In my last commentary I talked about ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, but what about urban legends? Urban legends are stories that are told and retold as factual happenings but in reality are untrue, but the person telling the story doesn’t realize it’s not a true tale. Some urban legends, however, are based loosely on fact.
Last year I published a Google blogon the orphan home on Signal Hill and was amazed to find that several people knew of the home and the children who lived there. I was astonished, however, to learn that these children remained, in ghostly form, to help people trying to get up Hill Street in Signal Hill!
Do ghostly hands help cars make it up Hill Street?
According to a 2002 Mayfair High graduate, the story about orphans helping autos climb Signal Hill was already well established by the time she entered school. She told me she heard that your climb up the hill will be easier if you put baby powder on your tires. It seems the orphans from the Signal Hill home will help with the ascent—the proof being the tiny footprints left behind in the baby powder! The story she heard was that the children had been abused, and they felt helping a car up the steep incline would speed up their rescue.
It is intriguing to trace down legends, some of which have some basis in fact, as did this one. The “true” story began in 1904 when Dr. Michael Alexander Schutz and his wife decided to make their dream of universal brotherhood a reality by creating an orphanage for children of all nationalities. The couple purchased four acres on the area of Signal Hill known as Crescent Heights to build their visionary home. The doctor’s idea was to give the youngsters not only a home but an education to prepare them to someday enter the working world and be self-supporting. The children would be taught trades, and when they reached the age of 14 they would be given the option of going out into the world or staying with the family. By October of 1909 the home had Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Portuguese, Australian, Fiji islanders and Native Americans as well as Schutz’s two children as part of their international family.
Dr. William Schutz
Schutz supported his family by running the Hotel Riviera and a sanatorium in Long Beach. In 1913 Schutz moved his sanatorium from Long Beach to Elsinore. It was in Elsinore that a police officer confronted Schutz when he saw Schutz spanking one of the children. Schutz made a formal complaint against Elsinore City Marshal Haworth, accusing Haworth of circulating slanderous stories about him and with interfering with how he raised his children. Several Long Beach people, including the Chief of Police and a police detective, were present at the hearing and testified as to the good reputation of Dr. Schutz in Long Beach. The matter was finally settled when Haworth publicly apologized to Dr. Schutz before the Elsinore Board of Trustees and a highly interested audience.
So what about the urban legend? Perhaps the article relating to corporal punishment of the orphans, plus Schutz’s belief in Spiritualism, led to the story of the ghostly children reaching out from beyond the grave to help drivers in their climb up the hill. Did the children believe the drivers would rescue them from Dr. Schutz and his abusive ways? Or perhaps the orphans were just practicing kindness and “universal brotherhood,” a principle they had learned from Schutz.
One urban legend I haven’t been able to find any verifiable evidence about is Igor’s Alley (told to me by reporter Tim Grobaty) in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. It’s an alley behind Cedar Avenue, just before the street hooks around to intersect Pacific Avenue.
Allegedly Igor was an immigrant laborer, with a wife and two children who lived in the area in the 1930s. One night he got fired from his job, and since jobs were so hard to find (it was the Great Depression, after all), he decided to spend the last of his money getting drunk. When he got home it was near midnight and he murdered his wife and children and hung their bodies on meat hooks that happened to be installed high up below a window in the alley.
Some have said if you visit the place at the stroke of midnight and stand below where the meat hooks once stood you can feel the children’s feet brush against your head. Others swear that you’ll see pools of blood on the spot below where the bodies once hung, hear the victim’s scream, or see blood dripping down the wall.
As a librarian, I know where to search to verify a story. Using Long Beach Public Library’s history index, I checked out all 40 murders reported in the press during the Depression (1929-1939) and came up with nothing resembling the story told here. I then checked all murders and suicides reported on Cedar and Pacific avenues and in Bixby Knolls and the Los Cerritos area…still nothing. Just to make sure I consulted City Directories from the 1930s to see if there had been a grocery/butcher shop/meat market on Cedar or Pacific. 105 were listed, none on Pacific or Cedar. Also, no Igor’s listed as living in the area! Unfortunately, the address of where the alleged meat hooks once stood and where the phenomena takes place, has never been added to the story. So I have to say this ghost story is definitely an urban legend.
If you’d like to read more about the Signal Hill orphans check out my original blog. You’ll also find more about Igor’s Alley by doing an Internet search.