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Scared in the SCV: Why we don't Need to Wait for Halloween to be Terrified
October, 2008 - Issue #48
As Halloween nears, Santa Claritans will participate in the long, illustrious tradition of getting scared in the safest ways possible. We will go to Fright Fest at Six Flags, where we scream securely in the knowledge that the murderous clowns are really just harmless actors. We will go through haunted houses where the reassuring glow of exit signs offers us an easy out. We will watch scary movies from secure homes on well-lit streets in gated communities.

It may just be that Santa Clarita is so safe, we need to go out of our way to find some thrilling frights. But what about when fear - and not the safe, haunted house kind - wanders into our own backyards?

Aliens Watching
Blessed be the internet, for how else could we have a real-time map of UFO sightings over Southern California? The aptly named ufomaps.com logs observations of flying objects, strange lights and the like in Santa Clarita's skies. Earlier this year, a triangular metal craft was spotted over the Canyon Country Wal-Mart ("Even extraterrestrials love our rollback prices!"). It's but one of more than a dozen sightings since 2000. Frankly, I'm not surprised by the frequency of local UFO encounters. After all, if alien beings travelled light-years to tour planet earth, they'd certainly want to see Santa Clarita, the undisputed pinnacle of human civilization.

While exploring local UFO reports, one story came up again and again. It dates back to July 13, 1979, when Ed Towers and his wife saw a saucer-like object hovering over their yard. It was low enough for them to make out a number of distinct details on the craft. Mr. Towers has an engineering background and his wife verifies what he saw, making for a credible sighting. What makes the encounter terrifying is that the craft came and hovered over them while they were minding their own business, cleaning the backyard pool. Worse, they mention having a distinctive feeling while the saucer floated above them, the feeling that they were being watched.

The Sirens of Pitchess
One in 100 Americans are behinds bars. While many are in for non-violent crimes, there are plenty of violent offenders, too. The idea that one of these prisoners might escape is troubling to say the least. As luck would have it, nearby Pitchess Detention Center makes the possibility of an escaped inmate a real possibility for us Claritans. Law enforcement knows this and performs regular exercises to train for escape attempts. The site scvsheriff.com even provides instructions on "What to do in event of an escape from Pitchess Detention Center." Included is the suggestion "don't pick up hitchhikers." Now there's a scary movie plot.

One of the most notable inmate escapes was in 2004. Around noon, a sheriff escorted 19-year-old Samuel Alvarado, a maximum-security prisoner, from Pitchess to Henry Mayo. Once in the hospital, Alvarado seized a chance to attack and flee from the sheriff into the suburbs of Valencia. His first order of business was procuring a pair of flip flops from someone's porch. Freshly shoed, he walked around, eventually wandering into the yard of an elderly man. A confrontation ended with Alvarado attacking the man with a steel-wire barbecue brush. Alvarado was eventually apprehended, but not before reminding us that potentially violent persons can quite literally stroll into our own backyards. The Sheriff's Department has since doubled the security with which inmates are escorted.

Hauntings Underfoot
When you think of haunted places, they're invariably old. Plagues of yellow fever and wars and ancient cemeteries are the stuff hauntings are made of. We don't have any of those things in our past, so you'd think we shouldn't have many ghosts in our present.

But our valley isn't as youthful as she appears. Like many of her residents, a regimen of cosmetic procedures - street resurfacing, tree implants - keeps Santa Clarita looking far younger than she really is. People were here hunting gold in the early nineteenth century. Before them, vaqueros and missionaries navigated the valley floor. And before them, Tataviam Indians made a living off the land that now lies beneath pools, pavement and parks. We may suspect hauntings at Hart Mansion or Heritage Junction's historic buildings, but I think restless souls could be wandering most anywhere in our valley. Just think of the abandoned mine shafts jutting darkly into the walls of our still, shaded canyons. Who knows what kind of tragedies might have befallen the miners of those claustrophobic depths? Ours is a valley with a richer, deeper history than most realize. There could be more ghostly activity then we know; we're just mercifully oblivious to it.

The truth is, there's something to fear no matter where we live. But we may find that there's enough to heart in SCV to make fears of potential alien visits, jail break-outs and ghosts a little more bearable.

This column is intended as satire and a (sometimes successful) attempt at humor. Suggestions, catty comments and veiled threats intended for the author can be e-mailed to iheartscv@insidescv.com.
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