Calling All Ghosts

If you spend a lifetime around history, you can’t help but experience something paranormal along the way, even if you’re a pragmatist like me. I am not one to see ghosts. I will get an inkling of something once in a while, like the time I was on a ghost hunt with a friend and his group. As I walked down a hallway in an old house supposedly haunted, I felt someone touch the back of my neck with cold fingers…even though there was no one there. I can feel cold spots and get a sense of things being off, but I just don’t have whatever it is that allows a person to actually see ghosts. I’ve spent lots of time in haunted places begging for something to happen and it never did. When I went to England last year to explore the abandoned American air bases from World War II for my book, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, I was told it was inevitable I’d see ghosts because so many men died in crashes at those spots—I saw nothing. At Tibenham, where Stewart was based with 4,000 other guys of the 445th Bomb Group, I was on very spooky ground and I felt the frantic energy of this now quiet and desolate spot, but saw no ghosts. Thirty years ago the old control tower was still standing and supposedly very haunted, but it had been long-ago torn down by the time I got there. Years and years before my visit to England, on the only occasion when I did see a ghost, I wasn’t thinking anything about ghosts at the critical moment, and it took years to figure out what had happened.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen

Thirty-one years after last setting foot there, Jimmy Stewart returned to Tibenham in 1976 and here leans against the operations building with the control tower behind him. It even looks haunted. By the time I got here, these buildings were long gone, although if you know where to look, spooky old Army structures dot the Tibenham landscape and remain to be explored.

If you’ve read Errol Flynn Slept Here you know the story of the day I saw a ghost while visiting Flynn’s Mulholland Farm. I was so sure I was imagining things that I didn’t talk about the experience, and it was only 15 years later that I learned of Tracy Nelson’s close encounters with Flynn’s ghost in the house. Even then, that’s only two people seeing things, and when Mike Mazzone and I embarked on the writing of EFSH, we thought it would make an interesting one-column sidebar to talk about the legend of the Flynn ghost, as in ha ha ha isn’t this funny?

Then we started to interview inhabitants of the house, including the entire Hamblen family who lived there from 1959 to 1979. These are devout Christians, nationally known, who had a gospel radio show and were close friends of Billy Graham. Suzy Hamblen, matriarch of the Hamblen family and famous wife of Stuart Hamblen, was 100 when Mike and I spoke with her. Her story still gives me goosebumps: The night Flynn died in Vancouver, BC, she and Stuart were in the house he built, a quiet evening, and all of a sudden the pipes in the house started to moan and vibrate. It was as if the very bones of the place were rattling. At least a half-dozen members of this cold-sober family told us about seeing the ghost close up.

The last inhabitants of Mulholland Farm were Rick Nelson and his children, Tracy, Gunnar, and Matthew (the latter two were leaders of the 1980s rock group Nelson). I interviewed both guys and Gunnar told me of crazy experiences in his bedroom that shook him up and still bother him, like the ghost sitting on his bed at some points and slamming doors at others. Interestingly, Matthew didn’t experience these things—and they’re twins! The boys and their band practiced in Flynn’s bedroom, so you can imagine how racket like that would shake up an already restless spirit.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen

Mulholland Farm from the vantage point where I saw the ghost. If you look at the set of three second-story windows on the right side of the photo, the ghost appeared in the window on the left. I would learn later that this was Errol Flynn’s bedroom.

Here is my story for the record one more time. I was alone at Mulholland Farm high in the Hollywood Hills in 1987, standing outside by the pool one hot afternoon trying to drink in this setting. Before me stood a rambling ranch house, once elegant and now neglected more than a year after the sudden death of Rick Nelson in a plane crash. As I stood there looking, a face appeared in a second-story window and peered out at me. A face and a not-quite-solid form–that of a man. The hairs on my neck stood up, and we stared at each other for a while, and then the face and form were gone. On that occasion the house was locked up tight so it’s not like a resident was checking me out. Not a living resident anyway. Since my rational mind told me I couldn’t have seen what I saw, I kept it to myself all those years until others came forward to say they too saw the face and form…at the top of the stairs, in a bathroom mirror, just everywhere in the house over the years. Was it the ghost of Errol Flynn? Well, I can only answer that by saying that in life, his was one of the more troubled souls on earth, so in death why would it be any different?

