Graveyard Shift

16 Creepy Stories And Urban Legends From California 

Laura Allan
Updated June 25, 2020 927.9k views 16 items

When you think of California, you probably don't think of creepiness. Hippies, surfers, beaches, Hollywood... it's all pretty weird, sure, but not scary or spooky, right? Well, believe it or not, creepy California does exist, if you know where to look. The state has ghosts, legends, and monsters, and you might be surprised to see that some of them are about as scary as you can get.

Between ghosts and creepy serial killers, California has a genuinely bloody history dating back to its formation. It could be the home of Big Foot, and Old West ghosts are around, shooting it out in some of the nation's finest ghost towns. If you're all about the weird and paranormal, look no further than the Golden State.

You don't have to read this at night, and you don't have to turn off your lights. But with the scary stories and terrifying urban legends in California that we're about to delve into, we definitely recommend it. 

A 19th Century Mining Town Burned Down Exactly 149 Years After It Opened
A 19th Century Mining To... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 16 Creepy Stories And Urban Legends From California
Photo:  David Lofink/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In 2018, the remote, 19th century mining town of Cerro Gordo became a tourist attraction where visitors could explore old mine shafts and hike along the mountain trails. The American Hotel, where travelers would stay in town, opened on June 15, 1871, and on June 15, 2020, it burned to the ground in what the Los Angeles Times describes as, "Furious winds driving flames that were leaping like demons and scorching unpredictable paths up slopes dotted with historic mining structures. Then came the explosions of propane tanks as flames engulfed the hotel."

Brent Underwood, who turned the town into a tourist spot in the first place, recalled the horror of the event, especially given the town has no running water. "All I could do was call 911," he said. "And then, with help from a caretaker, I used buckets to desperately fling water from storage tanks onto the flames."

The local fire department told Underwood the fire could have been caused by "a thousand different things in these old buildings." But Underwood has his own theory: "The caretaker here told me that he and another person saw a shadowy apparition moving in the hotel kitchen at 4 pm the previous day." 

Cerro Gordo is known for its paranormal legends and historical impact in California. Underwood said, "The fire was heartbreaking, because I have a deep emotional attachment to this place. But we’re not giving up. Truth be told, we’ve got big plans for little Cerro Gordo." 

Alcatraz Might Have Kept A Demon In Its Cells
Alcatraz Might Have Kept... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 16 Creepy Stories And Urban Legends From California
Photo:  William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Alcatraz is extremely haunted. There are ghosts of prisoners who died there and ghostly security guards. The place is full of spooky rooms, like those in the medical ward, which creak and groan like any good haunted prison should. There's a room called "the hole" in the depths of the prison that was used for solitary confinement, and it is the source of one pretty unnerving legend.

According to legend, sometime in the 1940s, a man was put down there and, throughout the night, screamed to the guards about a demonic creature with glowing eyes in the cell that was trying to kill him. The guards ignored this as an excuse to get out. When they opened the cell in the morning, they found the man strangled to death. No one knows exactly how he died.

Creepy Clowns Haunt Central California
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It all began with the Wasco clown. In 2014, residents of Wasco, CA, noticed a creepy clown standing around, being generally terrifying. Police were called, an investigation conducted, and, eventually, it was revealed the clown was involved in a photography project, so, no harm, no foul. Although the project is pretty f*cking creepy.

It all could have stopped there, but it didn't. Inexplicably, copycat clowns began showing up all over southern and central California, and they weren't out to take spooky pictures. Instead, they were weaponized. Yes, multiple armed clowns terrorized small towns, for no reason anyone can discern. One 14-year-old was even arrested for running around as a clown and chasing children

Hotel Tap Water Runs Black With Death
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So many aspects of this story sound like an urban legend, but it's all true. In 2013, guests staying at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles reported their water was a dark color. The hotel sent a maintenance person to fix it. It turns out the problem was a human corpse in the water tank, which had been decomposing for weeks. The body belonged to Elisa Lam, and police never figured out who killed her (or whether she killed herself).  

But wait, it gets creepier. When police looked at security tapes of the elevator on the suspected day of Lam's death, they saw the victim acting... strangely. She got in the elevator, pressed a bunch buttons, and peered out when the door opened as if looking for someone. She looked terrified the entire time. When she finally left, the doors of the elevator opened and closed a second time, as if someone else was there, but unseen. Was she being followed? Or was Lam, diagnosed as bipolar and depressive, having an episode? We may never know. 

Want to hear something else creepy? Her blog continued to update after she died. It's possible she had posts in her queue scheduled to publish, but still. Some suggest Lam had tuberculosis and point out that the test used to determine whether someone has TB is called LAM-ELISA.