have always been fascinated by secrets: the locked gate, the closed
door, the secret garden... I suspect that many of you share this
what is more delightfully mysterious than a book? It sits before
you at first, newly acquired and unopened, its contents presumably
a mystery, its characters as yet strangers, its secret draughts
of laughter or tears as yet unknown and untasted -- and yet, in
a remarkably short time, you and this thing of mystery will have
quite probably become the dearest of friends.
Ah, that is magic indeed -- and the best sort of mystery.
of which brings me to this month's tale: a tale of a secret place
rife with rumor, and right at our collective doorstep... We return
to the Portuguese Bend area of Palos Verdes.
those who recall our last foray into this area may be forgiven
for assuming that I am about to regale you with yet another haunted
tale. And indeed, you would apparently not be far wrong, for,
to hear many of the locals tell it, some spooky things have gone
on at the site of the old Vanderlip Mansions...
it was Frank Vanderlip, known as the "Father of Palos Verdes",
who bought the Peninsula in 1913 and began building a series of
houses in Portuguese Bend. The Vanderlip family was well heeled
and had property elsewhere, and these Palos Verdes homes were
intended as summer retreats, where the family could escape to
quietly and anonymously. So it was that, though Vanderlip and
his sons would play a dominant role in the development of the
Palos Verdes area, they would nevertheless keep as low a profile
as possible. This may have backfired, as it was not terribly long
before rumors began circulating about dark deeds transpiring behind
the gated estate.
just as you and I cannot wait to open that new book, or wonder
what lies behind the locked door or walled garden, so too did
nearby residents attempt to discover what lay behind the gates
that kept the Vanderlips away from prying eyes.
began to circulate, and not only have you probably heard them
before, but they are also remarkably similar to the legends surrounding
that other haunted Portuguese Bend area called the "Spike",
enough to make me question the whole tale.
one of the most persistent rumors was that, just as with the other
story, a Vanderlip (the wife in this case) went crazy, chopped
the whole family to bits, and then hung herself. One must assume
that this tale was the source of much amusement to the very much
alive and well wife, as well as the supposedly butchered family
rumor was apparently transported, unchanged and unchecked, from
the Old South of nearly two centuries ago, wherein one of the
daughters fell in love with a slave, and driven first to madness
and then death. As there are not a lot of reports of institutionalized
slavery in 20th Century California, we must discount that one
but later tales began to circulate of an ancient white-haired
ghost who wandered the grounds at night with a pack of silent
dogs. This tale, undoubtedly started by youthful trespassers,
is actually based in fact. Vanderlip's son Kelvin had married
a Norwegian girl named Elin in 1946, and they settled in the Vanderlip
mansion called "Villa Narcissa".
father emigrated from the "old country" to live with
them, and was fond of taking the dogs out at night for walks.
As he would often take along a shotgun, and as he was prone to
going off clad in his nightgown, he must have been quite a sight.
Add to that the fact that the dogs had had their voice boxes removed
some time previously, and you have all the fixings for a most
ghostly apparition, indeed.
as it turns out, the oddest apparition Elin Vanderlip would ever
experience took place when she first visited the mansion, and
found that nearly all the antique chairs seemed to harbor paintings
of the most impossibly unusual creatures she had ever seen.
seems that her husband-to-be had invited a friend to "summer"
at the mansion. The paintings were for a book that brings to mind
a Palos Verdes memory of my own -- so we'll get back to that.
it be said that, contrary to rumors, the Vanderlip grounds are
host to three lovely houses and some rather marvelous gardens,
albeit gated and thus secret to the world at large. Elin remained
after her husband's untimely death, and among other accomplishments
brought both Marineland and Marymount to Palos Verdes. She stayed
in Villa Narcissa until her death, weeks after her 90th birthday,
in July 2009.
for my own tale, it is quickly told. The original Palos Verdes
library at Malaga Cove, happily still in operation, hosted a special
"reading time" for tots every Monday morning in the
early 1960's. We would all gather in a circle in an otherwise
unused room downstairs, and librarian Mrs. Barclay would introduce
us to a delightful variety of stories.
such story was a particular favorite of mine at the time, but
I confess that I had forgotten all about it until I began to research
this column. It was a story about a boy who determinedly fishes
from a small pond that everyone tells him cannot possibly hold
fish, but which he imagines is actually secretly connected to
the sea, and hence to all the wonders of the Deep Ocean.
you see, we have another "secret garden", and one of
my first mysteries: the idea of a tiny puddle having Great Depth
beyond reckoning. I remember being particularly impatient to check
that one out of the library, and so everything comes back to the
magical mystery of books, and everything is now neatly tied together.
at least, it's about to be.
it was the author of that very book who had been staying at Villa
Narcissa, and it was the original artwork for that very book that
Elin had seen scattered over all of the antique chairs. The book
was McElligot's Pool, and the author was none other than
I would in conclusion like to commend all those who correctly identified
the originals sources of my little parodies in the last newsletter.
The were, in order, Poe's The Raven, the soliloquy from
Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the opening lines from Melville's
Moby Dick and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.