Sunday, June 19, 2016

White Rock Lake

Sit back and buckle in for an interesting variation on the vanishing hitchhiker, from the Lone Star State!

Drivers on the roads around White Rock Lake near Dallas, Texas, may encounter a young woman, soaked to the bone and wearing what appears to be a white evening gown from the 1920s. If the driver decides ot be a good samaritan and stops to offer help, the young woman will ask to be driven to an address on Gaston Avenue. In some versions of the story, the young woman explain that there has been an accident and her car has fallen into the lake, while in others she is barely verbal due to a stupifying state of shock. Upon arriving at the destination, the driver will discover that the young woman has vanished, but that there is water covering the seat where she had been sitting. 

In some versions of the story, the woman will specify that the house to which she has asked ot be driven belongs to her father. On arrival, the driver will observe that the young woman has fallen asleep, will go to the house and knock on the door. The door is then opened by an elderly man who is angered when this stranger claims to be bringing the elderly fellow's daughter home - you see, she had dided years earlier when her car plunged into the lake, and he doesn't appreciate these sorts of jokes. It is at this point that the driver returns to the car to find that woman is gone and the seat is wet.

The identity of the woman is not known, nor is why she is trying to reach the house on Gastone Avenue. 

There is one other variation on the story, one which is much, much creepier and bears no resemblance to the hitchiking ghost story outside of the presence of a young woman in an evening gown. In this version, people boating on the lake or out at the docks at night report seeing a body floating face down, carried (seemingly by the currents, though we know better) towards the observers. It appears to be the body of a drowned young woman in a fancy evening gown.  As the body come close to the observers, it turns over, and those present can see that the skin is bright white, as if drained of bloood. As it reaches the observers, the eyes spring open and the body emits a ghastly, disturbing shriek. Allegedly, those present always run away at this point, because, let's face it, so would you and I. 

Commentary:  There really are two separate ghost stories here, whether or not they have the same origin is unclear.  The first is a standard vanishing hitchiker story, but with the ghost leaving behind water rather than a jacket or sweater (which, when you get down to it, is just really damn rude on the ghost's part).  The second is a much stranger and more sinister story that has some truly creepy and disturbing elements.  I suspect that this is a case where elements from one story (woman drowning when a car plunges into a lake) were adopted into a new story because, let's face it, the vanishing hitchhiker story is ubiquoutous to the point of becoming a bit boring.  Another possibility is that the creeepier story, of the floating corpse, is the original tale, and that it was adopted into the ubiquoutous vanishing hitchiker story by people getting their stories a bit garbled. Regardless, while I appreciate the hitchiker story as a form of folklore, I am much more likely to tell the latter story should I be sitting with friends around a campfire. 

The ghost story has also become an element of one of Dallas's odder pop-culture moments. In October of 1967, local radio personality Chuck Boyles decided to invite his listeners to join him at White Rock Lake in order to search for the phantom and try to solve the mystery behind her (lest you are inclined to think of this as a serious investigation, keep in mind that he was a radio DJ given to the self-promotion necessary to that profession and that this was likely intended as a goofy lark).  While he likely expected to result in a few dozen people coming out (he set the meeting for the very early hours of the morning, likely to discourage many people from joining him), something in the neighborhood of 1000 people (mostly under the age of 25) arrrived.  This, in turn, resulted in the police coming out, hoping to prevent a riot. While there was a bit of mischief, it was, ultimately, anti-climatic and nothing happened.  However, the city government was sufficiently displeased to put Boyles in a position where he felt the need to make an on-air apology a few days later.

And that, my friends, is how you ensure the continuation of a piece of folklore. My gratitude goes ot Chuck Boyles, even though those living near the lake were likely less than please with him.  

Sources: Wikipedia, iO9Phantom SeekersDark Haunts

Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Chuuk Lagoon, also known as Truc Lagoon (let's hear it for languages with semi-compatible phonemes!) is a natural harbor in the Caroline Islands.  The Japanese navy used it as a home base during the second World War.  This came to a sudden end on February 17, 1944, when a two-day battle began, resulting in the destruction of the base. More than 50 ships and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed, and thousands of Japanese soldiers lost their lives (400 of which are said to have been trapped in the hold of a ship which sank, drowning the men.
Since the war, the lagoon has become a popular destination for scuba divers who want to explore sunken wrecks (some sources place credit for this popularity with a 1969 documentary by Jacques Cousteau).

