October 31, 2011

The California Supreme Court’s haunted history

In observance of Halloween, which is a very big deal at our firm, we thought a post about the Court’s haunted history was in order. It turns out you don’t have to look very far before you find that the Court is intimately connected to things that go bump in the night.

Case in point: In 1859, Chief Justice David Terry was a pro-slavery Democrat, while U.S. Senator David Broderick—a youthful San Francisco political boss—was a member of the party’s “free soil” or anti-slavery wing. According to this article, their political dispute turned personal, with Broderick calling Terry a “damned miserable wretch.” Broderick added, “‘I considered him the only honest man on the Supreme Court . . . but now I take it all back.’” Terry demanded a retraction, which Broderick refused. Terry then demanded “the satisfaction usual among gentlemen.” Broderick accepted the challenge, but spent the night before the duel drinking coffee and pacing fretfully at the fine home of his friend and political ally, Leonides Haskell.

The two fought their duel at Lake Merced, just beyond the San Francisco city limits. Broderick’s weapon misfired into the dirt as he drew it, wasting his shot. Undeterred by his opponent’s misfortune, Chief Justice Terry aimed and fired, striking Broderick in the chest. Broderick was rushed back to Haskell’s home, where doctors worked to save him. He died there three days later, proclaiming, “‘They killed me because I am opposed to the extension of slavery and a corrupt administration.’”

But that was not quite the end for David Broderick, it seems. The Haskell House, now a military officers’ quarters at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, may be haunted by the spirit of the young Senator slain by California’s Chief Justice. Residents of the house have experienced many strange occurrences over the years, including pictures and light fixtures falling from the walls, the lights being turned on and off, and the upstairs toilet flushing with no one around. According to this article on San Francisco’s haunted places, “[m]any of the army officers who lived there have seen . . . Broderick’s ghost pacing back and forth, reliving his anguish the night before the confrontation. Recently, Capt. James Lunn’s family reported disembodied shadows moving back and forth in the parlor. Colonel Cecil Puckett felt someone following him around the house, even watching him in the shower. Capt. Everett Jones and his family experienced a variety of poltergeist activity—until they stopped joking about the ghost. According to Capt. James Knight: ‘There’s no doubt the house was haunted.’”

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