Moment in Oddity - Legend of the Piasa
Walking around the city of Alton, Illinois,one notices that streets and businesses share a distinctive name: Piasa. They are named for the only North American legend about a dragon. Some might call the creature a flying saurian or reptile. The legend originates with the indigenous people of the area and there was once a rock that featured an image of the Piasa that was written about by Father Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673 after they had explored the Mississippi River and they were returning home via the Illinois River. The name Piasa means "destroyer of men." Captain Gideon Spencer was coming up the Mississippi River in 1820 when he saw the Piasa on the rock. He asked a local tribe about it and they told him it had been carved in the rock long ago by another tribe and that it represented the Stormbird or Thunderer. The image was described as depicting a creature that was part bird, reptile, mammal, and fish. The colors used in early paintings were red, black and green with red symbolizing war and vengeance, black symbolizing death and despair and green symbolizing hope and triumph over death. One of the legends claims that the Piasa lived in the forest and it would come out in the early morning and carry off young native men. The tribe was helpless to do anything as the Piasa was very large with broad wings and its body was covered with scales. The chief of the tribe prayed and fasted and the Great Spirit showed him in a vision that the Piasa was vulnerable under its wings. The next day, the warriors hid with poison tipped arrows as the chief offered himself up to the creature. When the Piasa dug its talon into him, he grabbed and held tight to some roots on the ground while the warriors jumped out and shot arrows under the wings. Eventually the Piasa succumbed to the poison and fell from the cliff to the river below. It was on this rock where this happened that the image was painted. In 1847, a quarry eventually destroyed the image, but today a modern day rendition still exists in Alton and it is considered the most accurate portrayal of the Piasa. Did the Piasa actually exist? Was it just a legend? Either way. the Piasa certainly is odd!
This Day in History _ Washington Takes Command of Continental Army
by: April Rogers-Krick
On this day, July 3rd, in 1775 on Cambridge common in Massachusetts, George Washington rode out in front of the American troops, drew his sword, and formally took command of the Continental Army. George Washington, was a prominent Virginia planter and veteran of the French and Indian War. He was appointed commander in chief by the Continental Congress two weeks before and in serving the American colonies in their war for independence, he declined to accept payment for his services beyond reimbursement of future expenses. Born in 1732 on a farm family in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Washington’s first direct military experience came as a lieutenant in the Virginia colonial militia in 1754, when he led a small expedition against the French in the Ohio River valley on behalf of the governor of Virginia. In 1756. he took command of the defenses of the western Virginian frontier during the French and Indian War. After the war’s fighting moved elsewhere, he resigned from his military post, returned to a planter’s life, and took a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. During the next twenty years, Washington openly opposed the increasing British taxation and repression of the American colonies. Some opposed Washington's nomination as Commander in Chief thinking other candidates were better equipped for the post, but Washington was chosen because as a Virginian, his leadership helped bind the Southern colonies more closely to the rebellion in New England. Leading an inexperienced and poorly equipped army of civilian soldiers, General Washington led an effective war of harassment against British forces in America while encouraging the intervention of the French into the conflict on behalf of the colonists. On October 19, 1781, with the surrender of British General Charles Lord Cornwallis’ massive British army at Yorktown, Virginia, General Washington had defeated one of the most powerful nations on earth.
Island of Corregidor (Suggested by listener April Garaci, Research Assistant Richard Schaffer)
Corregidor Island is one of five islands located by the entrance to Manila Bay. The island consists of about 1,735 acres and is about 4 miles long. If you look at the island from above it would appear to look like a “tadpole with its head thrusting into the South China Sea, and its body and tail curling east and south back into Manila Bay”. (1) The highest elevation of Corregidor is 628 feet and exists in the “head” region. This is the site of the original lighthouse built by the Spanish in the 1830s. There are two plateaus on the island called Topside and Middleside. Bottomside is about sea level. Manila is only 30 miles away but there is a slight difference in climate, which affords cooler temperatures for the small tropical island. Some of the vegetation includes, “fire trees, bougainvilla, hibiscus, palm trees, cadena de amor, and orchids”. (2) There is some debate as to whether Corregidor is part of a dormant or active volcano.
