Haunted History of San Diego

A lantern illuminates a pen lying across a sheet of paper serving as a guest register.

The Whaley House Guest Register. Photo © Doom64, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

No historic city worth its weight in ectoplasm can make it through a few centuries of existence without accumulating its fair share of resident spooks and spirits. Never one to be left out of the hauntings, San Diego bills itself as the home of the “Most Haunted House in America” and enough other paranormal sites to keep both believers and skeptics arguing about their veracity until they become ghosts themselves.

Whaley House

Dubbed as the “Most Haunted House in America” by the Travel Channel, this brick structure spooked the Whaley family way back in 1857 when they first moved in. They heard mysterious heavy footsteps upstairs, which they later believed to be the ghost of an outlaw who was hanged on the property before they owned it — the land had served as the town gallows. Since that time, a number of tragic deaths on the site have only added more ghostly stories to the Whaley House mystique.

El Campo Santo

One of the earliest recorded graveyards in the city, El Campo Santo is believed to be haunted by the spirits of those whose graves were paved over by the adjacent San Diego Avenue. Just a block away from the Whaley House, this is many ghost investigators’ second-favorite place to wave around tape recorders and EMF meters on moonless nights.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Perched atop the Point Loma Peninsula at the Cabrillo National Monument, this lighthouse is the site of a controversial haunting — even steadfast paranormal believers quibble over the spirit that supposedly resides here. Skeptics say that the lighthouse was never the site of any kind of tragedy or trauma that would invite a haunting, but others are adamant about seeing the ghost of a forlorn sailor on the property.

Hotel del Coronado

Like any good old hotel, the Del has its share of hauntings. There are reports of cold spots, flickering lights, a general sense of dread, and even indentations in pillows — like someone’s head is resting there — that won’t go away even after fluffing. The hotel’s best-known ghost is thought to be that of Kate Morgan, an Iowa girl who turned up dead here in 1892. Officially ruled a suicide, her body was found on the steps leading to the beach, a bullet wound in her head.

Star of India

Sitting on the docks of the Embarcadero as a part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego, Star of India is the world’s oldest active ship and her sometimes tragic history is studded with deaths on the high seas. For example, in 1868 her captain died while the ship was at sea. Some visitors say they’ve smelled phantom scents and seen apparitions while aboard.

The pride and joy of the museum is the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship. This full-rigged iron windjammer was built at Ramsey Shipyards in the Isle of Man in 1863. Another highlight is the HMS Surprise, a replica 24-gun frigate of Great Britain’s Nelson-era Royal Navy. Russell Crowe fans may recognize her—she was the boat used in the hit movie Master and Commander. –p.42, Maritime Museum of San Diego

Horton Grand Hotel

Guests who have stayed in room 309 at Horton Grand have reported the bed shaking, unexplained opening and closing of armoire doors, and unearthly movement of objects. The paranormal activity is believed to be the work of Robert Whitaker. Legend has it that this cheating gambler of the mid-1800s was caught one night and his accuser followed him to his room at what was then the Kale Saddlery Hotel and shot him over the dispute. Guests in other rooms have reported hearing the sound of shuffling cards coming from inside room 309 when it was unoccupied.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon San Diego.

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