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A Historic SF House Haunted by the Seen and Unseen

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Welcome to House Calls, the Halloween edition. Most of the year, this feature looks at lovely, offbeat, or otherwise awesome homes in the Bay Area. But during Halloween week, we look for the spooktacular as well. Think your space should be featured next? Here's how to submit.

Photos by Patricia Chang
Heather Kraft, who has lived in San Francisco's historic Haas-Lilienthal mansion for a decade as the house manager, says that people seem to want the 1886-era home at 2007 Franklin St. to be haunted. When people learn about her job, the first thing they ask is whether ghosts walk the halls. Three years ago, she started making the public's need to believe in the supernatural come true by staging a Halloween haunted house in the historic landmark. The event is unlike the other haunted houses in the Bay Area in that it mixes architectural and cultural history with a fictional narrative. It's also different from most in that many believe it is actually haunted.

↑Today, we take you behind the scenes as the house is dressed up for the event. For this week, it's been dubbed "Mayhem Manor" and if you dare to take a tour this Friday or Saturday, you will see ghosts, ghouls, and cobwebs deck the stately halls. (A strange pair is seen here in the home's entry hall.) But is there something that's unseen? According to Kraft, there are definitely things that are hard to explain.

Photo by Patricia Chang

↑The Haas-Lilienthal house is one of the last unadulterated Victorians in San Francisco. It was given to Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage by the descendants of the original owners, William and Bertha Haas, and it is open for public tours (sans scare most of the year). Kraft was hired to watch over the house and manage special events in the Victorian mansion a decade ago. She lives in a private apartment in the upper levels of the house, but she walks through every inch of it daily. Although she is reluctant to declare the house haunted, she admits that unusual occurrences and unexplained sightings are a regular part of life at the house. The front parlor, wearing cobwebs for the occasion, is the site of some of the goosebump-raising occurrences.

The dining room in a Victorian home, with the table covered in faux limbs and blood. Mary Jo Bowling

↑"I, personally, can't say that I've seen a ghost," says Kraft. "But things happen. I sometimes hear odd sounds, like thumps and bumps in the next room, or what sounds like footsteps above." And while she may not have locked eyes with spirits, manifested during the haunted house event by a ghostly butler and the ghoulish head on a platter in the dining room, she feels like she's constantly catching sidelong glimpses of, well...something. "I'm always seeing movements out of the corner of my eye," she says. "But when I turn to look, nothing is there."

↑Other people haven't been so lucky. The man seen in the kitchen of the Haas-Lilienthal house is an actor portraying a cannibal-minded cook (back in the day, the house was home to as many as seven servants). Other strange sightings have maybe not been of the flesh-and-blood variety.

↑On the haunted house tour, visitors will spot what is perhaps a deranged (and definitely knife happy) mother in the upstairs nursery. Some workers say they've seen a real ghost perched on a chair in the upper floors. "Two employees have seen what they think is the ghost of an older woman sitting in a chair on the third floor," Kraft says. "They said she had on a 19th-century outfit, a blouse and skirt, and wore her hair in a bun." Another staff member thought she saw a man in a chauffeur's uniform on the back stairs. "There was more than one chauffeur in the house," says Kraft. "One was a man named Morton Vrang, and we have some photos of him on display." Another docent felt an invisible touch on her shoulder as she walked through the house.

↑Some perhaps otherworldly happenings are as annoying as they are spooky. For the haunted house events, the bathroom is done up with a purple-lit ghoul in the tub. In real life, Kraft has had a less sinister inexplicable happening in the room. "There's a sponge in a holder in the bathroom, just a decorative staging item," she says. "It is constantly being moved out of the holder and placed somewhere in the room, and I keep putting it back in place. This happens at times when no one else could have possibly been in the room."

Kraft has also dealt with a hard-to-reach shutter that she has to repeatedly close. "This is an out-of-the-way window, and I've tried latching and even wiring it closed," she says. "But I always find it open again." She has also appropriated the term "ghost in the machine" to describe odd occurrences in the house. She says that when there's a disturbance, such as repairs, office equipment fails and power surges cause light bulbs to burst.

↑For the event, Kraft has strategically placed actors and mannequins throughout the house—like this zombie-like lady lounging in an upstairs parlor. But for this year's event she's tapped into a bigger issue for many San Franciscans.

↑"This year, we have scaffolding all around the house because it's being painted," she says. "For the haunted house, we make up a story and a theme, so I decided to play off that. In our fictional story, the house is haunted and is slated to be torn down to make way for condos. Our guides [Kraft is seen here in costume] are supposedly taking visits through for the last time."

Mayhem Mansion tours happen October 30 and October 31, 7:30-10 p.m. - Adam Brinklow contributed to this article.

· San Francisco Heritage [Official Site]