It’s no secret, I live to travel. To experience new surroundings and cultures, food, wine, and everything in between, there’s nothing quite like it. When I’m prodded to go on a trip, I rarely turn down such an opportunity. And when that someone is my lovely friend Ms. Anthropy, an avid traveler herself, it’s a guarantee that I’m going to pack my bags come along.
It was on a Thursday morning when she picked me up, and we headed to Dana Point for the hour-and-a-half boat ride to Santa Catalina Island. Purchased in 1919 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr, the island was so named by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in honor of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
Catalina’s population is quite small, and the island remains virtually untouched. The main strip, Crescent Street, in the island’s town of Avalon contains shops and restaurants a few feet from the beach front, with the Catalina Casino as the prominent feature. This great building in Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival styles boasts a movie theater, the world’s largest circular ballroom and a historical museum.
After we checked into our hotel room, we had a quick glass of wine, since Ms. Anthropy was anxious to see the island, and then headed to the large rock dubbed ‘Lover’s Cove’, located south of Avalon Bay. We paused a moment and watched several seals frolicking in the water before continuing on to a trail called ‘Wrigley Road,’ which leads to the highest peak of the island: Ada Mountain Peak. The upside of the hike was the stunning visuals once we reached the top. However, the trail was over nine miles long and most of it was uphill. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me to see most people passing us by on golf carts—it’s the preferred method of transportation there.
On our way down Ada Mountain Peak, we came across a small graveyard, which was actually a pet cemetery. I wanted to to go in, but Ms. Anthropy stopped me and said that she had something else planned for the evening. I complied, albeit a bit let down, because I was essentially along for the ride. In the end, we went on on a glass-bottom-boat tour for 45 minutes, traveling up and down the island’s coast with a first-hand look at various species of fish. Though I was disappointed not to see any seals or sharks, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
When we returned to the center of Avalon, it was time for dinner. We made our way to a local steakhouse and indulged in some of the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life. Once we paid the check, I proposed calling it a day, but Ms. Anthropy, once again, told me that the night wasn’t quite over. She took me by the hand and led me to the Catalina Casino. Within moments of our arrival, we were met by someone who turned out to be a tour guide. It seemed that Ms. Anthropy, knowing my penchant for the macabre, booked us on a ghost tour. I was pleasantly surprised, because I had no idea the island was haunted!
For a little over an hour, a small group of us walked to and fro on the backstreets of Avalon. While there were many strange tales, my favorites revolved around a grizzly murder of a young woman, Eva Weinfurter, by her boyfriend at the Casa Mariquita Hotel and a tragic scandal at the Catherine Hotel. It’s been reported that the ghost of a man by the name of Zane Gray has been sighted smoking a cigarette while haunting the corridors of the latter hotel.
The following day, we had 40 minutes before taking the boat back to the mainland and decided to return to the Casino again. During the ghost tour, the guide told us that a man plunged to his death during the Casino’s construction, and that a gambler, named W. A. Yeager, was supposedly shot during a heated card game. Some have even noted hearing phantom gunshots there from time to time. I didn’t feel any ghostly presence when we returned to the Casino’s museum, but I didn’t mind because the museum itself was very informative and interesting.
The boat ride back was pleasant, as was the whole trip. Hopefully, when Ms. Anthropy gets the urge to spontaneously travel again, she’ll know who to call.