HASSLE AT HOUDINI'S "CASTLE" By Terry L Lattimer
I was in my late-teens during the late-'60's in Los Angeles, California at a pivotally "groovy" time in history; four perfect fits. Outside high school, I was a denizen of the beach and beach-towns by day and of the Hollywood-Sunset Boulevard club, concert and culture scene at night.
One of our fave night time things to do after cruising Sunset Boulevard, checking out the Psychedelic Supermarket on Las Palmas just off Hollywood Boulevard and hangin' out at clubs like the Whisky (a Go Go) and Pandora's Box; was to go up Laurel Canyon Boulevard and visit Houdini's "Castle".
Houdini's "Castle", was actually the guest house to his mansion and got the nick-name from its' castle-themed architecture. The main 1920's gothic mansion was virtually destroyed by a fire in 1959; strangely leaving the guest house Castle entirely intact. The grounds were landscaped with grottos and vegetation and a huge stone staircase, visible from the street, led up to the where the mansion once stood.
Houdini purchased the property aware that a few years earlier the previous owner, a wealthy furniture manufacturer, threw a fortieth birthday and Halloween party for his son, the heir, who ended the evening by pushing his gay lover over a second-story balcony to his death.
While under Houdini's ownership the mansion was the scene of many s?ances and occult experimentation. Houdini vowed to make contact with his wife after death and every Halloween she would hold a s?ance to assist that attempt.
Almost a decade after the fire, the entire grounds had become appropriately spooky; maintenance had been neglected, vegetation was overgrown and the twisted, gnarled trees' silhouettes came to life backed by any given moonlit sky.
This became a popular night time ritual meeting place of individual groups of kindred spirits from all over the Los Angeles Southland.
The local urban legend was that Houdini haunted the grounds, and this has been documented by many people ever since his death right up to the present. Usually he is said to appear standing at the landing at the top of the staircase in a melancholy state.
Houdini is not alone; just up the street is the intersection of Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon Boulevard where a "repeater" ghostly vision shows up at midnight and has even been reported as the cause of car accidents.
Of the "underground" Houdini rumors, there were three: one was that somewhere on the property Houdini buried a locked box containing the secrets to all his magic. The second was that contrary to popular belief Houdini had not been buried in a New York cemetery; rather per his request, his body was to remain in the Castle! This created added excitement for us on the outside, with the possibility of Houdini's body in a coffin on the inside! The last rumor was that the Caretakers supposedly had man-eating Demon Dogs that they could let loose. The grounds were creepy and fun enough so that no one ventured too close to the Castle for this reason.
One night while quietly walking the grounds with a girl I had just met there, I climbed on one of the huge, thick stone staircase railings, goofin' off, but showin' off more likely, when suddenly from my viewpoint I could see a huge Demon Dog appear at the landing at the top of the stairs, then another one, only bigger, appeared from out of the dark next to him!
It was too late for me, but I motioned to my new friend and performed the classic whisper scream, "Dogs! Run!" She took off, and so did they. As they passed by below me, I jumped down from the railing to the stairs and yelled at them; they stopped and turned their attention toward me. They were too close for me to outrun them so I bolted across the staircase in the direction of the gate and dove over the opposing huge stone railing just as the dogs reached me!
In a typical example of not looking before you leap; as I cleared the railing I realized that the ground I was hoping to land on was now much further down than I expected. Thankfully, the moonlit night helped greatly as I prepared for a crash-landing, grabbing for tree limbs and such to break my fall.
I hit the ground and looked up to see the two Demon Dogs looking down at me over the railing as if thinking, "What an idiot, let's take the stairs", and they did., I got up running flat-out toward the front gate as the Demon Dogs emerged at the bottom of the stairs. I was covering ground but they were closing in fast! I could see the gate ahead and could feel one of the Demon Dogs right at my legs!
I knew I wasn't going to make it and just then I heard a loud shout. I slowed and froze; a Demon Dog was growling fiercely right behind me, just ready to attack. Another loud shout came and the Demon Dog stopped growling but stayed right on my ass, literally, I felt the hot breath! The shouts came from the Caretaker at the top of the stairs and from over my shoulder what I could see of him didn't look good.
He shouted for me and the others outside the gate to leave. We understood the unsaid ramifications if we didn't. I cautiously walked the rest of the way to the gate. The Dogs stood and waited till I passed-through the gate then they turned and went back up the stairs.
The girl came up to me from out of the small group of people gathered outside the gate; we hugged, laughed nervously and realized that the days of "visiting" Houdini's Castle were nearing an end, ...or were they.
I had a friend who was an All-City Gymnast back then who had a noticeably crazier tinge to him than the rest of us had and we both decided to investigate the Castle from a new angle; from the hillside behind. Maybe we could get a glimpse inside through a rear window and if we were lucky maybe see Houdini's coffin and confirm the rumor!
