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California Creepin'

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. Those of you who follow my social media will know that I have been to The Bay Area just recently, having been invited over to the Alameda International Film Festival for screenings of the film I worked on A Light Through Coloured Glass. As such I feel like celebrating by looking into some California folklore! It was such a short trip with a laser focus on the event that I didn’t have time to go local source book hunting, but there are some great famous tales to unpack. Since I definitely intend to go back some day, and hopefully soon, I’ll be looking to do some local book led follow up episodes. For now, however? Let us give a quick look at some of the highlights of the Sunshine State, as a thank you to the wonderful welcome the town of Alameda gave me. SECTION BREAK – Somewhere The Devil Kept A Pet LukeLore being LukeLore, let us kick off proceedings by finding a terrifying body of water to point and scream in terror about. Although we may be safe from this one, Elizabeth Lake is currently dried up. A natural sag pond, a dip in the ground fresh water gathers, it is currently dry and has been since 2013 due to an ongoing drought. As such, its inhabitant is most likely not there. Although now I think about that, it may just have escaped in search of more water, so maybe not such a comforting thought after all… Let me tell you about the monster of Devil’s Lake. La Laguna de Diablo, The Devil’s Lake, is what the priest Junipero Serra named the place in 1780. When not being a thoroughly terrible coloniser asshole, leading a local branch of the Spanish Inquisition against the Native Americans he accused of witchcraft, Junipero Serra was an explorer of note in the New World. What would go on to be the dry basin formerly known as Elizabeth Lake he named after a monster sworn to be seen in there, as well what was supposed to be the terrible purpose of this strange sag pond created by tectonic movement. Sag ponds as a concept seem pretty wild to me. One day there’s a patch of land, maybe something of a natural ravine that has a lot of rainwater run off down it, then one big earthquake later and the rain is now filling up a massive dent in the ground. That it can suddenly appear is likely a root cause of the superstition surrounding what across the years was Devil’s Lake, then Rabbit Lake (La Laguna de Liebre), then for a while La Laguna de Chico Lopez – named after a man who would graze his cattle there – before settling on Elizabeth’s Lake. Settlers were convinced that this was the property of the actual Devil, and it was made to keep pets there. Which was nice of the Devil, mustn’t be too easy to keep a pond filled in hell. Looking at it now, it doesn’t seem a hell pond does well on Earth, either, but it lasted a good 200 or more years of keeping this strange abomination local to just outside of Lancaster in Los Angeles. This leads on to said pet, The Monster of Elizabeth Lake. One hint it haunted the area was how, at night, it would make incredible screaming sounds. It also appeared to be accompanied by the perpetual stench of decay, but I’m wondering if that was just the smell of this lake at the time. The otherworldly screaming like a Banshee just stepped barefoot on some Lego is a little less explicable, however. Then, there is the eyewitness accounts. I’m in two minds about how this thing is supposed to look. It’s either so ridiculous it must be a tall tale, or else it is so bizarre it may be too dumb to be made up. It gets off to a good start with a description being that of some sort of dragon: estimated at 50 foot long, covered in scales, and with bat wings to zip about the air upon. What lets it down somewhat is the front end. The Monster of Elizabeth Lake is said to have the head of a bulldog on top of the neck of a giraffe. Something that may be so absurdly weird it comes back around to being bonus terrifying in the dark, when it dive bombs you from the night skies screaming its giant bulldog head off. Farm animals would frequently disappear, no one wanted to build on the edge of the lake, and the monster was such a taken for fact concern in the area that in the 1800s teams would band together in attempts to hunt and kill the giant bulldog-giraffe-dragon abomination from hell. The fact it is no longer there is sometimes taken for proof the hunts succeeded, it would certainly be an obvious enough sight with no water to hide in. When it was filled with water La Laguna de Diablo was rumoured to have a door to hell at the bottom, so the Monster may have been reclaimed by hell as The Devil tries to work out how to refill a nightmare pet pool. The strange yet compelling terrifying chimeric abomination may have been driven to a new habitat by the drought, so good luck anywhere that thing turns up. So then, Californian listeners