Tag Archives: california

L Is For Los Angeles: Haunting Pioneers of L.A.

When you think of Los Angeles, images of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood surely come to mind, alongside imagery of traffic and paparazzi. When considering LA’s older ghost stories, you may think of Marilyn Monroe, or silent era icons like Charlie Chaplin or Rudolph Valentino, but LA’s roots go back much further, which some very old structures still remaining, cared for by the watchful spirits of those who helped build (as Steve Martin would misquote in LA Story), “This other Eden… demi-paradise… this ground… this Los Angeles.”

Olvera Street is a marvelously restored, historic section of Los Angeles, just a few blocks from the heart of downtown LA. Spain was aware of the land that would become California and, in 1781, decided to send 11 Mexican families to establish a community here. Russia had already conquered the area we now know as Alaska and the fear was that they would work their way down the Pacific Coast. The first settlements in LA ended up getting washed away by the LA river, but the first community that stuck is this area, originally named (translated) Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels, or Los Angeles for short.

Avila Adobe

Located on the North end of Olvera Street, the Avila Adobe is the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles. The house was built in 1818 by former mayor Francisco Avila. It was built traditionally for the time and culture, originally featuring a flat, tarred roof, utilizing tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, which was grazing land Avila’s cattle.

This house was Avila’s family’s home, though he himself only visited on weekends. However, it was also a grand house to entertain friends, which the Avila family did frequently. Though, no battle took place here, American troops did take over the house for use as a headquarters until the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed, thus ending the Mexican-American War.

Massive earthquakes in 1870 and 1971 damaged the frail house, making it uninhabitable for large stretches of time. Today, thanks to tremendous preservation efforts, a seven-room portion of the house has been restored and can be visited daily for free.

Today, the home is not only frequented by guests, but also by original owner Francisco Avila, who is said to talk the halls and plaza, continuing to look over his impressive homestead and the village he once presided over as mayor. In addition to being seen clearly in the house, in the courtyard and in front of the house, people have also heard his heavy boots as he invisibly wanders the halls of the house. People have also observed shadow people throughout the structure.

Avila’s first wife, Maria, died in 1822. He later remarried to a woman named Encarnación. It is Encarnación’s ghost that is said to also inhabit the house long after her 1855 death. Some witnesses have seen a female form sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch while others have heard the sound of feminine crying within the home, apparently coming from the master bedroom. The belief is that her immense sorrow of learning of her husband’s death is the intense emotion that still plays out, in residual form.

One of Avila Adobe’s Haunted Bedrooms

Today, the home is not only frequented by guests, but also by original owner Francisco Avila, who is said to talk the halls and plaza, continuing to look over his impressive homestead and the village he once presided over as mayor. In addition to being seen clearly in the house, in the courtyard and in front of the house, people have also heard his heavy boots as he invisibly wanders the halls of the house. People have also observed shadow people throughout the structure.

Avila’s first wife, Maria, died in 1822. He later remarried to a woman named Encarnación. It is Encarnación’s ghost that is said to also inhabit the house long after her 1855 death. Some witnesses have seen a female form sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch while others have heard the sound of feminine crying within the home, apparently coming from the master bedroom. The belief is that her immense sorrow of learning of her husband’s death is the intense emotion that still plays out, in residual form.

Just 500 feet to the south, continuing down Olivera Street and through the plaza is the Pico House, a building once considered the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles. The building was constructed in 1870 by successful businessman and the last governor of Los Angeles while under Mexican rule, Pio Pico.

The Pico House was an immediate success for years upon it’s opening. The 82-room hotel was in high demand through 1900, when the business center of the city shifted south. It was this shift that ended the glory days for this area.

However, even its glory days were not always so glorious. Just days after the city of Chicago burned to the ground in the great fire, a different kind of fire would rage in Los Angeles. A fire made up of vengeance and anger.

This location bordered the original Chinatown and two warring Chinese immigrant associations were battling each other when Jesus Bilderrain, one of only six police officers in Los Angeles, heard shots ring out. He found one Chinese gang member bleeding in the street when he was struck by a non-fatal bullet in the shoulder. Nearby tavern owner, Robert Thompson, came to aid and was eventually shot in the chest and killed. A city already rife with prejudice against the Chinese exploded. A mob stormed Chinatown, indiscriminately attacking any inhabitant they could find. Buildings and storefronts were damaged, easily hundreds of people were beat up and dozens more were hanged to death throughout Chinatown. The majority of the slayings took place just steps from the Pico House, on the land that is now LA’s Union Station.

