Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Ghost Motorcycle of Lemon Tree Passage Road

Note:  The people trying to see this ghost are, frankly, idiots.  If you are anywhere near the location of this story, just enjoy the story, don’t risk your neck or anyone else’s looking for the spirit, or you are likely to end up one yourself, and maybe take someone else with you.  If you’re lucky, you’ll just attract the attention of the local police, who have been increasing enforcement activities to curtail this lunacy.  In other words, don’t be a fucking moron.  Enjoy the stories, but don’t do stupid things trying to find the ghost.

In 2007, a motorcyclist was killed by a collision with a speeding car on Lemon Tree Passage Road near Newcastle, Australia.  Since then, locals have reported seeing a bright, white light, rather like a motorcycle headlight, appearing behind them on the road. 

Ghost hunting along the road has become something of an internet phenomenon thanks to several videos loaded on Youtube that purport to show the ghostly light following speeding cars.  The light does appear to be a single headlight, and could be a motorcycle’s light.  The people behind the most popular of the videos clearly state that the light appears even when one is driving a sane speed along the road, but local folklore has nonetheless developed claiming that the ghost light appears only when a car reaches 111 miles per hour (or 180 kilometers per hour).  As a result, legend tripping teenagers with too much fuel money and too little sense have begun racing along the road in an attempt to see the ghost, creating a serious hazard.

Commentary:  This story is a bit of an oddity here in two ways: the first is that the majority of sources that I can find for it are newspapers, and not the usual word-of-mouth or amateur websites.  In fact, the first I heard of it was when it was a headline on Google news back in October…must have been a slow news day.  Of course, the ultimate source is a set of internet videos, so I guess it all comes around to amateur web content in the end.

The second is that this is also a case where, like Bostian Bridge in North Carolina, people are doing mind-bendingly stupid and dangerous things to try to see the ghost.  In the case of the Bostian Bridge, it was people endangering themselves by walking out onto a trestle.  In the case of the ghost motorcycle, people are driving at dangerously high speeds endangering themselves and others in order to get a thrill.  This is stupid.  Unaccountably, astoundingly, freakishly stupid.  I would normally be in favor of the idiots who do this taking themselves out of the gene pool, but the method that they have chosen is likely to result in them taking someone else out with them.   

Hell, the story even states that the motorcyclist was killed by a speeding car, which makes me wonder if this entire story wasn’t a cautionary tale that unfortunately become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Driving this fast in a vehicle made for normal road driving conditions is not safe for you or anyone else on the road.  Or, as an on-line article commentator going by DaryllK put it: 

'Don't know if there is a ghost, don't care - what I care about is that I travel that road regularly with my young children in the car and don't wish any of my family to be killed or injured due to idiots speeding.

'For years I was a funeral director and had to remove the mangled dead (many innocent children) from tangled wrecks caused by young drivers thinking they were bullet proof behind the wheel. USE YOUR HEAD AND THINK ABOUT IT.'

There are plenty of online videos for this, and I would normally link to them…but this is a case where stupid people are doing things that endanger themselves and others in order to get a thrill that, frankly, won’t live up to the hype.  I’m not going to give the imbeciles who do this any further outlet to showcase their moronically dangerous activities.  However, I will not that in at least one video, the people creating it state that they can see the phenomenon without speeding, anyway, meaning that the speeding is not just dangerous, but isn’t even necessary to achieve the desired result.

And in case not getting your sorry ass killed isn’t sufficient reason to not do this, the local police have been stepping up enforcement to catch speeders.  So, really, you’re taking two risks when you needn’t take any at all.

Sources: Newspaper, Newspaper, Newspaper, Newspaper

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ghosts of Howard Hughes, a Small Boy, and the Playa Vista Project

One of my subordinates was an osteologist* on the Playa Vista project (see commentary below for description of the project).  Her job was to excavate and process human remains excavated from burials that were to be otherwise destroyed by the construction of a new planned community.  Once the human remains were removed from the ground, they were taken to a building that was once one of Howard Hughes' industrial facilities where they were catalogued and prepared for further analysis, repatriation, or curation, depending on the particular materials in question.

While working in the field lab, my minion (I prefer the word "minion" to "subordinate") and her coworkers began to experience some strange things.  They would see shadows moving in unoccupied rooms or between stacks of boxes; they would see something colored bright white moving along just at the corner of their vision; and they began to hear what sounded like the footprints of a child.

After a time, they began to hear noises, which at first were simply odd, indistinguishable sounds, but eventually became voices.  On more than one occasion, one of the archaeologists working int he lab said that she heard someone whisper her name into her ear.

My minion reports that after the sound of the child's footprints began at the lab, she also began hearing them at her home.  One morning, she woke up and saw the child, a little caucasian boy who looked like something from the 1950s, standing in her room.  Others working on the project reported the same thing.

For reasons that she was never quite clear on, she and the other workers came to the conclusion that the white shape seen moving in the lab was another spirit, specifically the ghost of Howard Hughes.  As far as she knows, people on the project continue to see it.

*An osteologist is an anthropologist who specializes in dealing with human bone.  On projects like this one, they often are brought in to study the remains taken out of burials.

Commentary:  First off, let me say that I am happy that this is not a typical "haunted Indian Burial ground" story.  The entire trope is rooted in racism and is insulting to Native Americans, as it essentially says lays at the feet of their ancestors every stupid thing that someone is too lazy to explain about their home.  That being said, even though the ghosts aren't Native American, these stories wouldn't exist without the excavations being performed at Playa Vista, so I would like to explain a bit about what is going on there.

The Playa Vista project is something of a textbook case of what can go wrong when Native Americans and land developers clash.

In 2003, construction of a huge mixed-use community called Playa Vista began along the Ballona Wetlands in Los Angeles County, California.  Cultural resources studies, including archaeology, had been performed prior to construction, and plans put into place for treatment of any archaeological resources encountered during construction.  This is all on the up-and-up, and everything appears to have followed the usual path from planning to environmental studies to development.

But then something went wrong.  It had been anticipated that a few burials might be found during construction, but hundreds were found.  The Native Americans who had participated in the initial studies and consultations, as well as others who had not (some claim that they were excluded intentionally, though I can find no evidence to confirm or deny such claims) demanded that plans be changed to account for the number of bodies found.  The developers refused, and continued on with the project.  Archaeologists tasked with excavating burials and seeing to it that they were properly treated got caught in the middle (with some archaeologists choosing sides and, frankly, making matters worse).  It is possible that the matter could have been resolved if the developers had been willing to redesign a portion of the project to avoid burials, or if enough bad blood had not been developed to allow for further consultation rather than simply the excavation of more burials, but this was not to be.  The project has now stretched on for eight years, and emotions continue to run high on all sides.

This Playa Vista project has devoured a huge amount of money in the excavation, study, and treatment of Native American remains.  I am one of the few archaeologists I know who has worked for more than a year in southern California who has not been sucked into the project, a fact for which I am very grateful.