taking a night time wander around freshwater lakes… if you get hit by a stench of decay, the beat of giant wings, and the screech of an angry crime against nature; don’t waste time pointing and laughing at it. Hit the deck and hope it isn’t aiming for you! SECTION BREAK – A Ghost You Can Summon, But Really Shouldn’t Oh, look. More water to not go in to! February turned into a bit of a water theme. This is one from San Francisco itself, which I passed through to and from Alameda. The Golden Gate Park, which I now really want to visit upon my touristy return to go and see Stow Lake. This is something of an aesthetically classic spectre, in that Stow Lake has a White Lady haunting it. Her tale is one of tragedy. Out enjoying the park one day, through dire misfortune her baby is dropped into the lake. The mother doesn’t hesitate, and dives in fully clothed wearing a heavy fancy dress. While her instant response is something anyone could empathise with, especially a parent, her determination goes horribly wrong and she drowns herself. I’m not sure if the baby was rescued or not, but her search went on to continue from beyond the grave, supposedly continuing on even to this day. The White Lady can be seen wandering the lakeside at night, still wearing the heavy dress that dragged her down to her end in the water. She will frantically search for her forever lost baby, apparently most active near the Pioneer Mother statue. Maybe this is near where the original accident happened, or maybe the statue having children as a part of it draws her near. She isn’t normally bothered by people, but the foolish can attempt to call her attention to them. There’s a phrase you can say three times to attempt to summon her: “White Lady, White Lady, I have your baby. White Lady, White Lady, I have your baby. White Lady, White Lady, I have your baby.” If she believes you, you are now in for a whole world of trouble (so, good luck anyone listening to this near the Pioneer Mother statue right now). The panicked apparition, in her endless state of frantic desperation, will come rushing over to you and ask if you have her baby. If you answer that you do, you will now be haunted by the spirit for the rest of your life, as she keeps checking in with you at night as a part of her search. That’s the best possible outcome. If you tell her you do not, in fact, have her baby, she will fly into a rage at you having wasted her time and she will drag you into Stow Lake to drown you. I kind of understand where the White Lady is coming from here, to get to this point you did just taunt an emotionally turbulent ghost that was pretty busy going about its business. The obvious answer here is to not summon the White Lady. Failing that? I don’t actually know the right answer to give, beyond lie you do have the baby and attempt some form of exorcism or banishment while out of lake drowning range. Similar folklore would suggest a nonsense answer to confuse the entity and make your get away. You may also try misdirection, pointing and saying you saw the baby over somewhere else, but The White Lady doesn’t seem to take too kindly to being made fun of after her frantic search is interrupted… If you’re determined to go ghost hunting at Stow Lake, keep your mouth shut and camera ready around the Pioneer Mother statue. Definitely do not taunt the spirit. Even if you get away with it somehow, it seems in pretty bad taste given why she continues her desperate search of the waterside. SECTION BREAK – The Tragic Mooing in the Night Bit of a sad one now, and also another mother searching for her lost child to follow on from The White Lady, but a ghost cow is a bit of an irresistible tale to me. This is also linked to somewhere I passed through on my journey over there! It was in the day, in a taxi, so there was no chance of an encounter, but the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge uses Yerba Buena Island as a mid way point across The Bay. It also vaguely ties in to my visit of the plant based fast food restaurant Mr. Charlie’s, where I enjoyed a meat free Frownie Meal. This is a short and not so sweet story, sadly. If you are around Yerba Buena Island at night; so visiting the island itself, the bridge over it, boating around it, or part of the relatively recent housing initiatives that only first sprang up in 2007 – then you may hear something odd wandering along the shoreline. A forlorn mooing as a strange spectre works its way around the island at night searching for something it loved dearly and lost. Originally the site of an Ohlone fishing village the island has had a storied history of multiple name changes (assortedly being Pelican Island, Goat Island, Wood Island, and Yerba Buena multiple times before settling upon that). It’s been many things over the years, but of all things what caused this haunting was pirates. Before California was a State, all kinds of unsavoury characters