Thursday, June 28, 2018
Moment in Oddity - Napoleon Attacked by Bunnies
In July of 1807, Napoleon decided he wanted to celebrate the signing of the Treaties of Tilsit with a rabbit hunt. The treaty ended the war between the French Empire and Imperial Russia. The job of organizing the hunt fell to his Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier. Berthier collected a group of hundreds of rabbits and invited the military's biggest brass to an outdoor luncheon followed by the hunt. The rabbits were kept in cages along the grassy field. When Napoleon announced that he was ready to begin the hunt, the bunnies were released. The hunt was on! But it wasn't on for Napoleon and his band of merry military men. It was on for the rabbits. Rather than fleeing for their lives, that pack of bunnies turned on their aggressors. The main target was the Emperor himself. The pack of bunnies swarmed his legs and started to climb up his jacket. The little furballs started attacking other members of the party and despite the mens' best efforts to beat back the demonic bunny horde with crops, sticks and muskets, the attack would not stop. Retreat was called and Napoleon ran to the safety of his carriage. The rabbits continued after him and started to breach the carriage. This called for a full on retreat. Napoleon's carriage pulled away and the bunny attack stopped. Apparently, the issue was that Berthier had bought farm rabbits rather than capturing wild ones and these tamer bunnies associated people with food instead of danger. The idea that Napoleon may have faced his greatest defeat resulting in retreat, from a group of bunnies, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Jacques Cousteau is Born
In the month of June, on the 11th, in 1910, undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau was born in France. He graduated from France’s naval academy in 1933 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Cousteau served in World War II as a gunnery officer and later joined the French Resistance where he did espionage work, which eventually saw him awarded the Legion of Honour for his espionage work. He began conducting experiments with underwater filmmaking during WWII. He loved the ocean and underwater diving. In 1943, Cousteau and French engineer Émile Gagnan developed the first fully automatic compressed-air Aqua-Lung, which was a scuba apparatus. Cousteau also helped to invent underwater cameras and the diving saucer, which was an easily maneuverable small submarine for seafloor exploration. He is best known for his Emmy Award winning television series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which premiered in the U.S. in 1968. He died in 1997 from a heart attack.
Asbury Park (Suggested by and Research Help: Melissa Edwards)
In honor of Pride Month, listener Melissa Edwards suggested featuring Asbury Park in New Jersey. This is a hot spot for the LGBTQ community and is one of the smaller cities located on the Jersey Shore. This beach is ranked the sixth best beach in New Jersey and began attracting the gay community in the 1950s. In 1999, a gay discotheque called the Paradise Nightclub, opened near the beach and The Empress Hotel, which opened in the 1960s, is New Jersey's only gay-oriented hotel! The music scene in Asbury Park is thriving and a place that has launched the careers of rockers like Bruce Springsteen. There is a paranormal underbelly here though, with a history of tragedies and spirits stuck in place. Join me and Melissa as we share the history and hauntings of New Jersey's Asbury Park.
New York brush manufacturer James A. Bradley developed the Asbury Park area in 1871 and the city was named for Francis Asbury, the first American bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. Bradley paid $90,000 for the property. The development of the town was progressive for the time. Electrical lighting, rather than gas, was installed by the Atlantic Coast Electric Company. There were trolley systems, an artesian well and pavilions along a boardwalk. The setting was perfect for tourism and people flocked to the shore area. More than 600,000 people vacationed there every year arriving via the New York and Long Branch Railroad from New York City and Philadelphia. One of the things that tourists got to enjoy were Steeplechase amusements that were built in 1880 by Coney Island impresario George C. Tilyou (Tilly you). One of the remnants of this bygone era is the Tillie face, which is a somewhat creepy iconic image. *Rabbit Hole* Tillie is a large male face with a really broad smile and black period-styled hair. He is the mascot of Asbury Park. His origins can be traced back to Coney Island and is said to be based on George's brother Edward. No one knows for sure if the face is suppose to represent a leering sexual face or just a fun smile. Leslie Worth Thomas was the artist who painted the original Tillie in Asbury Park. The Palace Merry-Go-Round was installed by Ernest Schnitzler at the corner of Lake Avenue and Kingsley Street in 1888 and other attractions were added through the years. This all became known as Palace Attractions.
The Convention Hall and Casino building was built in 1929 in the Beau Arts style by architect Warren Whitney of New York and drew visitors for shopping, gambling, movies, theater, and concerts. And the concerts that were held here featured an array of jazz and blues and rock entertainment from John Philip Sousa and Arthur Pryor in the early days to Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny, The Clash and The Ramones in the modern era. This wasn't the only place music was making history. There were clubs all along Springwood Avenue on the city’s Westside and this is where Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Billie Holiday performed.
Not all of Asbury Parks history is flashy fun and great music. Disaster would come with the wreck of the ocean liner SS Morro Castle on September 8, 1934. The fiery wreck beached itself just yards away from the Asbury Park Convention Hall. As hard as it is to believe, the city turned the wreck into a tourist attraction. The SS Morro Castle was a luxury cruise ship named for the Morro Castle fortress at Havana Bay. The ship launched in 1930 and it would not sail for for very long. On the night of September 7, 1934, the captain of the Morro Castle, Robert Willmott, had dinner in his cabon, complained of stomach problems and died of what appeared to be a heart attack. In the early hours of the next morning, a fire was detected in a storage locker within the First Class Writing Room on B Deck. The fire was strong and had the entire ship engulfed in 30 minutes. A single SOS signal made it out before the wires were burned through and the wheelhouse lost the ability to steer the ship shortly after that. Passengers and crew abandoned ship when the only choice was to jump or burn. Only six of the ship’s twelve lifeboats were launched. The lifeboats could hold a total of 408, but only 85 passengers made it into them. Many people died from impacting the water as they jumped. The abandoned Morro Castle drifted ashore and stopped in shallow water off Asbury Park.
The fire had burned the hull out and continued to smolder for two days. The ship was declared a loss and 135 passengers and crew had lost their lives. While the ship sat waiting to be scrapped, it became a tourist destination. They even sold stamped penny souvenirs and postcards. An inquiry followed the disaster and Chief Radio Operator George White Rogers was declared a hero for sending out a distress signal even though he had no order to do so and his life was in danger. Later, however, Rogers came under suspicion for having started the fire. This happened when he came under suspicion of having tried to kill a police colleague with an incendiary device. His crippled victim, Vincent ‘Bud’ Doyle, spent the better part of his life attempting to prove that Rogers had set the Morro Castle fire as well. Rogers was later convicted of killing some neighbors for money and he died in jail. The cause of the Morro Castle fire was never determined.
From Melissa: "I can say the word TITANIC and mostly if not everyone will immediately know what I am talking about, even it is just a scene of Jack and Rose on the bow of ship but very few people will have any clue what I am talking about when say the name Morro Castle. The SS Morro Castle is the Titanic of the Jersey shore that came ashore in Asbury Park as a towering inferno on September 7, 1934. The SS Morro Castle is just not your run of the mill shore shipwreck, it is an intriguing story of murder, arson, rum running, cowardice, heroism and possible psychopath thrown in for good measure.
