Bernal Home Yields Spooky Artifact and Nautical Mystery

Neighbor Joshua has been living with a nautical artifact that was discovered in the soil beneath his Elsie Street home. It may (or may not) be haunted, but either way, he’s hoping to learn more about it. Neighbor Joshua writes:

I was hoping that Bernalwood could help me out. Several years ago when I moved into my home in Bernal, I found a rather strange object in the back of the garage.

Apparently, while they were excavating in order to to build the garage, they came across a large rudder buried in the ground (see attached pics.) The rudder is approx. 5 ft. by 5 ft. and made of wood and metal. I think it weight at least 400 lbs. if not more as it took four to five moving men to move it.


The previous owner said that after discovering the rudder, strange things began to happen in the home. He brought in a medium who claimed that the home once belonged to a sea captain whose spirit still lived in the house, and that the rudder should never be removed from the premises. In addition, the medium recommended that a toy ship be placed in the garage to appease the sea captain. I should mention that after we moved in, for some time, the back door which was securely locked, would be wide open in the morning — but I digress.

I’ve done an extensive history on my home which dates back to 1906 and there is no evidence of a captain ever living here. All that being said, I would be curious if any Bernalwood readers had thoughts about the age of the rudder. Even better if there’s a maritime expert in the ‘hood who could offer additional info.

Any insights? Please share them in the comments.

PHOTOS: Mystery rudder discovered in Neighbor Joshua’s home. Courtesy of Neighbor Joshua.

19 thoughts on “Bernal Home Yields Spooky Artifact and Nautical Mystery

  1. well, it’s clearly haunted. you can’t argue with science! 😉 cool artifact! But to check residence history you can pore over the Crocker-Langley directories via SFPL online. I live in Bernal Depths and it seems like there were a lot of listings for the occupation of “stevedore” in the area, including the man who lived in my house. Probably not unreasonable to think someone brought home a chunk of hardware to use to build something else.

    • Thanks for the tip, Matt! I forgot to tell Todd that last year when our house was being worked on, one of the workers suddenly ran out of the garage screaming. When I asked the contractor what happened, she told me that he swore he saw an old bearded man standing in the corner of the garage. I sh#t you not! He certainly had no knowledge of the tale!

      • if you didn’t have a ghostly maritime artifact, I’d just chalk that up to another ‘artisanal mixologist’ sighting…they’re known to roam these parts! but shiver me timbers, I believe you have something there. Good luck with your investigations, and please report back with findings to BW/BHP!

  2. Stir things up! Something that would bother the departed Captain. Invite your friends for a seance!

  3. I can’t imagine any home in Bernal being situated in a spot that was formerly the Bay, but if it was, the rudder could be part of land fill. I know they use to sink ships and fill in the space to make more ‘land’ for building back at the turn of the century.

  4. I would guess that it is new proof that the actual location of Noah’s Ark was not Mt. Ararat, but Bernalwood.
    However, for a better shot at a real answer, send your photos to the research librarian at the Maritime Museum Research Center:

  5. I am Curator of Exhibits at the SF Maritime Museum and quoted in that buried ships SFGATE article, also friend and colleague to Jim Delgado and Gina Bardi. If neighbor Joshua could call me at work 415 561 7013 -I live in Bernal and would love to see his rudder for more pictures, and a closer “examination”. If its a rudder, SF Maritime’s historian and small craft curator could work to identify the specific type(s) of craft it likely was..and I may be able to post some pictures of that. I found several huge marble incised pieces with decoration buried deep in my yard -clearly used as fill in the general effort to terrace (stairstep) the many properties’ gardens as they go up the hill. Wish I’d found a rudder!

    • Hi,
      I’m an old friend of Richards and maritime archeologist Jim Delgado, but this was sent to me by a neighbor of yours who is a coworker of mine. It’s possible that your home was built using lumber from a ship breakers yard. Ships were dismantled for decades in San Francisco and the lumber sold off. I new someone who lived in Richmond in an 1890s home that had major beams and hanging knees from a ship as part of the framing. What is the style of your house? Could your home have been a former “Ark”/houseboat? There are a number of these in my Alameda neighborhood that were hauled up from the bay and put up on foundations. Emergency Earthquake housing?? Like Richard says, I wish I’d found a rudder in my yard!

      Good luck,
      Gary Keep

      • Hi Gary, thanks for this info! The house is solid redwood. It began as a 1000 ft. ranch style “shack” that was eventually stuccoed with a small addition added in the 90’s.

    • You know what the psychic said…you let that rudder leave and the Capt’n will come back…muhahahah!

  6. Bernal Folks,

    That looks to be a rudder from a shoal-draft river steamer, probably a stern wheeler. I think that it would be called a “semi-balanced” type rudder. It would have been one of two twin rudders on such a stern wheeler. How it ended up on the hill is anybody’s guess, but a number of old vessels of this type would have been scrapped at the ship graveyard at India Basin between maybe 1910 and the 1930’s. It would be worth a look at the many photos of the vessels in the graveyard to see if anything matches. Gina Bardi can point people to these at the SFMNHP Research Center. It might be worth trying to track the ownership of the house through the years, to see if there is any riverboat connection. This can be done at the Public Library, usually starting with the Water Department records.

    I am a senior Curator at SFMNHP. I’m maybe 95% confident as to the type identification. Definitely not a scow rudder, or any other form of sailing vessel. Might well be from a very shoal draft upriver style boat, sometimes called a “skimmer.”

    Stephen Canright

  7. Here’s where I ask what street you’re on so we at the Bernal History Project can see what we have on file. There are lots of folk with maritime occupations in the city directory records; most of them Swedish and Norwegian, and we have news clippings for every street that may contain names.

    I’ve recently been talking to neighbors who found a very large bone in their backyard — possibly horse, possibly cow — and am in possession of half a cartwheel and a cow tooth from a Montcalm backyard. So almost anything is possible.

    Drop me a line at and I’ll be happy to share!

  8. This is so cool Bernal neighbors! Please all involved, keep this thread updated with your findings!!! Thanks in advance 🙂

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