Thursday, August 19, 2021

HGB Ep. 398 - Fort McClellan

Moment in Oddity - Cave of the Crystals

The Cave of the Crystals is also known as Giant Crystal Cave and is located Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico. This is connected to the Naica Mine there and is a chamber of limestone with giant selenite crystals jutting out in all directions. And when we say giant, we mean giant. The largest one has been measured to a length of over 37 feet. These crystals were formed because there is an underground magma chamber below the cave that heated water full of sulfide ions, then mixed with cooled oxygenated water, gypsum crystals formed and then the temperature in the cave dropped and over 500,000 years, these crystals grew. The cave is a fairly recent discovery. Two brothers, Pedro and Juan Sanchez, discovered it in April of 2000 when they were drilling in the mine. The cave has been hard to explore because it is intensely hot in the chamber. Scientists designed their own exploration suits with reservoirs of cold water and ice that gave them about 30 minutes at a time of exploration. They explored the cave in detail in 2006. The cave was re-flooded in 2015 and can no longer be explored, but the crystals might grow more because the water is rich in the minerals needed to do that. A cave full of giant crystals, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Son of Sam Arrested

In the month of August, on the 10th, in 1977, David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam, was arrested. Berkowitz had terrorized the people of New York City for over a year, starting on Christmas Eve in 1975 when he nearly stabbed to death a fifteen-year-old girl named Michelle Forman. He continued to fall deeper into paranoid schizophrenia and claimed that his neighbor's German Shepherd was talking to him, as were other neighborhood dogs. Berkowitz was convinced the dogs were possessed by demons as were his neighbors. The dogs ordered him to kill attractive young women. He moved to a new apartment with a neighbor named Sam Carr who had a black Labrador that also told Berkowitz to kill. When Berkowitz started referring to himself as the Son of Sam, he was referring to Sam Carr. His killing rampage left 6 people dead and 7 others wounded. He plead guilty to eight shootings and was sentenced to six life sentences, which he continues to serve at Shawangunk Correctional Facility. Berkowitz later claimed that he was part of a violent Satanic cult and that he had been helped with some of the murders, which were rituals. No evidence of this was ever proven and Berkowitz now claims to be a Christian.

Fort McClellan (Suggested by and Research Assistance from Jules Schlosser)

Fort McClellan is located in Anniston, Alabama at the foothills of the magical Appalachian Mountains. We've always found these mountains to harbor a supernatural energy and that seems to be the case here at the Fort, which closed in 1999. The Fort had a strong presence during World War II, training half a million troops and was home to the Women's Army Corps. Several people have died on the former base, including several foreign prisoners of war who are buried on the property, and ghost stories abound. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Fort McClellan!

The town of Anniston was originally founded as a company town for the Woodstock Iron Company in 1872. This area had many advantages for manufacturing with endless supplies of coal and timber and railroad lines branching out into all directions. Furnace No. 1 was started in 1873 rising forty-three feet high. Furnace No. 2 was completed in 1879 with Furnace No. 3 and 4 being added quickly thereafter. The Brown Hematite Woodstock ores produced were considered the best and strongest iron for all purposes, made in the South. By 1883, Woodstock was renamed Anniston and opened to the public and grew to a population of 10,000. The Spanish–American War ended in 1898, but there were concerns that hostilities would erupt once again and the government felt they needed a military reserve force in Alabama. Because of its great location, Anniston was chosen to establish Camp Shipp.

Camp Shipp was named in honor of Lt. William E. Shipp who had bravely led his troops in a charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill and was killed during the skirmish. An artillery range was placed on the nearby Blue Mountain and 10,000 troops of the 3rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry were stationed here by October 1898. An influenza epidemic turned parts of Camp Shipp into a makeshift hospital for a time. There was no action for the camp and by March of 1899 the post was phased out. And that was it for a decade. The Choccolocco Mountain range of the Appalachians was such a great area for training though that in 1912 Alabama's Third District congressman Henry D. Clayton Jr. petitioned the Department of War to set up a new military training facility in Anniston. As a trial run, 20,000 National Guardsmen were sent for artillery training. The government was so pleased with the results that they purchased 18,952 acres in March of 1917 and it was perfect timing because America would declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917. 

