Friday, January 8, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep. 95 - Griffith Park

Moment in Oddity - Dark Watchers of Santa Lucia Mountains

The Chumash Native Americans speak of the legend of the Dark Watchers. These creatures even made their way into the cave drawings of the Chumash. The Dark Watchers are seen in the Santa Lucia Mountains that stretch from Avila Beach, through San Luis Obispo, and all the way to Monterey in California. People claim that they appear to be giant human shaped phantoms and they are most commonly seen at twilight. The Dark Watchers usually appear to be staring off and unaware of anyone being near them and as night falls and darkness creeps in, they simply disappear as if swallowed by the inky blackness. John Steinbeck wrote of them in his short story Flight, "Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man's figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone." Some people have described the Dark Watchers as wearing hats and capes. Are these just Dark Watchers spirits, demons or something else? We may never know, but they certainly are creepy and odd!

This Day in History - Elvis Presley Receives First Guitar
by: Steven Pappas

On this day, January 8th, in 1946, Elvis Presley is given his first guitar. Elvis said his mother rarely let him out of her sight and was hesitant to buy him something like a bicycle or a rifle. So when he was 11 years old, his mother Gladys took him to a hardware store and bought him a guitar for six dollars and ninety-five cents. Elvis viewed this as just one of a few steps during his childhood toward a musical upbringing, but the rest of us know how important it was to put that guitar in his hands. Elvis would go on to set the world on fire. He remains the highest grossing individual musician in history with an estimated 600 million units sold. His 10 number one albums spent a combined 90+ weeks at number one on the charts. He had 18 number one songs, starred in 31 feature films, won 3 Grammys and it all began with one woman putting a guitar into the hands of the man who would be, and remains, the king of rock and roll.

Griffith Park (Research Assistant Lianna Sapien)

The Santa Monica Mountains are one of the most visited natural areas in California and Griffith Park is a favorite location. The most familiar attribute of the park is the famous "Hollywood" sign. The park has been the scene to more than just fun outdoor activities. There is a belief that a curse is tied to the land here and that is why Griffith Park has been tied to urban legends, deaths and hauntings. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Griffith Park.

The Santa Monica Mountains parallel the Pacific Ocean along the coast of southern California. The mountain range stretches from Point Mugu in Ventura County to the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. This was home to the Chumash and Tongva Native American tribes. They lived here for 8,000 years and then the Spanish arrived and their numbers dwindled. The Santa Monica Mountains today are home to Griffith Park. This park is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness area in the United States and it stretches over 4,200 acres. Adults and children come to the park for camping, biking, horseback riding, interaction with animals and the chance to climb aboard a steam train. The adventurous types can hike along the mountain and get a closer look at the iconic “Hollywood” sign and scientific minds can visit the Griffith Observatory and take in the Los Angeles skyline.

Don Antonio Feliz was a rancher who had inherited the property that would later become Griffith Park from his mother Maria Verdugo de Feliz. He shared the ranch with his sister Soledad and his niece Dona Petronilla (don-ya pe-tro-ni-ya) who was blind according to some accounts. Petronilla had been orphaned by Feliz's brother, so Feliz took her in. The ranch was named Rancho Los Feliz. In 1863, small pox swept through and Don Antonio Feliz came down with the dreaded disease. Petronilla was sent to the pueblo to prevent her from becoming sick. While on his deathbed, Feliz was visited by a friend named Don Antonio Coronel. This so called friend coveted the ranch and he coerced Feliz into signing a will that left his extensive land holdings to Coronel and a few modest jewelry pieces to his sister Soledad. Feliz died and his niece returned to find Coronel in charge of the property. She had been left nothing. She was enraged and she cursed the land that a great misfortune would befall whomever owned the land of Rancho Los Feliz and that included Coronel.

Then something bizarre occurred. Petronilla, who was only in her twenties, dropped dead. At least, that is what the legend claims. Historical documents indicate that she married, had a son and died thirty-four years later. But the curse does seem to be very real. Don Coronel didn't believe the curse until his family members started dropped like flies in violent ways. Coronel became a believer and he sold the land before he himself was caught up in any more misfortune. The next owner had cattle and a dairy farm. The cattle sickened and the property flooded and the owner was heavily in debt. Fire swept through the timberline as well. This owner decided to sell what did seem to be cursed property. The property was then purchased by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith in 1882.

