Los Angeles and Orange County, usually known for its sunny skies and beach breezes, is also home to a surprising amount of scary tales of ghosts, mysterious apparitions and even haunted ships.
Cozy up with Halloween candy and turn the lights down low for these 12 spookiest tales Southern California has to offer.
Silent Movie Theater
The Silent Movie Theater, a Fairfax landmark in Los Angeles, was opened in 1942 by Oklahoma-native John Hampton and his wife, Dorothy Hampton. John had collected silent films since he was a small child. The Hamptons moved to L.A. and bought the lot on which they built the theater, living in an apartment above it. When the theater opened, Dorothy sold tickets and candy bars while John ran the booth. The decision to close the theater (due to decreasing sales) was made in 1980, and John died in 1990.
According to reporting by AP News, another tragedy followed in 1997, when owner Lawrence Austin, who had acquired the theater, was shot and killed by Christian Rodriguez during a showcase. Another man, James Vansickle, who was the sole beneficiary to Austin’s $1 million-plus estate and his long-time lover, has been charged by authorities with murder for paying Rodriguez $25,000 to kill Austin. An additional 5k was paid to kill a concession worker, Mary Giles, but she was only wounded in the attack.
The next owner, Charlie Lustman who purchased and reopened the theater in 1999, was the first to report hauntings. He and his employees felt like the prior apartment was haunted by the Hamptons.
“Lustman revealed that if he strayed from the original purpose for the theatre, showing silent films, things would go wrong,” said blog Seeks Ghost. “When he arranged to show a 3-D film festival in 2000, he received a black eye as he tripped over a display case. Then the projector that had worked fine for a year, broke down minutes before the first 3-D film could screen.”
This was blamed on the unhappiness of John. Lustman and others would also hear the sound of jingling keys in the hallway, a known nervous habit of Austin.
The tale of the haunting that followed was covered in an episode of Ghost Adventures. In the episode, the host, Zak Bagan discovers that John was killed by the chemicals used to preserve old film, in the apartment above the theater. While at the theater, one of Bagan’s audiomen even saw an apparition of a man walk down a hallway, leading them to try to contact the spirit. Upon investigating further they were able to capture anomalies on both heat sensors and audio recordings.
Several prior employees interviewed by Bagan also reported strange feelings, a general “darkness” around the theater, and other strange occurrences. Others reported other sightings of ghostly apparitions around the theater.
Ownership moved through many hands, but eventually in October 2020, the decision was made to rename the theater to Brain Dead Studios, and features a cafe, lounge, cinema and showroom. Events, such as an upcoming Psycho screening, are still held at the theater.
“Opening on June 4, 1930, the Pantages Theatre can hold claim to two “lasts”: the last movie palace to be built in Hollywood and the last venue erected by vaudeville circuit owner, Alexander Pantages,” said LA Conservatory.
Lavishly designed for originally both live theatre and film, it eventually resorted to mostly film as a result of the great depression. Pantages Theatre hosted the Academy Awards 1950 through 1960.
Many strange occurrences have happened at the Pantages since its early history. This theatre is said to be haunted by three ghosts. The first of those ghosts is said to be Alexander Pantages, the original owner and namesake of the theatre. According to legend, Alexander is still said to act as a guardian presence, watching over the first floor of the theatre as he would’ve when he was alive. The spirit activity was said to have kicked up after a break-in occurred at the theatre. Employees have also reported seeing Alexander.
The second ghost is the one of a female singer who died in the mezzanine during her performance in 1932. Her singing is reported to still be heard through the building, and has been heard on microphones during performances.
Howard Hughes, a wealthy man who purchased and renamed the theatre RKO Pantages in 1949, is the next ghost said to linger there to this day. Hughes had an office located on the second floor, with a balcony built to look out to the screen, where he liked to contemplate business ideas. Many employees have reported this office, which is now a conference room, to be haunted and have even seen the ghostly figure of a man wearing a bowler hat walking around the room.
“Many ushers dislike the position known as Tunnel 4, also known as the mezzanine entrance on the house left,” said Broadway in Hollywood. “Whenever a patron walks by the usher stands out of respect for the patron and to be ready to help if needed. Ushers have reported hearing footsteps coming down the hall which cues them to stand up only to find no one there.”
At 1714 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood, Knickerbocker Hotel has stood since 1929. It catered to many Hollywood stars of the era. Marilyn Monroe was said to have used the hotel for her secretive dates with then-lover Joe DiMaggio, and may have even honeymooned there. It has also been home to many strange occurrences and encounters.
