By Melanie Graysmith
You may not know San Francisco for its spooky places, but it is brimming with locales where ghost sightings, drafty stairwells, unexplained sounds, creaky doors, and creepy feelings have been reported many times. If you don’t believe in ghosts you just might change your mind after visiting some of these spirited places.
Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Park offers tons of things to do and see, with Stow Lake as one of its popular destinations. Well known for its relaxing vibe, boat rentals, colorful Chinese Pavilion, and nearby hiking trails, Stow Lake also has another edgy story that surrounds it. The Stow Lake ghost of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has been a legend circulating for around 100 years. Many people have reported night sightings of a barefoot “Woman in White” with long, light colored hair at the lake, who, as variations of the story goes, lived in either the Victorian Era or the 1930s, though the Victorian lady seems the most popular of the tales. The mysterious sightings recount how the ghostly woman drowned in Stow Lake after her toddler son fell in during a boat ride and she dove in to save him, but sadly, they both perished. In spite of potential ghost sightings Stow Lake remains a lovely spot to relax, picnic, or ride a small boat, but you may want to keep those outings to daytime visits only.
San Francisco Art Institute Bell Tower
800 Chestnut St.
San Francisco, CA 94113
The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is the well-respected premier fine art school of the Bay Area. Founded in 1871 by artists, writers and community cultural visionaries, it is truly an authentic art creation. With its pure artistic vision for the West, the school’s 140-year history crisscrossed with some of the most significant artists of the time, and that legacy continues. Yet, there is another juicier part of the SFAI story that centers on its in-house ghost, a restless spirit over the years. The current school buildings built in 1926 in the Spanish Revival architectural style are located in the City’s Russian Hill neighborhood and actually sit on land that was once a cemetery. The school’s distinctive bell tower has been the site of mysterious nocturnal activities that have peaked and ebbed over the years, yet its supernatural resident lingers. Over the years numerous reports of spooky happenings have been detailed, including doors opening and closing on their own, sounds of footsteps climbing stairs when no one there, flickering lights and power tools not in use mysteriously turning on and off added to the fears. All was thought to be the work of a harmless ghost, but during renovations in 1968, several near fatal accidents were blamed on the ghost, causing some scared construction workers to quit. Several psychics brought in for a séance in the tower identified a graveyard, and later a historian confirmed a demolished cemetery had existed at the site before the school was built. These days the tower is closed, with seismic concerns cited as the culprit although more likely an unwelcoming presence has persuaded people to keep their distance.
Related: Best Haunted Spots In The Bay Area
Neptune Society Columbarium
1 Loraine Court
San Francisco, CA 94118
One of just three cemeteries within the San Francisco city limits, the Columbarium is the final resting place for the ashes of about 30,000 people, and as strange as it may sound, it is open to the public and an amazing place to visit. Located in San Francisco’s Richmond District, this historical neoclassic building was beautifully restored to its magnificent splendor when the Neptune Society took control in 1980. This gorgeous memorial continues to be an active cemetery and holds the remains of many of San Francisco’s founding families including the Turks and the Eddys, and numerous prominent locals including musician Chet Helms and violinist Jose Santana, father of rock guitarist Carlos Santana. Also reportedly in residence are some ghostly sightings and hauntings around the area where one little girl’s urn rests, and that’s not all. More eerie happenings have been reported here such as one visitor reporting the sensation of a hand on her back, but when she turned around no one was there. Think of it as just another paranormal day at the cemetery. Enjoy your visit.
National Park Service
Pier 33, B201
San Francisco, CA 94123
San Francisco’s most popular attraction is a prison with a frightening legacy of fights, riots, takeovers, attempted escapes and even one notoriously successful break out. In spite of its attraction as a terrific place to visit, loaded with history, beautiful vistas of the San Francisco skyline, and meandering paths, Alcatraz can also be a spooky place. In fact, the once military prison converted into a federal one has had its share of eerie happenings over the years. Visitors have reported hearing voices, footsteps, and the sounds of cell doors opening and closing, yet when investigating nothing was ever found there. Then there are the Alcatraz ghost stories of spooky and paranormal activities, including the ghost of Al Capone, strumming his banjo in the prison showers. Unexplained crying and moaning sounds, the smell of smoke but no fire, cold spots around the prison and random ghost sightings have all left experiences fitting the Alcatraz legacy.
2090 Jackson St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
The historic Whittier Mansion is especially noteworthy as officially San Francisco Landmark #75. This massive building was built in 1896 for William Franklin Whittier, the head of what would become the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. An impressive 16,000 square feet, the four-story mansion has 30 rooms and remained home to Whittier and his family until he died at age 85 in 1917. From 1938 on the mansion went through several incarnations, including the German Consulate in 1941, which became the San Francisco home to Hitler’s right-hand man, Fritz Wiedemann until he was ordered to leave San Francisco a few months later. Subsequent owners include the Philosophical Institute and the California Historical Society in the 1950s and in 1993, the mansion once again became privately owned. Over the years, many strange and unexplained incidences have happened in this massive home, chiefly in the basement and servants’ quarters, with reports of shadowy outlines and feelings of cold presences. With and without ghostly sightings others in the mansion have reported feeling uneasy in the basement and refused be alone there. Some wonder if ghosts of German spies might still haunt the mansion, or perhaps the ghost is William Franklin Whittier, or Whittier’s son Billy who lived the high life and now hangs out in the basement in Whittier’s wine collection and haunts the room he loved the most. Currently the mansion is again a private residence so do not disturb its occupants. For more information on the Whittier Mansion, contact the California Historical Society.