We would notify the usual adventurers and known specialists that we were going to mount a new night operation. The final assembled crews, however skeletal, were usually the hard-core adventurers that would buy into our "missions". Due to reports from the last outing, out of five potentials, on this mission there would only be three; myself, the aforementioned Crazy and the Driver. The Driver was a member of the intelligentsia, and also a fellow Caste member, the Caste was a Westchester, L.A., "gang" I was in, -- only in our gang we didn't have automatic weapons, but some of our cars had automatic transmissions!
After outfitting ourselves in dark clothing, we gathered up rope, water, flashlights and other commando gear and drove up early one night to Hollywood and then on to the Castle.
We parked and climbed through surrounding property high up in the hills behind the Castle. By the time we began our descent it was almost dark. After a noiseless trek worthy of any secret agent we came out of the bushes on the steep hillside just above roof level of the Castle. We continued on to a position level with the second story about twenty to thirty feet from a second-story window and about thirty feet from the ground below. It was dark but a waning full moon was just cresting over the hill behind us.
The guest house Castle was of decent size and actually a pretty neat place. While most of the rooms were unlit; a second-story window near us was open and we could see movement inside by the shadows cast on the interior walls. We held our positions, kept silent and staked-out the window.
We could hear what sounded like the beginnings of an argument and as one of the shadows on the interior wall grew bigger, someone, a man, crossed in front of the window :it was the creepy Caretaker from the other night.
We were actually very close, close enough to see his expression and it didn't look good; guess he only had that one look.
Another raised voice was heard, that of a woman, and then another shadow grew on the wall, but stopped and shrunk away, and then a light went on at the other end of the room closest to us which illuminated the window like a TV screen.
At first I couldn't believe my eyes!
There, completely visible through the window of the just-illuminated room was a coffin! No shit, a coffin!
It's one thing to go out at night with the intent of having some urban legend fun and then it's something else entirely when that fun starts to become real.
The Driver mumbled something and started back up the hill through the brush. We couldn't stop him and we were just lucky the noise he made didn't wake the dead, the Dogs, or worse, alert the Caretaker.
I knew that if we were noticed now we were in too deep to ever escape the Demon Dogs, nor would the Caretaker call them off.
Our departed partner demonstrated why he was the smart one; we were now in truly scary territory.
We immediately ducked for as much cover as we could; as this newly-lit room also illuminated the hillside that we were on. Once we both felt mutually obscured by bush, we could see that the coffin was up off the ground, like on a table, and looked like standard issue pine-wood.
Was this Houdini? Kinda seemed like a letdown, him being Houdini and all, we both expected something a little more, ...well, a lot more elaborate or mystical, ... but then again what if it wasn't Houdini?
A double-chill went down my spine as the argument inside seemed to escalate. What if these weren't the real Caretakers? Maybe the real caretaker is in the coffin and these people are the killers! Or maybe these are the Caretakers and it's one of their victims in the coffin! Or maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all! Even Crazy thought we had over-stayed our welcome and if he's good-to-go then that's all the acid test I needed.
To get back on the path up and out, we had to cross a tricky stretch of the illuminated bare hillside without being seen. As we were preparing our timing to cross, the couple brought there still escalating argument out onto the exterior second-story balcony within twenty feet of us!
We hunkered-down. The Woman, dressed in formal-eveningwear tried to stand her ground as the Caretaker got a hold of her. She struggled, but was no match for him. As he muscled her to the railing she began to scream, so he covered her mouth and began to push her over the railing!
Something didn't feel right, I mean, this whole situation was surreal for sure, but this seemed like one of those moments that are kind of like deja vu, but not. You sense that a situation is going to take a turn a certain way and it feels like there's nothing you can do to stop it; like the just-in-the-process-of-being-knocked-over glass of wine, it seems as though you should have had enough time to be able to prevent it, yet it happens anyway.
If I jumped into the open right then, the distraction may prevent this potential murder, for a moment anyway. But then I run a real risk that I'd be the target of his rage!
I was about to explode, if I didn't do something within the next few seconds she'd be dead! Crazy, who was crouched down behind me, must have realized the same thing as I suddenly felt him push me out into the open! He's crazy, not stupid, and was real brave with my life!
And there I stood, fully lit up on the hillside. The Caretaker, now affectionately known as Killer Caretaker, stopped cold and looked at me dumb-founded and as he did, he released his grip on the Woman long enough for her to break loose and run.
I guess there are rare times that you can prevent the glass of wine from spilling!
But not without consequence ...this now left me standing only twenty feet across from Killer Caretaker but with a thankful thirty foot abyss between us!
We both froze and stared at each other in disbelief; for me, that I was even in this position, and for him, at my timing and appearance seemingly out of thin-air! His face changed from surprise to a boiling mad version of his one look, and then he moved. And so did I.
