Climb aboard the glorious Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego and you can feel the history of the world’s oldest active sailing ship. And you might feel a bit more in the bargain: the spirits of men and boys who’ve never gone ashore.
John Campbell was just a teenager when he stowed away in 1884 on the Euterpe, as the ship was known after her 1863 christening at the Isle of Man. The crew discovered the lad and put him to work. Soon, Campbell lost his footing high in the rigging and fell 100 feet to the deck, crushing both legs. He lingered for three days before dying and being buried at sea.
Visitors to the Star of India, as she was renamed in 1906, sometimes say they feel a cold hand on them when they near the mast where Campbell fell.
But Campbell’s spirit most “likes to play with younger kids,” contends James Anderson, a living history instructor on the Star. “He draws a question mark on their back and runs away.”
The Star of India is just one of San Diego’s haunted landmarks. From old hotels to dark lighthouses, the city teems with disquieted spirits.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel in San Diego’s Old Town has made the paranormal circuit big time. Ghost Adventurers from the Travel Channel shot inside in 2011, trying to capture some of the unexplained activity that’s been the talk of San Diego for decades.
The hotel, restored to a restaurant and B&B in 2010, began life as a mansion built by Juan Bandini between 1827 and 1829. Forty years later, it was expanded into a stagecoach stop and hotel called the Cosmopolitan.
Bonnie Vent, a San Diego research medium, has interacted with the spirit of Emily Ann in Room 4/5. Emily Ann ran brothels in the Old Town, and expressed concern about “her girls” through Vent.
In a video available on Vent’s website, sdparanormal.com, another lady of the night led Vent out onto the balcony and revealed how she likes to knock on guest doors because “it amuses me.” Vent leads dinner-and-séance packages at the Cosmopolitan. Afterwards, guests can decide if they dare book a room to stay the night.
Also in Old Town, the Greek Revival Whaley House dates from 1857 — ancient history for San Diego. The two-story, brick house was built by Thomas and Anna Whaley, who lived there with their six children. Little Thomas Jr. died in the house of scarlet fever at the age of 18 months. Another of the Whaleys, 22-year-old Violet, shot herself in the house in 1885 after her husband abandoned her. Their ghosts, and those of Anna and three of her other children are said to haunt the house along with the spirit of “Yankee Jim Robinson,” a desperado convicted of grand larceny, who was hanged in 1852 where the house now stands.
The Whaley House, a California Historical Landmark, is now a museum. The house is open until midnight on the last weekend of every month for ghost-hunting tours, and of course Halloween is huge at the Whaley.
Across town, the Hotel Del Coronado is proud of its resident ghost, young Kate Morgan. She checked in Nov. 24, 1892, as the hotel likes to say, and never checked out. The young woman was pregnant, and waited, some say, for her lover to arrive. On Nov. 29, her body and a handgun were found on the steps to the hotel’s beach.
Morgan spent five nights in Room 302, now Room 3327. She’s been seen not only there, but in the hotel hallways, gardens and beach. She is especially active in the gift shop, sending glasses off shelves and pictures off walls.