Soundtrack to listen to while reading this spectral tale:
On my way to the San Diego Wild Animal Park this Sunday, I took a detour to stop and visit some ghosts.
The “San Pasqual Battlefield” is one of the dozens of spots around San Diego County that are purported to be haunted. Ghost lore from around the world suggests that places which have seen suffering, emotional anguish, bloodshed, and pain are especially prone to the phenomenon we call a “haunting”.
If this is the case, San Pasqual is a prime candidate.
Located in a wide, arid valley outside of Escondido, California, San Pasqual was the site of a key battle during the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. The war itself brought conflict, controversy and anguish to the entire continent. Groups of volunteers in Nuevo México, Arizona, Tejas and Alta California organized resistance efforts to fight back against the arriving Yankees. Within the U.S., notable opponents of the invasion included such “extremist radicals” as Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The above-cited hymn was written by James R. Lowell in 1845, during a crisis of conscience, as a protest song against the war. (See here for the lyrics of the old hymn.)
In addition to the intense, emotional effects of the invasion, the Battle of San Pascual (the name was later Anglicized to “Pasqual” after the U.S. took over California) in particular is said to have been the bloodiest skirmish in California during the entire war.
Emotional turmoil and physical violence—prime ingredients for a haunting.
[Reenactment at San Pasqual Battlefield]
In modern times, the site of the battle has been turned into an official California State Park. I visited the small museum which is located near the battlefield and spoke with the sole employee working there. After chatting with him for a few minutes, I dropped a comment in: “Some folks say this place is haunted.”
“You know,” he responded, “it’s funny you mention that. About four years ago, a woman who worked here took a photo of the road down here in the valley. [The visitor’s center is actually located across the valley from the battlefield.] She just wanted to get a shot of the scenery. But she showed me the photo after it was developed—you can definitely make out the shape of a translucent woman. It looks like an old Native American woman, dressed like the Kumeyaay Natives used to dress back in the day, standing in the road.”
“Have you ever seen something yourself?” I asked.
“For most of my life, I used to be real skeptical about all that stuff. Then something weird happened early one morning when my wife dropped me off for work.
“We were carpooling at the time—she would drop me off, then she’d take the car to work and come back in the evening and pick me up. This particular morning, she dropped me off here earlier than usual, and then she parked in the parking lot to read her book for a while before she had to go into the office. We were the only people on the premises.
“Later that evening when she came to pick me up, she asked me, ‘Hey, after I dropped you off today, did you walk behind the car at any point?’ I responded that I had been inside the museum the entire day. I asked what made her say that.
“‘It’s the strangest thing,’ she said. ‘While I was sitting in the car reading, I saw a man walk behind the car wearing old-fashioned clothing, like the uniform you wear for work with the Parks Department. I thought it might be you. He walked behind the car, and then walked behind a big tree at the other end of the parking lot. I got out of the car and went over to the tree to see what the heck you were doing back there…but I couldn’t find a soul anywhere.’”
* * * *
After I thanked the park employee for his time and left the museum, I took a walk around the surrounding hills. It was dusk, and the sun cast lazy orange hues across the entire valley. As I was walking up a rocky hill just behind the museum, I could have sworn I heard a few children shouting and laughing at the top of the hill.
I walked slowly, not wanting to startle whatever family might be up there. Once I reached the top of the hill, however, I looked around on all sides and realized—there was nobody in sight.
I hurried back down the trail and popped back into the museum. “Quick question,” I said to the employee. “Are there any animals around here that would make a sound like kids playing around, yelling, laughing?”
His unremarkable response slightly disappointed me. “That must be the coyotes,” he said. “They come out after dusk. Also, remember that the Wild Animal Park is just behind that fence up here—there’s all sorts of animals back there that could make that sort of noise.”
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, why would the laughing ghosts of children be hanging around a battlefield?
Still, you never know…
[See this official California Parks website for information on the "San Pasqual Battlefield"]