Moment in Oddity - Moonshiners Used Cow Shoes to Hide Footprints
Moonshining had been going on in America from the time of the Revolutionary War. During Prohibition, the effort to bootleg moonshine stepped up. Most moonshine operations took place in remote wooded areas where they were easier to conceal. This didn't keep law enforcement from finding the illegal distilleries and when they did, the operators would usually take off running. It is easy to track a human with their shoe prints. Moonshiners devised an unusual way to camouflage their tracks: they made cow shoes. These were basically a strip of metal that had a wooden block on the back and the front that had been carved to look like the hoof of a cow. This contraption was then strapped on to a real shoe. Thus when a moonshiner ran away, he left behind hoof prints. The police didn't know if they were following a cow or a human. These cow shoes were worn all the time because they also didn't want authorities to see shoe prints in the woods where humans shouldn't be and suspect that an operation was going on. Once the newspapers reported about the cow shoes, they became less effective. But the idea that moonshiners devised these cow shoes and that they really did work, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - First Photo of an American President
In the month of February, on the 14th, in 1849, the first photograph of a United States President was taken by photographer Mathew Brady. That president was James Polk. Brady was one of the earliest photographers in America and is considered the father of photojournalism. He photographed 18 of the 19 presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley and this included many photos of Abraham Lincoln. He photographed other famous people like Daniel Webster and Edgar Allan Poe as well. He became best known during the Civil War when he took many battlefield photographs and made use of a mobile studio and darkroom while in the field. He hired many assistants and many of ther photos attributed to him were taken by these men. A lack of documentation has made it hard for historians to know whom to attribute photos to and when and where pictures were taken. A war-weary America lost interest in the Civil War photos by the end of the conflict and Brady eventually lost all his money because he had self-funded much of his Civil War work and died in debt. It's sad to think that someone who gave us so much photographic history of this early time, including photos of President Lincoln that would be used to create the $5 bill and Lincoln Penny, would die penniless in a charity hospital.
Aradale Asylum in Australia
Gold brought people to Ararat, but what it would be known for is its asylums. The Aradale Asylum would be home for the mentally ill for over a century and would feature conditions and treatments similar to other asylums around the world, most of which were not good. This misunderstanding and mistreatment of the mentally ill lends itself to the negative energy that sometimes feeds paranormal activity. The fact that the criminally insane were kept in J Ward only heightens that energy. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of the Aradale Asylum!
Ararat is a city in south-west Victoria, Australia, about 120 miles west of Melbourne. It's named for Mount Ararat, the mountain that the Biblical Noah's Ark is said to have landed upon. The Tjapwurong Indigenous Australian people were here first. Thomas Mitchell was the first to survey the area in 1836 and Horatio Wills passed through in 1841 and wrote in a diary about his group resting like the Ark near a hill, which he named Mt. Ararat. A post office was established in 1856 and then gold was discovered the following year and Ararat became a boomtown. The town continued to grow until the turn of the 20th century. It was proclaimed as a city on May 24, 1950. The town remains small to this day and there is a complex that remains as a reminder to something else that Ararat came to be known for more than just the gold rush. This was a place for the mentally ill. The Aradale Mental Hospital opened in 1865 and the Ararat County Gaol that later became J Ward, a lunatic asylum for the criminally insane, was opened in 1887. They not only harbor a troubling history, but the spirits from the past are said to have remained.
The asylum in Ararat was designed by G. W. Vivian and J.J. Clark in the Victorian Italianate style with an E-plan barracks format. This was modeled after an asylum in Colney Hatch, England. The design incorporated linking bridges and an arcade on an arched gateway with towers and unique detailing of the central block. There were wings on each end that were two-storied and split by gender. The ward wings were surrounded by courtyards lined with iron columned verandas. Another unique feature of asylums like Ararat were Ha-Ha Walls. These walls were meant to give the illusion that no one was imprisoned while the reality of the construction was that they were meant to prevent escape. This was accomplished by using a trench. One side of the wall was vertical and faced
with stone or bricks and the other side was sloped and turfed. The material used for the buildings was oversized bricks made from cement that was stuccoed and the roofs were slate. The builders were O'Grady, Glynn and O'Callaghan and inmate labor was not used as was the case with many other asylums. The asylum initially was known as Ararat Asylum before it became Aradale. I'm going to call it Aradale as that is what it is known as today.
Like most other asylums we have covered, Aradale was a city unto itself. This included gardens, vineyards, an orchard, piggery and other livestock. There were 63 buildings in the complex with 500 employees. There was a billiard room, a school, a large multi-purpose hall, library and 2,100 feet of verandahs for patients to get air. A landscape architect named Hugh Linaker had laid out the grounds of Alexandra Park, so he was chosen to layout the grounds for Aradale in 1913, most of which has not survived to today.
The most infamous ward at the asylum was J Ward. J Ward was originally the Ararat County Gaol, which had been built from 1859 to 1861 and was made from bluestone. The prison maxed out at around 40 prisoners and executions were conducted.The first execution was on August 15, 1870 and this was for Andrew Vere who was hanged for the murder of Amos Cheale. The second execution was on September 25, 1883, when Robert Francis Burns was hanged for the murder of Michael Quinlivan. The third and final execution was on June 6, 1884 and Henry Morgan was hanged for the murder of Margaret Nolan. By 1887, this area of Australia needed some place for the criminally insane and so it was converted to a maximum security psychiatric ward for the criminally insane.
After the facility was decommissioned in the early 1990s, patients were transferred to community living and to other facilities and eventually the last remaining ward, the Ararat Forensic Psychiatry Centre was closed in December of 1993. After the official closing, it still was used to house female prisoners during the building renovation of Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. The women left in 2001. Then the Victorian Government provided $7.4 million to Melbourne Polytechnic, so they would set up a campus. As part of this campus, 30 hectares of vineyard and 10 hectares of olive grove were planted in 2002. A winery and olive press was later added and this has become a world-class wine and hospitality training facility. J Ward is today a museum where tours are offered and visitors can see artifacts and photos. Prisoners had done artwork on the outside walls and this can still be seen today.
This is all nice about the buildings, but what of the people? As we know, mental illness was treated quite differently than today, not only method wise, but also socially. These places where they were housed were called lunatic asylums because people were labeled as lunatics and also as idiots and imbeciles. Luna was Latin for the moon and people believed that the moon made some people go mad, so the definition was people affected with periodic insanity dependent on the changes of the moon or moon-struck, which is Lunaticus in Latin. Thus we get lunatic, which is today considered derogatory toward someone with mental illness. Treatment was harsh in some cases and there are those who claim that 13,000 people passed away in its 130 years of operation. It took only two signatures to get you committed, but eight to get you released. The common treatments here included electro-shock therapy, lobotomies, imprisonment in mechanical contraptions and other inhumane treatment. The gardens had fountains which were meant to give a feeling of peace, but how peaceful could one really feel when doctors documented you as an imbecile and strapped you in a strait-jacket.
J Ward's former pastor was Gordon Moyes and he wrote in the 1960s, "On my first day in Ararat I was given a massive iron key to open the thick, heavy, iron and wood doors to the maximum security division to enable me to visit cell to cell the psychotic prisoners… J Ward was built last century of heavy blocks of blue granite with high walls topped with rolls of barbed wire. Every gate and window was barred with steel bars one and a half inches thick. The prisoners were considered the most dangerous in the country and the people in the community looked up to the top of the hill where the psychiatric prison stood like a great castle, fearful of the night when the sirens might go announcing a mass escape when they would all be murdered in their beds. There was no love for those prisoners in Ararat. The prisoners I met as I went from cell to cell or stopped and talked to in the exercise yard were a strange mixture. They were the insane murderers of Victoria marked “Never to be released” or “To Be Held At The Governor’s Pleasure”. There was a man who constantly barked like a dog, and another man who would ask you frequently if you had ever sawn a man up into small pieces with a wood saw as he had. Let's look at some of the prisoners that once called the facility home.
Mark "Chopper" Read died of cancer at the age of 58 in 2013. He had
been a figure in the Melbourne underworld and committed various crimes
ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping to murder. He had been doing
time in Pentridge Prison in 1978 when he arranged for a fellow inmate to
cut off both his ears and this is where they say his nickname "Chopper"
comes from. This got him transferred to J Ward, but he only stayed
there for a few months before being transferred back to
Pentridge. Chopper wrote of his time at J Ward, "A terrible place. There
was a shit bucket in the middle of the room. People slept on the
concrete floor. Meal times were like the feeding of animals. Some people
couldn’t have their straightjackets removed, they were that mad. So
people still wearing their straightjackets would just dunk their heads
into the bowls of food.”
