It’s October and that means that it’s almost Halloween! I love the -ber months since it’s always one holiday after the other starting with my birthday in September and moving through to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. There’s so many Halloween-related events this month and I want to do as many as my budget will allow.
While reading through an LAist article one day about Halloween events this month, I came across a haunted red line ghost tour hosted by the Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles (GHOULA). It was a free tour (bring some cash for donation), but you still needed to buy a $7 all-day pass to ride the red line. That was fine with me since I was already going to be downtown for this year’s Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC), which was in Grand Park for the first time after moving from San Pedro. The instructions were to meet at the palm tree island in front of Union Station at 7PM and that’s what I did.
There was a pretty diverse crowd there which included press, children, avid ghost hunters, and folks who just wanted something cheap and interesting to do on a Sunday night. It turned out that quite a bit of people in our group had heard about the tour through LAist too, which I thought was interesting. After waiting for more people to arrive, our guide Richard, the club president and co-founder of GHOULA, officially began the tour, going through the ghost stories and other creepy tales in Union Station and its surrounding area. He explained that he had collected many of the stories he was going to tell over the years, sometimes by doing his own research and sometimes by just asking people about their experiences.
We heard about the ghost madam who appears at Philippe’s, the Chinatown massacre, Pio Pico’s spirit in the Pico House, and the hanging trees of LA. I think the most interesting story here was about Los Angeles city hall passing a law forbidding the practice of fortunetelling and other similar acts in the city. A group of fortune tellers and the like apparently decided to join together to lay down a curse that city hall would be haunted and security guards who work there still hear unexplained footsteps at night.
After a quick bathroom break (the only one on the tour) inside Union Station, we all took the red line a couple stops to the Pershing Square station. There, we stood on the corner of 5th and Hill where a woman had apparently plummeted to her death after being thrown by a religious cop who found her making love to another woman. Welcome to LA. From that spot, we could also see the Terminal Building, which used to be the terminus for the trolley car and LA’s original subway system. The subway tunnel is closed now, but workers still see a little girl wandering inside. They even use crosses to mark where she’s been seen and the tunnel is now supposed to be littered with crosses. The Biltmore Hotel, which was in the film Ghostbusters and was reportedly where the Black Dahlia was last seen alive, also has a little girl among other spirits. What is it about little girls haunting so many places? The building that I work in has a little girl ghost, but that’s a story for another day.
Richard pointed out more structures in the area, including the art deco Oviatt Building, which used to be a haberdashery, and the Hotel Alexandria, what Richard referred to as the second-most haunted hotel in Los Angeles (not counting the Queen Mary). The story with that building is that there is a ghost wing that was blocked off from the rest of the hotel. Since there wasn’t any stairs or elevators on that side of the hotel, all but the bottom couple floors were inaccessible and it kind of acted like a time capsule, locking in the decor of the past. I don’t remember specific ghost stories, but it was nevertheless interesting. The last ghost that was mentioned at this stop was that of a woman who had been seen floating on the southeast corner of Pershing Square. It is suspected to be a Native American woman who tends to appear during drought years. What’s been going on in California again?
We all hopped back onto the red line and rode a bit further down to the Holywood and Vine station. Here, we would get our dose of haunted Hollywood. Richard started with the Pantages Theater and Howard Hughes’ haunted seat in the last row of the balcony, a drinking mirror ghost in the Frolic Room, and a scaffolding-hopping spirit that could possibly be Alexander Pantages himself. This was followed by various celebrity stories, mostly dating back into Hollywood’s golden age. Rudolph Valentino and Marilyn Monroe are seen the most all over the place, while Bela Lugosi, whose spirit wasn’t seen, still made his presence known by supposedly taking over for his driver and steering the hearse carrying his body from beyond. I learned that hearses from the mortuary on the street weren’t allowed to drive down Hollywood either, but Lugosi was just a rebel and didn’t care about no stinkin’ rules.
Thelma Todd had an interesting story of being stalked by a man who made his presence known with the ace of hearts. There’s an elaborate tale of her ordeal with that here. Even though she managed to deal with that mess, she still met an untimely demise through carbon monoxide poisoning in an apparent suicide. She was found dead in her car that was parked in a neighbor’s garage, but some argue that because she had blood on her face, foul play may have been involved. People who knew her report seeing her driving around the weekend before she was found though her time of death had been the Friday before. Spooky.
Harry Houdini also has his own strange lore, but I had actually heard of this one before. Houdini was a sceptic of ghosts and spirits, so he spent much of his time exposing frauds in his later years. He and his wife decided that if either of them died, the dead person would try their hardest to contact the living. They created a secret phrase to let each other know that they had succeeded. After Houdini died, his wife tried for many years but that secret phrase never came out. She finally stopped after a final seance on top of the Knickerbocker Hotel.
Think that was it for Hollywood on this tour? Think again! Next stop was the Hollywood and Highland station where we were surrounded by folks weirder than any ghost. Seriously, Hollywood at night is full of so many sketchy people. Here, we learned about Rudolph Valentino’s creepy spirit kisses that he would give to women staying in his room at the Hollywood Hotel. How desperate do you have to be to pay for a hotel room in order to get a chance to make out with a ghost? The Roosevelt Hotel, which Richard says is the most haunted hotel in Los Angeles (again, not counting the Queen Mary) is probably most famous for its mirror in which people would see Marilyn Monroe. They removed the mirror now, but there is apparently a rumor that Lindsey Lohan bought it. Hollywood is strange.
Well, if you thought that was strange, there is also a strange church where Hollywood celebrities and studio heads would go for some contact with they beyond. No, I’m not talking about Scientology (or at least I don’t think I am). Richard told us about the Church of the Hollywood Ghost, which charged a fee for people to get the chance to ask a ghost a question. It was so successful that there was a rotating cast of three ghosts. Remember that ban on fortune telling? This was okay at the time because it was coming from a church. Freedom of religion and whatnot, I assume.
We also learned a little about the Ripley’s Believe It or Not building, which used to be a bank. There was a robbery in which a civilian was heard crying in the bathroom and the robbers came in, found her, and shot her. The victim? A little girl. Does she haunt the building? Is that even a question at this point?
The North Hollywood station was the last stop of the trip and Richard talked a bit about El Camino Real and the ghosts who still walk the road and through the houses and apartments that now stand on it. It seems like there’s a lot of energy at the various California missions. The tour was pretty much over, but someone asked Richard if he had any personal ghost stories, which led to a really great tale about his experience with a lady in white that was definitely the best way to end the night. Hearing stories that someone heard about the ghosts of Los Angeles was a little creepy, but hearing a story that the speaker claims really happened to him or her is much creepier.
With that, most of us gave our tips and left. Altogether, the tour took about four hours and was much longer than I had expected.
If you plan to go on the tour, I think it helps to have an open mind. I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts or not (seriously, there is some weird energy at my work and some people have apparently had experiences there, so I haven’t made my mind up yet), but I really did enjoy hearing the stories, even if that’s just what they were. Again, these tours are free, but bring some cash to donate because whether or not you believe these tales, they are still pretty entertaining and make for an interesting October night.
There are still three more trips this month, so you should catch them before they disappear!