Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Five Things in the San Francisco History Center That Will Give You The Chills!

1. Ghosts!
1007 Gough Street was re-named the McKittrick Hotel in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. It was haunted by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes in the film, but was it haunted in real life?
It might actually be easier to list the places in San Francisco that people don't think are haunted than to list those that are. I have heard ghost stories that take place in the ruins of Sutro Baths, in rooms at the Palace Hotel, and at almost every single-screen movie theater in the city. The San Francisco History Center has several books that relate some of the more famous stories, and even a chapter on "How to Hunt Ghosts." San Francisco Ephemera Collection files include newspaper and magazine articles on the city's hauntings and several issues of FOG ("Friends of Ghosts") the Newsletter for the International Society for the Investigation of Ghosts.

2. San Francisco Medical Examiner's Reports - Book of Unknown Dead
Description of Unknown Dead, 1902-1907. The San Francisco History Center has three more volumes of dates ranging from 1907-1927.

Did one of your ancestors meet an untimely death in San Francisco? Chances are, you will find a record of it in the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records. We have already written a couple of blog posts on this collection: a brief description of what you will find in them and how to use them when researching people. As if reading coroner's records weren't creepy enough, the Medical Examiner's Office had a special way of dealing with a John or Jane Doe that was discovered dead. A photo of the corpse (if it wasn't too badly decomposed) and a description of the body, as well as circumstances in which it was found, were entered into a book marked "Description of Unknown Dead." A few entries are eventually edited with an identification, but others remain "unknown" to this day.

3. Dan White's Confession

Cassette tape of Dan White's Confession from the Mike Weiss Double Play Collection (SFH 34)

"Dan White Hit Squad" pin-back
There are a lot of emotions that surround the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by ex-Supervisor Dan White. Sadness, yes. Anger, sure. But listening to Dan White's taped confession is certainly chilling.

4. Maps that show that you live over an old cemetery
Detail from "The Commercial, Pictoral and Tourist Map of San Francisco." August Chevalier. 1904.
Do you or someone you know live on Geary or California between Arguello and Presidio? Have you ever played golf at Lincoln Park? Have you been to the Main Library to visit us recently? If so, you've been living, playing and researching on land that used to be a cemetery. Beginning in 1921, the bodies and tombstones in San Franciso's cemeteries were dug up and removed to Colma a few miles to the south. Some of the tombstones remain in San Francisco in the form of sea walls and park gutters. But what about the bodies? Did they all get moved to Colma?

The San Francisco History Center has several ephemera files on San Francisco's cemeteries, including:

5. The Satanic Mass / The Satanic Bible recording by Anton Szandor LaVey

This record album of San Francisco's famous Satan worshipper, Anton LaVey, was recorded live at the Church of Satan (6114 California St.) on Friday, September 13, III anno Satanas (1968).

Along with a list of tracks on the album and a brief history of the Church of Satan, there is a special note: "To experience the sensation of actually being part of this Satanic rite, listen to this recording in a dark, or semi-dark room. If any light is used it should be provided by black candles."

Unfortunately, we cannot turn off all the lights in the History Center, nor can we let you burn a black candle in the History Center's audio room, but perhaps headphones and sunglasses might bring about the same effect.
For more about Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan ask for:


  1. There are also some great shots of the Fortmann Mansion (1007 Gough at Eddy) in the Charles Cushman collection at Indiana University

    1. Ooh. Even more creepy in color!

  2. here's a shot of 1007 Gough as a brand new house (via Bancroft Library's Flickr account)