Thursday, April 26, 2018

HGB Ep. 255 - The Mermaid Inn

Moment in Oddity - Charles E. Peck Calls Family After Death
Suggested by: Amy Harris Martinez

On 12 September 2008 at 4:22 p.m. a commuter train carrying 225 riders in California’s San Fernando Valley, collided with a freight train at 83 mph. The crash came to be known as the Chatsworth crash. 135 people were injured and 25 died. One of the people who died was a man named Charles E. Peck. He was in the prime of life at just 49-years-old and was a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines at Salt Lake City International Airport. His fiancee lived in California and he wanted to be closer to her, so he was traveling aboard the train to Los Angeles for a job interview at Van Nuys Airport. This is generally where the story would end. A tragic death. But Charles was not finished with his life here and he was about to embark on some truly unexplainable communication. It took crews nearly 12 hours to finally recover Charles' body from the wreck. During the time that he was still inside the wreckage, his loved ones started receiving calls from his cell phone. He called his son, his brother, his stepmother, his sister, and his fiancée. There were 35 calls placed in total. the family members would answer the phone each time a call came in, but there was never anything on the other end except static. Every time they tried to return the call, it would go to voice mail. The family did not know for sure that Charles had been killed, so they held out hope that he was alive and trying to reach them. Rescue workers used the signal from the cell phone to finally find Charles' body. After the body was recovered, it was clear that he had died on impact and could not have made any of the phone calls. At least not physically. The cell phone was never recovered. The cell phone was clearly not on if it was going to straight to voicemail and so there is no way it could be placing calls on its own, nor would a cell phone call several different numbers that just happened to be family members and so the fact that they all received several phone calls, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Love Bug Released

In the month of April, on the 13th, in 1969, the American comedy movie The Love Bug was released by Walt Disney Productions. The Love Bug is the title character and this character is a 1963 Volkswagon Beetle named Herbie who has a personality and is anthropomorphic. Most of you listeners know exactly what Herbie looks like, even if you haven't seen the movie. He is a pearl-white color with a fabric-sunroof with red and blue racing stripes running over the hood, roof and back end. The number 53 within a circle is painted on each door. The number was chosen by producer Bill Walsh, who was a fan of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Don Drysdale and his retired number was 53. The movie was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford and follows the adventures of Herbie, Herbie's driver, Jim Douglas played by Dean Jones, and Jim's love interest, Carole Bennett played by Michele Lee. Buddy Hackett also stars in the film as Jim's enlightened, kind-hearted friend, Tennessee Steinmetz. The villain in the movie is played by English actor David Tomlinson. Herbie's main adventure is race car driving. Spoiler, Herbie does win the big race. This movie was the last live action film produced by Disney under the guidance of Walt Disney.

The Mermaid Inn

At the confluence of three rivers, sits the East Sussex town of Rye. This is an ancient medieval town that became an important harbor along the English Channel. In the town of Rye, one will find the historic Mermaid Inn. The original building no longer stands, but the current building dates back more than 600 years with the original old cellars still in place. There are several secret passages that were used by smugglers. Some of these smugglers were members of the Hawkhurst Gang and they used the Mermaid Inn as their hideout. The inn has seen a long turbulent history. Today, it is a restaurant, bar and hotel that reputedly has many spirits kicking about in its various rooms. There are stories of cold spots, chairs moving on their own and full-bodied apparitions. Let's explore the history and hauntings of the Mermaid Inn!

Rye is an ancient town and it is believed that it derives its name from the word rie. From Roman times, it was a busy harbor as it was located on a huge embayment of the English Channel called the Rye Camber. Rye became a part of the Cinque Ports Confederation in 1189 and this was a series of coastal towns that formed the confederation for military and trade purposes. Rye was considered one of the finer Cinque Ports. The town received its charter from King Edward I in 1289. Fortunes for the port city would take a bad turn when the River Rother changed course and violent storms cut the town off from the sea. The sea and river eventually combined and destroyed the eastern part of the town. In 1377, the French sacked and burned Rye. Eventually, bigger ships needed ports that had deeper waters and the Rye coast was constantly filling up with silt, so the economy began to decline as shipping went elsewhere. Smuggling and fishing took over and by the end of the 17th century, it became widespread throughout Kent and Sussex. Owling was the biggest form of smuggling and that is wool smuggling. Today, it is a small town with a population under 5,000. Rye has become a popular tourist destination with hotels and B&Bs.

