Cemeteries are meant to be the final resting place for our dearly departed. A place for peace and serenity. Unfortunately, with some historic cemeteries, it seems that stories of restless spirits and displaced, disembodied souls seem all too eager to connect with the living.
California is home to some of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. The following is a list of 10 of the most haunted cemeteries found in the state:
1. Rosehill Cemetery, Black Diamond Mines, Antioch.
Established first as a Protestant cemetery, for the towns of Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley, Nortonville and Judsonville. Located in the largest coal mining area in California known as the Mount Diablo Coal Field, this area later became known as the Black Diamond Mines. Most of the burials at Rose hill are of Welsh ancestry and many have reported the name of the cemetery was originally known as the Old Welsh Cemetery. Years later the area would be owned by the Black Diamond Company. After Alvinza Hayward, owner and president of the Black Diamond Company died, he bequeathed the entire fortune to his only daughter Emma Rose. In the 1940s, Emma donated the land the cemetery sits on, and accompanying land to Contra Costa County, which later became a regional park. It was then that the graveyard was named Rosehill Cemetery.
Claimed to be haunted by the ghost of Sarah Norton, a midwife who was reported to have helped deliver over 600 babies in her career. According to one legend, on October 5, 1879, Sarah was called to a home in Clayton to deliver a baby. Shortly after leaving her home of Nortonville, she was killed after being thrown by her buggy. Sarah’s grave is located in Plot 6 of the cemetery. Sarah is just one of hundreds of burials in the cemetery, each with a story to tell. Over the years visitors have claimed to hear voices, laughing, crying, strange noises such as bells ringing and even see lights up on the hillside. One very old report claimed to have originated in an old newspaper, stated the experience of a man who had seen a funeral procession coming down the hill at night. As the people came closer with the candles flickering in their hands, it became more apparent that they were not people at all, but apparitions who eventually disappeared. Whether or not some of the stories are true, the local urban legend of the ghosts roaming the grounds or the “White Witch” of Rosehill Cemetery has been circulated for many years. Many speculate that the female apparition is the ghost of Sarah Norton, although it could very well be any one of the people buried and forgotten on that little cemetery on the hill.
2. El Campo Santo, San Diego
The original cemetery of El Campo Santo is located in Old Town San Diego, and home to over 400 interments. Now significantly smaller than it once was, the cemetery grounds used to include the Adobe Chapel on Conde Street. It is said that around 1874, with the expansion of San Diego, some of the dead in El Campo Santo were dug up and moved to other cemeteries while many others were left, while the city built on top and around the area. By 1894, the cemetery was literally divided as the new city railway street car system ran straight through it. Sightings of a Hispanic man is quite frequent and many believe he is the ghost of notorious criminal Antonio Guerra who was executed by a firing squad next to where he was buried. The most famous of all ghosts said to haunt these grounds is the spirit of Yankee Jim Robinson, the infamous horse thief. Robinson was hanged on the gallows that once stood where the Whaley House was constructed just down the street of the cemetery.
Visitors and business owners have reported that car alarms suddenly go off by themselves, lights tend to flicker unexplainably, and cigarettes are said to be “put” out mysteriously when people choose to smoke on the cemetery grounds. Many wonder that when the town decided to build on top of the cemetery, that many restless spirits of those so grossly neglected and forgotten have become active because of the disrespecting of their sacred space. Whatever the case, El Campo Santo remains a very haunting piece of San Diego history.
- Yankee Jims: The legend of a bandit, the lore of a gold rush town and Folgers coffee
- The search for Yankee Jim and his gold
3. Sacramento City Cemetery, Sacramento
Thousands of California pioneers are buried at the Sacramento City Cemetery. Originally built up on the highest point in Sacramento, to avoid flooding, as the city expanded, the cemetery boundaries had to be moved. With that change came the task of exhuming many bodies and reburying them within the newer more condensed perimeter. Sadly though, many of the bodies were not moved, so as you drive down Broadway and pass the cemetery, you are literally driving over the graves of some of Sacramento’s earliest pioneers. There are many tragic tales that are told about the eternal residents at the Sac City Cemetery. One of the most famous of those is the tale of May Woolsey, who died as a young child. Visitors have claimed to feel the presence of May near her headstone, as well as experiencing vibrations when they put their hands on the stone marker. With so many people buried there, there are just too many mysterious backstories of so many met their demise, that there is no way to know what unfinished business remains at Sacramento City Cemetery.
4. Bodie Cemetery, Bodie State Historic Park
There are many ghost tales within the last true ghost town of the west, including the superstitious curse that if you take anything from Bodie you will be struck with bad luck. Among all the myths and urban legends, there’s also the tale of the “angel of Bodie.” According to many visitors who walk the cemetery, there’s been several reports of visitors having caught their young children giggling and playing in the cemetery with an unseen being. The tale behind this ghost story is actually based on a true and tragic event. On April 5, 1897, little blue-eyed Evelyn Myers was accidentally struck in the head with a pickaxe after getting too close to a worker without the man taking notice. On his backswing he accidentally struck her in the head, causing her death. Her family buried her in the cemetery, and there sits an Italian marble monument for little Evelyn, the “angel of Bodie.”
