When I began writing the first Zodiac Mystery (The Madness of Mercury), I didn’t intend that the fictional Mystic Eye occult bookshop would become a recurring location. I should have realized it would as the series went on. After all, my San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti, discovered her first astrology books there. Her best friend Gale runs the shop and then later, Cheryl takes a job to manage the bookshop and becomes a dear friend. On top of that, The Mystic Eye attracts a unique group of psychics, mediums, past life regression hypnotists who have become important secondary characters.
But back up a few decades. Many years ago, there was a real Mystic Eye Occult Bookshop in San Francisco. It was just down the street from the fictional one, on Broadway, and across Columbus Avenue. I remember it well. It was a one of a kind (at the time) occult shop, selling books, talismans, gifts, candle burning supplies and all sorts of other unique items. I figured the real shop had been gone for so many years, it was safe to use the same name. Who would remember?
Guess again – lots of people remember the real Mystic Eye with fond memories and somehow they’ve stumbled upon my books or a blog post about the shop and they’ve written to me about their experiences. I was thrilled to hear from them!
Ron M. wrote to ask if the Mystic Eye (in the Zodiac Mysteries) had anything to do with the 1970’s San Francisco Mystic Eye Occult Bookshop, next to the Green Turtle Bus Company, owned by Aeryn who had a weekly radio broadcast.
Susa said it was such a wonderful shop, full of books on magic and mysticism, incense and figurines. She had a spontaneous mystical experience back in the late 1970’s, and being an Atheist, had no idea what had happened to her. In trying to research it, she ran across the Mystic Eye. She said, “I found more than books. I found a community of Witches and Pagans that changed the course of my life. I am forever grateful to that mysterious little shop and its staff, and still mourn its closing after all these years!”
Ron L. was a teenager when he discovered the Mystic Eye and would spend his hard-earned money on a book or a piece of jewelry. He loved the fountain by the window and the candle burning in the center. He made friends with one of the employees and later did a Tarot reading for her. He said it was an amazing experience.
Jem was only sixteen when she first discovered the Mystic Eye. She was intrigued by the pentagram on the floor and bought her first spell candle that day. Her path has been “many shades of magic” since then.
Robert L. used to work at the shop. He wondered what happened to the zodiac mosaic in the floor where he was initiated. He said, “If that circle could talk. . .”
Pam went to San Francisco on vacation. She fell in love with the shop and bought a crystal ball.
Mo said he had heard there were rumors that the Zodiac Killer worked at the Mystic Eye in the 70s and 80s.
Micah worked at the Mystic Eye and lived with Aeryn, the owner, from the time he was 14 until he went to college. He took care of her until her death in 2014. He said she was an amazing and knowledgeable woman, one of a kind.
Pamela had her cards read at the Mystic Eye in the late 60’s or very early 70’s. She said the scent of that storefront was so unique, as was the shop itself. Her husband made a pendant (an upside down cross) for the infamous Anton LaVey. She said, “Yes those were the days!”
Blake remembered all the mirrors and cool stuff when he walked around North Beach, barefoot in a toga with dragons, tripping his brains out.
Nancy loved the shop and visited often. She purchased incense, body oils, little pouches of magic roots and herbs. She can still recall the aroma inside.
Scott loved the shop. He bought incense and had spells removed. He once bought a jar of incense that was labelled ‘5 plus cous-cous.’ He said, “How did we ever survive the Haight? Maybe the 5-plus cous cous gave us eternal life.”
All these memories! I too remember the shop well. I bought candles and a book on candle burning rituals. Who knew that so many people would remember the real Mystic Eye?
I only hope the fictional Mystic Eye delivers as many good memories for readers!
(This post first appeared at Book Diva’s Reads on May 30, 2022.)
With each Zodiac Mystery, I try to find a unique section of the city in which to place a story, or search for historic or unusual buildings. No problem there, because San Francisco is a city that truly values and preserves its architecture and history. In the first Zodiac Mystery, The Madness of Mercury, I ‘borrowed’ a mansion on Telegraph Hill. All Signs Point to Murder highlighted Pacific Heights and the dangerous currents of the Golden Gate straits. Tail of the Dragon takes place downtown in the Financial District, Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, at a theater in North Beach, and now, Serpent’s Doom, focuses on Chinatown, one of my favorite neighborhoods.
I was reminded recently of two really unique structures that I hadn’t thought about for years — the windmills of Golden Gate Park. When I first lived in San Francisco, I spotted them in the distance, as I stood at the curve of Point Lobos leading down to the Great Highway and the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Windmills! Two of them! I had never seen anything like it and I couldn’t imagine why there were windmills at the western edge of Golden Gate Park, right across the road from the ocean. I asked every native San Franciscan I met about them, but never got a satisfactory answer, sometimes a vague reference to wind power to pump water. Water for what, I wondered? I investigated further and drove into the Park to get a closer look, or at least as close as I could get because they were off limits at the time, unsafe to get any closer. They had stood unused for almost a hundred years, the structures and the sails were in terrible disrepair, rotting from insect and water damage.
But it was those windmills that made Golden Gate Park possible. Once upon a time, the western end of the peninsula that is San Francisco was absolutely uninhabitable, nothing but miles of sand dunes over bedrock, layered in fog. The now densely populated and extremely expensive area was considered unlivable. It was a 25 year old civil engineer, William Hammond Hall, who designed the Park. The area was so problematic that even the renowned landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, turned the job down.
The windmills were needed to pump 1.5 million gallons of groundwater per day to irrigate the park. The Dutch (North) Windmill was built in 1902. It stands 75 feet tall, somewhat restored, it’s surrounded by thousands of tulips in the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. The Murphy (South) Windmill was built in 1907. Six short years later, a motorized system was installed and eventually, the windmills were no longer needed.
Finally, in 2011, the Murphy Windmill was beautifully restored, but operates only occasionally, and with caution. Inside are floors of gleaming wood and stairways leading upward, a cozy lounge with chairs, rugs and a desk, even a shelf with wooden shoes. Hopefully, no one will throw a sabot into the works of that windmill! And the view from the top is incredible.
Years ago, I remember reading a Marcia Muller novel in which her detective hides out for the night in the abandoned and rotting Murphy Windmill! Now that these are restored, I guess the windmills won’t have the same haunted cachet for a setting in the Zodiac Mysteries.
What do you think? Could there be a crime there? Was a worker crushed in the machinery of the windmill? Did he jump? Or was he pushed from an upper deck? Maybe I’ll think about that and see if I can use the windmills in my next story.
(This post first appeared in Novels Alive on June 13, 2022.)
I’m chatting about Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, the prequel novella to the Zodiac Mysteries, at I Read What You Write.
My interview at ITW’s The Big Thrill, all about the inspiration for Serpent’s Doom.
And just in time — the first review of Serpent’s Doom at StoreyBook Reviews by Leslie!
I’m thrilled that Serpent’s Doom (Zodiac Mystery #4) is featured on Don Herron’s Up and Down These Mean Streets (of San Francisco). If you’re there, make sure you sign up for one of Don’s Dashiell Hammett walking tours. You won’t regret it!
Maddie Margarita has graciously invited me to the Southern California Hump Day Book Tour. Listen in here.
I’ll be with good friends Kim Fay (Love and Saffron) and Laurie Stevens (the Gabriel McRay thrillers) at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach at 1:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll stop by!
My interview with Kim at Read Your Writes is up today. It’s all about Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, a prequel novella to the Zodiac Mysteries.