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I Tried It

Visiting the ghosts of Hollywood’s past — and maybe hearing them talk

My search for spirits and beauty on the touristy streets of Los Angeles

By Alison Stevenson

For years, I’ve been quietly craving an opportunity to see ghosts. The quietness is due partly to embarrassment, partly to fear. If ghosts are real, can they haunt me forever? Can they follow me home and watch me eat cookies in bed? Would they judge me for how many consecutive hours I’m able to watch MTV reality shows without getting up to pee? Would they be impressed by that? What does it take to impress a ghost?

Besides, believing in the supernatural, potentially terrifying as it is, is also comforting in a way. If ghosts exist, that means there’s more to life than what we experience here on earth. I wouldn’t mind knowing for sure.

That’s why I finally took the plunge and looked up Linda the Ghost Hunter. Formerly a member of an all-female ghost hunting group known as Ghost Girls, she’s now working solo, offering evening group tours in the heart of Los Angeles. A big selling point of Linda’s tours is that she brings along equipment — those tools on all the ghost shows that sound like static and have blinking lights and take grainy photos. She has a thermal gun, which purportedly detects unseen figures around us from the heat they would give off; EMF detectors (for capturing electromagnetic field radiations); and a “spirit box” to allow spirits to communicate via white noise.

Our group met Linda at a bar on Hollywood Boulevard. I was under the impression that the actual hunt would take place in a creepy indoor spot, like an abandoned hospital or historic hotel basement. I was wrong.

We got to “speak” with Al Jolson, who told us via EMF detectors that he regretted doing blackface.

Instead, we looked for ghosts out in the streets of Hollywood, a neighborhood that, as a longtime LA resident, I typically avoid like the plague. It’s a shell of its former glamorous self, teeming with tourists, overpriced bars, and kitschy souvenir shops. Little short of the prospect of encountering the supernatural would lure me there.

Linda started by asking us if we’ve had any supernatural experiences. One person said he had seen his grandmother on a staircase when he was a child. Another claimed he can smell his dead relatives’ perfumes. This was a group of firm believers; I found myself shocked to be the most skeptical among them.

Linda walked us to sites of old Hollywood tragedies, to see what we could pick up with the equipment. In one location, we were tasked with finding out whether or not two young sisters were with us. In another, we investigated whether any spirits hanging around had died in a nasty fire. At one point, my thermal gun sensed a small group of ghosts, but they didn’t stay long.

The highlight of the tour was when we tested the equipment on different stars on the Walk of Fame. We even got to “speak” with Al Jolson, who told us — via warbly static on the EMF detectors, translated by Linda — that he regretted doing blackface.

I wasn’t scared; rather, I was trying my hardest to suspend my disbelief and take the hunt earnestly. There were moments where I briefly felt like something supernatural was happening. The spirit box had an eerie feel to it, as did the “dowsing rods” — two thin metal bars that were ostensibly being moved by spirits as we held them.

The main takeaway from the experience, however, was not about ghosts. If anything, sadly, I’m less convinced that they exist. Instead, the tour gave me a renewed appreciation for Hollywood itself. I had been taking this part of Los Angeles for granted, and the hunt was a reminder that Hollywood has a beauty and a rich history to it that are too easily forgotten by tourist-averse residents like myself. Linda helped bring it to life, maybe even with the help of a ghost or two.

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Alison Stevenson is a writer based in Los Angeles. 

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