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Orange County Haunts

Take a ghostly Coast tour of Orange County's most haunted places... if you dare.

Los Rios Street

PHOTO BY RALPH PALUMBO

S

tart asking questions about seemingly innocuous locations across Orange County, and you’ll be surprised at what you hear. From Yorba Linda to San Juan Capistrano, some legends just refuse to die. Just ask an area local about this building or that wilderness park, and you may hear tales of an age-old massacre or some other tragedy involving death. But these tales are usually only the beginning. Stories of vivid apparitions (more than one of them women whose lives may have been cut short), strange thumping noises and even a spinning, floating head are what keep these figures of the past alive and kicking. This Halloween season, as the sun sets earlier and the night air howls, take a peek into OC’s darker side with the help of our guide to the county’s creepiest sites.

Los Rios Street
A lady with long, dark hair wearing a white gown stares at you from beneath a pepper tree in San Juan Capistrano. Speculation runs wide regarding her identity. Some say she was once a convicted killer, others say a witch or even La Llorona, the traveling spirit from Mexico looking for her lost children. There are so many possibilities in downtown San Juan Capistrano, which is home to a host of paranormal activity according to Matt Harvey, founder of the California Ghost Hunters. To him the Lady in White is part of a greater whole, perhaps connected to the nearby Mission San Juan Capistrano.

“This is a great example of California’s rich history,” Harvey says. “It has a mix of Spanish and Indian history and all the legends and culture they bring. Their presence stays with us and that’s why it is so active here.”

Find the pepper tree located along Los Rios Street near the railroad tracks in downtown San Juan Capistrano.

 
El Adobe De Capistrano Restaurant

PHOTO BY RALPH PALUMBO

El Adobe De Capistrano Restaurant
This historical landmark has an unusual history: part aged juzgado (court and jail); part 200-year-old-plus home. Today it is a restaurant, where the jail cell is now a wine cellar and a private dining area, and another ghostly legend stalks. This legend has no name, just a headless monk sometimes carrying an ax, walking by on late nights.

Spooky and bizarre, says Stacy Strausbaugh, special events coordinator for the restaurant. “I never understood the legend. They never had any executions here… Not sure why a monk would want to kill anyone, or even carry an ax,” she says.

Perhaps it is best to leave it to the imaginations of its visitors, who have also reported seeing the White Lady of Rios Street peering through the windows. The El Adobe does not hide its haunted heritage – it proudly celebrates it at a special dinner event every Halloween.

El Adobe De Capistrano Restaurant is located at 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. For more information, call (949) 493-1163 or visit eladobedecapistrano.com

 
Irvine Katie Wheeler Library

PHOTO BY RALPH PALUMBO

Irvine Katie Wheeler Library
Sightings of a phantom “lady wearing blue” were reported decades ago at the El Toro Memorial Park Cemetery and at Black Star Canyon. But this legend is most linked to the site of the famous Irvine Ranch House, where Kathryn Helena Irvine, the daughter of James Irvine II, died of complications from childbirth at a young age in 1920. Eventually, the house burned down in 1965. Her spirit wandered the premises for 30 years, wearing a blue dress, or so the legend goes. Recently, the Irvine Ranch House was rebuilt into the Irvine Katie Wheeler Library. “I have not heard or seen anything. Not yet,” says Kelly Anderson, children’s librarian. “But we all know about the Blue Lady. Most likely, it is Kathryn Irvine, since her death was so tragic to the Irvine family. Even her father is said to have lost his hair afterwards in agony that she died in his house instead of the nearest hospital, where she might have been saved."

With the library now open, it is plausible that our Blue Lady is simply waiting for the right time to make her appearance. The surrounding fenced-in fields and century-old uninhabited houses make perfect hideouts for our elegant spirit. Perhaps one rainy day, when it’s most quiet at the library, she will return home.

Irvine Katie Wheeler Library is located at 13109 Old Myford Rd., Irvine. For more information, call (714) 669-8753

 
Wild Goose Yacht

PHOTO BY RALPH PALUMBO

Wild Goose Yacht
“Every time you turn around expect to see me. 'Cause one time you'll turn around and I'll be there,” John Wayne said in the movie Red River. Now the famed western hero is said to haunt a U.S. Navy minesweeper commissioned in 1942, which later became a luxury yacht he purchased shortly before his death in 1979. Wild Goose was to be Wayne’s personal lounge – apparently he intends to get his money’s worth from beyond the grave. Reports of lights turning on and off, wine glasses moving, door locks bolted from inside empty rooms, and mysterious footsteps have been relayed by past caretakers.

Today, the Wild Goose is available for private parties and special requests. Sara Copping, director of marketing for Hornblower Cruises and Events, still hears stories, but does not advertise them to her clients. “We don’t like to say too much; we don’t want to scare anyone. But we just hear these stories passed down from former owners and those who worked there, and we pass them along.”

