Monday, January 16, 2017

HGB Ep. 176 - German Castle at Castle Park

Moment in Oddity - Pedro Mountains Mummy
In episode 175, we featured the little people tribes in America. Though many believe these tribes to just be legend, there was a discovery in 1932 that adds credence to the stories. Two men, Cecil Main and Frank Carr, were digging for gold in the San Pedro Mountains near Casper, Wyoming. They had been using pick axes and shovels to work a rich vein of gold and they were continuously being frustrated by just more and more rock. They decided to dynamite a section of the mountain to make the work go faster. The explosion revealed a cave that was 15 feet long and four feet high. The men explored the small cave and they discovered a 14" fully formed humanoid mummy. It appeared to be male and was sitting in a cross-legged position on a ledge. It was described as looking like an old man with a low and flat forehead, flat nose, heavy-lidded eyes and a wide mouth. Fingernails could clearly be made out and the head had a pliable jelly-like substance on top. Anthropologists declared it a hoax, but when they studied the mummy, they were shocked at what they found. X-rays revealed a manlike skeleton and it appeared he had been killed by a blow to the head that smashed part of the skull and damaged the spine. The jelly-like substance on top of the head was brain matter. They also found a mouth full of pointy canines. They estimated the skeleton belonged to a man 65 years old. The story gets a little murky here. Some stories say the exams were performed by the American Museum of Natural History and certified genuine by the Anthropology Department of Harvard University. Other stories claim the University of Wyoming conducted the research and found the body was that of a diseased child.The Pedro Mountains Mummy made its way into sideshows and then was purchased by a Casper businessman named Ivan T. Goodman. New York businessman Leonard Walder took ownership of the mummy after Goodman died. Walder died in the 1980s and the mummy has never been seen again, which certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Rio de Janeiro Discovered and Named

In the month of January, in 1502, Portuguese explorers landed at Guanabara Bay on the coast of South America and named it Rio de Janeiro. The name means River of January. The bay forms the opening of a river and so that is how Brazil's second largest city got its name. The French wanted to make a play for the area and so in 1565, two years of bloody battles began. Five hundred French colonists already occupied Villegagnon Island in Guanabara Bay under the leadership of Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, so they had a strategic position to invade. The French lost and were debarred from the city. To protect from further invasions, the city was moved to a safer position on a hill, which was later named as Castle Hill. In 1568, a medieval citadel was laid out and sugarcane was planted all around the settlement. In 1660, the town became a seat of government and by 1763, the colonial capitol was transferred to Rio de Janeiro. In 1889, the city officially became the capitol of the republic of Brazil.

German Castle at Castle Park (Suggested by Becki Sturgeon)

Western Michigan was once an area of vast dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. Mature forests attracted the timber industry in the early 1800s and during the Victorian era, the beauty attracted people to come live. One of those people was a German immigrant and he brought his love and inspiration of German castles to an area outside of Holland, Michigan, along Lake Michigan. He built a small replica of a German castle for his family. Castle Park developed around the castle as cottages were built for vacationers. The Castle became an Inn and now serves as a community center. And it would seem that one of the original family members chooses to hang out here in the afterlife. There are also some interesting legends related to this area of Lake Michigan. Join us for the history and hauntings of the German Castle at Castle Park.

The logging industry came to this area of Western Michigan in the early 1800s to harvest the vast forests and mill the trees into lumber. This lumber was shipped across Lake Michigan to Chicago via schooner to help build the city of Chicago. The trees were almost completely harvested and soon the area was just barren dunes. By the mid 1800s, the forests were regrowing and families started visiting on vacations. A Vermont militiaman received a land grant after the War of 1812 and this patch of land on Lake Michigan was that property. Edward J. Harrington purchased the property in 1863, then sold it to the Turner family who plated it for sale. Mr. Turner died and his widow remarried and no longer wanted the land. It then passed through the hands of six other owners before Emil Peiler bought it and sold it to Michael Schwartz.

