by Taylor Leonard
The beautiful scenery, fresh ocean air, and all-around cultural impact of the San Francisco Bay Area often overshadows the socio-economic troubles brewing there like they do in any other big city. Frisco has an innate way of sweeping its plain-sight problems under the rug like that.
Take for example the following list of the eeriest places in the city and surrounding area. While some are strictly known for their creep factor, others may come as a surprise owed to their overall beauty and significance:
Winchester Mystery House
Just about every channel flipper or paranormal enthusiast has heard about the Winchester Mystery House at some point or another. For those unfamiliar, owner and resident Sarah Winchester was heir to a multimillion-dollar fortune amassed by her late husband William Winchester, founder of Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Believing herself to be haunted by the thousands of people killed by Winchester rifles, Sarah Winchester was instructed by a psychic to build a home for these spirits, lest they cause her horror and misfortune. Thus, from 1884 until her death in 1922, the Winchester House located in San Jose was the scene of constant construction projects clashing in style and design in an effort to appease the dead and give them a place to live.
Another Bay Area must of any self-proclaimed paranormal-themed book, documentary, or program is the USS Hornet permanently docked off the coast of Alameda. Reports of sailors in WW2-era uniforms walking its corridors and deck have persisted since the 1960s. In fact it’s considered the most haunted vessel in the United States Navy past and present due to the number of similar unexplained sightings and phenomena over the years. One of the more unsettling of these alleged encounters involves hearing the piercing screams of engine room workers who were seared and boiled to death by accident when the steam works erupted.
An easy-to-miss house built in 1887, the Bordello located on East 12th street in Oakland was once a brothel and saloon. Once upon a time it sat right alongside the ocean (which is now held back by the Nimitz Freeway) and was the frequent destination of sailors. Combine alcohol and prostitution and you have yourself a structure with a lot of interesting stories to tell. Violence was inevitable, stabbings taking up the majority of documented riff raff. In the years since things have seemingly settled down on site – the Bordello is a music venue now – but reports linger of strange musty smells accompanied by the sounds of a stirred crowd despite no visible source for either. The silence of the building during off hours is said to be broken by the noise of shattering glass and overturned tables. Occasionally furniture is said to be seen moving on its own in a similarly violent eruption of invisible force.
Made famous by the penitentiary built there to house the worst offenders in the U.S. federal prison system, Alcatraz Island has a history going all the way back to the Spanish occupation of California in the late-18th century. A military base during the Mexican-American War and a POW camp during the American Civil War, Alcatraz – situated midway between San Francisco and Angel Island – was already the home of several documented ghost sightings by the time the federal prison was constructed there in the 1930s. However it’s the paranormal activity of the prisoner housing facilities – “B-block” and “D-block” – which receive the most notoriety. The section of D-block known as “the Hole” – where trouble inmates spent weeks, months, and sometimes years in isolation, is said to be the site of poltergeist activity. Workers have claimed to see the large iron doors violently swing open and shut. Several former employees report being shoved up against the wall by an invisible force in this part of the prison complex turned tourist attraction.
Golden Gate Bridge
The symbol of the San Francisco Bay area and an iconic piece of American architecture recognized around the globe, the Golden Gate Bridge is visited by millions of tourists every year. Tragically some of these people come with the purpose of committing suicide by jumping from the span into the frigid waters hundreds of feet below. Over 1600 people have jumped to their deaths since the bridge opened in 1937 – about 20 people a year. In several cases people have travelled from thousands of miles away – passing countless other bridges – to end their lives on the Golden Gate Bridge. Pedestrians commonly report hearing whimpers and cries from the ledge when no potential jumper is visible. Others claim to have witnessed what appeared to be someone leaping from the span only to see the person vanish moments after they enter freefall.
When it comes to urban sprawl most cities aspire to be like San Francisco. Densely populated yet pristine, culturally-significant yet laid-back, the Bay Area achieves a certain ideal few cities reach. With that said, the beautiful burg by the bay is not without its share of eerie sights and sounds. If you’re out seeing the best the city has to offer you may very well be standing in a space saturated with paranormal activity.