Thursday, November 15, 2018

Ep. 282 - The Great Wall of China

Moment in Oddity - Sarah's Grave
Suggested by: Pat Clifford

Pat lives in Australia and wanted to share the local story about Sarah's Grave. This grave belongs to Sarah Simpson and is located in an old bush cemetery at Castlereagh about an hour west of Sydney, Australia. Some of the first settlers in the region are buried in this graveyard. Sarah was a British convict who arrived in New South Wales in 1818 aboard the Friendship. Her crime was stealing some clothes that were valued at fivepence. She served her time and met a recently released convict named John Simpson who was a tailor and the couple moved out west. They had 8 children together. On the evening of December 10, 1838, Sarah was walking home when a group of men attacked her and killed her. John was devastated when her battered body was found. They had not married and so he married her in a graveside service to ensure she could pass on without sin into the next life. But it doesn't seem that Sarah passed on. Legends claim that she harasses young men that lurk near her graveside. Young women claim to have seen her ghost in the branches above her grave. An even weirder part of the legend claims that her father visited her grave and found her headstone destroyed. Each time he repaired it he would return the next day to find it destroyed again. He decided to stay the night at the cemetery and watch for the culprit. He went to the bush to go to the bathroom and when he came back the headstone was destroyed.  He was truly puzzled because he was not gone long enough for anyone to destroy the marker and he had heard no noise. And it is that part of the legend that certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Murder of Stringbean Akeman
Suggested by: Johnny Marvin Allen

In the month of November, on the 10th, in 1973, David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle  were ambushed and murdered. Stringbean had started his legendary music career with a guitar he made out of a shoebox and a piece of thread. He got his nickname at a talent contest because he was lanky and the MC yelled for the Stringbean to come to the stage. Soon Stringbean was picking his banjo in a band, but was eventually left behind because he was considered old-fashioned. He married Estelle and went on to continue playing his old-time music, doing comedy and living a simple life. He also became a part of the Grand Ole Opry radio show and the cast of Hee Haw on television. That simple life also meant that he didn't trust banks. He had good reasoning considering that the Great Depression had left many people homeless and businesses shuttered. It was rumored that he kept a huge wad of his cash in his bibbed overalls. A couple of lowlifes named Doug and John Brown would shatter the innocence of Nashville's small town feel. They had heard about Stringbean keeping a stash of money and they ransacked the cabin that Stringbean and Estelle shared. Stringbean knew something was wrong when they got home and pulled his pistol. It would do him no good as he took a bullet to the head the minute he entered the cabin. Estelle made a run for it, but she was shot too. Fellow Opry star, Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones would find the bodies. The Brown cousins were arrested and convicted and sentenced to life behind bars. Doug died in prison, but John was eventually released after 41 years. Stringbean did have stashes of money in the cabin that the Browns never found. They were found in the walls.

The Great Wall of China (Suggested by Katrina Ray-Saulis)

Visiting the Great Wall of China is a bucket list item for many people. This man-made structure runs west to east across northern China for 13,171 miles. Construction began with the First Emperor of China over two thousand years ago. Building would continue for centuries with most of the work being done during the Ming Dynasty and actually, most of the original wall no longer exists. Thousands of people died while building the Wall and many died in battles near and on the Wall. This much death seems to have lead to paranormal activity. The Wall is said to be the most haunted structure in China. There are many ghosts seen here. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of the Great Wall of China!

The Great Wall traverses eleven provinces and two autonomous regions. The structure began as the Northern Frontier Wall and was initiated by the First Emperor of China, Shi Huangdi in 221 BCE. This would be the Qin Dynasty and where China gets its name. But even before that, princes that headed up the various states in the country had built their own walls along state borders for protection. These were similar in style to the Great Wall and began as early as 650 BCE. Warlords eventually jopined the individual states during the Warring States Period and seven large states were the result.

The Qin was the most powerful and conquered everybody else. In 221 BCE, Emperor Huangdi begin construction on The Great Wall and the Grand Canal. He wanted the Wall to protect against the harrassment coming from the Mongols. This early work mainly joined together all the separate walls and took 9 years with nearly a million workers. These workers did not volunteer for the job. These were convicts and unwilling conscripts. This Wall measured 3100 miles and gave the Chinese no pride as they believed this Wall did not unify and that people were just sent there to labor and die. The Qin Dynasty only lasted 15 years and was replaced by the Han Dynasty.

