10 August 2007

Ventura, California is Haunted

Beneath the surface of this charming California beach town lurk untold phantoms and restless spirits... San Buenaventura, California - simply called Ventura.

Richard Senate says "I've come to believe that Ventura is one of the most haunted cities in America,". Senate is a prolific author of Ghosts of the Haunted Coast, The Haunted Queen Mary and Haunted Hawaii.

Since beginning his research 22 years ago, Senate, has, in fact, recorded more than 800 separate ghost sightings amid Ventura's historic, unsuspecting and sometimes infamous properties and attractions.

"Some of the sightings are related to happenings as far back as California's Spanish occupation," citing Ventura's Olivas Adobe, built in 1847, where a lady in black has been reportedly seen traipsing the grounds for decades.

A sighting in 2000 testified that a middle-aged, dark-skinned woman appeared in the kitchen wearing a dark dress with a high collar, white apron and a wooden ladle in her hand.

"Indeed, this place is one of the most authentic haunted places in California,"

A building on Main Street that once housed the law offices of Ventura's native son Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, is famed for more than the accomplishments of its prior tenant.

One woman who later used the building for storage said she would hear an old-style typewriter tapping away late at night in an unoccupied office.

Another man working in the building encountered a phantom party with big band music and people in 1930s-era dress sporting paper party hats and holding wine glasses.

Still another building tenant reports a man in a grey suit, thin tie, with slicked hair and horn-rimmed glasses who passes by his offices at the same time every day.

Dynamic people, driven to make their mark upon the world, do seem to come back in spirit form.

Even the "Landmark 78", one of Ventura's most respected dining establishments, is the site of the ghostly "Rosa," who hung herself in the ladies restroom decades ago. While guests at the charming Italianate-style Bella Maggiore Inn report incidents in room 17, where the ghost of "Sylvia," a prostitute who once stayed at the inn ages ago, is known to climb into bed with people and leave the smell of cheap rosewater perfume in the air.

Singing phantoms are heard in the old choir loft of a local church that is now The Victorian Rose Bed & Breakfast Inn. And the historic Pierpont Inn has had many reports of a woman in an Edwardian-era satin dress with long white gloves. Sounds of rustling taffeta petticoats have been noted as well as a phantom party that is visible one minute and vanishes the next.

So why is Ventura so haunted?

"I find that places that have had lots of different cultures interacting tend to be more haunted," said Richard Senate, adding that through the years Ventura has been home to Chumash Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, Spaniards, Portuguese and others of European descent. He adds that places like Ventura that have a high concentration of artists also have a tendency to be haunted.

"Creative minds lend themselves to ghosts."

THE VENTURA THEATER - 26 South Chestnut Street

We played the Ventura Theater twice. Once in '99 and then again in 2000, I believe. Everyone from The Doors to Fugazi has played this place.

The first time we were there supporting Sick Of It All. Us and them touring the states for like 2 months in this giant Prevost. I think I wrote about the bus driver for that tour on here once before, The Human Frog.

Anyway, so we're pulling up to this giant club in this little sleepy beach town. I was reading a book called Haunted Places at the time. It's like a directory for all the haunted spots across America with stories, addresses and directions. It was a handy book to have on the road. So as we're pulling into the parking lot, I flipped to the California section to see if there were any spots in or around Ventura that were listed as haunted, figuring we could go visit.

As I felt the massive bus jump the curb into the lot I came across an entire section on Ventura and not only the city but the very theater we were playing that night; the very theater we were now parking behind.

Irrelevant side note: Double R and I got matching summons' that day from a hot-shot Ventura bicycle cop for jay-walking by some railroad tracks. I think we were being racially profiled because we had dyed hair, pale NY skin and lots of bad tattoos. We were bringing the real estate value down. Had we been blond, tanned, carrying surfboards and wearing those rope bracelets, I'm sure he would've looked the other way. So anyway yeah, we're walking towards the beach and we get hit with matching $80 jay-walking fines. I don't recall what ever we did with those tickets. I wonder if theres a warrant for my arrest in Ventura? How utterly Jim Morrison of me!... And I didn't even have to expose myself!

