The Real Story Behind The Ghost In The Lake

The celebration of Halloween has been commercialized that it is now a day of kids receiving candies as they roam around Trick or Treat-ing that day. But not many know that Halloween had more sinister beginnings. The celebration goes back to the Celtic festival called Samhain. On the night of Oct 31, households celebrate Samhain, and it was believed that the dead return as ghosts to visit humans on earth. The word itself comes from the term “All Hallows’ Eve”, and it means a hallowed evening. In other cultures, people dressed up as saints and went door to door, as if selling insurance. This served as a prelude to what children do now.
But what we are interested in is how people believed that dead spirits could go back to haunt humans and places. Stow Lake appears to be a perfect case study for that. Most believe that there are unsolved issues here in the human realm. But what is the mystery behind Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park? Read on to find out more.

Are Ghosts Real?

Many believe that ghosts are real while some say that they are not true at all. There have been many anecdotal stories of people encountering ghosts at haunted places, with some of them captured on film. Houses with low market value, and hence low mortgage, are suspected of being haunted houses, especially if they are located in remote areas. Suffice to say, however, that the belief is there, whatever generation, race, or religion a person belongs to. Perhaps it stems from our longing for an afterlife, that there is more after our brief existence on Earth. The story you are about to read is a story that talks about a ghost in a lake. But why is she there? Why not in some abandoned hospital?

Ghosts Are Tied To A Place

Paranormal experts usually say that ghosts are tied to a place and usually do not leave until they move on and go to heaven or hell. There is typically a reason why they are in a loop. In the series, Supernatural, it was explained that ghosts become very angry because they live in a loop, but they are not inherently evil or good. Sometimes they even do not realize that they are dead and can end up being confused. They usually reside in the spirit world but can also manifest in the physical world along with an outburst of strong emotions. What could possibly goad a spirit to have strong feelings? Unpaid personal loans, while they were still alive, is probably not one of them, but there is something, right?

Devices To Listen To The Spirits

If you are interested in listening to the messages and emotions of the deceased, there’s supposed to be some type of equipment that can be used to listen to them. A handheld ghost listening device could even be purchased online for less than $50. These devices can allegedly record disembodied voices. It is claimed that voices from ghosts are below the normal hearing range of humans, and hence, you will need to get your credit card and purchase one of these gadgets. While it may seem easy, it is a scary thought as well. If you are not brave enough to try these devices out, we suggest that you do not as you could have disturbing experiences that will only lead to stress on your end.

Stow Lake

Now, back to Stow Lake. Many paranormal experts have used their devices in an attempt to find the story behind the ghost hunting the area. When we think of a lake, we usually associate it with an excellent vacation spot. It also reminds us of the movie The Lake House, where Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock gave a stunning performance. What we rarely credit a lake for are ghosts. If that were the case, then lakeside camping should see a decline – but it has not. Another association we have of a lake is the Loch Ness monster, but that is not really a ghost. Like the Loch Ness monster, the story of the spirit at Stow Lake has also persisted for many years.

Ghost Hunting

The Stow Lake ghost has reached a high degree of prominence that Tommy Netzband was sent to talk to the spirit and find out what has happened. He used one of the ghost hunting handheld devices and began speaking in a loud voice in an attempt to communicate with the ghost. The device he was holding was supposed to translate environmental sounds, white noise, and extracorporeal voices into words. Tommy is a member of the San Francisco Ghost Society and a host of the Haunted Haight Walking Tour. In case you are wondering, yes, there are ghost tours in San Francisco, California. Perhaps other states can follow suit so that ghost hunters can have more activities during Halloween, or any day they prefer.

The Lake

Stow Lake is the largest body of water at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. It is manmade, but it has a rich history that goes back to 1893. Urban planners for the state made investments in creating this lake, foreseeing it is a place for people in San Francisco to congregate. It has since then become a popular area for tourists. This allowed residents of the site to enjoy nature and relieve their stress from everyday living. The natural setting attracted all kinds of people from various walks of life. There is even a boathouse in the lake which was built from 1946 to 1949. The Stow Lake Boathouse was made in preparation for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 which was held in Golden Gate Park.

