The Dahlgren Affair

Kilpatrick and his 3rd Division staff, March 1864 Photo Credit- Library of Congress

In 1864 the American Civil War was still raging.  The capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, was still tantalizingly close to Union forces, but as of yet out of reach.  There on an island in the James River was Belle Isle, a holding pen for Union prisoners.  Like most Civil War prisons, it was not a fun place complete with disease and overcrowding.  Since prisoner exchanges had been called off in June of 1863, the number of prisoners at Belle Isle grew to staggering proportions.  There were thoughts that a raid on Belle Isle could not only free Union soldiers from abominable conditions and death by disease, but free up fresh troops for a raid on Richmond.  This was the brainchild of Major General Benjamin F. Butler, but the Confederates got wind of the attack and his force was turned back before reaching their goal.

Against this back drop, enter a report in the New York Tribune that reporter Charles Dunham had exposed a plot to assassinate President Lincoln by the evil Confederate Colonel George Margrave.  The fact that George Margrave was entirely fictitious as was besides the point.  It made good copy.  Naturally, this report was greeted with concern at the highest levels of government.  Put these two things together in the mind of ambitious Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, and you get the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid on Richmond.

Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was dubbed a “boy general”, and his men had little to no respect for the reckless commander.  He was not shy about committing soldiers’ lives to obtaining his goals usually through frontal assaults, which were regarded by other officers as “for no good purpose whatsoever”.  So much though that he earned the nickname “Kill Cavalry”.  Called a “danged fool” by Major General William Sherman, Kilpatrick was still in command and put out word that he believed a raid on Richmond led by him would succeed.  Word was passed along and possibly with the help of a Republican Senator, Kilpatrick was invited to a private meeting with the president.  Lincoln must have liked the idea, so Kilpatrick was shunted to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to work out the details.  Ostensibly, the objectives of the raid were threefold:  sever Confederate lines of communication with their capital, free the Union prisoners at Belle Isle and get word of Lincoln’s recent amnesty proposal behind enemy lines.

Kilpatrick got command of 4,000 men and enlisted the help of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren.  Dahlgren was the son of a prominent rear admiral, and had just returned to active duty after losing a leg at Gettysburg.  Kilpatrick would attack from the north and Dahlgren would come at it from the southwest.  As a diversion, Brigadier General George Custer would attack the Confederate left.  However, Dahlgren was not just part of a pincer movement on Richmond.  He had been given secret orders and an address to visit which Kilpatrick marked with “approved” in red ink then signed.  Unfortunately, the raid was a flop as Kilpatrick failed to stop an approaching train from warning the city.  Dahlgren did not make it to that address or even Richmond.  He was killed near King and Queen County Courthouse on March 2, 1864.  His body was found by a 13 year old boy, William Littlepage, who rifled through his pockets looking for valuables.  What he found was a packet of documents, which he turned over to his teacher Edward Halbach.  Halbach read the documents with disbelief.

In the orders was outlined the plan to meet up with Kilpatrick’s forces and “destroy and burn the hateful city” of Richmond.  A second set of orders were even more explosive as they outlined plans to kill the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and the Confederate Cabinet.  The exact wording was as follows:

“We will try and secure the bridge to the city, (one mile below Belle Isle,) and release the prisoners at the same time. If we do not succeed they must then dash down, and we will try and carry the bridge from each side. When necessary, the men must be filed through the woods and along the river bank. The bridges once secured, and the prisoners loose and over the river, the bridges will be secured and the city destroyed. The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.”

This went up the chain of Confederate command and was then released to the press on March 5, 1862.  People were appalled.  Despite the fact that the Civil War was the bloodiest and nastiest war fought up to that point, the thought of assassination was past the pale.  It was considered against the rules of war, which had been conducted with honor and as a “gentleman’s affair.”  Northerners were skeptical and generally believed the Dahlgren papers were a forgery.  Dahlgren’s father declared them completely false as his son would not be involved in such and they hadn’t even bothered to spell his name correctly.  However, privately some in the Union hierarchy, such as General George Meade, though they were valid.  The Richmond Examiner spoke for all of the south in their indignant rage saying, “The depredations of the last Yankee raiders, and the wantonness of their devastation equal anything heretofore committed during the war.”

