Dungeons and Day Trips

San Juan Capistrano small

San Juan Capistrano. The mission the swallows come back to. Built by Father Junipero Serra three centuries ago. Real California history.

And I have a piece of it.

Well, maybe not a piece of the actual mission, but a piece of the stone the Great Stone Church was built from. Probably. Well, okay, it looks really similar. And it did come from the mission gift shop.

But let me start at the beginning with Elaine and her Groupon ticket. Because I’d dragged Elaine to a bunch of cemeteries, she thought it was her turn to drag me somewhere. Not that I actually had to be dragged to see the mission, but it did take us a while to get down there.

I was in the mood for some Mexican food and the guy in the information booth told us that the El Adobe was a good place. So we walked the few blocks down to the restaurant which the guide book (sheet of paper from the information booth) said had been made from two adjacent adobe buildings. Before becoming a restaurant, it had been a courthouse and a stage stop.

Cool.

El Adobe Patio

Since it was a nice day, we decided to eat outside on the patio. After a yummy meal, we headed inside to use the restrooms. While I was waiting for Elaine, I read a history of the building which they had hanging on the wall. All about how Richard Nixon used to eat there and how they’d found a dungeon when they were remodeling one of the dining rooms.

No way I was leaving without taking a look at that.

So when Elaine got out, I asked the hostess if we could see the dungeon. She smiled and led us through two dining rooms and into a small storage area before pointing down three brick steps. “It’s down there.”

At the foot of the steps was a door with steel bars. Apparently this had been the jail when the main building was the courthouse. In the center of the small room was a dark circular table with red napkins on it. Around the walls were bottles of wine. And behind the bottles were adobe walls with carvings in them, left by long ago prisoners.

Some of them are still supposed to be haunting the place.

Dungeon Room

Elaine has accused me of being more interested in the dungeon than the mission which is absolutely ridiculous.

Did I mention the dungeon is haunted?

Okay, the mission is haunted too so I guess it’s a tossup.

The mission grounds are beautiful, but there actually isn’t much left of San Juan Capistrano building-wise. A huge earthquake in 1812 took out most of the Great Stone Church, although what remains is pretty impressive. The earthquake did quite a number on the little town too so the townsfolk decided that instead of rebuilding the church, they would use the ruins to rebuild their own houses.

Can’t really blame them.

One of the buildings that may have been repaired with bits of the Great Stone Church is the El Adobe Restaurant. The one with the dungeon.

See how this all ties in?

Camino Bell

The bell on the walking stick is the sign of El Camino Real, the road (or more commonly a footpath) that ran between the missions.

Swallow Condos small

Swallow condos. No swallows around, though. Wrong time of the year for them. They come around on March 19th.

Great Stone Ruins

The remains of the Great Stone Church. Huge and haunted.

Tallow Vats

Tallow vats. Because who wouldn’t want to see tallow vats.

Serra Chapel Altar

Serra Chapel. The oldest building in California and the only place remaining where Father Serra is known to have celebrated Mass.

Lizard on a Hot Rock small

One of the local residents.

Doorway

Arches. I love arches.

Relic

Gray cross, blue sky.

Of course on the way out, we had to go to the gift shop and I noticed that some of the displays had a little piece of cream and rust sandstone holding the descriptive cards. Now these little pieces of sandstone were exactly the same color as the sandstone in the Great Stone Church and seeing as how pieces of it were “liberated” after the earthquake, it seemed logical to me that these rock markers might be actual chunks of the mission itself.

There happened to be one sitting on the counter when I went to buy my official souvenir refrigerator magnet so I asked the lady behind the counter if it was indeed a piece of the mission. She picked it up and studied it a moment. “I don’t know. These are made for us by the woman who does our crafts. I don’t know where she gets them.” She dropped it down beside the cash register. “It might be.”

When she picked it back up again, I saw that a nickel-sized chip had broken off. She saw that too and smiled. “Here.” She started to give it to me, then laughed and put the fragment in a little plastic jewelry bag. “Just in case.”

And THAT was just as cool as the dungeon.

Offending the Ghosts at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

 

So last weekend, I dragged my friend Elaine to the Save Pickfair Studios rally in West Hollywood. Because I have a thing for silent movies. I don’t know why, but I do. Maybe I’m fascinated by the lost worldness of them, the way they show a Los Angeles that no longer exists.

Or maybe I’m just strange.

Anyway, last weekend on the way to the rally, we passed Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I’d heard of it. I knew it was where Rudolph Valentino was buried. And maybe Marilyn Monroe too. But I figured Elaine would have had just about her fill of silent movies after hanging around the outside of Pickfair Studios for an hour or two. But she didn’t. In fact, going to the cemetery was her suggestion.

So we went.

We wandered around reading names for hours. Found Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks (Sr. and Jr.) and Toto too. No Marilyn though. Turns out she’s buried in Westwood. But it was all a matter of chance. If we stumbled across a name we recognized, we took a picture, but other than Mr. Valentino, we had no idea who we were really looking for.

