The wonderfully haunted Formosa Cafe has long been a favorite stop on our tour, but now we are starting and ending our tours at this location. Parking is more convenient and cheaper for our guests than it was at our previous location. Plus, if people are looking for a place to hang out after the tour – mission accomplished!
By Scott Markus
The media has memorialized Harold Ramis a thousand times already today and he will get the same well-earned treatment for the next few days. As someone who has never met Mr. Ramis personally, I have little of substance to contribute. That said, he has long been an influence in my life. For one, watching and re-watching Ghostbusters as a kid was like a religion for me. I can’t say that I am a current paranormal investigator and writer BECAUSE of the film, but a mainstream, popular, timeless classic that treats ghosts and ghost stories in a fun, palatable way is truly a unique approach. As a kid, “Ghostbusters” was my first favorite movie. It doesn’t seem like too big a leap to think that Ramis had a little something to do with it.
To a larger degree, it was his writing that always captured my attention. His comedies (namely “Stripes,” “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day”) are among my all-time favorites. He “got” comedy and how to make an ensemble comedy work. His continued connection to Chicago was also a point of pride for this Chicago kid – New York can keep Woody Allen – we have Harold Ramis.
To keep this post somewhat thematically linked to the rest of our web site – let’s take a quick look at the haunted locations that Ramis is forever linked to thanks to his films:
The Woodstock Opera house (Woodstock, IL): This location is frequently seen in the Ramis written-and-directed film “Groundhog Day.” In fact, during one of Bill Murray’s more depressed episodes, he commits suicide by jumping from this small town landmark. Meanwhile, inside the theater is the ghost of a woman nicknamed “Elvira.” There are more rumors than truths to her story, but her are some claims that she jumped to her death from the same tower. To this day, people attending plays at this theater can hear Elvira’s disembodied sounds of approval dismissal depending on whether or not she is enjoying the performance.
The Biltmore (downtown Los Angeles): LA served as NY for some of the most iconic moments in the Ramis written-and-starring “Ghostbusters.” The scenes in the lobby where the ‘busters arrive to catch Slimer is the Biltmore. The staircases double for Dana Barrett’s building where they have to make the long, climb to the roof to fight Gozer at the end of the film. While they were there, the Ghostbusters may have had even more lucky if they checked out the first floor lounge. It is here that bartenders whisper about seeing a phantom couple on a date. When the servers go to take their order, the bashful ghosts vanish. This is also the last place Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) was seen alive. Though we don’t have any ghost stories with this fact, we do urge ghost hunters to attempt to reach her and possibly find a clue in this still unsolved homicide.
The Hancock Tower (downtown Chicago): Though Ramis never filmed here (Did he? Someone tell me if I’m wrong), this landmark was the inspiration for the film “Ghostbusters.” The land is considered cursed by it’s original, squatting “owner,” Cap Streeter. Since Cap was run off the land, another notable oddball called this area home – this land was the birth site of Anton LaVey, known as the creator of the Church of Satan. Later, the Hancock Tower was built here, coincidentally, in the shape of a portal for evil forces. True or another baseless tradition of a bygone spiritualist movement, the site has been the scene of repeated tragedy, physically unexplainable deaths and unusual biological phenomena.
by Connor Bright and Scott Markus
Join us one last time for our final installment of this series, we will visit more LA locations that were important in the life (and death) of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the ghost stories associated with these locations.
After a quick lunch break, the LA Hauntings crew jumped back in the truck and headed the short distance to Benjamin Siegel’s home. The Beverly Hills home was built as a swanky stronghold for the mobster to run his operation and host parties. Totally obscured by bushes, it is impossible to see much of the mansion for the street, just the way Siegel would have wanted it. The home is rumored to have a hidden armory, large liquor storage, and an escape tunnel from the master bedroom to the basement. When the police came to Siegel’s hideout to arrest him for the murder of Harry Greenberg, it was said that they found the mobster cowering in the attic. After Ben set his sights on Las Vegas and the Flamingo, he sold his fortress to help with the financing of the hotel casino, and moved in with his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.
