Sunday, September 26, 2021

SB NEWS-PRESS: THE INVESTIGATOR: EXILED IN MONTECITO

 










Royalty, as an institution, always wins in the long run. And its strays always lose.


Just summon the spirits of Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Windsor, exiled for almost four decades in France after the Duke, then King Edward VIII, abdicated his throne (in 1936)—supposedly for “the woman he loved”—and this is what they would probably tell you: Money improves your style of misery but won’t bring you happiness.


Truth is, they (especially Edward) were homesick for Blighty, which, for the rest of his life, would no longer tolerate their presence and whose rulers (the Royal Family and government alike) strove to keep them both at arm’s length.


Notice I wrote “supposedly” about Wallis Simpson’s involvement in what was a huge drama a century ago but was actually a whopping red herring that the populace swallowed hook, line and sinker. That is because there was a far more important reason for evicting King Edward VIII from his throne, if much less known, except, that is, by those who had a need to know as war clouds began to darken over Europe back in the mid-1930s.


Before World War II officially commenced, Edward, while still heir apparent as Prince of Wales, was partial to Nazi Germany and liked to point out to his friends that 100% Teutonic blood ran through his veins. A little context: The British Royal Family’s last name is Gothe-Saxe-Coburg but during World War I the British Cabinet found it unseemly that a family imported from Germany with a German name should be ruling the waves of Britannia while tens of thousands of British lads were being mustard-gassed in the trenches by German soldiers. (All boiled down, World War I was a royal family squabble whose hapless subjects paid the ultimate price.) Thus, the Cabinet compelled the British Royal Family to adopt the name Windsor, chosen because it sounded, well, so quintessentially English.


And then, upon being crowned king, Edward VIII put his misplaced sympathies to practice:  he shared British state secrets from his dispatch boxes with the German Reich’s leadership.


British Intelligence chief Robert Vannistat, whose officers kept a watchful eye on the new king, dutifully reported Edward VIII’s duplicity—it ran contrary to the government’s anti-Third Reich stance—to 10 Downing Street where Stanley Baldwin, prime minister of the day, was as flabbergasted as he was horrified. 


Something extraordinary had to be done.


And thus, Prime Minister Baldwin and his spy chief plotted to de-throne the king. 


Their ruse? Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee detested by many in British political and social circles, whose ongoing but trivial romantic relationship with the king they, with skillful manipulation of the media, elevated into a national catastrophe. This subterfuge worked, not least because Edward was said to be as thick as two planks and focused the little mental energy he possessed on dandifying himself (with a valet’s assistance, of course), leaving his legacy with little more than the dubious distinction of having invented the Windsor (tie) knot.


Thus, Edward was jockeyed off the throne and replaced by his younger brother, George VI, who, while seriously unprepared and is remembered for his stammer, had no interest in assisting the Nazis.


Re-titled Duke of Windsor, the ex-king and his new wife went into what they were told would be a “temporary” uprooting to the continent. It soon, however, became apparent that Edward had been duped; that he (and she) would remain distanced for quite some time. This left him (and his wife) deeply embittered—and vengeful.


The Nazis followed these events with great interest. They strategized and tracked the ex-king to Madrid and followed him to Lisbon where they cut the dim-witted and disgraced duke a deal: Work secretly for us and once we occupy Britain we’ll put you back on the throne to rule a UK Reich.


Ms. Simpson truly wanted to be queen. She badgered him into accepting this deal like she badgered him about everything. And he signed on, metaphorically penning his permanent exile warrant.


 

            SECOND TIME AROUND 

 


Which brings us to this century’s version of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor:  Prince Harry and his strong-willed wife Meghan, who resettled themselves to mellow Montecito a little over one year ago, after stints in Canada and LA, to escape an apparently restrictive if very privileged existence in Harry’s native Great Britain.


The real questions are these:  Did Prince Harry flee? Or, like his great-great-uncle, was he duped by bigger brains into departing his homeland into exile?


The British royals, as described to us by (UK) Member of Parliament Chris Price decades ago in a university class he taught, are of “mediocre intelligence” i.e. not terribly bright (think Prince Andrew, known as “Randy Andy” in his own country until it was no longer funny due to his licentious relationship with the late sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein). They depend on the very bright Buck House bureaucrats (master manipulators, be certain of that) to look after what they call The Firm’s interests.

