Showing posts with label Ghosts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ghosts. Show all posts

31 October 2017

Ghostbusters in La La Land

by Paul D. Marks

Do you believe in ghosts?

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!

Millennium Biltmore Hotel-10371203123
The Biltmore Hotel lobby
photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons
In my story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill (Ellery Queen, Dec., 2016), I talk a little about the Biltmore:

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 Nightclub

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…


Marilyn Monroe
Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-
photo from Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
~And last but not least, places haunted by Marilyn Monroe. From what I can tell, she’s just about
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.
~~~~~

And for a little extra credit check out Janet Rudolph’s list of Halloween mysteries at:
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:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


22 December 2016

The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain

by Eve Fisher

As I happened to mention last year ("Ghoulies and Ghosties"), ghost stories were one of the key features of a Victorian Christmas.  And Dickens wrote more than one of them for the holidays:

One thing "The Haunted Man" shows is how obsessed Dickens was with memory, and his analysis of how memory fits in/creates who we are.  From the opening scene, where he describes a portrait with the motto, "LORD, KEEP MY MEMORY GREEN", to the very last moment, it is a novella about memory.  It has what is perhaps the first experiment in memory erasure in literature, which makes it a forerunner of Charlie Kaufman's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".  Although in this case, it isn't love that makes our self-induced amnesiac go for the darkness.  Mr. Redlaw, brilliant professor of chemistry, comes back from his overflowing lecture halls to his lonely abode and sits and broods among his beakers about the endless, unbearable wrongs that have been done to him.  Depressive, full of resentments, letting his mind feed and fester on them like rats in the walls, Mr. Redlaw is ripe to the point of rotten for any promise to get his own back. And what comes, well - here's Dickens:

Christmas Eve!  (No chains clanking, no wailing in the hallways - but on the wall, where Milly Swidger (his landlady) put it), "the healthy holly withered on the wall, and dropped—dead branches."

Image result for the haunted man dickensThen, "As the gloom and shadow thickened behind him, in that place where it had been gathering so darkly, it took, by slow degrees,—or out of it there came, by some unreal, unsubstantial process—not to be traced by any human sense,—an awful likeness of himself!"
[This Spectre, this Phantom, listens to Redlaw's litany of woe, and, finally, offers him a solution]:
“Hear what I offer!  Forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known!”
“Forget them!” Redlaw repeated.
“I have the power to cancel their remembrance—to leave but very faint, confused traces of them, that will die out soon,” returned the Spectre.  “Say!  Is it done?”
“Stay!” cried the haunted man, arresting by a terrified gesture the uplifted hand.  “I tremble with distrust and doubt of you; and the dim fear you cast upon me deepens into a nameless horror I can hardly bear.—I would not deprive myself of any kindly recollection, or any sympathy that is good for me, or others.  What shall I lose, if I assent to this?  What else will pass from my remembrance?”
“No knowledge; no result of study; nothing but the intertwisted chain of feelings and associations, each in its turn dependent on, and nourished by, the banished recollections.  Those will go.”
“Are they so many?” said the haunted man, reflecting in alarm.
“They have been wont to show themselves in the fire, in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in the revolving years,” returned the Phantom scornfully.
“In nothing else?”
The Phantom held its peace.  But having stood before him, silent, for a little while, it moved towards the fire; then stopped.  “Decide!” it said, “before the opportunity is lost!”
“A moment!  I call Heaven to witness,” said the agitated man, “that I have never been a hater of any kind,—never morose, indifferent, or hard, to anything around me.  If, living here alone, I have made too much of all that was and might have been, and too little of what is, the evil, I believe, has fallen on me, and not on others.  But, if there were poison in my body, should I not, possessed of antidotes and knowledge how to use them, use them?  If there be poison in my mind, and through this fearful shadow I can cast it out, shall I not cast it out?”
“Say,” said the Spectre, “is it done?”