5. Mare Island Cemetery, Mare Island
The oldest naval cemetery on the west coast, there are a lot of stories at the Mare Island Cemetery going back to the earliest burial in 1856, all the way up to 1921, around the time the cemetery stopped being used for burials. Walking through the cemetery, you can smell the salty sea air as you walk through the serene two acre grounds. It seems though that after the darkness of night falls, the activity around the cemetery and surrounding areas of the island has been known to be more hair-raising. From the Russian soldiers who died trying to help fight a fire in San Francisco in 1862, to the odd and mysterious story of Lt. Wilson, those buried within the white picket fence of the cemeteries boundaries seem to have some tales left to tell.
This is personally my favorite cemetery in all of California.
6. Agua Mansa Cemetery, Colton
Settled in 1845, the town of Agua Mansa was one of the rowdiest and wild towns in Southern California. From the archives there are news clippings of shootouts, murders, drunken orgies and the discovery of the body of Judge Campbell, who apparently was torn limb from limb. There was all sorts of depraved and horrific incidences going on there from its very beginnings. With so much happening to the living in Agua Mansa, it’s easy to see why the dead are still so active today. In 1862, the entire town washed away during a flood, now only the cemetery remains as the lasting remnant of a forgotten ghost town. With endless stories of drivers seeing a headless man wandering the roadside, appearing to be walking next to his dog, to a phantom woman who walks the cemetery at night, who has even caused a car or two to stall after her sighting, there’s plenty of tales to go around.
7. Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland
Many of California’s earliest prominent and powerful people are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in the Oakland hills. With its share of historical interments, there’s been a few odd occurrences that have taken place at this cemetery. A local resident named R.J., claimed that on one of his many visits he experienced something he could never explain. One day, while driving up the hill near the Crocker Crypt he heard the faint sounds of someone singing verses from the old folk song “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” When he kept hearing “that’s my name too”, he finally stopped the car and got out to see who it was, he ascertained that there was no one else anywhere remotely nearby and he just couldn’t figure out who or what was making that sound. That was when he looked down the hill a few feet from his parked car and noticed the monument for John J. Valentine, former president of Wells Fargo. He was convinced it was some sort of paranormal experience, especially since there was no one else in the area when it happened, and the fact the person who experienced this was a musician who had recently took up the stage name “Johnny Valentine”.
8. Savannah Memorial Park, Rosemead
Known also as the El Monte Cemetery, these historic cemetery grounds were first discovered by Henry Dalton around 1846. The original cemetery that Dalton came upon one day while riding his horse around his ranch was a small section surrounded by a cactus hedge with two graves. Henry and his wife Maria decided that because it was a burial ground that they would allow two acres to expand the area for a larger cemetery. It is the eternal resting place to some of Southern California’s earliest pioneers and many military veterans. According to reports, some visitors to the cemetery at night have claimed to hear the voices of children playing as well as loud banging on the sides of the shed on the property.
9. Adelaida Cemetery, Paso Robles
Once a settlement of Mennonites east of Paso Robles, all that is left of the town of Adelaida today is that of the cemetery and the old school house. According to local folklore there is a presence in the cemetery that has been frequently photographed just lurking towards the shadows. One website claims it to be a dark entity, while others say it is the ghost of Charlotte Sitton, the young wife of Frank Sitton, who died December 2, 1890. Legend claims that she was so distraught by the recent loss of her young child that she committed suicide to end her suffering. There have been reports of the sounds of footsteps following visitors, and even a white lady apparition who passes through the cemetery at night.
10. Mission San Juan Capistrano Cemetery, San Juan Capistrano
Just as the mission at San Juan Capistrano is famous for its early history and haunts, the mission cemetery also has its share of stories. A woman in white who floats across the ground has been seen since the early 19th century, around the same time the Great Stone Church collapsed in the earthquake of 1812. Many speculate that it is the soul of a young woman named Magdelena, who died in the earthquake.
Legend has it that she had carried on a relationship with a young man, Teofilo, despite her father’s objections. She was in the church praying when the earthquake started. Teofilo saw the church violently shaking and ran inside to save his love, but the Church completely collapsed and killed everyone, including the two young lovebirds. People have claimed that at certain times of the year the face of Magdelena can be seen in the reflection of the glass windows of the remaining part of the church, holding a lit candle. There are other sightings of a faceless monk or a headless soldier roaming the grounds. Whether you are in the mission cemetery or the entire compound of the mission, there’s a lot more activity going on in Capistrano besides the swallows.
Which haunted cemeteries of California do you think should have been in this list?