Thursday, April 29, 2021

Ep. 383 - The Ghost Town of Bannack

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Moment in Oddity - Exeter Cathedral Clock (Suggested by: Jenny Raines)

Most of you are probably familiar with the nursery rhyme, Hickory Dickory Dock. The rhyme was first published in 1744 in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book. But the rhyme probably goes back to Tudor times and is connected to the magnificent Exeter Cathedral and its Astronomical Clock. The clock was built to help keep the schedule of prayer. There are also features that indicate the phase of the moon and the date. As a matter of fact, the main dial is a working model of the solar system as that was understood in the 14th and 15th centuries, with the earth in the center represented by a golden ball and a moon circling around it with a sun circling outside both. The door below the clock had a hole cut into it somewhere between 1598 and 1621. This was to give a cat access. It seems that animal fat was used to lubricate the mechanisms of the clock and this attracted mice. So the church used cats to get rid of the vermin. So here you have, "The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. Hickory, dickory, dock." There is no mention of a cat, but its pretty clear what we have going on here. It is not definitive that the rhyme is connected to the Exeter Cathedral Clock, but if it is, that certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree

In the month of April, on the 21st, in 1973, the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" tops the pop charts and creates a powerful symbol. The song was written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown and sung by Tony Orlando and Dawn. The song is about a man who has spent three years in prison and is coming home to his girl and wants her to leave a sign that she welcomes him back. The idea of tying a yellow ribbon around an oak tree did not take root at that time, but it would serve as inspiration for Penelope Laingen who was the wife of U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Tehran. She bedecked their Maryland home with yellow ribbons in 1981 during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Penelope said of the symbol, "It just came to me. To give people something to do, rather than throw dog food at Iranians. I said, ‘Why don’t they tie a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree.’ That’s how it started." People across America tied yellow ribbons around their trees and other things. And after 444 days, the hostages did come home.

The Ghost Town of Bannack

Bannack, Montana was a wild gold mining town with no sheriff to keep the peace until Henry Plummer came along and he turned out to be the worst criminal of them all. Brothels dotted the streets, as did saloons and within its first fourteen months of existence, seven people had been executed. The life of the town was short lived and unlike its sister cities of Helena and Virginia City, Bannack became a ghost town. The state government maintains the property and they have chosen to keep it in its dilapidated state. And perhaps that is why it seems that some ghosts are frozen in time here. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the ghost town of Bannack!

The name Pike's Peakers came along early in the Colorado Gold Rush and was first used in the Missouri Stateman in November of 1858. The term was used to describe the gold hungry Georgia miners, politicians, bloomer girls, stampeders, Cherokee Indians, Kansas territory town builders, promoters and other assortment of characters that arrived along the Front Range of the Rockies. The title became a sort of brand used on a variety of wares from guns to shovels and picks to clothing to boots and even food. It was Pike's Peak or Bust for these dreamers. And for many it was bust. John White was a man looking for a new boom and he found it in what would eventually become Montana. He and other Colorado Pike's Peakers traveled north and on July 28, 1862, White found gold at Grasshopper Creek. Two years after that, President Abraham Lincoln would establish the Montana territory. White would go bust in a very bad way shortly after his discovery. He was murdered in 1864 and the killer was never found.

Other strikes would be found in Alder Gulch, which would become Virginia City, and Last Chance Gulch, which would become Helena. But Bannack would be the first boomtown in the area and by the Spring of 1863, there were nearly 3,000 people in the town. It was named after the local Bannock Native American tribe. The post office was established in November of 1863, making Bannack an official city and while that sounds very civilized, Bannack was anything but civilized. The growth was so fast, that local government couldn't keep order and there was no sheriff either.  There were no federal marshals either, just a judge, Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, and he was basically powerless. Fortunately, word of people being killed over mine claims in other towns got the miners serious about protecting their claims and they formed a Miners Court to handle disputes. The laws were simple and absolute and kept problems at bay.

As the mines boomed, the city grew and was named the county seat of Beaverhead County. Eventually, there were 10,000 people in town with three hotels, a brewery, a restaurant, three blacksmith shops, two meat markets, three bakeries, four saloons and a billiards hall. By 1881 though, the gold rush was over and people started leaving, including town founder Erasmus Darwin Leavitt, who had been the town's doctor. As the population declined, nearby Dillon became the new county seat. The town closed down officially in 1940 as the mines closed for good and then it sat abandoned. Courts ordered the mining company to put the area up for auction in 1954, but even before that a group of people from Western Montana began work to refurbish and stabilize buildings. The site became a National Historic Site in 1961 and is today the Bannack State Park.