 

Prince Harry (who some believe—due to an eerie resemblance—was fathered by calvary officer James Hewitt, with whom Princess Diana had a passionate affair) holds, with some justification, the media and paparazzi responsible for his mother’s untimely, shocking death 24 years ago.  He may also harbor some suspicion that, due to circumstances of the time, Buck House may have had an interest in ensuring that Diana’s very visible presence was, shall we say, somewhat diminished. He admits publicly that this loss, at age 12, caused him great emotional turmoil and instability, leaving this fragile young man extremely bitter toward what he might regard as his cold-hearted family which, aside from brother William and Diana’s side of the family (the Spencers), moved on from the tragic event far less troubled.


Meghan has already been vilified in the UK press as the consummate gold-digger/opportunist who seems bent, one way or another, on becoming the world’s most famous woman. (A knowledgeable source in London told The Investigator that perhaps, not understanding the line of succession, Meghan may have thought she could be queen—or at least a princess—and was further disappointed when she became neither the center of attention nor, in the media’s eyes, the “new Princess Diana.”)  


Although Meghan may be adept at weaving a tight web, she, ultimately, is no match for a royal court and those who run it. Meghan plays by Hollywood rules, mentored by the likes, at best, of Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King; British royalty as an institution, on the other hand, is infinitely more sophisticated and steeped in the tradition of strategy and tactics; they draw inspiration from Machiavelli before breakfast. (We don’t know for certain but suspect that Meghan has not read Niccolo Machiavelli’s treatises and may also not be aware of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s dismal decline into oblivion.)

 

Harry, who seems to be (or appears to behave like) a rather inconsequential sidekick to his wife’s oversized ambitions, has allowed his betrothed, in a very short period of time, to seriously damage both his royal and military status along with his relationships with nearly everyone within the Royal Family, most notably his father and brother. (If public reports are to be believed, Meghan has done the same with her own family, suggesting this may be a standard cult-like defense mechanism to alienate friends and relatives for the purpose of maintaining maximum control.)


 

            HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF



Portrait by Papa Duke

The fate of Harry and Meghan seems sealed: Quite likely, they are destined to become outcasts in the mold of Edward VIII and “the woman he loved” (both of whom, over time, became caricatures of themselves) with little hope of ever returning to the mainstream.





This may not matter to the young rebellious couple this year or next. But it will matter much in time when the public becomes weary of their relentless PR excesses and loses interest in their trendy, politically correct endeavors. In fact, this may already be happening.  Time magazine’s recent assessment of “influential couples” notwithstanding, according to Hypeauditor, a company that analyzes data, Harry and Meghan’s Instagram account this year lost 700,000 followers.


In other words, as it quite often does, history will repeat itself: Because not unlike the Duke and Duchess before them, Harry and Meghan will, we speculate, ultimately lose relevancy and come to deeply regret having detached themselves from the world’s most venerable institution and, without its support, morph into just another Hollywood North couple craving the next attention fix.  (Or, put another way, from famous to fatuous.)         


Meantime, the money they bring into their coffers exploiting the titles they’ve been allowed to retain may, when all is said and done (and upcoming books remaindered), serve only to improve their style of misery.


Memo to Harry: Grow a pair; make amends with your family before it’s too late (assuming it’s not already).


 

            A NEW SCANDAL

 

            

And whilst we’re on the subject of royalty (British royalty in particular) a new payola scandal has emerged that revolves around royal favors for cash. In this instance, it features no less than Harry’s dad and heir to the throne Prince Charles. It appears that the Prince’s Foundation offered Saudi Arabian businessman Dr. Mahfouz bin Mahfouz not only UK citizenship but also a knighthood in exchange for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to this Royal charity (leading one to wonder if Mahfouz paid for his “doctor” title too). A letter in evidence of this resulted in the resignation, at least “temporarily,” of Michael Fawcett, chief executive of the charity and reputed to be the future king’s “closest aide.”


The big surprise is that anyone should be surprised. Paying for access to royalty is as old as royalty itself, indicative of how corruption truly goes to the very top.


