Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Highland Park's Haunted Church

 [This was originally published in the Eagle Rock Boulevard Sentinel about two years ago, written by Christopher Nyerges, who  is a manager at the Highland Park Farmers Market on Tuesdays on Ave. 58. He is the author of several books including “Enter the Forest” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or  Or, if you want to tell him your ghost story, just go to the Old L.A. Farmers Market any Tuesday]

Is there a haunted church in our community?

Numerous credible people have reported that the old brick Presbyterian church on N. Figueroa is haunted.  Oscar Enriquez, who works for the North Figueroa Association, and who has an office in the church, reports that he has heard strange noises in the church at least twice a month for the last five years.

“The first time I heard walking sounds right outside my door.  I was in the basement office all by myself around 5 a.m., and there was no chance that someone else was in there,” reports Enriquez.

One time when in the office, Enriquez was doing paperwork and there were three loud knocks on the door. He quickly opened the door and no one was there. “That put me out a bit,” he says.  He closed the door, and there were three knocks right again. He immediately opened the door, and there was no one present. “There is no way that someone can knock and then immediately disappear,” says Enriquez.  

Enriquez and various volunteers and security personnel have been in the church when they knew it was empty, and have heard walking on the stairs, and the laughter of a young girl.  Searching the building revealed no one else present.

Enriquez and others have ruled out echoes, sounds from Figueroa, and creaking walls as causing any of the sounds.

One particular area of interest is a stairway that leads up from the basement to the chapel.  “That area has given me the creeps,” said Enriquez.  “I get  goosebumps there.”

Another individual, who chose not to be named, has reported that the church is haunted and that he has actually seen a little girl on the stairway, all dressed in white.

When the school was in the basement, school children have reported hearing a young girl’s laughter in the bathroom when there was no one in the bathroom.

Enriquez reports that doors have suddenly slammed when there was no possibility of a breeze or wind causing the action.  He also reports that certain parts of the church are always extremely cold, despite the fact that there is heating in the church.  The cold areas seem to correspond to the haunted areas.

“Last week, an old man passing by told me that he had seen the ghost of a preacher in the church all dressed in black, back when he used to go to church there,”  reports Enriquez.

According to local historian, Charles Fisher, “The Highland Park Presbyterian Church, as it was originally named, was founded in the 1890s about the time Occidental College (originally a Presbyterian school) first came to Highland Park in 1897.  The congregation built its first permanent sanctuary in 1903 on the present site. It was a Mission Revival structure designed by the architect, Thornton Fitzhugh. I have a photo of that building in my book. It was replaced by the present building in 1923, which was designed by Architect, George Lindsey.

“The Gothic Revival structure is a reinforced concrete structure with brick facing. Up until a few years ago, it contained an incredible pipe organ, but many of the pipes were sold to the First Congregational Church at 6th and Commonwealth, which was building one of the largest church organs in the United States.  There are many Churches in Highland Park, but Faith United along with St Ignacious Catholic Church are the only ones with large Gothic sanctuaries.

“The name "Faith United" was the result of the merger of the congregations of Highland Park and Mt. Washington Presbyterian Churches in the 1970s.  The Faith United Presbyterian Church building was nominated as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 1989.  The church became a contributor for the Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which was established in 1994,” reports Fisher.

In order to seek some corroboration of a ghostly presence, I asked Fisher if he ever heard of a young girl dying or getting killed there, but he had no knowledge of any such occurrence.  According to some reports,  a monk used to live in the 3rd upper floor of the church in the little room there.

Enriquez explains that he believes in the existence of ghosts – the remaining spirit of a deceased person – due to a few experiences of his youth.  “When you die, you don’t really die, but you go somewhere else.  Just your body is gone,” says Enriquez.

