The Haunting

Spring 1964

So much has changed since those days in the spring of 1964. As I calculate, it was over 45 years ago. The little community of Walnut, CA, was a few ranch houses and farm fields. Today, in the Spring of 2009, it's a very different place, indeed.

I'm Ron Hawkins and this happened in my junior year of high school. I was attending, and so were the other characters in this story, Edgewood High School in West Covina, a city whose motto was, and still is “The City of Beautiful Homes”. It was mostly an upper middle-class community. I had never met anyone who wasn't of that standing. This was not because I had exclusive associations but because I never thought that way. Everyone else, whether or not they were from the “other” part of town, they went to Baldwin Park High (the “other” high school), or were a different ethnicity, or whatever, was of my social standing. Oh, the eyes of the young and naive have the best vision.

The events I'd like to tell you about took place in a then unincorporated part of LA County. That, then, far-away boonie farm village near the northwest intersection of Grand Avenue and Valley Boulevard , is nowadays the incorporated City of Walnut. That intersection today houses, what appears to be from Google Maps, a shopping center. Then, fanning out further northwest are track homes.

My personal recollection of the vicinity crawls back into cobweb encapsulated memories. One specific memory, which may sweep some webs off as I write, was of riding on the back of Mike Reyme's NSU motorcycle down Grand Avenue one of those spring evenings. He was so proud of his NSU because he worked hard to purchase it himself. He was an independent thinker and very inspired. He was working as a dishwasher at the now long-gone Huddle Restaurant in the West Covina Plaza, which itself has experienced a major metamorphosis. Since he bought the NSU, he hadn't been seen anywhere with out it between his legs.

It seems that this is was after school, say, about 5pm. We zoomed down Grand Avenue past Mt San Antonio College, where I would attend some six years into the future. A few more moments later Mike shouted back to me above the gurgling wanna-be roar of the motorcycle, “There it is, Ron”.


Mike was extremely ambitious and motivated. At fourteen he had his own business; a shoe-shine stand that he operated on weekends out of a barbershop at the West Covina Plaza. As I recall, it was the only shoe shine stand I knew of in our community. I'd seen them in LA and at the airports of various cities, but this was middle-class 1964 West Covina. It was an obvious break of stereotype; a shoeshine boy in an all white community, who was also white, except for his busy black wax covered fingers. Mike, though, was figuratively color blind and could only see Money Green, the color of independence and power.

He was the first in our clique of mostly clean, wholesome bourgeoisie sons, who were also wanna-be hoodlums (we didn't know how to be hoodlums), to buy his own car. It was a sorry example of a used Dodge of some, then, recent vintage. But it was way cool for me because it got me around, and he'd do the driving. Then he got another used car, a '55 or so Chevy sedan. We finished its assembly with junkyard body parts. Of paramount importance, though, was that it ran and got us, yes, I mean “us” as in him and (the big) me, around.

Then came the NSU. That stands for “Neckarsulm Knitting-machine Union”, a factory in Neckarsulm, Germany that was to become, eventually, totally consumed by VW-Audi, and no longer exists as NSU. Until he introduced me to it, I'd never heard of the name or the acronym. But Mike had heard of their alleged reputation as the makers of the allegedly finest and allegedly fastest motorcycle on the Earth and probably the Universe. Mike, himself, did the alleging as he presented to me his very own, self purchased NSU Motorcycle.

I can no longer recall the engine displacement or the bike weight even if he did, often and boastfully, inform me. What I do recall vividly, though, was that his new flashy, speedy, too cool and bitchin' method of being everywhere in the San Gabriel Valley that mattered was also, in de facto, my method.

And that's what we were riding in the cool of one spring 1964 weekday evening down Grand Avenue in the City of Walnut. It was daylight savings time again and the light stayed much later that it had a few weeks before. As I recall us passing Mount San Antonio College, the homes of today were just getting started in the minds of the future developers. The area looked virgin although it was used for cattle grazing then. But it may very well have been planted, grazed and replanted many times before I arrived there. One thing was sure to this 16 year-old's mind: it was the Boonies – way out there where God forgot!

The Haunted House on the Hill

We were approaching barren Valley Boulevard, which paralleled the AT&SF Railroad track from L.A. to points east, when Mike shouted over the engine's pinging and pounding, “There it is, Ron”. Off to the right, the direction in which he nodded, and a quarter mile ahead I could see a mound that rose above a few sparse custom ranch homes. Standing on it was a two story house that had been transplanted from some unknown place to sit alone on its supporting structures, having not yet been placed onto a new foundation.

