Thursday, June 30, 2022

HGB Ep. 441 - Weems-Botts House

Moment in Oddity - Laos Plain of Jars

As spooky weird kids, some of us may have already heard of the "Laos Plain of Jars". This site located in Northern Laos is comprised of more than 2,100 megolithic stone jars. British anthropologist Ursula Graham Bower had lived with the Zeme Naga people in the 1930's. According to her reports, this tribe believed the jars to have been made by the lost Siemi people. French researcher Madeleine Colani concluded that the jars were part funerary practices with remains, burial goods and ceramics being found around these jars. Some of the one to three meter tall carved containers weigh up to 14 tons. They are sometimes found alone or in groupings of up to several hundred. The stone structures are mostly made of sedimentary rock and are interspersed throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Laos Highlands. They are today, a popular tourist destination as Site #1 of the UNESCO World Heritage jar sites. There are many unique methods of burial throughout history, but using 14 ton jars made of stone certainly is odd.

This Month in History - Penny Postcard Approved By Congress

In the month of June, on the 8th, in 1872, Congress approved the penny postcard. This new legislation was in response to public demand for an easier way to send short notes. From 1872 until 1898 the Postal Service monopolized the pre-stamped postcards. This is until Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which gave private publishers the right to print postcards. These cards could be mailed for one cent vs the two cent fee to mail a letter. This era of cards only allowed for messages to be written on the front and nothing on the back. After March 1, 1907, the back of postcards was divided in half. The right side was to contain the mailing address and the left side was reserved for messages. At this time, the front space which had been used for messages in the past, disappeared. The first photos appeared on postcards in 1939 and while their production slowed during WWII, after the war the postcard became a tourist staple. And I don't know about all of you, but postcards give me a feeling of nostalgia. And hey, after 150 years since the postcards inception, it has only gone up in mailing cost to .40 cents, although it's waiting for the approval to jump to .44 cents.

Weems-Botts House (Suggested by: Katelyn Curry)

The Weems-Botts House is located in Dumfries, Virginia. This town used to have a big reputation, rivaling towns like Philadephia and Boston, but today it's just a little knockabout place. The house is a museum that is considered one of the most haunted locations in the state. The Merchant Family were the last private owners of the house and they still seem to be here. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Weems-Botts House!

Algonquian-speaking tribes lived along the Potomac River and a Patawomeck village was near Quantico Creek before English settlers came to the area of present-day Dumfries. A man named Richard Gibson was one of the first settlers to the future Dumfries, Virginia, which was known as Quantico at the time. He built a gristmill on Quantico Creek in 1690 and his success brought more settlers who built other mills, warehouses and a customhouse. The town of Dumfries was founded in 1749 by John Graham and he named it after his birthplace in Scotland, Dumfries. This makes it the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia. Originally, Dumfries just covered 60 acres, but it became the second leading port in Colonial America. Dumfries grew to have taverns and ordinaries, schools, a theater/opera house, a granary, a bakery, a shipyard, race track, and a ferry to Maryland. This little port rivaled the likes of Boston and New York. The main commodity the town dealt with was tobacco and it was so prominent that tobacco notes (promissory notes calculated by the quantity and quality of the tobacco) were the main form of currency. When shipping turned more towards wheat and sugar, the shipping canal filled with silt and the Revolutionary War started, Dumfries prominence waned and today it remains a small town with a population around five thousand.

There was a church established here even before the original grist mill was built and this was known as Quantico Church. A house was built to serve as the vestry for the church. This was bought by Parson Mason Locke Weems in 1798 after he migrated from Maryland to use as his bookstore. Weems was born in 1759 in Maryland to Scottish parents. He originally studied medicine, but had a religious conversion and decided to study theology in London. He became a minister and wrote the first biography of President George Washington shortly after the President's death. He came up with the Cherry Tree story. Weems was first ordained into the Episcopal Church, but he started leaning towards the beliefs of the Methodists, so he was required to resign as rector. He then began a traveling ministry and he sold books. He married Frances Ewell in 1795. While Weems owned the bookstore, he wrote that biography on Washington. Frances' father died in 1805, leaving her mother in debt and the couple lent a considerable sum of money to her mother. In 1806, the couple moved into the Ewell estate known as the Bel Air Plantation as a partial repayment of the debt. Weems had already sold the bookstore to attorney Benjamin Botts in 1802. 

The house would become Botts law office. In 1807, he defended former Vice President Aaron Burr in his treason trial. It was the only time in US history that such a high-level government official was tried in court for treason. Burr was acquitted, but his political career was over after this trial. Botts died in the Richmond Theater Fire that happened on December 26, 1811. As was the case with these fires in early theaters, the audience thought the fire was an effect until one of the actors ran on stage and shouted that the house was on fire. There was only one exit for the bulk of the audience and the building was engulfed in 10 minutes. Seventy-two people died, including Benjamin Botts. The Governor of Virginia also died as did the head of the Bank of Virginia. And there were the families, slaves, freedmen and the rich and poor of the city of Richmond. Most of the remains were put into two large mahogany boxes and all the bodies were buried in a mass grave where the orchestra pit had been. The Monumental Church was built on top of the charred site.

After Botts and his wife died in the fire, the property title was sold for taxes in 1835 and three years later repurchased by four of Botts' sons. The property passed through hands for a while and was then purchased by the Merchant family in 1869. The family consisted of Richard and his wife Annie and their two daughters, Violet and Mamie. There had been two sons too, but they died young. Mamie had epilepsy, which was misunderstood in the mid-1800s. The seizures were treated as some kind of demonic possession or mental illness. The Merchants were ashamed and kept Mamie from going out of the house, even locking her in her room, so that no one would see her having a seizure. Eventually, Mamie died during a seizure in 1906. Richard died just six months after Mamie, leaving Annie widowed. Violet had moved away to start setting up a home with her fiance. Annie demanded that Violet return home to help care for her. Violet did as her mother asked, but she would pace the floors and weep every night. This lasted for 46 years until Annie died in 1952. Violet stayed on at the house until she died in 1968.

The Town of Dumfries acquired the house in 1974 and leased it to Historic Dumfries Virginia, Inc. That organization restored the house and opened it as a museum. Today, the house is covered in weatherboards and the gable roofs are covered with sheet metal and there is a one-story porch across the entire front of the house. The original structure was a story-and-a-half with a single 11' by 16' room on each level. The front section of the house had a single, louvered casement shutter. In the mid-19th century, a two-story wing was added. This has a closed winding staircase. In the twentieth century, a one-story kitchen was added behind the eighteenth-century wing and a one-story wing was added to the west end of the mid-nineteenth century section.

When people started touring the museum, reports of haunting activity started surfacing. A closet door in a bedroom would open by itself almost every day and the windows opened and closed on their own. Books would fly off the shelves on their own as well, literally appearing to be thrown with force. This was thought to happen because a doorway was plastered closed and the bookshelf was put in front of it. Civil War spirits were seen behind the house. The creepiest unexplained thing was a creepy doll that would move around the parlor on its own. The activity brought so much attention to the house that in 2004 they introduced ghostly lock-ins during the month of October. 

Two of the spirits in the house are thought to be Mamie and Violet because of the unhappy lives they lived in the house. Their father Richard is thought to be at the house as though he is protecting his daughters in the afterlife. The room upstairs where Mamie was locked away has strange sounds that emanate from it when no one is in the room. Some of these sounds include loud female screams. A marine Scout Leader brought his Boy Scout troop to the house one time and he had some kind of panic attack in Mamie's room. He started sweating and went pale. His eyes widened in terror and the tour guide asked if he was alright and all he managed to blurt out before running out of the house was, "She...she needs her rocking chair!" The guide finished her tour and found the leader outside. He refused to go back in the house. Staff later found out from a living family member of the Merchant family that Mamie had a rocking chair in her room that she always sat in while she watched the world outside of her window. The curtains flutter in this bedroom when the window isn't open and a picture flies off the wall on occasion. And speaking of windows, one of them in Violet's room opens and closes throughout the day and night. Staff will find the window open when they are beginning their shift in the morning and they know they closed it the night before. A group of high school students were visiting the house and one was speaking to the docent next to this window. The window opened, shocking the student and the docent told her it was the ghost saying hi. The window later closed itself.

The Executive Director of the museum is Lisa Timmerman and she told journalist Mia Brabham in 2021 some of the experiences that she has had for an article in the Prince William Living Magazine. She said, “Back in November of 2019, I had Jeff [Seguin, an independent paranormal researcher and the museum’s volunteer paranormal tour guide] stop by the historic home to investigate an odd security alarm fault that occurred mid-week, around three in the morning. One of our front door alarms had been triggered, and I noticed that a colonial-style latch on the inside of the door seemed to have been bent. I thought that perhaps something tried to push the door open from the outside. While we were standing in the Colonial vestry room discussing what may have occurred, Jeff stopped our conversation and directed my attention to the sound of footsteps walking across the wooden floor in the bedroom directly above us. It was as if someone was walking across the Colonial bedroom — toward the stairs — to eavesdrop in on our conversation. We quickly went upstairs, but the room was empty." Also, “Two years ago, a guest on this [ghost] tour claimed she was gently ‘pushed’ on her lower back while seated on the floor of the Colonial bedroom with her back to the staircase. She described the non-threatening touch as ‘purposeful’ and with a tingly, static electricity quality to it. Perhaps someone on the staircase was trying to get her attention!”

And she also shared, "In September of 2019, I was wrapping up a final tour in the far side of the house. This area was once an exhibit area for a Dumfries historian, Lee Lansing. As I was chatting with the guests in this exhibit room, I felt a slight tug on the back of my jacket sleeve. It was odd, but [I] think it was a bug. The same happened a few weeks ago when I felt something on my foot. Although I could not find the bug, I did jump and slightly yell." Um, yeah, cause bugs normally tug on shirts. And there was also this story, “One story we tell on our Ghost Tour is of a guest who stopped by our Annex building. She was impressed with a costumed Civil War re-enactor she had met in [Merchant] Park. The museum staff quickly rushed to the windows, but we could not find the person she was referring to. We informed the guest that we did not have any costumed re-enactors and she was very puzzled. Apparently, she had a conversation with this individual, but when the topic of how modern-day events could be compared to events that occurred during his time period, the soldier had an unusual reply. According to the guest, he said, ‘I don’t know too much about that, but the nice ladies in the museum could probably answer that for you.’”

The Dead Files came to the museum in 2017 after an employee asked them for help because the activity had ramped up enough that she was getting afraid to come to work. Some of the activity had even gotten physical. The employee had her hair yanked by something she couldn't see. This employee told Steve that she saw a full-bodied apparition come into the house through a side doorway, walk down the hallway and he disappeared into the kitchen. She took Steve into the park near the house and told him about a terrifying shadow figure she had seen in the park. It stood at least seven feet tall with very long arms and legs, but it moved in a weird way, almost like a spider. Amy immediately picked up on a man calling himself Uncle Bob and she felt like he was a former owner. He let Amy know that he didn't like the changes done to the house. He messes a lot with light fixtures to indicate his displeasure. Amy also picked up on the spirit of a Civil War soldier.