I’ll admit disappointment at not being able to get a view of Siegel’s home, but that disappointment dissipated upon seeing Virginia Hill’s beautiful Tuscan-esque castle of a home! It was at this location on June 20, 1947 that Benjamin Siegel met his end. The bulletproof doors that he had installed at the house did not protect him from the shots fired through the window while he sat talking to his associate Allen Smiley. Although, officially, the murder of Siegel remains unsolved, it’s commonly agreed that Lucky Luciano ordered the hit out of anger with Ben over his handling of the construction on the Flamingo (he refused again and again to hand over expense reports detailing the work). Luciano’s orders were likely carried out by one of Jack Dragna’s men from the driveway next door.
The three bullets fired into the house and into the mobster left a lasting impression on the house. The blood cleaned up, the house sold and resold, but later owners still report feeling panicked in the living room. They occasionally see an apparition of a man attempting to run for cover, perhaps Benjamin Siegel remembering how he met his end and trying to avoid it.
Our final stop on our “half-tank tour,” with our gas light blinking, was the same final stop that Siegel had – Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel lies in the far back corner on the right hand side of the Beth Olman mausoleum. The epitaph on his grave simply reads, “From the Family.” Siegel is said to have told one of the contractors building the Flamingo, who was worried about working with the mob, “Don’t worry. We only kill our own.”
Standing by his crypt I wondered if Ben ever had any idea that his own (Mafia) family would kill him. (As one last parting fact the contractor that Siegel was talking to was Del, the head contractor of the now famous Del Webb developer).
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel lived and died larger than life. In truth, he was a perfect match with Virginia Hill, who was certainly no babe in the woods. Hill entered the mob life during 1933′s Chicago World’s Fair. The Alabama native quickly became a friendly acquaintance of many higher up members of the (then) Costello crime family, even being romantically linked to boss Joe Adonis. After Siegel’s death, Hill did comply and testify at the famous Kefauver hearings. In 1954 she would flee to Europe to escape income tax evasion charges, only to eventually take her own life with an overdose of sleeping pills in 1966 at the age of 49. The small town girl, initially emerging from Alabama, certainly life a life few could imagine and even in death, she is shrouded in mystery. Did she really extort millions from the NY Mafia? Most think so, but we are far from certain. And why did she take her own life? Many speculate that she continued to scam American and even Mexican crime rings from a distance. We, personally, would love to track down the site of Virginia’s demise (in Austria) and perhaps this will become another instance where a paranormal investigation and EVP session just may help solve an American mystery.
GHOULA and LA Hauntings Ghost Tours
The HAUNTED HOUDINI TOUR!
By Richard Carradine
Come join us on the eve of his 140th birthday as we travel across our city and explore the super-natural sites connected to the famous magician’s life (and after-life)…
Harry Houdini is generally thought of as the greatest showman that ever practiced the craft. Additionally, because of his knowledge of the art of illusion and his work exposing the tricks of fraudulent mediums during the age of Spiritualism, he has become the poster boy for generations of skeptics and debunkers of paranormal phenomena. However, despite dozens of books and biographies, the man’s personal views on the occult are still an enigma, with experts debating to what degree did he actually BELIEVE. Ironically, to this day, Houdini is the only historical figure whose ghost people across the country routinely try to contact, usually on Halloween (the date of his death).
Although Houdini did not spend much of his life in Los Angeles, the time he did spend under our palm trees were moments that defined his life, career, and possibly his views on the spirit realm. Indeed, not only did he leave his mark on this town, it may have also left its mark on him… Even all these decades after his death, the great escape artist just can’t seem to get away from LA.
