Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gateway to Hell

On behalf of the people of Stull, Kansas, I wish to say that none of this story is true, in any way shape or form. Okay, let's begin...

In the small town of Stull, Kansas, there is an old cemetery that contains one of the seven gateways to Hell* known to be on Earth. It is one of two spots - the other being an isolated spot in India, where Satan himself appears at midnight on Halloween to gather those who died violent deaths to have a final cavort across the surface of Earth. Some say that Satan again appears in Stull on the first day of Spring to visit a witch buried in the cemetery.

People have visited the burial ground for decades, waiting to see the Devil appear. Although nobody has reported a visit by the Father of Lies, many people have reported strange happenings, including a malevolent force that manifests as a strong wind that can knock a grown man down and keep him on the ground, as well as unattended vehicles moving from where their drivers parked them. Other reported incidents include mysterious voices, and invisible hands clutching at trespassers.

Rumor holds that Satanists routinely meet in the cemetery, especially near the ruins of an old church - which is said to be the precise location of the gateway to Hell - in order to carry out their rituals. And sometimes demons, even Satan himself, will come to these gatherings of the evil faithful to sanctify (or diabolize) their rites.

Commentary: The town of Stull, Kansas is a small settlement in an unincorporated part of Douglas County. The town was, like so many rural towns throughout the U.S., a pleasant place for the residents, but uninteresting to most people passing through (that is not an insult, merely an observation, and I say this as someone who came from just such a rural, unincorporated town). That changed in 1974, when the student newspaper at the University of Kansas in Lawrence published an article describing weird cult activity at the cemetery. After that, legend trippers began to visit the cemetery, looking for an encounter with the supernatural. These visitors have engaged in a good deal of vandalism, and as a result the local residents and law enforcement are keen to keep visitors away.

The local antipathy towards tourists creates a weird sort of dynamic. People who have visited and been chased away have described that they feel as if the locals have something to hide. The locals, on the other hand, have nothing to hide but simply are tired of outsiders coming in and doing damage. As a result, the story has probably gotten more inadvertent fals confirmation than it should, and the locals have to deal with idiots and vandals.

The question that I would like to have answered is what is the deal with this being one of the seven gateways to Hell? Despite a good deal of searching on the internet and in libraries, I have never been able to figure out where the other six gateways are. Apparently one is in some isolated location in India, never specifically named by anyone who mentions it. But there are no answers as to where the other ones are. I wonder if the "seven gateways" got attached to this story so that it seemed somehow more ominous.

Videos: Sometimes it seems like Hometown Tales has a video for every occasion...

Sources: Wikipedia, Prairie Ghosts, Internet, Hometown Tales (see video embedded above), Internet

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Hookerman Lights, Morris County, N.J.

According to legend...

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, railroads employed "hookermen" who used hooks to grab lanterns, mail, and other such items from poles along the side of the railroad tracks*. One night, somewhere along the rails in Morris County, New Jersey, the hookerman was thrown off balance and fell off of the train. He was knocked unconscious, and his arm was severed when the train ran over it. Some say that he died then and there of blood loss, others that he survived but had a hook put in place of his missing limb. Either way, the accident and the loss of his arm linked him permanently to that stretch of track.

Since then, people walking the railroad tracks at night have reported strange balls of light that appear above the track, and move along the track, changing color as they go. These lights are said to the the ghostly lantern of the unfortunate hookerman, looking for his lost arm.

Sometimes witnesses claim to approach the light only to see it move away from them, as if controlled by an intelligence. Even the removal of the tracks in the late 70's didn't result in the end of the lights. To this day, if one wanders the old route of the railroad through Morris County, there is a chance that you'll see the hookerman's spectral lantern.

* I have no idea if this is true. I have tried doing internet searches to find out, but my web-fu is doubt there's a sixteen year-old reading this who got an answer in a matter of minutes.

Commentary: This is a classic urban legend, variations of which can be found all over North America, but one of the best known versions is from Morris County, New Jersey. There are a few variations on the story even within Morris County, with some claiming that the hookerman was on the train, others that he was a railroad employee walking the line who was struck by the train. Some versions have him living through the incident, but having an arm replaced with a hook, while others hold that he had used a hook on a pole as part of his job and was killed by the train.

So, there's a few different things to talk about here. First off there's the fantastic urban legend nature of the story itself. Unlike most non-urban legend accounts of hauntings, the hookerman is given a goal: to find his arm. This is classic Urban Legend stuff, the ghost has a goal and is restless because that goal can never be reached. Then there is the fact that the legend has some very wide and strange variations - did the hookerman live or die? Is the hookerman called that because he worked with a hook or because his arm was replaced with one? - that is also class ic urban legends stuff. And, of course, there is a place given where one can go and see the ghost, which leads invairably to legend-tripping. This is a great story for these reasons alone.

But then you get the fact that, ghost story aside, there is a class of reported phenomonon known as "ghost lights", "spirit lights", "will-o-the wisps", or "spooklights" into which this can plainly be put. These spirit lights are widespread and include the Marfa Lights in Texas, and the Brown Mountain Lights of North Carolina, and the Min Min Lights of Australia. The causes of the lights are variable. The classic Will-o-the wisp appears in swamplands or marshes, and is likely due to nothing more than combustible gasses in the swamps. The other lights may be similar natural features, or may also be lights from mundane sources (automobiles, campfires, etc.) that are rendered unidentifiable due to atmospheric oddities (such as the movement of differentially heated air as the ground cools at night) or have simply been mis-identified by witnesses due to unfamiliarity with the landscape. Many people claim that these lights are caused by the Piezoelectric effect - wherein minerals such as quartz release electricity when struck.

I think that invoking the piezoelectric effect is overkill, as there are many other potential light sources available where most of the spooklights are reported, and they tend to be dismissed with little scrutiny by most paranormal researchers. However, it is interesting that even within the paranormal believer community, one is far more likely to hear a naturalistic explanation - even if it is a far-fetched naturalistic explanation - for these types of lights than to hear a supernatural one. What that means, if anything, I haven't a clue. But I find it interesting.

One other thing worth mentioning: most famous hauntings have completely subjective experiences - someone sees an apparition or hears a sound when nobody else is around, someone gets a "feeling of being watched", or someone notices that they are getting cold for no reason. These things are damn near impossible ot verify or test. What's cool about the spooklight phenomenon is that they are a visible, observable, testable phenomenon (which is perhaps why even many paranormal enthusiasts prefer naturalistic explanations), which means that A( if they are real, they can be shown to be real (at least hypothetically), and B) if they are found to be real, they can be studied.

And that is really damn cool.

Special Stuff: I loves me some Hometown Tales videos:

...and because you can never have enough videos:

Sources: Urban Legend, Local Folklore, Hometown Tales Podcast, Weird N. J., Horrorfind Weekend, Associated Content, Internet, Internet Forum, Another Internet Forum

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Underground of Old Town Sacramento

Sacramento, like San Francisco, was a city born of the 1849 Gold Rush. Located along the primary river route, it served as a lifeline for supplies to the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada. The original waterfront of the town, part of which has been preserved as the Old Town Sacramento district, does not sit at ground level. Floods from the Sacramento River damaged the goods and properties of the people working and living in this area, prompting them to construct an upper level to which most businesses and homes were moved. To the casual observer, the upper level appeared to be the ground level.

The lower level did not vanish, however, it simply became invisible to those who lacked access to the tunnels via the former-first floors (now basements) and various tunnel entrances. While the tunnels were likely used for numerous legitimate activities (storage, lodging, etc.), they likely also served the (now literally) underground economy as a home to prostitution and opium dens. The tunnels are no longer readily accessible - you have to have access to a property with a connecting basement to get into them - but are still there and can be entered by those who know a way in (mostly owners of buildings with connecting basements, although some other folks find access as well). Much like similar tunnels in Portland, Oregon, these tunnels eventually gained a reputation for being the dwellings of unnatural horrors.

Rumors abound of strange lights and unexplained shadows in the tunnels. Property owners (and those who work in the area) with access to the tunnels are rumored to report a strong sense of malice directed at them when they enter the tunnels. One rumor holds that even transients won't sleep in the tunnels due to constant feelings of being threatened by some unseen force.

