Moment in Oddity - Aqua Tofana Poison
Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers
Giulia Tofana was better than any divorce lawyer and a prolific serial killer. Interesting combo, eh? Seventeenth century Italy was a place of forced marriages and not a good place for a woman to get a divorce, so another solution was needed. In steps cosmetic chemist, Tofana. She made make-up and she soon found her niche. She developed a make-up called Aqua Tofana that contained lead, arsenic and belladonna. Tofana sold her deadly conconction without detection for fifty years killing hundreds of men. She finally was given up by one of her customers, a woman who regretted poisoning her husband's soup and stopped him from eating it. He demanded to know why and she confessed she had poisoned it, so he had her turned over to the Papal authoprities. She told them she got the poisoned make-up from Tofana, who was arrested. The authorities tortured her until she confessed to helping poison over 600 men. She was executed as were her employees and some of her clients as well. Others were thrown into prison. One hundred years after her death, Tofana's make-up was still being talked about when Mozart fell ill and claimed, “I feel definitely that I will not last much longer; I am sure that I have been poisoned. Someone has given me acqua tofana and calculated the precise time of my death.” Hiding poison in make-up was very effective, but certainly was odd!
This Month in History - Holland Tunnel Opens
In the month of November, on the 13th, in 1927, the Holland Tunnel opened to traffic. The Holland Tunnel was originally known as the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel and was funded by the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission. In 1930, the Port Authority of NY & NJ took over operations. The tunnel connects Canal Street in Manhattan with 12th and 14th streets in Jersey City, NJ and is named after its first chief engineer, Clifford M. Holland. He died before it was completed and even more oddly, the second chief engineer, Milton Freeman, died before completion. The project's third chief engineer was Ole Singstad and he finished it and it is he that came up with the engineering marvel of this tunnel. The air in the tunnel needed to circulate to prevent poisoning from car fumes, so he designed the tunnel to be circular with four ventilation buildings, two on each side of the Hudson River, housing 84 big fans that changed out the air every 90 seconds. This innovation made the Holland Tunnel the first mechanically ventilated underwater vehicular tunnel. In 1993, the Holland Tunnel was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Haunted Churches of York
York, England is a place full of haunted locations with a vast history stretching back centuries. There are those who claim that York is the most haunted city in the world. On this episode, I'm going to focus on the haunted churches of York.
There is a remnant of Roman influence in York because the city was founded by Rome in 71 AD. The most well known haunting in York is a story I believe I have told before about a contractor working in the Treasurer's House basement and witnessing some Roman ghosts. His name was Harry Martindale and he was checking the plumbing that they were tasked with updating. He was alone and had climbed up a ladder when he heard a trumpet. He thought perhaps he was hearing a band playing up on the street and continued his work until a ghostly horse came through the wall right near where he was working. He fell off the ladder and as he scrambled to get away, he saw a whole legion of Roman soldiers walking in formation and carrying shields, come out of the wall behind the horse. He watched as they walked through the room and into another wall and then he ran to tell his foreman. A curator at the house let Harry know that he was not the first to see this sight. An old Roman road was found beneath the Treasurer's House. The Romans didn't call the city York, but rather Eboracum. This was Celtic meaning the place with yew trees. They built a fort and a stone wall around the city. By the 4th century, Rome's grasp on the area was faltering and the soldiers left in 407AD leaving their towns abandoned and falling into ruin.
It wouldn't be until the 8th century that York would start to rebuild and grow. At this time, York was known as Eofer's Wic, which means market and when the Danes came, they changed it to Jorvik. The Vikings made this a capital for one of their kingdoms in 866 AD. William the Conqueror captured York and he built two wooden castles there in 1069. York flourished in Medieval times and functioned as a port. The Middle Ages found the city run by the churches and monks actually provided much of the care in the hospitals. There were several orders ranging from the Augustinians to the Franciscans to the Dominicans to the Carmelites. These monks would be overwhelmed when the Black Death came. Nearly half of York succumbed to the disease. The Plague would strike again and again throughout the 1500s and 1600s, but the city was always resilient and recovered. The Middle Ages seem to be the time that has carried over the most into the present era
Henry the VIII decimated the churches in York. In 1538, he closed the priories and friaries and the parish church numbers were cut in half. Despite this, the churches made a come back and many still stand today and are well known. And several of them are reputedly haunted. Church. This is a place of worship, a place of peace. There is a silent
reverence in a church. But sometimes a church is not a place of peace or
silent, even in the wee hours of the morning.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church is a hidden away little gem. One immediately notices the medieval stained glass windows, the most prominent one being a lily crucifix one. The interior of the church features several boxes that are 10-foot by 12-foot with 4-foot side walls and there is an elevated platform in the center of the room for the pastor to give sermons.