When Emperor Huangdi died there were two powerful generals who tried to take control. They were Xiang-Yu of Chou and Liu-Bang of Han. Liu-Bang won and the Han Dynasty rose to power and continued construction on the Wall. This emperor was the first to use the wall as a means of regulating trade along the Silk Road. The Han Dynasty Great Wall stretched from the North Korea coast near Pyongyang in the east to Jade Gate Pass in the west. This spans included branching walls, natural barriers, and trenches. A special kind of building was adopted for this stage of the Wall. Builders made basic wall frames by weaving together rose willow and reeds, and then they filled the frames with gravel. These were then piled in layers. High saline groundwater solidified the sand and gravel. There were three main types of construction: yellow Gobi Desert soil pressed in layers; sand and stones in rose willow and Hu poplar frames and reed adobe. Beacon towers were built every three miles and 80 of those still survive today. These towers were used as signal posts. Smoke and fire could be seen as far as 10 miles, so these were used by guards. The construction here is amazing as this section of Wall in the Gobi Desert has survived.

Feudal Dynasties continued working on the Wall through 1271 AD. The vast Mongol Empire managed to invade China and ushered in the Yuan Dynasty. This would unify Mongolia and China and all work on the Wall ceased, of course. This was China's first foreign-led dynasty and the Yuan Dynasty was founded by Genghis Khan. *Fun Facts: This was the first dynasty to use paper money and Marco Polo visited China during this time.* As tends to happen, this dynasty lost touch with its Mongol roots and internal turmoil was the result. Weakness also came via the Black Death and natural disasters. This weakness opened it up to defeat. The internal rebellion called itself The Red Turban Rebellion and they blamed the government for the disasters. The final straw came when the Yellow River changed course and flooded a major region and impoverished it. The Red Turbans said that this happened because the empire had lost the Mandate of Heaven.

*Rabbit Hole: The Mandate of Heaven was similar to the Divine Right of Kings in concept in that God was in control of ruling powers, but with the Divine Right of Kings, a particular family was chosen and it was wrong to rebel against them, whereas the Mandate of Heaven allowed for the people to rebel when they saw that favor had fallen from an Emperor via signs like famines or disasters. There are four principles to the Mandate:

1. Heaven grants the emperor the right to rule.
2. Since there is only one Heaven, there can only be one emperor at any given time.
3. The emperor's virtue determines his right to rule.
4. No one dynasty has a permanent right to rule.*

Zhu Yuanzhang was an important leader of the Red Turban Rebellion and he defeated all the other rival armies, destroyed the Yuan palaces and established the Ming Dynasty. Most of the original wall does not exist today. What we see today was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty. This dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1664 AD. This undertaking was the most massive. The Ming added over 25,000 massive watchtowers that ranged in height from 16-26 feet, 20 feet across the bottom and 16 feet across the top. The Ming Dynasty also enclosed their prized agricultural center, Liaoning Province, behind a walled fortification. This wall has been a source of controversy between China and North Korea with North Korea claiming that this wall belongs to them and not China. This fight continues today. The Ming Dynasty had a long run, but there was some inner turmoil. Rebels turned against the Ming Dynasty, which at the time was headed by Emperor Wu Sangui. He decided to allie himself with the Manchus and made an agreement with them that he would open the wall if they would help him defeat the rebels. Dumb move as the Manchus seized power, expelled the Ming Dynasty, and established the Qing Dynasty that held power from 1644 to 1912 AD. The Great Wall would fall into negelct at this time.

In 1912, the Republic of China decided to use it for controlling immigration and emigration. As hard as it may be to believe, the Great Wall had no real efforts to maintain and preserve it until 1980 when the Chinese government realized it could be used for tourism. In 1987, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even with these efforts, the Wall has only around 600 miles that is stable. People come from all around the world to visit and contrary to the popular belief out there that the Great Wall is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space, it actually cannot. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent five months aboard the International Space Station and he tweeted, “The Great Wall of China is not visible from orbit with the naked eye. It’s too narrow, and it follows the natural contours and colors [of the landscape]." Many believe that this fallacy dates back to 1895 when English essayist Sir Henry Norman wrote that the wall was "the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the moon." His made this observation based on the fact that people on earth could see craters and canals on the moon. He reasoned that someone on the moon would be able to see something as long and massive as the Great Wall on earth. I'm more amazed by the fact that he was thinking about man on the moon at that time.