When I served as intelligence chief to Prince Albert of Monaco years ago it soon became apparent to me that the Prince’s closest aides and confidants were selling access to him for cash; if Albert knew (he did because I told him), he turned a blind eye.  There was a standard rate (50,000 euros) for orchestrating lunch with the Prince—and other price tiers for being invited to a princely party or having the Prince choreographed into a bribe-payer’s event. 


I invited numerous persons into Prince Albert’s orbit—people he truly had a need to meet, mostly senior intelligence officials from other countries. A couple of businessmen (one British, the other French) who became aware of my closeness to the Prince made, in one case, a cash offer for a meeting and, in another, a no-cost-to-me silent stake in his business enterprise, a presumed quid pro quo for my influencing the Prince in his favor. Obviously, they thought my palms could be greased. 


They thought wrong.




Sunday, September 19, 2021

SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS: THE INVESTIGATOR: BEANIE BABY BLUES

 






https://newspress.com/beanie-baby-blues-or-ty-warners-troubles/


Note: Not all of this column appeared in the News-Press

The parts edited out (mid-section) are, in this post, given a different font and color.


Judging by the slow pace in which our judicial system trudges along (especially with COVID-19 leaving courts backlogged with more cases than ever before) one has to wonder why Kathryn Zimmie, at the ripe age of 85, has filed so venomous a lawsuit against her ex, Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner of Montecito.


This conflict first surfaced last March when Ty and his lawyers obviously thought the best defense was a good offense and filed a preemptive lawsuit (in Chicago, his preferred jurisdiction, presumably after having received a demand letter from Ms. Zimmie’s lawyer) seeking to bar her from staking a claim due to “an implied or oral agreement” that he would take care of her financially. At that time, Ms. Zimmie was apparently seeking a $70 million settlement.


Clearly, there was no resolution. Because earlier this month, two days before Mr. Warner’s 77th birthday, Ms. Zimmie’s gift to him was her own lawsuit in Santa Barbara Superior Court demanding $200 million (said to be half the value of Mr. Warner’s Channel Drive 18,967 square-foot, 6.58-acre oceanfront digs), the return of her artwork and other personal possessions plus punitive damages for emotional distress.


Cases like this can go on for years and years and it will be to Ty’s advantage, in this case especially, to stretch proceedings out as long as possible.


Which means, this may be bleaker for Ms. Zimmie than Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, a novel symbolic of endless litigation.


Unless, of course, resolution and payment is not the true motivation for this lawsuit but, instead, it is about humiliating Mr. Warner in revenge for beating her to the punch and not settling with her (in addition, of course, to the suffering she claims she had to endure—for how many years?  Quite a few as their relationship apparently goes all the way back to 1977). 


Our point being, how can Ms. Zimmie expect her ex-partner to now fork out millions in settlement after she laced her lawsuit, for all to see (and court-protected from libel charges), with the following allegations?       

 

·      She fled Mr. Warner’s Montecito manse without her clothes and personal possessions “out of fear for her well-being and safety.”

·      That Mr. Warner, upon being told by Ms. Zimmie that she was leaving, placed his hands around her neck and told her “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” States the suit: “Warner squeezed Zimmie’s throat so hard that she realized that her life was in danger if she ever left him.”

·      That she was under constant surveillance in Mr. Warner’s homestead.

·      That he berated her and hid the cane she needed to get around on foot.

·      That he committed fraud, using her identity without her knowledge to conceal assets in a shell company, citing 50 wire transfers in 2019 and 2020 to Cleveland Design Consultants, LLC, what they term “a pattern of deceit.”

            


Given Mr. Warner’s 2013 guilty plea for tax evasion and resulting fine plus community service, the last item is clearly calculated to invite renewed IRS attention.


Meantime, Mr. Warner is battling legal disputes on two other fronts, one pertaining to noise emanating from an un-permitted redevelopment at his Montecito country club, an action initiated by one Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countywide Financial and partly responsible for our whole countrywide 2008 financial collapse (he pled guilty to securities fraud and insider trading and was fined $67.5 million), in other words, no saint himself; the other, a labor dispute involving 300-plus employees furloughed last year from his Biltmore Hotel due to COVID closures represented by a contingency lawyer who knows Santa Barbara’s Labor Commission and courts always side with labor, whatever the facts. 


