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.

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  • Angelique

    Several years ago my companion and I were leaving a show at the Brookdale late in the evening….As we walked from the side door of the lodge…. I noticed a little girl standing by the stairs in the parking lot. She was looking at me and I turned to my friend and asked if he had seen her too. I then pointed to her and she was gone! I later learned about the little girl and She looked exactly as they said her appearance to be…w/ a light colored dress, blonde pigtails about 7 yrs old!

    • Heathyr Wolfe

      I saw her too! White-ish dress and young. I was given a tour by an older long time resident who lived in the hotel next door, long ago when I was a kid. I looked up at the bridge/balcony in the river room and there she was, standing on the bridge, smiling at me. It seems she was happy to see another child in her building.

    • TR

      While eating at the Brookdale several years back, I noticed the little girl on the upper balcony near the window facing Hwy 9. Red dress, which then became a blinding light resulting in a sever headache for several minutes.
      We have also witnessed what appeared to be a person entering the restroom down the ramp by the bar (before the renovation). There was no one in restroom.

  • Maryanne Porter Scgh

    Love the stories~ I actually investigated the Rispin Mansion with my team, the first ever to be allowed in ~ :) Mari Anne Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters

    • TR

      Kudos on your book, Mari

      I grew up in a home with ‘guests’, so being exposed to phenomena is second nature, not saying I don’t jump or feel my heart beat every now and again.

      Many of us tested ourselves against the Rispin as kids, We were there to show how brave we were. For you to be the first to actually investigate the building professionally pretty awesome.

      In my youth, I was able to spend lot of time in the Rengstorff House before it was relocated and renovated as part of the park. Some of the stories were true, but most were elevated by yarns and fear from persons who went before me.

      I have had an opportunity to check out the Brookdale two years back (during the renovation), including the cabin. Unfortunately is was an impromptu opportunity, and I didn’t have any gear with me, just the chance to spend a few hours after 1:00 am. I’ve included one of my Brookdale experiences in an earlier entry.

      We (a few close friends) are planning a trip to Ione, California, to visit the Preston Boys Prison this year, but we want to go to the Galena’s Marine Hospital in Illinois. A recent change in ownership may prevent this from happening.

      Since we are sharing stories here, the coolest experience I have ever had was in Fremont, Ca. We entered a private residence and within minutes, an orb, the first one I had ever seen with my bare eyes (three others witnessed this) came out of a closed doorway low to the floor, with a movement that was like a puppy. The orb came to my feet, rose about a foot, then went back down, circled my feet then disappeared into a stack of albums. The house owner looked at me, freaked out, and asked what I had brought into her house. The orb had a feeling of peace and happiness to it, so this is my orb story.

      -T in BC

  • Deejayz Mikez

    Where is it located it doesn’t have an address

    • Angelique

      The Brookdale Lodge is on Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz,Ca mountains…

      • Vanessa Schlesinger

        It’s closed now, but I’ve seen the ghost there once when I was 8.

        • John

          I snuck into the Rispin mansion before they remodeled it when I was maybe 13?? It was 11 at night and all boarded up. I was terrified but I loved it! I heard some knocking and things dropping in the background. Never saw any ghosts. I was looking for the “woman in black” that supposedly haunts the place. I was freaked out the whole time but loved it.