Mermaid Street in Rye has a steep slope and the the street is cobbled. It is on this street that one will find the Mermaid Inn, which is a Grade II* listed historical inn. The original building that was once here, no longer exists, but its cellars are still here and date back to 1156. The current building was built in 1420. The Tudor style additions were added in the 16th century. The inn is black and white timber-framed. Much of the timber was taken from ships that were being dismantled. The building is also tiled and has carved Caen stone chimney pieces that are embellished with decorations. Several of the fireplaces were formed from secret passages. There is an overhang that is supported on wooden columns with brackets and cross-beams. The building has two stories and an attic. One thing anyone will notice quickly about this place is that there is a lot of carved wood. Many of the rooms also have exposed wooden beams.

Inside the building is a pub, restaurant and inn. Sloping ceilings hang over those enjoying a drink at the Giant’s Fireplace Bar, which has an inglenook fireplace and is supported by a beam that traverses the room. If one is looking for food, there are offerings in the large Linen Fold Panelled Restaurant, the Dr Syn dining room or the Boardroom, which is a private dining room. In the Dr Syn's Lounge, one can find wall carvings of Catholic priests who are fleeing to the continent during the Reformation. But there are even more treasures to be found for those of us who enjoy secret tunnels, sliding wall panels and priest-holes. All of these came in handy during the days of the pirates and smugglers. One particular group that made use of the Mermaid Inn was the Hawkhurst Gang.

The Hawkhurst Gang was a notorious criminal organization that ran a smuggling ring out of Rye's harbor from 1735 until 1749. Most of southern England suffered under not only their smuggling efforts, but this was a violent and murderous gang. They successfully raided custom houses all along the coast. They eventually were defeated in a battle with the Goudhurst militia in 1747, and two of their leaders were executed at that time, Arthur Gray and Thomas Kingsmill. The gang was very successful and so powerful that they were able to operate in Rye with freedom. On one occasion, they smuggled a huge load of goods off of three large cutters at Pevensey and managed to carry it all inland on 500 pack horses. In the early 1740s, Jeremiah Curtis joined the gang. He had already been part of another violent gang in the Hastings area. He was a brutal man and had a man named Richard Hawkins whipped and beaten to death because he thought he had stolen tea from the gang. The kind of brutality that Curtis brought to the Hawkhurst Gang got locals up in arms and they formed the Goudhurst Band Of Militia led by "General" George Stuart, a former army corporal. When the gang attacked because they were enraged by this act of defiance, several of them were killed and they were forced to withdraw. Eventually, many of them were executed.

By 1770, the Mermaid Inn was no longer a functioning inn and even became a home for Charles Poile in 1847. By 1913, the inn was a club that was owned by May Aldington, mother of the novelist Richard Aldington. Artists used to frequent the club and some of them included Dame Ellen Terry, Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde's "Bosie"), A.C. and E.F. Benson and Rupert Brooke. During World War II, the Mermaid functioned as a garrison for Canadian officers and one of those officers eventually bought the place. His name was L. Wilson. The Mermaid Inn received its Grade II distinction in 1951 and is one of only 75 grade II buildings on the list. Today, the inn is owned by Judith Blincow and Robert Pinwill, who bought it in 1993. Not only do just the every day tourists come to visit, but many famous people of stage and screen as well as politicans have stayed here. These include Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother, Prince Edward, Warren Beatty, Charlie Chaplin, Pierce Brosnan, Andy Garcia and Johnny Depp. *Fun fact: The exterior of the inn was used in the Monty Python film Yellowbeard.*

