Ojai California is an odd place. It’s a mix of rural country wisdom from long-time residents, and the glitz and glamor of Hollywood from the vacationing movie stars. Everything is set in the stunning natural splendor of the Ojai Valley, with beautiful orchards and hiking trails. The vast, untapped Sespe Wilderness runs right alongside.
Like most such places, Ojai California has a unique culture all its own, and more than a few legends and myths.
One of the spookiest stories told around the Ojai campfires is that of the Char-Man.
Of course, there’s usually a grain of truth to every story.
In the case of the Char-Man, most people would probably prefer that not be the case.
He’s downright creepy. He’s grotesque.
Even a little dangerous.
This is one of those stories that is repeated so often that it almost can’t help but be real.
The people of Ojai California would certainly say it’s real. They’ll swear up and down that the Char-Man is out there.
Origin of the Char-Man
Ojai California is hot valley in one of the driest parts of the state. Scrub brush is everywhere, and long story short, it’s prone to wildfires.
One such fire in 1948 was particularly large, and burned a large portion of the valley.
Due to the isolation of Ojai California and the limitations of the times, some families had to wait days for the authorities to come offer aid and assistance.
In the hills to the south of Ojai proper, there was an isolated cabin. A man lived there with his son, and they mostly kept to themselves.
Perhaps the people of Ojai California forgot about them, and that was a very bad mistake. The cabin was directly in the path of the fire.
Their house consumed by flames, the father was burned to death. The son survived, but barely.
He was practically unrecognizable as a human being. A smoking wreck of a man, burned all over, it’s amazing he lived.
He did survive, though the pain must have been unimaginable. As sometimes happens in such terrible circumstances, his mind snapped.
Nobody knows quite what happened. When the police and firemen arrived, days after the fire, they found a gruesome scene.
The father had been flayed. His skin was removed from his body. Peeled off like he was a piece of fruit.
The man’s body was hanging from a nearby tree, and he was quite, quite dead.
Drawing their guns, the police immediately fanned out to search for the perpetrator.
It didn’t take long. Hearing an inhuman, labored wheezing from a nearby brush that had escaped the flames, the officers converged.
Suddenly, something bolted out. It was the son. A mass of charred flesh, somehow, impossibly, still able to move.
Gagging at the smell, the officers lost their conviction and the son escaped. He ran into the hills, and that was the last time anyone saw him up close.
He had become the Char-Man of Ojai California. Nothing short of a monster.
Reign of Terror in Ojai California
People say the Char-Man is still there.
He must be ancient now, but it seems his insane rage has given him strength and life beyond the mortal.
Or perhaps he really did die in that fire, so many years ago.
Maybe what we know as the Char-Man is a ghost or a specter, reenacting the horrific circumstances of its death.
So what does this tormented soul do in modern-day Ojai California?
It seems that he wants more skins. Human skins.
Skin to replace his own, perhaps.
The Char-Man most frequently lurks around the very rural Creek Road.
There’s a campground in the area known as Camp Comfort, which has gained something of a reputation for its hauntings.
The Char-Man has been known to stalk the camp at night, not quite brave enough to enter the tents.
Certainly brave enough to go after an unsuspecting party of hikers, though. Watch out.
He’s crafty and he picks his targets carefully. He shies away from large groups and moving cars, but he’s not shy about approaching if he thinks he can take you.
Harassing stopped cars is a favorite pastime of his. He loves nothing more than finding a few unlucky travelers stuck on the side of the road.
Helpless, stranded, their skin ripe for the reaping.
The Char-Man will leap right onto the car, pounding and scratching and trying to get in.
Some daredevils like to exploit his proclivities. Drive out, way out, after dark.
Stop on the side of the road and turn off the car.
Turn off the lights too, if you dare. And then just wait.
The Char-Man, so locals say, will come after a time.
It will be sudden and shocking. Be ready to start the car back up and make your escape.
And you had better hope the engine doesn’t stall. That’s what the Char-Man is counting on.
Explore the trails and roads of Ojai California late at night, particularly around Creek Road, and he just might make an appearance.
He’s fast, so be ready. You’ll hear the crackling of brush first.
The Char-Man isn’t particularly stealthy, and he makes a racket stomping through the undergrowth.
Some have reported moans and groans as branches and thorns scrape against his sensitive skin.
Others say he’s silent as the grave, and the sounds of his passage can easily be mistaken for those of an animal.
That might be the last mistake you ever make.
When he emerges, they say, you’ll know it beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Charging straight at you in the open, his face a collection of open sores and his skin gruesomely burned beyond all reckoning, it’s likely you’ll break and run at the sight.
He howls and shrieks, ranting and raving about all the horrible things he’ll do when he gets you. He can’t be reasoned with, though some have tried.
And if he does catch you, well, let’s just say you won’t return to tell the tale.
He’s nothing but pure hate and rage anymore.
Culture of the Char-Man of Ojai California
There have been enough reports of the Char-Man of Ojai California that they’ve attracted the attention of local police.
Several attacks per year for more than 60 years will do that.
More than once, a squad of police offers have ventured into the woods around Ojai.
A few times, the creature has ventured closer to town. The very end of Signal Street has been the scene of a Char-Man attack.
The police wasted no time when this happened, and moved out in force.
Their purposes vary. Sometimes they wish to arrest him. Other times they assume he is an animal, and hope to kill him.
More often than not, they don’t believe he’s real. They’re just looking to disprove the frantic pleas of the latest kids to think they’ve found the Char-Man.
They never do disprove it. They don’t talk much about their expeditions, after the fact.
The town of Ojai, for its part, fully embraces its local celebrity. Dangerous as he is, the denizens of Ojai California love him.
There’s a bridge named after the monster. Go down the twisty, windy Creek Road, and you’ll eventually cross Char Man Bridge.
Legend has it that’s a prime spot to spot him. Travel to the bridge at night and park your car, and he’s liable to come rushing out of the woods to attack.