Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ep. 262 - Return to Charleston's Old City Jail

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.

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