A Screech, A Wail, and a Goosebump

In my last blog, I told you why Halloween is my least favorite holiday. But every holiday has some redeeming quality so now I’ll tell you what I like about it.

Let’s start with ghost stories.

Eons ago I was a member of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society’s walking tour guides. For those of you who are not familiar with California, San Juan Capistrano is one of the state’s five or six oldest communities, has a lovely Franciscan Mission, and boasts the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the state.

The tour guides conducted history tours through the heart of town on Sunday afternoons, but on the weekend before Halloween, they did night tours. The route was basically the same, but the stories were different. They were based on the book Ghosts and Legends of San Juan Capistrano, which was my second non-fiction book.

Research was fun. Being raised in the town helped because I had relatives who’d grown up with wonderful stories about devil dogs, white ladies, headless monks and weeping women who wandered the banks of the river. More fun was finding—occasionally—the origin of the story, although a few are folk tales that are found in many communities.

The white lady of Capistrano is supposed to be a young ghost with long, dark hair wearing a white dress, who appears on Los Rios Street (site of most of the tour). Several versions—depending on who tells the tale—find her with or without a dog, flirting with young men who see her magically appear ahead of them (even after they’ve passed her), and a few other less benign tales.

The origin of the story can be traced to an incident reported in an 1890s newspaper which had a correspondent from the town. A young woman, spurned on the eve of her wedding, committed suicide in front of her lover’s front door. She was described as being a beauty with long, black hair wearing a white dress for her demise. The incident occurred—you guessed it— on Los Rios Street.

Not all the ghost stories in my book relate to the distant past. One story was about a flight attendant who lived in a modern housing development, but who insisted she had a malicious poltergeist. The story included a suitcase overturned, a Christmas tree destroyed, and a few other incidents. After some research, I discovered that residents of a house, which had stood on the site previously, also had contact with a similar ghost.

When I related the story during one my Halloween walking tours, I stopped and confessed that while I had never seen a ghost, many people believed in them, so I didn’t discount their existence. At that point, a woman on the tour raised her hand and said, “The story’s true. I’m the one with the poltergeist.”

What else do I like about Halloween? I adore other people’s children coming to my door to trick-or-treat in cute costumes with plastic pumpkins to be filled—and sometimes pillowcases—happy that my children are now grown up and I don’t have to do that anymore.

1 thought on “A Screech, A Wail, and a Goosebump”

  1. OMG, I loved living in SJC! Lived there for nearly 10 years, but got too depressed when they started shaving off hilltops and bulldozing through to make more freeways. Coming into town on the freeway from the north, I used to feel like those hills were the Goddess’s loving embrace, arms open to welcome us.

    We lived in Village San Juan, across I-5 from “downtown” and the mission. “The Village” was a fabulous place to raise children, with its little streams and meandering sidewalks, and playgrounds with slides and swings and more almost every block, and the small lake at the entrance, complete with ducks and Canada geese. Can you tell I loved it there?!? Aw, now I feel homesick…


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