Although there are likely more specific hauntings known for the area, these are hard to find through research. It's the ambiguous lighting and feelings of menace that one finds mention of when looking for information on the tunnels.

Commentary: Abandoned places attract ghost stories like Paulie Shore attracts loathing, and a place that is not only abandoned, but hidden? Well, that's a recipe for stories of hauntings. So, the fact that the subterranean portion of Old Sacramento is reputed to be haunted is not surprising.

What is surprising is how little information is in any way specific. While I have no doubt that had I the time to go and interview people who have spent time in the tunnels I would have heard at least a few specific stories (a particular location where lights are seen, a ghostly voice that calls out, an apparition of a person or animal, etc.), in trying to research this remotely online, all I can find are rumors, references to vague feelings of dread or evil, and announcements that some people refuse to enter the tunnels.

It's a bit anti-climactic.

So, in the end, the idea of a town buried under your feet is a bit creepy to begin with, and the fact that this town is reputed to be haunted amps up the spookiness level. But if you look too deep, you tend to find no meat to sink your story-collecting teeth into. It's frustrating.

Oh well, at least it's still a cool location.

Extra Stuff: A series of photos of exposed underground locations can be found here.

Sources: Internet, Internet, The Illustrious Internet, Internet

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Bandage Man of Cannon Beach

On the roads outside of Cannon Beach, Oregon, and especially an old, now bypassed, section of Highway 101, a strange and disturbing creature stalks the night. Drivers have long reported seeing a man, clad from head-to-toe in bandages stained with blood and other less identifiable fluids. Those who have come close enough report that the ersatz mummy smells horribly, as if he is rotting. And those who slow down, or who are unlucky enough to be walking when the creature comes out towards the road, have been savagely attacked. Sometimes it is claimed that the bandage man can simply appear in passing vehicles, without any obvious entry. Oddly, the bandage man is also said to eat dogs. Sometimes the bandage man leaves behind bits of putrescent bandages that fell off during attacks.

Stories of the origins of this being are variable, some holding that this is the ghost or re-animated corpse of a logger who had been severely injured in a sawmill, and died while in bandages. Others hold that this is a vengeful spirit of no earthly origin. Whatever the story, the bandage man is said to be violent, malevolent, and to be avoided.

Commentary: Now that I am back home after seven months on a time-consuming project for work, Halloween seems like a great day to begin posting stories on this blog.

This is a beautiful urban legend, complete with claims of physical evidence left behind (the bandages are often said to mark the scenes of his attacks, much like the hook left behind by a serial killer in one popular urban legend. The story is pretty damn creepy (although the part about eating dogs, while probably intended to be horrifying, simply sounds rather silly), and as someone who has driven on California's forested coastal highways late at night, I can attest that it is easy to let one's imagination run away and start seeing all manner of evil creature out of the corner of your eyes. In addition, the presence of a specific location allows legend tripping for the youth of the Cannon Beach area. It is also delightful to note that one of the sources listed below even contains a "friend-of-a-friend" story that fits the urban legend perfectly.

What is somewhat unique is that, as far as I have been able to determine, the bandage man is a one-of-a-kind, location-specific urban legend. Although elements of the story are common in many wide-spread urban legends, I have not been able to find anything quite like the bandage man anywhere outside of Cannon Beach, Oregon. And that makes this a story worth remembering.

Sources: Published Book, Internet, Internet, Internet

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The (alleged) Death Bed Terror of an Archaeologist

This story is about a real person, but it should be noted that the entire story is based on second hand accounts and rumor, and I do not claim that the story is true, though the information contained in the commentary is accurate.

Clarence "Pop" Ruth was a significant figure in Santa Barbara County archaeology in the early-through-mid 20th century. Professionally a teacher and later principal of Lompoc's school, Ruth collected artifacts in his free time and displayed them in his home in Lompoc (in northern Santa Barbara County) and in a small museum next door to his home. His collections formed the basis of those at the Lompoc Museum, and by providing a tangible link to the past, did promote local archaeology. However, his means of collection, falling short of archaeological standards (especially as they developed in the later half of the 20th century) was considered by many member of the local Chumash Indian community (as well as many archaeologists) to be grave robbing. As a result, Ruth is a controversial figure, to say the least, in the history of Californian archaeology.

Some years back, I worked with someone who had known Clarence Ruth. He told me the following story concerning Ruth's death:

As Ruth was dying, he was uneasy, and seemed to be seeing things that no one else could. in his final moments, he became terrified, and began to scream that the spirits of long-dead Chumash Indians were coming to drag him away to Hell for disturbing their graves. And with that, he died.

Commentary: As noted above, this story is based on rumor and hearsay, I don't claim to know if it is true. It is, perhaps, worth noting that I have only heard this story from my colleagues in archaeology, and those of them who know it tell the story with a certain strange and unnerving relish. Part of this may come from the fact that most archaeologists are abhorred at the destructive way in which many non-archaeologists and self-styled "avocational archaeologists" remove artifacts from sites. The fact that one such person allegedly died while suffering for these methods gives some of my more bellicose, and perhaps less empathetic, colleagues a sense of justice.

It's important to remember that during Ruth's time, the non-systematic removal of artifacts from sites was a common activity and generally frowned upon only by the Native American community who held that this activity was nothing more than theft and grave robbing. Archaeologists, Native Americans, and law enforcement now refer to this sort of activity as looting, and when it is done on public lands (or on private lands by anyone other than the land owner) it is considered theft and carries legal penalties including prison time.

It is however important to note that, during most of Ruth's life, this sort of activity was acceptable, and the fact that Ruth made his collection public and used it to help establish a museum does indicate that he was something more than just a simple treasure hunter or artifact seller. Whether or not this was an acceptable excuse for Ruth is open to debate. As an intelligent and educated man, Ruth certainly would have had access to information on modern archaeological techniques, should he have chosen to make use of them. Also, as a resident of Santa Barbara County, Ruth may have had the opportunity to learn more about proper archaeological methods from the leading anthropologists of the day, many of whom frequented Ruth's home turf. In the early 20th century, this would have included Alfred Kroeber, J. P. Harrington, and David Banks Rogers. In the mid and late 20th centuries, this would have included James Deetz, Michael Glassow, Brian Fagan, and Albert Spaulding. And this is just a small sampling of the notable anthropologists and anthropological archaeologists who have lived and/or worked in the area.

While Ruth's activities were not out of the ordinary for people of his generation and his willingness to share was rather unusual, Ruth did have ways to gain the resources to do better. And so, when the Lompoc Museum's web page explains simply that Ruth was a "man of his time", the statement is both accurate and disingenuous. And so, right or wrong, some of my colleagues may enjoy this story simply because it is a way of expressing disapproval.

Another reason for the telling of the story amongst archaeologists may have something to do with our own profession's rather checkered past. In the late 19th and early 20th century, much archaeology was little more than grave robbing. Even those archaeologists who practiced the most advanced methods and used the latest techniques did so without regard to the Native American communities that were often affected by the archaeologist's work. While times have changed and archaeologists are better about this now, even many of my current colleagues view the modern descendants of the people being studied as irrelevant, though this view is increasingly a minority opinion.

So, this story may also serve to confirm to us that we are different from the "grave robbers" of the past. We use better methods, are less destructive, and are more likely to consider the descendants of our study subjects. And, so we tell ourselves, we don't have to worry about being dragged to Hell by angry spirits.

Of course, when all is said and done, it should be remembered that one definite reason why this story continues to be told is simply that it is a creepy story, and those stories, whether true or false, always carry on.

Sources: Personal Accounts

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Himuro Mansion, Tokyo, Japan

Edited 2-2-2012

In a rocky area on the outskirts of Tokyo, there is a large house, a mansion of traditional design that hosts many malevolent spirits due to its dark history. The story is, at this point, best known to video game fans in the U.S. because a video game Fatal Frame was created based on the tale.

Legend holds that the Himuro family had a gruesome responsibility - every 50 years they had to perform an ancient and occult Shinto ritual that involved raising a woman in secret (to prevent her from forming attachments to others) and, late in the year, brought to an elemental seal from which evil forces might enter the world where each limb and her neck were tied to oxen who then pulled the woman apart.

