Sunday, November 24, 2019

50 Berkeley Square, London

In the late 18th century, a young woman lived with her uncle at the townhouse located at 50 Berkeley Square. Her uncle was a cruel and abusive man, and it was known that he was doing her harm, though the specific nature of that harm was never specified. One night, she opened the window of her top floor room, and flung herself out, falling to her death. Since then, her spirit has been seen in the upstairs of the house, and some say that simply seeing it has the power to frighten a person to death.

In addition to the young woman (or, in some tellings, in place of) the specter that haunts the top floor is said to be that of a young man who was kept locked in a room and feed through a hole in the door. In other tellings, it is the spirit of a little girl. And, in some stories, the ghost could be any of the three, or something else entirely, and takes the form of a horrifying vaguely human-shaped mist.

At some point, the house became the home of George Canning, a former Prime Minster who lived in the house until his death in 1827 (stories differ as to whether or not he was the abusive uncle). Canning, is is alleged, heard strange sounds in the night, from empty parts of the house, but never reported being especially frightened. After Canning's death, the house was then leased to one Miss Curzon, who lived there until she died at the ripe age of 90 in the 1850s*.

Allegedly, in 1840, a young man, reportedly a student, named Robert Warboys (apparently on his day off of defending the Citadel on behalf of Immortan Joe) was drinking with friends at a nearby tavern, and heard that the house at 50 Berkeley square was haunted. Filled with alcohol and testosterone, he accepted a dare to stay the night in the house. Arriving at the door, he made enough noise to wake the landlord, who rebuffed him. Warboys proceeded to make such a nuisance of himself that the landlord agree to let him stay in one of the more haunted rooms on two conditions - 1) Warboys be armed (whether the pistol he took with him was his own or was borrowed from the landlord is unclear); and 2) at the first sign of trouble, Warboys pull a chord in the room that would ring a bell and summon the landlord. After an hour, the bell began to ring frantically, and the landlord heard a pistol shot. On arriving at the room, the landlord found that Warboys was cowering in a corner, smoke coming from the barrel of his pistol, a bullet embedded in a wall, and nothing else. Warboys was clearly agitated, but said nothing, and fled the house (in some versions of the story, Warboys is said to have been dead, or catatonic, when the landlord arrived).

In 1859, Thomas Myers moved in, bringing in the dankness that every good haunted house requires, as well as a heaping helping of weird.

Initially, things looked bright for Myers. He was engaged to be married, and had bought the house and begun furnishing it to fit his bride and hopefully his future family. When his fiance jilted him, however, he is said to have become a recluse, keeping to himself on the top floor, going days at a time without speaking to anyone, and leaving his room only at night to wander the house by candlelight**. He allowed the house to fall into disrepair, neither cleaning the house nor carrying out maintenance. He died in 1874, allegedly quite mad (though some stories put his death in the 1880s).

During Mr. Myers time in the house, one incident of particular notoriety occurred. In 1872, George Lyttelton, a prominent politician and member of the aristocracy, arranged for a room at the house for one night. He brought with him a firearm, a shotgun by some versions of the story. Late at night, he fired at an apparition that he saw. When he went to look for it by the light of the next morning, he found his cartridges, but no sign of whatever he had shot at. Lyttelton is said that he shot at some creature with tendrils, brown in color. Whether the creature appeared in from of him, or he saw it enter the room, varies from telling to telling, but allegedly it led to Lyttelton declaring the house "supernaturally fatal to body and mind."

An article published in Mayfair Magazine in 1879 reported that a maid, who was working in the attic in the service of a family that had just bought the house, broke into a sudden, terrified scream. When the new owners made it up the stairs, they found the maid weeping on the floor, and murmuring "don't let it touch me". Allegedly, that was the last comprehensible thing that she said, and she died the next day in an asylum.

The maid was preparing the room for one Captain Kent, fiance to the family's daughter, for whom the attic room was being prepared. Despite the fate of the maid, he chose to stay in the room anyway, perhaps as a show of bravery. He went to bed, and 30 minutes later, his fiance's family heard him screaming, followed by the sound of gunshot***. When they reached his room, he was catatomnic, dying shortly thereafter.

A final story holds that, in 1887, two sailors were looking for lodgings, and decided to break into the now-deserted house to save money (or, according to some versions of the story, they did so out of strong thrill-seeking streak that one or both of them possessed). The men bedded down somewhere on the upper floors, and after a series of strange sounds, managed to fall asleep. One of the sailors woke in the night to see his companion struggling with...something. It was an amorphous, blob-like creature with tentacles that was strangling the man. In some tellings, the free sailor tried to attack the thing that was killing his colleague, in others he simply took off running in fear. Regardless of the specifics, the sailor being attacked by the creature died, and appeared to have circular wounds similar to suction cups on his neck and torso.

There is another version of the sailor's story, however, which does not discuss the creature. In this version, the sailors woke up, and one of them saw the ghost of Mr. Myer, who approached them threateningly - he woke the other sailor, and both fled, with the sailor who had seen the ghost tripping as he fled the house, falling, and dying from an injury from the fall (some versions hold that he tripped near a window, fell out, and was impaled on the metal fence that surrounds the house). 

One final version of the sailor story has it all occurring in 1943. In this version, the sailors broke in to the basement in order to obtain free lodging for the night. However, finding the basement to be dank and rat-infested, they headed upstairs to the attic room. They started a fire in the fire place, settled in for the night, and tried to get to sleep. They were awoken by the sound of a door opening, followed by a wet, scraping sound. The sailors saw and felt the tendrils of some strange creature touching them, and those appendages soon wrapped around the neck of one of the sailors as he was reaching for his gun. The other sailor, terrified, fled the room and the house, finding a police officer for help. When the sailor and the cop returned to the house, they found no sign of the other sailor in the room, but did discover his dismembered corpse, with the head turned in a manner clearly indicating a broken neck, in the basement, a look of terror on his face.

