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1880 - Pico Oil Spring Mine Section 2 patented by R.F. Baker and Edward F. Beale [story]
E.F. Beale


Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Nov 18, 2012

Darryl Manzer

In the book, “Crying Hill,” by local author Jayne Saporito, there is a description of a scream so loud on a hill in Towsley Canyon that the sheriff is called.

That event really happened. Jayne describes it as a scream a child would make in pain and agony.

Jayne Saporito heard that scream for real, and it compelled her to write the book. Great book. Nice read about our valley. That scream also caused her to call the LASD, and a couple of deputies investigated and found nothing – but they did hear the scream, too.

So, does some tortured spirit haunt Towsley Canyon? Or was it the scream of a young mountain lion or maybe a bobcat? I would guess the latter.

You see, until recently, there were no stories or myths about Towsley and Pico canyons being haunted. Mentryville might be called a “ghost town,” but having lived there, and in talking to other former residents, nobody has ever talked of ghosts … or spirits … or goblins … or …

It’s like the myth that the Hart High auditorium is haunted. People have heard footsteps in an empty theater. Well, we pulled some pranks about that in the 1960s. If you were really quiet, you could hear the wind blowing the ventilation louvers on the roof open and shut. Sounded like footsteps.

So we would tell some poor, unsuspecting underclassman about the ghosts, and you could hear them …

Hey. We had believed it as we ran from the place the first time, but we soon heard the laughter. The “Haunted Hart Auditorium” myth had claimed some more victims – and we passed it on.

The Big House, aka Pico Cottage, looked rather creepy in 1961 after the chimney fell off and the trees were chopped down. But rumors of a ghostly presence are overblown. Click image for more info.

In 1962, local historian A.B. Perkins wrote an article in The Signal about the “Pico Ghost Camp.” Around the same time, Mr. Perkins and the L.A. Times ran articles about the “Pico Ghost Town.” I helped on one of those. The reporter from the Times asked me if there was a graveyard in Pico Canyon. I said, “No, but there is a carved monument on top of Mustard Hill that looks like a gravestone.” That reporter went on to write about how I told him about the graveyard.

Alas, my friends, there is no graveyard. No ghosts that I have seen or heard about. No spirits in either Towsley or Pico canyons. Nothing in Pico Cottage (aka the Big House), the barn, garage, or Felton School. Never heard of any. Nope. No way.

Pico Cottage has been in a number of bad flicks that were supposed to scare you. Maybe that is where the myth started. Who knows?

Wouldn’t it be great if a few spirits did live there? Hey, Magic Mountain! Fright Fest was good, but come on over and see the real thing.

I’ve been thinking about what “non-paranormal” role the old place could fill, and how the resulting revenue would help preserve the buildings for future generations. Just to think of a few, this is my list so far:

* Conference center for small groups in the Pico Cottage – city councils, business groups, clubs and organizations.

* Use Felton School as a classroom for a part of the California history requirements for third grade.

* A real barn dance in a real barn? Maybe a concert sponsored by Bobbi Jean at OutWest in Old Town Newhall.

* Catered and sponsored picnics at Johnson Park for the same types of groups that are using the Pico Cottage.

* Of course, continue filming on the property.

Sure, these types of events would require some major changes to the structures and the grounds for safety and such. Better electrical systems in the house.  Air conditioning and heating. Fire sprinklers in all the buildings. Reactivate the kitchen and bathrooms. Replace the washroom/toilet on the back porch. These improvements could pay for themselves in short order.

There is already a place in Towsley Canyon that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy operates for weddings and similar shindigs. It is called Towsley Lodge and is being used for all kinds of events. Maybe the same could happen in Mentryville.

There have been weddings in the house in Pico. How about a school teacher getting hitched in the old Felton School?  Reception in the house afterward, or maybe a wagon ride up to Johnson Park for an outdoor reception and dinner?

It can all be done. I bet we can find the money to do it. It will be a lot easier to find funding for all that than it will be to find some ghosts in either canyon.

In 1982, I got stuck at sea on a submarine doing some testing. We waited 21 days for a small test boat to come out of San Francisco to conduct testing of the submarine sonar systems at sea. I thought it would be a good idea to have a boat or small ship we operated at Mare Island Naval Shipyard that was a lot more sea-worthy for that testing.  I wrote a proposal and it was approved.

So we found the ship of 1944 vintage. We found systems and equipment to do the testing. We found the crew. We were given a budget to get the ship ready and came in far under what we were allotted. We went to sea and did the testing without delay due to weather.  It paid for itself in saving submarine operating time the first time we deployed it.

Now, I’m not saying the returns on using the facilities in Mentryville will pay for those necessary improvements on the first rental. But I know that using those buildings for more than movie sets would bring in far more revenue.

Right now they are earning nothing, most of the time – because ghosts don’t pay rent.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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