Latinx Af Interview: Getting Hollyweird with Tammie Merhab-Chavez of Hollyweird Paranormal
In this spooky interview, Tammie Merhab-Chavez of Hollyweird Paranormal, talks ghost hunting, psychic abilities, and representation of queer and poc ghost hunters! Buckle down to read how this multi-talented, multi-cultural podcaster, paranormal investigator, and Hollywood costume designer started her own ghost hunting journey, her paranormal podcast with Brice Mitchel Williams, unveiled her psychic abilities, and what other weirdness she has in store!
Did you know there are different kinds of hauntings?? How about different kinds of psychic abilities? Read along for more spooky tidbits and as Tammie says: "let's get Hollyweird..."
I love how you use the term "paranerds"- I feel like, similar to the My Favorite Murder "murderinos", most of the Hollyweird Paranormal fans are lifelong "paranerds." Can you describe some of your earliest spooky memories/ when you realized you were a fan of the strange and paranormal.
I was a para-nerd since I was in the 1st grade and what jump-started it all for me was Rosalind Fry's, The Ghost, The Witch, and The Goblin. Plus, growing up in New Orleans, I always felt that my entire home city had a spooky vibe. I just remember growing up listening to all of the creepy legends and folklore of New Orleans, especially the local lore of The Lady in White off of Mona Lisa Drive and tales of the Rougarou, a werewolf that wonders throughout the Louisiana swampland.
How did Hollyweird Paranormal come about? What inspired you guys to start the podcast? Our haunted job inspired us. Yup! Brice and I worked at an acting school in Hollywood that was originally owned and is now possibly haunted by Charlie Chaplin. Even Chaplins bungalows are still on the school’s property and they have been converted to the schools library and green room. We would always hear stories of a man in a period suit and bowler hat that would be seen walking around the theater and parking lot after hours by security and staff. They would think it’s an acting student but this figure would walk between 12:30 am /2am. and appear translucent. Then the dormitories were built in 2017 and more creepy stories surfaced. So, in 2017 Brice and I were chatting in my shop about these stories and we decided to create a paranormal podcast.
A deep interest in the paranormal and haunting ties in with a love of storytelling and history. Were you a fan of the horror genre growing up and did your love of the paranormal and supernatural draw you to Hollywood and influence your decision to go into drama, film work, and costume??
Oh, hell yes! I was always a fan of horror and the macabre! My siblings and I would always tune into this New Orleans public access tv show called Morgus the Magnificent. He was a mad scientist horror host who would televise his experiments with his hooded assistant, Chopsley, and introduce these horror B-movies. It was perfection!
(Morgus the Magnificent)
But, I felt it was the dramatic arts that drew me closer to the paranormal since I found myself working and performing in a lot of old haunted theaters. Then I found myself working and designing costumes on old haunted film sets and locations after receiving my BFA in Drama/ Communications. It was kind of funny but, at the same time, perfectly aligned since I ended up in Grad School at Florida State University designing costumes and make-up for a film school student who had a knack for horror.
3) What are some of your favorite spooky experiences on set?
Working on the many sets of the horror anthology, The Mortuary Collection. Every location had a ghost story attached to it and we had a crazy collection of unexplainable stories experienced by different departments. The one that really stuck out to me was Heritage Square in Los Angeles. Heritage Square is a living history museum that acts as this orphanage of these beautiful 19th-century homes that were rescued from being demolished and were relocated within the square. There is a total of 8 of them and we were able to shoot on that location. Costumes were set up in the Hale House and the para-nerd in me wanted to know the history along with the haunted history of that house. Well, I found out that the house has only been investigated once and the para-investigative team concluded that the house has a few energies. They've collected EVPs of children laughing on the second level and sightings of a woman in white in the master bedroom.