The inn part of the establishment features 31 rooms that are uniquely named and styled. All of the beds are magnificently carved and are surrounded by dark wood paneling. Each room has a Caen stone fireplace and the windows are latticed. The bathrooms have bear-claw footed bathtubs and updated amenities. Each room is named for a famous person that is a part of the Mermaid's history and filled with antiques. The Rye Royal Room derives its name from a visit by Queen Elizabeth I to Rye in 1573. During that visit, she declared Rye to be royal and presented the town with 100 Gold Angel coins. Dr Syn's Bedchamber is named for  Dr Syn, a fictitious character created by the author Russell Thorndike. The character is based on the factual ‘Hawkhurst’ smuggling gang of 600 men. The vicar of Dymchurch, Dr Syn, was portrayed by George Arliss in a 1937 feature film and Patrick McGoohan in a 1960’s Walt Disney version. The author visited the inn several times.

The Frank Palmer Room is named for the 700th mayor of Rye. The Bean Room is named after Thomas Bean, the landlord of the Mermaid Inn from 1735 to 1736 and again in 1751. It was at that time that the ‘Hawkhurst Gang’ had taken over. Bean was in collusion with the smugglers in the kidnapping from the Inn of Gabriel Tompkins (Rm 22), the Bailiff of the sheriff of Sussex. The Mrs. Betts Room is named after Mrs Betty Betts, who owned the 16th century cottage that was next to the Mermaid. That cottage was incorporated into the Inn. The Elizabethean Bedchamber is named for Queen Elizabeth I and has a lovely four poster bed. There is also a secret passage, oubliette and a staircase to the old kitchen, which is now the bar.

Apparently the inn has more than just history lingering from the past. It is reputedly quite haunted with owners, employees and guests all reporting experiences. The TV show Most Haunted has investigated the location. A local medium visited a previous landlord and inquired about arranging a ghost watch. the landlord agreed and joined the medium. The two were stunned when they witnessed the materialization of two ghostly figures with rapiers who appeared to be dueling with one another. The landlord claimed to witness the fight until it was over. It ended with one spectre running its sword through the chest of the other. The ghost then removed a floorboard and stuffed the dead man's body under it. This scene has been seen more than once and happens in the Elizabethan Room. An obliette is in this room and it is believed that the body is being dropped into this through a trap door.

One of the current owners of the Mermaid, Judith Blincow, came downstairs one morning to find two of her guests sleeping on the couch in the lounge. She thought this was quite odd and worried that the room was not to their satisfaction. When she asked them why they were in the lounge, they said they had seen ghostly figures walk through the walls in the room. They refused to return to the room and had to have their things brought out to them. Judith claims to have never experienced a ghost, but enough guests have had experiences that she believes there must be some spirits on the premises.

Room 1 is haunted by a lady in gray who sits in a chair by the fireplace. And if a guest leaves their clothes in that chair overnight, they sometimes will find the clothes to be wet in the morning even though there is no leaking water overhead or anywhere near the clothes. Room 17 is said to be haunted by the wife of the founder of the Hawkhurst Gang, George Gray. She haunted a rocking chair in the room and guests claimed to wake up in the middle of the night and see the chair rocking on its own and found the room icy cold. Owners finally removed the chair because there were so many complaints. Another member of the Hawkhurst Gang had a girlfriend who served as a maid at the inn and she was murdered by another one of the smugglers because he felt she talked too much about their exploits. She has been seen throughout the inn. There are two ladies in white found here. One is in Room 14 and the other is in Room 15. Room 7 is haunted by a man in period clothing and he likes to sit on the edge of beds when guests are trying to sleep.  Room 16 has a male ghost that has made appearances. Other phenomenon that are regularly reported are cold spots in rooms and rocking chairs that move without anyone sitting in them. A bartender turned in his notice after he was tending to the fire and a few bottles at the end of the room flew off the shelf.

The Mermaid Inn has been around a long time and served many people. It's an exquisitely decorated building that harkens back to the Tudor period and beyond. Are there remnants of its turbulent past still hanging around in the present in the form of spirits? Is the Mermaid Inn haunted? That is for you to decide!

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