Grave Hunter: Mistress of the Macabre Digs Up Stories of the Dead

In the new web series Grave Hunter, macabre history aficionado Malia Miglino goes graveside to dig up forgotten stories before they’re gone.

Weird Hollywood

October 2019 Newsletter: Cult of Weird Goes to Hollywood

Cult of Weird goes west, has mildly interesting adventures, and almost joins a real cult.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I visited the West Coast, so the moment I learned I would be spending time in and around Los Angeles to stand up in my best friend’s wedding at the end of September (it was beautiful and amazing, but I had to wear white, so don’t expect any photos of that), I began mapping out all the murder houses, oddities shops, and disturbing museums I’ve spent the last two decades researching and dreaming about seeing in person.

By the time I boarded the tiny metal sky tube bound for California with my kids, however, I decided they would probably enjoy the touristy things a bit more than gawking from the sidewalk at the Sowden House where some believe Elizabeth Short (the “Black Dahlia”) was murdered and mutilated.

I mean, my kids spend every day of their lives surrounded by skulls, taxidermy, and death ephemera. I drag them on detours to find graves of murderers and exorcists on the way to the grocery store. This is supposed to be a vacation—I’ll cut them some slack.

We’ll take some photos by the Hollywood sign – where an actress committed suicide by throwing herself from the top of the “H” in 1932. We’ll stroll down the Walk of Fame past buildings haunted by the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, like the Roosevelt Hotel. Since they’re missing school, we’ll get some prehistoric education at the La Brea tar pits – there’s nothing weird about educational dead things, right? We’ll hit the arcade on the Santa Monica pier where my favorite part of my last visit in 2000 was a one-legged seagull with a twitchy nub where the other should have been.

Back in 2000 I also stumbled into the filming of an MTV game show I don’t remember the name of and can’t seem to find any evidence of online. The female host was getting covered in cockroaches or something, and I had a conversation with the male host in which I confessed I didn’t watch his show. Charming, as always. I have a knack of inadvertently insulting famous people.

If that show wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, if it actually exists and that moment really happened…there might be footage out there somewhere of a 20-year-old goth kid from the desolate wastes of Wisconsin with hair bleached, dyed red, and gelled into insect-like antennae, hanging out on the Santa Monica pier.

I didn’t manage to get into much weirdness this time around. But I did almost get recruited into Scientology, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Nessy Burger in Fallbrook, California

The wedding was held at a remote, fantastical private castle high in the mountains near Fallbrook, which my vegan readers or guacamole enthusiasts will be interested to know is the self-proclaimed “Avocado Capital of the World” according to the sign with a smiling, dancing avocado in a hat.

But more importantly, Fallbrook is the home of Nessy Burgers.

This is why no one has found the Loch Ness Monster.

The food was great, but I’m still picking scales out of my teeth.

Nessy Burger

Nessy burgers are better enjoyed in a kilt, of course.

Fallbrook roadside memorial

A roadside memorial near our hotel.

Chocorooms

What the…? They didn’t even have any hallucinatory properties…

Dispensary in Fallbrook

This dispensary had a bit of a Breaking Bad vibe, but we survived.

Swami's Beach in Encinitas

Swami’s Beach in Encinitas.

Easter Island heads at Swami's Beach in Encinitas

Easter Island Heads carved by artist Tim Richards at Swami’s Beach.

Joy's Memorial at Swami's Beach

Joy's Memorial at Swami's Beach

Joy Froding, a jewelry designer, painter, sculptor, and beloved member of Swami’s surf community, succumbed to a heart attack after riding “one of the best waves of her life” in 2015. Her friends felt that she was the heart of Swami’s.

“It made me happy to know that she stuck with surfing and really made it her lifestyle and that a beautiful wave was her last memory of her life,” a friend who taught Joy to surf wrote after her death.

Now you can’t get down to the beach without passing by this memorial.

Crabs at Swami's Beach at Low Tide

Found some crabs. They weren’t nearly as excited to see me as I was to see them.

Digideroo on the beach

A guy casually blowing his digideroo on the beach. And a guy wearing a reverse t-shirt in the background?

Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas

The Self-Realization Fellowship is probably a cult.

Inside the Scientology Information Center on Hollywood Boulevard

This is definitely a cult.