Although a significant number of bodies were eventually recovered and returned to Japan for burial, many remain in the depths of the lagoon. Many of those who have dived at the lagoon report supernatural goings-ons.

Several of the ships that sank were cargo ships, including at least one loaded with trucks, and divers have reported hearing the sound of automobile engines starting and idling under the water. Similarly, many divers have reported hearing machine-like grinding noises coming from the engine rooms of some of the sunken ships.

Divers have also reported hearing human voices emanating from the water, and rumor holds that the locals consider the islands to be haunted, with a television crew (from the inaccurately-named "Destination Truth") claiming to have heard stories about floating lights near the caves on the island, disembodied human voices heard throughout the island (though especially in the lagoon area), and one of the crew claiming to have been touched on the shoulder when nobody else was present.

By the way - you should check out the diver's photos available here.

Commentary:  Considering that battlegrounds across the world attract ghost stories, it is only natural that the same be true of a naval battleground (battlewater?), especially considering the volume of dead and the difficulties of recovering bodies from the water as compared to dry-land battlegrounds.  While the Japanese government has made efforts to recover and bury bodies from the lagoon, it is still common for divers to find human remains while exploring, which says more about the nature of massive shipwreck sites than about the efforts of the Japanese government.

I wonder about a few things here, though.  The first is whether or not the locals truly consider this place to be haunted, or if that is a European/U.S. story that we place on the location because in our ghost story traditions it seems like it should be haunted (haunted burial grounds, which is what this place has become, though a standard part of European and therefore U.S. folklore, are not a universal part of human views about burial places).  I don't know, and if any of the readers have had reason to visit Micronesia, perhaps you could inform me. If they do consider it haunted, I then wonder if this is a native view, or if it is something imported with wreck-diving tourism in the 1970s and later.  Again, I genuinely don't know, and would be grateful if any of my readers could fill me in.

Similarly, I know that many non-competitive sports sub-cultures have developed their own superstitions and supernatural beliefs common throughout (try talking to a surfer some time, or a mountain climber, and you will see exactly what I mean).  If so, then I would wonder whether or not those beliefs have fed this growing legend. I have already begun contacting divers that I know in order to ask them - if they get me any information, I will update this entry accordingly. (Edit to note: I have spoken with a couple of divers so far, they both think that this is likely a dead-end. While they have encountered supernatural divers, they have not encountered a supernatural view common to divers).

One final note - I have observed that, as with many other ghost stories of more recent vintage, the haunting of Chuuk lagoon is one that appears across the internet, often with the exact same information repeated over and over again, not quite word-for-word, but without much variation - so it's not the copy-and-paste style of folklore spread that I have noted for other ghost stories, but it is something close to that.  If you type Chuuk lagoon (or Truk Lagoon) into Google, you will pull up many web pages, but I only cite three below, because, frankly, no matter how many I went through, I never found anything new pertaining to the ghost stories, so I just included the first three that I found. Again, I have to wonder whether or not this suggests that the over-use of a few specific sources may be resulting in stagnation of folklore.  I also noticed that none of the sources cited primary print references for the ghost stories, instead relying on hearsay, other websites, and a relatively recent television show - this makes me wonder whether or not this legend may be more recent, originating in the 1990s or later, as the internet made sharing details of dives easier.  If this is the case, then perhaps this is a story that is emerging, rather than stagnating.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Manchac Swamp, Louisiana

Manchac Swamp, in Lousiana, is home to two separate supernatrual stories. The first is that the swamp is home to the rougarou (apparently a local dialect version of Loup Garou, which is the American South version of the werewolf). This beast is said to haunt the swamp, looking for victims to tear apart.