So, it is in this pressure-cooker situation in which the archaeologists were working on this project, and a field lab for processing archaeological materials was set up in a building that used to be used by famous aircraft magnate/nutjob Howard Hughes.  Under the conditions, it is fair to ask whether the people who reported strange events were really experiencing them, or were simply dealing with a high-pressure situation while dealing with human remains in a building that has been owned by one of history's great creepy guys.

Still, I like the fact that the ghost story that came out of the excavation of Native American burials deal with a white industrialist and some white kid.  That amuses me.

Sources:  Personal Account, NPR News, Los Angeles Times, New York Times

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ghostly Roman Soldier Caught On Film?

In October, 2007, George Gunn, a member of the Outwood Community Video club, captured something strange on video in the town of Outwood.

It's a blue-ish/gray shape, and Gunn and his friends feel that it looks like a Roman soldier walking down the footpath on which the video was shot. The apparition vanishes as soon as two people jog through it. The image was, apparently, not visible to Mr. Gunn while he was present on site, but he saw it when reviewing his footage later that day.

Gunn has stated that he does not believe in ghosts, but that the image he captured seems strange, and has him curious. He also has stated that others have reported ghost sitings in the area, though he doesn't buy into those stories.

The only photo that I have been able to find of the alleged apparition is small, and of low quality, from the BBC News website:

I tried to find the unedited video, but could not, I did, however, find this version, with cheesy music and analysis:

Commentary: This story is, in of itself, not all that interesting. There's any number of things that could account for the image on the video - smoke, dust, even just an artifact of the camera itself. But as I read it, it got me thinking of something that I find significantly more fascinating - the evolution of the ghost photograph.

During the 19th century and through the mid-20th century, photographs with images claimed to be the apparitions of various spirits were common. Some of these images seem like obvious fakes to anyone looking at them now, while others are more subtle and require some knowledge of photography in order to figure out what they actually show. However, when photography was new, and people's eyes had not yet adapted to seeing photographic trickery, even the fake photographs might seem eerie and be taken as evidence of a spiritual presence.

Photo from www.real-ghost-pictures.com

The famous Brown Lady of Raynam Hall ghost photo.

A rather obvious fake, the Andrews Baby ghost photo.

What all of these photos have in common is that they all try to show a human form, eerily translucent or looking tormented, or even just "out-of-phase" looking. In an era before television and film special effects taught us what to look for in film trickery, and before Photoshop and digital cameras made us only too aware of the many easy ways in which even a rank amateur could fake a photo, those who wanted to show us spirits on film tried to make them look genuine.

Contrast the above photos with what we tend to get now: "orbs" and "streaks":

A rather typical and unimpressive "orb" photo from the forums at http://www.debunkingskeptics.com/

I looked for other "orb" photos, but they're all pretty much the same, so I figured I wouldn't bore you too much. The above photo is pretty typical, and just as unimpressive as the rest. The "orbs" and "streaks" so often used for ghost photos these days are actually a pretty easy-to-explain artifact of the cameras being used. Remember, a camera operates by bringing light in, and turning that light into an image, either on a photographic paper or through electronic sensors. Anything that reflects light will effect the image, and as cameras bring in light in a manner a bit different than how the human eye does, this means that objects may appear on film or in digital images that are not visible to the naked eye. Small objects that can reflect light (raindrops, motes of dust, insects, etc.) tend to reflect it in a spherical pattern that is not visible to the human eye, but does show up on camera. If the object is caught in a particular way or is moving quickly enough, this may show up as a "streak" rather than a sphere. Likewise, small light sources, maybe dim enough to not be noticeable to the naked eye, may show up on film as streaks if the camera or the object emitting the light is moving, even slightly, when the shot is taken. This is especially true in low-light conditions.

A photo of rain illustrating a point, from euroghost.eu

What the orbs and the streaks have over faked photos is that they are clearly genuine - anyone can get similar photos, and they don't have the hallmarks of special effects or image modification because they are, quite simply, real images really captured. They are also normal, non-supernatural things that show up in photos. So, spirit photography has really suffered, with people leaving behind outright fraud and instead settling for mediocre bad photography. It's rather like how early 20th century mediums would communicate complex messages from the spirits, while John Edwards appears to be playing a stupid game of charades (or, more likely, cold reading).

So, rather than being convincing evidence of the supernatural, orb and streak photos are evidence that even the early spirit photos tend to be fakes, otherwise we'd still be seeing their like rather than this dull silliness.

Sources: BBC News, Wakefield Express

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ghostly Blood at Camp Sylvester

Camp Sylvester seems like a quiet, idyllic spot in California's Sierra Nevadas. It is used as a get-away for groups ranging from schools to corporate team-builders, and also serves vacationers renting cabins for a mountain getaway.

Most of the time it seems as if there is nothing at all sinister or disturbing about the place. But this changes when it rains.

When rainwater pours over the roads, red liquid begins to appear, and the roads can quite literally be said to run red with blood. In this case, it is the blood of Chinese immigrants, forced to work for low-wages in near slave-like conditions when building California's railroads and working in the mining camps that once dotted the Sierra Nevadas. They are gone now, and unable to tell their stories, but their blood still runs when it rains at Camp Sylvester.

Commentary: When I was a kid, my school sponsored a yearly trip to "science camp" for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Camp Sylvester in Pinecrest, California. The goal of the week-long trip was, I presume, to teach kids about biology, ecology, and the natural sciences, but for the students it usually became an excuse to engage in all manner of behavior that, while usually safe, they couldn't get away with at home or on the school's grounds. My own experiences at the camp were abysmal (owing to a combination of my various childhood social problems and two camp counselors who thought that getting younger kids to beat each other up was fun), while my older sister greatly enjoyed it and eventually became a counselor there herself (leading to at least one impressionable 12-year old boy developing a lifelong crush on her due to her ability to recite the alphabet while belching...a strange thing to hear from someone who runs into you by chance 15 years later, I can assure you).

As often happens when a group of pre-teen and early teen kids get together in an isolated place with minimal adult supervision, much of the social activity between the kids at the camp revolved around scaring the crap out of each other. One night, I recall a group of girls engaging in a "Bloody Mary" ritual in the girl's restroom, resulting in one of them in hysterics (the adult chaperon's had to be brought out to deal with the situation, and there was serious talk of sending the girl home because of her rather excited state), and there were, of course, many ghost stories, most of them told by the camp counselors around the campfires at night, or in the dining hall during dinner.

This particular story was a favorite, and stuck in our minds I suspect largely because most of us had only recently been learning about the use of Chinese labor in building the railroads and in mining. Those of us who were around when it rained thought of this when the red fluid washed over the roads.

