Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Mysteries that lurk in the Shadows of the House of the Sun King: A True Story

There is an abandoned house at the end of a street in my neighborhood.  For years, it has been a popular spot for urban explorers and kids looking for a bit of adventure. We first noticed the house five years ago when a legion of fire trucks rushed to the woods behind our neighborhood.  We had no idea there was a house in the woods until we saw that someone had attempted to burn it down.  The fire was put out, but once we knew it was there, our curiosity about the house became endless.

The  house is creepy and strange.  The upstairs is laid out like a a daycare and filled with forgotten toys and the downstairs features a massive mural of the sun labeled "The Sun King" in French.  I have written about the house before as it feels haunted and I always believed it was haunted.  It is one of those places that looks haunted from far away and when you step in it the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

A few weeks ago, they began clearing the lot the house stood on.  The house used to be hidden in a small forest, but all the trees have been knocked down and the house is even more damaged than it had been to begin with.  With the trees down, we could see there was a barn behind the house and there was more to the house than we initially thought, so we decided to go exploring again.  We also felt more free to explore as the gate had been taken down and all the no trespassing signs had been removed.  It seemed open for anyone and there was nothing to indicate we shouldn't explore.  From here, I began to feel like I had walked into a horror movie or murder mystery.  Even as I told my husband about what happened, he laughed and asked me if I was sure I wasn't talking about the movie "Sinister".

We walked into the house and found mountains of boxes everywhere.  The roof had partially collapsed and boxes from the attic had fallen into the garage.  In the boxes, were the remains of a family's most important documents.  We found social security numbers, retirement funds, bank accounts and access numbers, birth certificates, death records, and court documents.  Family photos were mixed in and laid out naked.  Most interestingly, we found a day planner that had notes in it like "J. shot the dog.  I recorded it.  Police notified."   "Harassment case filed."  "J attacked me again today. Attorney and Police notified."  The further I read the worse it got.  We found letters filing for restraining orders.  The woman who wrote the journal seemed constantly afraid.   She had notes documenting sexual abuse and violence and  animal murder. We kept digging, we couldn't help ourselves and we found that the man and woman who had lived there divorced.  She got the children and accused him of many horrible things.  Clearly,
she was afraid.   He wasn't paying child support and was constantly harassing and stalking her.  I liked this woman.  I think she was French.  She had meetings at the French consulate.  She owned horses and was involved in dressage.  I think the barn in the back was for horses.  The woman's notes made her seem like a loving mother who was trying to maintain normalcy but couldn't stop the fear that was a daily reminder of her J.  She obsessed over barking dogs and the neighbor's poodle.  Everything scared her.  It was possible she was paranoid, but I am more prone to believe the fear was based in reality.  At this point, I wouldn't have been surprised to find her skeleton buried in the walls.  It was dark and sitting in this half burnt, abandoned home reading this felt more than a little creepy.  Every stupid, horror movie I had ever seen began flashing in front my eyes.

After we were done with the papers, we explored the barn, where the two cars had just been abandoned.   We are going to continue researching this case because it feels like whatever happened in this house, it couldn't have been good.  The house was abandoned with important documents and notes and cars and records in it.  Someone tried to burn it down.  The woman who had lived there had lived in constant fear of J. who killed her dogs and attacked her.  The house definitely feels haunted by something.  My son and I are going to keep digging because this house feels like it houses a mystery and a haunting that probably shouldn't be forgotten.  So we will keep reading and see if we can find out what really happened in this burnt, corpse of a house.  Maybe nothing special happened, but I still want to know.

The Cursed Office Complex

The Century Office Complex on South Memorial Parkway is a large yellow eye sore that most people drive by without noticing.  It is old and warn down looking.  It houses numerous small businesses that only those who frequent would be aware of.  The Complex has been there forever.   My first memories of the office complex were from the 1990s when it was a Ramada Inn.  It seemed old and and grubby even then.  I stayed there once as a child.  I remember laying in the bed and watching the cockroaches climb up and down the curtains.

Recently, I bought a business there.  My ownership of the business was a flash in the pan.  We took over, realized it was in bad shape and unsaveable, and then we closed it very quickly.  It was a sad, emotional time for all of us involved in the process.  Owning the business gave the co-owner and I a significant amount of time alone in this century office complex building. Between the two of us, we probably spent over 1000 hours in there, working on repairing wiring and fixing props.  I designed a room by myself in the back.  I spent hours there at night, alone in the dark, wallpapering and laying out props.  The darkness creeps up on you when you are alone in a building of this size.

At first, I thought it was just me.  When you are alone, your imagination can get the best of you. I thought that all the noises I was hearing and that sense of dread I felt was just my imagination.   I was tired and emotionally overwhelmed.  When lights flickered or noises filled the building, I attributed them to bad wiring. However, the business co-owner, Deanna, told me that the building was haunted one day.  I smiled.  I had thought the same thing.  At night, when I was alone, strange things would happen.  We had a room called Wonderland.  It was filled with electronic gadgets that were designed to be activated when you pulled on them or touched other things to them.  At 2am, I often heard these gadgets turning on and off as I was working.  The hanging vines that played music would sing to themselves.  Deanna indicated that one night she was there, the vines hadn’t even been powered on and she heard them go off.  The final straw for both of us came after we installed new cameras in one of the rooms.  The cameras picked up a plethora of orbs (which are unreliable evidence) and several ghostly blurs that drifted in and out of the room from time to time.