Stories from the 1870s onward (increasing int he 20th century) report people, often unnamed, seeing soemthign strange in or aroudn the house, described variously as a "shadowy mean," a slimy amorphous bag with tentacles, a "collection of writhing shadows" and more standard human-like apparitions.

The house was bought by an antiquarian book seller in the 1930s, and continued in that function until 2015. These owners said that nothing unusual has ever occurred there, even noting that they can demonstrate the flaws in each of the various stories and how those stories fail to comply with the documented history of the building. Many people point to the management (or, possibly, police) having, at least at one time, closed off the upper floors, where the haunting is said to be at its most severe. The owners, however, point to the building having been damaged during the London Blitz, and indicate that is the reason for the upper floors having been closed off for a time.

*This reminds me of Dudleytown, another allegedly horrifically haunted site where people nonetheless seemed to enjoy absurdly long lives considering the period of history.

**Okay, yes, the guy sounds miserable, and probably mentally unstable, but have you ever noticed that it's only the wealthy that can get away with this sort of spookiness. I mean, the rest of us have to get up in the morning and go to work.

***With all of the guns showing up int his story, I imagine that Victorian London was rather like modern-day Texas.

Commentary:  My mother, who was a fan of In Search Of and many of the various paranormal and New Age books and "documentaries" that peaked in popularity in the 70s and the first half of the 80s, would often give my sisters and I books filled with ghost stories, and this story was included in one of them. We lost the book eventually, and as a teenager and adult, I would try to find the story again. Every time I would try to look up ghost stories for England, I would find the Borley Rectory, the Brown Lady photo, and a handful of others, but none of them had the mist-like ghost or sailors being attacked by some strange tentacled beast. And so, I thought I would never track this story down, until I came across a Youtube video titled "The Unnamed Horror of Berkeley Square" - I didn't know it would be this story, but something about the title tickled my memory, I watched it, and it was the story I had spent so many years trying to track down - and now that I know that it was in Berkeley Square, finding additional information is remarkably easy.

I am, however, very happy to have found this story again - it was a formative one for me. I would likely have retained an interest in ghost stories regardless - the entertainment and creep factor alone is enough to pull me in - but this story really grabbed me at a young age. Where so many stories were over the top to a ridiculous extent, or were rather cookie-cutter and boring, this one was weird and disturbing in a rare way, and most of my interest in ghost stories ever since has been caught up in a search for that feeling.

That said, one of the things that surprised me as I became re-acquainted with the story is how many retellings are focused on a strange creature often said to be an octopus, when I remember it being focused on the ghosts, and even the creature being thought of as more of a ghostly manifestation than a physical entity. So, in looking at the articles and videos that I found on this subject, I was interested to find that most of the focus is on a discussion of whether the weird creature is some kind of unknown animal, often a mutant octopus that has adapted to live on dry land is suggested (and yes, I know how dumb that sounds). But, I am not certain that the people who began telling these stories in the late 18th and early 19th centuries would have seen it that way.

Now, admittedly, I am currently working under the influence of Paul Barber's book Vampires, Burial & Death, but he makes an interesting point in that book that may be applicable here. The book is primarily about vampire folklore, which is radically different from the vampires of literature, film, and pop culture, and tying that folklore in to actual observations made about decomposition (his thesis being that almost everything that is in the actual folklore for vampires is actually pretty neatly tied to elements of natural decomposition). Along the way, he makes the observation that most of the people who believed and spread this folklore didn't make a sharp distinction between supernatural phenomenon, and would have viewed vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and all manner of other things as being inextricably tied to each other, often with the terms for different "types" of creatures being used interchangeably, and thus suggesting that the people telling these stories didn't make a distinction. And I have to wonder if the same thing may be going on here - the ghosts, the mist-like thing, and the slimy alleged octopus were all simply different manifestations of "weird" without a clear differentiation.

But, then, perhaps I am allowing my own views on how people of the past perceived the weird to color my views. So, you can take or leave my hypothesizing.

Another likely blow against my take on things is that most elements of the ghost story appear to date to the second half of the 20th century, and not the 19th. A few elements are probably earlier - Myers family members (including Lady Dorothy Nevill) and descendants point to his tendency to roam the house by candlelight at night having led to some ghost stories during his residence there. Additionally, many elements of the story appear to have been lifted directly from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1859 story "The Haunted and the Haunted." Moreover, as the house sat unoccupied for stretches of time, it was far more decayed and decrepit than neighboring homes, which always helps a haunted reputation. The Spiritualists of the late 19th century apparently tried to get access to the house, but never had luck finding an owner that would let them in. That said, many of the story elements became best known from 20th century writings - specifically the 1907 publication Haunted Houses by Charles G. Harper and the 1975 book Haunted London by Peter Underwood.

So, this is probably more a case of sensationalist literature throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks rather than a result of organic folklore development, as much as I may wish it were otherwise. There is certainly a shortage of verifiable facts among the more exciting claims, and many others seem to have more mundane answers.  More's the pity.

Fun fact - in researching this story, I came across a few examples of people claiming that Miss Havisham of the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations was inspired by Mr. Myer's over-the-top reaction to being jilted.

Sources: Bedtime Stories, Wikipedia, Haunted London, Lore Podcast, Mental Floss, ABC News, Strawberry Tours, The Evening Standard, Astonishing Legends (the blog), Mysterious Universe,

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Cooley's Conjure Chest

Some time around 1840, Jacob Cooley, of Frankfort Kentucky, was expecting his first child. His wife was pregnant, and Jacob had to make sure that his child had all needed items, including a chest of drawers for their bedroom. To this end, he ordered one of his slaves, a furniture-maker named Hosea, to build the chest.

