I recently took part in what must be my 5th or 6th Chicago Ghost Conference, hosted by the fantastic Ursula Bielski. Our Saturday night party (which was a ridiculous bash that featured not only some awesome costumes, but also an enthusiastic conga line) was held in the Great Escape, an historic restaurant that I featured in a profile video and intervew way back in 2010. I’m not sure how many conference-goers were even aware that the party was at a haunted venue. Here is that video:
One of my personal favorite videos I’ve ever put out involved how to take a haunted road trip from LA to Vegas. This year, I set my sights a little bigger and covered a lot more distance, this time taking a trip from Tucson, AZ to Madison, WI, with Wendy Lynn Staats, drummer and violin player for the rock band, Sunspot. They’re a group that features a lot of songs with paranormal or geek culture themes. If interested, check out some drone footage I shot of the band here:
Tucson, AZ itself has some great haunted sites, but perhaps, as a Chicagoan, none stand out more than the place that lead to the (temporary) downfall of John Dillinger’s crew. The Congress Hotel had to serve as a temporary landing spot for the gang of outlaws as the house they rented was not yet ready for them.
One early morning, fire broke out and the gang, like everyone else, was forced to stand on the street to watch fire envelop the hotel. Knowing they had some precious cargo inside, a firefighter was convinced to go retrieve their luggage. In appreciation, the firefighter was given a significant tip. The following day, the firefighter in question happened to see a photo in True Detective Magazine of the generous tippers. Within two days the entire crew was arrested, setting the stage for one of the most famous and clever prison breaks in history, that being the escape in the warden’s car in Crowne Point, IN that is described in detail in “Voices from the Chicago Grave.” (further reading on John Dillinger’s time in Tucson here)
The Hotel Congress boasts many old time amenities and a whole slew of ghosts who continue to make their presence known. There’s a maid in one of the halls, a cowboy in the basement, a war vet barfly who continues to tell stories to anyone within earshot and the second floor offers a variety of haunted rooms including the positive (room 220, long time resident still hanging around) and the very negative (suicide deaths leading to hauntings in rooms 214 & 242).
No time to stop for the night this time around, so we headed due north toward the tiny, remote town of Snowflake, Arizona. Snowflake is famous for one thing and one thing only – this is the site of the most famous UFO abduction case in history. It was here at the in 1975 that Travis Walton and six fellow loggers encountered a UFO. Walton ventured from their truck and ended up getting abducted. He was gone for five days. The story may be familiar as it’s the basis for the feature film “Fire in the Sky” (trailer below).
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where Walton was working, is enormous. We drove in total darkness for a disorientingly long amount of time. I had designs on finding the exact location where the UFO encounter happened to try to take some readings, as I’ve heard that there’s still a radioactive signature here. However, I did not plan for the forest being nearly 3 million acres. The next best option, which is really a goldmine when getting to the bottom of local lore, was finding a local bar to talk to the regulars. We passed one or two small dives that appeared to be closed for the night before finally locating a restaurant/bar that was open.
Sadly, this venue didn’t quite have the local flavor I was hoping for as it appeared to cater to time share ‘owners.’ Still, the place had to be staffed by locals who knew all about the tales, right? I mean, after the most famous UFO story since Roswell, have there been other sightings? Do other UFOlogists swing through often to see the place for themselves? What about Bigfoot sightings? There tends to be a correlation between places with a lot of sasquatch sightings and UFO activity. With so much woodlands, I can imagine all sorts of cryptid sightings!
“So, do you know about the UFO history of this area?” I asked our bartender.
“You mean, like Area 51?” She responded.
“Um, no,” the smile leaving my face. “Just down the road from here was the most famous UFO abduction case in the world. There was a big Hollywood film made about it.”
“Oh,” she said before turning around to dry glasses.
“Oh?” Just “oh?” I will never understand how there wasn’t a string of follow-up questions to my statement. I guess I’m a researcher and others are not. ….but still! A Hollywood movie was made based on events in your town and you have zero interest? A UFO plucked a dude off of your sleepy street and you’re not interested?
Clearly, we were barking up the wrong tree and we had a lot of miles left to drive. Our camp for the night was just over the border in the beautiful town of Gallup, New Mexico.
Gallup’s picturesque landscapes made the town a natural fit for countless movies over the years, particularly westerns. However, it’s here that one of my favorite movies of all time, Kirk Douglas’s “Ace in the Hole” was filmed.
All of those crew members and movie stars had to sleep somewhere while in town and where better than a hotel opened by Roy Griffith, the brother of the legendary director DW (“Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance”)? Today, the El Rancho Hotel is considered one of the most haunted locations along Route 66.
