Thursday, January 28, 2021

HGB Ep. 370 - Old Wilmington

Moment in Oddity - The Unfinished Obelisk of Aswan, Egypt

The largest obelisk in the world is not only not finished, it is not standing upright. The unfinished obelisk is located in Aswan, Egypt. The construction of the obelisk was started by the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Hatshepsut. A unique thing about this pharaoh was that she was female. The second confirmed female pharaoh. Anyway, the obelisk was carved directly out of bedrock. As they separated it from the bedrock, cracks began to form and the project was abandoned. Had the Egyptians been able to complete the project and get this monstrous thing upright, it would have been a third larger than any other obelisk, standing over ten storeys tall. Now as to how the Egyptians had planned to lift what would have weighed the equivalent of 200 African elephants is anyone's guess. We imagine Ancient Alien Theorists would claim that the mother ship would have come and levitated it upright. Too bad the thing cracked because that would have been a sight to see. You can visit the open-air museum and see the unfinished obelisk, which certainly is odd!

This Month in History - March of Dimes Started

In the month of Jaunary, on the 3rd, in 1938, the March of Dimes Foundation was created. The March of Dimes started as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The main focus was to battle polio, which had afflicted the President. The organization funded Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. After that early success, the group moved their focus to preventing birth defects, infant mortality and helping premature babies. They help mothers to understand pregnancy and guide them through the entire process. The name "March of Dimes" was coined by screen and radio star Eddie Cantor. He got it from the radio and newsreel series, "The March of Time." He called for a nationwide fundraising campaign and lapel pins were sold for ten cents each. People literally mailed in dimes by the thousands. President Roosevelt said, "During the past few days bags of mail have been coming, literally by the truck load, to the White House. Yesterday between forty and fifty thousand letters came to the mail room of the White House. Today an even greater number — how many I cannot tell you — for we can only estimate the actual count by counting the mail bags. In all the envelopes are dimes and quarters and even dollar bills — gifts from grown-ups and children — mostly from children who want to help other children get well. … It is glorious to have one's birthday associated with a work like this."

Old Wilmington

During the Antebellum Era, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina. From it's earliest days, the city was a rowdy place with pirates like Anne Bonny, Calico Jack and Blackbeard making their way up the Cape Fear River. Wilmington was an attractive place for commerce as well, due to its location on the water. Its production of naval supplies made it politically powerful and many of its residents rich. The city today is a balance of historical charm and college town. Many locations in the town have ghost stories connected to them. Join us as we share the history and haunts of Old Wilmington.

The French were the first to explore the Cape Fear River. This ominous name reflected the rough waters and foreboding shoals of the river. Old Wilmington was originally known as New Liverpool, having been named for the English city, and many of the streets still carry the same names as the streets in Liverpool, England. The name of Wilmington came from Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington. The city incorporated in 1739. The Revolutionary War would bring British occupation and the Civil War would feature the building of Fort Fisher, which helped to keep the Confederates supplied. The largest naval bombardment of the 19th century caused the fort to fall. After the war, the city enjoyed a building boom. The city took care to preserve its historic buildings and by 1974, much of the downtown had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The first time Diane visited Wilmington, she remembered it being very loud. This was definitely a party college town. It was so loud that the ghost tour was completely ruined because it was impossible to hear the guide. Covid helped to make the second visit better because the town was much quieter. The Ghost Walk of Wilmington is set up in such a way that multiple tours go out each evening and even at the same time. The tours go to different locations, so on this tour we hit places Diane had not been to on the first tour. Here are several of the locations that are reputedly haunted in Wilmington. 

Latimer House

The Latimer House is located at 126 S. Third Street. Zebulon Latimer was a very successful man. One of the most successful in Old Wilmington and his success helped the city to become the largest city in the state of North Carolina during the antebellum era. He started a dry goods business, much of which was naval goods. Latimer also invested in the railroad and dredging of the Cape Fear River and canals. These endeavors made him a rich man. Zebulon married Elizabeth Savage and they had their 10,000 square foot home built in 1852. The builders were J.C. and R.B. Wood and the house was designed in the Italianate Revival style. The house was located on a bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River on the corner of Third and Orange Streets. The foyer was breathtaking with hand-painted floral wall designs and a grand staircase made from heart of pine. There were eleven rooms. The old iron fence that surrounded the house was apparently yanked out of their family plots in Oakdale Cemetery.

The Latimers would have nine children and tragically, five of them died before the age of five. The Latimers were slave owners and had a small brick building behind the house that served as slave quarters. After the Civil War, nearly all of the slaves left, but they remained in contact with the family and exchanged letters. One of the slaves stayed on as a servant and was still a part of the household on the 1930 census. The Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. bought the Latimer House from Herbert Russell Latimer, Jr. in 1963 and they made it their headquarters. Today, the house is a museum and events center that is open six days a week and features fourteen rooms full of antiques - many of which are original to the home - artwork and neoclassical statues from Paris.

Of course with so many children dying in the family, it is no surprise that the spirits of children are seen inside the house and even around the outside. They are blamed for pranks like taking objects and eyeglasses. They have literally taken dozens of glasses over the years. There could be other reasons for supernatural activity in the house. In 1923, when Herbert Latimer inherited the house, the deal was that his aunt through marriage had to be allowed to stay in the house until her death. Her name was Margaret Meares Latimer  and she had become friends with an artist named Elizabeth Chant who had come to town in 1922. She invited Chant to live at the mansion with her. One of Chant's interests was communicating with the spiritual world. Could she have invited spirits into the house that never left? And let's not forget that the fencing was taken from the Oakdale Cemetery. Could this be why contractors who were doing repairs after a fire in 1981 heard the sounds of furniture being dragged across the wooden floor on the fourth floor? There was no furniture on the fourth floor. 

The kitchen and dining room are said to be the most active areas. Chairs get moved around the dining room.There is the smell of pipe smoke in dining room and a putrid smell that comes from the kitchen. That smell is described like death and could possibly be because a cypress table in the kitchen was used for laying out the bodies of the children before burial although one has to wonder who would do that with a table where food is prepared. So perhaps something else causes the smell. The bodies could have been placed elsewhere here because this is down in the cellar where it is cool. Among the things found in the house was a first edition book of poetry by Emily Dickinson. The staff thought it would be a good idea to sell it to raise funds for the historical society. And then they realized it was a bad idea when the book and a wicker basket levitated five feet off the ground and started trembling. Needless to say, the book went back on the shelf.

The Bellamy Mansion

John Dillard Bellamy was a wealthy merchant and doctor and eventually one of the largest slaveholders in North Carolina. He married Eliza Harriss in 1839 and they had ten children together. Eliza had been the daugther of the man whom John studied medicine under. John received much of his early wealth from his father who owned a plantation in South Carolina. Bellamy eventually got involved in founding banks and he invested in the railroad. His merchant work came mostly through a tar and turpentine operation. He and Eliza started building their mansion in 1859 at 503 Market Street. The home was designed by architect James F. Post and when it was completed in 1861, it covered 10,000-square-feet and had twenty-two rooms with carved woodwork throughout. The design incorporates several architectural styles including Italianate, Greek Revival and Neoclassical. A ten-foot wide colonnade porch wraps around three sides of the house that have pocket doors making it easily accessible from many rooms. The top of the mansion features a belvedere with arched windows and fourteen Corinthian columns support a three story portico.

Yellow Fever swept through Wilmington and Bellamy evacuated his family in 1862. He had already been planning on leaving as the Civil War raged and he had heard that Wilmington would be invaded by the Union. Wilmington did fall to the Union in 1865 and the mansion was occupied as a headquarters. Dr. Bellamy wasn't allowed to return to his home after the war until he signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and set all his slaves free with a guarantee he would never own slaves again. The Bellamy children were successful with one becoming a doctor, two became lawyers, one became a pharmacist, another a farmer and there was a politician. Mary Elizabeth was the only daughter to marry and have children. Her sisters Eliza and Ellen never married and lived together in the family home. Ellen lived to be 93 and died in 1946. She was the last Bellamy to live in the mansion. The house remained in the possession of the Bellamy family until 1972 when it was given to a nonprofit who restored it and opened it as a museum.

Also on the property there is a two-story slave quarters built from brick. The building measures one room deep and three rooms wide and was typical of slave quarters found in the city. They were more comfortable than the smaller slave huts found on plantations. The added comfort included a laundry room, four sleeping chambers and two five-seat privies. This building was also designed by James F. Post and has similar elements as the mansion. Post also designed the original carriage house that was destroyed in a hurricane in 1946. A new one was built to replace it. No one is thought to have died in the house and yet ghost stories persist in connection to the house. A neat stack of buttons were found beneath the floorboards of the slave quarters and it is believed this was in accordance with West African tradition as a way to keep evil spirits at bay. Was this a common tradition for slave builders to do or was there a reason they were afraid that evil might invade the quarters? 

One of the most interesting ghosts tales took place in the 1990s when a film crew was using the mansion. A couple of the crew were scouting the location and they went into the library where they found boxes and boxes of old papers from the Bellamy family. They started rifling through the boxes when they heard the front door slam. They figured it was a security guard until they heard heavy booted footfalls coming down the hallway quickly. The library slammed open and a rush of icy wind blew through, knocking papers everywhere. The men were startled and ran out into the hallway, out the front door, down the stairs and out to the sidewalk. The door slammed behind them and they heard what sounded like two fists beating the other side of the door. They never went in the house again. 

Another story concerns re-enactors. A group of them were camped out inside the house the day before their event. In the middle of the night, several said they were shaken awake by a man in a Union uniform. He would give them all a weird look. The next morning several of the re-enactors were talking to each other about their experience the night before with this man. They looked around their group and realized that they were all dressed as Confederates. There was no Union uniform among them. As a matter of fact, the Union re-enactors had all spent the night at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Imagine how confused the Union soldier must have been being surrounded by all these Confederates.

