Thursday, October 1, 2020

HGB Ep. 354 - The Legend of Screaming Skulls

Moment in Oddity - Juliane Koepcke, Sole Survivor (Suggested by: Mindy Hull)

Juliane Koepcke is a German Peruvian Mammalogist, but that is not why she is famous. She is famous for being the sole survivor of the crash of LANSA Flight 508. Her parents were animal people too and had worked to establish a research station in the Amazon rainforest. She would learn survival techniques in that jungle that would serve her well. On Christmas Eve of 1971, Juliane and her mother, Maria, were aboard that LANSA flight when it was struck by lightning and broke up in the air. Juliane remained strapped in her seat and it fell for 2 miles, landing in such a way that she lived. She had a broken collar bone, a couple of gashes and a swollen eye. She collected sweets from the crash site and made her way down a river because her father had taught her that this would lead to civilization. After 10 days of traveling, she found a boat next to a small shelter and stayed there just long enough for some fisherman to find her. They brought her to their village and a local pilot flew her to town where there was a hospital and she was reunited with her father. After recovering, she led searchers to the crash site. Juliane said, "I had nightmares for a long time, for years, and of course the grief about my mother's death and that of the other people came back again and again. The thought Why was I the only survivor? haunts me. It always will." Being the sole survivor of an airplane crash and then managing to survive 10 days in the jungle is nothing short of a miracle and that, certainly is odd! *Fun Fact: Juliane's specialty was bats.

This Month in History - Los Angeles Times Bombed

In the month of October, on the 1st, in 1910, a bomb explodes in the Los Angeles Times building. This would be dubbed the crime of the century by the Times. The Los Angeles Times publisher at the time was Harrison Otis and he was an opponent of unions. The paper had printed numerous editorials against unions. Otis had no doubt that the Times had been targeted by union members. He hired the nation’s premier private detective, William J. Burns, to figure out who had set off the bomb that led to the starting of a fire that killed twenty-one people and injured 100. Burns figured out that the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union was connected to the attack and he zeroed in on John J. McNamara, who was the treasurer. He also figured out that his brother James was involved. He arrested the McNamaras and brought them to California from Indiana where they had run. Union members raised a legal fund and hired Clarence Darrow for $50,000. James admitted that he set off the explosion. He was sentenced to life in prison. John was sentenced to fifteen years for bombing another location. Dynamiting locations was actually a tactic that the Iron Workers used for many years starting in 1906. They bombed 110 iron works. This would be known as the largest domestic terrorism campaign in American history.

The Legend of Screaming Skulls 

Creepy people like us love skulls. Many of us include them in our home decor. The Bone Daddy, Jack Skellington, is one of our favorite characters. Skulls are pretty special. Screaming skulls are supposed to be even more special. And while many people have relegated these craniums to legend and lore, there are several that are believed to have really existed and may still be around. Perhaps even a few still have their spirits connected to them. Join us as we share the legend of screaming skulls.

The human skull is an amazing structure and it needs to be, because it protects the most precious part of who we are, the brain. Protecting the brain is very important for two reasons. First, the brain is the engine or main frame of our body and without it we cannot live and secondly, our soul or conscience or personality - whatever you want to call it - is housed in our brain. We are not the only ones to consider the skull the seat of the soul. Scholars have longed contemplated such a thing. When the brain ceases to function, modern medicine declares us “brain dead.” In that state, there really is no point in going on. The skull is well suited for the job of protection. The average human skull can withstand 520 pounds of force before the bone gives, making the skull stronger than steel and concrete of the same mass. A heavy object is needed to crush a skull and it needs to be traveling at a high velocity. That is some pretty good protection for the brain.

The skull manages to survive death when given the chance. Cultures for hundreds of years have revered the skull and many decorated them or used them as decorative elements. Bone churches are found throughout Europe. These churches include the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, the Halstatt Karner in Austria, the Medieval Ossuary in Spain, St. Michan's Church in Ireland, the Capuchin Catacombs and San Bernardino alle Ossa in Italy, the Capela dos Ossos in Portugal and the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. Their interiors include wall art made of bones and piles of decorated skulls. And we have featured the Catacombs of Paris in an episode with its walls of skulls. It is not only in reality that skulls hold a certain prestige. Folklore has elevated some of these brain holders to a supernatural level. There are those that are considered guardian skulls, which are said to bring luck to a household or family. They are more widely known as screaming skulls.