“A moment longer!” he answered hurriedly.  “I would forget it if I could!  Have I thought that, alone, or has it been the thought of thousands upon thousands, generation after generation?  All human memory is fraught with sorrow and trouble.  My memory is as the memory of other men, but other men have not this choice.  Yes, I close the bargain.  Yes!  I WILL forget my sorrow, wrong, and trouble!”
“Say,” said the Spectre, “is it done?”
“It is!”
It is.  And take this with you, man whom I here renounce!  The gift that I have given, you shall give again, go where you will.  Without recovering yourself the power that you have yielded up, you shall henceforth destroy its like in all whom you approach.  Your wisdom has discovered that the memory of sorrow, wrong, and trouble is the lot of all mankind, and that mankind would be the happier, in its other memories, without it.  Go!  Be its benefactor!  Freed from such remembrance, from this hour, carry involuntarily the blessing of such freedom with you.  Its diffusion is inseparable and inalienable from you.  Go!  Be happy in the good you have won, and in the good you do!”
Image result for row of holly  Image result for row of holly  Image result for row of holly

In case you can't guess, this does not end well.  Mr. Redlaw finds that, as he goes out into the world, he does indeed have the power to transmit the power of complete oblivion of all memories of wrong, hurt, sorrow, trouble of any kind:  and the results are horrific.  
He goes to the deathbed of Milly's brother-in-law, a man dying of alcoholism and vice, who calls to his father (old Mr. Swidger, Milly's father-in-law) “Father!  I am dying, I know.  I am so far gone, that I can hardly speak, even of what my mind most runs on.  Is there any hope for me beyond this bed?” 
But just then Redlaw touches him, just to help...  With the result that the man closes his eyes; puts his hands over his face, and then emerges, and shouts out, scowling, “Why, d-n you!  what have you been doing to me here!  I have lived bold, and I mean to die bold.  To the Devil with you!”  And dies, unrepentant, unreconciled, unloving and unloved...
And it spreads - touching the dying/dead man makes old Mr. Swidger and Milly's husband, William Swidger quarrel over the deathbed as to which of them is the more selfish, old Swidger for still being alive or young Swidger for not giving him enough, i.e., everything.

And it spreads - to everyone Redlaw touches, even with his shadow, all lose all sense of gratitude, goodness, charity, hope...  until finally even Redlaw knows that he is an infection, and he is horrified by himself.  He flees back to his lonely room, withdrawn from everyone - from the Swidgers, from a poor student he was meant to help, from Milly...  But he can't escape himself, and the worst is, perhaps, when he realizes that he destroyed all the good within himself when he sent his memory away with the Phantom. 
Redlaw and the BoyThe only one he cannot hurt is a homeless orphan off the streets who Milly Swidger took in:  "A bundle of tatters, held together by a hand, in size and form almost an infant’s, but in its greedy, desperate little clutch, a bad old man’s.  A face rounded and smoothed by some half-dozen years, but pinched and twisted by the experiences of a life.  Bright eyes, but not youthful.  Naked feet, beautiful in their childish delicacy,—ugly in the blood and dirt that cracked upon them.  A baby savage, a young monster, a child who had never been a child, a creature who might live to take the outward form of man, but who, within, would live and perish a mere beast."  
This boy never changes.  Hard, starving, snatching, growling, snapping from beginning to end. Redlaw's touch makes no difference to this feral beast:  and, when the Phantom returns, Redlaw begs to know why.  
“This,” said the Phantom, pointing to the boy, “is the last, completest illustration of a human creature, utterly bereft of such remembrances as you have yielded up.  No softening memory of sorrow, wrong, or trouble enters here, because this wretched mortal from his birth has been abandoned to a worse condition than the beasts, and has, within his knowledge, no one contrast, no humanising touch, to make a grain of such a memory spring up in his hardened breast.  All within this desolate creature is barren wilderness.  All within the man bereft of what you have resigned, is the same barren wilderness.  Woe to such a man!  Woe, tenfold, to the nation that shall count its monsters such as this, lying here, by hundreds and by thousands!” 
