by: Bob Sherfield
In 1947, 110 would be Royal Marine Commandos embarked upon a nationwide, five day long, “personal initiative” test. Taking the initiative test was a very serious matter for the men, passing out as a fully-fledged Commando would depend upon it, but for the officers who designed and set the bizarre tasks it was a lot more fun. On Thursday May 8th each man was given an individual task and ordered to reach their destinations, complete their task, and return with proof that they had done so, on or before Tuesday May 13th. To make things more difficult, the men weren’t allowed to begin the test until the last train of the night had left the local station, Towyn in Wales (now Tywyn). None of the men had received any pay for nearly a fortnight, and they were not given any money. They were however issued with five days’ worth of iron rations to sustain them. And so off they went into the darkness, in groups of two or three, to disperse across the country and attempt to complete their individual tasks. One of the men was assigned to “Spend a night in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s”. Getting to London with no money and in the middle of the night must have been a gruelling task. Requesting free admission and an overnight stay at Tussaud’s would have been even more difficult. Spending the night with images of Dr Crippen, Burke & Hare, Marat, models of torture etc would definitely not be pleasant. Other men had to attempt tasks such as:
Work at the face of a specified coal pit
Secure 100 feet of film of himself at Denham Studios
Get himself on any BBC broadcast
Find out the population of three villages whose names are pronounced like ” Who” ,” Why,” and “When”.
Find the smallest house in Britain
Get a job as a bricklayer’s labourer for four hours
Work as a corporation dustman for two hours in specified cities
Get a handkerchief dyed pink at Hinckley Dye Works, Leicestershire, and get a photograph of the
prettiest girl in the works
We're not sure if the man assigned to spend a night in The Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s was successful, but we certainly would not want that task. A wax museum. At night. With famous horror scenes. Being assigned the task to spend the night in Madame Tussaud's as a personal initiative test, certainly is odd!
This Day in History - Bell Makes First Successful Phone Call
by: Steven Pappas
On this day, March 10th, in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful call with a telephone. In the 1870s, telegraph use was increasing rapidly. Western Union President William Orton even called it the "nervous system of commerce". Bell went to the head of the Smithsonian in 1875 and said he was considering a multi-tone telegraph device that he hoped would one day have the capability of transmitting the human voice. The Smithsonian head said he loved the idea and when Bell protested saying he did not have the knowledge to create such a device, the man told him simply, in regards to the knowledge, "Get it". This inspired Bell and after teaming with Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical engineer and mechanic, the two began work on what they referred to as an acoustic telegraph.This would eventually be patented and the men would create the first working telephone. The first successful message was sent to the other room stating simply, "Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you".
University of Montevallo (Suggested by listener: Lisa Atkinson)
The University of Montevallo in Alabama has roots back to the Civil War and even back beyond that time period. The college started off as an all girls school using many antebellum buildings in town to serve as campus buildings. It was an educational experiment that worked and eventually led one day to the college becoming a co-ed institution. It's success continues to this day. The campus is part of a historic district and has seen quite a few tragedies in its time. Massacres, horrific deaths and war have led to unrest in the afterlife. It would seem that the university is quite haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the University of Montevallo.
The town of Montevallo in Alabama had once been the home to the Creek tribe. Jesse Wilson moved to the area and bought some land up on a hill in 1814. The area would come to be known as Wilson's Hill. Once he was established, he invited friends and family to follow him. The settlement later changed its name to Montevallo, which is Italian and means "the hill in the valley." The city was incorporated in 1848 and began to flourish with the building of a rail line to Selma and a coal mine. Wealthy businessman Edmond King brought his wife and son to Montevallo in the 1820s. He built a mansion up on the hill and called it Mansion House. It would later come to be known as the King House. The King family lived peacefully with the Creek tribe that was in the area and the mansion was considered one of the most beautiful homes in the state.
The Civil War later came through Montevallo and a Confederate hospital was set up in a large building that would later become Reynolds Hall. The Confederate soldiers built underground tunnels to allow themselves safe passage. One of the legends from the Civil War was that Sherman's forces came through and destroyed the nearby Brierfield Ironworks and then stopped in at the Confederate hospital and killed all the sick and wounded men there. The victims were buried in Kings Cemetery. In the 1890s, the residents of Montevallo set their sights on having a college and they put a bid in to become the location of the Alabama Girl's Industrial School. This was going to be a white women's technical school. The city of Montevallo won.
