By Robert Hamilton
TW: mentions of SA
Rumor has it that Date City, a small town near Holtville, California, is haunted by several different spirits. Now, Date City is overgrown with old dead Joshua trees along with dead aloe vera bushes, but in the early twentieth century it had been a busy little service station for going to and returning from Arizona. Date City consisted of a house, a service station, and some outbuildings. Many businesses were closing and by the 1940s, Date City was all but gone. The old gas station and a small house that burned down years earlier had all but been forgotten. Records of the fire are lost to time. There were no formal fire departments in Imperial County, so no records were kept. Incidents like this were passed down from veteran deputies to the new generation. The old gas station and small house are now both just shells, foundations, where these rumored spirits often show up.
One of the ghosts is that of an old man, who people believe owned the gas station there. In the summer of 1984, as a sheriff’s deputy, I had been frequently dispatched to Date City in reference to fires. But whenever I arrived, along with the fire department, no fire could be located. The desert brush, tumbleweeds that drifted across the highway, would burn faster than a match if ignited, however no trees or scrubs were scorched. There was never any evidence, not one piece of ash, to support the call.
On one occasion in 1984, I was out on yet another fire call to Date City, the Imperial County fire department was also responding. A young couple had reported the fire on the left side of the highway. They clearly saw a gas station and a house going up in the blaze. They had returned to Date City to meet us because they had to drive into Holtville to call as they couldn’t find a phone nearby. The couple were shocked when there was no fire where they had seen it, or in fact anywhere at all. They both swore that the fire was on the left side of the highway, that there as a gas station and a house on fire. They were visibly shaken but convinced that there was a fire. They were sure.
I told them the story of the old couple who had died here in this very spot in the 1930s, a couple who died when their gas station and house caught fire. The couple who called us in took a minute and then it began to dawn on them. There was no fire. Shocked and disturbed, they decided to spend the night in Holtville. The next morning a fire investigator went to follow-up about their report, but they had already checked out and left town.
People say that the second ghost is a customs agent. He can be seen standing in the shell of the small house next to the gas station. In the 1940s, he had been accused of molesting his stepdaughter, and one early morning, with his arrest pending, he drove to that burned down gas station in Date City. It was there, while wearing his uniform, he took out his service revolver, and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Like the calls about fires, the sheriff’s office, over the years, received calls from travelers about a police officer sitting at that location. The calls, always the same, say they saw a policeman sitting next to an old gas station. They described the officer wearing a blue shirt with a badge and flared pants. They say that when they passed by him, the officer did not move or watch them pass and that when they looked back, he could not be seen in their rear-view mirrors. The officer was always described as pale white with hollow eyes. Some describe the officer as distressed, and all who saw him were too scared to stop. After every report, the area was thoroughly checked, no officer could be located, or any foul play could be found.
The old highway is no longer used. An interstate highway was built bypassing this area. The ghosts of Date City remain. The old man guarding his gas station as he did in life, his plot shared by the customs agent who committed suicide and is destined to walk the earth for his crimes until the end of time. Only the overgrown Joshua trees and the dead aloe vera know for sure.
Robert Hamilton was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and grew up in a small village called Wappinger Falls. After his parents divorced, he moved to Florida before making Southern California home. There, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a Deputy Sheriff. Fifteen years later his career came to a crashing end after experiencing a job-related injury that caused him to be Honorably retired. As a Deputy, Robert saw and heard things that were unexplained and without explanation: ghosts, evil, and just strange things. This was not new to him, as he had seen and heard things as a small child. Psychic? No, he’d be rich. Robert enjoys reading stories of the unexplained and flying his drone.