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Monday, December 18, 2017

Southern California Vol. 6 - The Curse of Griffith Park

Whether they know it or not, almost everybody in the world has seen Griffith Park.  Anyone who has seen a photo of the Hollywood sign is looking right at it.  It's a 3,000 acre piece of mostly wild land smack in the middle of Los Angeles that's iconic for a few reasons.

First, of course, is that famous sign.  You can see it from far away but you can also hike up to places in the park that will give you a view of it from above, behind it and to the side.  I don't believe you can hike right up to it any longer unless you plan to do some breaking and entering and I wouldn't recommend that.

Second of course is the Griffith Observatory.  That is a wonder in itself and I'll do a separate post on it because it truly deserves one.  Third is the fabulous Greek Theater, an outdoor venue that is an awesome place to see your favorite band play. Add to those, the tons of trails and other little odds and ends scattered throughout (including a Disney attraction of sorts) and it's just a special place. 

What a lot of people don't know though is that the land Griffith Park occupies was cursed long before Griffith bought it. In the early 1860's the land was owned by Don Antonio Feliz.  It was part of a total of 8,000 acres that he had established a successful ranch on.  Feliz was a bachelor, but he shared his house and land with his blind niece Petranilla.  As fate would have it, Feliz contracted smallpox and in an effort to spare Petranilla from contracting it, she was sent away while Feliz battled the disease.  

Enter this guy: Don Antonio De Colonel.

While Petranilla was gone, he came by with his lawyer in tow and using Feliz's delirium to his advantage, convinced the man to grant Colonel all the land if Feliz should die.

Of course, that's exactly what happened and when Petranilla returned she found out she had nothing.  Now she may have been blind, but she was no pushover and as she was being kicked off the property, she very loudly and very publicly cursed Don Colonel's entire family.  She also included the lawyer (who she said would die an untimely death) and the judge who ruled against her.  She then said that the whole patch of land would be cursed, and that cattle would fall ill, the ground would stop producing food and even the oaks would die.  The last line literally translates from the original Spanish into "The wrath of heaven and the vengeance of hell shall fall upon this place!"

Petranilla was pissed!  And who can blame her?  I'd be pissed off too!

Now, of course none of this would be worth writing about if the curse didn't actually come true and that's what's interesting.  By all accounts, it did.  

First, the lawyer was shot and killed while celebrating the sale of the land's water rights.  Colonel himself lived for quite a while but saw many in his family suffer miserably as members died of accidents, disease or other tragedies.  When he finally kicked the bucket, his wife remarried but her new husband pulled a fast one of his own and tried to divorce her and take her land.  In the end she lost what money she had to lawyers as she battled him in court.

The land was eventually sold to a man named Baldwin who tried to start a dairy farm there.  His cattle sickened and died.  A plague of grasshoppers wiped out his crops and a series of wildfires burned through and left him up to his eyeballs in mortgage payments.  

This is where Griffith J. Griffith (above) enters the picture.  He'd made a ton of money speculating for gold mines.  Griffith did some good things including funding the building of the observatory and eventually donated the park to the city of Los Angeles, but while it may seem like a grand gesture, truth be told he really wanted to unload the land.

During the time he owned it he'd seen his own ranch ravaged by wildfires and floods.  He was also shot in an attempted murder by a business rival and all the while he was hearing people talk of the curse.  In fact, he very famously refused to visit the property at night.  Even after he gave the land away, the curse stayed with him.  Griffith shot his wife in what was later described as "alcoholic insanity".  This despite Griffith supposedly being a sober man.  He did time in San Quentin before coming back to society completely disgraced.  He died in 1919.

Now that the land belongs to L.A., the curse seems to have dissipated, but then again maybe it hasn't.  In 2002, Griffith Park's Chief Ranger was Albert Torres.  He was asked by the L.A. Times about the curse and his response was:

"Frankly I'm not afraid of any make-believe demons as much as I am of some of the living and breathing human monsters who come here.  If you knew even a quarter of the stuff we find within the park's perimeter you'd never set foot in it again.  Animal sacrifices, satanic cults, murders, prostitution... with stuff like that happening on a regular basis it makes a pair of 30-year-old ghosts look like good times."

The 30-year-old ghosts he's referring to belong to a young couple who were killed while making love on a picnic table in 1976.  

A tree fell on them.  

There are a number of jokes I could make about that but I'll leave you all to do it in the comments section.

Speaking of ancient curses, I wrote a book about one. You should check it out. It's called The Wash and you can find it on my Amazon page.

Next time around we'll talk about the Griffith Observatory itself.  See you then!

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