Though several people who I interviewed told me of various “ghostly presences” in this church, only Oscar Enriquez was willing to have his name used.  I would appreciate hearing other reports from anyone with a story to share.  Please let me know of your experiences.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Witches in the Kitchen

A chapter from Christopher Nyerges’ book about growing up in Pasadena

[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. All of his book are about self-reliance and wild foods and none of them are about witches.  He can be reached at School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

When I was 3 or 4 – I don’t recall the exact age except that I wasn’t in kindergarten yet – I recall waking up in the early morning and hearing sounds in the kitchen.  These were the sounds of movement, of pans moving, of doors opening and closing, the normal sounds you’d expect to hear in the morning in a kitchen. But the only reason I heard any sounds so early was that everyone else was asleep and the house of five boys was relatively quiet.

I recall lying there on the lower bunk of a bunkbed, wondering what I was hearing, and who was making the noises.  After some time, I had the realization that we had some witches in the kitchen. They came at night after everyone went to sleep and did whatever witches do in the kitchen.  They’d disappear by the time everyone woke up and crawled out of our beds and fought our way to the bathroom and then made our way to the kitchen to have cereal or whatever my mother might be cooking.

When I heard witches in the kitchen in the early morning, I was always cautious when I came to breakfast.  I’d look around for clues, something left on the counter, something out of place, some object forgotten. There were many clues, but none of them that would conclusively prove that witches had been in the kitchen during the night.

Sometimes I would ask questions to a brother or my mother, attempting to determine if they knew about it too.  But my roundabout questions were too indirect to get meaningful responses, and if anyone else knew about the witches, they weren’t talking.  I began to regard this as a very natural thing – witches in the kitchen – and barely brought it up anymore.

I could even “see” the witches in my mind’s eye when I heard them in the early morning.  They were very traditional-looking witches, with large black robes or gowns, black pointy hats, though I don’t recall seeing any facial features or indication of pretty or ugly, or young or old.  I knew they were female.  They moved about like gliding from place to place, doing secret magic alchemy with the ingredients in the kitchen and the fire on the stove.  I could mentally see that the kitchen noises came from them taking pots out of the cupboard, running water, the moving from place to place, the stirring of things in pots on the stove. If they spoke at all, they whispered.  I pictured them doing their early morning tasks knowingly, without the need to converse among themselves.  I pictured them expressionless, if I saw their faces at all.

Off and on for a year or so, I would hear them in the kitchen.  I believed that my dad knew about them.  Some of the “clues” to their presence would be cupboard doors left ajar, spilled salt or sugar on the table, odd smells – nothing that was absolute proof in itself, but all together I knew it added up to the mysterious mornings in the alchemical chamber of our house.  In a way, I was excited about this secret side of our house, and I wondered if everyone had witches in the kitchen.

One day, my dad fixed my cereal and put in two spoons of white sugar.  I didn’t stir it so the white sugar remained at the bottom of the bowl until I was nearly done eating. When I got to the bottom, though I liked the sweetness, I made a point of telling my dad how much sugar he put in the bowl.

“Look at all the sugar,” I said.  At first, it was no big deal, but somehow I knew that the extra sugar was my dad’s secret way of telling me that he knew about the witches.  So I repeated to him how much sugar was in my bowl, what an amazing thing. But then my mother walked into the room and said “What?”

“I just gave him a spoonful,” said my father defensively.

“Why did you give him so much sugar?” my mother said.  I don’t think she knew about the witches.  And, as was her custom, she kept asking about the sugar and talking about it  until they were both nearly in an argument about it.  I felt bad about this because I actually liked the extra sugar and was trying in my way to acknowledge the secret message about my father’s knowing there were witches in the kitchen.

I never received any more secret clues from my dad to tell me that he knew about the witches, and he never again gave me extra sugar.

Sometime later, while sleeping in the lower bunk and with eyes closed, I felt something touch me, and I knew it was one of the witches.  She’d actually came all the way into my room and touched me – not with her finger, but with a stick, or magic wand.  Just a light touch, and I could see her clearly – the same black outfit and hat as they always wore, and this time I could see her face.  She was middle-aged, some wrinkles, smiling, resembling one of the nuns at Saint Elizabeth school.  I opened my eyes startled, and she had managed to disappear before I could catch an open-eyed glimpse.

