Ledbetter Beach, a lovely crescent of sand, sits to the west of the Santa Barbara Harbor. Here, the sand and sea form the base of the Santa Barbara Mesa. On almost any day of the year, people are swimming, or sunning on the beach. Surfers perch on their boards in the turquoise water just off the point, waiting for the next wave.
The grassy park that edges the beach is always busy with families and friends who have gathered to barbeque or picnic.
From the beach, you can watch sailboats glide past, shimmering as they skim toward open water. Fishing boats gather loads of frutta del mare, fresh, cold, beautiful - from the depths of the Santa Barbara Channel, and deliver it to the dock in the Harbor.
In the golden mornings, or in the evenings where a sea breeze has been warmed all day by the gentle sun, it is hard to imagine this area is a haunted place, a place where legend tells the story of Doña Inocencia, whose broken heart has caused her spectral form to wander at the water's edge, without rest, seeking her beloved....
This ghost story took place in Santa Barbara, at the terminus of Castillo (Castle) Street, where it meets Cabrillo Boulevard. This is where the Santa Barbara Harbor is located today. But more than 100 years ago, the landscape looked much different.....
The story is told in great detail in an 1873 issue of The Overland Monthly magazine, in an article entitled The Haunted Rock at Santa Barbara, by V Forward Russell. He writes,
During one of my rambles many years ago, I was surprised at the appearance here of a very old man. He stood, silent and motionless, and his gaze was fixed on what I now, for the first time , observed to be a circular rise of land - evidently the remains of a former wall or tower.
He was dressed in the Spanish garb: tight breeches, fastened with buttons of silver from the ankle to the loins, a scarf crossed over the bosom, and a black silk kerchief bound about the forehead. His hair fell in long, white locks upon his shoulders, his form was tall but bent, and except that his eye was bright, I knew him to be very old. I advanced toward, him but he did not move.
.....he was silent and I saw that his face wore an expression of deep despair and grief.
"Sir," said I, addressing him in the Spanish language, "you are troubled - or are you ill? Can a stranger do anything to relieve you?"
He raised his head, his lips moved, but before he had spoken, the words seemed to have passed from his consciousness and he was oblivious of my presence. Once more, I ventured to interrupt his reverie, and laying my hand on his arm, I repeated my questions.
"My friend," said he, "my troubles are beyond the power of this world to relieve....I can not deny it to you, and when you meet those who fret under the weight of life's lesser cares, I ask only in return that you repeat to them the sorrows of Rodrigo de la Guerra.
"These ruins," continued the old man, "were the foundation of a round tower which formed the extreme northern end of a large castle. Another similar tower connected with this by a long, low building, bordered upon each side with pillared corridors that stood out toward the sea, on land that was long ago thrown down together with the group of great rocks that you now see beneath the cliff . The castle was originally built for defense, but after peace with the natives was assured, it became the residence of an old Spanish gentleman and his daughter. The name of the old gentleman was Luis Gonzales. His daughter was Doña Inocencia."
Mr. Russell, the author, learned that Doña Inocencia was a beautiful Spanish girl whose included a sweetness, kindness, and spiritual grace charmed everyone in the small pueblo of Santa Barbara. Doña Inocencia lived with her father in the Castle, the regal Don Luis Gonzales. Don Luis was a wealthy man, and he had incorporated every possible comfort in the home he shared with his daughter.
They had many servants to attend to the needs of the Don and the young Doña Inocencia. The walls were padded with thick, colorful tapestries and beautiful paintings. The furniture was heavily carved and ornate. Deep, soft rugs lay underfoot.
Yet, Doña Inocencia was a lonely girl. Her mother had passed away when she was very young. She had no siblings, and though her father loved her very much, Don Luis was a strict and stern man. According to the story told by Mr. Russell, the Spanish girl's life in Santa Barbara was uneventful and quiet, until the day Inocencia met Rodrigo de la|Guerra. Rodrigo arrived in Santa Barbara as a young boy with his father, a merchant sailor , who had developed a trade route between Valparaiso and Lisbon. Rodrigo's father took his ships around the Cape, and up along the the Mexican Coast and Alta California, trading European merchandise for the tallow and hides that were available from California's ranchos.
