Second only to the “Paul is dead” talk that followed the Beatles throughout much of their careers, rumors and legends abound about the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California.” The lyrics supposedly describe a church that was abandoned and taken over by Satan worshippers, as in “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan did indeed garner a lot of interest and attention in the 1960s, culminating with the admitted membership of celebrities like Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis, Jr. (before he saw the light and converted to Judaism). Photos on and . inside the album cover purport to show the actual hotel, and people have seen everything from LaVey standing on a balcony to ghosts wandering though the halls.
Despite the fact that the song is most likely an allegory for the music industry and the hedonism of the 1970s, and that the album cover photos were actually taken at the Berverly Hills Hotel, the legends persists, and many of these stories center on the now abandoned Camarillo State Hospital near Ventura. Built in 1936, the facility housed alcoholics, the retarded, drug addicts (jazz great Charlie Parker recorded a seven-month stay in 1947), and more sinister characters such as pedophiles and violently insane criminals. Former patients often referred to the place as “Hotel California” long before the Eagles had even formed
The barbaric state of “care” at Camarillo is legendary, and seemed like something out of the Inquisition rather than a place where people were healed. Patients (some of whom were children) were routinely given electroshock treatments, immersed in tubs of hot water and then wrapped in icy towels, beaten and otherwise abused by employees, pumped full of drugs, or simply strapped to tables until they were too exhausted to resist. Residents were made to wear tan jumpsuits and any who tried to escape were easily spotted.
“You can check out any time you’d like, but you can never leave.”
Parapsychologists have often found that more strange phenomena occur in places where mentally unstable people are grouped, and experiments have borne out this theory. This legendary “snake pit” bears so many psychic scars, it would be unusual if it wasn’t haunted. Accounts from former employees tell of a man who would routinely enter the women’s restroom, only to disappear when someone went inside to look for him. One janitor saw a man’s legs in one of the stalls, but after receiving no reply when she asked him to leave, opened the stall to find it empty.
Beginning in 1999, efforts began to turn the site into another kind of institution. It is now the California State University Channel Islands. School officials would rather forget the sinister history of the buildings, but sightings of strange apparitions and moving furniture continue to plague the grounds. Most of the reported happenings seem to occur in the complex located on the far southern end of the campus, which is still used for location filming, since it is the only place that hasn’t been touched by the renovation crews as yet.
A recent visit just after sunset, with the light of the full moon illuminating the courtyard, was intense enough, but from somewhere inside the building, we could hear an intermittent banging on something that sounded like metal pipes. The faraway noise echoed through the dark hallways for many seconds afterward. A crawlspace door led to an impenetrable darkness. No apparitions were seen or recorded on film that time, but the place remains a good bet for ghost hunting thrillseekers, as well as a monument to a time when the mentally disturbed were treated as non-human by an assuredly ignorant and at times inhuman staff.
“My brother, Bill, while on a location shoot, was working out of this building at the asylum just last May 2004. He’s a set builder. While there, little things like the hammers, wrenches, etc. would disappear and then reappear in other rooms. Windows would shut, microwaves thrown on the floor, the walls would knock, and cold spots happened. They would hear children laughing, but no kids were there. A couple of the crew quit—
it was too close to the other side for them.” –Maryanne and Bill Barrett (from ghostvillage.com)
“And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night…”