But, the actual ghost story comes courtesy of the legend of an alleged Voodoo priestess named either Julie White or Julie Brown. She lived in a small town in or near the swamp in the early 20th century, and apparently liked frightening her neighbors for fun.  Amonf her activities was her frequent statement that "one day I'm gonna' die, and I'm takin' alll of you WITH ME!" I like to think that this was followed by her rubbing her hands and cackling. She was also known to routinely predict disasters, including the destruction of neighboring towns, only to have her predictions come true in short order. The neighbors took to calling her "the oracle."

Well, in 1915, she died, and a hurricane struck New Orleans, destroying (some sources say burying) her town...taking it all with her.

Since then, people entering the swamp have reported hearing her singing her song (if it is Julie Brown, I hope that song is "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"), and often hearing a woman's voice scream eerily, echoing thoughout the swamp. It is said that those who have entered the swamp to test the spirit routinely leave as terrified believers in the paranormal.

Commentary: I looked this story up on multiple websites, but each of them had the same story, sometimes almost word-for-word, so I linked to only the most relevant sources below. This lack of variation (and lack of detail) is a bit irritating. But this is often a frustration in seeking out ghost stories.  I also was disappointed that details of the werewolf story were typically light, though I didn't persue that as much as I might have, since I am more interested in ghosts than monsters.

This story is the source of local tourism, with Cajun Pride tours taking people to the cabin where the alleged priestess once lived, as well as the cemetary where she is supposedly buried. While I am skeptical of the story and the motives behind it being spread, I am nonetheless glad that I heard it. It may be a by-the-numbers voodoo story, but it is still fun.

Sources:, iO9, Abondoned! blog,

Arch Duke Ferdinand's Car

The assasination of Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia, triggered World War I...and if you didn't already know that, please go back to high school and try to pay attention.

The vehicle, unlike the world, went away from the assasination unscathed. It's subsequnet owners, drivers, and various passengers and bystanders, however, were reportedly not so lucky. It's first post-war owner, the Governor of Yugoslavia, was involved in four collisions, losing his arm in one of them.  This allegedly led to him wanting the car destroyed, but it nonetheless ended up with his friend Dr. Strikis...who apprently died when the car somehow overturned and crushed him.  The car then continued it's winning streak when it was owned by a Swiss race car driver, and it threw him out during a drive through the mountaisn (whether this occured during a race or a pleasure drive is unclear). Next, it was bought by a farmer, and whent he car was being towed (after stalling during a drive) it's engine roared to life, the car kicked into gear, and it caused a collision that killed the farmer and the man driving the towing vehicle (NEVER doa  favor for the owner of a haunted car). Finally, a new buyer decided that the problem wwasn't the obvious demonic nature of the vehicle, but the paint job (it is often described as "blood red"), so he painted it blue, and as a sign of gratitude, the car went and got itself into a damn head-on collision, killing the new owner and his guests as they drove to a wedding.

Now, one would think that being the mobile site of the spark that set Europe on fire, throwing much of the world (as Europe's colonies did become involved) into blood and fire would be enough. But some evil, demonic vehicles apparently have to be over-achievers. Apparently this one just wanted to say "in your face, Christine!"

Commentary: If this all sounds a little too much like the stories involving James Dean's famous "Little Bastard" car...well, there's probably a reason for that. You see, the stories involving the car can't really be traced to earlier than 1959, four years after James Dean's death. Moreover, the story was popularized (and possibly invented) by professional tall-tale teller Frank Edwards in his book Stranger than Science. It is, of course, possible that the story was circulating in some form prior to 1959 - the curse involving the car that was present for one of humanity's most destructive bouts of collective of insanity is, after all, just begging for frightening tales - but the timing of Edward's publication seems just a little too close to the beginnings of the "Little Bastard" story.

It should also be said that most, if not all, of the story is obvious B.S. For starters, post war, there was no governor of Yugoslavia, as it was a kingdom.  Also, how could the car be through that many collisions and yet be relatively unscathed (the intact car is on display of the War Museum in Vienna)? Then there is the lack of specifics regarding many of the incidents.  It all seems rather hard to accept.

