Moment in Oddity - Peck San Theng Columbarium
Suggested by: John Michaels
The story behind the Peck San Theng Columbarium is interesting and unique. This was a place where the living lived with the dead. The history goes back to 1959 when Singapore broke free from a century and a half of British colonial rule. They set up their own government, which found its first task to be finding a place to house the population. The Housing and Development Board or HDB formed to build housing and since Singapore is only around 45 miles across, they decided to build vertically and if you have seen pictures of Singapore today, you have seen that it is just tall building upon tall building. Singapore’s tallest public housing buildings are 50 stories high with about 10,000 public housing buildings on the island. Many of the people in Singapore were Chinese migrants who had set up these ornate cemeteries and had communities that believed in taking care of each other from cradle to grave. The need for land would change the way burials were done in Singapore and it would also mean closing down and emptying the cemeteries. One government cemetery was established and the process of disinterring and cremating bodies began. Peck San Theng Cemetery was one of these graveyards, but there was a problem, This wasn't just a cemetery, it was a self-sufficient little Cantonese community of around 2,000 residents. These people built little thatched roof homes among the graves because the active graveyard meant jobs. Tombstones needed to be carved, graves needed to be dug and they needed to host mourners by selling food and goods. They installed a large, Chinese-style gate at the entrance to the village and built stores and a clinic. The government couldn't leave it alone though because it took up so much
space. Some family plots in the cemetery were as big as a three-bedroom
HDB apartment. In 1978, the community received a letter informing them that the land was being reclaimed and public housing was going to be built on the cemetery. The living and the dead were given four years to vacate. Eventually, everybody was moved out, but the Peck San Theng cemetery association fought in court and got eight acres of their original 324. They built a few administrative buildings and the Peck San Theng Columbarium, which was designed by Tay Kheng Soon, a controversial architect known for designing brutalist superstructures. The outside looks like a typical condo, but inside there are nine levels that are a series of cascading stories and half-stories that resemble traditional Chinese tombs like cement hills. It is airy and sunny inside with urns lining the walls from floor to ceiling. The rituals around death did a 180 degree turn for Singaporeans with 80% of them now getting cremated, all because the living needed the dead to move out, even though they had once lived together in a symbiotic relationship. And that, certainly is odd! To hear more on this, I encourage you to listen to Ep. 359 of 99% Invisible.
This Month in History - German Radar is Foiled
In the month of July, on the 24th, in 1943, the British literally foiled the German radars. It was during World War II that the idea of using chaff was developed and ironically, it was developed in the UK, Germany, Japan and America all independentantly of each other. Chaff is a countermeasure used to block radar signals and this is done with thin pieces of aluminum or plastic. The radar's signal would hit the aluminum strips and this caused an echo that bounced the signal back. There was no way the opposing force could distinguish aircraft from the chaff. The Germans had hit the British home front hard with bombing raids, so the Americans and British decided to retaliate by hitting Hamburg. They called it Operation Gomorrah and out of 791 aircraft, only 12 were lost. As they approached Hamburg, the planes dropped strips of aluminum foil and blocked the radars. The air raids continued for 8 days and 9,000 tons of bombs were dropped, killing or injuring 80,000 people.
Mineral Springs Hotel
Alton, Illinois sits along the great Mississippi River and this made it a good place for industry. Lots of business was done here. This was also a good place to get away and hotels popped up around town for visitors. One of the grandest places to stay was the Mineral Springs Hotel with its marble staircases and two mineral pools. Eventually it went the way of many grand hotels and became apartments and now shops. Its former glory has faded, but one truly expects to see a man or woman hanging around the former lobby in period clothing. And apparently, they sometimes do as visitors from the afterlife. This is one of the most haunted locations in Alton and on this episode we will share its stories as we venture into every nook and cranny from the dug out spaces underneath the building to the empty pool room and beyond. Join us on our investigation into the Mineral Springs Hotel!
Mineral springs and the spas built near many of them have a rich history. Today, we enjoy them as a form of recreation, but centuries ago they were favored for what many believed were their healing properties. These mineral springs are naturally occurring and usually result from the water passing underground and collecting minerals, sulfur compounds, salts and gases along the way. They are classified according to their minerals from salt springs to soda springs to hot springs and etc. We have covered several locations that are reputed to be haunted that were built because of the nearby mineral springs including the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas from episode 58 and the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas all the way back on episode 11. Mineral spas popped up mainly around the Victorian Era and were places mostly for the well-to-do. Belief in their restorative powers even lead presidents like Franklin Roosevelt to use them in hopes of healing ailments like his paralysis. There are at least 12 notable mineral springs in America. The one in Alton no longer exists, but the building that housed it still does.