Seating for this tour is limited. (12 guests per tour. 3 tours. 1 Day)
DATE: March 23, 2014
TIME: 10:30am, 1:30pm, or 4:30pm (tours run 1 1/2 to 2 hours each)
PRICE: $35.00 (plus a handling fee)
MEET-UP LOCATION: The Hollywood Heritage Museum (The Lasky-DeMille Barn)
2100 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068 (map)
NOTE: Your ticket also includes free entry into the museum, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. So please plan to spend an extra hour with their historical exhibits either before or after the tour.
Please use the links below to select the time and number of tickets for the tour!
The Everything Ghost Hunting Book: Tips, tools, and techniques for exploring the supernatural world
This book has been recommended to us may times as THE definitive recourse on paranormal, and we have also had people ask about The Everything Book on our tours. Recently it came up on Amazon as a suggestion and we decided to give it a try.
“The Everything Ghost Hunting Book” is part of a series, and is similar to the “Idiot’s Guide” or “For Dummies” series. This installment is written by Melissa Martin Ellis, a member of the Rhode Island Paranormal Research Group and a skilled spirit photographer, some examples of her work are peppered throughout the book.
The guide is very useful for groups that already know basic paranormal phenomena. It excelled at teaching investigators how to cover their assets and protect form liability and keeping client interaction professional. The Everything Book includes good questions to ask potential clients and examples of liability wavers, with plenty of ideas for groups to keep in mind when creating their paperwork. Ellis did a great job stressing the importance of proper research and the need for a paper trail, to protect everyone.
When it came to explaining phenomena and theories, The Everything Book fell flat. The paranormal field is huge and everyone has their own theories and methods, the authors way of dealing with this was to advise newbie’s to join an existing group and do as they say. This may sound like a good idea, but it could also lead to confusion and dependency in a world that requires free thought. Consistently a large problem, such as spirit attachment, is brought up only for the reader to hear that the resolution lies in the expertise of a team member. This can be frustrating to people who are trying to expand their knowledge or build a team that can deal with these types of cases.
Sometimes Ellis attempts to explain a large concept with many solutions or answers, with a vague story of someone’s personal experience that will only touch on one extreme instance. Other times she will over explain every nuance of how to deal with something in the field, such as interviewing a client, which is usually left up to a team on a case-by-case basis. She even at times glosses over important phenomena, such as poltergeist phenomena.
Her chapter on protection includes a great description on how to perform a house cleansing, an often overlooked area that can provide a great sense of closure to a client in an uncomfortable situation. Also included is a chapter on the mundane side of investigation, which contains a great guide to safety from the non-paranormal.
Some chapters feel out of place, for example, there’s a description of an EVP session and The Ghost Box in the wrap-up section, instead of in the gear chapter. This was weird and disorienting to us multiple times. The reader must finish the entire book before rushing into the paranormal because information is hidden in every nook and cranny of the book. Ellis puts a great emphasis on organized note taking during investigations, even though her own book on the matter feels convoluted.
Who should read: Teams looking to streamline and organize their existing process, especially those interested in beginning private home investigations.
Who can skip it: Somebody new to the Paranormal that is looking to get a grasp on the basic process and different phenomena.
Click on the book cover to be taken to Amazon!
In the last week, Scott Markus and I finally made the trek to Forrest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. This Gorgeous and massive 300 acre cemetery is the final resting place of many of the movers and shakers in Los Angeles history. The hilly grounds offering an incredible views of the city they helped build.
The cemetery was founded in 1906, and operated as a non-profit. The grounds hold three non-denominational chapels. Forrest Lawn was the first “Memorial Park” getting rid of the “unsightly” standing headstones (there are still a few). For a long time they refused black, Chinese, and Jewish internments, now all are welcome. Surprisingly, more than 60,000 people have been married on the cemetery grounds. Forrest Lawn is unique for many reasons, the cemetery holds an art museum, the largest mosaic depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and it the only place in the world with a complete set of reproduction Michelangelo statues, made from the same quarries as the originals.
