Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HGB Podcast 8 - The Mysterious Podcast: Mystery Manor and the Winchester Mystery Home

Moment in Oddity - Robert the Doll

Robert Eugene Otto was given a doll in 1906 from a servant of his family when he was a child.  The doll wore a sailor's outfit and had small beady eyes with an expressionless face.  The servant disliked the family and practiced black magic and voodoo and it is believed that he cursed the doll.  Eugene's parents told stories of hearing Eugene talk to the doll and then hearing a different voice answer Eugene back as if the doll could really talk.  Neighbors reported seeing the doll look out of windows and move about from window to window and claimed they heard weird giggling when no one was home.  Eugene died in 1974 and the doll was relegated to the attic until another family moved into the home in Key West and a young girl took ownership of the doll.  She soon was waking up in terror at night claiming that the doll was trying to kill her.  Robert the Doll now resides in the Fort East Mortello Museum in Key West.  People claim to see the doll's expressions change and the doll seems to hate to have its picture taken.  When people snap pictures without asking him for permission, people claim to feel cursed and the display area around Robert is covered with notes of apology as people attempt to erase the curse.  So is this doll really alive or just the object of superstition and overactive imaginations?  Whatever the truth may be, the doll is certainly odd.

This Day in History - The Gunpowder Plot

On this day, November the 5th, in 1605 a plan to kill King James I of England was suppose to unfold.  England's Parliament was to open on that day and the plot included blowing up the House of Lords.  If successful, the bombing would not only have killed King James, but many members of the Monarch's family and the Privy Council.  The plotters met in taverns for several months to finalize their plans.  Robert Catesby was their leader and Guy Fawkes was given charge of the explosives.  The plot was foiled when an anonymous letter tipped off the authorities.  A search was made of the House of Lords and Fawkes was discovered where he was guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to level the House of Lords.  Fawkes was arrested as were several other conspirators.  Catesby was killed in a battle a little while later.  Fawkes and the others that were arrested were tried and ordered to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  The thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot has been commemorated ever since with the ringing of church bells and the modern day Bonfire Night.

Two Mysterious Places - Mystery Manor and the Winchester Mystery Home

There is a haunted house attraction in Nebraska that is commercially named "Mystery Manor," but this is not some warehouse that has been converted into a bunch of rooms designed to scare teenagers to their core.  Mystery Manor was a home at one time. First let's get the legend out of the way about the Hall family.

The year was 1887 and William Hall had paid for a home to be built for him and his wife Greta in Sharpy
County in Omaha, Nebraska.  Nebraska had become a state in 1868 and the year 1887 found the state embroiled in a controversy due to the sensational hanging of William Jackson Marion for murder.  This would be a case that would bring public executions under scorn and lead to Nebraska adopting lethal injection for dispatching criminals.  Evidence was circumstantial against Marion and the entire state was paying close attention to the trial.  A guilty verdict was given and Marion was hanged until he was "dead, dead, dead."  The proverbial cow poo hit the fan four years later when the man that Marion was accused of killing was found in Kansas...alive and well.  We imagine that the elite of Omaha probably discussed the controversy for years following the hanging as they gathered in Hall Manor, William and Greta's fabulous home.  Little did any of these people know just how dark the lives of their hosts would turn one day.

William Hall was a very wealthy man and much of his money was invested in the Stock Market.  On October 23, 1929, a day that became known as Black Tuesday, the Stock Market suffered an unparalleled crash that caused millionaires to become paupers overnight and lead the nation into the Great Depression.  Many men threw themselves from windows and killed themselves in various other ways over the shock and loss.  William Hall was one of the men who lost everything in the crash and then he lost his mind.  As we discussed in our podcast on the Villisca Axe Murders, axes as murder weapons were not unusual.  They were a weapon of convenience.  William had an axe and he was going to use it.

Greta had no idea what William had planned for her.  In his rage and insanity, he took his axe from the shed and in a frenzy he killed Greta, chopping her body into multiple pieces.  The next morning, after realizing what he had done, William gathered up Greta and placed her in a grave at the front of the home.  Somehow, Greta's brother, John Martin, found out about the murder and a week after Greta had died, John showed up at Hall Manor and found the axe William had used.  He turned the axe on William and killed him in similar fashion to the way his sister was murdered.  John dumped William into the same shallow grave as Greta.  The reason the name "Mystery Manor" was used for the haunted house attraction is due to a real mystery that seems to have taken place after John had avenged his sister's death.  He was found dead with an axe buried in his skull and no murderer was ever found.  Legend tells the tale that William Hall came back as a ghost and did away with his brother-in-law.  This is the story the attraction tells. 

The real mystery about this place is the truth about its history.  During the time that William and Greta were suppose to be living in the house according to the legend, the place was serving as housing for the the Union Pacific Railroad, a bordello in the early 1900s where the Madame was murdered along with her son and as a tuberculosis hospice from 1910-1916 where 296 people died. The house was then broken up into apartments until it fell into disrepair and became condemned.  In 1983, it was bought by Wayne Sealy and converted into the haunted attraction that it is now.  There was a time when the home was a private residence before the brothel, but as to who owned the house, we do not know.

