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Ghost stories

San Diego is a city overflowing with stories of restless souls haunting the visitors of Old Town and sailors of old still hoisting the sails of the Star of India. Each community within this city has its own ghost stories, and La Jolla is no exception. The unexplainable is here, perhaps the work of spirits of past La Jollans who seek to make their presence known.

Ghoulish traditions

A La Jolla landmark since 1913, The Grande Colonial Hotel on Prospect Street has a long legacy of famous guests, some of whom have chosen to extend their stay past their welcome. Originally an apartment hotel, the Grande Colonial was a place where guests could enjoy the energetic and luxurious lifestyle that La Jolla offered. The hotel is proud to say that some high-profile guests have chosen to extend their stay - permanently.

After her own experience, catering manager Christina Franklin is a firm believer in the unexplainable events that have taken place at the Grande Colonial.

Her day started out like any other, as Franklin walked through the north annex to open the doors of the sunroom for the guests.

“When I opened the doors - it was about 7:30 in the morning - I could hear someone,” Franklin recalled.

The sound was coming from a set of stairs behind the sun room. Thinking it was a staff member, Franklin went to investigate.

“It was really loud, so I thought it had to be someone quite large,” said Franklin. “I was going to walk over there and ask them to be quiet and stop running down the hall, but when I went over there, the door separating the rooms rushed open and a strong breeze followed through.”

After standing in awe for a few moments, Franklin walked up the stairs to see if anyone was there, but the area was empty.

Already a believer of the paranormal, Franklin’s experience only solidified her belief.

“I had heard stories, since I had worked here for eight years,” said Franklin. “Just being a historic hotel, I believed in the possibility that it could be haunted.”

Now she, like many other employees at the hotel, are waiting for another experience with guests of old.

Franklin wasn’t the first to experience the unexplainable in the sun room. Several guests and staff members have reporting hearing someone running down the stairs.

In the hotel’s early days, there were two apartments below the north annex, one occupied by two women, the other by two men. The foursome was known to have loud parties that would last throughout the night. Perhaps they enjoyed them so much, they continue to keep this tradition today.

Disappearing acts

With the many beautiful historical homes in La Jolla, it’s no wonder past residents are hesitant to leave. Megan Heine, owner of the Brockton Villa Restaurant on Coast Boulevard, said that she has seen items disappear and reappear later in peculiar places. Heine attributes this to the lingering spirit of Dr. Rhodes, the second owner of the home in which Brockton Villa sits today.

“The house is over 100 years old and has been happily occupied by many generations,” including Dr. Rhodes, who died in a boating accident, said Heine. “Why wouldn’t a spirit want to move back in to the Brockton Villa?”

Not only do the disappearing acts lead Heine to suspect paranormal activity, but the presence felt on particular nights has her nearly convinced.

“Late at night,” she said, “I will say, the ocean air and the moon’s glow can create some interesting shadows. Who knows?”

War tales

Longtime La Jolla resident and owner of D.G. Wills Books on Girard Avenue, Dennis Wills said he wasn’t quite sure what to make of ghost stories in the Jewel.

“There are phenomena that are beyond our ability to understand and describe,” said Wills. “I don’t have any personal experiences here, but I’ve read a lot about them.”

While working as a volunteer at the University of Oxford, Wills had the opportunity to transcribe letters written by mothers and fathers of World War I soldiers. The information was being used in paranormal research and was eventually published in a book.

“What I was working on was a collection of testimonials of apparition sightings by these parents of soldiers,” said Wills. “They were each very descriptive and very vivid in detail.”

According to Wills, each parent was startled in the night and a vision of their son who was away at war appeared before them. In each case, the family received a message the next morning reporting that their son had been killed.

Although Wills has yet to have his own supernatural encounter, his work in Oxford has made him more of a believer in the paranormal.

“It defies our ability to understand because it involves time and matter,” said Wills. “Some unexplained phenomenon can only make us more curious, humble, less certain of our conclusions and more open to unexplained mysteries.”

Still hanging 10

Some ghost stories are so old, their origins are hard to pin down. As first reported in The Light years ago, the presence of legendary surfers Chris O’Rourke and Bob Simmons can still be felt today at WindanSea Beach.

Simmons was an extraordinary engineer who used his skills to redesign the surfboard, quickly becoming known as the father of the modern surfboard. At the age of 35, after years traveling wherever the swell would take him, Simmons caught his last wave at WindanSea. His board was located that day, but his body wasn’t found for three more days.

A local hero, surfers have named Simmons’ Reef after this legendary surfer. It has been said that on warm evenings, right after sunset, Simmons can be seen paddling out to his reef.

To many, legendary surfer O’Rourke was one of the best surfers in California. A hero to the WindanSea surfers, O’Rourke’s diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 20 devastated the community.

After chemotherapy and eight surgeries, O’Rouke lost his battle with the disease, but not with the waves. His ashes were scattered over WindanSea Beach, making him a permanent part of the surf hot spot.

Many local surfers claim he has never left, but that his encouraging and cheerful words can still be heard as he cheers on surfers to catch the most challenging waves.