Last month, this lucky girl left her heart in San Francisco—land of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Painted Ladies, China Town and ALCATRAZ!!! Weeks leading up to this extremely exciting getaway, I had to methodically plan out my trip with a San Fran-themed reading list complete with ghosts, legends, mystery and mayhem. Since it has always been my dream to visit The Rock (aka Alcatraz), I had to bone up (see what I did there?) on its haunted history, and let me tell you, that foreboding behemoth structure breathes new meaning to the phrase “if these walls could talk.”
Here are a few books from my San Francisco reading extravaganza:
Alcatraz Believe it or Not by TC Baker
This was a score at the local bookstore that I fortuitously stumbled upon at the Ferry Building! This book is made for kids, so you’re not going to find anything too frightening, but some of the chapters hit on very creepy aspects of the island, such as the shrunken Peruvian princess head and random bits of bones that landed on the island back in the 1800s when some sea merchants slipped up and purchased a bag of bones instead of salts. Yikes! There’s also some really great stories and illustrations describing a myriad of ill-fated jail breaks. My favorite escape attempt involved some very creative arts-and-crafts projects, which included fake dummy heads with real hair collected from the barbershop (gross!), and makeshift wooden fins for swimming the torrential waters. If you find yourself on Alcatraz, do yourself a favor and purchase this book from their little gift store. It’s a great entertainment for the plane ride back—and you’re also helping out the National Parks Service—win-win!
Ghosts and Legends of Alcatraz by Bob Davis and Brian Clune
This is one of the very few books you’ll find about ghosts and legends in San Francisco. I’m not sure why, but there really isn’t much out there for paranormal enthusiasts looking for creepy historical accounts bout the Golden City. So, naturally, I had to book myself a ghost tour so I could hear some stories that would leave me up at night in my hotel room, which by the way was located across the street from the very haunted China Town! But I digress, this book doesn’t cover any of that, but it does hit on some spooky legends and lore tied to Alcatraz Island, some involving a benevolent bigfoot-type monster, others pertaining to ghosts of prisoners who died suddenly or perished after years of isolation and torture.
Sadly, the National Park Service doesn’t indulge in ghost stories, so my self-guided tour was lackluster to say the least. But I did feel the heebie jeebies walking around that place that seemed weighted down with despair. Should I chock this feeling up to the power of suggestion? Maybe, but I do believe in bad energy, the intangible weight in the atmosphere that gets under your skin and raises those little hairs on your arm. Someone once told me, “When you get that hair-raising feeling, so matter how subtle, trust it and get out as soon as you can.”
Either way, this short book is worth your while if you’d like to get a little bit more than that watered-down tour at The Rock. Some of the stories seem a little far-fetched, but a few of the chapters did give me the creeps, especially the one about the dungeon—jeepers!
Murder in the Balcony by Margaret Dumas
A murder mystery series set at a haunted grand ol’ movie palace in San Francisco? Yes please! This is the second installment in the series, and I am LOVING IT! I’m not even a classic movie buff, but this book had me yearning for a big tub of popcorn and a classic movie marathon night–starting with Roman Holiday. I would love to watch movies all day at Nora Page’s beloved theater and possibly catch a glimpse of Trixie the resident ghost floating by in her old timey usherette uniform!
This is a cozy mystery that follows the standard formula: 30-something woman flees to a new town after a horrible breakup¸ abandons her fast-paced city slicker career, makes new friends, stumbles upon a dead body, etcetera, etcetera. Yet this series stands out from the rest because the amateur sleuth Nora Page is actually likable, and not in a sweet, girl-next-door, Mary Sue kind of way. I just love her passion for old movies and her determination to keep the old theater running in defiance of rapid corporate development. She also has a hilarious, wisecracking sense of humor that she also fuses into her old movie blog, “Movies My Friends Should Watch,” which I discovered is a real thing!
Even if you’re not a fan of the Turner Classics, I highly recommend this series for some fun and fluffy crime-solving in a city filled with history and mystique!
Synchronized Sorcery by Juliet Blackwell
When scouring the cozy mystery bookshelves at Barnes & Noble for the perfect San Francisco-themed whodunnit, I immediately homed in on this awesome cover of a vintage-clad fashionista and her pink pig/hobgoblin amidst the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. And what’s this? A mermaid tail swishing above the sparking waters? I’m so in!
True, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I judged correctly! This was, yet again, a solid mystery in the long-running Witchcraft Mystery Series that revolved around the murder of a random guy who rescues pigeons on Treasure Island. Somehow, he’s linked to San Francisco’s underground magical society, but nobody knows why. As our main character, the vintage clothing shop owner/witch Lily Ivory, searches for clues, she finds that they all lead to a group of Hitler fans who seem to be plotting something big.
There’s a lot going on in this book, making it the perfect read for a long plane ride (thankfully direct!) from Texas to San Francisco. I kept pouring through the chapters to get to the bottom of multiple mysteries tied into one—from the case of the mysterious mermaid costume, to the quest for the hobgoblin’s missing mom, to the questionable appearance of Lily’s long-lost brother. Is he a friend or foe? And will he have a hand in the big cataclysmic plot to annihilate the entire city of San Francisco—and maybe even the whole planet? Guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out. Darn cliffhangers!