October 31, 2015

Halloween Street on Halloween Eve

The rest of the country can have every other holiday throughout the year. Sleigh bells don't mean much to us in the Sunshine State.

So in LA, we've got dibs on Halloween.

A few years ago back in New York, I started predicting that Halloween would eventually rise to the level of Christmas—expanding beyond one night of costumes and candy and grow into an entire season of celebration, replete with black tinsel trees and skeletal ornaments and garland and lights.

It's been slow, but it's been happening.

Or is that just my perspective because I now live in LA—a town full of set designers and decorators, special FX artists, and animators who choose to use their talents on their own lawns?

LA has a few "Christmas streets," those places you go to drive or walk through all the pretty lights while neighborhood kids sell you cookies and cocoa. But this year, I discovered that we also have a "Halloween Street."

Unlike the houses that display Santa sleighs for several weeks in December, those on Alegria Street in Sierra Madre gear up for one big night: October 31. I visited to catch a sneak peek on October 30 and witnessed homeowners toiling away in their yards, workers rigging up set pieces, and a voice calling out, "We're not done yet! Come back tomorrow night!"

So for anyone without plans on Halloween night, Alegria Street seems like a sure thing. But why not let the rest of us enjoy it for a few days more? Why put all that work (and money) into the garden graveyards and front lawn funerals for just one night?

Isn't it time we acknowledge October as "Halloween Month"?

I know families go trick-or-treating in Angelino Heights and at the Spadena House in Beverly Hills, and I know about a few individual home haunts throughout Central LA and its surrounding valleys, but are there other "Halloween Streets" I don't know about?

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Ghost Chatter

People often ask me how I get into all the places I visit. I think they assume I'm always trespassing.

Not so—I try to get permission as often as possible. I never break in, though I'll walk through an open door.

Ritz Hotel circa 1984 (Photo: National Park Service)

Sometimes, an opportunity presents itself to visit a creepy old building with a team of paranormal investigators. I'm hoping to see the building more than the ghosts who inhabit it, but I'll take what I can get.

I'm not a ghost-hunter myself. The ghosts seem to find me just fine, without me having to look very hard for them. So I think it's kind of funny when investigators try really hard to make contact with the spirit world, like during our visit to the former Ritz Hotel in Santa Ana, California the other night.

The hotel had been featured on the TV show Ghost Adventures, though when its crew arrived to record the episode, they were surprised to see the upper level rooms demolished—the wallpaper, the walls, the doors all gone.

Now it's almost entirely gutted, but that doesn't mean the ghosts are gone. Construction activity tends to stir them up, just like mice.

As I listened to the paranormal investigators recite a litany of requests to try to draw out a presence, I felt bad for the spirit world. We curious humans are so damn demanding. "Can you make a noise?" "If you're here, turn the blue light off." "What's your name?" "Do you remember me?"

And everyone's so busy trying to interpret garbled messages being transmitted which may or may not be electronic voice phenomena that no one is really listening. I'm sure the ghosts knew we were there. We didn't have to make our presence so obvious. We didn't have to be clomping around so much, flashing lights and talking about goosebumps and cold spots. Why couldn't we just be silent, and wait?

Generally, I think any energy that remains in an former hotel (and brothel) in a century-old building will make itself known when it wants to, when it has something to say. Maybe it's camera-shy. Maybe it's diurnal. Maybe it just doesn't like to be told what to do so much.

And if it did have something to say—if it did have something to tell us—how would it have gotten a word in edgewise?

Related Post:
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October 29, 2015

Photo Essay: Passing Time at Mountain View Cemetery

Mountain View Cemetery started out as a family cemetery—a plot of land set aside in 1882 by Levi W. Giddings, where he could bury his family members.

And it's still kind of a family cemetery, run by descendants of Giddings.

But a lot more people than just Giddings family members are buried here now, in this expanse of green on Fair Oaks Avenue, in the hills above Pasadena.

After all, our planet's ground is crowded. We're running out of room to bury our dead.

Under these fallen fall leaves at Mountain View, there lie the remains (if any) of doctors, congressmen, pioneers and frontiersmen...

...Civil War officers, sportsmen (and women), Wallace Neff, Thaddeus Lowe...

...and even Superman himself, George Reeves.

