Perched precariously on a cliff, 100 feet above the ocean in San Francisco, CA, is the (appropriately named) Cliff House. It was built in 1863 as a fine dining establishment for the affluent and well-to-do and has been in this location, in one incarnation or another, for about 130 years. Prominent San Fran families and three U.S. Presidents have visited Cliff House, tasted its cuisine and spent time in the luxurious Sutro Baths, an ocean-fed swimming complex. Businessman and (later) San Fran Mayor Adolph Sutro purchased the property with the intention of turning it into a seaside attraction. He also bought an additional 80 acres of land for further future development. The Sutro Baths had 6 ocean-fed saltwater pools and 1 fresh water pond. The structure had a capacity of 10,000 visitors and, at high tide, the baths were fed at a rate of 6,000 gallons per minute.
On a clear day, the view from the dining room windows extends due West past Arch Rock to the Farallon Islands, South beyond Ocean Beach, and North to Land’s End. Staff members reported finding it difficult to turn the tables by the windows.
From the Ashes
On Christmas Day, 1894, Cliff House burnt to the ground as did the Sutro Baths. Sutro rebuilt Cliff House as a towering eight story structure in chateau-style, adding an observatory and extravagant fixtures and textiles. Fate was not on his side and the structure burnt down again in 1907. It is speculated that the fires may have been an attempt to collect the insurance policies on the property though this has never been confirmed.
In 1909, Sutro’s daughter, Emma Sutro Merritt rebuilt Cliff House, this time deciding on a modest, neoclassic design. The structure still stands today as the central part of Cliff House. The property continued to thrive and people came from miles around to experience the salt water baths and dine in the restaurant. Upon Emma’s passing in 1952, the property was sold, by Emma’s son, to a developer named George Whitney who then sold it to the National Park Service in 1977. Ruins of the Sutro Baths which burned in 1966, became park property in 1980. The present incarnation of Cliff House also includes parts of the structure from 1909.
Reported Haunting: Cliff House Ghost Lady
The reported haunting at Cliff House and the surrounding area is that of the spirit of Natalie Selina Harrison. No death date is known, but as is the case with every good ghost story, it involves lost love and unfinished business. Natalie was in love with Sean Eric Anderson (1897-1917) who was a soldier committed to fighting in the first World War. Sean promised to return to Natalie and to marry her after the conflict was finished, but he sadly lost his life in Germany in 1917. The legend states that Natalie stood on a rock island in the ocean, a location clearly visible from Cliff House and the Baths (above photo), and refused to budge until Sean returned. The barrage of waves and wind are said to have petrified her and turned her body stone-like, essentially turning her into a statue. It is said the ghost of Natalie still waits.
Witnesses state that the ghostly apparition of Natalie can be seen at night and during bad weather and that her ghost cannot be seen in large groups. Lone travelers have witnessed Natalie calling to them. They are predominantly male. Like a siren, she lures them to the edge of the cliff and to their death. She targets men with weak hearts, the lovelorn, and those eager to find love, and places them into a hallucinogenic state. She reportedly then lures them over the cliff with her innocence and beauty, calling to them and beckoning them to follow her. Authorities report that men are often found in the area in a mentally unstable state and that human remains have been found at the location. Several men have been reported missing, their remains never found.
DNA samples were found on the rock where Natalie’s remains were supposedly petrified. In fact, these samples proved to be more human than stone. Scientists are still unsure how she might have been turned to stone and continue to investigate.
Fact or Fiction?
A search of the statue of Natalie turned up no results. There is also no information about Natalie or Sean. It’s difficult to be sure if this is simply a legend designed to fascinate the locals or if it is rooted in fact. If I happen to come across additional information, I’ll update this post.
Have you visited Cliff House or the Sutro Baths? Do you have a story to share? Talk to us in the comments.
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