By Brian Feinzimer
By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
The former home of one of Orange County's first female physicians doesn't look like your stereotypical haunted house, which explains the funereal music, discounted Halloween Store skulls on the gazebo, and dim lighting one recent evening at the Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum in Santa Ana. It's early, and the gates are still closed. There are only a couple of people milling about in the parking lot as two men adjust a podium and straighten chairs, prepping for the beginning of the Downtown Santa Ana Haunted History Ghost Walk.
One of those men is Ernie Alonzo, founder of the HauntedOC website and co-founder of the Ghost Walks in Santa Ana and Downtown Orange. Despite a similar shaved head and Van Dyke, there isn't a touch of Anton LaVey here, just a soft-spoken, affable guy in baggy jeans and a sweat shirt. He shakes my hand, checks me off the list and lets me in. The other man is our tour guide, Charles L. Spratley. Tall, dressed in what resembles elegant Edwardian funeral-parlor attire, and sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, he's a lecturer and art historian, author of Piercing the Veil: Examining San Diego's Haunted History and the man behind the HauntedOC's Myth & Mythos blog.
Within minutes, roughly 30 people have shown up for the tour, the mix of gender, sexual orientation, age and race refreshingly eclectic. Spratley urges us to come in close, adjusts his mic and begins the evening with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu."
120 W. Civic Center Dr.
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Region: Santa Ana
Asking for a show of hands—believers vs. non-believers—he gets a fairly even split.
Alonzo tapped into the idea that OC had a rich-enough cultural history to support a successful walking tour. However, an inability to memorize lines and shyness with large crowds would've left that grand idea to wither if his cousin, working as a Disneyland ride operator, hadn't met Spratley. Seeing him read a book on the paranormal during a break, the cousin told Spratley about Alonzo's plan. Fortuitously, the more-gregarious Spratley ran a ghost tour in San Diego from 2004 to 2009. The two became fast friends, and the rest is entrepreneurial history.
If you attend the Ghost Walk expecting the sensational, you'll be disappointed. What you get, instead, is 90 minutes of documented ghost stories, exercise, spooky fun, open-ended philosophical/spiritual questions, architectural facts and troubled local history. I'm regaled with stories about dead entertainers in the Yost green room as a Joe Jackson sound-alike sings during Art Walk. I smell taco trucks while we talk about lynchings. Spratley points out the architectural details of a former Masonic lodge now home to Scientologists. Outside a dentist's office, near a pungent trash bin, we hear poltergeist stories of drills leaving their cases at night and embedding themselves in chairs. The creep factor increases as Spratley details death tolls in the 1933 earthquake, Santeria, serial killers, American Horror Story: Asylum and ghost activity at the Citibank on Broadway that once used to house a mortuary.
Wrapping the evening, Alonzo chats about several of the investigations he and other ghost hunters have done at the Howe-Waffle House: Ghostly voices whispering, "You're going straight to hell"; animals panicking near the carriage house; and loud noises from seemingly unoccupied areas of the upstairs seem to be the rule of the day. Most intriguing is a photo taken of an otherwise-empty hallway, revealing the misty figure of a naked woman poking her torso out of a doorway.
"It's not high-quality, but I have it on my phone," he says to the assembled crowd.
"I'm sure you do," says Spratley, grinning.
Alonzo's a fortunate man, making money doing what he loves by tapping into people's curiosity of the unknown through Ghost Walks; classes in psychic development; lectures; and paranormal expeditions at haunted sites in OC, Riverside and LA. I ask if he's gotten pushback from knee-jerk types chalking up his interests as "satanic." Off the record, he names several businesses that wouldn't participate for religious reasons. Even members of his family don't fully understand. "Let's just say I know who I can openly discuss it with," he says, "and who I need to avoid that conversation with."
Spratley doesn't participate in the investigations with Alonzo, that difference between them an amiable agreement to disagree. "I'm skeptical, [but] I'm not in an armchair calling bullshit," Spratley says. "I want to believe, but I'm like Carl Sagan. I wish there was an afterlife, just so I could tell my parents how the kids are doing. . . . When somebody reads or hears a ghost story, my advice is to follow the truth. No matter what it says or where it goes, that's never going to lead you wrong."