These days, the famous graves at most cemeteries tend to eclipse those of beloved mothers, fathers, and babies who passed somewhat more anonymously.

It's nice to think at Mountain View, the cemetery isn't just a money-making business.

It feels a little less commercialized than you may find other, modern, franchise facilities.

Sure, Mountain View Cemetery has expanded over the years, acquiring both the Pasadena Mausoleum and the Mountain View Mausoleum...

...but it still feels small.

Each gravesite is well cared for... of vandalism...

...clearly marked...

...and surrounded by an arboretum of trees of palm, pine, oak, and eucalyptus.

It really felt like fall that October day, though the grass was green...

...and the air was warm...

...and bits of blue peeked out from behind the white puffy clouds.

There were fresh carnations strewn across statues' stone feet...

...and some of their petals were scattered around headstones, but it still felt like fall.

I knew it was fall, because I was losing light at only five o'clock.

I knew it was fall, because there was a chill behind that warm breeze...

...and the blades of grass were cool on my toes...

...and those end-of-year dark clouds started setting in.

And I felt in a hurry, with that fading light and those growing shadows, and the caretaker who swept the pathways and waited for my exit to lock the gate.

But I wasn't quite ready to leave yet. I wasn't ready to accept the close of the day or the end of yet another adventure, so I sat in the parking lot as the low angle of the sun briefly made it brighter and more golden than it had been before.

And in that golden hour, I saw the beauty of the changing seasons and the passage of time. I understood how sometimes things in life are most golden right before the end.

And when I finally left, I felt older than I had when I arrived.

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October 28, 2015

Trinkets and Treats at a Victorian House Museum

OK so I really thought I was just going to see one of LA's creepy Victorian houses—one of the ones that haven't yet been relocated to our own orphan home of homes, Heritage Square. I don't even remember how I originally heard about it, but for months, I've had its Halloween haunted house tour on my calendar.

Google Maps Street View

It's a nice Queen Anne Victorian from 1898, a Historic-Cultural Monument declared by the City of Los Angeles in 1987.

It's on an otherwise unremarkable residential block of Bonnie Brae Street near MacArthur Park...

...though one suspects that there were probably more Victorian houses like this in this area some time ago (including nearby Beaudry Avenue).

This Victorian house was built as a single family home, but in the early 1900s, it was also used as a multi-unit boarding house and later as a doctor's office and a maternity hospital.

At a passing glance at the outside, you'd never suspect what oddities can be found inside.

But when you walk through the front door, it becomes very clear that this is no ordinary house museum. In fact, it wasn't even bought to be lived in, but rather to house an ever-growing collection of antiques and vintage holiday decor.

Yes, there are the lace curtains and the etched glass lamps, the gas-electric chandeliers, the organ and the tapestries... well as a severed head... portraits, and a grandfather clock.

Shelves are chock-full of curios... art and other period-appropriate decor nearly cover the pink walls completely.

A visit to the Grier-Musser Museum is really more about the knick-knacks—and seasonally rotating decorations—than about the house itself...

...though it's quite intriguing because the house owner Susan Tejada has actually moved into the house with her husband and son.

Susan is the granddaughter of Anna Grier-Musser, after whom she named the museum when she founded it with her mother (now deceased) and sister (who's no longer involved), both with their own proclivities for collecting.

It's amazing that there's any room for people in the house.

Porcelain dolls and doilies seem to dominate the space.

Even the sinks are occupied by Halloween decorations, both new and old.

Even the shower is a little overcrowded.

Where do the decorations go when Halloween is over? The displays change with the seasons, so there's a rotation of trinkets and tchotchkes and objects d'art that move in and out of storage on a month-to-month basis.

After 30 years of running the museum, Susan has collected a treasure trove that distracts you a bit from the Victorian home's original wood floors, pocket doors, hardware, and moulding. But there are other places you can examine those architectural features. There's no other place that you can see such a menagerie of glass, porcelain, china, papier-mâché, and plastic tucked into every possible corner for display.

"Are you a collector?" Susan asked me as I sipped the red punch she'd ladled into a cup for me.

Boy, I could be, if I let myself.

Because Susan and her family live in the Grier-Musser Museum, call a few days in advance so they can prepare for visitors. If you go once a month for an entire year, you might get the chance to see everything. Then again, who knows how much more stuff will have been collected, once a year has passed?

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