"I just felt something touch my shoulder, and it felt like three fingers."
Oscar Morales, a member of ghost hunting group Afterlife Frequencies, is completely freaked out.
It's 1 AM and six of us are standing inside the main dining room at La Golondrina, one of Los Angeles's oldest Mexican restaurants, with all of the lights turned off. A Ouija board is the only thing between us. "Is somebody here with us right now?" asks Hadley Tomicki, standing in the middle of the group. His hands are firmly pressed on the board's triangular plastic planchette. The tool begins to glide ever-so-slowly over the board. "I swear I'm not fucking moving this right now," he says.
La Golondrina is located on La Placita Olvera, a narrow street in the middle of downtown next to the official birthplace of Los Angeles (back when California was part of Mexico). This street—down to the Spanish-style architecture—hasn't changed since the 1700s.
The restaurant officially opened in 1930, but the two-story house that it occupies was built back in 1850. To history buffs, the home is known as the "Pelanconi House," a significant landmark because it was the first brick building in Los Angeles and remains the oldest standing today.
La Golondrina doesn't exactly stick out in a city where there's over a thousand Mexican restaurants to choose from. But besides the occasional haunting, there is one thing that makes this place fairly unusual: their handmade flour tortillas. They're something of a revelation; their flaky, chewy texture is addictive. Plus, the restaurant is one of only three establishments in the entire city to make their tortillas fresh every day.
Some people claim that La Golondrina is haunted by La Consuela, or "The Mistress," a ghost who has been seen hanging out on the stairwell that used to look out onto Olvera Street. Ever since the restaurant first opened, countless employees have complained of witnessing supernatural occurrences. Vivien Bonzo, whose family has owned the property for 85 years, is one of them.
"My dad, who was a very macho, manly man, used to live in the restaurant for years and would purposely leave the door in his room open, just in case he had to run out if he got too scared," Bonzo, the third-generation owner, tells me. "One time, we caught a bottle flying through the air on my security camera when nobody was here. One of our waitresses was hit by a nail that was thrown at her when she was the only employee left in the restaurant."
Bonzo has accepted the fact that she has to be alone with these spirits—La Consuela in particular, whom she has witnessed gliding along the staircase on more than one occasion. "It is still frightening to me."
After hearing these stories straight from the restaurateur herself, I'm keen to find out if the haunting is, in fact, real. Rather than standing alone in the darkened building in search of the alleged ghost that walks its halls, I call up Victor Huesca, a bonafide paranormal researcher and co-author of Haunted East Los Angeles, a book detailing his encounters.
A few nights later, we find ourselves standing inside La Golondrina around 10 PM, waiting for something to happen.
Waiters and the kitchen staff are busting ass to get home as fast as they can, but we take a moment to ask if any have ever experienced freaky happenings around here. "Oh, it is not a question of whether there is an entity here. It is when you will see or hear it," says a Salvadoran dishwasher who works the evening shift. "I've even created a unique prayer to protect me from whatever it is so I'm not afraid anymore, but everyone else still is," he tells me.
An eavesdropping employee jokingly chimes in: "It's been hard to find somebody to work on repairing things around here, because our last handyman refused to come back. He said that his power tools turned on on their own." An hour later, we realize that every employee on the evening's shift has either seen or heard something odd since they started working here. "I once heard an unexplained, extremely loud banging noise over by the restrooms," says the dishwasher's assistant, who has only worked at La Golondrina for six months. "When I went to see what it was, there was nothing there."
By midnight, the place is empty and Huesca unpacks his ghost hunting artillery. It includes the Ovilus 3 (a small gadget that blurts out random words, allegedly based on the spiritual energies in the room), an EMF detector (used to measure any sudden electromagnetic frequency changes in the area), an REM Pod (an alarm sensor that is activated if any electrical frequencies pass by it), a camcorder with night vision, and an audio recorder designed to pick up electronic voice phenomenons, or EVPs.
With these tools in hand, our group splits up to explore the building.
Inside the murky kitchen—lined with buckets of pinto beans soaking in water—we start to ask if anyone's in there. No response. We do the same in the pantry, but receive silence in return. We shout into the pitch-black dining room adorned with Dia de Los Muertos murals, but all we get are the blank stares of twin girls in a dark forest background, beaming from one of the images. I start to feel like a real idiot.
Three hours pass and we have nothing. "Some spirits are intimidated to show themselves when there are too many people around," Huesca explains. Just then, a loud thump sounds somewhere in the building. We can't discern from which direction in the building it came, but we're all rattled.
The group scatters to desperately search for the source of the noise, stumbling our way down the dark staircase, nearly slipping on the kitchen's clean, wet floor. Everything seems to be intact.
It's time to do an EVP session, because according to Huesca, "This will capture voices that we can't hear with our ears." The paranormal researcher claims that this kind of session is considered to be the primary method for capturing ghost activity on an electronic device.
We sit around a table in the main dining room and ask random questions into thin air. No response again. I'm starting to wonder if La Consuela is a rude woman. A half an hour later, we're exhausted, so we decide to pull out Huesca's Ouija Board.
The planchette glides towards the letter "H," and then slowly creeps towards "J" before it comes to a sudden halt. We take it as a cue and call it a night.
According to Huesca, the fact that we don't hear anything doesn't automatically dispel the notion that this place could be haunted. He claims that there are two types of haunting classifications: a "residual haunting," when the spirits themselves may not know that they are dead and have no idea what's going on, and "intelligent hauntings," when spirits are aware and try to communicate with you, but only if they have enough energy to do so.
"Or it might just be that since the restaurant has never been investigated before and the spirits got spooked, they didn't want to show themselves. Depending on the spirits, sometimes they need time to adjust to you as well," Huesca says.
It's not until the next day that our group realizes that the Ouija board had pointed to the first letter of my name and Hadley's that evening.
Given the history and first-hand accounts from the employees at La Golondrina, it looks like I'm going to have to come back next year and try again. Next time, I'll make sure to pack two burritos especial made with their handmade flour tortillas; one to keep me going until dusk, and the other for La Consuela, if she'll allow it.