Deanna brought in a medium.  At this point, we knew the business was dying and or dead.   We just wanted to know what was going on in the building.  The building felt wrong and we wanted to know it wasn't just us.  The medium wouldn’t even walk in certain rooms.  She stood at the doorway gazing into the darkness.  She said there were angry spirits there.  The spirits were not happy and the building was a bad place.  We did a cleansing hoping it would help the building and our business.  It didn't seem to help either.  We went out of business the next day.

Our business closed and the doors shut, but I remained curious about the history of this old motel and office complex.  I knew the building we were in had previously been another escape room and before that it had been a church.  The church had gone under and so had the escape room.  I couldn’t find much remarkable in the history beyond that.  However, I did find a book that told an interesting storing about a murder at the Ramada Inn Bar in 1992.  The book, called Killer for Hire, documents the murder of Dr Wilson, a local ophthalmologist, by twin sisters Peggy Lowe and Betty Wilson.  The sisters hired a James White to murder Dr. Wilson at the Ramada Inn Bar. 

I don’t know if the murder had anything to do with whatever was haunting our building, but it is strange to find out that a building we believed was haunted was also the site of a murder.  Even stranger was that my husband knew the man who was murdered there.  He had no idea and the connection had been long forgotten, but the haunted building we rented, was the site of the murder of someone we knew.  We can never say  for sure if any of this was connected but the medium felt something angry in that building.  I don’t know what was angry or why it was there, but I do know that those of us who spent long, lonely nights working in the building saw and heard things we couldn’t explain. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

5 Forgotten Halloween Traditions to Bring Back

Halloween is my favorite Holiday.  It has a very long history that is often forgotten.    Although Halloween's roots can be traced back to pagan practices,  it's name came from Christians.  Halloween was the time of year when the ancient Celts believed that the veil between this world and the "otherworld" became thin allowing for spirits to have more access to our world.  This was, naturally, quite terrifying to the Celts.  In order to protect themselves from the spirits,  people built enormous bonfires and cast bones into them to scare the spirits away.  They also dressed up as terrifying spirits to confuse wicked spirits into believing they were spirits themselves.  The Celts called Halloween Samhain.   It was the Catholics that came up with the name Halloween.  The early Christians were masters at taking local pagan holidays and integrating into their own Christian days.  Even Christmas was stolen from Saturnalia.   Catholics took Samhain and made it All Saints day, a day to celebrate the spirits of all the deceased saint.  All Hallow's Eve was the night before All Saints day.  The term All Hallow's Eve was eventually shortened to Halloween. 

Through Halloween's long history there have been many traditions that have been simply left behind.  This saddens me.  So here are some I think we should bring back.

1.Colcannon:   This is an Irish dish made with cabbage, kale, and potatoes.  Small coins and prizes are usually hidden in this dish making it a little treasure hunt.   I admit,  this dish sounds repugnant, however,  if altered slightly to regular potatoes the treasure hunt in dinner form is great fun for kids and adults.  Just don't swallow the pennies.

2. Barmbrack:   This is another food tradition.  It is a tradition Irish fruitcake baked into a ring.  Items are placed within the cake that for tell the future.  For example,  if you find the wedding ring, you'll be married soon. Finding coins predicts great wealth. 

3.  Tricking:  Back in the old days the trick in trick or treating had meaning.  People would hit the streets causing mayhem and playing tricks on people in their costumes and the only way to avoid the "tricking" was to give out treats.  What happened to the tricks?  Not saying  you should set your neighbor's lawn on fire or anything, but if stingy old Ms. Brown isn't giving out candy this year, some fake poo on her porch might be perfect.

4.  Bonfires:   Why not scare bad spirits away with fires?  Fires are fun.  I'm building a fire in my fire pit this Halloween.

5. Fortune Telling:  There are many types of fortune telling done on Halloween night, but one's fortune was always believe to be most easily predicted on Halloween.  Whether you were reading tea leaves, apple peals, or gazing into mirrors to see your future, a prediction made on Halloween was always accurate.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Vintage Halloween Postcards

I have been doing this blog for some time now and I noticed that every Halloween I do a series of Halloween posts that feature vintage Halloween postcards as the image.  I love vintage Halloween postcards.  They speak of the history of my favorite Holiday and breath an old magic into the spirit of the Holiday.   Here are a few of the postcards I have featured in my past posts.  I hope they bring the same magic to your Halloween as they've brought to mine.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Haunting of Fort Matanzas

When you are visiting Florida it is easy to forget its history.  It is easy to get lost in cities and beaches and theme parks. However, two hours North of Orlando, the oldest city in the United States sits quietly on the beach whispering of ghost stories and old wars.  St. Augustine’s history goes back to the very first European settlers in the Americas.  Its stories are as old and tortured as any and the history of Fort Matanzas bears witness to this.

Fort Matanzas is located on Rattlesnake Island just south of St. Augustine.  Fort Matanzas’ was closed when we visited.  Hurricane Irma had took its toll and the boat that transports visitors to Rattlesnake Island had been shut down and visitors banned.  We could not explore its haunted history or see it for ourselves, but its tragedies and ghost stories seem to resonate more because we were banned from going.