“For ten years, Harry Houdini’s widow held seances on the roof of the hotel in an effort to contact her departed husband,” said Totally-LA. “The tenth attempt was on Halloween 1936. It’s said the attempts were never successful which comes as no surprise. Though Houdini was a magician, he frowned on the mystical and occult and it is not likely he would be more inclined to embrace them in the afterlife than he was previously.”
Two people, actor William Frawley and Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz, died at the hotel. Frawley died in the lobby after having a heart attack in 1966. Lentz committed suicide by jumping out of her 11th floor window in 1962.
It would appear some of those who enjoyed the lavish Hollywood lifestyle there continue to enjoy it after death. There are also several high profile ghosts that populate the Knickerbocker Hotel.
“It is said a beloved bellhop named Roger walks the halls, while Marilyn Monroe stares at herself in the powder room vanity,” said KCET.org. “Many anonymous hotel patrons have been seen. Doors slam on their own. In the most ironic twist, Rudolph Valentino is often sighted, even though he died four years before the Knickerbocker opened.” Monroe is often seen looking at herself in the mirror.
“It’s alleged that Monroe stuck around post-mortem and haunts the ladies' room; the bar is taken by the ghost of Rudolph Valentino,” according to reporting by LA Curbed. Valentino also may have spent time at the Knickerbocker before his death. Employees have sighted the ghost of Lentz in the hotel.
Today, the Knickerbocker Hotel is now the Knickerbocker Apartment homes, a retirement community.
The Hollywood sign, an American icon and worldwide entertainment symbol, was originally created as an outdoor advertisement for a housing development called “Hollywoodland.” In 1949, the sign was changed again to the one known and loved today. Though its image and purpose has evolved, it remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in Los Angeles.
A young budding actress, Peg Entwistle committed suicide by jumping to her death at just 24 years-old from the “H” on the Hollywood sign in 1932. She was a talented young actress, but started facing challenges in her career following the Great Depression. Since the 40s, several visitors have reportedly seen the ghost of the blonde-haired actress. She is often accompanied by the scent of gardenias, said to be her favorite fragrance. Gardenias are not known to grow in the area.
Hikers and rangers have seen an apparition believed to be Entwistle that floats and glides along the park’s paths, but always vanishes when approached.
The television show Paranormal Witness did an episode on the story of Entwistle and the haunting at the Hollywood sign.
These trails are open to hike to the Hollywood sign for those hoping to see some ghosts this Halloween.
The Queen Mary departed for its first trip from Southampton, England in 1936. It was considered a luxury liner, used by the rich and famous as the primary mode of transportation. The Queen Mary retired from active duty in 1967, and has been docked in Long Beach ever since, used as a tourist attraction and for special events.
Though originally used for leisure, in WWII the Queen Mary was repurposed for war, being painted a camouflaged grey color and used to transport as many as 16,000 men. After the war, it was used as a cruise ship until it’s eventual retirement in southern California.
It is said at least 49 people died on the Queen Mary while it was still a luxury liner, not including countless military personnel that died on the ship during its service. One man was even crushed to death by the door in the engine room.
The Queen Mary has been voted Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America by Time Magazine.
“Among the ghosts reportedly still hanging around is an engineer who died in the ship's engine room, a ‘lady in white,’ and various children located throughout the ship including the First Class Pool- the tour stops at the entrance doors to the swimming pool, but does not go inside the pool area due to ongoing restoration projects,” according to information from the Queen Mary website.
Stateroom B340 is the most haunted room on the Queen Mary. In 1948, a third class passenger, Walter J. Adamson died in the room of unknown causes. Since then, a man has been seen in the room. Other employees have seen the sheets pulled off the bed, and lights and faucets being turned on when no one had been in the room.
The First Cass Pool has also had a lot of spooking sightings, including a young woman, children and an old woman. The lady in white haunts the first-class lounge called the Queen’s Saloon, floating in a phantom white evening gown. There have been many strange activities and observations on the ship.
Night time ghostly dinners, tours and paranormal investigations are available for booking on the Queen Mary today.
Griffith Park, formerly called Rancho Los Feliz, was purchased by Griffith J. Griffith in 1882. Having made a fortune from coal mining, Griffith made an ostrich farm on the property.
“Apparently Griffith (we can call him by both his first name and his last!), was something of an eccentric,” reported LAist. “At some point he believed he saw the ghost of Antonio Feliz, previous owner of the property, which spurred him to give some 3015 acres to the City of Los Angeles.”
The city used the land to build the Griffith Observatory, planetarium and amphitheater.
The paranormal activity started as early as 1864, when blind teenage niece, Dona Petronilla of the original owner, Don Antonio Feliz, was cut out of the will when Feliz sold the property to Griffith. In retaliation, she cursed the land, vowing it would “never be profitable and that its owners would meet untimely or violent ends.”