Church of Scientology Information Center in Hollywood

They gave me pamphlets and showed me a video about how Scientology isn’t bad. I took this photo from the sidewalk. They didn’t allow any photos inside the building.

I regret to inform you all that it seems I have body thetans. But don’t worry, once I start paying for auditing I’ll be clear in a billion years.

Statue of Robert Wadlow at Guinness World Records Museum in Hollywood

Statue of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever in recorded history, at Guinness World Records Museum in Hollywood.

Elvis in Hollywood

Little known fact: Elvis had no fingers.

Rattlesnakes in Hollywood park

Rattlesnakes. In a children’s play area. This was at Hollywood Lake Park where everyone goes to get a good photo of themselves pretending to hold the Hollywood sign.

Mammoth statues at La Brea Tar Pits

Columbian mammoth sculptures at the La Brea Tar Pits. Created by Howard Ball and transported from his studio to the La Brea Lake Pit in a trailer pulled by his Volkswagen Beetle in 1968.

Road cones mark areas where asphalt has bubbled up

Road cones mark new spots where asphalt has bubbled up from the pits below.

La Brea tar pits tree graffiti

Tar pit tree graffiti.

Dire wolf skulls on display at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

404 dire wolf skulls found in the La Brea tar pits.

Stork skeleton at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

Articulated skeleton of a La Brea stork.

A face painted on a tree with asphalt at the La Brea tar pits

Tar art. Tart?

Ancient corkscrew fossil at the La Brea Tar Pits

Fossil of an ancient corkscrew that became trapped in the tar pits hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The Evolution of Life on Earth at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

“Time Ribbon” or “The Evolution of Life on Earth” at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum is a mural of an 83-foot-long ribbon depicting the entire history of life on Earth beginning with the origin of the planet five billion years ago. Each inch represents about five million years. The story of primitive man to astronaut happens only within the last half inch.

Levitated Mass art installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Levitated Mass,” a 340-ton granite boulder art installation by Michael Heizer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Map of movie star home and crime scenes on the Santa Monica pier

“The kids will thank you forever and definitely won’t be traumatized by a Hollywood murder tour.” – Smiling star on map of crime scenes

Beneath the Santa Monica pier

Beneath the Santa Monica pier. Living here when I’m old, poor, and homeless is my new retirement plan.

Sunset at the Santa Monica pier

Sunset from the Santa Monica beach with the “Singing Beach Chairs.” The backs of the oversized chairs are aluminum tubes that produce low oboe-like tones when the wind blows off the ocean through them. They were created by Douglas Hollis and installed in 1987. All art created for Santa Monica beaches had to adhere to the guideline that it “must interact with natural phenomena.”

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

Octopus Changes Colors While Dreaming

October Observances

October 4-6 – Windigo Fest Halloween Festival
October 9 – Feast of St. Denis, the headless saint
October 12 – Happy birthday Aleister Crowley
October 13 – Templars arrested on this day in 1307
October 16 – Anniversary of the Cardiff Giant discovery
October 20 – Anniversary of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film

From the Cult of Weird Community

Share your oddities and weird adventures by tagging your photos #cultofweird

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email [email protected]

WTFact

Strange phenomena reported during the Peshtigo fire
Photo courtesy of Sketchy Mother Artistry

The Peshtigo fire ravaged northeastern Wisconsin on October 8, 1871. The firestorm (with reported “tornados of flames”) burned approximately 1,200,000 acres and killed between 1,500 and 2,500 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in American history. So many people died in the fire that there was no one left to identify them. More than 350 unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave. But the tragedy was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire that occurred on the same day…along with several more fires in Michigan.

What caused all those fires?

In his 1883 book Ragnarok: The Age of Fire And Gravel, Igantius Donnelly proposed that the Earth had passed through the broken up remains of the Biela Comet. The comet was discovered in 1926 and predicted to pass by Earth in 1872 but never showed. According to Donnelly, the fragments of Biela could have entered our atmosphere and started the fires upon impact.

Numerous other strange phenomena was reported during the Peshtigo fire, including black balloon-like objects in the air that would burst into flames when they collided with other objects. Even today, the area is still ripe with supernatural activity, including shadow people seen on the streets of Peshtigo, and the only apparition of the Virgin Mary officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about the strange phenomena surrounding the Peshtigo fire.