Joanne had been the Director at the house for eight years when Dead Files came. She told Steve that she had been on the verge of dying. Amy on her side of things picked up that the house was making people sick, causing them to be very tired and causing potassium issues that could cause heart problems. Was this what had made Joanne sick? Joanne also witnessed her son getting thrown down the stairs. A volunteer named Natalie told Steve that she had seen the floating head of a slave in the house. She feels pressure sometimes on her chest in the Annex Building and it makes it hard to breath. She felt cold hands go through her hair and she's been touched on her arms and legs by something she couldn't see.

Other haunted hotspots in Dumfries are Dumfries Cemetery and Dumfries Elementary School. These are included on ghost tours and sometimes even the hunts. A teacher once told a docent at the museum that she and the children in her class had seen the spirit of a child in the schoolyard. One student looked out the window and saw her and after yelling out about it, the entire class was looking out the window and saw the child in a long skirt that seemed to be from Colonial times. The teacher managed to get the students all back in their seats and when she glanced outside again, the child spirit was gone.

Dumfries is a small town, but clearly has a big reputation when it comes to spirits. Is the Weems-Botts House and surrounding area haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

HGB Ep. 440 - Haunted Puerto Rico

This episode sponsored by Best Fiends! Download Best Fiends FREE today on the App Store or Google Play!

Moment in Oddity - Talking Mushrooms

For some people, the thought of talking mushrooms probably conjures images of Alice in Wonderland's caterpillar, taking puffs of his hookah pipe while lounging atop this capped fungi. What was in that hookah? Well, you may be surprised to know that many scientists believe that mushrooms are able to communicate with each other using a vocabulary of sorts, with up to 50 words! Now, one won't hear little mushrooms cracking wise or chortling back and forth together, however, they have been proven to communicate through impulses found within their roots. Studies have shown through electrodes that these pulses are not random, but ordered and in a sophisticated fashion. Those fluent in fungi surmise that the organisms' shared "conversations", primarily consist of warnings of danger and detecting something tasty and nutritious within reach. Many herbal plants have connections through runners and have been shown to emit chemicals making their leaves less tasty when being munched on by caterpillars. Similar studies have also shown reactions to nutrients being supplied near their roots. Though more is to be learned regarding this surprising discovery, clearly, many mushrooms DO have the ability to communicate with each other, and that, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - James Smithson Establishes the Smithsonian Institute

In the month of June, on the 27th, in 1829, scientist James Smithson establishes the Smithsonian Institute. James Smithson was an English scientist who had been a fellow at the Royal Society of London almost his entire life and he had published numerous scientific papers. Upon his death, he left everything to his nephew with a stipulation. If his only nephew died without any heirs, Smithson wanted the whole of his estate to go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It's a unique request made even more bizarre by the fact that Smithson had never been to the United States. Clearly, we have a Smithsonian Institute, so you know that the nephew died without heirs. President Andrew Jackson accepted the gift which included a vast library, minerals, personal effects, eight shillings, seven pence and 104,960 gold sovereigns that came to $500,000 at the time. Congress put forward an act that created the Smithsonian Institute in 1846 and President James Polk signed it into law. That initial spark has led to 19 museums, 9 research centers, a television channel, magazine and the national zoo. Plus a lot of hidden relics they've stashed away in their basement catacombs that they don't want us to know about like giant human bones for example, but uh, anyway, I've visited a few of the museums and they are very cool and it was all thanks to an English man named Smithson.

Haunted Puerto Rico (Suggested by: Kelly Crews)

Being located at the tip of one point of the Bermuda Triangle, it's not surprising that Puerto Rico has some strange legends, disappearances and hauntings. The island is today a United States territory, but for years it was under Spanish rule. This is a place with a vibrant culture mixing Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and American influences. On this episode we explore the history of the island and several of the haunted locations on Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico was originally known as Borinquen to the Taino people who lived there. They called themselves boricua. Christopher Columbus arrived at the island in 1493 when he returned Taino captives and he decided to claim it for Spain, dubbing it San Juan Bautista. The first European settlement was founded by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1508. This settlement was called Caparra, which was changed to Puerto Rico in 1521 to represent that it was a rich port. Soon the whole island was called Puerto Rico and the port became San Juan. The Spanish fortified the island and made it a place of farming for tobacco, coffee, ginger and sugar cane. Calls for independence from Spain began in 1868 and 600 residents of the mountain town of Lares rose up. This movement is still celebrated today as El Grito de Lares (The Cry of Lares) even though it was unsuccessful. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Treaty of Paris ceded Puerto Rico to the United States and it is still a territory of the US. Puerto Ricans are US citizens although the country has not been granted statehood yet.  

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and is the third oldest European-established capital city in the Americas. This is a major seaport with around 2.5 million residents living in the metropolitan area. San Juan had been the boundary between two tribes on the island, led by the chiefs Mabo and Yuisa. The port was used by the Spanish as a major stopover for the transport of goods like gold and silver. Hence why it was so fortified. The Battle of Puerto Rico in 1595 was an English attack led by Sir Francis Drake. He was repelled, but a couple years later, the Earl of Cumberland laid seige to San Juan. Exhaustion forced the English to give up their occupation. The Dutch later sacked the city, but were eventually repelled. The British tried again in 1797 and were forced to withdraw. San Juan was a strong city and in 1947 it would prove to be a progressive city when it elected a woman as mayor, making her the first female mayor of a capital city in any of the Americas. It is also home to several haunted locations. 

But first, let's start with a miracle! In San Juan there is this cute little chapel tucked away in a little corner. This chapel was built on top of the ancient stone walls that had protected the city and this was to commemorate a miracle that took place here. In 1753, the town was celebrating San Juan Bautista and a man who was riding a horse in a parade, lost control of the horse and he and the horse plunged over the cliff to the ground below. His name was Baltazar Montanez. The Spanish Secretary of Government, Don Mateo Pratts, saw Montanez and the horse falling and like most of us, he cried out a prayer that sounded something like "Christ of Good Health, save him!" The prayer worked because Montanez survived, although the horse did not. In gratitude, Montanez built the small chapel on the spot where he believed he fell over the cliff and he made a gorgeous altar from gold leaf and silver. Now people from all over the world come to the tiny chapel seeking miracles for themselves. They leave behind tiny silver ornaments that represent the parts of their bodies in which they need healing. Today, you can see the chapel looking much as it did when first built and see all these ornaments of hope for a miracle.

Teatro Tapia

Teatro Tapia is the oldest free-standing continuously-running drama stage building in San Juan. The theater was built in 1824 and officially opened in 1832. It was built in the Italian style with a horseshoe shape that had three tiers of boxes. This was originally called the San Juan Municipal Theater. The name changed to Antonio Paoli Theater in 1935 and then again in 1937 to its current Teatro Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. That name was for a Puerto Rican poet and dramatist. The theater became the center of cultural life in the city until the 1940s when it fell into disrepair. The building was slated for demolition, but the mayor of San Juan at the time, Felisa Rincon de Gautier, saved it. The theater was restored several times and today hosts cultural events, ballet performances and dramas.

Visitors and employees claim to have experienced many hauntings things in the theater, including witnessing full-bodied apparitions, feeling something unseen brush up against them and hearing disembodied footsteps and voices. The theater has the typical large loading dock doors and they open and close on their own, no small feat. One of the spirits here is thought to be that of a woman who fell to her death while she was performing. She is thought to be behind the singing disembodied voice that is heard and she is seen wandering the grounds. Another female apparition is witnessed in Box 105 sporting an Edwardian dress. She sometimes shows up behind theater patrons and then suddenly disappears. A spectral choir of voices is heard on the stage occasionally.

Hotel El Convento

The Hotel El Convento in San Juan is one of the most historic hotels on the island. This started as a Carmelite convent when it was built in 1646 with funding from Doña Ana Lanzós y Menendez de Valdez. This is the Western Hemisphere's oldest cathedral and Dona Ana was the first to join the cloister, followed by her sister and four other women. In 1903, the convent was closed by the Archbishop of San Juan. Robert Frederic Woolworth, heir to the Woolworth fortune, bought the property and started converting it into the El Convento Hotel. On January 27, 1962, the hotel opened embracing Old World charm and Spanish Colonial architectural style. The property was renovated again in the 1990s and 2000s and officially renamed Hotel El Convento. 

One of the spectral stories includes the original founder and first Mother Superior of the convent, Doña Ana. Her passion for the place seems to have kept her spirit here. Her spectre is seen roaming the halls and she is witnessed praying in various locations. She occasionally awakens guests from their sleep. Other nuns have joined her as well. The swishing sounds of nun robes are heard in the hallways. The disembodied chanting of nuns is also heard. One really weird happening is the sound of chains being dragged through the halls.

Paseo de La Princesa

The Paseo de la Princesa translates to the Promenade of the Princess and is a pedestrian promenade in the historic district. It wraps around the old wall and has old sentry posts, including the only city gate that still remains, Puerta de San Juan. The promenade is named for the La Princesa Prison, which still exists and serves as the home for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. The prison was built in 1837 and could house 240 prisoners. This was a horrible place to serve time. There were solitary confinement cells called calabozos and another cell called caja de chinches that was so named because it was full of thousands of bedbugs. Difficult prisoners would be thrown in here until they passed out from loss of blood.

A security guard here told the Islands Magazine staff in 2006 that he experienced weird things. The exchange goes like this, "You ever see anything strange in these sentry posts?” “Oh, every night. Lights, shadows moving. When it gets very late, I’ve even heard voices.” He seems quite nonchalant about the encounters. “Voices? What do they say?” He shrugs. “I only hear whispers. It’s nothing.” “Nothing?” “No. I used to work at the old jail, which is now a tourism office. Every night, that place it was too much. Doors and windows would open, chairs would move, lights would turn on and off. I had to ask for a transfer. I still give that building space when walking past, even during the day. This whole town whispers, though. The buildings have lives when we aren’t looking.” 

El Condado Vanderbilt Hotel

The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel has that name because the Vanderbilt family built it. This was all the way back in 1919 and the hotel website says, "Its luxe roots were established in 1919, when Condado Vanderbilt Hotel opened its doors to European and Hollywood royalty, captains of industry and bluebloods, all of whom crossed paths in its hallowed halls." So clearly not a place for us Kelly. But even being a fancy smancy hotel doesn't prevent it from being haunted. The hotel brought high-end tourism to the island and a certain woman who would become the hotel's Lady in White. Now the hotel will tell you they have no ghosts, but ask the employees and you'll hear a different story. There was a fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in 1986. Three disgruntled employees were in a labor dispute with the hotel and they started the fire. The blaze killed 98 people and injured 140. Our Lady in White was said to have lost a dear family member in that fire and while she stayed at El Condado, she threw herself down the service elevator shaft. Employees claim to feel and see her presence near the service elevator, especially on the sixth floor. There is a dark and sad blending of emotions here. The apparition is seen walking in the hallways and sometimes appears in rooms while housekeeping is servicing them. Her perfume is also detected when she is around.