The college was founded in 1896. It would be a great thing for the area to have the college here and it would eventually be the main source of revenue, pushing out the coal mining industry. You may recall the name of the Olmstead Brothers architectural firm from our Biltmore episode. They designed the grounds there and they also designed Central Park in New York. The Olmstead Brothers designed the campus in Montevallo. It's important to note that many antebellum buildings were already at the site and they were just adopted into use at the college. For this reason, several design styles are seen ranging from Greek Revival to Colonial Revival to Federal. Two of the main buildings are King House and Reynolds Hall. The campus covers nearly 26 acres.
When the college first opened, it was innovative in that it made it a goal to teach women to be self-supporting. The first class of women had 150 in their number. They learned bookkeeping, art, music, sewing and how to work the telegraph and many were trained to become teachers themselves. Captain Henry Clay Reynolds was the first president of the school. He championed the school coming to Montevallo. Reynolds Hall was named for him. The good Captain had set up an interesting tuition payment plan. His plan was that the students pay their tuition directly to him and he invest the money into furnishings for his home and other personal expenses. Let's just say that the Reynolds name has lasted longer than the Captain lasted as president of the college.
In 1911, the college changed its name to the Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute and then added "and College for Women" in 1919. As the curriculum continued to round out over the years, it became apparent that it was more than just a technical school and the name was changed again in 1923 to Alabama College, State College for Women. In 1956, it was decided to make the college co-educational and the "College for Women" portion of the title was dropped and men began to attend the college. On September 1, 1969, the college came to be known as the University of Montevallo. Because of the age of many of the buildings, the campus became a National Historic District and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.There are currently 73 campus buildings and 8 residence halls.
It's no surprise with the age of some of the buildings on campus, that there are tales of ghost sightings. One of the most popular stories is about a girl named Condie Cunningham. Condie was born in Alabama in 1891. She decided to attend the Alabama Girls Industrial School and she moved into a fourth floor dorm room in Main Hall, the largest women's dorm. She accidentally caught her night gown on fire with a chafing dish. What could have been a quick fix by drop and rolling to smother the flames, turned into a tragedy when Condie took off running down the hall and screaming for help. She was terribly burned, and later died. Every one who stayed in her former room since then has demanded to be moved immediately due to strange occurrences. The room is no longer assigned, and there is a locked metal door on the room. Each hall director has passed down the tale of seeing the image of a woman screaming in the wood grain, even after replacing it multiple times. The last wooden door removed from the room is still there in a storage room, and they let people check it out up close.The image of a screaming woman seems to have its hair on fire. A full bodied apparition engulfed in flames has been witnessed running in the hallways. Disembodied screams are heard as are the disembodied sounds of running feet. Doors and windows open and close on their own.
Here is the story as it appeared in the Birmingham Age-Herald on Feb. 7, 1908:
"Miss Condie Cunningham died last night at 10 o'clock at the Girls Industrial School in Montevallo from the burns she received last Tuesday night by her clothing catching on fire from an alcohol lamp. Miss Cunningham is the daughter of W.C. Cunningham, clerk of the inferior court, and her parents were at her bedside in the dormitory when death came. The remains will arrive in Birmingham over the Louisville and Nashville railroad at noon today, being carried by private conveyance from Montevallo to Calera. No funeral arrangements have yet been made, but the funeral will probably be tomorrow morning. The body will be accompanied to Birmingham by an escort of the faculty. The fatal accident has cast a gloom over the entire school at Montevallo, where Miss Cunningham was held in high esteem by her class mates. She was just 17 years of age and had been a student at the school for the past two years. On Tuesday night Miss Cunningham and her roommate were busy with a chafing dish in their room in the dormitory and while trying to extinguish the flames of the alcohol lamp here clothing caught on fire. She rushed into the hall where the flames were soon put out by her schoolmates, but not before she had been badly burned. Her parents in Birmingham were immediately notified of the accident and went to Montevallo on the next train. Doctors worked hard, but their efforts were of no avail, and after 48 hours of suffering the beloved student succumbed to her injuries."Lisa shared the following personal experiences that she had: "I lived on the 3rd floor of Main Hall, in the back of the center hall (it had an east, west, and central hall each branching from the main lobby like the letter E), and one day I walked to the front of the hall so I could descend the grand staircase. As I reached the staircase I heard VERY loud footsteps stomping over my head, running toward the back of the 4th floor hall above me. I was concerned something was wrong. I ran upstairs but saw nothing. No one went into a dorm room because you can hear the old, heavy wood doors echo when opened and closed. I even went to see if someone was in the bathroom. There was no one. On another day, I was leaving for class and as I walked by the ladies bathroom I heard the squeak of the old metal shower knob turn on. I remember this reminded me to go ahead and use the restroom before my very long class. I went into the bathroom, but did not hear the usual sounds of someone taking a shower. No splashing or singing like some girls did. The entire bathroom was empty. Every stall. One shower stall had the hot water spraying full blast, and I burned my hand turning it off. But I heard the shower turn on from just outside the door!"