Although the current Fort Matanzas was built in 1742, its history is much older than that.  Matanzas means slaughter in Spanish and there is a reason the fort is named after a slaughter.  In 1562, when Spain and France were locked in a battle for Supremacy, King Phillip II of Spain learned that the French, under the leadership of Rene De Laudonniere had established a colony on Spanish land in Florida.   The French settlers were Protestants and Spain was the most devoutly Catholic country in Europe.  When King Phillip learned the settlers were Huguenots he acted fiercely.  After a series of battles and some political maneuvering, over 300 unarmed Huguenots were slaughtered after they failed to convert to Catholicism.  A few survived the massacre after converting to Catholicism, but most were slaughtered.  Thus the fort built on Rattlesnake Island and the River it guarded were both named Mantanzas after the slaughter. 

Death followed the Small Island and fort after that.  The current Fort, built in 1745, saw many skirmishes and deaths as the land transferred from the Spanish to the British to the Americans.  During its brief period of use this stone, Gothic fort was used to house convicts, slaves, and prisoners.  After the Americans took the fort it was never used as a fort and quickly fell into disrepair until the National Park Service took over. 

Now, it is visited by tourists and its dark history is mostly a memory.  Those who visit at night, however, see its history in the ghosts that wander the island.  They report seeing phantom orbs and strange lights.  Faces linger beneath the water and shadows wander the corners of the old fort.  Its history still lives there in the phantoms that wander its shores. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Halloween Horror Nights 2017

Universal Studio’s Orlando Halloween Horror Nights is a Halloween Horror extravaganza that can be rivaled by none.  I have spent a decade reviewing haunted houses and visiting haunted locations.   This is the ultimate haunted experience for lovers of the dark and macabre.  This is my second year attending Halloween Horror nights and 2017 was a much better experience than 2016 for me.  I say for me because there is a significant amount of personal preference involved in ranking Halloween Horror Nights and their events.  My entire group agreed that this year was better than last year, but when it came to ranking the houses we fought for the better part of an hour.  Due to this, I am going to do two separate rankings on the top 3 features of 2017 Horror Nights.  The first ranking is my perspective.  The second is a group perspective based on other people I have talked to.  I will post this later in the week.

Halloween Horror Nights consists of 8 separate themed haunted houses that all contain the budget that would be expected of a theme park.  They also contain 6 scare zones.  Our group usually enjoys the scare zones as much if not more than the houses because these are areas of the park decorated and themed to submerge you in a horror experience you can be part of and linger in.  The houses are more intricate but contain guards that yell at you to “move along” if you stop for more than a moment to study the sets or décor or view a jump scare event. 
My Top Favorite Events for this year were:
1.1       The Trick or Treat Scare Zone:   If you have seen this lovely homage to Halloween Horror this scare zone is immediately recognizable by the little Sam that wanders the zone. He is cute and disturbing.  The movie Trick or Treat is a horror anthology tied together by Sam.  Sam is a little fellow who punishes those who do not respect the spirit of Halloween.  He quietly observes all the mayhem associated with Halloween. The scare zone was wonderful not just because it was so true to the film but also because it was beautifully rendered.  Jack-O- Lanterns hung from trees.   Lights
turned the zone into a glowing orange Halloween extravaganza. 

2.2      Dead Waters Haunted House:   This house was spectacular from the first moment you stepped into it.  The facade of a sinking 1800’s steam ship transported you back in time.  As you step into the ship, the ground shifts beneath your feet and the walk way remains crooked and slanted so you feel like you are in a sinking ship.  The décor and actors are a juxtaposition of decaying slave owners and voodoo monsters.  The horror is unrelenting and the jump scares are solid.  Voodoo rights add an extra bit of horror.  This house was meticulously crafted.  Every bit of scenery and décor added to a feeling of Louisiana horror. 

33      American Horror Story:   I disagreed with most people on this one.  There were three seasons of American Horror Story represented in this haunted house.  There was Roanoke, Asylum, and Coven.  I loved this house because of the details from the series it carefully wove into each room.  It was like reliving these seasons.  I also loved it because it captured the horror from each of these seasons and the best parts of the seasons.

This was the 27th annual Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios.  Next year,  we are going to go on the R.I.P tours so we can see the houses without the crowds and the staff barking “move along” at us every time we stumbled or slowed down for a moment.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Disgusting History of Ectoplasm

During the time contemporary to and following World War I, there was and explosion in what was then called spiritualism or mentalism. Spiritualism is a religious movement revolving around communicating with the dead via a medium. This explosion was brought on by the massive number of people that died in the war and of sickness during this time period. One of the more bizarre activities that became prevalent in this movement was the appearance  of ectoplasm. Ectoplasm is a term used to define a physical manifestation of the supernatural and it usually came out of the medium's nose, mouth, or ears. The term, defined by Charles Richet, meant spiritual energy externalized by psychics. It was for many years, used as absolute confirmation that the supernatural was tangible and provable.  It was supposed to be the physical remains of a ghostly presence.  Ghosts were there and they were real and the medium could prove it by showing ectoplasm.

Ectoplasm was so believed in that it was featured in respectable scientific journals and it's existence was confirmed by the great minds of the time including William Butler Yeats and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was so believed in that Scientific America sought to do a study on it and offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who could demonstrate the release of ectoplasm in front of a scientific panel. This reward lead to the beginning of the end of the scientific validity of ectoplasm.

