Los Angeles is full of haunted places, but you can't access most of its murder mansions, deathbeds, hotels-turned-condos, or abandoned hospitals without trespassing, risking fines, or worse yet -- imprisonment. But if you'd like to make contact with the other side, there are plenty of haunted locations throughout the L.A. area that you can access legally (some with only minor finagling).
Maybe you've been mingling with the ghosts at some of these places this whole time, but never thought twice about that flicker of light in your peripheral view, or the shadow that seemed to disappear. For a little taste of paranormal activity, visit one of these historic L.A. landmarks and be reminded that you are not alone -- even when you're by yourself.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles
Supernatural spirits abound where the city of L.A. started: at El Pueblo de Los Angeles and its immediate surrounding area. Because this area was essentially the original town square before moving a few blocks west, it was also the town gallows and the site of public hangings and their hanging trees. Some of them occurred directly in front of City Hall, which seems bedeviled by a ghost or two. Security cameras often pick up an image of someone walking around locked offices at night, but when guards go to investigate, they find nothing. When they return to their night shift station, they frequently hear footsteps following them.
Los Angeles was once a dangerous, violent place to live, filled with gunfire and murder. The lawless and the pious were forced to coexist in the establishment of a new sprawling metropolis. At El Pueblo, early adobes were torn down, and the remains of more than 100 people were improperly excavated and relocated from the first cemetery at El Pueblo, next to La Placita church. The area where Union Station now stands, and directly adjacent to it, was not only the site of Old Chinatown but also the infamous and horrific Chinese Massacre of 1871, the largest mass lynching in American history. For a more lighthearted encounter, take your French Dip to one of the upstairs dining rooms at Philippe The Original, where the ladies of the former bordello are said to linger.
Heritage Square Museum
Where in L.A. can you visit a real haunted house, and not just a movie set? You can have your pick of them at Heritage Square Museum, which has become a repository for displaced Victorian homes, a carriage house, a train station, and a church. They all faced demolition at one time or another, and their only option for preservation was relocation. A lot of history from several different areas of L.A. -- Mount Washington, Pasadena, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Downtown, and the Westside -- means a lot of different ghosts converging in one creepy place.
The Perry Mansion is probably best-known (or most widely promoted) for its specters, but what about the ghosts of the houses that were lost? Two of the last remaining Victorian houses from Bunker Hill -- The Salt Box and The Castle -- were saved from demolition and brought to this city-owned parcel of land in Montecito Heights, but lack of sufficient security resulted in both being burned down to the ground just months after their arrival. With their destruction, nothing was left of Bunker Hill, and if there were any ghosts that came to Heritage Square with these Victorians, they were left to roam elsewhere. Maybe the ghosts at Heritage Square are those of the Bunker Hill buildings themselves...
Colorado Street Bridge
Any place with the nickname "Suicide Bridge" has got to be haunted, right? Sure, most of the troubled souls who jumped off the 150-foot Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena did so during the Great Depression, which had the highest rate of suicide than any other period in recorded history. But even in recent years, the precipice attracts about a dozen jumpers a year. Neither spiked barriers nor signs declaring "There Is Hope" have completely thwarted the suicidal tendencies of the bridge's visitors, though some would-be jumpers have been discouraged from their attempts by rescue workers arriving at the scene just in time. It still has a pretty sinister -- and haunted -- reputation. There was even a baby who was thrown off the bridge by her mother, who then followed with a flying leap. The mother died, but the baby survived, her fall broken by tree branches.
Despite its grisly history, walking and driving across this civil engineering landmark is a joy. It was built as a "work of art," and hasn't lost its appeal in the century since its completion. Eleven Beaux Arts arches, constructed out of 11,000 cubic yards of steel-reinforced concrete, rise up over the Arroyo Seco, rounding the ravine at a fifty-degree angle. You're just as likely to encounter restless spirits down below as up above, so take in the view from the Arroyo trail underneath the bridge as well. But if you visit at night, be prepared for the lights to go out. Is it the work of the Woman in White, or just faulty electrical wiring? You be the judge.
Sometimes, when people really love being in a place in life, they tend to linger there even after death. Rockhaven Sanitarium is the last standing of the dozens of sanitariums that once dotted the hillsides of the Crescenta Valley in the early 20th century. It was a peaceful place for women with mild mental disorders (and, later, the elderly with dementia) to soak in the view and breathe in the fresh air. It was an escape from the state-run mental hospitals of the time, whose horrors included lobotomies and hydrotherapies that brought on both hyper- and hypothermia. In fact, Rockhaven was such a nice place to live, even death couldn't discharge some of its patients.
