Three times on Oct. 6, a collection of travel brochures sitting in a plastic holder on the counter at Daydreams & Nightmares, a Modesto costume shop owned by Dana Walters of Ceres, jumped off onto the floor.
"I had a customer and he was over here and he goes, ‘Is your place haunted?'" said Walters. She asked why and was told the brochures "jumped off the counter." Later she found the moment on surveillance videotape.
The four-year Ceres resident was standing near the brochure box during the second spill. Most chilling is what appears to be a shadow that appears for a while and disappears.
The third incident occurred at night when a surveillance video captured a spill as the brochures fanned out in orderly line on the floor as if they glided down an invisible chute.
Word of the alleged hauntings - which drew Good Day Sacramento morning news magazine - added a chilling element to an already spooky aura where fantasy and mystery and horror are meted out in a metal building at 417 Seventh Street, filled with costumes, grotesque monster masks and creepy clowns.
Walters isn't the odd character you might think would own the shop and the hearse parked outside. She swears that she is quite "normal" despite her love of horror movies and stated that nobody in the shop caused the weird occurrences caught on camera. Nor was it a rigged publicity stunt in time for Halloween, she said.
Following the inexplicable leap of brochures - advertising tours at the Preston Castle in Ione - was an incident that creeped her out even more. A man walked in and said he sensed a spirit in the building that turned out linked to the deaths of a friend - who committed suicide in the 1980s by setting himself on fire. The brochures flipped off the counter on the very day of the passing of her dead friend's mother. Walters said there is no way the man could have known the level of detail about her friend Eric's horrific method of suicide. The incident was not in the newspapers nor may it be researched on line.
The mysterious man insisted that the name "Ellen" was coming to him and Dana insisted that she never knew an Ellen who killed herself.
"He said, ‘Was it a very feminine man?' and I said ‘yes,' and he said maybe that's why I'm getting the name Ellen."
Intrigued that the man seemed to know too much obscure knowledge, Dana reported the conversation to Eric's brother. He informed her that his gay brother used the name of Ellen while in drag in Sacramento gay circles. Dana didn't know that about Eric.
"That really freaked me out," said Walters when the name Ellen was finally pinned to Eric.
Dana is unsure what to make of the mysterious movements of brochures but she isn't spooked to the point of leaving the shop, which she relocated to in April from Carpenter Road.
Makeup artistry is what got Dana into the costume shop business a decade ago. She first started doing makeup at Masquerade Madness in Turlock and later managed the shop. When its owner retired, she decided to go into costuming. Today she boasts that hers is the largest costume rental shop in the Valley.
The shop sells some props and costume parts - such as spooky latex masks - but does not deal in "bag costumes."
Costumes run the gamut. Want to be a correctional officer? Police officer? They're here as are costumes for pirates, clowns, Sully from Monsters Inc., Victorian era and a myriad of others.
There's ethnic costumes as well, including Eyptian and Asian.
Costume rentals are for three days and start from $40 up to $85 and include all accessories.
"Let' say you're going to be a pirate. Here you're going to get the hat, the bandana, the jewelry, the shoes. You're going to get it all complete, not where you pay $50 for a costume and have to have all the accessories."
"This year everybody wants to be a ringmaster," said Dana. "I don't know if it's the American Horror Story Freak Show. We've had a lot of people come in and want to be the clown. That TV show is so big right now it's not even funny. There's a clown on there that is very freaky and everybody wants that clown."
As she holds up a queen of hearts attire, Walters describes the costume as a "sexy style one but not slutty." Dana finds that her customers seem to always seek costumes to appear sexy.
"That's not Halloween. We like authentic. We're more of a theatrical store so we're going to have stuff that covers you. We do have some corsets and stuff for sale and they can do their own but we're not about showing your body. We're about Snow White. People will say ‘I want that in a slutty version.' We do have a couple but we try not to get that because we want it classy not trashy."
While anyone can wear ordinary street clothes - torn and tattered - to play a zombie, the shop offers makeup services to create realistically creepy faces. The makeup is done on a stage behind a real coffin where a hideous creature is lying, by four makeup artists, some of whom paint naked women at the famous Playboy Mansion in Hollywood.
Makeup jobs for local plays keep the shop busy year round when it's not Halloween. Makeup sessions start with a $25 deposit for an appointment and can take hours. Jobs can run from $50 to several hundred dollars for painting clothing on naked bodies.
"We have one girl who wants to get naked every year and have us paint her. Hers is usually a couple hundred dollars. She has a party at her house and tons of people come and she's always naked."
The shop uses cake makeup which does not rub off unlike cream makeup for stage.
"We don't just sell it, we use it," said Dana. "So I'm going to tell you what works and what doesn't and how to apply it."
The shop even custom molds vampire fangs to fit customers' teeth.
The shop has shied away from costumes for kids, saying she can't undercut Walmart which sells boxed costumes.
Aside from entertainment value, the shop has offered makeup services for the Every 15 Minutes anti-DUI program in local schools as well as active shooter drills for Ceres Police Department.
Walters' shop does a lot of outfitting for Sierra Repertory Theatre productions in Sonora. The shop helped equip persons for the Nightmare Before Christmas there at the Christmas Parade of Lights two years ago.
"Everybody went nuts on it because we had characters from the movie in there."
The shop is open 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. most nights and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. and may be reached at 575-0023.