The Boathouse

It is not known when the events in this story happened exactly, but it would probably be closer to 1893 than the present time. During the late 1890s, people were still unaware of the brewing First World War, and they were keen on spending their time outside the house in parks like the Golden Gate Park. They mainly stay near the Stow Lake Boathouse and take advantage of the majestic view. Even though the lake is manmade, it is still beautifully made and mimics nature well. The boathouse, whose design was given credit to by Arthur Page Brown, was initially constructed using a more rustic style that the people loved. Visitors from outside of California also frequented Stow Lake. But in subsequent years, the lake would serve as a host to its most famous and nefarious resident.

Arthur Pigeon

The story of the lake’s resident first gained prominence in 1908. During that time, Arthur Pigeon was visiting Stow Lake as any ordinary person would. He filled up his gas tank and drove all the way to the park. He would probably then walk and enjoy the view of the park and the lake. Arthur could have talked to other people who, like him, were making use of the free time they had and picnicking. Arthur also most likely enjoyed either a beer or two and a hearty snack while at the park. What is surprising is that after enjoying his day, he was later pulled over by the police for speeding. He looked flushed, but he was not drunk, so why?

Arthur’s Adventure

Apparently, Arthur experienced a somewhat nerve-wracking incident while frolicking at Stow Lake. He was strolling along the edges of the lake when he saw something flicker. He looked but did not see anything, so he went on with his business. We do not know much about Arthur, perhaps he is a lawyer, a doctor, or a person who happened to just pass by the area and got mesmerized by the lake. But what we do know is that he loves nature. After walking a few meters, he saw another movement but thought it was an animal. He went back to his car and prepared to go home. It was not even five in the afternoon, but he felt tired from all the walking and decided to call it a day.

The Car

When he went to the car, he was stunned and unable to move as if a bolt of electricity had hit him hard. In front of him and blocking his access to the car was a thin and tall figure wearing white flowing clothes. It also had long, fair hair. He did not make out the face due to fear gripping him, but he made out that the element was barefoot. Skirting around the figure, he went for the car’s door, started the engine, and floored the gas. He was continually looking at the backseat half-expecting the ghost to be there. He felt a wave of gratitude flow through him after determining that is nowhere to be seen. Arthur has just met the white lady of Stow Lake.

The Police

The police noticed a car running above the mandated speed limit on the highway. It was coming from Golden Gate Park. The officer decided to pursue the vehicle to issue him a ticket. So he put on the blinkers and armed the sirens. He was able to catch up with the car and asked that the driver come out of the vehicle with his driver’s license and registration. The man took a long time to get out of the car. He also appeared to be near-fainting, given his pale complexion. The officer held on to his gun as the situation seemed to be suspicious. The man was Arthur, and he was apparently stopped by a police officer on his way from a most frightening experience. “Forgive me, sir, I am, to the highest degree, afraid at the moment,” he said.

He Sounded Crazy

“Come on, son, do not be afraid. I just need the license, registration and the insurance card,” the elderly police officer said. Arthur obliged. The officer asked him whether he was aware that he was speeding. Arthur responded that he might have, or that he had to. “Why did you have to? Is anyone chasing you?” the officer asked. “Well, you would not believe me. I just saw a ghost at Stow Lake! She was as clear as you are to me right now!” The officer’s face registered distaste, and responded “You do not need to make an excuse, Mr. Pigeon.” Arthur retaliated, “But I am not! I did see one, she was standing right in front of this door, and so I had to hurry and drive off. That is why I was speeding.”

Arthur Receives A Ticket

“Well, that is not a valid reason.” The officer thought he had been drinking, so he asked Arthur if he had a drink. Arthur said, “I had a beer or two. But I am not drunk.” The officer did not smell a hint of alcohol on him. “Well, I am going to let you off with a ticket today. Just be careful and do not step on that gas recklessly. There have been many accidents on this road that is why we want motorists to be extra careful”, the office said. Dejected, Arthur accepted the ticket and asked for his papers back. “You have to believe me, officer; there was a ghost in there. Perhaps other people must also be warned.” The officer thought nothing of the incident until he heard other stories surface later on.

More Stories

Stories then emerged about the white lady ghost at Stow Park. People, later on, shared that they had seen the white lady, and some claimed that they spoke to her. A woman shared her encounter with the lady when one day she found herself walking by the lake in Golden Gate Park. She got tired and decided to rest by one of the benches. She reported seeing a lady, talking to her about life and children. After a few minutes of chatting, however, the woman simply vanished into thin air. She could not be located elsewhere no matter the degree of effort was put in to look for her.