Of course, there was nothing supernatural about the red. Like much of the Sierra Nevada, this location was covered in high-iron clays, and the red was due to nothing more sinister than the water moving these sediments across the road during and immediately following a rainstorm. Anyone who looked closely enough would even see that it was more of an orange than a red.

Still, for a bunch of pre-teens stuck inside on a rainy day, the blood of wronged laborers made for an evocative image.

Sources: Local Folklore

Friday, August 12, 2011

Highway 246, Santa Ynez Valley

The stretch of Highway 246 that runs between the towns of Buellton and Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barabara County is said to be haunted by a few odd apparitions.

The first is a ghostly horse-drawn carriage, often said to be a hearse, that traverses the road late at night. Some versions of the story update this to an automobile. The hearse continues down the road, headed to the west, unimpeded by any physical object that blocks its way, some say carrying the souls of the recently dead to the afterlife. Some locals have interpreted the hearse as being part of the Santa Ynez Chumash belief that the spirits of the dead must travel westward in order to reach Point Conception, the gateway to the afterlife. A more sinister version of the tale holds that the hearse is bearing the souls of the damned to Hell.

The second story concerns a black, spectral dog that people have reported running along the road at night. Though nobody claims to have been attacked by it, it is said to be a terrifying sight to behold. It is often claimed to not be a ghost, but rather a demon, wandering the road looking to do harm.

Interestingly, the third story concerns the ghost of a young boy that is said to appear on the side of the road. He seems to be lost and frightened, but will accept a ride from any motorist kind enough to stop for him. When the driver reaches the place that the boy asks to be dropped off, he has simply vanished. It is said that this spirit is the ghost of a young boy who was killed in a car accident while his mother was driving. The mother survived, but the boy was dead at the scene, and now wanders the highway trying to get home.

Commentary: The ghost stories of Highway 246 are interesting for a few reasons. The first, related to the story of the ghostly hearse, is the desire to connect the ghost story to the beliefs of the native peoples of the area. The popular view of Chumash folklore holds that Point Conception was thought to be the gateway to the afterlife, but when I have spoken with people knowledgeable about the ethnographic record of the area, it comes out that the Chumash view of how one reaches the afterlife may not be so clear-cut. There was no centralized church that kept the religious canon in order, and so it is entirely possible that some people did think there was a physical gateway, while others did not, and the precise location may have varied by person telling the ethnographers of it.

In fact, the story of the ghostly hearse is a relatively common motif in European ghost stories, and so this is likely an old campfire story that has been adapted to a California setting, and later had a veneer of faux-antiquity added by the reference ot Chumash religion.

Similarly, the ghostly dog is common in European folklore (and served as the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles), and is likely also a transplant. Demonic black dogs show up in Medieval and Renaissance stories, and remain a popular aspect of many European haunted outdoor spots to this day. The connection between these dogs and demonic forces may be tied to earlier pre-Christian folklore, though that is of little direct importance as the story of this dog likely was brought by Christian Europeans.

The vanishing hitchhiker story is interesting because it has all of the common elements - strange, frightened person who will accept a ride, vanishes when you get them to their destination, etc. etc. - but changes the age and gender of the hitchhiker. These stories are normally about young women - between the age of 16 and 25 - and not pre-adolescent children. This has an interesting effect: While one might feel sorry for the young women who are doomed to hitchhike for the rest of time, the stories nonetheless remain creepy. The young boy, though, is simply a sad and lonely character, with very little creep factor to him. It changes the story from creepy but sad to just plain depressing.

Sources: Published Book, Internet, Local Folklore

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Haunted Apartment, Bloomington, Indiana

An ex-girlfriend once contacted me to let me know that she believed her apartment to be haunted. She was, at the time, a graduate student at Indiana University, Bloomington, and lived in an apartment complex near, but not on, the university campus (I believe it was the Regency Court Apartments, but I can not remember with any certainty). Knowing my interest in ghost stories, she sent me an email describing her experience (which I no longer have, this was nearly ten years ago, so I can't directly quote from it).

She stated that the events started one night when she was in bed, and the door to the bedroom slammed shut. Over the next few days doors left open would shut violently on their own, and she heard a shouting voice in the room with her on a few occasions, a voice that seemed to be berating her, though she never told me what it said. As quickly as it began, it apparently ended, as she did not ever mention it again, even though we corresponded by email occasionally over the next several years. A few months after this experience, she left that apartment and moved in with her boyfriend in another part of town, never finding out what caused her experience.

Commentary: I have little to say about the alleged haunting itself - I could provide all manner of explanations for what was described to me, but I have no way of knowing if any of my explanations are valid. What is a bit more interesting to me is the conditions under which I learned of the story.

This ex-girlfriend and I broke up in a way that was not particularly good for either of us, but was especially bad for me. Although I did not know it at the time, she later told me that she felt guilty over the matter. We had been friends for years before anything romantic happened between us, and we both tried, with varying amounts of effort at different times, to maintain a friendship post-breakup. It is in this context that I received the email telling me about the ghost story. I didn't know what to make of it - did she actually have a weird experience that she couldn't explain, and knowing my interest in such things decide that I should know of it? Was she trying to find a way to relate to me post-breakup and, from what she later told me, feeling some guilt, and decide to make up a story that she thought I would enjoy? The way she told the story dropped hints without ever saying that she was seeing someone new, so was she telling me this story as a way of stealthily telling me about her new relationship status without flat-out saying it? I don't know, and that information is in the dust of the past now.

Still, if nothing else, it's a good short ghost story for anyone now living in Bloomington.

Source: Personal Account

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Dark Watchers of the Santa Lucia Mountains

The Santa Lucia Mountains dominate central California's Coast from San Luis Obispo to Monterey. I can say from experience that the mountains are generally pleasant, providing both beautiful scenery and a quiet place to retreat from life's demands. However, legend holds that they are also haunted by strange, pitch-black specters that appear at a distance and seem to watch those who wander into the mountains or sometimes simply stare off into the distance. Their nature and purpose is unknown, but they have long been reported by people venturing into the mountains. The story is the same - someone will be climbing a slope or hiking a trail or beating a path through thick vegetation, and look up only to see a large, human-like figure garbed in a black hat and black robes, with no skin showing, looking down at them or else slowly surveying the area. If the witness moves to approach the figure, or tries to call the attention of others to it, it vanishes.

Image from weirdus.com

These specters, known as the Dark Watchers, are well known in local folklore, and even appear in John Steibeck's short story Flight and Robinson Jeffer's poem "Such Counsel You Gave to Me." It has been claimed that the Chumash who lived in the southern portions of the mountains, down around San Luis Obispo, have stories about these beings that date to before European contact with the area. They certainly were a well-known phenomenon by the 1930s, when Steinbeck and Jeffers were writing.

Commentary: This type of story is the reason why I love ghost stories as much as I do. While there's nothing bad reported to have happened to the people who have witnessed the Dark Watchers, they nonetheless are sinister, creepy, and just generally oogie. Just imagining seeing one of these things as you're going for a walk in the woods is enough to send a chill down your spine.