would use the islands to get about undetected. Yerba Buena especially was a site of military interest across the years because of its perfect placement to be a staging point when the mist rolls in, if you don’t hold the island for yourself someone can easily abuse it to come and go as they please under the cover of the weather. The flip side to it being that the verdant little patch of land makes for a great farm that’s naturally corralled by The Bay, which is how it had a stint as Goat Island and must surely be why this is a story about cows – as I don’t think that particular animal is best known for its swimming prowess. So here we have a perfect sneaking point, with farmers to steal food off of. Enter the pirates. I haven’t found a story naming any names, but in this Wild West time a group used Yerba Buena Island to shelter overnight, and one of the pirates had a fun idea when raiding livestock for a meal. Why have beef, when you could have veal? They snatched up a calf to show off to the rest of their crew, living the high life with the tender younger meat. This led to disturbed sleep for the pirates, as while they tried to rest the mother of this poor calf would look everywhere for her child. Unable to settle down, she wandered everywhere she could mooing in the dark trying to find the missing baby cow. I for one hope the pirates got not one jot of sleep. They then move on the next day, but so the stories go the cow never rested. She would barely ever stop in place as she constantly roamed the island searching in desperation. This did not end in death, and across the years The Phantom Cow of Yerba Buena can still be heard on some nights. So, good luck everyone who will eventually live there. For a tragically sad cow moos in the night, looking for her lost calf some pirate git ate as much for fun as anything else. It is at least a loving ghost, and not a vengeful murdercow spectre. For a very odd souvenir, you could for a while get a perfume called The Phantom Cow of Yerba Buena Island. It’s sadly discontinued, it being an event exclusive perfume oil, but it was made with the local herbs that gave Yerba Buena its name. I kind of love that it exists, would like to encounter some in a collection out in the wild some time, and hope it gets another run at some point! A little digging online reports that it has a fresh milk and sweetened herbs smell, which fortunately doesn’t sour as it dries instead taking on a hint of a sea spray smell. Huh. LukeLore has now had its first folklore perfume spot… SECTION BREAK – The Spirits That Never Escaped I mentioned right at the start I didn’t have much time for anything but the film festival, so I didn’t get to do anything much tourist-y, but I know something that’s near the top of my list for a return to The Bay Area. Going to see Alcatraz! Weirdly connected to the last story, as it gets its name from Isla de Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, which was one of the many names Yerba Buena had over the years that an English naval officer transferred over to what would eventually become the penitentiary island, going on to be simplified as just Alcatraz. Believers in the paraweird aren’t going to be surprised that a rock made to contain and amplify human suffering went on to be pretty bloody haunted. Alcatraz is, in fact, frequently touted as America’s most haunted prison! It got off to a great start by always being considered cursed with evil spirits by the Miwok Native Americans, so of course the European invaders piled into it like a Middle Class family in a haunted house movie. For as far back as 1859 there are records of the unwelcoming lump of sandstone being used as a prison. People incarcerated there over the early years where used as free labour to make what was at the time of the turn to the 20th Century the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. So, for those of you keeping track at home, it’s a cursed unwelcoming rock that forced labour turned into a fortress designed for maximum misery. It then promptly had an incredibly violent track record. The FBI shoved its most notorious criminals in there to make a point, with inmates dying at alarming rates between frequent conflict and the incarcerated taking their own lives. The extraordinary corpse count was not at all helped, or helped a lot depending on your perspective, by the in-house executions. Both hangings and the electric chair were used to clear up death row inmates on a regular basis. Now a National Park site of national heritage, the poor employees who maintain it have regular strange experiences. Especially in Block C, where the majority of the historical deaths occurred. Night time is plagued by strange clanging noises from cells that stop if a watchman opens them, mysterious crashes and screams can erupt from ANY cell block. Corridors and walkways will randomly have phantom runners sprint along them, and sometimes