Since then, several people have died in different types of accidents over the years, which many people attribute to this curse. Several people have claimed to see the ghosts of both Petronilla and Griffith. Others have reported seeing Feliz.
One of the creepiest components of the park is the old Griffith Park Zoo that opened in 1912. Though it quickly became a hugely successful attraction, due to expansion reasons the decision was made to close the old zoo and move it to a new location a few miles away.
According to LA Ghost Tours, night time visitors to the former Griffith Park Zoo can hear the sound of animals.
Other ghosts in the park include one of a youth couple, and a phantom little girl.
Griffith Park is currently closed due to COVID-19.
Hollywood Roosevelt is an upscale hotel that was opened in 1927. It has welcomed stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, up to some of the biggest stars today. Famous guests include F. Scott Fitzergerld, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chapman, and Clark Gable with Carole Lombard in their infamous affair. Marilyn Monroe lived at the hotel for two years while filming various movies.
Famous guests today have included the likes of Beyonce, Jay-z, Paris Hilton and Matthew McConaughey.
Monroe is said to still inhabit suite #1,200, a second floor Cabana suite, where she has been spotted in the mirror by hotel guests over the years. Some people have also sighted Monroe in her old mirror, which is now located in the lobby of the hotel.
Clift is seen in room 928, as well as the hallway outside the door. People have felt him brush against them, as well as heard him practice his trumpet.
There are two other ghosts in the hotel – one is a small girl named Caroline who is always spotted looking for her mother, along with two male spirits who stay in the Blossom Ballroom, where the original Oscars was held, playing the piano and locking guests out of their rooms.
The Hollywood Roosevelt still operates as a hotel and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Los Angeles. It is across the street from the TCL Chinese Theater. It and its haunted rooms are available for overnight stays for anyone that dares.
“Happiest place on earth” or one of the most haunted? The original Disneyland, overseen by Walt Disney himself, opened in Anaheim in 1955. Though originally it comprised 160-acres, the park now spans 510 acres.
Disneyland has been the site of several infamous deaths – ranging from gang violence, to suicide, to drowning, to getting run over on rollercoaster tracks. That, combined with staff’s reported sightings of people spreading ashes at Disneyland attractions, means there’s no shortage of potential spirits wandering around the park.
Guests and employees often claim to see ghosts, usually Walt Disney, according to SF Gate, and experienced other weird unexplainable activities like a ghost train in the park, smells and objects moving. Other apparitions seen include the ghostly children laughing, or sometimes crying, when the park is closed or in areas closed to guests. Others have reported feelings of being watched around the park, and even being touched by spirits.
Disney is usually seen at the Main Street Fire Station, where had an apartment while he was alive and often hosted celebrity and VIP guests. Footsteps and knocking is still heard there at night. There is a light there burning continuously to represent his eternal presence at Disney. This wasn’t always the case- as legend goes, after Disney’s death, the employees turned out the light in his apartment, but kept finding it relit after no one was in the apartment. Eventually, they left it on out of respect.
Along with several shops, attractions that are said to be haunted are the Haunted Mansion ride, where employees have had many weird experiences with the spell book and mysterious music; America Sings, Matterhorn, Monorail, Space Mountain and It’s a Small World.
People have submitted their spooky experiences at the park on the Haunted OC website.
It is not yet clear when Disneyland will reopen due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
El Adobe de Capistrano Restaurant
El Adobe Capistrano Restaurant is a historical landmark located in San Juan Capistrano. The building was originally a home- the north side of the property was built in 1979, with the rest being constructed in 1812. property also housed the town’s court and jail. It was made into a restaurant in 1948.
“Waitresses have reported hearing noises at night and claim that they sometimes feel their clothes being pulled,” said site OutofTheO. “Others say that they often see a little girl sitting in a corner in one of the rooms in the restaurant. The part of the restaurant that has been deemed the scariest by many who have been there is the room that was a former jail cell built in 1812.”
This jail ceil is now a wine cellar, and guests brave enough can dine inside of it. It’s said that an apparition of a headless monk appears in the former cell. Former prisoners are also thought to haunt the cellar.
“One of the most famous ghosts here is the mother of an inmate who died in his prison cell,” according to reporting by Werewoofs. “One day, an inmate died and when his mother went to bring his food, the staff at the prison lied about where her son was. It is unclear if she ever knew about the death of her son but her ghost reportedly still looks for her son at the wine cellar area of El Adobe de Capistrano.”
The restaurant underwent reconstruction in 2003 to make it the famous spot as it is known today. El Adobe Capistrano Restaurant is currently open for both dine-in and carryout.
Black Star Canyon
Located in Silverado, Black Star Canyon is a remote canyon in the Santa Ana mountains, with a 2.5 hour trail popular with hikers and mountain bikers. This is an archeological site as well as the site of historical events that led to the supposed haunting of the area.