In 1934 The USA was in the throws of the Great Depression and Prohibition was still in full effect. Rest and relaxation was not at the top of anyone’s list, nevertheless, the Asbury Park was still an obtainable haven for those looking for a brief escape. For those that were better off there were opportunities for a more luxurious escape. As mentioned previously Prohibition was still effect, however, there was a loophole and those with the financial means would take advantage of this would be to board a luxury passenger liner like the SS MORRO CASTLE and take advantage of freedoms that international waters provided just a few miles offshore.
In 1934, the SS MORRO CASTLE was a 4-year-old luxury passenger liner that would shuttle the elite from New York to Havana Cuba. With lessons learned from the Titanic disaster that occurred a mere 22 years earlier safety was paramount in the construction of this ship. The Morro Castle was not only practically sink proof but all fire proof. On September 7, 1934 she, her 538 passengers, and their return cargo of tanned and treated animal hides were approaching their final destination on their return from such a junket. As was customary on the last night prior to docking in their homeport, there would be a grand party for all those aboard, on last hurrah before returning to everyday life.
How could a state of the art 4 year old ship could burn barely six miles off shore, it actually has to do with a lawsuit. Just a year to prior to the ship’s demise, during a routine fire drill, water leaked from a fire hydrant. A passenger slipped on the water, injured her ankle, and was awarded a settlement of $25,000.00. During this time the yearly salary for a dentist was $1000, this left the ship line in quiet a predicament. No one knows if the Captain or the ship line that gave the order, but from that point on there were no more fire drills or lifeboat drills aboard the Morro Castle. As mentioned previously there was a cargo of treated leather hides aboard that gave off a foul odor that would trigger the fire alarms and the air ventilation systems would circulate the smell, since passengers complained therefore the fire detection system on the ship was shut off.
Much like a modern day cruise, passengers would don their finest for the Captain’s that evening, however prior to the commencement of the evening’s events the beloved Captain Robert R. Willmott, was found dead from an apparent heart attack in his cabin. I have actually heard his cause of death was listed as “indigestion,” which at that time was one of the catch all phrases for a death of an unknown origin. Due to this the events for the night were cancelled and guests retired to their cabins for the evening.
It is said that upon his death the captain’s body was placed in a refrigeration unit, however, when the wreck of the Morro Castle was cleared and the Captain’s remains were brought ashore they were located in a different area and all that was left could be contained within a small box the size of a suit case. Speculation surrounded circulated that the Captain’s body may have been moved or tampered with in an attempt to cover a potential murder or poisoning. Due to the nature of the Captain’s remains an official autopsy could never be conducted so we will never really have an answer to the actual cause of death.
Chief Officer William Warms became the acting captain for the remaining length of voyage. It is said that William Warms did the best he could given the circumstance. As if the recent events were not enough a full-blown gale or what we would now refer to has a nor ‘ester or tropical storm began to pick up. Thus, making the task of guiding the Morro Castle to port even more daunting for Barnes.
This tragedy is truly incident after incident of bad luck or Murphy’s Law. The Morro Castle’s cabins and most of the interior was built entirely of wood, picture the same style as the Titanic, with would deck floors, wood paneled walls and décor. We think about it today and it doesn’t seem to make any sense but it is because incidents like the Morro Castle tragedy we have learned.
It was also customary at the time for the crewmembers to constantly paint the ship’s hulls and decks. They would start at the bow and go to the stern and work their way back at fourth. They used paints that were oil based. In the sun the paints would sometimes melt or soften due to the heat we can kind of see where this is going. In the late night / early in the morning on September 8th, William Warms was alerted that a fire had broken out in a hidden storage area in the library of the ship. Not knowing the actual extent of the fire due to the location and the lack of training the crew received Warms sent a small staff to deal with the fire the lack of sufficient response would ultimately prove to be fatal. Due to the construction of the ship and the presence of many different accelerants the fire ripped through the ship, leaving the staff with little more choice than to run through what parts of the ship they could access, yelling for passengers to put on their life jackets and make their way to the deck. Many passengers were dead before they were even made aware of the fire as they were trapped below decks or overcome by heat and fumes.
Here is where things take another bizarre turn. Chief Engineer Ebon Abbott, became the right hand man of the now captain William Warms. Minutes into the rescue effort he was observed hoping aboard a life bottom and ordering it lowered with only 8 other passengers aboard. He would later be prosecuted and jailed for his actions.
Now William Warms was left to depend on Chief Radio Officer George Rogers as their only hope for assistance and rescue. These radio officers were outsourced at the time and the background checks where not done the way they are now a days. George Rogers had an extremely questionable past included incidents of pyromania, assault, and severe anti social behavior. Despite hi talents as a radio operating crew claimed that Rogers was difficult to work with and would fight regularly with coworkers. It is thought that George has been given noticed that this would be his last voyage when he docked due to his inability to work well with others. This decision would have been that of Captain Willmott, therefore leading many to believe that perhaps his death was not an accident and the incidents that surrounded the Morro Castle Disaster was not just an ill fated series of unfortunate events but rather a cold and calculate mass murder.
George Rogers was given the order to issue an SOS on behalf of the ship. Rogers waited an entire 38 minutes before sending out the plea. This would prove to the death sentence for the Morro Castle. You can look at pictures of the wreck and get a sense of actually how hot and intense the fire was. It twisted metal and the decks. The paint was completely burnt away and even the glass that provided the porthole windows melted in the blaze. The heat from the blaze warped the deck cross beams emitting a haunting moaning sound that would come to haunt the area until this day.
Staff and crew members worked tirelessly to fight the blaze in an attempt to save the ship and its crew while they waited for assistance that was mortally delayed by George Roger. Crew members would pass hoses from one deck to another to try and quell the flames. However it would all be in vain, because once the fires reached the engine room, the engine ceased to operate. As a result the ship lost its ability to pump water and its ability to fight the fire. As mentioned earlier there was a nor ‘ester that was coming at the ship from the north and for whatever the now Captain Warms continued to steer the ship directing into the storm and gale force winds. This only fueled the blaze. Some say that the Captain was still trying to make port in New York on time; others still remained puzzled to this day. The temperatures onboard the deck of the ship became so hot that it was melting the soles on the shoes of the crew and passengers leaving those onboard with very little option other than to jump from the ship and swim towards shore.
Due to the ongoing storm authorities struggled to send out rescue boats, local fisherman took it upon themselves to make their way to the struggle vessel and ended up saving more lives than official could. A local family, the Bogan’s, (I went to school with a Bogan who was a member of this family) who still have a marina in Brielle voluntarily went out and saved 67 people in their boat the Paramount. These actions were what responsible for saving most of the passengers the lifeboats that came ashore where launched either half full or chock full of crew members, in shame many crew members tried to mask their identify but their white and black clothing gave them away.
The wreckage trail for the Morro Castle stems from Spring Lake about 6 miles away to its final beaching area in Asbury Park. Original salvage efforts were made by attempting to tow the Morro Castle to New York. These efforts failed when the tow lined snapped cause the ship to drift to its final resting place in Asbury Park beached right outside of Convention Hall.
The bodies and the victims started washing up along the shore. While the crew that escaped were labeled as cowards as they came ashore. The crew that stayed aboard including George Rogers were hailed as heroes.