It is plausible to believe in light of the accusations by Charles Dunham, Stanton and the others in the Cabinet may have entertained a similar assassination plot against Jefferson Davis.  However, it is not known how seriously they took the Dunham accusations.  It is also a mystery why they would put such a delicate operation in the hands of a commander who was known to be reckless.  Also, there is a question as to why Dahlgren did not destroy the orders after reading them.  It was put down to Dahlgren’s inexperience.  Again, why would you put such a controversial matter in the hands of an inexperienced commander?

In any case, the War Department claimed the papers were forgeries.  Union spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, used her contacts to secretly exhume Dahlgren’s body from Oakwood Cemetery and spirit it away so it could not be mistreated by the Confederates.  This prompted accusations that Dahlgren had “risen or been resurrected,” according to the Richmond Examiner.  Kilpatrick vehemently denied he had been a party to the secret orders and that they had been changed after he signed his name.  He lost command of his division and was put in charge of a brigade.  In the larger lens of the civil war, this affair is probably what sent John Wilkes Booth into a plot to kidnap President Lincoln.  This plan morphed into the assassination plot, which culminated in Lincoln’s death April 14, 1865.


Joshua Chamberlain and the Ghost

Joshua Chamberlain

The American Civil War was in full rage by 1863.  On July 1, 1863 the armies were massing around a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.  The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest and crucial in the war.  Joshua Chamberlain was the Colonel of the 20th Maine, promoted after the battle of Chancellorsville.  The 20th Maine was described as a “hell of a regiment”, which was not a compliment.  Apparently, they were unruly and had some deserters that had to be forced back to duty at the point of a bayonet.  I imagine this was par for the course in those days, however.  Chamberlain was told by General Mead to “make them do duty or shoot them down the moment they refused.”  Chamberlain took a softer approach as many of the deserters were men he knew from home.  They were fed and added back into the ranks.  They had orders to head home soon anyway.  However, before they could go back to Maine, they received the call to march to Gettysburg double quick.  They booked it to Pennsylvania, but once they got there it was dark.   This is when things got strange.

According Colonel Chamberlain in his book Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, the officers reached a fork in the road and wasn’t sure which way to go.  The account says, “Suddenly the clouds parted, and the moon shone down upon a horseman wearing a bright coat and a tricorn hat.  Mounted on a magnificent pale horse, he cantered down one of the roads branching off before them.  Turning slightly toward them, he waved them to follow.”  If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.  Hundreds of soldiers were said to have seen this man on horseback.  They followed the man on horseback, who led them wear they needed to be.  Many of the officers assumed this was a Union general, the name General McClellan got bandied about.  However, some of the men remarked on upon the strong resemblance the man bore to paintings of George Washington they had seen.  

On July 2, Chamberlain was ordered to Little Round Top by Union commanders after they realized there were only signalmen guarding the strategic heights.  Once again, the 20th Maine hustled and they only beat the first wave of General Longstreet’s Confederates by a few minutes.  At any case, the 20th Maine were given the charge to hold Little Round top “at all hazards”, and soon they were under heavy artillery fire. The Confederates kept coming and soon there were outbreaks of deadly hand to hand fighting, but the line held.  However, it was a close thing and Colonel Chamberlain worried that the line would not stand another assault and now there was gunfire behind them as well.  There were fears among the exhausted men the Confederates had them surrounded.  They were the last line of defense.  If they fell, the battle and possibly the war and the union were lost.  Here is where things get weird once again.  

According to reports from troops after the battle, a tall man on a pale horse rode into their midst.  He was in an old fashioned uniform and tricorn hat.  Every man on the Union

The 20th Maine’s left flank marker at Gettysburg battlefield. Regimental monument at the center of their lines on Little Round Top. Photo Credit- Cornellrockey04

side who saw him felt his courage renewed.  The Confederates saw the rider as well and focused fire on the conspicuous target, but the rider never fell.  Despite this moral boost, things were looking bleak for the 20th Maine.  They were out of ammo and hope.  Enter the strange phantom.  According to Chamberlain, “Suddenly, an imposing figure stood in front of the line exhorting them to follow.  The rays of the afternoon sun set his upraised sword aflame.”  The men were filled with hope and bravery, and fixed their bayonet and charged into the line of Confederates.  The men of the 15th Alabama were shocked at such a bold move, and didn’t have time to fire a defensive volley.   The Confederates were mowed down by the men of the 20th Maine then caught in a pincer between them and the men of the 83rd Pennsylvania.  Four hundred Confederates were taken prisoner and Little Round Top held.

