Friday, May 30, 2014

Manson Tour 2014: Stoner's Spahn Ranch Hike

Hi there, Manson Blog readers. My name is Rachel. That's me there in the Manson Cave, wearing the red shirt. (Notice that we're all wearing shoes, in direct contradiction of Manson Family protocol... but there are tarantulas and rattlesnakes out there, so don't judge.) I'm a writer whose subjects have included Manson, Columbiners, and various true crime stories. I've followed various Manson blogs for a while, though I've never posted anywhere. This year I asked the Manson Blog folks if I could tag along with them on their annual tour, and they agreed--which is how I found myself sharing a lovely West Hollywood house with four strangers, one dog, and a very creepy rabbit painting. 

I spent the night of my arrival having the twists and turns of various Manson-adjacent incidents explained to me. You all are true scholars and it makes my head spin a little bit -- when you get a few people with similar depths of knowledge in a room, suddenly everyone is speaking a shorthand I don't understand and getting very excited about it. It's pretty great.

On our first full day, we woke up early and drove out to Santa Susana Pass to visit the former site of the Spahn Ranch. I'd actually been here once before, except my friends and I just drove up to the church gate and peeked through the bars; this time, Mrs. Matt & I dashed across a four-lane road, hopped over a guardrail, and slid down a rocky slope, trying not to put our hands in any broken glass or tarantula holes. Piece of cake. 

We were met by the rest of the group plus Stoner, an affable guy with a lot of really excellent prison tattoos & a Free Leslie Van Houton t-shirt. Here are some pictures of us reenacting famous photos from 40+ years ago:

The famous Manson Cave

Hammock pose from life magazine

Identical spot

Stoner has a friend who spends a lot of time locating where old movies were filmed. He helped determine the site of the hammock photo, which is quite near the cave.

From what I can tell, some of you Manson people are amateur detectives (tracking down people, looking for clues, finding connections); others are amateur librarians (keeping the records, collecting and sorting the archival material). Stoner is an amateur archaeologist. He uses a pocketknife to scrape away the surface dirt at the site where he's determined George Spahn's house once stood. He's found all sorts of stuff -- belt buckles and nails and pennies and fragments of George Spahn's old toilet. That morning, he was thrilled to find his very first shell casing, from a Colt 45. 

We dug around in the dirt for a little while, too. Stoner has seen enough Spahn detritus that he doesn't get all that excited over a melted piece of glass or a coffee cup shard anymore, but this was new and exciting to all of us. We found a small lockbox key and an awl.

Excavating George Spahn's house

It was hot and getting hotter, but we bravely started to trek along the park's rocky path, aiming for the Zodiac car. We crossed an old stagecoach road that once ran from LA up to Santa Barbara (or maybe San Francisco? I forget), and admired views of the Santa Susana mountains. 


The back ranch panorama

It's exhausting enough to walk up the relatively narrow path, and the desert surrounding it is pretty thick with chapparal; who knows how they got the car up here, or why. In any case, we found it up there, right off the path, magnificently rusted and covered in graffiti:

Bruce's car

Then it was time for more rusted old cars a bit farther up the road at the Dune Buggy Graveyard. Matt tells me that Mary Brunner test drove a brand-new Volkswagen, somehow convinced the car lot guy to step out of the car, then hightailed it to Spahn Ranch where the crew stripped it of parts and then pushed it off the cliff. (Incidentally: I wish everyone wouldn't always feel the need to talk about how ugly Mary Brunner was. I think she is actually pretty cute in several of the photos I've seen. Who among us hasn't taken an unflattering photo or two? And anyway, who cares?)

You basically had to run down a cliff to get to the VW, which is perhaps why Matt, Stoner, & I were the ones foolhardy enough to do it. Ever true to form, Stoner dug around in the dirt around the car and found a couple bones. I said they looked like chicken wings and Matt looked at me like I was crazy - but what do I know, I'm a vegetarian. Stoner thinks they're finger bones. Who knows.

Dune Buggy Graveyard (Mary Brunner stolen VW)


Stoner in the VW


Bones Stoner dug-up


Okay, this part is creepy. We crossed Santa Susana Road again to get near Shorty Shea's grave. "That's the Manson tree," Matt told me. He was in the middle of recounting how Manson used to somehow shove a mattress up there so he could be comfy while he strummed the guitar when we all noticed that... something was dangling from one of the thick branches by a rope. "It looks like a cow's tongue," Stoner said.

