Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Revisiting the ghosts of Roosevelt High School

It occurred to me the other day that I have been doing Weird Fresno for over seven years now and in that time I have written hundreds of stories about the weird and unusual in the Fresno area. Looking back at some of the early stories made me want to revisit them and share them with anyone new to the site. Looking through some I did in the first year I came across one of my favorite (and most popular stories). The ghosts of Roosevelt High School.

When I first wrote about Roosevelt High I had only heard of two locations that were haunted, the boys restroom in the East Hall and the school’s auditorium. Since I’ve written that article I’ve received nearly forty comments (as I write this) of people who have witnessed things in these locations as well as others I didn’t know about at the time. Now if these stories are true or not, it’s not my place to say. I’m just here to share what I’ve heard and add to the legend of Roosevelt High.

East Hall at Roosevelt High School - photo courtesy of Historic Fresno
With the boys restroom in the East Hall no one knows who it really is but it’s been rumored for years that it is the ghost of a student who committed suicide there. I’ve looked for any news article to add some validity to this but have been unable to find anything to substantiate it. That being said something has been felt there over the years and the stories cannot be discounted. One night a janitor was working late and heard coughing coming from the restroom. Thinking it was a student who had somehow snuck in and was hiding, he went to investigate the noise. Upon entering the bathroom it was completely empty and there was no way that anyone could have left it without him seeing them exit the restroom from where he standing in the hallway that he was cleaning.

For a while the restroom was closed and used for storage but was finally reopened in the 2007-2008 school year. Cold chills are sometimes felt when the door is opened even though the air is warmer everywhere else. Many students said they have felt a presence in the area and some have even heard noises as if someone was in there with them even though they were all alone.

Some of the other stories talk about how a girl supposedly jumped from the bell tower to her death and haunts the location to this day. Other stories say that she hung herself there. If either are true it’s hard to say. Another story was told to me by a student that heard from the kitchen staff that a spirit supposedly haunts the kitchen area but nothing specific was really said to them.

As I said, whether there is any truth to the above stories it’s hard to say. But the next one does have itself grounded in a true story, albeit a sad one.

Roosevelt High School Auditorium - photo courtesy of Historic Fresno
The school’s auditorium is said to be haunted by a student who was performing on stage, collapsed due to a heart attack and died. The spirit was called “Lester” and was said to roam the auditorium and sometimes play pranks on people by letting his presence be known. That was all I had heard and from the comments it seemed there was nothing more to the story. That changed a few months after I wrote the original article when a cousin of Lester’s, or Leslie as he was actually known as, contacted me to tell me the story was true.

It was October 10, 1960 and Leslie Chambers was six days away from his sixteenth birthday. It was a school assembly day and Leslie was performing a cheer on the stage of the auditorium in front of all the assembled students and faculty when he collapsed mid-performance and died on the spot. The doctors later found out he had a congenital heart defect and that was what led to his death. The school was obviously grief stricken and a memorial was quickly formed near one of the trees where Leslie and his girlfriend shared lunch each day.

It was a sad story to say the least and his cousin had contacted me so Leslie's story could be shared. I found interesting in that right after I posted that story I received some comments saying that the students in the auditorium still remember “Lester” and never forgot about him and they still consider him one of their own. One student said they were told by faculty that things would always wind up missing and they said he supposedly played pranks on students (the commentor doubted this as they felt the teacher was just messing with them but still wanted to share it). But what was said next brought a smile to my face (and maybe a tear to my eye). The students have always included him in every production done there since his death by listing his name in the cast/crew sign in sheet and it is a tradition that has been passed down over the years from student to student, class to class. Seems Leslie Chambers memory continues on, even over fifty years later.

Leslie Chambers
October 16, 1944 - October 10, 1960

As I post this it will be October 13, 2015, three days before Leslie would have turned 71. I hope someone from Roosevelt sees this before Friday October 16 and gets the word out to the RSA at Roosevelt and they wish Leslie a happy birthday. I know it would make him happy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Does the specter of James Dean's car haunt the site of his tragic death?

James Dean Memorial Junction - Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you have ever taken Highway 41 headed towards the coast there’s a good chance you've driven by where Highway 41 becomes Highway 46 and the infamous spot  where James Dean lost his life in a tragic automobile accident in 1955.

On the night of September 30, 1955 Dean was driving along then U.S. Route 466 towards Salinas in his Porsche 550 Spyder nicknamed "Lil Bastard". At a little bit after 5:00 pm, a 2950 Ford Tuder was trying to turn away from an intersection and was in the center of the road. Dean was unable to stop at the time and slammed into the driver side of the Ford and skidded across the road onto the side of the highway. The Ford driver was relatively uninjured. Dean's mechanic, who had been in the passenger seat, was ejected from the car and suffered major injuries and survived. Dean wasn't as lucky and suffered a broken neck and died at the scene.

Although Dean passed onto legend peacefully, Lil Bastard has a bit of a sinister legend of it's own. The car was supposedly cursed and George Barris bought the wrecked vehicle for parts. When the car arrived at his garage it fell off the trailer and broke his mechanic's leg.

Soon after that the engine and transmission were sold to some doctors who wanted to used the parts in their own race cars. In their first race, one car spun out of control and hit a tree killing the driver. The other car rolled taking a turn, yet this driver was lucky (relatively speaking) and was only severely injured.

Most of what I just said is common knowledge regarding Dean's death and the car. But the other day I came across a story of Lil Bastard sometimes still being seen on Hwy 46 where that tragic accident occurred. Could Dean be damned for all eternity to drive this stretch of road? Most likely not. If the car is indeed seen, it's most likely a residual haunting where something so tragic happens and imprints itself onto the surrounding area. That and countless James Dean fans have journeyed to the site to pay their respects, no doubt adding to the energy that's already there.

Next time you are heading towards the coast, stop at the memorial if you can. There's even a small restaurant called Jack Ranch cafe has good food and even some Dean memorabilia. And if you are driving along the road and see a Porsche Spyder in your rear view mirror, make sure to let them pass. And then take a photo for me please.