Ellen Bellamy was the last Bellamy in the house and there are some odd experiences connected to her. She used a wheelchair in her later years and it is still in the house. It travels from room to room and while staff have tried to blame guests of events, people claim that they don't move the chair and oftentimes it will just appear behind them in such a way that they turn around and nearly fall over it. Others claim to feel uneasy around it. Some feel as though the chair is falling them. They will walk from one room to the next and the chair is all of a sudden in the previous room. There is also a black spot on the wall connected to Ellen. She would lay in bed in her later years reading the newspaper and she would get ink all over her hands. When she went to sleep, she would reach up to the all sconce and turn it off. She would end up getting ink on the wall. There was quite a build up by the time she passed. The stain has been painted over several times and it always manages to come back. 

Captain Ellerbrock and Boss

There is a building at the corner of Front and Dock Streets that has hosted a series of businesses like The Husk Restaurant. The building has had a bad fire and a haunting. William Ellerbrock was a captain of a steam tug. He was also a volunteer member of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. On April 10, 1880, the Captain heard the fire alarm and when he saw how big the fire was, he quickly ran from his tugboat. The Captain had a dog named Boss with him as well who followed after him as he ran for the fire. The Captain asked a bystander to watch his dog before he raced into the building to help anyone who may be trapped. The fire got worse and the firefighters all pulled out of the building. Shortly thereafter, a scream was heard coming from inside the building and Boss broke free and ran into the building, having recognized his master's voice.

The fire had to be allowed to burn itself out. When the fire crew entered the building the next morning, they found the body of the Captain. He was lying face down with a heavy timber over him, so they he could not get out of the building. Boss had found him and tried to save him. Boss was found with part of the Captain's coat in his mouth, so it was clear that he had tried to drag his owner to safety. Boss was right next to the Captain, so it was also clear that he realized he would not be able to get his master out and so he stayed and died with the Captain. The two friends were put in the casket together and interred at Oakdale Cemetery beneath a headstone that features the carving of a dog curled up with the inscription "Faithful Unto Death."

The Captain and Boss are said to still haunt the building. Our tour guide had been doing some set-up in the building when it was being used for a haunted house attraction and he heard the whining of a dog himself. Many people have heard the whining and barking of a dog throughout the building. During some renovations, an electrician and his crew were working in an upstairs corner when they heard the whining of a dog in the building. They followed the sound, but found no dog. What the electrician did find was a very dangerous electrical problem and if he had switched out whatever he was working on, it would have caused a fire. He decided against doing the work because it was too much of a fire hazard.

The Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Exchange is a line of boutiques, shops and restaurants located at 321 N. Front Street. This used to be a place nicknamed Paddy's Hollow and the history of that has more than likely left some negative spiritual residue. There once was an old pond here called Horse Pond that had a fenced paddock near it that was known as Paddock's Hollow. Eventually that shortened to Paddy's Hollow. This was low lying and muddy land that nobody wanted and in the 1700s squatters started setting up a shanty town that took in all types. There was not just the poor and freed slaves here, but opium addicts, alcoholics and women plying the sex trade. The area became so dangerous that even the police would not enter it, particularly after three officers were attacked by a gang. Front Street Methodist Church set up shop near Paddy's Hollow, perhaps to try to clean up the place, but that didn't work out. Stories claim that the riff raff drowned out the Sunday morning sermons. A fire in 1886 destroyed the Hollow and the church, which rebuilt in a different location and became today's Grace Methodist United Church. There was a problem though. The church had a churchyard and they didn't move the cemetery with them. Instead, the bodies were dug up and reinterred in Oakdale Cemetery. Maybe.

Built over this place were business buildings, many of which were connected to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. When the railroad left in 1955, these buildings were left abandoned and this became the seedy spot in town once again. In the 1970s, it was decided to remodel and The Cotton Exchange was put together and this added to the majesty of Wilmington. You can dress up a bad spot in history, but that doesn't do away with spiritual energy and many of the businesses here claim to have hauntings. First up we have The Top Toad. This clothing and souvenir shop has been in business for twenty-five years and the activity has been here since day one. Hangers on display racks move on their own, disembodied footsteps are heard as well as disembodied voices. Employees claim it is as though they have invisible patrons. Some of this activity has been picked up on security cameras. Spirits appear as murky, shadowy figures. Shirts are found unfolded and displays knocked down when employees open the store in the mornings. 

Next, we have The German Cafe. This German restaurant has been in business since 1985 and serves up schnitzel, wurst, reubens, German potato salad and house made desserts like the Napoleon. The interior has exposed beams and old brickwork ghost. There is the spirit of a female wearing a Victorian dress that is seen around dinner time at the top of the steps leading to the upper dinning room. One of the owners named Harvey was locking up one night. He had turned off the kitchen lights and was getting ready to shut off the hallway lights when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. When he glanced over, he saw a woman standing on the landing. He described the dress as being colored purple with black lace trim. She seemed unaware of him and eventually vanished. Other employees claim to feel as though someone is watching them that they can't see.

Another haunted restaurant here is Paddy's Hollow Pub & Restaurant. This is a restaurant and pub that serves up shepherd's pie, burgers, steaks, salads and beer. This restaurant has a man in black who visits on occasion and perhaps this is because it is near the former graveyard. This entity made its first appearance during renovations. They were in the process of drilling holes in the brick for new beer lines when the manager looked up and saw this man in black. This figure had long wavy black hair and a long black frock and was leaning against the open door to the kitchen. The restaurant was closed, so he assumed this man was an intruder. The man quickly turned and ran through the kitchen door, slamming the door. The manager ran after the figure into the kitchen and found no one there. And the rear door had a stack of boxes in front of it, so clearly the figure didn't leave that way. 

There was an ice cream shop here called The Scoop. It closed and may now be Nutty Buddies Ice Cream & Sandwiches. The ghost story of the former Scoop shop features a little girl's apparition who is rather playful. She plays with all the appliances in the store like the blender, microwave and mixer. She'll flip channels on the radio, knock over the napkin keepers and run her hands through the wind chimes. Employees claim to have seen the little girl’s image in the glass case in the store and in the clock face. The former owner was in the shop alone when she felt something playing with her hair. She spun around and saw that she was indeed alone. She went back to her work and felt her shirt being tugged. She spun around and saw nothing again. She once again went back to her work. When the tag of her shirt was pulled out over her collar she finally yelled out, " I don't have time for this right now!" That was it for the pranks. The sweet southern drawl of a little girl is sometimes heard as well.

Paradise Alley

During the time of the pirates, there was a street that was known for its taverns, pubs and brothels. Of course, it had the nickname of Paradise Alley. This infamous lane ran from Market Street to Dock Street, just off Front Street. The men coming in off the ships could walk the alley and survey the women calling to them from the upper windows of the buildings. The Blue Post was a favorite brothel and this was run by a madam named Gallus Meg. That Gallus part is derived from the word gallows. Meg was not to be messed with as she stood six feet tall and weighed over 350 pounds. She could bounce an ill-mannered pirate in a matter of seconds. And Meg did more than just bounce an unruly customer. She'd bite off his ear and save it in a pickling jar. This jar was kept at the back of the bar to serve as a warning. Some stories claim that there was a finger or two in that jar as well. A woman who ruled this establishment with an iron fist would certainly not give up her post just because she has died. Oh no, Meg is still here taking out customers. The place eventually became a restaurant called Water Street Restaurant that closed and is now Michael's on the Waterfront. Employees who have worked at this location have claimed that Gallus Meg haunts the place because they have seen her spirit several times. She mostly hangs out in the ladies' restroom and goes after any men who accidentally stumble inside. The story goes that she tries to grab them by the throat as they flee the restroom.

Samuel Jocelyn

During our ghost walk, we stood outside of St. James Cemetery and our guide told us about a man who was buried alive. This man was Samuel Jocelyn and he fell off his horse in the early 1800s and fell into a icy pond of water, and medicine being what it was then, they assumed he was dead when he was found two days later. The story goes that he was buried and when he awoke, he found himself underground and needing help. Samuel had a friend named Alexander Hostler whom he called Sandy. They found themselves one night getting into a debate with some other men about the topic of life after death. Both Samuel and Sandy believed that the spirit went on. The two men made a pact at the end of the debate that whichever one of them died first, that man would return to the other to prove that he went on. Sandy was devastated at the loss of his friend and the night after they buried Samuel, Sandy found himself weeping in front of the fire and when he looked up, he saw his friend sitting there. Sandy was terrified as he listened to his friend whisper that he wanted Sandy to come dig him up. Sandy fainted and when he awoke, the spirit was gone. He figured he had dreamed it. The same thing happened the next night. Sandy still did nothing and Samuel appeared for a third time. Sandy went to a friend to see what he thought. This friend believed in the supernatural and he agreed to help Samuel and so in the cover of darkness, they dug up Samuel's coffin. What they found, shocked them. Samuel was turned over in his coffin and his fingers were raw from scratching the lid. He was clearly now dead after being buried alive. And for that reason it is said that Samuel haunts his grave. People hear the sounds of scratching at the gate of St. James Cemetery. Muffled cries are heard coming from the grave.

Price-Gause House

The Price-Gause House is located at 514 Market Street, which is also a place once referred to as Gallows Hill. This location is one of the most active in all of Wilmington and that could be because this site isn't nicknamed Gallows Hill for nothing. This is where public hangings were carried out and many men lost their lives here. Unclaimed bodies were buried nearby. Eventually the apparatus was moved to a different area and the land was sold. Dr. William Price had been a lieutenant colonel during the Civil War and was a medical doctor and he bought the plot and decided to build his dream home here...on Gallows Hill. This house would include his office. The two-story Italianate styled house was completed in 1860 and had twelve rooms. Dr. Price died shortly after the Civil War and his son Joseph Price inherited the property. He would become the harbormaster of Wilmington. He rented out the property from 1881 to 1899 to Frederick Rheinstein. His daughter, Dr. Alice Rheinstein Bernheim wrote in a letter to the Wilmington Morning Star in 1957 about her experiences living in the house, "All sorts of human bones were found by us when we dug in the backyard." Thomas J. Gause, a captain of the 115th Machine Battalion of the 30th Division in World War I, owned the house later. He had grown up in the house. In 1968, the house passed onto the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce who used this as their headquarters until 1991. Today it houses the architectural firm Bowman Murray Hemingway Architects.

