Amongst the Wild Things

As a child I could NOT walk down the Hall of African Mammals, or it’s brother the Hall of North American Mammals without being directly between my parents and having my head on a swivel; looking back, forth, to the side, and quickly back again. The elephants, lions, water buffalo,  and monkeys- all of them were just moments away from coming alive and leaping from their displays to eat me.

Last Friday, as an adult, I  had the good fortune to be at the Natural History Museum as part of the 1:00pm Gallery Exploration Tour. Our guide made it clear that she was leading us that day to our certain death – to the Hall of African Mammals.

When one starts down the Hall of African Mammals the beacon that calls to them is the scene of enchanting elephants holding court at an empty watering hole situated at the end of the hall. These well-lit, tusked, larger than life sirens command the attention of museum guests the moment their guest eyes even glimpse the Hall. The Mammals that flank either side of the Hall are only a backdrop, a quickly glanced “oh that’s cool” on one’s journey to see The Elephants.

While my group initially fell victim to the elephantine call – our guide led us to admire a more humble creature. On the left, towards the middle, alone, and in a decidedly smaller than most diorama was a gorilla named Chris.

In life Chris was an Angeleno who lived in Los Feliz (in the LA Zoo). In death his body was meticulously measured, sculpted, and taxidermied so he may be here gracing us in the Natural History Museum –forever.

Behind Chris is a depiction the life he knew as a child, a mural recreated by an artist through the photographs and documentation from actual travelers from Chris’ region. Surrounding Chris are the plants and leaves of his homeland. Every piece of foliage is a researched replication of the plants native to his homeland of West Africa. Every single leaf is crafted from a special plastic and then colored, cut, and distressed by hand. The floor alone is strewn with countless hours of hand work. Placed strategically on the foreground is a small circular mirror, the purpose of this mirror at first glance is not clear. A mirror? Who put it there? Why? That mirror was placed there by the detail-oriented craftsman of this diorama in order to reflect the light from above into Chris’ eyes, so they may be as illuminated as they were in life.

Each one of these dioramas is a moment that due to extinction, human population, globalization, and climate change will never, ever be seen again – except here.

For those wanting to see the beauty that is the Hall of African Mammals, more information about the Natural History Museum can be found at http://www.nhm.org/site/

NOTE: I highly recommend taking the 1:00pm Gallery Exploration Tour; every Gallery Exploration Tour is led by a different person who brings to life their own perceived highlights of the Museum. While your guide may not lead  you to Chris directly, they will surely lead you to something magical. See the Natural History Museum website’s Calendar for further details.

To learn more about the majestic creature that Chris was in life, please see the LA Times article that was published at his death http://articles.latimes.com/1997-04-19/local/me-50319_1_zoo-gorilla-dies

Suburbanite’s Journey into the Darkness of LA

I wasn’t looking for a portal to the spirit world, but I found one.

It all started on a weekday evening, I was alone, I wanted to be spooked in the worst way and was googling myself into a frenzy. I fell into ghoula.org and a call to ride aboard the Ecto Metro, dare I?

I decided to tempt fate. I set a date, cleared my schedule, and packed my travelling bag. With my faithful metro day pass, my trusty notebook, and a bottle of hand sanitizer it was time to journey to a part of the earth unexplored by me – North Hollywood.

The journey from my San Gabriel Valley apartment to the North Hollywood Metro Station was long and arduous. It was hot, there was traffic, I was scared, and there was nothing good on the radio. Where am I? Who am I? Why are there mannequins in that parking structure advertising Toyotas? Bravely I drove on. After navigating the complex paid/unpaid parking system I check and triple check the doors and car alarm. I don’t know what to expect in this foreign North Hollywoodland.

It was time.

I held my bag tight and descended the long staircase into the subterranean nether world that is The Red Line. Alone I made my way to Union Station. Alone I looked away awkwardly as various strange people took turns sitting next to me. Alone I checked and re-checked the stops desperate to see where I was and how much longer I had to go. Alone in The Red Line there is no cell phone service. Alone you can’t text a scream.

I arrived.

I ascended to the surface and looked frantically for the friend I arranged to meet. The friend I coaxed into this madcap adventure with me. I found her by the Amtrak wing, she was elated at having survived her own odyssey to get to Union Station, the 110. We were thankful. We were alive.

We had to find our guide, Mr GhouLA.org.

He was amongst the palms of Union Station, as promised. He was surrounded by those like us, adventurers waiting to be led into the depths of darkness.

Soon the stragglers were corralled and the group was formed, Mr GhouLA.org began, and we were transported to an early, ugly, more sinister version of LA that could not be imagined. I could see the atrocities that were committed before my ancestors thought to set foot here. I could see the victims’ spirits that still cannot rest. They all walk among us on Alameda Blvd.

As the tour progressed, we were led down The Red Line and into the richness that is Los Angeles. There are haunts from every time period: the early Native Americans, the Californios who lived this land when it was still Mexico, the actors and actresses of old Hollywood, they all exist congruently within our reality. The architecture, the spirits, the history – all of it together feels as though this city is as filled with the supernatural as it is the natural. We live quite literally in the city of angels, ghosts, and spirits.

The tour moved through time, space, places, and lore of LA unknown to me. The tour guide was excellent, he is someone who clearly “gets it” and puts in the effort and care to truly study the history of these ghost sightings and how LA became a hub of supernatural activity. In between stops he is highly approachable so one can inquire about their own ghost curiosities or historical tidbits. At the end of the night – when asked how the tour was – I could only stare into space and reply “amazing.”

For those wanting to take the journey for themselves go to http://ghoula.org/ if you dare!