Thursday, July 23, 2020

HGB EP. 346 - Babenhausen Barracks

Moment in Oddity - Forestiere Underground Gardens
Suggested by: Nancy Doi

CNN named the Forestiere Underground Gardens as one of the World's Coolest Underground Attractions and the story behind its creation is fascinating. Baldassare Forestiere was a Sicilian immigrant who arrived in Fresno, California in 1901 with a dream of pursuing citrus farming. Near his former home in Filari, Sicily, he had roamed the nearby ancient catacombs and marveled at the tunnels. He wondered if he could build something like that in Fresno and he did after purchasing a worthless piece of land. Forestiere grabbed a pick, shovel and a wheelbarrow and set to work hand-digging the hardpan sedimentary rock. For 40 years he worked crafting a subterranean complex of patios, grottoes and garden courts that include a tiny chapel, kitchen and living quarters. He was not a trained artist, but he built beautiful arches and stonework. The hardworking immigrant also managed to plant 10 acres of fruit-bearing trees and vines, up to 20 feet underground. There were lemon, grapefruit and orange trees and even wine and table grapes, kumquat, carob, jujube and quince. Forestiere did all of this while working full-time as a ditch digger. He managed to create for himself a cool oasis with underground gardens and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Discovery of Rosetta Stone

In the month of July, on the 19th, in 1799, a French soldier discovered the Rosetta Stone. A soldier under Napoleon was fighting in Egypt when he found a black stone that had broken off of a bigger stone slab. This was outside the city of Rosetta and so it came to be known as the Rosetta Stone. This four foot by two and a half foot stone was covered with writings in different scripts that included Ancient Greek and Egyptian demotic and hieroglyphics. This actually led to scholars being able to decipher hieroglyphics. The message on the stone is actually rather mundane and is a decree that the priests of the temple in Memphis supported the king. After the British defeated the French in 1801, they took ownership of the Rosetta Stone and today is at the British Museum.

Babenhausen Barracks

Babenhausen is a town in Germany with a long history that reaches back over 800 years. Remnants of that past can still be seen today in the fortified city wall, Witch's Tower and old churches. The town has been the scene of witch hunts and the rebirth of European Jewish life in a displaced persons camp. The Babenhausen Barracks is today a museum, but once served as a military post for Germans and Americans. There are stories of deaths here that have left behind a spiritual residue and many people through the decades have experienced activity that they cannot explain. Join us as we share the history and haunts of the Babenhausen Barracks!

The town of Babenhausen lies in the south of Hesse near the big cities of Frankfurt and Darmstadt. This is a grassy region of Germany and the town has a medieval core with a castle that dates back to the 12th century and an old fortified city wall from 1445. The town of Babenhausen would get its charter in 1295 and was lorded over by the Hanau-M├╝nzenbergs and then the Lords of Hanau in the 13th century. The name Babenhausen would come from a minor line of the ruling family called the Hanau-Lichtenberg who ruled in 1458. This family would hold on for a long time until 1736. Then there was almost a war for power between two other factions, the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Hesse-Kassels. After three decades, Babenhausen came to Hesse-Kassel and then at the beginning of the 19th century, Babenhausen belonged to Hesse-Darmstadt. The town would become the site of a UNRRA-sponsored DP camp for the Jews after World War II. The town hosts a medieval harvest festival and Christmas Market.

