For spine-tingling tales and frightfully good fun, who you gonna call? Santa Cruz County has played host to hair-raising chills on the big screen, from the teen vampires of “The Lost Boys” to the scissor-wielding doppelgangers in “Us,” but the frights don’t have to end when the credits roll. Though famed for its sunny beach culture, Santa Cruz County hides a fun, spooky side with eerie cemeteries, creepy-cool Victorian mansions, and historic hotels rumored to house a few guests who’ve never checked out. Break out the Ecto Goggles, here’s where to get spooked in Santa Cruz County!
The Haunted Brookdale Lodge
Tucked in the tiny, redwood-forested town of Brookdale, the historic Brookdale Lodge is famed for its unique offerings: a creek running through its restaurant dining room, a see-through mermaid pool, and more than a few things that go bump in the night. The lodge has drawn ghost hunters and television crews from around the globe to investigate claims of unexplained apparitions, flickering lights, and whispering voices. Thought to have been originally built in 1890, The Brookdale Lodge would eventually become a glamorous, woodsy retreat for dignitaries and Hollywood celebs including President Herbert Hoover and Marilyn Monroe. Yet in recent years, it’s become famous for its otherworldly guests. One of the most frequently spotted figures is thought to be Sarah Logan, a ten-year-old relative of original owner James Harvey Logan who was found drowned in the creek in 1918. Numerous guests have reported seeing a young girl with braided blonde hair and a white dress wandering the halls or asking for help to find her mother. Over the years, the hotel’s staff have reported strange occurrences including footsteps and big band music heard in empty rooms, appliances turning on and off, and mysterious spots with cold sensations. Interested to sample the hotel’s hot and cold running chills? The long-shuttered lodge was recently reopened by a new owner who is fastidiously renovating rooms and public areas—visitors will have to wait a little longer to see the dining room and pool which remain under renovation—and many newly remodeled rooms are open to overnight guests. It’s a long-anticipated opportunity to experience the storied, historic property and, if interested, enjoy the elaborate tales that staff are happy to share.
The Missing Arm of William Waddell
While windsurfers and hikers are familiar with Waddell Beach and Waddell Valley, they might not know who the two scenic spots are named for. William Waddell was a 19th century landowner and businessman who operated a lumber mill in what is now his namesake valley. The successful lumber baron met his demise via the dagger-like claws of a grizzly bear, a not uncommon site in 1875. Before succumbing to his wounds, Waddell’s arm was amputated and buried in a meadow, yet when associates went back to retrieve the appendage to be buried with Waddell’s body, they were unable to find it. Yet soon after, visitors to the valley noticed that some of their personal objects were disappearing, and they reached the obvious conclusion: the haunted appendage of William Waddell was snatching their items! Each Halloween season, the rangers of Big Basin Redwoods State Park relive the tall tale of The Missing Arm with a light-hearted, family-friendly walk through the redwoods followed by a campfire. Check the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks site for upcoming dates, and be sure to hold on to your valuables!
The richly atmospheric Evergreen Cemetery is the final resting place for a textbook’s worth of historical figures—pioneers, prospectors, and Civil War vets—whose graves are adorned with ornate headstones. Yet, the burial sites of many Chinese immigrants were marked by humble wooden crosses that were lost to time. In 2014, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, which maintains Evergreen, erected a memorial gate to honor these oft-forgotten railroad workers, farmhands, and servants who helped build early Santa Cruz. The project was funded by former Chinatown resident George Ow Jr. who explained that the memorial served to acknowledge the spirits, who according to Chinese folklore, would remain unrested or angry otherwise. Evergreen Cemetery is open to the public, and autumn is an exceptionally scenic time to tour its forested, leaf-strewn grounds, pausing to unearth the stories of Santa Cruz’s early pioneers.
The Ghost of Ariana Gulch
In addition to the scooters, strollers, and bicycles that frequent the paths of Ariana Gulch—a hidden patch of green in eastern Santa Cruz—you might also spot a mysterious figure dressed in a long black coat and wide brim hat. Before becoming Santa Cruz’s most famous ghost, Andrew Jackson Sloan was riding his horse through the gulch in 1863 when he was accosted by three men who fatally gunned him down. The culprits were eventually served Old West justice via a jail cell or a noose. Yet thirty-two years later, a mother and daughter witnessed a ghostly apparition near the gulch, and described what they had seen to a man who had served on Sloan’s murder investigation. After hearing the mother and daughter’s detailed description, the man proclaimed that that they had just described A.J. Sloan. Since then, local residents have reported seeing the specter wandering the field, or hearing his heavy boots stomp across the decks of neighboring homes. While it’s not clear where the ghostly Sloan will next be seen, you can view the site of his earthly remains at Evergreen Cemetery.
Haunted Tuttle Mansion
Founded in 1868, the south county town of Watsonville is dotted with magnificent Victorian homes that hide forgotten tales. One such example is Tuttle Mansion, an imposing, blood-red home at 723 E. Lake Ave. that was built for the wealthy family of Morris B. Tuttle who made his fortune in agriculture. Despite the Tuttle’s prominence, the house was beset by alleged tragedies including murder, suicide, and a young child falling to his death inside the property’s well. As a result, previous residents claim the house has become a portal for restless spirits. In addition to unexplained disturbances within the home—it has since served as a complex for apartments and office space—Morris Tuttle has been spotted in the house’s second-story windows, gazing out over his former orchards.
The Spooky-Cool Victorians of Beach Hill
With throngs of tourists arriving via a newly built railroad that ran down Beach Street in the late 19th century, the adjacent Beach Hill neighborhood quickly filled with ornate luxury hotels and mansions. Today, you can take a self-guided walking tour of these grand buildings including a few that might leave you with goosebumps. At 80 Front Street, you’ll discover the former McCray Hotel whose 1910 facade supposedly inspired the Bates Mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” And, keep an eye out for the Golden Gate Villa at 924 Third Street, a striking Queen Anne whose gorgeous stained glass windows belie the tragedy that took place here in 1907. Inside the home’s grand stairwell is a large stained glass depiction of Agnes McLaughlin, the adopted daughter of Major Frank McLaughlin, a prominent businessman who built the villa. The two enjoyed a life of luxury, yet by the early 20th century, the Major’s fortunes had plummeted. Overcome by shame and despair, the elder McLaughlin fatally shot his 33-year-old daughter while she slept, then proceeded to ingest a lethal dose of cyanide. McLaughlin left behind a note which explained his woes, and included one final, macabre request: that someone put his poor old cat to rest.