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My father’s Cecil Hotel experience haunted him for life

I’ve previously shared on this blog my father’s terrifying experience at the Cecil Hotel back in the 1960s. Over the years, documentary filmmakers have reached out to me, interested in learning more. Last year, I was interviewed for a documentary that premieres Feb. 10 on Netflix. It is called, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.”

The documentary focuses on the mysterious death of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, who was found dead in a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in 2013. While authorities ruled the death an accidental drowning, there are many questions surrounding her death, amplified by the notorious reputation of the hotel. The four-part series covers many of the high-profile crimes that have taken place at the Cecil.

For those interested in the possible supernatural influence at the Cecil, I’m sharing my father’s terrifying experience. My father lived at the Cecil in 1965. He was a young, single immigrant from Northern Ireland who needed affordable accommodations near his workplace. He had been staying at the Cecil for some time with no unusual incidents to report until one night, he woke up to the sensation that someone was smothering him. He described it as a heavy pressure weighing down on his chest and throat, as if someone was sitting atop him. He gasped for breath and tried to fight back, but it felt like his entire body was paralyzed by an invisible but strong presence. Then as soon as it began, the feeling dissipated. My father ran downstairs to the night clerk, and explained what had happened. The clerk said, nonchalantly, that someone had been murdered in my dad’s room.

Dad’s naturalization certificate with the Cecil Hotel listed as his address.

My dad changed rooms and did not experience anything unusual during the rest of his stay.

But the experience haunted my father for the rest of his life. Decades later, my father would be visibly shaken when retelling the story of what happened in that room at the Cecil Hotel. He would break out into a sweat, and his hands would shake. My mother would caution him to stop telling the story if it upset him so much, but Dad felt compelled to go on, even while clutching his heart. 

My dad survived the Nazis bombing his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland as a child. He recounted having to run to the bomb shelter in the middle of the night with less fear than he told the story about that night at the Cecil Hotel. 

The logical, rational side of me can dismiss my father’s experience at the Cecil as just a nightmare. He was prone to nightmares, very bad ones in which I remember him moaning and crying out in fear. But the thing about his nightmares is that they were always the classic “someone chasing me” scenario. Never did he have a nightmare that in any way resembled his experience at the Cecil. 

There’s no way for me to know if my father had an encounter with an evil presence that haunts the Cecil Hotel or not, but I do know that whatever my father experienced, it felt very real to him.

Read more: Dad’s stay at the haunted Cecil Hotel

When my father stayed at the Cecil, he likely wasn’t aware of its disturbing history. About a dozen suicides had been recorded at the hotel by the mid-1960s, including several women. Pauline Otten, 27, committed suicide in 1962 by jumping out of a window at the Cecil. In a tragic twist, she killed a pedestrian on impact. Just a year before my father’s stay, Goldie Osgood, a retiree known as “Pigeon Goldie” and the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room. The coroner said Osgood had been choked to death with a hand towel. The case was never solved, though an initial arrest was made. This Medium post offers a good overview of the deaths associated with the Cecil Hotel.

Unfortunately, the Cecil’s reputation only grew worse. In subsequent decades, it has been home to at least two serial killers, including the infamous Night Stalker. Lam’s mysterious death garnered worldwide interest and once again put the Cecil in the spotlight. The hotel tried to rebrand itself as Stay on Main for a few years and is undergoing yet another transformation but still attracts much attention from paranormal enthusiasts.

The hotel’s sinister history inspired a season of American Horror Story.

If you have interest in the history of the Cecil Hotel and the Elisa Lam case, I encourage you to watch this new documentary and let me know what you think. Many of you have reached out to me over the years to offer your own experiences when visiting the Cecil Hotel and I appreciate your comments.

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Dad in tights

Well, I never thought I’d see my dad wearing tights, but I unearthed this treasure of a photo recently. Mom had mentioned that Dad had done some “Shakespeare in the park” or other community theatre when he first came to Los Angeles. I guess she was right, because now I have photographic evidence!

My dad in all of his tights-wearing glory!

There is no caption on the back, so I don’t know anything about what play it was, or what year it was, but it looks like Dad is taking his community theatre role seriously!

So he didn’t become a Hollywood star, but there was more to my dad than I ever knew when he was alive.

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Hey, this Coke tastes like onions!

As I’ve mentioned before, most of our restaurant visits as a family were to fast food places, but occasionally, we would go somewhere a bit nicer, or least to a place that had cloth napkins. The Red Chile was a family favorite. When we were in an Italian mood, we would head to Vito’s. I can’t determine if this place still exists as there are two restaurants, Vito’s and Vito’s Pizza, listed online in the L.A. area. The place we went to was a modest, family-run restaurant with the traditional red and white checkered tablecloths. I remember it being a pretty far drive, so we didn’t go very often, as Dad didn’t like to drive in unfamiliar areas that had heavy traffic. Mom loved the eggplant parmesan, while Dad usually had the meatball sandwich. I was very small, and there was no kid’s menu, so I munched on meatballs and garlic bread. (Wow, what a healthy dinner!)

