Ghost Story – Santa Cruz, California

“So UC Santa Cruz is divided into six colleges and one college, named Cowell college, was named after a girl, Sarah Cowell whose family was very wealthy and started the Santa Cruz school house. Legend has it that when she was alive in the 1830s, she took her horse and carriage out to the fields to pick some wildflowers, but in a tragic accident her horse ran over her and killed her. So now whenever there is a production in the Barn Theatre at Cowell college, the stage manager of the show has to go pick wildflowers and leave them for Sarah in the theatre. Also, the actors have to say ‘Hi Sarah’ whenever they walk into to the theatre and you have to thank Sarah in the program for the show or else something will go awry in the show.”

Kat told me she first heard this story in the Fall of 2007 when she was involved in a production at the Barn Theatre. She said that all the theatre students take this legend very seriously and are very superstitious about it. They all really do say “Hi Sarah” when they walk in the theatre, and the stage manager has to actually go pick wildflowers and bring them for the spirit of Sarah Cowell.

Kat believes that the significance of this story lies in the fact that the Cowell family was so wealthy and so important to the formation of UC Santa Cruz. She said that this ghost story, along with the Cowell college being named after her, is a way that Sarah’s name will never die when her life had been taken away so suddenly. Kat said that it is supposed to have been a very difficult loss for her parents to cope with. Kat also said that this ghost story is also a way for the tradition of honoring the late Sarah Cowell to be continued so that she will not curse a theatre production at the Barn Theatre. It is at the same time a good luck charm that she is there, because as long as you bring her flowers and greet her, the show will be a success.

This ghost story reminded me of the ghosts that haunted the theatre at my high school and how in a similar fashion, those involved in theatre productions were brought together through this common knowledge of the theatre ghost. It seems to be the case in Santa Cruz as well. It is almost a mark of initiation that you are not truly a member of the Barn Theatre unless you know about Sarah Cowell and her legacy. This ghost story creates a common bond with all those who have performed at the Barn Theatre in Santa Cruz.