Have you heard of Turnbull Canyon near Whittier, CA? I spent the majority of my life in California and never knew about all the ghostly legends and tragedies that surround this place.
A stunning canyon within the San Gabriel Valley, the "Gabrileños", named by the Spanish for being close to the San Gabriel Mission, called Turnbull Canyon 'Hutukngna,' meaning 'The Place of the Devil.' A rough translation would be "the Dark Place". The tribe considered the land forbidden to step on, and today some say it is cursed. Also, the canyon is the alleged home to some vengeful spirits who may not be so happy to see you out mountain biking.
The curse of the "Gabrileños"
The story goes, centuries ago, when the Spanish came to conquer, the natives attempted to warn them about the cursed land. Instead of heading their warnings, the Spanish gave them a choice of dying or converting to Christianity. They also helped the natives "face their fears" by tossing them, kicking and screaming, into the canyon. The Spanish hoped their efforts would help them convert easier, but instead, the tribe lost their spirit.
In 1840 when a man named William Workman would inherit 49,000 acres of land from the new governor of Alta California, the land that is now Turnbull Canyon, the Gabrileños, having their land taken, were pissed. And were met with brutality.
One of the founders of a few of the California missions, Father Junipero Serra, said, "When the Indian men sought to defend the women, the soldiers killed several with musket balls."
During the depression, people started to say Turnbull Canyon was the site of bizarre rituals performed by a cult that sold babies and children. Some locals claim the area is still used for satanism or just evil things in general. One person even found a sign reading "Die, Jesus" while touring the canyon.
The most terrifying story from Turnbull Canyon comes from the insane asylum
There was a rumored insane asylum that was thriving in the 1930s but burned down in the '40s. The most horrifying legend to come from Turnbull Canyon was during the 1960s and involved said asylum. Some teenagers from Puente Hills decided to go hiking through the canyon and found an insane asylum. One of the boys decided to root around and found an old machine used for electroshock therapy. He then proceeded to strap it to his head, telling his friends how "he was going to burn."
And it was damned good foreshadowing.
Though no electricity had run through the building in ages, thousands of volts shot through the boy. The group of friends watched, horrified, while his hair, clothes, and then eyes and skin bubbled and blistered. The boy died in seconds, and the murderer is believed to be one pissed-off, powerful entity.
Whatever is lurking in the asylum isn't the only spirit you may find along the trail. People have reported seeing children "swinging from trees," which some assume may be the victims of the rumored cults. If a wanderer stays to look too long, the children will open their eyes and watch you.
There are many more stories that come from Turnbull Canyon. Hell's gate, the mysterious plane crashes, KKK meetings, UFO sightings. Maybe you've heard your versions passed down through California history. There are even real tragedies that have happened here. In 2002 a teenaged girl was killed and dragged for five miles behind a car. A California Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle was killed by a drunk driver in 2005. Not to mention the suffering of the Gabrileños. Respect for those who have died is enough reason to leave the canyon alone, or at least tread lightly and watch where you step.
But as far as the ghosts stories go, there's no saying what you might have heard. That's the beauty of spooky lore. No one story is the same. But I'm sure we can all agree on one thing, whether you believe in ghosts or not: Turnbull Canyon is extra creepy, and I kind of want to go hiking. Would you go with me?