Sunday, January 18, 2015

HGB Podcast 22 - Octagon Hall

Moment in Oddity - George Feifer's Lost Book

The Girl from Petrovka was a 1974 feature film starring Hal Holbrook, Goldie Hawn and Anthony Hopkins.  The movie was based on the novel written by George Feifer.  The plot is a love story between Holbrook, who plays an American journalist, and Hawn, who is a Russian dancer living illegally in the Soviet Union.  They have to hide from the KGB.  Anthony Hopkins wanted to read the novel before starring in the movie, so he scoured the bookshops of London to no avail.  He could find no copy of the novel anywhere.  He headed for the Leicaster Square subway station to head home when he saw a book sitting on a seat, forgotten by someone.  The book just happened to be a copy of The Girl from Petrovka.  The movie began filming two years later in Vienna.  George Feifer, the author of the book, visited the set to see how things were going.  Hopkins and Feifer visited and Feifer told him that it might seem silly, but he had no copy of his own book because he had given his last copy to a friend who lost it in London two years prior.  Hopkins retrieved his copy and asked Feifer if it was the book that had been lost.  Feifer flipped through it and saw his notes in the margin.  Sure enough, this was his lost book.  The fact that this book just happened to be at the subway station that Hopkins could find in no bookstore in London is strange enough.  For that book to be the author's long lost copy is even weirder.  The chances that this lost book would end up in the possession of one of the stars of the movie based on that book and that he would still have it and be able to return it to its original owner, the author, certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Captain Cook discovers Hawai'i

On this day, January 18th, in 1778, the English explorer Captain James Cook discovered an island group that he dubbed the Sandwich Islands, naming them in honor of the Earl of Sandwich.  Today, we all know those islands to be the Hawaiian Islands and we also know that Captain Cook could not possibly discover something that already had inhabitants.  So we all understand that the Polynesians discovered the Hawaiian Islands.  But Captain Cook did put the Islands on the map.  His journeys to Hawai'i would eventually prove fatal for him.  Initially, Cook and his crew were welcomed and this first visit went smooth with good trade.  Cook had explored many lands before this from New Zealand to Tahiti to Antarctica and so he was an expert at exploration.  Cook and his crew left, but they returned to Hawai'i a year later.  Captain Cook just happened to land in Kealakekua Bay during the Hawaiian's festival of Lono on this second visit.  The Bay was the home of the god Lono and since Cook showed up during the festival, he and his crew were treated like gods.  They took advantage of the Hawaiians until a crew member died, revealing to the Hawaiians that they were mortals.  Cook and his crew left, but had to return after damage occurred to one of their ships.  The Hawaiians greeted them by throwing rocks and stole one of Cook's cutters.  A lesser Hawaiian chief was shot to death and a mob of Hawaiians overtook Cook's party.  Despite the fact that Cook's men were firing their guns, they were overwhelmed and Cook was killed.  A handful of Cook's men made it back to the ships and they set sail again, firing cannons as they went. 

Octagon Hall

Octagon Hall in Franklin, Kentucky has the distinction of being the most unique house in the state of Kentucky.  An octagon shaped home is a rarity, there are only four in America, but this Antebellum home is mysterious and distinct for more reasons that just its shape.  Octagon Hall and the entire property that makes up the plantation it was built upon, survived the Civil War and occupation by the Union Army.  But something else survives here as well.  This Kentuckian historical landmark transforms ever Autumn into a haunted house attraction that really is reportedly haunted.

Andrew Jackson Caldwell was born in 1818 to John and Elizabeth Caldwell in Hardin, Kentucky.  He was one of three children born to the couple.  His first wife was Elizabeth Akers and the couple had two children, Mary Elizabeth and AJ.  AJ died before he was two and Mary Elizabeth died as a child, we've heard ages ranging from 7 to 11 to 12, in a horrific manner that we will detail further on in the podcast.  (1860 census has Mary still alive at 11.)  Elizabeth herself passed away in 1851.  Caldwell then married Harriet Smith Morton in 1855 and the couple had eight children: Edith who died at 4, Henry, Martha, Andrew, twins Joseph and John, Virginia and Ernest.  In 1847, Caldwell laid out plans for a home on a plantation in Franklin, Kentucky.  He decided he wanted the place to be unique, so he chose to build it in the shape of an octagon.  The home was built from bricks that were fashioned on the plantation from clay and other materials.  The home was completed in 1859 with its distinct eight sides and it rose to three stories. 

Not long after, in 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States.  Kentucky was a Confederate state and Caldwell was very pro-Confederacy.  His brother was a colonel in the Confederate Army.  Word was put out through the Confederate Army that if a Confederate soldier found himself in trouble and if he could make it to the Octagon house, he would be given shelter.  Wounded soldiers came, received medical care and were hidden in the attic.  Many did not survive their injuries and they died in the safe harbor of the home.  Two soldiers were buried on the property.  The First Kentucky Brigade was nicknamed the Orphan Brigade and they played a big role in the Battle of Shiloh.  A group of 12,000 men that were part of the Orphan Brigade camped overnight at Octagon Hall in 1862.  The Union Army was in hot pursuit and the next day 18,000 of them were camped on the plantation.

