Thursday, May 7, 2020

HGB Ep. 335 - St. Albans Sanatorium

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Moment in Oddity - Oran Asa Pruitt Falls Out of Plane Into Cemetery
Suggested by: Mike Streibel

We've all had that nightmare where you are falling through the sky, but imagine if it was not a nightmare. This is what happened to Oran Asa Pruitt in 1956. He and his wife Blandene Smith were newlyweds who had met while working at a hotel together in North Carolina. They arrived at the Charlotte Airport on June 13, 1956 with plans to leave on their honeymoon, but they had not prepared properly and they arrived late. They could not board their flight, but were given another one leaving at 5:44pm for Asheville. They got the last two seats aboard a Piedmont N45V, a DC3, known as the "Tidewater Pacemaker." The airplane was piloted by Captain Baxter Slaughter and experienced a tragedy in the skies over Shelby, N.C. as it cruised at 6,500 feet. Blandene was not feeling well and so Oran got up to get her some water. He found the lavatory door at the rear of the plane locked, so he tried the other door back there, which happened to be a cabin door. The Purser felt the change in pressure and went to the cockpit to get the co-pilot to help him with closing the door. They found a terrified woman trapped in the lavatory because she needed to walk past the open door to return to her seat. The two men locked arms to form a chain and pulled the woman to safety, but they couldn't close the door. The plane continued on to Asheville. When it landed and people started investigating, they found heel marks on the side of the plane indicating that Mr. Pruitt had hung on for a while. Witnesses in the area where he eventually landed, reported hearing his screaming. He was more than likely alive for most of the fall. The place where Pruitt's fall ended was ironically Zion Baptist Church Cemetery in Cleveland County. To memorialize the fall, a small monument was placed in the spot where Pruitt landed. He was buried at another cemetery. He was the first Piedmont passenger to die in their eight years of prior service. No one knows why Pruitt opened that door. Was it an accident, was he drunk or had a fight he was having with his wife caused him to act in a drastic way? Whatever the case may be, a man falling out of a plane and landing in a cemetery, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Penny Black Stamp is Issued

In the month of May, on the 6th, in 1840, the Penny Black was issued. The Penny Black was the world's first adhesive postage stamp to be used by a public postal system. The name came from the fact that the background of the stamp was black and it cost a penny, thus the Penny Black. The face of the stamp featured a profile of Queen Victoria, which was engraved by Charles Heath and his son Frederick. They based their design on a sketch done by Henry Corbould inspired by an 1834 cameo-like head made of Queen Victoria by William Wyon. The stamp was embellished in the corners with Maltese crosses with solar discs radiating out in the center. The Penny Black made it possible to mail things at a flat rate rather than the usual where the recipient paid upon delivery. The stamp was only used for a year because it was hard to see the red cancellation stamp over the black and people were able to re-use the stamps. In February 1841, the Penny Black became the Penny Red and black ink was used to cancel them, which was harder to remove and thus the stamps weren't re-used.

St. Albans Sanatorium (Suggested by: Whitney Zahar)

St. Albans Sanatorium, in Virginia, started out as a Lutheran Boys School before becoming a psychiatric infirmary. As was the case with so many hospitals for the mentally ill, this one started out with promising expectations that unraveled into crowded conditions and abusive treatments. There were deaths and suicides. There is so much paranormal activity at this location, that many refer to this as one of the most haunted places on the East Coast. Join us, and our listener Whitney Zahar, as we delve into the history and haunts of the St. Albans Sanatorium!

Radford, Virginia is located in the Shenandoah Valley and was named for Dr. John B. Radford, but that name wasn't the original. This town had been Lovely Mount and started with a few settlers and stayed a small village until the railroad was built and the town grew. Once the depot was established, the name was changed in 1891. Radford was a railroad town and then it became a hotbed for manufacturing with creameries, preserve plants, piping plants and an ice company. This is where the St. Albans Sanatorium would be built. But before that, the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain would take place in Dublin, Virginia, which was just a few miles away. The ridge that St. Albans would call home proved to be the perfect spot from which the Union could fire off artillery on the Confederate forces of Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins. This battle finally went to hand-to-hand combat and was fiercely fought for about an hour, ending with the Confederates retreating. Jenkins died later from a wound he received during the battle. The Union had 688 casualties while the Confederate's had 538, some of whom were killed by a fire that broke out on the battlefield.

St. Albans Sanatorium was originally meant to be a Lutheran Boys School and was built in 1892. George W. Miles was the Headmaster and his goal was to help the students to grow to be "future southern gentlemen." The high standards caused a lot of hazing and this inevitably ended up with suicides and even some homicides. The school eventually closed in 1905. Dr. John C. King bought the building for $500 of his own money, plus $16,000 in borrowed funds. He renovated the buildings to become a sanatorium and opened it on January 15, 1916. There were 56 acres and like many other sanatoriums and asylums, this was its own community with a farm, dairy herd, chickens and much more.

Patient numbers increased and by 1945, the hospital had treated 6509 patients. St. Albans eventually became a fully recognized hospital in 1960 and in the 1980s it became a private, full service psychiatric hospital. The hospital eventually relocated to new buildings and the property went to the Radford University Foundation in 2004. The oldest building was slated for demolition in 2007, but was saved by a group of concerned citizens. The next owner of the property was Tim Gregory and he transformed the place into the Research and Enlightenment Center. St. Albans was then opened for tours and that is what it does today, also hosting overnight paranormal investigations.

There is a lot of paranormal activity reported here and Whitney Zahar shared some cool experiences. Is St. Albans Sanatorium haunted? That is for you to decide!

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