We made a right turn off Grand, zigzagged about a few rural street turns, zipped up a narrow but short dirt hill outlined as if to become a long driveway when it’s construction finished. The bike gracefully leaned into a short U-turn and came to a gallant stop, as if we were making a gallant presentation to a crowd as The Guests of Honor, arriving. That's how teens arrive anywhere. We were at the front of the transient house where, someday, a front lawn would probably grow.

Yes, this certainly was a transplanted house. It was old, by my 16 year-old standards, and may have been 40 to 60 years old. It had a Victorian look but was in severe shambles. Most windows were broken, much of the roof's covering flapped in the wind and allowed light to pass. Two front room windows, about 6 foot by 4 foot, balanced a front door between them. Some of the outside slats on this all wooden structure had been damaged and/or were missing in various sections. The color, as I recall, was probably white but desperately in need of, in addition to mending, a new coating or two of paint.

Before we went in we examined closer. I stooped to see under the house that sat on piles of something like stacked rail ties. Some wires strung in droops that ran into dark places. There was no electricity or plumbing on the hill so I knew the wires were safe. Lots of cob webs and shadows.

I looked around the front yard, on the ground. Besides the usual dirt, there were weeds all over, a few boards and sticks of various sizes and condition, a nail or pipe section here and there, and something else very peculiar.

I stepped over a few yards and reached for the ground. I picked up a short, say, two inch piece of eighth or sixteenth inch tubing. It was semi-clear with a yellowish tint. It could have been a part from a car, a lost item from a worker's toolbox or even a section of a former ball point ink pen filler. Mike looked at it very curiously and said, “This place used to be a Mortuary. That tubing could be have been used for embalming bodies”.

That did it! This place was, by way of our brilliant deductive reasoning, using the scientific methods of research learned on 1950's and 60's TV and movies, a Mortuary! This tubing proved it, unconditionally! The obvious and, of course, next conclusion was that it was haunted! A Haunted Mortuary!

Then Mike said, “Come on, Ron, Let's go inside”.

In many horror movies of the day, the next victim of ill fate would conclude that they must go inside to where an earlier murder or other dreadful event had occurred. Anyone in the audience would fearfully say, either silently to themselves or by a whispered gasp, “No, Don't Go In There”. At that moment on this hill, as sundown was nearing and shadows were creeping longer, as the wind in the roof flaps imitated footsteps and as scenes of black cloaked morticians dissecting fresh bodies flashed through my imagination, I felt like I was that next horror movie victim.

The house had no front porch. Had it, originally, it was probably eliminated for the move to this location. A freshly built temporary platform, most likely built by the movers, a few creaky steps lined with wobbly hand rails, took us up to the front door.

I followed Mike up the steps. He pushed on the knob-less door which, of course, creaked open. I looked over his shoulder to sense an odd soundlessness, and a low echoing “ah” that reminded me of any of the popular Girl Group backup singers. The falling sunlight stretched through windows in an offset room. The door opened into a welcoming vestibule which introduced a long room on the right, a partial view of a smaller room on the left and, directly in front, a wooden stairway with a few broken steps and missing handrail sections. The stairs went straight up from the front door then turned left to complete the flight into an unknown, unseen place.

Mike went in first. There was nothing really scary about the inside. Were it not for our undisciplined imaginations, we would have concluded that it was just an empty house. But, no! This was an ideal setting to scare the holy b'jeebers out of Tommy Gunn, that suave gallivant against whom Mike loved to compete but never did well. Mike convinced me to assist in a daring plot to dupe Tommy, to lure, to entrap him to this place the coming Friday night - to get a major one up on him. I agreed, although reluctantly.

The Deception

Tommy was a good guy, as was Mike, but for reasons to be determined only by Psychologists, Mike was always in competition with him. Whether it was subconscious or secretly intentional, I do not know. I do know that I liked both of them and this covert animosity Mike held often lured me into the middle of whatever was up. This time, the plan to scare Tommy was what was up and I was very uncomfortable with it, even a little tired of being, once again, involved in such a plot. So, I thought I'd modify the plans a little. I decided that I would turn the events around to scare the holy b'jeebers out of Mike!

I found Tommy visiting Johnny Bolder's house. The moment Tommy and I met, and in the presence of Johnny and his Mom, I told the whole story of where I had been and of the diabolical plot to scare Tommy. I also included in my monologue a plot of a reversal haunting. When I said that we could, instead, scare Mike, while Mike would be expecting to scare Tommy, the three other faces in the room sneered, their mouths seeming to drool and their eyes told of the most sinister grinding of prankster brainstorming!