In the late 1800s, there were two brothers, Herman and August Luer, who had moved from St. Louis to Alton and they opened a meat-packing plant. August had moved initially to Alton with his wife as he felt the air was cleaner and healthier. After Herman joined him, the two brothers thought that they should venture into the ice business. They hired some men to begin drilling in 1910, so that they could build a cold storage facility and ice maker where the Mineral Springs Hotel is today. There was just one problem, or maybe not, depending on how you view business opportunities. The workers found a natural mineral spring when they drilled. The time was ripe for such a discovery because mineral springs were being promoted everywhere as having healing powers. The brothers decided to build a health spa instead of the ice facility. And not only would they have pools, but they would bottle the water to send out around America.
When you look at the hotel, it looks like it only has two floors, but it actually has five more levels below the street. The hotel was built in layers going up starting in 1913 with a water bottling plant on the lowest sub-basement. The hotel was completed in June of 1914 and designed in the Italian Villa style. The roof was tile, with stucco on the outer walls colored in beige. The interior featured those marble staircases along with terrazzo tile floors and art glass, along with two mineral pools. One of the pools was exclusive to men and smaller in size. The mineral water was pumped from the springs into the pools and people immediately started declaring that the water was healing their ailments. About 100 bottles of the water were sold every day and declared a curative for things like colds, headaches, muscle problems and even alcoholism. The pool hosted around 3,000 people every season. In the mid 1920s, an orchestra was hired and more rooms were added to the hotel. August Luer sold the hotel in 1926 and it would run successfully until the 1960s when the popularity of mineral springs dried up. The rooms were then rented out to any comer, many of whom were transients needing a place to live for a week or a month. Throughout the 1960s, the hotel really deteriorated and in 1971 it was condemned. The roof was leaking and collapsing at this point.
A man named Roger Schubert saw potential in the faltering building and bought it in 1978 and restored it, so that it could be run as an antique mall with restaurants. Eventually that shut down as well as business went away, but another man named Bob Love came in and did more renovations. The current owner, Dan Hornsey, is renovating the upstairs. The main area includes a banquet room that overlooks the Mississippi River, an antique mall, In Zone Barbershop, the "Curiosity Museum," which used to be the Historic Museum of Torture Devices and the metaphysical store "It's Raining Zen."
Rumors of the hotel and now mall being haunted go back years and years. Some of the stories are just fun lore like the story of an artist named Charlie who used to frequent the bar here often and ran up such a high tab that he was required to paint a mural in the building to cover his tab. Charlie began that mural, but committed suicide before it was complete and the legend claims that other artists had a hard time finishing the mural, which was untrue. Other ghost stories have historical facts to back them up. Let's walk around to the various areas of the building and see what we find!
The story that is generally told about the Jasmine Lady that is said to haunt the marble staircase is that she and her husband were staying at the hotel as he worked as a salesman. He came back to the room early one day and found her with another man. They argued and the fight went out into the hall and ended up above the staircase. Some of the stories have claimed that she accidentally fell down the stairs, others claim she was pushed. It's a marble staircase and she broke her neck. Some have him telling the front desk that she had an accident and the police are called and other versions have him going back to the room where he hanged himself. None of these are true. A woman did fall down the stairs, but she only broke her hip. This was because she was fighting with her son who turned out to be a man wanted for the murder of two people. When the cops arrived after the accident, they recognized her son and arrested him. There is activity on the stairs and this comes in the form of the scent of jasmine, which is where the Jasmine Lady comes from. No one knows why the stairs are active. A female voice has been caught on EVP saying, "It was a misunderstanding."
The upper floor appears to be under refurbishment. One of the upstairs rooms has the spirit of a gangster haunting it. Many gangsters stayed at the Mineral Springs and they would get the spa treatment. This spirit presents as the scent of alcohol and cigar smoke. And some people believe a shadow figure they see is him. Our guide Luke will tell us a story later about seeing a shadow figure in this upstairs area that freaks him out pretty bad during our investigation. Was it this gangster? Another area in this upstairs area is said to be haunted by a child and there is a teddy bear there. Luke said he never had any interactions with ghosts in there. We venture into Pearl's room. She was staying at the hotel because she had marital problems. She was really depressed and ended up killing herself by taking a bunch of pills. People leave flowers for her and coins are moved around. We tested this with a coin, but it never moved. We spent some time sitting in this room. The final room we went into upstairs was a room with a very dark energy and the reason for this is that it is believed a seance was not closed out properly. A woman on a previous tour said, "Oh hell no" at the door and wouldn't come in. She said she felt a very bad feeling in the room. People get nauseous in this room.
Our final stop was down in the pool room. There is some ghost lore and this involves a party being hosted near the pool. These parties were extravagant affairs with hors d'oeuvres being served by waiters and orchestra playing. A couple was staying at the hotel and the wife was taking too long to get ready, so her husband went down without her. As seems to always happen in these stories, she finds him in the arms of another woman, she yanks off her high heeled shoe and starts hitting him with it. He falls into the swimming pool and died. The lore claims his spirit is seen haunting the pool area and also the former room, most often leaving a puddle of water outside the door. And none of this is true. Someone did die in the pool, however. In 1918, a 21-year-old named Clarence was taking swimming lessons at the pool. While he waited for his instructor, he apparently decided to go ahead and jump in the pool. He did so, head first into the shallow end and knocked himself unconscious and he drowned. His body sunk to the bottom of the pool and wasn't found until a bunch of people got into the pool and someone felt his body bump up against them. His death certificate is showcased in the lobby. Now strangely, it doesn't seem that Clarence is haunting the pool, but a little girl some believe is named Cassandra. So perhaps she drowned in the pool and it just never made it into the news. Or maybe she died soon after being at the hotel and she had loved it so much, her spirit returned to the hotel. People have experienced this child spirit playing with marbles and appears as a pink orb in pictures. The couple who own It's Raining Zen believe this spirit has an affinity for pink agate stones and told The Riverbender Magazine: "We started finding little pink agates everywhere. They were all over in the shop, behind Dave's toolbox, they were everywhere, and we had no idea where they came from or how they got there."
Luke told us he had an experience two years ago. There was no one else with him in the pool area and he was sitting quietly. He kept hearing the sound of hard-soled shoes walking around the pool and when he turned to look, he wouldn't see anything. Then he heard somebody walk in on the other side of the pool. I'll let him tell what happens next. (Luke Pool) Troy Taylor talks in his book Haunted Alton about an experience that was shared with him that happened in the pool area. A man was in the basement when he heard the sound of water coming from behind the locked door of the pool room. This was in 2002. He thought a water pipe had broken and he was really worried they had a major leak. He unlocked the door, rushed inside, flipped on the lights and saw that the floor was completely dry. The wound had stopped too. He started to leave the room when he noticed a set of wet footprints. They lead from the side of the pool to a few feet away and then disappeared. There's no water in the pool. There is no one else in the room. Where had these come from? He didn't care. He bolted out of there and would not go into that room again for the entire time he was employed there.
There is a room beyond the pool that has a spirit named William haunting it and apparently he doesn't like women. So we decided to investigate there first with Jennifer Jones of The Dead History and her family. We tried to capture some EVP and we didn't catch anything. As we were leaving, we walked through an area that was used for storage and Kelly captured some weird light anomalies that we put up on Instagram. On the Ghost Radar, we get the word Horse, which started our weird paranormal experience that continued for the rest of the trip. (Horse) A little later we tried an experiment with our temperature gauge and we seemed to get some interaction. (Temperature)
The lobby definitely has some haunts going on and we had some interesting interactions there. We were in there twice during the evening because we had what seemed like the most communication in there, specifically through our EMF detector. This picture was taken in the lobby previously and seems to show something trying to materialize:
The first time we left the lobby area and were heading into the ballroom, the Ghost Radar said (Stay conversation) As you hear, we have the names Christopher and Effie come up. We had joined three other girls who were investigating. I believe we caught an EVP. One of the girls asks how many are here. I think I hear an answer really low. What I'm going to play is the original at original volume and then right after it you will hear it again amplified a ton and we'll see if you hear what I do. (EVP 1 Mineral 5 Million) Did you guys hear the answer as 5 million? What in the hell does that mean?
Luke comes in to tell us his experience he just had and you will hear the Ghost Radar give us a word that goes with the story. (Luke Scared) You can kinda hear that his voice is shaky. We follow him upstairs to see if we can find the shadow person. Again a particular name comes up and this one comes up three times, Edward twice and Eddie once. You'll also hear in this clip Luke showing us how the shadow figure peered out in front of the window. We also hear a knock or something and we were the only people on the second floor. After we hear Edward for the third time, the Ghost Radar says Army and then Base. (Edward)
Kelly and I return to the lobby. We started communicating with something that moved the EMF needle to respond to us and we get our first interaction in regards to Kelly's horse that will continue throughout our trip. There is a fountain in the lobby, so excuse the background noise and we apologize if it makes you suddenly need to run to the bathroom. (Pony and Trail) At this point, we believe Kelly has her horse's spirit attached to her. As you heard in the McPike Mansion episode, we get more answers in regards to this and the saga comes to completion on our bonus episode that we made for Executive Producers at the $5 and above level with our stop in Chattanooga.
So here we had back-to-back episodes of locations in Alton, Illinois. These places seem pretty active making the claim that Alton is one of the most haunted small towns in America ring true. Or does it? Is the Mineral Springs Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!