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13 Years of screams
at the Preston Castle haunt

The 13th season of Preston Castle’s Haunt experience will open this year on Friday, Oct. 13, upping the creep factor of a historic landmark that is already well-known for paranormal happenings.

Preston Castle in Ione undergoes a spooky makeover every October to welcome guests for a haunted tour, while bringing in much-needed funds to restore and maintain the iconic castle. 

The castle first opened in June 1894 as the Preston School of Industry where it housed, educated and trained California’s troubled youth. During their stay, boys would spend half of their day in school and the other half learning trades. The students were trained in fields such as shoe making, baking, becoming a blacksmith, or an electrician.

When newer facilities were built, the castle officially closed in 1960. The building remained vacant, vandalized and neglected until 2001 when the Preston Castle Foundation embarked on a mission to restore it. After 13 years, the foundation purchased the castle from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations in November 2014.

Today, the impressive castle stands as a California State Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to volunteers, donations, and the foundation’s efforts.

The Romanesque structure is one of the last remaining buildings of its type in California, and is the perfect back-drop for a haunted tour.

“We don’t do a lot of blood, guts and gore. It’s creepy as it is. We try to feed off the ambiance,” said Melissa Zelico, a member of the Haunt Committee.

Zelico said they pretty much stick to the theme of the castle for the annual haunt events, but change it up enough so that annual visitors are surprised. 

“Backwards and inside out is the theme this year. We also have an all new route this year. We try to change it up every year. We have die-hards that come every year,” she said.

The Haunt runs through the basement and first two floors of the castle, using 30,000 square feet of space. 

Approximately 1,500 people come through the Preston Castle doors each night of the seasonal event and it takes over 120 volunteers to get the castle ready and operate the haunted experience — which is the number one fundraising event for the restoration foundation.

“We don’t disappoint,” said Zelico.

While the spine-chilling atmosphere and interactive scenes are enough to scare enough the most avid horror fan, Zelico said there’s a possibility visitors could also experience one of the castle’s actual ghostly residents.

“We get a lot of paranormal activity, especially right now while we’re building the haunt event.  We hear voices, see full-bodied apparitions; we get a little bit of everything,” said Zelico, who is also a member of the Preston Castle Paranormal Team. 

The castle has been featured on a number of TV paranormal shows including “Ghost Hunters,” “Ghost Adventures,” and “Ghost Asylum.”

She also recommends that those who are interested in ghosts should book a paranormal tour at the castle when they resume in 2024.

Preston Castle Haunt, an immersive haunted tour


7 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28


Preston Castle, 900 Palm Dr., Ione


$35 for General Admission; $50 for VIP FastPass (tickets sell out, so buy in advance)