Rumors went wild after the battle about the apparition and an investigation was conducted and many eyewitness testimonies were gathered.  However, no conclusions were drawn.  Chamberlain survived the war and went on to become Governor of Maine in 1866.  In regard to this strange episode, Chamberlain said, “We know not what mystical power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead.  I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause.  I do believe that we were enveloped by the power of the other world that day and who shall say that Washington was not among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?”  Who indeed?


Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was another straight up badass.  When you look at his life on paper, it is impressive- rising from slavery to famous orator and abolitionist.  However, in reading Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman (if you haven’t read it, go now), it struck me as it struck the author exactly what a feat that was.  The bare bones of it are amazing, but the details truly show what this man accomplished.

Born as a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey had a tough time from the start.  He never knew his father, who was rumored to be the master of the plantation.  He spent little time with his mother as it was common practice to separate slave mothers and children to make them easier to sell.  In fact, Frederick’s mother lived on a completely different plantation.  Even Frederick himself was not sure of his birth year as slaves were not taught the years or months of the calendar.  He estimated his birth sometime in February 1818.  By the time he was eight years old his mother had died, and his master hired him out to work as a body servant in Baltimore at the house of Hugh Auld.  Sophia Auld, Hugh’s wife, recognized that Frederick was bright and began teaching him the letters of the alphabet even though this was illegal under Maryland state law.  Their lessons were discovered and Sophia was strongly admonished that educating a slave would “ruin him” as he would become dissatisfied with his lot in life and desire something better like freedom.  Let’s let that sink in for a moment.  Slave masters thought they had to make sure to keep those in it ignorant because otherwise they might figure out there was a better life.  There are so many problems with that statement I don’t know where to start.  That hurt my brain and my heart.

However, Frederick did not lose his desire for education and took any opportunity to learn more.  Auld sent young Frederick out to work at the Baltimore wharf, specifically Durgin and Bailey’s shipyard.  He noticed that each piece completed by the ship carpenters had two letters written on them to designate where it went.  For example, “S” for starboard side, “L” for larboard side, “F” for forward and “A” for aft.  He copied these letters until he had them perfectly memorized, and those were his first four letters.  Frederick saved hunks of bread and would trade them to neighborhood white boys for impromptu writing lessons.  He said “my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk.”  He
also would spend any free time he could copying the writing lessons of the Auld’s son Thomas until he could write a similar hand to the young man.  All of this was an amazing risk as if he was caught, Frederick would have been whipped or possibly killed.  When he was twelve, he bought the book The Columbian Orator, which contained revolutionary speeches, debates and writings.  Those have to have been an amazing eye opener to the young man.

Frederick was sent by Auld to work for a shipbuilder named William Gardner.  He worked as a caulker, ensuring the ship’s hull was water tight.  He was well paid for his labor, but was forced to turn over all of his salary to Hugh Auld every week.  Frederick wrote later, “…Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition.”  The boats he worked on were free, but he, a living man, was not.

