2007-10-05 / Front Page
Ghost tour brought to life after 2 years in suspended animation
They're back- those pioneer ghosts and eccentric personalities who long ago populated Simi Valley. After a two-year absence, the Ghost Tour in Strathearn Park will return to serve up some creepy Halloween fun. The Ventura County Cultural Association and the Simi Valley Historical Society will host the event in the historic park off Madera Road near Los Angeles Avenue.
Karla Hubbell, president of the Simi Valley Historical Society, said she welcomes the return of the city's dearly departed.
"The ghost tour is how I became interested in Strathearn Park," Hubbell said. "I came to the tour the second year, fell in love with the park and the tour."
The tour began in October 1999, continued through 2004, and is back this month with a cast of 22 actors, 13 narrators and a handful of docents from the historical society.
"All of the narrators are middle school children. I feel it's important that we have kids involved in imparting the history of their community to the audience," said Jan Glasband, producer and director of the show.
Halloween trick-or-treaters and other tour participants will encounter ghosts at 13 sites in the park. The ghosts, who represent real people who once lived in the area, tell their stories with great enthusiasm and a need to communicate with the living.
Returning are some favorites from past tours, including Krishna Venta, a 1950s cult leader who claimed he came from the planet Neophrates. Venta was blown up by two members of his cult after some down-to-earth encounters with their wives.
Another favorite, Tiburcio Vasquez, a bandit who held up stagecoaches in the Santa Susana Pass, was hanged for his misdeeds on March 19, 1875.
Many actors who participated in past tours are returning to play the restless spirits.
Making her fourth appearance is Linda Gray, who plays May Otis Blackburn, a cult leader in the 1930s suspected of kidnapping and murder. Gray is a longtime Simi Valley resident who's shared the stage with her daughter Callie in past tours.
This year Gray's daughter Erin, 15, joins her mother, playing Blackburn's self-centered daughter, Ruth Rizzio.
"May Otis is really fun and flamboyant," Linda Gray said. "She's a cult leader. Who wouldn't want to play a cult leader?"
"It's exciting playing with my mother," Erin said. "We really have a connection, so it'll be so much fun."
Local resident Ron Rosen has performed in five past tours. He'll reprise the role of Chumash chief Zalasuit, who lived in the village of Shimiyi, as the native people called it.
"It's really fun to do the role and a challenge doing the scene one after another," Rosen said. "There's just something about the atmosphere in the park that keeps me coming back to perform."
The historical buildings at the park, like the 1890s Strathearn ranch house, add authenticity to the ghostly tales.
The original St. Rose of Lima Church, recently moved to the park and renovated, provides a charming backdrop for two new ghosts this year- Father Laubacher, a priest at the church in the early 1900s, and Charles Austin, a Civil War veteran.
The ghost tour opens Oct. 12 and runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 28. Hours are from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays, from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.
Tours depart every 10 minutes and are about one hour long. Light refreshments are served at the end.
Groups of 10 or more may make reservations by calling the park visitor center at (805) 526-6453. All tickets are $7 and are available only at the gate.
Strathearn Historical Park is at 137 Strathearn Place (behind Kmart).
More information is available at www.simihistory.com.