The last woman to be killed, sometime within the last 80 years, somehow came into contact with a young man, with whom she fell in love. Her feelings for the young man essentially negated the sacrifice, and so the members of the Himuro family who were responsible for the ritual became distraught. Taking a traditional sword, the patriarch murdered his entire family, feeling their death by the sword was preferable to the evil that he believed was coming.

Since then, people have reported a wide variety of weird happenings at or near the house. Apparitions of family members have been seen both at night and in broad daylight. Bloody hand prints and sprays of blood, as if from a drenched sword, mysteriously appear on the walls. People who enter the house are occasionally found dead, with rope marks on their arms and legs indicating that they had been bound and pulled.

In addition, there are three smaller houses on the same property that had some connection to the ritual. There are reputed to be tunnels under the houses that connect them to each other and the mansion, but it is not known who built these tunnels.

A few photos have been found on the internet that may be from this house, but nobody knows for certain.

Commentary: A short while back, I began looking into ghost stories in Japan. I kept coming across references to Himuro Mansion, and the impression that I got was that it was essentially the Japanese equivalent of the Borley Rectory, except for one thing: while the location of most allegedly haunted houses is known, nobody knew where Himuro Mansion was. Also, the story of how the mansion came to be haunted seemed so over the top that it struck me as obviously false. Add to that the fact that the story is said to have inspired the video game Fatal Frame, and I was suspicious as to the nature of this story. Still, I know little enough about Japanese culture that I though I should look into it further, and that's how I eventually began stumbling across the last couple of bits of information that made the whole thing clear.

The tale behind this haunted house story is an interesting one. There is no Himuro Mansion. Himuro is, in fact, a fairly normal Japanese name (think "Smith Mansion"), and the story is not one likely to be known by many Japanese people. This is an American urban legend about Japan, not a Japanese one. And what's better, it was a consciously created urban legend!

The game Fatal Frame was originally designed and released in Japan, and following it's Japanese release, it was prepared for a North American release. It is not clear when the story of the haunted mansion began, but by the time of its North American release, the tagline "Based on a true story"* was added to the title, and the claim that the game was based on an actual story concerning a haunted house in Japan was circulated. The presence of the internet, probably the best tool for spreading false information and claiming rumor as true ever, made it easy to spread the story, and many people in both the video gamer and paranormal enthusiast communities shared the tale of the haunted house with others. Whether the alleged photos of the house come from the game company or from outside hoaxsters on the internet is not clear.

So, it appears possible that the story primarily exists in North America, and only exists because it was part of a marketing campaign for a video game. As a result, we now appear to have an urban legend about events that allegedly happened in another country, but the legend is primarily in circulation in the U.S. This has to be one of the most convoluted marketing/hoax-based urban legends ever. And I really dig it.

Edit to add:  As you can see if you look down in the comments section of this site, there are a whole lot of people who really want this story to be true, which makes this entry the most commented-on of all of those that I have posted to this site.   The comments section is something of a microcosm of the sorts of weird-ass arguments that people make regarding claims that are demonstrated false, but that they wish to keep believing: you have the people who are unwilling to do their own background research accusing me of not having done mine, you have the people making frankly racist assertions regarding the "superstitious" and "secretive" people of Asia, you have the pseudo-profound ramblings of people who are trying to claim that the fact that this house has never been found is somehow evidence of it's existence, the people who produce weird-ass stories about alleged visits to the house, and you have the people claiming that there is some sort of vast cover-up that would have to include Google, several governments, and more than a few people and companies involved in software development.  It is deeply, deeply strange.

For most of the people posting here who are claiming that the story is true, it seems to be partially a devotion to the game (which I am told is a fantastic game, though I have personally not played it) and partially a desire for a supernatural story to be true.  Regardless, this particular entry seems to get the passions up like nothing else on here...likely this is at least partially because the fact that this is tied in to a video game gives the players of the game a feeling that they have somehow experienced the events, and therefore a deeper investments than they otherwise might have.  I suspect also that the culturally pornographic view that many have regarding the "exotic" nature of Japan makes them invest this story with more meaning than a ghost story set in, for example, New Jersey.  Regardless, it is interesting to me that this one entry gets so much attention when, frankly, it's not even one of the better entries on this site.

*What is it with people routinely falling for this line? I have seen otherwise sane, rational people fall for really tall tales because they were supposedly "based on a true story". My favorite example, though, is that a cousin of mine was convinced that the events depicted in Return of the Living Dead really happened because the opening screen of the film had these words emblazoned across it.

Sources:  Fatal Frame Wiki,   Wikipedia, Internet, Internet, The Illustrious Internet

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Ghost of the Central Park Canal, Bakersfield, California

If you go to the canal in Bakersfield's Central Park at dawn, you are likely to run into something that perhaps you'd prefer not to see. A ghostly woman, wearing a white robe-like garment, has been reported to haunt this area, and might be seen by early risers. Some reports say that she weeps as she wanders the canal's banks, while others don't report any sounds at all.

Local legend holds that this ghost is the spirit of a murdered woman whose remains were found under the floor of an old foundry when work was performed there (other versions of the story claim that her remains were found on the other side of the park). Who she was, why she was murdered, or even when she was murdered have never been determined.

Nonetheless, her ghost wanders the canal.

Commentary: This appears to be another urban legend/legend tripping case. We have the location where the ghost can be seen, a time to go and see her, a description of the ghost that is vague enough to allow the imagination to run wild, and an origin story of the ghost that nicely avoids particulars.

One particularly interesting point is that at least one group of people have argued that this is a variation on the La Llarona story. There are certainly similarities - a mysterious woman who is seen close to water, sometimes heard weeping. However, there are also differences, this woman was supposedly a murder victim, and not a mother who had killed her children or allowed them to be killed. Also, some of the traits that she shares with many stories of La Llarona - the wandering, weeping, and the robe-like clothing - are also shared with many other legends of ghosts.

Is there a link between La Llarona and Bakersfield's ghost? Perhaps. But the interesting question to me is, if there is a connection, is the Bakersfield ghost a variation on the La Llarona story, or did elements of the La Llarona story get added to an existing story in Bakersfield?

Sources: Internet, Internet, Internet

Friday, June 26, 2009

Amy of Lick Road, Hamilton, Ohio

Edit 12-7-12:  A commentor suggested that this story is in Hamilton, Ohio, and not Cincinatti, as originally stated.  I have looked it up, and believe that she is correct, and have edited the entry accordingly.

Amy was murdered by her boyfriend. Some say that she was murdered on Kemp Road, others that she was murdered in a nearby park, and some say that she was murdered in a nearby cul-de-sac, but what everyone agrees on is that here body was found on Lick Road, just outside of Hamilton, Ohio.

Since her death, a number of weird things have been said to occur on Lick Road. If you drive your car to the end of the road, the windows will fog up and the word "HELP" will be written in the fog (some versions of the story say that you have to flash your lights three times before this happens). If you flash your lights at the stop sign as you turn onto Lick Road, the word "STOP" will be replaced by the word "AMY." People have reported seeing a woman dressed in white wandering the countryside near Lick Road. And it is said that if you follow a trail leading down to a wooden bridge, you will hear a mysterious "clunk" sound, perhaps the sound of a body hitting the planks of the bridge?

Commentary: This is classic urban legend stuff. We have a creepy story based on tragedy, many variations of that story, and specific instructions to follow in order to experience ghostly happenings. This is typical of legend tripping, and is a delightful example of it.

Many people who visit the location claim to have experienced odd events, even if not those mentioned in the stories. Do strange things happen here? Maybe, but remember that people who go to Lick Road looking for ghosts may interpret anything that happens as evidence of a ghost without looking further into it.

Nonetheless, it's a great story, and I highly recommend that anyone who lives in Butler County take the opportunity to check the place out - after all, it's not often that you can experience a ghost story in a public (and hence not-likely-to-get-you-arrested-for-trespassing) place.