What was discovered was both revolting and eye opening. Although many techniques and materials have been used by mediums to produce ectoplasm, the medium examined by this panel was found to be storing a sheep gut and fat mixture in a sack in her vagina which she expulsed at the appropriate time to make it appear as if she was expelling ectoplasm. Further research into other psychics revealed many other grotesque techniques for producing this fraudulent material. Some women learned how to regurgitate on demand and swallowed yards of muslin and cheese cloth which they would vomit on command. Others stored materials in their rectum.

Although this story is disgusting. It is more about the disgustingness that is possible within humanity when exploiting the needs of those suffering from the lost of a loved one than the vileness of the actual act. Although I love a good ghost story, it is always amazing to me how much more horrifying live people can be than ghosts.   Ghosts have never been shown to leave real ectoplasm, but it is amazing how many mediums were shown to be literally pulling it from there asses.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Demonic Possession

I love ghost stories and believe in the paranormal.  I believe in ghosts and demons.  I also have graduate degrees in clinical and counseling psychology and have been practicing as a licensed therapist in inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings for more than fifteen years.  As a writer and collector of ghost stories, I have noticed a distinct increase in articles and stories about demonic possession.  I have good friends who have tried to classify demonic possessions.  They tell histories of demonic possession and try to support those that are seeking an exorcism.  On this blog, I have even written about the story behind the infamous exorcist possession.  If any psychological or psychiatric professional in the world was going to argue and support the fact that demonic possession was a real spiritual state, it would be me. But in truth, I believe that there is nothing more dangerous and deadly to mental health care in the world than anyone supporting the delusion that demonic possession is a real thing.   I know many of you may be mad at me for saying this, but please read on before you form any conclusions. 

I have been practicing for over fifteen years.  In that time, a good 90% of my psychotic patients have had delusions revolving around demonic or spiritual attack of some kind.  I live in a very religious area and the culture of Alabama supports these delusions. According to Pfeifer (Psychopathology, 1999),  56% of psychotic patients suffer from delusions with “demonic attributions.”  Pfeifer found that belief systems play a strong role in how patients perceive and respond to their psychotic delusions.  This means that if a patient hears the devil and feels the devil but strongly believes in mental health they will seek psychiatric care and recover.  However, if a patient believes in the devil and seeks a preacher or witch doctor, they will never get psychiatric care and their condition will deteriorate.    McCormik et al.’s researcher (Behavioral Neurology, 1992) supports this.  It shows that culture and the belief system of the patient strongly predicts how a psychotic patient with delusions of “demonic attributions” will recover.  The more primitive and steeped in the belief that possession is real the patient’s cultural and belief system are the less likely they are to recover. 

Recently, a patient I had been seeing for months shot herself in the head (This case study has been made false enough to protect the patient’s HIPPA rights but the guts of the story are real).  For months, I had been trying to convince her to take her medication.  She had been going to her preacher for fifteen years and he had convinced her she was possessed by the devil and that all her bad behaviors were the devil acting through her.  Since she was psychotic and really didn’t want to take responsibility for beating her children and having them taken from her by CPS, she really wanted to believe her preacher.  My answer was less appealing.  It put personal responsibility on her.  She beat her children.  She could have stopped if she ever took her medicine.  The preacher told her the devil had convinced her that her children wanted to kill her.  She heard voices telling her that her children wanted to kill her.  So she went through sixty-five independent exorcism rituals over the course of her life.  Her family encouraged this.  They didn’t believe in mental health care but they sure as hell believed in the devil.   When she could no longer take the devil in her head, she killed herself.  In session, she talked about all the websites she read that encouraged her to believe in possession. She talked about Emily Rose and the Exorcist.  These things were real to her. She had been forced to take her medications twice in her life. Once when she was in jail and once when she wanted to get her children back.  During these periods, she had improved, but families and preachers had always convinced her to stop her meds.   When she stopped taking her medication, the devil returned.

I have seen innumerable cases like this.  I have won some battles and got patients to take their medications and been blessed enough to see how quickly medication can cure a demonic possession.  I have lost some battles and had patients either refuse to take their medications or not take them long enough to see real change.   I have never seen anything that would make me believe that any patient claiming to be possessed was actually influenced by a supernatural force. I have seen ghosts and shadow people.  I don’t pretend they don’t exist, but I know possession doesn’t exist.

 My first run in with mental illness came when I was a very young girl.  A family member of mine suffered from psychosis and believed the devil was trying to torment him.  He sought help from a priest who called to have him admitted and he was forcibly admitted into the state hospital.  Even most priests know that psychosis usually manifests in delusions of persecution and that persecution often has demonic overtones.   

I have been working with mental illness for a long time now and I know what it feels like to lose a patient and there is nothing more heartbreaking to me than when it isn’t the patient’s fault, but the fault of those around them, pushing them away from help that is so easily obtained.  It wasn’t long ago that there was no help for psychosis.  We had to give psychotic patients lobotomies, lock them up, or send them to priests and preachers.  That was all there was.  These things failed.  Historically, they all always failed.  The stories of the people who suffered through these treatments make the backbones of many of the most infamous ghost stories.  But now we can really treat these ailments.  These people can have somewhat normal lives.  Why push them back into the darkness?

