While tangles of polyester cobwebs and piles of plastic bones may serve as fun and freaky decor at the checkout counter of your local pumpkin patch, there are many far more terrifying attractions to explore in San Francisco. If you dare to look beneath the city’s colorful candy coating, that is.
This spooky season we’re taking a closer look at San Francisco’s historically haunted locales.
The Chinatown Ghost Cow
Lifelong Chinatown resident Cynthia Yee tells the story of Chinatown’s grass-fed phantom on her San Francisco Chinatown Ghost Tour. Yee’s great-grandfather claimed he first spotted the specter clip-clopping up Grant Avenue. On the day of the 1906 earthquake, he saw the ghost cow once again. For those looking to bust some bovine ghosts this Halloween, grab your cowgirl boots, ready your electromagnetic field reader and keep an ear out for ghostly moos. Bookings for Yee’s Haunted San Francisco Chinatown Experience start at $45.
The Sutro Baths Basilisk
“Death at the Baths” read the all-caps headline of an article in an 1896 issue of the San Francisco Call. Teenager Frank Devin fell to his death at Sutro Baths, which were built by Mayor Adolph Sutro as a public bathhouse but became a financial failure. What remains of Sutro Baths—rough concrete slabs, rusty metal and murky waters—bears the legacy of the young boy’s death and the bathhouse’s demise. Some claim that a creature now haunts its musty underground tunnels, dragging its claws along the walls. An evening visit to Sutro Baths—when some say the paranormal presence is most active—will send shivers down the spines of anyone fearful of sea monsters or ghosts of failed financial ventures past. Admission to this haunted ruin is free.
The Helping Hands at the Queen Anne Hotel
Those who prefer Casper to Poltergeist can find a feel-good haunting at the Queen Anne Hotel on the corner of Sutter and Octavia. Originally built as a girls school in the 1890s, the Queen Anne Hotel has garnered national attention for its paranormal activity, especially in the former office of the school’s headmistress, which is now Room 410. The hotel is known for its host of friendly ghosts who keep the hotel organized and even help guests pack their belongings. A more wholesome Halloween experience at the Queen Anne starts at $175 per night.
The Hounds of the Presidio
The Presidio Pet Cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of furry, feathery and scaly companions belonging to the military personnel once stationed there. At 667 McDowell Ave., visitors can pay their respects with biscuits and mealworms at the gravestones of Mr. Iguana, Trouble and Willie, a pet hamster who lived from 1954 until 1957. Some say their ghosts still wander the gravesite in search of their humans. Play fetch with the ghost dog your parents never let you have at this open-access cemetery.
Home to silver baron and former sheriff Robert Chambers in the 1800s, the Chambers Mansion (not pictured in the gallery) still looms over Sacramento Street. Fact-checkers have disproved the mansion’s many ghost origin stories, including that Chambers’ niece was sawed in half in the house. The life and death of his wife Eudora Chambers, however, is rife with mystery. Eudora vanished in 1893 and was found a week later on a beach some 15 miles away with no recollection of what had happened to her. She died three years later of unknown causes. Make your way to Pacific Heights to get a glimpse into the five-bedroom grand Victorian.
Olivia Cruz Mayeda can be reached at [email protected]