There have always been tales of lost civilizations and mysterious people populating the fringes of our understanding. The darkest, most remote corners of our world are rife with such tales, and they have always held a certain fascination for those of us who wonder what lies over the horizon and past the border of what we think we know. While the wild, isolated, and uncharted places of the world may seem to be the most ideal candidates for this sort of thing, this doesn't always seem to be the case, and one very bizarre tale of a lost underground civilization comes to us from a man who claimed to have found a lodt race called the Lizard People that had once lived right under Los Angeles, California.
In 1933, a mining engineer in Los Angeles, California, by the name of G. Warren Shufelt claimed that he had come up with a revolutionary new device for surveying underground for oil, gold, and other valuable resources, as well as for subterranean cave and cavern systems. He called it the “radio X-ray machine,” and it looked like a pendulum suspended in a cylindrical glass case, which was ensconced within a black box and worked sort of like a technologically advanced dowsing rod. One description of the time described it as a “cylindrical glass case inside which a plummet attached to a copper wire held by the engineer sways continually,” and according to Shufelt, his machine could use “radio x-rays” to analyze chemical, electrical, and physical properties of matter at great depths and up to several miles away using a process he never really explained but assured everyone was a “newly discovered scientific principle.”
Shufelt began using his mysterious device all over the Los Angeles area, looking for gold and other valuable materials, but it was directly under the city’s downtown area where he would allegedly make his most shocking discovery. There, directly under the heart of the city, he was puzzled to find readings of a vast underground tunnel system that he claimed meandered out all the way to the top of Mount Washington and miles under Santa Monica Bay. He claimed that these tunnels were all intelligently arranged and formed a structured labyrinth complete with rooms and various large chambers, the whole of it of such an immense size that he estimated it would be able to comfortably house at least 5,000 people. Making it all even more exciting was that he also said that he had picked up readings that showed there were large stores of gold kept down there in those dank rooms and tunnels, and so he meticulously made a secret map of this new underground realm and went about trying to figure out just what he had found. He would say of his find:
I knew I was over a pattern of tunnels, and I had mapped out the course of the tunnels, the position of large rooms scattered along the tunnel route, as well as the position of deposits of gold, but I couldn’t understand the meaning of it. My radio X-ray pictures of tunnels and rooms, which are subsurface voids, and of gold pictures with perfect corners, sides and ends, are scientific proof of their existence. However, the legendary story must remain speculative until unearthed by excavation.
In his quest for answers, he went to an old Hopi Indian leader known as Chief Little Greenleaf, who seemed to know well about the ancient tunnel system and began to weave quite the outlandish tale. According to Little Greenleaf, thousands of years ago there once lived a race of people descended from the Mayans he called the “Lizard People,” because they supposedly worshipped the lizard as a symbol of long life, who lived all along the Pacific Coast. This lost civilization was apparently extremely technologically and intellectually advanced far beyond their time, with all manner of wondrous inventions and machines and incalculable wealth from gold, but their reign came to an end with an enormous meteor shower that fell 5,000 years ago to nearly wipe them out.
Little Greenleaf explained that the survivors of this fiery catastrophe had then retreated to a series of underground cities that they had carved into the earth using a mysterious chemical solution that could melt bedrock, and which they had reinforced using an unknown advanced form of concrete. The myriad rooms were allegedly fully stocked with supplies and the Lizard People had also brought all of their gold with them to sequester away down there until it was deemed safe to come back to the surface. There were apparently three of these cities made, all built in the shape of a lizard, with one under Los Angeles, another beneath Mt. Shasta, and yet another whose location was unknown, with the one Shufelt had found being the largest and the capital. Among the many rooms of the city was what Shufelt called the “Key Room,” which according to the legends held 37 huge slabs of gold measuring 4 feet long and 14 inches wide, which supposedly held the complete records of the origins of the human race. Shufelt would say of this enigmatic lost city:
The radio X-ray has revealed the location of one of three lost cities on the Pacific Coast, the local one having been dug by the Lizard People after the “great catastrophe” which occurred about 5,000 years ago. This legendary catastrophe was in the form of a huge tongue of fire which “came out of the Southwest, destroying all life in its path,” the path being “several hundred miles wide.” The city underground was dug as a means of escaping future fires … Large rooms in the domes of the hills above the city of labyrinths housed 1,000 families “in the manner of tall buildings” and imperishable food supplies of the herb variety were stored in the catacombs to provide sustenance for the lizard folk for great lengths of time.
Shufield was convinced that his machine had found this ancient lost city and went about making plans to prove it by launching an excavation. He was able to get a permit from the County Board of Supervisors to drill down to 1,000 feet and in February of 1934 Shufelt began digging at a vacant lot on North Hill street, right above what he claimed to be a treasure room, with the stipulation that the city would get half of any treasure that might be found. By now the media was eating up this story of ancient lost civilizations, lost treasure, and lizard people directly under the city, and the dig was a media circus, carefully watched by the public. For several days they drilled, but were forced to abort at 300 feet when they encountered copious mud after the shafts passed the water table and the tunnel threatened to collapse. Nothing of the underground city or its gold was ever found. After this, interest in the whole fiasco dried up, Shufelt ran out of money to continue his excavations, and he faded into obscurity, dying in North Hollywood in November of 1957 with barely two cents to rub together. It would seem that at some point over the years his wondrous x-ray machine and map of the underground city of the Lizard People vanished to never be seen again, adding a further bit of mystery to the whole tale and making sure that there is very little to verify any of it.
What was going on here and was there anything to it? Was this just a guy with too much time on his hands, a slow news day, or is there perhaps something more to it all? Whatever the case may be, it is an obscure and odd little piece of Los Angeles history, and who knows what may be lurking down there under those busy city streets.