Oh yeah, this is the good stuff.

As noted above, it is clear that the stories of the Dark Watchers were in circulation by the 1930s, but it is often said that the Chumash who lived San Luis Obispo county had old stories about them. This may be, but the compilations of Chumash stories that I am familiar with (and because of my job and my training, I am familiar with most of what has been written about the Chumash) do not include stories of the Dark Watchers or anything similar. On the one hand, it can not be expected that the ethnographers who were collecting stories managed to get everything, so that there are stories out there that have not been captured by anthropologists is a certainty. However, it is also a common tactic for people trying to make a claim seem legitimate to falsely claim that there were Native American stories concerning it. So, there may have been stories about the Dark Watchers amongst the Chumash (and the Salinan, who occupied much fo the rest of the Santa Lucia Mountains), but I will remain a bit skeptical of this claim until I see it from a reliable source and not simply posted on websites.

I am tempted to call this a variant of the shadow people stories that have become popular in recent decades. Certainly it bears many of the same traits, and is nearly identical in appearance. However, as the Dark Watchers pre-date the popular shadow people stories and have taken on a local cultural significance, so for reasons of talking folklore, I am going to treat them differently, even though they likely have the same explanations.

Special Video:

...and here's a short film about the Dark Watchers:

Sources: Local lore, Weird U.S., Published book, Blog

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Shoemake Lake/Shoemake Road Ghosts, Salida, California

Near the small town of Salida, California, on Shoemake Avenue, there is a seasonal pond, caused by rainwater settling in a small natural basin, locally known as Shoemake Lake. It is said that several years ago, a woman was driving a car with her two children in the back seat, when she lost control (presumably because of water on the road) and drove into the pond. The children drowned, and the mother may have drowned as well.

Since then, if you visit this spot when there is standing water, you may just see or hear the ghostly children, and possibly the mother.

Image of the area via Google

Commentary: Despite growing up in Salida, I only recently heard this story when my sister and I began talking about ghost stories over the phone. Yep, me, the gatherer o' ghost stories, didn't hear about one from his own home town until after he had been living elsewhere for a good fifteen years.

I have been trying to figure out why I hadn't heard of this story before, and I have two basic ideas. 1) this may be a new story, and as a result is not something that I would have come into contact with as a teenager or child; or, more likely 2) I left Modesto just as people were beginning to routinely go onto the internet (I moved out of Salida in 1996, when computer ownership nationwide was something around half of what it currently is), and as a result access to stories such as this were limited to word-of-mouth, and, frankly, I wasn't the most socially adept teenager, resulting in less opportunities for me to hear the good stories. Interestingly, this story still hasn't made it online (well, I guess it has now since I'm posting it here, but...well, you get the idea).

The story has obvious parallels with La Llarona, but so far I haven't heard a telling of it that contains the same warnings of danger as one gets with La Llarona. It also has obvious legend tripping potential.

Regardless, it's a good little story, and as far as I can tell, I'm the first person to put it on the internet. So, yay me?

Oh, and the odds of drowning in what amounts to a big but shallow mud puddle because your car skidded into it? I'm going to go out on a limb and so that it's close to zero. I wonder if the story was originally cooked up for the larger body of water known as Miller Lake located to the west.

Sources: Local Folkore

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Birkdale Palace Hotel

The Birkdale Palace Hotel, in Southport, Merseyside, England, was opened in 1866, and was a huge building by the standards of the day, boasting 75 bedrooms and a magnificent reception area. Occupying a 20-acre parcel of land, the hotel was the model of a mid-19th century luxury hotel. In 1880, the building was modified and refurbished, and the grounds reduced to five acres.

Image from www.archiseek.com

During the 1880s, further modifications included the installation of baths (complete with pipes to bring in salt water from the ocean - bringing in "special" water, weather salt water or mineral water or some other such type, was a common practice in the rather highly pseudo-scientific health spas of the late 19th century), elevators, and electric lights. In 1884, a railway station was built adjacent to the hotel, which remained open until 1952. In the 1920s (some sources say as early as 1919, which seems somewhat unlikely though not impossible), flights from Blackpool began landing at the local airfield.

During the 1940s, the Red Cross converted it into a rest home for U.S. Army Airmen. It went back into use as a hotel in 1945.

It closed as a hotel in 1967, but was used as a filming location for What's Good for the Goose and The Haunted House of Horror (subtle title, there) in 1968 and 1969. The hotel was demolished later that year, though the coach house had since become the Fishermen's Rest pub and remained standing and open. A housing estate now sits on the ground that once were home to the hotel.

The pub itself has a bit of history. A group of 14 lifeboatmen drowned while trying to save other people in 1886, and their bodies were brought to the pub and laid out until more permanent arrangement could be made. Now, 14 brass mermaids on the bar commemorate them, as does the arrangement of some of the bar furniture.

The popular stories about the hotel claim that hauntings began almost immediately after construction (though whether or not these stories date to that time or are later inventions in unclear), when the original architect arrived to find that the hotel had been built the wrong way around (facing away from, rather than towards, the ocean), and climbing to the roof to commit suicide by leaping off. His ghost was said to be seen riding the elevators (one would assume after they were installed, 15 years after the suicide, probably because they were novel and kinda' nifty to a bored ghost) and wandering the second floor. During the 1969 demolition, the construction crew allegedly heard voices and other strange noises coming from the elevator shaft, and reported that the elevators continued to move on their own accord even after their power had been cut. When the demolition crew finally cut the elevator's cables, they reportedly had to hammer at the elevator to get it to drop.

This same construction crew reportedly found themselves locked into their hotel rooms on several occasions (what, the rooms lock from the outside?), strange noises would wake them up at night, shouting and fighting could be heard in unoccupied parts of the hotel, and that they would often hear the clack of women's heels walking on the non-carpeted floors, and the voices of people in the lobbies. Though, they were quick to admit, that these latter sounds might have been from young unmarried couples who would sometimes sneak into the hotel to use the empty rooms for a tryst.

It is also alleged that in 1961 a 6-year old Southport girls' body was found underneath one of the hotel beds, killed by a hotel porter, and that at some other point in the 1950s or 60s, two sisters culminated a suicide pact in one of the hotel's rooms. While these rumors are repeated in the talk of ghost stories, there is little information regarding ghosts directly associated with them.

The Fisherman's Rest, the former coach-house-turned-pub, is also said to be haunted. The hostelry is said to be haunted by the spirit of a little girl, though how she makes herself known is not clear, and most of the haunting of the pub is said to be of the "I felt like something was watching me" variety, with no actual physical manifestations.