The island was originally populated by indigenous fisherman and pirates used it as a base for rest and launching attacks. The Spanish were the first to take Corregidor Island as their property in 1570. Miguel López de Legazpi lead the expedition. He was known as The Elder and he was the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies and he established Manila as its capital. The Philippines were named for King Philip II of Spain who had ordered the expeditions to the area. The Spanish used the island as a penal institution, for customs inspections and a fortress of defense. Corregidor comes from the Spanish word “corregir,” meaning to correct. One story states that due to the Spanish system wherein all ships entering Manila Bay were required to stop and have their documents checked and corrected, the island was called "Isla del Corregidor" (Island of the Correction). Another version claims that because the island was used as a correctional institution by the Spanish, that is why they called it "El Corregidor."
When America took over the island they made it into a military complex. A hospital, barracks, bombproof shelters, gun emplacements and batteries, a school, theater, a baseball field, and swimming pool were all constructed. Bottomside has a large hill to its east that rises to an elevation of 390 feet. The hill is called "Malinta," and it made passage very difficult from Bottomside to the tail end of the island. The Americans decided that it was the perfect place to build a bombproof shelter and they drove a shaft from a rock quarry at Bottomside directly through the hill, creating the famous Malinta Tunnel. Construction began in 1922 and it took 10 years to complete. The tunnel stretched 835 feet and was 24 feet wide and a height at the top of its arch measured 18 feet. There were these arms that came off the center tunnel that were called laterals and there were 13 of them on its north side and another 11 laterals on the south side. The laterals measured about 160 feet in length. An electric trolley line ran down the center tunnel, which was formed with concrete. Blowers helped to circulate air. The tunnel was initially used to store munitions and other military goods and hardware.
The tunnel provided complete protection from artillery or air attack. Thus, it was a good spot for a hospital and so a hospital was built into the tunnels with a 1,000-bed capacity. The hospital took up 10 laterals and each lateral had a capacity of 100 beds. Of the remaining two laterals, one was used as quarters for the female staff of the hospital and the other housed administrative offices. The female staff had the only heavy steel door in the complex and they bolted it each night for security and privacy. General Douglas MacArthur set up the headquarters of USAFFE inside the tunnel where men and women would live and work during the siege of Corregidor. The tunnel was a miserable place. It was damp and dark and the blue mercury vapor lights would flicker giving inadequate light. Bedbugs bit, little black flies swarmed and dust clung to everything. About 4,000 people called the tunnel home.
Corregidor was known as "Fort Mills" to the Americans. They named it this in 1908 after Brigadier General Samuel Meyers Mills, Jr. During World War II, Corregidor was attacked by the Japanese and was heavily damaged. The Japanese navy bombarded the little island destroying guns, batteries, and other infrastructure. American Marines were killed and maimed in the onslaught. They held on while the world watched and waited with baited breath. After the bombardment the Japanese sent an amphibious assault force to the beaches of Corregidor. The Americans repulsed the initial force but soon the Japanese began landing tanks and troops. American forces fought until the tanks were almost to Malinta Tunnel. General MacArthur had given orders that the island be defended to the last man, but General Wainwright saw how pointless it would be to continue the fight. He knew that it would only lead to his troops being slaughtered.
Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma demanded that Wainwright not only surrender Corregidor Island, but all the islands that the Americans held. It was a heartbreaking decision by Wainwright to finally capitulate to these demands. The surrender occurred on May 6, 1942. The Americans had managed to successfully smuggle intelligence agents, medical professionals, and other important personnel on a submarine before Corregidor fell. The troops left behind were sent on brutal forced marches to prison camps such as Bataan. The Japanese would occupy the island until the Americans came back and MacArthur fulfilled his promise with the help of the Filipinos in 1945. A large number of Japanese soldiers committed suicide in the Malinta Tunnel, rather than surrender to the invading Americans and this is one of the largest mass suicides in history. For the Japanese, it was an honor for them to die in this way. It was described as:
"Many Japanese, estimated in the thousands, sealed themselves in the numerous subterranean passages of the island. In compliance with the philosophy of Bushido, the defenders, hiding in caves and tunnels like the ones at Malinta Hill, preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender. Corregidor reverberated with many underground explosions for days afterward."*Fun Fact: The Philippine government sent 20-30 tons of its gold reserve to the island because it was thought that this was the safest place. The gold was airlifted out and the silver coins were dumped in the bay before the Japanese attack.*
This brings us to an event clouded in controversy as some believe that it never occurred. That is the Jabidah Massacre or the Corregidor Massacre that is reputed to have happened in the 1960s. The reason that some believe it never happened is that the government was involved and tried to cover up the action. There is very little documentation, but here is what the story is behind the event. Sabah is in northeast Borneo and is one of two Malaysian states on Borneo. It has long been an area of contention between island nations there, specifically Malaysia and the Philippines. The Philippines had claimed that a sultan had given them the land many years prior as thanks for help during a battle. Malaysia claimed the land had been purchased by them. When Ferdinand Marcos became president of the Philippines, he devised a plan to establish a group of special forces to destabilize Sabah and make it easier for the Philippines to take Sabah as its own. He named it Operation Merdeka. Two hundred young Muslim recruits were brought to Corregidor for training and the unit was called Jabidah.
The Jabidah unit had no idea what they were really training for. They were excited with the idea of being special commandos who would be used for protection. The recruits began to feel disgruntled when their promised pay did not come. When they discovered that they were really being trained to attack their fellow Muslims in Sabah, some of whom might be their own family members, mutiny ensued. Only one man survived the carnage and he reported that the recruits had been taken out in groups of twelve to an airstrip where they were mowed down. A later court martial that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court revealed that something did indeed happen on the island, but exact numbers of dead has never been made clear.
Today, Corregidor is a historic monument that offers tours of the island and the Malinta Tunnel. The United States Government built a Pacific War Memorial at Topside. It is a rotunda with a circular altar. The dome allows light through and this light hits the altar on May 5th at exactly noon to signify the surrender of the troops there. The Malinta Tunnel has an audio-visual presentation by National Artist Lamberto V. Avellana. There is a Filipino Heroes Memorial at Tail End that was built in 1992. And a Japanese Memorial Garden was built in honor of the Japanese soldiers who died here. The lighthouse still stands here and was reconstructed in the 1950s to fix war damage.
Corregidor Island has been named one of the top ten haunted islands in the world, more than likely for the thousands of deaths that have occurred there. The Malinta Tunnel offers ghost tours and hunts. The hospital ruins are creepy, as well as the old bunkers, which are all becoming overgrown with vegetation. These areas have reports of hauntings as well. The hospital is considered the most haunted area on the island.
The Ghost Hunted Blog reports that tourists who visit the hospital ruins have reported hearing footsteps, rumblings of normal hospital activities, and wails of people. Screams of pain or shouts for help have been heard around the bunker area. There are not as many sightings of full bodied apparitions, but people claim to have captured shadows and orbs in picture. Disembodied footsteps and the distant rumbles of war machines echo through the corridor of time.
The Filipino magazine People's Tonight reported that a psychic visited the island and claimed the spirits of the Japanese soldiers that had committed suicide in the Malinta Tunnel still remain. A photo that was taken in the tunnel features two blurred men, one wearing a uniform and half kneeling with his back to the camera and the other sitting on the lower bunk of a bed.
On the beach you can find bloodstones. It is thought that these stones have a red hue from dead troops storming the beaches. This island seems to hold on to its haunting tales as it is hard to find anyone with an actual story of an experience out there. The legend of hauntings on this island may be due more to the fact that it has been the scene of great violence rather than the scene of actual spirits. But anyone who visits the island cannot deny the eerie feelings they experience as they wander among the ruins. Is Corregidor Island haunted? That is for you to decide!
(1) "Map of The Island Group." Map of The Island Group. Accessed June 10, 2016. http://www.corregidorisland.com/mapofislands.html.
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