Moment in Oddity - Old Bill as Tourist Attraction
Suggested by: Breanne Sanford
Pedro Rugiero was 55 years old when he gained some fame, but the story behind this is quite tragic. Pedro became famous as the number one tourist attraction in Garden City in Kansas. This lasted for twenty years. People called him Old Bill and they came from all over by the thousands over the years to see him. Sometimes they would find him lying down, other times he would be leaning against a wall, but every time, they would find him dead. Yes, Old Bill was dead and on display at a funeral home. He had been mummified with a special embalming fluid that contained metal, which helped preserve the body better and as it mixed with air, the mummification took place. Pedro's tragic story began on April 29, 1911. The quiet Italian immigrant boarded a train in Dodge City heading for Garden City carrying a suitcase with some lunch meat, an empty bottle of wine, six cans of tobacco, seven boxes of matches and a loaf of rye bread. He also had a straight razor in his pocket. About 19 miles from Garden City, Pedro pulled the razor out of his pocket, jumped up on a seat, put the razor to his throat and yelled, "Here goes, boys. Here goes!" And then he slit his throat. He was taken to A.R. Clark funeral home where they embalmed him hoping someone would claim his body. And even though the director was able to find a wife in Italy and a brother in San Francisco, no one wanted to claim the body. So they kept him and put him in a new suit every year and shellaced him to prevent mold and continued to display him. And it stayed this way until 1938 when a fire ravaged the center of town taking out the funeral home and cremating Pedro. And he might have been forgotten for not a photo that was taken reminding everyone that for 20 years, an embalmed man became a tourist attraction and that certainly is odd!
This Month in History - The Ocoee Massacre
In the month of November, on the 2nd, in 1920, the Ocoee Massacre occurred. The Ocoee Massacre was a race riot in which a white mob attacked people of color in the town of Ocoee. For a year, people in the African-American community had been making great inroads to getting People of Color registered to vote. November 2nd, Election Day, came along and a black man named Moses Norman went into a precinct to vote and he was turned away. Moses tried to vote a second time and was turned away again and this apparently angered a group of white men who decided to teach him a lesson. They thought he was hiding out at July Perry's house and so they went over there as a mob and beat on the door. July felt threatened and he got out a gun. He fired off some shots and unfortunately killed two men and wounded another. And that was it. The night would end with nearly every African-American business burned to the ground along with their schools, homes and churches. As the people ran for their lives, they were shot at with nearly 60 of them being killed. July Perry had run for his life, but was found and while he was en route to a jail, a mob pulled him from the car and lynched him, hanging him from a lamp post. No one was ever prosecuted for his murder. And for years after this, Ocoee was basically an all-white town. The Ocoee Massacre would be described as the "single bloodiest day in modern American political history."
Lawrenceville is a quaint town about forty minutes outside of Atlanta and is actually the second oldest town in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The historic downtown is full of storefront restaurants and shops. One would not think that this city has a paranormal essence to it, but as we found while taking a ghost tour, there are many stories of the unexplained here. Not something a city that is the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of America would really want to champion, but their city website does have a link for ghost tours. Join me as I share the history, lore and hauntings of Lawrenceville, Georgia.
This second oldest city in the Atlanta area was officially incorporated on December 15, 1821 and Lawrenceville is the county seat for Gwinnett County. We really enjoyed walking the downtown block area and observing the older buildings and churches found here. We found out that the city was named for a Lawrence: a War of 1812 navy commander, Captain James Lawrence. He became famous for his words to his men, "Tell the men to fire faster and not to give up the ship; fight her till she sinks!" He did die in the war. This downtown area was established because of nearby streams and by 1824, a courthouse lay in the center of town with multiple businesses branching out from it. This area was originally dubbed Honest Alley because of the trade that was exchanged here, which was anything but honest apparently. This was the seedy area of town. The main industry here was cotton followed by corn, lumber and livestock. The late 1800s brought the railroad and the town became a transportation center. The city has continued to flourish as Atlanta flourished and today is undergoing a revitalization that was evident in the theater and its expansion into a bigger complex. It was outside this theater, the Aurora Theater, that we met our tour.