Only one creature can touch the boy; only one creature can save the people whom Redlaw has damaged and destroyed; only one creature can (perhaps) heal Redlaw himself:  Milly Swidger.  Milly, the angel in the house, whose only child died immediately after birth, who has the answer that Redlaw has never even thought of as to why humans need the memory of trial and trouble:  
Read "The Haunted Man" and find out what that answer is.   
‘LORD!  KEEP MY MEMORY GREEN!’ 

20 December 2016

Remembering Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill in Books and Movies

by Paul D. Marks

When Raymond Chandler talked about a man neither tarnished nor afraid navigating the mean streets, I have no doubt he was talking about that man walking the streets of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood.

For my first SleuthSayers post on February 24, 2015, I wrote a column called Adventures in La La Land (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/02/adventures-in-la-la-land.html), where I talked about Los Angeles, how it influences my writing and memories of growing up here. One area that I didn’t mention then was Bunker Hill. That is Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, not that “other” one on the East Coast.

And since my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill appears in the December, 2016 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (though I think it’s only available on newsstands until today, the 20th) I thought I’d take this opportunity to rectify that, especially as Bunker Hill has influenced both that story and my writing in general.



If you’ve been to the Music Center in downtown L.A. you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. If you’re into film noir, you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. Many times. Numerous film noirs—as well as movies in other genres—were shot there: Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly, Joseph Losey’s M, The Brasher Doubloon, Backfire, the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, The Glenn Miller Story and Angel’s Flight, an interesting, gritty, ultra low-budget noir. And L.A.’s Bunker Hill has stood in for many other cities as well.

Bunker Hill in transition
Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with glorious Victorian mansions, as well as offices, storefronts, hotels, etc. After WWI the swells moved west and the neighborhood got run down and became housing for poor people. It wasn’t shiny enough for the Powers That Be, who wanted to build up and refurbish downtown. Out with the old, the poor, the lonely, in with the new, the young, the hip. The wealthy.

By the time Raymond Chandler, who had lived there a couple of different times in his life, was writing about it he was calling it “shabby town”. In The High Window (1942), he said:

Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.
―Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Bunker Hill is also where John Fante (and his character Arturo Bandini) lived when he first moved to Los Angeles from Colorado. The struggling writer wrote about that experience:

One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight photo by Rarmin
And Bunker Hill is where the famous Angels Flight funicular railway is/was. As a kid, I got to ride the original Angels Flight, which was a thrill then and still is in memory. I guess Bandini preferred to walk alongside it instead of riding in the little cars:

I took the steps down Angel’s Flight to Hill Street: a hundred and forty steps, with tight fists, frightened of no man, but scared of the Third Street Tunnel, scared to walk through it—claustrophobia. Scared of high places too, and of blood, and of earthquakes; otherwise, quite fearless, excepting death, except the fear I’ll scream in a crowd, except the fear of appendicitis, except the fear of heart trouble, even that, sitting in his room holding the clock and pressing his jugular vein, counting out his heartbeats, listening to the weird purr and whirr of his stomach. Otherwise, quite fearless.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight was later moved up the street and a “new and improved” Angels Flight was put in, but it closed not too long after it opened. So it might have been new, definitely not improved. And it makes me think of the old saw about how they don’t make ’em like they used to. I talk more about it in the Adventures in La La Land post and in Ghosts of Bunker Hill:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in mid-air, ghosts from another time.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


***

Fante also described Bunker Hill like this:

The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mâché homes were castles.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

It was a tough life in the tough part of a tough city for the young writer and his alter ego:

Down on Spring Street, in a bar across the street from the secondhand store. With my last nickel I went there for a cup of coffee. an old style place, sawdust on the floor, crudely drawn nudes smeared across the walls. It was a saloon where old men gathered, where the beer was cheap and smelled sour, where the past remained unaltered.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

In the late 1950s and 60’s, the Powers That Be decided they wanted to get rid of the “blight” and modernize downtown. To that end, they began a massive redevelopment of the area, including leveling or flattening some of the hills, changing street configurations, removing and demolishing houses and other buildings. So by the late 1960s/early ’70s it was all torn down and redeveloped and progress was achieved.