Often, Rodrigo's father would leave his son in Santa Barbara with Don Luis and Inocencia while he continued on his trade route. Also at the castle was an elderly man named Cervantes, who had once been a merchant sailor with the De la Guerras. Now that he was old, he worked for Don Luis, and was a favored servant at the castle.
As the years passed and the children grew, their fondness for each other deepened. Cervantes witnessed the love that blossomed between Rodrigo and Inocencia, and he was delighted.
Eventually, Rodrigo joined his father in a life on the high seas. The work was arduous, and harsh, and extremely dangerous. The ocean and weather were unpredictable, and at times - deadly. Pirates roamed and fought and plundered at will. Injury and illness were frequent companions on board the merchant ships. But it was an exciting life.
John Reginald Southworth tells of the excitement when the merchant ships arrived in Santa Barbara:
How the senoritas did chatter as they looked over the treasures, always under the watchful gaze of an elderly dueña to keep them out of mischief, and the men at a distance, but all precautions were vain at times, since love laughs at dueñas and other impediments.
There were many a love match and subsequent marriage resulting from visits to the ships...The cargoes usually consisted of clothing, hardware, boots and shoes, jewelry, clocks, shawls, combs, furniture, and liquors and groceries of all kinds.
The import of assorted cargoes and the export of hides and tallow became a great trade on the coast, and constituted the chief commerce of the country, down to 1849 when the gold rush started.
~ John Reginald Southworth, Santa Barbara and Montecito, 1920
Despite the lovely senoritas he met in every port, Rodrigo remained true to Inocencia. His love for her grew, as did his resolve to win her hand in marriage.
But despite his best efforts, Rodrigo was not the rich man he had hoped to become. Don Luis Gonzales, despite caring for Rodrigo, made it clear that there could be no future between the beautiful Inocencia and a poor man such as Rodrigo.
Once again, Rodrigo had to board his ship and sail away. Rodrigo asked Cervantes to take a special letter to Doña Inocencia as he departed for Lisbon. He asked her to wait for him, and promised that he would return a rich man, and win her hand in marriage. She treasured her letter, carrying it with her throughout her days.
Rodrigo arrived in Spain, and while conducting his business, he stayed with his uncle and a cousin (by adoption), Annette. Annette had grown into a beautiful young woman since last she saw her cousin, Rodrigo. And he, too, had grown - strong and handsome and sophisticated.
Annette was duly impressed with the man that stood before her, and decided that it was she who should have Rodrigo for her own. She began a devious campaign to dissuade Rodrigo from his love of Inocencia, far away in Alta California.
Rodrigo became ill while in Spain, and took to his bed to convalesce. He was delayed in his return to Inocencia, but wrote her constantly, with reassurances and promises of a bright future together. Annette promised to mail the letters from Rodrigo to Inocencia - but she burned them instead. She continued to whisper doubts into Rodrigo's ear, and plant the seeds of discontent. She attempted to raise the very devil.
However, no matter what Annette tried in her efforts to woo Rodrigo, he never abandoned his love for Inocencia. Her love was his beacon. Rodrigo convalesced and regained his health. Soon - he would be ready to travel back to the New World. As he prepared for his voyage, he asked Annette to mail one last letter to Inocencia, notifying her of his return.
Rodrigo had written for many months of his constancy, his love and commitment to Inocencia. This time, he wrote with the joyous news that Rodrigo's uncle, moved by his love for his nephew and Rodrigo's desire to wed his beloved Inocencia, had given Rodrigo a large inheritance along with the family's blessing, so that Rodrigo and Inocencia could begin their new life together - as husband and wife. Rodrigo would leave on his trade route, and soon - be in her arms again.
