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As a professional paranormal investigator, ghostbuster Robert Wlodarski has looked into thousands of alleged hauntings. He’s worked as a consultant with a variety of TV series, including the History Channel’s Haunted History and the Travel Channel’s Mysterious Journeys, and he’s authored several books.
Not surprisingly, Wlodarski—an archaeologist by trade—really does believe in ghosts. “They’re generally people like us, who for some reason stay in that spot long after they died,” he says. “A lot of times it’s because of trauma or tragedy—the spirit is looking for closure, for somebody who’s receptive, like a psychic, through whom they can communicate and transfer information. But some are just normal people who are going through their same routine in the afterlife. If they built a house and lived there for, say, 45 years, and then died in that house, maybe they don’t want to leave. Perhaps that’s their concept of heaven.”
The Wlodarskis, who live in Los Angeles, have spent a lot of time investigating alleged hauntings in San Diego. They say that while the Whaley House is San Diego’s most famous haunted house—and one of only two in California officially certified by the U.S. Commerce Department as being haunted—there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of other haunted spots throughout the county.
Here are some of the Wlodarskis’ favorites—perfect for a ghoulish Halloween outing—and their stories:
The Berkeley: This turn-of-the-century ferryboat, built in San Francisco and now part of the San Diego Maritime Museum, is said to be inhabited by the ghost of an early 1900s passenger who frequently has been sighted within the hull of the ship, pacing back and forth and then disappearing.
Cabrillo Bridge: The bridge leading into Balboa Park from Laurel Street is nicknamed “Suicide Bridge” because of the many people who have jumped to their deaths onto Highway 163 below. Several witnesses have seen a man attempting to jump from the bridge, but as they run to save him, he vanishes.
Casa de Estudillo: This Old Town landmark allegedly is haunted by male and female spirits who frequently materialize before guests. A music box suddenly plays, footsteps and loud crashing noises are heard coming from unoccupied areas, cabinets and doors suddenly open and close, and children’s laughter can be heard in the courtyard. It is speculated that the original occupants—José Antonio Estudillo, a general in the Spanish army who built the house in 1829, and his family—loved the building so much in life they remain here in the afterlife.
El Fandango: This popular Mexican restaurant, next to Bazaar del Mundo, sits on the site of the old Machado estate, which the family first occupied in 1838. One of the Machados, a sad-faced woman in a white dress, is said to still wander through the restaurant and its outdoor courtyard.
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá: The spirit of martyred Padre Luis Jaime reportedly wanders the mission grounds, where visitors frequently report strange noises, lights and voices.
Mitchell House: Bertha Mitchell died in this house, on Witherby Street above Juan Street, in 1926. Her spirit, it is said, remains there to this day, making its presence known through strange banging sounds, shattered mirrors, disembodied voices and apparitions.
Wells Fargo Bank Building: Someone either doesn’t want to leave or hasn’t been able to leave the eighth floor of this downtown building at 600 B Street. The phantom tenant, believed to be a former occupant or watchman, has been known to whistle and playfully turn lights on and off and open and close doors.
Sherman-Gilbert House: This dark-green Victorian in Old Town’s Heritage Park is said to be haunted by a spectral, yet pleasant, child. Some report seeing a boy; others, a girl. Rumor has it the child died in the house—when it was still a residence—and never left. The house is now a city Parks & Recreation office.
For more information on these and other local hauntings, pick up John J. Lamb’s San Diego Specters, published in 1999 by Sunbelt Publications and available at local bookstores and through Amazon.com.