Reynolds Hall is now the theater building and as is the case with so many theaters, this one is haunted. Captain Reynolds is thought to be one of the ghosts. The story behind his haunting goes back to the massacre that happened in this building when it was a Confederate hospital. Captain Reynolds had been given the duty of security for the hospital. But when he heard the nearby ironworks was under attack, he took his men from the hospital to go defend the ironworks. When they returned, they found everyone massacred. The Captain vowed that day to never leave the hospital unguarded and many believe that is what he is doing in the afterlife. Of course, that is only if the massacre actually happened and it may not have. Perhaps Reynolds is bitter about being fired as president of the college. Doors and windows shut and open on their own at this building. The blue glowing specter of Captain Reynolds has been seen on various occasions. Reynolds' picture was hanging in the lobby for many years and was finally removed and replaced with another painting. Staff came in the following day to see the new painting on the floor, replaced by Reynolds' portrait.
The King Cemetery is right in the middle of campus. The King family is buried there along with Confederate soldiers. It is thought that a young male member of the King family was killed in an accidental shooting and is buried in the cemetery. Condie is not the only ghost in Main Hall. A young woman commited suicide in the dorm and her apparition is sometimes seen. Palmer Hall has an auditorium, organ and stage area. One of its designers was named W. H. Trumbauer. His name was left off the cornerstone and perhaps that is why his ghost haunts this building. His ghost has been seen wandering around backstage. He also likes to judge the student created plays that are put on during the week of Homecoming. During final dress rehearsals, students claim he swings the battens over the performance of his pick. A batten is the horizontal pole from which curtains or lights can be hung. A student was once practicing the organ alone in the building. She played for a while and then decided it was time to head home. When she stopped playing, she heard a disembodied voice ask her to continue to play.
Hanson Hall is a female residence dorm and is apparently haunted. The ghost is believed to have belonged to a dedicated housemother who has stayed on in the afterlife to look after the girls. Women who stay up late studying complain about feeling as though they are being watched. One young woman claimed her mug disappeared while she was studying. She looked everywhere for it, but could not find it. A few weeks later, the mug showed up again in the same spot from where it had disappeared.
The King House is used for special occasions on the campus and a former maid there does NOT like having guests in the home she once cared for. Edmund King buried his gold outside of the house to hide it from the Union and people now claim to see the ghost of an elderly man carrying a lantern and a shovel, walking around the outside of the house, more than likely looking for his gold. One night, some students claimed to see a lantern moving from window to window on the second floor when there was no one in the building. On another occasion, students saw an elderly man who was transparent, waving to them from a second story window. Cold spots are felt throughout the house.
And instead of a lady in white at this location, there is a "lady of the rock." Near King House is a painted rock called Sigma Rock. Fraternities have a tradition of painting the rock. A woman dressed in yellow is seen sometimes sitting on the rock. She's there one minute and gone the next. At other times she is seen wandering around the rock. No one knows why she is there, but students have been telling the story that she is heartbroken and looking for her lost love.
Lupei writes of her experiences on the campus:
"My boyfriend heard someone tell him to get out when he and his friend along with the baseball team snuck into King's House late at night, ironically during halloween. I've heard Condie's hollow, hair-raising scream at 4:45 am one Wednesday night in December. I've seen a woman in the corner of my room in a civil war era dress seemingly chastizing me for having snuck my boyfriend into my dorm room late at night to sleep. And then there's King's House kitchen who anyone who's paid any attention to it has gotten a bad vibe from that place and more then a handful of people have told me they've also felt watched whenever they've gone near them."The University is a place open and welcoming to everyone now. Is it open to more than just the living? Do the ghosts of Confederate soldiers and former students roam the campus? Is the University of Montevallo haunted? That is for you to decide!