Tuesday, March 7, 2017

HGB Ep. 188 - Rispin Mansion

Moment in Oddity - Winston Churchill Writes About Aliens

Timothy Riley is the director of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri. Recently, he stumbled across an essay written by Winston Churchill in 1939 that explored a very unique topic, that being alien life. Britain had just entered World War II, which makes it even stranger that Churchill would have focused on pondering the existence of aliens. The essay was eleven pages and titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" Churchill reasoned like a scientist that if we had everything needed for life on Earth, that in a vast universe, there had to be other planets that held all the components to sustain life. Churchill wrote, “I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets. I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development, which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.” The fact that the future Prime Minister of Britain thought enough about aliens that he actually put pen to paper about the topic at a time of war and at a time when such things were not normally discussed, certainly was odd.

This Month in History - Casimir Pulaski was Born

In the month of March, on the 6th day, in 1745, Casimir Pulaski was born in Poland. Pulaski fought against the Russians for Polish independence. When that failed, he was driven into exile. He later emigrated to the colonies in American upon Benjamin Franklin's recommendation. He took his drive to fight for independence and turned it towards helping the Americans during the Revolutionary War. He became a general in the Continental Army and even saved the life of George Washington. He is considered one of the fathers of the American Calvary as he devoted time to reforming the entire Calvary. He lead a daring charge against the British forces at the Battle of Savannah in which he was mortally wounded. Chicago observes the offical holiday Casimir Pulaski Day on the first Monday in March in his honor.

Rispin Mansion (Suggested by Sasha Wolfe)

Rispin Mansion is located in Capitola, California in the beautiful and supernaturally infused Santa Cruz area. The history of the mansion is intriguing and just part of that, is the fact that a rich real estate baron built it and then went on to be buried in a pauper's grave. Everyone from nuns to hippies have called this place home and the once grand estate has become an abandoned eyesore. But it is not completely abandoned. Rumors of hauntings swirl around the property. And legends and hauntings seem to be everywhere one looks in Santa Cruz. We will share some of these strange tales as we explore the history and hauntings of the Rispin Mansion.

Santa Cruz County is one of the original counties in California and dates back to when California gained statehood. A Spanish pueblo there was called Branciforte and so the county first had that name, but it was later changed to Santa Cruz, which means "Holy Cross." Santa Cruz is an area steeped in the supernatural that is built in the middle of a flood plane. It has seen a fair share of tragedy. The exploiting of Chinese laborers and construction upon Native American burial grounds have added to the supernatural energy that has built up here. Every summer, a thick fog rolls in and legend claims that this is the energy of spirits from the past who have been wronged.

The native burial grounds more than likely belonged to the Ohlone tribe. They had many legends about the area. One of them was about a sycamore grove off of what is now Highway 9. They claimed that a spider lived in this grove and it wove webs that would entangle anyone walking through the forest who harbored dark secrets. The nearby redwood forest had a legend about another type of creature, a giant snake. This snake would kill indiscriminately. A young Ohlone man defied the rules of the tribe and the elders called him to answer for his insubordination. The punishment was extreme and final. He was sentenced to die. Just before they executed him, he cursed the land. No one knows for sure, but many wonder if this curse led to an invasion by another tribe named the Yachicumne. They were from the Stockton area. They considered the Ohlone tribe as a weak group and they came through and slaughtered as many as they could. So many were massacred that it is said that no one can walk across Santa Cruz without traversing upon an area of ground touched by bones or gore.

Either the curse, this massacre or both have led to further catastrophes. A fire ripped through in 1894 and everything was reduced to ashes. Severe earthquakes also plagued the area. In 1898, a local powder works exploded. Windows in town were blown out up to three miles away. Nine of the Irish emigrants working in the factory were killed and they were buried in a mass grave at the Odd Fellows Cemetery. And by some horrible twist of fate, a young bride had just stepped out on her porch and a huge rock that was thrown by the explosion, hit her in the head and she was killed. Its hard to peg down, but there were other deaths in town associated with the explosion. An article in the Star Tribune from April 27, 1898 details what happened.

The ghost of William Waddell is said to wander Santa Cruz, apparently looking for his arm. It would seem that a mother bear tore it off in the 1870s when he hiked too close to her cubs. The arm was buried in a meadow. Waddell died some time later and it was decided that his arm needed to be located, so that all of him could be buried together. The group was unable to locate the arm. Part of this tale claims that the arm itself haunts the place and manifests as small thefts. It is said that the arm has sticky fingers.

