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California Ghosts

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
Harry Price's ghost hunting kit
Harry Price's ghost-hunting kit.

Myths and stories about ghosts exist in cultures all over the world thoughout history. The earliest tales of ghosts in America arose in the Puritan colonies of Massachusetts in the 1600s. It wasn’t long before other New England colonies developed their own ghost myths. An accidental or mysterious death could elicit sightings from the most sober of community members.

It is not surprising that tales of ghosts made their way west, and California certainly has its share of ghost stories. Some of these stories are local to Los Angeles, and many old Hollywood spots claim a ghost or two, or more.  Marilyn Monroe is said to make appearances at the Knickerbocker Hotel; people swear that they still see Peg Entwistle leaping from the H of the Hollywood sign; and even City Hall is said to be haunted by a man clad in 19th century garb who likes to disrupt City Council meetings.

Knickerbocker Hotel, interior. LAPL Photo Collection
Knickerbocker Hotel, interior. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

If you believe you’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, you are not alone. According to a 2009 Pew Research Group poll, 18 percent of Americans feel the same way.

And even without necessarily experiencing a ghost sighting, a Harris poll finds that 42 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.

Whether these phenomena are truly spirits walking among the living, or the result of faulty electrical wiring or bad insulation, no one can say for certain. But for believers and skeptics alike, it is hard to resist a good ghost story.

If you are among the 82 percent of the population who have not had any ghostly experiences, perhaps you’re just not looking in the right places. The following books discuss California hauntings and may provide some guidance for your ghost-hunting adventures. Explore local Los Angeles haunts, or take a road trip up the California coast, and maybe you will encounter a famous California specter.

Photograph by William H. Rau (1855–1920) showing a woman reading with a ghostly figure standing over her
Photograph by William H. Rau (1855–1920) showing a woman reading with a ghostly figure standing over her.

For Further Reading

The Ghost Detectives' Guide to Haunted San Francisco by Lloyd Auerbach

Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles by James T. Barlett

Ghost Hunter's Guide to Los Angeles by Jeff Dwyer

Hollywood Haunted: A Ghostly Tour Of Filmland by Laurie Jacobson

Haunted Houses of California by Antoinette May

Ghosts of the Big Sur Coast by Randall A. Reinstedt

California Ghost Notes: Haunted Happenings Throughout The Golden State by Randall A. Reinstedt 

Ghosts of The Haunted Coast: Ghost Hunting on California's Gold Coast by Richard L. Senate

Haunted Route 66: Ghosts of America's Legendary Highway by Richard Southall 

Haunted Northern California: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Golden State by Charles A. Stansfield


Photos from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Mary Evans Picture Library


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