Michael Schwartz was a German immigrant who came to America to escape Prussian militarism in the 1800s. He settled in Chicago and began buying properties. He soon was a very successful and very wealthy man. He moved to Michigan where he found a prime piece of real estate on Lake Michigan that was beautiful and isolated. He decided to build his family a German feudal castle and he did that in 1890. It was three stories and very Victorian. He felt like this estate would protect he and his wife and their 6 daughters and 2 sons from a corrupt and uncivilized world. Unfortunately, the kids were not crazy about moving away from city life. They were very unhappy and within two years, the family was moving out of their castle. They built a home in nearby Holland and never returned to the castle. It seems like a rather abrupt move and many have wondered why.

In 1893, Reverend John H. Parr was headmaster for the Chicago Prepartory School and he had taken a group of students on an outing to Macatawa Beach on Lake Michigan. The group happened upon the German Castle. Rev. Parr fell in love with the castle and bought it, opening it the following year as a summer camp for boys and girls. Parents would come to pick up their children and they would hang out for a while enjoying the area. This happened so often that soon the property was more of a family summer camp. The Parr Family saw how things were going and in 1896 the camp was closed and the castle was refurbished as an inn. They added rooms, expanded the sunrooms and built a lobby. The inn was not enough for the demand; however, and the Parrs started selling lots around the castle for families to build cottages. This came to be known as the Castle Club and the whole property was called Castle Park. It was a two day car drive from Chicago.

A hotel brochure from 1908 read, "Castle Park is a 40 acre tract, 1 & 1/2 miles south of Macatawa dock. The "Castle" is only a three minute walk from Lake Michigan, which has a hard beach with shallow water, giving superb bathing and boating. Here can be found real country life, steamer excursions to other resorts along the lake, visits to adjacent peach orchards, picnics on the magnificent beach and in the woods, tramps though fine forests, climbing wooded hills, tennis courts, free golf links and, above all, a delightful home atmosphere and good table. Several cottages are in the Park, most of the occupants eating at the Castle table. The average population of the Park in July and August is about 60. Board with room, per week, for one in room is $8.00 - two for $13.00. Board alone $5.00. Special rate to families."

Reverend Parr had a nephew named Carter Pennell Brown. He arrived at the castle from Chicago via Lake Michigan. During the passage, a horrible storm hit and steamship was lashed about. Carter's parents tied his baby buggy to a handrail in their steamship cabin. Carter loved the property and by the time he was twelve, he was working for uncle. His main duty was driving the wagon to the steamship dock at Macatawa. In 1917, the Parrs decided to retire and Carter, who was now twenty-three, took over Castle Park. He married his childhood sweetheart, Marion Wilke. The Carters planted the ivy that covers much of the castle and engaged in a large expansion of the castle and property. First, they doubled the capacity of the inn and added multiple fireplaces. They also built more cottages.

In 1922, a Greek ampitheater was built in a nearby natural dell and it hosted hundreds of plays and the annual "Castle Caper," which was a musical. Castle Park had its own depot where the electric cars of the interurban railroad would stop between Holland and Saugatuck. The interurban railway was an electric railway that featured streetcar-like light electric self-propelled railcars. By the year 1915, America had 15,500 miles of interurban railways. An interesting stat is that interurban railways were the fifth-largest industry in the United States at the height of their use. The Castle Park line brought electricity to the castle and cottages. The railway closed in 1926 and most of them were done in the United States by 1930. Extra amenities like a clay court tennis courts and a 9-hole golf course were added. They also started the Castle Park Amateur Horse Show. A Meeting House was built in 1958 for services. It was said of Carter, "Castle Park...its panache and its many pleasurable aspects are the direct result of Carter Pennell Brown's lifetime dedication. With the help of his delightful wife, he has given Castle Park its life and its spirit."

A former visitor said of the property, "I remember very well-manicured gardens around it during the late-60s and up to the late-70s. Herb gardens, boxwood hedges, etc. all gave a very English idea to what I now understand was supposed to be a Germanic castle. A wing to the castle had been added decades ago in order to accommodate the needs of the inn. The interior of the castle had some vestiges of being Victorian in nature. Much of it had been modified as large dining rooms, kitchens, etc. I visited the castle last year and found that the addition had been removed and the castle's exterior restored. The super English pub in the lower level appears to also have been restored."

