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Semi-spooky LA history for Halloweenies

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Haunting stories about LA include an original gangster connection to Crossroads of the World and the La Brea Tar Pits' unlikely occult roots.

Halloween is just around the corner. Before the holiday became known for costumes and candy it was dedicated to remembering the dearly departed. So, in the spirit of remembrance, Take Two is bringing you some little-known, kinda spooky stories about L.A., including Showmen's Rest.

Find the pink tiger

Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights is one of the city's oldest and largest graveyards.Historian Kim Cooper knows a lot about this place. She's an expert in LA crime and oddities for Esotouric bus tours. She says if you walk all the way to the very eastern side of Evergreen cemetery, you may come across a little pink tiger atop a tomb.

It's a fitting symbol for those who are buried there - members of the Pacific Coast Showmen's Association. It was for people who participated in the carnival arts, circus performers, sideshow workers, etc.

"These people are all buried together because they were part of a traveling community. And though some people believe that the Pacific Coast Showmen's Sssociation graves represent penniless carnival workers who were buried because they couldn't afford a burial, that's actually not true."

Think of it as more of a guild or a union. Because they were all in the same career/field, the workers would pay an annual fee to this association and in return, if they died out on the road, they would get shipped back to Los Angeles and be buried among their friends.

"Every December when the shows went off the road because the weather was terrible, people would gather in Los Angeles to remember those that had come before," Cooper said.

Some circus and carnival notables buried there include: 

  • Fat lady Dainty Dotty Jensen (who was the wife of tattooing legend Otto Jensen).
  • James Louis Cooley (who is believed to have introduced the ice cream sandwich in the west).
  • The armless and legless Billy Pilgrim (who was famous for his exquisite penmanship).
  • Flea circus proprietor Professor W.E. Alexander.

The world-class shopping mall and the LA gangster

A lot of people say it's America's first outdoor shopping mall: Crossroads of the World. It sits on Sunset Boulevard between Las Palmas and Cherokee Avenue in L.A.

Built in 1936, it was designed to look like an ocean liner and it's surrounded by cottages built to resemble ports o call all over the world.

You've probably seen it. If not in person, it's been in films like "L.A. Confidential" and "Cafe Society." Today, it's home to offices for a variety of creative companies, but as part of our mini-series on semi-spooky places in L.A. Esotouric's Kim Cooper and Richard Schave share the story of Crossroads' forgotten roots.

It was actually built as a tribute to an OG Los Angeles gangster.

"Charlie Crawford was one the original guys that was in Los Angeles from about 1915/1916 doing all these bad things...Charlie Crawford owned this property. Crossroads of the world was developed by his widow."

It all came about because in May of 1931 Charlie Crawford was in the middle of a meeting with newspaper publisher Herbert Spencer.

According to Schave, suddenly an unidentified person walked into Crawford's office, shot Spencer dead and fatally wounded Crawford and walked away.

"They rush Crawford to the hospital and say, 'Charlie Crawford, who shot you?' and he said, 'I'll never tell you.'"

Turns out, Crawford was trying to live a legit life, and that's why they shot him. So, as a result of the shooting, Charlie Crawford's wife said, "He was the greatest Angeleno anyone ever knew, and I want to make sure everyone remembers him."

In an effort to have him remembered. She had Crossroads of the World erected, "based on all the wonderful trips we took on cruises around the world."

Psychometry and the La Brea Tar Pits

On Monday the 100-year anniversary of the La Brea Tar Pits was celebrated with free admission to the Page Museun.
Ken Scarboro/KPCC
On Monday the 100-year anniversary of the La Brea Tar Pits was celebrated with free admission to the Page Museun.

L.A.'s urban center is also a treasure trove of ice age fossils. 

Mammoths, ground sloths and saber-toothed cats are just some of the prehistoric creatures found at the La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park. It was George Allan Hancock who donated the land where the tar pits are located in L.A. County.

But it was a lesser-known geologist named William Denton who first identified the tar pits' bones as ancient fossils. Esotouric's Kim Cooper told us the REAL reason Denton made his way out west.

"Usually when scholars talk about Denton, they say oh, 'He was a geologist from Boston, and he came out looking for oil.' That is not true. He actually came out because he and his wife had the most extraordinary hobby, she had a gift from very very early childhood."

The gift was that of psychometry. Which means having the ability to hold objects and while having little to no information about the object, and narrate the object's 'experience.'

"Old man Hancock, gave him this fang and Denton recognized this fang as coming from an extinct cat and he took it home to Elizabeth and I'm sure they had lots of fun holding it to her forehead and seeing what life was like on the edge of the tar pits..."

The Bradbury Building

Interior of the Bradbury building.
Via Flickr user Tina Ivano
Interior of the Bradbury building.

The Bradbury is one of the most iconic buildings in downtown L.A.

It isn't the brown brick exterior that's so noteworthy but its naturally lit interior of iron grillwork that's made the Bradbury a star, and not just architecturally. 

The building has also played a role in films like "Blade Runner," "500 Days of Summer" and "The Artist."

Gold mining millionaire, and real estate developer, Lewis Bradbury had it built way back in 1893.

For the conclusion to our miniseries on semi-spooky LA stories, Estouric's Kim Cooper explains how the Bradbury's beginning is a classic "right person at the right time" kind of story...with an occult twist.

It all started with a drawing. Lewis Bradbury wanted a building that had his name on it and that was really extraordinary. Unfortunately, the architect he hired for the job, Sumner Hunt was not delivering.

It was then that he came across George Wyman's sketch, inspired by the sci-fi fantasy novel "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy. He offered Wyman the job on the spot.

"The young man went home and told his wife of his problems and his problem was, do I actually take this commission and steal a job from my boss and build something that's just a fantasy from a science fiction book?"

The answer, was yes. But how he got to that decision is where things get interesting. Wyman decided to consult his deceased brother, using a planchette, an instrument very similar to a modern-day ouija board.

"The planchette began to move and quiver and shake, and the planchette began to make a mark and it said, 'Take Bradbury you will be...' then an incoherent scribble.

It wasn't until someone got up from the table to go to the restroom and look at the table upside down that they saw if you turned it over it said, 'Take Bradbury you will be...successful."

And he was.

To hear the stories in its entirety, click the blue play button above.

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