Do ghosts haunt a former Civil War-era military installation in Wilmington, CA?

A partially translucent person walking passed a display case.

Ghosts reportedly haunt Drum Barracks

Drum barracks. Three white building surroundings a court yard with a tree in the center behind a white picket fence.

Drum Barracks, built in 1862


The first shots of the Civil War were fired in South Carolina during April of 1861. Although most of the fighting over the next four years took place in the South, it eventually spread across the country, all the way to Wilmington, California.

A tintype portrait of Lt. Col. James Freeman Curtis

Lt. Col. James Freeman Curtis

In 1862, a military outpost was built near the Los Angeles Harbor. It was called the Drum Barracks and was a key center for training and processing troops. Today, all that remains is a single building, which is now a museum with some very unlikely tour guides.
Marge O’Brien is the museum’s director and curator:

“You can lock the rooms at night. In fact, very religiously. I check all the rooms. They’re locked, the lights are off, the shades are down, and you come here at 8:00 in the morning and the light in the parlor might be on and then again it might not, but the shades may be up.”

Marge was hired to restore the rundown building after it was declared a historic landmark:

“It was a very dark, very sad feeling as you walked through. And it was just the kind of a building that was saying, ‘Help me.’

Marge, a team of craftsmen, and volunteers worked for months overhauling the museum. The old building slowly came back to life, in more ways than one. According to Marge, spooky occurrences became normal:

“I’m sitting in my office and something will take my attention. Either a window will rattle, the roses will hit against the window, some the wind possibly. But something attracts me to the fact that I should be checking something. I will walk over to the parlor. Nine chances out of ten when I have this feeling and I open the door, more likely than not, the lights on the table are on. Most times, I will walk up the stairs and check the gun room. Very often, that too has the lights on and the window blinds open even though they have been closed and down. Because, the rule here is that after every tour, you pull the shades down, turn off the light and lock the door.”

Yasmin Malyeri, one of the volunteers, also began to believe that the building was haunted:

“I put down the blinds and turned off the light and locked the door and left. Came downstairs and left the building. There was nobody around. When I looked up, I saw the blind went up really slowly. It gave the impression that someone was holding it, you know, someone was doing it.”

A candle lit in a window with sheer curtains and blue shutters.

Lights turn on for no reason

Fred Duran, an exterminator for the city of Los Angeles, became a believer during one of his regular stops at the museum:

“To me, a ghost was like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or some movie or something. I guess one doesn’t believe in them until you are really convinced. As I got into the kitchen that morning, I heard some footsteps behind me and I thought that it was the caretaker.

According to Fred, a man’s voice behind him said, “I need to get some water.” Fred says he didn’t pay much attention. Then the man asked, “Have you seen Maria?”

According to Fred:

“As I turned around, there was this guy there, and I thought it was kinda odd because he was in a civil war outfit. So as I was going out, I saw the caretaker there and the workmen also, and I just asked him, I said, ‘Hey, the guy that lives here takes his job seriously.’ And they said, ‘You saw the Captain’s ghost.’”

Marge O’Brien says she believes Fred:

“If Fred said he saw it, he saw it. I have no doubts in that. Fred’s a very honest man. My reaction is, I wonder why he had to come now, and why to Fred”

Marge asked psychic Barbara Conner to search the museum for ghosts. According to Barbara, the Drum Barracks was full of restless spirits and she claims to have met several of them in the officer’s lounge. Two were playing cards, another stood by the window looking through the curtains. But, according to Barbara, one phantom seemed more aggressive than the rest:

“He looked at me and he said, “I want this chair closer to the fireplace because I’m cold.” He also said his boot is too tight for him.”

Marge said that information rang a bell:

“What was interesting is my research showed that Colonel Curtis, who was the commander here the longest, had frostbitten his left foot when he was fighting Indians up in Washington. Right around the ankle, above where the nerve endings were, there was a great deal of pain which he suffered much of his life. He would wear a boot that was a size smaller so that he could have more control of that foot and he dragged it. There is no way Barbara could have known that when she walked into the room. I had just started to uncover this research.”

Barbara says that she continued to have visions upstairs, which seemed to explain some of the strange noises:

“I told Marge, I said, ‘There’s a little boy here. And he’s throwing the ball up against the wall.’ She says, ‘Well, we’ve heard this thump, thump thump, and we couldn’t figure out what it is.’ And I said, “Well, that’s it. He’s throwing this ball up against the wall. If you want him to stop, just tell him to stop and he’ll stop.’”

At the end of the tour, Barbara said she “saw” the ghosts of Colonel Curtis and his officers in a planning session:

“The Colonel was standing there at the table, and when we came in, he left what he was doing and went over and started digging in this box. And he turned to me, and mentally projected that he wants his award. He wants the award. He’s trying to find an award. And I said, ‘What award?’ And he says, ‘I have an award, I want my award, and I want it on that wall.’”

Marge O’Brien said she had no information about Colonel Curtis having an award or a plaque on his wall:

“But I discovered later that when he left Washington, Colonel Curtis did receive an award for his work with the Indians. And possibly that could have been the plaque.”

Do the long-dead spirits of the Civil War still roam the drum barracks at this log-abandoned military base? Those who have experienced the hauntings believe the museum is alive with history.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.



  1. Adri

    I haven’t been to this museum, but I volunteered at a couple of my local historical sites about a decade ago for a public history class and some of the things I experienced made me realize that those who spend time in historical areas are more likely to experience ghostly activity.

    A couple of things I still vividly remember to this day was on the secondary site my ‘supervisor’ was having me work with them on. One day, I was all excited to get down to business until I walked through that door and I was completely on alert. The house felt ‘active’ and I spent that whole afternoon convinced I was going to turn a corner or look up and see someone standing there. Possibly dressed in black, but that’s what I think of now looking back on it. I was so freaked out that I almost hit the upper floor when I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. And as we were leaving to head back to the primary site, I heard what sounded like a lady’s laugh on the wind, which I feel was in response to a comment I made or something I thought since it was perfect timing. I don’t know where the laugh came from, but *perfect timing*.

    And then, I think it was my last day there or really close to it, I was in the cellar area putting some stuff back in the little supply room corner. I come out and start hearing footsteps above my head, but I can’t see up the stairs from where I’m standing either because of the angle or because of a door – I can’t actually remember which -, but there were booted footsteps clearly walking down the hall and the door opened and shut. So, I’m like ‘o-kay…’ I think it’s Supervisor because we are literally the only two people on the site, but she swore up and down I was alone in the house.

    And neither of us wore anything that could make it sound like boots were walking on the floor.


  2. a real ghost

    im a ghost


  3. Mike



  4. Bill Blaski

    I just read an article where they found a civil war surgeons bone pile. He would amputate then toss the bones in a pit. Ghostly apparitions have been seen around this field. Shockingly it was gettysburg.


  5. Kris

    From what I saw as a kid was a war scene in my grandfather’s back yard. From the armor they had on was more WW2. Still something I cannot understand. Grew up on the Westside…


  6. My hometown

    I grew up just a few blocks away from the drum barracks and the historic Banning Museum. Visited these place several times growing up as a child in the 60’s & 70’s. The city is full of ghostly spirits that linger. Beautiful building, lots of history.


  7. Daniel

    I have them


  8. Creole

    I truly miss this creepy show!!!! I hope for a marathon sometime!!!!!!!!


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