When Frederick was fifteen, the was sent back to the Eastern Shore to labor as a field hand.  He was hired out to a notorious “slave breaker” named Edward Covey.  This guy was a straight up villain, who took any excuse he could to beat the living daylights out of young Frederick.  Probably because he knew Frederick was ten times the man he was and hundred times smarter.  That’s my penny’s worth of pop psychology for the day.  Anyway, he did everything he could to make Frederick fail so he could punish him- whipping him with sticks until they break over Frederick’s back.  He was whipped so often that the wounds from his previous beatings did not have time to heal before the next one.  This was purely meant to break Frederick’s will and after six months of this treatment it began to work.  In his biography, Frederick described sitting like a zombie during church services on Sunday and generally being in a “beast-like stupor”.  Frederick even got so desperate he walks seven miles to appeal to his old master.  No dice.  He actually praised Covey as a good manager and sent Frederick back.  Both you and I know this is not going to go well.  Covey tried to whip Frederick and Frederick does the unthinkable.  He fought back.  The two went at it hammer and tongs for two hours, and eventually Covey gives up.  Unbelievably, nothing else happened.  Frederick hypothesized that Covey doesn’t want to lose face by admitting a slave fought him.  Maybe he was scared of another butt kicking.  Who knows, but he left Frederick alone after that.  After that epiphany, Frederick was not long for slavery.

In 1838, he made a break for it getting on a train dressed in the uniform and identification of a free black seaman, Frederick makes it to New York City.  From there he was able to bring his fiancee, a young blank woman named Anna Murray, to New York and they were married.  Frederick declared himself free, and the two adopted the new name of Douglass.  The moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts and had five children together.  He looked for work as a ship’s caulker, but could not find work due to prejudice.  Not giving up, he took whatever work he could find as a day laborer.  He was not afraid to get his hands dirty doing whatever was needed to get the means to provide for himself and his family.  He also joined the congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, and became a sexton as well as an licensed preacher.  It was his sermons which brought him to the attention of other prestigious parishioners such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.  They thought he would make a great addition to the abolitionist movement.brand_bio_bio_frederick-douglass-mini-biography_0_172232_sf_hd_768x432-16x9

It seems the pro-slavery movement was right to fear men like Frederick as the Abolitionists found a potent weapon in his life experiences and the eloquence in which he could express them.  He got a job with the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and went on speaking tours across the North and Midwest.  His skill as an orator brought the ugliness of slavery home to his audience in a way in which others could not.  He wrote his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845, in response to accusations that he could not be a fugitive slave because he was too eloquent.  Because all black people had to be ignorant and simple minded.  Ugh.  This in itself was extremely dangerous as now his former masters knew his new name and where he was.  Frederick and his family escaped to overseas and traveled throughout England, Ireland and Scotland.  While there, he met many abolitionists and one offered to pay for his freedom.  On December 5, 1846, Mary Richardson, a quaker from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, bought one Frederick Douglass from Hugh Auld of Baltimore for $711.66.  He was then manumitted for 125 pounds sterling.  Frederick Douglass was a free man on paper and could return home.

The Douglass family relocated to Rochester, New York and started The North Star newspaper.  In 1855, he published his second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom.  In his copious spare time, he ran a station on the Underground Railroad.  He also took up the cause of women’s rights, saying at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, he could not accept the right to vote if women were not granted suffrage as well.

In 1861, the Civil War broke out and Frederick did not stop his work.  He campaigned tirelessly that emancipation would be one of the outcomes of the war and advocated for African American troops.   He recruited many of these young men to fight, including two of his own sons, and then went to Lincoln himself when they did not receive equal pay or fair treatment.  His work bore fruit with the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.  These amendments ended slavery, granted citizenship to former slaves and stated no one could be denied voting rights on the basis for race, skin color or previous servitude.

During the Reconstruction, Frederick was a well known figure and held many prestigious offices such as assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, legislative council member of the D.C. Territorial Government, board member of Howard University, and president of the Freedman’s Bank.  However, when Reconstruction was declared over, Frederick did not just fade into the background.  He served as a US Marshal for DC, Recorder of Deeds for DC and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti.  All at a time when African Americans were seriously restricted from holding office due to fraud and violence.  His work in the government did not end his speaking career either.  He worked vigorously for women’s rights, and published his third book in 1881, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  This indicated that as far as we have come, we still had a long way to go to being the Land of the Free.  He was even named as Victoria Woodhull’s running mate in her 1872 run for the presidency, although he did not agree to it.  (For more on that, please see this post

Despite all of this official work, Frederick and Anna remained happily married until Anna’s tragic death from a stroke in 1882.  Two years later, Frederick remarried and it was nothing less than a scandal. He married Helen Pitts, an activist and daughter of two abolitionist.  She was twenty years his junior, which was not odd for the time, and also white.  This did not go over well at all, and most of their married life was spent overseas.