In the end, at least 17 Chinese were killed, including young boys. Questions persist over Even Builderrain’s story. Was he a hero cop, shot in the line of duty, or was he merely a key member of a murderous lynch mob? Regardless of how it all went down, there is belief that some of those killed are still present at the Pico House. Some of the spirits are apparently vengeful, as an episode of “Ghost Adventures” talked to a security guard who claimed they were kicked in the back of the leg while walking down a staircase.

Additionally, Pio Pico himself is often seen looking over his land from the roof or upper windows of the Pico house. Much like Mayor Avila, he appears to be keeping tabs on the land he presided over in life. It’s also worth noting that, aside from the lit street lamps and the hum of nearby traffic, the setting is preserved, locked in time, so perhaps its this familiarity that makes Olvera Street, the Avila Adobe, the Pico House and a number of other nearby buildings such a desirable place for past tenants to remain, long after their deaths.

90 – Houdini & Doyle: The True Story Behind Their Paranormal Bromance

So, Wendy and I recorded this episode while on a trip to the sunny California Dream Factory and saw the previews for a show we’d talked about all the way back in Episode 36 – Paranormal Lit 101: Victorian Horror with Brian J. Showers. Houdini & Doyle is the show that turns the friendship between escape artist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into a crime solving duo. We haven’t seen it yet, but we thought we’d talk about the real relationship between the two men, who were on very different sides of the Spiritualism equation in the 1920s.

For a fun little side note, we not only went back to visited with rock photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt, the Rock n’ Roll Lens (get his awesome book of rock photography here!) at his studio in Laurel Canyon . Fun fact, it was formerly the home of Gary Kurtz, a producer on Star Wars, but more importantly for us, producer on Return To Oz (which I’ve referenced in this podcast way too many times!)  So that was a nice little dose of extra nerdery for me.

And here’s the nice tribute to Prince that was on the Rock Walk at Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.

Lovely tribute to #Prince at the Rock Walk.

A photo posted by sunspotmike (@sunspotmike) on

Spiritualism was the movement that grew to massive heights in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. With so many people dying in the American Civil War and the massive loss of life that occurred in the First World War, people were desperate for ways to contact their deceased loved ones. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of these, he was always interested in the supernatural, but became obsessed after losing his first wife in 1906 and his son shortly before the end of World War I.

doyle & houdini
Here’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with that smoking walrus look that was so hot at the turn of the century.

Spiritualist mediums would hold séances where spirit faces would appear, strange knocks and sounds would respond as answers to questions, ectoplasm would manifest seemingly from nowhere, fingerprints would show up on the table that weren’t from any of the attendees. The mediums said that they could talk to the dead and Conan Doyle ate it right up.

Houdini & Doyle
Houdini gonna getcha!

Harry Houdini was the most famous magician in the world and it wasn’t uncommon for performers like himself to claim that they had real supernatural powers. But when his beloved mother passed away, Harry was desperate to talk to her again. He attended séance after séance to try and find some evidence of the paranormal, of a connection to the afterlife. But he knew the stage and he knew sleight of hand, he knew how to trick people and he knew when he was being tricked. Houdini debunked every one of the mediums he came into contact with.

houdini & doyle
Peanut butter and chocolate, at last!

They met in New York City in 1920 when the author was doing a weeklong stint of speeches at Carnegie Hall about Spiritualism. Houdini found Conan Doyle an intelligent counterpoint to his skepticism and Doyle thought that Houdini had magical powers and that he was just covering up his supernatural abilities by saying it was all illusion. They even went on a little jaunt to Atlantic City together where in the swimming pool, Houdini amazed the old Scotsman with how long he could hold his breath underwater.

Eventually things started going south when Sir Arthur had his wife do a special medium session where she claimed to be able to contact Harry’s mother through automatic writing (that’s where spirits take over the hand of the writer or influence their subconscious to communicate with the living .) It went on for hours but Houdini was just disappointed in the end when the mother wrote in perfect English (she was Hungarian and knew very little of the language of their American adopted home) and also when she made no mention of it being her birthday on the day she made contact (a fact that only Houdini knew in the room.)

Their relationship continued to cool off when Houdini was on a special investigation panel for Scientific American and he debunked a medium named Mina “Margery” Crandon that Conan Doyle championed.

But even the world’s most famous escape artist couldn’t escape the Grim Reaper. He died  on Halloween in 1926. His wife Bess held a séance every year on the anniversary of his death until after ten years she quit, believing that she never got the special message that Harry promised to send her from the other side.

Because this episode really is about being desperate to know that there’s something   wanting to contact the loved ones who have gone before them, we thought that our track, “Viking Funeral” would be appropriate because it’s a tribute to those we’ve left behind.

To the dearly departed,
and all the human sacrifice,
and to all the broken hearted,
who never got to roll the dice.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For all the broken arrows,
who never hit the mark,
We’ll see you on the flambeaus,
as we sing dirges in the dark.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.
credits