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Visitors flock to California’s Bay Area for its feats of engineering, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, and its technological wonders, namely Silicon Valley. They come for the sunny, crisp climate and world-renowned wine. The region’s wealth of spooky stories and destinations doesn’t get nearly as much attention—though it probably should. Ghosts, it seems, enjoy spending time in the state’s northern quarters just as much as tourists. Whether they were criminals executed by hanging in the 19th century or teens who met their tragic end more recently, the spirits said to haunt the area have spine-tingling stories to tell. Here are a few of the scariest.
A heartbroken mother in a gauzy, white gown is a relatively familiar ghost story genre. San Francisco’s version of such a tale involves Stow Lake, which is in the city’s Golden Gate Park. The story goes that a young mother brought her baby to the park in a stroller in the early 1900s and at one point stopped at a bench to rest. She began chatting with another woman and didn’t notice when the stroller rolled away from them and into the lake. When the mother realized her baby was gone, she, understandably, panicked. She circled the park, searching for her child, and was last seen going into the lake herself.
Those brave enough to visit the park at night now might run into that devastated mother, still searching and haunting the lake—she’s said to surface from the lake looking for her long-lost baby. Others spotted her wandering the area asking if anyone’s seen her baby, and some believe the statue in the park honoring her comes to life.
While the woman’s identity remains unclear, SFGate did some investigating about the legend in 2017 and found that it might be at least partly based in truth: Two young girls reported to police that they’d found a baby’s body floating in the lake in 1906.
There’s a stretch of road in the hills beyond Milpitas, California, that authorities closed off to cars long ago. Locals still get up there, though, most of whom are teens looking to cross paths with the ghost of Marcy Conrad. Unlike the legendary apparitions in so many stories like these, Conrad’s rumored appearances date back to a verifiable murder—and it didn’t happen all that long ago.
Anthony Broussard, who was 16 at the time, was charged with strangling Conrad, 14, and leaving her body in the woods in 1981. At the time of the killing, the story made national headlines not only for its gruesomeness but also because a number of local teenagers were said to have gone to see the body—some of them with Broussard—before the crime was reported. The story creeped out so many that it was made into a movie called River’s Edge with Keanu Reeves a few years later.
Since then, Marsh Road—near where the body was left—is the rumored site of unaccounted-for screams and voices, unexplained lights, and sightings of a ghostly girl walking down the deserted road.
Is there anything eerier than a little boy ghost bringing retro carnival games to life at a historic amusement park? Doubtful. The specter that spooks thrill-seekers at Great America amusement park in Santa Clara could be a young boy who was reportedly killed on a ride at the park in the ’80s. Workers claim they’ve seen game lights flicker and machines turn on and off on the midway after hours, and the little boy ghost (possibly named Doug) might be to blame.
Old-school asylums almost always come with ghosts. In the case of the former Agnews Insane Asylum site in Santa Clara, the hauntings are thought to be related to the 1906 earthquake that rocked the region. The natural disaster killed more than 100 patients and staffers at the asylum. Over the years, the property has changed hands and functions; most recently, the city of San Jose and the Santa Clara School District purchased it as part of a project to build three schools on the land. Future students better be careful, though, as people have reported being shoved by invisible forces at the site and watched by unseen eyes.
There may be a reason why workers have reported feeling oddly chilly in certain corners of the historic Napa courthouse. As it turns out, the last man to be publicly executed in California met his fate just outside. William Roe was hanged at the site on January 15, 1897, in connection with the murder of Lucinda Greenwood, and in the more than a century since, the courthouse, the Greenwood Mansion, and the land where the mansion initially stood when the crime was committed, near the Napa airport, have each hosted their fair share of supernatural sightings.
While Roe is thought to be haunting the courthouse area, visitors have seen Lucinda floating down the stairs at the mansion where she and her husband, John, were attacked and robbed by Roe (John survived). And she’s been seen wandering the building that now sits on the nearby grounds where the mansion once stood.