by Donia Moore
I loved Casper the Friendly Ghost. When I was a child, I’d watch the cartoon series day after day – loving all the funny situations he found himself in and how he solved the challenges of being a friendly ghost. I hid behind the sofa in our family room during the spooky scenes of the Magic Mirror from Disney’s Snow White on our old black and white TV. To this day, I don’t like scary ghosts, yet I am fascinated by the local legends of spectral sightings in and around San Clemente.
Although I haven’t seen any of these ghostly visitors myself, I don’t doubt that energy sources remain long after a body has ceased functioning. If that’s true, some of the ghosts in these stories apparently have a lot of energy, because these tales have been around for years. It seems our homegrown ghosts just don’t want to leave – can you blame them?
Camp Pendleton Marine Base on San Clemente’s southern border is a model of modern technology. It is definitely not the place you’d expect to find ghostly visitors. However, once you realize that the base was built on land that was conflicted with murdered priests and native people, it’s not too hard to see the possible connections.
The base has a history of inexplicable phenomenon. Locks have been tampered with, furniture displaced, items gone missing and strange noises heard throughout the camp. While possible explanations for these incidents immediately come to mind, it’s a little more difficult to ignore local lore about one broken-hearted Marine in particular.
This marine, deeply in love, was shocked when his fiancé abruptly called things off. In his despair, he shot himself in a second-story room of the barracks. A general feeling of unease is common there, and to this day Marines claim to hear the faint sound of a man softly humming the Jeopardy game-show theme around the grounds.
San Clemente’s San Mateo Campground was built on part of the navy land leased by Camp Pendleton. This is sacred land to the Acjachemen, a Native American tribe that pre-dated the Juaneno Mission Indians and the Spanish by centuries. Many sightings of what appear to be Acjachemen/Juaneno spirits frequently occur there. It is said that they are guarding the documented ancient Ajachemen burial grounds in the area.
Shorecliffs Golf Course is a great course to play. Its re-furbished links and well-run clubhouse attract golfers from all over. But according to some locals, golfers aren’t the only ones attracted to the course. Images of playing children have been reported in the sewers, floating through the walls and sometimes walking through the tunnels. And laughing and talking is often heard there without explanation.
Talega Golf Course is another popular venue in San Clemente. Sometimes in the early morning or late afternoon, a faint image of a Native American is said to appear in the area. At Hole 2 (par 5 uphill) a Native American woman has been repeatedly reported to be seen standing in the brush-filled savannah between the tee and the fairway apron.
The train tracks near Cottons, a famous surfing spot, issues its own warnings to surfers trying to cross the tracks to get to the water. Blood is said to sometimes appear on the tracks near the point where a surfer was killed while attempting a crossing. His ghost is alleged to actually save other surfers from harm’s way in the area, and he is sometimes called the ghost of the lost surfer.
In and around the neighborhoods above San Clemente’s Seal Rock, an old Spanish gentleman in a long nightshirt with a white beard has been seen by many families. It is believed that he was an original Patron for the area under a Spanish land grant, and that he always made rounds visiting the families of small children to ensure that they were safe. He has become something of a guardian angel for children.
Many have reported waking up to see the old man standing at the end of their beds, lovingly watching them, then slowly dissipating into the air. Some families report that their houses, although empty when they return home from an excursion, often feel full of warm and welcoming entities, “Like they are having a welcome home party” is how one former resident of the area put it.
Our neighbor to the north, San Juan Capistrano, has won the appellation of Most Haunted Spot in the Country from several paranormal investigation sources.
Probably the town’s most famous spectre is known simply as The White Lady. Although she has often been seen at different sites surrounding Mission San Juan Capistrano, she seems to favor a large old pepper tree on Rios Street, the oldest street in California.
For almost 100 years, she has been seen seated under the tree, or walking along Rios Street. She is occasionally kept company by other phantom ladies. One is known as the Phantom of Del Obispo (or the Del Obispo White Lady) and is associated with a ghostly black dog. In life, the Phantom of Del Obispo was Dona Bernadino, and legend has it that she was either a healer or bruja (witch).
Various spectres have also been seen walking along the railroad tracks in the center of the historic district.
El Adobe Restaurant was known for being President Nixon’s favorite place to dine when he was in residence at his Western White House, Casa Pacifica, in San Clemente. Although no mention has been made of his seeing the resident ghost, many others swear to witnessing a headless monk wandering the street outside or visiting the wine cellar in the former town jail. The restaurant is housed in two of Orange County’s most historic buildings, dating back to 1778. The northern half was formerly the 1797 home of Miguel Yorba. The southern half was built in 1812, and was used as the town’s court and jail.
Happy Haunting Grounds
Ghostly apparitions seem to abound in South Orange County, from John Wayne’s yacht in busy Newport Beach to the hidden valleys of Trabuco Canyon. Although we seldom think about it, Orange County has an old and colorful history. If you believe that energy never completely dissipates, maybe it makes sense that some of the energy from former times might still be around. Or, you can always go with Casper.