Thursday, January 01, 2009


There is something about this time of year that brings on a feeling of introspection and nostalgia. The fading of daylight into softness and shadow, the lush exuberance of summer retreating into decay and hibernation, and the final days of the calendar seem to blur the borders between life and death. So perhaps it was not coincidence that a ghost tour of haunted historic spots around Monterey with some friends coalesced.

As far as I know, no one can verify the existence or meaning of ghosts. Many people have been deeply affected by out-of-the-ordinary experiences they cannot explain. Ghost stories are common to all cultures, and have been told for as long as humans have had language. In my mind, perhaps time is not linear, as we mostly think of it, but spherical; maybe we live our present personal life in a vast ocean of lives and events happening on an infinite number of planes all around us all the time. Tragedies, grief, great love and attachments, strong emotions, passion and evil may cause some palpable ripple that is perceptible to our limited human senses.

Whatever the scientific explanation for ghosts, Monterey is rich with historical buildings and ghostly tales, so much so there are commercial Ghost Tours and numerous books on the subject, as well as abundant reports and stories from residents and visitors alike. We narrowed our tour down to ten locations.

We started with an area of Pacific Grove known as China Point, where there used to be a thriving community of Chinese. Pat Hathaway’s studio has a wealth of photographs of the daily life in this community. Shortly after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which apparently caused an influx of those displaced by that tragedy, the village mysteriously burned to the ground. The area now houses the Hopkins Marine Institute, no trace remaining of the homes and people that once lived there. But some have reported seeing and hearing things in the area. We moved on to the Old Whaling Station, another very old historic spot. The building itself was closed, but the walkway in front composed of slices of whale vertebrae gave a chill. Historic photos show dozens of whale bodies awaiting rendering; we must hope that whales do not choose to haunt us. The gardens in the back of the building are chill and lonely; reportedly there are unmarked graves beneath the area. We did not want to linger, despite the bright sunlight dappling the bricks.
cold and lonely garden site
We visited the Stokes Adobe, there are enough references online to its grim history you may read for yourself. Despite more recent history as a gala restaurant, it did not feel inviting.
Stokes adobe
Even less inviting is Colton Hall, with its attached Old Monterey Jail. Few amenities or human rights here; swift justice and hangings prevented overcrowding. We didn’t linger.
Old Monterey jail
A few blocks away is an old adobe with a massive cypress, haunted perhaps only by the grief of parents who lost their infant son, and chose to bury him close by, rather than in a distant cemetery.
haunted cypress, Lara-Soto Adobe

Further on is a building with many layers of history. Most recently its fame is built on a few months’ residency by Robert Louis Stevenson. We were more touched by the more distant history of a wife caring for her husband during an epidemic, losing the battle, then each of her children in succession, and finally surrendering her self. As we waited for the building to open, we were able to go up some stairs to areas not open to public tours. Much more evocative, and one of our party heard a woman’s voice which could not be explained.
upper hallway, French Hotel

We stopped at the Rectory of the San Carlos Cathedral; again, many, many layers of history. Before the Spanish laid claim to this area, it was long settled by indigenous people. The hauntings apparently are of much more recent residents.

We drove on through an area of Pebble Beach, where the skeletons of ghostly cypress trees haunt the landscape over Pescadero Point, where shipwrecks no doubt contribute to reports of unrestful spirits, including a lady dressed in white, mourning a missing loved one.

Our final stop was just south of Carmel, at an area that was farm and ranch land. There is a quaint house that has survived the storms and seasons, and overlooks Pt. Lobos. Currently sheltered among fragrant eucalyptus trees, it has generated many independent reports of a woman ghost, including members of our group. We had planned to share our picnic lunch there, but the effect of this house was so chilling, we fled.
We were glad to finish the day with deliciously spicy and fragrant food, lovingly prepared and shared among the four of us, entertained by the cats and our lively friends.


Marianne said...

wow. The photos are all great but that first tree? oh yeah.
I can certainly understand not wanting to linger at most of those sites.

happy said...


Great commentary. I feel Monterey should publicize it's history as a part of Americana. I am saying this because all this is as important as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

I think fled is the keyword, and your blog is the best way to recount the day.

Arijit & Sangita