I escaped the house Thursday evening to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: take the San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour! Borderlands Bookstore organized the outing for its sponsors and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. After the week I’ve had, it was a gift to be able to get out of the house, explore the city, and learn about its history as the sun set.
The tour leaned heavily on the life of Mary Ellen Pleasant, who came to San Francisco as a free woman, bought property, funded the raid on Harper’s Ferry, rescued people out of slavery and found them jobs in San Francisco, became known as the city’s voodoo queen, and eventually lost everything. Even her home is gone now, but six of the trees she planted still line Octavia Street, where our tour began.
The ghost stories about her incorporated crows, barking dogs, and people being pelted with gum nuts from Mary Ellen’s eucalyptus trees.
The only house I’d been inside on the tour was the former Mansions Hotel, once owned by silver mining millionaire Richard Chambers. His niece Claudia was killed in a bedroom in the turret in what the death certificate called a farm implement accident. No word on what the farm implement was doing inside Claudia’s bedroom.
The house underwent extensive renovations and was cut into a pair of condos. Still gracious and lovely inside, the one I visited is apparently no longer haunted, according to its owner.
We stopped outside the home of Gertrude Atherton, whose stories have unfortunately fallen out of fashion. She palled around with Ambrose Bierce and Oscar Wilde — and her collection of stories called The Bell in the Fog is legitimately scary. The ghost story was delicious, too.
The tour wrapped up at the Hotel Majestic on Sutter Street. We didn’t go into the haunted room on the fourth floor, but in the room across the hall, the lights flickered and strange breezes wafted through. I wish I could have stopped in the hotel’s lovely bar for a drink, but I hope to go back another time. Apparently they serve spirits inspired by the ghost tour.
Maybe I’ll even spend the night.
The San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour goes out five nights a week, Wednesday to Sunday. You can find them on Facebook or at their homepage. Christian, the guide of our tour, has a wealth of history in his head and knows how to tell a spooky story, too.
He’s got a one-man magic show coming up next weekend: Obscura at Z Space.