When we think of witch hunts, Salem, Massachusetts is usually the first place to come to mind. Germany doesn't, but it should because the burning of witches at the stake was almost a sport here and Germany is actually the country with the highest witchcraft execution rate in history. Heinrich Kramer was a German churchman and inquisitor and he wrote Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches in 1487. This was an instruction manual for detecting witches and executing them. The Church condemned the book and said it didn't reflect their teachings, but it found wide distribution throughout Germany. And while the Church didn't support him, he was asked by the Nuremburg Council in 1491 to share his expertise on conducting witch trials. Thousands of women and children across Germany were tortured and burned at the stake, until The Enlightenment brought an end to it all. Many towns in Germany have witch towers, which were part of medieval town walls or castles that were used as a prison or dungeon. There is one in Babenhausen and witch hunts did happen in this town. *Fun Fact: A craft beer here is called the Hexe ("Witch") and features the local witch tower on the label. One of the reasons that witch hunts started is thought to be not only for economic issues connected to grain price fluctuations, but also the spread of Protestantism. Between 1500 to 1660, up to 80,000 accused witches were put to death in Europe. One of the legends of Babenhausen is that a woman was burned at the stake here in the 19th century and that she left behind a curse. Part of that curse was her seducing soldiers and leading them to their deaths. But there are also stories that as many as 50 women were imprisoned in the witch tower and then burned at the stake in the marketplace.

The beginnings of the Babenhausen Kaserne or barracks reaches all the way back to the year 1900. Prior to this year, three squadrons of the Red Dragoons had headquartered in Babenhausen, but they left in 1891. The Red Dragoons were a mounted infantry who got their name from a firearm called the dragon, which was a small version of the blunderbuss similar in size to a pistol. With the Dragoons gone, Babenhausen not only needed a garrison for protection, but as we all know in communities that have military bases, they add a lot financially. The city council began negotiations with the German Reichstag, which was basically the German Parliament, and War department and told them that they would build a Kaserne for 500,000 Reichmark, if the War department would agree to send three Field Artillery batteries to Babenhausen. The German Reichstag agreed to send the batteries if the town spent 1 Million Reichsmark on the barracks and then gave the German Reich the option to acquire the barracks after 25 years. The German Reich had formed in 1871, which was the German nation, and it would end in 1945. The listeners are probably familiar with the three separate periods of this time, which were the German Empire (1871–1918), Weimar Republic (1918–1933) and Nazi Germany (1933–1945.)

Babenhausen's council bought 10 acres of land and prepared it for the construction of the barracks, which began on July 3, 1900. By October 1, 1901, there were 21 buildings completed and a water tower. Shortly thereafter, the 2nd battalion of the 61st Field Artillery Regiment of the Grand Duke of Hessen was moved into the barracks and the city had its garrison. Things would be peaceful until 1914, when Germany would declare war on Russia because Germany was an ally of Austria-Hungary whose heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had been assassinated by a Serbian nationalist group known as The Black Hand. Russia was allied with Serbia. Before long, most of Europe had taken sides with Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary on one side and France, Britain and Russia on the other. This was the start of World War I. As an aside, one has to wonder what was the purpose of this war? Did the world really start "the war to end all wars" because someone was assasinated? Most war historians use the acronym M-A-I-N to explain what happened and these letters stand for Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism.

A few days after declaring war on Russia, Germany opted for a two-front war and declared war on France on August 3, 1914. This then brought Britain into the war. The regiment at Babenhausen was ordered to head to France on August 7th. This left the barracks empty and so it was used as a human and a veterinary hospital. When WWI ended, the 61st Field Artillery returned to Babenhausen in December 1918, but then was deactivated. The hospitals followed a few months later and the barracks was abandoned. In 1920, a French infantry battalion moved in for a month and then the II battalion 35th Reichswehr regiment moved in to the Kaserne. This was a military group of the Weimer Republic. The Treaty of Versailles on September 30 1920 forced the regiment to leave and a security group and non-military group moved in. They stayed until 1929, when the property was abandoned yet again..

Germany had schools that specialized in sports and these were called the SA Sports school. The Babenhausen Barracks would become the home for one until April of 1935, when all of these schools were disbanded and the German 36th Field Artillery regiment was stationed here. This barracks had a lot of groups coming through it and this would continue as the world moved towards WWII. The next group to arrive was a horse riding school for the German cavalry and after they trained, they headed for Danzig on November 14, 1939. WWII had started two months earlier. The German Luftwaffe, which was the German Air Force took up residence and were there until late 1944 and a maintenance company came in and eventually used part of the barracks for a POW camp that included 400 soldiers. The United States Army liberated the camp on March 25, 1945. It was decided that the Kaserne would serve as a good place for displaced Jews to be housed and German POWs were kept here too through October 1946. Other displaced people were brought in that included Poles, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Russians. The United States shared the running of this with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and this continued until 1950.

