Haunted California: British Ghosts, Murders and Mysteries

Haunted California: British Ghosts, Murders and Mysteries

James Bartlett

As any new Brit in the USA will notice... Halloween is a much bigger deal here. It’s a great excuse to dress up, eat candy to excess and have a few too many beers without judgment, but it’s also a non-denominational event.

Courtesy of Savvycities.com
It’s often linked with the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos or “Day of The Dead,” which occurs on November 1 and 2 and is an official holiday where people come together to pray and remember family members who have passed on, but for the 500,000 people who will be swarming the largest Halloween event in the world in West Hollywood, California, that probably won’t matter, so we decided to list a few famous California ghosts, murders and mysteries – all of them with a British connection.  


Firstly, there’s no more famous sign of Hollywood than the Hollywood sign itself. Built by London-born sign-makerThomas Fisk Goff and originally saying “Hollywoodland,” it was meant to lure buyers to the area and was unveiled in 1923.

Now of course it means something very different, and for Port Talbot-born Peg Entwistleit was the place the struggling actress decided to take her final bow. On September 18, 1932, after leaving a suicide note with her shoes, purse and jacket, she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped to her death.

Contemporary reports say that her blond-haired ghost can be seen and heard there, though she did become famous posthumously, and recently it was announced that they’re making a film of her life. 


IHollywood proper you’ll find Musso & Frankwww.mussoandfrank.com, a classic Old School eaterie that’s closing in on 100 years on Hollywood Boulevard, and has barely changed in that time. Inside it feels like you’ve stepped into a film noir, and with its reputation for being fiercely private, everystar of movies, TV, radio, theatre and literature has eaten here – and many still do.

“Little Tramp” Charlie Chaplin had his favorite booth (number 1 in the Old Room; the only one with a window view), and people say that he’s still at his culinary post. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether this “orb” picture – a kind of “man in the moon” idea – does indeed show an angry face looking down at the people in his booth.

There’s a more recent ghost sighting though, as current co-owner Jordon Jones relates in the book Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles www.gourmetghosts.comIgnacio Soriano is one of my grill counter men, and he works late,” he explains. “One time he came to me and said he had seen “La mujer sin cabeza” – (an apparition or ghost) of a woman without a head.


Moving down to Sunset Boulevard and you’ll find The Cat & Fiddle pub www.thecatandfiddle.com, a noted Brit hangout – especially for musicians. It was opened by “British Invasion” musician Kim Gardener and his wife Paula in Laurel Canyon in 1982 and came here just two years later, and though Kim died in 2001, it’s still a family business.
Photo by: James Bartlett

A heaven for UK soccer, darts, Scotch eggs, Cornish pasties and impromptu gigs on their gorgeous patio, “legendary” security guard Michael Savage can tell stories he’s heard of ganglandmurders from the 1930s and 1940sbut for him “The Smoking Man” he first saw by the arched front gate in 2006 could only be one person.

“He was smoking a cigarette – I saw the orange glow – and had his arms folded,” recalled Savage. “And then suddenly he was gone. But he was right at the very place where Kim would go for a cigarette.


If you’ve had enough of candy corn (ugh!) and Tootsies (yum!), maybe a visit to Griffith Park is just the ticket. Home to the L.A. Zoo, riding schools, train rides, hiking trails and a carousel, a quick search online also reveals that it’s the location for murders, accidents and even animal attacks. There are ghosts here it seems – and even the park’s namesake was shrouded in tragic mystery. 

Griffith J. Griffith was born in Bettws, Glamorganshire, in 1850and immigrated to the US as a teenager, quickly building up a fortune in mining. In 1896 he donated 4000 acres of Rancho Los Feliz to the city, who renamed the park in his honor, but then in 1903 he shot and disfigured his wife and was sent to San Quentin prison for two years.

Donations of more land did nothing to save his reputation, and even his dreams for the Greek Theatre www.greektheatrela.com and the Griffith Observatory www.griffithobs.org/ only came to life after he had died.

To really get away from it all you can go down to Long Beach,where there’s a grand old Scottish lady who attracts millions of visitors. Built in Clydebank, Scotland, the luxurious RMS Queen Mary sailed the North Atlantic Ocean from 1936 onwards, and later did WWII service before retiring in 1967 and ultimatelydocking at Long Beach.

Ignoring the mazes and monsters of their notorious Dark Harbor attraction  you can step on board and be washed into a whirl of history as you stroll the decks. Sadly there’s no escape from the ghost stories behind her 2,000 portholes though; there are year-round supernatural and ghost tours here , and during WWII she was even temporarily named The Grey Ghost.

There are many, many more stories afloat here – from rumors of how many people died during her construction to the truth of a horrific wartime tragedy – but one captured on film and revealed for the first time in Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles deals with the idea of a supernatural vortex that’s supposed to be on board.
Located at a doorway where a tragic accident occurred, it’s for you to decide what this is and what it might mean, but either way, come October 31st in California (and across the country), you’re going to have to be ready to hear tales that will make you tingle. Happy Halloween!

--- Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles is available on Amazon and iTunes and across L.A. Author James T. Bartlett also writes forBBCAmerica.com signing books at the LA County Store in Silver Lake on October 26 and Burbank Airport October 30. For more information go to www.gourmetghosts.com 


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