Despite it being the end of the tourist season, 100s of thousands of people came to Asbury Park to see this burring ship. Bodies were laid out in the convention center as a makeshift morgue. People would pay to come in a view the bodies as they waited to be identified. The city tried to cut a deal with the ship owners to keep the ship at the shore because it was great for business. However, as the cargo of hides in the hull began to rot it was decided to have it removed because the stench was simply overwhelming. The loss of the SS Morro Castle and those that perished was not in vain. Due to this tragedy the law was changed that in a disaster an SOS had to be sent out immediately. Guidelines were also put into place limiting the amount of wood and flammable materials including oil based paints that could be used on ships. Mandatory fire drill and lifeboat drills were also introduced.
As the dust and fanfare settled authorities searched for answers and suspicions immediately fell on George Rogers. Despite his checkered past and his failures through the ordeal, his role in the death of the Captain and the fire were never proven. Rogers used his role in the Morro Castle incident to further his career. He was hired by the Bayonne Police department to help set up their wireless communication systems between headquarters and their patrol vehicles. He then had a problem there where he was not getting along with members of the force. His supervisors found him odd and when questioned about his role and involvement in the disaster would often give replies and statements that were synonymous with that of an arsonist who may have set the blaze. It was said that George may have felt that he said too much and he ended up rigging a heating element to his supervisor’s fish tank to explode when it was plugged in. As a result the police supervisor broke his leg, lost part of his arm and received other injuries. George Rogers was charged with attempted murder and was jailed for his actions. When he was released George got in an argument with his neighbor over money that the neighbor had lent George. Instead of paying the neighbor back George decided it was easier to bludgeon the neighbor and his daughter to death. George Roger was sentenced to prison where he died taking his answers and insight with him. The mystery of the Morro Castle may never be solved, therefore making it one of the Jersey Shore’s most infamous shipwrecks.
I have heard many tales of people experiencing different types of paranormal activity in this area. There is even a local paranormal store that runs regular ghost tours of the area. I myself have several experiences in several different locations in the town but one of the striking really didn’t hit home until much later. This was before I really knew anything about the Morro Castle. I look back on it now and it was probably a stupid idea but one night in the summer my friends and I went down to the beach to watch an epic summer lightning storm. We started out sitting in the care and we got braver and ventured out to the sand. It was intensely hot, there was that weird stillness and electricity to the air that often accompanies these time of heat/electric storms. We watched as there were those flashes of lightening that turn the sky purple and for a brief second make it look like noon time. After a few of these, I began to smell the scent of smoke. I asked one of my friends if they smelled it. It didn’t smell like cigarette or cigar smoke and the area of the beach that we were on was further away from bars and crowd area. My friend said maybe it was a grill or bonfire. I shrugged it off as the storm began to intensify we made our way back to the car. I kept looking over my shoulder at the balcony area of Convention Hall that juts out of the water and kept seeing these strange shapes my mind almost like when you see shapes in the clouds, kept trying to make logical sense of what I was seeing because I was not even sure of what I was seeing. I kept trying to tell myself it was a large bird or a flag or kite or something from a concert attached to a wire blowing it the wind and water. I didn’t think of it too much after that.
It wasn’t until many years later when I was visiting the boardwalk with my adoptive Family Peter and Ginny. When they were dating they would take summer trips to the boardwalk and thought it would be special to bring them down there again. Peter has a gift to tell stories and I enjoyed hearing him tell stories of the shops and rides as they were in the 30s and 40s when he was child. We walked down to Convention Hall stopping by the monument that now stands commemorating the Morro Castle disaster. Peter starts to tell us the story of how he came to see the ship when it was still burning explaining how it was mere feet from the shore. He watched as they attached cables from the balcony area of the convention hall to the ship to secure the ship in place and shuttle fireman and crew people to and from the ship. As he continued his story my jaw fell further rand further to the floor. He mentioned that smoke was still billowing for days and that is all you could smell up and down the boardwalk and far inland. He said that the people would swing from these pulley chairs like a kite stuck in the wind. Just like that I got this cold chill that ran down my spine and instantly all the experience from those years ago came back and hit me like a ton of bricks. In a few seconds Peter was able to make sense of one of the strangest experience of my life. I am convinced that the smells and shadows I saw that day were shadows of the Morro Castle Disaster.
Science tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. I believe that with an area like Asbury Park, one that has seen and hosted so much, it would only be likely that the energy of past events has been absorbed into the foundation of the area and show themselves on occasions when the time and atmosphere are right."
Palace Amusements closed in 1988 and it was demolished in 2004. Much of the town fell into disrepair. Asbury Park has been reinvigorated in recent times, but there are many remnants from the past still here and it would seem that there are spirits from the past still here as well. We will look at several locations.
The Stephen Crane House
The Stephen Crane House belonged to the author who wrote “The Red Badge of Courage” and is located at 508 Fourth Avenue. Something people may not know is that he also wrote an article called “Ghosts on the New Jersey Coast” for the New York Press in 1894. This story was inspired by his experiences at Asbury Park and features a tale of the ghosts of two lovers on a beach in Deal, an angry Revolutionary War-era Brit looking to kill fishermen on Long Beach and an elderly laughing woman in Barnegat Light. Crane was born on Mulberry Place in Newark in 1871. He came to Asbury Park with his family when he was twelve and his father died shortly thereafter in 1880. In 1883, his mother would move them all into a home called "Arbutus Cottage." It was a wooden framed home and took its name from the little blue flower groundcover known commonly as mayflower.
Crane went off to school, but he spent every summer since he was a teenager gathering news stories in and around Asbury Park for his brother’s news service. He left Asbury Park in the summer of 1892 for a bohemian life in New York City, after he wrote his first novel, “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets”, a dozen short stories, called “The Sullivan County Tales”, and scores of newspaper articles. He returned to the family house and Asbury Park in 1896, but eventually left to write for several news syndicates, covering the Greco Turkish War, and then the Spanish American War. He died of tuberculosis on June 5, 1900. He was only 28 years old. Arbutus Cottage remained in the Crane family until 1899 when it was sold to a man from Newark. The home has seen several owners and incarnations, from private home to boarding house. Through the 50s, 60s and 70s, Archie and Florence McCorkindale owned the house and named it “The Florence.” It fell into disrepair after that time and was set to be demolished in 1995. Tom and Regina Hayes saved it when they bought it for $7,500. They restored the house and turned it into a museum.
The house is reputed to be haunted and TV’s Ghost Hunters even investigated the location for one of their episodes. Grant and Jason recorded what sounded like disembodied singing during their 2010 visit. People who have visited the house claim to see full-bodied apparitions and to hear ghostly voices, mostly of children laughing or crying. There are also claims that a poltergeist is here and it has been known to hit visitors on the head with fireplace tools. A legend claims that a woman lived in the house alone and allegedly went mad in the dilapidated home. People said that the spirits made her go crazy. When she was moved out, people found that every available inch of wall space was covered with angry writings and phone numbers of politicians. It is in this room that a disembodied voice has been heard saying "hello" more than once. Kathy Kelly wrote, "Asbury Park's Ghosts and Legends" and she describes experiences from a ghost hunt as, "The third story of the house, currently unfinished and uninsulated attic storage space, had actually been used as some rather sad living quarters for later residents of the faded "hotel"—and rumors have long circulated of deaths that have occurred up there. One of the most often told stories of the Crane House is of a ghostly woman who has been seen gazing from the window of the attic 'tower'."
