For hundreds of years, people have looked up at the hazy peaks of California’s Santa Lucia Mountains at sunset and seen tall, cloaked figures staring back. Then, within moments, the eerie silhouettes disappear.
These twilight apparitions are known as the Dark Watchers — shady, sometimes 10-foot-tall (3 meters) men bedecked in sinister hats and capes. They primarily appear in the afternoon, and according to a recent article on SFGate.com, visitors to California have seen them perched ominously on the mountaintops for more than 300 years.
“When the Spanish arrived in the 1700s, they began calling the apparitions los Vigilantes Oscuros (literally “the dark watchers”),” SFGate managing editor Katie Dowd wrote in the article. “And as Anglo American settlers began staking claims in the region, they too felt the sensation of being watched from the hills.”
One famous observer who felt the presence of the Watchers was the American author John Steinbeck. In his 1938 short story “Flight,” a character sees a black figure leering down at him from a nearby ridgetop, “but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers,” Steinbeck wrote. “No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them.” (This was a family obsession; Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, went on to co-author a book about the Watchers with painter Benjamin Brode, Dowd wrote.)
So, who — or what — are the Dark Watchers?
One theory, according to Dowd, is that they are merely figments of the observers’ pattern-seeking minds. In other words, it’s a classic case of pareidolia: a psychological phenomenon in which an observer’s brain finds patterns or significance in a vague or random image.