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Meet Craig Owens of Sad Hill in Glendale

Today we’d like to introduce you to Craig Owens.

Craig, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, if someone had told me thirty years ago that I would one day be a paranormal author, historical researcher and an Old Hollywood style photographer, I would have laughed and thought the notion was absurd. Although I love all of those subjects, I was too thick-headed and skeptically minded to fuse it all together. But I eventually did it.

Looking back, I’d say that it took six major events, or stepping stones, that led to me creating ‘Haunted by History; Separating the Facts and Legends of Eight Historic Hotels and Inns in Southern California.’

The first event occurred when I was about six years old. My family lived in Columbus, Mississippi, and they had become friends with Mr. and Mrs. Robert Snow, who owned and lived in an old Southern antebellum mansion called Waverley in nearby West Point. To pay for the mansion’s restoration, the Snows bought and sold antiques, which is how my parents met them. The Snows also had a son named Gage about my age. Because Gage and I were friends, I was at Waverley quite often. During my two years at Waverley, I overheard that the antebellum was haunted by a little girl ghost about my age. So every time I visited, I would look for the girl ghost. I even had a couple of sleepovers with Gage, who was less enthusiastic about seeing her than I was. While I don’t remember having any paranormal experiences there, the Snows taught me two things: not to be afraid of ghosts…and to be afraid of breaking antique furniture. I’ve lived with those two lessons ever since.

The second stepping stone occurred in Odessa, Texas, when I was twenty. I was my living in an odd efficiency apartment designed to resemble a Japanese garden. Because no one had told me that my efficiency was haunted, every time I felt a tap on the shoulder or discovered that an object had moved on its own for no reason, I always blamed it on myself — that I was either too tired or had an overactive imagination. Then I met the person who moved in right after me. The first question out of his mouth was “Is it haunted?” After I told him ‘No,’ he started telling me of weird things that had happened to him there. It turns out that we shared almost identical experiences. Within three months of our conversation, he moved out and the efficiency became a storage unit.

The third incident occurred after I moved to Los Angeles. In 1996, a paranormal touring company announced that it would conduct “Ghost Expeditions” at several well-known haunted historic locations in Hollywood and downtown. For its first-ever investigation, I paid $45 and was allowed to ghost hunt at the Hollywood Knickerbocker, the Alexandria Hotel, the Oban Hotel (now the Hollywood Hotel on Yucca Street) and the Vogue Theatre. I was not impressed by the group’s historical inaccuracies at each location. In fact, I remember arguing with the tour’s “psychic” over something incorrect that she had said about Charlie Chaplin. I guess you can say that this experience triggered my skepticism.

The fourth event occurred in the fall of 1999. At that time, I was working as a script production assistant on a television series at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank. My chief responsibility was to copy and deliver scripts all over the lot, the sound stage and stars homes. Well, one early evening, while I was alone in an empty sound stage, I became aware of a woman’s voice reciting something from the stage area. This was later followed by the clicking of women’s heels on the floor accompanied by the swoosh of a woman’s dress. The woman’s voice lasted for over twenty-five minutes and by the time I left the stage area, I was fascinated and spooked. Unfortunately for me, all of this happened on Halloween night so no one believed me. From that moment on, I decided to always carry a camera or recording device when entering old buildings with a lot of history. By the way, many years later, I met a Warner Bros. security officer. Before I could even finish my ghost story, he had already identified the correct sound stage and assured me that I was not alone in having a paranormal experience there.

The fifth occurred in 2004 and 2005 with the demolition of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. I used to live in Koreatown and saw it every day. I even worked on a television movie that shot at the Ambassador. During filming, the producers called me to the location one evening to ask what the ghost stories were. I didn’t know too many at that time. Still, it was a dream come true to walk through its lobby and peek inside the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub. Needless to say, I was heartbroken when the hotel was demolished. So much so, that I still can’t bring myself to drive past the school that currently exists at that location.

The final stepping stone occurred in 2009. I had decided to embark on an ambitious writing and photography project for a non-paranormal Old Hollywood story set in the late 1920s. To accomplish this, I wanted to shoot in an authentic, Old Hollywood style location so I decided upon the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. Because I had read that the Mission Inn is haunted, I decided to take recording devices and cameras just in case.

