Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

More Rockhaven Sanitarium Ghost Stories

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

As most of us in CV already know, Rockhaven Sanitarium is one of the brightest stars in the valley’s history. From 1923 to 2006, Rockhaven provided the absolute best of care to women with mild mental disabilities. Ladies who had often lived lives of great achievement were able to finish out their worldly time there with happiness and dignity. I have often said that Rockhaven was such a nice place that some residents wouldn’t leave, even after they died. When the Friends of Rockhaven give their tours of the property, my portion of the tour covers the many ghostly encounters that I have collected over the years. I’ve written about a few of them before but here’s a sample of some I haven’t covered:

Over the years I’ve heard a litany of odd tales from the various security guards and caretakers who have spent nights there. One security guard regularly saw people out of the corner of his eye. But each time he turned to look they would disappear. Live-in caretakers have reported that lights would turn on or off, doors open and close, and locked windows would unlatch and swing open. Knocking on the walls occurred frequently.

Bob McFall, the former Glendale assistant city manager, gave me a couple of his own ghost stories from when Rockhaven was first purchased by the city in 2008. Bob is an amateur photographer, and spent many of his off hours photographing the abandoned sanitarium. One day he had his tripod set up next to a locked two-story building, the second floor of which had become the repository for all the resident’s personal items that had been left behind. Unlike other times he had spent at Rockhaven, he felt like he was being watched. As he took his photos, he instinctively kept glancing up at a particular second-story window, and each time he looked up he felt like the curtains were in a slightly different position. Finally he looked up, caught the curtains slightly parted and saw the faint image of someone peering out from the darkened room. He swung his camera up and snapped a photo, then went to investigate. Of course no one was in the room. And the photo? There’s an indistinct something caught in the window, but it’s very faint. Some say it looks like a person, others not.

Another story involves a piano that had been located in the dining hall, and shows up in many decades-old Rockhaven photos as a center of activity. Hundreds of women over the years must have discovered forgotten musical talents or relived memories around that old upright. But when the city took over the property, they did a very careful inventory, but no piano showed up. The previous owners must have sold or took it with them. In the next few months the piano was forgotten, as the city moved the huge inventory of valuable outdoor vases and garden art into a locked garage for safekeeping. Bob was kept busy conducting VIP tours of Rockhaven for city staff, and always made a point of finishing his tours by unlocking the garage to show off the amazing collection of statuary and garden art. One day he unlocked the garage for a tour, only two days after he had been there with another tour. He swung the door up, and there in the middle of the floor sat the piano! The 700-pound piano that had previously been seen only in photos had mysteriously appeared in a locked room.

The Friends of Rockhaven clean the interiors on a regular basis, and so are very familiar with the appearance of each room. Lately we’ve had a few items mysteriously appear, though not as spectacularly as the piano. A valentine, a “Rockhaven Dollar” (a coupon for treats), and a set of Rosary beads have lately all shown up in very obvious places – not during cleaning sessions, but while tours are going on. It’s as though the past residents are reaching out to a new generation to attempt to communicate how special Rockhaven was to them.

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