A guide to SF’s most haunted places

Lissette Vargas

jim2

Walking down into an empty dark basement as a child in Chicago, Jim Fassbinder experienced his first ghost encounter. He began to play with the shadow of a man on the wall, a man who was nowhere in sight. His fascination for the supernatural continued into adulthood as he began to study and get involved in scientific investigations of hauntings.

Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Fassbinder began doing research on the city’s ghosts and supernatural history. For the past fifteen years, he has been giving ghost tours in Pacific Heights so that participants can experience a real supernatural encounter. The San Francisco Ghost Hunt is a three-hour long tour that is led by Fassbinder year round, Wednesday through Sunday at 7 p.m.

Sixteen guests attend Sundays Ghost Hunt Tour led by Jim Fassbinder. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
Guests gather around Jim Fassbinder outside of the Queen Anne Hotel on Sunday for the San Francisco Ghost Hunt. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)

On tonight’s tour, sixteen ghost hunters gather outside of Queen Anne Hotel on the corner of Sutter and Octavia Street. An older man with long gray hair, dressed in a vintage Victorian vest welcomes the group into the hotel to begin their chilling adventure. The guests are encouraged to expect the unexpected on tonight’s tour.

According to Fassbinder, a ghost is a paranormal manifestation caused by someone deceased. It can take the form of a voice, scent, cold spot, or the simple feeling that someone is watching you. Fassbinder believes that ghosts are drawn by harvested emotions like love, fear, and revenge.

This article will explore some of San Francisco’s most haunted places followed by tips on how to embark on your own spooky adventures.

 

A look inside the haunted Queen Anne Hotel, formally known as Mary Lake's School for the Girls.
A look inside the haunted Queen Anne Hotel, formally known as Mary Lake’s School for the Girls.

Headmistress Miss Mary Lake’s School for the Girls – 1590 Sutter St.

The site, undamaged by the 1906 earthquake, remains beautifully decorated as it once did in the Victorian era. The building first opened in 1890 as an all-girls boarding school, the first of its kind in San Francisco. Lake educated girls in etiquette and decorum from 1891 up until 1900 when it was sold off, despite Lake’s objection to do so. Lake’s eternal love for the girls and territorial tendencies keeps her spirit hanging in the halls of the fourth floor, specifically room 410, her old office.

Now the landmark stands as the Oueen Anne Hotel where visitors claim to have multiple encounters with Lake’s friendly ghost. Some claim to wake up and find themselves mysteriously tucked into their bed, or have their luggage mystifyingly unpacked.

You can read about guest’s encounters here and here.

 

Jim Fassbinder hold's the key that once opened the door to the Chambers Mansion as the group anticipates paranormal activity. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
Jim Fassbinder hold’s the key that once opened the door to the Chambers Mansion as the group anticipates paranormal activity. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)

Chambers Mansion – 2220 Sacramento St.

The mansion was built in 1887 by US Senator Richard Chambers and was housed by his family, one of them being his niece, Claudia Chambers. Records indicate that Claudia died a gruesome death in the home during a farming equipment accident and was nearly cut in half. Although Fassbinder claims foul play, no documents exist to dispute the ruling of an accident.

During its time as the Mansions Hotel, there were countless reported incidents of windows opening and closing on their own, drops in temperature and lights flickering on and off, according to owner of the hotel Robert Pritikin.

In December 2008 the property was listed for $4.25 million and has now been converted into condos.

During Fassbinder’s tour he shows guests a key that is said to belong to the mansion at the time it was owned by the Chambers, which he purchased from the Museum of Infamous Antiquities. The key is said to produce poltergeist activity, take a look at the video below to see what happens.

California Street Ghost – near Octavia Street

California Street is home to San Francisco’s most famous ghost, Flora Summerton. In 1876 Summerton disappeared at the age of eighteen years old on the day of her arranged marriage to an older man. Shortly after she was found dead in Butte, Montana and among her possessions was a white floor-length dress, according to Fassbinder.

As groups of people ride down the cable cars on California Street, many reported seeing a translucent woman dressed in a white gown. An eight-year-old girl on Fassbinder’s tour reported to have seen a woman made out of smoke on the street.

Tour guide, Jim Fassbinder, hands guests an Electro Magnetic Field Dector. (Lissette Vargas/Xpress Magazine)
Tour guide, Jim Fassbinder, hands guests an Electro Magnetic Field Dector. (Lissette Vargas/Xpress Magazine)

 

How to experience your own ghost adventure:

  1. Download an Electro Magnetic Field detector on your iPhone like Joshua Waller’s iEMF app for $0.99. An EMF will detect electromagnetic field fluctuations. A reading between 2 to 7 milligauss is most commonly associated with supernatural activity.
  2. Snap pictures with a 35 mm or digital camera without flash. What you’re looking for is an orb, a fuzzy off white ball of light that appears in photographic images. These glowing balls are closely related with signs of spiritual energy.
  3. Bring a tape recorder to help capture ghost voices. You can also download Recorder the app on your iPhone for $0.99.
  4. Dress warmly. San Francisco gets chilly this time of year and ghosts are believed to produce cold spots.
  5. Be patient. Remember anything from an eerie feeling, to a chill down your spine can be a sign of a paranormal encounter.