Gather close, and prepare to be scared out of your skin! It’s a true celebration of terror as you’re guided through the world’s most notorious, sensational, horrifying stories—from urban legends to hauntings to real-life chillers that will make you shiver and keep you up at night. Boo!
PART ONE: CAMPFIRE CLASSICS
CITY OF ANGELS?
Every location holds a story. Residual hauntings speak to the belief that a place can contain memories of its own. When a traumatic, violent or tragic incident occurs, its echoes are etched into the location. In almost every city there are ghost stories or cautionary tales associated with a legendary building or landscape. Los Angeles—and in particular Hollywood—has had its fair share of reported hauntings.
The Comedy Store in West Hollywood was once a notable, golden age-era nightclub named Ciro’s. Today it maintains a reputation of lingering terror—and not just as a result of open-mic night. Some of the most famous comedians of all time—Williams, Leno, Pryor—got there start here. A grim local legend received its start here as well. The mob allegedly committed murders in the basement, and it’s said that the victims’ spirits still live here. Numerous comedians swear they’ve experienced inexplicable phenomena or direct paranormal incidents. Reports include doors slamming inexplicably, furniture rearranging itself, seeing phantom staff members and hearing the screams of women in torment.
The iconic Hollywood sign, the symbol of so many dreams, is the spot where Peg Entwistle’s ghost is said to wander, following her tragic suicide in 1932. The 24-year-old actress jumped to her death from the letter H. When her role in the movie Thirteen Women was cut, she felt her career was over and scaled the sign. Her body was found by a hiker the next day, along with a note that read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.” Many present-day hikers claim to have felt an eerie presence at that spot, and several have actually sighted an apparition. Megan Santos, one such witness, told Vanity Fair, “There was this woman with blond hair, and she seemed to be like walking on air. I immediately ran the other way.”
Permanently moored in Long Beach, the cruiseliner Queen Mary, known as the “Grey Ghost” during the Second World War—one of Time magazine’s Top 10 Haunted Places—is said to house a shroud of malevolent spirits. “Screams and violent noises were reported in the boiler room, where an 18-year-old sailor was severed in half by a heavy door where he was trapped. A young girl also haunts the ship as she plays a nightly game of hide-and-seek with the guests in the empty swimming pool,” reports Forbes, adding, “It is believed that many spirits attach themselves to antique furniture or personal items remaining on the ship.” The vessel now capitalizes on its reputation, offering séances and ghost tours as attractions.
DON’T DRINK THE TAP WATER
La La Land has no shortage of haunted history. The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, now known as the Stay on Main, has held a sinister reputation for the better part of a century. In the ’40s it became a notorious hangout for drunks and transients and the spot of countless suicides, murders and drug overdoses. It was even said to have been the home of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the infamous Night Stalker, and Elizabeth Short, dubbed Black Dahlia, who drank merrily in the decorative bar a short time before her disappearance and subsequent mutilation. Ghosts purportedly stalk the once-glamorous corridors. In fact, the building was the primary inspiration behind American Horror Story: Hotel, and the Cecil’s guests have continued to report weird phenomena to this day.
In 2013 guests began complaining about foul-tasting, discolored water and low water pressure, prompting an investigation. Hotel staff eventually searched the water tanks on the roof and discovered the decomposing, naked corpse of a Canadian woman who had been missing for weeks. When the last known footage of the woman, Elisa Lam, was released, it immediately went viral. Video surveillance showed Lam acting erratically, panicking inside the elevator and peering out of the open doors, as if being followed or pursued. There was no one else present in the corridors or the elevator. What exactly she saw or was running from or what happened to her in the direct aftermath of the video remains a complete mystery.
THE BODY UNDER THE BED
Much like ghost stories, urban legends are horrific, tantalizing tales that are passed from person to person. Though seemingly ficticious, a truthful origin story can sometimes be unearthed.
One of the most commonly told legends, along with alligators in the sewers, concerns a couple who check into a room only to discover a pungent stench they can’t identify emanating from somewhere. Even after searching extensively, they find it impossible to locate the source of the nauseating odor and so make a complaint to reception. It takes some time and persistence to get the hotel to assist them, but when they do, a further inspection uncovers a body in the advanced stages of decomposition stashed under the bed.
This commonly regaled story actually has several sources. Apparently storing bodies inside a box spring or under a sofa isn’t as uncommon as one might imagine. In 2013, at the Capri Motel in Kansas City, a guest complained about a foul smell in his room for three nights before he couldn’t take it anymore and checked out. Only then did the cleaners find a rotting body underneath the mattress. The same thing happened at the Burgundy Motor Inn in Atlantic City in 1999, when a German couple spent the night sleeping on the festering corpse of a 64-year-old man named Saul Hernandez. With almost a dozen cases since the early ’80s, it’s easy to see why this story became one of the most common urban legends of the pre-internet era.
Haunted houses and ghost trains are interactive attractions designed to terrify visitors. The more ghoulish and gory the props, the better, but many stories exist about such places using genuine human remains. This dates back to the carnival days, where actual mummified bodies would be laid out for all to see—criminals and outlaws were among the biggest draws. Nu-Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California, once hosted the mummified corpse of gunslinging outlaw Elmer McCurdy as part of its fun house display. Not everyone knew he was a cadaver though. His body was only identified properly during a shoot prep for an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. One producer didn’t like the vibe of the “decoration” and went to move it, only for a dusty arm to break off, exposing a yellowed, chalky bone.