Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Joseph Mascarel and the Lazard Street Poltergeist

Despite his gruff, no-nonsense demeanor, former Mayor Joseph Mascarel was not immune to odd occurrences. The September 6, 1889 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Herald details a bizarre three-night incident at the Mascarel residence. At that point, the former mayor lived at 99 Lazard Street (incidentally, Lazard Street was named after another prosperous French businessman - Solomon Lazard, who we will meet again later).

One night around 9pm, after Mascarel and his common-law second wife, Maria, had gone to bed, three loud raps were heard on the rear door of their house. He later described it as sounding like the back door had been slammed violently three times in rapid succession. However, the back door, and the screen door in front of it, were closed and locked.

Mascarel called out "Who is there?" (the article didn't specify whether he spoke in French or Spanish) and checked the back porch. Finding no one there (and it was a brightly moonlit night), he went back to bed. The raps promptly repeated - this time louder and more distinct, and the raps continued for longer. The last rap rattled the windows and woke everyone in the house. Again, no one was on the back porch.

Mascarel tried leaving the inside back door open, hoping to catch the culprit. Ten to fifteen minutes later, the rapping began again. This time Mascarel stepped onto the back porch before the rapping ended - and again, no one was there.

The following morning, Maria and the couple's children insisted the strange noises must have been the work of spirits, intending to warn him or deliver a message. Mascarel had never encountered a ghost in his 73 years on Earth and wasn't about to start believing in them.

That night, the mysterious rapping noises resumed. This time they were loud enough to wake several neighbors - some of whom went inside the house to see for themselves. Nothing happened when anyone stood close to the door, but as soon as the coast was clear, the loud banging resumed.

The following day, Mascarel told this strange story to an acquaintance on the police force. (One of his daughters from his first marriage just so happened to be the wife of a police officer.) Two officers were dispatched to watch the house that night.

Meanwhile, some members of Mascarel's family insisted he consult a medium (which he was certainly not going to do). However, a neighbor took it upon herself to do so. The medium reported that the elderly former mayor could be near the end of his life, and that he should write his will as soon as possible. (Given what we know about Mascarel's unconventional domestic situation and his adult children's nasty squabbles over his large estate, I think it's safe to say that psychic was paid off.) Mascarel declined to speak with her directly.

That night, with two LAPD officers hiding in the bushes behind the house, the rapping began again. The officers ran for the porch, and a tall man dressed in black with white whiskers made a run for it. They nearly caught the man, who cursed and shouted something in French before escaping. The strange raps never happened again.

The next day, the "ghost" was all anyone in the neighborhood could talk about. Many neighbors speculated that it had all been a ruse by Mascarel's children to frighten him into changing his will (why am I not surprised?).

I wouldn't be surprised if it was also intended to scare him into finally legally marrying Maria (Mascarel's first wife, Serilda, had died in 1887).

Unfortunately, the tough, 73-year-old ex-mayor proved impossible to scare.

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