On Halloween, thousands of miniature ghosts and goblins will roam North County streets in search of candy. But a local paranormal researcher says the region may be home year-round to hundreds of real spooks.
Nicole Strickland of the San Diego Paranormal Research Society conducts dozens of spirit-seeking observations every year at places like the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe in Vista, the Pine Hills Lodge in Julian and the San Pasqual Battlefield near Escondido. Over the years, she and her fellow researcher Ali Schreiber say they've observed shadowy figures and full-bodied ghosts, experienced unexplained cold drafts, heard strange noises and disembodied voices and even carried on conversations with the dearly departed.
Strickland said San Diego County is a hotbed for spooky phenomena. Spirit-seekers from all over the world come to San Diego to visit the Whaley House Museum in Old Town, which the Travel Channel's "America's Most Haunted" series called the most haunted house in America. Also, several books have been written about the Hotel Del Coronado's resident ghost Kate Morgan, a heartbroken young woman who killed herself on a hotel staircase in 1892.
According to a 2009 Harris poll, 42 percent of Americans believe in ghosts. Strickland became convinced after she said her late grandmother materialized by her bedside in 2001. She understands that many people are skeptics about the existence of ghosts, and it's not her job to convince them otherwise.
"We don't go in looking for paranormal activity. We go in trying to find a logical, natural reason for what's occurring," said Strickland, an author and nursing student who lives in Tierrasanta. "Lots of people call us ghost hunters but we cringe at that. That implies a thrill-seeking motive and we're just students who present our findings and let people decide for themselves."
In honor of Halloween, Strickland and Schreiber will host several paranormal research programs this month at the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe. The sessions will include a tour and an explanation of how paranormal research is done. Participants will see demonstrations of the spirit box and other equipment and may have the opportunity to interact with the spirits there. The "Spirits of the Adobe" events are scheduled at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 21, 28 and 31. Tickets are $25. To register call (760) 643-5275.
Here's a list of what Strickland and others say are North County's most haunted spots.
In 1846, Felipe Subria built a small adobe on an 1,100-acre Spanish land grant in what's now Vista. It passed through many hands and today is a historical museum owned by the city of Vista. Strickland and Schreiber have conducted numerous research projects at the adobe and found it to be one of the most active paranormal locations in North County. They've had conversations with several past residents including famed local pioneer Cave Couts Sr. and his wife and children. Activity is so heavy there, Strickland said the adobe could be a portal through which ghosts seek to communicate with the living world. 640 Alta Vista Dr, Vista.
Built on the site of an old avocado grove, the Avo opened in 1948 as a cinema. After years of decline it closed in 1989 and the city bought it and converted it into a playhouse. City staff, janitors and volunteers have reported many ghostly occurrences there since the 1990s, including apparitions, mysterious footsteps and cold drafts. Many have reported seeing and hearing a man sitting in the audience, gliding along the balcony rail and laughing in the old projection booth upstairs. Strickland said she saw a man dressed as a farmer materialize in the seating area. Some say the ghost could be the spirit of the avocado grower or that of Earl Willis, who owned the cinema before it closed. 303 Main St., Vista.
The 40,000-square-foot, two-story library opened in 1980. Not too many years after that, employees and volunteers began reporting spooky experiences, such as disembodied voices, unexplained equipment malfunctions, cold spots and sightings. One employee heard books sliding off shelves when nobody was there. Others have reported sightings of a man in Mexican vaquero (cowboy) clothing as well as a man dressed in 18th century attire. 239 S. Kalmia St., Escondido.
On Dec. 6, 1846, one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S.-Mexican War took place on horseback in the San Pasqual Valley between Mexican Californios and U.S. dragoons. Strickland said many ghost sightings have occurred at battlefields, because these locations were once a focal point of heightened human emotion. Psychics have pinpointed hot spots of violence on the property and others have seen ghostly soldiers in uniform on horseback, and heard voices, including one who mentioned the name of Major Andres Pico, the leader of the Californios. 15808 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido.
There are many ghostly legends about these winding hills between Escondido and San Marcos, though none appear to have much basis in fact, Strickland said. There were reports that around the turn of the 20th century, a group of Gypsies were slaughtered when they refused to leave the area. People also reported sightings of a 10-foot owl that soared in the skies at night, as well as a witch seen riding a black stallion through the hills. One of the most common stories was the sighting of a lady in white, perhaps drawn from the Mexican folk legend of La Llorona, a floating ghost woman who weeps for the souls of her dead children. Strickland said many people have reported feeling a sense of impending doom when they drive through the area at night. She hasn't seen anything there in her drives, other than fog and mist in the headlights. Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove roads, between San Marcos and Escondido.
Built in the 1890s by former slave Albert Robinson and his wife, Margaret, this historical hotel is said to be haunted by one or two ghosts. After Albert died in 1915, legend has it that his spirit returned to the hotel to cause noisy mischief. There have also been comments from visitors that a female ghost named Lola has been seen moving around the guest rooms. 2032 Main St., Julian.
The small mountain village of Julian was the focus of a gold rush in the 1870s that brought in hundreds of ore miners. Many who stayed ended up buried in the town's cemetery, which has drawn ghost-hunters for decades, including a crew from the TV series "Soul Seekers." Most of the reports involve sightings of floating apparitions, including a woman in a nightgown and men dressed as 19th-century miners. 2811 Washington St, Julian.
Employees at this former newspaper office refused to work alone in the two-story office building because of unexplained footsteps on the stairs, slamming doors, cold drafts, disembodied voices and creaky floors. The building has been renovated and is now occupied by a Mexican restaurant and martial arts studio. 232 Main St., Fallbrook.
Since the mid-1990s, employees say they've been seeing floating apparitions in the old Turf Club area on the top floor of the grandstand. A paranoramal research group recorded a shadowy figure moving through the room, and employees told a KUSI news crew that they've heard voices and felt cold drafts while alone in the rooms at night. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar.