Thursday, April 30, 2020

HGB Ep. 334 - The Murder and Haunting of Helene Knabe

Moment in Oddity - Aliens Turn Soviet Soldiers to Stone

When the Soviet Union crumbled, many of its KGB documents found their way into public spaces. One such document that I found at from their reading room shares an event reported by the KGB that is unbelievable if true. The KGB materials claim that a low flying spaceship in the shape of a saucer appeared above a Soviet military unit that was out doing maneuvers in Siberia. The group fired a missile at the UFO and brought it down. Five humanoid looking creatures that were short with large black eyes and bulbous heads, exited out of the downed UFO. This is already really weird, but it gets even more bizarre. These men were attacked by the aliens and all were killed, but two. These two claimed that the five aliens merged into a single object that was spherical shaped and then began to buzz and hiss and glowed a bright white. That light seemed to flare and explode and the soldiers that were exposed to it were pertrified. Twenty-three men were turned to stone that proved to be the same composition as limestone! The busted UFO and petrified men were taken away to a secret lab in Moscow. This CIA document also claimed that there are photographs to go with the report and one CIA agent said that this was "a horrific picture of revenge on the part of extraterrestrial creatures, a picture that makes one's blood freeze." The report doesn't say what happened to the aliens, but clearly they had no ship to take them away. Aliens morphing into a weapon that turns humans to stone is not only terrifying, it certainly is odd.

This Month in History - The 1974 Super Outbreak

In the month of April, on the 3rd and 4th, in 1974, 148 tornadoes ripped through much of America, earning the name "The 1974 Super Outbreak." Spring is the time of year when these storms rip through the Midwest. An outbreak is typically categorized as 6 to 10 twisters and there can't be a break of more than 6 hours between reported tornadoes. This would be the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. It was actually the largest until 2011. It has always been the most violent. Thirteen states were effected: Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and New York. Ontario in Canada was also hit. Thirty of the twisters hit the upper categories of E4 and E5 and caused roughly $843 million in damages, which would be $4.6 billion today. This was dwarfed in 2011 when that super outbreak had 362 tornadoes. That also occurred in April.

The Murder and Haunting of Helene Knabe (Suggested by Michelle Rooney)

Helene Knabe was ahead of her time. She became a doctor in the early 1900s and her specialty was in treating sexually transmitted diseases. She lived in the Delaware Flats in Indianapolis, Indiana and this is where she would breathe her last. Helene was murdered and to this day, the identity of her killer is a mystery. And that may be why her spirit is at unrest. Join us as we share about the history of the Delaware Flats, the life of this amazing woman and her tragic murder. 

Indianapolis had a street car system that helped get people living in the outer edges of town into town for work. The Delaware Flats apartments were located with a block of similar apartments in the 400 and 500 blocks of North Delaware Street. These apartments were designed by architect Charles A. Wallingford and completed in 1902. The Delaware Flats is three stories tall with a basement and low-pitched roof and was done in the Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical architecture style. There were eighteen, five bedroom flats. In 1911, contractor Lynn Millikan purchased the Delaware Flats for $46,250. That same year, Dr. Helene Knabe would be murdered in the Delaware Flats.

Dr. Helene Knabe was born in Ruegenwaelder-Munde, Germany, Prussia, which is now part of Poland in 1875. This was a time of struggle for power in Prussia with the monarchy receiving a lot of push back. This was also a time of not much freedom for women and when Helene decided that she wanted to become a doctor, she knew she was going to have to go somewhere else because Prussia would not allow it at the time. Here early life had been a very tough one. Her father had left her mother when she was still a baby and then her mother passed away and so she was raised by her uncle. So in 1896, she moved to Indiana because she had heard that women could go to medical school there, but she needed to make some money and learn English. So she spent four years as a seamstress and doing household things for the upper class and in turn they taught her English. She entered Butler University to prepare for medical school in 1900 and later that year she attended the Medical College of Indiana. The courses were tough, but she maintained above a 75% grade and dissected every body part presented to her even as she continued to work to pay for her education.

The professors were so impressed with her that one of them placed her as curator of the pathology museum and eventually she was instructing some underclassmen. Obviously, since this was the early 1900s, it was unheard of for a woman to be teaching men and many did not like this, so we think that says something about her. Not only was she so successful that her professors pushed back against this resistance, but she also was that good at being a doctor. She graduated as one of only two women in 1904. People described her as a vanguard and this was only one of the reasons. Dr. Knabe was a bit of an artist and she started providing illustrations to medical books and she continued to work as curator of the museum. And even though she wasn't paid to do this, she worked as a professor at the school. In 1905, she became the first woman to be appointed as a deputy state health officer in Indiana.

She was a pioneer in Indiana when it came to rabies too. This newspaper article from the Palladium in July of 1906 highlights this part of her career:

Dr. Knabe became the Superintendent for the State Board of Health in 1908 and she left the board shortly after that to start her own community practice where she offered services many times for bartered goods. The doctor worked with a variety of epidemics and pushed for better sanitation. And although she was expected to do more, she was never paid what she was worth. But she loved this and her passion had her traveling all of Indiana recommending sanitation practices and educating. Part of that education was in sex education, which was very taboo at the time. There were many who were outraged that she was teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them. She focused much of her efforts in communities with People of Color. There were some other things that she was outspoken about that probably put her in the crosshairs. When she left the State Board of Health she said that they "expected an employee in the laboratory to have a man’s brain, but be paid a woman’s salary."

A brilliant career came to a tragic and gruesome end on October 25, 1911. Dr. Helene Knabe was found murdered in the Delaware Flats by a colleague named Katherine McPherson. Dr. Knabe had a slit to her throat that was clearly dealt by not only a strong person, but this killer had skill with a knife. The killer had started on one side of her throat, taking care not to cut her carotid artery, and continued to the other side of her throat, pressing deeply and hitting her spine. The doctor then choked to death on her own blood. She had a bruise on her thigh that suggested a struggle. The coroner ruled that she had been murdered, but the police initially dismissed this and went forward with this as a suicide. They actually believe that she had slit her own throat in this way. Nothing had been stolen from the flat, except for a silk kimono that the doctor had been wearing, and the murder weapon was missing. Which clearly means we had no suicide here.

The police didn't have much to go on when they finally decided to pursue this as a murder. To complicate matters, McPherson had waited almost an hour before calling police and the crime scene had been contaminated by several people. The first person they treated as a suspect was a witness who was a black janitor who lived below her. His name was Jefferson Haynes and he lived in the basement with his daughter and a housekeeper. He told the police that he heard footsteps above him and three screams, but that he was too afraid to investigate. They decided to arrest him and hold him, but they could find no motive other than their own bias. So they released him.

Another theory was presented that perhaps a man having an extramartial affair had killed the doctor to silence her. This theory was put out in an article by the Brazil Daily Times on October 27, 1911:

In April of 1912, a sailor came forward claiming that he had slit the throat of Dr. Knabe. His name was Seth Nichols and he claimed that he had been paid to kill her for $1,500. Whoever this person was, he had joined Nichols at the Delaware Flats and watched as Nichols killed the doctor. The police listened for a while and the sailor did have a sister in Indianapolis, but they eventually decided he was lying. Although, Nichols wife did die in a similar way. A favorite spot for Dr. Knabe to visit in the few hours when she wasn't working was the German Cultural Center called Das Deutsche Haus. This is today the Athanaeum and the Rathskeller and one of the places said to be haunted by the doctor's spirit. She had gotten into a heated debate with a man at the center and some people thought this carried over into the murder. Had he killed her because of the fight? The police eventually tossed out this lead as well.

The case was growing cold at this point and a group of female doctor friends of Dr. Knabe, hired a private investigator. This was Detective Harry Webster and based on his research the police had another suspect. The police arrested Dr. William B. Craig. This was a local man with a successful veterinarian practice. He also had being Dr. Knabe's fiance. Their romance was not a well-known fact, which seems weird. Those that did know about it claimed it was volatile. The story goes that the engagement was called off a few days before the murder and that Dr. Craig planned to marry another woman.  Nobody really knew about the engagement, but Dr. Knabe had ordered a dress. When the police talked to his maid, she told them that Craig had left the morning after the murder with a bundle of stuff that the police thought was evidence. And she had also heard Dr. Knabe and Dr. Craig arguing. An undertaker named Alonso Ragsdale was found to have the bloody silk kimono that Dr. Knabe had worn while she was murdered and he claimed that Dr. Craig had paid him to remove the kimono from the scene. Both men were charged and the prosecutor claimed that the neck wound pointed to a veterinarian as the murderer because it was similar to a "sheep nick" or "sheep cut."

There was not much evidence, not even circumstantial. A bloody fingerprint in Dr. Knabe's apartment was never taken for evidence. Obviously, fingerprinting was pretty new at this time, but it still was something being used. Witnesses left town and disappeared and the housekeeper refused to testify. Did they not subpoena people back at this time? Due to lack of any real evidence, both Alfonso and Dr. Craig were acquitted. The main thing that became very clear through the investigation and prosecution is that Dr. Knabe was treated more like someone who deserved what she got than a victim. Was this just a random act of violence or was she targeted for being a strong-willed woman who demanded to be treated as an equal and believed in teaching people how they could safely keep themselves healthy in their environment and when having sex? Or was she targeted for being a lesbian? There are those who believe that she preferred the love of women and she was considered masculine. No one was ever convicted and the case remains unsolved to this day. Dr. Knabe was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis in an unmarked grave. Her case file was destroyed in a flood in 1977. In 2016, Nici Kobrowski published the book, "She Sleeps Well: the Extraordinary Life and Murder of Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe." In it, she concludes that Dr. Craig was indeed the killer. The author also paid for a headstone for Dr. Knabe. That's awesome!

After the murder, Lynn B. Millikan decided to rebrand the Delware Flats as a hotel. This would be Hotel Barton with a main lobby, kitchen and dining room on the first floor. Renovations included fireplaces, decorative mirrors and egg-and-dart molding to the lobby and some guest rooms and adding decorative mirrors and fire places. Since the basement could not be used for rooms, Millikan turned it into a commercial space. The hotel changed its name to Barton House Hotel in the early 1960s, but the hotel was on its way out and by 1966, it was a nursing home. The Salvation Army eventually turned it into low-income housing. And through all of this, there were stories of unexplained things happening. The first floor here is incredibly haunted. Dr. Knabe's spirit has been seen here, particularly in the area where her apartment had been located. But in other areas, residents complain of lights turning on and off by themselves and disembodied footsteps are heard nearly everywhere.

As we mentioned before, Dr. Knabe enjoyed hanging out at the Das Deutsche Haus, which is today the Athanaeum. This place reminds us of the Cuban Club inside. The doctor loved dancing and eating here, but this was also a location where medical classes were conducted as well as autopsies. The autopsies and dissections were stopped overtime when there was a grave robbing scandal that was revealed. In 1902 alone, 315 bodies were stolen in three months and two dozen people were arrested. It was such an issue in Indianapolis that when John Dillinger was buried there in 1934, his family had several tons of concrete poured on top of his burial to keep grave robbers out. The Athanaeum is located at 401 E. Michigan Street and was built from 1893 to 1898 in the Romanesque style. It's a gorgeous red brick building with flattened columns on the front of the building, pillars and arches. There was a gymnasium, bowling alley, ballroom, restaurant and, of course, beer hall. A fireplace inside features Dante's Inferno. Today, the restaurant is now The Rathskeller and a YMCA occupies the gymnasium and there is the Basile Theater. The new version of the Ghost Hunters visited this location in October of 2019.

The president of the Athenaeum Foundation is Craig Mince and he said, "Since my first day on the job, all I've heard about from the staff and tenants of the Athenaeum are stories of all the spirits that call the building home,” Mince said in a statement. “Me being a bit intrigued, and a tad scared, I felt like I wanted to know more about the spirits and their stories. Having heard that A&E was resurrecting 'Ghost Hunters,' I felt like there was no better team of folks to help us get to the bottom of this mystery." Shannon Poole who works in the building described to the Ghost Hunters her experience of seeing a shadowy ghost from the neck and shoulders up. Craig told Greg and the crew that people feel very uncomfortable in the attic where costumes used to be stored. There was no explainable EMF in this area. A spirit in there did use the EMF to communicate with the crew.

There are ghost tours that go inside the building too and have even hosted overnights in October. One of these tours is hosted by Unseen Press, which is co-owned by Michael and Nici Kobrowski. They claim that people have seen shadow figures in the theater and heard disembodied whispers. A dancing couple has been seen on the stage in the theater and the woman is always wearing a blue dress. Paperwork goes missing and tables that were set and ready for service the night before are found unset the next day. One of the spirits here is believed to belong to a man named Jolly Werner who had been drinking too much and fell into the fireplace and died. He is generally seen in the restaurant. And, of course, the restless spirit of Dr. Knabe has been seen here as a full-bodied apparition in the east section on the first and second floors. She was seen in the building as soon as two weeks after her death. Back to that EMF communicating in the attic, the crew asked if it was a female and it confirmed twice that it was female. The spirit also confirmed that it taught about health and that it was a teacher and a doctor.

What happened to Dr. Helene Knabe was horrible. She was in the prime of her life, only 35, and she had been incredibly successful in her career when someone robbed her of that life. No one was brought to justice. This would definitely cause a spirit to be restless. Is Dr. Knabe's ghost haunting these two locations? That is for you to decide.

Show Notes:
Great article on Dr. Knabe:

Thursday, April 23, 2020

HGB Ep. 333 - Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

This episode sponsored by Kobo Audiobooks, check out and use code HISTORY40 for 40% off and also by the History or His Story Podcast at

Moment in Oddity - The Mystery of Skeleton Lake

In 1942, a British troop in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery that came to be known as the Mystery of Skeleton Lake. And that is just what they found. A lake full of skeletons, only this lake was frozen. This lake was 16,000 feet above sea level and set at the bottom of a small valley. The troop waited for the summer thaw to investigate it properly and they were left with two big questions: what year were they from and what killed some 200 people? Since the war was on, many suspected that these were Japanese soldiers who were sneaking through the air and died of exposure. Archaloegists studied the bones and found they they were much older, so the skeletons could not belong to Japanese soldiers. The dry, cold air had preserved the bones and scientists found that they dated to around 850 AD. Now they needed to figure out what had killed these people. Was it some kind of exposure? Had there been an epidemic? Was there a natural disaster? Was this some kind of weird death ritual? Modern DNA tests helped scientists to figure out that these were two different ethnic groups and based on clothing and items found nearby, that this was probably a traveling group of people who were being lead by a hired group of local guides. Studying the skulls revealed little deep cracks and the only other wounds found were on the shoulders, leading experts to believe that the blows came from above. But it didn't seem that weapons had made the wounds. This was probably a weather event and based on stories we hear about baseball-sized hail stones, it's easy to believe that being out in an open valley during one of these storms, could lead to massive head trauma. That is what scientists concluded. And an old Himalayan folk song lends some credence to that theory because its lyrics describe a goddess raining death down on those who defile her mountain with hailstones that were as "hard as iron." Finding a large group of skeletons frozen in a lake some 1,800 years after a hailstorm killed them all, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Hank Aaron Beats Babe Ruth's Home Run Record

In the month of April, on the 8th, in 1974, Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run. Aaron was born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama to a poor family. He practiced by hitting bottle caps with a stick and made balls and bats out of anything he could find laying around. Aaron dreamed of being like his hero Jackie Robinson and just like Robinson, when he finally made it into the Negro American League in 1951, he experienced some overt racism. For three months, he played for the Indianapolis Clowns and then he got two offers from the MLB, one from the Boston Braves and the other from the New York Giants. He went with the Braves because they offered hom $50 more a month. His teammates called him "Pork Chops" because he ate them for almost every meal. 1955 was a banner year for him in which he hit with a .314 batting average with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs. Each year he did even better. In 1969, Aaron passed Mickey Mantle's total home runs and moved into third place on the career home run list, behind Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. When Aaron closed in on Babe Ruth's record, he started receiving death threats. He actually feared that he wouldn't live long enough to surpass that record. Aaron broke the record on that April day in 1974 in front of a record breaking Braves' crowd. Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs and he retired in 1976.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Suggested by listener Astrid)

Creepy. That's the one word we hear from everyone who has ever visited the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. This was a place of immense sadness that was for many years home to the mentally ill and other unfortunate souls. The name would change later to Weston State Hospital. The hospital closed in 1994, but the building reopened as a historic site offering tours. And as is the case with so many of these places, one can investigate the paranormal here and there are so many stories of unexplained experiences coming out of this place, that it is hard not to believe that this is one of the most haunted places in the world. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

West Virginia is a gorgeous state and one full of mystique. We've shared before about the legends of this state that is completely engulfed in the Appalachian Mountains. This is a state of coal mines, rolling hills and trees. There are many well known haunted locations here as well with this being the home of the Mothman, Flatwoods Monster, Moundsville Penitentiary and Lake Shawnee and Harper's Ferry, both of which are on our suggestions list. The settlers who founded Weston, West Virginia seemed to have a tough time choosing a name for their town. The town was founded as Preston in 1818 and changed to Fleshersville right after that and then finally they chose Weston in 1819 and that was the one that would stick. Weston incorporated in 1846. The Museum of American Glass is here with over 20,000 pieces on display including historic glass and art pieces. This would also be the place chosen to build the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

The former asylum is located at 71 Asylum Drive and is the largest hand cut stone building in America and the second largest in the world, falling just behind Moscow's haunted Kremlin. Stone masons came from Germany and Ireland to cut the stones. As was the case with many of the asylums we've covered, Trans-Allegheny was designed following the Kirkbride plan. Thomas Kirkbride thought of mental illness in a different way then many people of his time. He believed that the mentally ill could be treated and cured. This could be facilitated with moral care, which is just basically good food, lots of rest, exercise, light and getting out in nature. And he came up with a design that would work better for asylums and wrote about it in his book "On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane With Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment." This design was in a flattened V shape, branching out like stair steps on each side. This would allow for ventilation and sunshine for every room. One side of the V was for men and the other for women and the outer reaches of the wings were reserved for the toughest cases.

Architect Richard Andrews designed Trans-Allegheny according to the Kirkbride plan. Construction was begun in 1858, using prison labor, and would not be completed until 1881. One reason for the delay was the Civil War. During the War in 1861, the Union 7th Ohio Infantry took over the asylum and called it Camp Tyler. This was an important military post. Despite not being completed, the first patients were welcomed in 1864. The asylum was meant for a total of 250 patients, but far more would end up being housed here. Studying the architecture of the asylum, it is easy to see the Gothic and Tudor Revival style influences. There are Tudor arches, drip moulds above the windows and the very distinctive Curvilinear gables, which is what is seen at the top front of The Alamo. There is a central clock tower that was completed in 1871 that looks a bit out of place and is painted white. Segregated rooms for people of color were added in 1873. When construction was finished, the asylum was like its own little community like all those that came before and after it. There was a vegetable garden, a dairy, a waterworks, a gasworks and three cemeteries. The apothecary in the old Civil War Wing offered an assortment of medicinal items from thorazine to heroin to bourbon!

Things started out good with positive intentions, but this would unravel over time. By 1880, there were nearly 500 more patients being cared for than the hospitals maximum of 250. These numbers just rose until there was a peak of 2,600 patients in the 1950s. Clearly, this caused overcrowding and poor sanitation. Obviously, not just the mentally ill were housed here. People could be sent here for a number of reasons including epilepsy and addiction and even very trivial matters like a husband who just didn't like his strong-willed wife talking back to him. Women could get committed by their husbands for reasons like "disappointed affection," "imaginary female trouble," "medicine to prevent conception" and "time of life." Unruly patients were often locked in cages. In 1913, Trans-Allegheny became Weston State Hospital, but the name change did nothing for conditions. In the 1980s, the population was lowered. The hospital was closed in 1994 when another hospital was built. For many years, the buildings on the campus were left abandoned and many areas were damaged by vandals and the elements. The Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, was formed in 2000 to help preserve the buildings. Joe Jordan bought the property for $1.5 million in 2007 and they have put together a museum and offered historical and ghost tours ever since. His daughter Rebecca Gleason is now the operations manager.

Many forms of therapy were used on the patients and doctors liked to experiment. There were cold baths, electro-shock therapy, insulin-shock therapy, bloodletting and confinement cribs. One of the darkest stains on the history for Trans-Allegheny was its West Virginia Lobotomy Project headed up by Walter Freeman. This project started in the early 1950s and was authorized by the West Virginia Board of Control. There was a control group of 228 patients who were subjected to transorbital lobotomy. The procedure led to four fatalities, two of them due to hemorrhage and two to dehydration. After a year, eighty-five of the subjects were released from the hospital. The main goal of this project and for even doing the lobotomies was to help empty out the hospitals. Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, pioneered the method and Freeman adopted it in 1936. He was the one who named it "lobotomy" and he was the one that developed what we consider to be the barbaric transorbital version of the lobotomy. This was basically using an ice pick through the eye, beating it with a mallet to get into the skull and severing the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain by moving that ice pick around. Most patients did not consent to the procedure. The project ended in 1955 and there seemed to be no positive outcome. Violent patients were docile, but they also were basically catatonic. (STAT Podcast did a series featuring Freeman back in 2017 that was excellent.)

 Some of the things listed as reasons for being committed:

    Bad whiskey
    Doubt about his mother’s ancestors
    Loss of arm
    Change of life
    Menstrual derangement
    Disappointed love
    Death of sons in war
    Overstudy of Religion
    Domestic trouble
    Snuff Eating for 2 Years
    Reading too many novels
    Desertion of husband

Thirteen buildings still stand on the property. The total acreage of the property is an ominous 666 acres. There are countless ghost stories connected to the place. They all seemed to start after the hospital was abandoned, but that doesn't mean that there were not experiences while the asylum still had patients. Many ghost programs have featured this location from Ghost Hunters to Ghost Adventures to Portals to Hell to Paranormal Lockdown. Several areas that can be toured and investigated include the operating room, apartments and morgue. Trans-Allegheny could be straight out of a horror movie with dim and dingy hallways full of peeling paint, crumbling floors and broken windows. And even though it has been undergoing extensive renovations for years, it still looks as though it were abandoned. The experiences that people have run the gamut of everything we have heard about from every other reputedly haunted location: cold spots, strange sounds, disembodied voices, apparitions of doctors and nurses and patients.

Jim James was a former patient who liked cigarettes. Investigators are usually able to coax him into communicating by offering him one. Marisa Kashino visited the asylum in 2018 and wrote an article for the Washingtonian sharing her experiences during an investigation. Jim was one of the spirits she believed she interacted with and she wrote, "We placed a Maglite on the floor and asked Jim to turn it on. The light was Julia’s, but I inspected it and it seemed totally ordinary. A few beats passed—then it came on. By itself. I offered Jim a cigarette to turn it back off. It went dark."

The Apothecary in the Civil War Wing reputedly hosts black or dark figures or masses. This is said to be a very haunted area of the main building. Guides claim to hear disembodied voices and doors slamming. One night, a guide witnessed a door slamming against the wall over and over and there was no one near the door. Another guide had the most traumatic event he had ever experienced in the pharmacy one night. His name is Mike Heath and he was assaulted by a spirit. He came through the door and felt four fingers press against his back and push him forward in a violent way. It was the first time that anything in the building had touched him.

Eddie is a former patient who liked to play poker. He seems to like to communicate with flashlights and was documented doing so during a visit that the New York Times paid to the location in 2013. The author of the article was John Searles and he found himself wondering if his guide had some way of controlling the flashlight. Diane had often wondered the same thing until our own investigations with our own flashlight started going on and off without us being anywhere near it. Searles writes, "As soon as we set up our cots, a strange noise — like something heavy being dragged across a floor — started coming from a distant part of the asylum. Thomas sat up and asked if I had heard it. At first, I told him that it was coming from that ghost-free waiting area, which was not far away. But then we heard the sound again, this time unmistakably coming from the space near that rusted cage door that led to the lobotomy area. When we heard the sound a third time, louder than before, Thomas bolted. He returned with Copperhead. The three of us walked quietly with our flashlights through a series of rooms, some with old hospital equipment still in them and bars on the windows, until we entered a room that had what looked to be roofing material on the floor. Copperhead stepped on it with his boot, and we heard that distinctive dragging sound. We were in the off-limits part of the asylum, where no one else was supposed to be, so that meant the noise we had heard had to be otherworldly. I couldn’t help but feel as if we were in a 'Scooby-Doo' episode, and at any moment we would figure out who had been trying to scare us away."

The Women's Auxiliary Building is the second oldest building on the property and no one is allowed access in this building. The building is in real sad shape, so it is not surprising. The show Paranormal Lockdown did get to go inside on episode 1 of their first season. Nick and Katrina caught a very clear EVP answering "Yes" when they asked if they had seen a figure standing in a room here. They then got a "No" when they asked if the spirit knew it was dead. They also felt an electrical charge and the owner, Rebecca, who was giving them the tour, had goosebumps on her arms. It was hard to tell the gender of the voice on the EVP. Nick and Katrina returned to this building the next night with their Geobox, which is an upgraded spirit box or something, and they picked up two voices. The first said, "Hello" in a female voice and the second was male and said, "Don't say a word."

Up on the fourth floor, Paranormal Lockdown caught the creepiest thing I've seen if it was the real deal. This is a floor that Nick was afraid of because he had seen a shadow figure up here during a previous visit. He spent the first night up there in the complete dark with a camera on him that had night vision and there was a sound that he didn't make and is hard to describe, kind of like a banging. When the crew was up there earlier, the camera man and Nick both heard something say, "Shhh." On the final night of their 72 hours, the camera man is taping Nick and Katrina and then he hears something and sees something behind them slithering in the dark along the floor. They played it over and over, Kelly and I watched it, and it is strange. If it wasn't some extra person on the property crawling slowly across the ground, then I don't know what the hell it was. Both Nick and Katrina seemed shocked to see it when the camera man replayed it for them, so I lean towards legit and it gives you chills.

A little girl named Lilly is said to have been born at the asylum and now haunts the hallways and plays with toys left for her. She lived to be nine-years-old and then died. Another version of the story claims that she was dropped off by her parents and abandoned. Her spirit is seen as a full-bodied apparition wearing a white dress. Her disembodied giggling is sweet, but also very unnerving. Lily's Room, which is full of scattered toys, is located on the first floor of Ward Four in the eastern corner. A music box in this room plays on its own and Lily interacts with guides. Usually this manifests with balls rolling across the floor by themselves. She also will turn off and on flashlights when asked.

One story claims a patient named Jane Harvey killed herself in the asylum and is said to haunt it now. On the first floor is the spirit of a patient named Ruth who apparently hated men. It is said that she still hates men and tends to throw things at them during investigations. A Civil War ghost named Jacob hangs out on the 4th floor of the main building. A murderer named Slewfoot was murdered himself and is now apparently haunting the place, particularly in the shower area where he was killed.

Ward F housed the most aggressive male patients and Ward C housed the most dangerous female patients. A patient named Joe was one of those who was violent and he decided to take his fury out on a lobotomized patient named Charlie. A former employee claimed that Joe had been a serial killer before coming to the asylum. The Portals of Hell show referred to the victim as Dean, so we're not sure what his name really was, but what happened to him was horrible. A nurse recalled that Joe got some other patients to help him string Charlie up to an overhead pipe in an attempt to hang him. They lowered Charlie to the floor picked up a metal-framed bed and put the leg against his forehead and then jumped up and down on the bed, driving the bedpost into Charlie's skull. Charlie's spirit is believed to have remained here because of this tragic event. Another employee claimed that two men had been murdered in the same way, but we have only heard that this one time, so not sure about the accuracy of that claim.

knight 1431 on TripAdvisor in March 2020: "I got touched down my face while walking on the first floor heading to the Civil War area of the wing, stopped me dead in my tracks. filmed activity in Lilly's room and got activity on my Mel-Meter while talking to"The Sarge" in the Civil War section of the Asylum. I also picked up anomalies on the fourth floor in the Addiction section of the Wing with my SLS CAmera."

There are so many tales of experiences at the asylum. It would seem most everyone who enters either feels something, sees something or experiences something. Is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

HGB Ep. 332 - Spirits of the Spanish Flu

Moment in Oddity - Railworkers Discover 14th Century Cave
Suggested by: Quoylette

Last week, workers making repairs to a railway route in Surrey, England made a fascinating discovery. The company they work for is NetworkRail and they have been adding on to and repairing Britain's railway infrastructure. A landslide near one of the railways had workers digging and they discovered a 14th century cave complete with drawings inside. Those drawings feature a Christian cross and decorative dots. This has lead archaeologists to believe that this cave had once been bigger and served as a Medieval shrine associated with St. Catherine's Chapel, which sits in ruins on a nearby hill. This discovery is the most recent of seven finds that the NetworkRail reports on its website. Other finds include: a Victorian roundhouse, a lost plaque for the railway from 1839, the remains of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's engineering workshop, the first settlement at London Bridge, Roman artifacts from the Saxon and Medieval times and George Stephenson's notebook from 1822. Stephenson is considered the father of the railways. Finding old artifacts during construction happens quite often and is not only amazing, but it also certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Civil Rights Bill of 1866 Passed

In the month of April, on the 9th, in 1866, the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 was passed by Congress. This was the first federal law to affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law.This granted blacks the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately, the President at the time, Andrew Jackson, vetoed the act. Congress passed it again to support the 13th Amendment, which was again vetoed by Jackson, but the checks and balances of our system of government allowed Congress to override the veto with a two-thirds majority. One thing that this act did not do is provide the right to vote. The authors of the act explained, "Do they mean that all citizens shall vote in the several States? No; for suffrage is a political right which has been left under the control of the several States, subject to the action of Congress only when it becomes necessary to enforce the guarantee of a republican form of government (protection against a monarchy)." This override of a veto by Congress would be the first time that was ever done in U.S. history. The KKK undermined the act and blacks did not have easy access to legal help to fight discrimination, so for much of history they had no recourse for violations of this act.

Spirits of the Spanish Flu (Suggested by: allnew1995 and Carlston on Insta)

Pandemics and plagues have been a part of our human history. No matter how developed the world becomes, a very microscopic bug can cause society to fall into collapse and kill millions of people. We are now living through an unprecedented moment in history with the Covid-19 Pandemic. There have been many of these pandemics in recent human history and one of the worst was the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. This form of influenza was believed to have infected a third of the world's population at the time and lead to the deaths of 50 million people.

The Black Death that hit Europe in 1347 was the first time that quarantine was used to fight back against an pandemic. This pandemic killed 200 million in four years. The Great Plague in London in the 1500s had laws implemented to separate and isolate the sick and their family. The greatest killer in Mexico and North America was the Small Pox epidemic of the 15th century. This would also be the first virus to be cured with a vaccine. The cholera epidemic lead to urban sanitation development. We as a global community learn from epidemics and pandemics. The problem with being a global community though is that we have an amazing ability to travel and connect and with that, diseases spread more readily and quickly. This is what happened with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The World War would help to spread this disease making it a big global killer. More people died in a year from this, than in four years of the Black Death.

The Spanish Flu didn't come from, nor start in Spain. That moniker is misleading. This flu outbreak got that name because Spain was a neutral country during World War I and they were the first to report the pandemic. The Spanish Flu originally appeared to be a common seasonal flu that lasted for three days with a fever, aches and just a general feeling of not being well. This first wave wasn't really bad. This is why in 2020 we are witnessing countries that have restarted their economies and communities after tamping down their coronavirus illnesses and deaths, watching for outbreaks of coronavirus very closely. Because it was the later waves of the Spanish Flu that killed millions. The first reported case of the Spanish Flu is believed to have happened in January 1918 in Haskell County, Kansas. The next known case was in early March 1918, and the person infected was a U.S. Army cook named Albert Gitchell stationed at Camp Funston in Kansas. When he was measured as having a 104-degree fever, he was put in the hospital. Camp Funston had 54,000 troops stationed there and the virus spread quickly. By the end of March, 1,100 soldiers were in the hospital and 38 had died.

World War I started in 1914 after the heir to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. The Serbian government was blamed and they were backed by Russia. The Austria-Hungarians were backed by Germany. And the fight was on with France, Great Britain and Belgium joining the Russians and Serbians. The United States opted to remain neutral. After Germany sunk the passenger ship Lusitania and several other neutral American ships, the U.S. decided it was time to ready for war. On April 6, 1917, America declared war on Germany. The U.S. would not formally enter the war until the Spring of 1918 and with that, the Spanish Flu was introduced to the world. The virus spread quickly through France, Italy, Great Britain and, of course, Spain, throughout April and May 1918. Almost half of British troops caught the virus and three-quarters of French troops were sick. This was still part of the less deadly first wave.

Much of the World Wars were fought as trench warfare and we're sure everyone can imagine just how bad the health conditions are inside of a trench. Men were practically on top of each other and the trenches were damp and cold. As soldiers continued to move about, they spread the virus. The war ended, but the Spanish Flu continued. There would be 43,000 servicemen who would die. Many of these sick troops would carry what was a very contagious flu, home with them and this would be a more virulent second wave as the virus mutated. Boston was the first part of America hit with this second wave. Hospitals were taxed to their limit because so many men had come home injured with wounds or mustard gas attacks. And the really unique thing about the Spanish Flu is that it was deadly for the young and healthy who were aged 20 to 40. In two years, 28% of Americans were infected. This depressed the average life span in America by 10 years. President Woodrow Wilson ended up with the flu in early 1919.

A third wave rolled in starting in the Winter of 1919. People all over the world died rapidly with a mortality rate of 2.5%. The virus spread through trade routes. Every country was touched just as we've seen with Coronavirus from Asia to Africa to the South Pacific and Brazil. India was hit really hard with 50 deaths from influenza per 1,000 people. One narrative claimed that four women were playing cards one night and by the next evening, three of those women had died from this form of influenza. The worst effect of the disease was this development of a pneumonia that caused a bloody froth to spill from the mouth and fill up the lungs, so that the ill person suffocated. And just as we are witnessing today, scientists were rushing to find and create a vaccine for the pandemic. Another similarity with our current pandemic is that medical students were pulled into service even though they were not with school because there was such a shortage in physicians. Most people died from a secondary infection like pneumonia.

We wanted to share this interesting letter from a nurse to her friend at the Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas that was written on October 17, 1918. This record is from the National Archives at Kansas City. Record Group 75.

And just as children developed the nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosey" about the Bubonic Plague, children in 1918 created this rhyme:    

        "I had a little bird,
        Its name was Enza.
        I opened the window,
        And in-flu-enza."

When we look at the numbers in connection with the Spanish Flu, it gives us an appreciation for what the world faces today. Back in 1918 and 1919, there were about one billion people on the earth. Today, we have seven billion. Imagine the numbers if we didn't all practice physical distancing as early as we did. Back at this time they practiced social distancing too. People were told to stay home and funerals were limited in how many could attend and length. No funeral could go over 15 minutes. Coffins were hard to come by and morticians and gravediggers were overwhelmed. Steep fines were issued for people ignoring flu ordinances. Gauze face masks were handed out to everybody. The great news about all of this is that we certainly were not living this way before Covid-19, which means we will eventually get back to where we can be together again and touch each other again. And it seems that the experts have been really off with modeling and our numbers will be nowhere near Spanish Flu.

While there are those who still claim we don't know where the Spanish Flu came from, modern day scientists had used a molecular clock to track the strain of Spanish Flu and found that it was a human H1 virus that had been around since 1900 that picked up a version of the bird flu and mutated. So this was a bird flu more than likely. These same scientists also tried to figure out why this was so devastating to young people. The answer seems to be that people born before 1880 and after 1900 had antibodies from being exposed to an H1N1 virus. People who had their childhoods land between 1880 and 1900 were exposed to H3N8, which didn't give them the proper antibodies.

We have found ghost stories when it comes to so many epidemics and pandemics whether it be small pox, Yellow Fever or things like the Spanish Flu. It took some real digging, but we have found some spirits connected to the Spanish Flu. The first place we started is where the flu first got a solid foothold and that was Camp Funston at Fort Riley in Kansas. This was the largest of 16 temporary military quarters as America ramped up to enter the Great War. This was a strategic site because of the central location and construction was begun on July 1, 1917.This was not only a training camp, but also a place where conscientious objectors were taken for detention. There were around 1,400 buildings that are today used as temporary housing. Camp Funston ceased to exist officially in 1922. The Spanish Flu spread through the camp quickly and a field hospital was set up. Many of the soldiers died and it would seem that one of them is still around in the afterlife.

This spirit was first seen by a Public Works employee and he knew he was seeing something unusual because this man was wearing a WWI uniform. The worker had been sent to the former camp to work on a downed power line in the middle of a snowstorm. He was near a building that had served as the old WWI gymnasium and the figure was wearing a heavy wool overcoat and had a rifle over his shoulder. He was pacing as though on guard duty. Even though the soldier looked out of place, the worker still believed this was a real human and he decided to share some of his coffee with him. The soldier had disappeared and even though there was snow on the ground, there were no footprints where he had been. Now perhaps this was residual, but others have seen a World War I soldier too and the only reason one would have died here was because of the flu. So the likelihood of this being a Spanish Flu victim is very high.

Great Lakes Naval Training Station was opened in 1911. It started to ramp up activity and recruiting in April 1917 because of the Great War. Conditions at the camp were rough with many recruits sleeping in tents on muddy fields. The first reported case of Spanish Flu here was reported on September 7, 1918 when sailors were transferred in from Boston. The way the naval training station was set up. many people came here for events and there were many civilians who worked on the base. The virus spread quickly. The Chicago Reader reported one recruit, Harney Stover, writing home, "It begins with high fever. Most get real weak and collapse. I probably will get it. I don’t think I will be very sick." But recruits did get very sick and many died. The Great Lakes Naval Training Station became the beachhead of the epidemic in Illinois and there was not enough medical personnel to go around. Many were worked practically to death and they fell ill. By October 11, 1918, the station had recorded 9,623 cases of with 924 deaths.

 Username agochoa shared his ghost experiences from his time at the Great Lakes Training Station in 2012: "The place felt naturally forboding. Even with 40 other guys, you still felt like something was going to sneak up on you and do God knows what especially at night. I often dismissed it as homesickness or general discomfort of bootcamp...One of the guys constantly felt sick every time he'd pass the door of the cleaning supply room on the other side of the head area (toilets). On another occasion, while showering, the knob for my shower head turned itself until the water shut off! I turned to guy waitng and he said 'I guess he's trying to tell you you're done', I asked, 'WHO?'. He said 'the ghost' and then he laughed it off...One of my watchstanders, a very intelligent, level minded recruit by the name of Parker, accompanied me on what was nearly the last of our watches until graduation: THE MIDNIGHT WATCH. It was just passed midnight. He took the forward part of the compartment and I took the aft (back of the compartment). Armed with flashlights guardbelts and canteens, we were ready to take on anyone! I remember peeking out of the back window which led to the fire escape to ensure that nobody was paying us an unpleasant visit. I glanced over my shoulder to see who I thought was Parker and I turned slightly and said, 'Parker get back Forward!... Whatever was there, kept walking past and vanished into the back wall before I could see what it was. It made no sound at all. I was completely freaked out at this point! I moved very quickly to the front to tell him what had happened only to hear Parker scream and come running out of the head (bathroom) like a bat out of hell. He said, 'I saw it, I saw it!'. He said he was doing a routine check of the cleaning supply room, when he opened the door he saw a recruit standing there just huddled in the corner staring off into space, he wasn't wearing the proper uniform, which was odd. Parker thought it was a joke until the recruit had vanished into thin air! After that, niether one of us could sleep." Now, perhaps there had been an accidental death or two that lead to these hauntings, but with the record number of deaths here from the Spanish Flu, we'd be willing to bet that these hauntings are connected to victims of that flu.  

We covered Coe College in Ep. 196 back in 2017. The most famous ghost that haunts the college is said to belong to Helen Esther Roberts. She was only eighteen and the daughter of a furniture businessman. The furniture business was actually a generational family business. Helen had suffered from Scarlet Fever in 1914 and it is believed that this left her more susceptible to disease and she died on October 19, 1918 from pneumonia caused by the Spanish Flu. She hadn't even been at the college for a month. The Evening Gazette reported on Oct. 23, 1918, "Miss Helen Roberts of Strawberry Point, who died last Saturday at Voorhees Quadrangle from influenza, was buried Monday afternoon at Strawberry Point. Miss Roberts was a freshman at Coe College this year. Mr. and Mrs. H.L. Godfrey of this city accompanied her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Roberts, to Strawberry Point when they returned with the body. Prof. and Mrs. Chas. T. Hickok and Mr. and Mrs. S.N. Harris motored to Strawberry Point Monday afternoon to attend the funeral."

As is the case today, back at this time, the college quarantined sick students and this was on the second floor of Voorhees Hall at the college. And that is where stories of hauntings were reported starting about a year after Helen died. Her parents had donated a grandfather clock from their furniture business to the Voorhees dorm at that time.Most of the haunting tales were connected to this clock. Many students reported seeing the apparition of a girl wearing white wandering down hallways and then disappearing. The room that Helen had once stayed in was reported to be haunted too. Pounding noises in here awaken residents and some girls would become so scared that they left their rooms and opted to sleep in the lobby. Some years ago, a group of students held a seance to summon Helen. They got answers on their ouija board for two of the fifteen questions they asked. Helen never appeared to them.

Pennsylvania was one of the hardest hit states in America. Schuylkill (Skool Kill) County road crews were working to widen the highway just south of Schuykill Haven when they made a ghoulish discovery. Several human bones were found that were believed to have belonged to three people and there were also some coffin nails, indicating that coffins had once been buried here. The bones had been here for over a century. The area had been a coal region and it was hit hard by the Spanish Flu. There were no doctors in town, so they had to be called in and residents were quarantined. The losses were heavy and soon the bodies were piling up faster than pine boxes. Back in the day, when this was the case, many bodies would just be buried in unmarked mass graves. And that is what people believe this area was, a large mass grave of victims of the Spanish Flu.

This was reported by DD on the Ghost Sightings website: "Part of Schuylkill Haven that has been in the news in recent times. Yes, close to the Alms field where the bones were found by the highway construction. Our house was built in the late 40s, by a business owner of the area. From the time we moved in, the air was, shall we say, off a bit. My wife was folding laundry in the basement when she looked at our daughter across the room from her. She was looking at the window up and behind my wife with tears running  down her face. When asked what was wrong she said 'there are two young girls looking at me through the window.' When asked to describe them, she described the period of dress and hair from the early 1900s. It only got better from there. You can hear walking, names being called, a shadow that comes down the stairs and out the front door, a particular orb, and being touched to the point of marks being left. When activity gets unnerving, I go to the basement and read them the riot act. For those of you who do not understand, this is my house. They are the guest, and their actions towards my family determine if they are welcome or not. To me, I have no problem, but to scare my family I have an issue with that. Those girls I mentioned have been seen in the house at various times as well, mainly in the back room. It's really freaky when you pass a doorway, and there is a girl sitting crossed legged on the floor you never seen before, and then she isn't. As I worked a second job returning home after 1 am, my oldest would wait till I returned home before she went to sleep. Yes, she was scared. Knowing she was in bed for the night, I went to get a shower. From upstairs I heard her come out of herroom, walk to the kitchen, and get a drink of water. I heard the  water turn on then off, place the glass in the sink. We have a stone sink, and the glass makes a distinct noise when being put down. Then she would walk back to her room. Good I thought. She's in bed.
Getting ready for work the next day, she came out of her room and said, 'Please tell me that was you in the kitchen last night.' I responded 'No. I thought it was you.' My daughter was in her early 20s, home from college for the summer. These are but a slight glimpse of what happens in our home."

There were many mass graves dug all around the world and there is no doubt that these spots more than likely harbor a ghost or two. The Spanish Flu was the most horrific pandemic for centuries. It left 50 million people dead. Catastrophic numbers like that make it easy to believe that there are ghosts connected to this event. Many of the victims were those in the prime of their life. Are there spirits connected to the Spanish Flu? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Haunted Circus Mini-Series, Ep. 4 - The Ringlings in Florida

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Florida would become the final home for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling would be the final surviving brother of the five who built the circus. He would build his mansion in Sarasota and call it Ca'd'Zan. John would also build a museum for his art collection. This whole complex would eventually house the Circus Museum as well. Several buildings here and other locations connected to the Ringlings are rumored to be haunted. Join us on our final episode of the Haunted Circus Mini-Series as we talk about the Ringlings in Florida.

We spent an entire day exploring what Sarasota calls The Ringling. This campus is home to the historic Asolo Theater, Bayfront Gardens, Museum of Art, Johnson-Blalock Education Center, Circus Museum and Ca' d'Zan. As we talked about on the first episode, we were joined by our listener Debbie and The Ringling's PR Specialist Virginia Harshman. You will hear their voices on this episode again as well as Joe Colossa who will share some ghost stories about Ca' d'Zan. That's something the docents here don't like to talk about, the hauntings. But not talking about ghosts doesn't make the experiences just go away. Before we get into the spooky stuff though, we need to talk about the circus moving down here to Florida and talk about John Ringling and his nephew namesake John Ringling North. These would be the last two men in the Ringling family to have control of the circus before the Feld Family would take ownership.

John Nicholas Ringling was born on May 31, 1866 in McGregor, Iowa. As mentioned in episode 3, John was one of the brothers who founded their circus and he would eventually come to be known as the Circus King. He was the second tallest of the brothers, standing at 6'1" and although he had a commanding size, he was soft-spoken. He wore his hair in a non-fashionable round hairstyle that became his own distinctive style. One thing we noticed from his closet is that he wore the clothes of a dandy with lots of straw hats and his shoes were remarkably thin and long for a man of his stature. And although John started out from humble beginnings, he became a very rich man who liked to spend his money on fine things. His spending habits would eventually lead to financial ruin when The Great Depression hit.

John was the clown in the family. His first role with the circus was that of the Dutch clown. As the circus became more of a business, he took over the bookings, signing contracts and scheduling. He was the advance man. As we said in the previous episode, he took care of moving the circus where it needed to go. He was the one who moved the circus from wagons to railway in 1890. Most people described John as "a human encyclopedia on road and local conditions." The success of the circus soared and after they bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus, they made back their investment in that circus in one season. John then turned to investing to make more money. He invested in oil, railroads and real estate. His brother Charles was buying land in Sarasota, Florida and he did the same. The two brothers were the last of the five and they co-owned the circus. In 1926, John would become sole owner when Charles died. He would move the circus headquarters to Sarasota in 1927.

John married Mable Burton in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1905. Mable had come from a small farming community in Ohio and didn't talk much about herself. She was very private about that and only gave one interview. The couple would be a mix of big city life with apartments in Chicago and New York and small gulf coast living with a home in Sarasota. The Ringlings first home in Sarasota was Palms Elysian and they bought it in 1911. This was a frame clapboard house that was built by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show manager Charles N. Thompson. The house was nice, but it didn't really reflect their life. They wanted something bigger and we would say, ostentatious. The Ringlings bought more land and increased their estate to thirty-six acres. Then they chose architect Dwight James Baum of New York to design their mansion. They had spent a lot of time in Europe touring, looking for new circus acts and buying art, but for Mable, Italy was like a home away from home. So it is no surprise that this mansion would be designed like a Venetian palazzo.The style would be Venetian Gothic and they would call it Ca' d'Zan, which means "House of John."

We approach Ca d'Zan and Virginia starts to talk about the house, which is fairly gawdy in style. (Ca d'Zan 1) So yeah, the house went way over the budget as Mabel headed up the design using postcards, photos and sketches to inspire the architect. The mansion is 22,000 square feet and has 32 rooms and 15 bathrooms with four stories. Terra cotta "T" blocks, brick. concrete, stucco and glazed tiles were used in the construction and what gives the mansion that "gawdy" feel are the embellishments of ornamental cresting in a variety of colors from blue to red to yellow to green and decorative medallions, tiles and balusters. Sixteenth century tiles were imported from Spain and used to build the roof. We arrive at the front door, which is fashioned in the Renaissance style and made from weathered walnut and mahogany. The stairs leading up to it are made from purple Formosa marble made in Germany. After entering, we see one of the many painted ceilings we will see in the house. This is in the ballroom. (Ca d'Zan 2) There were twenty-two dancing couples painted on this ceiling.

We go into the breakfast room, which was the family dining room, and Virginia shares about why there are gates that can be closed going into this room. (Ca d'Zan 3) We love the idea that there might have been circus animals in the house. And we think it is hilarious that John would seat the least favored guests facing this picture of what was basically an eviscerated boar. We enter a side room that had many pieces of their silver service and dishes on display. Much of this stuff was emptied out of the house when it sat for 10 years as the house sat in probate and such. There was a large sink in here that Debbie commented had something special about it, but couldn't remember and the security guard in this room proved that they weren't just there to protect, but they know some history. (Ca' d'Zan 4) I had no idea that they made sinks that were of a softer metal to protect china. The more you know! Ca' d'Zan had refrigerators, not ice boxes. Another big upgrade for the time. There were nine of them in the house.

One of the most magnificent room in the house is the Court, which served as a living room. It's a big open room and this is where the Ringlings would entertainment, many times featuring music. There is a little balcony on the top story where someone could serenade the guests and get the best acoustics. This was originally supposed to be an open court. The Ringlings filled it with 17th, 18th and 19th century furnishings and other objects. A crystal chandelier hangs from the 30-foot ceiling and this originally hung in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. To the side is an Aeolian organ that has 2,289 pipes installed in a hidden chamber covered over with tapestries. The organ, unfortunately, does not work anymore. And the Aeolian Organ Company was an American manufacturer that made player pianos and organs. The side of the Court facing the water had seven sets of French doors with an array of colored glass. The other floors look down on the court with wraparound balconies making it easy to see the black and white checked tile floor.