The place was torn down the next year, and I have always wondered what happens to a restless spirit when the home he’s so comfortable with, the space he himself designed, is removed. Is its energy left behind so that he keeps seeing the same floor and walls and ceilings? Or does he move into the new house built on the footprint of the old? Next time you run into Justin Timberlake, ask him and let me know, because it’s Timberlake who built his fortified compound at 7700 Mulholland Drive on the spot where once sat the home of the dearly departed Errol Flynn.

Learn more about Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe and Errol Flynn Slept Here at the GoodKnight Books website. And I would love to hear about your close encounters with ghosts; I’m sure you will make me envious.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen

A 1944 magazine article detailed Flynn’s mountaintop home. In the shot above he sits under the windows where I saw the ghost.

7 comments

  1. Justin Timberlake is not shy when it comes to share his personal experiences- I am pretty sure had he seen anything strange, he would have made us aware.

    Greetings from Rio, hope the book will sell by the thousands!

    1. Rio! You get around, Priscila. Timberlake seems very protective of his privacy in that Hollywood bastion of his. That could be one reason that he hasn’t mentioned a dead Hollywood actor sneaking up behind him and going BOO! If indeed that has happened.

    1. It was all indistinct, Sarah. There was a face, and a form, but a lack of clarity. If you asked me to give my opinion of the features based on what I saw, I’d say yes, it was Errol.

      1. I believe it, Robert. At least I believe something.

        I also wondered about where spirits go after the place they’re lingering is torn down. You probably know more about it than I do. I googled “where do ghosts go when the place they haunted is torn down?” The most common theory was that they’d stick around if they were attached to the land as well as the structure. But where else would they go? The theory is, “they’d move on.” To where?

        One person said that after they torn down a house which has spirits in it, the owner of the new structure reported having encounters, as well.

  2. I can’t claim to have ever seen a ghost myself, Robert, and certainly none as illustrious as the Baron of Mulholland.

    However, and make of this what you will, some years ago I hired two telephone contractors to work in the phone room at my company. The room was in the basement and the two contractors worked separately, on alternate nights from one another, their work between midnight and 6am when there would be few others in the building, if, indeed, anyone.

    They had to install phone wires on a large wooden board nailed to a wall, the door to the room ten feet or so adjacent to that board. One of the contractors told me that as he did his work he would periodically detect “something” through his peripheral vision at the door, almost like someone peering into the room. At first he merely glanced at the door, saw nothing then continued with his work.

    But when that sense of something at the door happened again he made a point of running to the door. In the small hallway before the door he swears that he saw a blur in the air rushing around the corner of the hallway into an adjoining hallway. When he then ran to the rounded hallway corner to look down a longer hallway he saw nothing.

    This same experience happened periodically to him throughout the week. A sense of “something” at the door, running to the door and the sighting of a distortion or blur in the air rushing away from him.

    Of course, I tried to dismiss the contractor’s story, saying that it was late at night and he was tired, his eyes were playing tricks on him. He responded by saying he wasn’t tired, that midnight to 6am had been his working hours for years and he had never seen anything like this in any of the other buildings in which he had worked those same hours.

    And here’s the kicker. When he mentioned this experience to his co-worker, who worked in the same phone room other nights of the week, that contractor had an identical story, saying he was also baffled by repeatedly sighting a blur in the air “peering” into the room then rushing away when he pursued it.

    Did I just tell you a ghost story? Dunno, but something was happening then. I’ve since heard that many ghost sightings take place in the wee hours of the morning, called the “Hours of the Wolf”, or some such name, a time when spirits are said to feel free to roam.

    1. Yes, Tom, I believe you did just tell us a ghost story. A very good one. Just once I’d like to see something that intriguing and inexplicable–a mischievous spirit in the middle of the night.

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