There are many "rules" that must be followed when it comes to the traditions surrounding these skulls. The skull was to be kept in an area of a house that was considered important like a niche near the hearth, on a prominent windowsill or a shelf on the wall. Once the skull had a resting place, it was not to be moved and it especially was not to be taken out of the home. Disturbing a screaming skull could spark paranormal activity, much of which could be poltergeist-like. Antiquarians first started writing about screaming skulls in the seventeenth century. Many of these accounts were inaccurate with their core revelations being that these skulls providing some kind of magical protection for a family. Later stories would focus more on vengeful spirits coming back after a violent death. This trauma caused their spirits to be tied to a place and hence this would be why they would be upset if their skull was removed. While many of these stories are just ghost lore, the existence of these skulls is very real in many case. It is believed that there were 32 of these English Guardian Skulls with many of them going missing over time. Seven of these skulls were walled up in their particular locations and 10 are still out on display. Let's take a look at some of these Screaming Skulls!

Pack Horse Inn

One place where a skull is still on display today is the Pack Horse Inn. The Pack Horse Inn is a white building with a black roof found in the town of Affetside in England. This pub had been around since 1442 and has garnered some fame for its cursed screaming skull. The skull is believed to have belonged to a man named George Whowell. Whowell was supposedly the executioner of the 7th Earl of Derby named James Stanley. This was revenge for the murder of his wife and child during the Bolton Massacre. As to how George died, no one knows, but his skull has been located in plain sight behind the bar since the late 1800s. The legend behind the skull claims that if the skull is moved, you will be visited by an axe wielding spirit carrying an executioner's axe. There is a story told about three hikers who visited the pub and were regaled about the curse of the skull. They didn't heed the warning about not removing the skull and stuffed it into one of their packs. They didn't get very far down the road before a ghastly apparition appeared before them holding a bloody axe and declaring, "Take that skull back or I’ll chop your silly heads off!" They ran back to the Pack Horse with the ghost in hot pursuit and they put the skull back. The spirit then said to them, "You needn’t have any fears this ghost will follow you no more, you’re safe now it’s got its skull back. Let this be a lesson to you."

Tunstead Farm

They dumped his body in a shallow grave. Paranormal activity began shortly after that including loud noises, screaming and even threatening physical touch. The cousins went to a local witch to see what they could do to get rid of the ghost. The witch told them that they needed to disinter Dickson's body and bring the skull into the farm. So they did that and the haunting stopped. The skull then took on the manner of a screaming skull and was said to protect the farm and the hamlet. This protection stretched to the railroad, which threatened the farm. One accident after another befell crews and many walked off the job forcing the railroad to stop construction. Dickie has been stolen a couple times over the years, but the thieves always brought it back because they felt the vengeance of the skull.

But there are those who believe that the skull actually belonged to a female. There is another story told about the skull. Apparently there had been two sisters that both loved the same guy. This came to a head and one sister murdered the other. As the sister lay dying she declared that her bones would never be at rest in a grave. The 1895 book "Household Tales and Other Traditional Remains" written by S.O. Addy wrote of the sister, "Her bones are kept in a cheese vat in the farmhouse which stands in a staircase window. If the bones are removed from the vat trouble comes upon the house, strange noises are heard at night, the cattle die or are seized with illness." There are some who claim that the bones belong to a chieftain since there were many burials found on the land.

Whomever the skull belongs to, the stories told about it are chilling. Once the skull was thrown into Coombes Reservoir and all of the fish died. Twice the skull was given a Christian burial at the church in Chapel-en-le frith and both times it was dug up and returned to the farm because violent storms caused many cattle to die. The skull earned the nickname of the "Weeping Skull" after it was uncovered during renovations. It had been found inside a wall below a window ledge and when it was removed from this spot, furniture started moving around the room and a noise like weeping and moaning emanated from the skull until it was placed back in its spot.

Flagg Hall 

Flagg Hall was owned by William Burdekin in the eighteenth century. One of his later family members found a skull in the house and it was decided to give it a proper burial in Chelmorton churchyard. The group piled into a cart, but the horse refused to go. They finally gave up and the horse walked itself back to the stable. The skull was returned to its spot in the house and everything was fine until a new servant came along and threw the skull out the attic window. The skull landed in a cart being pulled by a horse and the horse reared up throwing the skull onto the road where it remained for a time. So much havoc erupted inside the house though, that the skull was soon brought back in the house and put in its rightful place where it remains today.