“The Gabrielino - also called the Tongva - Native American tribe would migrate to the canyon during the summer to escape the heat and gather acorns,” according to Atlas Obscura. “The tribe was involved in several conflicts with Spanish conquistadors and Mexican settlers throughout the 1800s, which resulted in the death of many Native Americans.”
“Early settlers in Black Star Canyon told stories of an 1831 skirmish between Native Americans and American settlers,” The Irvine Ranch Conservancy reported. “The battle was over suspected horse thievery, with the Americans’ rifles swiftly overpowering all but a few of the Tongva-Gabrieliño people found at that site. Then, in 1899, a disputed horse trade led to another gunfight, resulting in the death of James Gregg.”
It’s believed that the Indians and Gregg have been haunting the area ever since. It’s rumored to be one of the most haunted places in OC. Visitors have reported feeling as if they’re being watched in the canyon.
Patch reports that “Nighttime hikers have heard eerie real time sounds of music, tribal drums and conversation in the bushes have all been heard when August takes tours through. Screams and howls can be heard after dark, as well as faint chanting.”
Others report that in the 1980’s, the canyon was used as a meeting place for a Satanic cult. Some have reported KKK activity. People have been seen performing ritual-like activities around fires. Others have reported shadowy apparitions and native ghosts around the canyon.
Regardless, Black Star Canyon is a strange, mysterious area that has captured the fascination of both ghost hunters and locals.
A ghost walk tour through Black Star Canyon is available here. Those brave enough to go on the hike alone can find a guide to the hike here. (Note: Hiking at night inexperienced and unprepared is not recommended, especially alone)
Wild Goose Yacht
As no Southern California ghost story would be complete without celebrity hauntings, the Wild Goose Yacht was the ship- and according to some, the eternal resting place of John Wayne, famed actor and filmmaker who died in 1979 shortly after selling the Wild Goose to a Los Angeles lawyer Lynn Hutchins.
According to the OC Register, the Wild Goose was originally used as a minesweeper during World War II. Wayne bought and refurbished the ship into a yacht in 1962. From there, he used it mostly to entertain famous guests and travel the world with his family until his death from cancer.
Famous friends of Wayne’s entertained on the ship during Wayne’s ownership of the Wild Goose included Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
The Wild Goose was said to be one of Wayne’s prized possessions towards the end of his life. Many of Wayne’s personal possessions and artifacts remain on the ship. Hutchins realized the ship was haunted just weeks after his death.
“[Hutchins] often heard his ghost rattling beer glasses, and pacing loudly across the yacht’s decks,” said blog Seeks Ghost. “His spirit would block doorways, and she would see his image reflected in mirrors and through portholes”
Hutchins saw the apparition of Wayne twice. A psychic also confirmed that Wayne’s ghost was still on the ship.
Passengers on the ship have reported other strange incidents like mysteriously locking doors, unexplained noises and lights turning on. Employees have told similar stories, also adding that they often felt strange on the ship.
The Wild Goose is now owned by Hornblowers Cruises and Events in Newport Beach. It is available as a venue for special events, such as cruise dinners and parties today.
Inspiring a season of American Horror Story, Los Angeles’ opulent Hotel Cecil has been home to no less than 16 different murders since its opening in 1927. During the great depression, the area around the hotel developed into Skid Row, unleashing chaos.
In the 1930’s alone, six suicides occurred at the hotel, including one man who slashed his own throat, others ingesting poison and others jumping.
The violent actions at Hotel Cecil continued- in 1944, a woman went to the bathroom with stomach pains, and unexpectedly gave birth to a baby boy. Thinking it was dead, the woman threw her baby out of the window of her room. She would later be found not guilty by reasons of insanity.
Some say Elizabeth Short (of the Black Dahlia Murder) was rumored to be seen having a drink at the hotel days before her murder.
Richard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker” a southern California serial killer who killed at least 14 people and tortured dozens more before being caught in 1985. The Hotel Cecil was Ramirez’s base of operations for some time, where he even disposed of bloody evidence in the dumpster.
Another Australian killer, Jack Unteweger also stayed at the hotel, where it is suspected he killed at least three more girls in Los Angeles before committing suicide in prison upon his second conviction in 1994
In February 2013, the body of a woman, a Canadian tourist named Elisa Lam was found floating in the water tank on the rooftop of the building after guests had complained of a strange smell in the water. What happened to Lam is still a mystery.
Hotel Cecil is thought to be one of the most haunted hotels in the world. Guests have claimed to see shadowy figures and apparition in the hotel.With all its shocking and violent history, it’s no wonder the hotel is thought to be such a spooky destination.