Campy California Sideshow:
Whacky But Wholesome Family Entertainment

By Andrea Perkins

Randall fills the ticket booth in which he sits. Behind him, tied to a table with a thick rope, quivers Penelope Eloise, Randall's Jack Russell terrier. Sun slants through the thick trees, smothering Randall's face in a chalky glow. The last tour will start in ten minutes, he says. As those going on the tour shell out five bucks, Randall tells them that they're lucky. Those who come on weekends sometimes have to wait up to two hours before beholding any mysteries.

After ten silent minutes, Randall emerges from the booth, gesturing for the meager weekday crowd to filter through the squeaky turnstile. "Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Mystery Spot," Randall says, in rehearsed sideshow intonations, as though he has never seen us before. "My name is Randall and I'll be your guide." But first Randall would like to tell you a little about himself.

It turns out he can say "Hello" in 125 languages. It is only fitting that 71 are obscure Indian dialects, since a large percentage of foreign visitors at the Mystery Spot are from India.

"They come from all over that country," he says, "I think it's because they are inherently a very mystical people." But Randall is only the guide, the demonstrator, the conduit; you can take it or leave it. After greeting the small group in Italian and Danish, he begins the first demonstration. He points out the invisible line that marks the boundary of the Mystery Spot. "The two ladies inside the Mystery Spot boundary seem to be leaning 3 or 4 degrees; folks outside of the boundary seem to be standing up pretty straight and tall; fellow standing right on top of the boundary is looking about half mysterious," says Randall.

Randall calls attention to a wooden board sitting across two small cement planks and proves with a carpenter's level that it is "perfectly flat and level." Two young men from Italy wearing cowboy hats agree to be the first victims. They stand at opposite ends of the board. One of the boys looks slightly taller than the other but after they switch places, the shorter one looks taller. The crowd gasps.


The tour group waits for the forthcoming scientific explanation. Surely there must be some logical reason for all this."Hey folks," says Randall, "If I could explain ‘why,' we'd have to change our name to 'The Spot.'"

The Mystery Spot was discovered in 1933 by a fellow the guides refer to as the "Gentleman." Unaware of the "anomaly," the Gentleman purchased the land from a logging company that had been in the area since the late 1800s. He bought it with money he had earned from inventing the tire alignment rack, known to mechanics as "a bear rack." The entire area had been clear-cut and replaced with fast-growing Eucalyptus trees. According to legend, one of the first things the Gentleman noticed was that these trees seemed to be leaning towards the same point. The Gentleman, who had a keen eye for perspective but was not an overly articulate soul, explained his rather strange discovery in the following words:

Originally we wanted to get the level ground below here for a summer home or mountain cabin... As we were helping the surveyor along the north line we noted the compass to vary a small amount on the transit and spoke to him about it at that time. He said we might get that variation along a barbed wire fence or some mineral in the ground and let it pass at that. On thinking it over later, there was no barbed wire fence near where we were at that time, and as far as we knew, no excessive mineral in this ground, so we took our own small hand compass and went up over the north line to try and check on it... We felt very light headed or top heavy, felt like something trying to force us right off the hill. We sat down for a while to try and overcome that feeling. While sitting there we happened to look at the compass again.

There the compass had varied enough that we needed nothing to compare it with to tell that it was not correct...We find we have this spot of ground here that so far we have not found any instrument absolutely correct over it.

The original sign bearing this nearly inscrutable history still stands at the gates to the Mystery Spot. "Yeah, we leave it up there,"says Randall, "even though it doesn't make any sense, out of respect for the founder."

Tour guide legend has it that the Gentleman had a weakness for birds and built the cabin as an aviary, but the strange forces of the spot pulled the cabin to the vertigoed slant, where it remains today. He opened the place to the public in 1940, and it has been open seven days a week, 365 days a year, ever since. When he died, the Gentleman passed on the mysterious 150 square-foot spot to his son, who kept it until his debts forced him to sell. His lawyer, Mr. Christopher Smith of Santa Cruz, bought it for around 3 million dollars as a present for his wife.

