SAN DIEGO — The season of ghostly haunting is nearing its peak with Halloween and Día de Muertos right around the corner. It’s the time when spirits are said to walk among the living, many believed to be revisiting a place of significance in their life.
Some cities with storied buildings and vast cemeteries — destinations like Savannah, New Orleans and Salem — have reputations for their history of paranormal encounters. However, many people may not be aware of the extensive folklore of ghosts right here in San Diego.
“(San Diego) has been here since the mid-1700s and it has just as much history,” Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley tour manager, Kalani Baker, told FOX 5. “You also see the mixing of cultures, of ideas … And with the sharing of stories, of oral traditions, those are going to pass down and go through different types of transformations along the way.”
Most locals are probably familiar with the tall tales of spirits haunting sites like the Whaley House in Old Town and the Hotel del Coronado. But there are hundreds of other stories recounting purported visits from spirits of bygone eras in the city’s history.
Locals may have heard some of these fantastical stories of restless spirits from San Diego’s sordid history that wander the region — whether they were passed down through family or a rumor overheard from neighbors.
For those looking to experience San Diego’s spooky side, here are some of the lesser known spots for “haunting” encounters and the tales attached to them.
Heritage Park Victorian Village (Old Town)
The Heritage Park Victorian Village has quite a ghostly reputation, with rumors of hauntings in many of its 19th century buildings. One of the most well-documented legends is at the McConaughey House, now home to the Coral Tree Tea House and Old Town Gift Emporium.
The house was built in 1887 for the family of local passenger stage service entrepreneur, John McConaughey. The structure was moved to present day Heritage Park in 1981, about a decade after the park’s founding. According to local legend, the spirits of John and his wife, Mary, are said to still roam the Victorian home.
Owners of the Tea House say there have been instances where items have been inexplicably rearranged in the gift shop and electricity has flickered for no reason. Guests at the Tea House have also reported feeling the watchful, friendly presence of Mary. When no other people are around, some have reported hearing the heavy footsteps of John coming from the upstairs area.
San Diego River
Like many other places across the Southwest, San Diego has its own version of the centuries-old Mexican myth of “La Llorona,” the wailing woman that torments children and cheating husbands after her misdeeds trapped her spirit on Earth.
Long before “New Town” gave way to modern-day San Diego, the Kumeyaay tribe, the region’s First People, resided on the land. In the 16th century, the indigenous civilization began to interact with Spanish settlers, brought to the region after explorers “discovered” the area.
As the local tale of “La Llorona” goes, a Kumeyaay woman married a Spanish soldier and the two had two children. After some time, however, she discovered he had another wife in Spain.
In grief, she drowned their kids and herself in the San Diego River. Now, she’s said to wander the banks of the waterway and some of the beaches at night, crying out as she searches for her deceitful husband.
“It’s one of those things that really kind of always stuck with me,” Baker said of the story. “(It) makes your hair kind of stand up now and again, when you hear something weird.”
Gaslamp Museum at the William Heath David House (Gaslamp Quarter)
Downtown San Diego’s oldest residence, the William Heath David House is said to have its fair share of apparitions that wander through the halls of the mysterious structure.
Built in 1850 by one of San Diego’s forefathers William Heath Davis, the home has had a unique history, at times serving as an army barracks and one of the county’s first hospitals. A German spy had even resided in the home’s attic during World War I.
The building’s colorful past — and numerous deaths on the premises — is said to have contributed to an “abundance of paranormal activity.” A handful of spirits are said to have appeared in front of visitors, including an unknown Victorian woman and a couple in period clothing — she in a long evening gown and he in a suit.
All the way back in 1977, residents of the home told the then-San Diego Union newspaper that they had heard doors slam and seen lights go off and on when nobody was in the house — even though the house was not yet wired for electricity at the time and used gas lights.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse (Point Loma)
Still standing after 200 years, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a fixture on the San Diego Bay. It’s also infamous for supposed paranormal activity.
Built in 1855, the historic building served the city for 36 years until a new location with a view unobstructed from low lying clouds was discovered.
Today, visitors on tours of the lighthouse have reported hearing footsteps, moaning and heavy breathing and feeling as though someone is standing behind them — even if there is no one around.
According to the Ghosts and Gravestones tour, some believe the spirit of the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo lives there, looking at other ships as they enter the bay. Others say the lighthouse’s final keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, haunts the building, returning after death to keep watch over it and all who venture inside.
Residents in Mission Hills may be familiar about the rumored hauntings in the neighborhood of a white deer killed in the area at the turn of the century.
As Baker recounted the tale, an albino deer had been brought to San Diego in the early days of the San Diego Zoo. But the deer, which was nicknamed Lucy, ended up getting sold to a private landowner in Mission Hills. Eventually, the neighborhood became her home.
However, when they started putting in more houses, residents in the area became worried that someone would hit her with cars at the time. To protect the doe, plans were put in place to tranquilize her and take her back to the zoo.
Unfortunately, Lucy was later killed before she could be placed back in captivity, as the animal control worker dispatched to help used too much tranquilizer fluid. An archived article from the San Diego Union said over 200 people attended her funeral in 1975. The following year, a plaque was erected in Presidio Park dedicated to the doe.
Now, Lucy is said to haunt the neighborhood, nipping at people’s petunias and other foliage as she wanders.
Casa del Prado Theatre (Balboa Park)
Those who have performed at the Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park (including myself) at one point or another have likely heard the story of the young actress who supposedly haunts the venue after meeting her untimely end.
Abigail, as she is known, is believed to wander the theater’s upper levels lamenting her death, which came during a production of Rogers + Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” She was playing the titular role.
One night, Abigail went missing and nobody was able to figure out where she went. When the Balboa Park bells rung out for 7 p.m., people supposedly saw her body fall from one of the theatre’s tall towers and hit the ground.
Some say she was pushed by someone looking to takeover the role of Cinderella, but the circumstances remain a mystery. The doors of the tower were reportedly locked — she shouldn’t have been able to get up there — and nobody was seen coming out of the tower after.
While the existence of ghosts remains up for debate, Baker encourages those open-minded folks that want to find those still walking among us from beyond the grave to visit some of these public sites and sit for a few hours, taking in your surroundings with all of your senses.
“You got to go in with an open mind,” Baker added, “and the thought that ‘well, anything could really happen.'”