Media Life: Auburn on Netflix? The horror!

‘Auburn’ has role in “Haunting of Hill House” series
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life and Gus Thomson can be reached at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.


About 11 minutes into the new Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” strange things start to happen on the screen.

One minute, Auburn-area viewers are comfortably ensconced on the couch waiting for the next jump scare in a very frightening first episode.

The next minute, they’re clicking to watch again to make sure their eyes aren’t deceiving them. But sure enough, scrolling back will verify the heart-pounding place-name on the screen is no ghostly apparition.

Indeed, “The Haunting of Hill House” places its main protagonist and an early scene in “Auburn Ca.”

In the episode, an Auburn woman has called the author of “The Haunting of Hill House” in to town to investigate her story of a ghost in the house. And a shot of the exterior of the house makes you want to believe that indeed it may be one of those bungalows in the area of Placer High School.

The truth is, however, that this is Hollywood, baby — actually Atlanta — and what you see on the screen isn’t necessarily what you get.

A check with Beverly Lewis, director of the Placer County-Tahoe Film Office, confirms that no filming of any kind connected to “The Haunting of Hill House” has taken place in A-Town. Atlanta got the shoot, courtesy of the incentives it was able to dole out to reel in director-screenplay writer Mike Flanagan (“Ouija: Origin of Evil,” “Oculus,” “Hush”).

A call this week to Netflix hasn’t had a response regarding exactly what Flanagan’s motivation was in including Auburn in the series.

And a check of Placer High records — admittedly a longshot — showed no Mike Flanagan graduating from the Auburn school. The emerging horrormeister was born in 1976 in Salem, Mass., of all places but moved around a lot with his family according to one biography.

Or maybe, Flanagan threw a dart at a map and hit the city dead-on.

Filming or no filming in Placer County, dart or no dart, the inclusion is one of those cool brushes with greatness — spinechiller division.


Wolfman Was Here

Keeping with the Halloween theme, Media Life has unearthed some long-buried facts on another claim to fame. We should also give props to Applegate and Cool on this one.

When George Chaney bought the old Dunlop house and ranch in Applegate in the 1940s and turned frontage on Highway 40 into a museum, he also brought some Tinseltown glitz with him. George happened to be the brother of silent film star Lon Chaney. And while the actor known as “The Man of 1,000 Faces” had been dead for more than a decade when his sibling bought into Placer County, Lon Chaney’s son was starting to make a name for himself as an actor in the Universal horror-film pantheon as the Wolfman.

What that meant were frequent visits to see Uncle George by Lon Chaney Jr. — and sporadic mentions in the Auburn Journal and Placer Herald about his travels to this neck of the woods. Those visits culminated in 1944 with the purchase by Junior of the Jarret Ranch between Cool and Greenwood — all 1,290 acres.

And that purchase led to an injury on the ranch, when a 16-year-old worker fell off a haywagon and had to be treated at the Highland Hospital in Auburn. No suspicious wolf bites were found.

That fall led to a lawsuit against Chaney Jr. by the doctor who treated the ranch hand and a claim for a $753 hospital bill that remained unpaid by 1947. By that time, Chaney Jr. was no longer owner of the ranch, the Placer Herald reported.

That lawsuit and the sale of the ranch didn’t leave Chaney Jr. with a bitter taste in his mouth. In 1954, he would visit Auburn, take a tour through the Placer County Museum and discuss plans to shoot some TV shows in the area.

Chaney Jr. would die in 1973, with no record of filming at any time in Placer or El Dorado counties.

As for uncle George, he would live in Applegate until the early 1950s, leaving to own and operate the Amador Hotel and Antique Shop in Amador City.


Verboten Places Update

Chuck Spinks, of the Placer Sierra Railroad Heritage Society, informs Media Life that last week’s column on “Forbidden Auburn” had an error when it was stated that PT boats were unable to get through “Tunnel Zero,” resulting in its abandonment. The tunnel’s demise was actually caused by the lack of room for much-slimmer landing craft to get through. Makes sense. We stand corrected.

Media Life and Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.