4. Ruins of Houdini's Mansion (?)
Personal ghost story four of six.
In an area of Laurel Canyon where the narrow road winds a bit treacherously on late weekend nights, sits the ruins of an old mansion. Rumor has it that these are the ruins of Harry Houdini's mansion, which supposedly burned to the ground in 1959. No one is quite sure if this was really Houdini's home or not, but when I first came to L.A. in 1996, I read about the site and decided to have a look for myself.
Irregardless if it was the home of Houdini or not, the place had a very creepy vibe. The way it was perched high on a hill, overlooking Laurel Canyon Boulevard, led to me to believe it might have a man-made tunnel structure beneath it. A couple of years after I first visited the site, I was out one night in Hollywood with my wife and a friend of ours who was staying with us from out of town. I told our friend about the ruins and she asked me to take her to the site on our way home.
It was literally a dark and stormy night. My wife stayed in the car while me and our friend climbed the mansion's staircase and walked the cobblestone pathways in the rain. The place did feel haunted that night; I had this feeling I was going to bump right into Houdini. Suddenly we heard a really loud car barreling down Laurel Canyon Boulevard directly below us. Right in front of our eyes, we watched in horror as the driver lost control of the car on the rain-slick windy road, spun out, and crashed into a tree. The car was about forty yards from us. I told my friend to call 911 and took off toward the smashed and smoking car. It was a late sixties muscle car--a red or orange GTO, I think. And it was in bad shape. I feared the driver was in far worse shape. There was a lot of smoke, but no flames. When I got about fifteen yards from the car, the engine revved. Loud! Unbelievably, the car backed up away from the tree, throttled up again, and tore out, throwing mud and debris everywhere. The windows were dark; I couldn't see the driver. I watched in disbelief as the mangled car hit road and raced down Laurel Canyon into the darkness. It was like a scene from friggin' Christine. My friend, standing up near the ruins with my wife, witnessed the entire event.
Was it a ghost car? Was it a real car with a driver so hopped up on the Hollywood designer drug of the hour, that he could feel no pain? Was it Houdini performing a magic trick just for me? I don't know. All I know is that that car hit that tree going at least forty miles and hour and it looked too smashed to smithereens to ever drive. Whatever it was that happened, it ranks up there in my diary of bizarro Hollywood moments.