Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ep. 294 - Dover Castle

Moment in Oddity - Movie Disclaimer About Work of Fiction
Suggested by: John Michaels

I'm sure there are a few of you out there that are movie credit readers like myself. Yep, I stay through the credits, not only to see if the producers of the film have thrown in a little extra at the end of the film, but I like to pay my respects to the full list of people who have made a film. The ones generally not paid much. If you've sat through the credits on any movie, you've probably seen the phrase, “This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” Did you ever wonder why every movie has that disclaimer? MGM released the movie "Rasputin and the Empress" in 1932. This film featured the story about mystic Grigori Rasputin and his relationship with the Russian imperial family, specifically the Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna. The Barrymore siblings, John, Ethel and Lionel, played the key characters of Prince Chegodieff; the Czarina and Rasputin. It is the only film in which all three siblings appear together. The Prince was depicted as the murderer of Rasputin and he was meant to represent Prince Yusupov who was still alive. He threatened to sue, but he didin't have the money to do so and he had claimed in his memoir that he was responsible for Rasputin's death. So his wife sued because she was also depicted in the movie and the film claimed she was raped by Rasputin. She felt that ruined her reputation particularly since it didn't happen. She won $127,000, the equivalent of almost $2.4 million today. The reason she won, according to the judge, was because the studio acknowledged that the movie was based on a true story. After that, studios decided to add the disclaimer to cover their butts and they do it to this day. So basically, Rasputin not only had an enduring impact on Russia, but also on Hollywood film making and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - My Fair Lady Premiers on Broadway

In the month of March, on the 15th, in 1956, the musical "My Fair Lady" premiered on Broadway. This was a musical based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pymalion." The story features a Cockney flower girl who desires to pass as a lady and so she takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins. The musical was directed by Moss Hart, choreographed by Hanya Holm and starred Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews and ran for 2,717 performances, closing on September 29, 1962. That was a record at the time. The Broadway theater that hosted it was the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City and then it transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre and then finally onto the Broadway Theater. Rex Harrison was not experienced in performing live with an orchestra and at the first preview he declared, "Under no circumstances would he go on that night...with those thirty-two interlopers in the pit." He then locked himself in his dressing room. He eventually came out right before the curtain went up and opening night was a success. The musical headed over to London where it was a smash hoit as well and went on to become the classic film starring Audrey Hepburn. My Fair Lady is considered to be "the perfect musical."

Dover Castle (Suggested by Sara Emmins)

Dover Castle stands on the White Cliffs of Dover in Britain. This castle was originally not much to behold, but during the reign of King Henry II, it would become a grand structure. Tunnels lie beneath the castle and are built into a cliff, making it unique among castles. This is the largest castle in the country and has been around since the 12th century. The castle was a key defense and saw wars that were revolutionary, civil, Napoleonic and great. Today, it is a tourist destination with a reputation for being haunted. Join me for the history and hauntings of Dover Castle!

Dover is located in Kent in the southeast of England. This is an area where human habitation dates back to the Stone Age. The Romans were the first to have a significant presence here and that is evident in the Roman lighthouse that still remains near Dover Castle. This is the tallest Roman structure in Britain and was built between 115 and 140 AD. The Church of St Mary-in-Castro stands next to the lighthouse and was built during the late 10th & early 11th century. The church was neglected for years and used for storing coal, but it is refurbished today and beautiful inside. Dover would become a fortified port and one of the Cinque Ports and has been nicknamed the "Lock and Key of England" with its strategic placement on the English Channel. Dover Castle would be built on the White Cliffs of Dover, which are that color because they are mostly composed of chalk.

Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and was built by Duke William of Normandy in the 12th century. The Great Tower was constructed during the reign of Henry II in 1179 and served a couple of purposes. The first was that it made for a great lookout. The other was more for Henry. He wanted something impressive to show off and he felt it reflected his power. People could see the tower on their way to Canterbury Cathedral. Let's talk about Henry for a minute. This guy had a lot going for him. I mean he was duke of Normandy from 1150, the count of Anjou, Maine and Nantes from 1151, duke of Aquitaine from 1152 and the king of England from 1154. He also partially controlled Scotland, Wales and the Duchy of Brittany and had eight children, five of them boys. Things were good, but he just had to start something with his friend Thomas Beckett, whom he had appointed archbishop in 1162. I guess it isn't fair to blame it all on the King. He was stubborn, but Beckett was a vain man and highly political. Their disagreements were numerous and neither would back down. King Henry would have one final altercation with Beckett. He sent knights to Canterbury to arrest Beckett for breaking an agreement, but Beckett refused to be arrested by lowly knights, so right there before the altar in the church, those knights hacked Beckett to death and then they looted his palace. Right after this, King Henry faced a rebellion led by his sons and wife and an invasion from Scotland and France. He overcame this and many said that Beckett who had been declared a saint by the Pope, had helped Henry. There are historians that believe Henry added the improvements to Dover Castle because of his guilt over his part in the murder of Becket.

Starting in 1179, King Henry II spent more money on Dover Castle than any other and nobody could figure out why. There was no great threat that the castle needed to protect against. It was strategically located, but there had to be some other reason why a castle, Henry mostly had ignored, all of a sudden was a place he was pouring money into to make improvements. It is said that until his death, he spent a total of £5,991, which was almost two-thirds of total expenditures on all English castles during those years. So why? The King was building this almost as a shrine to Becket near to Canterbury. In 1179, the King of France, Louis VII traveled to England and this became the first state visit in English history. Henry met him at Dover and they went on to Canterbury where Louis paid his respects to Beckett in a pilgrimage to save his ill son. They returned to Dover afterward. This incredible visit probably gave the king the idea that more of these kinds of visits would be coming and he wanted to really impress visitors. Thus, he poured money into the castle. The benefit would be that the castle would stand through the Great Siege of 1216, led by Louis VII’s grandson, Prince Louis of France, when he revolted against King John in May of 1216. This prince would not give up on trying to conquer Dover Castle and he would spend three months trying to do so, which stopped his momentum. He eventually was defeated and the castle had saved Henry's son's and grandson's thrones and this was attributed to Beckett as well. There are others who claim that a rising anti-monarchical cult inspired by Becket caused the King to want to improve the castle. He wanted to outshine Becket's tomb. Whatever the case, a bunch of money was used to improve the castle.

The next significant action that the castle would see would be during the Napoleonic Wars in the 18th century. Massive rebuilding was conducted and a bunch of gun emplacements were added. Also, a defensive earthen bank was built up to guard against enemy fire. This would also be when the second set of tunnels were added. They were placed 149 feet below the top of the cliff and were meant to house troops because the castle itself didn't have enough room to house the troops needed to man the artillery. About 2000 men lived in these tunnels, that numbered seven, at their peak. Napoleon never attacked Dover Castle, but that wouldn't be the end of the tunnels' use. And since I didn't mention it earlier, the first tunnels were built during medieval times when the Great Siege of 1216 was underway.

During World War II, these tunnels would become the nerve center for Operation Dynamo, which commenced on May 26, 1940. They were first reinstated for use by the Dover Naval Command starting in 1938 as the threat of Hitler loomed large. Operation Dynamo was the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France. British, French and Belgian troops numbering over 400,000 were cut off by the German Army. Best estimates had only about 45,000 of the 400,000 being evacuated. Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who headed the Dover Naval Command, was given the job of running the evacuation, which was clearly an impossibility and the first two days of the operation only made that seem even more the case. On the first day, only 7,669 men were evacuated and on the second day only 11,874. But on day three, the military got big help from some “little ships.” Old men and young boys, not fighting in the war, manned tugboats, pleasure crafts, barges and lifeboats from ports in England, Scotland and Wales. Their help during the evacuation made the total result of Operation Dynamo 338,226 men rescued in nine days. Those tunnels also became air raid shelters and Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the tunnels often.

The Secret Wartime Tunnels are a winding maze and it is easy to get lost if not guided. They stretch over three miles. The rooms were refurbished in 2009 under a £2.45 million project managed by English Heritage and were made to resemble how they would have been in Henry's day. Tours are conducted in the castle and begin in an underground bunker room. There are multimedia presentations and the underground tunnel system takes visitors to an earlier time. Photography in the tunnels is prohibited. There are not only these Wartime Tunnels to see, but also medieval tunnels, an underground hospital, the Great Tower, the Regimental Museum and the battlements. The tunnels have mocked-up recreations of how things appeared in World War II. Two levels of tunnels were added during the war. Annexe, was added in 1941 and this is where the underground hospital was located. In 1943, a basement level, that was codenamed Dumpy, was added. Many parts of the tunnels are off limits because they have not been explored or are dangerous and one of those areas is Dumpy.

On a side note, I found a claim that Gawain is buried at Dover Castle. Sir Gawain was the nephew of King Arthur and he was a Knight of the Round Table. One of the greatest. He is the hero of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is one of the greatest works of Middle English literature. He goes to the Knight believing that the Knight is going to kill him, but it was a test. One that Gawain fails, so he asks the Knights of the Round Table to absolve him and they do. They also decide they will all wear a green sash as a reminder to always be honest. Gawain was killed as he came back to Britain to fight Modred and there are many claims as to where he is buried. There is a myth that claims he is buried on the Pembrokeshire coast as well. This older than the claims about Dover Castle and more probable. “And so at the hour of noon Sir Gawain yielded up the spirit; and then the king let inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle; and there yet all men may see the skull of him, and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle.”  [Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, Book  XXI, Chp 2] There is a thought that a skull was on display in a chapel at Dover Castle and people claimed that it was Gawain's skull and showed the wound that killed him.

There are many haunted spots in Dover Castle with several spirits making this their home. The most haunted area is the tunnel system. But before we get into that, let's talk about the battlements. The ghost that is here is said to be a young boy. A boy who played the drums of battle. He was sent on an errand, carrying a large sum of money. Some thieves either had heard he had this money or they got lucky when they captured him. They decapitated the boy and stole the money. Today, his full-bodied spirit is seen on the battlements. Well, not completely full-bodied. He is headless, but that doesn't keep him from playing his drum. He is not only seen doing this, but the disembodied sound of drumming is also heard.

Another spirit belongs to a woman and she wears a red dress. She is generally seen in the old keep and near the west stairway or mural gallery of the keep. No one has been able to make out her facial features and she generally seems to be sobbing. This apparition was reported by a male member of staff. There have also been sightings of a figure in blue being seen in the mural gallery, this figure has yet to be identified as male or female. Also in the keep and elsewhere, disembodied voices have been heard during the night and doors have been witnessed opening and closing by themselves often. Sudden unexplained drops in temperatures like cold spots have been felt.

A knight or cavalier has also been seen inside the castle. His dress seems to be from the early 17th century and he was first documented by a female member of staff in 1990. She was cleaning in the morning and when she got to the basement of the keep she saw a figure that had long dark wavy hair and a mustache. The spirit stared at her for about 30 seconds and then faded away into nothing.

As I said before, the tunnels are the most haunted and many times it is the spirit of World War II soldiers seen here and also felt. They are seen going about their duties in a residual manner. They have also been heard. One American couple visiting the castle claimed to hear violent screams and cries for help. They thought they were hearing a re-enactment and were startled to find out that no such thing was going on. The strangest soldier spirit seen here has a blurred face. The most recent spotting of him was in 2013. Occasionally, people get separated or lost in the tunnels and they tell stories of being chased out of the tunnels. They hear disembodied footsteps running at them and they flee in terror. It doesn't seem that anyone has been touched by these running spirits though.

There have been so many sightings of weird things in the tunnels, that the staff have created a protocol for how to deal with them. Christine Pascall, the castle’s visitor operations manager, said, “About once a month we will have a report of something untoward, like a figure. We have a process that we put into place where we close down the system, evacuate visitors and a team of staff will sweep through the whole network of tunnels. It can be very frustrating for visitors.”

Some schoolchildren were here on a school outing and were drawing pictures while in the tunnels. One boy wrote, “Where is Helen?” on his paper. When asked about it, he said that he had met a man in the tunnels dressed in a green jumper and brown trousers and that the man told him he was looking for Helen. The man matching this description was never found.

Another time, a tour group said a door had suddenly slammed shut and a stretcher trolley that was on display moved very quickly along the corridor as though something unseen were pushing it forcefully. A ghost has been reported in the King's bedroom and this spirit is usually only seen as the  lower half of a man. This was witnessed by two female staff members and the apparition crossed the doorway of the King's bedchamber during the evening search of the keep. They followed the figure into the chamber only to find he had disappeared and there was no other exit from which he could have escaped. Other members of staff were close by in the main hall at the time and they saw nothing. Nobody knows why only the bottom half of this spirit is seen.

A camera crew was filming at the castle and they heard a terrifying scream come from the battlements above them. The scream sounded as though someone had thrown themself off the castle. They ran for cover, so that they wouldn't be hit, but the scream just disappeared and no body appeared or hit the ground. The lighthouse and church also have a couple of spirits. One is a ghostly monk wearing a dark habit and the other is a phantom Roman soldier.

There are many castles in England. Each with their own special history. Dover is the largest and one of the oldest. The energy here crosses over many centuries and some of it seems to continue. Are there spirits here? Is Dover Castle haunted? That is for you to decide!


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