Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HGB Podcast 37 - Lord Milner Hotel

Moment in Oddity - No Red Haired Wet Nurses

French doctor Francois Mauriceau wrote a book in 1688 titled "The Diseases of Women with Children." Now most people would hear that title and wonder to themselves, what kind of diseases do mothers have that non-mothers do not have. Does the birthing of children bring certain diseases? Apparently, Dr. Mauriceau thought so, but that is not surprising considering his thoughts on breast feeding. The good doctor wrote, "The necessary conditions in a good nurse are usually taken from her age, the time and manner of her labour, the good constitution of all the parts of her body, and particularly of her breasts, from the nature of her milk [and] from her good manners...She must not be red-haired, nor marked with red spots… She ought to have a sweet voice to please and rejoice the child, and likewise ought to have a clear and free pronunciation, that he may not learn an ill accent from her, as usually red-haired [women] have." The doctor went on to advise against the use of wet nurses with stinky breath or bad teeth and that the breasts "ought to be pretty big… but not big to excess” and “not flaggy and hanging”. What any of those things have to do with breast feeding, we do not know, but Dr. Mauriceau claimed that red haired women's breast milk was "hot, sharp and stinking, and also of an ill taste." How he knew this, well we'll let you imagine how he knew, but one thing is for sure: that doctor's advise on breast feeding certainly is odd.

This Day in History - The Massacre at Chios

On this day, March 31st, in 1822, the Ottoman Turks begin a massacre of the Greek people of the island of Chios. The island of Chios was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1822. The Greek people who lived there were tired of living under the Ottoman thumb even though the island was very prosperous under the Turks and they were given much control over their own affairs. The Greek Revolution had started in 1821 and followed a string of attempts by the Greeks throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule to gain their independence. Armed Greeks from the island of Samos were already a part of the revolution and they traveled to Chios to convince the Chians to join the fight. The Greeks attacked the Turks and they were successful, driving them back to the citadel. Only a few of the Chians had joined the other Greeks, but the island population would pay a terrible price. A Turkish fleet arrives on March 22nd to back up their comrades and when they came ashore, they pillaged and looted the island. On March 31st, a heinous order was given that would be carried out over the next four months. Not only was the entire town burned, but the Turks slaughtered every child under three years of age, all males twelve and older and all women over the age of forty. The only thing that would save a person was conversion to Islam. In all, 52,000 were enslaved and 52,000 were killed.

Lord Milner Hotel

The Lord Milner Hotel appears to be a mash-up of old Victorian London and a medieval castle. The hotel is located in Matjiesfontein on the Grand Karoo in South Africa and sits along national highway N1 that links Cape Town to Johannesburg. The hotel is lauded as a tranquil escape, but some parts of the hotel seem to be disturbed. Could there be spirits at unrest in this historic old building?

The original inhabitants of the region that would become known as Matjiesfontein were from two distinct groups: the Khoikhoi people and the San. The term Khoikhoi means "real people." They had traveled from Botswana and were agricultural people. They raised livestock and planted their food. The San are also known as Bushmen. They were hunter-gatherers. The two groups did have some mixing together, but for the most part, they did not get along. European explorers lead by the Dutch East India Company arrived in the area and things went downhill for the tribes from there. The Europeans brought small pox and warfare began. The Khoikhoi were eventually driven from the land.

In the 1800s, the Cape Government Railways would bring civilization to Matjiesfontein. The Prime Minister at the time drew a line through South Africa and directed his engineers to build a railway where this line ran. Matjiesfontein became a small stop along the railway when it opened in 1878. The station was named for a sedge that was used to make mats that were used in the construction of huts. There was a farm near the depot, but that is all that existed until 1884. A young Scotsman by the name of James Logan would change the future of Matjiesfontein permanently. Logan had been born in Berwickshire in 1857. He decided to head to Australia to make his fortune, but a ship wreck at the Cape of Good Hope stopped him in his tracks. He got a job with the Cape Town Railway Station and worked his way up to station manager. He then became District Superintendent of the line between Touws River and Prince Albert Road. He later quit his job with the railway to purchase a hotel in Touws and a wholesale liquor store in Cape Town. When Logan discovered a farm and land were for sale cheap at Matjiesfontein and that the railway ran through there, he purchased it quickly. As an added bonus, he found the air to be good for his weak chest. And like any great entrepreneur, he saw a need and decided to fill it.