Sources: Newspaper, Internet, Ohio Exploration Society

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Modesto High School

Updated on May 12, 2010

Anyone who has spent much time as or around students at Modesto High School is likely to have heard the story of the ghost in the auditorium. The most common version of the tale holds that a young man, a student at the school, fell from the auditorium's balcony and died when his head struck the floor below. Since his death, he is often seen walking back and forth on the balcony.

There are, of course, variations on this story. In some of the variations that I have heard, the young man was despondent and commited suicide. In others, he was killed in an accident involving a sand bag or weight used to move scenery on pulleys.

While the auditorium ghost is the only version of the story that I have heard from other people who have lived in or around Modesto, entering "Modesto High School Ghost" into Google also produces a few references to strange knocking noises heard in one of the school's hallways, next to a room that used to be (and for all I know still is) used for home economics classes. On a few of the sites that mention this, the knocking sound is said to come from the floor, and references are made to tunnels that used to run under the school.

Commentary: I probably heard the auditorium story for the first time from my older sister, who graduated from Modesto High in 1992. Since then, I have heard it numerous times, from students and alumni of the school as well as from other folks around town.

Gene and Bryan of Hometown Tales, in an episode on haunted colleges made a comment to the effect of "the reason why there are ghost stories in colleges is because boys and girls go to college together." The same probably applies to high schools, as the use of scary stories is pretty common in adolescent courtship. But there is a bit more to it than that. Scary stories are a part of teenage social bonding in general, not just between the sexes, and putting the story in a shared context, such as a high school, makes it even more effective.

Add to that the fact that, as I am assured by everyone I know who has ever been involved in theatre, "every theatre has a ghost*", and it seems certain that the auditiorium of a high school would have its own ghost story.

In of June 22, 2009, the Wikipedia entry for Modesto High School had a history section that was two paragraphs long. The first, longer paragraph described the school's history. The second, short paragraph listed, with no transition, a few ghosts said to haunt the school. The jarring and non-sequitor nature of the entry was hilarious. However, it has now been changed and lacks the comedy elements that it had back then.

*Interestingly, I have only ever met one person involved in theatre who scoffed at the ghost stories. While doom is said to fall on those who dismiss the spirits, she was actually one of the most succesful theatre professionals that I have ever met. So, go figure.

Sources: Local Folklore, Published Book, The Illustrious Internet

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mission La Purisima, Lompoc, CA

Prompted both by British interests in western North America and Russian incursions onto the west coast, the Spanish government decided in the 18th century to begin colonizing Alta California (or, as we now call it, the state of California). Missions were established at regular intervals from San Diego up to San Francisco, all of them falling within a relatively short distance from the coast.

The missions have their share of ghost stories, some due to the amount of death and misery that occur ed within them, others due to the simple fact that these are amongst the few recognizably historic features on California's relatively young constructed landscape. I lived, for a time, just a few miles from Mission La Purisima Concepcion, just outside of the town of Lompoc, near Vandenberg Air Force Base. I spent many afternoons at the mission, enjoying walks through the open land as well as wandering in and out of the mission buildings. And, of course, I began to hear rumors of ghosts who stalked the mission grounds.

In and around the main building, the chapel, people have reported seeing a monk walking the halls, as well as phantom monks walking about inside the building. Cold spots and feelings of being watched are common, as are the sounds of voices. Some people have claimed that "energy vortexes" (often claimed, never explained) are found within the chapel. One park ranger, and a few visitors, has reported seeing a man in a white sleeping gown (described by the ranger as "Benjamin Franklin in drag") in the old living quarters. Others claim to have seen various different priests, neophytes (the Native Californians who resided within the missions), and various workers appear and vanish within the various outbuildings and workshops at the mission.

Outside of the mission's buildings, mysterious lights have been reported in the cemetery as have voices and other sounds. Speaking voices, the sound of flutes, and singing have been heard throughout the ground. People claim to have sen shadows moving at night. Strange sounds are often reported on the mission grounds. A phantom greyhound dog has also been reported.

Commentary: The La Purisima Concepcion state park exists at the second location of Mission La Purisima. The first mission was founded in 1787 at a location that now resides within the central portion of the City of Lompoc. The mission was damaged in an earthquake in 1812, and the decision was made to move the mission several miles to the north, in the location where the restored buildings currently stand. The mission operated until 1834, when it, along with most of California's other missions, was secularized. After this, the mission lands passed through the hands of a succession of landowners - most of them ranchers - and the buildings and other facilities fell into a state of disrepair. Many of the buildings, including the mission's impressive chapel, were reconstructed in the 1930s as part of the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

California's colonial era is largely mythologized, the missions being the subject of both demonization and romanticization, and even those who think of themselves as well-informed usually know more myth than fact about this period of California's history.

To be certain, the missions would have been a miserable place for many of the neophytes, due to the physical constraints placed on them by mission life, the probably incomprehensible ritual required by the padres who ran the missions, and the disease caused by cramped quarters and poor sanitary conditions.

The Spanish priests and soldiers likely weren't much happier about conditions. They were far from home, the military and religious authorities clashed bitterly over who should be responsible for the colonization of Alta California, and violence both among the Spanish and between the Spanish and the native people of the area was not uncommon.

In short, everyone was miserable. When one considers that the mythology that has risen up around the missions tends to amplify and exxagerate this misery, and the fact that the missions are some of the few recognizably historic landmarks on California's relatively recent constructed landscape, it is no surprise that all of them seem to have a reputation for hauntings.

La Purisima is often described as the "most haunted" mission (though, again, I suspect that every mission has at least some number of people who will label it the "most haunted"), and has been a mecca for many self-styled paranormal investigators.

Amongst these investigators is Richard Senate, who I find to be a fascinating character. First off, the guy is clearly a good sport, even agreeing to be filmed for Penn & Teller's Bullshit (though the segment was ultimately never broadcast). And, after reading a number of his articles and books, I am inclined to think that he is an honest person who is really trying his hardest to research something. The problem is that he does so with a methodology that is so sloppy that it is bound to give useless results.

For example, in his book Ghosts of the Gold Coast, Senate describes visiting La Purisima, and discovering that there was something strange and powerful in the main chapel. His evidence for this was the fact that people in the group that he brought kept going to the same spot in the chapel and spinning around, as well as reporting cold spots, feeling as if there was a presence nearby, and so on. The problem is that he had all of these people in the room together at the same time, so that, even if they were not speaking with each other, they were seeing each other's behavior and taking cues from each other. He had brought the people in to observe their behavior as an experiment, but he failed to put even the most rudimentary controls on that experiment (such as leading people in one at a time to observe them). This sort of sloppiness permeates his investigations at La Purisima, as well as many of the others that he has performed elsewhere.

Ultimately, Senate demonstrates the right attitude (experiment, gather data, see if there really is something), but all of the wrong methods.

Anyone who truly wishes to investigate, rather than just sight-see, would do well to take a lesson from this, otherwise you're more likely to simply reinforce your own preconceived notions than to find anything real.

Video Treat:

I love it when I can post videos as well. This one has a moment in which the two young women featured in the video tell a spirit that it can not leave the grounds of the mission - which lead me to wonder if the legal prohibitions against taking anything from state or federal lands also applies to supernatural entities. What would the attorney general say?

Sources: Printed Book, Newspaper, Local Folklore, Richard Senate, Richard Senate - again, Internet, Internet

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spectral Soldiers in My Bedroom

As a teenager, I woke up one night to hear the sound of artillery shells, and saw that my room was occupied by somewhat luminescent and translucent World War I-era soldiers, preparing to leave the trench for the machine-gun fed slaughter that was mistakenly called a "battle" during that war. I knew that I had to go with my comrades, as futile as it was, and so I began to don my backpack, pick up my rifle, and get ready. I was still in my room, but I knew that once I opened the door, I would be int he trench, and ready to fight. I went to the door, opened it, and saw my this point, I had completely waken, and felt a bit foolish to be standing there in my backpack, holding a dowel that I had been keeping in my room for who-knows-what reason.

Commentary: I was unsure about whether or not I should include this story on this site. It's a description of events that occured to me when I was a teenager, and to which I have never attributed a supernatural cause. However, it does have a basic structure in common with many ghost stories, and like my experiences on the cliffs in Goleta, I decided to include it to illustrate a point that becomes relevant to anyone who works with personal accounts of hauntings.