The carriage house is also said to be haunted. Workmen tell stories of feeling threatened by mysterious falling objects while working in there. A visitor claimed to see a full-bodied apparition brandishing a gun once. Doors have mysteriously opened and closed on their own in both houses and are found to be either locked or unlocked without anybody remembering having done either to the doors. Chairs scrape across floors in the middle of the night, pictures fall off walls and a cat that has lived in the house has been intrigued by an antique closet door that's creaked open when she stopped and stared at it.
Melissa shares some haunting experiences people have had here.
Paramount Theater and Convention Hall
The Paramount Theater and Convention Hall has its own ghost described as an African-American naval officer who hangs out on the boardwalk right outside. Kelly claims that, “I’ve had three different people, three different times of year, come in an describe the same thing. He glided through the crowd and nobody seemed to notice him and nobody looked his way.”
Synaxis is a restaurant located at 660 Cookman Ave. This location was the scene of the disappearance of a young girl in 1910. Ever since that happened, strange things have been reported at this spot, even after becoming the restaurant. Asbury Park police officers had viewed the figure of a young girl in the windows of Synaxis long after the eatery had closed for the night. Police found the building to be empty. Employees who worked in the joint when it was known as Harry’s Roadhouse recalled apparitions prowling in the liquor cabinet. Melissa shares her own personal experiences. One former bartender said she witnessed a small girl weakly voicing her desire to go home. After fainting, the bartender awoke to find only her boss in the building. The structure was once a boarding house that likely served as a hideout for the killer and the young girl during her final hours and that may be why she is haunting this location.
Interesting Historical Event with Shark Attacks on Jersey Shore
Between July 1 and July 12, 1916, during once of the hottest summer’s on record for the time, five people were attacked along the coast of New Jersey by sharks. The first major attack occurred on Saturday, July 1 at Beach Haven, a resort town established on Long Beach Island off the southern coast of New Jersey. It was there that Philadelphian vacationer Charles Vansant, was fatally mauled while swimming. Fellow beachgoers originally believed that he was calling for his dog but lifeguards would soon discover that Vansant had has his thigh torn off. He died soon thereafter at a local hotel. Despite the tragedy the public remained virtually unaware of the incident and no efforts were taken to warn or protect the public despite countless reports from sea captains of large sharks spotted off the surrounding coasts.
Five days later, on July 6, 28-year-old Charles Bruder, who worked as a bellhop for the local Essex and Sussex Hotel was attacked while swimming in Spring Lake and died in the lifeboat as he was rowed to shore. His legs had been bitten off. It was still believed at this time that sharks were not dangerous and suggestions were made that giant sea turtles and killer whales were to blame. Experts at the time remained skeptical that another attack could take place, and due to concerns for local business and the tourism dollars that could be lost if there was mass hysteria did very little to discourage bathers.
Four days later two more deaths would take place 30 miles north of the second attack in an area known as Matawan. 11 year old Lester Stillwell was swimming with his friends off a steamboat dock; in a brackish creek about 8 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, when he disappeared. His friends ran from the water to get help. Stillwell suffered from epilepsy, it was originally assumed that he suffered an attack. So townspeople rushed to the water’s edge and began a search. 24 year old Stanley Fisher, was one such person who dove in and located little Lester’s body at the bottom of the creek. As Fisher attempted to bring Lester’s body to the surface, he too was attacked. Stanley Fisher was rushed via train to Monmouth Memorial Hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.
However, the tragedy of the day did not end there. Less than 30 minutes later, 12 year old Joseph Dunn was swimming off of Wycoff dock when he too was attacked. Joseph was pulled from the jaws of the shark by his older brother and a friend, Dunn was rushed to a hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey where he recovered. Dunn is the only survivor of these 12 days of terror on the Jersey Shore.
These final incidents spurred a massive shore wide shark hunt, beach waters were roped and caged off in efforts to protect the swimmers. A $100 reward was offered to the fisherman who landed the “man eating shark.” Locals took to the waters with boats, poles, shotguns, and even dynamite in an attempt to reclaim the beaches. During this time several large sharks were landed, and even some that authorities claimed contained human remains in their stomach contents. Although there is no concrete evidence to support that the shark guilty for the five deaths was ever actually caught.
Popular belief at the time was that the Great White Shark, was guilty for the deaths, these assumptions have gone on to spur the public’s obsession with the dubbed man eater, even going on to influence movies such as the 1975 blockbuster film JAWS. It is now believed that the shark was more likely a bull shark due to its ability to survive in ocean and brackish waters. However the public’s obsession has never waned.
Melissa said, "I have always considered myself a history buff first and foremost. I appreciate the art of storytelling but get the most enjoyment out of a story if it is true. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in an extremely historic area on the Jersey Shore, I am proud of my hometown and take any chance to let inquiring minds know that we are more than just Bruce Springsteen and nightclubs. We have a history stemming back to the prerevolutionary eras, even prehistoric with which fossil deposits all over. I also consider myself an extremely spiritual person and find myself to have empathic tendencies and am sensitive to feelings and energies around me. The story and my experience that I want to recant has personal and sentimental importance to me. It was one of those situations whose importance and reality didn’t really hit me entirely until much later."
Asbury Park has some great stories and history. Have tragic events at the Jersey Shore location led to hauntings? Is Asbury Park haunted? That is for you to decide!
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Moment in Oddity - Green Olivine Crystals from the Sky
The eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea (Kill a way ah) volcano started on May 3, 2018. This is an eruption that has wreaked havic on the island, but it has also spawned something else: it's been raining little green crystals. That's right, little gems from the sky. What the crystals actually are is a mineral found in basaltic lava that is known as olivine. Olivine is formed in hot and deep magmas and eruptions bring it to the surface. The reason the olivine seems to be falling from the sky is that it has been carried up with spewing lava. The green mineral is found in all sorts of rocks in Hawaii. There is even a green sand beach. The crystals are heavier than sand, so when the ocean rolls in with waves and pulls the sand back out, the green crystals are left behind. And while olivine seems to be a common mineral in Hawaii, having it fall from the sky is an unusual event and, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - The Berlin Blockade
In the month of June, on the 24th, in 1948, Soviet Russia began a blockade of Berlin, known as the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Blockade lasted nearly a year, ending on may 12, 1949 and was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. This left West Berliners isolated and without food and other supplies. The Allies, which were made up of aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force, responded with an emergency airlift that ended up being 278,000 flights, delivering 2.3 million tons of food, coal and medical supplies. The Soviets allowed the airlifts to continue without disruption because they feared starting a war. The operation was so successful, that it was delivering more supplies than had previously been transported into the city by rail. The Allies continued their deliveries until September of 1949.