That sounded ridiculous to me; I thought it was a sweet potato. (Again: vegetarian.) So I hopped over the guardrail and walked over to get a closer look. And holy shit it was indeed a cow's tongue, pink and glistening and meaty and covered in rainbow sprinkles, I kid you not, as if it were an ice cream sundae or some other birthday treat and not a severed cow's tongue hanging from a rope. A gross flaccid Satanic display of some kind? Or santeria? A joke? A spell?  Who knows. There was also an empty fish oil bottle with a battery in it & a plastic bag from H&M. All I know is, any spell involving those ingredients must be extremely sinister....

The Tongue at the entry to Shorty

Matt and Stoner scrambled down an even steeper cliff to get a view of Shorty's grave, by an old railroad line. The rest of us were feeling too hot/tired/grossed out, so we found a pleasant and shady patch of grass to sit on.

A few steps later, the trail leading down to Shorty


Shorty Burial Site

Stoner kindly invited us over to check out his full relic collection, which he keeps on the porch. Highlights include belt buckles, an old cattle prod (?), a medicine bottle, a military medal of some kind, and lots of bedsprings.

Stoner Van Houten was funny, engaging, well spoken and full of interesting stories. He also knows Spahn Ranch and surrounding areas like the back of his hand. If you are interested in learning about or taking a hike through the former haunts of the Manson Family, contact him directly. He just might be available! We recommend him highly.

Relics on Stoner's Porch

And then we all beautified ourselves in preparation for what turned out to be a ridiculously good dinner at Enzo & Angela, which is co-run by DiDi Lansbury (who apparently now goes by Angela). I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much -- it's a strip mall restaurant with a slightly awkward looking website, after all. But starting with the risotto primavera that Max Frost ordered for the table, everything was outstanding. A faithful blogger friend named Jiri came along for the meal, a guy who's spent quite a bit of time in Italy (so much so that he kept trying to chat with our garrulous waiter in Italian), kept raving about how authentic everything was. Highly recommended!

Enzo & Angela






53 comments:

Matt said...

Good to finally be settled and get on a Wi-Fi! Hopefully we gan be a bit more engaged now. Between the travel and getting right into learning more about the subject matter it's been a crazy few days.

Rachel is correct. Stoner is a first class guide. We had a really fun day. Physically demanding, too which is what I like. Rachel was no slouch at scaling steep inclines at a runner's pace with ground collapsing beneath our feet either! LOL. Great fun. Great people.

I see we've had some rare visitors in our absence. Good deal. All are welcome.


chatsworth charlie said...

Great job Rachel! (wave back at ya!)

You guys are TOO FUNNY!
Why do I have this feeling that I was with you all at Enzo & Angela last night???
Now pass me that Heineken!

Cielodrive.Com said...

Looks like a great time. Nice write up, Rachel

Doc Sierra said...

Come on people. Let's all work together. If I wanted to hear fighting I'd get married again.....

Sun King said...

Great pics and story. I was just out there last month when I was visiting a friend and parked on the street where the church is since there is no other place to park. But wasn't,to sure if that was even safe. The parking lot for the park/baseball field even has a loved gate!!

I figured if I went down the bluffs it would Be like going down the rabbit hole and it would be hours of wondering, not sure where I was. The I was concerned about being shot at a chased out as I heard has happened.

Would have been nice to have been with someone that knew the ropes. Looks like you guys had a cool adventure and I enjoyed the pics!

Max Frost said...

Amen Doc!

rick john said...

If there is a charge for stoners tour will any proceeds be given to harlie via Jpay as they should

rick john said...

If there is a charge for stoners tour will any proceeds be given to harlie via Jpay as they should

rick john said...

I mean Charlie

Panamint Patty said...

If he wrote Stoner then maybe. Patty hears he only gets letters back from Gardner.

AustinAnn74 said...

I am so glad the real estate developers haven't gotten a hold of that beautiful property. It would be so pitiful to see condos, or a Walgreens/CVS/gas station on that property. To me, it is sacred, like a cemetery. We don't know for sure, but there could be others buried out there. As far as the cow tongue, I think I know who it belongs to. She uses it a lot to insult people on this blog! hahah.....I am so sorry I missed out on the tour. Next year, I will be there for sure!!