Though most people would hold that the chest was well built and quite beautiful, Cooley disliked it, and in a fit of rage, beat Hosea to death.

The other slaves saw this as a move too far by the master, and they saw the need to address it. Among the slaves was a conjure man, who told the others what to do: they snuck the chest out of the house, and brought it to the conjure man's cabin. He lead them in a chanted incantation, while sprinkling owl's blood into one of the chest's drawers. The chest was, thus, cursed.

For reasons unclear, but possibly due to the curse itself, Cooley decided to make use of the chest despite his dislike of it, and placed it in his son't room. His son died a few days after birth.

From there, a number of people are said to have died after storing their goods in the chest. Rather than type out a blow-by-blow, I am going to copy from the Kentucky Historical Society:

1.The baby clothes of the child for whom the chest was made were put in the chest: he died in infancy

2.One of Jacob Cooley's older sons used it for his son: he was stabbed on his 25th birthday by his body servant

3.The chest was moved to the attic but was later given to a newly married couple Melinda and Sean: Melinda got sick and died 

4.Sean was killed in an accident

5.Their daughter Evelyn and her husband cared for an orphan, Arabella, and later her wedding dress was put in the chest: her husband died young

6.The baby clothes of Arabella's child were put in the chest: the child died

7.Evelyn's oldest son married and the wedding clothes of his bride were put in the chest: the young woman died

8.Evelyn's servant, "Aunt Sarah," hid gloves and a scarf she knitted as a Christmas gift for her son in the chest: he fell through a train trestle two days before Christmas and was killed

9.Evelyn's daughter, Norah's wedding clothes were put in the chest: her husband deserted her

10.Evelyn's daughter, Ruthie, put her childhood clothes in the chest: she was injured & died a cripple

11.Evelyn, distressed by loss, took her own life

12.The chest was brought to the house of Virginia Cary Hudson (the storyteller). The clothes of Virginia's first child went into the chest: the baby died

13.The clothes of Virginia's daughter were put in the chest: she was stricken with infantile paralysis

14.The wedding clothes of another of Virginia's daughters were put in the chest: her husband died

15.Virginia's son Stanley put his hunting clothes into the chest: he was shot

16.Virginia's son Robbie put his clothes in the chest: he was stabbed through his hand at school

In other words, worries about what you were storing items in didn't begin with people freaking out over chemicals in Tupperware.

In the end, a descendant of Jacob Cooley inherited the chest, and consulted a conjure woman named Annie, who informed her that the following conditions would have to be met for the curse to be lifted (stealing from Fairweather Lewis's blog):

. . .someone would have to give Mrs. Hudson, unprompted, a stuffed dead owl.

. . .a pot filled with leaves from a willow tree would have to be boiled from sunrise to sunset, with the owl sitting nearby.

. . .and then, the likker [fluid containing chemicals from the plant] off the boiled willow would have to be poured into a jug and the jug buried under a flowering bush, with the jug’s handle facing east, toward the morning sun.

Well, shortly afterwards, someone sent Mrs. Hudons's son the owl, unprompted (WHAT ARE THE ODDS????) , and she and Annie proceeded to carried out the rest of the ritual. Annie told Mrs. Hudson that, if one of them died, then they would be the last victim and the curse would be lifted. Annie died shortly afterwards, making her the 17th and last victim of the curse.

The chest was donated to the Kentucky Historical Society in 1976*. It is claimed by some that the Kentucky Historical society has placed a talisman consisting of the feathers of an owl in the chest in which owl's blood is said to have been sprinkled nearly two centuries ago.

The original source for this story appears to be a book of short stories and reminiscences titled Flapdoodle, Trust, and Obey by Virginia Hudson, a descendant of Cooley.

*I do not know what the cataloging system is for the Kentucky Historical Society, so it may well have been donated in 1976. But the catalogue number would indicate a 1980 donation in the systems that I have used. Again, though, they may be using a system that I am not familiar with, and the number may indicate different information than it looks like to me.

Commentary: Before I get into the things that I think are interesting here, I would like to make a quick point. Many of the images you see online for this show a chest, not a chest of drawers. A chest of drawers is an antiquated term for what we would typically call a dresser now. The image above is an image from the Kentucky Historical society, a photo of the item discussed here. So, that is what it looks like.

There are many ways for this story to be read. One is simply as the modern story, shared among those of us for whom American chattels slavery is a thing long gone, where this can be seen by many as nothing more than a creepy story.

Another way to read it is as a story about the anxieties of people whose position in society is dependent on keeping others in a subservient position. In this reading, the slaves are not weak and have the potential to lash out if provoked, thus both justifying pushing the lower classes of a society away from any source of power and influence, as well as acting as a cautionary tale about how far the subservient classes may be pushed without reprisal. These two contradictory meanings - we must keep people down, but don't try to hard keeping them down or you will get a backlash - can be found in stories touching on slavery from Rome to the American South, and the themes continue to be read in stories from people who have opposed the labor movement of the 20th century and who fear migrant laborers in the U.S. and Europe today. In this way, this can be seen as a mirror image of the stories from African about Zombie Trains.

Another reading is that this is a story that speaks to a sense of collective guilt among many white Americans where we see slavery as an evil, and one from which we still benefit even a century and a half after it ended (whether we will admit it or not). In such a story, we can place the guilt for the institution on individuals of the past, such as Jacob Cooley, and use this story to make Cooley symbolically pay for this original sin of American society. If you think that sounds like too much, I will simply remind you that these sorts of symbolic sacrifices are the bases of many religions (and keep in mind that the story was first introduced to the world in a book written by Virginia Hudson, in which she claimed to want to put forward her Christian religious views, and symbolic sacrifice is central to Christianity, meaning that there would likely have been some resonance there). It's a common way that humans have processed our feelings about guilt and the need for past crimes and violence to be paid for. In this case, in casting Cooley as a horrible man and not a benevolent one, as is often done in religion, it also lets us put a distance (whether real or fictional) between us and the people who perpetuated slavery - "this man was a vile murder, nothing like me, if I were born into that society, I wouldn't have been a slave owner, clearly, because I'm not that kind of person! I'd never beat someone to death!" It's a way to ignore that these people were as human as us, and were we born into the pre-Civil War, we likely would have been very much like Cooley. The story allows us not only to sacrifice Mr. Cooley (or, rather, his family) for the sins that we benefit from, it also allows us to dehumanize him and pretend that the differences between us and him are due to something other than the circumstances of where and when we were born.