And this: As with the Biltmore Hotel and Coral Casino, Ty’s Four Seasons Hotel New York has been closed since COVID lockdowns began in March 2020 and, according to its website, remains closed “due to substantial infrastructure and maintenance work that is expected to last well in 2022.” This is similar to what local folks have been told about the Biltmore, though no maintenance appears to be taking place. As reported earlier in this column, what we know is this: Mr. Warner will reopen neither his New York City nor Montecito hotels until he is able to sever ties with Four Seasons Hotels (perhaps leading to even more acrimony); the management contract between Ty and Four Seasons is believed to expire in mid-2022, which ties into Ty’s NYC timeline.




Despite these closures, Mr. Warner’s fortune—estimated at $4.3 billion—doubled during COVID (according to Forbes magazine). One might therefore conjecture that Ty makes more money when his properties are closed than when they’re open (especially with real estate prices soaring).

 


    MONTECITO ENTITLEMENT

 

 

Mr. Warner’s Montecito Club dispute falls into this adage of how Montecito folk view building permits: It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.


Just ask Pat Nesbitt, who maintained an unpermitted helicopter pad for two decades on his 20-acre Montecito estate then audaciously attempted to rationalize this unlawful usage as the reason he should be allowed to secure county approval to make it permit-able.  Of course, he should have been disqualified just for flaunting the rules all those years—and fined to boot.  Fortunately, Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne had the good judgment to point out that Mr. Nesbitt’s argument was fallacious and there’s no reason he shouldn’t use Santa Barbara Airport, just 20 minutes away, like every other self-important private-flyer in Montecito. Plus, how can you open the door to whirly-gig usage for Mr. Nesbitt and close it to others who would most certainly seek similar permissions?  You can’t. Once open, every self-important Montecito wannabe helicopter flyer would be lining up to join the club and we’d be seeing and hearing helicopters whizzing out of the Oprah Winfrey estate, among others.


Pat Nesbitt and his extraordinary entitlement issues aside, the real question that begs to be asked is this: Is Ty Warner truly a magnet for legal trouble—or is this the price people pay for being very wealthy in our ultra-litigious, Bar Association-dominated culture?



It seems awfully sad to us that Ty, who revitalized the public Butterfly Beach promenade at his own expense and upgraded the Coral Casino (no thanks to its old-time members who thought they owned the place and tried to stop him) along with spending $119 million to remodel the Montecito Club… it seems awfully sad that he must spend his august years surrounded by multiple lawyers of varying specialties, his own and others’, the latter with teeth bared and claws extended—and with seemingly no end to bad publicity from all directions.


And just so you know we’re not fawning over Mr. Warner, we have a bone to pick with his Stonehouse Restaurant at San Ysidro Ranch: The prices remain sky-high but the food in no way equates. In fact, dining there for a recent birthday celebration, the meals served were far from spectacular (as expected) and at best mediocre. Maybe the chef was on vacation?  



    GOOD BURGHERS OR BAD?

 


Is it a good thing when one wealthy individual owns 50% or more of the bricks, mortar and businesses in town, thereby able to dominate with their presence and reshape community amenities to their own liking?


On the other side of the country, in Maryland on the Chesapeake, half the town of Easton has been bought up and beautified (not to mention foodie and wined) by Paul Prager, a New York City energy magnate. Many fulltime residents adore him for bringing gourmet eating/drinking to this charming town (settled in 1711) on the Eastern Shore about 90 minutes from your nation’s capital; others point out that local merchants, born and bred, cannot compete with the art and flowers with which Mr. Prager infuses his many establishments, including one that celebrates and serves only gnocchi. “I like gnocchi,” Mr. Prager explains, suggesting that he, indeed, is recreating the town to his own taste and to accommodate his own desires. On the upside, because he believes “every town needs a bookstore,” he opened one. So, kudos to Mr. Prager.


Mid-country, in Colorado, one finds hedge fund billionaire Mark Walter, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, buying whatever commercial property he can get his hands on in the authentic wild west town (with ski resort) of Crested Butte (CB). During the past year he has gotten his hands on quite a lot.


Thus, when we visited CB this summer, we witnessed firsthand what can happen when one person holds many of the keys. As I wrote in my journal at the time:

 

The intimacy and sheer authenticity of CB is the high point (9,000 feet-up) of this road trip and engages me as we roll up Elk Avenue in search of lunch. I’d had my heart set on Magill’s (their hearty beef stew) but, alackaday, they are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays; a sign in the window says, “Help Wanted,” which presages what’s to come.

