Friday, October 28, 2011

Ghost Hunting 101: Treading First Haunts in Local Areas

 "The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts."
Italo Calvino

There are few adventures for a writer as satisfying as exploring the environment where their novel takes place. In some cases, as in writing a novel that includes the paranormal and local ghost stories, the writer’s adventure can be a lovely undertaking full of both mystery and suspense. In the spirit of investigating local haunts, I chose to go on a reconnaissance mission of my own and visit some of the most famed ghosty places of Ventura California in person. The places I visited were: Scary Dairy; Cemetery Park, The Pierpont Inn and The Landmark 78/Candlelight Restaurant.

Before this excursion, I'd never considered going ghost hunting. It was my "Readings in the Genre" novels, and stories of the paranormal that made me wonder what kind of ghosts haunted my own back yard. I decided to go on a quest to find out.

Scary Dairy

        Scary Dairy is located near University Drive in Camarillo, California, near the California State University of Channel Islands.  It’s in an odd hilly region just a few miles from the ocean and close to Point Mugu Navy Base, and it's surrounded by some agricultural fields on one side. There are no main buildings in sight, and the area is devoid of anything that appears urban.
            Scary Dairy is located near what was once the Camarillo State Hospital, a mental institution and it was supposedly a dairy farm and/or a slaughter house. After the place burned down a few years ago, it was renamed “Scary Dairy” by the locals. It’s rumored that a number of murders occurred on the grounds, but now it seems to be more like a place for University plebes and graffiti artists to hang out.
            I traveled there Saturday morning (September 17th) with my daughter. It was my second attempt to find the place. Luckily, on our first pass near the main University road, there was a gate that was open which I hadn’t noticed before.  We turned down the dirt road, and passed a group of people flying model planes and helicopters at the Model Airplane Landing Strip, then rounded a bend of trees, and there stood a dilapidated barn and a low white structure just beyond that.
            It probably didn’t help that we visited during daylight hours, although the sky was gray and overcast, but the place didn’t seem very scary. It had more of an artistic feel to it.  The falling, rotting barn was missing several metal panels, but on almost every bit of wood and aluminum sheeting still attached to the frame, there were a number of interesting pieces of graffiti artwork.
            When we traveled into the main building, large holes in the walls and burnt wooden beams above made the place just a bit eerie. There were concrete troughs, such as those that might have been used for feeding cattle. I imagine if I’d been out there alone at night I might have found the experience quite unsettling, but my daughter and I took pictures and talked with a photographer that was there taking shots of the building. It was obvious from some of the artwork that local fraternities and sororities used this place occasionally, but as I looked out on the strangely vacant hills that surrounded the structure I could only imagine what types of nefarious activities might have once occurred here. I've added some pics below for you to get a feel of the place.

Cemetery Park
      On October 1st (Saturday), I decided to go on a longer haunting exploration, and hit three regularly haunted places during the weekend. When I made the hotel reservation, my husband said the local adventure sounded like fun, and so he accompanied me on my tour.
      We stopped at Cemetery Memorial Park on the way, a place I'd only heard of a few months ago. I'd heard, and read that the City of Ventura converted this cemetery into a local park, and that they left the bodies remaining interred in the ground. I couldn't believe such a story at first. Who in their right mind would turn a cemetery into a recreation area? But as you take time to read the sign below, you'll understand that's just what the city did.

      I'd read in a couple of posts that this park was haunted regularly by a teenage boy who hung himself from a tree. I wondered if perhaps cemeteries themselves are not filled with ghostly spirits, but perhaps only places where troubled spirits meet their end are haunted. The idea gave me pause and dispelled some assumptions.

Leopold Gisler (no disrespect intended) has the name of an awesome potential character to be used
in a novel. I do hope Leopold won't mind the use of his name. He died young, and perhaps I can
lengthen his life a little.

James Sumner was the recipient of the Medal of Honor, for participation as a U.S. Calvary Memberin the Indian Wars. Something in me found it eerie to see the upside-down five pointed star inside the
shape of the Pentagon we all know very well in Washington D.C..


Here is a name of a deceased child (I assume, because there is no date but one), and perhaps the best name I came across in all of the Park headstones. I have decided "Tennessee Hobson" will one day be a character in a book I write. That way, he'll live forever.