We have a woman in white that wanders Santa Cruz and that white dress is actually a wedding dress. This woman was a mail order bride who found herself married to a very cruel man. She had arrived from Massachusetts and shortly after the wedding, her horrific abuse began. Her husband would tell her to put on her wedding dress every night and then he would beat her mercilessly. She decided that she needed to leave him.When he learned of her plans, he beat her to death and then beheaded her. He then set the house on fire with her body inside. Throughout the decades the apparition of a woman in white has been reported at the neighborhood where she used to live. This is not some residual haunting featuring a woman just wandering the street. This spirit is very angry. She curses and slaps people. One story claims that she threw an axe at an old drunk in town. People are warned to steer clear of this apparition.

On episode 28 about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, we featured the story behind the movie "The Birds as the Moment in Oddity. Alfred Hitchcock had lived in the Santa Cruz area for a brief time. There is even a hotel there that inspired his image of the Bates Motel. It was a true event that occurred in Santa Cruz that inspired Hitchcock's "The Birds." On the evening of August 18th in 1961, hundreds of shearwater seabirds seemed to go crazy and they slammed their bodies into businesses and homes. People who were outside were attacked as well. The next day, two truckloads of the dead animals were collected and destroyed. Theories of what caused the birds to act this way ranged from some kind of toxin in the air to an unusual fog. Perhaps the fog of the angry spirits? Shearwaters still sometimes have carried on these attacks into our most recent history.

Located in the center of Santa Cruz, on the west coast, is the city of Capitola. The city was originally known as Soquel Landing, which was named for the Soquel Creek. The settlement was built on the local produce and lumber industry and the wharf at Soquel Landing served as a way to export the material. Frederick A. Hihn owned property near the wharf and he built a seaside resort in 1869 that he later leased to Samuel A. Hall. Hall called the area Camp Capitola. No one knows where Hall got the name Capitola, but the city is the oldest beach resort on the West Coast.

In 1919, a man named Henry Allen Rispin moved nearby and bought the city. Rispin's parents were English and they had relocated to Ontario in Canada. The couple ran a ticket agency there, but they died when Rispin was very young. His older brother raised him until Rispin left home at fourteen. There seems to be no record that Rispin finished high school and he did not attend college. He worked odd jobs in lumber and the railroad. He set his sites on America and he moved to New York where he became a manager at the Savoy Theater. It was the first of many jobs in the theater. He directed productions and even acted at the McKenzie Opera House in 1896. He then went on to manage the Grand Opera House and after appearing in a play there the New York News wrote, "Everybody is talking of Mr. Henry Rispin's impersonation of  'Dick Chivy' at the Opera House...The manager of the Grand made his first dramatic effort...That he scored a decided success is recognized by the critics."

Rispin was in his late 20s when Winfield Blake introduced him to his sister Annette. She was a beautiful college graduate and nine years younger than Rispin. She also was the daughter of a wealthy oil baron, Isaac Blake. Blake had struck it rich in Utah in 1875 and he started Continental Oil, which was one of the first such businesses in the west. Blake created the tanker car that carried petroleum products by rail. He went on to merger with the Rockefeller family and other investors and Conoco was born. Rispin left the theater for the oil business. He and Annette moved to San Francisco and got married. Their son Alan was born shortly before or after the wedding. Rispin worked for his father-in-law managing an oil field in Santa Maria in 1908. He moved to Ohio for a time to work a field there in 1914 and 1916. At some point after that, he and Annette moved to Denver. In 1918, the couple moved back to San Francisco. They lived at the Fairmont Hotel there.

Rispin did not move to Capitola when he bought it in 1919. Rispin wrote in 1923 of this time, "About five years ago I was run down in health, tired out, etc, so moved to California, purchased the town of Capitola, which is one of the most beautiful spots in California and without doubt the most delightful, where one can enjoy life outdoors twelve months out of the year. I built one of the most beautiful homes in California here. The result is that I feel twenty years younger than I did five years ago, and while Capitola is a good paying proposition, as we own not only the town, hotel, stores, amusements, etc, but also own the water works system for this entire district, the electric light, gas plants, etc, but I am nervous to get back into the oil business, it being the business that I know better than anything else. Hence I am looking for a producing oil property that has not been entirely drilled up so that I can get back into the harness again, and would consider trading Capitola with everything that goes with it, also my home, for a good oil property."

This "most beautiful home" that Rispin was referencing was a four-story, 22-room mansion he had built. George McCrea was an architect that the Rispins had hired to remodel a home in San Francisco and they asked his to design the mansion. His specialty was Spanish Colonial Revival. Construction began in 1921 and it cost around $1 million in today's dollars to develop the property. Rispin never intended to live in the home, but rather to use it to attract people to come to Capitola and then invest in the area by buying lots. He wined and dined the wealthy. Perhaps because he did not live on the property, Rispin failed to keep up the water and sewage systems. There was no police or fire protection either. Things seemed to be failing miserably and he divested slowly from his holdings, eventually sold the mansion and left. The crash of the stock market hit him hard. By 1936, the once wealthy oil and real estate man was hitting up friends for money. When he died, he was buried in a pauper's grave in San Francisco.

