Thursday, February 15, 2018

HGB Ep. 245 - Haunted Cemeteries 8

Moment in Oddity - Bermeja Island Disappears

Maps dating back to the 1700s, document Isla Bermeja just off the Yucatan Peninsula’s coast. While many islands are important to the country that owns them for tourism, Bermeja Island was important to Mexico because it extended its reach for drilling for oil and would stop the United States encroachment on Mexico's oil drilling industry. As one can imagine, this caused some friction. So when the island just disappeared in the 1990s, all kinds of conspiracy theories erupted about how the CIA had something to do with the disappearance. These suspicions arose because important documents containing a treaty regarding major oil reserves within the island’s region disappeared as well. The disappearance of Isla Bermeja greatly reduced what had been Mexico’s 200 nautical-mile limit. The theory that was running around about how an island could disappear left many wondering if the CIA blew up the island, which measured 31 square miles. But can you really blow up an island? Researchers looking back at old maps noticed Bermeja Island was found on historical maps between 1535 and 1775, but after that, it disappears from the maps until 1857, when a US map once again included it. When the treaty was written up in the 1970s, nobody really verified that the island existed when it was used as a border. A Navy fishing expedition reported the island missing in 1997. This causes us all to wonder if the island ever actually did exist and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The First 45 RPM Vinyl Released

In the month of February, on the 2nd, in 1949, the first 45 RPM vinyl record was released. Prior to 1948, records were made of shellac and rotated at 78 RPM. Record companies like Columbia Records and RCA Victor, knew they needed to innovate and in 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record, commonly known as a LP, and it was made of vinyl. The vinyl was durable and much quieter. LPs played for about 20 minutes on each side. RCA decided they needed something else and they developed the 45 RPM record and released it in 1949. These were smaller records, measuring 7" inches and came in a variety of colors to differentiate between genres. Popular releases were on standard black vinyl while Country could be found on green, R&B and Gospel were on orange, Classical was on red, Children's records were on yellow and international recordings were on blue. The 45s' popularity soared because its size made it portable and this popularity would last for 40 years until the cassette tape and eventually the CD and the MP3 player started making music more portable. We have fond memories of playing our 45s on little record players and thoseof us from older generations know that a spider is not just a nasty arachnid, but they also were inserts that could be placed in the middle of a 45, so they could be played on a standard turntable. Most 45s ran between 2 and 5 minutes. In 1968, John Lennon asked George Martin, the Beatles music producer, what was the maximum length of play time that a 45 could handle. After some experimenting, Martin decided the answer was 7 minutes, 11 seconds. And thus the playing time of "Hey Jude."

Haunted Cemeteries 8

Much of a town's history can be found in its cemeteries. The granite and marble slabs carry the names of the people who founded and built the town and those who have called it home throughout the years. Some of the memorials are simple and some are very grand. But each one represents a person who was important to someone. Cemeteries are beautiful and peaceful, but sometimes that quiet is broken by the supernatural. Some cemeteries are haunted and we are going to look at several of them. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Bee Spring Cemetery in Tennessee, Hart Island Cemetery in the Bronx, Old Berkeley Cemetery in Virginia and La Noria Cemetery in Chile.

Bee Spring Cemetery (Suggested by Jacob Gray)

Bee Spring Cemetery is found in Giles County, Tennessee. Giles County is located in the south central part of the state and is named after William Branch Giles. Giles sponsored the admission of Tennessee as the sixteenth state into the Union when he was serving as a senator for the state of Virginia at the time. His support grew to also sponsoring the building of the city and courthouse, which has burned an amazing four times. The cemetery was established in 1816. There are around 200 burials here. Let's look at some of the people who have made this their final resting place.

Annie Bass was born in 1846 in Alabama. Everybody called her Blackie. She had six children and died when she was 92 in 1938 at her home in the Bunker Hill vicinity. Nancy Jane Cryer Beard died in 1897 and her tombstone is inscribed with, "Since thou can no longer stay, To cheer me with thy love, I hope to meet with thee again, In yon bright world above." Twenty-six members of the Beddingfield family are here. Box tombs are found in many cemeteries and one of them at Bee Spring belongs to Sarah Boyce. They are sometimes called chest tombs and they date back to medieval times. The box is above the ground and the body of the deceased is buried beneath it, rather than in the box. The advantage of this type of memorial is that they can be seen better than headstones and there are five surfaces for decoration.