Commentary: This is an interesting one in that many of the stories of the hauntings persist well after the hotel was torn down. Whether or not these stories pre-date the demolition of the hotel, I do not know, but I will try to find out and will update this entry if I do. Regardless, unlike many a haunted hotel story, this one is not being kept alive by hoteliers hoping to make money off of the deal.

The allegedly earliest ghost story, that of the architect, is pretty clearly false. The architect did not kill himself, but dies of a lung disease (likely tuberculosis) several years after the construction of the hotel. What's more, there is no evidence that the hotel was constructed facing the wrong way around - and with a building project such as this, it stretches credulity that A) it would be built the wrong way around (the foundation engineering, if nothing else, would likely prevent this), or B) that such an occurrence wouldn't leave a distinctive paper trail. Remember, this is the 19th century, when bureaucratic paper trails were really getting their steam up.

It is also interesting that the ghost stories for this place do not appear to be particularly well known. Though the sources state that they are a strong part of local folklore, and I have no reason to believe that they are not, the stories are not well represented on line, or (as far as I have been able to tell) in print. I have found references to it on Wikipedia, a historic architecture site, and a smattering of other sites, all of which appear to have liberally cut-and-pasted from each other. This is another case where it appears that plagiarism and laziness are slowing the evolution of the ghost story.

Sources: www.archiseek.com, Wikipedia Bookrags.com, UFO Digest (UFO Digest has ghost stories?)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Phizzel Goblin

Make sure to read the commentary after you read the story...

The Phissel family originated in Germany, and were caught up in the religious wars that caused chaos in Europe during the 17th century. It is said that, at some point, the family became cursed because of their involvement in the religious wars. The family was forced to leave Germany, and moved to Ireland, but the women of the family died during the journey. The men established themselves in Ireland, and eventually re-married and produced a few new generations of Phissels. By the 19th century, the spelling of the family's name had changed to Phizzel, and they found themselves in the midst of the potato famine. What remained of the Phizzel family, one man, his wife, and his son and daughter, headed for the Americas. The curse struck again, and the wife and daughter died during transit.

Settling initially in New York, the Phizzel men eventually headed to Missouri, finding a home in Cape Girardeau. Eventually, the elder Phizzel died, and the younger Phizzel, Jeremy, maried and had two children of his own: a son and a daughter. The family moved into a house near the river (which some stories say that Jeremy Phizzel won in a card game during which he might have shot one of the other players dead).

One night, Jeremy's son ran from the house, terrified. He had just witnessed his father killing his sister and mother, and had barely escaped himself. Jeremy ran after his son, shouting "come and join your sister!" The son led Jeremy on a chase to the edge of the river, where, thinking quickly, the boy through a branch in, making it look as if he had jumped into the water. His father dove in afterwards, surfaceing a moment later, still shouting "come and join your sister!" The river's strong currents quickly overcame the man, though, and he began to sink. The last sound that the boy heard his father make was a gurgling noise as he drowned, that sounded something like the word "goblin."

The boy, scarred from this experience, began wandering the river banks, subsisting on whatever food he could find. Although generally reclusive, he would sometimes jump out at people walking by on the river and shout "Come oand join your sister! Goblin, Goblin" and thus became known as the Phizzel Goblin. Though he must have died long ago, his father having chased him to the river's edge over a century ago, people still claim to encounter his spirit on the riverbank.

Commentary: The Phizzel Goblin is an April Fools Day joke concocted by Gene Fitzpatrick and Bryan Minogue of the excellent Hometown Tales podcast. Absolutely nothing in the story above is true, it was written for the April 1, 2006 episode of the podcast. However, if you didn't look at the date that the episode dropped, there is nothing in the podcast that would tip you off immediately. The story is a bit sillier than normal, admittedly, but it makes use of tropes from well-known urban legends and ghost stories: a family that has been cursed (a'la Dudleytown), a child with developmental disabilities (in this case probably purely psychological in nature, due to emotional trauma) growing up without parents (similar to a story known as "The Retarded Farmer"), and a location where one is likely to see a creature that wishes to get you (similar to La Llarona). Although someone listening to the episode may think that Gene and Bryan are "winking" at the audience, and they may very well have been trying to, the show is similar enough to their usual episodes, in which they discuss actual urban legends, bits of local history, ghost stories, etc., that it's not at all clear that they aren't simply recounting an actual urban legend in their usual delightfully goofy style. Even a few things that should be tip-offs (such as the fact that, despite settling in an area and presumably producing several generations, there was always just on Phizzel nuclear family) are common enough to ghost stories and urban legends that they didn't stand out as cues that the story was a joke.

In other words, if you were going to try to design an urban legend, you wouldn't be able to do much better.

And so, if one types "Phizzel Goblin" into Google, you will find message boards, urban legend sites, and Q&A forums where people are trying to find more information about the Phizzel Goblin. Enough people figured out that it was a joke that there aren't too many people who believe otherwise, but there are still occasional people who go looking for more information on this "legend" of the Mississippi River. In other words, the Phizzel Goblin is the funny cousin of the Blair Witch.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, Mr. Minogue...well played, sirs.

Sources: Hometown Tales Podcast...and as evidence that some people bought it, look here, here, and here

The Blue Lady of the Moss Beach Distillery

In 1927, a restaraunt called "Frank's Place", named for it's owner Frank Torres, opened in Moss Beach, California. By all accounts a glamorous place with great food, a wonderful atmosphere, and a steady supply of prohibition-era liquor, Frank's Place attracted the hoi polloi of the Bay Area.

One of the regulars, a young woman, found herself attracted to the piano player, who returned her affections. It wasn't long before the two were making time to see each other. As one might expect, the young woman's husband did not take this situation well. One night, as the pianist and the young woman were walking on the beach together, they were attacked. Nobody ever reported quite what happened, and the management's connections to local law enforcement kept the story from being looked into, but what is known is that the pianist was injured, but returned to play the piano the next night, the husband vanished and was never heard from again, and the young woman was dead from knife wounds, the blue dress that she had been wearing now soaked in her blood.

Since that time, numerous strange events have been associated with the locale, now known as the Moss Beach Distillery. The young woman is said to be routinely sighted, usually wearing a cut, torn, and bloody blue dress, but occasionally said to be seen looking healthy and with her dress intact. In the women's restroom, people have reported hearing laughter and a woman speaking when nobody was present. Guests sometimes report seeing the face of the woman appear in a mirror, also in the women's restroom. Throughout the establishment, lamps are said to swing or otherwise move on their own, it has been claimed that objects have been seen levitating, and furniture has been reported to move. Women have reported losing ear rings only to have them to be found stashed together in various parts of the building. Phones have rung, but when answered nobody was on the other line. People report having been touched by an unseen force, sometimes lightly, sometimes more forcefully, and often playfully. And rooms have been locked from the inside without anybody within them who could have locked them.