He had to go downstairs, across the back patio and then up the very steep hill; I had to go back up the steep hill the way I came down, as it was the only way I knew. Crazy was an excellent gymnast, so for him to be out of view was expected.
As I made my way back up I could hear the chairs I had seen on the first floor rear patio being overturned and knew Killer Caretaker was starting up the hill. I was in shape, but he was too, and in better, as I could hear the crunch of thrashed brush gaining on me! With the full moon directly above, it was like being chased by the Wolfman! This guy was serious - if he caught me, I was as good as dead!
And all I wanted this evening was to have a little fun.
The top of the hill was near, but so what, I still needed to hook-up with a fire road that led down the north side. I was doomed, I couldn't keep up this pace forever, or could I?
Once again I was assisted by the body's natural release of adrenaline which greatly enhances your senses and abilities, so much so that your body has a hard time keeping up with the speed your mind is traveling, this results in some loss of coordination, but that's over-shadowed by the sheer increase of whatever is needed to put distance between you and the adrenaline-causing situation.
As I reached the top, the ground leveled-off enough to go from all-fours to an upright homosapien run on two feet. I sensed sudden close movement and quickly glanced over my shoulder to see Killer Caretaker right behind me, I mean he was on top of me! Then instead of the physical sensation of being taken down, I heard a loud thud instead. Before I could think, I turned around to see Crazy run up behind me, grab my arm and hustle me away to the waiting van of the Driver who had located a fire road closer to the top of the hill. I ran, but looked back one last time to see Killer Caretaker rising slowly up from the ground. What happened?
Once in the van and safely on the road, Crazy explained that he figured that since I was lagging, that I probably got busted by Killer Caretaker, so he was waiting in the bushes with a discarded 2x4 to take him out when we came by. I thanked him, that was good thinking, but I added, "What if he had gotten me sooner?" He figured that I had enough lead time and wasn't too concerned for my safety, except, ....I reminded him that he's the one who pushed me out into the open in the first place! He narrowed his eyes at me and said, "What?" I didn't like that answer and got more than a little pissed, I emphasized how brave he was to push me out into the open to distract the Caretaker from killing the Woman. Crazy then told me that not only did he not know what I was talking about, but that he didn't stick around. He took off and found his way back to the main trail and assumed that I would too. He swore that if I was "pushed" it definitely wasn't by him. Crazy's rep included a list of some truly whacked behavior, but lying wasn't one of them.
So I must have "imagined" it, psychologically-speaking; as I wanted or needed to do what needed to be done, but couldn't commit. So I "invented" a way that would accomplish this much-needed end and yet still allow me the freedom to not have to make the decision or initiate the act. As if it was "someone else" who did it to me.
Well that scenario might work for some lost soul, but not me! I know and knew the difference, ...I had been physically pushed, I could feel the hands, the pressure, the push!
Just then in my perplexed but focused state I remembered that the murder that took place at the mansion in the 1920's was by the owner's son who pushed his gay lover to his death from the second-story balcony!
My flesh started to crawl again, only this time there was nowhere to run.
Was the often-seen Ghost of Houdini or even the Ghost of the Heir's Lover (both men died on Halloween, October 31st; a very powerful synchronistic and karmic element) so focused in their intentions and efforts that either or both were able to physically manifest from their plane of existence to push me in a cosmic attempt to avert history from repeating itself? Whew!
Even though I was exhausted I was wired all that night and didn't fall asleep until later the next morning.
I awoke sometime later that evening and while making a feeble attempt to clean-up the mess of dirty dropped-to-the-floor gear and clothes; a small object fell out of my jacket pocket onto the floor at my feet. I reached down and picked it up. It was a small arcane gold box with the initials HH! I released the clasp, opened it and inside resting on red velvet was a curious ornate key with HH initials! After the customary goose-flesh, hair standing-on-end realization of the possible implications of this discovery and with much personal deduction as to how I could have obtained such an object, I arrived at this result: someone must have slipped it in my pocket when they gave me a push.
Who really pushed me? Well, the consideration that it could have been the ghost of the prior murdered party was dashed with the confirmation of the HH initialed box and key.
It's my belief that Houdini's spirit heroically managed to manifest with the explicit intent to physically push me and thus trigger the sequence of events that actually saved the woman's life. Whoever she was, she was alive because of him.
I see these Paranormal Occult Pan-dimensional Artifacts as an almost undeniable confirmation that it was Houdini, or the Ghost of Houdini, and that what happened, happened.
To further the legend, this supernatural artifact leads to a distinct possibility that this is the key that opens Houdini's legendary hidden locked Box of Secrets!
And if not that, then maybe it's a key to a bigger mystery?
In the beginning, as with anything cool, only small kindred groups of people would meet up at Houdini's Castle, but as the word spread, more and more "outsiders" would show, until eventually it lost its, ...if you'll excuse the expression, ...magic.