Another reading is that of a resistance narrative. The slaves are subservient, downtrodden, and literally made the property of others, but they are not powerless. They have access to magic and supernatural power that is not available to the white masters. They may be in a low place, but they won't remain there, and when pushed, they have means to push back that the masters cannot understand or protect against. Again, such stories are not uncommon throughout human history, and can serve as a comfort for people in an underclass, even when the stories are about another time and place.

There are, no doubt, many other ways you can read this, and none of these readings are mutually exclusive. They are all available simultaneously, and new readings are likely to be created as needed, as is common with folklore.

One final note - the curse began with a white slave owner beating his slave to death, and then ends with an unrelated black woman descended from slaves dying as the curse's final victim. I don't know what to make of that, but it seems...unsavory to me.

Sources: Fairweather Lewis's Blog, The Unexplained Mysteries, Kentucky Historical Society, published book, newspaper, another published book

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Haunted Fiance, or Haunted House?

So, this is one that a friend told me about the other night. It is a story about some friends of his who live in Lake St. Louis, a suburb of St. Louis in Missouri.

He has a close friend, who for the purposes of this entry we will call Jack, who is engaged to a woman, who for the purposes of this entry we will call Melinda.

Melinda reports that she is routinely pushed and even knocked over by some unseen force within her house. She also reports that she sees people, usually non-descript but human-shaped figures, momentarily appear at various places in her house.

My friend tells me Jack's various ex-girlfriends have reported similar incidents, leading him to believe that that Jack is being followed by spirits that create grief for the women involved with him.

Commentary:  I am always happy when someone tells me a story rather than me going and looking through dozens of essentially identical websites to report on some place. The face-to-face trading of stories is always more fun.

I don't know Jack or Melinda. I do not know any of Jack's ex-girlfriends. I cannot speak to the veracity of any of this story. I am doubtful, based on things that I have heard about Jack in the past (his friend has told me stories about him that leave me suspecting that there is a bit of tall-tale telling that occurs, though my friend doesn't see it that way).

From what I can gather, Jack is not doing anything to harm his fiance or the ex-girlfriends, though the potential "story to explain domestic violence" angle had occurred to me. This seems to be more of a "late at night, when people are generally telling creepy stories, this comes up" thing, rather than an attempt to explain obvious injuries or otherwise try to inject real-life violence into someone's awareness through a motaphoric story.

That said, I don't really know what's going on here. But, this is a story that came my way, so I am putting it up here.

Source: Personal Story (third-party)

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

In Estes Park, Colorado, stands the Stanley Hotel - a large, beautiful edifice that houses many of the tourists that pass through or come to stay in Estes Park. The hotel was built between 1906 and 1909 by Freelan Oscar Stanley (who, according to the hotel's promotional material, was suffering from consumption - that is, tuberculosis, when he arrived and was somehow miraculously healed by the surroundings...color me skeptical - also, along with his brother, he was a co-inventor of the early automobile known as the Stanley steamer), and was something of a luxury palace: a hydroelectric plant built up-mountain supplied electricity to the hotel (keep in mind that much of the US was not yet on the electrical grid at the time), and telephones (still something of a luxury item in 1909) were installed in each room. That said, it was a summer resort, closed int he winter, with the only heat coming from fireplaces on the first floor until a more extensive heating system was installed in the 1970s or 1980s, depending on which source you trust.

Like many such landmark buildings, the Stanley Hotel has a reputation as a haunted place.  And, like many an allegedly haunted hotel, the symptoms of the haunting are usually location-specific. So, to that end, I am going to structure this entry by location:

General Hauntings
Yeah, for all that I say about the localized nature of the claims, there are a few things that are reported throughout the hotel. This includes apparitions stealing guests belongings (the sources are unclear as to whether this is in one room or in multiple rooms, so I'm placing it in this section); figures, sometimes looking very much like living people, sometimes more shadowy or faded, appearing in guest rooms at night, and just standing there; some visitors have reported seeing people walking through the hallways, who then would hide and/or vanish (though this was reported by the TV crew of the show Ghost Hunters*, so take it with a table spoon of salt); people have also reported hearing children running and playing on the floor above wherever they are, only to find the area empty (again, though, this was reported by the crew of the same sensationalistic TV show); Allegedly, Stephen King saw two unattended children in the hotel during his short novel-inspiring stay in 1974 (though I suspect that this story was retrofitted into the hotel's legends to accommodate the events of the novel The Shining); and, finally, people report seeing a well-dressed man who looks like Freelan Stanley standing or walking at various places throughout the hotel, though he is reported to favor some specific locations (described below).

The Ball Room
One of the more persistent stories is that hotel staff, often specifically stated to be the kitchen staff, will hear a party occurring in the ball room, but find the room empty on investigation. At other times, staff and guests have reported hearing someone playing the ballroom's piano, again only to find the room empty, and the piano unattended, upon investigation. It has been claimed that the unseen pianist is the ghost of Flora Stanley, Freelan Stanley's wife, who apparently was quite the pianist in life. It should be noted that different stories hold that this music is heard not from the ball room but from the music room and the concert hall, so there is that.