The cemetery gives some an odd feeling. A person going by just J on the Angelfire website wrote, "Okay. We heard about this church/cemetery just over the Tennesse line. The story we were told was nothing big, just that if you took a camera there you could use the flash to see orbs floating around the church. We tried this and it did work, but we soon grew tired of it. We decided to try our luck across the street at the cemetery. We all felt strange about entering the cemetery (not sure why, it just seemed like a bad idea) so we stood just outside of it by the stone wall surrounding the cemetery. One of the guys with us was just about to snap a picture when I noticed what looked like two lights floating maybe ten feet over the cemetery. I got the attention of the other two guys with me and pointed out the lights. We all stood shocked at what we were seeing. The guy with the camera started to take pictures when we noticed several large dark figures coming at us at a fairly rapid speed. We all freaked out and began running to the car. Once we were inside and turned around, the camera guys asked me to pull the car up to the wall for one last picture. Once I reversed the car to the wall, he rolled down the window and we heard the sound of footsteps running through the leaves toward the car. I stepped on the gas to afraid to stick around and find out what it was."

Hart Island Cemetery

Hart Island Cemetery is located on Hart's Island, which is at the western end of Long Island Sound. The island is fairly small measuring only a mile long and one-quarter of a mile wide. The island has been used for a variety of purposes in its history. A Union Civil War prison camp was set up here, there was once a psychiatric institution and then a tuberculosis sanatorium, a boy's reformatory was here and the main part that we will be focusing on is that the island is basically a large potter's field that is still used today to bury the poor and the nameless. The city of New York bought the island from Edward Hunter on May 27, 1868. There are several stories as to how the island got its name. One story was that British cartographers named it "Heart Island" because it was shaped like the organ. Other historians claim that it refers to an English word for stag because deer would migrate to the island from the mainland when ice covered Long Island Sound.

The cemetery here is the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. The first burials were of 20 Union Soldiers during the American Civil War when the prison camp was located on the island. City burials started in 1868 after New York bought the island. The first city burial was of a 24-year-old woman named Louisa Van Slyke. She had died at the Charity Hospital and since she had no money she was taken out to City Cemetery, which is what the potter's field was officially known as at the time. The graveyard stretches out over 45 acres and rather than being dotted with hundreds of headstones, it has white markers that denote mass burials of usually 150 bodies. These are laid out in two rows, three coffins deep. Two large monuments have been dedicated to all the dead on Hart Island. A tall white peace monument was erected after World War II by New York City prison inmates and can be seen on top of what was known as "Cemetery Hill."

The only identifier on most of the coffins are the dead person's name and an identification number that are carved into the wood. One tenth of the burials are for John and Jane Does. Their bodies are photographed at the morgue before being shipped to the island. These photos are then shown to family members who are missing people to see if any of them can be identified. Each year, about a hundred of the Does are identified. A body can be disinterred for up to eight years after the burial. Adults are buried in trenches with three sections of 48-50 individuals so that disinterment for those identified by family are easier. Infants and children are not usually disinterred and so they are buried in trenches of 1,000, stacked five coffins high and twenty coffins across. Before 1913, the adults and children were buried in mass graves together. A fire in 1977 destroyed many of the burial records, but it is thought that there are a million bodies buried on the island. The potter's field is also used to dispose of amputated body parts, which are placed in boxes labeled "limbs". Ceremonies have not been conducted at the burial site since the 1950s, and no individual markers are set except for the first child to die of AIDS in New York City who was buried in isolation.

Burials have been done by prison labor from Riker's Island. Inmates make around 50 cents an hour. Burial records are kept within the prison system and the island is maintained by the New York City Department of Corrections. They created a searchable database in 2013 that starts with burials from 1977. There are about 66,000 entries. Digital mapping of the trenches was started in 2009. Many of these measures were initiated because of an investigation into the handling of infant burials that was opened in response to a criminal complaint made to the New York State Attorney General's Office on April 1, 2009. The New York City Department of Transportation runs a single ferry to the island from the Fordham Street pier on City Island. There is an intense process to get a ride on the ferry and usually only family members of those buried on Hart Island are allowed to ride.

Some of the people buried here are rather well known or were at one time. Leo Birinski was a Jewish playwright, film screenwriter, and director. He died alone in poverty in 1951, so was brought to Hart Island. Dawn Powell was an American writer who authored hundreds of short stories and a dozen novels. She died of colon cancer in 1965 and donated her body to a medical center. Five years later, the center returned what was left of her remains to her estate, but the executor of her estate refused to reclaim her remains and so she was buried on Hart Island in 1970. Bobby Driscoll  was a famous child actor who won an Academy Award for his starring roll in 1949's "The Window." Bobby was the first child actor put under exclusive contract to Disney studios. He appeared in their movies "Song of the South" in 1946 and "Treasure Island" in 1950. He quit acting in 1957 and his life took a downward spiral. He was arrested multiple times for drugs, forgery and theft. He died penniless and alone in an abandoned New York tenement.