Annette pretended she would post the letter -but she broke the seal, and read the news herself. She was infuriated. She burned this letter, too, and wrote another - a wicked forgery, cruelly denouncing Inocencia. She wrote, as Rodrigo, that he had found the love of his life in Spain, that he was passionately enamored of his new paramour, and that there would never be a future between Rodrigo and Inocencia. She signed it as Rodrigo, and prepared it with a red wax seal. Annette posted the letter, sending deceit and heartbreak in its wake.
We pick up the story again, as told by Mr. Russell:
The voyage from Lisbon was favorable, and Rodrigo, under the influence of the invigorating atmosphere of the ocean and the healthful feelings of hope, recruited rapidly in strength and spirits. As the vessel drew within a few days' sail of the port of Santa Barbara, his heart bounded with expectant joy.
Every hour left behind was counted as something gained. When, but a short time must elapse before the shore would be in sight, he drew to the side of the ship, watching eagerly until the first line of land should appear. At last it came: a view of mountains faintly outlined against the sky. Slowly the gray mists of the distance dissipated and faded. On the undulating foot hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the white towers of the mission church shone in the crimson hues of the early morning. The humbler outlines of tile-covered houses, and the wavy pencilings of umbrageous trees rose slowly to sight.
But Rodrigo saw only vacancy. His eye was searching for something and it was not there! The castle! It was gone! On, still, came the vessel. The sails were furled. The anchor was cast. Then a pause. A small boat came from the shore, but Rodrigo heeded nothing - his eye was bent in vacancy on this group of strange rocks, and above, at these silent ruins.
A hand was laid upon his shoulder - some one called him by name. He looked up; Cervantes stood beside him. Rodrigo, grasping the old man's hand, quickly said, 'What has happened? Tell me of Inocencia!' And, pointing to the castle ruins, 'What does that mean?'
Cervantes bade him be calm, and begged him to come ashore where he would tell him all. Rodrigo, perceiving in Cervantes' action that there was nothing for which to hope, silently accompanied him to the shore, and almost unconsciously directed his steps to the spot whereon had stood the castle.
Together they sat down on the ruins, and Cervantes, hastened by the anxious impatience of Rodrigo, and often overcome by his own emotion, gave an account of those misfortunes which broke Rodrigo's heart.
Rodrigo learned that Inocencia had not received his early letters. She had become frantic with worry. And finally, when she received Annette's forgery that told her Rodrigo had found another and had rescinded his love for Inocencia - she became distraught and hysterical. She became ill and increasingly despondent, and when Cervantes had left her alone, only briefly, she threw herself from the castle tower down to her death on the rocky shore below.
Don Luis and all who knew Inocencia were devastated by the loss of the beautiful, loving young woman.
They washed and dressed her with care, and laid her body in the castle, where three priests were to pray over her during the coming days. Mr. Russell continues his story:
There would be a lull, and nothing would be heard but the patter of the rain and the sullen moan of the sea. The servants of the castle had built a fire in the dining hall, and with friends from the village had gathered, nervous and trembling, in a group around the flickering flames. Now and then a gust of wind would come through the crevices left uncovered by the worn and ill-fastened shutters, extinguish the lights and leave the frightened inmates half dumb with terror in almost total darkness.
Don Luis Gonzales had sought the seclusion of his room which was next to what had been Dona Inocencia's, in the tower overlooking the sea. He knew nothing of the letter which had caused the illness, and indirectly the death of Dona Inocencia. He reproached himself as having been the cause of her death, and seemingly unable to bear the burden of his remorse and the terrible fears that had taken possession of him under the influence of the storm, had benumbed his consciousness with draughts of wine and was lying oblivious to everything around him, babbling with thick tongue some broken syllables of prayer and clasping in his fingers a silver crucifix with the beseeching pressure of despair.