Madame Macabre was our guide on the Lawrenceville Ghost Tour. Her real name is Cynthia Rintye and she was an excellent storyteller and also happens to be the director of the tour group. You can find it at http://scarystroll.com. The tour started at the Aurora Theater, which had originally been the Methodist Church. The Methodist cemetery was not located next to the church, but rather down the street and then up a hill and is named the New Hope Methodist Cemetery. The earliest burial I found there was for an infant in 1850. We were informed that a well-known unnamed paranormal investigator considers this cemetery the most active cemetery that he has ever seen. He spent the night there with a crew from 11 Alive News one October. They brought a thermometer with them on what was a balmy night and it registered a cold pocket of air and their thermometer registered a temperature drop of 30 degrees and their camera batteries completely discharged in 5 seconds. This happened a second time that evening. I have some audio here from that report that played on the news. (11 Alive News) Did you hear that woman talking in the background? There were only three men in the cemetery that night. When the reporter was asked if possibly they recorded over a tape that had this woman recorded on it and somehow it bled through. He said, sure that could happen I guess, but I've never had that happen before. Here is a second report about the same story. (11 Alive News 2) Cynthia also was in the cemetery on her own one day and decided to walk through using a recorder to see if she could catch anything. She listened back to the whole tape and got nothing until the very end. Here she is sharing that, see what you think you hear. (Cynthia Cemetery EVP) I hear "Ma ma" too. The Ghost Tour does offer specific tours of the cemetery.
We stopped at the Jule Oakes House, which is now a coffee house known as Boulder Creek Coffee. Julius C. Oakes, or Jule as everyone called him, was born in 1888 and died in 1966 at the age of 78. He was a former mayor of the city and lived in the house in the 1940s. The house was actually built in the 1890s. This house is historical, but apparently not haunted. Now, across the street were a line of shops and Madame Macabre told us that she was delivering flyers there one day and in each shop she was told that there was something going on that couldn't be explained. One of these places was a spa with a basement that has a weird cold spot where cell phones won't work. Another store experiences knocking on a back door that opens onto an alley. Whenever they open the door, they find no one there or in the alley. Another jewelry store named Sparkle was owned by a woman named Meg. She was unpacking a box of product and checks a piece off of a list. There was a noise behind her and she drops the piece and turns around to see what caused the noise. When she turned back, she couldn't find this one-of-a-kind piece. She looked all through the packing and the box. She couldn't find it anywhere. About two weeks later, the piece reappeared in plain sight on the other side of the shop.
We then arrive at Honest Alley, which I mentioned earlier. This is the kind of area where a child would never want to go. Edgar Dunlap's mother had told him never to walk down that alley and he never did, until this one time. He had been visiting friends across town and it had gotten late. He was worried he was going to get in trouble and Honest Alley was a short cut. He decided to take that short cut in 1924. There was no light in the alley and a storm had started raging. He makes it through the pitch black alley. But just as he starts to step forward, two skeletons come walking in front of him. Edgar is so frightened, he passes out. Some men take him home and when he wakes up, he tells his mom what he saw. She didn't believe him until she saw a story in the paper. Apparently, a tornado touched down inside a cemetery and pulled this 100 year old tree out of the ground and these two skeletons popped out of the ground with it and the whole thing blew past the alley.