It Gets Scarier

As time goes by, however, the stories get scarier and creepier. There are at least four versions of the legend, but it always involved two key people, the white lady and someone else. Who do you think the other person is? If you guessed a child, then you are right. In one story, a woman, let us call her Mary, was strolling around the park, similar to the previous story, and got tired and rested on the benches. She was approached by a woman with a stroller in tow. She did not look like an insurance agent, so Mary decided to have some small talk with her. The baby in the stroller probably moved, causing the stroller to roll away into the lake.

Lost Baby

The woman, not knowing that her baby has already rolled away, continued to talk to Mary. After a while, she noticed that no sounds were coming from the stroller. When she looked, she was surprised to see the stroller gone. She asked Mary if she noticed where the stroller had gone, but Mary, being engrossed in the conversation as she was, did not notice anything amiss. The woman and Mary looked around, looking for the lost baby. They asked other park-goers if they saw the stroller or the baby, but no one saw anything. To their credit, the two did their best to locate the missing baby.

Over 100 Years

The story has been going around for over 100 years now, and it was speculated that the stroller and the baby fell in the lake, dying in the process. Rumors say that the woman made a degree of effort and continued to look for the baby around the park. The last place she checked was the lake, and she was not heard from since then. In this version of the story, the woman was a victim of her circumstances, and it was likely that she killed herself at the lake after finding out that the baby was dead. She might have blamed herself for not taking care of the baby and decided to join him or her in the lake. She refused, however, to move to the afterlife and haunted Stow Lake instead.

Be Careful

It is now rumored that in the succeeding years, the lady ghost of Stow Lake had made herself visible to those visiting the park. At times, strange events would happen at night, and she would come up to joggers in the area and then ask them where her baby was. She would then disappear, scaring visitors away. If there were some type of home security system in the area, we probably have seen sightings of the white ghost. In modern times, however, no one has captured an image of the lady yet, despite the presence of cameras and the numerous apparitions she has allegedly made. Visitors just need to be careful when visiting the area and not go around looking for ghosts.

Before The 1906 Quake

In another version of the story, a more definite timeline was given. The incident apparently happened right before the devastating 1906 earthquake. The April 18 earthquake was one of the most deadly and catastrophic earthquakes in the San Francisco area. Many would have contacted the moving company to move out of San Francisco after the quake. In this backdrop, we can see the events we previously narrated unfold. By juxtaposing the incident with the quake, we see a more dramatic twist to the story. We can guess two reasons why the dead woman refused to move to the afterlife: her kid and the effects of the earthquake that killed many others. Perhaps she joined those whose death was sudden, and it made her unwilling to move forward.

The Story Resonated With The Locals

The story was classic in a sense, and it resonated with the locals. For one, the woman was given credit for looking fervently for her child, though it was also her fault that she lost the baby. People of the time also love hearing ghost stories. Ghost hunters even frequented Stow Lake in an attempt to find the lady and figure out why she has not moved on. They have speculated as to why and also caused the legend to spread even outside of San Francisco. But what could be done when someone encounters a ghost in the middle of a park and in the dark? It is a scary thought. But is there any truth to the legend behind the story of the White Lady of Stow Lake?

She Had Three Children

In one version of the story, it was said that she had three children, among them was the baby in the stroller. She lost the baby in the stroller but did not lose the other two. But if she died in the lake, it could also be one reason why she couldn’t move one. She would have left a husband who now has to worry about mortgages all alone, with two kids to feed. The ghost would have felt guilty, leaving them like that, so she couldn’t move on yet. As we stated earlier, unfinished business is one reason why the deceased fails to move to the afterlife. This makes us think of the regrets we have in life. Do you think we would also become a ghost haunting a place in the future?

A Scarier Version

There is one version that is not talked about that much. In this alternative, the woman directly caused the death of the baby. She then went on to become a mischievous spirit who would lure children to a secluded place and cause them pain. This version did not spread because it was unpleasant, even for a ghost story. Psychologists will most likely attribute the act of killing to postpartum depression, a common mental struggle faced by new mothers. Given the degree of hardship they usually encounter during pregnancy, mothers are typically subjected to mental anguish, leading them to think of harming their child. This also makes us rethink the support we should be giving women during their pregnancy.

Who Is This Woman?

