Architecture Stories: Day of the Dead at Ghostly Atherton House


My name is Dominga de Goni and I was once married to Faxon D. Atherton, who was once a wealthy force to be reckoned with in San Francisco. My family was quite wealthy and although I had my choice of suitors I chose Mr. Atherton as he was a ‘bad boy.’

After the gold rush was over we moved to San Francisco and had 7 lovely children. I was extremely happy in my marriage but my husband was not. He had many extra-marital affairs and left our family often to escape the children and me.


Because I could not control my husband’s philandering, I took control of my own life and ruled my family with an iron fist. Because I felt so helpless I began to spin out of control and treated my son George with great cruelty. My son retreated into a fantasy world, stayed at home and somehow continued to take my abuse. When my husband passed away I decided I needed to escape my home and had Atherton Mansion built for me on the corner of Octavia and California Street.

My son George came with me and ended up marrying a young woman named Gertrude Horn, who was similar to me in personality. He was originally dating her mother 14 years his senior, but when he saw Gertrude her 17-year-old daughter, he ended up marrying her. With both of us women having domineering abusive personalities it was a wonder George did not attempt to kill himself. Oscar Wilde deemed Gertrude similar to an unattractive man and when I introduced to her to famed author Edith Wharton, Gertrude spread rumours that Wharton’s work was plagiarized. They ended up producing two grandchildren, but Gertrude sent my young Granddaughter to relatives so she could spend her time writing. She was so neglectful my grandson died when he was very young.

Dominga De Goni Atherton] — Calisphere

My daughter-in-law ended up being a minor success and wrote over 40 novels (including The Californian) focusing on the lives of domineering women. At this point, when my son’s life became part of her words in print, he decided to become like his late father and left home to find a life in my home country of Chile. George didn’t fare well on the trip and he ended up dying on the ship from kidney failure. In those days they could not turn the ship around so my son was pickled in a rum barrel to preserve him for the trip home.

The barrel was eventually returned to my home but had no identification on it. My butler, attempting to serve rum for dinner, was aghast when he found the late rum-soaked George in the barrel. After the staff dried him up we gave him a proper burial but my son in spirit refused to leave my home. George’s ghost would continually knock on our doors and I felt like I was being watched by an angry presence. In the end I could stand it no more and moved out of the evil house with Gertrude.

We decided never to go back but had great difficulty selling the home as George would not leave. The tenants moved out almost as quickly as they moved in, as they were made extremely uncomfortable by the haunting presence of my son, and his chilling airs. It wasn’t until 1923 when Carrie Rousseau and her fifty cats bought the house that he simmered down. Rousseau was as tough as nails and lived only in the ballroom of the house until 1974.

After Rousseau’s death the mansion was renovated but my son George refused to leave. One will never know what he did all those years when Rousseau lived there. Whether she ignored him or  possibly he could not be heard over the loud mewing of the cats. George remained silent for years.

As I float continually through the air I see the studio apartments of Atherton are always for rent. Obviously George is back as the tenants keep hearing arguing voices, and I assume one probably belongs his wife Gertrude, who came back to help haunt the place. It most certainly is not me although Psychic Sylvia Browne says it is. She described the voices as female spirits that just don’t like men and my silly son has been thrown into the middle of the fray. Of course what does Browne know? Was she not ‘outed’ a few years ago as a fraud?

I rest my case and Happy All Saints Day!

This is a true story..

Images and Text by Linda Seccaspina 2016

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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