In 1951, the United States military did some major over hauling. They added a new water tower and apartments in 1951 and this became a semi-permanent US military post with the 36th Field Artillery Group moving in, but they also shared space with the German flying club LSC. Construction continued into the 1960s as the military added tennis courts, more housing, a gymnasium, elementary school, and another airfield with hangars. The city of Babenhausen eventually sold the Kaserne to the German government and the US Army stayed on using the barracks as support for Operation Desert Storm August 1990 to May 1991. The base eventually started deactivating in 2005 and the US military handed off the Kaserne completely to the German government with a special closing ceremony honoring 56 years of US American and 106 years of military presence in the Babenhausen Barracks. Today, it serves as a museum.

There are many who claim that the barracks are haunted. There are several buildings on the property, but most stories center on the HQ Building. Around the property, sightings of soldiers in Nazi uniforms have been reported. These soldiers are usually in a regiment and seen marching. Soldiers claimed that doors opened and closed on their own and that there were intense cold spots. One of the weirder stories claims that soldiers would pick up a ringing phone and hear a woman's voice on the other end and she would be speaking backwards. The most common occurrence is the sound of disembodied footsteps.

The HQ Building has the story of a young German woman connected to it whom people call Miss Mueller. This woman was engaged to a German artillery soldier who was stationed here at the barracks and she sadly had to see him off to war. He was ordered to go to France to fight on the front lines during WWI. But he didn't want to go and he went AWOL with three of his buddies. They didn't go far though. They actually stayed on the base and Miss Mueller hid them in the attic of the HQ Building. She would sneak them food and water. Things went fine for a couple of days, but someone got suspicious and followed her on one of her food deliveries and the four deserters were found. They were brought before the military command and sentenced to die by firing squad. The executions were carried out and a devastated Miss Mueller threw herself from the top of the HQ Building. At the moment she died, the clock on the buildings tower stopped. The clock remained broken and soldiers started experiencing strange things in the building from unexplained noises to seeing apparitions. Now here's the really weird thing. That legend about the one supposed witch that was executed and left behind a curse that killed some soldiers, well there is a story told about a Frau Muller that was accused of killing three men with sorcery, so she was executed. This was in the 17th century. Then in 1843, a relative of Frau Muller was stoned to death during another witchhunt and her boyfriend died from a mysterious cause soon thereafter. In 1920, a soldier was engaged to a girl with the last name Muller and he committed suicide jumping from the fifth floor of the HQ Building. His fiance left town and was never seen again after that. So there are weird stories connected to this Miss Mueller.

Jack Baumann wrote an article for Stars & Stripes Magazine back in 1974 about the disturbances happening in the HQ Building. The 41st Field Artillery was stationed here at the time and Major Roy Highsmith claimed that he had footsteps coming from the fourth and fifth floors at night when no one was up there. This was the location of education offices and there would be no reason for anyone to be in those rooms. Highsmith said, "One night I was working late, and I kept feeling this sensation that someone was staring at me outside in the hall. The door opened several times, but it probably was the wind. I lifted my head several times because I thought I saw someone walk by the door. No one was there when I went out to look. I could have sworn I heard someone walking down the hall." Baumann also wrote about the experiences of Sergeant Michael Wilson who was on night duty and heard sounds from the upper floors as well. He said, "Between 1:30 and 2 a.m. I heard the steps coming from above, so I went upstairs to check it out. It was very distinct. There wasn't anybody up there, so I came down again. Two or three minutes later it happened all over. As soon as I got up to the fourth floor it stopped. So I went down again. I heard the noises for a third time, but I didn't bother with it. From 2 until 5:30 a.m. I heard the toilets flushing, desks being pushed around and running sounds. It was really strange." That sound of furniture moving around is also a common occurrence.