The events that occured bore many of the features common to stories of hauntings: I woke up as a result of sounds, witnessed some truly weird spectres, and (in a slightly unusual, but not unheard of, twist) I joined these ghostly soldiers for battle. I could have viewed this as some sort of weird visitation or out-of-body experience, but instead I reflected on the fact that earlier in the evening I had been watching a television show about WWI-era trench warfare, and that the descriptions of the misery of the soldiers had really disturbed and gotten to me, and I also had been having trouble sleeping lately. Putting the two together, it became obvious that I was experiencing a mundane, if somewhat creepy, event.

The point to all of this is pretty simple. When I collect ghost stories from people, most of them tell me about events that occurred while, or shortly after, they had been resting, usually (but not always) in bed. The descriptions are usuall pretty simple - they see someone standing over them that vanishes, they hear strange sounds that they can't identify, or they perhaps even get out of bed and see/hear/smell something unusual. Invariably, the teller of the tale assures me that they were awake, and I hear those words "I know what I" saw/heard/smelt/etc. However, I have yet to hear one of these stories that is not absolutely compatible with near-sleep hallucinations. I also have never had a conversation with someone about such an experience in which they said that they had bothered to look for dosconfirming evidence before deciding that their experience was a supernatural one.

In short - when you are looking into people's stories, don't take everything at face value. They may have perceived something, and honestly believe that it was an external influence, when it was in fact something that came from their own physiology.

Sources: Personal Experience

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ghost Ship of the Southwestern Deserts

Some time in the 17th century, three Spanish ships set out from port in western Mexico, sailing northwards towards Baja California under orders to obtain pearls from the natives. At this they were successful and their holds were filled with pearls, but they met with disaster nonetheless. The first ship became grounded on a sand bar, and could not be removed. The second ship was attacked by unfriendly natives and sank. The third ship, now carrying the surviving crew of the first two ships, carried on, sailing up the Gulf of California to the mouth of the Colorado River. Believing that they had found the fabled Straits of Anian (a supposed, but ultimately nonexistent, North American water route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans), the ship sailed up the Colorado River, eventually finding a large lake in the middle of an otherwise arid desert.

The ship sailed around the lake for a time, looking to continue the journey to the Atlantic Ocean. However it soon became clear that the water was receding and the lake shrinking. Desperate, the captain ordered the ship to sail back the way it came - but as the lake's water level dropped, the ship became mired in the mud of the lake's bottom.

The crew abandoned the ship and headed for the coast on foot, carrying all of the supplies and pearls that they could. In the end, only handful of sailors made it out alive, being rescued by Spanish ships on the coast.

Since then, people in the desert sometimes see a ship sailing above the desert floor, as if on long-vanished water, glowing with an eerie light. The ship may simply be replaying its last voyage, or it may be providing a clue as to where the remains of the corporeal ship are, so that they may be found and the ghost ship and its crew find rest.

Commentary: The story of the "lost ship of the desert" has been circulating in California, Nevada, Arizona, and northern Mexico for nearly 200 years. The apparition of a ghostly ship seems to be a new addition to the story, and the only source that I can find for it is S. E. Schlosser's book Spooky California. I have not been able to figure out whether this represents the, frankly obvious, addition of a "ghost ship" to the story by Schlosser, or if this particular element of the legend has been in circulation for a while.

Most versions of the story forgo the apparition of the ship, and focus instead on the supposed whereabouts of the ship and/or the various treasure hunters who have searched for the ship (many of them dying in the process). The story has also bubbled up into the general (non-regional) public consciousness from time to time, and been featured in many a pulp and comic adventure story.

Although Schlosser sets the story in the Mojave, the ship is more often said to have become stranded in the Salton Basin in California's Imperial County, where the large oscillating lake known as the Salton Sea exists (and was once drained). Some tellers also place the ship in the Colorado desert (more logical considering that it sailed up the Colorado River), as well as various different parts of northern Mexico and the southern U.S.

Also, the nature of the ship is different from telling-to-telling. While the ship is typically said to be Spanish, sometimes a specific captain and crew are even assigned, it has also been claimed to be English, Russian, and even a Viking ship exploring the Americas.

Ghost story or no, is it likely that the lost ship really exists? Okay, I will admit that I am a bit out of my depth on this one, but based on the knowledge I do have of the hydrological history of the American southwest, I have to say that the odds of there being any truth to this story are very, very low (edit, 8/30/2011: see * below). First off, the body of water most likely to support a sailing ship, other than the Colorado River itself, is the Salton Sea, which, from what I have been able to work out, has not been accessible from the Colorado River in many mellenia (though if any geologists/geographers out there know differently, drop me a line). Secondly, even if such a body of water were reached, it seems unlikely that a large lake would drain that quickly unless a drainage channel had just eroded through. That being said, I believe that there are cases of ships becoming stranded in areas where waters do end up receding rapidly, so remember that this is simply unlikely, not impossible. In addition, many printed versions of the story have that give-away of psuedoscholarship: "most experts say that area XX was not accessible to a ship, but those of us who believe in the lost ship know better!"

But, you know, even though I know that the likelihood of this ship being real is extremely low, and even though I doubt that it would have a hold full of pearls even if it were real...well, I have to admit that I am still very strongly tempted to go looking for it myself. I even find myself thinking about ways to build probability models for where a ship might have ended up.

The truth is, I actually don't care about whether the ship is real or not. I am tempted by the adventure of looking for it, and it's an exciting feeling. Typically, when there is a legend such as this with a ghost story attached, I feel drawn to the ghost story more than anything else...but not in this case. And I don't know why.

* I have spoken both in-person and online with geologists and hydrologists who inform me that the possibility of a lost ship is somewhat higher than I would have estimated. So, keep in mind that I am not an expert on the subject, and that there are those far more knowledgeable than I am who do not find the idea of a ship being stranded in that location to be far-fetched.

Sources: Published Book, A Whole Mess o' Magazine Articles, Internet, Personal Accounts

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Andersonville Prison, Georgia

Andersonville Prison (A.K.A. Camp Sumter), near Americus Georgia, is often brought up as an example of the brutal conditions of Civil-War era military prisons. The prison was really little more than wood and cloth temporary structures surrounded by a stockade wall, patrolled by armed guards who were generally willing to kill anyone who passed the "deadline" - a line that created a buffer between the prisoner's area and the prison's walls.

Like most prisons of its day, the camp was plagued by poor sanitation, crowding, and violence both among the prisoners and between the prisoners and guards. One notable group was "Mosby's Raiders", a group of prisoners led by Mosby Collins who would terrorize and take advantage of the other prisoners. Eventually, the warden allowed the prisoners to put several of the "raiders" on trial and execute them.

Up to 13,000 prisoners died during the prison's operation. The prison population could equal 20,000 prisoners at any one time. In 1864, with Union soldiers pushing their way into Georgia, most of the prisoners were vacated from Andersonville and moved to other locations. A group of approximately 1,500 prisoners was left behind, guarded by a skeleton crew of Confederate soldiers. The prison was closed down in 1865 due to the end of the war.

In the century and a half since the closing of the prison, numerous frightening stories have been told about the place. Phantom soldiers have been said to appear and vanish. Overnight campers, taking part in civil war reenactments, have reported developing a strange sickness during the course of the night and feeling an overwhelming malevolence that compelled them to leave. Other visitors have reported being physically pushed by unseen forces; hearing the sounds of screams, marching, and gunshots; seeing figures faintly during fog, accompanied by sounds of screaming and moaning; Hearing voices calling for specific individuals known to have been at the prison; and being overwhelmed by a strong charnel-house smell.

One noteworthy apparition is that of Captain Wirz - the designer and warden of the prison, who was put on trial for war crimes after the end of the war. He was summarily executed.

One popular story holds that a soldier in era-uniform has been seen walking down the road near the prison, visible by the light of the lantern he carries. When the Hometown Tales guys began to speak with people about this story, they quickly found the likely origin of this particular story. One of their contacts, a Civil War re-enacter, was walking along the road during an event-related camping trip. When a truck passed by, the driver appears to have caught a glimpse of the uniformed man and nearly crashed, but took off again without finding out what was really going on.