Castillo San Cristobal

Castillo San Cristobal was the largest fort built by the Spaniards. Construction began in the 1780s. This started as a small artillery platform on a hill to push back attacks by the English and Dutch on the city of San Juan. The fort was named for Saint Christopher and took over 150 years to complete. This fort features a deep moat and many tunnels and some of those tunnels were rigged as "countermines," which were loaded with gunpowder and exploded under the feet of attacking enemies. There was a main plaza for assembling troops and running drills. The plaza is bordered by eleven casemates that were fortified from bombs and featured gun ports for cannons. Five cisterns under the plaza collected rain water and could hold 800,000 gallons of rain water. There is a dungeon here that still contains a drawing made by a prisoner back in the late 18th century. A friar who was accused of murder was chained to a wall here for over 20 years.

The main ghost story told about this location is connected to a love story. The tale goes that a young woman named Maria Dolores fell in love with a thief named Betancourt. The main problem with this was that her father was San Juan's executioner and Betancourt had been sentenced to death. Maria ran to the fort to stop the hanging and she arrived too late. Betancourt was left hanging from the gallows and Maria was devastated. She grabbed another noose and hanged herself next to her love. Maria's father came later to bury Betancourt's body and found his beloved Maria there too. Both the spirits of Maria and Betancourt are seen in the area where the gallows had once been at the fort.

Located here at the fort is also La Garita del Diablo, which is The Devil's Turret or Devil’s Watchtower. This was used by soliders to keep watch at night and they would call out to each other to make sure they were still there and legend claims that sometimes soldiers would disappear. At the end of watch, these soldiers would not appear and they never showed up again. It was said that the devil devoured their souls and bodies, leaving their uniforms and weapons behind. We can't verify the uniforms and weapons thing, but if true that certainly makes the stories more chilling.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

One of the most popular tourist sites in San Juan is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Most locals just call the historic fort El Morro, which means The Nose. The fort is located on the corner of the islet of Old San Juan. This was the second fort built here with construction beginning in 1539. The first rendition was a simple promontory mounted with a cannon. Eight bronze cannons were added to the fort by 1555. More and more was added to the fortification over the next 250 years until it was six levels high. This was a powerful deterrent that repelled pirates, the British and the Dutch. In 1843, the first lighthouse in Puerto Rico was constructed on top of the castle. When America acquired Puerto Rico they formed the US Army post of Fort Brooke, which included El Morro and nearby Spanish government buildings. They also added a golf course, baseball diamonds, an officers' club, hospitals and officers' quarters. The fort was used through the World Wars and retired in 1961. The National Park Service made it into a museum and the El Morro and Old San Juan were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.

Phantom orbs are seen floating on the grounds. There is a Lady in White here and she is particularly creepy. She slithers along the ramparts. The tunnels give people weird feelings and they hear the disembodied voices of men calling out, particularly at night. The ghosts of prisoners are said to be seen here as well. Ghost ships are seen sometimes at night out in the waters in front of the fort and these are ships from all the enemy countries that tried to attack Puerto Rico. This sounds like residual stuff from the various wars and battles. The chapel is a hotbed for haunting activity as well.

El Pirata Cofresi

Probably the most interesting spirit on Puerto Rico belongs to a pirate named Roberto Cofresi, also known as El Pirata Cofresi. Roberto Cofresi was born in 1791 and came from noble beginnings, literally. His family was of nobility, but they were very poor because of the economic state of the island of Puerto Rico under the Spanish Empire and the wars for independence. Cofresi's mother died when he was four and his father died when he was twenty-three. He married a local girl who also came from a noble family, but they soon were destitute when the estate burned to the ground. The couple had two boys who died soon after their births. The best way for a man to make money was to go to sea and so he did and it was through his experiences out on the high seas that he realized that the real money was in privateering, not the fishing that it was believed he was doing. Before long he had worked his way to being a captain and commanded a small fleet of modest vessels. The one he rode aboard was the Anne and it was a fast six-gun sloop. His group managed to evade capture by vessels from many countries including Spain, the UK, France and the United States. 

Legend claims that he wasn't just about enriching himself, he was like Robin Hood stealing from the rich to give to the poor. And while that may sound noble, it is important to point out that 300 to 400 people died while he was pillaging. El Pirata Cofresi came to his end in 1825. Spain formed an alliance with the West Indies Squadron and the Danish government of Saint Thomas and they laid a trap for Cofresi and his group. They engaged in a naval battle and Cofresi abandoned his ship and tried to get away over land, but was ambushed by a local trooper and two members of the Puerto Rican militia. Cofresi tried to bribe an official to let him go, but it didn't work. Cofresi and his men were sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and given a military tribunal, which found them guilty and sentenced them to death. This was carried out about three weeks after their capture and was done by firing squad on March 29, 1825.

Puerto Rico is proud of their famous pirate. Cofresi was believed to be the last of the great West Indies pirates and he was the dominant Caribbean pirate of his era. He basically took over Jean Lafitte's territory after he died. He has inspired many myths, songs, poems, books and films and several locations in Puerto Rico have been named for him. A monument was erected for him in Boqueron Bay. Cofresi couldn't be buried in a Catholic cemetery so he was buried behind Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery on a hill that overlooked the cemetery wall. Kelly Crews shared some pictures from her trip there that we will share on Instagram. Of course, there are stories of buried treasure. Legend claims that anyone looking for the treasure will get dragged down to Davy Jones' Locker or attacked by the ghosts of Cofresi and his crew.

People claim that he had success because he sold his soul to the Devil. They say this gave him inhuman powers like invisibility and great strength. One place where his spirit is said to linger is Mona Island, which had been his favorite hideout. His apparition has been seen there. That spirit has also been seen in his hometown of Cabo Rojo. Cofresi seems to be having a good time singing Spanish hymns and drinking rum - those two things really go together. But it is good if he is drinking rum because it is said that if he  inebriated, he'll tell you where his treasure is located when you ask. One woman was said to meet her end when she went looking for the treasure where the ghost told her it would be in some shark-infested waters and well...the sharks won. 

And as a fun aside, there is this strange legend that we found connected to San German. San German is a historic town in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico and is the second oldest city here. This is home to the Gates of Hell. We know, those macabre gates seem to pop up all over the world. These gates are located in a precarious spot. They can be found at crossroads of street B and C of what is referred to as Sabana Eneas. The legend claims that if you place your face right at the center of the crossroads and whisper a prayer to the Devil, then say his name 13 times, the sounds of Hell will enter your ears.

Puerto Rico sounds like a wonderful place to visit with both its beauty and history. And it seems to have a fair number of ghosts lurking around too. Is Puerto Rico haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Kelly Crews hosts Lore of the South, which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

HGB Ep. 439 - Historic Scott County Jail

Moment in Oddity - Sculptures with Human Teeth (Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers)

There is a factory worker who spent 50 years of his life filling a garden with otherworldly sculptures. Veijo Ronkkonen was a recluse who worked in a paper mill but spent his free time on his farm in a Finnish forest. As it's told, he wasn't a people person (Diane and I can relate) and he never studied art, but at the time of his death in 2010, he had covered his land with 550 sculptures. Many believe Viejo's artwork was his way of communicating with the world. Once he received his first paycheck at the mill, it is said that he purchased apple seedlings and concrete. This is where his first artistic garden creations were born. His garden draws 25,000 visitors annually. Although many describe it as eerie, we'd venture to guess that our listeners would describe it in more provocative ways. Some of these sculptures have the interesting addition of actual human teeth along with speakers buried within their 'frozen in time' bodies which emit sounds some of us would relate to a class C EVP. Clearly this artist was a great observer of humanity, even if he preferred to sculpt instead of interreact with others.  It is said that his sculptures represent his exploration of self, but also what he viewed of the world. Regardless, adding human teeth to several human sculptures, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - First Sustained Untethered Flight

In the month of June, on the 4th, in 1783, the first sustained untethered flight occurred as a hot air balloon was launched in Annonnay, France. Brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier were the inventors of the first practical hot air balloon. They had discovered that heated air contained within a paper or lightweight cloth bag, caused the bag to float into the air. The brothers made their first public demonstration of this discovery on the 4th at a marketplace in Annonnay. They created the heated air by burning straw and wool under the opening of the bag which rose to a height of 3,000 feet and hovered for about 10 minutes before floating towards earth about 1.5 miles from its point of origination. This experiment expanded in following months to include their first passengers of a sheep, rooster and duck, which took flight for approximately 8 minutes, landing safely about 2 miles away. Shortly thereafter, their first untethered manned flight sailed over Paris for 5.5 miles in about 25 minutes.

Historic Scott County Jail

The Historic Scott County Jail is located in Huntsville, Tennessee. The jail is nearly 120 years old and housed inmates until 2008. Huntsville is a small town and the jail isn't very substantial, but the stories about this place are big. On this episode, we are joined by Dr. Kristy Sumner, founder of Soul Sisters Paranormal and History, Highways and Haunts, LLC. She and her business partner - Miranda Young aka Ghost Biker - run tours, events and ghost hunts at the jail and Kristy shares the history and many of the unexplained things that have happened in the jail!

Huntsville, Tennessee is located on the Cumberland Plateau in northeast Tennessee. This is the home of the Cumberland Mountains and the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Twenty-five acres of land purchased from George McDonald and Emanuel Phillips gave Huntsville its meager beginning. Forty-seven lots were platted out and the first courthouse and jail were built in 1851. The name is in honor of hunting, either for the long hunters who once lived in the area or a hunter named Hunt. By the early 1900s, Huntsville had its own newspaper, three hotels, four stores, a feed store, two blacksmith shops, a woodworking shop, a meat market, a lumberyard, a bank and a small public park. Despite being founded in 1850, the town wasn't incorporated until 1965. A courthouse square was built in 1906 and included a courthouse, First National Bank and a county jail, all built from the native beige-colored sandstone. That jail was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is known today as the Old Scott County Jail.

That jail was used until 2008 when a new justice center was built across town. The jail sat abandoned until 2017 when the Huntsville mayor, Dennis Jeffers, petitioned the Scott County Commission to transfer ownership of the jail to the town of Huntsville. In 2018, the Town of Huntsville received a $50,000 tourism enhancement grant from the State of Tennessee and restoration work began. This jail is a very personal project for many people, the mayor being one of them. His mother learned to cook biscuits and gravy from the wife of a former sheriff in the old jail's kitchen. This building also became a personal project for Dr. Kristy Sumner.

(Interview with Kristy) Kristy sent a couple of EVPs for us to share. The first is the EVP that Vickie Norris captured in their drunk tank when she was all alone. (EVP from Vickie) Sounds like a guy hollering some stuff. The first one sounds like, "Get out now, let's go!" Then, "Stand up!" And then, "Get out the door!" Very interesting! The second is the EVP that they captured on their security camera in their gift shop and we have amplified it so it is easier to hear. (EVP gift shop) They thought it said, "Not so loud next time."