Baumann went on to share in his article that a couple of staffers for Stars & Stripes decided to stay the night in the HQ Building. They checked all the windows and doors and made sure they were locked. They surveyed the fourth and fifth floors and made sure no one was on those floors. They stationed an armed guard on the second floor. There was no way anybody could be on the upper floors unless they went up the outside fire escape. The first night was completely quiet and they got no evidence. Undeterred, they investigated for a second night. Disembodied footsteps started at 1am. The noises picked up at 2am, which was the experience of many soldiers in this building. There were footsteps and scraping noises. Upon investigation, nothing was ever found.

A Captain Norman R. Cherry actually saw something. He said, "I came up here one night to pick up some papers. It was about 9: 15 p.m. On the way out of the office I turned the lights out, walked down the hallway, locked the (hallway) door and glanced over my shoulder. I saw a shadow walking down the hall towards me." Could this have been the soldier who had thrown himself from the fifth floor. An interesting thing about that story, is that when the military investigated the death, they found the bodies of five men who had been reported missing, in the attic. We could find nothing about how they died. Another soldier said, "My office was on the 4th floor, as were the offices of the Group Commander, XO, CSM, S1, Adjutant, and PIO. I would always hear footsteps and things being moved, but never gave them a thought. At night, all floors were locked and the only people in the building were the officer and NCO pulling staff duty, and they were always behind locked doors, because the Group had nukes assigned. At times, I would even catch something out of the corner of my eye either walking past my office door or standing in the doorway. At first I would get up to see who was there, but nobody ever was."

The best stories by far came from a man named Bob Weaver and were shared on the website. Here are his eyewitness accounts and these seem to include the ghost hunt conducted by Stars & Stripes, "I arrived in Germany in January 1972, and was assigned to the 2/83 FA’s Service Battery as a supply sergeant. My primary MOS was supply, but my secondary was Personnel. The battalion personnel sergeant soon discovered my secondary MOS and pulled me up to battalion to be his assistant. About a year later, I was transferred to 41st Group, to be the Group Personnel Sergeant (PSNCO). I told you I had served a previous tour at Babenhausen, which was back in 1961-1964. During that tour, I heard many stories about the Frau Mueller ghost and the German soldiers that died in the old Headquarters building, but I never really gave them much thought. I heard those same stories when I returned there in 1972, and still did not think much about them. I have always been the type that gets very little sleep, and back then, I would just get up and go into work. This was usually about 3AM. The only people in the HQ building at night would be the people working in the education center and the staff duty personnel. Once the education center classes were over, which was around ten each night, the two people left in the building were the staff duty personnel, and they were always behind locked doors.

The 41st Group had nuclear weapons assigned, which meant only officers and NCOs with a secret Crypto clearance could pull staff duty, and because only a few of us had that high a clearance, the total number of people available to pull that duty was never more than 6 or 7 of each. This meant we pulled staff duty every few days. This also meant that it gave everyone ample opportunity to hear the sounds coming from the fifth floor. While some were willing to talk about their experiences, others refused, and one Captain in particular, after having his own personal experience with the ghost, refused to go into the building alone at night. What happened scared him so bad, that he had to be transferred to V-Corp. HQ. Whenever I would go into the office at night, I would always hear the sound of people walking on the floor above me and the sounds of things being moved around. I could also hear the faint sound of people talking. I could never understand what was being said, but it did sound like talking. I would also hear someone walking down the hall outside my office and, from time to time, I would catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Each time I checked, there was nobody there.