The Colonel made his money in coal mining and started an ostrich ranch on the property.  Though ostrich feathers were popular in fashions at the time, Griffith's primary interest in the farm was to draw people to his nearby property holdings. He was a notorious land baron and hoped to lay out the land in suburban tracts. Then in a sudden turn of events, Griffith donated the land to create a park named for himself in 1896. People wondered what would make a man poised to make a lot of money in development to all of a sudden donate the land. Rumors of the curse really fired up at this time and a party celebrating the transfer of the land would lead to claims of more than just a curse. This place appeared to be haunted.

Major Horace Bell was a frontier writer and newspaperman who was known for embellishment. He founded "The Porcupine" in Los Angeles, which was a paper dedicated to social commentary. He popularized the story about the Feliz Curse and he related that Griffith seemed to be tormented by visits from the spirit of Don Antonio Feliz and demons. He wrote that at the party where the city's influential people had gathered in Griffith Park to celebrate the transfer of the land from Griffith to the city, the ghost of Feliz took a seat usually reserved for Griffith and proclaimed, “I come to invite you to dine with me in hell. In your great honor I have brought an escort of sub-demons.” The lights went out and a cacophony of gongs and cymbals filled the room. All of the guests fled before the demons would have arrived.

The curse did seem to attach to more than just the land in the case of the Colonel though. It was either that or the alcohol. In 1903, he had accused his wife of conspiring with the Pope to poison him, so he shot her. He didn't kill her, but he did blind her in one eye and disfigured her face. He was sentenced to two years in San Quentin for the attack. Despite his grand donation of the Griffith Park land, when he was released from jail, he was damaged goods and rejected by society. He died in 1919 from liver disease and only a handful of people attended his funeral.

The park has been in the hands of the government since the time of the Colonel, but it seems to be sharing control with supernatural forces as well. There is no shortage of haunting experiences and other high strangeness in this park. Despite the fact that Petronilla died in her son's home decades after she supposedly cursed the land, there are claims that her apparition is active. The spirit is described as a young woman in a white dress, sometimes riding a white horse. At midnight, she is reportedly often seen in an adobe house, watching from the adobe’s windows on dark and rainy nights. Her uncle Don Feliz's ghost is reportedly still seen wandering his former ranchland on horseback. The ghost of Griffith J. Griffith has often been spotted, also on horseback, checking on the upkeep of the land.

Actress Peg Entwistle is a tragic figure. She was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle on July 1, 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales. Loss came early for her when her mother died when she was a child. She and her father moved to New York after that and her father remarried. Then her father was killed when he was run over by a car on Park Avenue. Her younger brothers went to live with an uncle, but Peg decided she wanted to be an actress and she stayed in New York. She made her stage debut with the Boston repertory company at 17 and then she moved onto working on Broadway with the prestigious Theater Guild productions. She was unhappily married to a man that was a dead beat dad to a child from a previous marriage and they ended up divorcing when she found out. Stage work started to dry up, so she decided to head to Hollywood. She was signed by RKO, but she went absolutely nowhere and depression set in.

On September 18th in 1932, Peg had been drinking and she was in the grip of depression. She told her uncle who she was living with at the time that she was going to walk up to a drugstore to meet friends, but instead she crawled her way up to the "Hollywoodland" sign. She took off her coat and folded it neatly placing it on the ground along with her purse. She climbed the ladder up to the top of the letter H and jumped to her death. She was 24 years old. People staring at the sign after dark have reported seeing a young woman jumping from the letter H and that they hear her scream on the way down, vanishing before hitting the ground. Other sightings include those of a woman matching her description and period clothes wandering the parks trails, as well as walking up the path between the sign and her former residence. The smell of gardenia, her perfume scent of choice, has been reported to linger near where her apparition is seen.