The Music Room
As noted, the ghostly Mrs. Stanely has been said to play the piano in this room, as well. Again, Mr. Stanley is said to appear in this room. There is also a flag hanging on one wall that, allegedly, a face will mysteriously appear on from time to time (or the face is always there as part of the fabric...the sources are inconsistent on this one).

The Billiard Room
People report seeing Mr. Stanley (or, the more ambiguous "feeling his presence") in here, said to be one of his favorite rooms in life.

The Lobby
The Lobby is yet another place where people report seeing Mr. Stanley.

The Bar
Again, Mr. Stanley is said to be strolling through the bar on his way to the kitchen.

The Grand Staircase
While probably technically part of the lobby, the staircase is plenty impressive and deserves its own entry, if for no other reason than that I get to link to a photo. People have seen a woman in early 20th century clothing descending down the stairs, and she has been said to show up in photos even if she were not visible when the photo was taken.

Room 217
Probably the most famous room at the hotel due to the fact that this is where Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining while staying in this room at the mostly empty hotel in the days before it closed for an extended period. Other than a nightmare that shocked him awake, nothing spooky is said to have happened to MR. King here. However, legend holds that during a power outage in 1911, a maid named Elizabeth Wilson entered the room, sparking a gas explosion (gas was used for lighting in the building at the time, a common arrangement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The resulting explosion did considerable damage, and sent Ms. Wilson hurtling to the floor in the room below...but she survived and apparently lived a long life. However, guests have reported seeing a young woman in period clothing appearing in the room, and then walking through a wall where the door once was, and many have assumed that this is Elizabeth Wilson. People have also reported clothing being mysteriously folded, having suitcases unpacked and items mysteriously put away, doors opening and closing on their own, lights turning on and off, and an unseen force (assumed to be Ms. Wilson) getting into the bed to separate unmarried couples.

The Fourth Floor
The fourth floor is reputed to be the most haunted part of the building. Stories include hearing children rushing and playing through the halls, despite there being no children present (allegedly the children of wealthy visitors and their families would stay on the 4th floor - though some stories report that the hotel maids lived with their children on this floor); the ghost of two little girls are said to be seen on a pair of couches in the hallway on the 4th floor; apparitions seen walking in the halls and vanishing; noises have been said to come from the elevators even when the elevators are not operating; and several rooms specifically said to be haunted, including:

Room 401
This room is reputed to be haunted by an apparition of a man who appears and steals guest's belongings - mostly small objects such as jewelry, keys, and wallets. The closet doors are also said to unlock, objects (including furniture) are said to move, and the Ghost Hunters staff (who, again, are a bunch of sensationalist doofuses) claim that one of theirs stayed in the room and his water glass mysteriously cracked. People also report seeing the spirit of one Lord Dunraven, former owner of much of the land that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, in this room.

Room 407
People report Lord Dunraven's ghost standing in a corner of this room. Apparently just sort of standing there, hanging out...doing some sort of Lord Dunravenly thing. People outside of the hotel have reported seeing a face peering out the window from this room even when the room was empty. Also, the lights are said to turn on and off of their own accord.

Room 418
Allegedly the most haunted of the fourth floor rooms (I'm always really curious as to how people measure "most haunted" as allegedly most haunted places are usually somewhat less creepy and busy than the supposedly less haunted places nearby), staff report hearing noise (primarily of children playing) coming from the room despite it being empty. The apparition of a little boy is said to appear to guests. People have reported seeing an impression on the empty bed, as if an invisible person were lying on it.

Room 428
A shadowy figure in a cowboy hat has been said to appear and frighten people in this room. Frequently he startles them by appearing at the foot of the bed and watching them sleep...which is creepy even for a ghost. In addition, the furniture is said to routinely re-arrange itself.

The Tunnel
There is a tunnel cut into the granite beneath the hotel, connecting the staff entrance to the hotel proper. A good deal of what I have read describes this as a cave system, and suggests that it is as old as the hotel, but from what I can tell, it was constructed in the early 1980s. People have reported seeing a ghostly cat with glowing green eyes in the tunnel (how they would distinguish it from a normal cat is unclear), as well as smelling what appear to be baked goods, a phenomenon normally attributed to the ghost of a chef who worked at the hotel. 

The Concert Hall
A separate building, but on the hotel grounds, the concert hall is also said to be haunted. One ghost said to inhabit the hall is a former handyman by the name of Paul. He had his own room on the basement level. Paul is said to like to mess with flashlights (though I couldn't confirm whether this refers to a common parlor trick of making flashlights flicker as a form of poor-man's Ouija board, or something different), he is reported to have pushed or nudged a man working on the floors of the concert halls, he is said to be the voice on an EVP saying "get out" (one source suggests that this may be Paul trying to maintain curfews), and another one of the sources I used said that Paul "interacts with men" - though it is unclear as to what that means.

Another ghost often associated with the concert hall is that of a woman named Lucy. Who she was is unclear, though most sources report her as being a homeless woman - possibly a runaway. Children report interacting with her, and she is also said to mess with flashlights (again, not clear on what that means).

The Creepy Mirror
Finally, in the basement of the concert hall, there is a haunted object. Typically referred to as the "Creepy Mirror." Stories of people taking selfies in the mirror only to have a second person show up in the image, someone not present when the photo was taken, abound. So, all in all, the Stanley Park hotel has an abundance of ghost stories for you. Which, considering that it was, apparently, the inspiration of one of the best known horror novels ever, seems appropriate.

* Just for the record, in case I seem like I am overly dismissive of the people from Ghost Hunters - they have a long history of transparently editing video and making highly dubious claims for the sake of ratings. If they were generally just viewed as being goofy entertainment, then this wouldn't bother me, but they tend to portray themselves, and be portrayed by their fans, as serious researchers, when these guys wouldn't know actual honest research if it crawled out of a dark allegedly haunted swamp and bit them. They annoy me intensely. 