The countenances even of the friars on this night were remarkable for their exceeding pallor. Great drops of perspiration stood on their foreheads and they moved anxiously at every sound, their eyes peering excitedly from their sockets into every corner whence it seemed to proceed.
Suddenly - the great doors of the hall where they were praying with the dead, were violently thrown open - a gale of wind swept wildly through the room, flung the light drapery from the canopy above the corpse, into the flickering tapers and set it ablaze!
The drapery, the muslin flowers, the ribbons, and the white satin pall, burned on - but the tapers went out in the wind. It is whispered by some that the friars were spell bound with terror, for the servants were not called by them to assist in extinguishing the flames until after the fire had made considerable progress.
Heads are shaken wisely, and it is even hinted that they must have seen something - that the doors could not have been opened by the wind. Vague intimations are thrown out about a hand seen waving in the darkness through the open door, while others speak of a white figure with floating hair, and uplifted hands, standing off in the black distance - but nothing is known, save that the servants, when brought by the alarm of the friars, found the entire tapestry of the room in flames.
Suddenly, some one remembered that a large quantity of gunpowder had been stored in the adjoining room and also beneath the floor. This powder had been placed there but a short time before, under fear of an attack being made by a large band of Indians from the plains who were lurking in that neighborhood with seeming warlike intentions, but who finally departed in peace.
Through all the screaming and noise occasioned by the fire, Don Luis Gonzales heard nothing, and now, when the friars were about hastening from his abode, though no one dare venture so far as his room, they called loudly up the stair way to alarm him - but to rescue him was impossible. It was their last chance to escape - not a moment more remained.
Suddenly, there was a rumbling sound - the earth seemed to tremble under foot - then such a crash! Men stood appalled.
In spite of the storm, many of the village people came out of their houses, each one fearing that the place would be overwhelmed in some terrible calamity. Attracted by gleams of lurid light, they moved on in the direction of the castle. They reached where it had once stood, and found, lighted with burning beams and smoldering embers, the present ruins. All else had gone.
The great rock that supported the tower that stood over the sea, and on which rested the foundation of the long building connecting it with the more inland tower, was rent asunder, torn from its place and hurled, as it is now seen, in huge masses on the beach and in the ocean.
It had been noticed for a long time that the sea was wearing away the stratum of sandstone underlying the rocks that supported the castle's foundation, and it is probable this storm, unparalleled in its severity on this part of the Pacific Coast, had made heavy inroads, and so destroyed the foundation of the rocks that they were not able to hold their position under the terrible shock to which they were on that night subjected.
The burning buildings and earth that fell were washed away by the waves, and save this basework of the inland tower, all remains of everything in or about the castle were gathered into the bosom of the ocean. The place is regarded with superstition by some, and old sailors and fishermen say that on stormy nights they have seen a figure standing on the topmost peak of the rocks with one hand held up shading her eyes, as if looking for a vessel coming from the sea.
Rodrigo became a wanderer. Every part of the globe laid before him its peculiar blessings, but he could not remain. He knew that the spot which, for so many years was the place of his affections and desires, had become a desolate grave, but whether it was the habit of his youth and early manhood, continued of looking constantly to the castle as the eventual goal of his travel, or whether it was because of the sailors' superstition, or perhaps his own fancy that pictured a form watchfully expecting his coming, I know not, but ever he returned, and though he could not tell why was ever disappointed as though he had still expected something he could not find.
~ Overland Monthly, Vol 11, 1873
The remainder of Castle Rock was removed to build the Santa Barbara Harbor which was completed in 1930. And although there are no physical remnants of the castle and all that occured there, throughout the past 150 years, witnesses claim to have seen spectral images that move along the sand on dark nights, and hellish flames that seem appear when there is no moon in the sky.
If you find yourself near the Harbor on a dark night - proceed with caution. Keep an eye out for the ghost of Inocencia who is said to roam the waterfront, even now....