Camp McClellan was officially established on July 18, 1917 and named in honor of Major General George B. McClellan, General-in-Chief of the Union Army from 1861 to 1862. The duty of the base was to quickly get men ready to fight in World War I. For this reason, all the early buildings were constructed from wood and rows of wooden floored tents were used to house the troops. This hasty building didn't mean that few buildings were erected. Quite the opposite. There were 1,500 buildings with 118 of them alone reserved for the base hospital. A terminal piece of the railroad was extended right into the camp. Men arrived from Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C. These men would become the 29th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Charles G. Morton, and they would fight in France. On a side note about the 29th Infantry Division, they would be part of the first Allied assault on Normandy on D-Day during World War II and would be one of the 36 divisions recognized as liberating units because they liberated Nazi Concentration Camps. And Fort McClellan is where they were created.

There were other troops here as well including the 157th Depot Brigade, the 11th and 12th Training Battalions, the 6th Division, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Development Regiments and the 1st Separate Negro Company of Maryland. This latter group would later be absorbed into the 372nd Infantry Regiment and fight in the Champagne region of France during World War I. This was a black regiment with white officers. The unit was extremely well decorated. Urbane F. Bass was their black medical officer who was killed in action on October 6, 1918, and received the Distinguished Service Cross. After the war, most mobilization camps like Camp McClellan were closed, but it managed to make it onto the "caretaker status" list. This led to Congress approving funds to update the buildings at the camp in 1926 and these structures included barracks, a headquarters, officer quarters and a central hospital. On July 1, 1929, the post was officially designated as Fort McClellan and it would be permanent. 

In 1933, more funds were allocated and the Fort McClellan Army Airfield was built along with a radio facility featuring the call letters WUR and this mostly was used for Morse-code communications. Additional buildings were added and these featured Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Troops that trained here were the Alabama Army National Guard, the Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Army 22nd Infantry Regiment and District "D" of the Civilian Conservation Corps. This group was known as the CCC and it was a voluntary public work relief program for the unemployed during the Great Depression. It was advertised as "a young man's opportunity for work, play, study and health." This was a key part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Towards the end of 1940, the 27th Infantry Division of the New York National Guard was activated and sent to Fort McClellan. A year later, these men would be deployed to the Pacific Theater of Operations because America had entered World War II.

The new war prompted more construction at the base and any remaining buildings from the previous war were upgraded. The base also acquired more land, buying part of the Talladega National Forest and growing to over 42,000 acres. Fort McClellan was now able to house up to 50,000 troops. Hundreds of hutments were set up for those troops and as creature comforts, five theaters and an amphitheater were built. A firing range for mortars, artillery and tanks was set up and called Morrisville Maneuvering Area. That name was later changed to Pelham Range to honor a local hero named John Pelham, from the American Civil War. During World War II, 500,000 men were trained here and the basic training included handling live artillery fire, fighting from foxholes and hiding from tanks. Fort McClellan became unique among bases as it welcomed two detachments of the Women's Army Corps, also known as WAC. And they also trained special black troops that were sent to fight in Italy.

Fort McClellan had another designation during World War II and that was prisoner of war camp. This part of the base was built in 1943 and could house 3,000 prisoners. Unlike previous wars that featured harsh conditions for prisoners-of-war, the Prison Internment Camp here was really quite nice. The 1929 Geneva Conventions laid out rules for prisoners-of-war. There were plenty of provisions and there was lots of recreation. One German prisoner found the prison so comfortable that he wrote home and described Fort McClellan as a "golden cage." And as hard as it may be to believe, the nearby residents were having to ration food, so they began to resent how good the prisoners had it at the base. There were prisoners who made a run for it and did attempt to escape and they were killed. There is a cemetery here for the dead prisoners that includes 3 Italians and 26 Germans. Fort McClellan had 2,546 prisoners in total.

