Monday, September 14, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 68 - Maitland Gaol

Moment in Oddity - The Fertility Chair of Naples

The Miracle Chair in Naples, Italy looks nothing like a chair. It is basically a recessed area of a stone wall with a rectangular stone seat jutting outward. Although it does not look impressive, it apparently has an impressive power. The chair was blessed by Sister Maria Francesca in her last days and now is able to bring fertility to infertile couples. She lived 200 years ago and she is believed to have presented the stigmata of Christ meaning she bleed on the palms of her hands. They even call her today Saint Maria Francesca of the Five Wounds of Jesus. People gather in a church near the chair and wait their turn in the chair. Once a woman is seated, a nun crosses the woman on the forehead and on the stomach using a cross constructed from the bone and hair of Sister Francesca. One woman claimed that she had three years of infertility and then she became pregnant after sitting in the chair. The walls of the church are covered in birth announcements. Does the Fertility Chair actually help women to become pregnant? We don't know, but sitting in a stone chair in hopes of becoming pregnant does seem a bit odd.

This Day in History - The Star Spangled Banner Inspired

On this day, September 14th, in 1814 Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star Spangled Banner. Key and John Skinner had set out from Baltimore on a mission to negotiate the release of some American prisoners. They flew a white flag of truce as they boarded the HMS Tonnant and over dinner they managed to get Major General Robert Ross to agree to release his prisoners. During the dinner, some of the British commanders discussed battle plans. For this reason, Scott and Skinner were held captive until after the British attacked Baltimore. Fort McHenry came under attack on September 13th and Key witnessed the fighting. He saw the rockets red glare coming from the British HMS Erebus and he witnessed the bombs bursting in air. He also saw that the small American storm flag flew above Ft. McHenry. He was unable to watch the rest of the battle and would not know until morning how things turned out. The storm flag was lowered during the night and the larger stars and stripes was raised above the fort. When Key woke up in the morning and looked out at Fort McHenry, he saw that the flag was still there. That particular flag was made by Mary Young Pickersgill and hangs at the Smithsonian Institute today. Key wrote the poem "Defense of Fort McHenry" over the next few days and it later became America's national anthem. 

Maitland Gaol

Maitland Gaol is considered Australia's hardest jail. For nearly twenty years the gaol has stood empty, but for 150 years this jail housed some of Australia's worst criminals. Behind the sandstone and razor-wire of this modern day tourist attraction, some of the worst brutality occurred from murders to rape and of course, suicides. Inmates claim that the cells were concrete coffins. This kind of energy and emotion usually feeds unexplained activity. Rumors of hauntings permeate the stories about the gaol. Come with us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Maitland Gaol!

Maitland Gaol is located in East Maitland in New South Wales, Australia. The jail was built from sandstone and opened in 1848. It was designed by Mortimer Lewis. The stone bricks were dovetailed into each other and the walls were two and half feet thick. The roof was made from slate and iron bars were in every window. Although it didn't officially open until 1848, people were incarcerated at the location starting in 1843. Two men were hanged before the permanent buildings were even constructed. Executions were public affairs as was the case at most jails around the world at that time. Executions continued through 1897 and sixteen men in total were put to death, three for rape and thirteen for murder. Starting in 1861, executions were done inside the jail rather than publicly. The following is from the Maitland Mercury written about the execution of George Waters Ward in 1849:
 "On Monday morning George Waters Ward, convicted at the late Maitland Circuit Court of the murder of Richard Connelly, was executed inside the walls of the Maitland gaol, in the presence of several hundred persons, including a great number of children, and some women.

About five minutes past nine o'clock Ward was brought out from the gaol into the yard accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Rusden (who had been with him since six o'clock that morning), C. Prout, Esq., the Under Sheriff, E.D. Day, Esq., Dr. Wilton, Mr. Tristrem, and others. The Rev. Mr. Rusden read prayers, in which Ward joined with apparent fervour. Having reached the scaffold, Mr. Rusden knelt down with the unfortunate man, and passed some minutes in prayer, Ward audibly joining in the responses.

About twelve minutes past nine Ward mounted the scaffold, Mr. Rusden still accompanying him, and the executioner following. On reaching the platform Ward called out in a clear firm voice, 'Good bye, Mr. Tristem, God bless you, and you all', looking round on the crowd. Having engaged in prayer with Mr. Rusden for a minute or two, Ward addressed the crowd assembled nearly as follows: "My friends, I am going to die this day, and I hope that you will take warning by me and keep from drink, and that if any of you ever give evidence in a court of justice you will speak the truth. I am not going to accuse any one, but I will only say that some spoke the truth on my trial, and some spoke false. I die in peace with all the world, and in the hope of a better life. I pray for you all, and hope you will all take warning by my example".

The executioner then fastened the rope round Ward's neck, and put a white cap over his head and face, during which Mr. Rusden continued praying and Ward joining with him. Mr. Rusden then left the scaffold, and the bolt being drawn, the wretched man fell, and died after struggling convulsively for a few minutes. Ward's bearing on the scaffold was firm and composed throughout."
Four towers were built by 1863 to help give the guards a better place to watch the grounds. These towers were staffed 24 hours until razor-wire was introduced. Shifts lasted for five hours and guards were allowed only to keep watch. They could not let anything distract them from their watch. As the prison grew, two more towers were added.

