Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ep. 289 - The Colosseum

Moment in Oddity - SS Warrimoo at International Date Line
Suggested by: Breanne Sanford

You've probably heard of the International Date Line. If you haven't, the International Date Line is an imaginary line that defines one day from the next and is located halfway around the world from the prime meridian, about 180 degrees east of Greenwich, London. And it zigzags from the North Pole to the South Pole. When you cross the International Date Line from west to east, you subtract a day, and if you cross the line from east to west, you add a day. A very curious thing happened at the International Date Line on December 31 in 1899. The SS Warrimoo, which was a passenger steamer, was making its way from Vancouver to Australia. The navigator had just figured out where the ship was located by using the stars and he went to tell the captain, whom realized that the coordinates the navigator gave him meant that the ship was approaching both the International Date Line and the Equator.  The captain called all the navigators together and had them recheck everything and once he was sure they were indeed at this position, he called for the engines to be slowed. At midnight, the SS Warrimoo lay on the Equator at exactly the point where it crossed the International Date Line and the captain quickly announced to everybody what an unusual thing was happening. The forward part of the ship was sitting in the Southern Hemisphere, while the back was in the Northern Hemisphere. That meant the boat was in two seasons, summer and winter. That wasn't all. The date in the rear of the ship was December 31, 1899 while the date in the forward part of the ship was January 1, 1900. And notice the years: 1899 and 1900. So the SS Warrimoo was in two different seasons, two different months, two different days, two different years and two different centuries all at the same time and that, certainly was odd!

This Month in History - Robert Clifton Weaver Becomes First Black Cabinet Member

In the month of January, on the 18th, in 1966, Robert Clifton Weaver was sworn in as the first black cabinet member in U.S. history. President Johnson had assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and he won election to the office in 1964. In 1965, he created the new agency, Housing and Urban Development more commonly known as H.U.D. He appointed Weaver to be its secretary making him the first black to be appointed to a US cabinet-level position. Weaver attended Harvard and eventually obtained a doctorate in economics in 1934. He would first step into politics with President Roosevelt and serve as an informal advisor on his Black Cabinet. He served as a State Cabinet member in new York and eventually joined President Kennedy's administration as Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency. Weaver was perfect for the HUD secretary because he had been dealing with substandard housing for People of Color since 1930. He wrote an article entitled "Negroes Need Housing" after the Stock Market Crash. Weaver went on to become president of Baruch College and then a professor at Hunter College in New York. He died at the age of 89 in Manhattan in 1997.

The Colosseum

Rome is a city that is believed to have had some kind of human existence within it for at least 10,000 years. This city would rise from a place of little stature to one of the greatest empires ever to exist. Amazing structures would be built under that empire. The Colosseum in Rome, Italy was an architectural marvel, but also a place of immense human and animal suffering. People would come from all over to witness amazing feats by human gladiators and to witness the tearing apart of other humans at the hands of wild animals. This was considered sport at that time and the remnants of this activity and the residue left behind has imprinted spiritually on The Colosseum. Tales of hauntings are rampant and this structure is said to be one of the most haunted locations in all of Italy. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of The Colosseum!

The founding of Rome is something of legend. The city of Rome is named for Romulus. Romulus had a twin named Remus. The legend around these boys is that their mother was Rhea Silvia who was the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Numitor's younger brother, Amulius, had deposed him and he wanted to make sure that no grandchildren from Rhea could ascend to the throne, so he forced her to become one of the Vestal Virgins. The war god Mars was taken with Rhea though and got her pregnant with Remus and Romulus. When Amulius found out about this, he ordered the babies to be drowned in the Tiber River. A trough was made and placed on the river, but rather than sink, it floated away. It hit land where Rome would eventually be built. The legend then claims that the boys were suckled by a she-wolf and then fed by a woodpecker. Both of these animals were said to be sacred to Mars, so the thought is that he sent them to take care of his children. A herdsman eventually found them and raised them. The young men, killed their great-uncle and restored their grandfather to the throne. The two founded Rome and Romulus built a city wall. When Remus jumped over it, Romulus killed him. Romulus would go on to rule and then disappear mysteriously leaving the Romans to claim that he became a god.