There are 60 structures still standing, ranging from simple log cabins to brick and frame structures. Most of these sites can be visited and the visitor's center offers a self-guided tour brochure. None of them is renovated, so paint is peeling and there is no furniture in most buildings. The town seems almost frozen in time and that may be why some spirits remain here. One of those spirits is said to be the former sheriff Henry Plummer. Plummer walked into town shortly after it was founded. He was handsome and charismatic and easily won over friends because they didn't know his background. He was the son of a sea captain and had been an east coast transplant, first arriving in Nevada City where he worked in a bakery and then was elected sheriff and fell in love with another man's wife. He killed the husband in a duel and was sent to San Quentin Prison to serve a ten year sentence.The people of Nevada City petitioned to have him released as they felt it was self-defense. So Plummer was out in six months.

And back into a life of crime. He joined a gang and they robbed stage coaches. Then he headed for Bannack in 1863. The people of Bannack had no idea that Plummer had murdered someone and been a thief when he walked into town. He showed up well-dressed and charmed everyone. They were so charmed that The Miner’s Court elected him to sheriff. What they didn't know was that Plummer still had some unsavory friends, about 25 of them who were river pirates, villains, outlaws and Civil War deserters. This gang called themselves The Innocents and they terrorized people traveling between the gold mining camps. They not only robbed many of them, but they also murdered 102 people. The miners weren't idiots and they eventually figured out that their sheriff was a bad guy and they formed a posse they called the Montana Vigilantes. Over the next forty-two days, the Vigilantes rounded up 24 of the gang members, along with Henry Plummer himself. They hanged all of them, including Plummer, on the gallows hill just above Bannack. There is still a gallows in town, but it is not the original as vandals destroyed that. It is in the original location, which could be seen from the death row cell in the jail. That cell had a 12 inch by 8 inch window. The jail itself was built from 10-inch logs and supposedly never suffered a jail break.

Plummer was buried in a box in Hangman's Gulch. His grave was robbed twice. During the second grave robbing, Plummer's head was taken and kept in the back of one of the saloons. Which incidentally, burned to the ground eventually. Could it have been Plummer's spirit? The ghost of Henry Plummer has been seen wandering around the ghost town. Some say that the story of his gang was a lie and that Plummer was wrongfully accused and now he wants to avenge his name. The Skinner Saloon, which dates to 1862, had been his favorite hangout and that is where his spirit is most seen. Inside this rustic wood building, one can find the original carved wood long bar. He's also seen at Chrismans’ Store.

Chrismans’ Store

One of the reasons Plummer might be haunting this location is that he had offices in the back of the building. The building housed a general store. This was a central gathering space as miners were in there to get supplies, not only for gold digging, but also groceries. Men did the shopping in town and gathered in front of the fireplace to discuss news, politics and gossip - because we know men do that too. There is more than just Plummer's ghost here. There are also spirits that gather as though they are discussing the town news in the afterlife. Judith of Ghosts, Poltergeists and Hauntings took a picture that seems to show a group of misty apparitions grouped around a piece of furniture. A man whose great-grandfather ran a mercantile in Bannack in 1869, used to work at the visitor center. He feels that there are spirits in the ghost town.

Roe House

There is a house in town that had belonged to William Roe. He built it in 1866 and it was the first woodframe house in Bannack. Fielding L. Graves later owned the house and he is known for being the inventor of the electric dredge and first bucket dredge.

Bessette House or Crying Baby House

This Besette House had belonged to Abed “Amity” Bessette. He had been a member of the Montana Vigilantes who stopped the murderous practices of Plummer’s gang. He spent his entire life in Bannack, raising sheep and he also owned the Bank Exchange Saloon and the Hotel Meade. He died in Bannack in 1919. He allowed his house to be used as a hospital where people could be quarantined during deadly epidemics from typhoid, diphtheria and other killer diseases. Fourteen infants died during a small pox epidemic in the 1880s. Many children lost their lives in this house to various diseases. When Zak and the Ghost Adventures crew were filming inside the house with a park ranger, all of them hear two knocks. Greg Burchfield took a picture of his kids in the attic of the house and when he developed the picture, there appeared to be two small orbs next to his kids in the picture.