Well, one week into being stationed out of the Hale house I would start to see things out of the corner of my eye while working on the second floor. One night I could have sworn I heard movement, kind of like footsteps in the master bedroom. I went in to investigate and noticed no one was inside, but that was this unusual coldness in the room. A week later I was repairing a pair of pants for a supporting lead and heard what sounded like giggling outside of my room. I thought it was the MUA and remembered that she was called on set 30 minutes prior. I got up to see who it was and nothing. I immediately pulled out my phone, opened the Snapchat app to use the puppy face filter, and recorded a video. I remember seeing people using this app and that specific filter on ghost hunts so I thought I would do the same. I asked whoever is here to stand in front of me and barely a minute later the app picks up something. Something responded by standing in front of me for a few seconds and disappeared. I said, "thank you, I mean no harm just let me finish these pants and NO ME TOQUES!" Since then nothing happened to me on the second floor. You can see the screenshot below.
(Snapchat Ghost at the Hale House)
Certain objects are known to be haunted- like the infamous Annabelle doll- In working with costumes, you work with a lot of vintage and antique pieces. Have any ever stood out as being particularly haunted?
Thankfully, none of them have stood out or given me creepy vibes. But, recently, I interviewed a student at my work who is a medium. I was interviewing her for our episode of Pt.2 of Is Our Job Haunted by the Ghost of Charlie Chaplin? Towards the end of her interview, I asked her if she can pick up on any energies that might be residing in my shop. Without hesitation, she said, "I keep on hearing a man's voice saying that you have his suit..." She then tells me "He's an older gentleman, short, and he likes to roam up and down your men's suit isle. His name is Oliver..." I was surprised since I had just purchased this men's 1950s suit from a vintage shop in Burbank in a size 38S which is a small size in men's suits. So now every time I open and close my shop, I always make an effort to acknowledge Oliver.
What are the different kinds of hauntings?
I love these types of questions! There is residual, intelligent, poltergeist, demonic/negative, and shadow people activity.
Clearly you can stomach a lot of spooky stuff others can't. I love that cute video of you gleefully telling Brice a scary story as he recoils! Do you have any weird phobias that you just can't stomach even though you're so tough when it comes to other scary stuff- for instance, I hate HATE hate little tiny holes! They make my skin crawl!
OMG! I do have a slight phobia of heights which is crazy since I skydived back in 2004. I think it was being strapped onto the skydiving instructor while closing my eyes half the time I was in the air that helped me overcome it LOL. But the higher the heights, the higher my anxiety gets. My palms get sweaty, my feet feel a little heavy and I get anxious every time I'm on a rooftop or looking down from a skyscraper.
In a various episodes of Hollyweird, the idea of "the different clairs" comes up- clairvoyence (sight), clairaudience (sound), clairsentience (feeling), clairalience (smell), clairgustance (tasting), and claricognizance (knowing)- as well as the idea that everyone has different psychic abilities and it's just a matter of tapping in and perhaps practicing them to flex those psychic muscles. I believe you've talked a bit about your ability clairalience as well as a clairvoyent experience- can you share a little about that?
I truly believe we embody a clair and some psychic ability. Throughout my lifetime I always knew I could hear and even smell things when no one couldn't. I remember this one time my sister and I took a tour of an old New Orleans Funeral Home museum. I remember smelling cigarettes followed by the scent of lilac on the second level. I later found out that there is a lady in grey that makes her presence known with the scent of her favorite lilac perfume and the cigarette smell was an indicator of the spirit of a transient named Peanut-who was found dead in the abandoned museum post-Katrina. Mind you, I never knew I had these abilities or knew anything about them until I started investigating. But I noticed that these psychic abilities would develop more and more after each investigation. I would start to see things that I couldn't explain and I would have unexplainable occurrences that would happen to me out of nowhere. I guess that would be attributed to me becoming more open.
I also recommend taking care of your body and mental health as well because keeping a good state of health strengthens your psychic ability and keeps you grounded along with establishing strong clarity.
What would you recommend to people wanting to tune into and enhance their own psychic abilities?
Always remember that psychic abilities are no less a skill to be honed than any other skill or talent that we can train for. I don't recommend anyone to pay hundreds and thousands for psychic training sessions. However, I recommend taking workshops from professionals in the field, always research, and do your due diligence if you decide to take those classes. Meditating, connecting with your spirit guides, learning how to use tarot and pendulums is also a great start too. I also recommend taking care of your body and mental health as well because keeping a good state of health strengthens your psychic ability and keeps you grounded along with establishing strong clarity.
9) Any advice for someone who might be experiencing a "clair" - psychic ability- unwillingly and who may be a little frightened by that experience?