through any given witness experiencing them. While there just seems to be general low level Hell on Earth activity across the whole of Alcatraz, there’s also some specific stand out hauntings. Rising to the top of all present notoriety is definitely Cell 14-D. This is one of the “Holes” misbehaving inmates got shoved into as a punishment, this type of solitary isolation these days has restrictions in its use enforced by the United Nations due to how psychologically damaging the practice is. One inhabitant of 14-D called Rufe McCain was confined in there for three whole years after an escape attempt. Almost immediately after being let out he stabbed another inmate to death, but wasn’t held responsible for murder due to a ruling that he was so psychologically damaged by his term in the Hole that he could not be considered mentally competent any more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a permanent deep chill in Cell 14-D, and it’s one of the more frequent participants of the night time calamitous noises. It may have always been bonus cursed, Cell 14-D is the one that has a story on official record of an inmate beginning to scream hysterically the moment the door was closed to seal him in. The terrified inmate claimed the second he was alone, some unnatural Thing appeared to glare at him with glowing red eyes. While I’m generally iffy on the nature of mediums, one interesting detail that has come up across the years is that any attempt to get the ghosts to move on has been met with refusal. Something is holding the accumulated spectral inhabitants locked in place there. They either can’t, or won’t, move on from the cursed prison that claimed them in life. I mean, that’s certainly an effective lock up. Although I would insist it was still a bad idea to make a little slice of hell to shove people into to suffer. I follow more of an ideological “rehabilitation” approach to crime and punishment. But if you really want to throw away the key on someone, Alcatraz is more than qualified. SECTION BREAK – The Bay Bridge Guardian Okay, very quick bonus round on this one. It doesn’t make much of a story segment, but I love it so it had to have a spot on the episode. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was a doozy, to put it mildly. With a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale it killed 63 people and injured nearly 4,000 more. When local iron workers repaired a collapsed span of The Bay Bridge they included something out of sight on the eastern part. Motorists couldn’t see what blacksmith Bill Roan included, and it was kept a secret from his employers. It was not likely to be found by anyone else by accident, although some maintenance staff and the ironworkers knew about it. An 18 inch tall iron troll was left under the rebuilt section of the bridge to protect it and its travellers from any future disasters. This guardian troll went on to do a great job! For 24 years they were an effective good luck charm, eventually being relieved from their shift watching over the bridge on Labor Day in 2012, as the portion they called home was formerly closed and replaced with a new section of bridge. The new bridge has its own new troll living out of reach of sunlight, not something a troll is known to do well with, and apparently they are in view of the bike and pedestrian path if you know where to look. There’s a replica of the original troll at the Oakland Museum of California, and the original is likely to find a public home as a part of their retirement at some point. Given that no earthquakes so much as caused a closure on the bridge on their watch, let alone destroyed a section, they’ve earned a nice dark spot somewhere they can be remembered! SECTION BREAK If you want a real life horror story from the area, keep an eye out for the Campfire Tales episode I was interviewed on. As well as a good amount of discussion on what led me to becoming a folklorist, there’s the full story of my Oakland misadventures from the start of my trip to The Bay Area. It’ll be shared about on social media when it’s ready, and I’ll see if Brennan can link it at the bottom of this episode’s transcript on when it’s ready so it’s easy to find. It’s… Quite the tale. I definitely intend to return to the area, I want my turn as a tourist after having only been passing through on a film festival run. I loved what I did get to enjoy over in Alameda though, so will be hoping to do an Alameda specific show at some point. Failing that, there’s certainly more to talk about in The Bay area and wider California beyond! Part of my future tourist rampage will definitely include folklore hunting. LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email, and the general show email Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. 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Goodbye for now.


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