The present day kitchen was not always the kitchen. The bathhouse and morgue were there in the 1800s. Food at the gaol was considered quite good. When the kitchen was moved to its current location in 1980, a second floor was built above it with special cells for the kitchen workers. Working in the kitchen was a privilege and few prisoners were allowed to work there. Women were originally incarcerated at the gaol along with the men and unbelievably, their children were kept with them. There was a women's wing called C Wing and a day room called the D Wing and the conditions were deplorable. The Cook House was next to D Wing. Both of the Cook House and D Wing were demolished in the 1980s to make room for a larger exercise field. B Wing had its own exercise area as did 5 Wing. There was a chapel built within the gaol in 1868. Every prisoner was given a Bible here upon their arrival. The gaol had its own hospital that could care for seven men at a time and only if they did not have a terminal disease. The hospital moved around through four locations.

Darcy Dugan was incarcerated at the Maitland Gaol. He was a notorious bank robber and he was pretty good at escaping incarceration as well. His first escape came in 1946 when he was being transported by a prison tram. He used a kitchen knife to saw a hole in the roof of the tram and he crawled out. He escaped two other times and was finally sentenced to death, a sentence that was later commuted to a life sentence. There was a large prison riot in 1975 and it is believed that it was started by Dugan. He was released on parole in 1984. He died in 1991.

One of the brutal murders committed by inmates on another inmate was due to his being a snitch. He informed the warden that a tunnel was being built and when guards investigated Cell 7 in C Wing, they found an 18 ft. tunnel. They filled it in with concrete. The snitch was later found with his throat slit so deeply that his head swung back on his shoulders.

It was decided in 1996 that the gaol was overcrowded and too expensive to upkeep, so plans were made to close down the facility. In 1998, the closing was final and inmates were moved to other locations. Now, the gaol is open for tours and as a museum. Special events are held there as well. Much of the original buildings and cells have survived. People can get a good feel for how much gaols changed through the decades by visiting Maitland Gaol. They can also experience what it was like to be locked up in this place.

For 150 years, death and brutality were an integral part of the history of the Maitland Gaol and possibly that is why it is considered to be one of Australia's most haunted sites. In its time, the worst of the worst offenders were sent here with 16 of them being executed. A number of others died while incarcerated. Hunter Paranormal Australia has spent many evenings walking the cell blocks and they have recorded many EVPs and captured strange mists on their cameras. They once recorded on video one of their investigators receiving scratches on her back. The feeling of being watched follows people wherever they go in the jail.

In 5 Wing, an inmate named George Savvas hung himself inside the door of cell 4. 5 Wing was a newer built block and the worst criminals were put here in solitary confinement under the highest security. They had their own yard, which they were only allowed to spend an hour in each day. George and fellow inmate Ivan Milat made plans to escape in 1997. Milat was a serial killer who had been convicted of the Backpacker Murders. There were seven victims in those murders and all of them had been backpacking. All of them were found buried in the Belanglo State Forest. Correctional officers caught George and Milat and the next day, George was found hanging in his cell. Many people report having encounters with George when they are near this cell.

 A residual apparition has been seen rocking back and forth in a cell. In another cell, the photo of a shadowy figure wearing a hat was captured and is shown on the tour at the gaol. The hat seems to match the uniform that gaolers wore. Disembodied whispers have been heard. Houses creak and settle and so do jails. Maitland Gaol creaks, clangs and cell doors slam shut. Are these residual noises carried through time or just the standard noise an empty old jail would make? We found an interesting observation on the West Sydney Paranormal site:
"W.S.P.R Investigators all heard cell doors slamming on both investigations at Maitland Gaol. The problem is: Where is the noise coming from? On both investigations, not one member of the investigative team saw a cell door slam! We definitely heard them and even felt the reverberation of the event, however, no physical evidence was found, i.e no closed doors. We weren't able to really isolate where, within the building, the sound came from, and on investigation, we couldn't find any doors closed.

Is it possible that what we heard, is a residual event? Are we tuning into a parallel dimension of when the prison was in use - or an alternate reality of an active spirit? This is something we need to research more and really look into on our next visit.

All we can say at the moment, is that these sounds are definitely unexplained!!! I can guarantee that there was no-one physically present, that could've made those noises."
This video from the group seems to capture a disembodied moan. Be forewarned that the end of the video features their logo slamming into place, which is quite loud and may startle you:

Another tale claims that cell 4 in the C Wing housed an inmate who conducted Satanic rituals in his cell. He wrote occult graffiti on the walls, which is apparently still there. In a final act, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire. One poor guard was given the job of cleaning the mess up and although he was considered to be a level headed guy, he would later be found in his bathroom at home with his wrists slit. He had broken the mirror and used a shard to do the deed. Before dying, he wrote a message in his own blood explaining that he had to do this to prevent Satanic forces from being unleashed. No one enters Cell 4 and it is still padlocked to this day.

As we have found with other gaol locations, the depressed and angry emotional energy collected throughout the years lends itself to claims of haunting activity. Are some of the inmates who served time here and perhaps died here, still here in the afterlife? Is there more to the disembodied noises than just overactive imaginations? Is Maitland Gaol haunted? That is for you to decide!

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