Saturday, January 16, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep. 97 - Pythian Castle

Moment in Oddity - Phantom of the Opera

The novel "Phantom of the Opera" was written by French journalist Gaston Leroux and originally was published as a series of articles in La Galois. Leroux was an investigative reporter and he based the novel on very real facts. The opera house in the book was based on a real opera house named Opera Garnier in Paris, which actually had underground tunnels and an underground lake.The Opera Garnier did catch fire and a woman was killed when a chandelier fell from the ceiling. Their was a real man named Erik that Leroux based his Phantom character on that was from the Normandy area. He had been born with a disfigured face and his parents abandoned him when he was still a child. A sideshow circus brought him into their fold and put him on display as a freak. When Erik was older, the circus traveled to Persia and he ran away, soon finding himself performing for the Shah. He began work as an architect assistant at this time also and soon was designing buildings himself. He helped in the construction of the Opera Garnier and got by in society by covering his face with a mask. He became wealthy and was always seen wearing a suit and felt top hat. Box 5 was his at the opera house, just as it is in the novel and he had built into the balcony a hollow column, so he could come and go as he pleased. He did fall in love with an opera singer named Kristina and kidnapped her, holding her for 3 weeks. His apartment was below the opera house and the rejection by the opera singer caused him to wall up his apartment where he more than likely died of starvation. When the Opera Bastille was built to replace the Opera Garnier, workmen found the apartment with a skeleton inside. It wore a ring that Erik was known to have worn. Fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction and sometimes an odd true legend can make fiction all too real.

This Day in History - Space Shuttle Columbia Final Launch

On this day, January 16th, in 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia launches for what will be its last voyage to space. Columbia was the oldest shuttle in the fleet and was launched for the first time in 1981. This final mission was its 28th. On board were seven astronauts: Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson, Laurel Clark and Ilan (Ihlahn) Ramon. The crew and shuttle were carrying 80 scientific experiments and the mission lasted sixteen days. Columbia was returning to Earth on February 1st when something went terribly wrong and the shuttle broke apart upon re-entry killing all those on board. A piece of insulating foam had broken off from an external tank during liftoff and punched a hole in one of the wings allowing the heat from re-entry to destroy the support structure and the shuttle broke apart. The Columbia was not rebuilt and the 84,000 pieces of it that were collected are now stored in an office suite at Kennedy Space Center.

Pythian Castle (Research Assistant Amy Connor)


One would not expect to find a castle in a Missouri city like Springfield, but indeed there is a structure here that is very castle-like and thus it has been given the name Pythian Castle. It is a massive structure that has found itself under the supervision of various owners in the past with very different uses for the building. It has served as an orphanage and retirement home and also as a place to rehabilitate injured service members. And POWs even found themselves incarcerated in the basement. The building has not been a place of tragedy, but emotions could have been high for military members and orphans alike. Or is there some other reason for supernatural activity in the building because there is definitely something unexplained going on within the walls? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Pythian Castle.

Springfield, MO was founded in 1833 in the Greene & Christian County seats. It was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Springfield was the host of a Civil War battle and also helped usher in the Wild West Era with a gunfight between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt in the town square. It's safe to say the city is rich in history. Included in the town's history is that of Pythian Castle. Pythian Castle sits in what is now considered the North end of town. It was built by the Knights of Pythias in 1913. The Knights of Pythias was a fraternal organization formed in Washington D.C. in 1864. It was the first to be chartered by an act of congress. The order was founded by Justus H. Rathbone and is dedicated to universal peace. There are more than 2,000 lodges in the world. The order is named for Pythias, one of the members of the Damon and Pythias story from Greece. These two men were real historical figures that were against the King of Syracuse because he had obtained the throne by fraud. Damon was condemned to death and Pythias joined his friend out of loyalty and love. It is that spirit in which the order was founded. The Civil War was raging when the order formed and Abraham Lincoln wrote of it,"The purposes of your organization are most wonderful. If we could but bring its spirit to all our citizenry, what a wonderful thing it would be. It breathes the spirit of Friendship, Charity and Benevolence. It is one of the best agencies conceived for the upholding of government, honoring the flag, for the reuniting of our brethren of the North and of the South, for teaching the people to love one another, and portraying the sanctity of the home and loved ones. I would suggest that these great principles be perpetuated and that you go to the Congress of the United States and ask for a charter, and so organize on a great scale throughout this nation, and disseminate this wonderful work that you have so nobly started. I will do all in my power to assist you in this application and with your work." This is a secret and ritualistic organization though and for some reason, these orders like Masons, Oddfellows and such, always have haunted buildings.