Holy Cross Abbey (Suggested by Cheryl Lynn)
The Roman Catholic Church purchased 90 acres of land in Canon City, Colorado, formerly known as Fruitmere Orchards, from Captain Benjamin F. Rockefeller for the Benedictine Society of Colorado. The Benedictines called the new religious foundation the Holy Cross Abbey. The main building was constructed in 1924 and rises to four stories and was designed by Joseph Dillon and L.A. Des Jardins with a Collegiate Gothic and Jacobean Revival style. This was not only a monastery, but it also was a boarding school for boys. There were bigger plans for the property, but the Depression stopped those plans. This property has been the scene of many suicides and other deaths and it seems that this has led to haunting activity. I am joined on this episode by Dennis Batchelor of Simply Ghosts, our listener Cheryl Lynn and two other investigators, Cindy and Sean, to share the history and their paranormal experiences at the Holy Cross Abbey.
Just based on the experiences of Cheryl, Dennis, Sean and Cindy, it would seem that clearly, some unexplained activity is going on in the various buildings on this property. Are some of the boys from the boarding school still here in the afterlife? How about monks and nuns? Is Holy Cross Abbey haunted? That is for you to decide!
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Moment in Oddity - The Battle of Los Angeles
Suggested by: Anthony Ortiz
The government is so unimaginative when it comes to explaining away unidentified objects or other unidentified aerial occurrences. They always claim that it was a weather balloon. This is what took place with the Battle of Los Angeles. What do you mean you haven't heard of any Battle of Los Angeles? And no, I'm not referring to a movie. When this battle took place, the United States had just recently entered World War II because of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. On February 24th, 1942 a rumored enemy attack and subsequent anti-aircraft artillery barrage over Los Angeles, California took place. Apparently, when all was said and done, it would seem that America's barrage against the enemy attack was really just a false alarm. At least, that was according to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Newspapers of the time published a number of reports and speculations of a cover-up. A later investigation by the United States Coast Artillery Association in 1949, claimed that a meteorological balloon was sent up at 1:00 a.m. and that "started all the shooting" and the report concluded that "once the firing started, imagination created all kinds of targets in the sky and everyone joined in". In 1983, the U.S. Office of Air Force History attributed the event to a case of "war nerves" triggered by a lost weather balloon and exacerbated by stray flares and shell bursts from adjoining batteries. Really? If this is really the case, that a little old weather balloon convinced the government that we were under attack by Japanese forces, that certainly would be odd! And a lot of BS if you ask me!
This Month in History - CNN Launches as First 24-Hour Television Station
In the month of June, on the 1st, in 1980, CNN launched in Atlanta as the first 24-hour television news station. The network signed on at 6 p.m. EST from its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with a lead story about the attempted assassination of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. The three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, would break into regular programming for major news stories and they hosted nightly 30-minute broadcasts, but the idea of running 24 hour news was foreign. CNN broke the news mold. The channel was initially available in less than two million U.S. homes, but today it is watched in more than 89 million American households and over 160 million homes internationally. Many doubters called CNN the Chicken Noodle Network because it lost money, but it eventually got very popular for breaking news and for covering live events around the world as they happened. CNN usually beat the major networks to the punch.
Return to Charleston's Old City Jail
Charleston is one of my favorite cities. There is so much history here and building after building has a story. This road trip had a group of us touring several parts of the city from cemeteries to restaurants to forts to historic mansions to the Old City Jail. On this episode, I'm going to review the places we saw, tours we took and some of the ghost stories that permeate the very essence of this city. I could easily believe that Charleston is one of the most haunted cities in America. Join me as I return to Charleston and more specifically, return to the Old City Jail, and this time I take you inside with me!
On Friday evening, we did a ghost tour with Pleasing Terrors. We hit many of the haunted locations in the historic area near Charleston Harbor. We met up in Washington Square Park. The first building we were told about was on the corner and known as the Fireproof Building because it was the first building in the US to claim to be fireproof. The reason it could do this was because it was not made from any flammable material. Unfortunately, its claim to fame proved to be untrue when it did catch fire in 1861 and a large portion of the interior was burned. It was built between 1822 and 1827. The architect was Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. *Rabbit Hole: Mills was the first native born professional architect in the US and was a keen advocate of using fireproof materials in buildings. Many think he moved towards fireproof materials starting in 1812 when he designed Virginia’s Monumental Church on a site where 72 people had died in a theater fire the year before.* The style is Neoclassical. County records were stored here since it was the most fireproof building in the city. Today, the building houses the headquarters of the S.C. Historical Society. Our guide, Mike, had worked in that building for years and told of many experiences he had, as well as those of co-workers. After doing some deep research, he was able to find out that autopsies were conducted down in the basement and they believe that is why there are hauntings here. People have seen spirits gazing out of windows at them.
We visited the Circular Congregational Church and its churchyard. I did a live video from there. The original church was built in 1806 by the Independent Church of Charles Town, which was organized as far back as 1681 in the city. The earthquake of 1886 brought it down . In 1891, it was replaced with the Romanesque Revival structure here now. The churchyard is the oldest in the city and had some very unique symbolism on the headstones including a really creepy looking woman. Some of the tombstones stood almost as tall as us. We stopped outside the infamous Unitarian Universalist churchyard where the ghost of Anabel Lee is said to rise from her grave in search of her long lost love Edgar Perry, otherwise known as Edgar Poe. Maggie managed to capture a real weird light anomoly in a live picture she shared in the Spooktacular Crew. Many times people have passed out in front of this gate, but we had no issues. It was a wonderful tour, highly recommend!
The next day, we had lunch at Poogan's Porch, a restaurant that has made the most haunted list on the Travel Channel. This is located at 72 Queen Street and the food is really good with the most amazing biscuits. The first thing you notice is that this clearly was somebody's home at one time. The restaurant of named for Poogan the dog who has his grave to the right of the walkway when you enter the yard of the restaurant. He was a neighborhood dog who liked to hang out around the porch. This home had belonged to Zoe Saint Armand and her sister Emily. They were schoolteachers who lived quietly with their cat. Emily and the cat died and Zoe became very lonely. She would spend her time on the second floor balcony waving to passers-by. Zoe eventually died too and it is believed that her spirit remains in the house. People have seen her apparition sitting on the balcony and waving. One couple saw her inside an upper story window pounding on it as if she wanted to get out. They called the police who found everything in order and nobody inside. Another story is about a newly engaged couple who decided to celebrate at the restaurant. The young woman went to the restroom and as she washed her hands , she glanced up into the mirror and saw an old woman in a long black dress and worn sweater standing behind her. She freaked out because no one was in the restroom when she exited the stall and she heard no one come in. She ran out of the bathroom, past her fiance, out the front door and into the hard where she cried hysterically. She would not come back into the restaurant and never returned. Many of the staff claim that experiences can be a bit angry as though Zoe is unhappy to have all these people in her home. We had no experiences and we used the restroom as well.
We visited the Calhoun Mansion, which was a veritable oddity museum in and of itself . The current owner who actually lives in the house has been collecting weird and unique items since he was a teenager. It was an amazing home to behold. The Victorian styled home was built in 1876. We also visited the Nathaniel Russell House, which was built in 1808 by the King of the Yankees, Nathaniel Russell. He was a merchant in Charleston who came from Rhode Island. This home reminded me of the Sorrell-Weed House in Savannah, particularly because it had oval shaped rooms with the same kind of curved wooden doors. The central staircase was a marvel to behold. It is free-flying and spirals up three floors completely unsupported. And just as the Sorrell-Weed House was built from bricks made on plantations by slaves, so was this house.