Barrie said...

Cool! I love Spahn Ranch so much. I go out there every time I'm in California. I would love to take the tour. I've always had to go to Spahn Ranch alone because no one ever wants to go with me. It's so gorgeous. I know tons of developers and The Church At Rocky Peak would love to pave over all of that land. It pisses me off that when you go to Spahn Ranch you see that ugly church across the street. I really hope tho land stays under the control of the California park services. I think it's cool that there is this piece of land that that freaks from all over the world go to and show their love of nature. i've got to get back there this summer.

Barrie said...

Remember the "Just In Case Place" that Watson built?. It looks like the church has paved over that area. Am I correct? I'm just going by the hand drawn map that Tex drew.

Sun King said...

I'm also amazed that the property has remained undeveloped after all these years. It certainly has dodged a few bullets. Didn't Frank Retz have plans to develop it at one time?

It certainly is unique in its landscape and I can see why it was chosen for a filming location. Very magical and almost surreal.

However, even when I lived in LA I wold drive by on occasion and saw the gradual development that has occurred in the area but in comparison to the development that has happened out in Newhall and the Santa Clarita Valley it is pretty insignificant. So glad the state park was established there.

How much of the park includes the original Spahn Ranch?

stoner van houten said...

HEY SUN KING ...FRANK WAS GOING TO DEVELOP SOMETHING,BUT it fell through and he died in 1992..since then the state tried to sale the land..no one wanted it..they said the land was rotten,bad mojo (shit like that)..they were thinking condos,a school at one point..but nothin worked out ..that sate finnaly broke it in to lots (22)the church at rocky peak bought 2 lots in the very back..(in that pic of matt youll see the back of the ranch)..you cant go on top of the hill..thats church property..but all oF where spahn ranch was is still there and is now a state park ..ALL OF IT !!..ANYONE IS ALLOWED TO WALK ON THE PROPERTY WHERE THE BUILDINGS WHERE....it has been untoched till now..i have found some very interesting things there.....not many people go there..everyone thinks there tons of people that go there but thats not true...hope thats answers your question man........

stoner van houten said...

frank retz wasnt a nice guy !!..he knew manson and didnt like him....

TomG said...

Rachel can flat out write. Flat out write! And I don't say that about many people. Hemingway was one.

TomG said...

What these kids protested against in 1969 was noble and harbinger. A lost war in Viet Naam, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly not won.......
American Imperialism, the notion that inside every human being is a materialistic, superstitious white American waiting to get out, has proven to be untrue.
But don't take my word for, find out for yourself......Ha Ha
That Rachel can write!

Matt said...

Yes Tom, she isn't bad. That's what connected her to us. She wrote an essay that we asked permission to re-post here a couple of years ago. She was kind enough to allow us to. We've been in loose touch ever since. Then about six months ago she asked to tag along this year.

We are very grateful over these three trips to have been able to connect with some great people. The stars always seem to line up.

TomG said...

Isn't bad?........SHE'S GREAT!!!!

Panamint Patty said...

WORD

Sun King said...

Stoner: Thanks so much for the info. It answers a lot of my questions and I would now have no hesitation to explore the ranch area knowing it is all State Park.

One thing you mentioned that I don't quite understand is that the church which sits on the north side of Santa Susana actually owns more land on the south side of Santa Susana?

stoner van houten said...

YES...they own the area that was known as devils canyon ....and they bought 2 lots on the ranch it self..so own alot just NOT THE MAIN PART OF SPAHN RANCH..THE FUN PART ,,LMAO!!...TRUST ME IT IS FINE TO WALK AROUND AND EXPLORE THE RANCH..IF U WANT I CAN SHOW YOU ..??

Sun King said...

Stoner: Hell Yea, that would be awesome. Next time I'm planning on heading down to LA I'll have to give you a shout out to see if you'll be around.

Funny how even open minded friends can't wrap their head around my interest in the Manson case much less would they ever want to visit Spahn with me lol!

My visit to Spahn last month was impromptu so I wasn't prepared with maps, photos and notes, so I pretty much just walked and drove along the road and snapped pictures.

beauders said...