I suggested that we stuff old clothes to make a dummy, and use it as a corpse. Mrs Bolder instantly offered a pair of Johnny's old pants and a long sleeved shirt. Johnny wadded newspaper into a worn brown lunch sack, saying the paper was brains for the dummy's “head”. Tommy grabbed a stack of old newspapers and started balling up matter to stuff the torso and legs. Again, Mrs Bolder offered her needle and thread to connect all the parts of our instant and homemade Frankenstein.

With a corpse now in our hands, Mrs Bolder returned from the garage with a good length of rope then commanded, “Hang him”. We did. She was a very cool Mom, indeed.

The Night of the Mystery House

Tommy, Johnny Bolder, Mickey Swift, Larry Lavaware and I, stopped before the scene of a crime that we were about to commit. We piled out of Tommy’s ’61 Corvair onto the dirt and weed yard. We only had about a half hour of daylight left of this Friday. We discussed our roles and then moved into action.

Tommy got back in the Corvair and headed back to town to pick up that sly schemer - the Suspense Master - Mike Reyme.

Johnny and I carried the stuffed body into the house and up the stairs, negotiating the missing steps in the middle of the stair’s 90 turn. Mickey had no specific task until the actual event but assisted by helping choose the best location to present the scary prop. We stumbled through the front eastern room then into the back, on the western side of the larger rear room, twice the size of the eastern room. There were no windows on the western side so it had a very dark corner, made even darker by the waning twilight. That was the best place in which to suspend the dummy.

From up on the roof, that is, the very damaged roof, ripe with holes that one could easily and injuriously step through, Larry found a position where he could sit quietly for a while, out of sight from the road and from the front of the house. His tactical position was later to be under the house where he’d make howling and grunting sounds, impersonating any ghoulish being Mike would imagine from it. For now, though, he could see the road from where the delivery car would come. So he served us, waiting in the yard, as a lookout.

In the even darker moments of twilight Johnny and I would wait in the bushes and, when Mike was well inside and saw the dummy, we would then throw sticks and rocks onto the roof to imitate running footsteps. So we scoured the weeds for material until we’d built up a cache of haunting stuff.

Then we waited. Mickey, Johnny and I, anticipating a real good joke. Occasionally, we’d shout to Larry, while we could shout without spoiling the episode, or he would shout to us. It was getting very dark. It was solidly cold and we zipped or buttoned up what we had on. The wind was gentle but certainly made its presence known. And we waited.

Finally, Larry shouts, a little dampened from his usual shout, “Here they come”. The next sound, as we all made sure that we were individually well hidden, was that of Larry thumping his way down the stairs to find his position, under the house, in a small cubby hole big enough only for crawling.

Besides the tin hum of the Corvair as it approached the house, there was the sound of the The Murmaids as they sang “Popsicles, Icicles”, muffled by the sealed shut car doors and windows. All we smoked in those days were cigarettes so, I don’t know how they tolerated the windows being up. It was quite cool outside, though.

The music blasted louder when a door prematurely opened, then stopped along with the car’s engine. The lights went out and the other front door opened. At last, the sound of four guys spread about the night as they piled out. Tommy had picked up two other guys, Clem Mikals and Jay Gillis, who also, along with Mike, had no clue of what they were about to experience.

Mike was sounding off like he had a PhD in Haunted Mortuaries. “This is an actual mortuary that was moved up to this hill by the owner’s widow. Ask Hawkins, we found surgery tools and medical stuff”. Just for fun, I would have backed up his totally bull story, but I was in the bushes being very still.

They went inside. It sounded like the cowboys in an old western as they shuffled into the saloon. This was, however, no saloon. Instead of Six Guns there was an over abundance of testosterone and ego. I heard Mike, again playing the authority role, “Watch your step here. A couple of planks are missing”. Footsteps chugged up the stairs and, as I later found out, Tommy was first, then Mike. They groped and threaded their way through the dark.

We outside, waiting our cue, could hear the dialogue coming from inside. I was scanning the silhouette of the house from my crouching position in the dry weeds in front. Then I heard the driver’s door of the Corvair open slowly. This was Mickey’s task. He carefully sat in the driver’s seat, released the break and pushed with his left foot against the ground. The car slowly and quietly rolled back down the driveway. He never stepped on the foot brake, which would ignite the taillights, until the car was out of the driveway and had made it down around the road a ways. I didn’t hear the car stop and I never saw its lights.

