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Haunted Bay Area: Exploring Urban Legends
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Haunted Bay Area: Exploring Urban Legends

Picture of Jesse Burns
Updated: 6 January 2017
Underneath thick slabs of asphalt and concrete crisscrossing the SF Bay Area lie obscure burial grounds from past ancient cultures; set unintentionally as a binary between the living and the dead, they possibly hold the key to urban legend phenomena. Taking a trip to each location is like visiting an Easter egg trophy of time capsules, giving a face and personality to each one.
Winchester House | © Gentgeen
Winchester House | © Gentgeen

What tickles the spirit living in the greater SF Bay Area are different mixes of urban legends. Sarah Winchester is a great example. The driven eccentric built layers of additional rooms on her custom mansion before passing away early 20th century. Some of the rooms lead to nowhere, others were more like a maze with servants being given maps so they didn’t get lost, but they were all constructed on the fear of malevolent ghosts invoking fear in Sarah from the carnage the Winchester family profited from.

After touring the outdoor palms trees and fragrant garden of the estate, a drive towards the east bay for a visit to the infamous Diamond Mines of Antioch is in order. There, when darkness rolls in, the “white witch” can be heard howling into the empty canyons and vast sprawl stretching into Brentwood.

And when the morning sky signals the end of spooky spirits and nocturnal creepiness, it’s really not that far from now defunct Sonoma Developmental Center, where the moans of restless wights can be heard sometimes through the hallways and crematorium; maybe still suffering from radiation exposure and other experiments now divulged to the public.

What each of these modern day folktales have is a similarity to the past inhabitants of the area, the Ohlone culture. A Native American tribe, they were greeted by the Spanish around the late 18th century. Forced to convert to Western culture shortly after, their ancestral burial grounds were still left intact despite the march of industrial progress over time.

An interesting comparison between the changes the Ohlone people went through and today’s world can actually be traced through a spiritual entity known as the Coyote. A trickster similar to the Serpent in the bible who fooled Adam and Eve before they were cast out of paradise, the Coyote is also known as an instrument that forced change on some level, whether the society wanted it or not. It was usually used to explain away the unexplainable. In one story out of Navajo myth, the Coyote is said to have kidnapped an infant of the Great Water Buffalo Spirit. Incensed at this brazen act, the angry spirit flooded the world of the Navajo until the Coyote was forced to hand the infant back. The water receded shortly after.

The Coyote as Trickster | © Monica McClain
The Coyote as Trickster | © Monica McClain

Being another force of change, it could be said that modernity is the closest our culture has towards the trickster. Instead of the Serpent or Coyote, government and developers with their machinery and tools have taken charge, and paved over the soil and hills of the bay area, in an ever futile attempt to accommodate growing population. Possibly as a result, the spirits of the disturbed have found themselves kicked from peaceful slumber and forced into the modern world of automobiles and congested malls. Poltergeist, the 1982 film delved into the world of disturbed spirits, with a frightening revelation towards the end that the remains of the deceased were violated in some sacrilegious manner.

So, take the time to visit any one of the many eerie locations listed and discover what each one has to offer. Better yet, make it a one day vacation and drive anywhere from San Francisco across 101 heading towards San Jose.

Look at the asphalt and cement cacophonies during the journey from 680 all the way towards 4. Explore and contemplate what is still hidden below that grey matter once the lights of Vallejo are in the distance and the North Bay’s wine country pops into view.

To soothe frazzled nerves and goosebumps, ask the hotel manager the specific history of the property before checking a room. After all, the accommodations might be constructed over an Ohlone graveyard, and who would want to be around restless spirit when trying to catch some sleep?