Commentary: Although now known primarily as the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining, the Stanley Park Hotel has a long history tied in to the development of health resorts (which promised all manner of essentially magical healing) in Colorado during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the things that really struck me in researching this entry is the degree to which it is so typical of the haunted hotel archetype. Rather than a single over-arching haunting, there are numerous room-specific hauntings, with each of them exhibiting it's own trends and flavor. Given the Steven-King derived fame of this hotel, I have to wonder whether it fits this mold so well because the pattern set at this hotel has been exported to others, or if people felt the need to make this hotel's stories fit an archteypical structure in order to fit Stephen King's model into something more familiar.

Even most of the specific haunting elements are almost prototypical - the phantom parties in the ballroom are commonly reported in haunted hotels. The late Mrs. Stanley playing the piano is a different touch, not entirely unique (I can think of several other similar claims at other places, including hotels) but it is not the standard hotel haunting, unlike the phantom party.

In going through the various alleged hauntings that I listed above, I tried to steer clear of stuff that seems to have been purely from the novel The Shining. You see, the paranormal waters have been muddied by two facts: 1) The Shining was conceived here after Steven King had a nightmare, and as a result many of the sources take elements from the novel and place them in the hotel, despite the fact that those elements are purely products of Stephen King's imagination; 2) the hostel has discovered that it can cash in on it's haunted reputation (in fact, the allegedly most haunted of the rooms, up on the fourth floor, have to be booked by a specific section of the hotel's website, and haunted tours regularly occur and are a fair money maker for the hotel), meaning that there is a lot of impetus to keep the stories rolling. As a result, it is difficult, and possibly impossible, to tell what people have experienced, what people have claimed to have experienced, what is people muddling fiction with fact, and what is just pure marketing.

Sources: The Bloggess, Wikipedia, Allstays, Haunted Places in America, Spooky Mountain News, Legends of America, TV News, Hotel Website, CSICOP, Amy's Crypt, My Haunted Library, Rocky Mountain Paranormal,,

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Freetown State Forest

The Freetown-Fall River State Forest, near Freetown Massachusetts, has a reputation for being one of the eastern U.S.'s true hot spots for the just plain weird. All manner of strangeness is alleged to occur here, from the ghost stories that I love so well to the presence of strange folkloric creatures, and both cult activity and UFO sightings are ubiquitous.

Off the top, I will note that many of the stories that I have seen attribute some of the weirdness here to the strained and often violent relationship between the Native American population and the various white settlers. I am going to avoid bringing that up except for where it is particularly relevant for three reasons: 1) the "cursed by a shaman", "Native American burial ground," and other such type explanations are, frankly, overdone and played out, and usually indicate a lack of imagination on the part of the storyteller; 2) as I work with Native American leaders as part of my day job, I have a lot of conversations about oddball topics that bother them, and they have often brought up that these stories can be irritating because they are often more connected to beliefs about the perceived alienness of Native Americans than to anything that is actually happening; 3) because I have access to archaeological and ethnographic records archives, I have been able to look up what is actually located at various locations where all manner of Native American sites are said to be be the cause of hauntings...and there is pretty much never anything to the stories.

The Forest covers around five and a half thousand acres of land, and has numerous unpaved roads and paths running through it. It is popular with hunters, campers, hikers, and other outdoors folks. The forest falls within an area that many paranormal enthusiasts call the "Bridgewater triangle," a portion of southeast Massachusetts where all manner of weirdness is said to occur. As put by Mysterious Universe:

The forest sits squarely within the infamous “Bridgewater Triangle,” a 200 square mile area within southeastern Massachusetts that is the epicenter of a mind boggling array of inexplicable bizarre phenomena reported since colonial times, including strange creatures, Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts, specters, ominous black helicopters, mysterious orbs of light, strange disappearances, giant snakes, poltergeist activity, and cattle mutilations, to name but a few. The exact boundaries of the Bridgewater Triangle are nebulous, but were perhaps most clearly laid out by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in his book Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures. Coleman defines the Bridgewater Triangle as being comprised of the towns of Abington, Rehoboth and Freetown at the points of the triangle, and Brockton, Whitman, West Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, Bridgewater, Middleboro, Dighton, Berkley, Raynham, Norton, Easton, Lakeville, Seekonk, and Taunton inside the triangle. Within this cauldron of weird occurrences, Freetown State Forest is said to be the most active; a veritable wellspring of the weird and bizarre.When discussing the numerous cases of strange phenomena within Freetown State Forest, it is hard to even know where to begin.

So, let's start with the general weirdness of the forest, shall we. The forest is alleged to be the location of all manner of Satanic and/or occult activity, with rumors of cult rituals, animal and human sacrifices, and the summoning of demons and spirits. The presence of "occult" graffiti (from images I saw, most likely from kids who saw their older brother's heavy metal album covers) is frequently used to back up claims of cult activity. The area is also reputed to be the sight of a large amount of violent crime, including murders, and one doesn't have to look far to find a list of bodies said to have been found within the forest (I have not been able to actually fact-check any lists, though, so I have no idea what, if any, truth there is to these claims).

UFOs are also said to be frequent visitors to the area. As noted below, Ronald Reagan of all people is reputed to have seen one here in the 1970s. There seems to be little specific information on them, but they are definitely part of the folklore.

And where there are cults and UFOs, what else do you always have?  That's right, cattle mutilations! Allegedly two incidents of cattle mutilation occurred in the late 1990s, with internet lore attributing them to cult activity. Rumor holds that there were other, earlier episodes as well, though I couldn't find any specifics.

Finally, the area is said to be rife with bigfoot sightings. While this is interesting to many, I am more of a ghost guy than a bigfoot guy (or UFO guy, for that matter), so I will note this and move on.

Now on to the specifics.