The two-floor lobby with the wrap-around balcony proudly displays vintage, signed black and white photos of the stars of yester-year who once stayed there. Some rooms even display names on them, presumably honoring past residents. It’s in this upper lobby where people have heard phantom conversations, singular voices, footsteps and laughter.
Among individual rooms, the bridal suite claims the most activity, but neighboring rooms also report objects moving on their own, doors opening by unseen hands and the unwelcome wake up call of the curtains flying open on their own at the crack of dawn. Apparently a long gone crew member doesn’t want to miss their call time.
A glance around different travel or review sites also recounts tales of unexplainable phenomena in the John Wayne room and the Susan Hayward room.
By lunchtime we had made it to another location that is intimately associated with a Hollywood production…..and meth. Yep, Albuquerque! Perhaps no law enforcement agency takes stopping the spread of meth more seriously than the town where the movie “Breaking Bad” is set. For the 18+ crowd, ya gotta check out the Candy Lady, a candy store that sells X-rated sweets. No haunting here, but this is one of the ‘weird’ trip highlights.
We, however, had our sights set on margaritas and the High Noon Restaurant and Saloon and they delivered! The building itself has to be one of the oldest still existing structures in the United States as it was first built in the 1750s. The building has long reported the presence of a woman in white in the Santos room (pictured to the right, note the saint statues in the alcoves), but the current owners have been feeling more and more unsettled. Something isn’t right here. That’s what led them to reach out for help in the form of Travel Channel’s “The Dead Files.” (read more on that here). Clever marketing ploy or legit paranormal drama, we had a lunch that more than hit the spot.
Bellies full of great food, we took a little walk before jumping back on the road. In the process, we got a look at the Covered Wagon, a store that contains a ridiculous amount of Chile Ristras (bunches of hanging chili peppers, picture below) and the legend of a ghost named Scarlett, a prostitute who was murdered on the site when the building was a brothel. She was allegedly stabbed by a fellow ‘working girl’ and died of blood loss before help could arrive. Due to the clandestine nature of the building, there are no official records to confirm or deny that this crime took place. Whatever the origin, the building and the immediate surrounding area seems to be visited by a female presence, who is not always clothed. You heard me.
In the same square is the La Placita Dining Rooms (picture below). The business itself has been in operation since 1935 while the building itself went up sometime prior to 1880 (some sites claim 1706 as the building date). We talked with one member of the wait staff who confirmed that he had coworkers with paranormal stories but he himself had yet to experience anything of note.
According to various web sites, there are four known ghosts here, but only two or three are ever identified. One is the ghost of a little girl who appears as a reflection in the women’s room mirrors while the other is a visage of a woman in full bridal gown seen descending the stairs. The most unique and perhaps common visual anomaly is a fog or a mist that appears hovering over tables and lingers for a time before again vanishing. Is this another specter attempting to form? Perhaps time will tell.
Tune in next month for the next installment of the weird and haunted road trip, which will include infamous and ya-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it sites in Texas and Kansas!
I run down what I’ve got coming up, notably moderating a panel at Midsummer Scream (midsummerscream.org) about the CLASSIC nickelodeon horror anthology show “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” with friend and show creator DJ MacHale. Also, I’ll be taking in the largest music festival in the world, Summerfest, with the “paranormal rock” band Sunspot (sunspotuniverse.com). Recently, I’ve been to a ton of haunted sites coast-to-coast including The Nat in Amarillo, TX and Stull Cemetery in Kansas. Subscribe to this YouTube channel and my newsletter at WhatsYourGhostStory.com to stay in the “know!”
You’ve gotta love a mountain hike that leads to a mostly hidden cemetery! Glendale, CA’s “first family,” the Brands, started a pet cemetery that they themselves began laying themselves to rest in. The nearby family home, library and this cemetery all claim some level of paranormal activity. There are reports of occult activity at the cemetery, though that’s always a red flag for urban legends to me.
Oddly enough, the modern history of this area dates back to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where Missouri realtor Leslie Brand and his wife visited and were immediately taken by the East India Pavilion.
Just a year later he purchased the small community of Glendale (click on the map image to the right to open the GoogleMap of the location) with hopes of further developing the community and also crafting his perfect, East India-inspired family home. The home, situated at the base of the Verdugo Mountains was named “The Lookout” in Indian, or Miradero. Interestingly, the land he purchased is still outlined and named “Miradero” on GoogleMaps.
