In every city I've ever lived, there are urban legends that people (sometimes, transplants, sometimes people that have lived their all their lives) repeat again and again. Alligators in the New York sewers, the Skunk Ape of Florida, Chicago's Homey the Clown, for example. I assume that San Francisco has some whoppers, given how old and potentially creepy it is, but I've never heard any! What's your favorite? Were there any urban legends you heard as a kid and only learned later were myth and not reality?
Maybe That's Why They Never Set Any Of Those Urban Legend Movies Here
Dear Urban Legend,
When I was growing up, I was a fan of spooky "could it really be true?" stories. I loved watching reruns of In Search Of...which often focused on things like the Loch Ness monster, and Bigfoot. I was also perpetually terrified of killer bees, and was pretty certain swarms of them were going to descend on me and my friends any time we ventured outdoors.
But I have to say, when it comes to purely local urban legends, San Francisco is a bit lacking!
Perhaps I should rephrase that: I, personally, don't recall growing up hearing a lot of stories about creepy San Francisco legends. But perhaps that's because there were enough real life horrors to worry about. You know, things like the Zodiac Killer; the Zebra Killers; Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple; Patty Hearst and the SLA; and of course, the constant fear of The Big One.
A legend I do remember hearing was the one about a vast system of secret tunnels buried deep under Chinatown, and how the residents of Chinatown used them to get to their hidden opium dens and gambling rooms undetected. I probably learned about that one after seeing John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China in 1986.
The other legend I was always vaguely aware of was the one about the female ghost that haunts Stow Lake in a sad and constant search for her child, who drowned there. (The idea of a woman haunting San Francisco looking for her lost child is something Alfred Hitchcock also incorporated into the SF-set Vertigo.)
But let's face it: those are kind of lazy legends! The Chinatown tunnels are more of a tourist scam, and what city doesn't have some kind of ghost lady wandering around?
But here's one urban legend that I do try to perpetuate, so I guess you could say it's my favorite. And it's a fairly recent one, with an origin story that dates to 1997. I love to tell people who are looking for a Union Square breakfast spot to go to the Pinecrest Diner, on Geary and Mason. Just be careful about what your order...since poached eggs might get you a side of five bullets SHOT AT POINT BLANK RANGE!
I'm always keen to learn a new urban legend, though! So tell me, my peeps, what's YOUR favorite SF urban legend? And are there any recent ones we should know about — or, even better, come up with?
Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.In these Troubled San Francisco Times, there is a lot of talk about who was here when, and what that does (or doesn't) mean. In an effort to both assist newcomers and take long-time residents down memory lane, we present to you Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!