Based on what Dr. Kristy Sumner shared about the jail, it seems that something unexplained is going on here. Is the Historic Scott County Jail haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, June 9, 2022

HGB Ep. 438 - Glore Psychiatric Musem

Moment in Oddity - The Wheel Bug (Suggested by Jannae McCabe)

There's an insect known as the wheel bug. It's found in Florida but is also known to be found from Rhode Island to California and further south into Mexico and Guatemala. This insect is part of the assassin bug family and measures 1 to 1 1/4 inches long. This insect is a dark, robust creature with long legs and antennae, a stout beak, large eyes on a slim head, and a prominent thoracic, semicircular crest that resembles a cogwheel. As steampunk fans, this insect caught our eye with its cogwheel feature immediately! These are largely considered beneficial insects as they prey upon many garden pests that harm crops and blooms, although they have also been known to prey upon bees and ladybugs and sometimes are cannibalistic. Interestingly, some brave souls have been known to keep these specimens as pets, however be forewarned, a bite from these little buggars has been compared to being more painful than a bee or wasp sting. But those who enjoy this insect state that once adapted, they are very unlikely to bite if handled gently. Although these insects can give many gardeners the creepy crawlies, the only insect species in the United States that sports a cogwheel as part of it's exoskeleton, certainly makes it odd.

This Month in History - Edison Patented the Electrographic Vote Recorder

In the the month of June, on the 1st, in 1869, Thomas Edison patented the Electrographic Vote Recorder. This invention was registered with patent #90,646 and was meant to be a voting machine for Congress. Legislative bodies would be able to record their votes accurately and instantaneously with this invention. Unfortunately, his creation stirred little interest and was never manufactured. This was the FIRST of Edison's 1,093 US patents. Some of Edison's most famous patents are the light bulb, phonograph, motion picture camera, and storage battery. He meticulously recorded his work in 4,000 notebooks to protect his intellectual property, but also with hopes to influence generations of inventors. Despite the lackluster interest in his vote recorder, Thomas Edison went on to be one of the most inspiring inventors of all time.

Glore Psychiatric Museum

The term asylum means refuge and that is what lunatic asylums were meant to be, places of safety for those experiencing various forms of mental illness. But as we have found, very few asylums did more than house the mentally ill and use them as guinea pigs for various forms of torture. That is why so many of them have spiritual residue. The Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri is a location that documents both in words and visual recreations, what life in an asylum was like for many people. Objects from many former asylums have become part of the collection and possibly have brought along attachments. Join us as we discuss the history of the former asylum that was here, the history of asylum treatments and the hauntings involved!

The rise of asylums began in Europe in the 17th century. Treatment of the mentally ill before this time was horrendous. The Age of Reason should have brought a time of better care for those suffering from mental illness, but that anything but the case. Rather than being places of refuge and care, asylums became like human zoos, places to store those not fit for society and observe their odd behavior. Bethlehem Royal Hospital was the earliest official mental asylum, opening their doors in 1247 in London. In later years, the asylum opened up their doors and charged for public viewings. Why take a stroll through the park when you can walk through the local asylum and tease the patients? Bethlehem Royal Hospital charged two pennies each for this kind of access. The doors leading into these areas were nicknamed the Penny Gates. And while it is horrifying to think people were walking through these places unsupervised, imagine what happened when the public had no access and asylums could do what they wanted unfettered with no public oversight.

Francis Fauquier was the Royal Governor of Virginia in 1758 and in 1766, he called on the House of Burgesses to establish a public hospital for confining and treating people “deprived of their reason…a poor unhappy set of people who are deprived of their senses and wander about the countryside, terrifying the rest of their fellow creatures.” The House of Burgesses agreed that a place needed to be built. The first public hospital for the mentally ill in America opened in October 1773 in Williamsburg, Virginia. And asylums continued to open throughout the United States. The Missouri General Assembly approved $200,000 for the creation of a second asylum in the state in 1872. They chose the city of Saint Joseph as the site for the State Lunatic Asylum No. 2, which opened on November 9, 1874. The original plan was a Kirkbride building, that would house 275 patients in 32 dormitories in 76 individual rooms, but the hospital actually started with 25 patients. Thomas Kirkbride had designed these plans for asylums to provide healing through architecture with lots of light. The wings were staggered to allow sunlight into all areas.

The first superintendent was Dr. George C. Catlett who had been a medical purveyor for the Confederate Army and oversaw the treatment of soldiers for several years. He wrote of the hospital that they were “taking it from mere name, bare walls, untenanted and unfurnished halls into a systematically arranged operating institution prepared to take its position in the benign firmament with its sister associates, and to be consecrated for all time to the noble work of reviving hope in the human heart and dispelling the portentous clouds that envelope and penetrate the intellects of minds diseased.”

Two years after opening, the asylum had 293 patients. This was on the route out west and families occasionally dropped off "problem" family members along the way. A new wing was added at this time and this was for more violent patients. This brought 120 more beds, which were eventually increased to 250 beds. A fire damaged much of the original Kirkbride building in 1879, but no one was killed thanks to the efforts of the staff. A new hospital building was constructed near the burned shell of the former asylum and the new asylum was opened in 1880. This new building could house more patients and had a bowling alley, billiards room and gym. And like many of the other asylums in the country, this one was completely self-sufficient with its own livestock and crops on a farm, a slaughterhouse, poultry house and greenhouse. They only needed to purchase sugar and salt. 

Dr. Charles Woodson became the new superintendent in 1890 and he brought some reforms with him. He asked to have a separate hospital building to be built for patients with contagious diseases. A Typhoid outbreak in 1893 was kept at a minimum because of this action. Woodson also was behind the building of a power plant on the property and getting a proper sewage system. He also installed pipes with small holes around the porch and when the weather was warm, staff would run water through them to produce artificial rain, which helped to calm the patients. This was a type of hydrotherapy. In 1899, the name was changed to the St. Joseph State Hospital. This took away the terms lunatic and asylum. Dr. Woodson would move on in 1907 and Dr. W.F. Kuhn came on board and he brought with him an exercise regiment. All patients were required to walk a mile every day. He also started staffing the men's wards with women, which was considered controversial at the time, but proved to be brilliant because the male patients were better behaved and more well-groomed with the women around. Kuhn also implemented a non-restraint policy.

The farm expanded under Dr. Kuhn's watch and patients started making things like furniture that could be sold to help raise money for the operations of the hospital. As the decades passed, the asylum became more crowded. Getting enough staff was always hard and became even harder during the World Wars when staff joined the military. The Red Cross Gray Ladies were brought in to help with the under staffing, but there were never enough beds or staff. After World War II, there were 2,485 patients in a mental hospital that was meant to serve far fewer people and the staff turnover was very high. This led to a series of experimental treatments being tried on patients, including lobotomies. Dr. Walter Freeman arrived at the St. Joseph Mental Hospital on July 8, 1949. That day, Freeman performed 10 lobotomies in three hours and the local paper reported that this gave patients hope that they could return back to their homes and their lives. As we know, lobotomies were not a good thing. Dr. Willis McCann came to the hospital in the 1950s and this era would end the labor work for patients. Most would be left to wander the halls or stare at TVs all day long. Tranquilizing drugs would be used to keep patients even. Climate control would come to the hospital.

Towards the end of the 1950s, a Dr. George Glore came to the hospital. He eventually became the director and in 1967, he started a little museum a ward of the St. Joseph State Hospital. This became the Glore Psychiatric Museum and was an extensive collection of implements used in the care of psychological disorders dating all the way back to the 16th century and carrying up to the 19th century. Glore spent most of his 41-year career with the Missouri Department of Mental Health gathering his collection. He retired in the 1990s. Most patients had been released by the early 1990s. In 1993, the Renz Correctional Farm was damaged in a flood and the 150 inmates were brought here temporarily. But the move proved to be permanent. In 1994, Missouri approved a bond to allow the asylum to be converted into a jail and today it houses around 600 inmates mostly serving time for drug charges called the Western Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center. The Glore Psychiatric Museum was moved into another building on the property. The rest of the patients were moved to a new facility in 1997 that is across the street from the original campus and was named Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

The Psychiatric Museum documents the times when patients were kept busy with menial tasks like sewing, cooking and farming. But they also got to hold dances, play croquet and board games and exercise on gymnastic equipment. The museum displays many artifacts from the mental hospital that include uniforms, medical equipment, artwork and photographs. One exhibit tells the story of a man who spent 72 years as a patient in the hospital. There is another exhibit featuring thousands of empty cigarette packs in a cage. Apparently, a nurse had told a patient that empty cigarette packs could be redeemed for a new wheelchair, so he saved them even though the nurse had been lying. The staff did eventually get him a new wheelchair for his efforts, which came to 100,000 packs. Another exhibit has an old TV stuffed full of 525 written notes. A patient thought he could communicate with the people on TV through these notes. A more disturbing display is a stomach contents one. A patient was suffering from pica and liked to swallow nails and other objects. This patient ended up swallowing 1,400 metal objects, including nails, screws, pins, bottle caps, bolts and buttons. She died on the operating table when the items were being removed. Someone arranged the objects into what looks like an ancient sculpture of a bursting sun. Visitors can even buy a postcard featuring this uh "sculpture."

Things were not as bad here at the State Hospital No. 2 as they were in other asylums. The museum reveals how patients who weren't docile were treated throughout the years. Those that were harder to maintain were locked away from the public and restrained and basically tortured in a variety of ways. Chains, Strait jackets, cages and Utica cribs were used. Utica cribs were popular in asylums during the latter half of the 19th century. The Utica Crib was invented in 1845 by Dr. M.H. Aubanel, who worked at the Marseilles Lunatic Asylum, and was introduced at the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica in 1846 by the first Medical Superintendent there, Dr. Amariah Brigham. This device was archaic at best and torture at worst. Different institutions designed different cribs, but they all basically were coffin-sized, enclosed boxes with wood slats or metal screening that latched closed. The term crib was used because they resembled cribs, but in a much narrower design. A patient could only lie flat inside. Superintendents that approved the use of the contraptions defended them by pointing out that all varieties of restraints were used on patients and this was just another form. They also pointed out that violent patients would become calm and stop acting out after hours of confinement in the crib. As the years progressed, there was enough of an outcry that the lids were removed from many of the cribs. 

Dr. William A. Hammond fought to remove all mechanical restraints from asylums. He wrote of the Utica crib, “It is a bed like a child’s crib, with slatted sides, eighteen inches deep, six feet long and three feet wide. It has a slatted lid which shuts with a spring lock. A lunatic put in it can barely turn over. There is not as much space between the patient’s head and the lid as if he were in a coffin. He is kept in the crib at the will of an attendant, the key being in the possession of the latter and not of a physician. Patients have sometimes died in these cribs. DR. MYCERT, who is an authority, says the crib is a most barbarous and unscientific instrument because there is already a tendency to a determination of blood to the brain in excited forms of insanity which is increased by the horizontal position in the crib and the struggles of the patient. The crib was introduced by the superintendent of the Utica asylum. The padded room could always be substituted for the crib.”