In Ask the Dust, Fante said, “I crossed Hill Street and breathed easier when I entered Pershing Square. No tall buildings in the square.”

Bunker Hill today, photo by Lan56
Today’s Bunker Hill would be unrecognizable to Bandini. But maybe not completely to Fante, who lived till 1983, though he was dealing with serious complications from diabetes so he may not have seen what it became. As the narrator in Ghosts of Bunker Hill says,

Bandini had said there were no tall buildings in the Square. He should see it today. Steel and glass spikes sprout from every available space. And when nothing’s available the wrecking ball makes a new empty lot. Much of the park greens have been cemented over, with little pinpricks of green here and there, like a garnish on the side of your plate.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill

***

I may have a somewhat romanticized view of Bunker Hill. We do tend to romanticize the past, don’t we? I’m sure it was a hardscrabble and even dangerous life for the people who lived there after the swells moved out and it became “shabby town”. But with its gingerbread elegance and the “secret passages” of Clay Street (which no longer exists), with the winding roads going up and down and the hills, I have to say that I love the old Bunker Hill. And I’m glad so much of it is preserved in movies and writing.

Newel Post "borrowed" from Bunker Hill
I also feel very lucky that I could explore it with a friend before it was totally razed. We did our own little archaeological expedition of several of the houses and I even "borrowed" the top of a newel post from the long and winding interior stairway in one of those houses (see pic). A true relic of L.A.’s past, it’s a prized possession.

Los Angeles isn’t known for venerating and preserving its past. Everything here is new or wants to be. People come here to start over and every few years the city tries for a rebirth. But parts of Bunker Hill were preserved. Some of the old Victorian houses were moved to Carroll Avenue near the Echo Park section of L.A.. The characters in Ghosts of Bunker Hill live in a restored Victorian on Carroll Avenue and appreciate what they have:

Every time I walked those creaky wooden floors, I felt the presence of the past. The people who’d lived there. Not ghosts, but history, something Los Angeles often doesn’t appreciate. Carroll Avenue was close to downtown, where I worked. But the whole short street looked like something out of early 1900s L.A. I loved everything about it. 
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


Haskins house on Carroll Avenue, Photo by Laëtitia Zysberg

So I hope you’ll give Ghosts of Bunker Hill a shot and if you like it the sequel, Bunker Hill Blues, will be in a future issue of EQMM.

###

26 April 2016

House for Sale! Not Haunted!

2475 Glendower Place, Los Feliz (Los Angeles), CA 90027

by Paul D. Marks

Los Feliz Murder House
“First time on the market in over 50 years! Perched on a hill up a long drive way with sweeping views sits this 4 bedroom 3 bath Spanish Revival home on a large lot. Features include grand entrance with a step down living room with serene views, formal dining room, library/study, large kitchen, and a ballroom with bar on the third floor. Three car garage at street level and two car garage at the end of the driveway. Waiting for that special person looking for a wonderful opportunity to remodel or develop,” says the agent’s listing, which you can find at: http://www.bhhscalifornia.com/listing-detail/2475-glendower-place-los-angeles-ca-90027_1843846

All of this for only 2.7 mil (and change). Spare change, for some.

The one thing that the agent forgot to mention in her description is the murder-suicide and attempted murder committed here on December 6, 1959. No biggie. So it definitely might take a “special person” to buy this joint.

According to CA law, I believe the crimes committed in this house need to be disclosed. When my wife and I were looking for our current house several years ago, one of the houses we liked a lot had had a suicide in it and that was disclosed to us. It wasn’t a deal breaker – no, that was the fact that the house needed work and the seller wouldn’t come down, considering the amount of work needed. But one does think about how it would be cozying up in the family room, watching The Haunting and knowing that someone had shot themselves right there. So when that popcorn you were eating is suddenly all gone you might wonder “who” ate it…

But this Los Feliz house (a really great neighborhood by the way) has something on the house we were looking at, a murder and a suicide instead of just a mere suicide. And an attempted murder. I guess today we’d call the killer a family annihilator or at least a family annihilator wanna-be, though I don’t know if the term was in use in 1959.