 

Cocktails are at the Dogwood and dinner at Wooden Nickel, which, like Dorothy returning to Oz, leaves me wondering what happened to this place, because, in my 10-month absence, a hedge fund billionaire has been buying up the best commercial properties along Elk Avenue, including the Nickel and the restaurant adjacent I had so enjoyed, Elk on Prime, which is inexplicably closed for the summer. Wooden Nickel is barely open with a limited “staff emergency” menu of soup and sandwiches. Gone the elk loin for which I’d been yearning. And gone, as well, its soulfulness, as if a great beast had sucked out all the oxygen and blown back a roomful of carbon dioxide.


Our server is apologetic and tells us the new billionaire owner has nothing to do with the bad vibe and staff shortage; that the chef walked out 3 days earlier for other unspecified reasons and the kitchen staff followed him in solidarity. So, who’s in the kitchen? Turns out, some financial guy (connected to the billionaire) and his father. Which explains the elk stew put on the table in front of me. The broth with vegetables is flavorful. But the chunks of elk are hard and tough, as if having spent the last three years in a deep freeze.


The server further elucidates the crisis going on in CB, a topic that was also discussed at the Dogwood. The labor force is being forced out. Homeowners are taking advantage of the property boom and selling their properties, which means eviction for young renters with nowhere else to go. Crested Butte South already went that direction—and now nearby Gunnison, home to Southern Colorado University, is going the same way. Simply put, without low-income housing, the young adults who would otherwise staff CB’s restaurants and bars and shops can no longer afford to live and work here. 


Which means, unless things change, CB is destined become a community of very rich people with no one to service their needs.

 

(Paul Prager of Easton, with better foresight than Mark Walter and understanding the gravity of balance, has plans to redevelop Easton’s harbor with affordable housing.)



Which brings us back to Ty Warner and Montecito. 

           

We all must endure his personal taste, which, as we’ve seen, first at the Biltmore Hotel and now at with his Montecito Club remodel, is best described as Turkish bazaar-meets-Moroccan brothel. And then, in contrast, at the latter, a drab dining room designed retro-1960s from the TV series Mad Men; very gray, very drab. Ugh.


Even if Ty had better taste—or based his designs on local (perhaps Chumash Native American) not foreign heritage—one wonders what will happen to all of his holdings when he passes without heirs and everything falls into the hands of faceless executors at a foundation or trust for whom the bottom line (as in profits) will be all that matters.


Mr. Warner may have idiosyncrasies and his own taste (however odd), but he is big on aesthetics generally and seems to have the community’s best interests at heart (if focused only on the very rich). On the other hand, heartless financial folks in another state may be much less inclined to perpetuate Ty’s habit of spending without concern for near-term return.


And that will be a sad day for Montecito.




Friday, September 17, 2021

Sunday, September 5, 2021

SB NEWS-PRESS: THE INVESTIGATOR: SPOOKY SUMMERLAND

 










Summerland was settled as a spiritualist society. 


That much—along with its hauntings—is reasonably well known by most residents of this sleepy, beachy village the other side of Ortega Hill from mellow Montecito.


What is much less known is that Summerland’s spiritualism, as officially established one Sunday in mid-May 1889, continues to live on, albeit in a colorful church on the corner of East Figueroa and Garden Streets in downtown Santa Barbara.


The Spiritualist Church of the Comforter, which relocated to its current location after their original Summerland site was claimed 70 years ago by eminent domain (to make way for Interstate 101), quietly continues its tradition of communicating with those who have transcended this earthly plane.


A brief history:  The man credited with founding Summerland’s spiritualist community was Henry Lafayette “HL” Williams of Ohio who served as a major in the Union Army under Ulysses S. Grant (a friend of his) during the Civil War. But it was actually HL’s wife, Sarah, known as “Katie,” who was devoted to the then-burgeoning belief in spiritualism—both a philosophy and religion—and who eventually convinced her once skeptical husband to adopt her beliefs after a séance in which a medium jolted him with a revelation (hitherto known only to him) about his drunkard of a brother.


