It’s Halloween, so I was trying to think of an appropriate post for such an auspicious day. And I think I finally hit on something. But first, I thought about doing Halloween movies, you know like Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, Halloween 2077. Or The Exorcist. Or _________, well you fill in the blank. But it just didn’t hit me. What did hit me was a brief Magical Mystery Tour of a few of LA’s haunted places. As writers, we might sometimes use the supernatural in our stories, but do we really believe? Maybe, maybe not. So let’s check out some “real life” ghost sightings.
But before we really get started on the tour, how ’bout a little mood music, Sleeping With a Vampyre, from Brigitte Handley and the Dark Shadows:
So now, as Jackie Gleason (I’m sure he’s haunting someone, somewhere) used to say, “And away we go”:
~The Biltmore Hotel (506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles) is the epitome of elegance. On the
outside it’s a mash of styles, but inside it looks like some minor principality’s grand palace, filled with marble fountains, frescos and other lavish appointments. Oh, and maybe a ghost or two.
The 1960 Democratic National Convention that nominated the alphabet team of JFK and LBJ was held there. Many of the early Oscar ceremonies were also held there. And there’s been sightings of various ghosts. The most famous is probably Elizabeth Short, though you might know her better as the Black Dahlia. Some people claim that the last place she was seen alive was at the Biltmore and that her ghost returns often to the lobby. Boo!
|The Biltmore Hotel lobby|
photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons
I felt Bandini at my side as I stared across at the Biltmore Hotel. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not saying I saw a ghost. Just a feeling. Then, something flitted by on the edge of my peripheral vision. Across the street in the Biltmore: JFK sipping champagne cocktails at his inauguration party. Swells drinking bathtub gin in the Gold Room, a sort of speakeasy for the upper crust during Prohibition, hidden in the depths of the Biltmore. Oscar ceremonies and celebs. Mae West and Carmen Miranda partying. Ghosts of the past. Now I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.
~The Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA) on the Sunset Strip used to be Ciro’s nightclub. The famous, or infamous, Strip is in an unincorporated area of LA County. Because of that it’s patrolled by the Sheriffs, not the LAPD. And because of that enforcement of certain laws there, like gambling and prostitution, wasn’t quite what should have been, shall we say, at least in the past. That, of course, brought in a “certain element,” the head honcho of which was Mickey Cohen, LA’s mob boss, along with his pal Bugsy Siegel.
Ciro’s was a hip place in the 40s and 50s, affiliated with the mob and even more pointedly a mob hang. There were peepholes in the walls of the main rooms so mobsters could watch the comings and goings. And the basement was more like a medieval dungeon—like they say in LA Confidential of the Victory Motel, lots of bad things happened in the basement at Ciro’s. Killings. A torture room. So you better have paid your gambling debts and not bothered the show girls.
Today, the basement is said to have a very oppressive atmosphere—I guess it’s all those tortured souls trying to escape and find some peace. Some employees refuse to go there, especially after one saw an evil being. Some people think it was a malevolent ghost, but it might just have been Harvey Weinstein.
Comedy Club employees also claim to hear voices and cries of anguish coming from the basement. Some claim to have seen Mickey’s enforcer, Gus, watching the crowds during performances, so you better damn well be funny.
~Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA), the cemetery to the stars. If you ever wanted to attend an A List party, check this place out. Everyone’s here, from Valentino (he who needs no first name) to Tyrone Power, Hattie McDaniel and Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone (well, one of them in spirit only, there’s a statue of Johnny but his wife kept his ashes). And let’s not forget that Bugsy guy—he’s here. As is Ann Savage, star of the great B noir Detour. I’m not sure who’s more savage him or her, at least her character in that flick.
|Dee Dee Ramone's grave|
People have reportedly seen Valentino’s ghost strolling along the paths. But there was definitely a ghostly woman who dressed all in black—the Lady in Black—who brought flowers to his resting place for years and years on the anniversary of his death because he had told her at one time that he didn’t want to be alone.
And Clifton Webb, who when I think about it would indeed make a good ghost, is also said to haunt the place. He played Mr. Belvedere. Also Waldo Lydecker in Laura and Hardy Cathcart in The Dark Corner, so his noir bona fides are in place (Belvedere notwithstanding). It’s said that his spirit haunts the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum with drafts of cold air, scents of his cologne and whispered voices from people who aren’t there. It’s especially spooky if you can’t stand the scent of his cologne.
