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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Manteca's haunted El Rey Theater

What was formerly the El Rey Theater is today the
Kelley Brothers Brewery.
Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

Now I know Manteca is a bit outside of what one would call the "Fresno area", but I found this story interesting as I love the idea of a haunted theater so I thought I would write a bit about this one. In the center of town on Yosemite Ave just a bit east of Main Street was the El Rey Theatre. Built in the 1930's in the classic Art Deco style, the El Rey Theater was a famous landmark for the small town of Manteca. Everything from movies to local plays were done here and during the Christmas season the owners would open the theater to children for free and show a variety of cartoons and Three Stooges films.

All that came to an end in 1977. Ironically the last movie to be shown there was the Steve McQueen classic, The Towering Inferno. Here is where the story differs. Some claim that the fire happened as the movie was playing. Most of the audience was able to exit to safety, but it's said that a few died along with several firemen that were trying to save the building. The other story is that the fire occurred when the theater was closed for the evening and there were no deaths due to the fire. From the research I did this seems to be the more popular belief, but I wanted to include both as they are part of the legend of the theater.

The El Rey Theatre laid abandoned for over twenty years before the Kelley brothers bought the building and remodeled it into a brewery and brickyard oven restaurant in 1997. It's not sure when it was determined the building was haunted but it's said that hot spots from the fire can be felt at times in the brewery and it's even rumored that sometimes the ghosts of the fire fighters and movie patrons have been seen wandering about lost, almost like they were trying to find a way out.

Given the conflicting stories of the night in question, if anyone actually died in the fire is hard to say. If no one did actually die in the fire, where do the accounts of wandering spirits and hot spots come from? The hot spots can be a type of haunting where a traumatic event left an impression on the place where it occurred and is replayed from time to time. So this could perhaps be what is occurring when people report feeling hot spots.

But what of the rumor of ghosts being seen? A story spun into a tall tale and turned into an urban legend thanks to the internet? Or perhaps there is some truth to the ghosts that are said to be seen wandering through the brewery and they were drawn to the place for some other reason. Or maybe it's just an overactive imagination of someone who had one too many beers. There may never really be a way to determine what is fact and what is mere legend.

The Kelley Brothers Brewery has their own site which lists the brewery's menu as well as location and events occurring throughout the year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Will the Rapture occur tomorrow?

The gold seal makes it official.

If you've been following the news lately, or seen one of the numerous billboards, you would know a small Christian group is claiming that the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011. Which happens to be tomorrow.

The group is based out of Oakland, CA (where I saw several billboards last week) and is an independent church founded by a Harold Camping. According to Camping he was able to figure out the a "code" in the bible and claims it's basically a cosmic calendar of sorts and was able to pinpoint the Rapture based upon the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

Camping has a radio network and has been able to spread his message through that as well as utilizing bus bench ad space and the previously mentioned billboards. I think the billboards have to be my favorite part as they have a gold seal on them stating "The Bible guarantees it". As if having a cheesy gold seal on here makes it official.

Let me also say that I believe in God, that I'm a Catholic. But I think what this guy is claiming is ridiculous. This isn't the first time he's claimed to "know" when the Rapture is going to occur or knowing when world is going to end. This isn't the first time he's done this. Camping also claimed that Christ would return on September 6, 1994. Obviously that day came and passed with no incident. Just as May 21, 2011 will.

As I had stated in a post I did back in February, I have several friends who's birthday is on May 21. Local derby grrl Karma Kaze, wife of blogfather Mike Osegueda, Tanya, and President/Ceo of Storyland & Playland Barry Falke all celebrate their birthday tomorrow. So if the Rapture does indeed come I will be out there looting to get them each a present. But most likely I will be at home playing Call of Duty or something. I really need to get a girlfriend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Visiting the ghosts of Alcatraz Island

I've been busy with Weird Fresno lately. First last week I traveled down south to ride the coasters at Magic Mountain and to explore some of the legends associated with the place. And then later that week I ventured to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. A place where some say it's one of the most haunted places in the United States.

