February 2005

Bay Bridge Follies
Letters to the Editor
New Ship Sails to Sausalito–Opportunities for All!
Mare Island Welcome Center is Now Open in Historic Mansion
Dispatch from the Dogpatch… A SeAm Between
In Richmond Today
Crab Fest Fever
Afterguard’s Broiled
Salmon Afloat
Bay Crossings Gardens
“Food from the Heart” at the Ferry Building Marketplace
Giant Storms in LA Affect Bay Area
WTA Pages…Ferry Rewards
Minds Meet at Underwater Forum on California’s Ocean Future
Bay Ghost Phenomenon
Bay Crossings Calendar
New Horizons at Webster Street’s Arts & Crafts Campus
Love, Lust, and Heartbreak

Bay CrossingsPeninsula Section

Bay Ghost Phenomenon

By Sam Tolmasoff

Several otherwise reasonable and intelligent friends have been singing the praises of a new movie called “White Noise.” I found myself paying attention because one of these friends is a confirmed skeptic and a champion of the raised eyebrow. The movie concerns EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon). A web search of the term resulted in a surprising number of sites dedicated to the subject. It is, apparently, taken seriously by more than a few.

I considered the matter as I walked along the shore of the Bay and it occurred to me that I have actually experienced phenomenon. This occasion was while walking the strip of beach just north of Coyote Point during one of the whitest and most opaque of summer fogs. Ignoring the sounds of 101 and the barking dogs at the Humane Society, and concentrating on the soft sound of the Bay itself, I added a little imagination and the ghostly sounds of the past were there.

With a little effort, I explored the audio-specifics and fancied that I could hear the sounds of Pacific City. This was a short-lived amusement park that once graced the point. It was a grand idea and chartered ferries and excursion boats tied up at its 468-foot pier.

Next to the pier was a dance pavilion with capacity for two thousand couples. The music of the dance bands is almost easy to hear echoing. Likewise, the sounds of people enjoying what was modestly termed “the greatest bathing beach on the Pacific Coast” (two thousand tons of white sand had been hauled up from Monterey and spread about). I suppose it is a bit of a reach to hear ghostly trumpeting of the elephants pulling the “trains” from Burlingame station to the park.

If you give the term “ghost” a loose definition of a disembodied spirit or soul, it isn’t too big a jump to think that perhaps inanimate things that have great spirit or soul might produce ghosts. Ghost sounds, anyway. I would offer as examples the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz and the legendary Coney Island. In both of these places, there is an almost tangible sense of soul and spirit. Would the spirit of Pacific City and its short but intense life not linger for a century or two and send at least whispers down to those persons of its future who cared to listen hard enough?

Perception of sound that is less than crystal clear is a very complex process. When we seek meaningful patterns in vague sounds, I suspect that we are guided by what we wish to hear by sweet memory and wishful imagination. I have found that through the blend of the sound of the Bay, the cry of the hungry gulls, the rush of traffic on the freeway, and the roar of passing airliners, it is easier to hear the past each time I walk the path.

Classic walking beam ferryboats, with a single cylinder steam engine driving side paddle wheels, made a distinctive sound that was not that often heard on the southern end of the Bay, so it takes a bit of poetic license to install their sound into the symphony. There were certainly steamers, though, and a broad assortment of workboats that gave it a strong and unique voice.

Possibly. The sound of the steamboat Sacramento is too softened by the mist of time to be heard without a large dose of wish. It was, in 1849, the first steamer to arrive in Alviso, at the south end of the Bay.

And why not the sounds of the other early steamers that moved freight and passengers from Alviso to San Francisco. The Firefly, the Saldona, and the Jenny Lind. This last vessel might have left horrifying shrieks down through time as her boiler exploded and scalded her passengers while they were at dinner. Several died from their burns.
Later, the reliable sound of the steamer Alviso would have been added to the mix of echoes. The Alviso made the daily trip from the town of Alviso to San Francisco, leaving in the evening at 7:30 P.M. and returning the following morning at 10:00 A.M., well through the 1890s. Passenger fare was fifty cents and produce from the fertile Santa Clara Valley moved at a dollar a ton.

And imagine the sounds of all the activities at the landings on the Bay side of the Peninsula. Packet boats and small steamers moving produce, passengers, bricks, and lumber into a young San Francisco that was buzzing with commerce and construction. There would be the sounds of winches squealing, the sound of fishermen’s nets splashing into the Bay, and the sounds of lumber being stacked into waiting boats at Redwood City.

I wonder about the later sound of the shipyards in Redwood City and South San Francisco. This would be the noise of men, struggling with massive materials to construct gigantic sea-going vessels. I like to think that just maybe there is the sound of laughter of youngsters, fishing at the Brisbane Pipes.

Accepting ghosts and ghostlike sounds as just mental representations of “haunting” events and experiences, why not ghosts of the future? I have an intellectual friend who allows that there may not be a unidirectional flow of time. He can’t explain it so that I can get my mind around it, but work with the idea for a moment: Why couldn’t great souled people and objects not cast their ghosts backward in time to us?

Perhaps as portents of horrendous events, or to demonstrate an idea that would enlighten us as to the solution of a problem we are facing. Even grander, a ghost of something of such grace and spirit and beauty that it would transcend the boundaries of time and cast an image of a system of swift, sophisticated ferryboats plying the waters of the Bay in the not too distant future.
I will be watching and listening for it.