Editor’s note: This four-part series delves into the realm of haunted houses, examining tales of home hauntings that seem to live on forever in film and paperbacks and how they affect real estate. Every scary Halloween story inevitably involves a house, and usually one with a sordid past. This series offers a practical look at the commonalities, overlooked facts in famous stories, and disclosure issues that haunted home sellers face. (See Part 1: Homes ripe for haunting; Part 3: Amityville: Haunted house or horrendous hoax? and Part 4: Real-life issues of haunted homes.)
Although thousands of hauntings are reported every year, most that can stand up to the scrutiny of experts in the paranormal are bound by some common threads. The majority involves homes and other properties that were once the site of great suffering or human drama, a murder or other tragic death, or an unsolved mystery.
But chances of a haunting increase further, experts in the paranormal say, if at least one of a home’s former occupants had an unusually big ego: Those who just couldn’t get enough attention when they were alive sometimes keep looking for it after they’re dead.
In short, the same “ingredients” that make for a good movie also make for a good haunting — which helps to explain why so many houses in Hollywood are apparently still visited by the celebrities who once lived there.
“A lot of Hollywood stars thrived on ‘attention,’ and the drama of their off-screen lives was even greater than in the films that they made,” says Dale Kaczmerek, president of the Illinois-based Ghost Research Society.
“When you mix it all together, you’ve got a great ‘recipe’ for a haunting.”
Even the famous Hollywood sign itself, which sits atop a ridge overlooking Tinseltown, is said to be haunted by a young starlet who jumped to her death from the top of its 50-foot-tall “H” in 1932.
The ghost of the actress, Peg Entwistle, is also frequently spotted walking aimlessly up and down the nearby street where she once lived.
More frightful goings-on have occurred just a few miles away, at 426 N. Bristol Drive. The handsome home has been owned by several celebrities over the years, but ghost-researchers simply call it The Crawford House.
There’s a good chance that the property was haunted long before actress Joan Crawford and her daughter, Christina, moved in about 70 years ago. Christina recounts that when she was a little girl, she often heard the voices of other small children “coming from inside the walls” of the house: Her mother heard them too, and arranged for a local minister to perform an exorcism.
The rites failed to quiet the disembodied voices, and some believe they may have even opened a portal that allowed malevolent forces to move in and take over Joan Crawford herself. It’s well-documented that the actress’s behavior became increasingly violent and bizarre (remember Mommie Dearest?), and her last words to her daughter before she died were, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
Even after Crawford died, strange happenings around the house continued. Several times, the walls in her former bedroom erupted into flames: Fire investigators spent four days trying to figure out the cause, but found nothing.
The house was eventually purchased by Donald O’Connor, whose own experiences in the home belied the happiness he typically displayed on the Silver Screen. It was later acquired by singer Anthony Newley, who ordered what turned out to be another failed exorcism.
According to renowned ghost-researcher Dennis William Hauck (www.haunted-places.com), “Recent owners have called in yet another exorcist to work with the possessed house,” but the reports of its hauntings continue.
A few people who own “celebrity properties” have gone to even greater lengths to rid their homes of unwanted spirits — or, at least, to make their home more comfortable to live in before they die or sell.
Such is the case with the property commonly called “The Tate House,” where actress Sharon Tate and four others were slaughtered by followers of cult leader Charles Manson on a sultry summer evening in 1969.
Most people are familiar with Manson and the horrific killings. But far fewer are aware that there’s a strong — some say supernatural — link between Tate, the house where she was murdered, and a nearby home once owned by actress Jean Harlow.
Before her death, Sharon Tate was dating a wealthy hair-stylist named Jay Sebring. Sebring had purchased his Hollywood home from Harlow, who had tried to commit suicide in an upstairs bedroom after learning that her abusive husband, celebrity agent Paul Bern, had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sebring himself said that the bedroom was haunted by the ghost of Harlow, who died from kidney damage that some medical experts attribute to the oft-reported beatings she took from husband Bern.
But one night, while Tate was staying in the upstairs bedroom and Sebring was out of town, the beautiful young actress was awakened not by Harlow’s spirit but by the ghoulish figure of the late Paul Bern.
As Tate tried to flee the home, she came across an even ghastlier scene at the bottom of the staircase: She saw the likeness of her boyfriend Sebring, lashed to a wooden post with blood gushing from a throat that had been slit from ear to ear.
Tate shared the experience with Sebring when he returned the next day. The pair even joked about it as they recounted the story to friends over the next several weeks.
Just two years later, however, Sharon Tate’s awful vision came true: She and Sebring were among the five people found slaughtered by the infamous Manson Family at the nearby home of director Roman Polanski.
But unlike the other murder victims, Tate’s body had been lashed together with Sebring’s. And, much like Tate’s earlier nightmare, the end of the rope had been slung over a wooden post.
Shortly after the murders, reports began to surface that the home was being haunted not only by the victims but also by Charles Manson himself — even though the crazed killer was alive and in prison several hundred miles away.
The 2,300-square-foot house was sold a number of times after the killings occurred. But reports of the hauntings abruptly ended in 1990, perhaps because that was the year that the owners completely demolished the house (even the dirt was removed) and replaced it with an 18,000-square-foot Mediterranean Villa.
Tomorrow: Amityville — Haunted house or horrible hoax?
What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.