Randy was our guide with Bulldog Tours. The jail hasn't changed much since it opened in 1802. The biggest change is that it had a fourth floor, which was destroyed in the earthquake there in 1886, so the roof line was brought down to the third floor. The fourth floor was mainly used for pregnant women in the jail to give birth. The other change was that there had been a twenty foot high wall all around the jail yard and today it stands only around four feet. Everything inside is original. The staircase was brought over from England in 1802and is very ornate. The granite stairs came from New England in 1802. Men, women and children all shared the jail. The youngest child there was ten year old Alonzo Small. He was convicted of first degree murder and thrown into the third floor. There was no record of him leaving.
There were many jail breaks because the jail was made of tabby, which was easy to dig through. On the second and third floor are two huge rooms. The rooms were full of iron cages to house the criminals. The third floor was death row. They would pull the condemned criminal from that floor and bring him down to the gallows. It wasn't just hardcore criminals that were housed here. Petty thieves and other lesser infractions like helping a fugitive slave could get a person thrown into the City Jail. The warden lived in an apartment in the jail with his children. He was the only person holding down the jail after lockdown. He could look out his window and see down the hall to make sure nothing was out of order. One warden raised nine children there. The first room we entered had a rope pulley system known as the crane of pain in the middle of it that was used for torture, usually whipping with a cat o' nine tails. This would pull the skin off your back. They would throw brine on you to protect against infection.
Most people could survive four months in the jail. Anybody staying after that would probably die from disease or violence. The biggest killer in the jail was Yellow Fever. There was a huge morgue downstairs and they would try to get rid of the bodies quickly because they thought the victims were spreading the disease, rather than the mosquito. There were some who believed bad swamp gas known as miasma caused the disease and soldiers would sometimes go out to the swamps with cannons and fire off into what they thought was the miasma hoping to dissipate it. Guards would have to be careful when they entered the main cell areas. They would look through a peep hole to make sure nobody was out and then they would stick their head through a small window in the bars to make sure that no one was hiding, waiting to jump them.
During the Civil War, it hit peak occupancy because the Confederate Army turned it into a POW Camp. George Todd was a doctor brought in to care for the Union POWS. He was nuts and did weird experiments on the prisoners. The Confederate guards even feared him. Inject things in their skin and tie them in weird positions. he would amputate limbs that didn't need to be removed. he was convicted of war crimes after the war. He was the brother of Mary Todd, so brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln. William Marcus was a man who was thrown in here after he stabbed his wife to death on a beach on Sullivan's island. He reached over and grabbed the fist of a man in the cell next to him and beat him to death with his own fist. When the guards hauled him out to hang him, he head butted one of the guards so hard, he killed him. There were many dangerous people here, including the Fishers.
There are different versions of the Lavinia Fisher story, a woman considered to be America's first female serial killer. This tour and the Pleasing Terrors tour each had different versions. She was kept in a corner cell on the second floor of the jail. She shared the cell with her husband John. Both had been convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to hang. Lavinia Fisher was born in 1793 and she was said to be one of the most beautiful women in Charleston. She married a man named John and the two ran a hotel in Charleston named Six Mile Wayfarer House because it was six miles outside of town. It was a popular place for men to stay at while traveling. Lavinia would bring the men staying at the hotel some hot tea that was laced with oleander leaves. She would sit and chat with them while they sipped the tea. She would then escort them to a room that she and John used for travelers that they had decided to murder and rob. They would stab the men and John would bury the bodies in a pit. Things changed for Lavinia and John when John Peeples came to stay. He chatted with Lavinia for quite a while giving her far too many details about his life. He didn't like tea, so he had left it untouched and when Lavinia left the room, he dumped it out. She returned and told John they had a vacant room. After getting inside his room, John had a weird feeling. Lavinia's husband had stared at him all night in an unsettling way as he chatted up Lavinia. He also felt he had shared too much and perhaps he might be robbed. He decided to sleep in a chair by the door rather than the bed and good thing because in the middle of the night he was awakened by a loud noise. He was shocked to see the bed disappearing into a hole. John jumped out the window and rode his horse to the police reporting what had happened. Lavinia and her husband were arrested.
When the police searched the hotel they found Charleston's Murder Castle. There were secret passages and mechanisms that opened floorboards. A sleeping herb was found and police believe these herbs were used to put victims to sleep. The remains of 100 people were found in the basement along with belongings of many people who were not the Fishers. John and Lavinia were tried and sentenced to hang, but they were given a chance to repeal. They were kept inside the Old Jail for a year. As they waited, they hatched a plan to escape. They made a rope from linens and John shimmied down first. He broke the rope and Lavinia was stuck in the cell. He couldn't leave without her, so he returned to the jail and they were put under better security. They were hung on the gallows behind the jail on February 18, 1820. John went quietly, but not Lavinia. She ranted and raved and refused to walk to the gallows, so she was carried. She wore a white dress and hoped that she could convince a man to marry her after John was hanged. A married woman could not be hanged. No man took her up on the offer to marry. Her last words were, “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it.” She flung herself off the gallows and hit the crowd who were stunned by the awful sneer that spread across her dying visage. Historians have never found any evidence that 100 bodies were in the house. Only two bodies were discovered. And many believe that the Fishers were part of a group that merely robbed people.
Lavinia Fisher was reportedly buried in the Potter's Field next to the jail and instead of heading off to Hell, she seems to have decided to stay at the Old Jail in the afterlife. Right after she was hung, residents claimed they saw Lavinia's face behind the bars of the cell she once occupied. Lavinia's apparition is seen inside the jail wearing a wedding dress. She is a very angry and vengeful spirit. She scratches many visitors with three fingernails and usually goes after men.
The jail closed in 1939 because conditions were considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution, so the government ordered it shut down. The prison sat empty for 60 years until a local architectural school bought it in 2000 and turned it into a college campus. They put electricity into it for the first time and they left about two years ago because they needed a bigger campus. Bulldog Tours has been running tours there, but those will be ending soon as the jail is gutted and made into an office building. Some of these people are going to have their desks in rooms where spirits abound.
There is reportedly the ghost of a little girl that has been seen, so apparently this jail was like many others and housed children at times. A black man in ragged clothes has been witnessed wandering the cell blocks. A heavy iron door fell off its hinges. A cop was investigating an alarm in 2006 and when he arrived, he found the back door open. He drew his gun and went inside, climbing the spiral stair case. When he got to the third floor he said he felt as though his "arms were wrapped in plastic wrap."