There are several true possession stories I often hear told again and again as evidence that possession is real.  One is the famous story of Emily Rose.  This story dates back to 1974.  Modern medicine has grown by leaps and bounds since this story.  In neuropsychiatry and psychiatry, 1974 might as well be 1600.  Yes, medicine couldn't help her then, but I would be willing to bet it could help her now.  The first very limited antipsychotics weren't even invented until the 1960s.  Clozapine wasn't invented until the 1960s and wasn't introduced to the public until the 1970s.  So to site possession cases in the 1970s before the medications to treat psychosis were even available is to like saying you can't cure the plague and it was sent by the devil based on data from 1100.  I am sure Emily Rose felt like the devil was tormenting her.  There is nothing more tragic than talking to someone who is actively psychotic. Working with patients that are actively psychotic does feel like talking to someone influenced by the devil. They are really going through the trials of the devil.  But these torments are now treatable with medicine.  The truth is stories like Emily's are even more tragic because she was a very sick girl who could have been saved if she had lived now. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Do Ghosts Set Off Smoke Alarms?

For the past week,   our smoke alarms have been going off every night at 9:00pm.   Nothing has been on fire.  There has been no smoke.  The alarms just go off.  We live in a new house we purchased from the builder 5 months ago.  The smoke alarms are brand new, but every night the alarms go off.  This is a huge pain in the ass.   It is loud and wakes up the kids.   Everyone panics and runs around.  You never realize how hard it is to stop those things from going off until you try to get them to shut up.  I knocked the things off of the ceiling and they still went off in my hand.  I mashed the button.  I took the batteries out.  If one goes off,  they all go off.  It is maddening.

This maddening smoke alarm behavior got me thinking about whether or not a ghost could produce this type of behavior in a smoke alarm.  My preliminary research showed that many people have this problem.   I found countless message boards where people have asked if a haunting could produce an alarm going off every night at the same time.   One person hypothesized the following on a yahoo message board, "If the theory about ghosts being a collection of energy is true, then yes, they could manipulate electrical equipment to do such things, powering if from their own energy."  This made sense to me.  This theory is supported by the large number of people that describe this type of  smoke alarm activity in haunted locations.    Stories like this one from Castle of Spirits are prolific.    Another interesting smoke alarm ghost story can be found a

While my husband was in medical school, he worked in the Morgue.  The morgue was located in the basement of the hospital and was isolated from everything else.  The work was easy and we could sit together and watch movies and play games.  Bodies didn't come in often and we were the only ones there.  Every night the smoke alarm went off  in front of the cooler where the bodies were kept at 3am on the nose.  It was like clockwork.  It went off for five or ten minutes and then went quiet.  It was more than creepy, especially when you are spending the night alone at the morgue. 

So, theoretically a passing spirit or ghost could produce the type of behavior we've observed in our smoke alarms here.    I also wanted to investigate non supernatural possibilities for my faulty smoke alarms.   I did my reading and found that there are many things that can contribute to smoke alarms going off at the wrong time.  Many modern smoke alarms are also triggered by intense heat.  So, if it is very hot and your attic is excessively hot sometimes that will heat the ceiling and trigger the smoke alarm.  Also, if  hot steam from a shower rises up this could trigger the smoke alarm.  It is also always possible that the things are broken and need repair.  I could easily rule out the smoke alarm being broken by talking to my builder.  I could also rule out the attic heat hypothesis by going up into my attic and finding that it was not really hot up there.   That left the steam possibility.  My son does shower every night around nine and after examining his behavior, I think he was setting off the alarm by opening the bathroom door and releasing all the hot steam onto the smoke detector.  

Our house is not haunted, but that doesn't make the number of cases of smoke alarms going off without any reason less interesting.   I have never found an explanation for the alarm that went off at the morgue.   The alarm was a hospital alarm that was checked regularly due to tight hospital regulations.  It was in front of the cooler and the air around it was cooler than the rest of the hospital and since the morgue was in the basement there was no attic above it.   My husband and I still tend to believe that the phantoms of the dead locked up in that rancid smelling cooler drifted out late at night, setting off the alarm.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Dragsholm Castle

I love history.   The reason I first fell in love with ghost stories is because of the many layers of history that lurk behind each story.   In Europe,  the layers of history go deeper because the history is so much longer.   Dragsholm Castle is one of the most haunted places in Europe and it is filled with history and ghosts.  Dragsholm Castle was was constructed during the 12th century by Bishop of Roskilde. When the castle was finally completed it became home to royalty and nobles alike.  Dragsholm is one of the oldest secular buildings in Denmark and its history is long and dark.

In the 16th century,  the castle became the residence of the royal family.  During the period from 1536 to 1664, Dragsholm Castle was also used as a prison for noble prisoners. In the large tower at the northeast corner of the castle, prison cells were made.  Some of the most well-known prisoners at Dragsholm Castle include the last catholic Bishop in Roskilde, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the mad squire, Ejler Brockenhuus.   The Earl of Bothwell was subjected to particularly horrible treatment in the tower and was tied to a pillar and left to rot.  He was given just what was necessary to keep him alive and he was said to have gone mad.

The Earl of Bothwell is one of the most famous ghosts of Dragsholm.   The Earl has been seen riding into the courtyard of the castle with his horse and carriage.   Many visitors claim to have heard the horses hoof beats upon the cobbled yard.