Chafyn Grove 

Chafyn Grove had been owned by the Grove family. The property was originally named Waddon and it was located in Dorsetshire. Miss Chafyn Grove was the last of that family at the home, so her cousin who inherited it, Troyte Bullock, named it for her. For many years, this residence housed a screaming skull. The story claimed that the skull had belonged to a black slave and this skull had a distinct mark on the skull that indicated that he had been killed by something like a sword. He had entered his master's room one night and startled the man who thought it was a burglar and he killed the slave by mistake. The skull was placed in a recess on the stairs and was said to cause disturbances in the house. So much so that it was eventually donated to the Dorchester Museum.

The Skull of Theophilus Brome

In the 1791 book "History and Anitquities of Somerset, John Collinson shared the legend of the Skull of Theophilus Brome. Brome had been a royalist soldier, but he was unhappy with their activity and he defected to the Roundheads. Theophilus died in 1670 and before dying, he asked his sister to have his head removed from his body before burial because he was afraid that the Royalist army would steal it. His body was buried in the church and his skull was placed in a cupboard at Higher Chilton Farm in Somerset. Over time, various tenants came through the house and removed the skull. The skull would begin to give off screams until returned to its place in the farm. As recently as 2010, the skull was seen by writer Daniel Codd who wrote in his "Mysterious Somerset and Bristol," "Upon being shown Theophilus' skull, I was curious to see his lower jaw was missing and that he appears at some stage to have been varnished. The reason for Theophilus Brome's desire that his head be hidden was very natural, given the era in which he died, and his tomb in the church is concealed beneath the church wall nearest the farm — meaning that his head and body were buried apart, but as near to each other as was possible under the circumstances."

Burton Agnes Hall 

Burton Agnes Hall has a long history that begins in 1173 when Roger de Stuteville built the Norman manor-house. This was named Burton Agnes after his daughter Agnes. The house has never been sold to another person. It has only passed from one family to the next when a male line has ended. The only part of this house that still remains is the lower chamber. A Welsh family by the name of Griffiths were the next family to own the hall and this occurred in 1457. Sir Walter Griffith added the Great Hall, which is built in the Tudor Renaissance style. During the Elizabethan Period, Sir George Griffith lived in the house. He received a knightship in 1532. Sir Henry Griffith would build the Hall that stands today starting in 1601. This was designed by Robert Smythson, Master Mason to Queen Elizabeth I. Henry would pass the house onto his daughter Frances Griffith who married Sir Matthew Boynton and this would be when the Boynton family came into ownership of the hall. 

The estate of Burton Agnes continued to be inherited through the Boynton family and then into the Wickham-Boynton family through marriage in 1953. Marcus Wickham-Boynton was High Sheriff of Yorkshire and he did extensive restoration to the house, particularly the Long Gallery. He collected treasures and added them to the hall. These included Chinese porcelain, rare furniture, French paintings and the Epstein bronzes. He also added over 600 acres of land that included many gardens and an endowment to take care of the property for years to come. The hall is beautiful and much of the 17th century carved woodwork and plaster still remain today. 

Going back to Sir Henry Griffiths there is some folklore involving one of his daughters and a screaming skull. Sir Henry had three daughters. There was, of course, Frances whom he passed the hall onto and then there was Margaret and Anne. Just before the hall was completed, Anne who was the youngest was returning from a visit to a family in a nearby village when she was attacked by a gang of criminals and left for dead. Her family had her brought back to Burton Agnes Hall in bad shape. She had told her sisters before her death, while she slipped in and out of consciousness, that she would not rest unless a part of her remained in the house. Her sisters had agreed that if she died, they would have her head removed and kept on a table in the hall.

They didn't keep this agreement and had her buried in the local churchyard. Strange things soon started happening in the hall. There were loud crashes and bangs and other poltergeist activity. The family immediately thought about their broken promise causing the issue. They had Anne disinterred and were shocked at what they found. Her body was still relatively intact, but her head had come unattached from the body and was missing all of its flesh. Only a grinning skull remained. This skull was brought into the hall and placed on a table. Peace returned to the hall. Except for in the month of October when Anne's spirit walks the Queens Chamber to this day. The skull is said to still be in the hall, built into one of the old walls in the Great Hall.