The house’s architecture is Spanish Revival, similar to the house used in Double Indemnity and the house I grew up in. And my favorite style of home architecture.

Los Feliz Murder House
Apparently the house is frozen in time, a relic of 1959, when Dr. Harold Perelson hit his sleeping wife with a ball-peen hammer till she was dead. He then attacked his daughter Judye, but his bad aim caused her to wake up and run into her parents’ bedroom. Finding her mother dead, she ran out of the house screaming, until the neighbors called the police. The commotion caused the Perelson’s two younger sons to wake up but the good doctor gently told them they were having a nightmare and to go back to bed... but not as bad a nightmare as they probably had when they woke up and found their mother bludgeoned to death.

A neighbor entered the house to see Perelson taking a handful of sleeping pills, lay down on Judye’s bed and count sheep – or maybe dead bodies – while waiting for death, which came before the police. Nobody knows what motivated the good doctor to do what he did. People speculate that he was depressed or had business setbacks, but no one knows for sure.

The house was sold in a 1960 probate sale and the son of the buyer died just this last year. Supposedly another family rented the house right after the sale, adding a Christmas tree and presents, but fled a year later. Since then, no one lived in it except maybe a squatter here or there. But word is, because of the murders, they never stayed long. And the Christmas tree, old and untouched, and presents are still there and supposedly have been all this time.

Rudy Enriquez, the recently deceased son of the home’s buyer, said he used the house for storage but not much else. He could have given it to me, I would have loved it.

Word is that the house is a teardown, both because of its history and because it’s falling apart and in such great disrepair after so many decades. But one has to wonder, does the bad energy of that fateful night linger? And will it linger on this spot if the house is torn down? Oooooh!

Curious Lookie-Loos come up the narrow street and bother the neighbors, parking in their driveways or just using them to turn around. They park and get over the chain-link fence and look around. The gawkers would bother me more than the “ghosts”.

Some people think haunted houses increase a home’s value. Others wouldn’t’ touch them. But as silly as it may sound to some, even “haunted” houses have to be disclosed these days.

Personally, I love Los Feliz. It’s a beautiful neighborhood filled with tons of gorgeous Spanish Revival homes, where my cousins and aunt and uncle lived in a cool Spanish style house, pretty close to this murder house. So, we’d hear stories…about the bogeyman and worse! And when my wife and I were looking for our current house we looked in Los Feliz, but ultimately decided we wanted to be farther out of the city, so where we live now the local little paper has things like saddle stolen on their crime blotter page instead of family bludgeoned to death every other day. Los Feliz is where the main characters in my novel Vortex live. And there’s a really cool bridge there, the Shakespeare Bridge, that is part of a very intense scene.

SHAKESPEARE BRIDGE, LOS FELIZ (LOS ANGELES)
So, if you happen to have 2.7 mil handy, make an offer. If I could afford it I’d put a down payment down right now. And I wouldn’t tear the house down either.

And here’s how the ad should read if there really was truth in advertising:

“Planning that perfect murder? Don’t mess up a virgin house. Famous Murder-Suicide house on the market for first time in over 50 years. Haunted by ghosts of past murders. Perfect for you: Features soundproof walls. Large kitchen with butcher block, perfect for chopping. Formal dining room with wood beams for hanging things from. Ball-peen hammer room on the third floor. Stainmaster carpet throughout. Only two people died here. Three got away. You might too...”

