Ghosts 'R Us

by James Neff
Johnny Johnson (or Yonny Yohanson) was a Scandinavian immigrant in his mid 20s studying for the ministry, who put himself to work as a farm hand when not preaching on the circuit in Southern California in the late 1800s. One summer he took a job working for a wealthy landowner named Martin Murphy Jr. in Sunnyvale, whose wheat plantation maintained a large orchard and ample farmhouse for himself and his family. Johnson took a serious liking to Elizabeth, one of Murphy's girls, only to be devastated when he discovered she was leaving to be wed to a wealthy lawyer back east.

Martin Murphy Jr.
At some point the young Johnson contracted encephalitis which left him partially brain damaged and earned him the nick name "crazy Johnny" by the locals. Johnson lived and worked at the Murphy farm for many years thereafter.
As if earmarked for tragedy, the life of Yonny Johnson would take another terrible turn for the worst. While chopping wood in the orchard one day in the summer of 1884, Johnson apparently slipped with the axe and badly cut his leg. He slowly bled to death alone and far from help. Oddly enough, Murphy Jr. himself died that same year, his estate divided among his heirs. The heartbroken hired hand with the Bible and occasionally strange behavior who died a terrible death on the property was soon a long forgotten speck of historical dust in time.

 The Murphy Mansion
 Photo From The Orchards
The Murphy plantation site would see many changes as the years passed, as wheat became less and less a viable crop and orchards began to expand and dominate the agriculture of the landscape, hailing the Santa Clara Valley area "The Garden of the World." But in 1970, amidst the hustle and bustle of our modern times, it became the location for a 60,000 square foot Toys 'R Us mega-store on east El Camino and Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, not far from streets and buildings still bearing the name Murphy.
And that's when the haunting began.
"The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away..." crackled the faint voice over the store intercom late one night while an employee was closing up. This wasn't the first time strange voices had been heard over the intercom when no one was there to key the mic in the upstairs office. Unnerving whispers, laughter and sorrowful sobbing were often heard. In fact, this was rather routine for the long time employees. Quite often they would be called by name, either by a voice coming from down a particular isle, or over the intercom without the agency of any human involved. One of the long time employees, curiously named 'Putt-Putt' O'Brien, had grown quite used to the ghostly goings on, though she doesn't acknowledge it as a disembodied spirit.
"I don't believe in ghosts," she says, "But you feel a breeze behind you. Someone calls your name and there's nobody there. Funny things happen here that you can't explain."
O'Brien said she saw him once: A young man in his 20s or 30s, wearing knickers, a white long-sleeved work shirt, and a gray tweed snap-brim cap, walked past her. Another time she heard the sound of galloping horses (she noted that it had been said that he tended horses on the farm). Longtime employees say the spook has also pulled pranks on contractors who come to do short-term jobs. They see a toy leap from a shelf and refuse to come back. [1]
Most of the employees of the Toys 'R Us in Sunnyvale have encountered the mischievous spirit haunting the back isles of the enormous toy store, and its antics were usually nothing more than an irritation, if not often humorous. But at other times, not so funny. Lights turned off would come back on. Electronic toys would suddenly burst into activity. Dolls that did not have the ability to talk, talked. Toys and boxes would appear tossed into the isles to be discovered by employees opening the store in the morning.
One employee who locked up for the night was interrupted in leaving when someone from the inside began banging on the door he just secured. Naturally he walked back and unlocked the door, only to find no one inside. Halfway to his car again, the banging started again. He returned, unlocked the door...but no one was inside wanting out. This continued repeatedly until he finally gave up and left.
In addition to such poltergeist-like activity, at times the figure of a young man would be seen briefly, a shadow here, a momentary apparition there out of the corner of an eye; and someone very fond of stroking the heads of girls with long hair and even following them into the ladies bathroom, frightening them with water faucets that turned on suddenly by invisible means, to where some female employees refused to go to the bathroom alone.
The workers at the Sunnyvale Toys 'R Us are for the most part comfortable with the ghost. They regard the ghost as a harmless entity and not a threatening supernatural spectre, while others have refused to be left alone in certain parts of the store or be assigned to closing down at night when activity seems to be its highest.
The creepy manifestations of this apparently restless spirit have brought psychics, mediums and paranormal rubber-neckers from far and wide, and the manager says its quite common for teenagers to inquire about the opportunity to sleep over in the building in hopes of encountering the ghost. But perhaps the most yielding encounter with the ghost of Yonny Johnson took place in 1984 when popular psychic Sylvia Brown, along with photographic experts from Alpha Labs, were brought in to hold a seance which was featured on the television program "That's Incredible," hosted by John Davidson, Cathy Lee Crosby and Fran Tarkenton. Though the program did generally sport the absurd and fantastic, sometimes to exploitative levels, and quite a number of charlatans had hoodwinked [3] the "That's Incredible" staff with paranormal hoodoo in the past, this particular episode had something entirely different to offer. Photographic proof.
Brown originally had anticipated the ghost of Martin Murphy, but soon realized it was not Murphy at all haunting the isles. Sylvia seemingly had little difficulty communicating with Johnson and seemed to tap into his history with remarkable accuracy. She claims to be assisted by a spirit named 'Francine' who guides her contact with those on the 'other side.'
Like a walking Quiji board, Brown gets both clear and foggy messages from the disembodied spirits she believes are trapped in a confused state between two worlds, each for varied reasons; some of the dead, she believes, cannot or will not cross over into the next world, but remain here in state of disquieted limbo - a world where everything seems to have come to an eerie stand still. We, the living, become the ghosts to the tormented souls trapped in the 'neither' world, and our time and its artifacts are the stuff of strange distraction, peculiar phantoms as seen by the spirits there, much that way we might view the elements of life from their time, now entirely foreign to us so many hundred years hence. Like many mediums, Sylvia's remedy is to assist the lost soul in 'crossing over' and finding peace and their spiritual destiny.
This night, the seance would be conducted along one of the most "active" of the isles in the toy store, with a gathering of employees and a camera crew to record the event. This particular isle was often said to smell like fresh flowers for no apparent reason. Most of the lights in the store were turned off except for a few in the back of the store at the end of the isle where they all gathered. Almost immediately Sylvia began to speak openly with Johnson, motioning that she could see him in the isle, though no one else could hear or see anything. He even jokingly commented, she said, that she had better move because she would get her feet wet where she was, and it was later revealed that on that spot was the site of a well during the time of Yonny Johnson and the Murphy plantation. The spirit told her that he was waiting for 'Beth' (Elizabeth?) and seemed considerably heartbroken and confused about his state.
She talked casually to Johnson for several minutes about his life and circumstances, and then a shocking revelation took place which may represent the best photographic evidence of a 'ghost' ever impressed on film. Side by side 35mm cameras took pictures of the group gathered along the sides of the isle, using both high speed film and infra-red -- and though absolutely nothing appeared in the standard 35mm shots, the infra-red camera shooting the same isle at the same time showed a distinct and substantial image of a man standing in the isle, precisely where Sylvia said he was. Sometimes he would pace back and forth, or lean against a non-existent wall, or even appear to ascend steps that do not exist in our time-frame. But he was definitely captured on the special film with a simultaneous record of nothing at all on the standard film.

