One of the state’s original counties, Santa Cruz has long attracted ambitious men and women to its Eden-like shores. While the history of Santa Cruz County is spotted with tales of triumph and success, there also tales of tragedy, mystery and failure. Some believe that when tragedy occurs, something is left in its wake; call it a ghost or spirit. In Santa Cruz, a number of locations are tinged with mystery because of some unfortunate incident in its past.
Rispin Mansion, Capitola
In Capitola, the Rispin Mansion has long attracted ghost-watchers to its crumbling ruins. Located along the Soquel Creek on Wharf Road, the remains of a once palatial four-story, 22-room mansion is an eerie reflection of the sad history of the man who built it. Canadian, Henry Allen Rispin thought he struck gold when he married the daughter of a railroad tycoon and purchased the resort in what is today, Capitola Village in 1919. He built the mansion two years later. Hoping to become a real estate tycoon, Henry’s aim fell well short. Some said he made a “rum deal” during Prohibition and lost everything. Whatever the real reason for his misfortune, Henry ended up dying penniless and buried in a pauper’s grave in San Francisco. After his death, the mansion was run by a group of nuns (Poor Clare’s) and later, in the 1960s, was used as a practice arena for a local SWAT team. Officially vacant for more than fifty years, the site caught fire under mysterious circumstances in 2009. While the city of Capitola aims to renovate the area into a park, a pilgrimage to the ruins remains a right-of-passage for thrill seekers who want to catch a glimpse of the shadowy ghost of poor Henry lamenting his cruel fate.
Mt. Madonna Inn, Watsonville
In south county, located just outside Watsonville at the border of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties, the Mt. Madonna Inn is a shuttered remnant of a bygone era. A former hotspot for fine dining, dancing and cocktail hour, the Mt. Madonna Inn had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, attracting diners and merrymakers to its hilltop location with soaring views of the Pajaro Valley. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in the 1970s when three young boys were found brutally murdered, their bodies left near the inn’s forest-dense grounds. While the restaurant continued to operate intermittently, becoming a popular destination for seniors who enjoyed ballroom dancing, the inn could not shake off its gloomy fate. In 2005, the body of a teenage girl riddled with bullet holes was found in the inn’s parking lot. The 14,000 square foot venue has been chained up, keeping visitors at bay ever since.
Brookdale Lodge, Ben Lomond
Nestled deep in the redwood forests of Brookdale, the historic Brookdale Lodge has had its share of controversy since it was opened in 1890 by lawyer and horticulturist James Harvey Logan, creator of the Loganberry. In recent times, the lodge was the site of a mysterious fire in 2011 and a tragic death in 2009. The former owners were convicted of insurance fraud two years ago and the property left in major disrepair. New owners are in the midst of a major remodel and hope to reopen later this year. Over the years, the lodge has hosted numerous birthdays, weddings and special events. Its old-world glam and quirky features, including a bubbling brook that coursed through the center of the main dining room, made the landmark a destination for celebrities and the local hoi-polloi. Ghost hunters swear the place is haunted by Sarah Logan, the supposed daughter of the hostelry’s founder.
Sunshine Villa, Santa Cruz
Struck by tales of ghosts wandering the halls and its spooky facade, Alfred Hitchcock used the old McCray Hotel on Beach Hill in Santa Cruz as inspiration for the Bates Mansion in the classic thriller, Psycho. Unfortunately, the scary visage of the building is long gone, the current owners took care to remove any remnant of its sordid past in the 1980s before transforming the Victorian building into the Sunshine Villa Assisted Living retirement home.