Pythian Castle was originally built on 53 (now down to 2.6)  acres that were bought for $1 from the Chamber of Commerce that was desperate for the Knights to choose Springfield for their lodge over several other cities in Missouri. It would take the organization 20 more years to raise the $75,000 it would cost to build. Construction began in 1913, though it's unclear how long it took. The building is constructed of Carthage stone, a particularly hard type of limestone found in the Ozarks. The interior is made of steel framework with poured concrete floors and stairs. The walls consist of fireproof pyrobar blocks covered in steel mesh and several coatings of plaster. (Pyrobar is a fire-resistant gypsum based product that was used between 1903 and 1960 and makes wall building rapid.) It is two stories with a full basement and comes to almost 40,000 square feet. When it was completed it featured a grand foyer, meeting room, ballroom, dining hall and sitting parlors. The second floor featured a theater with a working ticket booth, seats, upper projection, theater lighting and dressing rooms in the back. This meant the theater was well suited for film and live plays. There was also an underground steam tunnel that connected the main building to the power house in the back.

The building was originally meant to be an orphanage and retirement home for children and widows of the Knights. It was named the Pythian Home of Missouri. For nearly 30 years it ran as such until it was commandeered by the U.S military in 1942 to be used during WW2. POWs were held in the basement and the rest of the property was used to entertain and rehabilitate injured U.S troops from the adjacent O'Reilly General Hospital. It was renamed the Enlisted Men's Service club during this time. It included a movie theater, bowling alley, arts & crafts area, pool hall, library & ballroom. Many famous actors, actresses, musicians and other performers of the day often graced the ballroom and stage to cheer up sick and injured soldiers. After WW2 ended, the building was retained by the U.S government as a reserve center until it was sold as surplus in 1993. It was bought by it's current owner in 2003 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. It was renamed Pythian Castle. Pythian Castle now offers day and night ghost tours, history tours and event hosting.

A far as hauntings go, it certainly falls under that category. It has been featured on several TV shows, including; Ghost Lab, Haunted Collector and Children of the Grave. It was also featured in the book Haunted Route 66 and has even earned the title of Certified Haunted Castle. Many of the hauntings are rumored to be from the spirits of orphans that were abused here and POWs that were purported to be tortured here. Both of these are legends, so we can't be sure of their authenticity. No public records were found proving either to be anything other than rumors. But both of those would certainly make hauntings make sense. Encounters include disembodied voices, temperature changes, orbs, full & partial bodied apparitions, objects moving on their own, strong changes in emotion, unexplained scents and physical encounters.

One story goes as far back as WW2. A young soldier was preparing to deploy and found himself on the second floor alone. He suddenly felt very uneasy and as if there were someone in the room with him, even though he was certain he was alone. He then heard a man and woman speaking in hushed tones. When asked what he did next he said "I got the heck out of there!"

Another tale includes two young men riding mopeds around town late one night when they happened upon the castle. One of the men decided he wanted to show it to his friend so they decided to walk up the front steps. As they approached the front door they heard a loud banging overhead. It was after midnight, with no cars in the lot. So they were understandably shaken up and left pretty quickly.

Another story is that of a pair of sisters that were on a ghost tour. They were each in separate parts of the building when they had their experiences. The first was in the steam tunnel and while recording one sister got an EVP of a male voice saying "Get out", but she didn't know until she arrived home later that evening. Around the same time her sister was in a room on the second floor taking pictures when her ear was blown into. She quickly ran out of the room and exited the building in fright. The sisters also had issues with fully charged batteries draining quickly only to find that the batteries were in fact fully charged when they arrived home.

Have the lonely and sad souls of orphans and wounded servicemen decided to make Pythian Castle their eternal home? Is there some other reason for unexplained experiences in the castle? Is Pythain Castle haunted? That is for you to decide!

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