The East Indian style home, nicknamed “The Castle,” built in 1904 quickly became the social hot spot of Glendale. When Leslie died in 1925, he donated much of the Miradero land to the city of Glendale, specifically to be used as a library and park. This library was finally opened some 31 years later and continues to operate to this day. The park, with baseball diamonds, is in heavy use.
Sadly, like all too many possibly haunted cemeteries, this one has a history of desecration. Single graves were unearthed on separate occasions with bones of the deceased being scattered about the grounds and skulls stolen. One of the skulls belonged to Miradero architect Nathaniel Dryden.
Parking in one of the main parking lots, walking up the paved Brand Park Drive, keeping Miradero on your right, gaining altitude as you reach the Verdugo Mountain range, you’ll eventually reach a T intersection. In front of you, you’ll find decaying stars to nowhere (pictured left). It’s eerily similar to the present date site of Altadena’s Cobb Estate.
Bear left at the t-intersection and you will soon find the fenced-off Brand Family cemetery, which contains several conventional graves as well as the remarkable pyramid-shaped grave of Leslie Brand.
The trails into the mountains behind the estate still boast scores of ruins from a bygone time. The photo below shows Brand Cemetery as seen from a nearby mountain ridge (note the pyramid in the lower right corner), along with
Below is another stairway to nowhere, deeper within the mountains. While there seems to be a large amount of infrastructure, including old, decaying roads, power line supports and building foundations, researching historical topographical maps to not show any buildings whatsoever. Perhaps these buildings were not built with any official permitting as Brand kept these grounds private, even hidden from civic meddling, as he was a powerful force in Glendale. Unfortunately, this makes dating and identifying buildings in this area quite difficult. Event the cemetery, which has to have started in the early 1920s or earlier doesn’t appear on these maps until 1967.
The most concrete paranormal activity takes place in the library itself where Leslie Brand understandably continues to spend time in his dream home. If that’s a conscious haunting or that of the residual variety remains to be seem as encounters seem to be too fleeting to gleam much information from.
Due to the terrible grave desecration that happened at the family cemetery, one would understand the place being under close surveillance as much as you would understand if there is some amount of unrest here. I do believe that paranormal investigation at this site is important as much as I feel that it’s important to do this investigation the “right way.” Respect the land, the rules and honor the family that helped build Glendale.
For continued, much more in-depth reading into the history of this site & the brand family themselves, check out a great KCET article here.
Glendora’s Bennett House, built in 1905, was purchased by the Daughters of the American Revolution and they found out quickly (during their very first monthly tea party meeting) that they weren’t alone in the home. The visage of a phantom man crashed the party before vanishing. Occupants also talked about hearing sounds of objects moving, but not seeing anything out of the ordinary happening; this seems to be a common residual-type haunting.
It’s unclear if much activity has taken place in the house since that first encounter with the vanishing man in 1982. It’s not uncommon for paranormal activity to spike when a building undergoes a change (renovations, new inhabitants, etc.). Maybe once the new owners settled in, the spirits settled back down as well.
This is not the only haunted residence in Glendora as John Zaffis, founder of the Paranormal and Demonology Research Society of New England (not to mention that he’s the nephew of famed demonologists Ed & Lorraine Warren) investigated another affected home in Glendora on his show, Haunted Collector. Read more about that story at Glendora Patch.
Do you know of other haunted sites in Glendora? Have you experienced anything yourself at the Bennett House? Were you there at that famed 1982 tea party? As always we wanna hear about it?
At the end of January I was honored to be invited to take part in Chicago Haunting’s 6th annual Dead of Winter event. The weekend-long paranormal & psychic conference was held in the northern rural town of Harvard, Illinois, a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin border and from the iconic Woodstock square, home of the haunted Woodstock Opera House (featured in the book “Voices from the Chicago Grave” and pictured at right) and the backdrop for the classic comedy “Groundhog Day.”
The festivities kicked off with an evening tour of some of the more historic and haunted sites around northern Illinois, which I was invited to co-host along with author Ursula Bielski and archeologist Dan Melone.
(Pictures, clockwise from top, left: Scott Markus speaking at the Dead of Winter Event, Dan Melone & Ursula Bielski speaking during the tour, Melone and Allison Jornlin of Milwaukee Ghosts attempting a psychic experiment, Markus with Wendy Lynn Staats of the “See You on the Other Side” podcast).
Highlights from the tour have to include going to the Mineola Resort and the Stickney House (which we covered in our first newsletter, viewable here). It’s always fun to take people to haunted place to be able to tell the history and legends of a place while on site. It’s even more important to take people to places like this when they are endangered.
