The Ghosts Of Santa Monica Are Less Frightening Than Santa Monica Itself

Santa Monica - seaside paradise or gate to the underworld?
The Ghosts Of Santa Monica Are Less Frightening Than Santa Monica Itself

Welcome back, dracuLADS and dracuLADIES, to another installment of our column, TINSELTOWN TERRORS?!? After taking some time to recover from the racism and possible heatstroke of Calico, my wife and I headed somewhere much closer to home: Santa Monica! Land of Shake Shacks, neck tattoos, and diabolical diabolos.

And, according to the website where I got tickets for the Ghosts of the Coast Walking Tour, the land of…g-g-ghosts? And if GTA V is any indicator, every ghost in Santa Monica was physically annihilated by a rocket launcher at some point.

The Approach

After parking the car we headed to the Santa Monica Pier Sign, where we were meeting our tour guide. Holy crap there’s a lot of weed being smoked here. Sure, I’m a lightweight from being clean and sober for many many years, but still: why would anyone voluntarily purchase weed when you could simply drive to Santa Monica or Venice Beach and inhale for three to five seconds? And while we’re on the subject, what if we’re ghosts? And, like, when we see a “ghost,” that’s actually an alive person protruding into our haunted world? Why did my cat bite me yesterday? Is he mad at me? I love him so much.

Realizing that I was getting entirely too high waiting for our tour guide, I put on my N95 to try and filter out the psychoactive Santa Monica air – and also because I needed to wear one to get into McDonald’s to buy a three pack of freshly-baked cookies, all of which I ate immediately. Upon getting back to the sign, I spotted our tour guide. Turns out he was actually there the whole time and we just didn’t realize it. He was holding a lantern, sure, but that’s only like the ninth weirdest thing I saw at the particular streetcorner. My wife and I sauntered over and introduced ourselves. 

Our tour guide’s name was Cameron, and he seemed like a nice kid. He informed us that we were actually the entirety of tonight’s tour group, which sort of shifted the energy from “earnestly doing a fun touristy thing with a thin veneer of plausibly deniable irony” to “just hanging out with some guy who knows a lot about ghosts.”

“Got any questions before we start?” asked Cameron. It seemed like only having two people was really throwing off his rhythm, so I felt compelled to ask him a question.

“How does one become a professional ghost guide?” I asked. I wanted to make sure our tour guide had all the requisite spooky qualifications – undergrad in the Spooky Sciences, doctorate in Frightology, maybe a thesis speculating on what the “Monster Mash” actually sounded like since the song itself is just a description of the ACTUAL Monster Mash song, like shadows flitting on the walls of Plato’s Cave – wait, shit, am I still high?

“Oh, I got this job on Indeed,” Cameron replied. That’s a great answer, because I’ve asked professional Ghost Know-Abouters things like that before and they usually have some long winded bullshit answer about how they saw their grandpa once maybe after he was dead. Cameron was rapidly rising in my estimation, and with that, we were off to our first stop: the cannon in Palisades Park. 

The Descent

Palisades Park, for those who don’t spend a lot of time on Santa Monica’s beaches because you aren’t currently trying to infiltrate a gang of surfers/bank robbers, is a long, skinny park between the ocean and a row of overpriced oyster restaurants. There’s a statue of a cannon there, and our guide got right down to the Spooky Business. First of all, he told us, this all used to be Tongva land, and it was violently taken from them by invading Europeans. That puts it at roughly the same level of haunted as “all of America.”

But apparently several battles were fought near here for control of the area, having been in Tongva, Spanish, Mexican, and then American control. The park was originally gifted to the city by John Percival Jones, industrialist, and Arcadia, wife of industrialist – and it’s said they can still be seen walking around the park to this very day! (Which, I get it. Get your money’s worth.) Apparently they have a particular fondness for a cannon, which is a relic from the Civil War. Legend says that Arcadia will sometimes leave her jewelry around, and the only way to avoid her curse is to put the jewelry into the barrel of the cannon. No way am I doing that if I find some ghost jewelry. Do you have any idea how much money I could get off weirdos on eBay for that? Curse be damned, undead tacky necklaces are my ticket to Name-Brand Soda Town, population: Will. 

Sadly, I found nary a hexed bauble. I thought I found some sort of ephemeral brooch fastener, but I’m pretty sure it was actually a used hypodermic needle. Must have been from a diabetic ghost? As we walked to the next haunted spot on the tour, Cameron told us that the seaside attracts ghosts due to the natural rhythms of the tide, waves, and wind. He also told us that due to the positive natural energies of Santa Monica beach, the ghosts here were mostly very chill. Sounds perfect for Los Angeles ghosts – just hanging out and smoking ghost ganja (the spooky-ookie) for all eternity. I’m glad the ghosts are pretty laid-back, because, this being Santa Monica, most of the people here have been insane since they did bad acid with Wavy Gravy. 

Then we came to the next stop on the tour: that little footbridge that crosses over the Pacific Coast Highway and on to the beach. 

A ridiculous amount of people have died on the Pacific Coast Highway. Not because it’s cursed or anything, but because this is Los Angeles and turn signals are considered a means for the government to track you, lane markers are polite suggestions, and driver’s license exams consist of a single question (“Car? Y/N”).

The PCH was originally built in the 30s, there’s been plenty of time for ghosts to accumulate on it. According to Cameron, drivers have reportedly seen ghosts waving at them from the footbridge before disappearing, possibly encouraging California drivers to put down the bong and Tendergreens takeout for a single damn second and watch the road. I generally don’t find American infrastructure frightening unless it’s falling apart (so, most of it), but what he told us next was a bit eerie: according to local superstition, you should never drive the PCH at night with an open passenger seat, lest a passing ghost take it as an invitation for a ride. That’s certainly unnerving, but on the other hand it’s extremely California that the ghosts want to carpool to save on ghostaline.