This church has a churchyard and it is said to be quite haunted. There are several ghosts that have been described here. One of these spirits is headless and thought to belong to Thomas Percy who was the 7th Earl of Northumberland, He was beheaded by Henry VIII for an attempted overthrow in 1572 and his head was placed atop a spike at York's Micklegate Bar. Apparently, the spirit is looking for that head. The head was thought to have been stolen off the spike and buried in this churchyard.
The other ghosts are female in nature. One belongs to a medieval woman who was buried here with her husband. She is said to be at unrest because the couple had lost a child to the Plague and she was buried in a mass grave outside the walls of the city and the woman seems to be looking for her. Then there is an older spirit that roams the churchyard alone. Many believe that she is the last abbess of a Medieval convent that owned the church before the Reformation. Maybe she isn't happy it is Protestant now?
St. Olave's Church
St. Olave's Church was dedicated to St. Olaf, the patron saint of Norway, and was built originally in 1055 AD. The church was rebuilt in the 15th century and despite having several renovations over the centuries, it still mostly looks out of that century. St. Olave's has a castle-like look to it with a taller square tower and cool spires on all the corners. The church really is charming and even better, it is home to a couple of ghosts that seem to come as a pair. This pair is a woman and a young boy and they are seen wearing black, as though in mourning, sitting in the back of the church. They sit quietly although the boy is crying while the woman comforts him. Are they replaying a scene from a funeral? The two always disappear after being in view for a couple of minutes.
Church of All Saints (2)
There are two Church of All Saints, with one located on North Street and the other on Pavement. The North Street location was built sometime in the 1340s and has a wonderful soaring spire and 15th century roof. Several of the windows have medieval stained glass, which is said to only be overshadowed by the glass at York Minster. These feature saints, the nine orders of angels and the Corporal Acts of Mercy. The interior features these magnificent arches and the carved pulpit dates to 1675. There is a pipe organ as well. At the west end of the building, an anchorite building was built in the fifteenth century with an opening in the wall so that Emma Raughton could observe and hear the Mass being said. Emma Raughton was a British anchoress in the 15th century who apparently had regular visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a ghost here said to be a gentle elderly specter wearing a dress from the time of World War II. She seems to be residual in nature and comes in and out of the railed garden.
The location on Pavement dates from the 14th century and has undergone many changes through the years. The chancel was demolished in 1780 with the east end being rebuilt at that time, but it wouldn't be until 1834 that the rest would be rebuilt. A vestry was added in 1850 and the stained glass in the east window was installed in 1887. This is the regimental church for the Royal Dragoon Guards. This is a cavalry regiment of the British Army. The spirit that haunts here is said to be a long-haired wraith. She appears to be angry and at unrest because she was not given a Christian burial and so she usually shows up during funerals and gazes at the coffins. One person reported seeing her for five minutes before she disappeared.
Church of St. Crux
Sadly, the St. Crux Church no longer stands, but its church hall still remains in the Shambles. The church was demolished in 1887 after it was deemed unsafe. For some reason, it was never rebuilt. When it stood, it had an Italianate tower that Francis Drake described as 'a handsome new steeple of brick coined with stone.' The Victorians found the tower unsightly and didn't bother to fix the cupola on top that had collapsed. And then the rest of the church fell into ruin. The church hall features displays about the former church. One of the spirits that was seen in the church, before it was destroyed, belonged to a tall man who would peer out of a window. People would wave to him and he seemed to take no notice of them as though he couldn't see them. People began to believe that he was a ghost and when the verger offered to unlock the church so people could investigate, no one volunteered.