Today, the Mystery Spot is a campy monument that has changed very little since 1940. It continues to puzzle Doubting Thomases, scientists, skeptics and mystics alike. Visitors from all over the world come to slant uncontrollably in this peculiar vortex, to marvel at balls that roll up slopes instead of down them, and to watch as their heights, and the heights of their loved ones, seem to change.

Is the Mystery Spot a hoax? What lies behind the mysteries? A little digging reveals some pretty odd suppositions. Some have suggested that aliens deposited large metal cones on the property as a guidance systems for their spacecraft. Others have said that the magma core, or molten rock within the earth, turns counter clockwise, or they have pointed out that the hillside is sloped at 42.6 degrees, just like the angle of the pyramids. Henry G. Hubbard, an engineer with the State Division of Mines (and probably the closest the Mystery Spot has ever had to a bona fide scientist) explains the mysteries by noting an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the area. He claims the gas escapes from cracks between rocks in the hillside, causing the light-headed feeling many experience, and he explains the "shrink and grow phenomenon" as an optical illusion caused by refracted light rays.

Mystery Spot promotional literature claims that a Dr. Oscar Brunler, the late co-inventor of the electro-cardiograph, found the "highest dielectric biocosmic radiation" known anywhere in the world at theMystery Spot. "What that means is still a mystery," concludes the pamphlet.

Along with bottled scorpions and tomahawks, the Mystery Spot gift shop sells a book entitled "Gravitational Mystery Spots," published in 1996. It offers what is probably the most long-winded and out-there explanation of all. "What I think is causing these vortices," writes Douglas B. Vogt, "is a computer-like device built by a highly advanced civilization, that lived on the planet a long time ago."


Back at the ticket booth after the tour, Randall describes himself as the kind of guy who likes small ugly cars from the 1970s and wagon wheels lying around in the front yard.

He adjusts the baseball cap that sits backwards on his head. "Boss says he'll give $500 to the first person who will completely cover their car in Mystery Spot bumper stickers," he says, but the bored Latino teenagers from Watsonville and the couple from Reno with the loud baby don't look enthused. Randall gives out the last free bumper sticker and, in his heavy Boston accent, starts talking about how someone stole the last old sign.

"Well, we don't know if they stole it. It's just not there anymore."

The phone rings.

"Hello, Mystery Spot," he says. "How do you get here from Los Angeles?"

A woman in the group tries to take Randall's picture without his noticing but finds that her camera has stopped working.

"Don't worry," says Randall, off the phone now and cradling the diminutive Penelope Eloise in his large, plump arms. "It will work again in two or three days. It's always happening."

Randall can't explain it. He says that out of all the other spots like this that he's seen (there are over 17 mysterious spots in the United States alone) this is definitely the hardest to figure out. Some locals come at least twice a month to experience the discombobulating effects, he says.

Randall can't explain any of it, though he will almost admit that a lot of what goes on in the cabin is cleverly crafted optical illusion. However, he was surprised the other day when he had to crawl under the cabin and saw that the foundation beams were truly slanted.

"Proves the gentleman didn't build it like that," he says. "Somethin' else was pulling at that shack."

When Randall isn't guiding tours at the Mystery Spot, he attends Toastmasters meetings. The boss gets all his guides involved with Toastmasters. Randall is one of the best, and it's not such a mystery why he is the assistant manager as well. He even is allowed to live in a small shack on the premises for a very reasonable fee because he's so "in with the boss." Built by a hippie tour guide back in the '60s, the shack has electrical problems and only two support beams. "He must have been one weird hippie," Randall says. "They say he used to always sleep in the cabin under the pendulum."

Since getting his degree in Linguistic Anthropology, Randall has worked as a plumber, a dog trainer, and a writer for Gear Head magazine; and he was employed by the Navy in a capacity he won't reveal. Two years ago, just before his unemployment checks ran out, he saw an ad in the paper for tour guides.

"Later I found out that the paper was four months old," he adds mysteriously.

The Mystery Spot
465 Mystery Spot Road
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Summer Hours (starting Memorial Day)
9 AM - Last Tour 7 PM
Winter Hours (starting Labor Day)
9 AM - Last Tour 4:30 PM