For starters, the Forest is reputed to be a refuge of the Pukwedgies, a race of dwarf/troll-like creatures around 2-3 feet tall, who are said to glow some of the time. The creatures are known from stories told by Wampanoag peoples, but are similar to dwarf-type of creatures found in folklore throughout the Americas (and, really, throughout the world). The Pukwedgies seem to delight in frightening people, playing pranks, pushing, throwing rocks, and the like. They have been said to get more vicious, though, attacking people with spears and knives, pushing people off of cliffs, and allegedly luring people into the forests to their deaths.

Continuing with the folklore, there is a rock known as Profile Rock, AKA Joshua's Mountain. The rock looks like a stylized profile of a human face (really, it is pretty cool, look at the photo below). Local lore claims that Native American lore holds that this is the image of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, and that it stands where the chief's son died - but the truth is that the profile was created by activities in the 19th century, likely involving dynamite for construction and/or mining. Personally, I think this looks more like a Yeti in a Darth Vader costume. Regardless, people report hearing voices, feeling sinister presences, and even seeing evil-looking (though surprisingly non-specific) apparitions here. In addition, the apparition of a lone man is said to appear atop the rock, sitting and looking out, and there are rumors of ghostly warriors that dance around the rock. The location has been subject to a large amount of vandalism, and clean-up efforts appear to be a never-ending chore.

Let us now move our tour to the former quarry of the Fall River Granite Company, where the 80 foot drop down is topped by the Assonet Ledge, AKA The Ledge. It is said that people who visit here are overwhelmed with a sense of dread, which may contribute to the allegedly high number of suicides that take place here - and one of the suicide victims, a woman who waited for her boyfriend who never showed up, is said to now be a ghost that haunts the ledge. It is also alleged that then-California Governor Ronald Reagan was flying over the ledge in a Cessna when he spotted a UFO (though I am skeptical of this sort of claim for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that planes move fast and even if he did see a UFO, there's no reason to think he was over this specific spot). Oh, and naturally this is said to be the location of all manner of Satanic Activity.

Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder (measuring roughly 5 feet by 9 feet by 11 feet) covered in all manner of symbols and drawings. The rock was described by Cotton Mather in the 17th century, and at the time lay in a creek bed. It has since been moved to Dighton Rock State Park. The inscriptions have attracted a good deal of attention over the years, with people attributing them to everyone from Phoenicians to Vikings. I am not an expert in Eastern US Rock Art, but I am an archaeologist, and based on what I have been able to find, the carvings on the rock, while unusual and ornate, are nonetheless not out of the wheelhouse of most Native North American groups, and indeed some of the panels have been shown to be remarkably similar to local native rock art. Additional carvings may have been made by settlers from the 17th century onwards. Most of the "oh, aren't these mysterious" writings regarding the rock art appear to be based on pre-20th century assumptions about the "primitiveness" of Native Americans, the same assumptions that prevented people from recognizing them as the builders of other words, it's mostly racist and garbled nonsense.

Finally, on our little travelogue we come to the Hockomock Swamp. Although not entirely located within the Forest (the swamp's 16,950-acre size dwarfs the forest) it is nonetheless adjacent to the forest, and likely deserving its own entry. As I think I will give it its own entry down the road, I will only briefly touch on it here and note that early settlers called it "The Devil's Swamp," and that all manner of weird creatures, ranging from bigfoot-type beings to red-eyed dogs to a pterodactyl-type flying creature have been spotted here, and it is reputed to be the haunt of many a spirit.

Commentary: There is a lot going on here, but there is one type of event that often comes up in discussing the Freetown State Forest that I have only briefly touched on in this entry. Most of the online discussion I have found bring in numerous murders in the area over the years. I will not be discussing these, as most of those for which information is readily available are recent enough that many immediate family and friends of the victims are still alive. While I doubt that I get enough circulation to grab the attention of any of those impacted by the murders, I find it distasteful to use someone else's family tragedy to gain cheap thrills. When something has retreated enough into the past and acquired enough folkloric baggage for it to no longer cause hurt to living people, then I am comfortable discussing it. But these cases are not appropriate for a blog meant for fun.

As rich as the stories here are, there are certain trends that are readily visible. The first is that much tends to be made of the conflict between the native Pocasset Wampanoag people and the European settlers that began to push in during the 17th century. While this history is notable and important, from a ghost story standpoint, it is also something of a red herring - there is little land across the Americas that much the same story could not be told about. It seems to be brought in here both because of the local folklore regarding the Pukwedgies, and because, as is often the case, non-Native American people tend to feel very comfortable blaming strange things on "those mysterious Indians."

Another thing that I notice is that many of these stories seem to be very much an artifact of the 1970s and 1980s. The focus on Satanic cults sounds to me much more like the typically misleading and hyperbolic accounts that were common int he media during my childhood and teen years than anything that actually occurred (seriously, the story of the man int he cabin could have been ripped right out of many of the stories told in my own town ont he other side of the country, every one of which was eventually proven to have either neither happened or have been a gross distortion of something much more mundane). And, it is worth noting, some of the more lunatic fringe elements of the religious right in the U.S. made great efforts to promote these ideas among law enforcement - while most law enforcement officers recognized this nuttiness for the paranoia that it was, a few succumbed, which likely explains much of the stories presented about Freetown.

Sources: Mysterious Universe, New Bedford Guide, Freetown State Forest Website, Lore PodcastAtlas, American Heritage

Sunday, November 11, 2018

My house in Fresno, California

I bought a house about three years ago - a nice, if rather weird, house that had previously been used as a hospice and elder care facility. When the realtor showed it to us, she notified us, as required by state law, that people had died in the house. This didn’t particularly bother me - interacting with human remains is something that I have done routinely throughout my education and career, so if I was worried about being haunted or cursed I am likely way past the point of no return. Also, I have been present in hospice facilities during the death of family members, and that experience, while never pleasant, was also never traumatic. So, that people died under hospice care in my House was fine, and it lowered the cost because other potential buyers were actively avoiding the house.