There are tales of many restless spirits on the island and it is no wonder with its history and mass burials. Visitors to the island and the inmates working there have reported the eerie feeling that someone they can't see is watching them. There are several abandoned buildings on the island and shadow figures have been seen moving inside and outside of them. Disembodied whispers are heard in the buildings and also in the cemetery and they usually sound like children's voices. Investigations of this noise always come up empty. A few visitors have become severely nauseous while visiting and even a couple have been physically pushed down on the ground.

One inmate wrote, "I was a prisoner at Rikers Island in the year of 2007 and worked for corrections as a digger at Harts Island is haunted. I did it for about 5 months and had one crazy experience [I couldn't explain.]" People claim after leaving Hart Island that they have very vivid dreams of the island and these dreams usually are of the island years ago. They see the asylum and the prison as though it were new and what makes it odd is that these buildings are either so decayed or have been torn down, so how do these people know what these buildings looked like in their prime? Apparitions are seen in the mist covered mornings and if approached, they disappear into the fog.

Old Berkeley Cemetery

Old Berkeley Cemetery is found in Charles City, Virginia. The graveyard is located across from the Berkeley Plantation, which is said to be Virginia's most historic plantation. The first official Thanksgiving took place here in 1619. The site was known as the Berkeley Hundred at that time. In 1726, the three story brick, Georgian styled mansion was built and was the birthplace of  Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Virginia. The plantation would also be the birthplace of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison. During the Civil War, Berkeley was occupied by General George McClellan’s Union Army and it was used as a field hospital. It was while the Union Army was here that General Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar tune “Taps.” The Harrison family lost the home during the Civil War and it passed through several owners until it fell into disrepair. A drummer boy with McClellan's forces, John Jamieson, would eventually return to Berkeley in 1907 and he would buy the property. Their family would restore the house. His son, Malcolm, and his wife, Grace, are responsible for the extensive restoration seen today. The plantation is still in the family and is presently owned by the Malcolm E Jamieson family.

The cemetery was established as a final resting place for not only plantation owners and their families, but for members of the original Berkeley colony. People who are buried here include Benjamin Harrison, Grace Jamieson, and Malcolm Jamieson. The grave markers are very worn and hard to read. Dates on several of them are impossible to see. The names are a historic record of the Harrison family as most of the burials belong to them. The oldest burial is for John Hugh Noell who was born in 1630. The most interesting memorial simply states, "In memory of the Unknown Indian." A massacre did take place on the property at one time and perhaps he died during that and was buried here. The cemetery looks over the James River and it is here that people claim to see the apparition of, ironically, a red-headed drummer boy of about twelve years of age. He is seen beating his drum and occasionally people actually hear the beating of the drum. The spirit also likes to look out over the James River. This spectre is sometimes accompanied by an older looking male wearing a Union uniform. He tends to walk the banks of the James River.

Berkeley’s Twilight Ghost Tour is October 12 & 26, 2018

"Hear the tales of Berkeley’s paranormal activities with a guided tour through the 1726 mansion, followed by a lantern-led walk through the gardens, grounds, and cemetery.  You will then finish your ghostly experience with Berkeley’s challenging corn maze, with only the light of your lantern." Tour is at 6pm and is $25 per adult.

La Noria Cemetery

The people who lived in the Chilean mining towns of La Noria and Humberstone in the 19th century, lived under terrible and gruesome conditions. Workers and children were treated like slaves and many died horrible deaths at the hands of the people who kept them like slaves. It is for this reason that some claim that La Noria and its cemetery are haunted. The painful treatment built up some terrible emotions. Paranormal activity kicks up once the sun goes down. Many of the buildings are ruined and witnesses to unexplained activity claim to hear disembodied voices and footsteps. Apparitions are seen wandering the streets where human bones are still sometimes found.

The bodies of those who died under the slave-like conditions were buried in La Noria Cemetery. This is considered one of the scariest and most disturbing cemeteries in the world. Several of the graves have been dug up and coffins are left open. Visitors claim to actually see the dead rise from the graves at sunset. These spirits then walk towards town. The ghosts that are seen in town are thought to have originated in the graveyard. Some call them zombie ghosts.

Each of the cemeteries are unique in their own way. We have a ghost town's cemetery in the northern Chilean desert. A family cemetery on a Virginia plantation. A large Potter's Field in New York where the poor and forgotten are piled on top of each other. And a cemetery in a small town that is like most of our local cemeteries. They all have one thing in common and that is the claim that they are haunted. Are these cemeteries haunted? That is for you to decide!

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