Don't fear it, embrace it. It can be pretty scary and intimidating at times however you can decide whether or not you want to strengthen it or close it off. I know individuals who decided to completely be closed off to it because of their religious beliefs or out of fear. But I've seen others who have grown into these confident and strong individuals after learning how to take control of their abilities and even use it to help others.
10) What were some of your first ghost hunting experiences like?
Well, the first one was pretty bad ha-ha! I signed up to be a part of a ghost hunt in Catalina Island and I noticed that the man leading it had several people help fake activity in certain locations. Some of the stories were great in regards to the island but it was poorly led. Then a few months later my husband and I participated in a ghost hunt at the Whaley House in San Diego which was AMAZING! That is an active place and my husband, the skeptic, was noticing a lot of activity. We saw orbs, captured anomalies on our camera roll, and felt unusual cold spots.
11) What advice would you have for beginner ghost hunters??
Don't copy anything that you see on YouTube or reality shows. However, I do like the approach from shows, such as Kindred Spirits and Ghost Hunters. I love how they try to debunk rather than panning every noise to a ghost. Do your research before every investigation, reach out to local hunters or investigators, always know how to operate equipment, and approach every hunt or investigation with respect. NEVER trespass! You can get arrested, ticketed or get injured. NEVER investigate/hunt alone. Most importantly, don't feel the need to drop thousands of dollars on equipment. Start off with the basic tools, such as a KII Meter, voice recorder, and camera.
12) Do you have any exciting evidence you've captured while ghost hunting?
Absolutely! I've captured a full-body apparition sitting on a car at the Oman House in Beverly Hills and an anomaly in the parlor room at The Whaley House in San Diego.
(the oman house)
(the whaley house)
What tools do you bring with you on investigations? Do you have a personal protection item that you bring with you to prevent anything from "attaching" to you?
I bring an EDI device which is a new tool in the industry. It has a Mel-Meter, KII Meter, thermometer, humidity detector and it reads and records data. I also bring a voice recorder, batteries (always bring batteries), flashlight, SB7 Voice Box, and dowsing rods. For protection, I wear black tourmaline and the bruja in me always sprinkles black salt (cauldron salt) on my doorstep and other entrances of my home.
New Orleans is one of America's most beloved haunted cities. Would you say that you and your spookiness are products of that environment?
Absolutely! I always knew that city was spooky and surrounded by all sorts of legends and lore. I would always listen to books on tapes of Louisiana Folklore and ghost stories in my parent's car or in my room. It would drive my parents insane LOL! My dad would always sing the Dusty Springfield song to me, Spooky, when it would come on the radio and say, "You're a spooky little girl Tammie..." If I was being a little mischief then my parents would always tell me and my siblings, " You better be careful or else the rougarou (Louisiana swamp werewolf) is going to get you!" They knew that legend freaked me out because it was always shared on Halloween on the local news.
Your mother is from Honduras and your fathers side is Lebanese, correct? What is some of your favorite spooky folklore from both latinx and arabic cultures?
Yes, my mother and grandmother were notorious for telling me and my siblings the urban legends of the duendes and the cucuy. My tita will always say , "ten cuidado!!! El cucuy te va a atrapar" My father didn't really share any urban legends from Lebanon but he would always share the ghost stories of a family farm outside of Tripoli. My dad's family owns a farm that has been around for hundreds of years and was built over land that has witnessed the byzantine war. My father and his family would always come across old arrowheads, swords, and bones while vacationing there. They have a groundskeeper who would share stories with my family about coming into contact with full-body apparitions on horseback or hearing what sounds like a battle outside during late hours.
Do you see any similarities (or interesting differences) in the superstitions and relationship to the paranormal in Latinx and Arabic cultures?
The Evil Eye or Mal de Ojo is a good example of similarity with different beliefs especially in the Mediterranean culture where they wear the Evil Eye as charms or nazars to repel evil. In Latinx cultures, there is the Mal de Ojo which indicates jealousy or casting bad luck. It seems that the Middle Eastern countries use it to repel evil and Latinx countries use it to cast evil.
In various episodes of Hollyweird, people have talked about psychic abilities being familial. Do you have any family members that have their own "clairs" or who have shared some of their own paranormal experiences with you?