This was a difficult topic. Some patients needed some kind of restraint to protect them, especially at night. The crib was thought to be better than bed restraints. Perhaps it would not have been as objectionable if it were bigger, but there were doctors who thought that would make patients more able to get hurt. For some patients, the Utica crib might have been helpful for them, but as is the case with any kind of treatment or device, the possibility of abuse can be real trouble. Ten minutes in a Utica bed might be fine, but hours? Many patients were left for hours and even days like this. The Utica crib was far from being the worst implement used on patients in asylums however. 

There was the "Bath of Surprise", which was a large bathtub or tank with a platform in the middle that the patient would lie down upon. This platform could easily be submerged in the water, which was ice cold. The "Giant Patient Treadmill" was like a human-sized hamster wheel made of wood. Patients were said to be able to walk their worries away, but again, this was abused for patients who were not able to remain still. The wheel was used to exhaust them with exercise. There was the "Fever Cabinet" that was lined with rows of high wattage light bulbs, so the patient's body temperature could be raised and kill viruses like syphilis. The "Lunatic Box" was a more extreme form of the Utica bed. This was an upright, coffin-like box in which patients were confined. The "Tranquilizer Chair" was the worst form of confinement. This looked similar to an old electric chair with patients having the hands and feet locked into restraints and then a hood was put over their head. This chair had a built in portable toilet, which seems to indicate that a patient would be left in this chair for hours most probably naked. Benjamin Rush, the "Father of American Psychiatry," designed this chair. And then there were the rectal dilators...

There was a morgue on site at the St. Joseph Mental Hospital and many patients were buried on the grounds. The first burial took place on December 12, 1874 and the last burial was in October 1949. The cemetery probably has 2,000 burials, but only several hundred headstones. Did some of the patients decide to stay on in the afterlife. Are there attachments to some of the artifacts within the museum? No one knows for sure the answers, but many people have experienced strange things in the museum. The building itself had once been the surgery building, so people did die here and lobotomies were given here. Dr. Glore himself claimed to experience strange things in his museum. The apparition of a man has been seen near the elevators and he usually breaks into a run and screams. Museum employees, volunteers, and visitors all claim to here disembodied screaming throughout the building. Bursts of cold air have been felt.

The disembodied laughing of children is heard as well as the sound of crying and whimpering. The soft voice of a woman has been heard asking for help. The spirit of an elderly man is seen walking the hallways and a well-dressed male apparition is seen on the third floor. Sensitive visitors claim to feel intense feelings of despair. The basement is said to be the most haunted part of the building. We've heard that the freezers in the morgue are still kept cold. Which gives it an added creep factor. A male apparition down here asks visitors what they are doing. The sound of a gurney is heard down here as well. The motion detector in the basement goes nuts at random times when no one is supposed to be in the basement. EVP has caught a man screaming "Get out!"

Troy Taylor of American Hauntings visited the museum with a small group of people one night and he walked away from the group to visit a Civil War medical display. He heard disembodied footsteps coming down the hallway. It sounded like they were coming from someone wearing hard-soled shoes. Troy glanced behind him and saw that the corridor was completely empty. The footsteps continued to come towards him and then walked past him and continued into the darkness down the hallway. Three women in the group passed a room with the door closed and they heard voices inside. They assumed some other members of the group were investigating in there, so they kept going, but one of the women went back just to verify that someone was in the room and when she opened the door, she found no one in the room. Troy recounts the experiences of a woman named Becky Ray in his book Cabinet of Curiosities 3. She had heard knocks on the third floor. She said, "While it may have been coincidence, the knocking corresponded with not only our requests for knocks, but how many knocks. We tracked the source of the sound down to a door that was locked. At this point, we all took turns listening at the door and several of us heard what sounded like a child's voice coming from the other side." A staff member unlocked the door and the office behind was completely empty.

Glore Psychiatric Museum has been named one of the "Top 50 Most Unique Museums" in the country and quite possibly it could also be one of the most haunted. Is the Glore Psychiatric Hospital haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, May 26, 2022

HGB Ep. 437 - Pfister Hotel

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Moment in Oddity - Lady Wonder the Psychic Horse

Claudia Fonda owned a very unusual horse named Lady Wonder. Fonda and the horse lived in Virginia and in the early 1920s, Fonda noticed that she and the horse almost seemed to share a psychical bond. Now, many of us probably think we have some kind of psychical bond with our pets, but this one that Fonda had with Lady Wonder was proven with tests.  Fonda trained Lady to move lettered and numbered children's blocks with her nose to spell out words. For example, she showed Lady a tractor and then spelled out the word for the horse and when the horse saw the tractor, she would spell out the correct word. But then Lady started spelling tractor before she even saw the tractor. This type of thing happened so much that Fonda started thinking that her smart horse might by a psychic. Fonda made another contraption for Lady that was a piano-sized contraption with a double row of keys. Lady would push her nose on a lever and this would cause a tin card with a number or letter to pop up and spell words. She would test lady by wriitng a word Lady couldn't see and ask Lady to spell the word and she would do it. Soon word got out and people were flocking to the horse for counsel. This caught J.B. Rhine's attention and he came to test the horse. He would write words and hide them and see if Lady could guess them and she was right. Rhine even used bigger words like "Mesopotamia" and "Carolina" and she got those too. Lady predicted the winners of boxing matches, the sex of unborn children, elections and she even guessed the maiden names of married women. Her biggest success came when she told the police where they could find the body of a murdered child. The words she spelled were a bit confused, but when rearranged they matched an abandoned quarry where the body was found. Skeptics believed the horse was just well trained and cued by Fonda. Lady Wonder wasn't always right, but the fact that a horse was able to be right many times, certainly is odd!

This Moment in History - The Ra II Expedition

In the month of May, on the 17th, in 1970, Thor Heyerdahl conducts his Ra II Expedition. Heyerdahl was an explorer and ethnographer and he wondered how Polynesia came to be populated. Most historians thought that people traveled from Southeast Asia to Polynesia, but the currents run east to west and South American plants were found in Polynesia. Heyerdahl believed that ancient peoples could have contact with each other from even farther locations, thousands of miles away. He put action behind his theories. In 1947, he successfully conducted the Kon-Tiki Expedition in which he sailed 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft of balsa logs from South America to French Polynesia Tuamotu Islands. The Ra II Expedition had Heyerdahl sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Barbados in a papyrus reed boat, built by traditional boat builders. Ra I had been built in the same way, but foundered before finishing the voyage. Ra II was loaded with a multinational crew of seven and they made the 4,000 mile trip in 57 days. The voyage was documented in a book and in a documentary called The Ra Expeditions. Despite his success, his theories have not been accepted by mainstream anthropologists.

Pfister Hotel (Suggested by: Brad Brancel)

The Pfister Hotel sits three blocks from Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and once advertised itself as the only fireproof hotel in the city. The hotel was built to be the "Grand Hotel of the West" and it really was a gorgeous hotel with Victorian artwork, beautiful chandeliers and gold trim that still exist. This started as the dream of one man and was completed by his children. Today, guests can experience a lavish stay and perhaps even a few bumps and creaks in the night. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Pfister Hotel!

Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city  and sits where three rivers converge on Lake Michigan: the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Native American tribes had lived here for 13,000 years before French explorers first came to the area. Fr. Jacques Marquette was the first to write about the area in 1674. It wouldn't be until 1795 that a structure was built, a trading post constructed by fur trader Jacques Vieau. He transferred ownership to his son-in-law, Solomon Juneau, and Juneau is considered the founder of Milwaukee. He built a log cabin and then a frame building and in 1835 he partnered with Morgan Martin to plat out streets and plots of land to sell to settlers. Juneau took on the mantle of mayor and held that for two decades. In his time, he served as postmaster, established a newspaper and built a hotel and courthouse. The city was heavily populated by Germans and rivaled Chicago for size and wealth. Through the years, the town would become a successful center of tanneries, brewers, foundries and grain merchants. The city had a large hotel that burned down and it was in need of another large hotel in the downtown area.

Anna Lardinois of Gothic Milwaukee did some research and discovered that the land upon which the Pfister Hotel was built had a private burying ground there. The bones were found when they began digging the foundation. A house had also been on the property and this is where the first white male born, Charles Milwaukee Sivyer, in Milwaukee lived. Now this was a big parcel of land because the house was said to be on East Water Street, which is about five blocks away and Water Street runs North to South today. So whether this has anything to do with the hotel is subjective. 

Prominent Milwaukee businessman Guido Pfister had a vision for a grand hotel. He had made his fortune in the tannery business and in 1871, he purchased the land on which the hotel was built at the corner of Wisconsin and Jefferson Streets for $200. It wouldn't be until 1888 that the land would be optioned and a hotel company was established. Unfortunately, Guido died a few months after that and the plan for a hotel was put on hold. But Guido's son Charles and daughter Louisa were not about to let their father's dream die, so they gathered a group of businessmen together and the plan for the hotel was back on with double the budget. This hotel was going to be more lavish than even Guido dreamed. The Pfister Hotel was designed by Milwaukee architect Henry C. Koch in the Romanesque Revival style. There were squat columns and decorative wall carvings and round arches.

May 1, 1893 was opening day for the Pfister Hotel. The hotel boasted features not seen in many hotels at the time like electricity, fireproofing and each guest room had thermostat control. There were two billiard rooms, a formal dining room and gentleman's lounge. The hotel was lauded for its lavish furnishings and tessellated floor. Tessellated floors are small tiles inlaid to create mosaics. The walls were lined with paintings in gold frames and the lobby had marble columns, a glass ceiling that was four-stories up and beautiful glass chandeleirs. Two large bronze lions flanked the entrance known as Dick and Harry. These were a gift from businessman T.A. Chapman who bought them in Rome. The total cost of construction came to $1,000,000. Despite the opulence, the hotel struggled in the beginning to make a profit, particularly because the Stock Market crashed four days after the opening. 

A Republican Delegate Convention in 1894 helped to boost the visibility of the hotel and more tourists were drawn to Milwaukee and specifically, the Pfister. Conventions started eyeing the city as a powerful place to host their events. President William McKinley visited the hotel in 1899 with his family and cabinet. And he really started something because every President since McKinley has stayed at the hotel. Former President William Howard Taft was at the hotel when he got word that World War II had ended and reporters arrived at his door at the Presidential Suite to get his reaction. His initial response was, "What is going on?!" He apparently had been sound asleep. 

The year 1926 brought a major renovation to the hotel. More would be added to the hotel by Charles Pfister during Prohibition when they did away with the Turkish Baths and opened the "English Room," a modest little pub in that area, that served up Indian Punch. Indian Punch was very popular. So popular that Pfister started bottling the stuff for nationwide distribution. Charles had a debilitating stroke and handed the keys over to his longtime friend and colleague Ray Smith. Smith had actually started at the hotel in 1896 as a bellboy and worked his way up to hotel manager and the Smith family held the hotel for two decades. Things changed again in the 1950s with part of the lobby being closed off so that a new lounge could be built. This was called The Columns where waitresses wore togas and a centurion watched the door. The Columns eventually became Café Ole.