The castle is also said to be haunted by two other ghosts. There is a white lady who is said to be a daughter of one of the bovles who owned the castle.   She fell in love with a commoner and when her father found out he was so angry that he imprisoned her in the dreaded tower. She was more than imprisoned, legend says that he walled her up in her prison cell and left her to die.   It is said that every night she returns to the castle and walks around the corridors.  There have been numerous sightings of her.  There is also factual evidence to support this story.  In the 1930's, when the old walls of the castle were torn down, workers found a hole in the wall and a skeleton with a white dress in it.

The last ghost to haunt Dragsholm Castle is a gray lady.  She is the rarest of the three ghost and is seldom seen or heard. She is believed to be the ghost of a young serving girl who died of a tooth ache.   She lingers in the shadows, hiding from sight, looking for a light in the darkness.

If you would like to visit Dragsholm Castle,  you are very much in luck.  During 1937, the castle came into the ownership of the Bottger family who have since converted it into a hotel.   Their website explains their many services and tells about the castle, its history, and the wonderful food that can be eaten where others once died.  You can plan your visit by going to  .

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Ghosts Beneath

Chattanooga, TN doesn't seem like a city that would have and something beneath it.  It is a small, Southern city. However, beneath the streets of Chattanooga, there is a forgotten, haunted city.   In March of 1867,  the city of Chattanooga was completely flooded.   The city streets were totally submerged and everything grinded to a halt.   In order to get from one building to the next,  residents and tourists had to travel by boat.  This was a disaster on an epic scale, dozens of people died, livestock was lost and homes drifted away in the water.   It was a catastrophe and during these times there was no help.  Residents had to wait it out and pray that none of their loved ones vanished with the constantly moving waters. This wasn't the first time Chattanooga had flooded.  The city had flooded two times prior and residents were desperate for a solution.

According to Chattanooga writer, Cody Maxwell, sometime during this disaster the city came up with the idea of raising the streets of the city.   It seems that the flooded and waterlogged citizens decided that if they just raised half the city streets up 20ft it would take care of the flooding because the water would be under the streets.  Not only did they imagine this idea, they did it.   All of this was very poorly documented and it wasn't until one gentleman noticed that the top parts of windows and doors were sticking out of the street  that anyone remembered that a large portion of Chattanooga was under the street.  Twenty feet beneath Market street there is an entire city waiting to be discovered.

This underground city is a regular stop on the Chattanooga ghost walk.  According to the Chattanooga Ghost Tours owner, Amy Petulla,  there is an entire city of ghosts under the streets of Chattanooga buried beneath the roads like part of the lost city.  Amy Petulla regularly takes groups to parts of the underground to tell them about the haunted history of the city.  She says that this is the most haunted part of the city and visitors have claimed to have been pushed, bitten, and grabbed in Underground Chattanooga.

Amy wrote a book about the ghosts of Chattanooga called, Haunted Chattanooga, and many of her terrifying stories of the things that happen beneath the streets can be found there.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Kildare Mansion

I did this post on The Kildare Mansion a couple of years ago. I have updated to include some of the more recent controversies surrounding this magnificent, haunted mansion. The Kildare Mansion was first famous for it's ghosts.  It was built in 1886 by a wealthy Irishman named O'Shaughnessy.   He built the castle as a reminder of his homeland, Ireland.   He put a fortune into making it the most extravagant house in the area and he did a good job of it.  This giant of a house overshadows everything around it. It has over 40 rooms and is over 17,000 square feet including the massive basement.   In 1900, MR. O'Shaughnessy went blind and his wife Anna sold Kildare to the trust fund established for Mary McCormick who inherited a multi million dollar fortune from her father

Unfortunately, Mary McCormick was mentally ill and suffered greatly during certain periods.  At the time,  treatment options were limited so they kept her locked in the house and had several nurses and staff to take care of her.  During her lucid periods,  Mary a wonderful woman who was known for her kindness and generosity.   For her entire life, she needed nurses to help her care for her mental illness.  Finally she had to retire to a sanitarium,  leaving her beautiful house behind.

From 1932- 1975, the Kildare Mansion fell into disrepair.   It decayed slowly as slums and lesser buildings slowly surrounded it hiding it's beauty in their sullen shadows.  In 1975, the house was purchased by the Reeves, who lovingly restored the house to its original splendor  It was during this time that the house was shown in the tour of historic homes and became a popular visit for haunt jaunters.   The house's basement was notoriously haunted by the ghost of  Mary McCormick.   Still tormented by her madness, she apparently made quite a ruckus at night.

