Richard Brautigan and the Ghost of the Bolinas House

One of my favorite authors is Richard Brautigan. I like him so much that in addition to reading his novels and poetry, I’ve also read memoirs about him (I normally do not enjoy memoirs and biographies). In two of these, Downstream From Trout Fishing in America: A Memoir of Richard Brautigan, by his long time friend, Keith Abbot, and You Can’t Catch Death: A Daughter’s Memoir, by his daughter, Ianthe, I encountered a true ghost story. I was pleased by the discovery because I’ve also recently become interested in ghost stories (both true and fictional accounts). Both authors had contact with this ghost, and provide accounts that are both close enough and different enough that I can accept them as true.  I’ve included both here so that you can judge for yourselves.

In the early 1970s, Richard Brautigan bought a house in Bolinas, California (along the coast north of San Francisco), and asked friend Keith Abbot, who owned a truck, to help him move in. Abbot gives the following account of his first day in the house.


While I was having a look around, I wandered upstairs and found three bedrooms and a bath. The last place I looked in was the east bedroom. Set in a corner of the house, it was quite small and filled with junk, bed frames and such. As I was leaving, I turned and had the strong sensation that someone was there. In my mind’s eye, almost like a slide being placed in a projector, I saw a girl in a white nightgown. I didn’t think much of it; it was so fleeting. I assumed it was just a mild hallucination.

That night when Richard arrived, I made a joke about “Who’s the girl in the corner bedroom?”

Richard blanched. “You S-s-saw her?” he stuttered.

“Sorta, I didn’t really see, I only had a sensation,” I said, “Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Richard said. “But you are fourth person who has seen her upstairs. You don’t know the other three who saw her, so I’ve got to believe you.”

It seemed comically right to me that there should be a ghost in the corner bedroom of Richard’s new house. . . . I thought a ghost was the perfect companion for his Northwest Gothic sensibilities to mull over. His daughter told me less benign stories about the ghost, how it would walk up and down the stairs at night and scare the hell out of her. Richard didn’t seem terribly bothered by the ghost. He was more curious than spooked by her. Later he researched the history of the house and discovered that a young girl had died there at the turn of the century. She was buried in the backyard.

Richard once offered the Bolinas house to his friend Don Carpenter, after Don’s apartment had been damaged in a fire. I helped Don collect any useable stuff from his place in San Francisco and drove him to Bolinas. I was busy unloading, when Don went into the house. He came right back out and told me to pack it up again. He refused to stay there, maintaining that the joint was haunted.  (pp. 73-74)


Brautigan’s daughter, Ianthe, gives a slight different account of the same ghost in You Can’t Catch Death: A Daughter’s Memoir.

Candence [Ianthe’s long-time friend] has believed the Bolinas house haunted since the first time she saw it. We were twelve years old. She took one look at the three-story Arts and Craft-style house, which was set back in a steep hillside, and quickly came to her decision. . . . She refused to go into the house. . . .

Not long after, I found out that there was a real ghost. A Chinese woman who had worked as a servant for the original owners of the house had killed herself, and some people said her spirit frequented the house. (p. 52)

She also wrote of being afraid of the ghost throughout her early teen years, but reports nothing specific.


Tragically, Richard Brautigan took his own life in this house in 1984.

Much more about Richard Brautigan at:

You Can’t Catch Death: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Ianthe Brautigan

Downstream From Trout Fishing in America: A Memoir of Richard Brautigan, by Keith Abbot.

4 thoughts on “Richard Brautigan and the Ghost of the Bolinas House

  1. Al McDermid 25 August 2012 / 15:42

    Hi Marcus. Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy them; both were enjoyable and generous, while also giving a clearer look at Brautigan.

  2. Al McDermid 26 July 2014 / 00:48

    Reblogged this on Tokyo Exile and commented:

    I just read a third account of the ghost of the Bolinas house and so thought I’d repost this.

  3. Kalikiano Kalei 22 April 2015 / 13:21

    Back in the 70s, as an impressionable & supremely idealistic young man, I lived, studied & worked in Berkeley. The discovery of Brautigan’s first book (A Confederate General From Big Sur) struck me with as much impact as had Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. The deep currents of cynical iconoclasm were already there, buried almost imperceptibly below a fluidic surface of opaquely buoyant optimism, and I sensed in Brautigan the same seminal currents that had ignited & consumed Kerouac (and so many others who found the bitter realities of life too ineradicable and too ingrained in human nature to endure or overcome). I still revere Richard Brautigan today and found the insights into that ghostly presence at Bolinas fascinating and I also continue to wonder about the Brautigan/Japan connection (as a lifelong student of far eastern culture). As Woody Allen once observed (brilliantly): “It’s not death I’m afraid of…it’s dying!” Dozo, arigato gozaimashita.

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