Commentary: Shortly after I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1998, I obtained a car and began routinely driving up Highway 1 to San Francisco - the long-way to get there, but the most scenic route. On these trips, I passed through Moss Beach and always saw the signs for the distillery, several of which advertised the presence of the Blue Lady. Naturally, I was curious, but being as how I was always making the trip on my own, and I have never been particularly comfortable eating at a nice resturaunt by myself, I never did stop in to see what was up.

I never did forget the place, though, and have been intending to look into the ghost story for some time. Two years back, my girlfriend ended up looking into it for me, rather accidentally. I had been working on a very stressful project for several months, being out of town for ten days, home for four, and then out again for another ten. My client was hostile, the working conditions were physically tough, and the job itself was extremely boring*. She felt that I needed to relax, and thought that I would enjoy going up to the distillery for a nice dinner out and a bit of time in an allegedly haunted building. We ended up not going because, after having driven five hours to get home, I didn't want to drive another four-hour round trip to go to dinner. After we had decided not to go, Kay told me that she had gathered some information about the place from people who had lived in the area, and that these folks all claimed that the distillery made the story up in order to attract more customers, especially tourists driving up California's portion of the Pacific Coast Highway (AKA Highway 1).

I didn't know how true this was. While there was no doubt that the distillery was playing up the "haunted house" angle to draw customers, it is also not uncommon for an establishment to do this with existing ghost legends. So, the fact that the distillery was going out of its way to make people think that it was haunted did not necessarilly mean that there wasn't an existing ghost story prior to the current advertising campaign.

Since then, I have found out a bit more. When a group of people from the show Ghost Hunters arrived to do an episode, they found speakersm trick mirrors, and lamps with motors that were made to move seemingly on their own. Considering that the Ghost Hunters folks have been known to engage in their trickery and showmanship to make their television show more exciting (and to make mundane evenings look like exciting "ghost investigations"), I was rather surprised that they, of all people, were the ones uncovering this (I also have wondered if the distillery management might have had something to do with the stuff beign uncovered as part of a publicity stunt, but I really have no idea). Still, there you go.

So, was there truly a legend of the Blue Lady, prior to the distillery getting into gadgetry and showmanship? Perhaps, I don't know. However, there can be little doubt that they have done a good deal to provide the experiences via technology that people were wanting through supernatural activity.

Alot of people, I have noticed, are bitter about this sort of thing, viewing the distillery owners as frauds. I don't agree. I view this as being something akin to telling a story around a camp fire, but on a grand scale. If someone experienced these weird haunting symptoms and decided to look into it, the trickery would eventually come out. Speakers, trick mirrors, and motors all have tell-tale elements that would eventually be revealed to a real investigator. People coming to the distillery were either coming for a good meal, or a good scare, and the distillery clearly treated this as entertainment and not a serious matter to be dealt with. I have a hard time seeing this as being anything but a good business person providing some fun to people who desire to play out a ghost story.

*I've noted before that I am a professional archaeologist. Basically, when someone is doing environmental review to get permits or government money, they hire me to help keep them in compliance with federal and state historic preservation laws. In this particular case, we were dealing with hundreds of historic-era archaeological sites that consisted entirely of broken glass and early 20th-century cans. It was amazingly boring. Oh, and the tempuratures were usually well over 100 degrees fahrenheit before noon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, again, Moss Beach Distillery Website, Mindreader.com

Friday, May 27, 2011

El Rey Theatre, Manteca, CA

A once-beautiful example of Art-Deco architecture and interior design, and one of the truly grand movie houses of the 1930s, the El Rey Theatre in Merced California opened it's doors in 1937. It functioned for 38 years, finally closing due to a fire that essentially gutted the interior. Ironically, on the night that it burned, the film that it was showing was The Towering Inferno.

The building stood empty, a burned-out shell, for over two decades until the Kelly Brothers purchased it and turned it into a restaurant and micro-brewery. But, of course, that's not the end of the story.

Since the Kelly Brothers establishment opened in the late 1990s, stories have begun circulating that spirits left from the old theatre days haunt the building. Customers claim to have seen people in clothing from earlier decades walking about, only to inexplicably vanish. Firefighters, in gear and uniforms from the 1970s, are sometimes seen wandering the building. It is said that hot spots appear in different spots around the building, as if in memory of the fire that destroyed the theatre. When a grease fire erupted in the kitchen in 2003, many people developed the belief that this was a result of the ghostly hot spots igniting the grease*.

*And not, oh, say the fact that there was flammable grease being heated ON A STOVE.

Discussion: I grew up about 15 miles south of Manteca. When I was a kid, it was little more than a small town near a sugar refinery that caused the downtown area to smell pretty horrible most of the time (earning it the nick-name "Man-Stinka'"). During the 1980s, and accelerating in the 1990s, a large number of people who worked in the Bay Area decided to purchase house in the Central Valley, and towns such as Manteca, Salida, Modesto, Stockton, and Dublin grew rapidly. While far from a thriving metropolis, Manteca has grown to be a small city with a more diverse population than it once had.

The growth of these Central Valley towns and cities has had numerous effects, both positive and negative. On the one hand, it has resulted in more money being available for local development and has made them nicer places to live, on the whole. At the same time, the fact that so many of the new residents spent much of their day commuting meant that they had less loyalty to local businesses, and often served as absentee-parents, both of which created their own set of problems. However, as the urban centers have grown, more people have found local work, and a greater commitment to the community has formed.

And that's part of what I like about this story. The construction of micro-breweries in the Central Valley is very much a result of the arrival of more affluent people from the Bay Area, the yuppification of the Central Valley, if you get what I mean. It is a very definite break in both character and culture with the Central Valley's past, which has its up side and its down side. This story, though, symbolically connects the old with the new. By having the ghosts of the past literally show up in a new type of business, it provides a folkloric continuity that I think is needed in much of the Valley.

Sources: Weird Fresno, waymarking.com, Strangeusa.com, Shadowlands, Cinema Treasures, Local Newspaper

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

AC/DC and Satanic Reincarnation

This one is not technically a ghost story, but it does involve someone returning from the grave, is interesting and, I think, deserves to be listed here.

As a kid, probably around the age of 12, I remember talking with one of the other kids in the neighborhood as we walked to the store one day. A car drove by, windows rolled down, hard rock blaring from the stereo's speakers. The other kid, has name was Ryan, looked at me gravely and said "that's Satanic music."

Being the sort of kid that I was, I looked at him with a smirk, and made a smart-ass comment. He rolled his eyes, and repeated his claim that the music was Satanic.

So, I asked "Really? You don't listen to it, how do you know it's Satanic?"

We stopped walking, he turned to me, and said "my uncle used to listen to that kind of music. And there's this one band, AC/DC, where their singer died. The band had songs about going to Hell to party, and about how everyone should use drugs and talk to demons, and things like that. My uncle said that he was pretty sad when the singer died, but a year later, the group put out a new record*, and they had this new singer. But the new singer looked and sounded and acted just like the old one, and he was singing this song about how he was back! My uncle said that it was pretty obvious that the song was about how he had died, and then Satan broght him back to continue doing the Devil's work!"