Tommy and Mike got to the East Room first. Clem was challenging the missing steps and Jay hadn’t started the staircase yet. Tommy flashed a light about the East Room and Mike immediately reprimanded him, as only an expert of haunting could do, to “Turn off the light, it’ll ruin the effect”. Then the light went out.

There was some more chatter among the two key players. A few seconds went by and I could hear them moving toward the evening’s main target, the Hanging Body.

All of what follows happened quickly. Mike mumbled something but was suddenly silent when Tommy flashed the light again, this time right on the slowly swinging lifeless corpse. From my cover below, I heard a long, ear piercing scream, not unlike a very hurt little girl. Mike was seeing the Hanged Man!

That was the cue we'd waited for. Johnny launched a couple of heavy rocks to the roof. One of them rolled, found a hole, bounced and thunked its way to making the sounds of a foot-dragging ogre coming towards the group. Larry, from under the house, howled like a banshee in labor. It was an awful, sickening shriek that couldn't have been done better by burning a live animal.

Tommy reported later that Mike ran for the second story window but Tommy grabbed his shirt a pulled him into a right turn toward the stairs. When Clem, now at the top of the stairs, saw the figure of a screaming wide-eyed wildman charging toward him, started screaming himself, turned around to became the leader of the exit. Jay Gillis, clueless about what happened upstairs, was crammed into the right lane of the stairway by Clem, screaming. A second later he was again crammed into the right lane of the stairway by Mike crashing through and screaming. Then Jay started screaming and joined the mass exit.

Mike clearly beat Clem, who had a head start and shorter distance, to the entrance/exit door. Still screaming Mike dashed through the door and was out of the house forever.

I had assumed that Mike would make a gesture of some kind that would acknowledge his awareness that the car was missing. Now, I think that even if the car had been there he still would have kept on running, like he did. He zoomed on by where the car should’ve been, without a hint of slowing down, never a thought of stopping, still screaming.

I didn’t mention that Mickey was a track jock. He had won some meets and trophies in the 500 yard dash. While Mike was bolting out of the house, screaming, Mickey was walking back to the house from where he hid the car. The blood curdling scream alerted him so he made maneuvers to avoid revealing himself to Mike. Those “maneuvers” became a full-on 500 yard dash running away from Mike. Alas, Mike caught up, chin straight up, wide open mouth still screaming, and passed up Mickey. Amazed, Mickey gave up the run and stared at Mike for a few seconds before realizing the success of the prank, then rolled into heavy laughter.

After he zoomed past Mickey, his mindless screaming faded well below the level of our uncontrolled and loud laughter. There is no way of knowing how far Mike ran into the dark mystery of that rural community. It was a teenager's long while before his body form melted out from the darkness into a deep panting, sweating and very pissed off human walking, obviously exhausted, towards us. He was dangerous in this state and didn't appreciate our guffaws and howls. He didn't think this was funny. Not at all.


Mike was never the same. The closeness we once shared ended over the short few months that followed. Shortly, he dropped out of school and joined the Navy. I, too, joined the Navy not long after he did. We occasionally kept in touch over my four year enlistment and I afterward looked him up. We seemed to renew our friendship. He had become a very business-wise conservative entrepreneur and, very smart with electronics, taught me how to repair televisions and I went to work in his shop. When I made some expensive mistakes, he fired me and I moved away to another town for work and college.

During my stay with him, though, it was clear that he had a different personality than I had known in our younger years. His humor was almost gone, that which remained had a dark streak.

Many years later I re-met his sister who agreed he had changed and shared with me her understanding of why he'd changed so much. She blamed the Navy. He'd had to do some very unpleasant work having to do with body bags and triage hospitals. He was medically discharged early.

During his post-teenage years he'd discovered some very shocking, traumatic, and tragic news about his family's history that had been kept secret from him. This news is personal to him and nobody's business so I will not discuss it here. But it had a very strong effect on him.

Finally, in the discussions with his sister, she revealed that just a short time before he went into the Navy, he was plagued with nightmares. He often screamed and shouted in his sleep, waking her. He would stay up very late to avoid having to go to that dark place that regularly haunted his dreams.

That report left me very sad. I never intended to do harm, but to have a good laugh at his expense. His bitterness was influenced by many things, most for which I cannot take any responsibility. But I regret the outcome of this game and I'm sorry if it may have contributed to causing any harm to him.

But the event, itself, was so much fun, a great idea, and well executed. Although I wouldn't do it again, I'm glad I and we did it! It was a true haunting of what would become, in the memories of our gang, a truly haunted house.