Do you believe in ghosts? Can’t say I do, but I can tell you that a ghost tour is an awesome way to learn about history. When you go on a ghost tour, you aren’t presented with dry facts that you could stare at on Wikipedia. You get tales full of colorful details, presented with theatrics and a certain ambiance that a typical history tour, book or website just can’t deliver . There’s nothing like a chilling story to help your eyes peal back the onion of modern development and imagine the history that 150 year old buildings have seen.
Our tour stared at the Horton Grand Hotel, where we met our guide, H.W. The hotel was built in the late 1800’s by Alonzo Horton, the real estate developer who shifted development from the Old Town area to the modern downtown area, closer to the Port of San Diego. The hotel actually encompasses two hotels, the original Horton and Saddlery Hotel, which were later linked together. Rooms 309 and 209 are reportedly very haunted – your change will reportedly stack itself while you sleep, so at least this ghost is friendly to those of us with O.C.D. While the hotel does feel old and perhaps a bit spooky, H.W. did fail to mention one thing – it was only actually built in the 1980’s – the original hotels were disassembled brick-by-brick to make way for the Horton Plaza shopping mall, and reassembled in their current location. So do ghosts follow the brick or the plot of land?
We continued down 5th Avenue to learn which eatery’s restaurants used to be a morgue and which bar’s storerooms were formerly jail cells, but the highlight had to be what is now the Lucky Bastard Saloon. H.W. told us that this building bothers him like no other at the beginning of the tour, and once we arrived in this building we believed him – he started violently sweating even though this was a cool and rainy February evening. The Saloon’s main floor used to be a hardware company, where a worker reportedly lost his life while trying to move a heavy load off of a high shelf. H.W. told us that he now haunts the booth and adjacent D.J. station near where this occurred.
The saloon has other interesting historical tidbits – the tin ceiling is original and the only of its kind in Gaslamp, as it should have been donated to the war effort in the 40’s. The proprietors concealed it in order to keep it, and it stands to this day.
We continued down to the storeroom, where we saw the sealed off entrance of what used to be a tunnel system connecting Gaslamp businesses, used throughout history for various legit and illicit purposes. This tunnel system is also reportedly haunted by a group of workers who were killed when a tunnel collapsed. The tunnels were sealed off at that point, and only recently have the tunnels been reopened for a structural survey and the bodies removed. H.W. says that he’ll be taking tour groups into the tunnels in a few years – if it’s not too haunted that is!
We really enjoyed our tour and all of the information it contained. Yes, it’s hard to separate the cold hard history from the legends and myths on a ghost tour, but all but the most serious history buffs will enjoy learning on a tour like this. Just like a really great painting can sometimes convey information about its subject that a photo cannot, the ghost tour presented Gaslamp’s history in a very accessible and visceral way. You’ll leave the tour wishing you could travel back in time to see Gaslamp in it’s earliest days, but knowing that you just did the next best thing.