Pierpont Inn
      When my husband and I arrived at the Pierpont Inn, we were amazed at how many weddings and local functions this little place hosts.  When we stepped into the common area, we were told there was one wedding reception and a retirement party in progress.  The hotel has a fairly large lobby, a couple of gas fireplaces, and a nice little grassy area adequate for weddings, retirement parties and the like.


Our room was number 403.  And for some reason, it was the only room that night that would not get Internet Access.  We checked into the room and headed out to the restaurant (Landmark 78...see below) for dinner.  In the process I took several pictures, but when I went back to check my camera, some of the photos I thought I had taken were no longer on the camera.  After we returned from dinner, we went to bed.  I woke up at 1AM, and couldn't get back to sleep.  I went out to the grassy area near the main building, found a seat with my computer listened to an audio book.  2AM.  3AM. 4AM.  Nothing. Only the slight movement of the wind caressed the nearby palm trees.  4:35AM.  I got a little excited.  I saw a shadowy movement float across the sidewalk and then out scuttled the larges possum I'd ever seen.  It moved almost silently, skulking alongside the building in search of leftover retirement party treats.  I was a little disappointed, but I'd had a lovely morning ghost hunting and looking for signs and symptoms of the paranormal.  It still doesn't explain what happened to the pictures on my camera.
The Landmark 78/ Candlelight Restaurant
     The Landmark 78, once known as the old Victorian Carlo Hain house, is considered Ventura California’s number one haunted restaurant. Situated in the heart of the city of Ventura, on Santa Clara Avenue, it serves as a popular steak house, as well as a late night party area for local youth.  
     In addition to it's current uses, it is also known as the ghostly abode of a woman named “Rosa” who reportedly committed suicide by hanging herself in the room that is now the women’s restroom.  If Rosa saw the color that the bathroom was now, it's no wonder she haunts the place probably hoping for the assistance of a good interior designer.  I learned from one of the waitresses that sightings of Rose first began in 1969, and she is often seen standing on the stairs next to the old fireplace wearing either a pink or green-blue dress.
       At first brush, my husband Jim and I had trouble finding the restaurant. It is parked behind a tall thick hedge of bushes that block out the view of the building. The two story building is constructed rather oddly, with a garish number of angles both outside and inside the house that lend to its creepy feeling when walking near it or in various rooms.  
      We were escorted to a table near a gas fire and I chose the spot where I could observe the staircase.  Before my meal, I toured the bathroom, and took several pictures.  Unfortunately Rosa never did appear.  But I did have an odd feeling of being watched.  It may have just been the waitress looking at me, hoping she'd get a big tip.  In the entire building we were one of two couples having dinner that night.  A Saturday night.  Incredible.
     Dinner came, and it was delicious, and I found myself wondering why such a nice place remained empty for the most part.  The owner only opened the restaurant Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.  And late evenings were for youth parties and dancing on the weekends.  The rest of the time, the building remained closed.
    Jim and I finished our meal, and did a later night tour of the building which had two very weird staircases going up one side of the building and down the other, like one was used by servants and the other used by visitors and the owners.  The back patio area was transformed into a spectacle of candlight which would drive any Fire Marshall to a high pitched frenzy, but which (I must admit) was extremely enchanting.

     One place I still want to go is the Victorian Rose Inn.  It's a church that was converted into a Bed and Breakfast.  Stories say a woman once hung herself from the balcony area in the church. Other stories say she plummeted to her death from the balcony. The B&B stays relatively full most of the time, and it is difficult to get booking during weekends or holidays.  But I plan to go there soon for another adventure.
     In conclusion, I've found ghost hunting quite enjoyable, although I did it this time as an amateur choosing to only 'visit' places known to be haunted. If I had the opportunity, would I go back late at night with flashlights and dousing rods and other implements of tracking ghosts?  I might.  But I don't believe ghosts only haunt our world in the dark.  They are there day or night, roaming the borders between our world and theirs...hoping for some sense of peace, freedom and relief of their pain along the way.  As for me, I hope that they find what they're looking long as they're not looking for me.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"How can they talk about their death...