(Hat Tip to Leigh Lundin for suggesting this piece, though not the tone of it. And I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my gallows humor. ’Cause so many are offended so easily these days…)

***


31 December 2015

Ghoulies and Ghosties

by Eve Fisher

On this Seventh Day of Christmas (seven swans a-swimming...), I'd like to discuss a Victorian tradition:  Ghost Stories for the holidays.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
  - Traditional Scots prayer
ghost photo woman scared by apparition
1860s : Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Or, it says in Andy Williams’ classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

In Victorian England, Christmas Eve (and pretty much the whole Twelve Days of Christmas) was the traditional time to tell ghost stories.  People would rake up the fire, sit there with their mulled wine and roasting chestnuts, and scare the bejeezus out of each other.  M. R. James, the provost of Kings College, Cambridge, had a tradition of inviting students and friends to his rooms on Christmas Eve where he'd read them a ghost story he'd written. Charles Dickens published ghost stories every year at Christmas in his periodical, All the Year Round, as did other contributors like Wilkie Collins.  And, of course, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, in which four ghosts are prominent characters (you have to include Jacob Marley!), and the Ghost of Christmas Future was supposed to give you nightmares.

But if you really want nightmares, read Dickens' The Chimes.  Toby Veck, a poor ticket-porter, and his daughter, Meg - about to be married to Richard, a young laborer - are confronted by Alderman Wick.
Alderman Wick and company
‘You are going to be married, you say,’ pursued the Alderman.  ‘Very unbecoming and indelicate in one of your sex!  But never mind that.  After you are married, you’ll quarrel with your husband and come to be a distressed wife.  You may think not; but you will, because I tell you so.  Now, I give you fair warning, that I have made up my mind to Put distressed wives Down.  So, don’t be brought before me.  You’ll have children—boys.  Those boys will grow up bad, of course, and run wild in the streets, without shoes and stockings.  Mind, my young friend!  I’ll convict ’em summarily, every one, for I am determined to Put boys without shoes and stockings, Down.  Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely) and leave you with a baby.  Then you’ll be turned out of doors, and wander up and down the streets.  Now, don’t wander near me, my dear, for I am resolved, to Put all wandering mothers Down.  All young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it’s my determination to Put Down.  Don’t think to plead illness as an excuse with me; or babies as an excuse with me; for all sick persons and young children (I hope you know the church-service, but I’m afraid not) I am determined to Put Down.  And if you attempt, desperately, and ungratefully, and impiously, and fraudulently attempt, to drown yourself, or hang yourself, I’ll have no pity for you, for I have made up my mind to Put all suicide Down!  If there is one thing,’ said the Alderman, with his self-satisfied smile, ‘on which I can be said to have made up my mind more than on another, it is to Put suicide Down.  So don’t try it on.  That’s the phrase, isn’t it?  Ha, ha! now we understand each other.’
And things only get worse from there.  Poor Meg!  Poor Toby!  And when Toby, looking for solace on a cold New Year's Eve, goes up to the church to hear the bells, and falls to his death, his ghost is shown a future complete with his darling Meg now abandoned, starving, with a newborn, no hope or mercy anywhere on earth, and racing for the river...  Let's just say that The Chimes is so bleak that it makes Cormac McCarthy look like a comedian.  Yes, Dickens does supply the mandatory happy ending, but until then...  it's a treatise on the ultimate result of Victorian economic theory (primarily Utilitarianism and Malthusianism), and a legal system designed to eliminate the poor the hard way. This fun read for the holidays is available for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/653/653-h/653-h.htm

But not all ghost stories were so obviously political or polemical.  Most were just designed to scare people.  The above mentioned M. R. James was very good at this. He said that every ghost story must "put the reader into the position of saying to himself, 'If I'm not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'"  Allow me to recommend "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come To You, My Lad" (http://www.thin-ghost.org/items/show/150).   "Rats" isn't bad, either.

FS Coburn. Photograph: British Library/Robana via Getty

And The Paris Review has a great blog post listing five forgotten Christmas Ghost Stories (check it out here http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/12/19/ghosts-on-the-nog/).

Why did the Victorians love ghost stories at Christmas? Well, it was dark and cold and beside a good fire was the place to be.  The nights are extremely long, and all the old, pre-Christian traditions knew that the veil between here and there was very thin around the winter's solstice.  And Christmas Eve - with Christmas Day coming almost immediately - was a time when ghosts could walk the earth and finish their unsettled business, relatively safely (for humans at least).