Sources: Jalopnik, athingforcars.comSmithsonian Mag

Return to Babylon, Haunted Film

The film Return to Babylon is a bit of an interesting oddity, a silent film released in 2012 (similar to The Artist), it tells the tales of Hollywood's early years, focusing on the scandals that made and broke the stars of the silent film era.

According to the director, Alex Monty Canawati, he had wanted to make a silent film in the style of those from the 20s, and, one night, found a bag on a sidewalk in Hollywood. The bag contained 19 rolls of unused black and white 16 mm film. Canawati decided that, with this, he'd make his movie.

The film was shot on a shoe-string budget, despite having a number of well known stars in its cast. It never found a distributor, thanks in part to the sheer oddness of making a silent film in the modern era (though, yes, The Artist was successful), and so it took a while for people to see Return to Babylon...but when people did begin to see it, they saw something disturbing - not the content of the story, but things that were happening on screen.

In some scenes, the fingers of characters elongated into inhuman, possibly claw-like appendages. In others, the faces of the actors appeared to change into the faces of demonic monsters or desiccated corpses. In one case, an actor opens their mouth, and fangs appear.

The film makers insist that there were no special effects, and that they did not design these weird changes. The usual take is that the special effect that could do this is one referred to as "morphing", which would not have been feasible on the film's miniscule budget.

In interviews, cast and crew described numerous spooky happenings: feeling watched, feeling people poking or shoving them, hearing strange sounds without a clear source, and so on. Jennifer Tilly, who plays Clara Bow, has been especially vocal about this.

What was the source of these strange phenomenon? The film was shot in the homes and other favored places frequented by the stars whose fates the film dramatizes. Perhaps these locations are haunted, and this showed up on film. Maybe it's the film itself, those canisters that mysteriously came into Canawatti's possession - did some mysterious power want these images unleashed on the world and make the film available as an avenue for this?

Whatever the answer, the film remains a creepy mystery for now...

Commentary: ...or perhaps not. While neither I, nor anyone else aside from possibly the filmmakers, can say exactly what is going on in the footage, there are a number of possible explanations that are not supernatural.

For starters, some of the spooky images are, well, not really what they are claimed to be. For example, in a scene where an actor allegedly grows fangs - if you look closely at the image, it becomes clear that there are no fangs, just teeth and a low-quality image that makes the perfectly normal teeth reflect in a slightly odd way.

Some of the images, though, are decidedly odd. Even there, though, there may be a bit more going on in the natural world. Turns out that transferring from an old reel of film to digital medium for distribution (or online viewing) can cause some weird image distortions. In addition, I have my suspicions that the relatively low-resolution black and white image providing by the film may make it more open to cheaper post-production digital manipulation than a 35 mm color print or high-definition digital image would be. And, frankly, having looked at some of the images, they appear to me to be pretty clearly examples of blurrier images promoting Pareidolia rather than the horrific items that they are claimed to be.

Then, of course, there's the story of the film discovery...which seems like perfect fodder for an attention-getting ghost story, rather than a true event. I don't know, maybe running into bags of unused film does happen from time to time in Los Angeles (it never happened when I was down there, but maybe I was just hanging out in the wrong part of town), but that just seems...a little to convenient, I suppose.  Also, there's the fact that the film couldn't find a distributor, and that the filmmakers needed to draw some attention to it in order to remedy this problem. Put that together, and, as an outside observer, it seems likely to me that the story was added at a later time (maybe with some special effects work) in an attempt to draw attention to a film that wasn't getting any.

Also worth noting - the director is either nutty or (more likely) a hilarious prankster, and has claimed that various places where shadows or hair cover the faces of various actresses demonstrates that they have become "Christ Like" and that, perhaps, his movie is part of biblical prophecy.

Added Bonus: Of course, we can't leave the entry about a haunted film without included a trailer and clips, now can we? For whatever reason, Youtube is not letting me embed the clips, but the links below should get you where you want to go.

First off, the director is either crazy or funny, I am not sure which:

Next, a short film on the film...

...and the trailer

Sources: WikipediaWeek in WeirdThe ParanormalisticsStrange