A view of the Queen Anne Hotel’s elegant parlor. Some say the ghost of Miss Mary Lake watches over guests in this San Francisco hotel.


Published 11/1/2007
Jennie McKee

Enjoying the ‘spirits’ of San Francisco

Memories of the 2008 AAOS Annual Meeting could haunt you!

San Francisco has always been the Academy’s most popular Annual Meeting location. Some folks profess to love it so much that they just can’t leave. Many of the city’s hotels, such as the stately Queen Anne Hotel, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and the Hotel Union Square are said to have permanent, ghostly residents that occasionally make their good-natured presences known.

The spirits of notorious criminals and gangsters, long-dead soldiers, and even a “ghost bride” are among those who refuse to leave the City by the Bay. Who knows? When you head back to your hotel or explore the city after a rousing day of educational courses, symposia, and presentations, you too may encounter the “spirits” of San Francisco.

The Queen Anne Hotel
The Queen Anne, which originally opened in 1890 as Miss Mary Lake’s Finishing School for Girls, has a reputation for supernatural activity. Some say that this opulent, Victorian hotel in the Pacific Heights neighborhood is home to the benevolent spirit of the school’s former headmistress. Believers say Mary Lake’s ghost wanders around the fourth floor and has an especially strong presence in room 410, her former office.

People have described walking through unusually cold areas in the hotel and seeing the misty shape of a woman. Others have contended that Mary Lake’s ghost unpacked their luggage, put pillows back on their beds, and even tucked them in during the night.

“Guests find the experience to be reassuring and pleasant,” says Michael Wade, the hotel’s director of sales. Rather than being frightened, visitors feel as if the hotel’s resident spirit is watching over them.

An independent walking tour called the San Francisco Ghost Hunt begins in the Queen Anne’s parlor, where tour participants might see or feel an otherworldly presence if Mary Lake is so inclined. During the tour, which Mr. Wade says is highly entertaining and educational, participants walk past nearby Victorian mansions and learn about the many spirits that have been reported in the area.

The Hotel Majestic
Another hotel in the Victorian neighborhood of Pacific Heights, The Hotel Majestic, is said to have an unearthly guest or two. Originally constructed as a private residence in 1902, the hotel’s distinctive bay windows, Edwardian styling, and French and English antiques give it a genteel, old-world elegance.

Some guests have reported encounters with a ghostly presence on the fourth floor; others say they were spooked when their bathtub mysteriously filled with water. According to the hotel’s Web site, the hotel’s ghost likes to walk the hallways late at night, clanging a set of keys along the walls. Another story involves a female production manager who was staying at the hotel while filming Sweet November.

“Late at night, she reported to our front desk staff that her bed was shaking. She thought we were having an earthquake, which we were not,” says the hotel. “These unexplainable occurrences have left many guests wondering whose spirit walks these halls.”

Some say that the ghost can be traced to the daughter of the building’s first owner. She reportedly refused to leave the building after it was sold.

“Her portrait now stands in our lobby, and perhaps her haunted spirit may still be with us,” says the hotel. “Our resident ghost is seemingly spooky but always playful and friendly.”

A view of the Queen Anne Hotel’s elegant parlor. Some say the ghost of Miss Mary Lake watches over guests in this San Francisco hotel.
Visitors have reported supernatural activity inside the eerie former prison on Alcatraz Island. Photo
courtesy of John A. Martini
A view of Alcatraz from the recreational yard where prisoners enjoyed brief respites from their cells. Photo
courtesy of John A. Martini

Hotel Union Square
Mystery/crime writer Dashiell Hammett, best known for his 1930 book, The Maltese Falcon, wrote many of his classic, hard-boiled detective novels at San Francisco’s Hotel Union Square, which was constructed in 1913. Hammett loved the hotel so much that he booked a suite there for his bride-to-be, Josephine Dolan, on the night before their 1921 wedding.

Believers say that the writer’s romantic involvement with fiery playwright Lillian Hellman, on whom Hammett based the character Nora Charles in his famous novel, The Thin Man, resulted in her ghost taking up permanent residence in the hotel. Odd occurrences have been reported, including doors opening and closing on their own and small objects appearing out of nowhere. Many of the strange events have happened in room 207, a room that’s often requested by those interested in investigating the reports of unexplained phenomenon.

Alcatraz Island Federal Prison
When you venture outside your hotel to take in some of the local tourist attractions, you’ll find that Alcatraz Island Federal Prison is one of the area’s most fascinating destinations—and also one of the most unsettling. The isolated federal prison, located on a small island in San Francisco Bay, operated from 1934 to 1963. It housed infamous criminals such as Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer better known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” as well as gangsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

According to A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to San Francisco by Jeff Dwyer, several psychics have investigated the disembodied screams and crying that people have reported in Cell Block C, an area where a hit man named Abie Maldowitz, nicknamed “Butcher,” was killed by other prisoners.

Visitors have also reported hearing strange voices in other areas of the prison, feeling oddly cold pockets of air, and experiencing distressing emotions during their time at Alcatraz. Others have told stories of hearing banjo music in the shower room, an area where gangster Al Capone reportedly played this instrument. Guests can explore the former prison and the rest of the island during guided tours offered during the day as well as in the evening, when the prison takes on an even more sinister air.

The Presidio of San Francisco
Originally a Spanish fort built in the late 18th century, the Presidio of San Francisco has been home to many Army headquarters and units, the last of which was the United States 6th Army. Its nearly 3,000 acres are dotted with landmarks such as Civil War-era homes and buildings as well as a large military cemetery. Apparitions dressed in military garb and amorphous, quick-moving figures have reportedly been witnessed by visitors to the cemetery, and many have felt a chillingly cold presence.

According to those inclined to believe in the supernatural, the souls of the generations of soldiers and their families who lived on the grounds of the Presidio still haunt the sidewalks and streets near their former homes. Others claim that ghosts of women wearing old-fashioned ball gowns and men in military uniforms sit on the verandas and porches of the old buildings.

The “ghost bride” of California Street
Some say that the ghost of a young San Francisco girl named Flora Sommerton has haunted San Francisco’s California Street (between Powell and Jones Streets) for more than 80 years.

In 1876, the girl’s parents arranged for their daughter to be married to a much older man. As Flora was trying on her wedding gown the night before the planned nuptials, she panicked, left the house, and ran down California Street. Her family never saw her alive again. In 1926, she was found dead in either a boarding house or a bordello, according to different sources, wearing the same wedding gown.

Flora’s ghost has allegedly been seen running up the middle of California Street and along its sidewalks, and sometimes stares angrily at those who obstruct her path. Some people have felt cold air pass over them that they attributed to Flora’s ghost, while others say that Flora has reached out and tried to push them out of her way.

Whether you run into any of these spirits or not while at the 75th Annual Meeting, you’re sure to return home with plenty of stories to share. If you haven’t already made plans to attend, be sure to visit the AAOS Web site and register. And, for a little “supernatural” help in planning, try the “CME Wizard” to schedule your meeting within a meeting. It’s online at www.aaos.org/wizard

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org