Virginia Rappe, the young woman that Fatty Arbuckle is supposed to have raped at a wild party, and who died shortly after, is also resting here. Well, maybe not quite resting. An icy coldness is said to surround her grave, even on hot days. The sound of crying can also be heard.
With all the well-known people here, I’m sure these aren’t the only folks haunting this place.
And it just so happens I wrote about Hollywood Forever in my story Continental Tilt (Murder in La La Land anthology):
In the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, a vampire movie played on a humongous silver screen. This wasn’t your usual movie venue, but the crowd of seven hundred loved it. Spread out on beach chairs and blankets, with bottles of wine and beer, Boba tea, doing wheatgrass shooters and eating catered Mexasian sushi, fusion food for the Millennial-iPod generation.
Did I forget to mention that the movie theatre was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the heart of Hollyweird? That over the summer they show movies on the mausoleum wall, while people sit on their beach chairs and blankets—Beach Blanket Bloodshed—and munch their munchies amongst the graves of movie stars, rock stars and even mere mortals? The back wall of the cemetery, clearly visible from the field of graves the watchers watched the movies from, was appropriately the back wall of Paramount Studios.
Ghosts of a million stars haunted this place, from Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino to Fay Wray and Bugsy Siegel—a star in his own right. From Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone to Hattie McDaniel and Iron Eyes Cody to Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices—Bugs and Porky, Daffy and Tweety and 996 more—whose tombstone simply read “That’s all folks!”
~The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA) is a famous haunt, excuse the expression, of the rich and famous. The Roosevelt debuted in 1927, right on Hollywood Boulevard, sometime after the No Dogs, No Actors people moved out of the area, no doubt. The Roosevelt held the very first Oscars, well before the TV era, so they were actually about a nod to movies and the people who made them, instead of one gigantic commercial. And, as such, the hotel was home to many stars.
|The Roosevelt Hotel|
by Bohao Zhao via Wikimedia Commons
Two of the most famous ghosts are Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe, you might have heard of her. Maybe him too.
People say Marilyn haunts room 1200, her old room. They see her in the mirror. They see her in the halls and the lobby. People claimed to see her in the room’s mirror long after her passing. So the mirror was moved to the lobby—but people persisted in claiming to see her. Eventually it was moved to storage, but her ghost still haunts the hotel.
And Clift is said to haunt room 928, patting guests on the shoulders (hmm, I wonder if Harvey Weinstein stayed in this room too. Sorry.) Carole Lombard, one of my faves, floats around the upper floors. I wonder what she’s looking for. Maybe I should head over there and ask her.
There’s also been some non-famous ghosts seen hanging around, but who wants to hang with them?
~The Cecil Hotel (640 S. Main Street, Los Angeles). Saving the best for last, or maybe the worst. This one’s so bad there’s a whole TV series devoted to it now.
|The Cecil Hotel|
By ZhengZhou (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
The Cecil—I’ve always wondered who exactly Cecil was—was born in 1927, clearly a good year to start a hotel. With its opulent art deco lobby it was a place for business people to stop when in L.A. But the Depression did the hotel in and it never fully recovered. After that its 700 rooms became more of a place for transients and worse. And I do mean worse.
The Cecil’s best known resident is a chap named Richard Ramirez. You might know him better as the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized the LA/SoCal area in the 1980s. His weapons of choice included everything from guns and knives, to hammers, a tire iron and a machete. A Satanist, he never showed any remorse for his crimes.
Richie made room 1402 his home, where he slept by day, so he could do his thing at night. People said they’d see him coming through the lobby of the Cecil in bloody clothes, which he’d dispose of in their dumpsters. But nobody thought much of it at the time… That’s the kind of laid-back place the Cecil was.
But don’t fret for Richie. Once caught and incarcerated, he had plenty of fans writing him letters, even love letters. Seventy-five letters from Doreen Lioy must have made his heart warm ’cause he proposed and they were married in San Quentin Prison in 1996. (I hope he’s haunting her now.)
A few years after Ramirez was disposed of (he died of cancer in jail), another young man checked into room 1402. Jack Unterweger was an Austrian journalist, who did ride-alongs with the LAPD. That was as good a way as any to scope out his potential targets—he, too, was a serial killer. He wanted to emulate his hero, Richie, which is why he specifically asked for room 1402. Jackie was eventually caught and imprisoned. He hanged himself while in prison. I hope he’s enjoying being united with Ramirez. And I hope both are a little hot these days. John Malkovich portrayed him in stage show called Seduction and Despair. I haven’t seen it, but I’m not despairing about that.