Commentary: The Civil War occupies a unique place in the American mind. Although inter-state antagonism is not unusual, most people within the nation will identify themselves primarily as citizens of the United States, and secondarily as Georgians, Floridans, Californians, Hoosiers (residents of Indiana), etc. Although this story was different during the late 18th and early 19th century, this hierarchy of identities has long been typical of the people of the U.S.A.

As such, the Civil War represents a breakdown of the perceived natural order. And it is a festering psychic scar on the American consciousness, one that has come to represent different things to different people. To most of us, it represents the final death knell of slavery within the U.S. To a small, but vocal, group, it represents the tyranny of industrial progressives over God-fearing rural people. Of course, neither mythologized view is quite correct, but that doesn't stop them from maintaining popularity.

The Civil war is also significant in the American mind in that it is one of only two wars in which a significant number of people died on U.S. soil, the other being the Revolutionary war (smaller conflicts resulted in deaths on a smaller scale, or a large number of deaths but over a larger period of time - such as wars against Native American groups), and of these two, the Civil war was by far the bloodier. As a result, sites associated with the Civil War take on great significance even amongst those who do not subscribe to supernatural beliefs.

To those who do subscribe to such beliefs these locations are hallowed and haunted ground. Stories of civil war ghosts run the gamut from rather prosaic stories about seeing a single individual in uniform appearing and vanishing to stories about battles being re-enacted by spectral armies. Although Gettysburg is the best known example, others are in ready supply throughout the south, mid-west, and on the east coast.

That Andersonville should have weird events attributed to it is not surprising. Aside from being significant in terms of its ties to the Civil War, it is also a place that witnessed considerable misery and cruelty. Even those who do not believe in ghosts may feel themselves creeped out by such places.

...and another video treat from you, from the rather groovy fella's at

Hometown Tales:

...and another one from another source...

Sources: Hometown Tales, Internet, Internet, National Park Service

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Little Red Man, Salem-Winston, North Carolina

The location now known as Old Salem Village and Gardens was once the location of a Morovian colony. It is also the former home of a strange creature known as the "Little Red Man."

As the legend goes, there was a cobbler named Andreas Kresmer living in the colony during the late 18th century. He was killed in a construction accident while preparing the foundation for the colony's house for unmarried men. After his death, people claim to have heard the sound of a cobbler at work when in the vicinity of this building. Eventually, people began to report seeing a small man, wearing a red cap (as Kresmer himself did) in the vicinity of the building.

Over time, the building came to be used as the home for widows. On one occasion, the granddaughter of one widow, a girl named Betsy, ran in to her grandmother's room, telling a story about a small man in a red cap who wanted Betsy to come and play.

Eventually, the ghost was exorcised by a minister following a run-in with one of the community leaders. Since then, the ghost has passed into obscurity.

Commentary: What a great story! What appears to be going on here is a mixing of two types of folklore. The first concerns the classic ghost story - a man dies during an accident and thereafter elements of his life continue to echo in the setting in which he died - specifically the sound of a cobbler's tools at work. Classic stuff.

The other type of folklore concerns the spirit people* of northern European folklore. The little red man resembles the trolls, elves, and faeries of Northern Europe, and his association with a a domestic task (in this case, shoemaking) is reminiscent of mythological creatures such as brownies. The melding of the two is not entirely odd, as some European folklore from the Renaissance onward (possibly continuing an earlier tradition) conflated the spirit people of folklore with dead humans.

The stories of European spirit people would have come with the Morovians when the arrived in the Americas. That such a story would get attached to their new colony is unsurprising. That it would be attached to a particular person as it was is rather more interesting (and given Morovian record-keeping habits, it appears likely that Kresmer was, in fact, a real person). One is left wondering why this occurred.

*Most cultures have folklore concerning spirit people, be they "the ancestors", angels, trolls, kobolds, faeries, devils, or any number of other names. These are usually conceived of as the intelligent forces, benign or malevolent, behind nature, and descendants of them are seen in even the "big three" monotheistic religions of the world.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mudhouse Mansion, Lancaster, Ohio

Mudhouse Mansion, located on Mudhouse Road in Lancaster, Ohio, was no doubt a beautiful building at one point in time. Now, however, age and neglect have caused the once grand appearance of the red brick building to become foreboding and creepy. Not surprisingly, there are numerous ghost stories attached to this once fine home.

It is said that the original owner of the house continued to own slaves even after the Civil War. At night, he would lock the slaves in an outbuilding, but one enterprising slave spent his evenings digging a tunnel beneath the outbuildings floorboards. After many months of this, the slave finally managed to burrow out from the small structure and reach the mansion's yard. He snuck into the mansion and murdered all members of the family in their sleep before freeing his fellow slaves. The now former slaves fled into the night, never to be heard from again. From that night on, strange shrieks and other weird sounds have been heard emanating from the house, no doubt the ghostly cries of the murdered family.

Another story holds that a family of five moved into the house some time in the late 19th century. After they moved in, nobody ever saw them outside of the house. After five days, one of the neighbors looked across at the house and saw a woman standing at the window, staring out at here. Unnerved, the woman closed her curtains. The next day, she saw the same thing, and the day after that. Finally, on the tenth day, she suspected something was amiss and contacted the local authorities. When law enforcement officers entered the house, they found that the staring woman at the window was not standing at all, but had been hanging by the neck from the rafters. It appeared that the entire family had either hung themselves or been hung, and had been there in that state for the last ten days.

It is also said that a woman named Mary lived int he home with her three children. In a fit of rage, she murdered her children (or else her husband murdered her children), and through this act she damned herself. Now, she is known as Bloody Mary and her vengeful spirit can be summoned by those foolish enough to try.

Modern visitors to the house report uneasy feelings, strange sounds, and faces appearing in photographs.

All in all, a damnably eerie place.

Commentary: From the photos I have seen and the descriptions that I have heard, this appears to be one amazingly creepy house. This is the sort of house that horror writers dream of - a huge, deteriorating brick edifice in an isolated location, with an owner who refuses to reside in the place or repair it, but who is vigilant and will not allow anyone else to enter.

As fr the stories attached to the place - a the time of the Civil War, Ohio was not a slave-owning state, so the notion that someone in Ohio refused to give up his slaves after the war is, frankly, rather silly and shows a rather blatant ignorance of history.

Searching, I could find no reference to the hangings (or other suicides or murders in the house) other than those that are explicitly about the legend.

In fact, the true history of the house's ownership is, while interesting in its own right, rather prosaic. It was built in the early-to-mid 19th century (records don't indicate it's period of construction with certainty, but it was probably the 1830s or 1840s), and owned by a succession of families, each residing for a period of at least a few decades.

The claim that the house is the home of a mythological character is, of course, goofy to begin with. However, this goofiest of the stories also indicates the likely source of the other stories. This house has been a favorite destination for legend trippers for decades, and much of it's haunted reputation likely comes from the stories told by kids and teenagers to each other when they are daring each other to enter the place.

A sense of mystery is further maintained by the attitude of the current owner, who has no apparent interest in living in the house, and is unwilling to sell the house or repair it, but who is vigilant enough to ensure that those trespassing into the place are likely to encounter the local authorities upon their exit. While the reasons for this may be quite normal - perhaps she refuses to sell because of the house's significance to the family, perhaps she lacks the funds to refurbish it but does not want to let it slip into other hands before she has the opportunity to do so, perhaps any number of other explanations.

Regardless, an isolated house with the appearance that this one sports is bound to attract stories, and the added air of mystery lent to it by the owner's eccentric-seeming attitude to the house only further perpetuates such stories.

Sources: Associated Content, Internet, Internet, Ohio Trespassers

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The White Lady of Graham Hill Road

A German immigrant living in the hills near Santa Cruz sent away for a mail-order bride from Massachusettes. The man was a violent alcoholic, however, and beat his wife on a regular basis, often forcing her to wear her wedding gown while he beat her.

