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Obscura Society brings you face to face with Los Angeles' weird history

Matt Blitz, head of the Obscura Society Los Angeles at the mouth of the Devil's Gate in Pasadena.
Matt Blitz, head of the Obscura Society Los Angeles at the mouth of the Devil's Gate in Pasadena.
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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Atlas Obscura is a travel website for stuff that you won't see in Lonely Planet: offbeat museums, haunted houses and morbid bits of history. You can find where Paris' Guillotines were stationed, or tour the now-infamous abandoned Nazi bunkers at Murphy Ranch

Atlas Obscura can also take you there: the Obscura Society guides Angelenos all over Los Angeles and beyond: visiting the Templo Santa Muerte on Melrose, or hanging out with a falconer. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson went with the Society's Matt Blitz to a bucolic park near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that's home to the Devil's Gate. 

The Devil's Gate is a flood gate carved into a giant rock formation on the border of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge. Originally, the rock had an ominous look to it that has since given way to erosion and construction—you can still see what looks like a horn towards the top. 

The Gate was also a stomping ground for Jack Parsons, one of the founding members of JPL. Parsons helped design some of the very first rockets and paved the way for America's space program. He also had an intense fascination with the Occult. 

Parsons would visit the Devil's Gate, usually in the company of L. Ron Hubbard — the writer would go on later to found the Church of Scientology. Hubbard and Parsons were business partners and friends. "They would perform ceremonious, religious rituals in the gate," said the Obscura Society's Matt Blitz. "Such as believing they could conceive an Anti-Christ." 

Blitz said he and the Obscura Society found about this through biographies of Parsons and letters shared between the two men.

"They would put a blanket down—some sort of ceremonial blanket. And Hubbard would ask Jack Parsons to masturbate onto the blanket," said Blitz. "They thought that would be used by the Goddess of Babylon and then in nine months, some Virgin Mary type woman would conceive the Anti-Christ."

Though the story is unsettling, the setting is beautiful. And its story combines a narrative many Angelenos already know about (Pasadena's involvement in space travel, Scientology's roots) with a darker, more ephemeral tale that shows how histories can intersect—a trademark of Atlas Obscura and the Obscura Society.

Correction: in the audio segment, producer Kevin Ferguson refers to Aleister Crowley as the founder of the Church of Satan, which is incorrect. Mr. Crowley was not a Satanist, but an occultist.