The most opulent room with an amazing ceiling was the formal dining room. There is a dining room table that accommodates 22 chairs and 20 leaves. The walls are made from English black walnut with mahogany trim. The ceiling is made from cast plaster and is painted to make it look like it is actually wood. There is a Maltese cross at the center and the rest of the decor reflects Moorish and European Renaissance forms. Adjacent to the dining room is John's Tap Room, which really looks like a little bar. The wood paneling and stained-glass panels came from the bar at Cicardi's Winter Garden in St. Louis. This was a place that hosted society dinners and banquets and wedding receptions. Obviously, Prohibition was going on while the Ringlings lived here, but that didn't stop alcohol from being served here. John had his own private reserve that he kept locked away.

We climbed several staircases as we made our way up to each floor as we made our way up to the Tower. The stairs were all made from marble. There was also an elevator. Going up to the second floor takes us into the private spaces of the Ringlings. The couple did not share a bedroom and they are very different rooms. But before we visited those spaces, we saw John's office here at the mansion and his exercise room. The floor in the exercise room was made from coquina. The shower just off of here was another upgrade and there was a hydraulic barber chair. The ceiling in John's bedroom was just wow! Robert Webb painted the ceiling and while today there is just a large oval painting in the center, it used to cover the entire ceiling, but John felt it was a bit too busy. The furniture in here is French Second Empire and made from mahogany with gilt bronze ormolu. Opposite the two beds in here is a painting of Napoleon's sister. John's bathroom is interesting particularly because it is made from gold Siena marble. Everything is made from this including the sink, bathtub and toilet. This marble is now extinct and the bathroom alone is probably worth $35,000.

Mable had a smaller bedroom than John, but there was a dressing room attached that was fairly spacious. Here is a soundbite featuring one of the tour guides talking about her room. (Ca' d'Zan 5) The bed was really neat with the little monkey on the headboard. And the punctuation marks on the ceiling certainly were unique. And I can understand her reservations about having her bedroom below the vault, which was very large. The hand-painted walls were amazing too. There are five guest rooms on the second floor. One of them had a neat medicine cabinet that Mable had painted on the inside to make it more interesting.

The third floor is home to the Game Room, which is very whimsical. The walls are painted as though you are within a circus tent. The ceiling was painted by Willy Pogany and he was given free reign and he went hogwild, painting himself prancing out of the room, Mable and John appear in Venetian carnival costumes in the center of the ceiling and all their pets are included, the dogs and birds. There are supporting posts throughout the room and these are decorated with carnival masks. There is a poker table and billiard table in here and the little balcony that overlooks the Court is off the Game Room. The fourth floor has only one room that is a guest room, which has its own bathroom. We got a special treat by being able to go up onto the tower and look out over the water and the entire Ringling estate. There is a rose garden on the property and the whole 66 acre site is a large arboretum. They even had a Rainbow Eucalyptus there.

Mable Ringling had Addison's disease and diabetes and in 1929, she became seriously ill while the couple was in New York. She was taken to a nursing home and within a few days, she had died. John took it very hard and distanced himself from friends. There are those who claim that John was an angry and domineering man whom the circus performers feared, but there were others who claimed he was just private. Whichever is true, his drive to own more art and to invest in projects would start to hurt his finances and then with the Great Depression, he was hit with a devastating financial blow from which he could not recover. He owed taxes and his Ritz-Carlton project that he had started in 1926 was bleeding him. He entered into a doomed marriage with a young widow named Emily Buck in 1930. John had a stroke and his health just continued to deteriorate. He divorced Emily in 1936 and shortly thereafter, died of pneumonia on December 2, 1936. He had been one of the wealthiest men in America, worth millions, but he died with less than $400 in the bank. He willed his entire estate to the state of Florida and gave his nephew, John Ringling North, the circus, who was 35 at the time.

John North had grown up under the tutelage of his uncle John. He took to the family business and made the circus even better, by developing themes and bringing in aerial ballerinas. He had the style of his uncle and became a playboy and loved to party. He made the circus more sophisticated, but he was still a showman at heart and he bought a 550 pound gorilla named Gargantua from a woman in New York who could no longer house him. A gorilla anywhere was rare, but especially in the circus and he was a hit. They added a female gorilla later and dubbed her Gargantua's wife. This acquisition probably kept the circus out of bankruptcy. North debuted a new act in 1942 that came to be known as the Circus Polka and incorporated 50 elephants doing a ballet with music written by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by George Balanchine. North then joined with Cecil B. DeMille to make the motion picture The Greatest Show on Earth, starring North, Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and Dorothy Lamur. In 1967, North sold the circus to the Feld Family and you know the rest of that history.

Before we explore the other buildings at The Ringling, there are two off-site locations we want to talk about that are connected to John Ringling and also have ghost stories. The first is the Ringling Ritz-Carlton, or what was supposed to be the Ringling Ritz-Carlton. As we mentioned, John Ringling basically went bust financially. The Ritz-Carlton would prove to be one of his missteps. He had decided to build this deluxe hotel on the south end of Longboat Key, which he could see from his office at Ca' d'Zan. The plan was to have 200 rooms, a rail line to bring customers in and also a dock. Ringling signed a contract to pay $5,000 to use the Ritz-Carlton name. A contract was signed in February of 1926 and completion was to happen that December. The builder was the Hegeman-Harris Company, Inc. of New York. Building commenced, but John soon had to stop it because of other financial obligations. John would never start the project up again even though he had already spent $650,000.

John Ringling North had become the executor of the estate and he committed to finishing the hotel, but the plan never materialized and the building project sat abandoned. The Arvida Corporation approached North in 1959 and he sold them the land so they could develop Longboat Key and Bird Key. There were many who thought that the Ritz-Carlton would be perfect to turn into a convention center since Sarasota did not have one. But the Arvida Corporation was not interested in finishing the hotel. Demolition began on December 2, 1963 and it was rough because they hotel was really well built. Some described it like a fortress. The wrecking ball barely made a dent. The structure was eventually brought down and the debris was used for fill behind the Civic Center and City Island. There is a resort there now called Longboat Key Club and on the exact site is the Chart House Restaurant.

Before being demolished, the skeleton of the abandoned hotel became a place for people to hang out and party. They called it the Ghost Hotel. Today, people who stay at the resort or eat at the restaurants, claim to have had some weird experiences and the main reason why could be that many people fell to their deaths during construction. A construction worker had brought his son with him to the site and tragically, the boy fell down an elevator shaft. Now people claim to see a small boy in the Men's Restroom at the Chart House. Employees also claim to see him after hours playing with a ball or sitting in the seating area. Patrons of the restaurant claim to feel cold spots. And outside there have been disembodied screams heard.

The other off-site location is the Keating Center at the Ringling School for Art and Design. This is about two miles south of The Ringling. This had once been the Bay Haven Hotel. The hotel had been built in 1925. In 1931, John Ringling bought the hotel and transformed it into the art school. A student named Nate Greco had returned to his room to find a hairbrush levitating above a desktop. Another student named Randy Morris had been doing art in Harmon Hall and he went to the bathroom. As he washed his hands, he noticed that there were a set of female feet under the stall door. Over three hours, he went into the bathroom four times and the feet were always there. Many students and staff are sure that a spirit named Mary roams Keating Center. The story about Mary is that she was an eighteen-year-old woman plying her trade at the hotel. She became depressed and hanged herself in a stairwell on an upper floor or was murdered depending on who is telling the story. And this is where many stories of haunting activity take place. Her apparition has been seen hovering in the halls. Christina Sicillano who was a former student said that she had several run-ins with Mary. On night, she saw Mary run across a room in a black dress or nightgown. She awoke one night to the crashing of a vase and then a ghostly face appeared just in front of her's, scaring her. She yelled, "Go to bed, Mary!" And the spirit disappeared. Mary sometimes knocks over furniture and knocks on doors. Disembodied footsteps are also heard.

The Asolo Theater was originally a historic theatre that was located in Asolo, Italy. This is a town just outside Venice. Built in 1798 by Italian impresario Antonio Locatelli, it was within the Queen of Cyprus' castle of Caterina Cornaro. The theater was horse-shoe shaped with four tiers and stood for many years, but was eventually dismantled in 1930 and put into storage. The director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art had heard about the theater and he approached the State of Florida to see if they would be interested in purchasing it and they did. When it first was included on The Ringling property it fit into a gallery in the museum, but was then moved and reconstructed to where it is now. We haven't heard of any hauntings in here, but we thought it was really cool that this had been part of a theater in late 1700 Italy.