My younger sister, Ashley, has definitely expressed seeing and feeling things that she can't explain. I feel that she is more sensitive than me and we talked about this in our Greystone Mansion episode. I know that she is very clairsentience and clairalience where she can feel the motions of an environment feel and feel the emotions or pains of spirits. For example, we were given a private tour of the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills in 2009 from my neighbor who is the mansion's groundskeeper. We immediately asked him if the mansion was haunted and without hesitation, he said, "yes". He would walk us around the property and share his personal ghost stories in certain areas until we reached the maid's quarters. He told us, " walk down this hallway and tell me what you feel..." Well my sister and I walked up and down the hallway, and at one point she stops and tells us "I have a massive headache and I feel very nauseous" I then start to smell a foul smell and I looked at my sister and she immediately says, "no I didn't throw a pedo" LOL!!! My neighbor tells us that a few visitors would experience headaches and nausea especially smelling this foul odor. It turned out that a maid died in the quarters due to a head injury. It is believed that the head maid in charge grew very angry with her and hit her over the head with an object. Visitors have felt an immediate headache or they have seen a tall black shadow, followed by the smell of a foul odor, which many believe to be the spirit of the head maid. My sister felt that whatever was lurking around the quarters was not a positive presence and she immediately felt better once we left that area.
Again, I believe that a tie to the supernatural and the paranormal is related to a deep love and passion of storytelling, history, and also culture. In one of your ghost hunting episodes you spoke to a ghost hunter who was the only one on his team who could speak Spanish, in another you spoke to a man chronically the ghostly history of Boyle Heights- a Los Angeles city with a strong and proud latino majority. I myself would like to see more latinx ghost hunters and ghost hunters of color, what can we do to address any gatekeeping in the supernatural community, and ensure that paranormal and psychic voices of color are amplified going into this new decade? / Who are some of your favorite latinx/ POC psychics and/or ghost hunters of color?
There is a lack of representation in this community, especially in media. Every time I would watch a paranormal reality show on Trvl or A&E I would see the same thing, straight white male or female. Where's the color? Where's the diversity? I can also tell you that it's the same vibe behind the camera as well. I want to see more latinx, gay & lesbian psychics and investigators on t.v. We need to go on social media and point out to these networks that there needs to be more diversity. Demand to see more diversity and more color. There are so many powerful platforms out there such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram where we can voice these concerns. I strive so hard to represent my culture and the latinx community by interviewing those men and women of color for our podcast, posting my investigations, and sharing my experiences on IG and TikTok. The support from the podcast and those two apps have given Hollyweird Paranormal the opportunity to audition for shows with those networks. It has also allowed me as a creator and investigator to be recognized and vetted for a huge project with a big network (its hush hush) that will be out soon.
But to my surprise, there are a few POC/latinx Ghost Hunters, psychics and groups out there. When I found out that Ghost Hunters International alum, Susan Slaughter is half Nicaraguan, I jumped with excitement! I was also ecstatic to see the show, Ghost Brothers' on TRVL air a few years ago. FINALLY, a show about 3 African American men ghost hunting and they're in the top ratings. Locally, I've had the opportunity to work with OC Ghost & Legends last year on a few ghost hunts and I felt so happy to know that there was so much diversity in their group. I currently work with two psychics, Rissa Readings & Zachariah the Witch. Both amazing and talented individuals. Both advocates for the LGBTQIA community and I am here for them.
Where can fans find you and your work beyond Hollyweird Paranormal? Any exciting projects coming up? You can follow us on Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram @hollyweirdparanormal and twitter @hwppodcast. You can learn more and listen to past episodes on our website hollyweirdparanormal.com. Also tune into to our podcast on Apple Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Blubrry, Deezer, Castbox and where ever you get your podcast fix. You can see my costume designs for the feature horror anthology film starring Clancy Brown and HBO Euphoria’s star, Jacob Elordi, The Mortuary Collection on the streaming app, Shudder.
I am currently working on another project with a big network based on Hollyweird Paranormal‘s Miniseries, Chasing Ghosts. Can’t go too much into detail but it’s going to be a great project involving music and ghosts. You’ll have to follow o. social media for updates.