Previous Newsletter: The Heart of Darkness

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Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine, Nov. 1982

Stephen King’s House to Become a Museum and Writer’s Retreat

Stephen King plans to turn his Victorian mansion in Bangor into an archive of his work.

“Of course we fell in love with the house we live in, and it has never disappointed us,” Stephen King wrote in an essay for a March 1983 Bangor Historical Society event. “Have we disappointed it? Disappointment probably isn’t the right word. I think it disapproved of us at first. The parlor seemed cold in a way that had little to do with temperature. The cat would not go into that room; the kids avoided it. My oldest son was convinced there were ghosts in the turret towers (that idea was probably more due to the Hardy Boys than to parental influence).”

But eventually the house warmed up to the King family, and it became their primary residence for many years. These days, however, King is barely a part time resident of the Victorian mansion at 47 West Broadway (find it on the Strange Destinations map) that he purchased in 1980. It seems he prefers the warmer weather of his Florida getaway.

What to do with the house back in Maine, then?

Well, as Rolling Stone reports, it is soon to be transformed into a Stephen King museum and writer’s retreat.

“On Wednesday night, the Bangor City Council unanimously approved a request by King and his wife Tabitha to rezone their home as a non-profit,” the article states, “allowing it to house an archive of King’s work (offering restricted visits by appointment) and up to five writers at a time.”

“The King Family has been wonderful to the City of Bangor over time and have donated literally millions of dollars to various causes in the community,” a city councilors told Rolling Stone. “Preserving his legacy here in Bangor is important for this community.”

Bangor history and myth was the inspiration for the fictional town of Derry in Stephen King’s novel IT, which drove his decision to live there.

“Oh my Lord, my Lord the stories you hear about this town — the streets fairly clang with them,” King wrote. “The problem isn’t finding them or ferreting them out; the problem is that old boozer’s problem of knowing when to stop. It’s entirely possible, I find, to overload completely on Bangor myth.”

Stephen KIng's house in Bangor, Maine

The house, as well as other landmarks fans will recognize from the novel such as the Barrens and the Standpipe, are included in the Stephen King’s “Derry” tour.

Man gets the last laugh at his funeral

Last Laughs: Dead Guy Pranks Mourners as He’s Lowered into the Ground

Shay Bradley pranked mourners at his funeral with a recorded message inside his coffin.

Shay Bradley was being lowered into the ground in a cemetery in Dublin, the bagpipes began to play, when suddenly he called out from his coffin.

“Hello?” Bradley said.

The bagpipes stopped and his friends and family peered into the grave. They were confused at first, but then they started to laugh.

“Where the fuck am I?” Bradley called. “Hello?”

There was knocking from the coffin.

“Let me out, it’s fucking dark in here! Is that the priest I can hear? This is Shay, I’m in the box.”

Watch the video from the funeral:

https://twitter.com/lfcgigiddy1122/status/1183375983145082880

Bradley had been terminally ill, and conceived the prank a year earlier with his daughter Andrea. He made the recording, and told her it was his dying wish that it be played as his coffin was being lowered into the ground.

“Here is a picture of the legend himself. My dad, Shay Bradley,” Andrea tweeted. “It was his dying wish that we played this at his funeral. What a man…. To make us all laugh when we were incredibly sad…..”

Ouijazilla, world's largest Ouija board

OuijaZilla: The World’s Largest Ouija Board

The Talking Board Historical Society set the new world record for the largest Ouija board with the 9,000-pound OuijaZilla.

OuijaZilla was unveiled in Salem, MA on October 12, 2019 and officially took the crown for the world’s largest Ouija board from the previous record holder, the Grand Midway Hotel.

Weighting in at an estimated 9,000 pounds, OuijaZilla is made of 99 sheets of plywood and measures 3,168 square feet. The planchette is 400 pounds on its own and measures 15.5 feet long and 10 feet at its widest point, but can be effortlessly moved across the board by just one person (or spirit?), Ripley’s reports.

OuijaZilla was handcrafted by Rick “Ormortis” Schreck, a lifelong collector of spirit boards and Vice President of the Talking Board Historical Society.

Schreck started collecting Ouija boards in 1992 and filled his house with them hoping to make it haunted.

So far, the OuijaZilla site notes, it hasn’t worked.

Watch Talking Board Historical Society director Karen A Dahlman talk to Rick and Kate about the Ouija board rules and their talking board collection in this video: