Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gardner Lake, Connecticut

This is a simple, rather charming ghost story.

In 1895, a grocer by the name of Thomas LeCount decided to move from the south side of Gardner Lake to the east side. Now, where as slackers such as you or I would decide to simply build or purchase a house in the new location, a go-getter such as Thomas LeCount figured that he already had the house he wanted, and he had the ambition necessary to simply move the house from one spot to the other. He figured it would be easy, as the lake was frozen, and....

...well, you probably have already figured out where this is going.

The two-story house was raised and placed on sleds. LeCount and company go about 300 feet onto the lake when the ice began to crack. After attempting to pull the house back, the moving crew decided to stop at nightfall and complete their work the next day. The problem is that the local mill drained some water out to use it to generate power, resulting in the ice no longer having water to rest on top of. The ice finished breaking, and the house pitched over into the water.

The house did remain in place until the spring thaw, until sinking into the lake, coming to rest on the bottom 15 feet below the surface.

The thing is, portions of the second story remained above the water line (come versions of the story claim that the house floated for several years which seems unlikely at best, but the second story and/or attic remaining above the waterline? That's actually pretty likely). The second story remained visible for years, and locals would fish off of it in the summers, and ice skate through it in winters. By 2005, the house had rotted away, and I suspect (though I cannot confirm) that the top floor was gone long before that.

But nobody died, and the situation was more comic than frightening. So, where does the ghost story come in?

Well, locals have long held that, at night, piano music could be heard coming from the lake. The house did, in fact, have a piano (as well as some other furniture) in it at the time that it sank. Allegedly, scuba divers in the lake have reported that portions of the house, including the piano, are still present underneath the water. And, on quiet nights, music can be heard coming from the spot on the lake where the house came to rest.


Commentary: First off, this is a delightful story. It is whimsical in a way that ghost stories so rarely are. That said, it is difficult to fathom the "ghost's" alleged origins - most ghost stories either have an origin as part of the story, or imply some sort of weird or dark doings that caused the place in question to be haunted. But not this one. It is just a rather odd and funny story about a house move gone bad, with ghostly music tacked on as almost an afterthought.

My guess - having the second story of a house peeking out from a lake is pretty odd, and it sounds as if it became a local landmark. That being the case, it seems likely that kids and local raconteurs began circulating the story in order to creep out each other or others. The house sticking up out of the water was probably sufficiently weird to give the story staying power, and now it's just part of the local lore.

Regardless, it's a fun story and I am glad that I encountered it.


Sources: iO9, Wikipedia, Damned Connecticut

Friday, June 26, 2015

Night Marchers of Hawaii

Mainlanders such as myself tend to think of the beaches of Hawaii as being places of calm seas, warm sand, and half-dressed attractive people. I should, of course, know better - I am a native Californian and know that many people hold the same false view of my own home state - but nonetheless, this is how I think of Hawaii.

However, legend holds that the beaches of Hawaii are home to a rather fearsome group of spectres - Huaka'ipo, better known to mainlanders like me as the night marchers (though the words actually translate into "Spirit Ranks").

The Huaka'ipo are said to be the spirits of Hawaiian warriors who march in a single line throughout the island, playing drums and chanting. At sunset, or before the sun rises, the spirits march from their burial places to the locations of past battles, homes, or sacred places.

It is said that you her the drums first, followed by the sounds of chanting and conch shells, and then you may see torch light, and possibly smell a foul odor, before finally seeing the Huaka'ipo - and as they are non-corporeal, they may march through fences, walls, even homes. But resist the urge to look - the spirits are touchy, and are said to kill anyone who does not bow their head and look at the ground as a show of respect, some versions of the legend require that any witness lay face down on the ground to show respect, and some even hold that you must go inside or otherwise get away from the marchers to avoid attracting notice. Some legends hold that anyone killed in this manner is doomed to accompany the Huaka'ipo for their eternal march. However, if you are descended from one of the spirits, then you will be safe from their wrath.

There are, of course, other ways to avoid their notice. Specifically, placing leaves of the ti (not a typo) plant around your home will ward off evil spirits, and the Night Marchers (whether the Night Marchers are considered evil is open to debate, I suppose). Also, showing them respect may result in great things coming to you. Some versions of the stories even hold that the night marchers are a harbinger of death, rather than the cause of death, though these stories seem to be in the minority.

Most versions of the legend hold that there are multiple marches, each led by a different chief or commander, and that the characteristics of the march will correspond with the tastes and desires of that leader. And some marches are said to count gods among their members, with even brighter torches burning either out of respect to the god or due to the god's power. The marches containing gods usually contain six - three male and three female.

Typically seen at night, these spirits may be seen during the day of they are transporting a descendant to the afterlife. Whether that descendant is going to a more "normal" afterlife, or doomed to march with the Huaka'ipo is unclear.


Commentary: There is so much going on in this story, and it is fascinating to me both as a ghost story enthusiast and as an anthropologist.

When I first read about the night marchers, my first thought was that it was similar to the watchers in California's coastal mountains. But as I read more about them, it became clear that this was a very different sort of affair.

It seems entirely possible that the legend is based on actual rituals in which dancers or marchers would move about a territory either as a show of force or to collect tribute or both. In fact, such processions are common throughout the world, and the belief that the marchers may have in their ranks (or may become) spirits or gods while engaged in the ritual is also not uncommon throughout the world. It's easy to see how such a practice might, over time, become a ghost story, much as the very real 'Antap group became boogey men in Californian folklore. Some of the sources I read hinted at such an origin for the legend, though none explicitly stated it. I will need to do a bit more research to check into this.

Another similarity I noted was to the Wild Hunt of European folklore. In the wild hunt, spirits (or faeries, or demons, or ghosts, all depending on which version you encounter) head out along the countryside. In some versions of the story, it's demons chasing the souls of sinners, in others seeing the hunt can be a harbinger of death. In all cases, what is said to be seen are spectral humanoid creatures with the accoutrements of hunters chasing across the countryside.

And, of course, the versions of the story that hold that seeing or hearing the marchers is an omen of death are similar to the Banshee stories, as well as other ghost stories from throughout the world.

So, what to make of these similarities?  Well, my take on it is that some elements of the story grew up in Hawaii - probably including all of the standard parts (the form and nature of the march, the presence of gods, etc.), either as an element of folklore, or as a post-contact description of traditional practices. Other elements were likely added over time, as people from different cultures settled in Hawaii during the 19th and 20th centuries. I suspect that some aspects, including the apparent grouping of them all into the "night marchers" rather than individual parties of spirits, comes from the development of both tourist culture and modern media, which tends to result in the homogenization of local variations.

I also wonder, though I have no information to support this, whether the claim of safety if you are a descendant of one of the marchers might be a reaction to non-Hawaiian invasion of the islands. Throughout the world, local folklores change, sometimes radically, when outsiders arrive, especially when they are colonizers. The claim that you are safe if an ancestor is among the marchers seems consistent with these sorts of changes - a way of saying "you may live here, but you don't belong here, like I do!"



Sources: Funkypickens, Listverse, Hawaii News Now, Wikipedia, Huffington Post,

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poveglia Island, Italy

In the water near Venice sits Poveglia Island, a curious place on the whole. The island has clearly been modified by humans - it has far too many straight lines and smooth curves in it's outline to be completely natural - as both a place of residence and as a military fort, and later as a waiting station for ships entering Venice and finally as a hospital. Stories hold that Romans used the island as a quarantine station for plague victims, and that  the same was done with victims of the black plague, whose bodies were then buried in plague pits (mass graves of plague victims) on the island. Many of the bodies are said to have been burned, and it has been claimed that the ashes have created a distinctive dust on the island. These stories hold that over 160,000 people died over the course of the island's history. And the presence of the dead is said to still lurk on the island, making it a dark and forboding place approached only by the brave. Typically non-specific stories of strange shadows, disembodied voices, and shoves (or even blows) from unseen assailants abound.

Oh, and the pits in which the remains were placed is said to be below an area that was once used for growing wine grapes.  How's that for a strange vintage?

Legends further state that a building constructed in the 1920s housed psychiatric patients, who were overseen by a very literal mad scientist - a psychiatrist who performed cruel experiments upon his charges, and performed other additional acts of cruelty with no pretense towards research. He is also said to have performed neurosurgery with crude tools such as hammers and chisels. It is said that this psychiatrist eventually completely snapped after telling other hospital employees that he had encountered ghosts, climbed the bell tower (in which some stories hold he had performed his grisly work), and flung himself towards the ground. He survived the fall, but a white mist (possibly composed of ashes) rose from the ground, and enveloped and strangled the psychiatrist.

In addition to the torments inflicted on them by this psychiatrist, the patients are also said to have seen ghosts of Roman and Renaissance plague bearers, and to have heard disturbing whispers emanating from the walls of the building.

One story holds that the last people who attempted to settle on the island was a family that had been granted permission to build a vacation home. After the home was completed, they cut their first night short when their daughter was attacked "by something" and had her face split open, requiring 20 stitches.

And, of course, stories hold that the evil psychiatrist was interred in the bell tower, and that people in Venice can hear the bell tolling at night.

Sleep well, Venetians!

Commentary: Supernatural claims aside, Poveglia has an interesting history. In the early 5th century, people from Padua and Este settled on the island, fleeing from the barbaric invasions unfortunately common in Italy during the late Roman Empire. people continued to settle on the island, and over the centuries, a series of structures were built as the town formed.
In 1379, Venice and Genoa went to war, and the people of the island were removed as the island was converted for military use. A fort known as "the Octagon" was built, and the island become the home of a proper medieval town, but it was abandoned in the 14th century.

A couple of sources hold that in 1576, when the Black Death hit Venice, and the local authorities took the bodies of victims to Poveglia to dump them into mass graves, as well as a dumping ground for the bodies. But it appears to be the case that it was not Poveglia, but another island was used for quarantine. Mass graves of plague victims were pretty common throughout Europe during outbreaks, and in a place like Venice, where land is at a premium, an uninhabited island would be a good dumping ground, but it does appear that it was another island that was used and not Poveglia (though, I would not be surprised if documentation surfaced indicating that this island was also used).

Two hundred years later, in 1777, the island came under the jurisdiction of the Magistrato alla Sanita (or, as we'd call it in English, the Public Health Department), and it became a check point for ships entering and leaving Venice. In 1793, cases of plague were identified on two ships, and the island was used as a quarantine station for those who were suffering illness, and lodgings built. Napoleon Bonaparte made this function permanent in 1804, but the lodgings were demolished in 1814. It was again used as a quarantine station in the early 20th century.

And then, in 1922, the hospital was built to provide long-term care to the mentally ill. The construction of isolated hospitals for the mentally ill or those carrying contagious diseases was not uncommon in the late 19th and early 20th century, and many such hospitals (including one off shore from New York City) were built at that time. Naturally, many of these locations are now reputed to be haunted.

The hospital was eventually converted to a retirement home/convalescent hospital (or may have had one as part of it from the get-go, the sources are inconsistent on this point), but even it appears to have shut down in 1968. That said, what descriptions I could find of the latter days of the place make it sound amazingly pleasant.

Given this history, it's only natural that the island is home to a whole host of ghost stories. Even for Venice, a place that boasts more than its share of ghost stories, this place is invitingly creepy. The place is officially off-limits...but a quick Google search reveals that so many people have managed to spend the night there that the ban is clearly poorly enforced. This has, therefore, become quite the destination for legend trippers.

That said, the identities of the victims of ghostly violence always seem to be obscured. It's "the last family to settle here", not "John and Marsha Smith, who built a cabin in 1977." This is often a sign of the story being more non-specific urban legend than truth.

The only thing that amazes me is that there has been no horror movie, as of yet.




Note: Some great photos of the island are available here.  And if you are wealthy, you might just have a chance to buy the island.

Sources: Messy Nessy Chic, Wikipedia, Mental Floss, Gizmodo, news.com.au

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Popobawa - Zanzibar, Africa


Okay, I'm going to give a content warning here: This entry is probably not fit for younger readers, people who are sensitive to discussions of sexual assault, and it is definitely not fit for twelve-year old boys who will just use it as an excuse to crack inappropriate jokes about anal sex*. You have been warned.

Also, I can see some readers getting into a racist "oh, these primitive Africans" rant, and I'll talk about why you shouldn't be so confident in the Commentary section.

There is something haunting Tanzania.  Called the Popobawa - a bat-like creature that is said to sexually assault people in the night. In addition to these assaults, it is also said to generally haunt the home of its chosen victims, making noise, moving objects, and trying to frighten them. Once it has gotten it's fill of terror in one home, it moves on to the next one, usually in the same neighborhood.

Although the Popobawa may attack anyone in the household, it is alleged to prefer to anally rape men, and then threaten to return to repeat the action if the men do not tell others about the attack. As a result, men who have been attacked must confess the violation to others, compounding the trauma of the event.

Popobawa, which appears to translate to "bat wing" in Swahili, is a shape-shifter and can appear in many forms, but it's natural form is said to be that of a large bat-like creature with one eye and a gigantic penis, though this "natural form" may be more a creation of western media than an aspect of the Tanzanian folklore regarding the creature. In Tanzanian folklore, it appears that the creature has no true shape, and that the name refers to the shadow that it casts when it appears. The creature's appearance is said to be accompanied by scraping noises on the walls and roof, and a sulfurous smell.

The Popobawa prefers to attack people in their homes when they are alone, and so, during Popobawa panics, many men choose to spend their nights outdoors, sometimes in the streets (often the only open place in some of the crowded towns and cities), which has led to fatalities from automobile traffic.

It is also said that the Popoabawa may be frightened away by gatherings of people, or by recitations of passages from the Koran.

The origins of the Popobawa are unclear. While many people in Europe and the Americas like to think of it as a cryptid (that is, a creature not formally discovered by science but alleged by believers to exist, a'la Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), it's pretty clear that the people of Tanzania consider it to be a spirit or demon of some sort. One story holds that a sheikh (a respected member of the community with informal authority) summoned a djinn (an spirit in Islamic folklore, in many ways comparable to the demons of Christian folklore) in order to attack neighbors with whom he was having difficulties, but that he lost control of the djinn and that it is now loose as the Popobawa.


*I was a twelve-year-old boy once. I know how you work.

Commentary:  Okay, let's get the first thing out of the way - I know that there are people reading this and thinking "oh, those primitive/superstitious Africans/Muslims! They have such dumb beliefs!" To which I will point out that panics regarding spectral sexual assault are not in any way unique to Africa or to the Muslim world. Christian and general European folklore is filled with stories of spectral rapists - Succubi, Incubi, "old hag", and many a faerie story - not to mention more recent stories about aliens abducting people and subjecting them to various sexual probes and experiments. And massive panics regarding this sort of thing are not unheard of in the west - consider the amount of claims of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" that appeared during the late 1970s and early 1980s. So, if you are inclined to look at this as a sign of gullibility or foolishness in a poor and underdeveloped part of the world, just be aware that your own culture is perfectly capable of producing very similar things.

Alright, that rant done, it's time to talk about this story. We have a story about a creature that goes about terrorizing households, and sexually assaulting members of the household (though allegedly prefering the male members). Let's assume, as I am inclined to, that this is all folklore. What does it mean?

Well, a number of different hypotheses have been put forward. Including:

- That this story is used to describe or cover up actual sexual assaults.

- That this story simply reflects a local variation on folklore surrounding the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

- That this story reflects feelings of male inadequacies in a changing and poor region of Africa, with the metaphorical rape being used to metaphorically describe fears of emasculation.The insistence by the creature that mean admit to their violation in order to prevent further violation seems very much in line with this.

- That the story reflects fears of political instability. In fact, Popobabwa panics, during which many people report encounters and men often take to sleeping outdoors, typically accompany elections.

- That the story is a metaphorical discussion of Zanzibar's past as a slave market used by Arab traders. While plausible, the Popobawa first appeared on the island of Pemba in the 1970s, and so it seems unlikely that it would reflect directly the experience of 19th century slaves and slave traders.

Of course, none of these explanations are exclusive of the others, and it may well be that the Popobawa is a folkloric conglomeration of the anxieties, concerns, and very real assaults experienced by people living in Tanzania. It would appear to be a way in which ghostly folklore represents real-world issues, a phenomenon known the world over.





Sources: Podcast, BBC NewsWikipedia, Center for Inquiry, Cryptid Wiki, The Demon-Hunters Compendium,

Haunted Spooky MacBook of Spookiness!

It's been far to long since last I posted here. But it's a cold, overcast day, my wife and daughter are off doing fun stuff, and I am sitting calmly in a coffee shop, as I was during so many of my early entries onto this blog, and so it seems an excellent day to post a new ghost story.

This one is rather silly, but I think it's a mark of things to come for ghost stories, and as such, I am happy to have a chance to write about it.What we have here is something that sounds like it came out of one of Roger Corman's lesser attempts: a haunted computer.

A seller posted this to Ebay, trying to sell his old 2007 MacBook, claiming that it was haunted. I am just going to quote the Ebay page here:

Well, I took the computer home (still in perfect working condition) and, folks, this is when things started to get downright weird. First, I noticed that ALL of my songs in iTunes had become scary or haunted. Second, the desktop background was changed to a scary photo. The following week, we (my wife, Barbie, and I) noticed some of our stuff around the house had been mysteriously rearranged. One night, we went out to dinner with my wife’s parents and their friends and some people from my wife’s work and some of their parents. When we came home, my baseball cards were all out of order and my wife’s rare American coins were in total disarray. To make matters spookier, I occasionally saw the computer levitating. In some cases the screen and keyboard would open and shut quickly, as though the computer were attempting to speak.
The computer was levitating and flapping it's gums....Uhh...Okay...

Also, the computer has taken to writing...but not on it's screen:

The way he communicates with us is by grasping a pen between the keyboard and monitor and writing on pieces of printer paper from our home office...As such, I am given to believe that this ghost may have lived in a time before computers, for he appears to be quite unaware of the purpose of the machine he inhabits...

Lest you be concerned about the presence of an evil computer (it is a Mac, just get used to the evil*), the seller assures us that the computer "is NOT haunted by a demon or "devil man" negative entity." In fact, the computer has vacuumed Ken's home (the seller must be Ken, he's married to Barbie, after all), helped in his son's talent show, and apparently helped Ken and Barbie get through a rough patch in their marriage.

Oh, and if you are concerned that this is just a joke on the part of Ken, no worries - it comes with a certificate provided by a psychic proving that it's haunted! So you know it must be legit! Self-proclaimed psychics** are never involved in scams, after all!


*Don't worry Apple-eaters, were it a PC, I'd be making snide comments about Microsoft. But I don't make any negative comments about Android, because I do not want to anger our new overlords in the event of the inevitable Android uprising. ALL HAIL SKYNET!

**I was about to make a comment about how all psychics are self-proclaimed. Then I remembered a guy named Ben who I knew in college. Ben convinced himself that I was psychic, for reasons too stupid to go into (though the short version is that I knew amazing things about people, and Ben couldn't accept that I knew them because people told me things because, unlike Ben, I wasn't a dick...so, I must know them due to being psychic and not from practicing my amazing not-an-asshole-powers). So, sometimes psychics aren't self-proclaimed, but instead proclaimed by idiots.

Commentary: Hotels and restaurants have known for a very long time that claiming a haunting can drive up revenues, and ghost story connoisseurs will know that we have a long history of haunted objects. This isn't the first attempt to sell a "haunted" object on Ebay (an earlier attempt, which was itself probably not the first attempt, was the alleged "Dibbuk Box"). So, this is likely an attempt to make a large profit while offloading an obsolete piece of equipment. At the time that Cnet ran their story on it, the laptop had a bids up to $6,200 - for an 8-year-old laptop. So, it would appear that this is working.

However, I'm particularly charmed by the way in which Ken is so obviously trolling believers. Changing music to "scary" music? Loading Edgar Allen Poe stories? "Devil man" entities? Psychic guarantees of haunting? I mean, yeah, to most of us these are all signs that Ken is joking - he's practically begging you to see the joke! Hell, he placed THIS photo in the listing:



Nonetheless, I have come across a few folks who seem to believe this nonsense. So, I guess it's once again an example of the internet proving just how gullible people can be. Good luck, Mr. Gorsky!

Of course, I am frustrated by the fact that I didn't think of this first, and now I don't have a way to make huge amounts of money off of my old Dell laptop.

Sources: ABC News, CNet, Time (although the laptop appeared on Ebay and the ad is here, the ad is likely to vanish after the sale, so I have settled on the less transitory sources for this entry)