Stories of paranormal happenings date all the way back to the time of the Prices. The minute a house was put on this property, the energy was unsettled and a variety of weird things started happening. Servants started complaining that items in the kitchen would move around on their own. Doors would open and close on their own. The ghost of James Peckham, who was hanged in the 1700s for stealing a purse, is said to wander the halls. This could be because he always maintained his innocence. Snakes also infested the home. Early one morning, a snake was found slithering across a bedroom floor and then another snake was found in a shoe the next day. Another was found in the bottom of a knitting bag. Clearly there was an infestation and when they started ripping open walls, they found many snakes.

Later owners would describe smelling pipe tobacco. The mysterious sound of metal clanking has been described and a local historian, Lewis Philip Hall, claims that this could be the chains of prisoners being marched to their deaths. Many people walking past the house have looked up and seen figures standing in the upstairs windows. These people are always wearing period clothing. Lynne Gause, who was married to Thomas Gause Jr., describes an experience they had in the house shortly after they married. She noticed an eerie chill in the room at the same time as something pulled the covers off the bed.

Another ghost has been nicknamed George and he has been seen bounding down the stairs and then disappearing. He is an old man who smiles and wears period clothing. An upstairs office has windows that even frost up during the summer. Sometimes people standing outside will look up and see the frost and then see the word "HELP" appear in the frost. Eastern Paranormal are investigators who caught EVPs inside the house and other anomalies. J & J Ghost Seekers investigated as well getting some weird pictures and fluctuations in EMF. One picture is said to show a shadow figure peeking through a window and pulling a curtain open. The side yard makes people uncomfortable and this is where several graves had been found. 

John Hirchak who started the Ghost Walk of Wilmington tour told the Star News Online about an experience his tour group had outside this house, "He took his tour past the supposedly haunted Price-Gause House on Market Street when two women in his group screamed. Their shrieks caused the eyes of others in the group to widen and direct their gaze to just over Hirchak’s shoulder, where multiple people claimed to have seen a ghost in the window of the home, which is now the offices of an architectural firm. As people scattered into the street, Hirchak chased after them trying to take control of the situation. It was too late – his guests were visibly shaken." The ghost tour claims that many people have gotten physically ill when standing outside the house in the area where bones have been found.

One of the employees at the architect firm asked if he could sleep over in the house one night after a hurricane had damaged his home. He was exhausted when he finally went to sleep and fell asleep quickly. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by the slamming around of furniture on the first floor. He grabbed his bedding, ran for his car and drove to Wal-Mart to sleep in the parking lot there. The next morning, his manager asked why he hadn't spent the night there and he explained that he had, but left after what happened. The manager looked around the first floor and none of the furniture was out of place. 

Wilmington is a fun town with great food, craft beer, ghost tours and hunts and wonderful historic buildings. It is worth taking the time to visit. And just maybe you might experience something weird there. Are these places in Wilmington haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

HGB Ep. 369 - Harper's Ferry

Moment in Oddity - Tea Drinking Was Once Considered Irresponsible (Suggested by: Darren Koch)

So drinking tea in our modern age is considered pretty normal. As a matter of fact, tea time is a way of life in Britain. But there was once a time that tea drinking was looked down upon. Pamphlets were delivered to homes in the early 1800s warning against the waste of time and money that tea drinking was for women. One read, "We never were used to tea, and would not choose that our little girl should get a notion of any such thing. The hankering after a drop of tea keeps many poor all their lives. So I would not have any things in the cabin which would put us in mind of it." The attitude was that poor Irish women might as well be chugging from a bottle of whiskey when they were sipping tea from a cup. In England, tea was thought to ruin diets and foster thoughts of revolution. Women were banned from coffee and tea houses throughout Europe. The thought that drinking tea could be controversial and lead poor women down the road of laziness and rebellion, certainly is odd.  

This Month in History - Johnny Cash Performs at Folsom Prison

In the month of January, on the 13th, in 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison. In 1956, Cash had written "Folson Prison Blues," which was written from the point of view of an inmate, but he himself had never done time in Folsom Prison and he had only been in jail to sleep off a drunk. Cash had been a successful songwriter and performer making his way to legendary status when he became his own road block. By 1968, Cash was depressed as his music career was in decline and drugs and alcohol had taken their toll on him. He had performed at Folsom Prison in 1966, but this visit would be very special as Cash planned to record the concert that he performed there. The inmates loved Cash and energized his playing. The record that came from the live performance was a huge hit and Cash's career skyrocketed. He became the "Man in Black" after this as he started wearing his trademark dark clothing as a symbol of the beaten down man and prisoner. He crusaded for the imprisoned man for the rest of his life.

Harper's Ferry

Harper's Ferry is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The town is best known for its place in history as the site of John Brown's armed raid of the U.S. military arsenal there before the Civil War. This would ignite a spark that eventually ended slavery, which is precisely what Brown wanted. This may be the reason his spirit is still seen in Harper's Ferry. There is more than just Brown's spirit here though. This is West Virginia, a state we have always believed hones supernatural energy and its strategic location with the rivers, more than likely feeds this energy even more. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of Harper's Ferry!

Harper's Ferry was a very strategic location in early America, particularly because of its spot at the conjunction of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The first known Native Americans to be in the area were the Tuscarora People. With the large rivers, a ferry was needed to help commerce between the states of what was Virginia at the time and Maryland. And since this is named Harper's Ferry, you probably think that someone named Harper was the man to do this. Wrong. This area that was known as The Point was owned by Lord Fairfax, who was a Scottish Peer. Peer is one of those royal titles. He owned a big chunk of Virginia and worked some 30 farms there with slave labor. A squatter came along named Peter Stephens and he set the ferry up in 1733. He ran that for fourteen years until Robert Harper came through and saw how much wasted potential the ferry had. He paid Stephens for his squatting rights and Harper was off and running. 

In 1761, Harper purchased 126 acres from Lord Fairfax and legally set up the ferry and the Virginia General Assembly called the town Shenandoah Falls at Mr Harper's Ferry. The area was beautiful and when Thomas Jefferson visited he proclaimed that the view was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." George Washington would later establish the site as a military location because of its strategic importance. He had a United States Armory and Arsenal built here. The armory was completed in 1799 and was one of only two in America at the time. Lewis and Clark would supply their expedition from this armory. Most weapons made in the US came from here and by the time of the Civil War, it was cranking out 600,000 muskets, pistols and rifles. This armory and the town of Harper's Ferry itself would be burned into the history of America when an abolitionist named John Brown raided the place.

John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800 to a Calvinist family who were anti-slavery. The family moved to Ohio and that was where John was raised. He married a woman named Dianthe Lusk and settled in Pennsylvania where they had seven children. He ran several businesses and opened a post office. His main business was a tannery and a secret room there became part of the Underground Railroad. Brown went from doing well to a string of bad luck. His wife Dianthe died during child birth, his logging business ran out of wood and the tannery failed. He had 20 lawsuits filed against him and a variety of his failed business dealings and he eventually declared bankruptcy in his early 40s. He married a sixteen-year-old girl named Mary May and they had thirteen children. They moved to Ohio to start a new life because Brown was finding it very difficult to feed 20 children. 

One day he heard about an abolitionist meeting in Cleveland and he decided to attend out of curiosity because he had always been anti-slavery. He left that meeting inspired and emboldened. He told anyone who would listen that he was dedicating his life to bringing down the institution of slavery. Brown's first major moves in his new abolitionist path took him to Kansas and he brought five of his sons with him. The state was in play between abolitionists and slave holders. Lawrence was an abolitionist town and it was raided by some pro-slavery men on May 21, 1856. Brown and his sons were set on revenge and they attacked a group of cabins along Pottawatomie Creek, killing five men. This launched a series of skirmishes and eventually one of Brown's sons was killed. Brown formulated many plans and one thing he always believed would happen was that slaves would rise up and join him. By 1859, he had worked out funding from some wealthy Abolitionists that were dubbed the "Secret Six" and he had a small army of twenty men that included three of his sons and several free black men. The group rented a Maryland farm and hatched a plan to carry out an attack on Harper's Ferry.

Shortly before midnight on October 16th, 1859, Brown took his men down the road to Harper's Ferry. When they got to the railway station, a free man of color named Haywood Shepherd, who was the baggage master, approached them and told them to stop. He was shot and killed. There were several people in the area that the band of men took hostage and these included some slaves. Brown and his men seized several buildings, including the arsenal. Then they waited for the slaves to rise up. This was the thing Brown had always expected to happen. He just knew that their numbers would swell by the hundreds. That uprising did not happen. Word of the raid spread and soon Brown and his men were surrounded. They drove the raiders back to a fire hall that was dubbed Brown's Fort and they killed Dangerfield Nubie, a free black man with Brown. Dangerfield was the son of his mother's master, so clearly he started out as a product of rape. He eventually married and had seven children. When his father took the family to Ohio, he was freed because that was a free state. But his wife and children couldn't come with him because they were still slaves. So you can imagine why he found himself among John Brown's small army.

