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Haunted Barberton: The Late Customer

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Tonight is Halloween, at long last.  In Barberton, porch lights across town will glow. Instead of the rare campaign glad handers, Amazon package deliverers and census takers, doorbells will ring and cries of “Trick-or-Treat!” will echo in the streets as a happy change of pace.  Cute ghouls and goblins, the princesses, and the superheroes will make us forget for a night, a terrible year of lockdowns, illness, uncertainty and the craziest Presidential election in our history.  The night will fade of course, and the echoes of the last door knock will die down.  Our thoughts might turn to raiding the kids’ candy and watching a scary movie, (since most of our neighborhood Halloween parties have been cancelled). Maybe we’ll hear someone scream at a jump-scare, as the night wanes, or we’ll carve a last jack o’lantern. By morning, the city calendar and our attention will turn to Christmas, as even today, we can see the annual light display at Lake Anna beginning to take shape.  

But as we drift to sleep tonight, not every Barberton street will repose in silence and not every building will be restful. There are many stories of the legendary spirits of the Magic City. Many of those tales are committed to paper and bound, are told around campfires, or discussed on porches on nights like tonight, while the neighbor kids shout for treats. Some people say that what we think of as ‘ghosts’ are the echoes of past events in time, somehow playing themselves out like a movie when the atmosphere is just right. Others say that these beings are people with business to finish who, despite the ceasing of beating hearts, cannot lay aside what drove them in life.  Still others say that those things which go ‘bump in the night’, are dark spirits that have never walked this world as human beings.  Never content, they are doomed to frighten, manipulate and watch, while human history and sin reels giggling by, for millennia.  Whatever these things are, many of us believe that they are indeed among us; working alongside us, watching us walk by their darkened storefronts, or they are carrying on their daily routine, unaware that they have passed from life, as we now know it.

Casa del Ranchero is one of the last places one would expect to encounter anything dark or mysterious.  A longtime fixture in downtown Barberton, Casa is an excellent Mexican restaurant founded by Martin Sanchez, and is now run by his son Dan and a friendly staff.  Cheerful and meticulously painted, the brass of the fixtures gleam, and spotlessly clean plexiglass dividers separate the booths. The open dining room is sunlit even on overcast days, through its large bay windows. The cozy booths and high, tin tiled ceiling betray nothing that could be considered spooky or supernatural.  Still, rumors have persisted that the building that Casa del Ranchero operates within, has tenants who have never moved on.  

I asked Dan Sanchez about the reputation of the building one day, as I took my to-go order from him.  I told him that my dad, an electrician, had done work for his dad when the restaurant first opened. My dad’s task was in the basement, and while my dad said he saw nor heard a thing out of the ordinary, the vast, dark cellars of the building made for a creepy job site.  Dan’s kind, bearded face wore a smile that I could sense even behind his COVID mask, but instead of laughing at me, he said that he indeed knew that he and his employees were not the only souls working the restaurant. 

What turned Dan into a believer is still an experience that is clearly with him, this day. “I was working one night – just me – closing up.”  The place was clean and buttoned up, and Dan’s staff had gone.  It fell to Dan to take stock for the next day before locking up and going home, himself. He walked to the back of the restaurant where a nondescript door opens to a landing and the narrow stair that leads to Casa’s portion of the brick-floored basement.  Dan said he flipped the light on at the top of the stair, made his way down the wooden steps and walked the twenty paces or so to the walk-in freezer.  He paused to flip on another light switch that lit the interior of the freezer and he stepped in, focused on the task at hand.  

“I’m working [in the freezer] for awhile, and all the sudden I hear a loud *BOOOOM!* right above me, coming from the dining room.”, Dan said, indicating above him with a gesture.  The sound startled him, but fearing something had fallen, or someone was in the restaurant he left the walk-in cooler.  “But when I stepped from the doorway of the freezer and reached for its light, I stopped dead.”  The windowless basement, which moments before had been brightly lit by several, bare LED fixtures, was impenetrably, pitch black. 

“Gadzooks!”, I said, “I’d have probably screamed like a little girl.” Dan chucked and said he might’ve screamed, too, but he was clearly too busy moving, at the time.  I asked Dan if lights went out due to a blown breaker, or if power had been lost – that might explain the “boom” that he had heard, above.  But Dan shook his head. “I had my phone, turned on its flashlight and got to the stairs, FAST.”  He said his hand went for the switch at the landing, at the top of the stairs, when he saw and felt that the switch, itself, had been manually flipped off. The basement lights were perfectly operational. Dan looked into the main dining room and all was quiet and clean, just as he had left it.  Nothing was amiss, there was nothing fallen or out of place. There was clearly no one there. He could see nothing that could account for the crashing boom and the flipped light switch. He quickly made his way to the restaurant’s back door, locking it behind him as he left.  

To this day, Dan is not shy about working the long hours that restaurant life requires, but still, he says, he’s not too crazy about working in the basement by himself.  And he knows he isn’t ever completely alone in the Casa del Ranchero.  

The next time you are in the mood for EXCELLENT, authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex vittles, I highly recommend heading to West Tusc and giving Casa a try. For the record, I love “Martin’s burrito”, and take it with the steak option.  You’ll see it listed close to the bottom of the menu.  Regardless of what you order, and whether you’re there for eat-in or take-out, be sure to say ‘hi’ to Dan.  And if you have your own story of a frightening encounter with something you cannot explain, you will be sure to find a ready, sympathetic ear in Dan and the staff at Casa del Ranchero.  They, themselves, never work without company. 

If you *do* have your own tale to tell, of ghosts or things that go bump in the night, please feel free to tell us in the comment section, or contact me directly at krisevans6411@gmail.com.  If you’d like, we are happy to post it, anonymously, or otherwise.  In the meantime, stay safe, keep a light on tonight, and Happy Halloween!

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Kristi Evans
Kristi Evans
Home grown on the northeast side of Barberton. Undereducated, over opinionated and extremely nosy.

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