El Campo Santo Cemetery is San Diego’s second oldest cemetery, and dates back to 1849 with the burial of its first resident, Juan Adams. Burials in this Catholic Cemetery continued through 1880, welcoming San Diego dead of all different backgrounds, including Yankee Jim Robinson who was hung at the site of the Whaley House.
In all, 477 bodies found their final resting spot in El Campo, but their rest has not always been peaceful.
Located in what is now the commercial district of Old Town, the residents of El Campo Santo have been repeatedly disturbed as the growing city moved the graves to make room for the living. In 1889, the community built a horse-drawn street car line through the cemetery, right over 18 existing graves. This line eventually became a road, San Diego Blvd, and, in 1942, was paved and turned into a modern street.
That first street car line was emblematic of the cemetery’s history. At least thirty graves linger beneath the streets and sidewalks of San Diego Blvd and Lindwood Street.
In 1933 the San Diego Historical Society restored El Campo Santo as accurately as possible based on early photographs and descriptions. Now, the cemetery includes an adobe wall, reset markets, rebuilt paling enclosures and a plain white cross in the center of the plot.
Despite the historical society’s goodwill gesture, many believe the ghosts of El Campo Santo were not appeased. Tales continue of restless spirits wandering among the graves or haunting the local residents.
Cars parked in front of the cemetery (on top of many graves) may suddenly have trouble starting. Unseen hands may set off a wave of car alarms. Surrounding businesses and homes have experienced unexplained problems with lighting, electrical power, appliances and alarm systems.
Native American and Hispanic apparitions have also been known to appear within the graveyard and in the surrounding area, sometimes even fooling the living into thinking they are one of the Old Town employees who dress up in period costumes.
Whether or not ghosts really haunt El Campo Cemetery, this graveyard remains an important San Diego historical landmark and a reminder of the legacy of the many pioneers who laid the foundation for this great city.