One night, while I was working on a promotion board I had set up for the next day, I thought I spotted someone standing in the doorway. When I looked up, no one was there. What was there was the sound of someone walking down the hallway. I jumped up and ran to the door, but nothing was there. I looked outside but no one came out and there was no one in any of the offices. I shrugged it off and went back to work. Things like this happened all the time. I might add that the bottom of American combat boots were made of rubber and, while they made a loud sound when you walked on wooden floors, they were not as loud as the sound of a German hobnailed combat boot. These were the type of boots used by the German Army and were the type of boots worn back in the early 1900s, when the ghost stories began.

In early 1974, we had a new PIO clerk assigned. A few months later, he came to me and asked if I knew anything about the female ghost. I told him what I knew about the Frau Mueller story and he said he had been doing his own investigation and discovered the story was well known and that the local Babenhausen newspaper even did a story several years ago on the ghost. He mentioned that he had a friend who worked for Stars and Stripes and that he wanted to do a story. He came to me a few days later and asked if they could do a ghost hunt in the building. He said it would only be him, his friend, and a professor from West Texas College. He asked if I could be there as well, and even asked if I could get person who had never had experiences with the ghost to attend. I received approval from the Group CO. The stage was set.

We set everything up for the following Friday night. Everyone met in the CSM’s office around 7PM. Back then, we had none of the ghost hunting equipment they do today, so the only thing we had was a still camera and a tape recorder. Our plan was simple, we would go to the fourth floor once the education center closed, and check each room. We locked every window in each office, and closed and locked every door leading into the hallway. We also closed and locked all windows facing the street. If you look at the picture, you can see there are no fire escapes on any floor. The only way in or out of the building was by that one staircase. As we left the floor, we closed and locked the swinging glass doors. The door to the attic was already locked, and the key was kept across the street in another building. We went back to the CSM’s office to wait. To make sure we made little sound, we all took off our shoes and only spoke in whispers. That would have been a perfect night for a ghost hunt, as it was stormy, windy, and rainy all night. As luck would have it, nothing happened. A couple of weeks later, the PIO clerk came to me again and asked if we could try one more time. I got permission and we set it up for that Friday night.

That night we met again and went through the same routine. The weather was great. It was warm with no wind or rain. After checking everything, we went back to the CSM’s office to wait. While there, the S&S reporter asked several questions and began writing his story. The college professor told us he had always been interested in the paranormal and that Hans Holzer was one of his favorite authors. As I also liked Mr. Holzer, the two of us struck up a conversation about the paranormal. As the night went on, nothing happened. About 2AM, I decided to make some coffee and the S&S reporter and I walked down the hall to where our coffee pot was located. After starting the coffee, he and I were standing there talking about the ghost stories, when we began to hear the distinct sound of several people walking on the floor above us. We walked into the hallway to tell the others what we had heard, but they heard the same noise and were coming out of the office.

We stood there for several minutes listening to the sounds coming from the fourth floor. The funny thing was that everyone wanted to be on a real ghost hunt, but nobody really wanted to go upstairs to see what the noise was, so the reporter and I decided to go up and see for ourselves. The others stayed in the office where the coffee pot was. I guess they really wanted a cup of coffee. We got to the fourth floor and found the glass doors still locked. Looking down the hallway, we could tell all the offices were still locked. I unlocked the doors and we went in. We went into the room directly over the room we had been in below, and I dialed the phone number in that office. As I was dialing, the reporter said he could feel the room get colder. I could too, but did not say anything. I actually thought we might be a little scared. Anyway, the professor answered the phone and I asked if he could hear anything. He said they could all clearly hear someone walking down the hallway and in the room where we were standing. I told him to listen while I put the receiver down and we went through each office.

All doors were locked, and as we went inside each room, we found the windows still locked as well. We relocked the doors and checked the windows facing the street. They too were locked. We went back to the office and the reporter picked up the receiver. He told the professor what we found, and asked if they could still hear anything. They could. He stopped and told me they could clearly hear several people walking down the hallway and into the office where we were. I walked into the hallway but saw nothing. However, I could plainly hear footsteps coming down the hall. I was about to turn and say something to the reporter when I saw a shadow go by me on the left. The reporter saw it too, dropped the receiver, and ran into the hallway. There was nothing there, but it had gotten very cold.

