If the close of yet another perfect summer in America’s Finest City doesn’t frighten you, it’s likely nothing will. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the most haunted places in San Diego — and there are far more of them than you might think.
Alongside the established list of traditional local landmarks are a surprising number of those that claim to be haunted. Not only does San Diego boast “the most haunted house in America,” but the lore of this city’s purported spirits include a murdered gambler, a German spy, and a jilted lover known as the “beautiful stranger.”
And it doesn’t end there. A 15-year-old stowaway, a grieving servant, and a local pioneer are also among the cast of active apparitions said to be taking up residence across the county.
Opinions tend to vary between local tour operators, paranormal researchers, and plain old ghost aficionados on where and what the most haunted place in San Diego might be. But there is one thing they all agree on: As trick-or-treaters and costumed revelers take to the streets at the end of the month, they will not be alone. They believe that somehow, an ensemble of benign and tragic specters remain trapped between worlds, unable to leave their final earthy destinations, and unaware that Halloween is anything more than just another day.
Get your ghost on with some of San Diego’s top spots to (supposedly) come face to face with the paranormal.
Built in 1850, the Davis-Horton House (once known as the William Heath Davis House) is the oldest standing structure in the Gaslamp Quarter. Unexplained phenomena have been linked to San Diego founder Alonzo Horton and his wife, Sarah; a World War I German spy who once lived there; and many who lost their lives on the property during the decade it served as a hospital. 410 Island Ave., downtown San Diego. gaslampfoundation.org
Horton Grand Hotel
The old saying “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all” could certainly apply to the Horton Grand Hotel’s most infamous guest, Roger Whitaker. Known for his heavy drinking and lack of scruples when it came to playing cards, the gambler met his fate at the hands of creditors while he hid in Room 309’s armoire. Strange occurrences on site have been credited to him over the years, but the story itself has been questioned. Perhaps it’s actually Ida Bailey, the owner of a brothel that once operated on the same site, who also has been linked to paranormal activity there. 311 Island Ave., downtown San Diego. hortongrand.com
Hotel del Coronado
What? The iconic San Diego landmark where “Some Like It Hot” was filmed? Say it ain’t so. But even according to the hotel, the rumors are true. That said, it could really be a lot worse. While the circumstances behind the spirit said to haunt the property aren’t very nice — 24-year-old Kate Morgan took her own life after a lover bowed out of their rendezvous — apparently, her ghost is. She was referred to as “the beautiful stranger” after police could not identify her body, and happenings in and around Morgan’s guest room (the most requested room at the hotel) are mild and harmless. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado. hoteldel.com
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Now part of the Cabrillo National Monument, this 46-foot-tall structure was lighted for the first time in 1855. Reports of heavy footsteps, cold spots and a multitude of strange noises are attributed to navigator and explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, as well as final lighthouse keeper Capt. Robert Decatur Israel, who died in 1908. 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, Point Loma. nps.gov/cabr/index.htm
Nestled in the now-bustling communities of Harmony Grove and San Elijo Hills, this North County cut-through between Rancho Santa Fe Road and Auto Parkway wasn’t always so gentrified. Legend says gypsies cursed the area after they were once slaughtered here in the Elfin Forest by intolerant residents, while newer rumors involve an abandoned mental hospital and a cult house. There have also been reports of a figure referred to as the “White Lady” haunting the trees.
Star of India
The oldest working sailing ship made more than 20 voyages around the world before it was first taken out of service, and then restored, in San Diego. Multiple lives were lost aboard the merchant vessel over the years, but the most infamous of their manifestations comes in the form of John Campbell. The 15-year-old stowaway died from a nearly 100-foot fall sustained while tending to the ship’s masts. 1492 N. Harbor Drive, Harborview. sdmaritime.org/visit/the-ships/star-of-india
Built in 1885, this 19th-century Victorian mansion is said to be haunted by its first resident — spiritualist, musician, author and occasional leader of séances Jesse Shepard. One of Shepard’s servants, so distraught by his wife’s death, hanged himself in the building’s tower and is said to occasionally make his presence known. 1925 K St., Sherman Heights. villamontezuma.org
This is the most infamous of all San Diego haunts. Built on a graveyard and named by both LIFE Magazine and the Travel Channel as “the most haunted house in America,” the Whaley House earned its reputation the old fashioned way: capital punishment and suicide. James “Yankee Jim” Robinson, who was hanged on the grounds in 1852 for grand larceny before the house was even built, is said to have never left. The same is said of Violet Whaley, who 33 years later, at the age of 22, committed suicide after significant public backlash from divorce. Her parents, Thomas and Anna Whaley, the building’s original owners, have also reportedly been seen at the location. 2476 San Diego Ave., Old Town. whaleyhouse.org
McDonald is a freelance writer.
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