The legend is interesting and the image of babes suckling under a she-wolf is famous, but the truth is more like a bunch of little villages coming together into a great city that eventually fell under the rule of kings for nearly 250 years. In 509 BC, an oligarchical republic was established, but there was a lot of struggle between the aristocracy and the small landowners. Rome would go to war over and over and conquer many areas, but internal strife would continue. Between 60 and 53 BC, the first Triumvirate was formed that eventually would see Julius Caesar as sole leader of Rome with a Roman Senate that generally opposed him. Caesar was assassinated and his son Augustus would become the first emperor in Rome.

Rome had grown from a small town to a powerful empire. Caligula, Claudius and Nero would follow as emperors and this golden era of Roman rule by emperors would continue until 192 AD. Other emperors would follow, but Rome was in decline. By 410 AD, the bloated Roman Empire began its collapse. The system was broken and unsustainable because it was becoming far too expensive. What was left of Ancient Rome is just ruins today. And among these ruins is one of the most magnificent man-made structures I have had the pleasure of visiting in person and that is the Roman Colosseum.

This structure was officially known as the Flavian Ampitheater. The name Colosseum is thought to have been derived from a gigantic bronze statue of Nero that was adjacent to the ampitheater and known as Colossus. And for those who don't know, the word ampitheater described the shape of The Colosseum. Most theaters were not in the round, they were semi-circular. An ampitheater was the bringing together of two theaters to make this circular shape. The Colosseum was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. The site had been where Nero had built a personal palace for himself known as the Golden Palace. This was a reflection of the decadence of Nero until a fire burned it down in 64 A.D. Vespasian and his two sons would be emperors who would tone down the excesses of the Roman court, restore Senate authority and do more for the welfare of the Roman people. Building the Colosseum was one such gesture of good will. It would take only ten years to build the massive structure and it was dedicated by Vespasian’s son Titus in 80 A.D. The grand opening stretched out over 100 days. These days were filled wild animal fights and combats between gladiators. The ampitheater could hold up to 50,000 people and not only could they witness bloody fights to the death, they could watch mock sea-fights. This was accomplished by filling the arena with water, which was a technical marvel at the time.

Another technical wonder of The Colosseum was a retracting cover that could protect from the sun and the rain. When you look up to the upper walls, you can still see the structures in place that were used to hold this awning. No one knows who the architect of the Colosseum was or even if it was only one person or a group of men. The arena was set to measure 300 x 180 Roman feet. A Roman foot was around a half inch shorter than a full foot. The ideal ratio of the period was considered to be 5:3. The measurements for the ampitheater are interesting in that the width of the arena, equaled the height of the external facade. There is a harmonious rhythm to the structure that is seen in the three storeys of superimposed arches with Tuscan, Ionic and Corinthian columns and then a fourth storey had Corinthian pilaster strips and windows. The Colosseum was built from marble-veneered travertine and had four storeys of seating. Our modern use of multiple entrances that are numbered and separate assigned sections began back with The Colosseum, so it really was the first stadium. The upper classes had the best seats with the commoners and women in the topmost sections or nosebleeds as we like to call them. (I personally think the balcony seats are the best anyway.)

The decor on the outside featured gilded bronze shields and arches filled with painted statues of emperors and gods. There were two grand entrances, one at each end of the minor axis, that were used by the emperor and other members of the elite ruling class. Inside, the ceilings were painted stucco and the walls were polished marble slabs. The closest seats were raised two meters above the ground and there was a safety fence to protect spectators. And they were all packed in like sardines. Ans what they witnessed was a level of cruelty we can only try to fathom. The sand on the arena floor was usually dyed red to hide the presence of blood. The floor was above a system of tunnels and trapdoors that were an engineering marvel. Trapdoors would flip open to allow animals to enter the arena. Down in these tunnels, it was completely dark. The air was dank. This is where the slaves, gladitors and animals were kept as they awaited almost certain death. Initially, these tunnels were not a part of the Colosseum that opened under Titus. His brother Domitian had this underworld area built.