There are several female spirits connected to the former church. One is seen walking from the site of the church to Spen Lane and she is usually wearing a long non-descript gown, so historians are unable to place her to a time period. Another female ghost is seen wearing a shawl and walking to Foss Bridge from the church site. Some claim these women are the same, but they do seem to wear different dresses. They both always vanish. There is another woman spirit that was connected to the Waits of York. This group no longer exists, but for centuries they were basically the neighborhood watch here. They were a group of four men the size and shape of your typical bouncer and they walked the streets around the Church of St. Crux. They wore scarlet uniforms, so they were easily seen and they kept an eye out for criminal behavior and watched the weather, announcing in the morning what people could expect for the day. The group eventually went away because what had been high pay at one time became a pittance after inflation hit and no one was willing to risk themselves for that. There was a female spirit that seemed to attach herself to the Waits. She would appear whenever they would start to sing to pass their time on the street. She would come out of the churchyard at St. Crux. She was beautiful and wore a long gown that many believed was her actual death shroud wrapped around her. She was intelligent and would follow the Waits and stop whenever they stopped. She would vanish whenever any of the Waits would try to approach her.
There is another one-time story shared by a policeman that happened right before the church was demolished. He was on his patrol when he heard organ music coming from the church. He knew it should be empty since it was getting ready to be demolished. He approached the church and just before he got to the doors, they flew open with a burst of air. The policeman could see that the interior was dark and empty and then he heard disembodied footsteps. He ran to get a colleague and when they returned they found the church locked and quiet.
The Church of St. Saviour
St. Saviour's Church is found at the end of Peasholme Green along Spen Lane and is another great example of medieval architecture with parapets encircling the top of its main tower that features a large arched stain-glass window. This church was founded in the 11th century with the current church building dating to the 15th century. The vestry was added in 1878 and a little before that, the roofs were painted a light buff and highlighted with gold, crimson and blue. The building is today used by the York Archaeological Trust. There is a Grey Lady at this location who is seen often wearing clothes dating to the late 18th century. The legend about her claims that she appears coming out of the church at midnight and walks along the length of the structure and waits when she gets to the end as though she is expecting someone to arrive. She even paces at times, but disappears before the clock strikes 1 a.m. A story that is probably ghost lore claims a man asked to be locked into the church overnight so that he could see where the Grey Lady originated from. When the vicar came to let him out the next morning, he found the man scared witless on the roof talking jibberish to himself. Another version claims the man was dead as though he had been scared to death.
There is another spirit here and it is said that it belongs to a Viking. He is seen wearing a shirt of iron mail and a helmet, carrying a sword. It is thought the Viking was executed at the church.
St. Mary's Abbey
St. Mary's Abbey no longer exists, but there are still some ruins left behind by the former Benedictine abbey. These ruins include a gatehouse and part of the church abbey. The site is now home to the York Museum Gardens. The first building on this land was built in 1055 AD and through the years, the abbey grew to become the richest in northern England. Abbeys were major landowners and St. Mary's was the biggest. They eventually built the Abbot House now known as King's Manor on the property, which still exists today and this would play host to kings and queens. This abbey was dedicated to St. Olaf of Norway and rededicated in 1088 AD to the Virgin Mary and thus the name. A fun fact is that the abbot from St. Mary's is the nemesis of Robin Hood in the stories. The power and reign of St. Mary's would end when Henry VIII shut down the Catholic Church and he had the place closed and demolished. There were 30 Abbots in all through the years at St. Mary's and this position gave them a seat on Parliament. One of these abbots is known today as the Black Abbot and he makes appearances among the ruins as a phantom wearing a black robe. Pretty creepy!
St. Mary's Church
This is not to be confused with the aforementioned abbey. St. Mary's Church is along Castlegate. The church dates to around 1020 with the original Saxon stonework still as part of the body of the church. Most of the updates were done during medieval times and the steeple is the tallest in York. The church was deconsecrated in 1958 and between 1975 and 2001 was a heritage centre. This opened as a contemporary art venue in 2004. One thing that has remained the same is the churchyard and it plays host to a killer whose spectre hangs around the graveyard. This killer was Walter Calverley. He had a good background being born into a wealthy family of farmers in the 16th century. He did well for himself by marrying an heiress in 1599. But Walter had an issue with money. He ran up huge debts and it got so bad that he ended up in court and then jail. His mother wrote him out of her will and made sure the inheritance would go to her three grandchildren with Walter's wife as the trustee. Clearly, she didn't trust him with money. This seemed to set Walter off.
