I love ghost stories, especially the scary ones, even though I’ve never written about a ghost. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. If you’ve read The Madness of Mercury, the first book in the Zodiac Mysteries, you’ll remember there’s a ghost story connected to the Gamble House and even a séance! But considering that San Francisco isn’t that old a city, it does seem to have more than its share of haunted sites.
For example, the Squando was a Norwegian sailing ship that docked in San Francisco in 1890. The captain discovered that his wife was having an affair with his first mate, so he lopped off the first mate’s head and dumped the body in the Bay. Shortly after, the captain, his wife and the head disappeared and were never found.
The story doesn’t end there though. The next three captains of the Squando were murdered by their crews. The ship was finally docked in New Brunswick but no one could be found who would guard the ship. All claimed they saw a bloody headless man roaming the ship at night. It’s also said that on foggy nights an old three-masted ship can be seen sailing aimlessly in San Francisco Bay.
How about the tall glass and steel highrise at 555 California Street. It was built in 1969 and for a long time housed the Bank of America. Office staff have been freaked out by files flying off shelves and cold spots moving through the rooms. One theory is that victims from the 1906 earthquake are still trapped underground. That’s not much of a stretch actually, because in truth, rubble from collapsed buildings and hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies were plowed into the Bay when the clean up after the earthquake began. The powers in the city at that time were in a big hurry to clear up the mess and attract investors. So much of the land South of Market Street is filled land (not good in a quake) and was created from this very rubble.
Then there’s Flora Sommerton. She was a debutante from a wealthy family who was about to be forced into a loveless marriage to an older man. Flora was having none of it. At her engagement party in 1876, she ran away and never returned home. Many years later in 1926, she was found dead in a cheap hotel in Butte, Montana. It’s said that on foggy nights, young Flora can be seen walking down California Street from Nob Hill still wearing her white ball gown, the same gown she wore that fateful night in 1876.
There are many more ghost stories in the city – the lady of Stow Lake, the Haskell House, the Atherton Mansion and even more. If you’re interested in exploring, check out this site for a walking tour: San Francisco Ghost Hunt. Hope you’re not easily scared. It’s not for the faint of heart!
This post first appeared at the Pulp and Mystery Shelf on June 26, 2018.