It’s officially Holiday Season which I promise you CAN be creepy. The most famous secular Christmas story is about three ghosts who terrify a rich man into sharing his hoard, after all. Plenty of bizarre and scary works use Christmas as a backdrop, but the one I remember best is GREMLINS. AKA the movie where the DAD DIED IN THE FUCKING CHIMNEY PLAYING SANTA!!!! That was 1984 and I was nine years old when I saw it and it broke my brain. My little mind put the brakes on hard and said NOPE — SANTA IS REAL AND THAT’S WHY THIS CAN’T HAPPEN IN YOUR HOUSE (I mean that and we had no chimney). Tells you something about how this ghost project got started, now doesn’t it? Anyway – Christmas can still be a creepy ass time of year I won’t let you forget it.
I don’t have a Christmas post planned, because I’m distracted enough as it is and I need to focus on the shit in the pipeline. And that shit is a series called “Ye Olde Cemeteries of San Francisco,” which I abandoned to write about some other shiny objects that wandered across my field of vision – but this is an important one! A big deal in the landscape of San Francisco’s macabre history.
The series covers what happened to all of the cemeteries in the city. At one time, San Francisco was full of them! In 1902, however, the city banned all future burials, and over the course of fifty or so years, dismantled the graveyards and moved the bodies to Colma.
Well, they moved some of them. Like a lot of old world municipal projects, they cut some corners. Which means that there are still a lot of bodies lying around San Francisco, and they pop up every time a major construction project takes on a former cemetery site. CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?! Well, you don’t have to because I’m getting it all laid out for you in a four part series that takes you through the big ones: where they were, where they went, and how many bodies were left behind. The answer is – kind of a lot??? You’ll want to catch up on the series because the next installment is a week from today!
Poltergeist The City, Basically
San Francisco: City of Bones
Burial grounds have been started, closed, and moved all over San Francisco, and sometimes they did a good job, but many times they did not. That means forgotten remains have been terrifying construction workers since about 1912. Spoiler alert – a lot of them are actually still down there.
This movie is nuts. I still don’t understand exactly what happened, but I loved it. There’s Polish folklore, Jewish ghosts, beautiful and creepy and what the kids are calling “atmospheric” scenery – just watch it. Streaming on Amazon Prime!
Like I said, Christmas can be creepy! Check out this essay from one of my favorite authors, Colin Dickey, on the English tradition of ghost stories at Christmas. It didn’t catch on in Puritan America, but there’s a rich tradition of British storytelling to turn to, starting with the Almighty Dickens. (Confession: Never have I ever read an actual book by Charles Dickens. Which is weird because I was an English majore AND I fucking love to beat people over the head with my social reform values THANK U FOR READING MY BLOG).
A Plea to Resurrect the Christmas Tradition of Telling Ghost Stories »
Jim Jones’ death cult, The People’s Temple, was from San Francisco. It was from here that Jones led his followers to Guyana, killing 900 of them in a spectacularly gruesome and horrifying mass murder. Leo J. Ryan was a Congressman who visited on behalf of worried family members in the US., and he was gunned down by the cult members when he did. His assistant, Jackie Speier, was injured in the attack but survived to carry on his legacy in the Bay Area as a Representative.
412 of the people who were murdered at Jonestown are buried together at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland – including Jim Jones. Check out this piece from Atlas Obscura about the controversy over including his name on the memorial.
Jonestown Memorial, Oakland »
My friend and BIRD WATCHER EXTRAORDINAIRE Linda heeded the call for ghost stories (thank you for respecting the hustle, Linda) and sent me some amazing information about how barn owls may be the natural phenomena behind ghosts and banshees! According to Linda, Barn Owls are found all over the world. Their call sounds like a hideous scream, and they roost in church bell towers, which means they may be hunting at night in GRAVEYARDS aka PRIME GHOST SPOTTING TERRITORY. Adult birds are almost all white – so they’ll appear luminous at night, like SOME FAMOUS WHITE LADY GHOSTS THAT I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT. An enormous, glowing white creature that screeches like a witch spotted in cemeteries? Checks out!
I’ve also heard that Barn Owls may be responsible for the legend of the Banshee in Ireland. If you don’t know, banshee are fairy or spirit women who keen (wail) in the night to warn of impending death. Each clan has their own banshee, they wail for their own people. Banshee are often described as ghostly women. If you google “barn owl screech,” you can hear why these sounds could be mistaken for a scream or a wail. You should do this.
Owls, Ghosts, and Noises in the Night »
On magic mushrooms – an entertaining read with beautiful illustrations. Did the hallucinogenic properties of mushrooms contribute to their use in Victorian fairy stories? Um, YES.
Fungi, Folklore, and Fairyland »
Sorry – maybe you are sick to death of this story but I could not take the chance that you miss hearing about the most on-brand 2020 event thus far: COVID-19 carrying mink in Denmark had to be culled (euthanized en masse) and the burial . . . didn’t go well. They’re coming back for revenge. I can’t say I blame them.
Denmark wants to dig up ‘zombie mink’ that resurfaced from mass graves »