Times Past

Does ‘The Eerie Spaniard’ still haunt the Canet adobe near Morro Bay?

The “Ghost of Vincente Canet” by Ione MacLean Bowman from “Ghost of Frank and Jesse James” by Angus MacLean (1987).
The “Ghost of Vincente Canet” by Ione MacLean Bowman from “Ghost of Frank and Jesse James” by Angus MacLean (1987).

At midnight the ancient garments “clothed again the supple form of the proud Spaniard and ... his fiery steed found his way out of the hills to carry his master in one mad gallop down to the Morro Rock.”

It’s Halloween and spirits are afoot.

Myron Angel, our county’s first formal historian, was captivated by the cloud-topped peaks. He turned the clouds into a ghost story — “The Eerie Spaniard of Morro Castle.”

In his 1883 “History of San Luis Obispo County,” Angel wrote of a place that many county residents of the early 1880s thought to be haunted:

“A Spaniard had conceived such a love for this lonely, sea-washed pile that he built himself a house a few miles inland, called it Morro Castle, and made a dying request that his body should be carried to the top of the rock and buried among the jutting crags and scant vegetation.

“Truly the old Spaniard had grand ideas, for what monument could be raised to man more imperishable than this rock, looming up so darkly from the bosom of the blue waters, where the sea-bird with its restless cry, and the winds with deep-rolling voice, could intone eternal requiems over him.”

“The Eerie Spaniard” was a real person, Vincente Canet, who jumped ship in Monterey in 1825. Mexican California needed literate soldados and Canet quickly rose in stature.

He fell in love with beautiful, wealthy and politically connected Rosa Maria Josefa Butrón y Dominguez in 1828. In 1840, he was appointed administrator for secularized Mission San Luis Obispo. He quickly sold off the mission’s movable assets and sought land of his own to keep some of the mission cattle.

By the end of 1840, he was removed as administrator, but Rosa’s relative, Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado, granted him the 4,379-acre Rancho San Bernardo five miles east of Morro Bay. Today, it is beautifully restored, but in the 1880s the adobe was in ruins.

Vincente Canet died in 1858. Unknown to Angel, his body lies in the Canet cemetery on the southeastern side of Highway 1.

Angel found his adobe spooky:

“Wherever (Canet’s) body may have been laid, his spirit seems not to have found rest; for it is said that strange noises are heard around the house he built, and slow, stealthy steps measure the length of the garret and seem to descend to the ground outside.

“The present owner assured us that he seldom entered this place, and that he had done nothing to have it cleared of the debris he found there. Moth-eaten remnants of gay, rich Spanish costumes were lying in curious heaps on the floor, and old saddles, bridles, and spurs were slowly moldering into dust; but I could well fancy how these garments resumed their former glitter when at midnight they clothed again the supple form of the proud Spaniard, and how his fiery steed found his way out of the hills to carry his master in one mad gallop down to the Morro Rock.”

Canet’s widow married Postmaster John Simmler and moved into an adobe on Dana which is now owned, by the city.

Why would Canet want to be buried on Morro Rock? Folklore from the 1840s and 1850s suggests he felt that Gov. Alvarado should have granted him both the Rancho San Bernardo and the 8,045-acre Rancho Moro y Cayucos which included Morro Rock.

Did Canet’s greed for land pursue him past death?

Halloween at the cemetery

Join me this Halloween, Tuesday, Oct. 31, at 4 p.m. in the Old Mission Cemetery at the new Bridge Street entrance near the intersection of Beebe and Bridge behind the Pacific Coast Center. We will see the last resting places of San Luis Obispo’s pioneers, including Ah Louis and Josefa and William Godwin Dana.

Dan Krieger is professor of history, emeritus, at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. He is past president of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.

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