Haunted San Francisco: The White Lady of Stow Lake

Halloween is the best time of the year to tell ghost stories. For the brave, it is the perfect time of year for a ghost hunt or to co-mingle with the world of the super natural. San Francisco is said to be one of the most haunted cities in America. If you like to tell candle lit ghost stories, or go on moon lit ghost hunts, San Francisco has no shortage of opportunity. One of the city’s greatest ghost stories is over 100 years old. It is the legend of “The White Lady of Stow Lake”.

Just down the road from the Botanical Gardens, in Golden Gate Park, you will find Stow Lake. It is a beautiful, tranquil place. It is a quiet and peaceful spot to hike. There is a man made lake with ducks swimming and turtles sunbathing, on logs. There is a charming boathouse where they rent row boats and paddle boats, by the hour. Stow Lake’s beauty has an inexplicable air of mystery. There is an over growth of trees, some fallen, and chartreuse green water. It looks like the kind of lake that Miss Havisham, the Dickens Character from “Great Expectations”, would have had on her property. It feels like a place that time forgot. You can imagine San Franciscans, of the Victorian Era, coming to the Lake to socialize.

On Monday, January 6, 1908, the SF Chronicle posted a front page story, with the headline, “Park Ghost Holds Up Automobile Party”. The article speaks of a bizarre incident involving a man named Arthur Pigeon, who was driving a group of female party goers through the park. Allegedly one women let out a shrill. Afterwards Arthur claims to have noticed a figure of a woman, standing before the automobile. The figure was wearing a “luminous white robe” and “holding its arm extended, as though to stop the progress of the machine”. This allegedly caused Mr. Pigeon to drive the vehicle at accelerated speed and he was soon stopped by a mounted police officer. The tone of the article pokes fun at Mr. Pigeon. It seems to indicate the Police officer did not fully believe the stories of Mr. Pigeon and the ladies, who were described as hysterical and pale as ghosts. This was the first reported sighting of the legendary “White Lady of Stow Lake”.

The White Lady is rumored to be the spirit of a woman, who disappeared at Stow Lake at the tail end of the 19th or early 20th Century. There is no record of the incident, as it took place before the great earthquake and fires of 1906 that destroyed most of the city. Legend says, a single mother, strolling along the lake, with her baby in a pram, met another woman. Some say the other woman was a stranger. Some say the other woman was a friend. They sat on a bench, by the lake and engaged in conversation. When the mother turned, to check on her baby, the pram and the baby had vanished. The mother became extremely panicked and rushed around asking everyone if they had seen her baby. She spent the whole day searching every nook and cranny of the area near the lake. Distraught with grief she entered the lake to see if the baby had rolled in. She, too, disappeared. Some say it was a suicide. Some say a body was never found. Some say the body of a baby washed up a few days later. Due to destruction of records, during the 1906 earthquake, we will never know for sure.

Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park
Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park – image via Shutterstock

Stow Lake is one of San Francisco’s most infamous spots for suicides. There was a time that 1 in 12 suicides in the city were said to occur at Stow Lake. Today the Golden Gate Bridge is the most notorious place that people go to off themselves. According to legend, the suicides, other than that of the “White Lady”, were all committed by men.

Over the years people have claimed to see the figure of the White Lady lurking by the edge of Stow Lake. Some claim she has asked them if they have seen her baby. Others claim, if you go to Stow Lake at night and say, “white lady, white lady, I have your baby” three times, she will appear. She will then ask you if you have her baby. Legend has it if you answer, “yes”, she will haunt you and if you say, “no”, she will kill you. Nobody knows who the first to do this was or where the rumor got started. There is only one way to find out. If you are brave enough to go to Stow Lake at night, let us know if you see the White Lady- that is, if you make it out alive.