So what is the truth about Mystery Manor?  Many years have passed, but the evidence of hauntings at the building leads many to believe that several spirits are at unrest.  A woman in a blue dress has been seen on several occasions by people going through the haunted house attraction.  They believed she was an employee until she either disappeared or they were told that no one fitting the description worked at the house.  Investigators have felt a very dark presence that seems to hold power over the other ghost residents.  A paranormal investigation group out of Kansas City, named Elite Paranormal, conducted an investigation at Mystery Manor and they collected EVPs saying words like, "can't," "behind you," "you're wrong" and "you frightened."  People also heard tappings on a trunk in one of the rooms.

The business office on the main floor is known to have a lot of activity, which includes a feeling of being watched and people are sometimes touched.  A few years ago, a dead cat was found in the ceiling of the second floor.  The owner, Wayne Sealy, went to get a garbage bag to put the cat inside and when he returned, the cat was gone leaving only the imprint of a cat's body in blood.  The stain is still there.  The attraction is full of props and machinery, all of which turn themselves on and off or move around.  A psychic claims that a woman named Claire who had worked in the brothel is present in the building.  Wayne Sealy's son Mark who manages the attraction has said, “The building has stuff happen all the time.  Every once in a while, we’ll find the teddy bears from the child’s room lined up here on the stairs. They just get put here. We think the ghost uses this almost as the house’s lost and found. If someone loses a baseball hat the night before, we’ll find it here.”

Omaha is considered one of the most haunted cities in Nebraska.  Is this location one of those haunted places?  That is for you to decide.

Now join us as we move further west to San Jose, California to introduce you to probably the weirdest home ever built.  William Wirt Winchester lived from 1837-1881 and his father Oliver established the Winchester Repeating Firearms Company.  William was a part of the Winchester company for his entire life.  The company designed the Winchester Rifle in its various models and these became known as the "gun that won the west."  William married Sarah Lockwood Pardee in 1862 and died from tuberculosis in 1881.

After William's death, Sarah moved to California with her sister and in 1886 she bought an eight room farmhouse.  Sarah was very superstitious and she felt as though she were cursed and she sought answers from a medium named Adam Coons.  He confirmed Sarah's fears and told her that she was being haunted by the spirits of the people who had been killed by Winchester Rifles.  Coons directed Sarah to make the move to California and he told her to build a home for her and the spirits and he warned that if she ever stopped building on the house, she would die.

Sarah was very wealthy and she used her fortune to begin renovations on the farmhouse.  Then she started adding rooms.  She instructed anyone working on the house to continue building 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The house grew to seven stories with the installation of an observation tower, but after the 1906 Earthquake, the house was lowered to four stories when the tower toppled.  The front area of the house was badly damaged and Sarah had the entire front portion of the house sealed off because she thought the spirits were angry with her since they did not protect the house nor her from the quake.  She herself was trapped for several hours in her Daisy Room after the earthquake.  The Grand Ballroom was one of the rooms sealed off and it was built almost entirely without the use of nails and contains two leaded stain glassed windows with mysterious quotes from the work of Shakespeare. 

No official plans were ever drawn up of the Victorian style house and the foreman John Hansen followed Mrs. Winchester's plans rather than common sense or his own expertise over the years causing chaos.  That chaos is revealed in staircases that lead to ceilings, doors that open up into walls and windows that face walls.  One staircase goes down for seven steps and then rises for eleven steps.  The number thirteen shows up in a variety of way from thirteen panes in windows to thirteen ceiling panels in the rooms to thirteen steps in many of the staircases.  Five and a half million dollars was spent in total on construction.  We have discussed in previous podcasts the lore about mirrors and how spirits fear them as objects that could entrap them.  Sarah had only three mirrors in the immense mansion to appease the good spirits.  It is thought that Sarah may have used the weird layout of her home to confuse the evil spirits, but others argue that the weird layout was simply from unplanned construction.  Whatever the case, the house is weird.

Sarah died on September 5th, 1922 and the construction immediately stopped.  But Sarah did not leave the home after her death.  She reportedly haunts the home.  Brent Miller was caretaker of the home from 1973-1981 and he heard breathing and footsteps in the room that Sarah Winchester died in.  A friend of Miller's caught a picture of an apparition in coveralls when he came to visit.  Another caretaker turned off all the lights and locked up one night and when he got into his car he glanced at the house and saw that every light on the third floor was lit.  Unused kitchens sometimes give off the scent of a warm meal, particularly chicken soup.  Paranormal investigators report feeling icy spots, organ music, orbs, locked doorknobs turned and moving lights.

There is no doubt that the house is unusual, but is it haunted?  That is for you to decide.

For more information and tours of the Winchester Mystery House:

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