I rolled my eyes, and we continued walking. But the story stuck with me, as evidenced by the fact that I still remember it now, 23 years later. I think that part of what gave it its staying power, as silly as I thought it was, was Ryan's insistence that the story of AC/DCs Satanic reincarnation was true, and the distress that it seemed to cause him.

Commentary: I grew up in a small town to the north of Modesto, California. Like most towns in California, the residents were primarily Christian, and many were from one or another fundamentalist church (that is, of the minority who routinely attended any church), and a few of these churches were known for their "bunker mentality" approach to the world, where anything not from the church itself was considered suspect if not outright evil, and likely to assault the "godly" (which was, of course, members of that church, and pretty much nobody else). As a result, it is no surprise that there were a fair number of people who were convinced that horror movies were evil, D&D was a Satanic primer, Secular Humanists were trying to take over the world and abolish Christianity**, and rock music was, quite literally, music from Hell itself.

In this context, it's not surprising that Brian Johnson, the singer that replaced Bon Scott, was thought by some who are part of this particular Christian sub-culture to be a satanic reincarnation of Scott sent by Satan both to tempt more to Hell and to provide Satan with a prominent mouth-piece on Earth. Of course, when you consider that Johnson was not only alive, but had an active musical career, well before Scott's death, this reincarnation hypothesis falls apart, but paranoid sub-cultures have never been known for their adherence to reality.

I don't know if Ryan really had an uncle who told him this, as I have since heard the story told by different people in different places. It's entirely possible that multiple people developed this particular hair-brained hypothesis, helped along by AC/DC's lyrics and the fact that both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson both sing as if they are in the pained and advanced stages of throat cancer. Regardless, it was one of the claims that tended to serve as "evidence" of a massive Satanic influence on the "secular world."

This is, in no small way, a continuation of the rumors of violin virtuoso Paganini's alleged Satanic connections, which were both part of his commercial success and fed the worries of the delusional paranoiacs of his day.

Ironically, while the rumor of Scott's Satanic reincarnation was developing amongst this sub-culture, AC/DC fans were busy pointing to difference between Scott and Johnson and arguing over who was better. Two divergent sub-cultures...so it goes....

*It was the late 80s. We still referred to music albums as "records" even though they were coming out primarily on CDs.

**I remember often hearing this as a kid. Weirdly, as an adult, I discovered that there really was a group that identified itself as Secular Humanists, was relatively small in numbers, with no actual political power, and possessing an agenda so mellow that it's hard to imagine anyone who actually knew it having much of an objection to it. These people were often confused when they were informed that they were actually in control of the world's governments.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Army Aviation Support Facilities, Stockton, California

The Army Aviation Support Facilities in Stockton, California, is the home to a fleet of helicopters and the crew who maintain and fly them. I have a family member who works there, and he has told me that there are some peculiar things that occur in the building.

The first I heard of weird happenings at the facility was a few years ago, when I was told of a strange scent that workers were noticing. A woman had previously worked in "the shop" (as the employees refer to the aircraft maintenance building), but had left, and subsequently suffered ill health leading to her death. She was known for wearing a perfume with a particular floral scent. After her death, people working in the building began to report that they would smell her perfume. Initially, it was assumed that one of the other women who worked there had taken to wearing the same type, but this was quickly found to not be true. To this day, the perfume is still smelled every now and again.

My relative also reports hearing phantom voices in the aircraft hanger and attached offices. He says that the voices are clearly human, but always seem to be speaking at normal conversational levels in another room, and specific words can never be quite made out. Although most of the staff are willing to work alone in the building, the voices are spooky enough that they prefer not to have to. Following the voices to their source always reveals the location from which they were emanating to be empty.

Commentary: The Army Aviation Support Facilities is staffed by a mix of Army National guard members who work full time, civilian employees, and part-time National Guard members. Known for it's Chinook Helicopters, the facility has a seasoned staff of military veterans who have seen and done alot. So, naturally, when confronted with the supernatural, these rather tough individuals use the unnatural as a source for playing practical jokes on each other.

My relative tells me of times when various members will start to sniff the air, asking if anyone else smells anything, just to see how people act. Likewise, it's not unknown for someone on late-night duty to make noise and book it out of a room just to see if another person stuck with a similar responsibility will come running or become frightened.

Can I explain the hauntings? Well, the fact that these folks are playing practical jokes on each other probably explains quite a bit of it right there. I could probably come up with perfectly plausible explanations even without the practical jokes, but I have to admit that the fact that people are essentially living the folklore as a way of harassing each other amuses me, and I would be hard-pressed to discourage it.

Sources: Personal Account

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meux Home, Fresno, CA

Updated 4-30-2011, photos added

Victorian mansions-turned-museums are common enough in California's Central Valley. My own old stomping grounds in Modesto had the McHenry Mansion, and Fresno has the Meux Home. It is a beautiful Victorian building, open for public tours and surrounded by a scenic garden.

Unlike the McHenry mansion, however, the Meux home is said to be haunted. Symptoms of the haunting include the sounds of children laughing in the upstairs of the home, even when it is known to be empty; strange knocking sounds and general noise are said to have been reported by people in the house after-hours; claims that objects (including fixed objects such as door knobs) have gone missing or been moved after everyone had left for the night abound in local folklore; and there are stories that a fuzzy, but clearly human apparition has been seen looking out the windows at passers-by. Although there are numerous claims about the activities of the ghosts, there is little information regarding their origins.

One local, but completely untrue, story holds that the ghosts are the spirit of slaves kept in the house prior to the civil war. The claim is that their cruel masters treated them horribly, and that their restless spirits continue to haunt the mansion, making mischief and frightening whoever they can.

The museum management does not publicly acknowledge the hauntings, and at least one local enthusiast claims to have been given the brush-off when he asked for a chance to investigate. Though, to be fair, there are enough strange people with an interest in ghosts that anyone running such an establishment has good reason to be wary of people asking to investigate.

Commentary: One of the things that fascinates me about this story is that it illustrates how distanced from reality the local folklore can become when describing the past.

The house was built between 1888 and 1889 by one Dr. Thomas Richard Meux, a physician and former Confederate soldier who came out west int he decades following the American Civil War. Dr. Meux died in 1929 (at the age of 91, quite old now, especially old in the early 20th century), leaving the house to his daughter, who lived there until her death in 1970. The house subsequently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and became a museum dedicated to illustrating 19th century life in California. Pretty simple, pretty straightforward. While there was, no doubt, much drama and excitement in the lives of the people who lived in the house, it wasn't the stuff normally associated with ghost stories.