Wardley Hall

Roger Downes was an English lawyer and politician. He was elected to the Parliament for Wigan in 1601 and acquired Wardley Hall in Manchester at the same time. He died in 1638. That's the real story, so how this man became part of ghost lore dated to 1676, we're not sure. This story paints Roger Downes as a criminal who was walking with friends one night on London Bridge. He told his friends that he wanted to attack somebody and he did just that when the group came upon a tailor. Downes killed him. He threw the body in the Thames. Downes came upon another man who decided to fight back. The man decapitated Downes and threw his body into the Thames. The head was sent back to Wardley Hall. His sister had the head buried and that is when the trouble started. His spirit started to haunt Wardley Hall and expressing his displeasure at being buried. Eventually, the skull was dug up and placed in a niche on the stairs. He was finally at peace, at least as long as the skull was not moved. If the skull was moved, a horrific screaming would fill the house. Not only do the dates not match, but Downes' coffin was disinterred in 1799 and his entire body was inside, including his head.  

There is another version of the story, however, that claims that the skull belongs to Father Ambrose Barlow who was a Catholic Martyr. He was hanged, drawn and quartered by an angry mob of Protestants who discovered him conducting a Catholic Mass. The Father's head was placed on display as was custom at the time to serve as a warning to others. It sat on a spike in Manchester until a Catholic sympathizer removed it and took it to Wardley Hall where it was given a special place of reverence. In 1782, Thomas Barritt wrote, "From time out of mind the occupiers of Wardley Hall have had a superstitious veneration for the skull, not permitting it to be removed from its place on the topmost step of the staircase.  There is a tradition that if removed or ill-used, some uncommon screaming and lamenting is heard, and disturbances take place in many parts of the house." This has been so important that keeping the skull in its place has always been a part of the lease.  

Bettiscombe Manor 

Probably the most famous Screaming Skull is the one found at Bettiscombe Manor in Dorset. The story told about this one is most likely legend since the skull is actually thought to belong to a female, but the story is fun. Bettiscombe Manor was built on an ancient land and was the ancestral home of the Pinney family. This was rebuilt during Queen Anne's reign. There were richly carved wainscoting and old oak stairs left from the earlier house that was pulled down to build the new one. Azaiah Pinney had taken part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 and for this, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. He had some friends in high places and some money, so he was able to bribe a few people and was sent away to the Caribbean to be an indentured servant. There, he worked his way into becoming a rich plantation owner on the Isle of Nevis. His descendants lived on the islands, but eventually one of them, John Frederick Pinney, returned to Bettiscombe with a slave.

This slave had a hard time with the climate in Dorset and he was soon very ill. He told his master that his dying wish was to be returned home for burial. He said if this wish was denied, then the house would know no peace. This would be a costly wish to fulfill and so the Pinneys had him buried in a local churchyard. The broken promise would result in chaos. First, there were screams emanating from the cemetery. Unearthly screams erupted from the dark chambers of the manor next. The windows of the manor would rattle. Agricultural disaster struck as well. The Pinneys recalling that they had not kept the slave's wish, realized they needed to bring his bones to the house and they did just that. Only the skull remains and it sits in a niche in the chimney in the attic. People are warned not to remove it and it is said that whoever removes the skull will die within the year. Around 1770, a farmer moved into the manor and when he saw the skull, he said there was no way he would keep it in the house and he threw it into a pool. Creepy noises frightened the farmer that night and the next evening. By the third night, he decided he better bring the skull back into the house. When he did that, there was peace again. 

The story of the skull at Bettiscombe Manor inspired writer Francis Marion Crawford to write his landmark horror story, "The Screaming Skull" in 1911. This was included in a tome of his works called "Wandering Ghosts" and featured a story about a screaming skull that plagues a retired naval captain that had murdered the owner of the skull. The story is told in first person by the captain as he tells a friend about what has been happening. And while this is a made up story, the stories about the screaming skulls may be more than just folklore. There is a reason why skulls have been kept as these locations. Could it just be due to superstition? Is there really something to the curses? Do the screaming skulls haunt these locations? That is for you to decide!

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