Wearing a top hat, black cloak and Victorian-style suit, Jim Fassbinder looks like a man who stepped out of the past. But Fassbinder is comfortable looking like someone from over a century ago. That may be because he says he interacts with the spirits of dead Victorian San Franciscans every day in his job as a professional ghost-hunter.
Fassbinder, who has lived in The City for more than 40 years, started his San Francisco Ghost Hunt tours 14 years ago.
Although his major in college was in metallurgy — the study of metals — Fassbinder has always had a connection to the supernatural. He claims to have seen ghosts in the basement of the Chicago apartment building where his family lived when he was a kid and, although he no longer sees apparitions, Fassbinder says that he often encounters spirits in other ways to this day.
Fassbinder says that although some people claim to see full-body apparitions, it’s very rare. More common ways people encounter the supernatural include seeing glowing balls of light, feeling cold spots, hearing unexplained sounds or just “sensing a presence.”
“It comes from the gut, it’s not just a cerebral thing,” Fassbinder said of feeling the presence of spirits.
The San Francisco Ghost Hunt tours take place in The City’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, starting at the Queen Anne Hotel on Sutter Street before heading out into the quiet residential area. Wearing his Victorian garb and swinging an old-fashioned oil lamp, Fassbinder seems to blend in well with the elegant pre-1906 homes in Pacific Heights.
Before starting his Ghost Hunt Tour business, Fassbinder spent a year researching the ghosts and spirits that are said to haunt Pacific Heights.
He insists that although most people tend to be “scared of the unknown,” ghosts are mostly friendly or benign.
“Living people are scarier to me,” Fassbinder said.