...if they don't know they are, indeed, dead?" ~Elaine (Grave's End, 2001)

Perhaps I have a special fondness for this book because the author belongs to the nursing profession, and as a fellow "Florence Nightingalian" I feel a deep sense of admiration for what she's written.  Never mind that her experience took from 1982 to 2001 to get written down and published. Regardless of the time it took, I still found it a fascinating read.  It was like watching "Paranormal Activity" on paper, only much deeper, completely richer.

Elaine's frank descriptions about finding the house that she hoped would bring her marriage together, and then going through the frustrations of realizing it was a failed hope... on top of living in house that became progressively more supernaturally active, was exquisitely compelling. This story is described as a true story, and I have no doubt that much of it is true from the point of view of the author.  I do have to wonder if there were parts that were embellished, or exaggerated in order to make the story more interesting to the reader, but what made it enticing was not only the haunting but the life toils and troubles that Elaine went through with her family during this time.

Most adults that struggle to be parents, and who have children in their early or late teens can empathize with what Elaine described in her novel. Add to this, Elaine's commitment toward independence in a career and profession after being dependent on her husband for so long, and the story pulls at the heart strings of the reader and coaxes the page traveler to keep turning the paper.  :)

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I'm not at a point in my life right now where I can be poetic or write deep meaningful prose about it. What I liked was the story's frankness. It's blunt honesty.  It was written just as if I'd picked up a diary of a scared woman living in a haunted house and started reading.  I was able to feel her thoughts, her worries, her concerns...even though they weren't ones I would have agreed with or chosen.  (I'd have let the professor in to study my family and do the interviews...what the hell?)  Still, reading on and learning about Elaine and her family and how they finally discovered the secret of the house and resolved how to live with it... was not only a good read, but was deeply satisfying. I would recommend this novel to anyone who would like a quick and honest read on something paranormal. It might reach beyond their expectations with little balls of light.


Friday, October 7, 2011

"And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world...

...without me in it." ~Susie  (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold)

I didn't want to like this novel. When I saw "The Lovely Bones" on the horror genre reading list, every nucleus in my body rebelled against it.  It was a novel I'd heard young girls gushing over in the college parks and on the Metro in DC when I was riding home from work. I filed it into my mental bin of gooey literary novels...the kind I despise reading because everyone else does...because it's the "in" thing to do.  Not because it's good, but because it's a talking point, one of the things the "in crowd" of society does.  It's the thing to talk about at parties, and other social functions.  And I hate social functions almost as much as I hate the "in crowd" and so I eschewed this novel, and was mapping my path of projectile vomit before having to read the mandated pages.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, because I can't decide which) what I received from this story was...unexpected.  I hate that Scott Johnson made me read this novel. I also hate that I enjoyed it so very immensely, and that it turned me into one of those gooey eyed girls in the park and/or on the Metro.  This novel was, in a sense, a ghost story...but it was so much more than that on many levels.  It's a novel that stands out like a sore thumb among the other novels we've read because it's so visceral, so real, so emotionally packed.

Alice Sebold reaches the reader through a young teenage girl Susie, who is raped and then murdered by a neighbor who lives nearby. We see Suzie's brief life flicker out, and then watch life unfold around her after her death... and she see's what happens in the world without her.  It was a unique perspective to read in, feeling like all the while I was sitting with Suzie listening to her thoughts/emotions, seeing what she was seeing.  What I enjoyed most about Sebold's writing was that it was fresh, unencumbered by unnecessary words. It was believable from the perspective of a young teenage girl because the narrative and the dialogue wasn't too complex and the intimacy of tender youth wasn't covered up by excessive verbosity.  :)

While this book may not rate among my favorite for this semester's readings ("The Shining" has got it so far...) I have to rate it as the most emotionally fulfilling and draining.  Something in the pages drew sorrow out from the pores of my body, made me cry at how unfair both life and death can be, and helped me realize how desperately simple and loving our humanity is...even in death.  For that, I'll both curse and give thanks to Scott Johnson for the experience, although I will still hide the novel from my bookshelf and try not to let my lower lip tremble when someone mentions it. 


Bones - 1 by ~mjranum-stock