Do you believe in ghosts?

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A recent USA Today poll says that 34 percent of Americans believe in ghosts– that’s one in every three people. Twenty-three percent say they have seen a ghost or believe they have been in one’s presence. Are you one of those 23 percent who have actually had a supernatural encounter? Before you answer that question, you might like to know what type of ghost you allegedly saw. According to those familiar with ghostly phenomena, there are two types of paranormal activity– poltergeists and hauntings.

Poltergeist activity usually centers on one individual, usually a teenager who is under some form of emotional stress. These individuals often have problems at home or school. Many are depressed. The anger and upset from these problems somehow manifests itself in a physical way. Their feelings of discontent result in objects moving, flying or breaking. These odd occurrences are often accompanied by sounds, vibrations and other inexpiable physical phenomenon. It’s believed that a sort of energy field is exuded by those individuals and that they unconsciously have the ability to affect the environment around them.

A ghost is an apparition one sees– a form of haunting. There are two types of hauntings. The most common is a residual haunting in which a location has picked up and recorded the intense energy exuded by individuals under stress. At times, the actions and words stored in the walls of that site are triggered and, like a video tape, replayed. Experts in paranormal activities believe that someone with a psychic bent, or even certain atmospheric conditions, can trigger this phenomenon. The other, much rarer, sort is an intelligent haunting where someone with psychic talents, or the proper equipment, can actually communicate with the dead. Those who watch the many television shows exploring the supernatural have seen questions posed by the living to the dead answered by raps, knocks or EVPs (electronic-voice phenomena) from those on the other side.

In writing this column, I decided to check out a reported haunting I wrote about in my book “Haunted Long Beach 2”– the Long Beach Navy Hospital, now the location of the Long Beach Towne Center. Hospitals seem like a logical place to go looking for ghosts. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It just changes shape. After death, the energy that ran the human body is transformed. It must continue on in some form. What better place to look for that energy conversion than a place where many deaths occur, such as a hospital, especially one built over Long Beach’s Native American village of Puvungna.

Puvungna, which many of you know, was a sacred site to our indigenous people. It was a place of powerful energy, which was so powerful that many believed that all life in the world emerged from a nearby sacred spring.

I wanted to find out if residual energy from the hospital and/or Puvunga still remains. Were “ghostly” things still happening?

Few realize that the original 89.7-acre Navy Hospital was located where the VA hospital is today. In 1941, Uncle Sam began looking for locations to build permanent government hospital facilities. Long Beach, with the Navy nearby on Terminal Island and the new Naval Reserve Air Station in Los Alamitos just a few miles away, seemed like a perfect spot. Construction on the $3-million institution began in October 1941, but it was delayed by a mysterious fire that burned through the wooden forms used in pouring concrete for the walls. Despite this setback, the hospital was commissioned on Dec. 15, 1942.

The Long Beach Navy Hospital on 7th Street was short-lived. Following World War II, the Navy began cutting expenses. It seemed the Navy Hospital itself was about to die, scheduled to close in June 1950. However, Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Irving D. Litwack wasn’t about to see it happen without a fight. Litwack traveled to Washington to speak before a congressional subcommittee overseeing military cutbacks, telling them that closing the Long Beach Navy Hospital would create “an acute public health emergency” in the Long Beach area. The committee agreed to a compromise. The Van Nuys unit for veterans would move to Long Beach and take over the Long Beach Navy Hospital.

On June 1, 1950, 1,200 patients, nearly half of them non-ambulatory and paraplegic cases, were transferred from the Birmingham VA hospital in Van Nuys to the newly acquired Long Beach VA hospital. In a brief ceremony in front of the administration building, the Navy struck its colors and ended its occupancy and the Veterans Administration took over.

The Long Beach Navy Hospital was reborn in a new location, in a new facility, a decade later. In April 1962, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the United States House of Representatives voted to expend $9.1 million to open another facility in Long Beach. The new hospital at 7500 E. Carson St. was commissioned on Feb. 1, 1967. It became well known for its alcoholic-recovery unit, which hosted former First Lady Betty Ford, Billy Carter and Senator Herman Talmadge. It closed its doors permanently on March 25, 1994. The hospital was torn down, and the Towne Center retail plaza was erected on the site.

In writing “Haunted Long Beach 2,” I came across many reports of paranormal happenings at the Carson Boulevard Navy Hospital. In one instance, a heavy metal and glass door that shielded the isolation room in the intensive-care unit on the fourth floor would close by itself, usually between 2am and 3:30am. If it were already closed, it would rattle and open slightly. When this happened, some claimed to have felt the presence of someone going in and out of the room.

I decided to interview employees at businesses in the Towne Center, agreeing to keep their names and company names confidential. Many were afraid of “getting into trouble” if they spoke openly. Two employees in the same store told me they had a heavy door that they liked to prop open, but it would inexplicably close itself, very similar to the door in the Navy Hospital’s intensive-care unit! Employees in other establishments told of items mysteriously falling off shelves and hearing “heavy breathing” when they were the only ones around. So, it does appear as if “odd” things still occur on the site. A residual haunting seems the most logical explanation, if you believe in such things!

Another business, located in Signal Hill and whose owners wish to remain anonymous, has employees that claim to hear a young girl crying and letting out loud sighs. Some have seen shadows late at night when no one else is there. Some have heard banging on walls and other noises when they thought they were alone. Computers suddenly turn off and on.

In investigating the location, I found it was first the site of an Air Force hospital, but from 1947 to 1983, the land was occupied by the Long Beach General Hospital and became a hospital for the homeless, indigent, alcoholics, people in permanent comas, etc. It wasn’t actually an asylum, just a hospital where anyone without money could go or be sent there. Could residual energy from former patients still remain?

If you have any stories of your own you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Contact me through my website at or by emailing the Signal Tribune at [email protected]

Burnett is a former Long Beach librarian who, during her 25 years of researching local history, has uncovered many forgotten stories about Southern California that she has published in nine books. She has degrees from UC Irvine, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach. For more information, visit