Lesser-Known Hauntings Of Yesteryear, Remembered

San Francisco has its share of infamous hauntings: the lady in white who drowned herself at Stow Lake after killing her newborn baby, the spirits haunting the Donaldina Cameron House, the ghost in Room 410 at the Queen Anne Hotel. 

Stow Lake | Photo: Shoshi Parks

These ghost stories have stood the test of time. But hidden in the San Francisco Chronicle's archives are other ghosts, just waiting to be remembered.

The North Beach Ghost Mystery

Over the course of a few days in December 1871, residents witnessed ghostly apparitions materialize in the windows of North Beach homes.

The first appeared in the second story window of 2119 Mason St. between Lombard and Chestnut, in the home of a Swedish widow who had lost her husband a little over a year before.

“On Monday [Madame Jorgenson] was told by some children that there was a man's face in the window. She went to the upper room, on the window of which the face was said to be, but saw nothing. She then went into the street, and plainly saw what appeared to be the photograph of a man's face on the glass: [a] rather handsome man, with mustache and goatee; hair parted in the middle and waving off the forehead.” 

A drawing of the "handsome" ghost printed in the San Francisco Chronicle | Photo: San Francisco Chronicle

The news spread like “wildfire” in the neighborhood and the crowds became so large that the block was “nearly impassible.” When a second ghost was spotted just days later, this time in the house of J.J. Hucks at 708 Lombard St., local residents were once again whipped into a frenzy.

“This second apparition is far more vivid than the first, but the features are not so regular. The apparition is of an elderly gentleman, with very grotesque features. The pane of glass is rather small, and the old gentleman's head seems to be squeezed in, regardless of comfort.”

Soon, however, “the specter [improved] considerably in appearance,” straightening his nose and growing side-whiskers and a mustache.

Just as the second ghost "vanished into air,” shouting carried the throng of onlookers to 2109 Mason St., a few doors away from the place the first ghost had appeared.

“Ghost No. 3 was a curiosity. It assumed the shape of a butterfly, the outlines of which were perfect.”

Though it faded away shortly, a new apparition appeared again that evening in a different form.

A fourth ghost was reportedly seen the next day on the southeast corner of Mason and Green. Then, as quickly as it began, the rash of phantom sightings ended and the people of North Beach were left in peace.

Mr. Troy vs. Emma Abbott’s Ghost

At a time when seances with the dead were a fashionable way for ladies to spend their afternoons, the spirit of opera star Emma Abbott began haunting 124 Sixth St., according to an April 19th, 1891 news story.

A group gathered for a seance around 1920. | Photo: Collection of National Media Museum

Though recently deceased, the trouble didn’t begin until Emma’s ashes were brought back to Sixth Street from the crematorium in Pittsburg. On Thursday nights, her company’s pay day, Emma appeared in a “dingy little bay-window front room.”

E.P.E. Troy, an amateur medium, was called to help lay Emma to rest in the presence of four ladies hoping to observe her and other spirits from beyond. When Emma finally appeared, Troy, “with the help of a rusty old army pistol without a trigger,” wrestled her to the ground and, after a struggle in which his spectacles were crushed under the weight of the spirit, he “finally succeeded in laying Emma’s ghost.”

The once-admired prima donna hasn’t been seen since.

Golden Gate Park Ghost Holds Up Automobile Party

In January 1908, a drive through Golden Gate Park turned terrifying when Arthur Pigeon, “the cement man,” and several lady friends encountered a ghost.

“According to Pigeon, the thing stood directly in front of the speeding automobile, clad in a luminous white robe, and holding its arms extended as though to stop the progress of the machine. It was first seen by one of the women occupants of the machine. She emitted a shriek of terror, and Pigeon, who was at the tiller, looked to one side of the south drive.”

Pigeon hit the gas and drove away at top speed until he was overcome half a mile away by mounted policeman D.A. Daly. With the women in the car “bordering on hysteria,” Pigeon tried to explain what the party had seen. Staying calm, Daly offered to arrest the ghost and keep him overnight in jail if Pigeon would take him back to the scene of the crime.

When they returned, though, the specter had disappeared.

'Jealous Female Spirit' Haunts Art Institute 

Beginning in the 1940s, an apparition was reported to be regularly haunting students and faculty of the San Francisco Art Institute residing or working in the school’s tower.

The tower at the San Francisco Art Institute | Photo: San Francisco Art Institute/Yelp

One student heard footsteps behind him as he was working on a painting at 2am, but saw no one when he turned around. Another regularly heard footsteps and once saw a doorknob turning on its own. Wally Hedrick, a long-time faculty member, once heard all the tools in the sculpture studio turn on by themselves while he was at work upstairs after midnight. And Hayward King, a former evening registrar, witnessed all the lights in the building suddenly turning on despite the fact that there was no master switch.

The ghost was always considered a friendly spirit, but by 1968, with the building undergoing a $1.7 million renovation, it turned nasty.

“Three of the night crew blame the ghost for personal disasters: A bad motorcycle accident, an attack of polio, a serious family problem,” ran an Oct. 31st, 1968 news story. Unexpected delays in steel delivery and unusual difficulty in pouring concrete seemed to also be the ghost’s doing.

After hearing the sound of chairs being broken behind him while studying one night in the library, one student determined that the “ghost is a jealous female spirit, whose presence is felt. "It’s a mindless entity, a sense of energy vibrating, a damp feeling that goes through you."

And with that, we advise that you beware of mindless entities, and bring an umbrella to ward off damp feelings as you venture out to enjoy your Halloween weekend.

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Lesser known hauntings of sf