He came home from a long walk and found his oldest son playing in the hall. He stabbed the boy to death and then went to his wife's bedroom and stabbed her. He then found his middle son and slit his throat. A maid stumbled upon the scene and Walter attacked her. Her screams brought some male servants to her aid and Walter jumped on a horse and rode off. One of the servants guessed that Walter was heading to the home of the wet nurse for his youngest child and he hopped on a horse in pursuit. This sounds like an amazing movie as the nurse sees Walter coming with a knife and bars the door. The servant arrives and fights with Walter as he calls for villagers to help him and they all succeed in overpowering Walter. Walter was sentenced to die and he was executed. His wife actually survived the attack and went on to marry again and have more children. Parish records for the church indicate that Walter was buried here in the churchyard, but it is thought that the bones were moved to a tomb at Calverley. And that is why his spirit is thought to be at unrest, it is looking for his body. The full-bodied apparition has been seen wandering through the churchyard searching in vain.
Probably the most well known church here is York Minster. York Minster was not the first church here. There have been many through
the decades. The first was probably built in 627 AD out of wood and
eventually replaced with a stone structure. This fell into disrepair and
was restored in 670. Fire destroyed it in 741 and it was rebuilt as a
bigger stone structure. This was attacked and destroyed through the
years until the one that survives today was begun in 1220 AD.
York Minster is northern Europe’s oldest Gothic
cathedral and borders one side of the city while Clifford's Tower
borders the other. I cannot begin to put into words the beauty of this
building. It was made from handcrafted masonry
stones, medieval stained glass and features architectural wonders. One
of these is the Old Mason's Loft and roof of the Chapter House. A
revolutionary engineering technique was used by 13th century Masons to
create the wooden carpentry here with timber that today is over 1,000
years old. Stone cut designs and statuary are everywhere on this building, made from magnesian limestone that was quarried from Tadcaster and has a creamy white hue. The statuary is some of the finest Gothic sculpture in the country and features angels, animals, grotesques and human heads with no two alike. Purbeck marble was added to the piers of the Chapter House. The Gothic design is based on a cruciform plan featuring an octagonal chapter house attached to the north transept, and three towers with one set centrally and the other two at the west front. The Minster is dedicated to St. Peter and the seat of the Archbishop of York. The stained-glass windows feature a rose window on the south transept, a heart-shaped design on the West window, which is known as the Heart of Yorkshire and the Five Sisters Window with each lancet measuring over 53 feet and 5 feet wide. Patterned marble was added to the floors in the 1700s. Fires have continued to ravage the building with the most recent in 1984. A broad renovation project was started in 2007 and was completed in 2018.
This is one of the more haunted sites and
always manages to make it on a Top 10 Haunted York Sites list. The carved stone I mentioned is part of one of our ghost stories. Stone masons have to make repairs often to the stone because of the elements and they were doing this in 1964. A female tourist in York stopped to watch them for a bit and was approached by a man who asked if she liked the stonework. The man looked scraggly, but the woman was polite and told him that she did. He grinned and said that he made it, and then he disappeared. She was startled, but then assumed that the man was supervising the repairs to the work he had done some 600 years earlier. One of
the other spirits here is thought to belong to a parishioner who was named Dean
Gale and he is seen sitting and listening to sermons before he
disappears into thin air. Gale had been the head of the Minster chapter in the late 17th century. He was highly respected and never missed a service, always sitting in the same seat. He died in 1702 and was buried in a tomb in the Minster.
Disembodied barks are heard coming from inside
the Minster at night and people believe this is because there is a
rumor that a dog was walled up inside the church. A really well known
ghost story dates to the 1820s and features a man in a naval uniform
walking up to two women inside the church and whispering in one of their
ears before disappearing. One of the women claimed it was her brother
crossing the veil to let her know that there was an afterlife. He
apparently had died at sea. Another telling of the story has a young woman being shown around the Minster by a local York man and that he sees the man in the naval uniform first and watches as he walks up to the girl who has a stunned look on her face. She later explained to him that she and her brother had made a deal with each other to return after dying to reveal there was an afterlife. So this was apparently a crisis apparition and only appeared the one time.
There are two things that I really love in Britain and those are its castles and its churches. They feed my love of architecture and the fact that they have witnessed so much history makes them even better. It is not surprising that these older churches would host ghosts. Many of them seem to be looking for something. That seems like a hard thing to be locked into for the afterlife: a constant searching. Are these churches haunted? That is for you to decide!
Please check out "Haunted York" by Rupert Matthews written in 2009 from which some of the stories have been culled.