Methodist Church

The old Methodist Church here is in pretty good condition and looks exactly the way one would expect an old wooden church in a ghost town to look like. The building was built in 1877 and the congregation was headed by William Wesley Orsdel, whom everyone called Brother Van. The church is still used for community events like live speaker events and concerts. The interior is a large open rectangular room with wooden bench seats in rows. A person was taking pictures in the Methodist Church and caught a weird anomaly that looks like a ghostly figure sitting in a chair.

Schoolhouse and Masonic Building

The schoolhouse still has an antique merry-go-round in front of it. Inside, the blackboards hold the rules for teachers back in 1915.
1. You will not marry
2. You will not keep company with men
3. You must be home between 8pm and 6am
4. You may not loiter at the Ice Cream Store
5. You may not travel outside city milits without permission
6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
7. You may not smoke cigarettes
8. You may not dress in bright colors
9. You may not dye your hair
10. You must wear at least two petticoats
11. Your dress may not be any shorter than 2 inches above your ankle
12. You must keep the school room neat and clean. Sweep the floor at least once a day and scrub the floor at least once a week. Start the fire by 7am, so the room will be warm by 8am.

The upper floor of the schoolhouse was home to the Masonic Lodge in town. There are still artifacts and furniture up there.  

Hotel Meade

Hotel Meade is a two story, red brick building that was first built to serve as the first Beaverhead County Courthouse in 1875. Bannack was the county seat at that time, but once things started slowing down, the nearby town of Dillon became the county seat. That would be in 1881 and the courthouse was no longer needed, so the building sat abandoned. In 1890, Dr. John Singleton Mead bought the building. He decided that with some remodeling that he could turn the old courthouse into a hotel. And the Hotel Meade was born and soon became the hub for Bannack's society. The hotel hosted all of the town's major events and receptions. And it did this with flair serving everything on fine china over expensive white linens. Dr. Mead had added onto the back of the building, a new huge kitchen, a dining room with tables that could seat up to six people and living quarters. The hotel would cycle through being opened and closed based on whether the mines were open or closed. When the town shut down in the 1940s, so did the hotel.

The disembodied sounds of children are heard here. This could be for a couple of reasons. First, the hotel sometimes served as a hospital and children would have died here. The other reason is that Bannack came under Native American attack and some of the children were hidden in the safes here. Perhaps something residual was left behind. Cold spots are felt throughout the building. Some people believe that Dr. Mead is still here since he loved the hotel so much. Greg Burchfield was investigating the hotel in 2005. He went up to the second floor with a recorder and immediately felt a presence near him and there was a cold spot. He asked, "Are you a little chicken?" The accented voice of what sounded like a teenager responded.

The most well known and sighted apparition at this location belongs to Dorothy Dunn. The local paper read, "A most deplorable accident occurred at Bannack late last week, when Miss Dorothy Dunn, a popular young girl of that place, was drowned. Miss Dunn, in company with her sister, Fern Dunn, and a friend, Ruth Wornick, had gone to wade in an old pond near the old upper gold dredge boat. In some manner, the girls got in deep water and before they could realize it, they were in over their heads. Smith Paddock, a 10-year-old boy, happened to be passing near the place and seeing the girls floundering in the water, he ran to their rescue and managed to save two of them. By the time he had managed to get Miss Dorothy from the water, she was beyond help." The body of the young girl was carried through the streets and taken to the Hotel Meade. 

It did not take long for Dorothy to make her first appearance to her best friend, Ruth. The ghost of Dorothy has been seen multiple times over the past 100 years and she is always wearing a long blue dress. She is usually seen on the second floor of the former hotel and she sometimes tries to talk to people, but no sound comes from her mouth. This type of thing is usually reported by children. One seven-year-old said that she could see Dorothy's mouth moving, but could hear no sounds and that it scared her. The apparition sometimes looks out on the street from a second story window too. 