During the sixties, Ambrose Holford was a professor of fine arts at the University of Tennessee. He was also a Castle Park cottage owner. He brought a large group of his most talented students up to the Castle to serve as the waiters and pixies, which was what they called the waitresses. The waiters lived in The Shack and the waitresses lived in the Hen House. These groups would put together incredible musicals and talent shows at the amphitheater. It was very Dirty Dancing-esque. In 1985, the eighty residents of  the summer cottages at Castle Park decided to buy the castle and the inn was closed. The castle was restored to the original Victorian design and the additions were removed. The German Castle now serves as a library and bingo hall for summer residents of Castle Park. It is a private property and not open to the public and owned by the Castle Park Association.

There is a history of supernatural manifestations on the property. One of Michael Schwartz's daughters managed to get away to the nearby city of Holland at some point and she met a boy. As it goes with these stories, she fell madly in love, but her father forbade her having anything to do with any boy, especially this one in Holland. So the couple met secretly one night and eloped. Schwartz heard about it and tracked them down on the road, shotgun in hand. He threatened the couple and the daughter returned to the castle with her father and he locked her in one of the rooms. The heartbroken girl wept bitterly and glanced longingly out her window. She had lost the love of her life. The family was only here for two years, but somehow that daughter's emotions left an imprint on the castle. People claim to see the ghostly apparition of a female looking forlornly out a window of the castle.

One of the interesting things about the area where Castle Park is located is that it is along one side of a mysterious phenomenon known as the Lake Michigan Triangle. This Triangle's three points hit Manitowoc in Wisconsin, Ludington, Michigan across from that city and south to Benton Harbor, Michigan. Nearly 40 aircraft have just disappeared over this region. One of those was Northwest Flight 2501, which left New York in June of 1950 heading to Minneapolis and disappeared near Benton Harbor. Extensive searches turned up nothing. Not one piece of wreckage. A Soviet trainer jet disappeared during an air show near the triangle. People have evaporated into thin air as well. In April of 1937, the freighter O.M. McFarland was sailing towards Port Washington in Wisconsin with Captain George Donnor at the helm. He decided to retire to his cabin for bit. The ship soon passed through the Lake Michigan Triangle. The Captain had not returned from his nap by 6pm, so a crew member went to wake him. There was no answer to his repeated knocks. He tried the door handle and found it to be locked. Fearing that the Captain might be in distress, he got other crew members and they busted open the door. The Captain was not in his cabin. He was nowhere to be found on the ship. He had just disappeared. There are also numerous UFO sightings over the Triangle. So many in fact, that the FAA created a special lake reporting service to keep track of them all.

A little further north is the city of Muskegon and there is an African American legend told here about a Hoodoo Man. A family discovered that their woodpile had been raided in the middle of the night. As if that was not bad enough, whomever the thief was, he had relieved his bowels all over the spot where the woodpile had been. A nice little calling card, if you will. The family was irate and they called out a local Hoodoo man to help them catch the culprit. He arrived with a long nail and he stick the pointed end into the fecal matter. He then drove the nail into a nearby tree. He informed the family that they would soon know who the thief was because his intestines would be completely backed up and would remain so until the nail was removed from the tree. After a couple days, a local hospital had a man show up who was complaining of the worst constipation he had ever had and it was only getting worse. He was given a room. The family was satisfied that they had found their robber and that he had been punished enough, so they went to pull the nail from the tree. The problem was, someone had cut down the tree and dragged it off, and so it was impossible for the family to pull the nail from the tree. The wood-napper died a very painful death.

There are many legends in Michigan just as there are in every state in America. Is there something weird going on around and in Lake Michigan? Is Castle Park on the western shores of Michigan haunted? Is the German Castle haunted? That is for you to decide!

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