A legend connected to the Wall is about a fortress on the Great Wall originally named, the Xifeng Kou, or the Happy Meeting Fortress. This is how it got its name. The Great Wall required soldiers to be on guard at the place all year round and this caused much suffering for them and their families. A young soldier had gone to defend the northern territory of China along the Great Wall. He was gone for many years. He and his father were the only people that remained of their family and his father came to find him. The two men almost didn't recognize each other because of all the years that had passed. They greeted each other with hugs and wept. Then they both died on the spot. The fortress was named in their honor. They represented the heart of thousands of soldiers and their family.

The China Travellers website reports, "Jiayu Fortress is the Western end of the Great Wall of China. It is a huge fortress that marks the end and the beginning of the Great Wall. Beyond it, lay the barren Gobi desert in which nobody lived. Only travelers and traders risked their lives in passing the great fortress and their lives depended on destiny. In ancient China, and perhaps in present day also, people had the habit of testing their luck which they believed would predict the outcome of their travels. Travelers and traders had the custom of throwing stones on the walls of the Jiayu Fortress. If the stone created noise, no matter loud or not, it would be a good sign that they would at least be safe out of the fortress. On the other hand, if no noise came about, they would probably be lost in the vast unknown world and should never return. If the sign is good, they might make a fortune and most importantly, return safe and sound. If the sign is a bad one, they might be hindered of their decision of venturing out. Such habit existed along the Jiayu Fortress."

The Great Wall is visited by over four million people a year and some of those visitors claim to experience things that they cannot explain. There are stories that at least a million people died during construction of the Wall. The most common experience is the holy grail of ghost hunting, full-bodied apparitions. Many tourists complain that they feel weird while visiting and this "weird" entails nausea, headaches, feelings of uneasiness and body pains. Some people report being physically assaulted with punches, slaps and are grabbed. Local legends say, “If you visit the Great Wall, the spirits of the fallen workers will haunt you until you cross a line of firecrackers to scare them away”.

Many of the ghost stories originate from one area of the Wall that is north of Beijing and known as The Wild Wall. Even worse than stories of hauntings is the fact that several hikers have died along this portion of the wall via lightning strikes and falls. Marching footsteps are heard in this area of the Wall and strange apparitions have been seen. Destination Truth visited the Wall during Season 3, Episode 11 in 2010, to do some ghost hunting and this section was their focus because of its dark corners. Grant and Jason from Ghost Hunters reviewed the evidence.

Anon on Paranormal Stories: "We did a private hike of the 'Wild' Jiankou section of the wall in 2012. We also camped overnight in the isolated section there, just beside the wall. It was only myself, my wife, and the guide. The guide had his own tent and helped us set up ours, after which he prepared dinner. After eating and a bit of a chat, we went to sleep in our tent and the guide retired to his. Shortly afterwards, we heard someone walking around outside our tent. The sound of footsteps on rocks was unmistakable, as it was otherwise very silent there. I quickly unzipped the tent, thinking maybe it was the guide walking around, but I couldn't see anyone. I walked a few meters over to his tent to ask if he was still awake and he unzipped his tent before asking if I needed something. I told him we heard footsteps and asked if it was him and he said no, he had been in the tent since after dinner. In the morning he told us that other tourists had also heard footsteps over the rocks in the middle of the night."

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest wonders in the world. It was built on the backs of millions of people and one has to wonder how many of those workers died and are buried somewhere along the Wall. Is this why there are reports of apparitions? Is this energy captured from the historical conflicts that took place here? Is the Great Wall of China haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ep. 281 - Duff Green Mansion

Moment in Oddity - The Park of Monsters
Suggested by: Kim Gasiorowski

The "Parco dei Mostri" or Park of Monsters can be found in Bomarzo in northern Lazio, Italy. The park is situated in a wooded area below the Orsini Castle. This castle was once home to Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who lived there in the 16th century. Orsini is the designer of this bizarre and horribly beautiful park full of stone sculptures of various monsters. The sculptures are designed to shock and were an expression of his grief. He had come through a terrible season in his life. He had just survived a brutal war that had killed his best friend, he had been held for ransom for years and when he returned home, his beloved wife died. The prince hired architect Pirro Ligorio to help him create what he called the "Villaof Wonders." This would be a place of art before its time as it demonstrates a type of Surrealism. Salvador Dali loved the place when he visited. The park took 20 years to complete and was finished off with a temple built for the Prince's second wife. Other designs include a house built on a tilt to disorient visitors, a war elephant, a giant tearing another giant in half, a huge fish head and an enormous head with a wide gaping mouth locked in a scream, known as the mouth of hell, that features a small picnic table within. A novel, libretto, and opera have all been based on the park. A lovely and peaceful Italian garden playing host to stone monsters, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Mission San Juan Capistrano Founded

