Madeline Manchio is not one to believe in supernatural occurrences.
"I rationalize everything," the co-owner of Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant said. "I told myself, I'm not going to feed into this stuff."
The "stuff" Manchio is referring to is a series of strange happenings in the old Journagan house where Mad Dawg's is located that has convinced her and partner Melanie McCarthy that spirits -- ghosts, if you will -- share the premises.
It all began back in May 2003 before the restaurant opened.
"It was a week before we opened, and Mad and I sat down in a booth to have something to eat," McCarthy said. "This black cloud just passed by us and both of us kind of turned our heads."
Since nobody had warned them the historic house was haunted, they dismissed the incident.
"We just kind of thought, ‘Whatever,'" McCarthy said.
But strange things continued to happen -- children laughing when no one was there, lights going on and off in the middle of the night, a steel fire door creaking open and closing by itself.
Sometimes when they arrive in the morning, they find the pinball machine or a video game or the coffee pot on, even though they were certain they had turned everything off when they left the night before.
"We'd yell at each other, ‘I thought you turned the coffee off,'" McCarthy said.
What finally convinced Manchio was an occurrence in the kitchen.
"We have a shelf in the kitchen that has A-1 sauce, Heinz 57, Tabasco, soy and Worcestershire sauce," she said. "One day I'm standing there in the kitchen with my back to these bottles and the A-1 sauce flies across and lands on the counter in front of me, and there was nobody around. I'm thinking, ‘OK, the shelf has a little slant. Maybe a truck just drove by. But it's happened several times since then to several people, and of all those sauces, it's only the A-1 that will fly several feet."
Yet another strange occurrence led to an intimation of what might be going on.
"The first two weeks (after we opened), the servers kept coming to us with the checks they put on the computer," Manchio said. "Everybody's check had hot chocolate on it, and they'd say, ‘My customers didn't have hot chocolate, Mad. Could you take that off for me.' (It happened) every single day for two straight weeks."
By that time, Manchio and McCarthy were beginning to hear stories of similar occurrences in the past, including one about a closet half full of concrete, reportedly the tomb of a woman who had mysteriously disappeared. Things were beginning to add up.
"Finally Mel says, ‘If the ghost wants hot chocolate, we're going to give him hot chocolate,'" Manchio recalled. "She made a cup, took it upstairs and set it on a shelf, and we never saw a hot chocolate pop up again after that."
Some time later, a psychic from the Valley stopped by Mad Dawg's for dinner. She had never been there before.
"We got talking, and we told her we had spirits," Manchio said. "She said, ‘You sure do.' The psychic told us there was a man who died in this house and his spirit is still here and is looking for his wife. She said he doesn't stay here all the time. He goes down the street to meet a friend."
Then the psychic told them something that made the hair on the back of Manchio's neck stand straight up.
"She said, ‘He seems to like hot chocolate.'"
According to the psychic, several spirits occupy the old Journagan house, which was built back in 1925. Manchio and McCarthy believe they have photographic evidence.
"On rodeo weekend last year, we had a long, busy hectic day," Manchio said. "It's about 11 at night and the band is still playing, but we're pretty much done. Me and Mel, and almost all the staff, went outside and started dancing."
An employee began snapping pictures, and when they came back, something strange showed up in them.
"There are these figures dancing around us that look like smoke almost, but the girl that took the pictures doesn't smoke," Manchio said.
When they showed the pictures to the psychic, she was matter of fact.
"Those are definitely spirits and they're dancing with you," the psychic said. "They're partying. They're having fun. These are good spirits that you have."
That's just fine with Manchio and McCarthy.
"We realize whatever phenomenon it is, it's not going to hurt us," McCarthy said. "It's fun, and it's playful."
Mad Dawg's and Mel's will celebrate Halloween by bringing Dixie Ducote', the psychic who visited earlier, up from the Valley to do readings for patrons. A 10-minute reading costs $10, and the festivities begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.