Frederick Douglass died after a heart attack at the age of 77 after attending a meeting for the National Council of Women.  Hail and Farewell.


Emperor Norton I of the United States

emperor_joshua_a-_norton_iSo those of us here in the United States go to the polls today.  Wouldn’t it be just easier if we just had an emperor?  According to one man in San Francisco, we did and it was him.  On September 17, 1859, Joshua A. Norton declared himself the “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico”.  Who was this illustrious emperor and why haven’t we heard of him?

Joshua A. Norton was born February 4, 1819, probably in Scotland.  Not much is known about his early life, but before settling in San Francisco he lived in Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope and was a member of the Cape Mounted Riflemen.  He arrived in California in 1849 and like many others hoped to make his fortune in the Gold Rush.  He was able to make good for a time, turning a $40,000 stake into a quarter million dollar fortune, but lost it all to speculation and greed.  Again, he tried to make his fortune in speculation of rice during the 1853 rice shortage.  He was thwarted when fresh shipments arrived and the bottom fell out of the rice market.  At that point, he became involved in extensive litigation as his partners in the rice scheme sued him.  One of the cases went all the way to the Supreme Court in November 1853, where he was ruled against.  His legal troubles combined with the loss of his fortune seemed to take a toll on Norton’s sanity.

In September 1859 he appeared in the offices of the San Francisco Bulletin with a decree to be published.  The editors published it on a lark and the notice in the September 17, 1859 read:

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens…I, Joshua Norton…declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States.” It went on to command representatives from all the states to convene in the Bay Area, “to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring.” The edict was signed, “NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.”

He claimed that an act of legislature in 1853 made him the Emperor of California, however, because California was a state he felt this was inappropriate.  He needed to be the Emperor of the whole country.   After his declaration was published, he took up the duties of his office.  The society of San Francisco was amused and ran with the joke.  The Emperor became one of the city’s most beloved oddballs.  He could be found in the best restaurants eating for free and accepting “fealty” from jokers.  He was easy to spot as he was always dressed in a navy blue military style coat adorned with many brass buttons and gilt epaulettes.  A tall beaver hat, with a cockade of feathers and a rosette, cocked over his curly dark hair.  He carried a walking stick made of grapevine from one of his subjects in Oregon.  It was sod with a ferule and gold-mounted, as befit a scepter.  He was often attended by two street dogs, Bummer and Lazarus.  In reality, the “Mad Monarch” lived in a 6 x 10 feet room in the Eureka Lodging House with sparse furniture and a threadbare carpet.

His proclamations were always published in the papers.  First he abolished Congress, and when Congress continued to meet despite his decree he ordered General Winfield Scott to march to Washington DC and arrest them.  Then on the eve of the Civil War,  he dissolved the Union altogether and declared an absolute monarchy.  Then he declared himself the “Protector of Mexico.  However, he later abandoned this title saying, “It is impossible to protect such an unsettled nation.”

Norton’s celebrity grew and photos of him in imperial dress were popular souvenirs.  No play opening night or restaurant opening was complete without him.  He would pay them by posting an imperial IOU, which read “By Appointment to His Imperial Majesty, Norton I.”  He captured the imagination of Mark Twain, who immortalized him as a character in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

The Emperor died of a stroke on January 8, 1880.  San Francisco gave him a funeral fit for the Emperor he thought he was.  “LE ROI EST MORT” (“THE KING IS DEAD”), read the headline in the Chronicle. “He is dead,” lamented another paper, “and no citizen of San Francisco could have been taken away who would be more generally missed.”  Some 10,000 loyal subjects turned up to pay their respects.


Sources available on request

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester
Sarah Winchester

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company made a boatload of money. The company had improved upon the Volcanic Repeater, a rifle that used a lever mechanism to load bullets into the breach. Improving on the this design, the company started production of the Henry Rifle, which became a favorite with Northern troops at the beginning of the Civil War. Eventually, the Winchester Rifle became known as “The Gun That Won The West”. William Winchester was the son of company founder, Oliver Fisher Winchester, who was also the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. The Winchesters were the cream of New England society, so when it came time for William to marry, he did so in a lavish style. His bride was Sarah Pardee of New Haven, Connecticut. She was a petite beauty, who was the belle of the county both for her looks and her vivacious personality.

