MacArthur Park Lake, like the pre-makeover Echo Park Lake, has a reputation as a place where the bodies are dumped. But looking back on 125 years of history at the lake "with a habit of claiming bodies," writer Jesse Katz at Los Angeles magazine finds that it has a well-established history of drownings too. Sometimes they happen under the influence or under duress; sometimes the motives aren't known. Katz has a theory that this big, gross, urban body of water has some kind of strange, terrible power over some.
The same year that MacArthur Park opened, it claimed its first tragedy (or at least the first acknowledged by LA magazine). In 1890, a mother, said to be grieving over the death of her young son eight years prior, walked out of her home one January morning and was found the next day in the lake. Between 1890 and 1900, eight people drowned in what was then Westlake Park, including an LAPD officer and the barkeep of a German bar. "For a time, whenever anyone went missing in Los Angeles, the first impulse was to check the lake."
"The lake's toll grew every year," and included a peanut seller, a card player, the writer of "brooding novels," and, in the 1950s, a disgraced man who'd been picked up by the cops on "morals" charges, broke free of police, and intentionally drowned himself in the lake while pushing away those who tried to rescue him. The lake even drowned its own king, or at least a guy whose nickname was the "King of MacArthur Park"; he drove in in 1982, trying to cash in on a $3 bet that he could fish out a tricycle that had fallen in, but he "was too dulled by cheap wine to find his way out."
In 2012, a 66-year-old man with a history of both alcoholism and schizophrenia ("a risky combination for a lakeside visit") was pulled out of the lake. The autopsy found no cause of death—no alcohol in his system, no trauma, and nothing to indicate that it had been a suicide—and ruled it an accident; later that year, a 23-year-old man was found "curled in a fetal position" at the bottom of the lake. Eyewitnesses had seen him remove all his clothes and run in the direction of the lake. In 2013 and 2014, at least one body in the lake was found each year. So far in 2015, there has only been one person found dead in the waters of MacArthur Park Lake, but what's kind of eerie is that the body was pulled out exactly 125 years after that first, grieving mother was found back in 1890.
· The Lake at MacArthur Park Has No Remorse [Los Angeles]
· Echo Park Lake Debris Tally is a Portrait of a Neighborhood [Curbed LA]