On October 18, Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart led a troop of Marines into Harper's Ferry and they joined the civilians in the attack on Brown, who was wounded and captured. Two of his sons were killed as well as ten of the other men with him. The state of Virginia tried Brown for treason and murder, and he was found guilty on November 2. He was sentenced to death by hanging and this took place on December 2, 1859. He climbed the thirteen steps of the gallows with pride. He had made his case during the trial, using the process to spread his message. Some thought he was a hero, others thought he was a criminal and some even thought he was a mad man. One thing he was for sure was prophetic. He passed a note to his guard that read, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." And soon the Civil War would start with many calling this raid, the first shot fired. 

Harper's Ferry would be a prized spot during the Civil War. Both the North and South would trade off control of it during various times. Several places in town have connections to the war and these locations seem to ooze spiritual activity. John Brown is still strongly connected to this place of his final stand. One story dates back to 1974. Shirley Dougherty was running a restaurant in town when a group of visitors came inside. As they settled in they commented to her that the John Brown re-enactor was amazing. Shirley frowned with confusion and asked what re-enactor they were talking about. They told her that this was a man down by Brown's Fort who was a dead ringer for John Brown. They had seen his picture and this man was tall with a shock of white hair and period clothing who had a wild look in his eyes. Shirley started hearing similar stories from other tourists. So many, that she thought perhaps the National Park Service had hired an actor. The craziest part of the story was that people took their pictures with this man, but when they got the film developed, the man was not in the pictures. Brown also is said to regularly appear taking a nightly walk with a dog and as they approach the engine house, they both disappear into a wall. This could be residual as many claim that Brown took this walk many times in life as he surveyed the lay of the land and planned his attack.

Some time later, a man named Brad Matthews claimed to be walking past Brown's Fort at night on the anniversary of the raid. He came face to face with several men carrying muskets who started to interrogate him. The man ran away and he heard gunfire behind him. Makes one wonder if those bullets were as corporal as the men! Park employees and visitors have both claimed to see the apparition of Dangerfield Nubie walking around Hog Alley. He was killed by a 6-inch-spike fired from a rifle that hit him in the throat. The reason Dangerfield might be in this place called Hog Alley is because his body was mutilated with his limbs being cut off and everything was thrown to the hogs. When his apparition is seen, he is wearing baggy trousers and a slouched hat and has a scar across his throat. But it is not just spirits connected to John Brown's Raid that are here. There are many more spirits and ghost stories here.

Today, Harper's Ferry National Historical Park stretches into three states, covers 4,000 acres and includes the historic town of Harper's Ferry. This was established by Congress in 1963 after being a National Monument since 1944. The main points of interest in the park are Jefferson Rock, John Brown's Fort, Loudoun Heights, Maryland Heights and The Point. The Point overlooked the B&O Railroad bridge, which was destroyed and replaced nine times during the Civil War. The Flood of 1936 destroyed it for good. Any buildings located here were burned by the Union in 1862 so Confederates couldn't use them as cover for sharpshooters. Jefferson Rock is named for Thomas Jefferson who stood upon the shale in 1783 and marveled at the view. Loudon Heights was seized by Confederate forces during the Battle of Harper's Ferry. The Confederate forces hauled four cannons up that mountain. Eventually the Union would reoccupy Harper's Ferry.

Camp Hill

Camp Hill is found on High Street. This former military encampment was founded in 1798, shortly after the Revolutionary War. General Pinkney was stationed here with his troops when France was threatening to attack. They never saw any action, but that didn't prevent them from experiencing a lot of death. Cholera swept through the camp and killed many men. Their bodies were buried on the west bank of Camp Hill. Because there was not much action here, General Pinkney kept his men entertained and fit by running drills with them. The troops would run up and down the hill as the fife and drum played. So it is not surprising that the haunt attributed to this location is said to be a phantom army and people claim to hear the sound of drums beating and a fife playing. The disembodied sounds of marching feet are also heard.

St Peters Roman Catholic Church

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church is located at 110 Church Street and dates back to 1833. The Neo-Gothic structure sits up on the heights of Harper's Ferry and was the only church in the town to not be destroyed during the Civil War. This is a small, but beautiful church built from gray stone with a red sandstone trim around the windows and archways. A grand spire sits atop its tower. The windows are made from colored glass. The interior is one large room that serves as the sanctuary. Father Michael Costello was a young priest shepherding the flock here when the Civil War broke out. He served from 1857 to 1867. When the war started, his homeland of Ireland offered to bring him back home, but he would not leave his church. The church was spared during the war because Father Costello flew a Union Jack flag atop St. Peter's to express neutrality. He protected church property and was nicknamed the "doctor of souls." He made it through the war, but died two years after it from an illness at the age of thirty-three.

Father Costello's ghost has been seen by several people walking around inside and outside of the church he loved. During the war, the church served as a hospital. A young wounded soldier laid out on the lawn waiting for a doctor to see him. He was losing blood fast and thus fading fast. He was carried inside the church and he whispered his last words, "Thank God, I am saved." His apparition is seen on the stairs occasionally and there are other people who claim to hear his disembodied voice whispering his last words again.

The Harper House

The Harper House is now known as the Harper Museum and is located at 102 Public Way. This is the oldest house in Harper's Ferry. It was built in the late 1700s by Robert and Rachel Harper for whom the town was named. The ferry business was good money, but England was charging them huge taxes, so Rachel starting hiding some of the money in jars and burying them. Rachel fell from a ladder in 1780 and her injuries were so severe that she died the next day. She must have been unconscious the whole time because she never told anyone where the money was buried. Some people believe it is in the garden across from the house. Perhaps for this reason, her spirit is still seen at the house and many times she is looking out in the direction of the garden.

Train Tracks by U.S. Armory

There are some old railroad tracks by the U.S. Armory at 118-198 Potomac Street and they have a crazy ghost story connected to them. Engineers claim to see some kind of anomaly coming down the tracks. They describe it as a huge ball of flame passing down the tracks. The scream of train wheels are heard following behind it. There was a woman who was known as Jenny who lived in a tiny shack near the train tracks and the river. She would walk the river looking for driftwood for her fire. One night, the hem of her dress caught fire and she took off running down the train tracks yelling for help. She ended up in the path of the train. Is this anomaly Jenny's spirit running, engulfed in flames? Is this a residual haunting playing the scene over and over again. And speaking of the armory and fire, the Confederates burned it in 1861.

A Phantom Named Jacob

Christopher Coleman tells the story of a phantom named Jacob in his book "Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War." There is a building that housed a former tintype studio that was taken over by the Union during the war and used as a Confederate prison. One of the guards there was named Jacob. He had met a local girl and left his post to have a late night tryst. His superior found out and punished the whole unit. Afterward, Jacob's troop decided to teach him a lesson and they bound and gagged him. He ended up choking to death and the soldiers dragged his body away and buried it in secret to cover their crime. This is probably why Jacob is at unrest. The sound of a body being dragged down the stairs in the building is heard as well as the sound of gagging and someone being beaten. 

Maryland Heights Trail

The North and South fought over the strategic location of Harper's Ferry heartily and each side traded control of it through the war. The Maryland Heights Trail is a steep mountain trail that winds nearly 6.5 miles. This is an area were hundreds of soldiers battled. Several encampments were set up in the mountains and people who walk here at night claim to see ghostly firelights dotting the hills.  Fun Fact: Before there were billboards on highways, advertisements were painted on the sides of brick buildings (as many of us already know) and stone cliffs. Maryland Heights is one of those places with an ad painted on the side made from milk and whitewash. It reads "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder." The ad was targeted for people traveling on the B & O Railroad.

Phantom Drummer Boy

This next story is a tough one. As we know, drummers during the Civil War were usually young boys. There was one certain nine or ten year old boy who found his Confederate regiment captured. The Union soldiers took pity on him because they knew he would never survive the prison camp. They kept him in the Town House that they were occupying. They first started off having him work like a servant for them, telling him to clean, polish their boots and do the laundry. Eventually, the soldiers started abusing the boy and he would beg them to let him go home to his mother. One day, the soldiers were drunk and when the boy started crying again, they were enraged and started passing him around to each other. One pass sent him flying through a window and he fell to his death. The disembodied crying and begging of a child are heard in the area of this building, which we could not track down the name of. The book "Haunted West Virginia" by Patty A. Wilson just calls it the Town House. 

Ghostly Hand Print

This next haunt we don't know the location of either, but it is another story told in the "Haunted West Virginia" book. A woman ran a restaurant in town and when she first moved in, she noticed a hand print on the wall. She tried to clean it off, but nothing could remove it, so she decided to paint over it. Imagine her surprise when the hand print came through the paint. She decided to ask the former owner about it who had no further information. The woman felt like she had a ghost because she often felt like she was being watched. But the former owner didn't believe there was a ghost. The restaurant owner decided that her only option for dealing with the hand print was to cover it with a painting. The morning after she hung the picture, she found the painting on the ground. Now she had no doubt that there was a ghost in the building. She made peace with the ghost. She would put the painting up on the wall during the day and then take it down when she left for the night. 

Alyssa LeVasseur told journalist Deborah Block, “The whole town is haunted. People have seen things. You can probably ask anyone in town who has been living here, or works here, and they have seen something. They can't deny it. I hear ghosts all the time. I’ve heard kids’ voices and footsteps, so I know they are here. I say good morning to them. I was walking by one of the displays when the audio went on by itself.  You have to push a button to turn it on. Then I realized I hadn’t said ‘good morning’ to the spirits, and as soon as I did, the sound stopped.”