Thus, when HL, who resided on the corner 0f De la Vina and Sola in Santa Barbara, purchased what was known as Ortega Rancho—1,050 acres along the sea—he resolved to transform that panoramic coastline into a dedicated spiritualist community and invite fellow spiritualists from around the country to join him and his family in regular communion with their dearly departed.


HL christened his new enclave “Summerland,” which, to pagans, wiccans and theosophists means “a place of natural beauty and peace while transitioning between lives”; to spiritualists the word Summerland is synonymous with afterlife.  


A book about Summerland’s heritage, The Spirit of the Big Yellow House by Rod Lathim, defines spiritualism as follows: “Spiritualists believe in a spirit or power beyond physical reality. They believe there is a sixth sense that develops in some people, an awareness that enables communication with spirits of the dead.”


Spiritualism had its roots in New York City, circa mid-19th century, though its adherents were ridiculed and ostracized for their nonconventional beliefs. This was why HL and his wife Katie strove to create a sanctuary for fellow believers as the popularity of spiritualism steadily increased (by the end of the century) to 8 million adherents in the United States and Europe.   (The Civil War was a boon to spiritualists due to the grieving over so many dead—often, not properly buried—and, with it, a need for reconciliation with loved ones.)


Sadly, before their spiritualist community was officially launched, Katie died (though one suspects her spirit eternalizes in Summerland…). 


Five hundred people, camping out in tents, attended the commune’s grand opening—and thereafter HL handed out plots of land at a pittance to those who wished to settle it, build homes and attend the weekly services and séances at Liberty Hall, which became known as “Spook Hall” among Santa Barbarians, who looked upon their new neighbors as kooks.  

 

 

            THAR SHE BLOWS

 

 

When oil was discovered, spirituality turned to commerce and Summerland thrived, its oceanfront entirely consumed by a dozen wharfs supporting over 400 oil drilling rigs. Natural beauty turned ugly as the human soul was again corrupted.


Another problem: Summerland became a magnet for charlatans from around the country bent on exploiting the spiritualism craze for financial gain, parting willing marks from their moulah. (A contractor working under one of Summerland’s prominent remaining houses a few years ago found a “knocker” beneath the floorboard, which translates to spiritualist fraud, as in, hit the floorboard with your foot and it’ll knock on cue…)


Ironically, the same oil that rendered HL fabulously rich was also his downfall (literally) when he ventured out to inspect an abandoned well—and, well, fell into it. His injuries evolved into pneumonia and death. Later, during a séance, HL’s stepson, Worsley, invoked the old man’s spirit. Communicating by automatic writing—the legend goes—HL became angry at this intrusion into his new existence, especially upon learning that there was no real reason other than mere entertainment for summoning him.  (They never again tried to contact their irascible patriarchal benefactor.)


HL’s second wife, after becoming a widow, remarried a San Francisco jeweler named Becker, who took the oil biz to new heights. Until, that is, the construction of Santa Barbara’s yacht harbor altered the breakwater and, after one particularly rough tide, washed all of Summerland’s rigs out to sea, thus ending the oil boom. (Mother Nature fighting back?)


Fast forward about a hundred years. Now a freeway runs through it and spiritualism and oil drilling have given way to a smattering of antique shops, boutiques and eateries, along with the aptly-named Sacred Space, a Buddhist oasis offering peace and quiet and complimentary tea


Meantime, The Spiritualist Church of the Comforter quietly continues its practice of Summerland’s early traditions; their beautiful stained-glass windows feature the international emblem of spiritualism: sunflowers.


“The church received its first charter on January 9, 1891,” states their website.  “Summerland was laughingly referred to as ‘Spookville’ and people usually took the back roads to avoid the odor caused by oil wells. In 1951, we had to find a new home. We are still here and still carrying on.”


Meanwhile, Summerland is left with its ghosts and haunted dwellings, as if its early spiritualist inhabitants, by merit of their beliefs and practices, retained the right to live on forever in the abodes of their former colony.

 

 

            GHOST STORIES

 

 

“I was trying to sleep on the couch in the living room of an old Summerland house I rented,” one seriously spooked person told The Investigator, “and was somewhere in that twilight between sleep and awake—it was the middle of the night—when I heard the pitter-patter of a toddler’s footsteps from about 15 feet away running toward where I lay. Whatever it was stopped right by my head near the arm of the couch, looking down on me.  I froze, petrified.”


