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Culture

We Went to the ‘Murder House’ to Learn About its Ghosts

October 30, 2020 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Rosenheim Mansion. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Recently, we informed you that you could win a night’s stay in the American Horror Story Murder House’s basement. But what’s it actually like in there? What’s the deal with the ghosts that supposedly haunt it? We stopped by this week to check it out. 

The ‘Murder House’ is actually the Rosenheim Mansion, built by architect Alfred Rosenheim in 1908 at 1120 Westchester Place. In 1999, it became Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument 660, which is an unfortunate six numbers away from a real party. (Monument 666 is the Taft Building and its neon sign, located at 6280 W. Hollywood Blvd., if you were wondering.)  

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Though the Rosenheim Mansion has appeared in several TV shows and films, its starring role came in 2011 with American Horror Story: Murder House, in which it played, obviously, the murder house. The series follows a family who moves from Boston to a beautiful, but very haunted home in Los Angeles. Because the house has been the site of grisly murders in the past, the family is plagued with not just ghosts, but corporeal annoyances in the form of true crime fans who come to gawk and cultists who come to do worse.

In real life, Dr. Ernst von Schwarz and Angela Oakenfold nabbed the house off the market for $3.2 million in 2015, but soon found themselves also warding off aggressive tourists. In 2018, they filed a lawsuit against the brokers that handled the sale, saying no one told them how many people it would attract on any given day.

But tonight, they’ll stream a seance from its basement, just one of several spooky events in a 3-day, 24/7 Halloween live stream. So, what made them decide to finally embrace the macabre? 

“In the end, I think it was just lemons, lemonade,” Oakenfold told me earlier this week, wearing a black Murder House T-shirt and a face mask.

Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Oakenfold, who has still never seen American Horror Story, first found the house while browsing listings near Hancock Park as she and her now-husband were planning to move in together and start a family. She said she fell in love with it the moment she saw it.

Though the couple initially had no issue with American Horror Story fans who wanted to look at it or take a photo, they were completely unprepared for how intense it could get. Oakenfold said up to 200 people per day could stop by, including some who would come late at night, gather and play loud music, or, in the worst cases, try to get inside. (While I was there, I spotted two groups of tourists on my way in and three on my way out.)

“The first six to 12 months, we were just like, ‘how are going to live?’ We’d just invested so much money in this house. Could we put a really nice fence outside and a hedge? And the city said, no, you’re not allowed to have fences in this area. You can’t have it hedged, the house has to be visible so people can view it,” she said. 

So, they put up a temporary chain-link fence. But after considering how hard 2020 has been for everyone—including Oakenfold, who gave birth to twin boys during the pandemic—they thought maybe they could do a virtual event that would allow fans to see past the fence and inside of the home for the first time since AHS.

“I thought if we could do an event and show them the inside of the house, which is what they want, then maybe there’d be some sort of peace,” Oakenfold said. “So, people can come in remotely, and then we can donate a portion of the proceeds to charity.”

Night-night. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

For the holiday, the house’s facade has been decorated with ghoulish dolls and pumpkins, while the inside is now rigged with 14 cameras that will stream the various rooms and its guests—which include Halloween experts, psychics, paranormal investigators, and other spooky characters—now through Oct. 31. For $25, fans can watch the streams 24/7 and a few lucky victims will be selected to join seances and ghost hunts. A few may even spend the night in the purportedly haunted basement, which has been outfitted with two beds and a creepy doll. A portion of proceeds will benefit Baby2Baby, a nonprofit that provides basic needs to children in poverty. 

Tonight, psychic Patti Negri is hosting a seance in the basement to attempt to make contact with the other side.

“She said as we get closer to Halloween, the veil between the living and the dead gets thinner, so she thinks Friday is going to be the optimal night to try and connect,” Oakenfold said. 

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The wall between our worlds growing thinner is not new. You can even trace it all the way back to Halloween’s origin, Samhain

Surprisingly, Oakenfold and her husband are not big supernatural believers, though she does think there is something in the house. When she offered her friends a tour years ago, one of them told her he saw a butler carrying a tray up and down the stairs. Later, when the daughter of a previous owner came to collect some items left behind, she told Oakenfold about a butler spirit they used to see.

At one point, Oakenfold advertised for an office assistant. One applicant stood out to her, so she sent her an email. It turns out that the applicant had been in the house before. Into the ’90s, the home had been a convent and she’d volunteered for the nuns.

This doll welcomes you inside. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

The woman said that back then, any bumps in the night were attributed to one of the many nuns walking around or shutting a door. But when Oakenfold got in touch with one of the sisters, she told her a ghost story. When the nuns first arrived, a mover brought in a rocking chair only to come running out and claiming an apparition had appeared in it. The nuns entered and recognized the phantom rocker as a sister who had died.

Other guests to the home over the years have claimed they didn’t like being in the basement or that something had touched them while they were down there. Even Oakenfold’s skeptical husband said some kind of mist touched him. 

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“He said, ‘I don’t believe in ghosts but I did see something. I believe in energies, and there was some kind of energy that was down there and it touched me on the back and then just evaporated,'” Oakenfold recalled.

Despite this, Oakenfold has never invited a paranormal investigator in before this weekend. A friend once offered to clear her home of spirits or energies, but Oakenfold declined. The spirits just don’t seem like the evil kind, so she’s happy to share the space.

Will we make contact with those positive energies this weekend? Who knows? I personally don’t believe in ghosts, but I love a good ghost story, and doesn’t it feel like anything could happen in 2020? Here’s hoping we see a rocking nun. To check in on the livestream, go here. Follow the house on Instagram here.

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