So how exactly did they get the animals from the tunnels up into the trap doors that would get them into the arena? There were a series of winches and the capstans that teams of slaves would have to work together to get hoisted up from the basement to the main arena. There are still bronze fittings in the basement's floor. There were a variety of games that took place here with the most well known being gladiator fights. Now when I say gladiator, that's a very generalized term because there were many types of gladiators. There were gladiators who were thracian, secutor, retiarius, or bestiarius and each had their own armor and weapons. Imagine different forms of martial arts. The term gladiator is taken from the word for the Roman sword gladius. They would all swear this oath before entering the arena, “I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword.” Types of gladiators can be found here: http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/arena.html

Chariot races were occasionally conducted in the Colosseum although much of the time they would be staged at a place like Circus Maximus. There were animal hunts that obviously were horribly one-sided. There were dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, bears, elephants, leopards, hippopotamuses and bulls, so they at least had a chance, but defenseless animals were also used like deer, ostriches, giraffes and even whales. Hundreds, sometimes even thousands of animals, were butchered in a single day. Another main event at the Colosseum was the killing of Christians. The Romans were polytheistic and didn't like the religion of the monotheistic Christians. Christians would be arrested and brought to the arena where they would be placed out in the open and await attacks from wild animals that were unleashed on them. Sometimes they were shot with arrows and sometimes they were even roasted over a fire. 

The Colosseum had a long run, being used for nearly 400 years. After it stopped being used, it fell into disrepair and parts of it were dismantled over time to be used as building materials. Stones from the Colosseum can be found at the cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and the defense wall on the Tiber River. Today, there is only about a third of the original structure still intact. And the main reason for even what is left to still stand is because the Catholic Church protected it. This was considered a sacred place since so many Christians were martyred here.

The cruelty and death that happened here has left behind a myriad of emotional residue and probably attracted negative entities. And that makes for a good environment for hauntings. 400,000 people died here and probably a million animals. Those animals can be heard today through disembodied growling. There are other unexplained sounds like those of a crowd of people cheering and yelling. There are disembodied screams and the sounds of gladiator battles. Night guards claim to hear weeping in the vault area. And the vault area is supposedly the most active part of the Colosseum.

There are plenty of full-bodied apparitions too. One of the most popular is a Roman soldier that still guards the Colosseum. He is seen in full armor and holding his shield. The weird thing is that he is colorless save for his shirt, which is red. Spirits have also been seen walking up and down the stairs. Several visitors and staff claim to see people sitting in various seats around the arena. And several have been seen and heard in the tunnels, some of whom look like gladiators waiting to come out to fight and probably die.

And there are those who claim to have been touched. Many claim that the touch feels like a shove or push. And there are cold spots even in the middle of August. One area that is notorious for cold spots is where the Romans placed their bets on the outcomes of the various competitions.

So much pain breeds emotional residue. Fear feeds the negative. Did the fear and pain and death leave behind hauntings? Is The Colosseum haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ep. 288 - Tutwiler Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Alien Hand Syndrome
Suggested by: John Michaels

Have you ever felt like you are out of control of your body? Or at least a part of your body? I'm sure many of you have found yourself suffering a nervous twitch in a muscle or eyelid or some other weirdness. Now imagine that it is a limb that you have no control over. There are people who experience their limbs acting seemingly on their own and they feel helpless to stop it. This condition is referred to as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome or Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS). The part of the body most often affected is the left hand and mpst commonly, a person having an issue with AHS will find their hand reaching out and grabbing objects without them actually wanting to manipulate the object. It just happens on its own. And the sufferer usually has to use the hand they have control of to stop the other hand from doing what it is doing. This would seem quite comical, like something from the vaudeville stage, if it weren't a real condition. Most cases of AHS occur in people whom have had the two hemispheres of their brain surgically separated. Sometimes the affliction results after a stroke, infection, aneurysm, migraine or brain surgery. Alien Hand Syndrome certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Zulu War Begins

In the month of January, on the 12th, in 1879, the Zulu War began. This was a war between the British Empire and the people of Zululand in South Africa. The British troops were lead by Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu were lead by the man who became their king in 1872, Cetshwayo. The Zulu were unwilling to submit to British rule and Cetshwayo formed an army of 60,000 men. The British also wanted the Zulu to provide labour in the diamond fields of Southern Africa. The British led two invasion during the war that lasted for nearly six months. The Zulu had early success, but the second invasion ended with a decisive defeat of the Zulu. Nearly 7,000 Zulu were killed during the war. Cetshwayo was the last king of an independent Zulu Kingdom and infighting would split those left after the war. Cetshwayo died a few years later.