The Circus Museum was founded by the first director of The Ringling, A. Everett Austin. This was the first circus museum of its kind and inside there is circus memorabilia, posters, wagons, costumes and John and Mabel's private Pullman railroad car. When we went, there was also a wagon wheel display that was really colorful and cool. The Tibbals Learning Center is part of this complex too and within this building is that giant mural of the performers and the Howard Bros. Circus Model that we shared about on previous episodes. This is a great place for kids as this has hands-on experiences, so kids can walk the tight rope, shoot a figure from a cannon and sit in a clown car. So basically Kelly and Diane are just big kids since they tried it all out. There is so much memorabilia inside that it would not be surprising to hear of hauntings in here. We picked up nothing on our recordings. The main ghost that has been reported here is said to belong to a circus priest who traveled with the Ringlings in the 1920s. Others claim that the apparition that wanders the museum is John Ringling. Their train car is inside the building.

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is a great place to wander if you enjoy both classical art and modern art. All forms are represented here depending on what exhibits they have on display. John and Mable were big collectors of art and John had a large number of art books. He was an expert on many aspects and the design of the museum was to his specifications. There is a statue of David outside and the interior features the Ringling Crest that John had designed. When John died, the museum was given to the state of Florida and it became the official state art museum. There are approximately 10,000 pieces of art inside including sculpture, photography, paintings and drawings. There is a world-renowned collection of Giambattista Pittoni and Peter Paul Rubens paintings. The state wasn't taking very good care of the museum, so Florida State University took over in 2000. Docents and guards in the museum claim to see the apparition of John walking through to visit his art collection.

Even though there were no deaths at Ca d'Zan, there are stories of ghosts. Current caretakers and docents don't like to talk about them, so we had no luck getting any stories from them. Virginia did tell me that there had been a house on the site before John and Mable bought the property and that at least one of the residents there had died in that previous home. It is also important to note that although Mable and John died in New York, their bodies are buried here on the property, along with John's sister Ida. Mable's spirit is often seen on the terrace of Ca' d'Zan or out in the Rose Garden. The doors to her dressing room open and close on their own on occasion. People who take tours claim to feel cold spots and to hear footsteps.

When Diane was interviewing Joe Colossa, he shared that he had been friends with the prior caretaker, Ron, who was not shy about talking about the ghosts. Joe shares what he had heard about paranormal activity at the mansion. (Joe Ca' d'Zan)

There are many reasons for The Ringling to have haunts. There is so much energy here from not only the circus, but parts of the Ringling family. Mable and John loved this home. Did they decide to return to it in the Afterlife? Are The Ringling and these other locations haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Ringling, The Florida Years 1911-1936 by David C. Weeks; University Press of Florida, 1993

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Haunted Circus Mini-Series, Ep. 3 - Ringlings in Wisconsin

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Baraboo, Wisconsin was home for the Ringling family and it would become the winter quarters for the circus that the Ringling brothers would found. The Ringling Bros. Circus would start as a basic dog-and-pony show and grow into the most famous circus in the world. The eldest brother that lead the family down this path was Albert and he built his gorgeous mansion in Baraboo that is now a museum, bed & breakfast and brewery. The mansion is not only home to some former members of the circus, but there are reputedly several ghosts here. Join us as we explore the remnants of the circus still in Baraboo and the Al Ringling Mansion as we are joined by the current owners of the mansion, Joe and Carmen Colossa and Don Horowitz.

August Frederick Rungeling was a German immigrant. He and his wife, Marie Salome Juliar, decided to Americanize their name to Ringling and they had eight children, Albert born in 1952; Augustus born in 1852; Otto born in 1858; Alfred was born 1861; Charles was born in 1863; John was born in 1866; Henry was born in 1869 and Ida was born in 1874. The Ringlings had come from Germany to Canada, then moved down to Milwaukee and on to Chicago and then finally to Baraboo, Wisconsin. August worked as a saddler, but eventually had to leave Baraboo after the hop crash and relocated to McGregor, Iowa. It would be here that the Ringling children would see their first circus as it unloaded from a steamboat at the McGregor, Iowa, docks.  They were immediately enthralled. At least five of the brothers were.

The boys would host circus parades and put on their performances for the local children, charging a pin for admission and then moving up to toys and trinkets and then to a penny and finally they moved up to five cents. They had so much success with this that they dreamed of having their own real circus one day. The brothers all played musical instruments and started hosting a show called "Ringling Brothers' Classic and Comic Concert Company, an Entertainment of Mirth and Music." They would play music, sing, dance, juggle and do comedic sketches. The money they earned from this gave them enough to start their circus and they bought into the Yankee Robinson Circus. They opened their first circus show in Baraboo on May 19, 1884 with 600 people in attendance. Robinson passed away before the circus season was over. The Ringlings continued on and added horses, animals and performers. Henry, Gus and Ida were not in the circus business, but Henry and Gus eventually joined and the circus changed its name to "Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals." Talk about a mouthful!

Each Ringling brother had a specialty with the circus. Al was the boss of sorts, hiring performers and leading them in rehearsals and planning the show. He also was the equestrian director. Everybody called him Uncle Al. Otto took care of the bookkeeping, Charles produced the show, John supervised the transporting of the circus and Henry attended each performance. As the Ringlings got more popular, they found themselves in competition with Barnum & Bailey and the two circuses agreed to divide the U.S. so as not to compete head to head. The Ringlings changed the name of their circus several times and added the John Robinson show to their circus in 1898. In 1904, they bought a partial interest in the Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus and bought it out entirely in 1906. And then they captured the big one, the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth in 1907 after James Bailey died. They would manage each circus separately until World War I kept audience attendance down and many of their workers and performers went to fight in the war. The two combined for good and John would add the American Circus Corporation in 1929. As we talked about in Episode 1, the Ringling family eventually sold the circus to the Feld family in 1967.

Baraboo, Wisconsin had been the winter quarters for the Ringling Bros. Circus for thirty-four years. The winter weather would prove to be harsh for the animals and they moved south to Florida in 1918. But Baraboo would still be rooted in the circus. The Circus World Museum is here now and features memorabilia from the golden age of the circus, like clown props, circus posters and sideshow banners, fliers, 19th and 20th century circus wagons and much more. The museum was founded by the Gollmar Family, who were cousins of the Ringlings, and the Ringling's attorney John M. Kelley. They incorporated the museum in 1954 and officially opened on July 1, 1959. It was then deeded to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Charles Phillip “Chappie” Fox became director in 1960. Circus World features a one-ring circus with two shows a day during the summer. The site here was the original grounds of the Ringling's winter quarters. Ten of the original buildings are still here. We haven't heard of any hauntings at Circus World, but how could this place not have ghost stories?

One place that is definitely haunted is the Al Ringling Mansion. This was the home of the man who really started it all, Albert Ringling. He had the true circus spirit and he survived them all, Adam Forepaugh, P.T. Barnum and James Bailey. Albert married Eliza Morris on November 18, 1890. He called her Lou and that is how we will refer to her as well. He found his perfect match in Lou and she was an amazing woman who loved the circus as much as he did. She worked within the circus for twenty-five years starting in the sideshow as a snake charmer! She did the equestrian act and rode in parades and was in charge of the circus wardrobe.

Al hired a Chicago architect to build the Al Ringling Theater that still stands today. He spent $100,000 on that and then he contributed to the building of the St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baraboo. Al and Lou had their mansion built in 1905. They hired architects Kees and Colburn to design the Romanesque Revival red stone mansion and it was built by Carl and George Isenberg. The interior had hand-carved woodwork, ornate murals, hand-painted ceilings and Tiffany glass. Al died in his mansion on January 1, 1916. Before that, he commissioned a gorgeous $25,000 marble mausoleum with the names Al and Lou Ringling etched above the door in the Baraboo Cemetery. Ida Ringling North, Al's little sister, moved into the mansion after his death.

The Elks acquired the property in 1936 and held onto it until 2013 when two circus professionals and a businessman bought it and began its extensive renovations. Those circus professionals are Joe and Carmen Colossa and they live in the mansion with their children. We had the chance to talk to them about the mansion and they share their numerous experiences with the spirits that share the mansion with them. (Colossa Interview)

Don Horowitz is a New Yorker from Long Island and like us, he loves the circus and its history. We talked to him several weeks ago, so this is before Covid-19 and he tells us how he came to co-own the Al Ringling Mansion and then he shares his personal paranormal experiences in the house and the last one is a big one. Enough that it turned him from skeptic to believer. (Don Interview)

The Al Ringling Mansion is an amazing home, so full of history and memorabilia. Could it be that this historic home is also full of ghosts? Is the Al Ringling Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
A Standard History of Sauk County, Wisconsin, Volume 2 edited by Harry Ellsworth Cole, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1918

Hops Crash:

Mansion Tours and such: