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stories along The Way

Friday, October 30, 2009

Legend of the Haunted Griffith Park Picnic Table

By Will Campbell

Minus the blood and gore and crushed corpses and police caution tape, not much has changed in 30 years. High up and deep within Griffith Park the scene remains otherwise no different from how it looked on the evening of October 31, 1976, when tragedy literally befell a young Hollywood couple, inconceivably crushed by a nearby tree that toppled over upon them while they made love upon a picnic table just off winding Mt. Hollywood Drive.

As lurid as it was inexplicable, the deaths of 22-year-old musician Rand Garrett and aspiring actress Nancy Jeanson, 20, were nonetheless a brief blip on the radars of local newscasts and newspapers, by and large laid to rest after their cremated remains were scattered upon the table and surroundings where the childhood sweethearts died in each others' arms.

Though their ashes have long since blown away, what hasn't been so quick to dissipate is the legend that has grown up around strange events and eerie occurrences  — especially around the anniversary of their demise — that witnesses claim began happening shortly after their deaths and purportedly continue to occur to this day, bolstering a belief that the anguished spirits of Rand and Nancy are wandering never too far away from the picnic table that simultaneously brought them together and tore them apart.

"People thought I was damn crazy," says retired city tree trimmer Morris Carl when he tried to explain what happened to him a few days after authorization had been given to clear the fallen tree and he was tapped for the duty. "I drove up there with a job to do and I aimed to do it. What I didn't figure on was getting scared out of my wits!"

Carl is quick to add that up to that day he never gave much thought to whether ghosts were real. "But from that point on I certainly don't give any thought that they aren't," he says.

According to the incident report he filed with his supervisor later that evening, Carl arrived at the site at 11:40 a.m. on November 7. He was to be joined by two other Bureau of Street Services Tree Division workers with a large truck and loader to remove the material later in the afternoon but until then he was charged with sawing up the branches and trunk of the large sycamore tree into more manageable pieces. Only a few minutes into it he wrote that was overcome with a strange sensation.

"In my statement I said that I felt funny. What happened was I'd sawed off the crown of the tree when from out of nowhere I got hit with these real strong chills so hard it was as if I was coming down with the fastest flu ever. I tried to shake it off and get back to work, but each time I'd fire up the saw and get near the tree I'd get real cold and hear this weird moaning and crying. So I'd stop the saw and listen and it would go away. But then I'd start her up again and it would come back. Finally I was freezing so bad I had to go to the truck and get my coat."

That's when Carl wrote that the fallen tree started shaking violently.