The Cape Government Railways was efficient at moving people around, but not at feeding people. There were no dining cars as part of the train. People would arrive at Matjiesfontein and stretch their legs, but there was nothing to feed them. Logan received a government catering contract and started to build a village on the land he had bought. Logan built a refreshment station for travelers. He also built his home, Tweedside Lodge, and planted trees and a garden. He wanted to create an oasis. Then he built the Lord Milner Hotel in 1899, which helped to make the area a fashionable place to not only visit, but to stay for a period of time. Visitors included Lord Randolph Churchill and Rudyard Kipling. The author Olive Schreiner lived in a cottage on the property for five years. The mineral water business near the Lord Milner Hotel is still considered remarkable to this day. When the Lord Milner Hotel opened in 1899, it found itself serving another purpose altogether. The Boer War had started around the same time and the hotel served as the Headquarters of the Cape Western Command. Ten thousand soldiers and twenty thousand horses lived at Matjiesfontein. The village served as a base hospital as well.

James Logan died in 1920. His son and daughter ran the hotel and the village for many years after that and then sold it to David Rawdon in the 1960s. He was a successful hotel owner and he dedicated himself to restoring the Lord Milner Hotel. He re-opened it in 1970. In 1975, the entire village of Matjiesfontein was declared a National Historic Site. David Rawdon passed away in 2010. His nephew Jonathan Rawdon took over the reins and now runs the hotel along with help from his siblings and other family members.

The hotel offers 58 rooms, all without televisions, a suite, villas and cottages along with a restaurant and the Lairds Arms is a pub right next door where patrons can hear Johnny at the piano. There is a double decker bus on property to take visitors for a quick tour of the village. Attractions include a railway museum with a collection of well-restored railway carriages and an 1893 Glasgow-built steam locomotive. Another museum is dedicated to Olive Schreiner, author of The Story of an African Farm, who lived here from 1890 to 1895.

But more than just antiques and museum artifacts from the past exist here at the Lord Milner Hotel. Spirits from the past seem to be hanging out in the village and at the hotel. Many of the ghosts reputed to be at the Lord Milner Hotel are said to be cheerful. Their disembodied laughter is heard while they play an unseen game of billiards. The Logan family claimed to host many spirits and these spirits seemed to have a bit of trouble with doors. The Logans would marvel over rattling doorknobs. A woman named Jennifer had just had her wedding at the magnificent hotel. She was busily packing up her gifts when the doorknob began to rattle. The sound carried on rather quietly for a bit, but the spirit seemed to grow impatient and soon the rattling was so loud, Jennifer could ignore it no longer. She threw open the door and roared, "Fine, come in if you must, don't make such a damn noise about it!" A blast of cold air shot past her and out through the window. The ghost did not bother her anymore.

Since the Lord Milner Hotel was a place used in wartime, it is not surprising that the ghosts of soldiers are seen here. A wounded British soldier is seen near the cemetery. His arm is in a sling and there is a bandage wrapped around his head. When people stop to help the man, he disappears. Other soldiers hang out on the stairway at the hotel, but do not ask the staff about them because they will claim that nothing paranormal has ever happened at the place.

