Origins: If you like a good ghost story, this tale is for you:
The Toys 'R' Us in Sunnyvale is haunted by a man named Johnson, employees and psychics say.
"I don't believe in ghosts," said
Rag dolls and toy trucks leap off shelves. Balls bounce down the aisles. Children's books fall out of racks. Baby swings move on their own. The folks at
"Many people have experiences, not just one or two of us," O'Brien said. "He's like Casper. Nothing he does ever hurt anybody."
Others have taken notice, too. Newspapers have written about him.
The toy store has been featured on television's That's Incredible and other shows. A Hollywood script writer for the movie Toys spent two nights inside doing research. Psychic Sylvia Browne held a seance there in 1978 and has been back a dozen times.
Browne said Johnson told her he was a preacher and ranch hand in the 1880s on the Murphy family farm, where the toy store sits today. He spoke with a mild Swedish accent, and his first name was John, Yon, or Johan. Ten of sixteen people assembled there for the seance said they heard a "high buzzing noise" when Browne was supposedly listening to the ghost.
Browne said the ghost told her he had been in love with Murphy's daughter Elizabeth, who ran off with an East Coast lawyer. Old news clippings say Johnson accidentally hacked his leg with an ax while carelessly chopping down trees. Another story said Johnson was found dead in the orchard with an ax wound in his neck. Both stories say he bled to death.
O'Brien said she saw Johnson 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.
"Yohan used to exercise the horses, they say," O'Brien said.
Now he apparently gets his exercise playing with the staff. There was the time when men were waxing the floor, for instance, and a teddy bear kept appearing in each aisle as they moved their equipment through the store. There's the overwhelming sweet smell of garden flowers that haunts
So, now the obvious question: Is it all just a desperate sales gimmick?
"It's very good publicity for us," said store director Stephanie Lewis. "But I personally don't believe in it." But even if Lewis doesn't believe it, others do. "Last week we had to chase three or four teenagers away," she said.
"They were sitting out front at
"I have employees who will not go into the women's bathroom alone," Lewis said. That's because Johnson follows them in there and turns on the water faucets, she said.
Longtime employees say Johnson 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.
O'Brien believes Johnson lives upstairs in a breezy, cool corner.
The pranks he pulls upstairs are also harmless, she said, but it's spookier because one is usually alone. "When I go up there, I'll say, 'Johan, I'm only here to work,'" O'Brien said.
So if the place is haunted, why stick around?
"It's a good ghost," said Lisa, another employee, who didn't give her last name. "It's fun here."
Last updated: 16 January 2007
Boubion, Gina. "Ghost Lets Playful Side Show in Pranks at Haunted Toy Store." The Houston Chronicle. 26 April 1993 (p. A2). Koeppel, Dan. "Ghost Sightings Aren't Spooking Sales at Toys 'R' Us." Chicago Tribune. 23 June 1991 (p. C8).