Oyster Bay Seafood Cafe opened in October of 2009. Before this, the building was home to The Flying Saucer Retro Cafe & Bakery. Tucker was the son of the owner of Oyster Bay and he felt like he always had to do all the dirty work. One day while they were renovating, Tucker's dad told him to bring a box of nails. He tripped and spilled the nails everywhere. He bent down to pick up the nails and he mutters to himself about having no help with the nails. Then he notices these feet start moving the nails towards him. He gets all the nails in the box and then looks up to thank his helper and sees that the legs stop at the waist. He runs to tell his father who told him to stop with the foolishness. A few years later, Tucker again finds himself doing some grunt work unloading boxes of canned goods. He was angry because he would rather be at the ball game. He throws a can of tomatos across the room and it bounces off the wall and comes flying back at him, but a hand reaches out and grabs the can before it hits him. He turns to thank whoever helped him, but he only sees an arm from the elbow forward to the hand. Then last year, Tucker had another experience as an adult. It was Christmas Day, the only day the family took off from the restaurant. Their phones all started going off indicating that the security alarm at the restaurant had been set off. They figured it was a false alarm, but someone needed to go reset the alarm. And Tucker got the short straw. He was really upset about it and muttering again to himself as he reached the restaurant. He found the back door locked and the alarm was blaring. He unlocked the door, went inside and saw nothing. A few seconds later, he saw something he hadn't seen before. There is a man sitting at the bar. Tucker can see that this figure has no arm and nothing below the waist. The figure waves him over and he sees that there is a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses next to the ghost. The ghost pours them each a shot. He tips his back as he pushes the other to Tucker. Tucker tips his back and when he brings his head back up he sees that the ghost is gone. The other shot glass was gone too. Tucker washed up the glass. He told our tour guide that he has never felt alone again after that day. So where could this spirit have come from?
About 30 years ago, the city wanted to put a connector between two one-way streets. They dug into a bank with a bulldozer and realized that there had once been a cemetery here and not all the bodies had been removed. The bulldozer had broken into a grave and split a skeleton in two at the waist. Every one could clearly see this skeleton that had been cut in two and our guide wonders if this is why there is a ghost at Oyster Bay because this happened right near it.
Little Gardens is a colonial style former mansion and plantation that is today a wedding venue. It was built in the 1800s and features a glorious ballroom with a wall of french glass doors that open up into the gardens. A woman died here in the 1900s and she supposedly haunts the place manifesting as cold spots, disembodied footsteps and restroom doors open and close by themselves.
We head down Callaboose Alley and stand outside a small concrete building. This is the old city jail. Callaboose actually means jail. There is a very tragic tale connected to this place. Elleck and his wife Betsy were slaves owned by a horrible drunkard named Colonel James Austin. He abused his slaves and one night he busted into the shack that served as Elleck and Betsy's home. He grabbed Betsy and said he was going to take what was his. Elleck grabbed Austin and threw him off his wife. He told Betsy to run while Austin turned his attention to Elleck. Elleck ran too and Austin ran up to the house to get a weapon, his calvary sword. He came back out and saw Elleck scrambling up a ladder to a sleeping loft and he followed him. Austin climbed up to the loft before Elleck could pull the ladder up and he began swinging the sword wildly. He lifted it high and got it caught in the roof. The two men fought for the sword and Austin went flying out of the loft and died. Elleck turned himself in thinking that people would understand that this was self-defense. He faced a judge who found him guilty and sentenced him to death. He was thrown into a small jail that still exists and we got to go inside this jail and see something left behind by Elleck. Elleck used a metal slat to start chipping away at the concrete of his cell. People outside of the jail heard the nice and notified the sheriff who was pissed. He chained Elleck to the floor by both his wrists and ankles. He was left that way for 3 days and nights. Elleck sang to Betsy to pass the time. It was a song he made up asking her to meet him. He was hanged a month later. But his spirit still seems to be inside the jail. People claim to hear a disembodied voice singing a song to a woman named Betsy. We went inside this small building that was built in 1832 and still had the barred doors and metal beds. It seems to be used for storage now, but the remnants of the past were clearly still here too. Madame Macabre said that one night while giving a tour, she had sung Elleck's song and she kept hearing the word "me" echoed after her. She thought she was just hearing things until everybody was out of the jail and a person on the tour asked if people heard something weird. Another person said they heard someone else singing. All the people on the tour agreed that they heard a second person singing at the same time as the guide. Madame Macabre says that they have caught orbs, felt cold spots, had shoelaces untied and people have been touched. We didn't experience anything while inside. Our guide pointed out that last year she had found out the exact dates that all of this happened and the night we were doing our tour, October 11th, was the first night Elleck spent in the jail. Her earlier tour felt a lot of anxiety while in there.
She tells these stories as we leave the jail area. (Jail Area)