Ghost writer

Local author delves into the unknown with her first book, Haunted Nevada

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Janice Oberding doesn’t seem like the type of person who would be into ghosts.

The 53-year-old spirit sleuth and author greeted me warmly and invited me into her southeast Reno home, her red hair and twinkling eyes accentuating her cheery disposition. There was nothing in her home indicating any morbid tendencies. No spider webs, black cats or Ouija boards—just a cozy living room containing two big floral-print sofas, family pictures on the walls and a bay window decorated with white lace curtains.

But spend a little time with her, and you’ll see her eyes brighten when the subject turns to history and ghosts.

“I’ve always loved history,” Oberding says. “I really think when you’re researching history, when you’re looking into history, you’re going to find some ghost stories sooner or later.”

She had no trouble finding them for her first book, Haunted Nevada. The 60 stories, compiled from around the state, range from the Comstock-era phantoms of Virginia City to Las Vegas icons Bugsy Siegel and Liberace, who apparently can’t leave the glitz and glamour of the city behind.

Oberding says she first got the idea to write this book 10 years ago. She says she has always kept her ear perked for tales about regional haunts, and after 24 years working in local casinos, she heard quite a few. In her spare time, she would go to libraries to read through old newspaper articles related to ghostly phenomena. Around this time, the former keno supervisor began to pursue a writing career, taking a few college-level writing classes and exercising her skills as a freelance online writer. After leaving her casino job about two years ago, she devoted herself to writing her book.

Oberding says she found a lot of her information by researching documents at libraries and museums and talking to people who would point her in the right direction. But it was a bit more difficult finding good ghost stories in Reno and Las Vegas, perhaps because so many of these cities’ historic buildings have been demolished, their stories destroyed with them.

A few places she contacted while researching for her book denied having any ghostly activity going on.

“I called Piper’s [Opera House in Virginia City] a few years ago,” she says. “They’re saying they have ghosts now, but when I called then, [the person] who answered said, ‘Oh no, no, no. We’re a happy place. We don’t have ghosts.'”

Photo By Kelley Lang

Oberding feels there are plenty of ghostly accounts in her book to interest both believer and skeptic. There’s the tale of Kate Miller, a Eureka prostitute who died in 1876 after a brawl with another “soiled dove” and who now reportedly haunts Cramer’s Saloon, where she took her last drink and her last breath. Another item tells the story of Oscar, a friendly yet mischievous spirit who is believed to wander the halls of the Reno Convention Center. The late actor Redd Foxx, star of the 1970s comedy Sanford & Son, reportedly haunts his Las Vegas mansion. And there’s even a page devoted to the “residents” who have made themselves known to several past and present tenants of the building that the Reno News & Review calls home.

“I’m not saying that [the stories are] all true,” she stresses. “I’m not even saying half of them are true, but they’re interesting and they’re fun. … I think this will interest people.”

Oberding says her favorite story is probably that of Julia Bulette, the Virginia City prostitute who was murdered in 1868, because of the mystery surrounding Bulette’s burial site. A spot at Flowery Hill is usually credited as her grave, but there are rumors that an undertaker, who was taken by the attractive dead woman, filled her coffin with sand and rocks and buried her body in his basement. Since Bulette was a woman of “ill repute,” the good people of Virginia City wouldn’t let her be buried in the cemetary, so she was interned at Flowery Hill, as the story goes. But Oberding doesn’t think she’s there.

“I kind of think that that’s just hokey that [people] made up to bring [tourists] there,” she says. “But it’s a fun story. I mean, where is she buried?”

Oberding credits her family for helping her with this book. Her husband, Bill, and daughter-in-law, Peggy, took pictures of various haunted places they visited and were usually willing to drive across the state in pursuit of a hot lead. In May, Oberding self-published Haunted Nevada through online publisher Universal Publishers.

Her book may be finished, but her work isn’t done yet. She says as a self-published author, she has to work hard to promote her book since she has no agent arranging book signings or interviews.

“You have to get out there and promote it [yourself],” she says. “Personally, I’m a bit shy, so for me that’s harder than if [I were] an outgoing person. And I think there’s a stigma attached to being self-published. ‘Your book isn’t as good as so-and-so’s because so-and-so had a big publishing house give them a big royalty to publish, and you [didn’t].’ “

The author says she hasn’t yet heard a lot of feedback about Haunted Nevada, but she hopes her upcoming talk at the Sierra View Library and a book signing at Borders in October will help publicize her book. She will also be featured in the Travel Channel’s Haunted Las Vegas program, which will air Sept. 2.

In addition to drumming up publicity for her book, she is working on her second one. It will focus on the troubled life of Floyd Burton Loveless, who at the age of 17 was the youngest person to be executed by the state of Nevada.

Oberding says she’s not sure if there are such things as ghosts—although she thinks she may have seen one once—but she believes that there is probably something beyond our earthly existence. She says she sometimes comes across skeptical people, but she lets the readers decide what to believe in.

“I can’t convince people [about the existence of ghosts]," she says. "They either believe or don’t believe, and who knows? Who can say for sure?"