Maybe it had been a goodbye touch, since I never heard their eerie sounds in the kitchen after that. Each time I thought it was them, I listened carefully and could tell that it was my mother or father or my brother or someone else. For whatever reason, they returned to Witchland and never returned.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HALLOWE’EN: Dealing with our Fears

The month of Hallowe’en is upon us, the time when we start to think about the roots of this holiday, and its traditional theme of fear.

Is there, as Roosevelt once said, nothing to fear but fear itself?

There are certainly many troubles in the land, from war and rumors of war, terrorists, economic fears, nuclear concerns, genetically-modified food, electronic surveillance and a government that’s no longer trusted by its people.  Lots to fear, right?

Well, perhaps Roosevelt was right.  Fear is not the best method for handling a troublesome world.  But if not fear, how does one respond to a world whose seams are unraveling?  Is there hope in the Hallowe’en season?

When I think of my ignorance of childhood, I realize that my fears drove me.  Sometimes that was a good thing, and sometimes not.  Fear kept me away from certain people, and away from certain neighborhoods. Fear got me into trouble, but it also kept me out of trouble because of fearing the consequences of what I was contemplating doing.

Hallowe’en is one of our ancient commemorations.  Its roots go back to the ancient Celts, who had six significant fire ceremonies during the year, one of which was Samhain, the last day in October. (Originally, Samhain was celebrated from October 31 through November 2).  The Feast of Samhain (meaning “summer’s end”), marked both their Feast of the Dead and the Celtic New Year.  This time of the year, half way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, was a time of decay and death on the earth. This was especially apparent in Western Europe, when the temperatures dropped and the rains fell.  Take a walk in the woods or fields and you smell the decay of rotting leaves and fungus.  Samhain ushered in the darkest and most barren time of the year.  It was a time when the spirits of the recently departed – as well as other disincarnate entities -- were believed to be out and about, with easier access to humans. There was much to fear, no? 

Back in the day when there were no modern technological wonders, no Federal Reserve and central banking, no modern drugs and Obamacare, no IRS and no ATMs, people built huge fires and even fire sacrifices the  belief that they’d protect the crops and flocks from demonic influence.

Historically, Hallowe’en had to do with the dead, with ghosts, with spirits.

The practice of putting food out to appease the ghosts so that they’d go back to their ghostly realms has morphed into children and adults dressing up unwittingly as the proxies of the ghosts and spirits, and threatening tricks if no treats are given.

It may seem like an ignorant way to deal with fears, but it likely seemed very pragmatic way back when.

I feared the darkness as a child, and the things that lived under my bed and in the closet.  I feared the creatures that peeked in my window at night and the boogie man who roamed our streets. As I grew older, I feared police and authority, and the inexplicable “establishment” and the abstract evil people.

Perhaps I was lucky in finding a way to deal with my fears. As a long-standing Halloween tradition, the folks at the Los Angeles-based non-profit WTI [] showed me that to conquer your fears, you must identify them, face them, and go into them.  This was done in various ways, sometimes by watching and discussing an insightful movie, such as Nosferatu , both the original and the 1978 Klaus Kinsie version.  We gathered with large bowls of popcorn, and other refreshments, and explored the nature of fear.  We remained focused on finding the science within that movie as to how to deal with our own inner fears. 

Additionally, “Nosferatu” provides a pictorial view of how each of us succumb to our weaknesses, and how we “become someone else.”  There’s no need to couch any of this in religious terms, or guilt. We looked at the movie as a symbolic depiction of one of the ways in which our world actually operates.  We looked at the movie as a symbol for our daily life, and we explored the many ways in which we should protect ourselves from the myriad “bloodsuckers” that seem to surround us in modern life. 

It occurred to me, in retrospect, that I faced and overcame fears in my own ways too. As I child, there was the day I forced myself to look under the bed. Wow! Nothing was there, and I went back to sleep.  There were the days when I forced myself to confront the older boys who I thought were thugs or criminals. Lo and behold, they had their own fears and insecurities, and weren’t that different from me. I learned, as Peter Suzuki has taught us, that once we begin thinking we may discover that what we thought was an enemy is actually a friend.