This stay by the Union Army proved devastating for the Caldwell family.  All of the family's cattle were killed, including their beloved milking cow "Old Spot."  Some of the dead cattle were thrown into the well, contaminating the water for months.  The Army also threatened to burn the house down, but later decided against it.  This entire area of Kentucky was soon under Union occupation and it became harder and harder for the Caldwell family to harbor Confederate soldiers.  The Caldwell family were slave owners and so it is ironic to think that the Underground Railroad was harboring runaway slaves in the same way the Caldwells were harboring rebel soldiers.

We are not sure on her date or year of death, but we are guesstimating as accurately as possible that Mary Elizabeth died in 1860 at the age of twelve.  We are basing this on the 1860 census that has her alive at 11 (which is inaccurate since the 1850 census has her age 3) and EVP sessions (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) that claim she is twelve.  Mary was either playing by the fire down in the basement's kitchen or helping to prepare a meal there when her dress accidentally caught fire.  The poor girl was horribly burned over much of her body and suffered for several days before she finally passed away.  Andrew Caldwell died in 1866 at just 47.  Harriet and the children continued to live in the home until 1918.  She sold the house at that time to an Osteopathic doctor from Tennessee named Dr. Miles Williams.  Dr. Williams lived there until his death in 1954.  His widow continued to live in the home until 1981.  The Williams family then rented out the property.  In 2001, the Octagon Hall Foundation was formed and bought the property.  Billy Byrd is the Executive Director and he has worked to restore the home.  It is now a Civil War Museum, with one room even set up as a hospital, and it hosts not only daytime tours, but paranormal investigators can do overnights in the building.  Throughout the month of October, weekends feature Haunted Hall, a haunted house attraction.

Ghost tales and a belief in the supernatural is a part of the history of the south and Kentucky is no exception.  Some of America's most haunted locations are located in Kentucky, including Bobby Mackey's Music World and Waverley Hills Sanatorium.  Octagon Hall is believed to have several ghosts on the property.  There is not only a family plot that has the graves of first wife Elizabeth Akers Caldwell and her two children, Mary Elizabeth and baby AJ, but there are two Confederate soldiers graves and a slave cemetery.  Billy Byrd and his brother Barry were the first to report strange happenings as they renovated the home.  Beds that were made up would either become rumpled or have indentations on the mattress as if someone were lying on the bed.  Doors opened and closed of their own accord, disembodied footsteps are heard and occasional dark figures were seen.  The burglar alarm went off one evening and Billy joined an officer inside the home.  The two watched as the parlor door knob jiggled, so the officer went around back to sneak up on the intruder.  He found no one and when he returned to the front, both he and Billy watched as the knob turned and the door opened on its own.

After renovations were complete, the house and property were opened for tours.  During one such tour in 2003, the heavy iron kettle that hung in the fireplace of the basement's kitchen became dislodged and flew across the room in front of the entire tour group.  The kettle had no visible assistance with this action.  The following video that was recorded by Sebourn Paranormal Investigations in 2011 features the basement kitchen's fireplace and a weird phenomenon that floats in the room.  It appears to be a shaft of light that disappears when humans enter the room.  Our skeptical minds claim it is some kind of play with string and the infrared light from the camera, but if this group is honest in their claims, then we have no explanation for what caused this phenomenon:


Mary Elizabeth is thought to haunt the kitchen and experiences involving her have been reported by numerous investigation groups.  EVPs have caught a young girl crying for her mommy and reporting her age as twelve.  Some people claim to hear audible screams of a young girl, many of which include her screaming for her mother.  These strike as a residual in origin.  Mary has played what investigators call "The Flashlight Game," which is a game involving a standard flashlight left sitting by itself turned off and the spirit is asked to turn the flashlight off and on.  We will say after scouring numerous websites featuring EVPs of a young girl, that we wonder who exactly this spirit really is because many of the words and sentences captured lead us to believe that this spirit is a prankster with an intention of trying to scare people.  The young girl voice has claimed her favorite game is "a haunting" and the voice has been recorded saying "I'm going to get ya" and as if talking to someone else, "How should I get them?" 

When Andrew Caldwell passed away, they held a viewing and wake in the parlor as was custom at the time.  There was no embalming at this time and so a few days of a body sitting open in a room could get a bit, well...odorous.  On the anniversary of Caldwell's death in 2003, a strong scent of flowers was smelled in the parlor, although there were no flowers in the home.  This scent was then followed by the unmistakeable scent of death and decay.

Strange light phenomenon have been recorded in the nursery.  The spirit of a Confederate soldier who bled to death in the attic is thought to still be in the attic.  Adult male voices have been caught on recorder and are seen in the windows.  Ghost Hunters investigated the property and got their usual audible noises that only they seem to be able to hear.  Sorry to be snarky, but we mostly believe Ghost Hunters is staged entertainment.

A tunnel exists under the ground running from the kitchen to an outdoor barn and there is paranormal activity that has been attributed to the tunnel and is perhaps a result of the tunnel being excavated.  The tunnel would have been used to secret away Confederate soldiers.  The Loom House is a small wooden building on the property that is a replica of the former building that had stood there.  It was used as a slave quarters and was also a place where knit fabric was made.  Supernatural activities take place in this building, which include disembodied footsteps, doors opening and closing on their own and sudden chills.

Is Octagon Hall distinct for more reasons than just its unique design?  Do parts of its tragic past continue to replay in the present?  Do spirits continue to roam the grounds and buildings of the Octagon Hall Plantation?  That is for you to decide.

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