Is Dolores Park in San Francisco Haunted?
The world of spirits is a murky one, and it is often hard to separate the history from the legend, the truth from the fiction, the concrete from the mystical. This feat is complicated further in situations where a location seems to be haunted by multiple spirits. It becomes almost impossible when the presence of the spirits seems to follow certain people from one location to another. To understand such a situation, you have to be willing to accept that sometimes things are not as clear as we would like them to be in the telling of our stories. Ghosts do not live in the sort of timeline in which we live our daily lives, and they do not move through space in the same tangible way in which we do. To understand their presence in an area, we have to suspend our way of thinking for awhile and accept that maybe things do not have to be entirely clear in order to be at least somewhat understood.
This is the case with San Francisco’s Dolores Park. The history of the area is too complicated to understand with simple ease. The presence of two different cemeteries on the site at different times makes it hard to discern when spirits began appearing at the haunted location. The fact that certain people seem to have experienced the same spirits both at Dolores Park and elsewhere in the city makes Dolores Park that much more difficult to understand. And of course there is the doubt that a lot of people have about whether or not there’s such a thing as ghosts at all. But whether or not we understand it, it is clear that something a bit unreal is happening in that area of San Francisco.
The story of Dolores Park is one of those stories which is best not told in linear fashion. Things do not proceed cleanly from “this happened” to “that happened” in the history of Dolores Park and the spirits who linger - or filter through – there. Instead, the story of Dolores Park is one in which multiple characters weave back and forth through time so it makes the most sense to look at the characters of this story.
So the story begins with modern times and a young woman named Collette Brumfield. Collette experienced her first encounter with the spirit world one day when she was spending time with her boyfriend, John, enjoying the peaceful beauty of Dolores Park. The two of them were the only ones in the park at the time, and they were engaged in laughing conversation on one of the park benches, immersed in the world between them and nearly oblivious to the world around them, when suddenly they both heard the sound of someone clapping.
They looked around, but they saw no one, and they couldn’t quite tell where the source of the sound was emanating from. After spending some time listening to the otherworldly clapping, they determined that it sounded as though the clapping was coming from behind a nearby tree, but when John went to see if anyone was there, no one could be found. As John moved around the park in search of the maker of the sound, he and Collette began to hear laughter. Each of them felt the presence of other people in the park, but they could see through the open space of the urban retreat and no one else appeared to be there. The experience spooked Collette so intensely that they left the park immediately and both waited quite some time before ever returning.
John’s Other Haunted Experience
If this was all that there was to the history of haunting in Dolores Park, it could be passed off as an isolated incident which may not be indicative of ghost activity at all. It could be assumed that somebody was playing a prank on the young couple and just had the lighting and the atmosphere right enough to pull it off. But the Dolores Park experience was not the only experience that Collette’s boyfriend, John, would have with a ghost.
For a time, John lived in a home in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. There was no doubt in his mind that a spirit was haunting the location. Doors would close without assistance, lights would flicker regularly. The presence of spirits became so disarming that eventually a priest was called to the house to discern what was going on and (hopefully) to expel the spirits from the location. During the priest’s visit, lights in the home flickered uncontrollably, doors slammed, and there was suddenly an animalistic roar emanating from downstairs
The Hebrew Cemetery
John’s experience in the Pacific Heights home could be considered unrelated to his experience in Dolores Park that day that he and Collette were together. However, history begs to differ. John’s Pacific Heights home was built atop the original location of a Hebrew Cemetery. As San Francisco grew, the Hebrew Cemetery was dug up and moved … directly to the location which would eventually become Dolores Park!
The Hebrew Cemetery was closed in 1860, shortly after it was moved to Dolores Park. The following year, a new Jewish Cemetery, the Gibbath Olum Cemetery, opened in the same location (bordered by Church Street, Dolores, 18th and 20th). The Gibbath Olum Cemetery remained open until 1888, at which time the settled bodies were again shifted, this time to nearby Colma. Perhaps all of this shifting is what has made it so difficult for the people once buried in the area to know where to spend out the rest of their days and nights.
Is Dolores Park Haunted?
So, is San Francisco’s Dolores Park haunted? It’s tough to say. Most days when you go there you’ll see sunbathers and festival go-ers and it won’t feel spooky at all. But if you do believe in ghosts then you may not want to go there alone in the stillness of a no-moon night!
Note: This material is excerpted and adapted from my book titled The Ghosts of San Francisco. All research notes are contained in the book and can be provided on request.