Like Long Beach history? Click here for the archives that explore our city’s vast, complicated, sublime history.
Above: the Queen Mary. Photo by Brian Addison.
The rich history of Long Beach brings its fair share of myths and stories of the metaphysical. Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, these tales and places cross interests that span history to urban legends, cultural eradication to pure amusement.
Some of these places still exist while others are tales from the crypt. Either way, for the lovers of the spooky season, here are a handful of places—some obvious, like the Queen Mary, some far more eyebrow-raising—that you might be unwillingly willing to explore. And though there are countless others, even with this small list that will be forever incomplete, you might just want to bring a friend—and try not to let the spirits sense your sympathetic vibrations too much.
The Puvungna Village
For many non-secular followers of spirituality, the Native American village of Puvungna—a large portion of which is now the site of Cal State Long Beach—is where the haunts of Long Beach really begin.
In fact, to this day, Puvungna remains sacred to the Tongva (roughly translated as “people of the earth” and later known as the Gabrieliños after the San Gabriel Mission influenced culture through coercion).
Roughly bounded by what is now Willow St., Anaheim St., Palos Verde St., and Los Alamitos Blvd., it was a spiritual center from which their lawgiver and god, Chungichnish, instructed his people. More than a dozen archaeological sites spread over an area of about 500 acres on and near the campus have been identified as Puvungna village sites, most of which have been destroyed by development.
“In 1972, campus workmen uncovered portions of an Indian burial on one of these sites, LAn-235, located on the western edge of campus,” said Emeritus Professor of Anthropology Eugene Ruyle. “These remains were placed in CSULB’s archaeology lab and exhibited at a few museums. A few years later, LAn-235 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by CSULB archaeologist Kenneth Dixon to ‘represent Puvungna as a means of perpetuating the memory of these native peoples and their religion, and as an aid to the program of public education.’ Two other sites were included in the National Register: the adjacent LAn-234 and LAn-306, located just east of campus on the grounds of the historic Rancho Los Alamitos.”
According to Ruyle, in 1979, the human remains were then reburied on LAn-234, after a long struggle by Native American students—and to this day, the empty lot just south of the Earl Miller Japanese Garden remains untouched, even after the university sought to build a strip mall on it in 1992.
Students have long claimed that fog would roll in—when the climate would otherwise not permit—and, if one were to start heading toward the holy sites, the sound of drumming and chants would be heard the closer one approached. Some have claimed cold chills running past the area in the middle of summer heat waves while others have even said they saw visual distortions that looked like fire pits.
The Carson Street Navy Hospital (now demolished)
After the original Navy Hospital on 7th at Bellflower was transformed into to the current Veterans Administration Hospital, the Navy had no hospital in Long Beach as it began to drastically cut its budget—that is, until the Vietnam War, when it began construction on $9.1M the Carson Street Navy Hospital in 1962.
According to Long Beach historian Claudine Burnett, the place was of little controversy until it became the 24-hour home of Andrija Artuković [pictured right], one of the leaders of the Nazi puppet country the Independent State of Croatia during the latter portion of WWII under the Croatian nationalist and terrorist Ustaše organization.
Responsible for the deaths of over 700,000 Serbs, Jews, Croats, and outcasts—and directing killing 23 individuals—Artuković had fled, bouncing between countries before landing a tourist visa in the States. He made Seal Beach his home, where he fought the Yugoslav government against extradition for thirty years until November 14, 1985, when Yugoslavia had successfully ordered him arrested and he was detained in the Navy Hospital here in Long Beach.
Upon his arrival, those being cared for and workers alike noted a significant change in the aura of the hospital, particularly near his isolation room on the 4th floor of the ICU, where doors would random open or close. This is what is a dubbed a “residual haunting,” that is, according to ghost hunters, playbacks of past events as “recorded” through someone’s stress—in this case, the stress of both Artuković and, far more importantly, his victims.
The Queen Mary
Unquestionably the most popular of haunted places in Long Beach—hell, even TIME named it one of the country’s top 10 most haunted places and the ship’s staff hosts haunted tours throughout the year while also making it home to the city’s massive Dark Harbor Halloween theme area during October.
Fun and accolades aside, the stories behind the ship are some of the most creepy to come out of Long Beach. When it first set sail in 1936, the “Grey Ghost” was a marvel that soon became mired in what Burnett called “one of the best-kept secrets of WWII”: in 1942, the ship collided with the Curacao liner—and literally cut the ship in half, sending 338 Royal naval officers to their death as the Mary’s propellers either chopped them up or the weight of the crash crushed their bodies.