Unanswered questions buzzing in my head, we ambled down the walkways of Palisades Park. We made a quick stop at the statue of Santa Monica herself, said to be an area where the veil between the living and the dead was thin and permeable. It’s apparently a popular shrine during Dia de los Muertos, and would begin to be filled with offerings to the dead at the end of October.

It kinda just seemed like a statue to me. A pretty cool art deco statue, but a statue. Apparently Santa Monica is the patron saint of those who have suffered verbal abuse and alcoholism, which seems appropriate for the amount of drunken screaming that goes on around Santa Monica. If you ever need to take a leak in Santa Monica, I can assure you that with the state of the public toilets a ghost is about the 432nd most frightening thing you could find in one. 

William Kuechenberg

Rather yonic, no? (If you have to look up what that word means it means my columns are technically educational, making me eligible for federal funding.)

From here we reversed course and made our way back down the Palisades, Cameron telling us fun Ghost Anecdotes about the buildings we passed. One in particular that caught my interest was the Georgian Hotel. See, here in Los Angeles haunted hotels are one of our major distinguishing features. We’re up to our eyeballs in spooky hotels, haunted inns, and unsettling motels. We have more haunted hotels than we have children permanently ruined by early exposure to the entertainment industry, which is really saying something.

The Georgian Hotel was built in 1933 by Harry Borde, and one night his mother took a late-night stroll along the beach and “disappeared mysteriously.” If you get drunk and decide to do a little Late Nite Fully-Clothed Ocean Swimming, I’m not sure how “mysterious” your “disappearance” really is. There’s pretty much only one way that ends for you, right? (Eaten by the Night Seagulls). Anyway, she’s still seen hanging around the beachside hotel. The Georgian used to be apartments, and to this day guests report having their possessions rifled through when they aren’t in their rooms – this is possibly due to a ghost with a weird sock-sniffing fetish, which the New Beverly Cinema will also one day have (if you get this joke, I’m sorry your rent is so high, fellow Angeleno).

We made our way towards the entrance of Santa Monica Pier, passing a few other haunted buildings of note, such as Chez Jay. Man, there are so many ghosts of the “haunts the place they worked at in life” variety, which strikes me as… really really sad? Americans really do never get to stop working, I guess. And here my greatest fear as a Millennial was simply working until I died - I didn’t know I’d even have to keep going after that, too. 

Anyway, then we got to Santa Monica pier itself! 

William Kuechenberg

Cameron told us a lot about the history of the sign itself, but to be honest I was pretty distracted by the man who was climbing the sign wearing nothing but a pair of bicycle shorts. Cameron also said that the area below the pier was haunted, but cautioned us not to go under there. Not that I needed to be told – I’m from Northwest Indiana and have seen quite enough people trying to publicly masturbate away a heroin overdose, thank you very much. 

Our tour was drawing to its end. We made our way down the pier, past the many buskers and attractions, such as the Bubba Gump Shrimp. Bubba Gump Shrimp is so successful I’m shocked that Hollywood hasn’t forced more dramatic films to leverage chain restaurant tie-ins: Apocalypse Chow; Schindler’s Blintz; Salò, or the 120 Days of Soya Beans.

Just as I was getting into the groove of this riff, much to what I’m assuming is the delight and definitely not the mutual annoyance of my wife and the tour guide, we came to the Hippodrome. While it is, sadly, not an arena where you can bet on hippofights, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings on the Pier. It was built to house a carousel, and it looks like something out of Spirited Away. Custodians of the building say they’ve heard snatches of carousel music playing late at night and seeing flashes of colored lights from the corners of their eyes.

Which, no thank you. That is exactly the kind of creepy thing Ol’ Sweet William does not mess with. Lock me in a haunted house? Sure, whatever, sounds fun, I’m not doing anything tonight. Introduce carnivalia into it? Absolutely the hell not. Luckily for me, according to Cameron, sightings of the ghosts have plummeted in recent years after the building was nearly destroyed in a fire. So that’s how you get rid of ghosts: you’ve gotta smoke ‘em out.

Back to Reality

And here we parted ways with Cameron, the tour over. He was a really nice and knowledgeable guide, so if the good people that employ him are reading this please give my man a raise and possibly a slightly bigger lantern. Maybe a Segway?

After I gave him a nice tip (because working class solidarity extends to ghost tour guides), Cameron also told us one last spooky tidbit. You see, Santa Monica Pier is the end of Historic Route 66: Cameron was quick to relate to us that while he himself found this a bit far fetched, multiple people have told him that if you lean against the Route 66 Sign, relax, and enter into a quasi-meditative state, you can glimpse through time and see how the Pier looked in the 20s and 30s. Of course, I immediately wanted to try this. 

Having wandered through the Arcade, I hobbled over to the Route 66 Sign. I leaned against it. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I’m open to the experience. And I really, really wanted a glimpse of the 1920s. I’ve never pierced the impermeable veil of Time before, but this seemed like as good a night as any to try. 

I tried to shut out all the smells (Bubba Gump Shrimp exhaust) and sounds (a stereo blaring a Lil Jon song). I tried to skim across Time’s surface like a flat stone across a summer stream. I drew my concentration to a razor’s edge, until I was interrupted by a man approaching me and screaming, “YOU GOTTA TELL ME IF YOU’RE A JEW!" I took that as my cue to get the hell out of Santa Monica.

Score on the Spookometer: On the way back to the car, I saw a man whipping several parked Byrd scooters with a length of chain.

William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant, a showrunner’s assistant, or even to be staffed on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on Twitter.


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