Rod Lathim said he could see the spirits gathering, townspeople from the past when Summerland simmered with spiritualists and mediums living in tents and cottages and holding séances in Liberty Hall. Lathim, who is not a medium, said his visitations were visual.

The scene occurred on April 28 when Leslie Person Ryan, proprietor of Letter Perfect, hosted a “Spiritual Evening” in her store and gallery in Summerland. Candles flickered on the mantel piece. An aura of excitement hovered over a large crowd that filled all the chairs, even flowing up the gallery stairway. Ryan estimates at least 80 attendees.

Lathim said the spirits he saw were pointing toward their old meeting place, Liberty Hall. They were joyous, he said, to be remembered by the folks crowded together for an evening devoted to spiritualism.

Liberty Hall, which was once front and center in old Summerland, was torn down to make way for the freeway in 1951. But the place still resonates, according to author Lathim, who wrote “The Spirit of the Big Yellow House” and attended the event to sign copies of the reissued book.

Lathim was joined by Reverend Pamela Bollinger of the Spiritualist Church of the Comforter located in Santa Barbara. Bollinger, a certified medium, explained that the Church of the Comforter was organized in Summerland in 1891, meeting in Liberty Hall for services and séances, until its destruction necessitated a move to its current home on Garden Street.

Lathim described his experience as a teenager working at the Big Yellow House, then serving as a restaurant. He loved hanging out in the wine cellar, which is where he saw Hector, a young boy of 8 or 10, whose spirit manifested as a column of “silver particles.” He said Hector was a trickster, racing through rooms, hiding things, turning lights on and off and playing games.

Hector provided the impetus for Lathim and his sister to research Summerland’s spiritualist history and write the book, which recounts Summerland’s founding by H.L. Williams, along with the various denizens (some corporal, some spiritual) who occupied the home that became the Big Yellow House. During his talk, Lathim wound up a music box used by Mrs. Fisk, a popular early Summerland medium.

Reverend Bollinger began by stating that we are all spirits in human form and we continue to be spirits after we leave that form. These spirits exist to communicate with us, she said, bringing us comfort and helping us grow.

She explained the difference between physical mediumship where spirits are seen during a séance, and mental mediumship, where a medium sees or receives a message from a spirit to convey to a specific individual. Everyone can be a medium, she said, but most require instruction to develop their abilities.

Reverend Bollinger asked “those in spirit” if they had a message for anyone present. (No timid spirit would have dared to appear in that crowd.)

She, along with several mediums in training who accompanied her, reached out to a few in the audience with messages they were receiving from spirits. One message concerned papers from a grandmother, and, indeed, the woman had recently received papers from a deceased grandmother.

A man standing on the stairs was told there was someone behind him, perhaps a sibling. He admitted that he had felt that presence before being told, but said he had no siblings. Later he confessed to the medium that he had a brother who had passed away when he was younger.

Several people who conversed with the mediums later reported that they learned more startling information. “It was uncanny what she knew,” one man stated.

Stacky’s to Rusty’s

The former, fondly remembered Stacky’s sandwich shop in downtown Summerland has stood empty for nearly two years. Now Tyler Duncan, CEO of Rusty’s Pizza, reports that all permits for the shop’s conversion to a pizza parlor have finally been secured. Prepare to see more activity as construction gets underway.

Sprucing up Greenwell Preserve

The Preserve is hosting a volunteer clean-up day from 9 to noon, Saturday, May 26. Bring your garden gloves and help maintain the little green jewel at the corner of Greenwell Avenue and Asegra Road. Join friends and neighbors for the work day and enjoy a free picnic lunch afterwards.

One good thing: A recent finding that a 20-second hug can greatly reduce stress by signaling the brain that you are safe and loved. More hugs!

Fran Davis is an award-winning writer and freelance editor whose work appears in magazines, print and online journals, anthologies and travel books. She has lived in Summerland most of her life.

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