(I am currently finishing up a book on Griffith Park, and while parts of the the following tale are undoubtedly false, it’s just too good a tale to keep from retelling here.)
As anyone who has ever jogged along its paths after dark can tell you, L.A.’s Griffith Park can be a pretty eerie place.
But did you know that some say the park actually exists because of a curse?
The story begins during the Mexican era when the land that eventually became the park was part of the Rancho Los Feliz. Antonio Feliz inherited the property and lived on it with his blind niece Petranilla.
When Antonio died in 1863, the land was said to have been swindled away by a neighbor and his crooked lawyer, leaving the girl with nothing.
Petranilla then placed a curse on the chiselers as well as on the land, which she punctuated by promptly dropping dead.
If the stories are to be believed, everyone connected with the con met untimely ends. A few years later the property passed into the hands of Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith.
Griffith J. Griffith, a man with the same first and last names to go along with a dubious military rank, was born in Wales in 1850 and emigrated to the U.S. around the end of the Civil War. Six years later he became a publisher in San Francisco and within a short time was the mining correspondent for the newspaper Alta California.
Griffith was able to glean enough knowledge about mining to become an expert at discovering gold and silver. He netted a large fortune which he and his wife Christina used to purchase the former rancho.
Griffith created an ostrich farm on the site, which was run by a man named Frank Burkett. Sometime around 1884, there was a lightning storm which severely damaged the property, but what really frayed the ranch hands’ nerves that night was the appearance of the ghost of Antonio Feliz on horseback.
Griffith soon closed down the farm, which enraged Burkett enough for him to shoot Griffith down before turning the gun on himself.
The Colonel survived, but the curse wasn’t quite through with him yet.
Griffith, trying to rid himself of the haunted property, donated it to the city of Los Angeles in 1896. After this, he became increasingly paranoid, believing that his Catholic wife was conspiring with the Pope to poison him. In 1903, while staying in Santa Monica, he shot her in the eye. She too survived, but Griffith ended up spending two years in San Quentin after pleading insanity.
After he was released from prison, the city spurned his additional attempts at gift-giving. It was only following his death in 1919 that the city accepted a $1.5 million fund from his estate to build the Griffith Park Observatory and the Greek Theater.
So, the next time you’re out jogging past dark along the park’s equestrian trails, make sure the horse and rider ahead of you are real, and that it’s not Antonio Feliz out looking for some swindlers.
(Like I said, much of the story about the curse is to be taken with a grain of salt the size of a Prius … but a friend of a friend, who works in the park, swears he met up with the ghost of Petranilla one night.)