On this one particular visit which stands out in my mind, I ordered a Coke as usual. It was a hot day and I eagerly peeled off the paper wrapping on the straw and took a big sip. It tasted very funny. I couldn’t quite identify it at first, but Dad noticed my wrinkled nose. I told my parents that my soda didn’t taste right. My mom thought I was just being picky. Dad offered to order me another one (probably to get me to stop whining about it) but Mom didn’t want to make a scene. I went into tantrum mode, refusing to drink the soda. At some point, we figured out it was the ice cubes! They must have been stored in an area with something made with lots of onions and they had absorbed the distinct flavor.

I received a new soda, without ice. Our Italian dining adventure went on without any further issues. I can’t remember when or why we stopped going to this particular restaurant, but I still have the fuzzy memories and that taste of onion-flavored Coke to savor.

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Dad’s stay at the haunted Cecil Hotel

UPDATE Feb. 2021: The documentary, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” premieres on Netflix on Feb. 10. I was interviewed for the project. Check out the trailer below.

Read my new blog post where I discuss the new documentary and my father’s own terrifying experience at the Cecil Hotel.

ORIGINAL BLOG POST Feb. 23, 2012:

Dad naturalization record

Dad’s naturalization certificate.

Previously, I wrote about finding my dad’s naturalization record on Ancestry.com. I also found the original certificate after sorting through my father’s belongings. Out of curiosity, I Googled the address listed as my dad’s residential address on the form. Results for the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles popped up. As I delved deeper, I discovered what a bizarre history this place has, and it also made me remember dad’s haunted hotel story.

In more modern times, the Cecil became home to serial killers, such as the “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. Now the hotel is trying to reinvent itself by promoting its central location and affordable rates. You really should check out the reviews and photos online. Talk about bait-and-switch. The lobby is absolutely grand, pristine with gorgeous architectural details. But once you leave the lobby, things get grim (and grimy) in a hurry.

If you enjoy reading hotel horror stories, just Google it. Some politely refer to it as a “transient hotel” and others call it an outright dump. This gentleman has an excellent description of his stay there, entitled “A Dump with a Future.”

The Cecil Hotel also served as inspiration for the “Hotel” installment of American Horror Story.

In a nutshell, the Cecil Hotel has never had a sterling reputation, even when it was known as the Hotel Cecil during my dad’s tenure there in the mid-1960’s. In 1962, a woman committed suicide by jumping from a room at the Cecil, also killing a pedestrian that she landed on below. Goldie Osgood, known as the “pigeon lady of Pershing Square” was choked to death in a room there in 1964. The case was never solved.

Which leads right into my dad’s haunted hotel experience. Every time he told the story, I could feel the fear come off of him in waves, even after so much time had passed. He claims he went to sleep that night in his room at the Cecil, only to awaken to the feeling that he was being smothered and choked. He was bathed in a cold sweat and couldn’t move or call for help. He felt a heavy presence weighing down on his chest, and what felt like hands around his throat, but he could not see anyone. He literally thought he was going to die in that room. Finally, he was able to move. He bolted out of the room and ran downstairs to the front desk. After he gasped for breath, he told the hotel clerk what had happened. The clerk said nonchalantly that someone had been murdered in that room. Dad was able to get his room changed, as he made it clear he would never sleep another moment in that room.

Did Dad have a supernatural experience in that room? Was it the room the pigeon lady was murdered in just the year before? I’ll never know, but it does make for one hell of a story.

If you have your own experience at the Cecil Hotel, I’d love to hear about it. Many have reached out and shared their accounts. Feel free to share your story in the comments section.

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Dad’s naturalization record

As part of my research for this blog, I’ve been spending some time on Ancestry.com, building out the family tree and looking for any documents I can find relating to my family. I did stumble upon my dad’s naturalization record. It doesn’t reveal much, though it does finally solve a family mystery of sorts.

Dad’s birth year was 1932. That’s what it said on his driver’s license and other official documents. But Dad would insist he was born in 1933. My mom and I never understood this little white lie. If you are going to fib about your age, wouldn’t you go ahead and shave at least 5 years off? What difference does a year make in the scheme of things?

The naturalization record says April 10, 1932 so case closed. Sorry, Dad.

I was curious about the address listed as my dad’s residence on the document. It turns out to be a very interesting place. More about that tomorrow.

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