As fate would have it, I not only witnessed paranormal activity but I also saw my first ghost while at the Mission Inn. It was a “shadow figure” — a type of inky black apparitional form that I didn’t believe existed at the time. Needless to say, seeing a ghost changed everything. After I returned home, I slept with the light on for the next ten days. A few months later, I conducted a similar type of vintage photo shoot at the Pierpont Inn in Ventura, California. After experiencing paranormal activity at the Pierpont, I began to ask myself: Was it the style and subject matter of my vintage shoots that were producing paranormal activity? Was it something else?”

These questions and experiences became the genesis for my book and my research.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
A smooth road? Never.

For my book, I divided each location into three parts. The first part provided straight history of the location and the history of the area. To accomplish that, I fact-checked original sources when possible. I also looked for forgotten stories that had never appeared in other books. Believe it or not, I discovered a few historical errors along the way which I corrected.

The second part focused on the history of the hauntings. I wanted to know who started the ghost stories, when they started and how these stories changed over the years. This type of research provided great insights as to whether the ghost stories are true or not.

In the third section, I discuss my photo shoots and what happened (or didn’t happen) at each location.

Looking back at each section, I’d have to say that the historical research was the most labor intensive. The haunted history section required the most thought and the photo shoots were the easiest. But even the photo shoots required a lot of work. First, I had to get permission from the hotel to shoot. I then rented all of the hotel’s haunted locations that I could find. Next came the casting of models and actors followed by wardrobe fittings. Occasionally, I had to hunt for props in antique stores and online. All of the pre-planning took about three weeks.

Next came the shoot itself, which lasted two-to-four days depending on the size and scope of the project. Although each photo had to look beautiful, I deliberately chose themes designed to stir up paranormal activity. For instance, if people claim to see the ghost of an Edwardian woman wearing a black dress wandering down a certain hallway, we would stage that to see what it would look like. Conversely, if the paranormal claims weren’t visually interesting, I staged themes that had nothing to do with the hauntings at all but was still in a specific time period befitting the hotel. During our stay at each location, a few of us conducted paranormal investigations before and after each shoot. Although we did occasionally experience outbreaks of paranormal activity during our photo shoots, most of our data was collected after our shoot was finished for the day.

All of these sections worked beautifully together. In fact, it turned out better than I had planned.

Please tell us about Sad Hill.
In 2010, I started a Facebook page called “Bizarre Los Angeles,” which focuses on Old Hollywood personalities, forgotten tales and occasional ghost stories from around Los Angeles. After the page took off, I decided to add to its scope. So my brother and I started a small company called Sad Hill in 2011. It is a small publishing house that manages all aspects of the ‘Haunted by History’ book project. I also amassed a small archive of historical images.

Although I wear many different hats, I suppose I’m best known for my photographic style and my historic knowledge of haunted Southern California.

Since the release of Haunted by History in 2017, many doors have opened. My first break was an interview on the Nerdist Network’s ‘Bizarre States’ show. This brought a lot of attention to my book. In 2018, ‘Haunted by History’ earned a Publishers Weekly Star Review, a rare honor especially for an indie publisher and first-time author. This distinction attracted a distributor. I then signed with an entertainment production company as a consultant and an on-air personality.

In making ‘Haunted by History,’ there are many factors that set me apart from other authors in the genre. First, the book is factual. I footnoted everything for posterity sake. Second, the book is visually appealing. Third, I didn’t just research the history and write about the ghost stories. I actually visited each location and ran tests to see if there was any merit behind the paranormal claims. I don’t know of any author that went through all of those steps. Of course, I say this with a pained smile. To quote Cecil B. DeMille, ‘Ignorance is a wonderful thing when properly applied.’ Had I known all the work it would take to create ‘Haunted by History,’ I probably would have done something else with my time. (laughs) Or not.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
This year, I appeared on stage at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to discuss the forgotten history of the Los Angeles Alexandria Hotel, its hauntings and the hotel’s early role in the development of the West Coast film industry. Speaking from the Egyptian stage was a dream of mine long before I started writing the book. So it was nice, and a bit of a shock, to see it manifest into a reality. Because of the success of that event, I booked a speaking engagement at the Wolves DTLA, located inside the Alexandria itself. A long line of people waited half a block to hear me at the Wolves. Because of this, I ended up doing three back-to-back presentations to accommodate as many people as possible. Now that was a humbling experience. I had no idea that such a large crowd would come out to any of these events nor did I expect a round of applause whenever “Bizarre Los Angeles” was mentioned. A part of me wanted to offer to detail everyone’s car afterward.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo: Nathan Sebakijje, All other photos: Craig Owens

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