Wild Goose is located at Newport Harbor, Newport Beach. To arrange a visit or gathering, call (949) 646-0155 or visit hornblowerweddings.com

 
Black Star Canyon

PHOTO BY RALPH PALUMBO

Black Star Canyon
Is Black Star Canyon the site of an Indian massacre by Spanish conquistadors, as a local legend suggests, or a skirmish between fur trappers and natives in 1831? Other than the ghost stories, little is known about Black Star Canyon except that it was part of a mining operation in the late 1800s. Now many hikers who dare to make the 16-mile trek will come across some interesting finds, including an overturned van in a creek, fallen sheds, concrete cylinders, and Beek’s Place, where the rocky remnants of a large shack remain. Today, rumors about Black Star Canyon being the home to unsavory folk flood the Internet. The local police and fire departments say such rumors are exaggerations. Visitors however, should heed the private property signs and be cautious. 

Black Star Canyon is in the Santa Ana Mountains near Silverado.

 
Plummer Auditorium

Courtesy of Launer Room Fullerton Public Library

A 1930s photo of the outside of Plummer Auditorium

Plummer Auditorium
A host of enigmas hide behind the doors of this 1930 Spanish-style auditorium. Now part of Fullerton’s oldest high school, Fullerton High School, and home to the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, the Plummer Auditorium puts on a show of its own. Some say its namesake, Louis Plummer, a former school superintendent, has never left the building. Old “Louie” has been faulted for abnormal light activity, warped fixtures and even a spinning, floating head seen by a past assistant manager. 

Believers say the auditorium’s “secret” could be at the center of the haunting. The auditorium is the last remaining pathway to some mysterious underground tunnels, which lead out beyond the premises to other areas of Fullerton. For a while, various pathways to the tunnels were open to brave souls. Many returned speaking of voices and odd, unearthly sights. Eventually, the pathway entrances were all cemented save one: the basement of the Plummer Auditorium. No longer accessible to the public because of safety concerns, the tunnels remain closed possibly forever, leaving all within them to lurk in the darkness. Plummer Auditorium remains open and host to many events.

Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 E. Chapman Ave. It is part of the Haunted Fullerton Walking Tours. For more information, call (714) 738-6545

 

Courtesy of Launer Room Fullerton Public Library

A 1925 photo of The California Hotel, now called Villa Del Sol Plaza

Villa Del Sol Plaza
Something is not quite right with this Spanish-style Fullerton building, built in 1922 and once known as The California Hotel. Many who now work the shops, restaurants and private offices share frightful stories of odd ghostly occurrences: doors suddenly closing, odd thumping sounds and solid objects falling to the floor. “I’ll never forget that night,” says Linda Byrne, bartender at the Stadium Tavern at the Villa Del Sol. “I heard creaking, and I looked down and saw the floorboards go up and down.”

Bartender Laura Mattingly also witnessed it. She spoke of feeling a presence, on many occasions, standing behind her, almost touching her and then vanishing.

But who or what is responsible for this alleged haunting? An elusive tale that has survived is about a scorned housewife who arrived here in the early 1920s to kill her cheating husband and then herself. This is not to be confused with an actual suicide by a locomotive engineer that happened here in 1978.

Villa Del Sol Plaza is located at 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton. The plaza is part of the Haunted Fullerton Walking Tours. For more information, call (714) 738-6545

 
Yorba Cemetery

Courtesy of the Yorba Linda Public Library

A 1964 photo of Yorba Cemetery

Yorba Cemetery
The legend of the Pink Lady ghost – a crying 17-year-old woman wearing a pink gown haunting the old Yorba Cemetery – is well known far beyond the county. Her terrible anguish is over an untimely death from a buggy accident after her prom in 1910, or so the legend goes. Many others believe her identity to be Alvina de Los Reyes, a young woman who died of pneumonia years later. OC county historian Chris Jepson recalls this story as being a fabrication created decades ago by a Yorba Linda librarian.

“It’s quite funny. She needed a Halloween story to tell, so she pieced this together from what she knew from some other local stories and it just took on a life of its own.”

So with a story forever twisted, and a name forever lost, our Pink Lady continues her unrest. She is said to appear every June 15 on even-numbered years. The cemetery she haunts dates back to 1834, when other spirits may have lost their identities. We may never know who she is since the cemetery has remained gated and locked since 1939, but tours are possible through special arrangements.

Yorba Cemetery is located at Woodgate Park in Yorba Linda. Visit ocparks.com/yorbacemetery or call (714) 973-3190 for details.

 

We Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Is there something strange in the neighborhood? Here are some local paranormal groups and sites to check out:

Haunted Orange County
This website is dedicated to anything and everything haunted in Orange County, with detailed descriptions on hauntings, ghosts and more. There are also local ghost walk tours available. hauntedoc.com

California Ghost Hunters
Based out of Orange County, this team of experienced paranormal investigators travel to private residences, businesses, historical and other venues, free of charge. california-ghosthunters.com

Golden State Paranormal Research Society
A group of ghost hunters based in the Inland Empire, but who often frequent Orange County. They also offer guest speakers for social events. goldenstateparanormal.com

Ghost2Ghost
Their motto: “The dead speak and we listen.” Based in Cerritos, this group hosts a highly interactive website, where people share pictures, sounds and stories. Registered members can also participate in ghost hunting events. ghost2ghost.org

Ghost Study
This is a very large international community of paranormal phenomena enthusiasts. They have a large collection of ghostly and anomalous photographs on their site. ghoststudy.com

Looking for Ghost Towns?
Here is a fantastic directory and photo collection for 180 ghost towns and historic places in the U.S. It’s the perfect place to start that next spooky adventure. ghosttowngallery.com 
 


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