Most of the peculiarities of the house were weird architectural elements added to help it better serve as a care facility - things such as a sun room added on behind the living room (so that you have windows looking out of one room, into another room), or an entire bathroom being converted to one giant shower. Other oddities were more just strange things that we discovered: a photo of an old man over the door to the garage, a stack of mirrors in one of the closets, a lock on the master bathroom that allowed you to lock someone in but not lock anyone out, weird acoustics that make it sound like people are talking in one room when they are in another, etc.

After we had been there for a few months, my wife told me that our daughter would come into our bedroom at night, stand at the foot of the bed and stare at us. And my wife brought this up a few times, saying that it was ongoing. Now, most nights I was asleep and wouldn’t have noticed a thing, but other nights I was having trouble with insomnia and was awake, and I know that my daughter didn’t enter our room.

Around the same time, my daughter told me that, at night, the wooden supports in the house walls would whisper to her. They would say "we are your friends, and we love you."

About a year after that, I fell asleep on the couch in the living room, and woke briefly to the sound of someone walking in the kitchen (adjacent to the living room). The house is 60 years old and many rooms, including the kitchen, have squeaky floorboards with distinctive sounds, and this was the sound of an adult. Anyway, when I asked my wife the next day why she hadn’t woken me up to head to bed when she was in the kitchen, she told me that she had not been in the kitchen.

More recently, my daughter has begun complaining of having “bad thoughts” about creepy entities when she is in bed at night, and about two weeks ago, she called me in after I had put her to bed. When I got to her room, she told me that she had seen a shadowy figure come in through the exterior wall, cross over her bed, and enter her closet. She has also said that she is afraid of the "shadows with white teeth" that she sometimes sees at night.

Commentary: Now, I don’t believe in ghosts, or anything supernatural for that matter. I think that what I experienced was likely just a mix of normal hallucinations while sleepy (everyone gets them, it’s normal and explains many ghost stories), and my daughter is a six year old who is beginning to understand and cope with the concept of death, and her reaction has been to occasionally freak out and over-interpret things (we played the Oregon Trail board game recently, and while she has always been a gracious loser, drawing the “you have died of dysentery” card freaked her out) - add to that the fact that her bedroom window faces the street and that odd shadows are common when cars drive by. Even the thing about the supports in the walls talking to her started as a joke between her and I when her mother was having to spend time in the hospital for eye surgery (I started talking about the beams talking because I thought she'd find it funny, and she did, and it helped distract her away from worrying about her mom).

But, still, explainable or not, and I do feel that it is very explainable, it’s pretty creepy.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Haunting (or not) in Seattle

On a message board that I frequent (yes, some message boards still exist!) I asked posters to share their real-life ghost stories, and I received this excellent one from a user with the handle Tombobodil:

"So a couple of years ago I was living in an old apartment building in Seattle with a couple other people. It was a really old building that was sandwiched right up next to the neighboring buildings. It was one of those situations where they're so close there isn't even a sliver of an alley; the sides were basically flush with one another.

It was a medium sized two story place with a half second floor where the bedrooms were and a wide wooden plank staircase that led from the bedroom floor to a shared rec area/kitchen at the back of the apartment.

The whole building was brick and wood and so was drafty and creaky, but nothing that I wouldn't by default attribute to just "old building noises". But one night I woke up at like 2 o'clock in the morning with a pretty bad stomach ache, and after trying and failing to fall back to sleep decided to head downstairs to try to find some Alka Seltzer.

About a third of the way down the stairs, I not only heard, but FELT something coming slowly down the stairs behind me. I was pretty groggy, and assuming it was just one of my roommates turned around to see. But there was no one there. The steps however kept coming. Muffled creaky steps and I could SEE the planks of the staircase bowing slightly with each step, coming slowly towards me.

Now I'm one of the most staunchly anti-superstition, pro logic, pro science and reason person I know. The kind of person who, if I saw a literal ghost that I could examine and interact with, wouldn't think "ghost" I would think "extra-dimensional alien" or maybe just "I'm having hallucinations", and maybe it was because I was also half asleep, but I just stood stone still fucking frozen with a deep panicky dread that completely bypassed the reasonable part of my brain.

The steps continued until it reached the step I was on and I FELT the stair bow slightly underneath me and reverberate with the phantom step. The steps continued to the bottom of the stairs before stopping without a trace. Now I honestly couldn't tell you what I was thinking at that moment but I was wide awake and under no illusion that I had just imagined that.

I didn't wake up any of my friends, but told them about it in the morning. Now they knew me well enough to know that I wouldn't put any stock in something I had dream or imagined or anything like that. If I was taking it seriously and talking about it the way I was, it either really happened, or there was something seriously wrong with me mentally. In either case it wasn't a matter to be dealt with flippantly. So they agreed to stay up with me and see if it happened again.

And sure enough, it did. At the exact same time and in the exact same way. The steps started on the first stair, there was sound and movement of the step, and they passed slowly down the stair case, disappearing after the last step.

After a few moments of being legitimately spooked, we immediately started trying to figure out what the hell might be causing it. Weird temperature fluctuations, some kind of elaborate prank? We stayed up the next two nights, and on the second night it stopped."


Much as Tombombodil provided the story, he also provided an explanation for what occurred:

"So what was happening is that at some point, the section of the building we were in shared a stairwell with the building next door, the wooden staircase in that stairwell got retrofitting into the stairs between the floors of our apartment. But the wooden planks of the stairs were still the same planks that spanned across to the other building even though they had partitioned the space off with walls etc. 

So some guy who worked night shifts was getting up, and coming down the stairs to go to work, and was stepping on the other half of the same planks that made up our stair case; thus the sound, vibrations, and movement."

Thanks, Tombombodil, I very much enjoyed this one.