This infra-red photo clearly shows the employees attending the seance sitting along
the sides of the isle, with a few near Sylvia (the bright one, foreground right) at the
front of the isle. Leaning against a non-existent wall on the left is the distinct
figure of a young man with dark hair, dark coat and possibly holding a hat.
The figure even appears to cast a shadow on the boxes of toys to the left
as well as a faint reflection in the waxed floor tile

Some of the employees reported hearing or feeling a buzzing sound or sensation whenever Sylvia was listening to Johnson reply to her questions. Sylvia tried to convince Johnson to 'go to the light' and cross over, but he refused. She felt Johnson was terribly sad and very confused. Speculations on his reticence to crossing over range from his affected mental condition at the time of death, that he doesn't believe he's dead, that he believes the Lord has come and taken everyone to heaven and left him behind or even simple fear of the unknown prevents him from finding his peace. Yonny Johnson just won't budge. He's here to stay.
Perhaps he likes haunting the busy toy store, mischievously tinkering with balls and boxes, dolls and toy trucks and following women into the bathroom for a boo? Or, maybe Johnson figures when the Lord's ready for him, He will come take him from this strange nether world blending two different centuries in the gloom of non-time.
Many skeptics conjecture that this is one of the biggest commercially driven hoaxes ever perpetrated, and the Toys 'R Us manager admits it doesn't hurt sales any. But the photographic evidence is so startling, one would be hard pressed to explain it away, especially since there was a control element of a second, standard 35mm camera taking simultaneous photos. This isn't some wispy, smoke-strand apparition, or an 'orb,' or a transparent shadowy shape... this is the image of man, fully clothed and moving about -- completely invisible to the naked eye, but strikingly visible to the infra-red eye which detects a unique spectrum of light.

Johnson Seen Outside Store By Others?
Others in the area near the Toys 'R Us store have encountered an oddly dressed young man who appears to come and go a little too quickly to be a flesh and blood person.
"I work for an electric utility here in Ca. I was talking to a fellow employee on day and I don't recall how the conversation came up but somehow the discussion of the Toys 'R Us haunting came about. We also had both seen one of the shows that featured the stories on T.V. This show had shown a picture of the spirit as he was when he was alive.( Now to the story).
This gentleman that I worked with told me that years ago he was dispatched to do some work on a meter panel that was on the property where the Toys 'R Us is built. Apparently at one time it was a big farm or something. As he drove on the property behind the toy store he was looking for the panel to work on. After driving awhile with no luck finding the panel he came upon a gentleman who was sitting. He asked him if he could direct him to the panel. The gentleman just pointed and said nothing.
After completing his work he drove back by where the gentleman was sitting but no one was there. He said it was odd that the gentleman was gone but didn't think too much about it. Sometime later he watched the program on T.V. and was stunned when the picture they ran of the spirit was the same gentleman who directed him towards the meter panel."[2] (Note: attempts to locate this photo of Johnson while alive have proven fruitless to date, though it may be in the pages of Arthur Myers' book 'The Ghostly Register' along with an early account of this haunting.)