Tutwiler Hotel (Suggested by: Jonathan Geisel)

The Hampton Inn and Suites in Birmingham is an upscale hotel with a long history. This is the former Tutwiler Hotel and the former Ridgely Apartments. This was not the original Tutwiler Hotel. That one was built in 1914 on a different spot and eventually demolished in 1974. The Tutwiler was built in a grandiose style to attract the steel industry to come to town for conventions. This worked and Birmingham soon became a convention destination. The city felt the loss of the hotel when it was demolished and so it was decided to renovate the historic luxury Ridgely Apartments and reopen it as the new Tutwiler Hotel. And it is this location where the namesake for the hotel is reputedly still hanging around in the afterlife. Join me as we explore the history and hauntings of the Tutwiler Hotel.

In episode 142, we featured the Sloss Furnaces, which are located in Birmingham. In that episode, we talked about the city of Birmingham and how it became a center for industry after the Civil War based on the fact that iron ore, limestone and coal were abundant here. As a symbol of that industry, the city made a 55 foot cast-iron statue that was displayed at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. They named it Vulcan and today it can be found in its own park and has recently been refurbished. Vulcan is the second-tallest metal statute in America, after the Statue of Liberty. Birmingham was founded in 1871 by the Elyton Land Company. The shareholders of this company were the founders of Birmingham and included southern entrepreneurs. It would only make sense that an entrepreneur would want to build a hotel to convince the American Iron and Steel Institute to have its annual convention in Birmingham. That entrpreneur was Robert Jemison, Jr.

Robert Jemison, Jr. was said to be the greatest real estate developer of Birmingham’s 20th century and a local paper called him “Mr. Birmingham.” And just a brief list of the places he built, backs up this claim. These locations include Mountain Brook Club, Mountain Brook Village, Empire Building, Stallings Building, The Old Mill, Elmwood Cemetery, Redmont Gardens Apartments, Mountain Brook Grammar School, Mountain Brook Riding Academy, the Newberry Building, the Ridgely Apartments and the original Tutwiler Hotel. Jemison was born in Georgia in 1802. In 1826, his family moved to Alabama and he joined them. He turned his eyes to politics and served in the Alabama state legislature from 1840 to 1863. He was a Confederate States Senator from 1863 to 1865. Jemison made most of his money from his plantations and he owned over 100 slaves across six plantations. Obviously, the Civil War hit his interests hard and he lost his mansion and many other businesses. That didn't stop him from continuing to want to build things and in 1913, he came up with a plan for the Tutwiler Hotel.

There was a lack of “adequate modern hotels” in the city of Birmingham at that time. But obviously, Jemison was in need of major capital. He approached George Crawford, president of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, and asked him to become the president of the hotel company. Crawford said he would as long as Jemison would oversee the finances and construction for this new hotel. Once that was set, the two men knew they needed to find someone with money. They went to see the head of the Tutwiler Coal and Coke Company, Major/Colonel Edward Tutwiler, (served in Confederate army during Civil War) whom had also once been the superintendent of several of the Sloss Furnaces' mines. They were hoping he would invest in the hotel and he agreed to the tune of $1,850,000. Tutwiler asked that the hotel be named for his family. Another investor was W.P. Harding, but apparently not at a high enough level to have the Harding added to the name.

A lot was found on the southeast corner of 20th Street and 5th Avenue North and the contracting firm Wells Brothers & Company of New York City began construction in 1913. The design was created by two architects, W.L. Stoddard and W. Welton, and was unique in that there were no rooms that were completely in the interior. All bedrooms were on the outer side of the building so that ample sunlight would stream inside. There was a large beautiful lobby with balconies overlooking it from two mezzanine levels. There were two entrances to the lobby; one was a marble public corridor that was at the center of the 20th Street facade, and the other was a ladies’ entrance on the 5th Avenue side. Originally there were 343 rooms and eight large rooms that opened to make the “Grand Ball Room” which could accommodate 1,200 people. The United Hotels Company became the lessee of the hotel and they brought in trained employees and furnished the hotel when it was completed in 1914.

More than 8,000 people dressed in their formal wear turned out for the grand opening. The Tutwiler would become famous for hosting big events like a press conference for Charles Lindbergh and actress Tallulah Bankhead’s post-wedding bash and other celebrities and politicians over the next 60 years. Before long it was known as an "Outstanding Hotel of the South." Birmingham became a convention city thanks to the hotel and the Tutwiler did indeed host the American Iron and Steel Institutes convention.The hotel even managed to weather Birmingham's decision to become a dry city in 1915 and turned the hotel's drinking bar into a milk bar. (On a side note, I decided to Google milk bar and Tutwiler to get an idea of what exactly was served at a milk bar. My results educated me on the fact that there is a Tutwiler Prison in Alabama and that female inmates have a lactation room designated for them there.)

