Things That Go Bump in the Night

Years ago I wrote a book of ghost stories as a benefit for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. It was non-fiction, so to speak. I didn’t make up any of the stories, I just retold the ones I’d grown up with and had come across while researching my history books.

These stories became the basis for the Ghost and Legends tours the society does every Halloween and on weekends leading up to it. By now, they’ve added to the collection and made the tours spookier by having a few “ghosts” around to give those on the walking tour a little more “feeling.”

I’ve been tempted to go back to the charming Southern California mission town on Halloween just to take the tour and see how they’ve evolved.

I know they still use Los Rios Street, a collection of houses on the National Register of Historic Places, as their primary tour grounds. When I gave the tours we also circled the Mission and went down a few back streets that still contained remains of adobe buildings with tons of stories attached to them.

My favorite is one about a white lady, a young woman with long black hair who dressed in her wedding gown and killed herself on the front porch of her fiance’s home…on Los Rios Street, of course. The rogue had jilted her and she wanted revenge. The legend has it that she appears to those who stroll down the street at night, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead, but always just out of reach.

I confess I never saw her (and I looked every time a gave a tour), but I spoke to old-timers who swore they had. What amazed me was an old newspaper story from the 1890s describing the tragic suicide in great detail, providing the seed that grew into the white lady legend.

I dressed up as the white lady once as part of a promotion for the book or the tours, maybe both. The newspaper photographer had me haunting the old mission cemetery a quarter of a mile away from Los Rios Street. It was supposed to be filtered, so nobody would recognize me. It wasn’t.

The white lady costume was also worn to work one Halloween when employees were supposed to dress up. Unfortunately, my teen-aged son cut his hand carving a pumpkin, ended up in the local hospital emergency room, and there I sat, resplendent in ethereal white with swaths of tulle wrapped around me to represent fog.

If any of you enjoy old ghost and legend stories, the book Ghosts and Legends of San Juan Capistrano is still available and still benefits the Society. It is available on their website and used copies are out there on Amazon.

Have any of you had a ghostly experience? Let me know in the comments. And have a safe and happy Halloween.

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