The city of Glendale purchased Rockhaven in 2008, but they have yet to restore, reopen, or develop it, leaving it essentially abandoned. But according to security guards, live-in caretakers, and cleanup crews, the former sanitarium is anything but vacant. Unusual encounters include lights switching on, clocks changing time, figures passing in front of windows, disembodied voices, knocking on the walls, and items appearing out of nowhere (most spectacularly, a piano that had previously only been seen in vintage photographs).
Who might haunt the hallways of this retreat, once known as the "Screen Actors Sanitarium"? Perhaps it's Marilyn Monroe's mother, who attempted to escape out of a tiny closet window more than once. Or could it be Glinda the Good Witch (actress Billie Burke) from The Wizard of Oz or Clark Gable's first wife Josephine Dillon? The sanitarium's own founder, Nurse Agnes Richards, continued to work at Rockhaven until just months before her death at age 84 in 1967, but perhaps she never left. To investigate for yourself, sign up for one of the occasional tours conducted by Friends of Rockhaven. Otherwise, the property is closed to the public and is closely guarded.
Greystone Mansion is probably L.A.'s most famous murder mansion -- and site of the first official murder when it was the newly-formed city of Beverly Hills. However, it's surrounded by the loveliest of gardens, cypress trees, turtles, ponds, and other water features in Greystone Park, not giving any hint as to the murder-suicide that occurred within those Gothic walls in 1929.
The manor's storied past is now part of its appeal. Scores of creepy films have been shot here, and the semi-annual murder mystery play The Manor actually reenacts how Ned Doheny was found shot to death, only five months after moving in with this family, in the actual mansion where the murder took place. Is it Ned's footsteps that security guards hear during their nightly patrols? Or are they those of his secretary Hugh Plunkett, who allegedly murdered Ned and then committed suicide?
You can find the garden variety of hauntings at Greystone -- footsteps, voices, doors opening and shutting, lights flickering, objects moving -- but they all seem to be a sign of unrest and distress. Unexplained phenomena have sent more than one security guard running from the manor, never looking back. You can access the interior and hear some ghost stories during public tours conducted by a park ranger on the first Saturday of the month, December through April only.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater
It's pretty common to hear ghost stories associated with historic theaters. What better place to hang out for eternity than in the balcony of a grand movie palace, taking in a show whenever you want? But the Bob Baker Marionette Theater isn't like the grand cinemas on Broadway or Hollywood Boulevard. Situated under the First Street Bridge directly across from the Belmont Tunnel, the theater itself was once a run-down scene shop in a not-so-nice neighborhood near downtown. With his partner, Alton Wood, puppeteer Bob Baker transformed it into a magical performance space. Its main denizens are puppets -- and ghosts.
The building has been threatened with closure for over 20 years now, and with the death of Bob Baker himself in 2014, its fate is even more uncertain. Understandably, the ghosts are restless. There are the strings that break, and the strings that go bump in the night. Ghostly apparitions appear in mirror reflections. A broken cell phone once started making calls on its own from inside a locked locker in the middle of the night. The current staff guesses that these little nudges may be coming from the ghosts of the theater's former puppeteers -- especially those not particularly happy with how an individual performance may be going. In typical theater tradition, they leave a "ghost light" on for anything that might be moving around at night. Perhaps it's the puppets themselves that come to life when everybody else goes to sleep.
Queen Mary Long Beach
The Queen Mary is both a former World War II troopship once known as "The Grey Ghost" and a luxury oceanliner that is now permanently moored in Long Beach Harbor as a "floating hotel." There is so much reported paranormal activity on this enormous cruise ship that nearly every single deck, cabin, hallway, bar and restaurant on it is considered to be haunted. Its hauntings have earned the ship a spot on TIME's Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America 2008. And it hasn't gotten any less haunted since then. Hotel guests and staff alike have described hundreds of ghosts, which seem to be particularly concentrated in certain "hot spots," including the infamous first class swimming pool, engine room, boiler room, and Isolation Ward.
Now, the ghostliness of The Queen Mary is a big part of its appeal and notoriety. Since being taken out of commission in 1967, it's been used as a filming location for The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, Murder, She Wrote, and countless other TV shows, music videos, commercials, and films. Paranormal investigation teams have tried to document the otherworldly happenings on this Art Deco landmark, and the hotel hosts its own paranormal tours and haunted houses.
Your best bet for spotting a shadowy figure might be just to get a stateroom or suite for the night and wait for the goosebumps to come. Look for the sailor who died in the ship's engine room, any of the children who drowned in the ship's pool, and the "lady in white" (there's always one of those). Check for swimmers taking a dip in the pool, despite the fact it hasn't been filled with water in years. But be sure to look twice: if you see a figure dressed in 1930s attire milling about, it may just be one of the actual attendees of the annual Art Deco Festival.
These are just a handful of locations known for their hauntings, but there are plenty of other places -- if you visit pretty much any historic landmark in L.A., someone will probably say it's haunted. And if you're lucky, the ghost can play piano, and she takes requests.