The beauty of the hotel eventually faded and by the 1960s it was becoming rundown. A facelift was attempted, but the hotel just paled in comparison to the other buildings in the downtown area around it. In 1974, The Tutwiler was imploded to make room for the First Alabama Bank. For the next twelve years, The Tutwiler Hotel was absent from the city. In 1985, the city of Birmingham was awarded the Urban Development Act Grant that gave them $895,000. They combined this with $12 million in private funding and was spearheaded by Temple Tutwiler III, Major Tutwiler's great grandson, to go forward with a plan to renovate the Ridgely Apartments and convert them into the new Tutwiler Hotel. As stated earlier, Robert Jemison had also built this building. The Ridgely Apartments were originally a 9-story luxury apartment building at 2021 Park Place near Linn Park. The project was developed in 1913 by Jemison and Tutwiler. The building is made from brick with limestone and terra-cotta details and was designed by Tennessee-born J. E. R. Carpenter. The new Tutwiler opened for business in 1986. The hotel underwent another even more extensive renovation that was completed in 2007 at a cost of $9.2 million. There are 149 rooms with 53 suites, a fitness center, signature restaurant and business center. This renovation was undertaken by hotel developer Bill Murray of Integral Hospitality Solutions. Interwest Capital now owns the hotel and is managed by New Orleans-based HRI Lodging and known as the Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham-Downtown-Tutwiler.

And that is where the story would end for the Tutwiler, except for those nagging claims of a ghost in the hotel. It would seem that Major Tutwiler was not willing to let go of the buildings that were a part of his history. The Ridgely Apartments may not have been the original Tutwiler, but they had a connection to him other than him just funding the building of them. Tutwiler lived in the luxury apartments. And it would seem he has decided to stay and perhaps he feels even more at home since the building took on the name of the Tutwiler Hotel. Guests and staff have all told storeis of experiences with a spirit that most believe belongs to Tutwiler. In 1995, a bartender claimed to have many experiences. He had gotten in trouble with management after they claimed that he had left the lights on in the bar for over a week. He was stunned when they called him in for a lecture about proper lock-up procedures. He said that he always turned the lights off when he left. That evening he flicked off the lights, but returned a little later to make sure they were off. He found them on. He turned them off again and returned later to find them on yet again. This happened four times that evening. And then it happened for five nights in a row. Then the weirdest thing happened. When he returned to check the lights on the sixth night, he found a multi-course meal with wine and candles waiting for him.

From that point on, the staff have taken to running through a ritual to appease the spirit of Major Tutwiler. The staff address the ghost of Major Tutwiler every night at closing with the words: “Good night Major! Please turn the lights and stove off, and don’t make a mess!” No one has found a multi-course meal waiting for them again and the lights generally remain off throughout the evening. But Tutwiler may not be the only spirit here. Guests report hearing knocking on their doors in the middle of the night, usually on the sixth floor. These knocks are usual loud and rapid and when guests go to the door, they find no one there. This ghost has been nicknamed The Knocker and is believed to be a male spirit because only women staying in a room alone have had these knocking experiences. But I've read other accounts that claim a young girl is responsible.

Kim Johnston, founder of SCARe, Spirit Communications and Research of Alabama, who has investigated The Tutwiler, said,  “I can confirm there is a little girl’s spirit who haunts several floors there. We caught audio of a little girl saying ‘knock, knock’ in a sweet little voice.” During World War I, a family lived on the sixth floor—a father, mother and little girl. The father was a soldier and killed in battle. Shortly after, the mother died of tuberculosis. That left the little girl an orphan. It’s possible the child ended up in a nearby orphanage, which burned down soon after and there is the theory that she died in that fire and then returned to her former home. Edward Wolfgang Poe who runs the Birmingham Historic Touring Company said, “Staff have seen on security cameras a little girl in a long dress and pigtails skipping up and down the halls on the sixth floor. They see people walk by without acknowledging her. Some have seen her turn and walk into a room without opening a door.”

So is the spirit of Major Tutwiler here? Are there other spirits poking around this historic building? Is the Tutwiler Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!