The years after the Smith Family were tough and by 1962, the hotel was in bankruptcy. A movie theater operator named Ben Marcus bought the hotel, so that it would not be demolished. Marcus wanted to add more rooms, so he expanded the hotel, adding a new 23-story guestroom tower. The tower included an ornate bar called the “Crown Room,” which became a hot spot for the city. The club offered up dancing and live performances by renowned jazz musicians like Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Al Jarreau. The restoration cost $7,000,000, which was seven times what it cost to originally build the hotel. Rosemary Steinfest became General Manger about this time, making her one of the first female general mangers in the nation. Rosemary said it wasn't easy because it was a man's world at that time, but she stood her ground. It was under her guidance that this became the place to stay for visiting MLB teams. And Elvis Presley stayed here once. Rosemary said that he had a special kind of bacon flown in and it had to be cooking at all times when he was in the building. She managed to reroute him through the hotel when the press was hounding him and when she got him to his room, he looked at her and said, "Thank you, baby."

For the hotel's centennial celebration in 1993, it was decided to restore the hotel to its former glory, so the lounge was taken apart and the lobby once again was like it had been when the hotel first opened. This is one of those hotels that once you enter the lobby, you can't help but gasp.  The ornately painted barrel vault ceiling had once been that giant skylight. During this 1993 renovation, Milwaukee's Conrad Schmitt Studios designed a mural for the ceiling. The mural features cherubs positioned amidst the clouds framed by 26 red shields and highlighted with Dutch metal lead that looks like gold leaf. The carpet was pulled up to reveal the original marble floors, but most of it had been crushed. The only original marble still left is in from of the fireplace.

Today, the Marcus Family still owns the Pfister Hotel and it is a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide. The Victorian art collection put together by the Pfisters is still here and can be explored with a self-guided tour or a scheduled tour with the hotel’s current Artist-in-Residence. The collection is actually worth more than the hotel itself. The hotel boasts 82 suites that have their own wet bars and sitting rooms and 307 standard rooms. A martini lounge is located on the 23rd floor named the Blu Bar and Lounge and features fondue. The Mason Street Grill is also at the hotel and is one of the best restaurants in Milwaukee serving up sandwiches, steak and craft cocktails. Turn down service greets the guests at bedtime with chocolates and this sweet dream poem, “Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a moneymaking organization, we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof. May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy. May this room and hotel be your 'second home.'" But sweet dreams seem to be hard to come by for some guests. The hotel also features several spirits. The Travel Channel named it the creepiest place in Wisconsin. The Pfister Hotel, however, doesn't embrace its haunted reputation, so don't ask them for official commentary.

The ghost of Charles Pfister is thought to walk the hotel. Pfister's apparition appears as a portly man and seems to be good-natured. He hangs out mainly on the hotel’s grand staircase where he can watch the lobby.  observing the lobby, watching the living go about their business at hand. He likes to stroll the Minstrel’s Gallery above the ballroom too and he's been seen up on the 9th floor. Charles had dogs and their spirits seem to be here at the hotel with him as well. The sounds of dogs are heard in the hallways. The Pfister Hotel is a favorite for visiting MLB teams who are going to play the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2010, two starters on the San Francisco Giants starters, Pablo Sandoval and Edgar Renteria, claimed that Charles Pfister haunted them for two nights in a row and it got so bad that they relocated to another hotel down the street. 

In 2018, the St. Louis Cardinals were in town and the team stayed at the Pfister. Several players and coaches all ended up in the same room together after they experienced paranormal activity. Marcell Ozuna told Carlos Martinez that he had seen an apparition in his room. Pretty soon a couple of coaches claimed they were scared by something too. They all headed to Francisco Pena's room and Martinez made a video that he posted to Instagram. In the video he said, "We are here in Milwaukee. I just saw a ghost. In Ozuna's room, he saw another one. We are all here. We are all in Peñita's [Francisco Pena] room. We are all stuck here. We are going to sleep together… If the ghost shows again, we are all going to fight together." 

Other MLB players who claim to have had experiences at the hotel are Ji-Man Choi who felt a spirit in his bed, Brandon Phillips had the radio in his room turn on by itself and then did it again after he turned it off and Carlos Gomez heard voices when he got out of the shower. Colby Lewis had the terrifying experience of seeing a skeletal apparition at 1:30am. He was so scared by it that he missed a radio appearance the next day to visit the team's chaplain. Adrian Beltre shared several experiences he had with Sports Illustrated. The TV in his room turned on and off on its own, he heard knocking on the door when no one was there and he was awakened from a dead sleep by pounding on his headboard. He was so afraid for the three days that he stayed in the hotel that he only got two hours of sleep and took a bat to bed with him. And Michael Young wasn't shy about sharing his stories with ESPN the Magazine in 2013. He said, "Oh, f--- that place. Listen, I'm not someone who spreads ghost stories, so if I'm telling you this, it happened. A couple of years ago, I was lying in bed after a night game, and I was out. My room was locked, but I heard these footsteps inside my room, stomping around. I'd heard all these stories about this hotel, so I was wide awake at that point. And then I heard it again, these footsteps on the floor, so I yelled out, "Hey! Make yourself at home. Hang out, have a seat, but do not wake me up, okay?" After that, I didn't hear a thing for the rest of the night. I just let him know he was welcome, that we could be pals, that he could marinate in there for as long as he needed to, just as long as he didn't wake me up."

Bryce Harper also told the magazine, "One time last summer, before I went to sleep, I laid a pair of jeans and a shirt on that table at the foot of the bed, those things in hotels that you sit on to put on your shoes. I just laid 'em out, simple as that. When I woke up in the morning -- I swear on everything -- the clothes were on the floor and the table was on the opposite side of the room against the wall. I was so flustered. I honestly thought there might be someone in my room. I had no idea what the hell just happened, so I actually looked around, and then I checked to see if the door was still latched, and it was. I thought someone -- maybe [Jayson] Werth -- came into my room during the night and moved everything around, and I knew Tyler Moore and Lombo [Steve Lombardozzi] were both near me too, but they said that no one had done anything like that. Now, they could be lying to me. That's possible, and no one else seemed to have a weird experience, but it really creeped me out. I went downstairs and changed my room immediately. Different room, different floor. I said, 'I just need to get out of that room. I don't want to talk about it, I just need to get out.' So they moved me to a higher floor."

C.J. Wilson told the magazine, "I've had lots of experiences there. I was on the computer one night, doing my typical shtick -- surfing the web, sending an email, editing a photo -- and then all of a sudden the lights started flickering. I'm thinking to myself, I'm going to be so pissed if my computer dies. Then the light just shuts off. And then the TV shuts off. And then the light turns back on, but the light at the front door turns off. I just yelled out, 'Really?'... I went back to whatever I was doing on the computer, but then 30 minutes later there's scratching in the walls. Now I'm thinking, Okay, it's the Midwest, there could be a possum or something in the wall, right? That's possible, isn't it? All I knew was that there were definitely noises coming from the wall...The next day, we all show up at the park, and everyone has this uneasy feeling, like we had bad Chinese food or something. I said to one of my teammates, 'You wouldn't believe the s--- that was going on in my hotel room last night." And another guy said, 'Oh my god. Are you talking about that s--- you heard?' Everybody had a story. One dude got locked in his bathroom and he had to get the hotel to get him out. Another guy had the lights turn off when he was in the shower. Another guy saw something."

If there is something that makes the hauntings at the Pfister more believable, it's that dozens of baseball players claim to have had experiences and some of them have been scared enough to leave and never return. We're not sure why they seem to be the main ones plagued with these experiences, but maybe its because they have more visibility, so their ghost stories get out more than just the regular guest. Is the Pfister Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

HGB Ep. 436 - Belvoir Winery

Moment in Oddity - The Armageddon Highway

Inside the Angeles National Forest, in the San Gabriel Mountains above the city of Azusa in California, one will find the Shoemaker Canyon Road. Sounds like an inocuous road until you hear its nickname: The Armageddon Road. This is a road that was never finished. Construction began during the early part of the Cold War in the 1950s and was meant to give the citizens of Los Angeles an escape route if there was ever a nuclear attack. What has been left behind are two abandoned long tunnels that measure less than 4.5 miles long. The project was left undone when funds just ran out. People can still drive the first 1.8 miles of Armageddon Highway and then walk or mountain-bike the remaining graded-dirt section that ends at the pair of tunnels. The tunnels are very dark so be careful if you visit. An incomplete highway built through a mountain that was meant to escape a nuclear Armageddon, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Battle of the Coral Sea

In the month of May, on the 3rd, in 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea begins. The four-day battle between American and Japanese forces was the first air-naval battle in history. Allied forces had intercepted a message that revealed that the Japanese were planning to invade Port Moresby in southeast New Guinea. This would give Japan control of the Coral Sea. The Japanese were surprised by an attack of American planes from aircraft carriers when they entered the area. Both sides would suffer losses with the Japanese losing 70 warplanes and America lost 66, but the victory went to the Allies because the Japanese were left without enough planes to carry out the invasion on Port Morseby. This strategic victory would also help the Allies in the future Battle of Midway. That battle would end Japan's advance and lead to the final surrender of Japan. The greatest lost for the Allied side was the USS Lexington. Two hundred sixteen crewman died when the aircraft carrier was destroyed. We covered the USS Lexington in Ep. 114.

Belvoir Winery (Suggested by: Seth Ackerley)

There are three historic buildings that still stand on the property that is now home to the Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri. The buildings were originally built as the Odd Fellows Home and served as an orphanage, a nursing home, a hospital and now the winery. Claims of unexplained activity started in the 1950s and the paranormal activity has only ramped up over the years. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Belvoir Winery!

Liberty, Missouri is the second oldest incorporated town west of the Mississippi and the name was inspired by one of the unalienable rights in the US Constitution. Settlers started arriving in the early 1800s and the town was officially incorporated in 1829. Liberty was considered the jumping off point for people wanting to head into the frontier. Westward expansion would launch from here and Liberty Landing became an important dock. Fun fact: Steamboats fired a cannon before they arrived at the dock to give the town a head's up. Joseph Smith was in jail here during the winter of 1839 after the Mormon War.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, IOOF, is one of the oldest and largest fraternal orders in America. They are also a secret society and have there own set of rituals. The group was formed in the United States in 1819, but originally got started in Europe in the 18th century. They commit themselves to elevating the character of the person and embracing diversity. The command of IOOF is to "visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan" and they dedicated themselves to helping those less fortunate. They built various homes around the country for orphans, widows and the elderly and one of these places was Liberty, Missouri. The IOOF got started in 1835 and by the end of the century they had built their Odd Fellows Home on a plot of 240 acres. The process got started in 1883 with the first petition to establish a state Odd Fellows Home. Bids would be taken starting in 1894 to locate a site and Liberty was selected on the 4th ballot. It probably helped that Liberty offered $17,000 in money and the Liberty School Board offered free tuition to Liberty High School for children who would be living at the orphanage. 