Fears exist in the abstract, and they stay alive if we keep them there.  If we identify the fear, we can take some action to deal with it, and by so doing, we discover a greater part of ourself, and we discover a new part of the world, and we might even make a new friend.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

In Case You Really Have to Evacuate!

During one of my Pasadena City College survival classes, a student asked me to list the items that should be carried in an evacuation bag, also known as the “bugout bag.”  In other words, if she had to immediately leave her home for some reason, what should her survival bag contain.  Of course, this led to a big portion of that evening’s discussion.

“First,” I responded, “what scenario are we talking about?” The student was thinking of a serious emergency where even a car wouldn’t be useful, where you’d have to evacuate on foot.

So my first order was to convey the fact that one would rarely choose to leave one’s home – where everything is familiar and where you know everyone in the neighborhood – unless you absolutely had no other choice. 

“You would rarely want to choose to leave your home and randomly wander the streets after an emergency,” I replied, “because you are now entering into the chaos and randomness of street mobs and possible violence.”  I tried to impress upon the class how dangerous it often is to wander on foot in the aftermath of a major disaster – whether it be an earthquake, or the results of war, or flooding.

And though the effects of nature can be devastating, the fear and chaos that will possess other people could be your greatest threat.

OK, we established that wandering around may not be your best choice but if you have no choice, then what should you carry?

Before I tried to answer that question, I asked all the students, “If there was an emergency tonight after you get home and you had to evacuate, where would you go?  And why would you go there?”  Most had no idea where to do, and in all probability, would follow crowds to some likely safe place, or would simply follow the orders of whomever happened to be giving orders. 

I urged each student to obtain topographical maps of their local area and to begin to learn about their local environment.  Find out where there are sources of water, reservoirs, pools, train lines, etc.  In a disaster, your knowledge is far more important than your stuff.  Next, I urged each student to get involved in their local Neighborhood Watch, and to do the CERT trainings, and Red Cross emergency first aid.  In other words, we need to realize the fact that other people in our community, and our relationships with them, is a far greater “survival tool” than merely having a pack with some knick-knacks in it.

Most people would be surprised to learn the level of preparedness that already occurs in most cities, and within various agencies such as the Red Cross, Police and Sheriff departments, and City Hall.  It is to each of our advantage to get to know what has already been planned in our own towns.

Everyone was getting the picture.  Get to know your town, your geography, and get to know who’s who in your town, and learn about systems that have already been established in the event of emergencies. Of course you must still do your own home preparedness, but just don’t do it in a vacuum.

But the student persisted.  She still wanted to know what to carry. So I polled the students who’d already been in my class for several weeks. What should one carry in a survival pack?   Someone said a knife. Yes, I wrote that on the board.  You should carry some sort of useful knife that you’re comfortable with, like a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman, and so on. Someone suggested that a bow and drill be carried for fire making. No, I said. We learn how to make fire with those primitive methods so we can do it when there is nothing else.  You must have fire, but keep it simple. Carry a Bic or a magnesium fire starter. Water.  Yes, you need it, and should carry at least a quart container and a water purifier. And you need to know where to find water.  And we continued this way – first aid kit, small flash light, etc. It was more important to get people to consider their individual needs than it was for me to list things that someone else thinks are important.

Survival can be deadly serious, but it can be a very enjoyable pursuit along the way.  Learn what you can little by little, but apply your knowledge as you go. That way, your skills are useful and your confidence level is increased.  It is never sufficient to say “I saw that on YouTube” and think that you know what it’s all about.

For some idea of what you might carry, look at Francisco Loaiza’s blog spot, where he describes 30 essential items that he recommends to his Boy Scouts.

For more ideas of what to consider in a kit, you should check out John McCann’s “Build the Perfect Survival Kit,” as well as my own “How to Survive Anywhere.”