For those of you that listen to Pleasing Terrors Podcast, Mike Brown went into the creepy door room and witnessed the use of a Ouiji board in that room and he shares a terrifying story in episode 32 about what happened. Our guide Randy had joined the group in that room. There is something clearly evil inside this room. We went inside this room and got some weird pictures. Maggie felt uncomfortable in that room. As a side note, Mike brought that Ouiji board to the live show in Louisville. It is the creepiest board I've ever seen with what looks like little devils carved on it.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Moment in Oddity - Cora and the Carved Tree Spirits
There are a group of islands in the state of Georgia known as the Golden Isles. These islands include Jekyll, Sea, Brunswick, Little St. Simons and St. Simons. I was passing through a few days ago and learned of the local legend of Cora on the island of St. Simons. She is a spellbinding beauty that is part human and part fish. Yes, a mermaid. She has rarely been seen by islanders, but those that have spotted her say that she is full of grace and has the deepest green eyes they have ever seen and light brown hair. Cora's purpose is to protect the eggs of the Loggerhead Turtles that are buried in nests along the St. Simons' beaches. Cora hums a song along the shoreline as the turtles hatch. This song guides the babies to the water. The mermaid teaches them to hunt and how to keep safe in the water. She then returns for the next batch of newborns. This all takes place on moonlit nights, which is why Cora is rarely seen. Her image is carved into one of the trees on the island, as are the images of 19 tree spirits. These carvings were created by sculptor Keith Jennings starting in 1982. Only seven of them are in public viewing areas, but the idea that the island of St. Simons commissioned the work in tribute to their local legends, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Sally J. Priesand Becomes 1st Female American Rabbi
In the month of June, on the 3rd, in 1972, Sally J. Priesand became the first woman in America to be ordained as a rabbi. Rabbi Priesand was born in Cleveland in 1946, where she aspired as a teenager to become a rabbi. She attended the University of Cincinnati and received her Bachelor's Degree in 1968. After that, she won admittance to the rabbinic school at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Keep in mind through all this dreaming and all this schooling, that there was no such thing as a female rabbi in America. Rabbi Priesand was dogged by skepticism everywhere she went. No one believed that her dream would ever come true. But in 1972, she was ordained within the Reform movement. She quickly secured the position of assistant rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. She left there in 1979 because they would not promote her to senior rabbi. Rabbi Priesand was rejected by several temples, but finally became a senior rabbi at Temple Beth El in Elizabeth, N.J. Three years later she became rabbi of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, N.J. and remained there until her retirement in 2006.
Old Slave House (Suggested by: Andrea Ward)
Whether one calls it the Crenshaw House, Hickory Hill or the Old Slave House, one thing is certain about this house that sits on a hill in Southern Illinois. The horrifying history of its past certainly lends itself to a negative energy that backs up the claim that this is one of the most haunted locations in Illinois. Not only were slaves brutalized here, but an operation known as the Reverse Underground Railroad did a good job of thwarting the work of the Underground Railroad. This may surprise some as Illinois was a free state, but that did not stop the actions of evil men. The hauntings that have been experienced at this place are negative and chilling. Join me as I share the history and hauntings of the Old Slave House.
I just spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina. The slave trade in South Carolina was alive and well for more than a century and Charleston was a key place of trade in human slavery during the 1800s. Slave auctions were held downtown near the Old Exchange Building. Feeling the pain and suffering of these auctions is expected in places like this in the south. Hearing stories of painful events connected to slavery in the north is not as common and that is probably why the stories about the Old Slave House in Gallatin County in Illinois are surprising.
Gallatin County was organized in 1812 and was named for Albert Gallatin, who was the Secretary of the Treasury at that time. Equality is a village within that county and it became the county seat. One draw of the village was the nearby salt works. Native Americans called it the Great Salt Springs and used the salt until the French came and began extracting it in 1735. The tribes in the area retained control though, but finally ceded it to the US government in 1803. The government would lease out the extraction of the mines with the requirements that a certain amount of salt be produced. If this didn’t happen, the lessee would have to pay a penalty. Work in the salt mines was nasty and grueling. Most men would not do it, which led to the use of slave labor. Anti-slavery treaties were in place in Illinois, but an exception was made for the salt mines. As we know, money talks. There were 239 slaves on the 1820 census in Gallatin County. In 1838, many of these slaves would call the mansion John Crenshaw built home.
John Hart Crenshaw was born in November of 1797 on the border of the Carolinas. His family went all the way back to the founding of the country. They eventually moved west to Missouri until the big earthquake in 1811 destroyed their home. They decided to make the move to Illinois and started a farm on the east side of Eagle Mountain where there was a salt well. They called it Half Moon Lick. It was shortly after the move that John’s father died, leaving him as eldest son to care for his mother and six siblings. He ran the crude salt refinery at Half Moon Lick. Perhaps it was this part of his life that turned him into the cruel and evil man he would become. Crenshaw would become worse than just a slave owner. He would use his influence and money to kidnap free slaves, force them into breeding, slavery and send some back to the south. The slaves that he owned would be locked in chains, a sound that would rattle through the ages and can still be heard today by those that venture into the abandoned home branded with No Trespassing signs.
In 1829, the government decided to stop leasing their salt mines and offered the men who were producing the salt a chance to purchase their holdings. The individual operators were given the opportunity to purchase their holdings and Crenshaw did just that. He would eventually buy up several thousand acres of land and build a sawmill and three salt furnaces for processing. His fortune grew and one thing that gave him a lot of pull in the county was that he paid one-seventh of all of the taxes collected in the state. So his activity was basically ignored. As an example of his influence, Abraham Lincoln visited the house in September of 1840 when he was a state representative. He was attending debates in Equality and had been invited to a ball being held at the Crenshaw House. The second floor had a space that could easily be converted to a ballroom. Mr. Lincoln spent the night in the Southeast bedroom of the Crenshaw House. He more than likely slept on the floor because the Crenshaws did not have a big enough bed for him.
Now it may not be that people just turned a blind eye to Crenshaw’s kidnapping and illegal slave trade. Crenshaw was a man of the church and a successful businessman, so many would not have even suspected. Perhaps they knew he was working black people as slaves, but they did not know that the third floor of his home was a barred chamber of horrors. Nor that he was hiring out men to kidnap free blacks. But I seriously doubt it because he was charged with kidnapping in 1828. The case involved the kidnapping of an indentured servant named Frank Granger whom he sold into slavery in Kentucky. Following that, he kidnapped a free black woman named Lucinda and her two children. He took them to Kentucky as well and sold them. This was before he built Crenshaw House, but still.
Crenshaw House was begun in 1834 and finished in 1838. The mansion was built in the Classic Greek style and was three stories tall. The front porch featured large columns, cut from the hearts of individual pine trees. These columns framed the large verandahs. There were thirteen rooms on the first and second floors. Each one had a separate fireplace. Crenshaw furnished the house with lavish European artwork and furniture. He had the third floor reinforced with thicker walls and had over a dozen cells installed. They each had metal rings and chains and were about the size of a horse stall. And even more horrifying were the whipping posts installed at both ends of the hallway. Keep in mind that Crenshaw was married with five children and the family living quarters were on the first and second floor. There was little light or air up here either. And don’t let the small number of cells make you think he had few slaves. These were just mainly for the purpose of running what would be called the Reverse Underground Railroad. At one time, Crenshaw had around 700 slaves or indentured servants. Some of those servants were white people.
The Reverse Underground Railroad was exactly what it sounds like. Just the opposite of whisking black slaves to freedom. This was capturing free slaves and selling them off to southern states. Kidnappers physically abused and psychologically terrorized their captives. One of the goals of the beatings was to cause such fear so that a free black person would not try to claim their free status. Once kidnappers sold their victims into slavery, the free blacks chances of ever being believed were diminished and their chances of being free again were gone. Even when owners heard the truth about a slave that they had bought actually being a free man who had been kidnapped, he would ignore this so as not to lose his investment. And even if a kidnapper was brought up on charges, it was nearly impossible to prove that a slave had been free. And keep in mind that in many places, blacks could not testify against whites. Only a white person could confirm a black’s freedom and most feared repercussions or persecution for helping a black person and sending a fellow white person to jail.