We went back into the room and, as I leaned on a desk that was against the wall, something rocked the room and tossed me against the opposite wall. It felt like something heavy had been thrown against the wall in the next office. I can tell you that it scared the hell out of me. I mustered up as much courage as I could and walked into the hallway. The office door next to us was locked, but the light inside was on and I could clearly make out the shadows of someone moving inside. I called for the reporter, but he was so scared he would not move. I had to have someone else come upstairs because I was too scared to open that door by myself. The person who had never heard the stories and did not believe in ghost came up. We opened the door and were immediately hit with a blast of very cold air. I think he became a believer right then. The room was freezing to the point you could see your breath, but it almost immediately went back to warm. We could see nothing out of place and nothing that would have made that noise. I turned off the light and locked the door. We went back downstairs to talk about what we saw and heard. The rest of the night, we could hear movement upstairs and one or two even said they could hear crying. I never heard that. The next morning, Saturday, we decided to call it a day.

A few days later, we were hit with a 7th Army alert, which meant we had to load up and move out to our holding areas. The alert came about 1AM, and we were in our positions, which were just outside the Kaserne, by 5AM. Later, the Group XO sent a young Captain back in to get some papers he left in his office. As the Captain turned to lock the swinging glass doors, he saw a dark shadow coming down the hallway toward him. He had only been there a short time and did not know about the ghost, and the S&S article had not yet been published, but when he saw the shadow, he forgot the door and ran out of the building. When he got back to the area, he was white as a ghost and shaking all over. He told everyone what he had seen and refused to enter the building again. When he ran out of the building, he dropped the XO’s papers. My boss and I went back in to retrieve everything and when we got there, we could tell the Captain had left in a hurry because everything was on the floor and the keys were still in the lock.

A few days later, the story was published. It was even on the front page. My PIO guy took a picture of the building that was to be used for the article. The CO’s vehicle was parked in front. For the article, they decided to use the picture in negative form, which made it look spooky. Once the story came out, people began coming forward with their own stories. A German paranormal TV show came out and did a segment for German TV, and several German newspapers did stories. I had several more experiences with the ghost, but as it never bothered me, I saw no reason to bother it. An interesting footnote on the subject happened about two months before I was due to come back home. My replacement came in early and once I broke him in, I asked to go over to the 2/5th FA because they did not have a PSNCO. One day my replacement came over and I could tell something was not right. I asked what the problem was and he asked if I knew anything about the ghost. I told him the story and he said he had been hearing the same noises. It apparently got to him so bad that he almost had a breakdown and had to be reassigned back to the states. I was asked to extend my tour a year, but already had an assignment and my family was ready to go home, so I left. I did manage to keep in touch with some of the guys there and they reported several more ghostly experiences. I always wanted to go back and do a real ghost hunt there just to see if what I experienced was real.

Mr. Artmuscle commented on a video about the barracks on YouTube, "I was stationed there from '71 -'73 and was a medic.  We heard all kinds of crazy sounds in the dispensary at night when we had to pull 24 hour duty.  We even recorded some of the stuff.  I was mopping the floor one night and as I was backing up to the stairs leading to the basement while mopping, someone grabbed the bottom of my pants cuff and yanked my leg backwards.  I laughed and thought one of my friends was messing with me, but when I turned around, no one was there.  The hair stood up on the back of my neck and every time I had to pull all night duty after that, I put the desk in the corner of the room and sat with my back to the corner all night until someone showed up the next morning."

Baberhausen Barracks had an active military life and has many legends connected to it and also many people who have had unexplained experiences. These are military people, so they don;t seem the type to be given to fanciful stories, so their stories are considered more reliable. Is the Baberhausen Barracks haunted? That is for you to decide!

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