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Peninsula ghosts: some old, some new

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Halloween’s near, and it’s a good time for a roll call of Peninsula ghost stories. A few are widely known; others, not so much. The hint of a haunting puts the Fox Theatre in Redwood City in league with the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame, the Moss Beach Distillery near Half Moon Bay and a Redwood City convent demolished decades ago.

Ernie Schmidt, the general manager of the Fox, says contractors working on the theater reported seeing “a young woman wearing a long dress walk up our corner staircase and then disappear.” The sightings took place about the same time an urn containing a woman’s ashes was discovered in an attic at the Fox, then owned by investor and impresario Eric Lochtefeld. In an interview in 2011, Lochtefeld said the ashes “dated back decades.”

He sought the public’s help in locating relatives of the deceased. The ashes were eventually returned to the woman’s family and there have been no reported sightings since. The woman was not connected to the Fox, according to Schmidt, who would not release her name, saying she was not a public figure. “That I can tell you with certainty,” he says.

As Seen on TV

The presumed newcomer at the Fox is less renowned than the “Blue Lady” reportedly spotted at the Moss Beach Distillery, a popular tavern and restaurant 10 miles north of Half Moon Bay. The coastal ghost has been featured on the television shows “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Ghost Hunters.”

“It is here at the Distillery you will find her searching for her lover.”

The establishment’s website says the Blue Lady’s legend goes back to the Roaring Twenties. The centerpiece was an adulterous affair between “the beautiful lady in blue” and “a handsome yet dangerous man.” The two were attacked “while walking along the beach below the restaurant.” The man survived but the woman was killed. The webpage claims, “It is here at the Distillery you will find her searching for her lover.”

Then again, maybe not. But if you doubt a restaurant’s publicity, how about a story featuring several nuns?

The Kohl Mansion, home to Mercy High School in Burlingame, hosts one of the Peninsula’s most enduring legends—that of the ghost of Freddie Kohl, who was born in 1863 and died by suicide in 1921. The Sisters of Mercy bought the red-brick, 63-room Tudor edifice in 1924 and used it as a convent until 1931, when it became the school.

The sisters had trouble from the start. In 1925 the Ku Klux Klan, with hoods on, besieged the convent by shouting, honking car horns and, according to various reports, burning a cross on a hill. It was about this time that a few novice nuns started to report a mysterious presence, including loud, disembodied footsteps. In 1927, the nuns conducted a ritual blessing that seemed to rid the convent of its unwelcome visitor.

Another Nun’s Story

Burlingame isn’t the only Peninsula city with a ghost story involving a mansion converted into a convent. Redwood City has a similar, yet lesser-known, tale. In 1921 (yes, 1921, the year of Kohl’s suicide), the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur took over the former mansion of lumber baron Charles Hanson. It was a huge structure at the corner of Brewster Avenue and Arguello Street, and has since been torn down and replaced by an office building.

Sister Ann Maureen King swore the place was haunted. In a paper that survives within the order’s archives, she wrote that at least six sisters, including herself, were all in different parts of the mansion in 1932 when each “was called but found herself unable to move. Someone seemed to be blocking her way.”

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Her report continued: “The call was a loud ‘sister, sister.’ No one was there. The paralysis lasted but a few minutes. Naturally, we were all frightened. The nuns said a few prayers and went about their work, but the haunting went on.”

Over time, the strange appeals persisted. “Sometimes it was a prolonged sighing ‘sister,’” wrote Sister Ann Maureen. “One night we were in bed and the call came along with three knocks, the drapes over the large mirror fell to the floor, but, again, no one was seen,” she said in recounting the most dramatic of what she termed the “incidents.” In the last such event, each nun was summoned by her full name.

The youngest nun at the convent at the time of the occurrences, Sister Ann Maureen died in 2009 at age 97 after a 50-year teaching career. Despite the disturbing experience, she described her life as “a long blessed journey.” She once said she believed that whatever or whoever was involved “needed our help.”

Perhaps Freddie Kohl got his convents confused.