OUT OF THIS WORLD

Ghost tours and para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tions are all the rage in Hol­ly­wood and Long Beach, re­ports Julie Miller

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IT is clear from the out­set there is some­thing odd about this house. Se­bas­tian the res­i­dent rhode­sian ridge­back is un­nat­u­rally rest­less, pok­ing his wet nose per­sis­tently be­tween our legs and is­su­ing an odd gut­tural growl. It may have some­thing to do with the chicken tacos our host David Oman has pre­pared. But that doesn’t ex­plain the be­hav­iour of the cat, who is scream­ing like a ban­shee as she bolts around in cir­cles.

Don’t mind her, she’s on heat,’’ Oman says dis­mis­sively. He seems to think their be­hav­iour is nor­mal but I am not con­vinced.

We are on a per­sonal tour of the most haunted house in Hol­ly­wood. At least, that’s what its owner Oman tells us as he leads us down into the icy bow­els of his three-storey man­sion in Bene­dict Canyon. It’s been called the Mt Ever­est of haunted houses,’’ he says proudly. I’ve had psy­chics here who were too ter­ri­fied to come down th­ese stairs. Does it feel strange to you?’’

I’m more per­turbed by the ugly stains on the car­pet than the sud­den and very ob­vi­ous drop in tem­per­a­ture. But the per­sis­tent screech­ing of the EMF me­ter is a lit­tle un­set­tling. Ac­cord­ing to para­nor­mal pun­dits, an elec­tro­mag­netic or trifield me­ter, which mea­sures fluc­tu­a­tions in mag­netic, mi­crowave and ra­dioac­tive waves, sets off when there is an un­ex­pected source of en­ergy, such as a ghost. And Oman’s lit­tle hand-held de­vice just won’t shut up, what­ever di­rec­tion he turns it.

Oman has just pro­duced a low-bud­get hor­ror movie, House­attheEnd­oftheDrive . Sev­eral television pro­grams have been filmed here and this home is also the high­light of the Haunted Hol­ly­wood tour, run by his good mate, Brian. And the rea­son? It’s just down the road from the man­sion where the Man­son fam­ily ran amok in Au­gust 1969, slaugh­ter­ing five peo­ple, in­clud­ing Sharon Tate, the preg­nant girl­friend of Ro­man Polan­ski.

Ac­cord­ing to Oman, strange things have been hap­pen­ing here since he started build­ing the house six years ago. He has had a noc­tur­nal visit from a spec­tre he claims is Hol­ly­wood hair­dresser to the stars Jay Se­bring, one of the Man­son mur­der vic­tims. Oth­ers have sensed a preg­nant wo­man is fol­low­ing them around the house, wail­ing about her butchered baby.

But why this house? The eerie man­sion where the tragedy took place is five doors up. Oman spec­u­lates that neg­a­tive en­ergy from the in­ci­dent has per­me­ated the street, with his house be­com­ing the epi­cen­tre of ac­tiv­ity. And while he finds life here a lit­tle dis­turb­ing, it’s cer­tainly good busi­ness to share his ex­pe­ri­ences with the world.

Our group of six climbs back into the Haunted Hol­ly­wood cadil­lac. It’s the coolest beast on the roads, and tour leader Brian uses it to great ef­fect to try to pick up chicks at the traf­fic lights. Come and join my tour, it’s the best in Hol­ly­wood,’’ he shouts. It’s cer­tainly one of the strangest, with vis­its to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s grave at West­wood Me­mo­rial ceme­tery, a poke around the back door of the al­legedly haunted Com­edy Store and a driveby tour of Hol­ly­wood’s most scan­dalous mo­ments. It’s fun and cheesy, with Brian’s laid­back tongue-in-cheek bravado set­ting the not-so-se­ri­ous tone of the night.

But I have more spooks to con­tend with; tonight I’m sleep­ing on the Queen Mary, the ocean liner per­ma­nently docked at Long Beach. Dur­ing her 70-year his­tory, this grand ves­sel, con­verted into a lux­ury an­chored ho­tel in 1993, was the site of 49 deaths, and is con­sid­ered one of the most haunted places in the US. Man­age­ment hap­pily trades on this rep­u­ta­tion, hold­ing sev­eral tours, in­clud­ing, for the ded­i­cated ghost hunter, a para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion held on the first and third Fri­day nights of each month.

And so it is at mid­night that I join a group of ded­i­cated ghost boffins in search of the phan­toms of the Queen Mary. This is the po­lar op­po­site of Brian’s Haunted Hol­ly­wood tour; th­ese guys are deadly se­ri­ous and will not tol­er­ate any tom­fool­ery.

Pat Whee­lock, team leader, is some­what scep­ti­cal of things that go bump in the night. An elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer, his mis­sion is to sci­en­tif­i­cally prove the ex­is­tence of ghosts, to com­pile data, to ex­plore ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity with an open mind.

Af­ter 20 years of ghost hunt­ing Whee­lock has not achieved his goal but says he’ll con­tinue to let his cu­rios­ity take over.