Harper's Ferry has an important place in American history. This town has seen turmoil and war and survived. And while it has moved forward, there possibly could be remnants from the past still holding on in the afterlife. Are these locations in Harper's Ferry haunted? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

HGB Ep. 368 - Haunted Houdini

Moment in Oddity - The Poison Squad (Suggested by: Scott Booker)

Ever have food poisoning? It's a nasty thing that leaves most wishing for the sweet release of death. Food poisoning doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to and much of that is thanks to the Poison Squad. At the turn of the 20th century, food producers were putting just about anything in as fillers for their food. There was borax, formaldehyde, chalk and copper sulfate added to food and things like lard were passed off as butter. This on top of the fact that keeping food free of bacteria was difficult before modern refrigeration and such. And the government didn't care. So a chemist named Dr. Harvey Wiley, who worked for the USDA, decided he needed to do something. He needed a way to get the government's attention, so that it started forcing food companies to label their food with ingredients. Dr. Wiley also worried about long-term effects of food additives. So he gathered together several strapping young men and named them The Poison Squad. This name reflected the fact that he was going to actively poison them. The squad became a pop culture sensation and really heroes for their efforts. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed. Soon, the formation of the FDA would follow. Poisoning a bunch of young men to prove how dangerous bad food could be, certainly is odd! 

This Month in History - Houdini Debuts Milk Can Trick

In the month of January, on the 27th, in 1908, Houdini debuts his milk can escape trick at the Columbia Theater in St. Louis. Houdini poked the can and turned it upside down to reveal that there was no hole on the stage. Houdini stood in a blue bathing suit as he was handcuffed. The giant milk can was filled with water and Houdini stepped inside, sloshing water everywhere. A lid was put over the top and locked down with six padlocks. A cabinet was put in front of the milk can so no one could see it and two minutes later, Houdini peeked out from behind the cabinet, dripping wet and panting from holding his breath. He was free of the handcuffs, but the padlocks remained on the can. How he escaped, no one knows, but this became one of his most famous acts and he did it over and over. He would copyright his tricks, but never apply for patents for his inventions because he didn't want to give his secrets away.

Haunted Houdini

The Houdini Estate crossed our radar about a month ago when our friend Maria posted on her Hollywood Exhumed Instagram account about a brush fire near the location. This was a bit concerning because while most brush fires are easily put out, this is California where one spark can burn down half the state! This got us to wondering if the Houdini Estate was haunted, which lead us down a path of wondering why this estate carried the name of a man who never lived there. And this led to researching his house in New York and whether it was haunted. Many listeners are probably very familiar with the stories of seances trying to conjure a message from Houdini. Has Houdini made his presence known from the other side of the Veil? On this episode, we explore the fascinating life and legend of Houdini and share the history and haunts connected to this amazing man who just may still be with us! 

We've done an episode on Spiritualism, Ep. 191, and we talked about the fact that Houdini effectively stopped the Spiritualism movement from continuing to grow. Does this mean that Houdini didn't believe in the afterlife or ghosts or even the ability to speak with spirits. We don't think so, but it certainly gave him fire to expose the rampant fraud that was a part of the movement. Houdini was world renowned as an escape artist and an illusionist, which made him perfect for revealing fraud by demonstrating how mediums were doing what they did during seances. Houdini's talent for magic started early. He was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874 to Mayer Weisz and his second wife, Cecilia Steiner. The Weisz family emigrated to Wisconsin four years later and changed the spelling of their name to Weiss and Erik's to Ehrich, which eventually became Harry because the family called him Ehrie. Harry grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin where his father served as a rabbi. No one knows where Harry got his first taste of magic, but he was fascinated with it and soon found an idol in Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. This is where he would get the inspiration for his stage name of Houdini. He simply added an "i" to his idol's name. There are those who claim that Harry apprenticed with a locksmith when he was a kid and that is how he learned to pick locks and he became so proficient, he could do it with his eyes closed. It's an interesting legend to be sure.

Houdini started his stage career at the age of nine doing a trapeze act, calling himself Ehrich the Prince of the Air. In 1887, Houdini and his father moved to New York and the family later joined them. During the day, young Ehrich worked in a necktie factory and at night, he entertained in the beer halls. He started his professional magic career at the age of seventeen. His brother Theo had joined him and worked as his assistant. The two brothers' most famous act was Metamorphosis. Houdini would lock Theo in a box, a curtain would drop and when it rose a few seconds later, Houdini had switched places with Theo and was now in the locked box. Theo would go on to become a very successful magician himself, performing in Europe as Hardeen and he was the one who pioneered the escape from a straitjacket act. He inherited Houdini's equipment upon his death. Even though the magic was good, Houdini was not getting much traction with it and even considered quitting and opening up a magic school.

It was during a performance at Coney Island in 1894 that Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a singer and dancer with The Floral Sisters. She went by the name Bess and was initially courted by Theo, but Houdini won her heart and married her on June 22, 1894. Bess then became his stage assistant and would do that for the rest of Houdini's life. The couple traveled as The Houdini's and performed with the circus. The magic career still was not taking off and Houdini decided to add something else to the act. He had figured out how to get out of handcuffs and this became his focus. In 1899, Vaudeville Impresario Martin Beck caught the act and he told Houdini that he wanted to manage him, but that he needed to focus on the escape acts. Beck soon had Houdini booked at the best venues in America and then took the act over to Europe. As part of the act, he challenged members of the audience to lock him up in the handcuffs, so they knew the handcuffs were real. Houdini would visit local jails and ask the police to lock him in shackles and he would get out of them. Soon, people were calling him the "King of Handcuffs." The shows became sell-outs across Europe and when he returned home, he upped the ante by doing high-profile escapes, one of which was breaking out of the jail cell that once held Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James A. Garfield.

Handcuffs soon became straitjackets that Houdini got out of and he started adding other elements like water-filled tanks and crates that were nailed shut. Houdini returned to Europe again and again to perform and in 1902 The German Slander Trial took place. A police officer named Werner Graff from Cologne claimed that Houdini had bribed him to rig an escape from the city jail. The claim was posted in a Cologne newspaper and a civilian jail employee also claimed to have been paid to help with a public demonstration. Houdini was outraged and sued. He had been through this once before in Germany. The police had not been friendly when he was here before and the police challenged him to prove he was legit. He did that by allowing them to clamp his hands behind his back with thumbscrews, finger locks and hand and elbow irons. His mouth was taped shut and he was put under a blanket. He freed himself in six minutes. So Houdini was not going to let these accusations stand. He won the case by freeing himself from locked chains in front of the judge. 

The Houdinis had become very wealthy at this point. Houdini adored his mother and he bought a dress that may have been made for Queen Victoria and then he held a reception for his relatives and presented his mother in the dress. Houdini claimed this was the happiest day of his life. In 1904, the Houdinis bought a brownstone in Harlem, New York City at 278 W. 113th Street. The brownstone recently got a new owner in 2018 who bought it for $3.6 million. Houdini and Bess lived in the Harlem townhouse for twenty-two years. They paid $24,000 for it at that time. The townhouse was built sometime in 1890 and Houdini quickly made the place his space, adding all kinds of neat contraptions. The Wild About Harry Blog writes of it, "Inside, Houdini had a gigantic sunken bathtub and a large mirror installed to practice his underwater effects. The bathroom tiles were engraved with an “H,” while Bess’s bathroom sported a “B.” Houdini also had the entire house wired for sound -- including an early “wireless” radio in the carpets -- so he could amaze visitors with mind reading effects. Even the front door was an illusion. It looked normal, but when you turned the knob, it opened from the hinge side."

Many family members would live with the Houdinis. One was Houdini's brother Dr. Leopold Weiss who was New York's first radiologist. He practiced out of the brownstone while he lived there. An intruder attacked Leo in the house in 1907 with a razor and the man as later captured. The reports never mentioned that this was Houdini's house. The year 1913 was a tough one for Houdini. He adored his mother and she passed away that year. The magician was away at the time and her body was kept in the parlor for a full week. The smell of decay stayed in the house for a long time and in 1914, Houdini tried to sell the house. He was unsuccessful, so they would rent it out. He and Bess eventually moved back into the brownstone in 1918. The house was filled with books and Houdini called it his library. He wept outside of the house before leaving on his last tour because as he told a friend, he would never see his house again. He died later that year. But perhaps he did see his home again. 

Bess sold the house to their neighbors, the Bonannos, and left much of the furniture and Houdini's tricks there in the basement, where they remained long after her death. Rose Bonanno was their daughter and she up kept the house and the history, even leaving it on just DC current into the 1980s. She started hosting seances inside the house to try to contact Houdini and she even claimed to receive a phone call from him and he told her and others to look at "Paper Magic, page 118, Fig. 12." The group couldn't follow those directions entirely because apparently the book had no Fig. 12 on that page. (There is no Fig. 12 on page 118.) A live Halloween seance was broadcast from the house in the early 1970s. Rose's brother Charles inherited the house when she died in 1978. By that time, the house was in the middle of a slum. A Louis Moise bought the house in 1980 and the Houdini treasures were auctioned off. By 1985, a man named Mr. Wilkes owned the house and he claimed that Houdini's ghost was there. He told a visiting magician that the spirit of Houdini was a regular visitor and he said, "One night he turned the lights on and woke me up from a sound sleep." A man named Fred Thomas bought it in 1991. And, of course, it just recently sold a couple years ago. Thomas always maintained that there was no spirit in his home. He actually had no idea it had been Houdini's place until he started noticing that people kept taking pictures of it.

Houdini liked to write of his exploits and even attacked some of his magic rivals in publications. His idol Robert Houdin was one such person whom he wrote a book about, exposing him as a fraud. Many people don't know that Houdini loved aviation and became a pilot. In 1909, he bought a French-made Voisin biplane, which he crashed on his first flight with it. He later made three successful flights near Melbourne, Australia in 1910 with that plane. These were some of the first powered flights in Australia. Houdini started using film as a part of his vaudeveille act in 1906. In 1918, Houdini signed a contract to star in a 15-part silent serial that was called, The Master Mystery, which features Houdini playing an undercover agent who does several of his escape acts to thwart criminals. He was then signed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation/Paramount Pictures and made two films: The Grim Game in 1919 and Terror Island in 1920. Film buffs claim that The Grim Game was Houdini's best film. He then launched his own studio called the "Houdini Picture Corporation" and made two films with that,"The Man From Beyond" and "Haldane of the Secret Service." He lost a bunch of money with these exploits and gave up the movie business in 1923. 