Things seemed set for the young couple and they settled into a comfortable lifestyle. Tragedy struck when the couple’s infant daughter died of a illness. Doctors said the baby had “marasmus”, a disease where the body wastes away. The death of a child is never easy, but Sarah took the death of her daughter especially hard and did not seem to recover for almost a decade. She and William did not have any other children. Then William was taken suddenly from a bout of tuberculosis in 1881. This left Sarah an extremely wealthy widow as she inherited over 20 million dollars and 48.9 percent of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. That is a lot of money for today, but in that time it was untold wealth.

Sarah grieved deeply for her lost husband and child, and in her grief turned to Spiritualism. Spiritualism was extremely popular during the 19th century. Even Mary Todd Lincoln was said to have brought Spiritualists to the White House to contact her deceased son Willy. Sarah went to a medium who told her William was at the seance. The medium said, “He says for me to tell you that there is a curse on your family, which took the life of he and your child. It will soon take you too. It is a curse that has resulted from the terrible weapon created by the Winchester family. Thousands of persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance.” Naturally, Sarah was distraught. The medium went on to tell her she must start a new life and build a home for the spirits who were killed by the Winchester Rifle. She also instructed Sarah to never stop building the house. Once building was finished on the house, Sarah would die. Thus the Winchester Mystery House was born.

Winchester Mystery House Photo Credit- Christy Sharp
Winchester Mystery House Photo Credit- Christy Sharp

Sara sold her home in New Haven and moved west to California, and eventually settled in the Santa Clara Valley, three miles from San Jose, California. In 1884 she bought the unfinished home and surrounding 162 acres of Dr. Caldwell. During the next 36 years, construction on this house never ceased and it grew into a mansion. Construction was done on the house 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The elaborate building had no real plan. Sarah met with the construction foreman each morning and would present him with hand drawn plans she had sketched. Supposedly, she got many of these plans from seances she would hold the night before. The house grew to seven stories, 47 fireplaces, and 3 elevators. There were many stairways that led nowhere. It was full of trap doors, double-back hallways and secret passages. Chimneys were everywhere, even if they did not connect to a fireplace. All of this was to confuse the vengeful spirits, and to keep them from executing their revenge on her.

Sarah was generous with her employees as well as with local charities and orphans. She even welcomed the neighborhood children into her home to eat ice cream and play the piano. Despite this, she tried to remain somewhat secluded. She was never seen without a dark veil covering her face and a large cypress hedge surrounded the house. Sarah would never sleep in the same bedroom either, and changed every night to confuse any evil spirits waiting for her.

The number “13” is featured prominently in the house as all the windows contain 13 panes of glass, the walls have 13 panels and the greenhouse has 13 cupolas. All of the staircases had 13 stairs except one, which has 42 but each step is only 2 inches high. Rumors went round that there was a safe hidden somewhere with a solid gold dinner service, upon which Sarah entertained her ghostly guests, as well as jewelry and money. After Sarah’s death, several safes were found but they only contained newspaper clippings about her daughter and husband’s death and a lock of baby hair. This made me inordinately sad as that last remembrance of her daughter must have been her greatest treasure.

When the San Francisco earthquake struck in 1906, Sarah was trapped in the Daisy Room, where she was sleeping, by a collapsing fireplace. The house also sustained other extensive damage as the top three floors collapsed. Sarah was convinced this was a sign the spirits were angry because she had almost finished the house. To placate them, she had 30 rooms boarded up so construction would never be complete, and the spirits who were trapped in the collapsed part of the house would be stuck. As crazy as all of this sounds, it may have worked because Sarah died at the ripe old age of 83 on September 4, 1922.

The house was declared a California Historical Landmark, and is a tourist attraction. Even today, visitors and staff had both had strange experiences there. Many visiting psychics believe the house is haunted by the spirits Sarah invited in as well as Sarah herself. Who knows?


Sources available on request