In the month of November, on the 1st, in 1776, the Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in California. Saint Junipero Serra founded the mission as the 7th of 21 missions statewide. The mission was originally intended as a self-sufficient community for Spanish Padres and Native Americans and was a center for agriculture, education and religion. Over 300,000 people visit the mission annually, but it is not just humans that visit. This is the site of the famous Annual Return of the Swallows.  Swallows migrate 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano and arrive on March 19th, St. Joseph's Day. This has been happening since the 1930s. The legend of why this happens goes: One day, while walking through town, Father O’Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes. “What in the world are you doing?” O’Sullivan asked. “Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded. “But where can they go?” “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.” Father O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.” The very next morning, Father O’Sullivan discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside Father Junípero Serra’s Church. The mission also features one-of-a-kind artifacts and paintings and has the ruins of the Great Stone Church destroyed in an earthquake in 1812. Her nickname is the American Acropolis.

Duff Green Mansion

Vicksburg is one of those Civil War era cities that I long to visit because I love antebellum mansions.  The Greek Revival architecture and magnolia trees take me back to an earlier time with hoop skirts embellished with ribbons and elegant carriages riding in the streets, but it was also a dark time of slavery and division in the United States that would lead to the outbreak of the Civil War. Vicksburg was the scene of an intense battle that would leave over 37,000 causalities in its wake. Just prior to the outbreak of the war, Duff Green built his mansion and the Bed and Breakfast still carries his name today. The mansion seems to have more than just the Green name. Spirits of the family members seem to have stayed on her in the afterlife. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of the Duff Green Mansion!

Vicksburg, Mississippi is a river port that sits high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The United States bought the area from the Choctaw Nation in 1801. The city would become the scene of a battle that would be a major turning point in the Civil War. Confederate forces held the city under Lt. General John Pemberton. The Union knew that this was a strategic location that they needed because of the location on the river bluff. In the summer of 1863, Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee converged on Vicksburg. They found that Pemberton's forces had built a series of trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes in a 7-mile ring surrounding the city, but the Union had the advantage of outnumbering the Confederate forces two to one. Grant went forward with two assaults but both were repelled leading him to lay siege to the city. This led Pemberton to surrender on July 4th as food and supplies ran out. Grant's Vicksburg campaign was considered one of the most brilliant of the war and it solidified the Union with control of the entire Mississippi River.

Coca-Cola was bottled for the first time in Vicksburg in 1894 by Joseph Biedenharn who was a local confectioner. Well, I had to know more because I love Coke. Coca-Cola originated as a soda fountain drink and sales were so good for Biedenharn, he decided to try bottling it. He used a common glass bottle called a Hutchinson. Biedenharn sent a case to Asa Griggs Candler, who owned Coke. Candler thanked him but took no action at first.

So Vicksburg was a major player in the war, but it suffered greatly afterwards and racial strife would be a key part of its history. Today, it is a grand city that focuses on tourism. People come from all around to see the antebellum mansions and one of those is the Duff Green Mansion. Duff Green was a local cotton broker that had become very wealthy. He had recently married Mary Lake and wanted to build his new wife a grand home that the neighbors would envy. Construction began in 1856. The mansion was built in the Palladian style with two large verandas that featured wrought iron embellishments. There were 13 fireplaces, several bedrooms and a large ballroom. Lavish parties were thrown at the mansion and both Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant were said to have danced in the ballroom. Things were wonderful until the Civil War broke out.

The Siege of Vicksburg that I described earlier brought the battle right to the home of the Greens. Five cannonballs blasted through the upper floors before Mary was able to hoist a yellow flag indicating that the mansion could be used as a hospital. Both Confederate and Union casualties were brought to the mansion. The Union took the top floor and the Confederate forces took the main floor. The kitchen became the operating room and so much blood flowed onto the floor that the wood is still bloodstained to this day. The Greens needed a place to stay during this time and they took cover in caves that they had built into the hill outside their home. Mary was pregnant at the time and actually had to give birth to their son in the cave. She named him William Siege Green. I'm not sure what happened with the Greens between the time the siege ended and when they returned to their home in 1866, but the mansion itself was leased by the US government to be used as a Soldier's Home.