More recently a young tourist from Canada, Elisa Lam, came to LA for a jaunt. She decided to stay at the Cecil, though I can’t fathom why. And soon went missing. Nobody knew what happened to her until one day some other tourists found brown, foul tasting water coming from their sink. To make a long story short, Elisa’s body was found in water tanks on the hotel’s roof and, though her death was ruled an accidental death due to drowning, there’s plenty of people who dispute that. And I’m sure the walls running with blood in The Shining have nothing on the black, foul-smelling bloody water in the infamous Cecil. And that’s for real, not a movie.
These are probably the most well-known people and things that went on there, but the hotel’s history is filled with grisly incidents and stories of ghosts haunting every floor and every room. Today the hotel has been remodeled and rebranded as Stay on Main, a sort of boutique-y hotel, so go ahead and stay there. Ask for room 1402 and enjoy your visit. If you’re lucky you’ll get to go home.
Amazingly enough, I happened to write about the Cecil in my novella, Vortex:
In the bright light of the full moon, the Cecil Hotel cast a sharp shadow across Main Street in downtown L.A., slicing the sidewalk like a double-edged knife. I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, this was not a good one. Some people say the Cecil is haunted, prowled by ghosts. It started life as a way station for business travelers in 1927. Since then it’s been through many changes, from budget hotel to SRO and the residence of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker. A paramedic was stabbed inside the hotel a couple of years ago and a young Canadian woman staying there went missing. When the water started tasting bad and dribbling, instead of flowing, out of the faucets, someone decided to see what was wrong. They found her body in a water tank on the roof of the building. Yeah, the Cecil was a class act.
The Cecil was the end-of-the-line hotel—suicide central, with people jumping off its upper floors every other day, or so it seemed at one time. Since it was the end-of-the-line hotel of last resort somehow it seemed to be the perfect place for what I was sure was coming.
~I was also going to talk about the Sharon Tate/Roman Polański house on Cielo (10050 Cielo Drive), where members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered several people, but Fran Rizer (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/10/not-named.html) beat me to it a week or two ago. So briefly, I used to take people there to see it before it was torn down. For some reason everybody wanted to see that place. I went there many times and never saw a ghost, but who knows…
Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-
photo from Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
everywhere in L.A. Her best-known haunt is probably the Roosevelt (see above), but she’s also known to haunt several other places. There’s been tons of sightings of Norma Jeane at the Roosevelt, everywhere from her former room, to the lobby and even in the Cinegrill restaurant. But the Roosevelt isn’t the only hotel that Marilyn’s ghost hangs out. The Knickerbocker Hotel (1714 Ivar Ave., Hollywood) is another place Marilyn used to hang. She and husband Joltin’ Joe liked to hang at the hotel bar. Her spirit is often seen staring at herself in the vanity of the powder room. And magician Harry Houdini’s widow held séances there for several years, hoping to hear from her departed husband. William Frawley of I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and many, many movies, fame lived there for many years. Might be a good place to go for a swell scare.
|Marilyn Monroe's crypt|
photo by Arthur Dark (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons
~Marilyn’s home (12305 5th Helena Drive, Brentwood, CA) is where her body was discovered after she took an overdose of pills. The house is still there and her ghost has been spotted many times over the years. And her grave, not too far from there, at Westwood Memorial Park (1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, CA) is also where many sightings of her spirit have “materialized.” The Beverly Hilton Hotel (9876 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA) just east of Westwood (I like saying that: ‘east of Westwood’) is supposedly where Marilyn and Bobby Kennedy were thought to have been seen the very night of her suicide. And her ghost is supposedly haunting the suites there to this day. Boy, that’s one ghost that gets around.
So there you are—some of LA’s most famous haunted places. And this is just the tip of the haunted LA iceberg. C’mon to our fair town and get your haunt on. Maybe you’ll see Marilyn’s and JFK’s ghosts cavorting at the Biltmore or hear the howls of pain coming from the Comedy Store’s basement.
http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/10/halloween-crime-fiction-halloween.html More Halloween mysteries than you can imagine.
And another bonus, the witch’s house in Beverly Hills:
|The Spadena House aka "The Witch's House"|
photo by Lori Branham
So, do you believe in ghosts now? And what ghosts haunt your fair city?
|Mel Blanc's tombstone|
Photo by Robert A. Estremo via Wikimedia Commons
That's All Folks!
And now for the usual BSP: