Moment in Oddity - The Park of Monsters
Suggested by: Kim Gasiorowski
The "Parco dei Mostri" or Park of Monsters can be found in Bomarzo in northern Lazio, Italy. The park is situated in a wooded area below the Orsini Castle. This castle was once home to Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who lived there in the 16th century. Orsini is the designer of this bizarre and horribly beautiful park full of stone sculptures of various monsters. The sculptures are designed to shock and were an expression of his grief. He had come through a terrible season in his life. He had just survived a brutal war that had killed his best friend, he had been held for ransom for years and when he returned home, his beloved wife died. The prince hired architect Pirro Ligorio to help him create what he called the "Villaof Wonders." This would be a place of art before its time as it demonstrates a type of Surrealism. Salvador Dali loved the place when he visited. The park took 20 years to complete and was finished off with a temple built for the Prince's second wife. Other designs include a house built on a tilt to disorient visitors, a war elephant, a giant tearing another giant in half, a huge fish head and an enormous head with a wide gaping mouth locked in a scream, known as the mouth of hell, that features a small picnic table within. A novel, libretto, and opera have all been based on the park. A lovely and peaceful Italian garden playing host to stone monsters, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Mission San Juan Capistrano Founded
In the month of November, on the 1st, in 1776, the Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in California. Saint Junipero Serra founded the mission as the 7th of 21 missions statewide. The mission was originally intended as a self-sufficient community for Spanish Padres and Native Americans and was a center for agriculture, education and religion. Over 300,000 people visit the mission annually, but it is not just humans that visit. This is the site of the famous Annual Return of the Swallows. Swallows migrate 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano and arrive on March 19th, St. Joseph's Day. This has been happening since the 1930s. The legend of why this happens goes: One day, while walking through town, Father O’Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes. “What in the world are you doing?” O’Sullivan asked. “Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded. “But where can they go?” “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.” Father O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.” The very next morning, Father O’Sullivan discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside Father Junípero Serra’s Church. The mission also features one-of-a-kind artifacts and paintings and has the ruins of the Great Stone Church destroyed in an earthquake in 1812. Her nickname is the American Acropolis.
Duff Green Mansion
Vicksburg is one of those Civil War era cities that I long to visit because I love antebellum mansions. The Greek Revival architecture and magnolia trees take me back to an earlier time with hoop skirts embellished with ribbons and elegant carriages riding in the streets, but it was also a dark time of slavery and division in the United States that would lead to the outbreak of the Civil War. Vicksburg was the scene of an intense battle that would leave over 37,000 causalities in its wake. Just prior to the outbreak of the war, Duff Green built his mansion and the Bed and Breakfast still carries his name today. The mansion seems to have more than just the Green name. Spirits of the family members seem to have stayed on her in the afterlife. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of the Duff Green Mansion!
Vicksburg, Mississippi is a river port that sits high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The United States bought the area from the Choctaw Nation in 1801. The city would become the scene of a battle that would be a major turning point in the Civil War. Confederate forces held the city under Lt. General John Pemberton. The Union knew that this was a strategic location that they needed because of the location on the river bluff. In the summer of 1863, Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee converged on Vicksburg. They found that Pemberton's forces had built a series of trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes in a 7-mile ring surrounding the city, but the Union had the advantage of outnumbering the Confederate forces two to one. Grant went forward with two assaults but both were repelled leading him to lay siege to the city. This led Pemberton to surrender on July 4th as food and supplies ran out. Grant's Vicksburg campaign was considered one of the most brilliant of the war and it solidified the Union with control of the entire Mississippi River.
Coca-Cola was bottled for the first time in Vicksburg in 1894 by Joseph Biedenharn who was a local confectioner. Well, I had to know more because I love Coke. Coca-Cola originated as a soda fountain drink and sales were so good for Biedenharn, he decided to try bottling it. He used a common glass bottle called a Hutchinson. Biedenharn sent a case to Asa Griggs Candler, who owned Coke. Candler thanked him but took no action at first.
So Vicksburg was a major player in the war, but it suffered greatly afterwards and racial strife would be a key part of its history. Today, it is a grand city that focuses on tourism. People come from all around to see the antebellum mansions and one of those is the Duff Green Mansion. Duff Green was a local cotton broker that had become very wealthy. He had recently married Mary Lake and wanted to build his new wife a grand home that the neighbors would envy. Construction began in 1856. The mansion was built in the Palladian style with two large verandas that featured wrought iron embellishments. There were 13 fireplaces, several bedrooms and a large ballroom. Lavish parties were thrown at the mansion and both Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant were said to have danced in the ballroom. Things were wonderful until the Civil War broke out.
The Siege of Vicksburg that I described earlier brought the battle right to the home of the Greens. Five cannonballs blasted through the upper floors before Mary was able to hoist a yellow flag indicating that the mansion could be used as a hospital. Both Confederate and Union casualties were brought to the mansion. The Union took the top floor and the Confederate forces took the main floor. The kitchen became the operating room and so much blood flowed onto the floor that the wood is still bloodstained to this day. The Greens needed a place to stay during this time and they took cover in caves that they had built into the hill outside their home. Mary was pregnant at the time and actually had to give birth to their son in the cave. She named him William Siege Green. I'm not sure what happened with the Greens between the time the siege ended and when they returned to their home in 1866, but the mansion itself was leased by the US government to be used as a Soldier's Home.
The Greens stayed in the home until 1880 when Duff passed away. They had a daughter named Annie who died in the home when she was six. Mary decided to sell the house and she did so to the Peatross family. This would begin a time of ownership switching hands and different uses for the house. The Peatross family stayed in the house until 1910 and they sold it to Fannie Vick Johnston. She used the mansion as a temporary residence while her mansion was being built. That home is known today as Stained-Glass Manor. She moved out and allowed the home to be used as an orphanage for boys. For a time, it also became a home for elderly, destitute women. In 1931, Johnston's heirs sold the property to the Salvation Army and they used it for 50 years. In 1985, the mansion was sold to Harry Sharp and his wife.
The Sharps brought the Duff Green Mansion back to its former glory as they transformed it into a bed and breakfast. The process took two-and-a-half years, but it is gorgeous inside with polished wood floors, gorgeous chandeliers and walls covered in historic paint. Twenty-seven layers of paint had to be removed. The mansion is filled with period antique furnishings and offers several rooms for guests that include The Dixie Room, The Camellia Room, The Confederate Room, The Magnolia Room, Little Annie Room, The Pemberton Suite, The Duff Green Suite, The Nursery and Lucy's Cave, which is an apartment that is located under the driveway off the courtyard. There is a brick courtyard with a pool. Weddings and events are hosted as well. Something the bed and breakfast does not keep a secret, is that it also hosts ghosts.
The owner Henry Sharp himself has seen ghosts. He told the Vicksburg Post, "I've seen the ghost of Mary Green floating in the entrance of that doorway, plain as day." The cook has also seen the apparition of Mary and describes her as a beautiful woman with flowing blonde hair. She told a local television station, "I was standing there over the stove stirring my grits, and I felt this rubbing on my shoulders. I thought someone had walked in behind me - teasing me or something like that. But I looked back, and there wasn't anyone there. Then I know it was Mrs. Green." This apparition has been seen most of the time wearing a green antebellum dress. The cook also came in one morning and heard music coming from the ballroom. When she looked inside, she saw a ghostly couple swirling about the floor. A female spirit has been seen looking out a window in the dining room who could also be Mary Green.
Little Annie who died in the house when she was six still seems to be here. Her apparition is seen and heard running up and down the staircase and the sounds of a child playing with a ball have also been heard. Mr. Sharp's one-and-a-half year old granddaughter Lydia was in the ballroom with him one time and she kept glancing over at a corner in the room and finally said, "Ga-ga, ball," over and over. Mr. Sharp said "ga-ga" was Lydia's word for baby. Did she see Little Annie in the corner playing with a ball? A three-year-old guest kept making motions like he was throwing a ball in the ballroom and when his father asked why he kept doing that he responded that he was throwing the ball to Annie.
The most seen spirit belongs to a Confederate soldier who lost his leg. He is seen most often by the fireplace in The Dixie Room standing by the mantle or sitting in a chair and he just looks straight ahead. A policeman captured the figure of a soldier sitting on the front steps. I'm not sure if this is a different soldier as the description didn't mention a missing leg. A side note about amputations here, one of the basement rooms is where these took place and there was a window through which the limbs were thrown and it is said that the stack reached five feet high. During excavations around the foundation, human bones were found that had surgical saw marks on them.
Guests have had other experiences like feeling the sheets being pulled off them in The Confederate Room. Phantom smells have also been experienced in this room, one of which is gangrene. The investigative group Paranormal Incorporated captured some interesting EVPs during a stay. Most are hard to hear other than differentiating voices between male and female, but one sounds like a whistle that goes, "Yoo Hoo." Heavy furniture is heard dragging across the floors of rooms where no one is staying. Photographic evidence has been captured featuring shadow figures. Employees claim that hardly a week goes by that they don't have something strange happen or see something out of the corner of their eyes. Some guests have even claimed to see angels and a pair of undertakers. Only two guests have ever left the mansion, unable to stay because of the haunting activity, and that seems to indicate that the spirits here are not malevolent.
The mansion is beautiful inside and out. Could it be that Mary green's love for her former home has brought her spirit back? Did she come back to join her daughter Annie in the afterlife? Did the trauma of the Civil War leave the spirits of some soldiers here? Is the Duff Green Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!