Is this Olive's ghost?
The author Olive Schreiner has not left the place yet. She really enjoys hanging out at the Lairds Arms and James Logan joins her on occassion. He was the creator of an oasis in the desert, so one can understand his desire to stay even after death. Logan is seen in all the lounges and in the hotel. Lights flicker on and off in the lounges as well.  And apparently in the bathroom. A journalist was writing about her stay at the hotel and how she had not experienced any ghosts until she went into the bathroom. She closed the door and the light immediately went out. She turned it on, walked away and it went out again. She figured it was faulty wiring and turned the light on again. Yes, it turned off once again. She got fed up and hollered something to the effect of, "I need to use the loo and I don't want to go in the dark. Please leave the light on!" The light stayed on. Another female ghost named Lucy was caught in a lovers' fight. She wanders the hallways in a nightgown, crying.

The disembodied sound of cards shuffling is heard on the second floor in a small room and a ghost named Kate claims to be the card lover. And that could be possible because there was a young nurse of nineteen named Kate who cared for wounded soldiers here during the Boer War. She loved to play cards will her patients. She passed away mysteriously.

A housekeeper by the name of Jean du Plooy tells the following story:
"She was alone in the hotel while it was being refitted. The night after the workmen had finished laying new wall-to-wall carpets, Jean was awakened by a ringing at the door. She clambered out of bed and went downstairs, expecting to have to turn away some would-be guests. She opened the door and was confronted by five rather peculiar travelers - all she could see of them was their upper bodies. In her astonishment, she blurted out the thought most in her mind: 'For god's sake, dont make a mess of the new carpets!' The ghosts stared at her blankly, looked down at their invisible feet, and vanished."
The crew filming the movie "The Story of an African Farm" had the following experiences:
 "A GHOSTLY presence joined the cast and crew filming The Story of an African Farm on location near Matjiesfontein, witnesses claimed.
The film, starring Swaziland-born actor Richard E Grant and local actress Karin van der Laag, will be released at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Producer Bonnie Rodini said she first met the ethereal resident of the farm Zoute Kloof when she was location-hunting eight years ago.
Rodini recalled how the hair on the back of her neck stood up one day when she was photographing the derelict farmhouse.
“I called somebody outside to come with me, walked on and took a picture.”
When Rodini had the film developed, she saw something on the wall that she photographed. “I turned the print upside down and saw it was a woman in a flowing white dress.”
Later, after the farmhouse was restored for the movie, Rodini was reluctant to tell fellow crew members about the farm’s ghostly resident.
“Some of the crew felt a presence in the house while we were filming, especially people from the art department who spent a lot of time in the house,” she said.
By the end of the six-week shoot, security guards also saw the woman. “One night the security guards heard a noise and saw a woman in white storming down the passage of the farmhouse.
“A few nights later, she opened the front door and you could see her from the yard,” said Rodini.
But it was not only at Zoute Kloof that the cast had strange experiences. Video operator Marco Rinaldi had to move out of his room in the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, after repeatedly waking up with a strange feeling in the middle of the night.
“It continuously felt like someone was looking over my shoulder,” he said.
Local historian Rose Willis is convinced the “ghost” that haunted the set is that of Louisa Margaret Green, the wife of a civil commissioner.
“She was travelling with her husband, Henry, who was on his way to become the civil commissioner of Colesberg in the 1860s, but then she fell ill with dysentery and died at Zoute Kloof.
“Her ghost has been seen often . . . She wears a kappie(bonnet), has a small waist and wears flowing white clothes that look like they come from the 1860s,” said Willis.
John Siems, manager of the Lord Milner Hotel, was not surprised at Rinaldi’s experience.
“There have been many visitors here who told me they saw ghosts late at night. I’ve been here for seven years and I used to feel scared when I had to close up the lounges late at night. At times I have felt the hairs on my neck stand up late at night.”
The Lord Milner Hotel is a distinct oasis in the desert, but could it be something more? Could it be an oasis for spirits? Is the Lord Milner Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Ghost Video from South Africa:

Show Notes
*The Legend of the Flying Dutchman that was read on show:  http://www.essortment.com/flying-dutchman-legend-64877.html
*To book your accommodations:  http://www.matjiesfontein.com/
*Ghost tour in South Africa hosted by the Mystery Ghost Bus:  http://www.mysteryghostbus.co.za/


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