It is also a place that has an insane amount of respect for the privacy of their departed tenants.
It is this amount of privacy that makes enjoying the grounds, and paying respects, very difficult. Forrest Lawn does not allow pictures of graves, or anywhere in their many mausoleums’ out of “respect of the property owners”. Many of the crypts and graves are roped off and concealed from those who wish to visit them.
Scott and I both felt this was a little over-dramatic.
The Great mausoleum had more security cameras than an airport, and out of all of the “greatness” only about 10% is open to the public.
The cemetery does provide maps of the grounds, which are sprawling and confusing. We defiantly recommend picking one up in the front building. That being said, out of respect of privacy, none of the graves are marked on the map. So you have to do your research ahead of time on who you want to visit, because unless you are very lucky, no one will tell you.
On the lawns, knowing which section a person is buried in is not sufficient. As I said, the grounds are massive; some individual areas are as big as football fields. If you have a crypt number things get a bit easier, but the numbering can be confusing. Scott spent 20 minutes looking for Tom Mix grave, with the proper number. Tom Mix is a silent era cowboy with a connection to one of Scott’s favorite Chicagoland haunts, the Great Escape.
The confusing layouts and steep hills made me give up on seeing my hero. After seeing Scott’s luck with Mix, I gave up on hoping to find Oscar winning costume designer, Edith Head’s plot. As some of you know I also work as a costume designer and Edith is the designer I would like to aspire to be like. Unfortunately I will have to wait to see where she rests, since this time we only a lawn name and not a crypt number, we felt we had little chance of locating her.
Directional clues are a must for finding an interment location! Finding, It’s a Wonderful Life star, Jimmy Stuart’s grave was easier once we found the clue that the “statue of the man with the arrow” located him with ease!
Our experience in the Great mausoleum was a little better. Elizabeth Taylor does have a very impressive, very public, and very easy to find monument, a beautiful, tall, Etruscan style angel, right at the end of the hallway at the entrance to the great mausoleum.
The Different sections in the mausoleum are well labeled. However they are also roped off, so the closest you can get to the tragic couple of Clark Gable and Carroll Lombard is peering down the hallway and knowing that they are somewhere in the wall just out of your sight. Many others share the same fate.
After only a few hours of this frustration, Scott and I left. As seasoned cemetery goers, we were both surprised by the off limit-ness and difficulty to navigate Forrest Lawn offered. We also found it hard to believe that people like Michael Jackson and Jean Harlow would want to be buried in a place that discouraged their admirers from seeing them. It felt to us that the original intention of a cemetery- to celebrate the lives of those interred there- was lost within the gates. Perhaps Forrest Lawn felt that in, death, they could provide the isolation and security, it’s patrons never had in life.
We do still recommend a visit to this cemetery. Not for the graves, but for the beautiful views of the city and amazing art collection. Some pieces which belonged to William Randolph Hearst. The collection includes an actual Easter Island head, over 1,000 pieces of stained glass, and many American historical artifacts. As well as quite a few replicas of things found in museums all around the world. Check the schedule to see what the traveling exhibit is!
On our tours over this weekend our haunted road trip videos came up a few times! This one is a favorite! Turn one of the most boring drives, into an exciting one! Here are some haunted stops on the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas!
By Connor Bright and Scott Markus
The life of Siegel played out all over town and the other day we at LA Hauntings decided to visit as many locations tied to the mobster as we could in a single day and a half tank of gas. We focused on the highlights, from the beginning to the end, with some amusing or intriguing points in the middle.
