By Shuka Kalantari
If you're heading to the Sierra Foothills this Labor Day weekend, consider making a stop in the small town of Placerville. It was founded during the California Gold Rush. Settlers called it "Dry Diggins" because of the way miners carted dry soil to running water to separate the gold from the earth. The town features some hidden relics from its gold-mining past.
The Cozmic Cafe is a two-story cobblestone structure built alongside a mountain. It serves fair trade coffees and organic foods like nut burgers and falafels. The upstairs bar features local wines and microbrews on tap.And it also offers yoga classes, poetry events, and the occasional all-women's Scrabble tournament.
Philis Goldie and some fellow Scrabble players are deep in the game. Goldie says they love coming to the cafe -- despite the fact they think it's haunted. Cozmic Cafe was built around the entrance of an abandoned gold mine. And Goldie believes that inside that mine are the ghosts of Chinese immigrants who worked there during the Gold Rush.
"A lot of them died down there," Goldie says. "And I tell you, there were years where I couldn't come in here because I felt their souls in here and I felt they were at unrest and I couldn't come."
Twenty-nine year old Jacob Mingle is the cafe's owner. He says legend has it the gold mine used to connect to a series of underground tunnels. " And the story goes that they led to a brothel on the other side of this hill here," he says.
Mingle enters the gold mine through a narrow opening in the back of the cafe. Lights lead the path to multiple rooms divided by stone pillars. Mingle says Druids, who founded Placerville, used to gather in the gold mine to have secret meetings. "But we've turned them into spots to eat lunch or dinner, or have a beer."
Mingle says the cafe was originally a soda factory built around 1856. The owner would use the gold mine in the back as a really big freezer.
"He would go up to the summit with horse-drawn carriage -- I think it was about a six day trip up and back -- and he would cut ice out of the mountain and out of the lakes up there."
Mingle says clairvoyants have visited the cave, and they say it's haunted by an old gold miner named Charlie.
"What I've been told is it collapsed on him, split his head open, they went to get help and by the time they came back he was, uh, no longer living."
But it's not just human ghosts that are rumored to live in the gold mine. Mingle says there have also been a few sightings of ghost cats.
"It's happened a couple of times, years apart too. And, huh, the parent would come out and say, 'Uh, my my child is seeing a cat in the cave. Is there supposed to be a cat back there?' And I've responded, 'Oh, no. Let's go check it out.' And then the kids have chased cats that we don't see. So.."
Maybe it's Charlie's cat?
Mingle laughs at the idea, "It could be. Yeah."
The gold mine is free for customers and is open year-round. Just remember that Charlie -- or his cat -- may be there to greet you.