The IOOF were basically going to upgrade the almshouse, which had been popular in the country previous to this time. These buildings would be more modern and have heating and plumbing. The first structure built here didn't last long. The pipes had frozen one winter and in an attempt to unthaw the pipes, the entire building was burned down. The order put out a call to architects who could design fireproof buildings. One of these architects was William B. Ittner who specialized in the Jacobethan Revival architectural style. This is a unique style that mixes Renaissance Revival with Elizabethan and features high chimneys, cusped Tudor arches, steep roof gables  and terra-cotta brickwork. For those of you who have watched Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is an example of this style. Something else that Ittner specialized in was designing schools. His firm had designed hundreds of schools in 25 states. He designed the main Administration Building. J.H. Felt & Co. of Kansas City designed the School Building in 1904 in the same style as Ittner's building. That was eventually torn down in the early 1950s. Architect E.C. Eckle built the Old Folks Pavilion in 1907. The Old Hospital was designed by Samuel M. Hitt of Kansas City and built in 1923. Both of these buildings also had similar styling to the Jacobethan Revival style.

So there were four buildings on the property by the 1920s: the main building -which served as the orphanage - an old folks home, a hospital and the school building. A bunker would be added that served as a storm shelter and was one of the favorite places for the kids to play. There was also a farm on the property and a cemetery. The farm produced really well and as an example, in 1901 it produced 838 bushels of oats, 2,000 bushels of corn, 500 bushels of Irish potatoes, 3 tons of hay, 7,863 gallons of milk, 1,714 Ibs. of butter, and 325 dozen eggs. Most of the food was kept on site for feeding the residents. For the order, these types of homes provided a type of health and life insurance. There was a promise of care for yourself and your loved ones. The Old Hospital was built in 1923 on the north side of the property. Unbelievably, at that time, this was the only hospital in Liberty. And even more unbelievably, this only choice for a hospital was pretty much outdated from the moment it opened with narrow doors and hallways. Equipment and patient beds couldn't be moved through them.

The property started out as kid heavy, but as the years progressed there were more adults and by 1951, there were no more children. But when the kids were there, they would often perform plays and give recitals for their elderly neighbors. The nursing home was built in 1955. As part of the complete care at the Odd Fellows Complex, burial was provided, along with a headstone. Most of the elderly had no other arrangements, so they were buried at the cemetery on the property. Any current IOOF members could be buried in this cemetery as well. They didn't have to live on the property for that. In total, 10,000 people died on the property, but only 600 people are buried here. Just outside the cemetery gate sits a memorial dedicated to Liberty IOOF members who were killed in World War II.

Jesse Leimkuehler's family bought the property, which only has 36 acres now, in the late 1990s. They started with refurbishing the main building and making the first floor their winery. Today, the Belvoir Winery is an inn and a preeminent wedding venue. They are open seven days a week for wine tastings and tours. They host lots of special events, including paranormal investigations and there is enough unexplained stuff going on here to attract Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Kindred Spirits to investigate the property on their shows. The inn opened in 2017 with eight rooms and one large bridal suite. In the following two years, sixteen rooms were vacated in the middle of the night due to unexplained activity. Jesse has been here for more than 25 years and in that time he has heard voices, had doors open and close by themselves and seen three apparitions. One of those was a young boy wearing clothes dating to decades ago. He told KMBC, "I looked down at my arm and it had, like, big goose bumps. When they say, like, your hair stands on end, I mean, it's like a comb. It stands directly on end."

Many guests and staff have experienced stuff on the property. A guest named Danny was in the bunker with a group and a woman suggested that they sing "Ring Around the Rosie" and see if they got any interaction. Right after the first line was sung, the group distinctly heard a child's voice sing, "A pocket full of posies." The sound even echoed. A man in black has been seen looking out of the windows of the nursing home building. The inn keeps a log where guests can enter their experiences. Ruthie W. wrote in August of 2018, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!" So we put this song on my phone last night, turned off the lights and began to record. Little white orbs danced around the room. They really loved that song. Thanksfully we recorded it so we can share it with friends. This place is magical and we really love coming here. The wine and appetizers are wonderful too!"

Ghost Hunters visited in 2013 and Jesse told the crew that he himself had experienced the sound of children playing on the third floor. He also brought his daughter with him one day and while he was in the ballroom, she wandered down the hall and he heard her say, "Mommy, mommy" and then he heard a female voice say, "Well, hello little one." Jesse went into the hallway to see who his daughter was talking to and there was no one else in the building. A photographer named Brian told Jason that he had left his camera bag in a room on the first floor, which he locked, before he went up to the third floor to look around. When he came back down, he found the door ajar and the stuff in his camera bag had been rearranged as if someone had been going through it. He was the only one in the building at the time. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. 

A woman told the crew that she had a chilling experience in the nursing home. She felt something pressing down on her and she suddenly couldn't move her arms. She could feel them, just wasn't able to move them. She felt that it was something dark and negative. Piano music is heard in the ballroom when no one is in there playing. Amy and Adam were with the Ghost Hunters in 2013 and they heard music playing. Adam sat at the piano and played a few keys and then they heard the piano again, but coming from somewhere else. They did find another piano. Two other people on the team asked the spirits if the upcoming demolition that was coming for the nursing home would result in the dark energies in that building moving to the other buildings. The REM Pod indicated at two different times that this would be the case.

Ghost Adventures visited the winery in 2015. The guys had interference with their equipment and heard disembodied singing of children and a growl. The Ovilus said, "NICK", "SEND", "NICK", "PAULA", "OUT" and "FUNERAL." They also heard knocking and saw a misty apparition. The Spirit Box said, "You take it", "How ya doin", "I murder", "I'm back" and "Several." Zak felt something grab his wrist at one point. Billy conducted an EVP session by himself for two hours and supposedly slipped into a catatonic state while doing that.

Kindred Spirits visited in 2019. At this point, the Nursing Home was still standing and the activity in here had increased, especially in the Morgue. The energy on the whole property seemed to be getting meaner. Women were getting their hair pulled and people were being pushed and pinched. Jesse said that he was in the Old Folks Home with another person and they both saw something down one of the hallways. It looked like somebody had reached out from a room and put their arm around the door frame. And then the spirit peeked out. This was Room 37. They set up cameras in the Nursing Home and totally caught a creepy shadow figure, so they rushed over there to see what was going on. The batteries in their recorder were immediately drained and so they replaced them and Amy took the recorder down to where the shadow figure had been and she left the recorder. They heard an audible voice behind them as they started an EVP session. They also saw a figure climbing along the ceiling in the way a human would not move. Very chilling!

Chip Coffey and John E.L. Tenney joined Adam and Amy. As they all investigated together in the Old Folks Home, Amy was touched on the back. An EVP led them to check out Room 19. They had found out through their research that there was a violent man who had committed suicide in the Old Folks Home and they believed they were speaking with this apparition. They had several names and an EVP verified that this was Fred. And another EVP verified the last name as Lietze. But nothing about this spirit was negative, so they believed that something else was causing the negative experiences guests were having. The group then went to the Nursing Home and the negative activity started manifesting. There was an audible child's voice. Amy and Adam had heard the same voice the night before and they believed it was trying to lead them out of the Nursing Home. Chip felt the entity was low level demonic and after the kids and they captured that weird ceiling crawling thing on the SLS camera.  Amy and Adam got Jesse and his family and employees to help banish this negative thing with positive energy. 

For people who don't know, a skeleton was very much a part of the ODD Fellows rituals. The first one was a member named George and he donated his skeleton to the lodge. Now every skeleton inside an ODD Fellow building is named George. The George that was at Belvoir Winery is still there in a case.

The Belvoir Winery is a beautiful property. This was home for a variety of people through the years. Have the spirits of some of those previous residents decided to stay here? Is Belvoir Winery haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

HGB Ep. 435 - Rapid City and Hotel Alex Johnson

Moment in Oddity - Kailasa Temple (Suggested by: Karen Miller)

Megalithic structures are found all around the world and they are all fascinating. It is hard to comprehend that human beings could construct such things with their hands and basic tools. One of these renowned structures can be found in India. This is the Kailasa Temple and is technically a cave temple. Rather than being a temple that was built, it was formed by excavating 200,000 tons of volcanic rock from a single block of stone. The temple is one of 34 stone temples that make up the Ellora Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not much is known about the temple. It is thought to have been built between 600 and 1000 BC, but nobody knows who ordered it built. A legend claims the king became ill and his queen prayed to Shiva to cure him. She promised to have a temple built to Shiva and that she would fast until the shikhara, or very top, was built. Little did the queen know that this construction could take years. An engineer recommended that they carve down into the stone and build the top first. And that's what was done. Whether this story is true, we'll never know, but the temple was indeed carved from the top down. When finished, the temple was three stories with lots of ornate decoration that could have been added a little at a time over the centuries. A herd of carved elements at the base of the structure seem to be carrying the temple on their backs. Both Vishnu and Shiva are honored by the Kailasa Temple, which is an outstanding example of Indian art and an engineering marvel and the fact that it was carved from the top down, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Calamity Jane Born

In the month of May, on the 1st, in 1852, Calamity Jane was born. Calamity Jane was born as Martha Jane Cannary in Princeton, Missouri. She moved with her family via wagon train to Montana in 1865. Her mother died the following year from pneumonia and the family moved to Salt Lake City. Jane's father died in 1867 when she was 14. She took her siblings to the Wyoming Territory and worked a variety of jobs from cook to nurse to dance hall girl to ox team driver and even some sex work. There are legends about how she received the nickname Calamity Jane. The story she told was that she helped during military conflicts with Native Americans and saved a Captain Egan who had been shot in his saddle and as he fell, she grabbed him and pulled him onto her saddle and road to the fort where he was saved. He dubbed her Calamity Jane, the Heroine of the Plains. Another story claimed that she told men that offending her was to court calamity. Another questionable story about her includes her being married to Wild Bill Hickok and having a child with him. She joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show 1893. Jane died from an inflamed bowel and pneumonia in 1903. She was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

Rapid City and Hotel Alex Johnson

Rapid City, South Dakota is full of great eats, history and culture. The Hotel Alex Johnson has been opened for nearly 100 years and is located in downtown Rapid City. The hotel has hosted celebrities, presidents and even a couple of ghosts. Today, the hotel is run as a part of Hilton's Curio Collection, so the interior has been modernized, but that hasn't chased away the spirits of the past. And this city has a couple of other haunted spots as well. Join us for the history and hauntings of Rapid City and the Hotel Alex Johnson.

