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.
Employees say she often flings mementoes of Marilyn Monroe, who stayed here during filming of Some Like It Hot. Jealousy, some wonder?
It’s a great story, but San Diego medium Bonnie Vent contends that Kate was really Lottie Barnard of Detroit, and her spirit hangs around the hotel because she was misidentified. “She is waiting,” Vent writes on her website, “for her true story to be told.”
Another San Diego landmark, the Hotel Grand, has a storied pedigree, built from the bricks of two venerable hotels: the Grand Horton and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel. Both were opened about 1886, and both faced the wrecking ball in the late 1970s. Entrepreneurs bought them from the city for $1 each and painstakingly dismantled the buildings. They reconfigured the bricks into the Horton Grand in 1986 on a new spot in the Gaslamp District.
Genteel now, this area was once the heart of San Diego’s raucous wildlife of opium dens, bars and brothels. Wyatt Earp lived in The Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel for most of his seven years in San Diego.
But it’s not Earp who is said to haunt the Horton Grand, but rather a gambler named Roger Whitaker, at home forever in Room 309. The legend is that Whitaker was caught one night cheating in a game of cards. He hid in an armoire, but was soon discovered and shot to death.
Nearby, the US Grant may be one of San Diego’s most lightly haunted hotels. U.S. Grant Jr. built the grand property in 1901 in tribute to his father, the 18th president. Rumors fly that the spirit of Junior’s first wife, Fannie Chaffee Grant, may swirl around the floors — she died one year before the hotel’s opening. But it’s a risk worth taking in this richly restored landmark in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter.
There are few more haunting sights than a lighthouse by moonlight. Many spirit seekers can’t resist the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, high above the Pacific on one side with San Diego Bay on the other.
Old Point Loma has been shuttered as a working lighthouse for 120 years. But ghost hunters believe that the last lighthouse keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, remains ever-vigilant, and his presence is marked by cold spots on the spiral staircase and in the tower above.
The 1855 lighthouse, part of Cabrillo National Monument, was restored to its 1880s look by the U.S. National Park Service. No one is sure who provides the cold spots and occasional eerie sounds, such as the low moan in the south bedroom, but no one is staying overnight to find out.