There is perhaps no historic location in the US more endangered than the Minneola. The building, constructed in 1884 is the largest surviving wood frame structure in Illinois. While the site is constantly associated with Al Capone as he visited the site on numerous occasions in the ‘20s, it was already an uproarious location decades earlier, around the turn of the century.
As Chicago was trying to clean up the vice-riddled levee district, Fox Lake became the lawless frontier. Nearly all of the resorts were stocked with slot machines and you just know there was little to no enforcement of prohibition laws. In fact, the last of the slot machines didn’t leave the building until a raid in 1952. According to a Chicago Tribune article (cited here), the Mineola was the “most vicious resort” in this burg of depravity. One can only imagine the stories and characters surrounding the long past of this site.
Can you imagine the residual energy left behind from a place like this? What phantom sounds and echoes through time are continuing to clutter up the massive structure?
1930 saw the Fox Lake massacre unfold at Manning’s Hotel, likely a retaliatory attack after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre that resulted in five mobsters shot and three dead. Interestingly enough both Al Capone and his rival, Bugs Moran, had homes on Bluff Lake, a mere seven miles from the Mineola.
There are legends of a ghost boy seen at the Mineola, reported by staff. However, possible activity throughout the building has been largely unobserved. Over the years more and more of the building became off limits as demand waned. The 100 hotel rooms have been closed off to the public since 1963. After 50 years of neglect, the elements took their toll. The domed ballroom collapsed in the ‘80s. By 2012 the restaurant/bar and banquet hall was the only corner of the building still in operation when the building was abruptly condemned.
(Images like the one above are pulled from a drone shoot I conducted in 2015. I will be posting the full video shortly.)
A 2013 survey of the building showed the the core structure was still strong and therefore salvageable. However, each passing storm inches this structure closer to obscurity. There is an organization in place that’s trying to save the site, which is on the National Register of Historic places. To lend your support and offer to get involved, check out their Facebook here.
As is the case with most visits to the site, we were quickly approached by police officers. While we weren’t trespassing (we were walking around the building, staying on the road, as opposed to walking on the porch or attempting to enter the building), we were told to kindly be on our way and there was no further incident. Be advised, if you are to visit this site, do so respectfully and get ready to have someone checking in on you in short order. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to hide. If you are thinking of breaking in, you will be stopped.
The building itself if condemned after all, meaning it’s unsafe to enter. Of course, damage to the building itself is also a real concern as we all hold out hope that this structure will live long enough for there to be a chance for a comeback with a new, well-funded owner.
Additional recommended reading, including a couple pictures of the interior can be found here at the NW Herald Website.
Hello! I’ve been traveling a lot and am in the process of getting some videos ready to share with you. First though, I need your help. I’m calling on you, ghost story fans to help me find the perfect location to do an extensive investigation on with a small group of people. Some of them are people you’ve seen in my videos before, some are brand new additions.
We’ll be filming in the Los Angeles area, but if LA and Hollywood are one thing, they are crowded! If they’re something else, they’re loud! So, I’m looking to find a location outside of the heart of LA. A place we could get permission to have the run of the place. It would be a single night overnight investigation. I’m looking for a place that is actively and heavily haunted. It doesn’t have to be a place where people see full apparitions or a place where people get physically confronted, though those would be okay for me too…. Sorry team, but just a place where the activity seems to be interesting and ongoing. If you have a personal experience there, we might be able to get you even more involved with the project, if you’d like.
Here’s a rough map showing where I’m looking. The red locations are potentially good target areas where the blue area is likely locations I’d avoid. So, I’m looking at a pretty big area. From Hidden Hills to Rancho Cucamonga, from the massive Angeles National Forest to further south than this map shows, really.
It can be a private residence, a public place or a company. We just need permission to conduct this one-night investigation. We’re not trying to do anything sneaky here.
If you know of a place within a more populated (blue) area, but you think the building is quiet and isolated enough that we could do an investigation without sound contamination, I’d be all for it. I even have a wish list for places In these areas:
- The Hollymont house just north of Hollywood Blvd
- Themla Todd’s Café and the house she died in, Castillo del Mar
- The Warner Pacific Theatre, one of my favorite buildings in LA, one I’ve never set foot in because it’s been restricted since the earthquake in ’89. I’d love to get in there and try to make contact with one of the original Warner Brothers.
So, if you have leads on any interesting haunted location in any of the cities listed, please drop me a line with any info you may have, the history, alleged hauntings, if you know who I should contact and, maybe most importantly – if YOU have a personal experience there!