The only way to get to The Rock is by ferry (though I imagine back in the day robbing a bank would get you there). After a twenty minute or so ride we docked at the island and after were briefed on safety rules by a park ranger. After that we were allowed to freely roam the park for as long as we liked.

After briefly touring the grounds I decided to head to the building that housed the cell block (the area where the prisoners were held) and where most of the activity takes place. I have to admit I had some preconceived notions about the place given what I had read and seen on TV.

I had assumed the cell block would be a large, dark and depressing place. But when I first walked in, it really wasn't that. Sure I had goosebumps that I was at Alcatraz, but as I started to look around I noticed how much light was in the building.

Obviously it still had an air of sadness to it being one of the toughest prisons ever in America, but I guess I had just hyped it up in my head to be this desolate place that time had forgot.

The shower area where it's said that you can hear the ghost of
Al Capone playing the banjo.

That being said I headed into the cell block and entered the shower room where you can pick up the audio tour devices. This location is one of the known hot spots of activity. It's said that when notorious mobster Al Capone did time in Alcatraz he received permission to practice his banjo in the shower area as he was afraid he would be attacked if he practiced in the prison rec yard. Now it's said that you can sometimes hear banjo music coming from the shower area, even though it's not part of the audio tour. Interesting side note to this. Several years ago my mother and sister went to Alcatraz on a field trip for school. They didn't ask me about any of the ghosts at that time and I didn't really think of telling them the stories I knew. As both my mother and sister were in the shower area they both heard banjo music and thought it was part of the audio tour but still heard it when the removed their headphones. It was only when they told me what happened later on that I told them about how Al Capone was said to haunt the area.

The laundry area which is next to the showers.

After exiting the shower area I entered the main cell block. From 1934 to 1963 there were 1545 inmates here (some were repeat offenders) and some of the more famous inmates were Al Capone, Robert Stroud the "Birdman of Alcatraz" and George "Machine Gun" Kelly among others. The cell block had 4 sections, blocks A, B, C and D. Blocks A, B and C were general population where Block D was used for isolation. Visitors to cell blocks A & B have claimed to hear moaning and crying coming from the area even though it wasn't part of the audio tour nor were there any visible signs of where the sounds could be coming from. At cell block C it's said that a visiting psychic came across a spirit that went by the name of "Butcher". According to prison records a Abie Maldowitz was murdered in C block and he was a mob hit man who was known as Butcher.

This isn't the only spirit that resides in cell block C. In 1946 three inmates, Bernard Coy, Marvin Hubbard and Joe Cretzer, were killed in the utility corridor in cell block C during a failed prison escape. When the island became a park night security guards have sometimes heard unexplained clanging sounds coming inside from the utility corridor. The guards would open the door to the corridor to see what was making the noise but find nothing. Upon closing the door the noises would start back up again.

The access door to the utility corridor on cell block C. This is where
three inmates died after a failed prison escape attempt.

The final area to have paranormal activity is cell block D, the isolation ward. Alcatraz was already known for housing the most difficult prisoners, ones who were trouble at other prisons. But the ones who were difficult at Alcatraz were placed in isolation. Upon entering this cell visitors have reported feeling what they could only describe as a "raw coldness" and some sort of intensity that filled the cell. Visitors weren't the only ones to feel something strange in 14D, some of the park rangers have reported about the strangeness that seems to encompass the cell. One stated that the cell always felt cold, even colder than the other three isolation cells. They went on to say that even when the cell block was warmed by the sun and temperatures would reach around 70 degrees, 14D would still be so cold that you would need a jacket in there to be warm.

The door on the right is the entrance to the infamous 14D

There's a story that sometime in the 1940's a prisoner was locked up in 14D and was heard constantly screaming throughout the entire night that there was a creature with glowing eyes in there with him and that it was trying to kill him. The next morning when the guards went to release the prisoner they found him strangled to death in the cell. But it gets even stranger. When the headcount was done the next day, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed to have seen the dead convict in the line, but would disappear after only a few seconds.

Photo taken from the interior of 14D looking towards the outside.

