Halloween is over, but there may still be a ghost inhabiting Mt. Helix. Only this ghost is much, much more than a child in a makeshift costume with holes cut out for eyes.
According to Sharon (an El Cajon woman, who refused to give her last name), this ghost, a woman in her mid-20s, was as real as the night is dark, as clear as a mirror's reflection.
Sharon, one of the founding members of San Diego Ghost Hunters, told Mount Helix Patch of her three different encounters with an apparition, two of which occurred on the mountain. On Oct. 29, she was joined by fellow Ghost Hunters Maritza Skandunas, Colleen Rose and Dawn Gaudette (Sharon's sister) as the team led a small group of Mount Helix Park Foundation employees on a real-life search for this mysterious figure from the spirit world.
Sharon said her first encounter with the spirit was in October 1968, when she was on Mt. Helix with some friends.
"I had gone walking around by myself and was sitting on a wall looking at lights of the towns below. I remember it was still warm even though it was fall," said Sharon. "All of a sudden this wind picked up, and I felt this energy.
"This woman, and I can see her very clearly," she continued, "she came in with the wind, and she was wearing white, but different shades of white. She had on a dress, but it was real gauzy and filmy. Real flowy. There was a lot of dress there. She was slender with long blonde hair, and everything was blowing around her. It got real still, but she still had wind with her. She was crying, had tears on her face. I would guess she was maybe in her mid-20s, and she was wearing satin slippers. They were white but had mud all over them."
She added that, judging from the ghost's appearance, she wasn't "from our time," and described her dress as Victorian. Sharon said that the apparition was within an arm's length of her and lasted for several minutes.
"The best way I can describe it is it came in with the wind and left with the wind, but it was only windy around [the ghost]," said Sharon. "Her clothes were blowing all over the place. Everything was swirling around her."
As Sharon just stood and watched, speechless, she noticed that the apparition was crying. "Not actively crying, but with tears on her face."
She added that she was not scared, only startled because the spirit appeared so quickly, and she felt an almost electric energy.
And she's not alone in people who claim to have had an encounter with a ghost. Unbeknown to her, there was a Q&A column with Dr. Richmond Barbour that was published in the San Diego Evening Tribune on April 6, 1968, in which a married couple describes hearing sobbing on Mt. Helix by the cross. They searched for the source of the sobbing but could find no one, and realized they were completely alone. Then they saw a ghostly figure descending down the stairs, which quickly disappeared.
Sharon herself says she has had two more encounters with the same spirit—one in 1970 on Mt. Helix in similar circumstances as her first, and a third while driving to her home on Greenfield Drive in El Cajon in 1975.
"It was about 1 a.m. Very dark. I saw several feet up ahead, and my headlights picked her up," she said. "She stepped out into the road, and I stopped the car and my headlights were still on her. I'm 99 percent sure it was the same woman, dressed the same, same look. I'll never, ever forget that."
All of the San Diego Ghost Hunters are intuitive and say they have seen apparitions or had paranormal experiences. They formed in 2004 officially, but being friends, have been communicating with the spirit world long before then. The group gives monthly ghost tours of the Whaley House in Old Town, and travel all over the Southwest performing investigations. Wanting to check out the scene atop Mount Helix, they came stocked with cameras, audio recorders and various other ghost gadgets in an attempt to make contact.
After walking the grounds, taking photos and audio, there wasn't much evidence of anything other than a strange audio recording captured by Gaudette, which was the distinct sound almost like a stomach grumbling, only much louder. The sound lasted for about two seconds, and was bookended by the soft wisp of the microphone picking up the night breeze.
After canvassing the grounds, we reconvened in the office area of Mount Helix Park, and Skandunas took out "ghost gear," including some devices I've never seen before.
The K-II (K2) meter measures electromagnetic fields, and registers any changes or fluctuations in the EMF of a certain area through a series of green, yellow and red lights. Skandunas said that they use it when they want to communicate or to see if any other energy is present.
"We sometimes ask them to blink it once for no and twice for yes," she said.
The Ovilus device is a small, handheld automated speaking device with around 500 words in its vocabulary. When turned on, it measures energy, light and temperature in a room and uses a synthesizer to translate that energy by saying words, one every three to four seconds. Skandunas said that when a spirit is active in a location, it will begin communicating through the Ovilus by stringing words together to tell a story or by answering questions asked of it.
We sat for several minutes, turned on the devices and waited for an encounter.
"Being a ghost hunter is all about being patient," said Skandunas.
There was nothing definitive until about 20 minutes in, when we arbitrarily began talking about Mount Helix Park, events (including weddings and Easter sunrise services) that take place, the cross and the amphitheater.
The K2 meters began blinking wildly, and the Ovilus began a string of words that related to what we were discussing: "Lord, priest, minister, Mary (or marry), me, remember, she, Mary, energy, minister, purity, light, lamb."
A few minutes later, when discussing more weddings, the Ovilus spit out, in succession, "stylish, bride, sadness, sister, bride, trust, sorry, music, Maude, doubt."
Though it was indecipherable, a couple people swore they heard the box say "Mary Yawkey," for whom the park is named after. My intrigue, and the team's excitement, was palpable, but soon died down after a lack of activity on the instruments.
After that we went back outside, up to the stage to try to get readings on the Ghost Hunters' thermal imaging camera, which is just plain cool, no matter what the circumstance. A few more minutes of sitting in darkness and not encountering any activity, we decided to call it a night (only it was a "morning" by that point).
As the park is now only open to the public from sunrise to sunset, it's unlikely that anyone will ever get the chance to investigate the strange happenings atop one of San Diego's most recognizable landmarks.
But for Sharon, her three encounters with this particular ghost are far from enough.
"I've always been left just wondering, why is she here," said Sharon. "Why is she showing herself to me? Maybe she needed some kind of help. Why did she let me see her? Why was she crying? Why were her slippers muddy? I still feel like she was trying to tell me something, but I don't know what and to this day that kind of really bothers me."