We began our day in the hills below the Hollywood sign; it was in the shadow of the monument that Benjamin Siegel set up one of his first operations in Los Angeles. The 20,000 square foot, nine-bedroom, six-bath, Castillo De Lago with all of it’s considerable free space was taken over in the late 1930s by Siegel. It operated as a casino and brothel (our original source also said it was a speakeasy as well, but with prohibition being repelled in 1933, there was no longer a need for secret places to sneak a drink, though we are sure alcohol was a staple here). The house was built in 1926 for Patrick Longdon, a wealthy oil entrepreneur, and his wife. A week after moving in, Mrs. Longdon passed away and a distraught Patrick moved out. Castillo Del Lago remained empty until Siegel’s arrival. Some reports say that it remained empty after the mob left; others report a revolving-door style barrage of tenants with long bouts of abandon. Whatever the case, it was bought and renovated by Madonna in 1993. The pop legend stayed only a few years, after a crazed fan attempted to break into her home and threaten her life. She sold the house at a loss.
Reports of Castillo Del Lago being haunted are commonplace. Visitors to the home are said to feel a “deep sense of foreboding” (Hollywood Haunted, Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wannamaker). A fashion photographer named Tom Murray who used the location in 1998 reported that his crew felt uncomfortable and everything he shot inside the house came out black. Mechanical malfunctions, especially with photographic equipment, are commonplace at haunted locations. Madonna even reported a force in the house that made her feel unsafe. Her caretaker would hear a voice calling his name when he was alone, and doors would close and lock behind him of their own violation.
After taking some pictures of the Hollywood sign and poking around a few of the more lavish Hollywoodland homes, we traveled down the mountain to an unassuming intersection outside of a Best Western.
Where Vista Del Mar Avenue meets Dix Ave is the location where Benjamin Siegel proved his loyalty to the Mafia, killing his childhood friend, Harry Greenberg in 1939. Bugsy was known for his temper and it was during the trial for Greenberg’s death that papers dubbed him “Bugsy,” which came from the slang “bugs” meaning “crazy.” Siegel hated this nickname intensely. People dared not use it in front of him, fearing the result.
There is no better was to incur the wrath of the mafia than to turn snitch and rat to the police. This is exactly what Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg may have done to the members of Murder, Inc. As you can imagine, his story doesn’t end well.
(The above group mug shot shows Bugsy Siegel, second from left with the dark hat and Harry Greenberg in the dead center, wearing a lighter colored coat)
He spent years as an associate of the group as a stink bomb and acid disfigurement specialist. Greenie had lots of information on the inner workings and could name names if he so desired. When investigators crept closer to Greenberg, he fled to Canada to hide. Unfortunately, a letter sent to top Mafia brass asking for cash to continue hiding was met as a possible “pay me or I’ll talk” threat.
Regardless whether or not Greenberg was attempting to extort the Mafia and Murder Inc., Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss, who was now the head of Murder Inc., decided to play it safe. A hit was ordered on the one-time ally.
On November 22, 1939 Harry Greenberg was shot and killed outside of his Vista Del Mar Ave apartment (now part of the Best Western). Big Greenie most likely knew his murderers, who were supposed to have been, Whitey Krakower, Albert Tannenbaum, Frankie Cabo, and Siegel.
Shots rang out, more than two dozen in total, echoing off of the Hollywood Tower Hotel across Franklin Ave. The Hollywood Tower would achieve greater fame later, serving as the inspiration of the Disney ride, Tower of Terror, but also earns a stop on our LA Hauntings tours due to the persistent ghost stories coming from the site. The most frequently given explanation for the hauntings is the Mafia violence of the area. (the aerial shot to the left was taken from the top of the Hollywood Tower Hotel)
After firing at least six of the shots himself, Siegel, always cool, calm and collected, returned to a party he was hosting, ideally building in an alibi for his whereabouts.
Eventually Tannenbaum confessed to the murder and, in exchange for amnesty, agreed to testify against the others. Siegel and Carbo faced charges for Greenberg’s murder. Krakower was mysteriously murdered before he could testify or be charged. Some believe Siegel killed Krakower, a particularly cold move, considering that Siegel’s wife Esta, was Krakower’s big sister. After the death of two witnesses, no other witness would come forward, so “Bugsy” and Carbo were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
The trial gained attention because of Siegel’s treatment while in prison. He didn’t have to resort to eating prison food, rather, he had food from his favorite LA eateries catered to him. The smooth talker was allowed lady visitors in his cell and he could even leave prison to visit his dentist!