Crenshaw had several hired men that he used to make sure none of his slaves escaped, but he also used them to help kidnap free black people. They would smuggle them across the Ohio River to Kentucky. They used a secret wagon entrance on the back of the house to bring in covered wagons carrying the kidnapped blacks. A set of stairs carried these people to the third floor. There they would be whipped, raped and tortured. Some even died from the treatment. When they couldn’t find enough free blacks to kidnap, Crenshaw started a breeding program using a black slave named Uncle Bob as a stud. You see, pregnant women sold for more at the auction. Legend claims that Uncle Bob sired 300 children.
Crenshaw was again charged with kidnapping in 1842 in the case of Maria, his cook, and her seven children. He was found not guilty. But things still started to go south for Crenshaw. People started talking and wondering about his methods. His sawmill mysteriously burned to the ground. And the market for salt changed and it became less profitable. His empire was going to crumble. Several civil court actions were brought against Crenshaw. His business holdings began to drop after salt deposits were discovered in both Virginia and Ohio. these deposits were more profitable than those in southern Illinois. And then there was the slave revolt. Why it took as long as it did, I don't know. Slave owners used to fear to keep their slaves in check and perhaps that is what kept the slaves, who clearly outnumbered the night riders, overseers and other men that Crenshaw employed, from revolting. But revolt they did and in the attack, Crenshaw was hit with an axe and lost one of his legs. It is believed that the revolt was fueled when Crenshaw beat one of the female slaves in the fields. After the attack, most of the slaves were sold off and the salt mine was closed up. Crenshaw sold the Old Slave House during the Civil War and moved to a farmhouse closer to Equality. He not only farmed there, but got into lumber, railroads and banks. He died on December 4, 1871 and was buried in Hickory Hill Cemetery.
In 1906, the Sisk Family bought the Old Slave House. When they entered the home, they saw the awful secret the Crenshaw family had been hiding. The cells and chains were still on the third floor. Soon word got out and people flocked to the home wanting to see the horrors within. By the 1920s, the Sisks had themselves a real tourist destination. People would catch a meal in town and hear from the waitress all about the house on the outskirts of town where actual slavery in Illinois had taken place and that the Reverse Underground Railroad had a home at this place. The Sisks would accommodate all these visitors and give them a tour. Eventually, they figured out that they could make some money with this endeavor and by 1930, they were charging admission. they started advertising that for just a dime, or a nickel if you were a child, you could tour the place where "Slavery Existed in Illinois."
Eventually, George Sisk passed away and his son inherited the property. He continued to run the museum, but in 1996, George Sisk, Jr. retired and closed the museum. In December of 2000, the Sisk family sold the house to the state of Illinois for $500,000. In 2004, the National Park Service named the Crenshaw Mansion as part of the Underground Railroad National Network to Freedom program. It has been estimated that renovations would cost $7 million to get the museum opened up again and the state does not have the funds. So the house sits basically abandoned. But the house is not quiet. This property has enough negative energy absorbed into it to feed the spirits of many angry and mourning spirits. There are said to be a number of ghosts on this property.
The disembodied sounds of moaning and cries of pain have been heard here dating all the way back to when the Crenshaws still lived in the house. When the house was open, as many as 150 people tried their hands at an overnight stay on the third floor. These people were trying to debunk the locallegend that no one could spend the entire night in that space. An exorcist named Hickman Whittington visited the house and planned to put the ghosts of the house to rest. His plan didn't work and a legend claims he died after spending the night in the attic. I could find no proof of this. Two Vietnam veterans, challenged to stay overnight in the attic, ran out of the house screaming in fright. They said they fled because they were surrounded by ghostly shapes and non-human figures. These reports caught the attention of famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. They visited the house and in a 1978 tabloid, described their visit to the house as “the most demoniacal place” they had ever visited.
Only one person was able to last the entire evening and that person was David Rodgers, a reporter from a local TV station (WSIL-TV). He did this in 1978 and reported that the attic area was full of strange noises. These noises resembled cries, whimpers and even the rattling of chains. This lined up with reports tourists had been making for years. Rodgers also captures several EVP and claimed that he felt queasy the entire evening. He did not experience some of the more scary elements of hauntings that others have like being brushed by unseen figures or feeling the icy touch of an unseen hand.
The slave quarters seem to emit negative feelings that are felt even by people who are not sensitive to such things. These are feelings of intense fear, sadness and of being watched. Joy Neighbor's reports on her blog A Grave Interest, "I have a friend who went there several times in the 70's. She also mentioned the feelings of fear and despair that seemed to fill the attic. She said on one trip, someone/thing touched her arm and hair - and she was "outta there!"
Another story comes from someone going by the initials TM, "I visited the house in the early 90's not realizing what it was, we had small children and needed a place to pull over and let the kids stretch. When we pulled up to the place we were the only vehicle in the parking lot. I had a brand new video camera and wanted to try it out so I immediately began filming, as I panned upwards and noticed a woman in a black woman in a white dress and bonnet staring out of the 3rd story window, then she rotated 90 degrees in a floating motion and drifted back toward the center of the house. We then walked up to the front door and met with a man and woman who greeted us and informed us there would be a tour starting again in 30 minutes, I asked if we could join the tour that was going on right now? She said the only two people in the house were her and her husband. I said, "How did you get down from the 3rd floor so quickly then? I told her I filmed her as I was walking up the stairs. She looked at me and said, " I don't go up there any more", long story short, I prodded her into telling me why, She said she encountered a little slave girl up there and it was between her and the stairway, thus trapping her until it left. I am glad I filmed the place, it was incredible and had a lot of old guns , knives and history which was explained on the film and to the rest of the tour. There were creepy stories such as the owner of the home in the 1800s was so mean that his little kid was screaming out side and the old man lost his temper and grabbed the kid by the feet and bashed his brains out on the oak tree out front.. Just for crying too loud. I never believed in ghosts before we happened by this place, but believe me, it will make a believer out of you. On the video I still have here you can here my little boy stating every few minutes,, "Dad can we get out of here?" .. The place really gets to you, and after the house tour we went out back and checked out the tool shed which had wares of the era, along with a human skull of one of the slaves. I showed this film to several people and none of them could explain the floating lady at the beginning of it. If it ever opens back up check it out, I know it's still in tact because we were with the kids competing in high school rodeo a couple of years ago, and the kid camped next to our rig currently lives close to there and he mows the property for the guy who takes care of the place, he said even the old cave is still there that leads to the river."
Today, "Do Not Trespass" signs are plastered around the property and on the house. A caretaker lives in the home to keep trespassers out, but otherwise the house just sits. It seems a shame that such an educational piece of property would sit unused. The lessons that could be learned and the truth about a vile part of Illinois history would be out there for all to see. Most people probably are not aware that a reverse Underground Railroad even existed. The Old Slave House is a key part of that history. And the disturbing energy left behind may find comfort in the empathy of visitors. Perhaps if there are unquiet spirits here, they would feel as though they could leave because their story has been told. Are there spirits still hanging out at the Crenshaw House? Is the Old Slave House haunted? That is for you to decide!