After a time, the woman decided to leave her abusive husband, and began making arangements for escape. Upon learning of this, the drunkard's cruelty came to its climax, and he drugged her (though some versions of the story say that he killed her and then decapitated her post-mortem) and left her in the house, which he set on fire (some versions of the story claim that she was killed on her wedding night, before she even thought of leaving the man).

After her death, people began to report seeing a luminous woman dressed in white in the woods near the site of the house (just off of modern-day Graham Hill Road near the Ocean Street extension). Sometimes she is simply seen and/or heard as she walks through the woods. At other times she may take violent action against anyone that is unfortunate enough to encounter her (it seems likely that a white ghost said to haunt the Graham Hill Road Cemetery is the same as the White Lady).

Commentary: This is a variation on the White Lady ghost story, found throughout the world (one particularly famous example comes from the region of Bavaria, which mixes elements of the classic "White Lady" legend with elements of La Llarona). Santa Cruz's equivalent is made a bit more interesting by the fact that the area in which it occurs also has many other ghost stories associated with it (such as the stories associated with the cemetery on Graham Hill Road). The origins of the story are unclear, and even the story itself is highly variable - the version given above is the most common on heard, but another origin story for the ghost is similar to that for Christie Ranch on Santa Cruz Island, and features a young woman waiting for her husband, who has died in a shipwreck, eventually wasting away and dying of loneliness.

The location in which the story takes place, a forested area until a few decades ago when a new housing development and a condominium complex were constructed, is a slope at the foot of a hill. On this slope (at least as of a few years ago) is a decaying concrete foundation for a structure that might have been a house. The place has become a favorite location for local ghost hunters, legend trippers, and teens looking for a quiet make-out spot. It is across the street from the cemetery, and right next to one busy road and one eerily quiet road.

Sources: Local Legend, Newspaper, Santa Cruz Wiki, Wikipedia, Internet, Personal Account

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Old Lady on the Porch

When my grandmother was a kid, she lived in of Iquitos, a small town in Peru on the edge of the Amazon rain forest founded by Italian miners. One day, she was walking out to the rain forest, and when she passed the last house on the edge of the town, she saw an old woman sitting on the porch of the house. The old woman called her over, and when my grandmother came she was instructed to go and get adults from the town and have them enter the house.

My grandmother did as she was told, and when she brought the adults to the house, the old woman was no longer on the steps. They entered the house, and the old woman was lying in bed, dead. As it turns out, she had been dead for several days, but, having no family, nobody discovered this.

Once discovered, the woman was given a proper burial

Commentary: Yet another story from a coworker (when you tell people that you collect ghost stories, they tend to be more than happy to tell you theirs).

This story features a ghost trying to right a wrong, and see to it that her remains are correctly cared for. These sorts of stories are not unusual, though they usually take the form of urban legends (a friend of a friend told me) rather than being stories about specific people.

In addition to not being unusual, these sorts of stories are quite old. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer tells of a ghost of a murdered man leading the authorities to his murderer. Similar to the story considered here, the story of the Borley Rectory features a ghost attempting to have its remains properly buried. Greek paganism held that a person who was not properly buried would be forced to roam the Earth, never being able to find Hades. And outside of western cultures, it is a common belief that someone who is not properly buried will be unable to move on from this life.

This type of story speaks to how cultures view death. The proper disposal of human remains, whatever that may be in a particular culture, must be followed, or else a great ill will be visited either on the dead or on the survivors. Where this comes from is unknown, but even those who do not believe in a soul or afterlife tend to behave with extra special caution in seeing to it that a deceased person's wishes for disposal are carried out, indicating that this sort of impulse runs deep, either culturally or biologically, in humans.

Source: Personal Account

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, Missouri

From the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries, the Lemp family ruled a fortune built on the brewing and sale of lager beers. At one time, Lemp beers were among the most popular in the United States. However, the family also has a history of tragedy. One of the Lemp heirs, Frederick Lemp, died while in his early 20s, while preparing to take on the family business. Three generations of Lemp patriarchs committed suicide, and one may either have driven his wife to suicide or possibly murdered her (following a long history of his infidelity and abuse) years before he took his own life. In addition to this, the Lemp family had a history of mental illness ranging from depression to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are also rumors that one of the Lemp men fathered an illegitimate child who had Downs syndrome and kept him locked in the attic, but this appears to be folklore rather than fact.

William Lemp sr., the second patriarch of the Lemp family, purchased what would become the Lemp Mansion in 1876 in order to house his family. Tunnels were built to link the mansion to the caves underneath the Lemp brewery (the caves, as places with your-round stable temperatures, were initially used in part of the brewing process, and later used for entertaining guests in a surreal environment). The brewery remained strong until the early 20th century, when disinterest among family members led to a decline, and the final blow came with the establishment of prohibition.

The mansion transitioned from family home to offices and back to home for Charles Lemp, one of the last two of the Lemp line, who lived in the home alone, save for a few servants, and appeared to have developed numerous odd phobias and anxiety problems during his later years.

After Charles Lemp's death, the mansion became a boarding house. The house's rather macabre history, coupled with stories of strange and ghostly happenings, resulted in the boarding house rarely being completely full, and it's eventually financial losses. Today the mansion is a hotel and restaurant, and stories of ghostly occurrence continue.

During renovations to turn the place into a hotel and restaurant, it is claimed that workers reported hearing voices, feelings of being watched, and missing tools. Reportedly, several workers refused to return to the job site. The staff and patrons of the Lemp Mansion report footsteps without an apparent source, doors and cabinets opening and closing on their own, voices speaking, screams, laughter, and witnessing objects moving (sometimes violently) on their own. The apparition of a woman who may be the wronged (and possibly murdered) wife of William Lemp Jr. has been reported. And, of course, William Lemp Jr. himself, always the philanderer, has been reported to appear in the women's restroom.

In 1980, Life Magazine declared the Lemp Mansion to be one of the most haunted houses in the United States. The mansion was also featured on MTV's short-lived series Fear. The management has been vocal about the mansion's reputation as a haunted house, and this has, by their own admission, been very good for business.

Commentary: As has been noted twice before, having a resident ghost can be good business for an establishment that banks on atmosphere, such as a restaurant or hotel. And the Lemp Mansion has embraced this fact, making the ghost stories just as much of a part of its marketing campaign as it's food and rooms.

So, what of the stories, is there anything to them, or are they simply a mix of hysteria and hopefulness on the part of curiosity seekers?

It's hard to say. On the one hand, the house itself, being a large, imposing structure, was bound to attract stories whether anybody experienced anything or not - anyone familiar with the nature of folklore in urban settings would expect that. In addition, the media presence of the house, as demonstrated by its listing in Life , on MTV, and the numerous websites and newspaper stories about it, give plenty of fodder to the imaginations of those wishing or expecting to encounter a ghost. So, there are plenty of explanations for why visitors of the past few decades might come away with tales.

What is more interesting to me, but what I have had little luck in tracking down, is the prevalence of ghost stories relating to the place before it's current incarnation. While many books, magazines, and websites repeat the stories regarding boarding house tenants reporting strange happenings and renovation crews becoming freaked out, I have had little luck finding primary sources with the same information dating to before the mansion's time as a well-promoted place of business. If such information can be found, then THAT would be of great interest to anyone trying to figure out what, if anything, is actually going on in the house.

...and, hey, another video treat for all y'all

Sources: Prairie Ghosts, Karen Stollznow, Internet, Restaurant Home Page, Internet

Monday, June 1, 2009

Resurrection Mary, Chicago, Illinois

Drivers in Chicago have long reported encounters with a mysterious ghost near Resurrection Cemetery*. Sometimes the woman is encountered at the O Henry Ballroom, where she may accept a ride home from a dance partner only to vanish from the car when it passes the cemetery. Other times she is found hitchhiking along the road with the same results. The earliest reports, from the mid-1930s, tell of a young woman attempting to jump onto the running boards of passing vehicles.

Sometimes the encounters are more disturbing. Numerous people have reported hitting a young woman, complete with the thud and push that one would expect from such a collision, only to get out of their cars and find nobody lying on the road. Other drivers report hitting Mary, only to have her pass through the car and either vanish or run into the cemetery.