The ship’s initial history in Long Beach isn’t one that is pretty either. Plagued with the tragedy of suicide, its founding leader, Rear Admiral John J. Lee, took his own life after the multi-million project to turn the ship into a tourist attraction began to lag behind by a couple years—all this while the shipyard the Mary was being restored in was continually reported by workers as having haunts ranging from ghosts to odd movements.
Over the past several decades, over 45 deaths have been reported aboard her halls and rooms—and that isn’t counting her time during war.
Of her countless ghoulish delights, the Mary’s now-empty swimming pools are some of its most storied spaces.
Though the first class pool, for example, has been shuttered and empty for decades, guests have repeatedly reported of the sounds of water splashing, laughing, and perhaps most eerie, wet footprints leading away from the pool.
Probably only second to the Queen Mary is DeForest Park in terms of its being known specifically as a haunted place. Angeleno ghostbusters studied while even the DeForest Park Neighborhood Association commissioned a full paranormal study of the park through the Anubis Paranormal Research Organization September 30 of last year.
Located in North Long Beach on the east side of the Los Angeles River between Long Beach Blvd. and the 91 Freeway and purchased by the City in 1976, DeForest Park is a genuine community space during the day. However, be they rightful speculations or simply the misguided cognitive slips neurons tend to shoot off when we’re in the dark, people claim that DeForest at night is no place to be wandering alone.
Shadowy figures. Voices. Random gusts of cold air. Apparitions. One of the most vivid descriptions is that of a woman ghost with her face ripped off. All have been claimed at one time or another—even with some mentioning (without a sense of tact) that they were certain it wasn’t the homeless that was fooling their brains.
The Breakers Building
Pictured above is the third turn of a tunnel under the boiler room of the Breakers at Long Beach in DTLB—and it’s as creepily awesome as it looks, even though my camera failed to capture the entire essence of its spookiness.
Formally used as an air duct, the now abandoned tunnel just sits there, filled with that distinct scent of stagnant moisture and earth. It is one of many places throughout the Breakers that is deemed not only haunted but outright frightening.
Opening in 1926 as a 15-story, 350 room hotel, the famed building has been host to Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, and Charles Lindbergh, just to name a few, when it was thriving as a destination for the wealthy.
However, its basement has—to this day—been a common perpetrator in freaking folks out. The abandoned pool and mudbath area, much like the Queen Mary, has often been home to the sounds of intangible souls laughing and swimming. The boiler room, pictured here when I photographed it, sits just below the mudbath area and gives off vibes no one wants to feel while they’re alone.
Though the City would never permit it, there definitely needs to be a Downtown Underground tour of these odd and creepy spaces…
The Pike Amusement Park (now demolished)
Surely, The Pike—no, not the outlets—will remain in the nostalgic history of Long Beach probably forever, a theme park martyr of sorts that was the direct inspiration, at least in part, for the still-existing Disneyland and Knott’s parks over in OC.
But there was something incredibly off and macabre about The Pike’s Laff in the Dark funhouse—and it wasn’t until 1976, when TV crews showed up, that folks realized precisely what made the ride more than just jeepers creepers.
Filming for the Six Million Dollar Man—where star Steve Austin, the pricey namesake star of the show would be filmed riding in one of the cars along the track of a hokey, pop-up, psuedo-animatronic skeletons and ghosts—crews were sprucing up the tired ride. After all, The Pike was experiencing a downturn in the market as neighboring theme parks, particularly Walt’s creation in Anaheim, was outpacing Long Beach’s amusement space by the day.
Noticing a mannequin hanging on a noose and finding it too macabre for TV audience, the crewman pull on the arm only to have it instantaneously break off. Baffled, the crewman noticed an intricate bone structure beneath the layers.
It was the body of Elmer McCurdy.
McCurdy was an outlaw who died in a gunfight in 1911 with no one to claim the body and, seeing an opportunity to play on the most base of human entertainment, the undertaker embalmed him, allowing visitors to view the preserved corpse if they placed a nickel in its mouth. (No joke.)
Five years into, a carnival man—also one monetizing on the the most base of human entertainment—turned up at the home, claiming to be, at last, the long-lost relative of McCurdy that needed to put his tired body to rest. That was bullshit and for nearly 60 years, McCurdy made the rounds through the base of human entertainment—until he arrived in Long Beach, one step up form a freak show. (And a damn good freak show we are, dammit.)
By this time, no one in their right mind knew the corpse was, well, real—and bless our ignorance for it because it would have probably made Laff in the Dark impossible to get into were it otherwise.
Want to know more about Long Beach’s haunted spaces? Check out historian Claudine Burnett’s book that will give you all the details. Click here.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.