Our group of seven is briefed on what to ex­pect over the next three hours, then the tools of the trade are handed out. We are armed with cam­eras, and ad­vised to snap in­dis­crim­i­nately: you never know what you may cap­ture on film. I am also handed an in­frared non-con­tact ther­mome­ter, the the­ory be­ing that be­cause an en­tity ab­sorbs en­ergy, the tem­per­a­ture drops in its im­me­di­ate pres­ence, thereby cre­at­ing a cold spot. Whee­lock is wield­ing an EMF me­ter much like the one used by Oman and we are ad­vised that the tour will be recorded, the re­sult­ing au­dio file painstak­ingly scru­ti­nised for any anom­alies.

The man­age­ment of the Queen Mary has pretty much given Pat’s Be­yond In­ves­ti­ga­tion team carte blanche to go any­where on the ship they see fit, and our tour, ac­com­pa­nied by a beefy se­cu­rity guard, tracks through dinghy stor­age ar­eas, into the en­gine rooms and the bow­els of the ship be­low the wa­ter line.

But first we head to the most fa­mously haunted lo­ca­tion on­board, the first-class swim­ming pool. This gor­geous mar­ble art deco-style space has been drained of wa­ter for 30 years, but there are fre­quent re­ports of the sounds of splash­ing; wet foot­prints mys­te­ri­ously ap­pear and women in vin­tage bathing suits wan­der around the up­per bal­cony. Al­though no drown­ings have been doc­u­mented in the ship’s his­tory, the lo­ca­tion has been de­scribed as the vor­tex for all other para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity on board.

Un­for­tu­nately, our group is not met with the whis­per­ing echoes of the past but the doof­doof-doof of an am­pli­fier re­ver­ber­at­ing through the walls. There’s a dance party go­ing on in one of the ad­join­ing ball­rooms and our se­cu­rity guard is called away to in­ter­vene in a fight that’s bro­ken out. No self-re­spect­ing ghost would make an ap­pear­ance un­der such chaotic con­di­tions so we re­treat to the other end of the ship.

In the lower stor­age ar­eas, our torches punch holes through the end­less black­ness, dimly il­lu­mi­nat­ing ves­tiges of the Queen Mary’s past, in­clud­ing dusty art deco-style furniture, old lifebuoys and chil­dren’s toys. De­scend­ing an iron lad­der, we pick our way across the curved wooden hull; here we are be­low wa­ter, in the bow of the ship that was dam­aged dur­ing a col­li­sion with the Bri­tish cruiser Cu­ra­coa in 1942, an ac­ci­dent re­sult­ing in the loss of 338 lives. Switch­ing off our torches, we sit in si­lence for about 15 min­utes, while Whee­lock sum­mons the spir­its of dark­ness, ask­ing them to re­veal their pres­ence. His side­kick re­peats the in­cite­ment in Ger­man, in case any for­eign-speak­ing en­ti­ties are lin­ger­ing. (Queen Mary car­ried 5000 Ger­man pris­on­ers of war dur­ing World War II.) In­ex­pli­ca­bly, my cam­era bat­ter­ies die, the elec­tronic whirl of the cam­era shut­ting down shat­ter­ing the si­lence.

Our ex­plo­ration con­tin­ues along silent cor­ri­dors, into al­legedly haunted cab­ins and into the metal con­fines of the en­gine room where John Henry, an 18-year-old crew mem­ber, was vi­o­lently crushed by a door dur­ing a rou­tine drill in 1966. His spirit, dressed in blue cov­er­alls, is said to wan­der the length of Shaft Al­ley, dis­ap­pear­ing into Door 13 where he met his grisly fate.

Through locked doors and up rick­ety metal steps, we fi­nally re­turn to the ball­room, where the black-clad strag­glers from the dance party are pack­ing up equip­ment. At about 3.30am, ther­mome­ters re­turned, EMFs switched off and au­dio record­ings com­plete, I pad down the flo­ral hall­way of A Deck to my state­room. In the dis­tance, a dim light flick­ers and a shadow flits across the hall­way. A noc­tur­nal wan­derer or an­other se­cret of the Queen Mary? It’s one I’ll leave to a less ex­hausted ghost­buster. Check­list The Haunted Hol­ly­wood Tour de­parts Mann’s Chi­nese Theatre nightly; adults, $US38 ($43), chil­dren, $US30. More: www.star­line­tours.com. Queen Mary’s Para­nor­mal Ship Walk Tour lasts about two hours; $US50 a per­son, Thurs­days, Fri­days and Sun­days from 8pm. The Queen Mary Para­nor­mal In­ves­ti­ga­tion is held ev­ery first and third Fri­day at mid­night; $US75 a per­son. More: www.queenmary.com. Susan Kuro­sawa’s Depar­tureLounge col­umn re­turns next week. DEALS OF THE WEEK Cruis­ing prices in Aus­tralia and Fiji slashed; big sav­ings on Kim­ber­ley tour­ing; free car hire in Cal­i­for­nia; pay noth­ing for air travel with Euro­pean river cruises. Th­ese and other money-sav­ing of­fers are fea­tured in Travel&In­dul­gence’s hol­i­day deals, up­dated daily, which can be found via our up­graded and di­rect link.

www.theaus­tralian.com.au/travel/dd

Il­lus­tra­tion: John Tiede­mann

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