The Black Hills Expedition came to the Black Hills in search of gold and they found it in 1874. The announcement of this find brought a rush of people to the Dakota Territory. Not everyone was successful and a few of these discouraged prospectors decided to found a city. The spot they chose was near a limestone spring and so they called their settlement Rapid City. The group, led by John Brennan and Samuel Scott, platted the town with six blocks in the center for a business district. They advertised the settlement as the Gateway to the Black Hills to attract families to relocate. And the people came and continued to come, making this South Dakota's second largest city today. The 1800s brought more commerce and industry and the 20th century would make it a tourist destination. President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady visited Rapid City in the summer of 1927. He set up an office there and announced he would not seek reelection in 1928. And a little fun fact, Al Capone was invited by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce to live in the Black Hills in 1930. Capone declined. It was about this same time that Alex Johnson decided to build a hotel here.

Alex Johnson was born in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1859. He went to school to become a teacher and obtained his teaching certificate in 1878. He married Ida Devore and the couple had three children. The family moved to the Dakota Territories looking for an opportunity to make more money.  Johnson got work as a traveling auditor for elevator companies and attended law school. He passed the bar in South Dakota and later became a special agent for the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Johnson continued his work with the railroad throughout the rest of his life, reaching Vice President of CNW, holding that role until he retired in 1929. During that time, he decided to build a hotel, which he hoped would be a showplace of the West.

The timing was perfect for this hotel. The day before ground was broken for the Hotel Alex Johnson, work began on Mount Rushmore. Construction continued from October of 1927 to July 1, 1928 when the hotel officially opened. The hotel was designed by Chicago architects Oldefest & Williams and done in the Germanic Tudor architectural style. This style is clearly reflected in the half-timber work and multiple roof gables at the top of the hotel and the large groups of rectangular windows. The hotel rises 122 feet and has 11 stories. The hotel featured standard guest rooms and suites, a total of 143 rooms. Today, those suites are the Executive Suites, a Presidential Suite and a Bridal Suite. Johnson wanted the interior of his hotel to reflect the land upon which it was built, so he insisted that the Lakota Sioux Tribe be represented. There is a chandelier that has hung here from the beginning made from the tribe's war spears. The Native American symbol for the four sacred corners of the earth is represented in several places as well. The lobby has brick flooring and ornate woodwork, particularly on the banisters of the upper level that looks down on the lobby.

There is a bar off the lobby called Paddy O'Neill's and this was named for the first official guest of the hotel. Good thing his name wasn't John Smith. There is also the Vertex Restaurant & Bar that is on the top two floors of the hotel and is members-only. The hotel has hosted six US Presidents over the years: Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The 1959 Hitchcock movie "North by Northwest" was filmed at nearby Mount Rushmore and the hotel served as lodging for director Alfred Hitchcock and stars Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant. The hotel is mentioned several times in the movie as the Sheraton-Johnson Hotel because that was its name at the time. This was the place the mysterious George Kaplan was staying. North by Northwest is considered one of the greatest movies of all time and features a plot where an innocent man is mistaken for being someone with the government trying to prevent a mysterious organization from smuggling out microfilm that contains government secrets. The climax of the movie takes place at Mount Rushmore.

Twenty years after the hotel opened, it changed ownership to the Eppley Hotel Company. It then fell under ownership of the Sheraton company and was called the Sheridan-Johnson Hotel when Sheridan acquired the Eppley Hotel Company. That lasted nine years and the hotel took on its original name again in 1965. Hilton took over the hotel in 2015 and made it part of its Curio Collection managed by Liv Hospitality. The hotel announces its name with a glowing red rooftop sign. This place is not shy about their haunts and even offers a Ghost Adventure stay, which includes a reportedly haunted room, a K2 Meter, free parking and a dining credit. The website also includes information about the three spirits thought to be here and the lobby keeps a ghost book. The hotel has seen its share of death with reportedly eight deaths at the hotel. 

Guests and staff have reported seeing shadow figures, particularly in unusual places. Doors open and close by themselves. Cold spots are felt, people feel as though they are being watched and they feel someone unseen sitting down next to them. Knocking is heard as well as growling and there are reports that one entity here does seem to be aggressive, so perhaps that is who is growling. This mean spirit has also shoved, bitten and pinched people. Chairs are pushed from one area to another or sometimes heaved across the room by something unseen. One of the ghosts here is believed to belong to Alex Johnson himself. He died in the hotel in 1938. His full-bodied apparition is seen in various locations. There is a young female ghost here as well that is believed to be Alex Johnson's niece who died of an incurable disease. She likes to wander the eighth floor and has been seen running through the hall and knocking on doors. She vanishes once seen. Her disembodied giggling is heard too. 

Domico Rodriguez worked as a general manager of the hotel in 2018 and he told the 605 Magazine, "People say they hear kids running up and down the hall. Well, we don’t have a lot of kids that stay here, particularly not young children. But that’s one of the things that they often talk about. They hear them playing in the hallway.” Raz Goldman was a hotel lobby clerk and he told the Black Hills Fox in October of 2020, "There’s something I always feel a little creeped out on the 8th or 3rd floor. For me in room 812 the safe would not open. We did everything we could and it would not open. Finally, before I called maintenance the safe just opened. I don’t know why or how that happened but it did.”

The most famous ghost here is our Lady in White. There are two stories told about a bride who killed herself. This could either be two totally different brides or just two legends connected to one woman. Both stories claim that the bride was jilted. She had been staying on the eighth floor and threw herself out of the hotel window, falling to her death. Or she hanged herself inside her eighth floor room from the telephone cord. This second story actually has a crime scene photo to go with it, so it isn't just legend. Some people claim that she was murdered, particularly her friends who say that she had a large inheritance. The police never found evidence for murder, so it was ruled a suicide and remains that way. She died in Room 812 and so this is the most active room. She opens and closes drawers in here and even turns the drawers upside down and puts them back in that way. The Lady in White's disembodied crying is heard and guests have awakened to find the window open in the morning. This ghostly bride is seen floating down the hallway of the eighth floor as well.

Ghost Hunters investigated the hotel in 2011. Jamie Paul Koehler, a gift shop employee at the time, saw a dark figure out of the corner of his eye, walk up from behind him and then past him through a locked door. It freaked him out good. The general manager says people hear people yelling "Let me out of here!" down in the basement. He lived in Room 304 for a month when he first got to the hotel and one night he felt something shift on the bed and then lean on him. Something he couldn't see. Bob Almond was the Director of Maintenance and he could never get plumbers to go into a crawl space between the 9th and 10th floors where much of the major plumbing was located. One plumber got very nauseous and another heard an audible growl. He also lost a painter who was touched by a ghost and refused to return. The guys thought they debunked this as the heating pipes making noise, until the thermal camera picked up a figure. They did debunk a claim that a man got out of the shower and "Help Me" was written on the steam of the mirror. As we know, someone could have written something before and then it would show up and the Ghost Hunters proved that with an experiment.

The team brought their dog Maddie with them. She refused to go in the room where the crawl space was located and they got high EMF readings. Grant and Jason heard the sound of something like a box dragging across the floor. Tango went into the crawl space and asked something to knock after he knocked and something did. He repeated it and there was knocking again. Later, Jason and Grant would be in the same space and hear disembodied footsteps. Amy and Adam were in room 304 and they captured a deep voice on their recorder. Tango and Steve were sitting in the balcony of the ballroom and they captured some kind of a white mist travel several feet around the tables on a camera. It was very creepy. They also asked the spirit to make a banging sound and it sounded like some soft knocking. They debunked it as dust, but I'm not so sure because it shifts twice. Jason felt something blowing on the back of his head in Room 304. They looked for a vent, but couldn't find anything that would cause that. Amy and Adam had also felt like something touched their hair when they were in this room. Adam sleepy in Room 802 and caught a female voice on EVP a little after 4 am.

Elks Theater

The Rapid City Elks built the building that now houses the Elks Theater in 1911. This was to be their lodge and opera house. They sold the Elks Lodge in 1920 to a man named Art Rose and he held onto it for five years before selling it to Black Hills Amusement Company. Talkies came to the theater in 1929. In 1969, Common Wealth Theaters bought the theater and they sold it to United Artist 1988. We're not sure why, but the company locked up the theater within a year and left it abandoned. Burst pipes severely damaged the interior. Doug and Lori Andrews bought Elks Theater in 1992 and began refurbishing it. They sold it to Curt Small in 2008 and he still owns the property. There is one benevolent spirit here that everybody calls Jimmy. Curt Small doesn't believe in ghosts, but he has said that patrons claim to have seen the apparition and that they see the seats set down and flip up on their own.

The Old Hanging Tree

Along Skyline Drive one will find the stump of a very large old oak tree. This is reputedly what is left of Rapid City's hanging tree. Several historical records do describe a hanging tree being used to execute criminals, but no one knows for sure if this is the exact location. That doesn't keep this spot from being haunted. A woman who lived in a house on the hill near the tree claims to have seen the spirit of a cowboy pass into her house and he walked through the hallway. She also once heard a disembodied voice tell her to "Get out!" And people who have been outside near the tree have claimed to hear the sound of a horse and even felt the horse rush by them. On one occasion, a dozen people all heard the sound of the horse as if it were struggling.

Sioux San Hospital

The Sioux San Hospital originally started as a boarding school for Native American children. It opened in 1898 and was called the Rapid City Indian School or School of the Hills. The goal was to teach Native American children how to read and write and adapt them - read that as conform them - to English culture. Some of the children were mistreated and we can imagine that they were not very happy being away from family and being forced to learn things they may not want to learn. There are stories that some were beaten to death or neglected to death and that they were buried on the property. The boarding school closed in 1933 and reopened later as the Sioux Sanitarium to help Native Americans who had tuberculosis. Those who died at the hospital and had no family were buried on the property. The hospital closed in the 1960s. It reopened as the Rapid City Indian Health Service Hospital. Unmarked graves still exist on the property. The crying of children is heard on the property. And the apparitions of Native American children have been seen and they slowly fade away after being seen.

Hookey Jack

There was a legendary character from Rapid City we wanted to share with you. His name was John Leary, but every one knew him as Hookey Jack. Now, when we first heard this story, it just sounded like a legend. Miner loses his hands to dynamite, replaces them with hooks, works as a cop for decades and dies after being hit by a car. He then went on to haunt his old 7th Street apartment building, which later became a nightclub, restaurant and church offices. But this wasn't just a legend. It was all true as this article from the Lead Daily Call dated November 8, 1926 reveals.

Employees working at the businesses claimed to see strange orbs and saw objects that moved on their own, like billiard balls and tables and chairs. They also heard disembodied footsteps and some customers claimed to see an apparition. Most of the activity takes place on the third floor where Hookey Jack once lived and employees would refuse to go up there. No one would work in the building alone. Security cameras on the third floor picked up flashing lights when the building was empty. Bartenders claimed to see the spirit of Hookey Jack come towards the bar as if to order a drink and then he would just disappear. And people claim to see him looking out the glass doors at the front.

Several places in Rapid City seem to be haunted. The city is definitely a historic place and with its location so close to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, it makes a great tourist destination. Are these locations in Rapid City and in particular the Hotel Alex Johnson haunted? That is for you to decide!