Occult or Satanic Connection?
One of the most peculiar items that bubbled up in researching this story is a lone voice suggesting the demonic or Satanic with buckets of details and intricate information about the Murphy's, the land, the city of Sunnyvale and the ghost. It is far too complex to go into here, and honestly I would find it hard to evaluate as some of the facts presented were inaccurate or distorted to one degree or another compared the bulk of material available on this mystery, but perhaps it will be enlightening to some. Many people are of the opinion that spirit activity is directly demonic, that there are no actual "ghosts" per se, only familiar spirits seeking to deceive. You can access the information regarding this here.
A Cautionary Word About Sylvia Brown
The cult of personality surrounding many psychics/mediums is revolting, and this piece is not intended by any means as a booster for Sylvia Brown. It is presented simply as one of the most intriguing and astonishing ghost stories with evidence and considered worthy of attention. Sylvia's particular intuitive sensitivities should not be confused with authoritative spirituality. It should be noted that Sylvia Brown appears to be the typical 'media-medium' and TV showman as are so many others like her, from John Edwards to Uri Gheller. Like many pop-psychics (she appears regularly on Montel Williams' program, dispensing perpetually positive 'good news' reports from the other side to grieving, often traumatized mourners of the recent dearly departed) she may use both excellent intuition and the honed skill of 'cold reading' to accomplish much of her so-called psychic performances.
A skeptical upper hand is always best in analyzing such extraordinary powers. Brown, like other psychics in the media, regularly inundate the field with so many predictions that some are bound to come true. She then lays claim to those while ignoring the flops... like Al Gore would be elected President. She is as well known for her misses as she is for her hits.
In all fairness, are we to expect psychics to be perfect in all their predictions? Of course not. A psychic is not a prophet. It is, after all, an intuitive art. But some just seem to really push the boundaries of good taste and tolerability, and almost put themselves out there as gurus -- Sylvia seems to be one of them. Watching the glassy-eyed adherents to all-things Sylvia on Montel (which strangely feels a lot like watching a typical Oprah show) should strike any thinking person with certain nausea, especially when she appears so incredibly bored with the whole process, clicking her long fake fingernails, looking like she's verging on sudden sleep and suggesting to everyone who asks that they will indeed be utterly successful in all their pursuits. The constant positive stroking is a bit much. One woman stood to ask Sylvia if she would be successful in getting her book published, and Sylvia rapidly shot back, "Yes, honey, absolutely. Big success." The woman asking could barely form a cohesive sentence with proper tenses.
And not unlike spiritualist John Edwards (Crossing Over), when speaking of the dead, Sylvia will quite often orbit around the most common names beginning with a particular letter, jumping from one vowel or consonant to another until she hits one that the poor sap in the audience responds to with a facial expression or audible gasp. It's sort of pathetic to watch this, to be honest. Painful, considering most of these people are suffering the loss of a loved one and are emotionally vulnerable. It's often even more ridiculous when the psychic/medium can't get the name of the deceased person, but can cough up plenty of dramatized and detailed information about the terrible illness which felled them.
Now, it could very well be that she has true psychic abilities and tapped into the spirit (or call it what you will) of this Yonny Johnson and everything is perfectly legit. It could also be that she thoroughly researched the location ahead of time, which is quite often the method used. It's not that hard to do.
What cannot be easily dismissed however is the photographic evidence clustered with the overwhelming testimony of so many employees of the store, psychic or no psychic. There's definitely something happening at the Sunnyvale Toys 'R Us of a supernatural nature, and it would be great to see further research done on the matter with even more sophisticated video/photographic and audio examination performed.
[1] Article; Barbara Mikkelson,
[3] James Hydrick, a martial arts master and self-claimed psychic performed astonishing feats of psychokinesis on the program "That's Incredible." The Amazing Randy later challenged Hydrick to repeat his 'mind over matter' techniques with certain simple provisions as a controlled experiment, proving him a fraud on national television resulting in a rather violent momentary outburst. Hydrick then confessed to a life of lies and deceit and explained how he trained himself for many years to pull off the 'psychic' tricks.
[4] California History Center & Foundation -

Additional: Episode title/number for "That's Incredible" featuring this story, unknown. It was apparently also featured on "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" television program in the 80s as well as "Unsolved Mysteries".



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