On  Halloween night in 1976, 22-year-old musician Rand Garrett and aspiring actress Nancy Jeanson, 20, were having sex on a picnic bench near Mt. Hollywood Drive when they were crushed by a falling tree. The lovers had been childhood sweethearts and their distraught families spread their ashes around the picnic table. A group of workers that were hired to clear the tree fell sick or were injured before they could finish the job, including a supervisor who was found dead of an apparent heart attack at the scene. His chainsaw was bent and his hair had turned white. Sightings of a ghostly couple in the area persist and people familiar with the tale make pilgrimages to the site in the hopes of witnessing paranormal activity. The picnic table and tree still reside in the same spot. The LA Times reported the following:
 "People thought I was damn crazy," says retired city tree trimmer Morris Carl when he tried to explain what happened to him a few days after authorization had been given to clear the fallen tree and he was tapped for the duty. "I drove up there with a job to do and I aimed to do it. What I didn't figure on was getting scared out of my wits!"

Carl is quick to add that up to that day he never gave much thought to whether ghosts were real. "But from that point on I certainly don't give any thought that they aren't," he says.

According to the incident report he filed with his supervisor later that evening, Carl arrived at the site at 11:40 a.m. on November 7. He was to be joined by two other Bureau of Street Services Tree Division workers with a large truck and loader to remove the material later in the afternoon but until then he was charged with sawing up the branches and trunk of the large sycamore tree into more manageable pieces. Only a few minutes into it he wrote that was overcome with a strange sensation.

"In my statement I said that I felt funny. What happened was I'd sawed off the crown of the tree when from out of nowhere I got hit with these real strong chills so hard it was as if I was coming down with the fastest flu ever. I tried to shake it off and get back to work, but each time I'd fire up the saw and get near the tree I'd get real cold and hear this weird moaning and crying. So I'd stop the saw and listen and it would go away. But then I'd start her up again and it would come back. Finally I was freezing so bad I had to go to the truck and get my coat."

That's when Carl wrote that the fallen tree started shaking violently.

"I set down the saw on the picnic table and headed over to the truck, and that's when I heard it start shaking from behind me. The tree just went crazy! Not just lightly shaking, but bouncing up and down as if someone was picking it up and dropping it."

It landed repeatedly on the table with such force as to knock the heavy powersaw off the table to the ground.

As soon as that happened," he wote in the report, "the tree stopped moving."
But then the moaning started up again, accompanied by a warning from an ominous voice that Carl says sounded as if someone was sitting right there in the cab with him and whispering into his ear.

"It told me 'leave us alone' very insistently," Carl says. "So I tried, but the engine wouldn't turn over. Next thing is this rubbing sound along the windshield and letters are being written across the fogged up glass. First there's an "n" and an "e" and the first word is "next." Then there's a "t" and an "i" and then that ends up being "time." Then a "y" and an "o" and a "u."

The last word was "die."

"Man, but did the truck engine finally fire up right then and I burned rubber, Carl says. "Left the saw right there on the ground in broad daylight and just got the hell out. I still get chills, and no there never was a next time. I never went back."
One of the stranger stories to come out of Griffith Park is a story about some kind of creature that is described to be similar to a werewolf. Some claim it is one of those demons promised by Don Feliz. The story has been around for decades. In October of 2005, three men allegedly retreated from a late night excursion into the park after an encounter with a beast that had green skin and red hair. The men visited a friend immediately after their experience and to prove they weren't making the story up, she had each of them draw the creature separately. With minor variations,  the men’s sketches all matched. The monster's legs were very long as were its feet and they claimed it was taking huge strides as it made its way down the street. Its back was bent backwards and its neck was very long and bent forward in a way that no human could be bent. More recently, an 11 year old boy named Jack said that on a 2009 visit, he was chased by an unusually large coyote. Reaching the top of a hill, he saw another kid around his age, and warned him about the coyote. “I’m quite glad you warned me,” the kid told Jack, then handed him an old firecracker. “Here, take this. Its good luck.” The kid then ran through some bushes and onto a small path. Fearing the coyote, Jack tried to follow him, but never caught up, and never saw the kid, or the coyote, again.

Did Horace Bell embellish the story of the Feliz Curse? We know that some of his facts are not backed up by history. But the misfortune surrounding ownership of the land is very real. And there are many witnesses who have experienced strange things here. Is there a curse? Do demonic entities roam about in the park? Is Griffith Park haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Haunted Hayride at Griffith Park Old Zoo in October:

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