It was during this movie time that Houdini took up residence in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. There is a bunch of confusion here, so let's break this down. We mentioned the Houdini Estate is what inspired this episode. While it carries his name, he never lived there. In 1919, Houdini rented a cottage located at 2435 Laurel Canyon Boulevard. He stayed there while making movies. There is some indication that Bess lived here after his death for a bit from 1934 to 1936. This cottage no longer exists. There was another house at 2400 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, which is today the Houdini Estate. This was the main mansion with the cottage as its guest house There is a pool there that Houdini did use to practice his tricks and acts. At 2451 Laurel Canyon Boulevard is The Mansion, which we mentioned in our Haunted Music episode. This is a home owned by Rick Rubin and is a recording studio that is really haunted. Some claim Houdini lived here too, but that is not true.

The Houdini Estate was built in the early 1900s in the Edwardian architectural style. Ralph M. Walker was the owner when Houdini lived in the cottage. This is a really cool place with hidden tunnels, caves, terraced gardens and the pool, which is a deep-water tank. This is what Houdini used for his practicing. When Bess lived at the cottage after Houdini's death, she hosted a party for 500 magicians and several seances at the bigger mansion. The Houdini Estate burned in 1959 and was rebuilt. Jose Luis Nazar is the current owner and the location is used for events. Fun Fact: After the estate burned down, the tunnels and caves became home for hippies and vagrants, one of whom called himself "Robin Hood." He thought Laurel Canyon was Sherwood Forrest and he would shoot arrows at trespassers. There are stories that this location is haunted by Houdini. The spectre of a man has been seen here, but no one can say for sure that it is Houdini. It is believed that a homeless man had died on the property at some time and some legends claim that it was Robin Hood.

Houdini continued to create new acts and even challenged audiences to come up with ideas for his acts. Cities he visited would challenge him in unique ways. Scranton, Pennsylvania filled a barrel with beer and asked Houdini to escape from handcuffs within the barrel. In 1911, a group of Boston businessmen came up with a really gross idea. A whale had washed up in the harbor and they challenged Houdini to escape from its belly. Thousands of people watched as Houdini was handcuffed, shackled in leg irons and then put inside the whale, which was then covered in chains and placed behind a curtain. Houdini was free in fifteen minutes, but said the embalming fluid nearly killed him. The Chinese Water Torture Cell would enter Houdini's act in 1912. This would become his trademark act and would remain in his performances for the rest of his life. Houdini would be suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down into a locked glass cabinet that was filled with water. The act forced him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape.

Houdini did share some of his secrets. He would enlarge his shoulders and chest when being locked into a straightjacket to give himself wiggle room. He picked locks with shoelaces, lockpicks and keys. And while Houdini had gone after some of his rivals, he was also the greatest proponent of magic and tried hard to bring as many magicians together as he could. The Society of American Magicians (a.k.a. S.A.M.) was founded in the back room of Martinka's magic shop in New York in 1902. Houdini became its President in 1917 and held that until his death in 1926. He expanded membership and sought to make this one large and strong unified group. Houdini also eventually became President of the Martinka & Co., which was the oldest magic company in America.

Houdini had loved his mother deeply and he was crushed by her death. He had been inconsolable and visited her gravesite often, calling out to her and talking to her often. He desperately wanted to speak to her again, even after death, and he sought out mediums with which he could do this. He ended up with nothing but disappointment. His worst experience came at the hands of his good friend, Arthur Conan Doyle's, wife. She offered to give him a reading from his mother. Mrs. Doyle sat at a table and wrote nearly a hundred words in response to questions Houdini asked. One part of this message read, "Oh, my darling thank God, thank God, at last I am through. I’ve tried, oh so often. Now I am happy. Why, of course, I want to talk to my boy, my own, beloved boy. Friends, thank you, thank you, with all my heart for this. You have answered the cry of my heart and of his. God bless him a thousand fold, for all his life for me - never had a mother such a son. Tell him not to grieve soon he will get all the evidence he is anxious for. I want him to know that I have bridged the gulf, which is what I wanted, oh so much. Now I can be in peace." Houdini knew it was a lie for several reasons. The writing was in English and Houdini's mother did not know the language. Mrs. Doyle drew a cross at the top of the page, but the Houdini family was Jewish. The experience happened on Houdini's mother's birthday, but she made no mention of the special date. The friendship with Doyle ended.

After a few years of this, Houdini was sick of all the fraud. He decided to make it his mission to weed out the frauds and he traveled the country revealing how mediums pulled off their demonstrations with his expertise in illusion. He always maintained that he believed it possible to communicate with the dead, but he found no evidence that any medium was communicating with spirits. While in Europe, he attended two seances a day and exposed 100 mediums. The magician joined a Scientific American committee that offered a prize to anyone who could prove they were a psychic. The committee built a fraud prevention box for mediums to sit inside. Houdini even testified before a congressional sub-committee in support of an anti-fortunetelling bill introduced into Congress in 1926. He angrily talked about how Spiritualism had entered the White House and that First Lady Harding and First Lady Coolidge had consulted mediums. He accused Spiritualism of running the government. It was meant to outlaw any kind of psychic activity for money. The bill failed because of the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and Spiritualism is a religion. 

The circumstances around Houdini's death are a bit of a mystery. He died on Halloween in 1926 of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. How that appendix ruptured is the mystery. Some believe he was sick for days with appendicitis and never sought medical help, so the appendix finally burst. Another story claims a McGill University student named J. Gordon Whitehead gave Houdini a blow or two to the stomach that either Houdini wasn't prepared for or was too weak from being sick to tighten enough against. Houdini used to challenge people all the time to hit him hard in the stomach to prove how strong his stomach muscles were. He actually performed for the last time while sick at the Garrick Theater. He passed out during the show, but was revived and finished his performance. Supposedly his last words before dying were, "I'm tired of fighting." He was buried at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens.

As we have mentioned several times, seances have been held to contact Houdini ever since he died. Many of the early ones were hosted by Bess. She tried for ten years to contact him with no success. Early on, she would shut herself in her room every Sunday and try to get a sign from Houdini at the hour of his death. A medium named Arthur Ford got her attention when he gave her a word from Houdini's mother and that word was "forgive." Houdini had always wanted to hear that from his mother. The formal seances would be held every year on the anniversary of his death on Halloween. The last was the most famous and took place on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. Bess lived in Hollywood in the 1930s with her manager and partner Edward Saint and Saint helped her with this final seance. At some point before he died, the Houdinis had figured out a code to use to let each other know that they existed after death. This was so that a spirit medium could not play tricks. Inside Bess' wedding ring was the word "Rosabelle," which had been the name of the song she sang in her act when the couple first met in Coney Island. The code was: Rosabelle – answer – tell – pray – answer – look – tell – answer – answer – tell. So now you know what Rosabelle means. The other words equaled certain letters. The word "answer" stood for the letter "B." "Answer, answer" stood for the letter "V". Thus, the Houdinis' secret phrase spelled out the word "BELIEVE." Bess never got that message. After the final seance she said, " "Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone...The Houdini Shrine has burned for ten years. I now, reverently... turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!" She felt that ten years was long enough to try. But perhaps Houdini did show up at that last performance. He was a grand showman, so why would he just say a few words or tap out a message? At the end of the seance, there was a clap of thunder right before it started raining. Raining only over the Knickerbocker Hotel. Was that Houdini saying "hello?"

This was not it for seances. Bess asked Walter B. Gibson, who had been a friend and ghostwriter for Houdini, to continue hosting a yearly seance. Gibson passed this on to Dorothy Dietrich, a famous magician and illusionist known as the "Female Houdini." She owns the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania and hosts the seances there. It claims to be the "only building in the world dedicated to Houdini." It features memorabilia and artifacts connected to Houdini and offers tours and magic acts. There are several museums in the world featuring Houdini artifacts and he willed his scrapbooks and other books to the Library of Congress. Bess Houdini died from a heart attack on February 11, 1943 in California at the age of 67. She was not buried next to Harry because she was Catholic. She is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame was located in Niagara Falls. It is permanently closed today and now runs as a Ripley's Moving Theater. The museum opened in 1968 under the direction of Henry Muller and Vince Delorenzo at a different location originally and then moved to the newer location in 1972. Hardeen (Theo) had kept Houdini's artifacts in storage for 40 years. He had been instructed to have everything burned when he died, but that didn't happen and they went up for auction. Houdini had not wanted his tricks and such to get out, so he would not have been happy about this. He wanted his secrets to remain his secrets. The building had nothing but issues from the beginning. There were six fires and a freak accident that hurt the director of the museum. He walked through a plate glass window. There was also a robbery. A final fire on April 30, 1995 destroyed the original Water Torture Cell and the museum never opened again. Ann Fisher did a seance in the building in 1974. She told Houdini that this would be the last time she would try to contact him if he didn't give her a sign. At that very moment, a pot of flowers fell to the ground and so did a book. The book fell open to a page featuring a poster of Houdini and titled "Do Spirits Return?" Was this a sign from Houdini or some other spirit playing games? People in the movie theater claim to hear disembodied voices. Another theater that claims to have Houdini's spirit is the Princess Theater in Montreal where he was punched before dying. His apparition was seen in a cape and top hat. That theater no longer exists and we think it was turned into a food court.