Francisco Ferreyra told Zak about an experience he had at the hotel. He was visiting with a couple of friends and they had been up on the second floor. As they started down the stairs, Francisco heard clearly the voice of a little girl say, "Hi, Daddy." He turned around and then felt something he could not see, pushing him. He felt that it was a harmful push, meant to send him down the stairs. He would have fallen had he not been holding the rail. Things continued to be strange for him at home. The following morning he came into his kitchen and found his little boy running around as if he was playing with someone. Someone Francisco couldn't see. Francisco also developed long scratches on his back. In the pictures, Diane could clearly see two long scratches on each of his lats making a V shape going down. He regretted visiting the ghost town.

Personal Experience on Haunted Houses website from 2005: 

"Tom and I visited Bannack and the Hotel Meade during a working vacation on a crisp August morning. I was wearing a heavy coat and hat with gloves, because it was nippy outside. The Park Ranger told us that the Hotel Mead was haunted, so I went on alone because Tom said he wanted to get some other photos and would catch up with me. The heavy front wooden door opens inward. Upon entering the front door, one finds the lobby/reception area, with a curving, once elegant staircase which winds up to the second floor where the guest rooms were located. Looking straight ahead is the large dining room, with a side room off the wide hallway. Other rooms where food was prepared and the kitchen also are found off this main hallway. I walked alone around the spooky downstairs, trying to imagine how grand it once was, waiting for husband Tom to join me. No one else who was living was in the building with me. I thought I’d be polite and quietly talk to whomever unseen entity was there, as I verbally admired the various rooms, as if I was visiting as a guest, talking to the host.

While studying the various dining rooms, kitchen area, etc., here and there one sees glimpses of fine flooring, wallpaper and other evidence of how beautiful this hotel was in its heyday. The main staircase in the front lobby area has lovely wood carving on the rails and had at one time fancy steps, which must have been inviting for tired travelers. During this tour of the downstairs, I didn’t feel a presence, but then again I usually don’t. While the downstairs was cold, so was the outside and I was warmly dressed. So if there were cold spots, I didn’t notice them. After taking a look around the very quiet, still, chilly downstairs, I decided to see where my better half went, as there was something too spooky about going up to the second floor alone. There was something about the shadowy staircase leading up to the second floor from the kitchen that made me decide not to go there just yet. I turned into the main hallway and walked through the lobby toward the large front door of the building which I had left open.

When I was about 50 yards from the door in the main lobby, the heavy wooden door suddenly was pushed hard from the inside with a hard slam. I jumped and let out a yelp of surprise! There was no wind outside, and the only explanation was that an unseen presence wanted to let me know that I wasn’t as alone as I thought on the first floor, and wanted to see me jump for chuckles! As I have limited psychic ability, entities who had wanted to say hi to me in past adventures, got my attention through physical means. Or perhaps this entity wasn’t pleased that I didn’t come up to the second floor for a visit, or maybe upset that I left the door open in the first place! I apologized verbally for leaving the door open, and made a hasty exit. I did go back to this hotel with husband Tom to have a living escort this time as we explored the hotel together, the second floor as well, about 30 minutes later. Tom took some pictures with his digital camera which capture the atmosphere of this building on both floors."

Debbie from Canada on Legends of America website, "About 12 years ago, my husband, mother-in-law, daughter, and I went on a road trip from southwest Saskatchewan to Montana. We love visiting Montana – so much to see and do. After a long day of driving, I was finally able to convince my husband to make the detour to see Bannack. I am an avid fan of American ghost towns. After a leisurely stroll down the main road of Bannack – going into buildings that were accessible to tourists, and looking into windows of buildings that were not accessible; my daughter and I decided to sit on the front steps of the Meade Hotel while we waited for my husband and mother-in-law. After about 10 minutes, I got up and stood next to the front door and said to my daughter “I wonder if we are allowed to go into this building?” The front door immediately groaned and creaked open – all the way to welcome us in. I was stunned. I went in and closed the door firmly behind us and waited for about five minutes to see if the door was not latched properly and would open on its own, or if there were a breeze (there was no breeze that hot day). It did not open by itself while I was there. A short while later, a couple opened the door and walked in. I am convinced that someone unseen welcomed my daughter and me into this fantastic-looking old hotel. I would love to go back and take pictures – who knows what I may find!"

Bannack is a cool ghost town because it has resisted commercialism, while maintaining the buildings. Does it still serve as harbor for its former residents. Are these buildings haunted? That is for you to decide!

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