In 2005 the house was bought by a family whose name I won't mention.  Since that time, the ghosts have become the least interesting part of this house.   The house has always been a favorite site for anyone visiting Huntsville because of its historic significance, its beauty, and its haunted history.  Many people drive by the house and photograph it.   Since 2005, however, the new owners have spent a considerable amount of time watching out for anyone lingering near the house.  If you drive by slowly or stop in front of the house,  a woman will emerge screaming at you.  Sometimes she'll curse and sometimes she'll use the garden hose to spray your car.  Other times she would shine a spotlight on you and others she'll take pictures of you with her cell phone.  No matter what the new owner does, it was always hostile and she seems to always be watching.  She sat day and night waiting for those that linger too long, which might make one wonder if  Mary McCormick's mental illness might not be spreading?   Perhaps the house and its dark secrets have driven the new owner mad?  Perhaps madness is part of the curse of the house?  I drove by the house several times during this owner's occupancy.  I brought my children and parked across the street and would never think of harrassing anyone.  The woman came screaming from her home all three times.  One time she threw rocks at my car.  One time she just cursed at my children and I and called the police.  Another time she threw grass and called the police.  We were not on her property, we just wanted to see the legendary house that I had read so much about.  I visit all the local historic houses and have always been able to sit quietly in my car and take photos.  Some owners even offer tours and are on local tours.  Kildare Castle is different.  It sits in a shadow that spreads out beyond its ghosts.  It almost feels cursed.

Sadly,  the reason most drive by these days is to see the owner run out and start screaming.  Her wild antics have become a fun attraction for locals who stop by just to see her jump around and scream  Few remember the ghost stories or the house's beautiful history.

The house has become even more infamous in recent years as the owner has tried to put up a massive fence (13 feet tall) and the city stopped construction.  The owner then decided to demolish the house.  The city and local history buffs are fighting this action but the outcome is as of yet, unpredictable.  Since the owners behavior remains outlandish, the behavior of locals has gotten even worse.  Kids love to see the owner flip out and will sit in front of the house and honk their horn for hours to get a response.  It is a tragedy.  Please read the comments below this post as they tell so many stories from people who have actually lived in this home and in the neighborhood.

Some of the footage and information on the ongoing struggles and controversies surrounding this historic beauty can be seen at:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Ghosts of Searcy State Mental Hospital

The first ghost story I ever wrote was about Searcy State Hospital in Mount Vernon, Alabama. When I was nothing more than a lowly graduate student, I did my internship there .I fell in love with it's history and it's white chipped walls. Everything about this old hospital spoke to me. Before I set foot on hospital grounds, my internship director, Dr. Kay Welsh, told our small group about Searcy's long and dark history. At the time, I was amazed that a place so steeped in history and tragedy could still be used as a psychiatric hospital.  It was even more remarkable because most of those who worked there and lived there every day were oblivious to it's history.  They seemed bored by the history and if you asked them about it, they seemed irritated that you would ever consider that relevant.

  Searcy State Hospital is located in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Prior to being a state hospital the old hospital has a long and dark history that is very difficult to find, but easy to see upon casual observation. The hospital is encased in long, chipped, white walls that seem as old as anything in the United States. From outside these walls, you can see a battered watchtower that gives testament to the fact that the hospital is in the same location as a 300 year old fort. The fort bears witness to American history. It was originally a French fort and then a Spanish Fort. It switched hands during the Louisiana Purchase and became a US fort. After the US took possession of the fort it was converted to a military arsenal and became known as the Mount Vernon Arsenal.

The Arsenal switched hands again several times and was taken by the Confederates during the civil war only to be passed back over the United States again in 1862. From 1887 to 1894, The Arsenal became a Barracks and was used as a prison for the captured Apache people. The most famous of the Apache people to be held in these barracks was Geronimo. There is a door in the lobby of the old hospital that is labeled as the door to Geronimo's cell.   It is beautiful and intricate.  Sadly, history notes that Geronimo was not kept in a cell during his stay at Mt. Vernon.   He was allowed freedom to wander the barrack, so the door is just a lovely bit of folklore.  The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point after his notorious gun fight.

In 1900, the Barracks were transformed once again and the prison became a mental hospital. Searcy hospital was built as the African American mental hospital in Alabama. Conditions in the hospital were beyond questionable and at one time there were over 2000 patients in the crowded hospital and all were seen by one psychiatrist. All patients were expected to work in the fields.  After I wrote my first story about Searcy, I learned more about the tragedies that took place here.  I got numerous emails from family members of former patients asking if I had any access to records.  Apparently, many African American families had family members taken from them, institutionalized here, and they were never seen or heard from again.  I had an elderly lady write me asking if I could find out what happened to her mother.  It broke my heart that I could not.  She said her mother had been sane but had offended a white woman. The white woman had took her mother before a judge and no one ever heard from her again.  The elderly lady just wanted to know where her mother was buried.   Searcy was a place of unspeakable sorrow.

The hospital was desegregated in 1969, but it’s history is all around it.  Searcy to me tells the story of the tragedies in mental health.  Mental Health's history is a history of stigma and bigotry.  It is a history of trying to forget people who are inconvenient and do away with those who are embarrassing or different.  In the 1960's, under the leadership of Thomas Szaz, a well meaning group worked towards deinstitutionalization and undoing the tragedies of the period when people could be locked up and forgotten.  Unfortunately, this didn't work well.  Deinstitutionalization quickly became an excuse to do away with all inpatient care and those that needed it have struggled to find it as it has become the tale of modern mental health care.  Searcy was closed for good in 2012.  Now, I work in outpatient psychiatric care and every day I have to tell people that really need more care that there is none available for them without a good amount of money.  The pendulum has swung the other direction.

