This piece is part of our SJtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
What’s spookier than ghost stories? Local ghost stories.
You may remember the eerie story of the Quimby Road Jogger, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of what “Haunted San Jose” author Elizabeth Kile has uncovered.
From the hauntings of 11 local schools, to the paranormal sightings at La Forêt Restaurant + Post Street — Elizabeth tells all.
Read on to learn about the process of gathering these ghostly legends, her favorite story to uncover, and her deep roots in San Jose.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: I’ve always enjoyed writing and somehow always knew I would write a book someday, but I didn’t actually think about doing it until the pandemic shutdown in 2020.
Q: Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote?
A: “Haunted San Jose” is my first published book, but when I was in first grade at Terrell Elementary I wrote “The Dog” for the Young Authors’ Fair and was awarded second place. I’ve also written novels — which have never seen the light of day — during NaNoWriMo.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of “Haunted San Jose”?
A: When I travel, books of local ghost stories are my favorite souvenir to bring home. I had wished for a long time that San Jose had a good, well-written, well-researched book of hauntings. I’ve been collecting ghost stories for years and telling myself for a decade that I should just write the book on San Jose ghosts myself — and finally I did.
Q: Take us through the process of researching locally — who did you connect with?
A: Talking about ghosts is still surprisingly taboo. Most people at the locations I was writing about didn’t want to talk to me, and in fact when I made phone calls I was hung up on more than once. It was also difficult (for various reasons) to connect with other local experts in the field, but the late Kitty Monaghan was especially generous with her time and spoke to me about local history. I received a lot of help from the staff in the California Room at the MLK Library, and also from regular people on social media and through word-of-mouth, who had ghost stories they wanted to share with me, even if I didn’t end up using them. A couple people were very forthcoming and opened their homes to me, for which I am grateful.
Q: What was your favorite part about writing this book?
A: I loved doing the research, uncovering bits of long-hidden history, and making connections that I hadn’t seen in print before. I also really enjoyed taking my children with me when I was taking pictures for the book; they’ve seen more of the city than I had at their ages.
Q: Let us in on your favorite story from “Haunted San Jose.”
A: I love the variety of legends that are told about Hicks Road. This area has some major elements that appear in haunted locations across the country: the woman in white, the vanishing hitchhiker, the devil-worshiping cult. I also like its longevity — people have been telling ghost stories about this road since at least the 1960s. Plus, it’s just a creepy place to drive.
Q: You’re originally from San Jose, why have you stayed here?
A: I’m a seventh-generation Californian. My family has been in San Jose since at least the 1790s, and I’m a direct descendant of the Narvaez and Alviso families, who received land grants during the Mexican occupation of California. If that history isn’t enough reason to stay, I don’t know what is! My extended family is here, and I own a home here, and I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else. I had a great upbringing in San Jose and I’m enjoying raising my children here.
Q: Besides local hauntings, what else intrigues you about San Jose?
A: There’s always something new to discover. There are little pockets of neighborhoods that each have their own distinct feel and flavor, and visiting a part of the city I’ve never been to feels like I’m traveling to some place totally new. The diversity means that I can learn about and be exposed to different cultures and ways of life without having to leave my hometown.
Q: If you were taking someone on a tour around San Jose, where are the three places you’re going?
A: Winchester Mystery House (San Jose’s most famous attraction), Happy Hollow (fun for all ages), downtown Willow Glen (good shopping and eating in my ‘hood).
Q: Fill in the blank: The coolest person I’ve met in San Jose is _______.
A: SJ Sharkie. I worked for the San Jose Sharks in the 1990s when I was a member of the original Teal Team (the precursor to today’s Tank Patrol). I worked with really cool people behind-the-scenes, including the guy in the Sharkie suit, and I got to meet celebrities (some cool, some not) at the games.
Q: Describe San Jose’s personality in three words.
A: Casual, unsung, unassuming. San Jose doesn’t demand attention but there’s actually a lot going on under the surface, which I can totally identify with.
Q: Name a few local authors that you’re watching.
A: Cassie Kifer, author of “Secret San Jose,” has a new book coming out this fall that I’m looking forward to. Gary Singh really understands the spirit and limitations of San Jose and I very much enjoyed his “Silicon Alleys.”
Q: What three people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?
A: Dorothy Parker for her wit, the Dalai Lama for his compassion, Kurt Vonnegut for his cynicism.
Q: What advice would you share with others that you’re thankful you learned?
A: Don’t over complicate things, and don’t get ahead of yourself — stay present with where you are right now so you can fully appreciate life.
Q: What book is currently on your nightstand?/What is your favorite book?
A: I’m always reading more than one book at a time, and right now it’s “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas, “The Gospel of Wellness” by Rina Raphael, and “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace.
Q: What are you writing now/next?
A: I’m a high school English teacher, so I’m writing lesson plans for my juniors! But I’m always collecting notes on ghost stories...
Ready to read? “Haunted San Jose” is available now for purchase. Know a local ghost story you’d love us to cover? Let us know.