The possibilities for Houdini to be hanging around in the afterlife are numerous. His props and magical implements could easily have attachments. Could his spirit still be practicing in Laurel Canyon? Is his spirit still at the Houdini House? Houdini, are you still with us? That is for you to decide!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

HGB Ep. 367 - Haunted Cemeteries 17

Moment in Oddity - Springthorpe Memorial (Suggested by: Rick Kennett)

The first garden cemetery in Australia is Boroondara General Cemetery, which is located in Kew, Victoria. The Springthorpe Memorial is located here and it not only is one of the most gorgeous memorials in the world, it is a bit weird. The Memorial is named for Dr. John Springthorpe who was an Australian physician. He had it constructed for his wife Annie. The memorial was clearly inspired by Greek temples and was designed by Harold Desbrowe-Annear with a massive stained glass domed roof made from hundred of ruby-colored glass pieces that give the entire memorials a reddish glow. A marble sculpture is the centerpiece, which was sculpted by Bertram Mackennal. This sculpture features Annie lying down on a sarcophagus while an angel that is standing beside her, places a wreath by her head. Another female figure sits next to the sarcophagus, holding a lyre and looking very sad. Serpent-head gargoyles sit atop each corner of the memorial and the base is paved with redtiles that have verses on them in gold lettering. What is particularly bizarre when one observes all the details that make up the memorial is that Annie's name appears nowhere on it. The only indication as to who this memorial is dedicated is an inscription that reads:

    My own true love
    Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
    Born on the 26th day of January 1867
    Married on the 26th day of January 1887
    Buried on the 26th day of January 1897

Not only is it unusual to have no name on this memorial, but the fact that all the dates are the same day with different years all ending in seven, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Knights Templar Officially Recognized

In the month of January, on the 13th, in 1128, Pope Honorius II officially recognizes the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar was a military order and the pope sanctioned it as an army of God. The Templars were founded in 1118 by Frenchman Hughes de Payens. They made it their purpose to protect the path Christians would follow as they made their way to the Holy Land. They had a rigid set of rules that members had to follow and that first group only numbered nine during the Crusades. It is believed that they started collecting relics and riches and were hiding them in various places. Through the years, the Templars grew very wealthy and very powerful and this started to threaten the Catholic Church and the Pope. This led Pope Clement V and King Philip IV to join forces to take down the order in 1307. They arrested the leader at the time, Jacques de Molay, and other Templars and tortured them until they confessed that they practiced heresy and Satanism. This day of arrest happened on October 13, 1307, which was a Friday. So Friday the 13th. And that is why Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day. Molay and most of the other Templars were burned at the stake and the Pope dissolved the Templars in 1312. To this day, many people believe that there are many myths and legends connected to the Templars whether it is the Curse of Oak Island, the DaVinci Code or various conspiracy theories. Many of these legends claim the group had the Ark of the Covenant, parts of the cross and the Holy Grail and that surviving Templars moved these objects to hidden locations that people still seek today.

Haunted Cemeteries 17

Every cemetery is unique. Each has its own unique character based on location. Sometimes it is the landscape that is different. Other times, it is the local culture or customs. But truthfully, it is the personalities buried within that define the true character. We have featured over seventy haunted cemeteries around the world in the past six years. After compiling a list, we realized that there were several states, thirteen to be exact, that have not been included yet and on this episode we will rectify that by including several of those. On this episode, we have China Grove Cemetery in Arkansas, Friendship Cemetery in Mississippi, Mount Moriah Cemetery in Montana, Little Egypt Cemetery in Indiana and Cheesman Park in Colorado.

China Grove Cemetery

China Grove Cemetery is found in Saline County, Arkansas. The earliest burial we found was in 1883, so this is an old cemetery. Burials stopped in the 1970s. The cemetery is fairly neglected, sitting along a narrow abandoned road. The headstones are scattered haphazardly throughout the woods. That's about all we could find on the history of the cemetery. While trying to find out more about the history of this cemetery, we ran across a horrible true crime story. This was an appeal to the Supreme Court of Arkansas on a death penalty case. Darrell Wayne Sheridan had been found guilty and sentenced to die in the murder of Laurie Ann Brown. The two had once lived together, but Darrell was married to another woman at this time and Laurie Ann was in another relationship and pregnant with that man's baby. Laurie Ann had found out that Darrell and his wife were dealing drugs and she reported this to the police. Darrell went to her house to scare her and somehow managed to convince her and her boyfriend to get in his car. Darrell told his wife to drive into China Grove Cemetery. He told Laurie Ann to get out of the car and then the car drove away with Darrell's wife, Laurie Ann's boyfriend and another man inside. Darrell attacked Laurie Ann and stabbed her multiple times, killing her. Her body was found on the road to the cemetery.

Stories of hauntings at the cemetery have endured through the years. Legends begin at the front gate. This is an old gate at the end of the abandoned road. When cars approach at night with their headlights on, those headlights will start to flicker. The car radio sometimes flips to just airing static or turns off altogether. Also at the gate, people claim to see a white dog with icy blue eyes. Sometimes it is solid, but usually when the lights hit it, the dog is translucent. Inside the cemetery, an apparition of a woman has been seen carrying a baby and wailing. Sometimes she tries to hand her baby to visitors and of they take the bundle, they find out that it is a headstone that will weigh them down and make it so they can't get up off the ground. Another legend is about the headstones. Apparently, they glow sometimes and the glowing will follow visitors as they move through the cemetery.

Friendship Cemetery

Friendship Cemetery is located in Columbus, Mississippi. Mississippi is a state known for its vast quantity of Antebellum homes, so it is not surprising to find a haunted cemetery here that is connected to the Civil War with a haunted specifically centered on its burials for the Confederate dead. This cemetery was founded in 1849 by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Originally, it only covered five acres, but that grew to 35 acres by the 1950s and now spreads out over 70 acres. We mentioned unique design in the intro and this one certainly has that the original layout incorporating three interlocking circles. The Odd Fellows symbol is made up of this same design, so they literally designed the cemetery like their emblem. The City of Columbus eventually acquired the graveyard and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Burials still continue at this cemetery.

During the Civil War, the capitol of Mississippi - Jackson - was invaded and controlled by Union forces, so Columbus became the temporary capitol. The Confederate Army of Mississippi fought heavily in the Battle of Shiloh and many of their dead were brought back here to be buried. Columbus itself served as a military hospital center. Both Confederate and Union dead are buried here. There are between 40 to 150 Union soldiers and more than 2,000 Confederate soldiers. The poem "The Blue and the Gray" by Francis Miles Finch was inspired by an event that took place here at Friendship Cemetery. A large group of women laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers on April 25, 1866 and this moved him because the dead were treated with equal care. This poem was first published in an 1867 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Eventually the decorating of military graves on grave decorating days became Memorial Day.

There are a couple of stories told about haunting legends in this cemetery. The first is about a Confederate soldier. His apparition has been spotted wandering around the graves in the Confederate burial area. There is someone who actually might have captured this spirit in a photo. Matt Garner is a page designer for The Dispatch newspaper. He visits the Friendship Cemetery a lot to take photos. One morning he was in there alone and decided to catch the sunlight as it came through the trees. The headstones were making cool shadows. He used a tripod to hold the camera and fired off 10 pictures in quick succession. When he developed the pictures later, he saw something that chilled him to his core. In the middle of one of the pictures was a fairly clear face. The image is slightly translucent and white with dark hollow eyes. It really does look like a face. Matt is a skeptic, as are we, so perhaps it is pareidolia with the sunlight, shading and shape of the trees causing it, but it only appears in this one photo. And it's creepy nonetheless. Garner claimed that on another visit to the cemetery, he heard something that sounded similar to the sound of a door shutting that came from the nearby forest. The sound unnerved him.

Reverend Thomas Teasdale was born in New Jersey in 1808. He entered the ministry in 1828 and eventually ended up preaching at a church in Columbus, Mississippi. During the Civil War, he left his home church to preach to Confederate soldiers until the end of the war. After the war, he moved to Tennessee and preached there. He died in 1891 at the age of 82 and was buried here in the cemetery. His memorial is very moving with the statue of an angel lying over the headstone, weeping. People who visit the memorial claim that when they touch the angel's hands, they feel lifelike.

The picture that Matt Garner captured can be seen here:

Mount Moriah Cemetery

Mount Moriah Cemetery in Butte, Montana has a really unusual haunting. This cemetery was founded in 1877 by the Silver Bow County Masons. The first interment was for a woman named Bettie Fant Boyce who passed away on September 29, 1877. The cemetery is 58 acres in size and has over 14,000 burials. U.S. Congressmen Albert James Campbell and Lee Theophilus Mantle, who was also the Mayor of Butte, are among those burials and one of the cooler memorials is for J. Frank Beck that includes a sculpture of his faithful dog. Not so fun fact, Mantle was a bachelor until the age of 70 when he married a 25-year-old woman he had known since she was a child. They were married for 13 years and had a son before he died.

Stories of the hauntings here started in the 1970s. The first witnesses were two police officers. They were patrolling the cemetery grounds one evening when they saw a person in a wheelchair approaching the gates. They watched as the wheelchair continued all the way through the locked gate. The two men thought that perhaps the wheelchair had fallen into a hole or something and that it had caused this optical illusion. Particularly because they no longer saw the wheelchair. When they got over to the gate, the wheelchair and person had definitely disappeared. Not only that, but there was snow on the ground and there were no tracks anywhere. They reported their story. From that time until now, many people have come forward claiming to see the same thing. A person is wheeling themselves towards the gate and then disappears. This happens at all hours, day or night. No one knows where this spirit could be coming from. Did someone have an accident outside the cemetery? Are they visiting someone at the cemetery? Is their body buried in the cemetery?

