The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay, California (Haunted Place)

West Coast California

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

San Francisco Bay, California

The Golden Gate Bridge is world-famous for attracting suicides, but its neighbor, the 4.5-mile San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, boasts the bay area’s most impressive and reliable ghost. Little-known outside the local populace, this phantom is so frequently spotted that instead of watching for the apparition, some commuters watch for other drivers’ double-takes when they see the ghost.

The double-decker bridge built in 1936 now carries about 280,000 commuters between the San Francisco Peninsula and the Berkeley-Oakland area daily, making the phantom one of the most-seen in the world. But he looks so ordinary, so real, that few people realize they’ve just seen a ghost.

I first heard about him at a friend’s party in Berkeley. Nearly everyone had seen him more than once, some dozens of times. They said that around 1948, a man’s car ran out of gas and he had to walk back to a phone to summon the bridge tow truck. He was hit by a speeding car and killed instantly.

You can only see him out of the corner of your eye, they told me, and he looks absolutely real. If you try to see him straight-on, he disappears.

He always stands in the same location, but his posture can vary. Usually, he appears to be looking around, perhaps for the tow truck. He is on a narrow footpath right next to the road, dressed in a 40s-style hat and raincoat.

Late that night, I left for my San Francisco hotel. Though excited, I really didn’t expect to spot the ghost. At my request, my friends had not revealed anything about his location, other than he was somewhere on the upper deck, westbound into San Francisco.

The span was midnight-quiet, the night clear and cool. As I drove, I continually scanned both sides of the bridge. I reached the Yerba Buena Island tunnel, where the eastern and western spans connect, without seeing anything strange. As I emerged onto the suspension bridge on the west side of the island, I saw no other traffic, though I did vaguely note a man standing in the shadows near the third tower on the northwest side of the bridge. He wore a coat and hat, but the bridge light that illuminated him from above revealed little detail except for rumples in his coat and the tilt of his hat.

I thought he was a cop using a bridge phone, but as I passed him, I realized he had no squad car. He was all alone, on foot. That seemed odd. And then it hit me—I had possibly seen the ghost of the Bay Bridge. I didn’t really believe it, but I felt a little thrill as I jotted down the exact location before going to bed. I called my friends the next morning to report what I had seen—and where.

I had, indeed, seen the apparition.

So, if you’re driving on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, you might spot a pedestrian at the edge of the road. The only peculiar thing about him is that he disappears if you try to look at him straight on. But don’t worry—if you see him but it takes a moment to register, you may not be out of luck. Just let your eyes dart briefly to the side again. As often as not, this ghost is likely to still be there.

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