On a side note, Siegel’s lawyer, Jerry Giesler, was known for handling the biggest high-profile cases in Los Angeles. Famously representing Lana Turner, when her daughter murdered mobster Johnny Stompanato, a close friend of Mickey Cohen. Giesler also represented the theater chain owner Alexander Pantages, in a case we talk about on our tour!
Join us one more time for our final installment of this series, we will visit more LA locations that were important in the life (and death) of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the ghost stories associated with these locations. Also, as you can likely imagine based on the photo on the right, you can also follow LAHauntings on Instagram. Click the photo to find us.
The wonderfully haunted Formosa Cafe has long been a favorite stop on our tour, but now we are starting and ending our tours at this location. Parking is more convenient and cheaper for our guests than it was at our previous location. Plus, if people are looking for a place to hang out after the tour – mission accomplished! The address is 7156 Santa Monica Blvd. (the map image below is also clickable)
By Connor Bright
Los Angeles mafia began to put down it’s roots in the early 1900s. Like the rest of the country, the mob found its strongest period as a result of the 18th amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the 1920s. This opened the door for mafia-run bootleg liquor distribution. During these early days the LA mob had its first boss, Joseph “Iron Man” Ardizzone (pictured, left), the only LA crime boss to have the “honor” of meeting his end at the hands of his own men. It was in the 1940s and 1950s, however, that the Los Angeles mafia was at it’s strongest, under the powerful Jack Dragna, followed by more public east cost transplants Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was born into a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn, and decided at a young age that he would rise above that poverty by any means necessary. Siegel made a name for himself in New York running “Murder, Incorporated,” a hit-for-hire business with friend Meyer Lansky and bootlegging during prohibition.
After prohibition was brought to an end, Siegel set his sights on gambling operations. He was sent to LA by Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1937 on behalf of the National Syndicate, an origination of crime families from NY, Chicago, and New Jersey. Luciano is known as the father of the American mob. He was the mastermind who split New York into its Five Families.
It was also Luciano who advised Jack Dragna, who was the standing mafia boss in LA, that it working with Siegel would be in his “best interest”. Right away Siegel proved Luciano’s words to be true by “talking” all of the local gambling bookies into paying a tribute to Dragna for operating on his turf, adding to Dragna’s considerable wealth.
With the reluctant help of Dragna, Siegel was able to set up a horse racing wire service, known as Trans-America. He also helped the Syndicate set up a drug trade between Mexico and California. In addition, Siegel made money by extorting large film production companies, helping unions organize strikes and then forcing the studios to pay him to get unions working again.
Always the scammer and skeemer, Siegel would borrow money from celebrities he was close to, knowing that they would never ask the mobster for it back (some estimate taking in $400,000 in these type of “loans” in one year!) Of course, Benjamin had to pay a small tribute to Dragna for working in his territory.
During Siegel’s stay in the city of angels, he set his sights on the sleepy frontier town of Las Vegas, helping fund (with lots of money from the NY mafia) the first big casino on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, the Flamingo Hotel. The Flamingo was named after Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, who had red hair and long legs that earned her the nickname “flamingo” form the usually fuming crime lord. Unfortunately for “Bugsy”, Virginia might not have been as trustworthy as he believed her to be. Money started going missing and proper expensise reports were never shared with the Syndicate. People suspect that Hill was skimming money from the project. The vastly over-budget Flamingo hotel and casino was failing, the New York crime bosses became furious. Three months after the Flamingo’s second opening, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel wad shot and killed at the home of Virginia Hill.
In future installments of this series, we will visit some of the Los Angeles locations that were important in the life (and death) of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the ghost stories associated with these locations. Check back soon for the next installment!