As I wandered Alcatraz I snapped many photos, hoping something would appear on camera. Unfortunately there wasn't anything out of the ordinary, not even the obligatory dust orbs. As for trying to do any voice recordings, I gave up on this as soon as I saw the large group I was with. That and all the reflective surfaces made any possible EVP virtually impossible. Going here I knew that an actual ghost investigation wouldn't be realistic (is looking for ghosts ever realistic?), but I had hoped for a bit more than just some picture taking. I know Alcatraz does offer a night tour, but I don't know how much less crowded that would be, if at all. Plus there's nothing to say whatever ghosts are there will come out at night as opposed to the day. But I definitely know the creep factor would be way amped up. That alone might be worth the admission.

It's hard for me to say if Alcatraz is truly haunted. I didn't go there looking for ghosts specifically, more of to experience the place and legends. Definitely was an experience though. Looking at all the cells, and realizing that men spent years in something smaller than my apartment bathroom was an eye opener. Plus I was AT Alcatraz, everyone knows about it and at least some of it's history. For all of the places I have explored in the past year, Alcatraz has to be the coolest. But if the stories are true about Alcatraz, it seems that even though it's no longer a working prison some of the prisoners still are imprisoned there.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The ghosts of Magic Mountain

Driving to and from Southern California most of us have taken the mountain pass commonly referred to as the Grapevine. As we drive on Interstate 5 we pass through the small town of Valencia and the theme park Six Flags Magic Mountain. If you have ever had the chance to visit the park you'd know that it contains some of the most thrilling rides on the West Coast. But did you know it has it's share of paranormal activity? Three rides in general seem to be haunted and coincidentally enough all three rides have had deaths reported on them.

The first ride is the giant wooden roller coaster Colossus. In 1978, a 20-year-old woman was ejected from the Colossus ride, and fell to her death. Interestingly enough it's not the woman's ghost who is seen, but that of a young child wearing a striped shirt. He is usually seen at night running underneath the support structure underneath Colossus's tracks. Also sometimes at night the lift chain that pulls the coaster up the track can be hears running even though the ride has been shut down for the night.

The next ride that has a death associated with it is the roller coaster Revolution. In 1996, a part-time employee was killed while crossing the tracks of the ride. She was struck by a train full of park visitors as it returned to the station; both passengers and those waiting in line for the ride saw the victim fly into an area beneath the coaster and she was pronounced dead at the scene from major injuries. It's rumored that on a certain part of the ride (assuming the part where the worker is killed) you can sometimes hear the woman screaming, as if her death is being replayed over and over.

The final ride to have a death associated with it is the mega coaster Goliath. In June of 2001 a 28 year old woman died of a brain aneurysm while on the ride. At night, after the park closes is when the activity is supposed to occur. The security office will get a call from the the ride. When answered there is nothing but static on the other end. A group of guards investigated once but when they got to the ride there was no one around. They did report of an uneasy feeling and quickly left.

Ghostly encounters aren't the only strange thing that is going on at Magic Magic. A UFO was seen over Santa Clarita and was reportedly seen from one of the tower rides at the park. The type of sighting is unknown as I was unable to find the actual report, just mention of the sighting.

So next time you take a trip to Magic Mountain, don't go for just the rides. Check out some of the legends this place has. After all the park has been around for over 40 years and is bound to have some secrets.

Monday, May 2, 2011

California werewolf documentary claims to have werewolf footage shot near Fresno

Over the weekend I received an e-mail from a group who had recently filmed a documentary on werewolves in California. They thought I might be interested as there is some footage shot near Fresno of an alleged werewolf sighting. In 2004 Michael Lakoma was camping and was shooting some video on his cellphone when he saw a black creature in the distance bounding toward him. In the video he says it looks like a wolf jumping but on two feet. I have to be honest, it's hard to determine what the object was given the distance and quality of the video.

Later on in the documentary shows video shot in Tehachapi, Bakersfield. What I find interesting is that all three occurrences took place in 2004. And as an associate of mine put it, why wait seven years to bring this to the masses? Why not alert the media that you found something?

I'm going to leave my opinion out of this for right now. But I have asked the creator of this documentary to put me in contact with the experts they had in it as I have a few questions of my own that I would like to ask. Though I'm curious as to what others think of this video and would encourage to leave your thoughts below as well as on their YouTube page.