This jibes with an account in Mr. Lathim’s book: “As the music played, a cherubic naked child about two and a half feet tall with golden curls… danced around the room and people could hear tiny feet making ‘pitti-pat-pat’ sounds on the floorboards.”


Another couch story: “Woke up in the middle of the night in a house at the top of Summerland and saw figures dressed in late 19th century clothing and they were dancing, 3 or 4 of them. And then a male ghost suddenly and abruptly bent over the couch, like he was the watcher, to prevent witness of what those ghosts were doing. The lady who owned the house said, ‘Oh, yeah—I’ve seen them, they’re in the back room.’ And she described exactly the same phantoms. They’re still there, in that house.”


But most of Summerland’s ghost stories revolve around The Big Yellow House, an iconic landmark which, for several decades, housed a restaurant. A number of persons who worked there have claimed ghostly visions of such vividness they became convinced previous occupants from the spirit world were still present among them. 


And not just employees. One customer was at a dinner party in The Big Yellow House and needed to use the restroom. “It was late, near closing time,” The Investigator was told. “Got up to use the restroom and went through a door, ended up in the kitchen. There was no one there. But a voice shouted, ‘You don’t belong in here!’”


He didn’t need to be told twice.

 

 

            A MODERN MEDIUM

 

            

As part of this column The Investigator sought to consult a medium, ideally someone connected to the Spiritualist Church of the Comforter. 


Pre-COVID, the church ran something called “Wednesday Messages” for communication between parishioners and church-approved mediums in contact with the spirit world.  But since this has not yet been reinstated, Pastor Pamela Bollinger referred us to a “certified” medium on the east coast who offers a 30-minute session for $60 by phone or Zoom (though Rev. Bollinger likes to point out that everyone is a medium whether they’ve discovered that potential within themselves or not).


This would be my first encounter with a spiritualist and séance-like situation.  


One must always approach the unknown with an open mind and a healthy slice of skepticism. In this spirit (pun intended), I was enthusiastic about receiving messages from anyone on the other side who might choose to manifest themselves for the occasion or could be mustered up for me; I had no questions and asked for no one in particular.


A cheery beginning: “Spirit guidance surrounds us with love and light.”


My father is then invoked (fair enough, everyone has one—and a little time spent consulting my blog would confirm his transcendence to the spirit world over a decade ago). “He is feeling fatherly toward you.”  Uh-huh.


“He had a gradual illness but when the end came, he went quickly.” Partly so.


My dad, she said, was feeling awkward about being summoned here and “is not sure what to make of it, but happy to be here, if trying to figure out how it’s possible.”


I should point out, I’m looking for some kind of code, a special word or phrase unknown to the medium that might confirm the genuine presence of my father’s spirit. But no such familiarity materializes.


“He had a faith, not a religion.” True, if somewhat generic without specifics—and could also have been discerned from my blog.


Next some puzzling stuff about our father-son relationship that made little sense to me.


Then: “His father greeted him” [when he passed]. “He was confused, is still figuring it out. He is with a brother—he had a brother, right?” (Ancestry.com.) “In life, they did not live in close proximity.”  True. 


“But happy to be together now.”Sweet.


Then another spirit presents itself, bearing no resemblance to anyone I’ve ever known citing circumstances that supposedly involved me but never happened, along with some advice from that fictional spirit: “Stop listening to other people and listen to yourself.”  


And then my father’s mother wants a word too, conveying “a softness around her grandkids.”


Problem: My paternal grandmother passed before the advent of grandchildren.


And finally, some parting advice to me from one, two or all three visiting spirits: “Wake up—it’s going to be all right.” 


I realize spiritualism ought not be judged by a single medium or experience, but if I had to objectively grade this séance for its verisimilitude I’d have no choice (given the fiction and absence of a familiar specific) but to give it a D—and that’s being charitable because of the positive advice.


But perhaps this is the kind of thing that calls for two-out-of-three; maybe I should visit Madame Rosinka at the end of Stearns Wharf.


Stay tuned, Halloween is just around the corner. (This is not meant to trivialize spiritualism; the traditions of the Celtic/wiccan Samhain and the Day of the Dead as celebrated throughout Latin America are truly sacred as are those near and dear to us who have transcended).