Little Egypt Cemetery

Little Egypt Cemetery is more formally known as Ewald Cemetery and it is located on Fifth Road in Bremen, Indiana. The cemetery takes this name from the Ewald family, so we're assuming this may have started as a family plot, but others were buried here before any Ewalds, so who knows. Jacob and Barbara Ewald had twelve children and three of them would die before adulthood. We are not sure of their exact birthdates, but Matilda was a newborn when she passed in 1865. Her brother Henry died in 1870 and Catherine died in 1873. Both were four-years-old when they passed. Those three Ewalds are definitely here. According to Ashley Hood who wrote "Haunted Cemeteries in Indiana" the first burial was for an eight-year-old boy named Alfred Knobloch who died in 1852. His sister Elnora followed shortly thereafter. The cemetery is watched over by the German Township Trustee and there are many German immigrants buried here. Part of the issue with getting an accurate historical picture of this cemetery is that it has been ravaged through the years by vandals. It got so bad that a fence was erected and topped with barbed wire. Based on the headstones that do still exist, it appears that burials stopped here in the late 1930s. As to why this plot of land has been dubbed Little Egypt, we do not know. 

Legends abound about this little graveyard. Part of that may come from the fact that the little dirt road that winds around the cemetery eventually ends up at a bridge nicknamed the Troll Bridge. Hoosier Reborn writes a blog called Hoosier Happenings and he shared this in 2008, "As a teenager, some friends and I had to put this legend to the test. It was a warm Halloween night back in 1986....I remember a moist wind blowing around the few leaves left on the trees that were at the corner of the cemetery. Legend has it that as you enter the swampy woods through which the gravel lane passes on your way to Little Egypt, the knoll you can see in the distance, a young man as white as a ghost will dart out in front of your car.......with no time to stop you hit the apparition, only to learn that nothing is there. Terrified you continue down the gravel road, now coming out of the woods, moonlight beaming down on the slight rise in front of you that leads to the knoll on which Little Egypt was established. The crunch of the gravel beneath the tires makes your heart beat a little faster as you begin to wind around the cemetery, nearly at a dead stop in the turns. Suddenly figures appear to be climbing and hanging from the old trees in the corner of the speed up, leaving a trail of dust as you look out the rear view mirror at tombstones reflecting the moonlight. Then you enter another woods......this time the apparition appears again, standing along the road, staring at you, and covered with blood. You emerge from the woods again and come to stop on a small bridge over a winding creek. Legend has it if you turn off your car and whisper "hamburger, hamburger, hamburger" the car will fail to start again. Just as you move beyond the bridge, suddenly lights appear to mysteriously turn on in the old brick church ahead of you....and then just as suddenly, go out! Unfortunately, none of this happened to us in 1986."

This is indeed a hot spot for teenagers to visit. Rumors of Satanic rituals abound. There are claims that a farmer who owned land near the cemetery is buried here. His death was due to an accident and it is said that he is angry about this. His apparition rises from the center of the graveyard and glows as it runs to chase off visitors. There is also a story that a young child once choked to death on a coin and that if one places a coin on its tombstone, they will hear the crying of a baby. Some people say that no coin is needed and that the disembodied howls of a baby can be heard regularly at the cemetery. They usually seem to be emanating from the ground. Visitors may even find small handprints in the dust on their car windows. A male voice has also reportedly been heard. 

And what is a cemetery without a hitchhiking ghost? Many people cruising around the cemetery have been shocked to catch the image of a young man in their headlights. His skin is so white it is almost translucent and he usually takes off at a full run in front of the car as though he is being chased. When people stop after almost hitting him, they find that he is nowhere to be seen and that there is no evidence of him like footprints. Even more disturbing are reports of a phantom car. This is described as a large, older model sedan that is black. It usually appears in the rearview mirror as a car drives passed the cemetery heading to the bridge. The sedan picks up speed as if trying to ram the car and then disappears once the car drives across the bridge. We've heard legends like this many time, but Hoosier Reborn also shared on his blog, "We did make a return trip a few years later only to find ourselves being chased away by a pair of about heart-thumping!" So perhaps they saw the phantom car!

Cheesman Park

Cheesman Park is found in Denver, Colorado between Downing and York Streets. Diane affectionately calls this park the "Gay Park." This is where gay men have gone to cruise for other men for years. The AIDS Walk launches from here every year and gay people just like to hang out here. Now you might be wondering why a park is included on a haunted cemetery episode. We all know that Victorian cemeteries were established as garden cemeteries and people treated them like parks, regularly picnicking within their borders. Cheesman Park was not always just a park on the outskirts of downtown Denver. This was once a cemetery and perhaps some of you have heard the horrific stories behind it that have led to this being considered one of the more haunted locations in Denver.

Many people who visit the park, probably have no idea that they are visiting a graveyard when they lay out a towel to sun themselves or spread a blanket for a picnic. Perhaps they twist an ankle running after a Frisbee when they step into an odd depression. If one could have the perspective of a cloud when looking down on this park, they would see that it is dotted with these depressions. You see, there were once thousands of bodies buried here and when these bodies were removed to make way for the park, well, not every body made its way out of the ground. And so Cheesman Park still is very much a graveyard. Despite the beautiful Greek Pavilion and tranquil fountains, this is a place of death not only because it is a former cemetery, but many people have chosen this peaceful location to end their lives. 

Cheesman Park is part of a neighborhood that carries its name. This neighborhood includes the Denver Botanic Gardens, which are also haunted. The home that inspired the movie "The Changling" starring George C. Scott used to also be located along Cheesman Park. The Denver Botanic Gardens was once the site of the Catholic cemetery and since Protestants could not be buried there, the Protestant cemetery was where Cheesmen Park is now located. They were basically next to each other. Clearly, both were decommissioned and the bodies were moved since they are no longer cemeteries. Well...most of the bodies. Cheesman Park started out as Mount Prospect in 1858, but most people just called it Denver's Boot Hill. General William Larimer had platted out the grounds. Mount Prospect covered 320 acres. 

Congress decreed in 1872 that the site of Mount Prospect was actually federal land and so the City of Denver bought it with the plan of keeping it a cemetery and the name changed to Denver City Cemetery. Some acreage was sold off to become a Jewish cemetery. Two of the early burials were Hungarian immigrant John Stoefel and his brother-in-law. Both men were prospectors and Stoefel ended up shooting his brother-in-law in order to take his gold dust in 1859. A "People's Court" was formed and Stoefel was found guilty of murder. It was decided that he should be hanged and this took place on April 9, 1859 with 1,000 people watching. This took place at a cottonwood tree at the intersection of 10th and Cherry Creek Streets. Both Stoefel and his brother-in-law were dumped into the same grave at the edge of the cemetery.

The cemetery became home to many corpses of criminals and the poor, with one of the first criminals being Jack O'Neil who was killed in a saloon. The powerful and rich in Denver were not happy with him being buried at the cemetery and soon people were referring to it as Jack O'Neil's Ranch. Usage dropped off by the mid 1880s. The grounds were unkempt and cattle were allowed to roam freely through the tombstones. This led the city to thinking that this area would serve better as a park since it was near the heart of downtown. They petitioned Congress for several years to change the status since this was federal land. Congress finally agreed on January 25, 1890. The cemetery then became Congress Park. Now, they just needed to move the bodies. The Chinese section of the cemetery was emptied by the Chinese community and they sent the bodies back to China. Families were told that they had a certain amount of time to move the bodies of their loved ones and many of these bodies were moved to Riverside and Fairmount Cemeteries.

There were still many bodies left in the cemetery after this process, so the city decided they needed to hire someone to remove what was left. That man would be Irish undertaker Edward P. McGovern. He was told he would be paid the equivalent today of $53 per coffin moved to Riverside Cemetery. E.P. McGovern was an enterprising individual and he reasoned that if he used smaller coffins, like child size, and broke up skeletons, he could fill more boxes and get paid more. This went on for a while until the city figured out what he was doing and he was fired. Not only had he desecrated bodies by breaking them up, but he actually filled some boxes with wood. The city decided to just leave the rest of the bodies, backfill more dirt and start work on forming the park. Most people would not know the bodies were there until years later when some would surface or get dug up, on more than one occasion. There are estimates that 3,000 bodies were left.

The Catholic Cemetery remained where it was until 1950 when the City of Denver persuaded the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver to deed their cemetery to the city. This would become the Denver Botanic Gardens in 1966. Cheesman Park would be named for Walter Cheesman, but not because the city wanted to honor him. His widow and daughter donated $100,000 for the building of the pavilion in the park in exchange for the park being named for Walter. Some people in Denver grumbled about this because Cheesman was not a nice guy. He originally came to town to help his brothers with their drugstore, but he soon found a different route for making money. He noticed that the waters of Cherry Creek and the Platte River were undrinkable because of contamination. He founded the Denver Union Water Company and charged exorbitant prices for water and gave terrible service to his customers. So clearly, Denver citizens would not want to name a park for this guy. But maybe it is fitting since this park is notoriously haunted.

For myself, I never felt any dread or bad feelings when I was at the park day or night and I never saw anything weird, but plenty of people claim to have seen strange things and to have bad feelings. The first experiences started when the bodies were being removed. A gravedigger named Jim Astor had been looting the graves and he claimed that he felt something unseen push down on his shoulders. He ran from the cemetery and did not return. Nearly every home that borders the park, claims to have had unexplained activity and many have seen apparitions in their homes. They describe these spirits as sad and confused looking. People are seen in the park wearing period clothing, which indicates to observers that they are not living.

Unfortunately, several people have hanged themselves in the trees of the park and this is one of the horrifying images people have seen: bodies hanging in the trees. Ghostly headstones are sometimes seen just as dusk sets in over the park. Disembodied  whispers and moans are heard. Shadowy mists are also a regular occurrence. One woman saw another woman sitting in the park singing who just disappeared. Children have been seen playing in the park at night and they disappear as well.

Cemeteries are some of our favorite places to visit when exploring a new city. Spotting a cemetery from the road is like discovering a treasure. And cemeteries are like a treasure chest full of mystery and history and all kinds of goodness. Some of these cemeteries are full of spirits too. Are these cemeteries haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Haunted Cemeteries of Indiana by Ashley Hood, published by Haunted America 2020