Do You Believe in Ghosts?

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John Holton
Staff Writer

When you first see Jim Fassbinder standing outside of the Queen Anne Hotel on Sutter Street, the impression you might get is that he’s the butler out of a bad haunted house story. Fassbinder stands straight up, wearing clean dress clothes with a maroon vest draped over his crisp, white shirt, and is surrounded by a group of what looks like tourists.

Jim Fassbinder leads the San Francisco Ghost Hunt, which is a ghost tour of the Queen Anne Hotel. John Holton/FOGHORN
Jim Fassbinder leads the San Francisco Ghost Hunt, which is a ghost tour of the Queen Anne Hotel. John Holton/FOGHORN

While his occupation does have to do with the Queen Anne, he will not be the one making your bed or bringing you your breakfast. His job lies in a different plane of existence–the one where ghosts reside. Fassbinder is the leader of the San Francisco Ghost Hunt, an excursion that takes you through the hotel on a search for ghosts.

Arriving at the Queen Anne, I pushed through the large front doors before walking under a blood red curtain drawn to the side to reveal a doorway that led to a dining room. The room was a luxurious mix of red and gold furnishings, darkly lit by chandeliers overhead, rosy-faced cherubs gracing the trim where they hung from the ceiling. On a table off to the side were a number of Fassbinder’s possessions including a gas lamp, a black leather trenchcoat, and a tophat.

There are many ghost hunts and spirit tours all across the nation, and Fassbinder has been to quite a few, but he believes that there is nothing else in the world quite like his. The reason for that sentiment? Fassbinder actually believes he can see ghosts. “I was born in Chicago, brought up in a great big apartment building and in the basement of that apartment building was my babysitter,” he tells his tour group. “I remember clearly being down in that basement and playing with a shadow on the wall. It wasn’t my shadow.”

He explains to us in the tour group that there is a wealth of scientific evidence to support the existence of ghosts, and that he will be using some real ghost hunting technology tonight. While it is not guaranteed, he says his goal is that all of us will have a supernatural experience at some point in the evening.

Mary Lake is the ghost commonly believed to haunt the Queen Anne Hotel and Fassbinder tells us that she is “waiting for us right above our heads.” Her office is room 410, and also our next stop on the ghost hunt, so Fassbinder instructs us out of the dining room and up the stairs.

We sit down in the old office which has been converted into a hotel room and listen to Fassbinder recount the story of Mary Lake. According to him, numerous hotel guests that have stayed in her office over the years have experienced strange things happening to them, some claim to have seen her ghost, others simply felt a motherly presence in the middle of the night, and a few even say that they woke up tucked in to bed after going to sleep without any covers on.

Finally, we come to the part of the hunt where we are allowed to roam the hotel by ourselves. Fassbinder shows us the technology used to detect ghosts that he mentioned earlier, a Milligauss meter. It looks like an electrician’s stud finder with a row of green, yellow, and red lights but Fassbinder claims that it will light up when in the presence of a ghost.

Although I feel a few cold spots in the hotel, I don’t find any definitive proof of a ghost. The hotel was very creepy and cool to explore, however, and I leave at the end of the night feeling thoroughly spooked.

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