There was also, among the wealthy, the little issue of gas lighting, still in its infancy, which emitted carbon monoxide, which had a tendency to make people see things.  And, sticking with the wealthy, let's not forget that, in a Victorian world where almost everyone had servants, and yet those servants were expected to be almost invisible, leading to houses with separate entrances, staircases, even hallways for servants, people would be unexpectedly popping in and out of dark places on a regular basis.  Were they always people?

And the poor, huddled around their fire and their candlelight, both sending shadows and ripples of shadows, flickering in the never-ending drafts (there's a reason people - even skinflint Ebenezer - had bedcurtains), squeaky windows, rattling latches, shuddering shutters, and corners dark as the devil's foot...

Besides, people just like to be scared.

Speaking of which (and part of what sparked this blog), I recently read a ghost story by Dylan Thomas called The Followers.  I can't find a free e-text, but go check out Dylan Thomas' Complete Short Stories, and enjoy a story that starts out perfectly normal, nothing strange going on, as two young lads try to find something to do on a dull, boring, wet night in a city...  I can assure you, it adheres to Mr. James basic rule:  'If I'm not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'

But it's still not as scary as "The Monkey's Paw":  Keep the lights on.

Happy New Year!

26 September 2012

Five Red Herrings III

by Robert Lopresti

1. What Not To Wear To A Murder Trial
File under too-weird-for-fiction.  You probably heard that former policeman  Drew Peterson was convicted of killing his wife, but did you hear about the odd thing about the jury?  They dressed  alike.  One day all business suits.  Another day sports Jerseys.  Sometimes red, white, and blue.  Apparently they were having a lot of fun, but does this show the proper attitude when judging a man  who is accused of murdering his wife?

Apparently the feeling during the trial was that no one could ask them about it.  "If they came in wearing T-shirts saying 'Drew's Guilty,' it'd be different," said one attorney.

2. Encounter with Number 6.
I recently met a writer named Stephan Michaels.  Naturally I took a peek at his website and found a terrific piece about his friendship with one of my favorite actors, Patrick McGoohan.  For any fans of Secret Agent or The Prisoner, I highly recommend it.

As we walked back to our cars, Patrick asked if I thought I’d ever have any real money, and - as I had already confessed to being a bachelor - if I thought I’d ever get married. I answered optimistically to the first and shrugged off the latter. The valet pulled up in his silver BMW and Patrick offered that he and his wife had been married for forty years. “And do you know why it works? Because we don’t agree on a thing!”

3.  Satire by the Illiterate

This has nothing to do with mystery fiction, but if you love great writing, oh my, invest a few minutes.    After the Civil War ex-slave Jordon Anderson apparently received a letter from his old master inviting him to come back to the plantation and work for wages.  For those who still maintain that slavery was Not So Bad (such people do exist) his response is a cold dose of reality.  Anderson was illiterate; he dictated lis letter to an abolitionist friend.  Be sure to read the last sentence.

4.  Ghost writing

Courtesy of Sandra Seaman's invaluable blog My Little Corner, here is the web's premium dating service for dead people...  Ooh, spooky.


5.  The Rules

Pixar is one of the most successful animation studios in history.  Their rules for successful  storytelling are a lesson for us all.

20 March 2012

Jenny's Ghost

by David Dean

Last week, I went to one my editors pleading brain-freeze on the subject of my next post.  Actually, I did this in the figurative sense, in that I called my daughter, Bridgid, and asked for her advice.  It should be noted that Bridgid is intolerant of foolishness and dithering in general, and my lame pleadings and excuses in particular.  She is what is sometimes known as a harsh task-mistress.  She also has a very heavy hand when it comes to editing my stories even though I am her natural father and deserve better.  But, I dither.

"Write about how you write," she demanded.  "That's what people are interested in--they want to know how writers come up with their ideas and how they put them to paper!"

She stopped short of adding, "Duh!"

"Yeah, but..." I began; anxious not to be chastised further, "I've kinda done that in a few previous blogs...you know, talked about animals and nature and things..."