Retz wanted to turn Spahn Ranch into a German Dude Ranch.
Didn't Ed Sanders receive a bloody cow tongue in the mail after "The Family" was originally published? Sanders is also a vegetarian.
I though it would be fun to make Spahn into an amusement part with rides like Sadie's big mouth being the entry for the haunted house,etc.

Max Frost said...

Stoner, thanks for the great tour - even though I wasn't there...

Retz died in '98 actually, during El NiƱo. I was living not far from the ranch at that time - which segues me into a response to BEAUDERS:

Retz had a big supply of handbags made for his impending "German Dude Ranch." I ended up with one or two of those handbags not long after his demise.

I couldn't tell you where they are now - slipped through the cracks over the years.

Max Frost said...

Oh, and I remember seeing the newspaper (Daily News, I think) with a picture of the bridge collapse on the front page (again, I think) and a story about Retz.

I betcha Aes-Nihil has a copy of that.

Sun King said...

Before the internet was popular I used to clip every article on the Manson Family that I came across.

I've got a newspaper clipping from the LA Times of Frank Retz with text underneath the photo that say "Frank Retz, who owns part of old Spahn Ranch says visitors appear "Whenever something is in the newspaper...

Max how is is that you even acquired one of those handbags?

V.A. Services said...

long time lurker. :) I think I posted here a looooong time ago under a different id? Usually no time, 60 hr workweek sucks.

Anyway...awesome photos! You're so lucky. It's a long long way from CT to CA...too long for my wallet to take.

Odd observation: can't comment on the fish oil/battery combo or the plastic bag, but are you sure the "sprinkles" on the tongue weren't pinheads? There's an old hoodoo ritual for good luck in court that uses tongue and pins, and it was the first thing I thought of when I read what you wrote.

Just don't ask me how I know. :P

Nefaereti

Max Frost said...

Hola V.A.!

Sun King, after Retz died we went to the ranch to check out the massive collapse - as well as check out his house.

The house had been ransacked several times, it appeared, before we got there. He had a large container outside for storage. Among many, many other items in the container were those handbags - custom designed with logos, etc.

Matt said...

VA, I don't know much about evil spells but as a kid I was an expert on things like ice cream. I definitely believe those were rainbow sprinkles, but I prefer chocolate.

bucpaul2812 said...

Rachel, that was a wonderful narrative - truly the next best thing to being there, in my opinion. This trip is definitely on my bucket list, but at the moments, funds are limited and I AM in England so sadly, it's sometime off. I would love to do this perhaps on the 50th anniversary of TLB....

Eating at Enzo's & Angela's afterwards was the "piece de resistance" and being a fellow vegetarian, that risotto sounds delicious! I do know what you mean about the website, however - "We have many daily special! [sic]"

rick john said...

stoner vn houten will you be sending the money you make out of the tour if any to Charlie via jpay in good conscience I think you should also it was pretty horible dont you think your friend Micheal Channels was well out of order what he said about Charles Manson near the end of his latest video

Panamint Patty said...

Free speech Rick.

Robert Hendrickson said...

Barrie's "Coke Bottle" question got me to thinking. Where are the coke bottles? Such disguarded items are physical evidence of civilizations past. Did Stoner find any of those glorious relics ? I never saw any - except at designated dump sites. But more significant, I never saw any of the "cowboys" except Randy Starr and HE never did a thing - except decorate the board-walk. Were the cowboys NOT the ones who helped George Spahn take care of the ranch ? Or were they just bums bunking-down wherever they could get some free grub on their way passing through.

Methinks there exists an important CLUE buried within the TRUTH.

rick john said...

I see stoner has no answer I hope he likes this:
There was a nympho called Jill
who used dynamite for a thrill
they found her vagina
in North Carolina
and bits of her tits in Brazil

stoner van houten said...

rick john ....i wrote manson and ask for his permisson to do what im doing ..(no response to me,but he did tell mike)he said he dont care,its my ranch now..he didint even know its a state park..hes glad they didnt build on it..but he knows what im doing..he knows i have nothin,and have eaten from the garbage dumps..im no diffent then the runaways back in the 60's man..

stoner van houten said...