When the war was over, Fort McClellan trained occupation forces and then became a Recruit Training Center. By 1947, the base was moved to inactive status with just a small group left behind to maintain everything. A new war, the Korean War, would breathe new life into Fort McClellan and it was once again used for National Guard training. More funds brought more restoration and Brigadier General Theodore R. Wessels became the Commander and was nicknamed the "Father of the New Fort McClellan." A Chemical Corps would be formed and trained here. The training was made up of basic training for 8 weeks and then 8 weeks of chemical warfare training. Operation Top Hat was started in 1953 and the highly secretive operation tested nerve agents, biological warfare and sulfur mustard gas. The Chemical Corps name would change in the 1960s and be expanded with the U.S. Army Combat Development Command Chemical Biological-Radiological Agency moving to Fort McClellan. One can imagine that having all this chemical stuff on the base would not be a good thing and that will prove to be true when the base is closed. As a matter of fact, H.R. 3666 was introduced in Congress in 2017 and was called The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. This was to register people exposed to chemical agents during their military service at Fort McClellan.

A Military Police Corps was trained at the base in the 1970s. Around the same time, the WAC that had Fort McClellan as its beginning and home, would officially be disestablished and its flag retired. The last director of the Women's Army Corps, General Mary E, Clarke, became the first female Commanding General to command any major U.S. Army installation and that was at Fort McClellan. She was in charge from 1978 to 1980. So this was a very important place in women's history. During the Vietnam War, the base would again train men for war. This training would be deactivated in 1970. A small satellite academy for the Border Patrol would call the base home in the 1980s for a very brief time. The end for the base would come in 1995 when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to permanently close Fort McClellan. The closing ceremony took place on May 20, 1999. Major General Ralph G. Wooten summed up Fort McClellan in his speech during that ceremony saying, "For more than 81 years, Fort McClellan set the standard of excellence in training America's sons and daughters to defend freedom in two world wars and a myriad of conflicts and operations. In the last generation, we were singularly responsible for providing our Army with the world's finest military police and chemical soldiers. Our pride is justified by our spectacular success!"
The Alabama National Guard still trains at Fort McClellan and the Center for Domestic Preparedness headed by the Department of Homeland Security is here. Something that started up in the 2000s was a huge clean-up project so that the base could be used for other purposes. This place is sometimes referred to as "the most toxic place on the planet." It would take 11 years for that clean-up to be completed. Fort McClellan has over 900 residents, has become a workplace in industrial, retail, education and technological fields and the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge has been opened. An important part of Fort McClellan's history came in the form of a race riot. Although Fort McClellan has always been a smaller base and fairly peaceful, there was a moment in time in late 1971 when a race riot started here. It was the largest WAC base in the world at the time and 20% of the WACs were black. Some of them were run down one evening by a white driver. They were not seriously injured, but major trouble followed. Tensions had already been building on base with a few racial disputes on both sides. A list of black grievances was submitted to the race-relations officer and this was followed by a mob gathering on an athletic field. The group of blacks shouted down a white race-relations officer and a black major and MPs were brought in to break everything up and 140 people were arrested.

There have been deaths at the base. An article in the New York Times published on May 29, 1983 reported a horrible accident at the base. It reads, "A tank resembling an oxygen container but faintly labeled "argon," a gas used in welding, was examined by investigators today after the deaths of two patients who breathed the gas at the Army hospital here. Military officials confirmed early today that two patients died and a third lapsed into a coma Wednesday because the argon tank was connected to the main oxygen supply system at Noble Army Hospital on Fort McClellan in Anniston. The 100-bed hospital's operating and delivery rooms had been closed for three days while investigators determined what killed a sergeant and a premature infant and left the wife of another Army sergeant near death.
"It is apparent that we were supplied argon in place of oxygen in a tank normally used for oxygen," said Col. Edward M. Johnson, a doctor and the commander at the hospital. "Subsequent administration of argon to the patients resulted in suffocation." The patient who lapsed into a coma was Charlotte Huddleston and she ended up dying the following day from a heart attack. She was only 28 at the time. A person wrote in 2019 on the Internet that, "Inside this Hospital a ghost named Charlotte lives. She is not hostile or friendly. There is a video of “Charlotte” appearing on YouTube. This is a real story and Charlotte is real, however do not look for Charlotte because she does not like to be hunted or filmed." Charlotte really likes to mess with lights.