A year ago, a well meaning writer called me for what I think was meant to be a gotcha moment.  She wanted to know if ghost story writers and collectors ever thought about the impact our stories have on mental health care.  I had written a book about Searcy State hospital called "Circe" and she believed a was profiting from the mentally ill. She said that we made things worse for the mentally ill by linking them to ghost stories and horror movies.  I laughed and told her about my internship at Searcy.  I told her about the ghosts that haunted the old buildings.  I told her about the forgotten patients that had been buried there.   I told her that the ghost stories could only help all of us remember that some things should not be buried, locked up or forgotten and that maybe the ghosts that haunt these places are there to remind us that we need to take better care of the mentally ill and treat them like people.   They are there to remind us of all the living mentally ill that we try to forget, cut funding for, and who now end up in jail or homeless.   Sometimes ghosts stay for a reason and telling ghost stories can help us remember those that might otherwise be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stone Throwing Poltergeists

Poltergeists have always fascinated me.  There are many theories about poltergeists.  In folklore, a poltergeist is the apparent manifestation of an imperceptible but noisy, disruptive or destructive entity.   Poltergeist means "noisy ghost" in German.  Poltergeist cases differ from regular hauntings in that they are particularly loud and often cause objects to move.  Physical harm to people is also possible in these cases.  One of the most interesting types of poltergeist activity was featured in my favorite novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hillhouse.  The stone-throwing poltergeists are rare and difficult for skeptics to explain. 

Stone-throwing poltergeist phenomena cases date back, at least, to 530 CE when it was recorded that Deacon, King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths’ physician, was besieged by stones. One of the more interesting cases of stone throwing poltergiest activity is the Grottendieck case. In 1903, a Dutch engineer living in Inodonesia, Grottendieck, awoke to a storm of rocks falling through the roof of his hut and hitting him in the head. Of course, this was concerning to Grottendieck who awoke a servant to help him figure out the origins of the rock storm. They explored the outside area around the hut and they found nothing that explained the rocks. Inside, the rocks continued to fall. They also began to change directions and started falling horizontally. Grottendieck was perplexed, but the serving boys was horrified and he ran away into the jungle.

No sooner had the boy fled than the rocks stopped falling. Grottendieck saved several of the stones and went to be. Grottendieck published a story on this incident in the Journal of the Society of Psychical Research. His hypothesis was that the stones had been sent by the ghost of his dead sister who was trying to communicate with him from beyond the grave. Many other researchers disagreed and believed that the rocks were a product of poltergeist activity brought on by the serving boy's subconscious mind. There was never any consensus on the cause of this strange case and people still conjecture as to what might have causes the strange falling stones.

In 1981, Ward End residents at Thornton Road told police they could not locate the source of stones being thrown that were causing significant damage to windows and roof tiles. The police were called in to investigate.  They staked the properties out and waited.  They stayed overnight.  They used cameras and recording devices, but despite all their work, they couldn't find any observable source for the rocks that continued to besiege Ward End.   Of course, they couldn't blame a poltergeist so they reported that the criminal must have used a long distance catapult. 

Like all other poltergeist activity, there is no consensus on what causes the stone throwing incidents in these cases.  Many believe that the stones are thrown by ghosts.  Others believe that the telekinetic powers of certain people in crisis cause these events.  Most believe that the rock throwing must be caused by some brilliant prankster who is capable of raining rocks on neighborhoods with handcrafted catapults'.  Whatever the cause, I imagine in must be terrifying to look out your window and see rocks raining from the sky.

Pere La Chaise

France is filled with beautiful, old places that whisper of ghost stories.  The French, in general, don't seem particularly superstitious.  In Ireland, I would stop and ask about ghost stories and I would find myself sitting for hours listening to so many tales I could hardly write them all down.  In France, I got looks like I had lobsters climbing out of my ears and I got the feeling most people thought I belonged in an institution.  My mother-in-law (From Brittany) would always shrivel her nose when I talked about ghosts and my friend Sonia (From "The Alps")treated me like I was half mad.  So, ghost stories are a little harder to find in France.  Despite the French skepticism, Pere Lachaise feels more haunting than any place I have ever been.  It is breath taxingly beautiful and its ghost stories are many.

The second most haunted place in France is the famous cementery, Pere La Chaise.   As far as I can tell, this necropolis is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the art lurking in the shadows of death in this strange museum put the art in the Louvre to shame.  Pere La Chaise is the most visited cementery in the world and is the final resting place of numerous famous people including Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde.  The cementary is named for Louis the XIV's confessor.  Napoleon took the land and turned it into a cementery in 1804.   Since the ground wasn't properly consecrated, Catholics couldn't bury their dead at this beautiful necropolis and for many years the cemetery was small and forgotten.  At the end of 1804, only thirteen lonely graves decorated the cemetery.  The cemetery began  a marketing champagne shortly after this that was amazingly successful.  The graves of several famous people including Moliere were transferred to the cemetery and the rest of the dead followed in droves. Since that time the number of brilliant people buried there has grown over time turning a stroll through these hallowed grounds into a small history lesson.

It is not surprising that this cementary, filled with so many dead, is considered haunted.    The most popular story from Pere Lachaise is a tale of Jim Morrison's lonely ghost wandering the tombstones but other visitors report seeing spectral lights and phantoms.  There is even a children's movie called "The Ghosts of Pere-Lachaise".  The ghosts are so well known that they are appropriate for children.  This doesn't surprise me since Pere-Lachaise was my children's favorite place in Paris.  They loved running through the graves and exploring.