The sigh on the other end of the connection was long and heartfelt.  "You've got some stories coming out this year, right?"

"Yeah..."

"Well, there you go then--just write about how you came up with the plots, characters, etc...I enjoy reading Neil Gaiman's intros and essays on his stories almost as much as the stories themselves."

"I forbid you to invoke that name in my presence," I commanded.  "You know he's one of my competitors for the Edgar Award in April!  I won't have it!"

"He's terrific," she agreed.  "I wish I could go with you and mom to meet him."

"We're not going there to meet him!  There will be no fraternizing with..."

"Gotta go, dad, Robbie's home and we're going out to dinner.  Love you; love mom."

The connection went dead.  My only question at this point was, 'Why did I have children?'

The following day, however, the blank screen loomed ever more largely.  'Okay,' I muttered.  'Alright then!  If that's what she wants, then that's what she'll get!' 

Jenny's Ghost:  This story is scheduled for the June issue (the next out) of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, both a publication, and editor (the wonderful Janet Hutchings) with whom I have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.  It's not a long story, as my stories go, and has all of its action contained within a major American airport modeled after Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International (except for a brief flashback to the main character's college days).  Why there?  Simple answer: I've spent weeks of my life in this place.  When you live in New Jersey, but have family in Georgia, it's where you must go...over...and over...and over....  You get the picture.  I've been to a lot of airports in my life; everywhere from JFK to Amsterdam; Dublin to Frankfurt, and nowhere have I been in a busier airport than Atlanta's.  It's a city unto itself, and not a small one in either size or population.  It even has it's own subway system.  Not a place for ghosts you would think.  But when you spend a lot of time waiting for planes it's easy to get melancholy; especially if both ends of the journey entail leaving people that you love behind, as in my case.  So, as I have sat so many, many times in this teeming, heaving micropolis, thoughts of remorse and sadness have sometimes pervaded my thoughts.  Generally, I am a pretty optimistic and cheerful person...but not always and in all circumstances.  The airport seems to be one of these.

During one of these enforced meditations awaiting a return flight to Philadelphia, I wondered what it might be like to meet the ghost of someone once held dear in such an unlikely place.  The idea would not go away and kept returning to mind for several years after it's inception.  I was getting haunted by it and so had to consider exorcism in the form of a story. 

Haitian Voodoo culture, amongst many others, has always considered crossroads a place to avoid after darkness, as wraiths and apparitions haunt them.  They believe crossroads can form an intersection between the living world and that of the dead.  Well, what is an airport other than a great big crossroad comprised of many dimensions?  So, maybe not such a bad setting after all?

I also had to consider why my protagonist ( I had decided upon a young family man in his early thirties awaiting a plane for home) would experience this unlikely phenomenon...and how?  After all, I didn't think a ghost story, as such, would sell to EQMM.  So, I came up with a different sort of ghost.  I know that sounds like a teaser, but I don't want to give the plot away.

It appears that much of the lore concerning ghosts and hauntings regard suicide and murder as the premier causatives.  Violent death begets unquiet spirits.  I would add that violence in general instills a disquiet in the living, as well.  Remorse and regret play a big role, too.  How many of us wince when we recall something from our past that we wish we could take back, un-do, or conversely, have acted to prevent, but didn't?  I suspect there's no one reading this who hasn't longed for a chance to remedy something that they regret not doing, or repent for having done--sociopaths, perhaps...but they stopped reading several paragraphs ago.

It's no different for me--Catholics have always had the sacrament of confession in order to obtain forgiveness for their sins, but this does not always serve to erase a thing from one's mind.  Knowing that one is forgiven by God, sadly, does not lead to selective amnesia.  The human conscience can be a bleak and frozen landscape, and it is in just such a place that we find my protagonist, Connor, at the opening of the story.  He hears a young woman's laughter ring out above the tumult of the crowded airport concourse...a laughter that he recognizes and loves; but a laughter that cannot possibly be real...and therein lies the tale.

I hope you enjoy it.