So this weekend, we returned with a list of locations for people we’d missed the weekend before. It did not go well. Because cemeteries are not as well marked as you’d think. And the Hall of Memories is almost identical to the Abbey of Psalms which is almost identical to the Sanctuary of Trust. Instead of the peaceful reverent feeling I’d had the week before, it felt like I was participating in a morbid sort of scavenger hunt.

And I wasn’t winning.

Mildred Harris, Charlie Chaplin’s first wife, proved too elusive to find, although she was supposed to be right beside Seena Owen who we discovered even though we weren’t looking for her. So we trudged and trudged, looking for The Abbey of the Psalms Corridor G-1.

Instead we found Iron Eyes Cody. You may remember him as the Native American who cries at the sight of all the litter cluttering up America. Or you may not. Anyway, Elaine wanted to take a picture. The plaque on the wall vault says “Iron Eyes Cody/Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody.” Just as Elaine takes her photo, I laugh and say “Didn’t Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody have a name?”

And the big dome light above us goes out.

No, seriously. Just boop. Out. All the other lights in either direction are lit. The light above Elaine, Iron Eyes and I is out. Elaine and I look at each other, give a nervous laugh and say “Guess he didn’t like that.” Ha, ha, funny.

In a creepy cemetery sort of way.

So off we go to not find Marion Davies. We do find Charlie Chaplin’s mother Hannah and are able to track down Virginia Rappe not too much farther on.  As I’m taking my photo of Virginia Rappe’s grave, I am telling the story of her death in a joking sort of way. (For those who do not know, probably most of the planet, she may or may not have been raped by Fatty Arbuckle at a party in San Francisco. She died of internal injuries four days later. Fatty was tried three times for manslaughter, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. Most people think she actually died from an infection caused by a backstreet abortion performed the day before the party.) Elaine’s photo comes out crystal clear. My photo comes out…cloudy.

Elaine suggests that my lens is smudged. I wipe it off and take another picture. It also comes out very soft around the edges.

I turn to the left and take a photo of an egret wading in the lake. Clear. I take another photo of Virginia Rappe’s headstone. Not clear. I do the only thing I can think of. I apologize to her.

Virginia Rappe, not Elaine.

Because you shouldn’t really talk trash about someone while standing on their grave. It’s just a bad idea.

Apparently.

So we give up on finding Mel Blanc and head off for lunch at Canter’s Deli. And come out to find some poor guy being violently ill.

On the left rear tire of my car.

Which has no connection to anything involving the cemetery yet is darn odd and disconcerting anyway.

But everything is fine. Everyone gets home safely. Hours later, I’m bustling around the kitchen getting dinner ready. Well, really, reheating the previous night’s dinner for an encore appearance.  I’m in and out of the refrigerator about five times. The sixth time, a can of Barq’s root beer on the very top shelf leaps off the shelf and lands directly on my recently healed foot.

I was too astonished to even yell, although, yes, it did hurt quite a bit. But the sodas weren’t anywhere near the edge of the shelf. There was nothing to knock the soda off the shelf, barring an earthquake that I never felt.

My first thought was “Damn it, Virginia, I said I was sorry.” My second thought was “Oh, blog post.” But when I came in here to write it, my Wacom Tablet, which was working fine before dinner, was now unable to function. The computer told me it didn’t exist. After switching the tablet for a mouse, I was able to reboot and here I am writing.

Coincidences? Sure. I mean, anyone can have a day where a mausoleum light burns out over your head, your camera doesn’t want to take a certain picture, a guy vomits on your car, a soda can jumps out on your foot and your computer won’t work.

Who doesn’t?

But just in case, Virginia, Iron Eyes, and anyone else at Hollywood Forever Cemetery I may have accidentally offended, I promise never to do it again.

My Most Embarrassing Ghost Story

Because, yes, I have more than one, but they’re not all embarrassing.  Actually, it’s a bit ironic that I have any at all because I started out not believing in ghosts.  I always liked the IDEA of ghosts, that this or that tragic spirit was still lingering in some ruined old building, but real ghosts?  No way.

I think that pisses them off.

You see, I’ve discovered that I’m some kind of ghost magnet.  I’ve even had the leader of a ghost tour turn to me and ask “What did you just see?”  I’ve had a ghost child wrap its arms around my right thigh, at least, that’s what the tour guide told me it was.  I would have assumed it was just the blast from some air vent, but I was standing outside when it started.  A cold numbness all around the center of my right thigh.  Just one leg.  Just that spot.  Coldest in the back, but extending all the way around.  I was pondering this as we went into the Petit Theater proper.   Still felt it when we were inside.  Still felt it when I sat down.  That was when the tour guide mentioned the ghost children who will grab onto some people and won’t let go until the person was a block or so from the property.  And it was true.  I felt that weird coldness the whole time I was around the building, but when we started off down Chartres Street, it suddenly stopped.  I have no other explanation for it.  One thigh, cold all the way around, even when I was sitting in a theater chair.

