Ghost Hunters

The ghostly presence here is really a trick of the eye of the camera’s long exposure. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

More than 100 would-be ghost hunters—some from as far away as Camarillo and Eagle Rock— gathered at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) on the evening of August 4, for a supernatural-themed, full-moon tour of the old Western movie set and surrounding hills.

The walk, led by National Park Rangers Scott Sharaga and Anthony Bevilacqua, included an overview of the ranch’s storied film history, a look at the abandoned Paramount racetrack and a visit to the oak wood where witches once told fortunes during the Renaissance Faire era in the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Sharaga discussed some of the more bizarre aspects of the ranch’s history, while the western town’s bat population zipped and darted overhead in the twilight. 

According the Sharaga, the ranch doubled for the infamous Spawn Ranch in a documentary on Charles Manson. It was also the film location for the first 3D color feature ever shot, the 1952 shocker Bwana Devil.

Paramount Ranch’s list of film stars includes Gary Cooper, John Wayne and even Elvis Presley. “Elvis filmed Spinout at locations throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. They used the racetrack for the scenes shot here,” Sharaga said. 

A decade earlier the track was built, not as a prop but as a real racetrack. However, a fatal flaw in the course’s layout resulted in two fatal crashes during the track’s final race in 1957. “It was a terrible tragedy,” Sharaga said. “Traumatic.”

Participants may not have seen anything overtly supernatural, but they had a rare opportunity to explore the western town while it was fully decorated for a film shoot—complete with chandelier-bedecked saloon. The New England-style church that has featured prominently in the HBO TV series “Westworld,” even featured a newly installed graveyard full of tombstones. 

“It wasn’t scary, but I liked being in the park at night,” one young visitor told the Messenger Mountain News.

Bevilacqua said that more events like the ghost walk are currently being planned. “This is one of [the National Park Service’s] most iconic sites because of all the filming that took place here,” he said. 

Information on upcoming events can be found online at, or visit the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area website at


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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