ROBERT...GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU...i have found lots of stuff there..and yes i found ''coke'' bottles,coors beer cans,tools,navel commendations,razors,bullets,belt buckles,spoons,plates,pennys,nickels....all evidence that someone lived there ....to everyone who thinks what im doing may be wrong, if anyone of you went there with me and dug up something so cool..you wouldnt have a problem taking it...(dont lie.) most of this stuff i give away ...the donations are very small,cost more to ship it...lol..(no bullshit) ..if you want to see pics robert of the stuff,let me know...have a great day everyone

stoner van houten said...

i found out all about the tongue hanging in the tree.....mike said a punk band was filming a video there the same day we were there..and they put it there and we must have scared them off..thats why it looked so ''fresh'' and new ... so it wasnt satanic cult or devil worshippers ....just a band filming a video......i know i blamed ''ray'' so about that ray ...lmao!!!

stoner van houten said...

robert...didnt shorty and juann flynn do alot of the work on the ranch..??i know there were others, but i thought shorty was the main ranch hand.???

Panamint Patty said...

mystery solved! thanks, Stoner

Matt said...

I wish I knew who the band was. I want to compliment them on their creativity. The rainbow sprinkles, fish oil jar & battery were ingenious accoutrements.

stoner van houten said...

RICK...mike and manson have a love hate relationship ...mike dont kiss manson's ass like some do.he will tell manson's whats on his mind,he dont sugar coat anything with him...if mikes mad at manson he will let you know..no big deal,mike can say what he wants....

rick john said...

stoner do yuo care about Charlie,s welffare?

stoner van houten said...

RICK..of course i do ive been to corcoran myself i know what its like to do time...as long as star keeps him happy in the vistings room..and he can go to canteen and get an ice cream..then all is good,there isnt much i can do for him...all any inmate needs is money on there books and a lot of pen-pals and he has both..more then any inmate in our system..i'd like to see him get his wheelchair ../..but someone put a stop to that..??

stoner van houten said...

ANYWAY...I HAVE A QUESTION FOR ''ROBERT HENDRICKSON'' ..in your move..''inside the manson gang''...you said when you got to the ranch ..''craig'' cracked open a coors beer...im just curious on how he opened it.???..was it a pull tab or did he have to use a church key.????...thank you...

Robert Hendrickson said...

Stoner, great question ! I can't remember which at the time 1969/1970 but I think it's in the Manson Gang movie you can see Jaun Flynn or Dave drinking one of Craig's Coors. It's got to be one of Craig's Coors cans you found cause nobody else was allowed to drink there.

More important, you should keep ALL your stuff for the museum that will one day be built on the Spahn Ranch site.

Also, The cowboys hung-out at the ranch in hopes to get jobs in the movies filmed there.

Re: Manson Gang movie - while eating in Gypsy Wagon - Family mentions Randy Starr wanting to be a big star. Even girls hung-out there - like "Bambi Allen" hoping for film work. I filmed Flynn and Jennifer shoveling horse shit and other Family members tending to the horses, BUT no sign of "cowboys."

I know they were there, and I know some helped-out, cause Squeaky talks about them, BUT apparently ONLY Shorty got wacked. So what happened to the ranch-hands that George could NOT afford to pay?

IF Cowboys really were there to help poor George with the ranch WHY did they leave and never come back AFTER Shorty disappeared ?

stoner van houten said...

THANKS A LOT ROBERT ..IM GONNA GO BACK AND WATCH YOUR FILM AGAIN AND CHECK THAT OUT...I HAVE 2 COORS CANS ...SO FAR...LMAO!! ..STILL WOULD LIKE TO EXACTLY HOW THEY OPENED IT.???

Robert Hendrickson said...

Stoner may have (Coors Cans) something fun for an Article. If I can find some photos (IE: the infamous COORS dune buggy in Golar Wash) and Stonner sends you photos of the Coors Cans at Spahn Ranch, I'll try an write a funny story. It even ties into the Balliarat music festivals.

If HIS Coors Cans are really CRAIG's they are an important piece of movie memoribilia.

I can SEE them on the Antique Roadshow some day.

rick john said...

thank you for your answer stoner,I think you will agree that some of Charlies best supporters are on mansondirect

rick john said...

thank you for your answer stoner,I think you will agree that some of Charlies best supporters are on mansondirect

stoner van houten said...

HEY ROBERT I WILL POST THE PICS OF THE BEER CANS I HAVE ......

Meghan Laliberte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.