here on the way to their final resting place, we’d be honored to hang their picture and family history,” Brown-Warner says.
Upstairs, however, is far more hospitable to guests. Four beautiful bed-and-breakfast rooms are available – the Mortician’s Wife, King’s Ransom, Ghostly Knights and Julia Morgan—and guests can enjoy the baby grand piano, pool table and other amenities. Bookings are now being accepted for late-summer guests, and the antique mortuary will be opened for public tours by late September.
“It naturally beckons to people who are into the paranormal and supernatural,” Brown-Warner says. “There are active hauntings here. It doesn’t matter if you believe or don’t believe – it just is.” It also appeals to people from other walks of life: Architecture students come to study the building, fly fishermen enjoy the stone’s-throw access to the Sacramento River and train enthusiasts come up to watch the trains, she says.
Still others have shown up at the Old Mortuary Inn because it’s the setting for “The Mortician’s Wife,” a novel by Dunsmuir resident Maralee Lowder. “It’s a very unique building, and that’s what first intrigued me,” Lowder says. “When the last mortician died, his wife – instead of leaving – moved from one apartment to another in there until she died. My writer’s mind was going crazy. I’d heard stories of the hauntings, so I made up a really bad ghost who lives in that house.” Its sequel will be available in October on Amazon, and Lowder is writing the third and final installment now.
Meanwhile, Brown-Warner is also writing a book about the house – but hers is non-fiction, and details “the true hauntings of the mortuary,” she says. “The people who have stayed here share their experiences and their words.”
Most hauntings are audible, like footsteps, screeching and scraping of walls, but they’ve seen Bible pages turn by themselves and a log fire go out immediately for no apparent reason. “My husband had to say, ‘We’re living here and so are you, so we all have to get along,’” she says. “The first screeching haunting was scary, but since then, it’s like the house likes me; it doesn’t pick on me. I’m not afraid of it. I love this old house. All the footsteps in the middle of the night, it’s all like background noise at this part. It’s all part of the character.”
And novelist Lowder says she can hardly believe what her friend has done with the mortuary. “My son and I had gone through it, and I thought, if you had a million dollars this would make a really neat place. Nancy didn’t have a million dollars, but you walk through the building and go, ‘Wow!’ She’s an incredible person,” Lowder says. •
The Old Mortuary Inn • 5957 Sacramento Ave., Dunsmuir (530) 925-6168