Most sightings are reported in the winter months, and at least one source claims that they are most likely to occur around 1:30 AM, the closing time of the O Henry Ballroom in 1934. She is a blond woman, always seen in a white dress, wearing dance shoes, and carrying a clutch-style purse.

On one occasion, in 1976, a cab driver reportedly saw a woman locked in the cemetery at night and reported this to the police, figuring that they could help her get out. When police officers arrived to help, they discovered the bars bent, and scorch marks that bore a resemblance to hand prints covering the bent bars. The cemetery explained that these were due to a work truck having hit the bars, and the truck's driver having used a blow torch to soften the bars in an attempt to bend them back into place. Regardless, the story became a media sensation.

Over time, a story explaining Mary's origins has developed. According to the story, she and her boyfriend were out dancing one winter's night in the early 1930s. They had a fight, and Mary decided to walk home. Along the way, she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, and subsequently buried in Resurrection Cemetery. Ever since then, she has reportedly wandered the roads and ballrooms, looking for both a dance partner and a ride home.

*Really, what the hell kind of name for a cemetery is "Resurrection"? That's like naming a dry desert "China Lake"...oh, wait, that's been done, too.**

**Yes, I know that it's a dried pluvial lake bed.

Commentary: The guys at Hometown Tales are fond of pointing out that every urban legend occurs in multiple locations. While this is certainly true, Chicago's version of The Vanishing Hitchhiker is probably the world's best known version.

Stories of ghostly hitchhikers date back to antiquity, where they are picked up by a wagon or chariot rather than a car. Chicago appears to have a tradition of vanishing hitchhikers dating back at least to the 19th century. However, in the 1930s, tales of a ghostly woman associated with Resurrection Cemetery began to surface. Initially, the ghostly woman simply tried to jump onto the running boards of passing cars, but the tale of the vanishing hitchhiker named Mary soon developed.

The origin story appears to have appended to explain the ghost story, rather than being an original part. The identity of Mary, and whether or not her name really is Mary, is never clear. It is often suggested that Resurrection Mary may be the ghost of Mary Bregovy. Bregovy apparently would fit the bill in many regards, but while she was killed in a car accident, it occurred when she was thrown through the window during a collision in downtown Chicago. Likely, the stories of the ghostly hitchhiker began to surface, and they were later linked with the story of Bregovy's death.

Regardless of the story's origin, Mary has become one of the most-sighted ghosts around, and people routinely tell tales of encountering her. Sometimes the stories are as simple as seeing a mysterious woman vanish near the cemetery, and sometimes as complex as an evening of dancing and conversation followed by a ride home during which Mary vanishes or jumps out of the moving car and walks through the closed cemetery gates.

As a bit of a bonus, here's a video clip on the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend:

Sources: Prairie Ghosts,Internet, Internet, Internet

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ghost in Old Town Pizza, Portland, Oregon

Nina was a low-class prostitute who worked in the always-wet basement of a high-priced Merchant Hotel on Davis Street in Portland. The circumstances of her death are not clear - some say that she was killed by a jealous lover, some that she was killed by a pimp when he discovered that she wished to leave prostitution, some that she had struck a deal with missionaries who offered to help her escape in exchange for information useful in shutting the brothel down, and still others claim that she simply heard something that she should not have heard.

Whatever the motive, she was found dead at the bottom of the hotel's elevator shaft, apparently having been killed by the fall. Although it is thought that she was murdered, her murderer was never caught or convicted - not surprising, considering that Portland was about as lawless a town as one could find in the west during the late 19th century.

Since the time of her death, Nina has been seen wandering the building, always wearing a black dress. The building is no longer a hotel, but is currently home to Old Town Pizza. Patrons and staff alike have reported smelling her sweet perfume, hearing voices, especially in the basement, and having objects move on them. The staff of the Portland Walking Tours, who run a ghost tour in downtown Portland, have placed a bowl full of scrabble pieces, and it is said that Nina will sometimes arrange the letters to spell out messages.

Commentary: Portland, rather like my own home of Santa Cruz, is a delightfully strange town. The flavor of the town is odd, embracing everyone from the straight-laced businessman to the itenerant artist struggling to make a name for herself. Portlands better known institutions and businesses cater to the intellectual (such as Powell's City of Books) to the just plain wacky (such as Voodoo Doughnuts, which not only offers voodoo-doll doughnuts, but will also perform wedding ceremonies). This story has become part of Portland's folklore and represents both the way that Portlanders view their town's past (both celebrating it's seediness and strangeness, and being happy to be distant from those days) and the nature of the tourist traffic that comes through Portland.

In a city like Portland, it's not surprising to see a business such as Old Town Pizza embrace it's local ghost story as a way of drumming up business. And teaming up with a walking tour company provides even more opportunity. To be fair, though, this place doesn't depend on it's curiosity value to attract business, it also makes damn good pizza.

Regardless of what experiences that people have had in and around the building, it goes without saying that the desire to use this as a business tool, both on the part of the tour company and the pizza parlor, has likely resulted in the stories being exaggerated, not to mention probably led to more than a few encounters due to little more than the power of suggestion. Of course, the admittedly creepy

Personal Experience: My girlfriend and I visited Portland last year, and knowing my enjoyment of ghost stories, she booked us two spots on the ghost tour.

The tour was run as an "investigation" - meaning that we were handed electromagnetic field meters (EMF meters, for short) and told to use them while we were in supposedly haunted places. Our guide, a rather adorable small woman whose name I can not for the life of me recall, spoke excitedly about the ghosts of Portland and her own personal experiences (I'll have more entries based on experiences from this tour in the future). The EMF meters tended to spike sporadically, as one would expect in a major city with numerous electrical devices scattered throughout the landscape. However, every time one spiked, our tour guide would talk about the usefulness of these devices in locating ghosts*.

By the time we arrived in the basement in which Nina is said to spend most of her time, Kay and I discovered how to manipulate the readings on the EMF meters by flicking our wrists in particular ways and standing under particular pieces of electrical equipment. The fact that we were clearly intentionall manipulating readings didn't sem to dampen our guides enthusiasm. Of course, she probably gets smart-asses like this on the tour all of the time, and the fact that she managed to maintain enthusiasm despite this really speaks well of her work ethic.

*I've never understood this, as I can see no reason to assume that ghosts would cause changes to electromagnetic fields, and even if they did, I have yet to hear of a ghost hunter actually using this equipment in such a way that stray signals from various different devices can actually be ruled out.

Photos: I took some photos during the tour, in the haunted basement, and here they are:

The bowl of scrabble pieces set out by the tour employees:

A photo from the haunted basement:

Another Photo from the haunted basement:

...and, apropo of nothing, looking up in the courtyard of the haunted building. This photo contributes nothing to the story, I'm just showing off:

Sources: Portland Walking Tours, Newspaper, Business Website

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Small Town Haunted House in Indiana

When I was a kid, there was an old house near the farm where I lived. It was abandoned, and had been for a long time. One day, a friend and I decided to investigate. We found a way in, and looked around the place. There was furniture there, and various stuff that belonged to whoever had lived there, but it was all dusty and kind of messed up.

We had this creepy feeling the entire time we were there, as if we were being watched, and it really creeped us out. After a little while, we got pretty scared and had to leave. As we left, we looked back at the house, and in the window on the top floor, we saw an old woman looking at us, watching us go. She looked angry.

I know what you are thinking, but nobody could have gotten into the place while we were in there. She hadn't been there before, and had to have been a ghost.

Commentary: This story is a personal account from an ex-girlfriend of mine. She grew up in a small town in rural Indiana, and like the kids from every town I know of, they had their local haunted house*. In this case it was a an abandoned, or assumed abandoned, farmhouse.

These locations are often the object of legend trippers, usually kids or adolescents, either looking for a thrill, to impress their peers, or on a dare. Typically these excursions are harmless, though they may result in property damage if the legend trippers are of a malicious bent. However, if the location is not as abandoned as it is thought, the legend trippers may find themselves running afoul of trespassing laws.

*In my home town, the local "haunted house" was actually a church that had fallen into disrepair. It was eventually restored and became a community fixture, which makes me wonder what the current "haunted house" in the neighborhood is. Maybe I should ask my nephews.

Sources: Personal Account