There are parts of Fort McClellan that are like a ghost town and that is an appropriate term because Charlotte is not the only spirit here. There are a lot of spirits that seem to surround the area at Fort McClellan. Visitors to the area have reported some strange sights, including shadowy figures, apparitions, and odd lights. Others have felt cold spots and seen doors closing by themselves. Footsteps have also been heard in the old Patton Building. The most frequently seen ghost is the spirit of a soldier who committed suicide in one of the lodging buildings by hanging himself. He is known to be a full apparition or a dark shadow figure always standing by the water fountain on the top floor of the building. He has been seen by employees, and his death does have documentation. Another spirit here is one belonging to a young girl who is wearing an old fashioned white nightgown and she likes to wonder the grounds after dark.  

The most haunted location on the base is around Buckner Circle. Buckner Circle is the street where all of the officer mansions were located. These homes have a very high turn over rate. One of those places was the home of Jim and Sandra Coxwell who moved into their house in 2005. During their first night in the house, they had a weird experience and a type of bizarre light show. Sandra said, "There was a circle of crystals that dropped down from the ceiling and it was just spiraling, spiraling and spiraling. We didn’t know what that was. We heard stories about ghosts and so we just assumed that was the ghost saying hello."

Our listener Jules who suggested this location wrote, "The spirits that Peyton and I are most familiar with are the German POWs. They actually constructed the rock cottages as part of their "imprisonment" while at the Fort. On base families have lived in these cottages. I've heard whispering in German. I was an opera major in college so it was pretty easy to recognize the voice was speaking German. When Peyton was one and a half, I walked in to check on him and he was fully engaging in a conversation and pointing at someone I couldn't see.  I've seen doors open and close, and the TV turn on and off. I always felt a presence with me more than anything."

From 2016, "In September of 1991, I was undergoing basic training at Ft. McClellan, AL. Our platoon/company was outside conducting P. T., at approx 6 or 7 pm. I clearly saw a younger woman in a white, tattered dress move across a field directly in front of us. She was semi-transparent and was no more than 100 ft away. One distinct fact that I remember is that the woman was moving, but had no legs/feet. It was the kind of thing that you shake your head at and keep going. I never asked or told anyone while I was there because I was scared of what they would say (especially during basic training). I share this story often with friends and family. It was the one and only time that I have ever experienced anything like that."

From 2019, "My friends and I come to Fort McClellan to take pictures. We’ve had previous experiences here. Once we heard the voice of a woman. Today while taking pics there, the door behind us squeaked open and there was not the slightest breeze out so we left because we got creeped out and moved on to another spot there. At that spot, almost as soon as we got out of the car, we heard things falling from the higher levels of the building. Creepy!"

Anonymous wrote in 2021, "On 18 September, 1972 while attending Basic. I woke up to go to the Latrine at midnight. It was thunder and lightening storm that night. I heard a strange sound like someone was singing. I could not figure out where it was coming from. Then I saw a white figure standing at the end of the hall. I think it was looking at me, then it disappeared into the darkness. I decided to get the hell back in bed! I remember this because I kept a journal. I was in Alfa Company, 2nd Bn. What ever building that was back then."

As we've said before, it's always great when our listeners have actually had experiences at these locations that we share. Did Jules and her Spooktacular toddler really experience ghostly activity? Is Fort McClellan haunted? That is for you to decide!

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