So when we were there in '99 we were creeped out. We asked around and poked around and we heard the stories. Some of the other guys disappeared for a while. They ran into a lighting guy who took them on a behind-the-scenes tour and they saw some fucked up shit.

I guess legend has it that a few day laboring Spaniards were killed while building this colossal theater and naturally, they were buried in the walls - getting chills as I type this now - so this guy took us to this closed-off back staircase - all this powdery white plaster, marble stairs, these elaborate banisters and you couldn't hear any noise from the concert hall - it was totally dead silent. But it had that smell; the smell of spirits. It's hard to explain but its thick and quite tangible. Something was in the air...

So we follow him down a few marble flights and he stops and starts knocking on the wall in a very certain spot and its all solid - concrete or plaster or whatever its a very dull thud - then he gets to another spot and he knocks and its hollow - very hollow, it almost echoes ... now he starts counting spaces - says people say there are 3 or 4 bodies buried in there.

He put his back up against the wall to measure out the spaces of 3 or 4 bodies. Sure enough, its all hollow and after the 4th body, its solid again.

As if the Spaniards are buried in the wall, propped up, standing side by side, 3 or 4 of them. Needless to say, we were spooked.

Then the show is ending so its time to go back and start loading out, he opens a door and we're backstage somehow. Like it was a secret passageway, a warped zone almost. We were high up on the second floor balcony in some verboten back stairwell, this guy opens a door and now we're downstairs, behind the curtain, stage left. It was creepy as fuck.

After we loaded out, we went to try and find the guy so he could take some of the rest of us to see and hear this hollow wall we were all going on and on about but "the guy" was gone and nobody knew who the fuck we were looking for. Again, creepy.

That night I continued reading Haunted America and read a small bit I'd missed about a very young actress who was killed at the theater by a lighting rig falling and crushing her to death when she was singing at center stage. Apparently her apparition can be seen as a shining floating light from the third floor balcony which has been closed for years, roped off with dusty crimson velvet ropes and smudged gold base stands. We hadn't gone up there, yet.

SoCal Spooks on the Ventura Theater: "The ghost of this theater was the unfortunate result of an accident involving a young woman and a really heavy light fixture. She has been seen dancing on stage and can also be heard re-enacting her death by letting out a frightening scream."
The entire place sort of has that same feel, like its been this way since the 1920's. All that dusty Mission-style architecture and ambiance, its very creepy, lots of marble and plaster, lead crimson paint and gold leafed foiling. It's like the place was abandoned years ago and it's just opened again and they hadn't changed a thing. Not to mention its absolutely cavernous.

So we're on tour again in 2000. I think we were on our own tour that was set to end in Arizona and naturally they had us dead-heading back to NYC. Our agent was notorious for that type of brilliant routing at that time.

So we get a call from our manager and he asks if we'd wanna hook up with The Misfits for a few shows on the West coast before we head home so we said "sure". I think we met up with them in Arizona and a few days later we were back at the Mystic Ventura Theater!

Misfits had like 30 people just in their road crew, it was insane. They got the same catering every night: 40-something orders of baked ziti with meatballs and half of it would always go to waste.

So as soon as they'd hit the stage, we'd immediately raid their dressing room, throwing meatballs at each other while eating their spaghetti. It was good times.

Then while watching the Misfits and digesting from the third balcony, way, way up by the ceiling, we were all alone and some of us saw a floating light weaving through the lighting rig, like a glowing ivory bed sheet twisting like a burning flame in a perfect silent spiral... It seemed as if no one in the crowd noticed it even as it hovered high above the stage...

I guess your boys Big Bad VooDoo Daddy recorded a live album at the Ventura Theater. I just liked this photo because it really shows the insane intricacies of the ceiling and the chandelier of the theater.

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