The next major owner of the property was a business partner of Rispin's, Robert Hays Smith. He was a Bay Area speculator and he paid about as much attention to the mansion as Rispin had before him. This beautiful property just continued to fall into neglectful disrepair. The Catholic order of the Oblates of St. Joseph bought the property and they used it as a convent until 1957. The mansion was just too cold for the nuns who had taken vows of poverty and wore sandals and so the convent closed. There was also another issue. Rumors circulated about the mansion and nearby residents were curious, so they would peer in through the windows occasionally. It was unnerving to the nuns. The Rispin Mansion continued to be an object of fascination after the closing of the convent. Especially for young people. Teenagers have used breaking into the home as a rite of passage. Vandalism has occurred, including graffiti. And there have been illegal squatters, particularly by hippies during the sixties.

The property is listed on the National Historic Register and the city of Capitola's council purchased the mansion in 1986 for $1.3 million.There were plans to remodel the structure into a library, city hall and community center, but those plans fell through in the early '90s. A private group headed by Dan Floyd and Ron Beardslee, tried to develop plans to open Rispin Mansion as a bed and breakfast in 1998, but that failed as well. It is thought that the property continues to sit abandoned because construction costs are to much and environmental laws limit what can be done with the property. A fire ripped through the property as well, sealing its fate. The main expanse of tile roof and the floors below it were destroyed. From what I read in newspapers, it seems that there are beautiful gardens on the property that were open to the public, but there is a chain link fence around the property now.

There are reports that the mansion is haunted. The setting seems perfect for ghost stories. The walls are grimy and stained. The interior is cold and dank. There are strange looking pipes, bullet holes in the walls and the stairs creak more than normal. There are also several burned out areas. The place is just creepy. Two caretakers died of old age inside the home. The main apparition hanging out here belongs to Henry Rispin. Although he never lived at the property, it is believed that it led to his ultimate demise. He is usually seen on the first floor, wearing glasses.

The spirit of a woman wearing a Victorian-era dress is seen in an upstairs room looking for what people believe is a book. There is another female seen and this is a nun in full habit and black dress. Down in the basement, the disembodied barking of a dog is heard. It is described as angry. The local SWAT team had used the property for training, so some wonder if this is residual from that time. The basement wine cellar harbors an evil spirit reportedly. Maryanne Porter of Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters, got permission from the city to do an investigation in 2012. Maryanne said, "We actually cut off our investigation early because it just wasn’t feeling safe any longer, as if we were making something rather angry.”

Doug Simerly wrote of an experience he had back in 1979:
"The Rispin Mansion. I have never heard it called that. It was about 4 blocks behind my house, when I was a child. We always called it "Poor Claire's Retreat", as it was called when the nuns were there. It was a very foreboding place, and no one would go near it when we were young. As a teenager, I talked some friends of mine into going in there. There were 4 of us, all guys. We snuck over the fence...we peeled back a piece of plywood that was nailed over a window on the main (ground level floor, back side of house.) We had a flashlight, and it was very dark. We entered a small room, and through a doorway, entering the main room in that part of the house. Vaulted ceilings, very large room. There was a fireplace, with book cases on either side of it. As my friends walked down the hallway, I remembered something I had read somewhere, and walked up to the bookcases. They slid open, and there was a small room behind each one of them! Enough room to hide someone, or something! Nothing in there but splashes of ink on one of the walls, could not make anything of them.

Anyway, we went over every inch of the place, very careful to damage nothing. In the basement there was a red brick hallway, perfectly square, and very long. At the end it looked like a solid brick wall,sort of funny that it ended there. We rested up against the back wall, and it moved! There was a secret room behind it, about 12 foot by 8 foot. The wall was on a hinge, very strange. Our batteries were dead by now, so could not see a whole lot. It did not seem scary at all though, just interesting. We did hear what sounded like footsteps a bunch of times, so thinking it was the guy watching the place, we were very quiet. Never saw anyone, spooky.

There was one room, that seemed like it must have been the main quarters for mother superior, or whoever. It had a white marble fireplace, very ornate decorative trim, and very large windows. [There was] a balcony overlooking the Soquel Creek, facing what used to be a department store and the doughnut store that my grandparents used to run...This room sounds like the one where someone saw a lady in the black dress. I never saw anything, did not take pictures, it felt icy cold in that room, and it was probably 75-80 degrees that day. We all felt things, heard things, but never saw anything. There was something in there, but what, I do not know. I went back quite a few times, it was a very cool place."
Is Santa Cruz an area drenched in the supernatural? Has the negative effects of the past carried over into the present and now is that energy manifesting as hauntings? Is the Rispin Mansion one of Santa Cruz's many haunted locations? That is for you to decide!

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