She is the most famous woman in Stow Lake, but no one knows her name. Her story is also one of the most famous ghost stories in the area, and people have heard a version of her story one way or another. Oftentimes, she is said to make her apparitions on foggy nights, adding more fear into the night. She is seen traversing the outskirts of the lake asking people in the park where her baby is. Others, maybe those with no third eye, claim that they could only hear her moan. To a degree, you would feel some degree of mercy towards the white lady as she has not been able to find her baby even in death, prompting her to stay on Earth.

More Details On Arthur Pigeon

It is also interesting to note that in the newspaper accounts of the incident involving Arthur Pigeon, he was seen in an automobile full of female party-goers, all of them showing fear and were white as a ghost themselves. The story was carried in the newspaper Chronicle on January 6, 1908, and this media coverage was given credit as the start of the spread of the urban legend. Arthur remembers seeing the tall thin figure blocking the car, and that excuse did not sit well with the officer. The police officer in exasperation asked Arthur to point him in the direction of the ghost. The suggestion did not sit well with the women in Arthur’s car, showing their genuine fear for what they experienced. The police captain in the area issued a directive that any ghost fitting the description given by Arthur should be arrested immediately.

The Quake Changed Many Things

We already mentioned that the earthquake of 1906 was devastating for San Francisco because of the death and destruction it caused. Apart from the lives lost, the earthquake also caused many historical documents to be lost. Because of this, it would be challenging to retrieve police reports involving any kind or crime including insurance fraud, arson, or even in our case, the baby drowning in a lake. This is one reason why this legend spread was because it was passed on from word of mouth from generation to generation. The only verifiable origin was already a secondhand account from a speeding Arthur Pigeon. Even if there were a news article pointing to the alleged incident, it would have perished in the earthquake.

The Park Has A Dark History

Another legend about the Golden Gate Park is its popularity among those who would like to take their own lives. This was the period leading to the Great Depression, and people were probably already stressed by their declining investments. The park, with its many trees, shrubs and grass seemed to be the perfect place to end one’s life. The San Francisco Call, a newspaper, even ran a feature in 1900 of the incidents. In modern times, though, we recognize that this course of action can be prevented with appropriate support from the family and seeking help from professional therapists. We just hope that they had those options back then so they would not have resorted to ending their lives early.

Another Version

In another version of the ghost story, it was suggested that the woman accidentally drowned the baby, and out of guilt, she also ended up throwing herself into the lake. The degree of guilt she felt must have been huge for her to do this. While the incident was an accident, the act of getting in the lake was purely intentional on her end. She should not have done so as her death would have meant a burden for those she left behind. But then again, as we were not in her shoes, it would be hard to talk about her circumstances. We can just pray for her soul and that she finds peace, instead of haunting the waters of Stow Lake.

Where Can She Be Found?

Ghost hunters have pinpointed certain areas where the ghost of Stow Lake had the most frequent sightings. This can serve as a guide for those who are interested in meeting her and a place to veer away from, for those who are afraid of the supernatural. Some people, who are only fearful of accruing credit card debt, but not of ghosts, have ventured into the outer rings of the lake and reported seeing her there. Another favorite spot is the Pioneer Mother statue. The statue itself is something out of a horror movie and adding the ghost made the location doubly scary. It is said that the figure, a woman with two children, houses the white lady herself. At night, some have even seen a baby surrounding her, alluding to the dead child.

What Can Be Done?

Whether we believe in ghosts or not, the story is a reminder for everyone to be careful at night when going to secluded places. You can meet harmful elements, whether they are people who would rob you of your investments or a ghost who would rob you of your soul. One reason why this urban legend could have spread in San Francisco is to compel people to be home before it is dark outside. Without such tales to reign people in, there could be an increase in people going out, drinking alcohol, and causing trouble. So what can be done about the ghost story? At this point, there is none. The story has been around for the longest time and will probably not disappear soon.


We should also learn lessons from the story. When parenting, it should not just be the responsibility of the mother. In all versions, there was no mention of the father. Parenthood is a shared responsibility, as is the payment for mortgages. When bringing kids out, we should be doubly careful, especially in modern times given the many criminals who are out to take them. Our kids are our treasure, and if we do not take care of them, we can end up like the ghost who has been overridden by guilt. If a mother is experiencing postpartum depression, we should also not look down on them but instead, offer to help and suggest that they seek medical help.

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