Hauntings in America — West Coast ghouls

Editor’s note: Laura continues her ghostly look at America for Halloween. She has already looked at hauntings on the East Coast and mid-America. Today, she picks out spooky places on the West Coast.

A haunted Halloween vacation as the weather turns crisp may be just the change of pace to shake the madness and mendacity of school, work, and the thought of Christmas shopping. It is a good time to treat yourself to something truly frightful. Here’s a list of some of the best, most ghoulish places on the West Coast to spend All Hallow’s Eve, American style. (Entries followed by the designation (NPS) are run by the National Park Service).

Hotel del Coronado, Coronado, CA – Have a little gilt with your ghost , the four star hotel known affectionately as “The Del” is legendary for more than just its top-notch service and splendid location, it was also the site of a classic ‘whodunit.’ Mysterious guest Kate Morgan was found dead at the back of the hotel and no one knows why. Although officially her death was ruled a suicide, doubts persist 118 years later. Check into room 3502 and ask her. Be careful though, Hotel staff over the years have reported experiencing “odd noises, spirited breezes, strange faces and the ghostly figure of a young lady wearing a black lace dress.” If Ms. Morgan slips by you unnoticed, you can always hop over to nearby San Diego where the “Gaslight District” pops with enough eerie atmosphere for a pantheon of ghosts. A number of historical buildings in the area host haunted happenings. You can also celebrate southwest-style with a number of Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA – Affectionately nicknamed “The Grey Ghost” (in honor of her dulled down appearance when she was requisitioned and re-painted as a troop ship during World War II), it was a prescient choice. No less than150 spirits are claimed to roam its plush halls and decks. The engine room (used in the filming of the Poseidon Adventure) is supposed to be especially ‘hot’ with paranormal activity. In real life, two crew members were crushed to death in door no. 13 (go figure!) at different times and one is often spotted in the vicinity. Less grisly spots include the former pools areas where observers claim to have seen ghostly bathers unaware the pools are no longer in use, and where splashing sounds are said to fill the now-dry area. Although now permanently dry-docked, you can still stay onboard to watch the action. On Halloween the hotel will be hosting a special event.

Alcatraz, Calif. – a virtual film noir of notorious gangsters, it’s a personal favorite because it also covers all the tourism bases. Besides the obvious prison and its infamous inmates, the island has become a wildlife refuge (Alcatraz means ‘pelican’ in Spanish) and the site of a glorious garden, originally started by residents of the original Army post, now restored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. (During efforts to clean up the long-abandoned gardens, workers found heirloom plants and even varieties thought to be extinct, with some specimens now over 100 years old.)

“The Rock” as it is called, also hosts a lighthouse (oldest operating on the west coast) and, at times, Indian sun-rise ceremonies. Throughout its history the site has been an Army outpost during the Mexican-American War; a Civil War garrison, arsenal, and prison; and a civilian prison through several eras serving as a local penitentiary, an Indian detention center, a place to house conscientious objectors during World War I, and finally a federal prison. In 1969, American Indians occupied Alcatraz (199-1972) in a protest aimed at gaining reparations for Native property seized by the government over the years. The siege lasted 19 months and resulted in a new policy which gave Indians the right of self-determination. Today the occupation of Alcatraz is recognized as the event that touched off the Indian Rights Movement (the U.S. subsequently returned many Indian lands). Now a historical landmark, it’s served by several ferries contracted for by the National Park Service. Nearby San Francisco has plenty of lodging to choose from and some of its own scary sites. (NPS)

Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, CA) – the Victorian beauty of this house belies its spooky secrets. About 160 rooms remain of the 500 or 600 its kooky, but wealthy, owner commissioned during the structure’s 38 years of tearing down and re-doing. Its history begins with tragedy, when the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune loses both her child, and then her husband. Convinced that her losses equal a spiritual message, she consults an occultist whose advice is that Mrs. Winchester is being targeted by the spirits of those who have suffered death from Winchester arms, and that she might be next. The alternative is for Mrs. Winchester to build them an awe-inspiring edifice in appeasement. So begins Sara Winchester’s massive do-it-yourself (or at least without a building inspector) efforts resulting in upside-down columns, stairs that go into the ceiling, doors to nowhere, and chimneys that stop short of the roof. For, according to the medium, as long as the project ‘s never finished, the spirits will leave Sara alone. For added protection, according to legend, the home was built in outlandish contortions to confuse unfriendly spirits and attract those that are helpful. The accommodating owner also held nightly séances to ward off the ill-intentioned. Those with triscadecaphobia (fear of the number 13) should skip it, though – numerous rooms feature items (windows, steps, columns) produced in that quantity. Like many a rumored spirit house, visitors have reported strange and eerie sights and sounds and paranormal investigators say it won’t disappoint.

So, what are some of your favorite haunted spots in your world of travel. No need to limit yourself to the U.S.A. I’m sure there are some great haunted happenings that know no borders.