The Greens stayed in the home until 1880 when Duff passed away. They had a daughter named Annie who died in the home when she was six. Mary decided to sell the house and she did so to the Peatross family. This would begin a time of ownership switching hands and different uses for the house. The Peatross family stayed in the house until 1910 and they sold it to Fannie Vick Johnston. She used the mansion as a temporary residence while her mansion was being built. That home is known today as Stained-Glass Manor. She moved out and allowed the home to be used as an orphanage for boys. For a time, it also became a home for elderly, destitute women. In 1931, Johnston's heirs sold the property to the Salvation Army and they used it for 50 years. In 1985, the mansion was sold to Harry Sharp and his wife.

The Sharps brought the Duff Green Mansion back to its former glory as they transformed it into a bed and breakfast. The process took two-and-a-half years, but it is gorgeous inside with polished wood floors, gorgeous chandeliers and walls covered in historic paint. Twenty-seven layers of paint had to be removed. The mansion is filled with period antique furnishings and offers several rooms for guests that include The Dixie Room, The Camellia Room, The Confederate Room, The Magnolia Room, Little Annie Room, The Pemberton Suite, The Duff Green Suite, The Nursery and Lucy's Cave, which is an apartment that is located under the driveway off the courtyard. There is a brick courtyard with a pool. Weddings and events are hosted as well. Something the bed and breakfast does not keep a secret, is that it also hosts ghosts.

The owner Henry Sharp himself has seen ghosts. He told the Vicksburg Post, "I've seen the ghost of Mary Green floating in the entrance of that doorway, plain as day." The cook has also seen the apparition of Mary and describes her as a beautiful woman with flowing blonde hair. She told a local television station, "I was standing there over the stove stirring my grits, and I felt this rubbing on my shoulders. I thought someone had walked in behind me - teasing me or something like that. But I looked back, and there wasn't anyone there. Then I know it was Mrs. Green." This apparition has been seen most of the time wearing a green antebellum dress. The cook also came in one morning and heard music coming from the ballroom. When she looked inside, she saw a ghostly couple swirling about the floor. A female spirit has been seen looking out a window in the dining room who could also be Mary Green.

Little Annie who died in the house when she was six still seems to be here. Her apparition is seen and heard running up and down the staircase and the sounds of a child playing with a ball have also been heard. Mr. Sharp's one-and-a-half year old granddaughter Lydia was in the ballroom with him one time and she kept glancing over at a corner in the room and finally said, "Ga-ga, ball," over and over. Mr. Sharp said "ga-ga" was Lydia's word for baby. Did she see Little Annie in the corner playing with a ball? A three-year-old guest kept making motions like he was throwing a ball in the ballroom and when his father asked why he kept doing that he responded that he was throwing the ball to Annie.

The most seen spirit belongs to a Confederate soldier who lost his leg. He is seen most often by the fireplace in The Dixie Room standing by the mantle or sitting in a chair and he just looks straight ahead. A policeman captured the figure of a soldier sitting on the front steps. I'm not sure if this is a different soldier as the description didn't mention a missing leg. A side note about amputations here, one of the basement rooms is where these took place and there was a window through which the limbs were thrown and it is said that the stack reached five feet high. During excavations around the foundation, human bones were found that had surgical saw marks on them.

Guests have had other experiences like feeling the sheets being pulled off them in The Confederate Room. Phantom smells have also been experienced in this room, one of which is gangrene. The investigative group Paranormal Incorporated captured some interesting EVPs during a stay. Most are hard to hear other than differentiating voices between male and female, but one sounds like a whistle that goes, "Yoo Hoo." Heavy furniture is heard dragging across the floors of rooms where no one is staying. Photographic evidence has been captured featuring shadow figures. Employees claim that hardly a week goes by that they don't have something strange happen or see something out of the corner of their eyes. Some guests have even claimed to see angels and a pair of undertakers. Only two guests have ever left the mansion, unable to stay because of the haunting activity, and that seems to indicate that the spirits here are not malevolent.

The mansion is beautiful inside and out. Could it be that Mary green's love for her former home has brought her spirit back? Did she come back to join her daughter Annie in the afterlife? Did the trauma of the Civil War leave the spirits of some soldiers here? Is the Duff Green Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!