So, of course, people began to make things up. One popular story holds that the house was built in the 1820s and that the homeowners had numerous slaves. They were, of course, very cruel masters, and the ghost stories are attributed to the restless spirits of the slaves. There are a few problems with the story though, notably that Fresno didn't exist until the 1860s, California was never a slave state, and the house wasn't built until 60-70 years after the slavery story claims. The fact that Dr. Meux served in the Confederate army may be the source for this story.

So, I am torn. As a ghost story/folklore enthusiast, I love the fact that the story has changed for the sake of drama and to place it within a broader tradition of folkloric versions of American history. As someone who is trained and works professionally in historic preservation, this sort of fast-and-loose-with-facts history annoys me.

Sources: Local Folklore, Published Book, Weird Fresno, Meux Home Website

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Walnut Girl Ghost and Train Depot, Armonas, CA

There is an odd ghost that is said to haunt the walnut orchards of California's San Joaquin Valley, and she seems to have a connection with an equally odd haunted building.

First, the ghost. As the story goes, at some point during the 19th century, a group of young girls were swimming in a waterhole outside of town. A group of young boys showed up, and teased the girls, threatening to enter the water (remember, this was the 19th century, meaning both that people were likely to be swimming nude). All but one of the girls took off running, and hid in the nearby walnut orchard until the boys went away. The last girl decided to hide underwater. However, something went wrong, and she ended up drowning.

Since then, strange events said to be assoiccated with the girl have been reported. The drowned girl is said to appear to other girls of about the same age, always reported to be naked, and always near either the walnut orchards or places that store walnuts (thus the name Walnut Girl), as if she's trying to make up for her mistake of not running to the orchards. Boys of that age are said to never report seeing her, but will attribute instances of bad luck to her, as if she is trying to get even with the boys who precipitated her death.

This brings us to the haunted building, an old Railroad Depot near Armona, where walnuts from the harvest would be loaded onto trains and taken to markets throughout California and the United States. The depot, now abandoned, is said to be the home of many strange phenomenae: lights would appear at night, compasses will not read accurately (and may simply spin), and photographs routinely show strange bright spots on the building that were not visible when the picture was taken.

And, naturally, sightings of the walnut girl are said to be especially common near this building. One person, placing her story on numerous internet sites, claims to have seen the walnut girl at the depot, and on telling her mother of this, was told that her mother had also seen the walnut girl at the depot.

Commentary: There are two points about this story that I find interesting. The first is the way inw hich something generated at one point in history can take on a very different meaning at another point in history. In the story of the young girls skinny dipping, and being menaced by a group of young boys, it's hard not to read much of our early 21st century sexual politics into the situation, including the very real problems of both sexual assault and the sexualization of children. However, if this story dates to the late 19th or early 20th centuries, which is possible (I haven't been able to find out with any certainty), then it is likely that the story of the boys teasing and threatening the girls would have come off as more of an "innocent prank." Whether this reflects the unwillingness of earlier people to face very real problems or reflects modern paranoia, or a combination of the two, I leave to you, the readers, to argue.

The other point that I find interesting here is that there seems to be one "definitive" acount of the Walnut Girl ghost and the haunted depot, and it is, word-for-word identical on every web site that I have found, indicating that the author posted it everywhere that she could find. Those few web pages where it's not quoted at least refer to it. This raises the question: how much of the story is actual local folklore, and how much of it is the result of someone posting the story to every paranormal-themed web page she could find? I hope to head down there in the near future to see if I can find any evidence of this story being part of the local folklore, but in the meantime, it's an interesting question.

Sources: Weird Fresno, OBI-WAN's UFO-Free Paranormal Page, and the exact same story appears verbatim at numerous other places on the web, including Strange, Spooky, and Weird

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Phantom Hitchhiker, Delano, CA

Delano is one of those small, Central Valley cities that is typical of California. Delano is an agricultural center, located in one of the most fertile areas of the world (while people outside of California tend to think of the state as being one big beach, the majority of it is actually excellent agricultural land), it is home to numerous farms, related businesses, a politically and socially conservative population (something else common in California, despite the stereotype), and, apparently, a butt-load of ghosts. One of these ghosts is a phantom hitchhiker that haunts Browning Road in southern Delano.

There is no consensus on the origin of the ghost, though the most common story seems to be that she was a young woman who was crossing the street early one morning when she was struck by a speeding vehicle. Regardless, she is said to appear on the side of the road, sometimes looking as if she's about to cross, other times looking as if she's trying to flag a ride. Some stories tell that she actually appears in the backseat of cars driving down Browning Road (shades of Highway 152?), while others hold that the ghost has moved into the path of oncoming traffic only to vanish as the cars swerve to avoid her.

People posting to internet forums* report that, in addition to trying to cross the street, dodge traffic, and catch a ride, the young woman also will run after cars driving on Browning Road, and has been heard latching on to the car's undercarriage and messing about with the machinery. Two posters report making an effort to attract the ghost's attention - one reports that he and his passenger saw the ghost appear next to the car, and they quickly high-tailed it out of there; the other reports that they drove up and down the road looking for the ghost, and finally stopped and exited the car, mocking it. Upon returning to their vehicle, they saw the spirit in the back seat, though it promptly vanished, leaving a cold spot in the back of the car.

There is at least one variation on the story that holds that the ghost is not a phantom hitchhiker, but rather the spirits of two men who appear as shaodws and leap at cars. And one variation on the "ghost appears in the backseat" element says that the ghost is not seen in the backseat, but can be felt nudging the driver from the back seat.

*Ahhh, publication on the Illustrious Internet! Well-vetted and accurate. You can believe everything that you read there, especially if it's posted by someone with the monniker of Sluggo!

Commentary: I have complained before about how the ease of copying and pasting on the internet can lead to folklore stagnating. In this case, though, the use of the internet appears to have led to the stories flourishing and mutating in interesting ways. While most of the posts on the internet message board threads about this story bare all of the marks of being someone wanting to tell tall tales, they are, nonetheless, great variations on, and continuations of, the original story. When one searches, there is, of course, a fair amount of cutting-and-pasting between different sites. But there is also a good deal of originality, and that's part of what makes ghost stories so wonderful.

One thing that this story brings to mind, at least for me, is that the generall classification of a ghost story often doesn't quite describe it. This one is often described as a vanishing hitchhiker, and there are elements of that tale here, but the ghost just as often simply appears near the car, chases the car, or appears within the car, all without anyone trying to give her a ride. This is, in some ways, similar to Ressurection Mary, where the ghost does sometimes go for a ride, but just as often is said to do something else altogether.

I also like the variation that describes her latching on to the underside of a car and mucking about with it, making her similar to a gremlin. I wonder if this is an example of two stories coming together, or of one story simply gaining attributes similar to another, but independently.

Sources: Weird Fresno, Strange USA Forums, Unsolvedmsyeries.com (AKA, the web page that time forgot), Oddly, a Facebook page, Shadowlands.net