Charles Fossard was a French
immigrant who spent the longest time in the facility of any other
patient. He was brought to J Ward in 1903 when he was only 21 after he
killed a man and was judged insane. He remained there until he died at
age 92 in 1974.
Bill Wallace was the oldest inmate ever at J Ward. He was suspected of murdering a man in 1926. And the reason he killed the guy is because he wouldn't stop smoking in a cafe when Wallace asked him to, so he waited outside and shot the guy. There were no witnesses, but a police officer heard the shot and ran to the scene. Two doctors declared Wallace unfit to plead when he wouldn't talk. Wallace was 43 years-old when he entered J Ward and he was there until he died in 1989 at the age of 107. You probably are asking why they would keep somebody there until that age. People petitioned for him to be released when he reached 100, but Wallace didn't want to leave. This was his home. His chess set that the prison had given him on his 100th birthday is on display in the museum.
Garry David, also known as Garry Webb, was an Australian criminal who had a variety of personality disorders. His mother was an alcoholic and his father was abusive, a pedophile and a criminal who spent most of his time locked up. This caused David to grow up in a number of orphanages and his life of crime began at the age of 11. He was eventually diagnosed with antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders. The definition of insane has a picture of him next to it. He not only enjoyed hurting others, he was especially abusive to himself, mutilating his ears, nipples and genitals. He would swallow razor blades, hammer nails into his feet and drink corrosive chemicals. In 1982, he attempted to rob a pizza joint and ended up sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted murder of three people, one of whom was an officer. While in jail he wrote graphic fantasies of massacres, assassinations and other disturbing scenarios. In January 1990, David was declared mentally ill, but the Mental Health Act of 1986 gave David the right to appeal and he was later found to not be insane. The government of Victoria was not about to let David out into society, so they passed the Community Protection Act of 1990. He was kept locked up and committed suicide in 1993 by swallowing razorblades. He had spent 33 years of his 38 years in institutions.
The Age wrote on June 20, 1993, "On a wall at J Ward, the Dicken-ilan former prison for the criminally Insane at Ararat, is a painting rendered in angry slashes of black and white. A bearded and long-haired figure, gaunt and furious, more than two metres tall and dressed In colonial convict garb, lunges through a wall of blackness. He has burst his chains and In his right fist he wields what looks like a straight rator. Behind him are glimpses of sky and trees that seem to ask whether tbe figure is escaping to or from freedom. It is an ominous and disturbing work that seems to say much about the man who created It: Victoria's most notorious prisoner, Garry David."
Garry Webb Tue, Dec 18, 1990 – Page 1 · The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) · Newspapers.com
Username morbid curiosity wrote in 2009 on the Australian paranormal.com website, "My husband was grabbed on the leg is J-wards old bluestone cell block in Garry David Webb's old cell. The next day he had 5 bruises in that same spot where he was grabbed, one thumb and 4 fingers. Fascinating place." David didn't die here, but is some essence of his spirit here? People also claim to have heard a voice shout, "Get out!"
One of the criminally insane here was George Leondieu. He ended up in J
Ward in the 1950s after murdering a man who made a homosexual pass at
him. George truly was mentally ill and had both delusions and paranoia.
Since I mentioned the homosexual thing, I should point out that people could be locked up here all the way into the 1950s for being gay.
J Ward wasn't just a facility for men. Women and children were here too and there is even a "Family Cell" that can be seen on the tour. Lorna Banfield and Roberta A. Daly meticulously searched through old newspaper archives to get to the heart of the stories of women who spent time here. I wanted to share some of their stories. From previous episodes featuring old gaols and specifically those sent to the penal colonies in Australia, a number of people were sent away for very petty crimes or things we might not even really consider crimes today.
Ellen Belser and her children were charged and convicted after breaking into a store and stealing. The official charge was vagrancy and in 1863 they were sent to the Ararat Gaol to serve a two month sentence. The newspaper reported, "The unfortunate woman is paralysed and unable to do anything for the support of herself or family. We understand an effort is being made to get the woman and children into a Melbourne Benevolent Home." The court finally decided to send her to a Melbourne Home. Ellen Jenkins was jailed simply for having no visible means of support. She was sentenced to three months and with no one to care for her children, the two were sent with her. After she got out, she was sent back to jail for drunkeness. This time at least, her kids were sent off to an Industrial School. Janet Mary Ann Pett was charged with drunkeness and sent off to the Ararat Gaol for a few days, which was not unusual for her. She had been here before. This time would last for 8 days in 1863. Two glasses of colonial ale got to Helen Jane Vaughan and as a Sergeant Dillon testified he heard her "utter one of the most disgusting tirades of obscenity it was ever his lot to listen to." She was sentenced to a month at the gaol. Unfortunately, she would later murder her husband in a drunken fight and she was back at the gaol.
These were just a few examples of what women were jailed for and the fact that their children joined them, except for that last one with murder. But more troubling were women like an inmate only known as McLeod. Physicians described her as a "wretched creature, painfully vacant and idiotic" and that there was no hope for her. She was said to eat dirt and suffer from hallucinations and this deemed her a dangerous lunatic. The second Governor was John Gray and his wife Christina was put in charge of the women. The gaol would have only four governors in its 26 years and most of the punishment was hard labor for both men and women. When the gaol became J Ward, women were still imprisoned here with the men. These women were at least accused of real crimes of abuse and murder. One of these women was Mrs. Davis, who was the daughter of Henry Morgan, one of the inmates executed here.
With stories of executions and around 13,000 people dying at the asylum, it is no wonder that this location is considered to be so haunted. The mortality rate was four to five inmates a week. If a contagious disease like TB broke out, that rate skyrocketed. Peter Dunn was a caretaker. He said that typhoid ripped through at one time after patients from the upper levels would throw their feces into the downspouts and water running down from rain. Add in that daily life was a mix of the mundane and the horrific and this place was somewhere no one wanted to go. The Victorian asylums were declared the worst in the British Empire. Add in that an executing gaol was once here and that the criminally insane were kept here and these dark corridors clearly lend themselves to ghost stories. The typical stories of cold spots are told here, but then there are also the claims of feeling cold hands reaching out and touching as if a spirit is asking for help in much the same way this person probably did in life. Disembodied screams are heard throughout the asylum.
I mentioned earlier that there were four governors of the gaol. The final one was a man named George Fiddimont. I couldn't find much on him, but apparently he was giving a group a tour of the gaol in 1886 and as he neared the bottom of a flight of stairs, he suffered a widow-maker. This was near the Old Underground Kitchen and to this day, visitors and guides hear footsteps up and down those stairs when no one is on the stairs. A young spirit boy named Stuart is also encountered here. A former cook occasionally joins him. No one is sure if Stuart had been a patient or a worker.
Peter Dunn claims to have had no experiences when he worked there. He said people would tell him about having strange sensations, but he thinks they just make for good stories. But is there something unexplained going on here? It's enough that at least one tour guide who was a skeptic is now a true believer. He has seen things, felt things and even smelled things that he could not explain. Another guide describes the building as very dark and he claims that on a good night, he'll get around forty screams from visitors. One group of paranormal investigators had been to Aradale eight times to investigate. On the last visit, one of the members fell to the ground flailing around and yelling, "You bastard get off me." When they pulled his shirt down, they found a bite mark on the back of his neck. They took him to an area with better light and looked again and the bite mark was gone. Weird!
The covered bridge leading into the Men's Ward was high enough that people could jump for a final escape from their life in Aradale. Women get a lot of attention in the Men's Ward. Nurse Kerry was a mean nurse and for some reason her spirit has stayed on here at Aradale. Visitors claim to see her full-bodied apparition giving them an icy stare. Shadow figures are seen darting around corners and passing the Superintendent's Office might leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. A former superintendent killed himself with poison in the form of Prussic Acid. This is hydrogen cyanide. The ghost of an older patient named Old Margaret is said to have returned to the building where she spent most of her life after she died. She is said to be one of the saddest ghosts in the building.
One of the crazier stories to come out of J Ward is the story of an inmate who was murdered and dismembered in the Governor's bathroom. It is for this reason that people believe a demonic force has taken up residence in the bathroom. The feeling inside is oppressive and visitors claim the evil is palpable.
Ghost tours are offered, some of which are several hours and offer investigation as part of the package.With a place that claims to have had more deaths than nearly all other buildings on the continent of Australia, it is no wonder that this asylum is claimed as one of the most haunted places in the world. Is the Aradale Asylum haunted? That is for you to decide!