Neat, huh?

Anyway, that’s not the embarrassing one.  Although the embarrassing one also happened in New Orleans.  The ghosts of New Orleans can hardly wait for me to come back to town apparently.  “Look, there she is.  Do something that couldn’t possibly happen in California.”  Well, okay, it probably could happen in California.

But I doubt it.

So I was in New Orleans, staying at an interesting place called the Hotel St. Pierre.   The interesting thing about it is that it was created by taking a bunch of old Creole houses and shoving them all together.  Literally.  There are no long straight hallways with rows of generic doors leading to cookie cutter rooms.  No, just finding your room is an adventure.  “Take two rights, go up the curving stairs.  If you accidentally find yourself in the courtyard, go through the gate onto the street, come back to the lobby and start over.”  I was terrified that there would be a fire and I was going to burn up because I had no idea how to get back out.

Night one of the trip had not gone so well.  I sprained my ankle in Pirate’s Alley (there’s a long gutter that runs down the center of the alley.  Don’t turn to talk to your friend without noting the location of that gutter in relation to your feet.) but I toughed it out and finished the ghost walk anyway.  We (myself and my friends Dana and Deanna) found our way back to our room and went to bed.  My bed was on the right, they were sharing a bed on the left.  We had a fireplace and a door that was halfway up the wall.  The bathroom was small and vaguely rectangular, obviously added later.  There were two smoke detectors, one above the door to the room, the other way up near the door to nowhere.  Maybe there’s a law about having the smoke detectors near doors.

Everyone crawled into their respective beds, me a bit gimpy, my friends slightly tipsy, and got ready to go to sleep.  That was when the smoke alarm went off.  The one above the real door.  Blat, blat, blat.  I was up in an instant, looking for my shoes.  My fears come true.  I was going to burn to death in a building designed by M.C. Escher.

Dana sat up and looked at me.  “Should I call the desk?”  The phone was on her side of the room.  Deanna mumbled something incoherent, turned over and went back to sleep.  Dana picks up the receiver, laughing at me struggling into my shoes as she’s dialing.  “Our smoke alarm is going off.  Should we be concerned?  Yes, it’s still on.  Can’t you hear it?”

And then it stopped.

“Oh, it’s off now.  Okay, we’ll call if it happens again.”  But before she can hang up the phone, blat, blat, blat.  So the guy says it’s probably a bad battery.  He’ll come up and disconnect it for us.

The guy shows up, but he can’t reach the smoke detector.  He grabs some antique-looking (no, seriously, this chair looked old and expensive!) chair from the hallway and climbs up on it.  He pulls the smoke detector off the wall and stares at it for a long moment.  We are all standing around below him in our pajamas, waiting expectantly.  “Well, it’s not the battery.  This thing is hardwired to the wall.”

The only thing creepier than a real fire is a fire alarm that goes off whenever you talk about fire alarms.

Or so I thought.

The next night, I did not go to Bourbon Street because my ankle had ballooned up in a nasty painful way so I stayed in the room watching Iron Chef while my friends went out on the town.  I got tired of TV and stretched out on my bed to read a Ray Bradbury book.

And it started to get cold.  Seriously cold.  Someone just opened the refrigerator door cold.

And I was all alone.

I wrapped up in a blanket and kept reading my book, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I decided the best thing to do was give up and go to bed.  So I changed into my pajamas and hobbled over to the not-quite-rectangular bathroom.  Then, a dilemma.  Should I close the bathroom door?  I’m all alone in the room, but Dana and Deanna could burst back through the front door at any moment.  I didn’t really want to be sitting there in all my glory when they arrived.  But locking the door seemed like overkill, even though the room had gotten a distinctly creepy vibe.  So I would just make sure the door was firmly latched.  That way if they did come home, I would have time to yell “Don’t come in the bathroom.”

And sure enough, the moment I sat down, I could hear heavy footsteps on the stairs coming up to our floor.  I was just congratulating myself on having the foresight to close the bathroom door when it flew open with so much force that it banged into the wall.

It was a good thing I was already sitting on the toilet.

I quickly got dressed, expecting Dana and Deanna to walk in right then.  Only they didn’t.  I peeked out the door into the hallway.  There was no one out there.

Anywhere.

Ummm…now what?

Go to bed, but leave all the lights on.

When Dana and Deanna got back, I told them my story and we immediately decided to try and debunk it.  (Looking back, I’m sure our neighbors were thrilled at us playing ghostbuster at 2 am.)  We tried everything to recreate the door slam.  We jumped on the stairs outside while someone was sitting on the toilet.  We sat down on the toilet extra hard.  We didn’t latch the door all the way and sat on the toilet really hard.  The door opened maybe an inch or two on that one, but it didn’t slam by any stretch of the imagination.

Dana and Deanna were jealous of my ghostly adventure.

I didn’t stay in that room alone for the rest of the trip.