Moment in Oddity - Jonathan the Tortoise (Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers)
There has been a viral picture making the rounds claiming to be a tortoise named Jonathan who is going to be turning 190 years old in 2022. The picture actually features a male tortoise in his fifties at the Taronga Zoo in Australia. While the picture pings as false information, the claims about Jonathan are true and he really does exist. Jonathan is a Seychelles tortoise that was born in 1832, five years before the coronation of Queen Victoria. Jonathan eventually ended up on the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic in 1882. Jonathan has made the Guinness Book of World Records and is not only the oldest animal alive today, he is the oldest chelonian ever. The previous holder of that title had been a radiated tortoise named Tu'i Malila who had been owned by the royal family of Tonga and lived to be 188 years old. Jonathan has seen a lot in his lifetime including 39 US presidents, two world wars and seven British monarchs. He lived before the first skyscraper was built, before the incandescent light bulb was invented, before the first postage stamp and before the first photograph of a person was taken. Jonathan was gifted to the governor of St. Helena and has lived on the grounds of the Georgian mansion originally built by the East India Company since 1882. An animal living to be 190 years old, even a tortoise, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Quantum Theory Born
In the month of December, on the 14th, in 1900, Quantum Theory was born. Quantum physics is fascinating to those of us that investigate and study the paranormal because it explains things that cannot be seen with the eye. Quantum Theory claims that energy can actually exhibit the characteristics of physical matter even though energy seems to be intangible. German physicist Max Planck demonstrated that radiant energy had particle-like components known as quanta. He published his findings and the quantum theory was born. Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1918 for his work with blackbody radiation. A blackbody is a surface that absorbs all radiant energy falling on it and absorbs all colors of light. The Quantum Theory helped explain things like how heat worked in solids and how light was absorbed. Quantum mechanics followed and was combined with Einstein’s theory of relativity to launch modern physics.
Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast
Bardstown is the second oldest city in the state of Kentucky. This capitol of bourbon making and town once voted "The Most Beautiful Small Town in America" has several haunted location. One of these is the Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast where guests can literally sleep in a cell. This was originally the Nelson County Jail and apparently, some of the former inmates are still calling it home in the afterlife. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast!
Bardstown is the county seat of Nelson County in Kentucky and gets its name from the brothers who founded the town. David Bard received 1,000 acres in a land grant in 1785 from Virginia governor Patrick Henry. David's brother William surveyed and platted the town and named it Baird's Town when it was officially chartered in 1788. The location of Bardstown made it prime real estate for Catholicism and the Diocese of Bardstown was established in 1808. This made the town the first center of Catholicism west of the Appalachian Mountains. Interestingly, despite having this kind of start, Bardstown is known for its distilleries. The town is literally known as the "Bourbon Capitol of the World." This was also the birthplace of John Fitch who built the first steamboat and operated the first steamboat service in the US. Fitch had to come up with his own design even though Scotland inventor James Watt had already devised the Watt steam engine because Britain wouldn't allow any new technology to travel over to its former colony. Sour grapes and all. He ran his steamboat business on the Delaware River near Philadelphia. In 1797, the town decided that they needed a jail and the Nelson County Jail was opened. John Fitch had a connection to this jail. He apparently became a drunk later in life and ended up at the jail where he died.
We aren't sure what the original jail in 1797 looked like since it was made from wood and no longer stands. Local legend claims that a woman had the sheriff arrest her husband during a domestic spat, but soon grew lonely without his company. She figured if she burned down the jail, her husband could come back home. And so, she burned down the jail, luckily without burning her husband to a crisp. However, she was busted and arrested. She was given the option of 40 lashes on her bare back in public or time in jail. She opted for the lashes.
The current structures were built from stone in the 1800s. The front building was constructed from limestone in 1819 in the Federal architectural style with 30 inch thick walls. All the windows were covered with inch thick iron bars and the ceiling had 18-inch thick oak beams. The back building was built in 1874 and is two stories with five bays and an attic. This was made from laurel dolomite and the walls are 30 inches thick. The roof is gabled. When the back building was completed, the front building was renovated to serve as the warden's home. To add extra security, a tall stone was built around the property. One of the architects of the structure was believed to be John Rogers who designed the St. Joseph Cathedral in town. Many people referred to the upstairs area as a "dungeon." This was only accessible by climbing a ladder and going through the only window to the room. A door secured the window, so that no light entered the dungeon. The walls were covered in thick hand-hewn timbers that were dark. A smaller stone structure was also constructed on the property to house female inmates with a private shower.
This jail had the distinction of having a female warden. Her name was Maxie McCay and she served as jailer from 1950-1962. Her husband had served as jailer before her and when he died, she was elected to continue his job. She ran the jail much like a mother. Good prisoners got home-cooked meals and time in the yard, which was a courtyard behind the jail. Bad prisoners were punished with bread and water, which we all know sits like concrete in the stomach. There were hangings on the gallows in the courtyard. One of those executed inmates was Phil Evans who was hanged for rape in 1894 while the townspeople sat on the stone wall and watched.
There were a few jail breaks during its time. One involved a woman in the 1970s. She was 18-years-old and had been arrested for passing bad checks. She figured she was thin enough to pass through the food portal in the iron jail door. So she took off all her clothes, soaped herself up and promptly got stuck. The police chief, who was also a doctor, soaped her up some more and managed to get her free. Soap was used in another jail break in 1986. Prisoners Wayne Greenwell and Doug Hamilton fashioned a gun from two bars of soap and painted it black. They covered it with a small rag and forced the deputy jailer to hand over the keys. They were apprehended a short time later.
Frank and Jesse James supposedly visited the jail because the sheriff at the time was related to them. The James were kin to the Samuels (future creators of Maker's Mark Bourbon) and the sheriff married into the Samuels family. He offered them safe haven when they were being hunted for attacking Union sympathizers. John Dillinger spent a night in the jail while being transported to another facility located in Indiana.
A poem on one of the walls reads,
"When I was young I used to mess around
In a little hick place called Bardstown
When one night I went to get drunk
And I ended up on the bottom bunk
When I woke I felt like hell
I was in the Nelson County Jail
The Nelson County Jail is no place to be
If you got a wife and a baby
So if you fell you hafe to raise hell
Stay away from the Nelson County Jail."
The jail operated until 1987 and had long been on the National Register of Historic Places. At the time of its closing, it was the oldest operating jail complex in Kentucky. It had been operating for 190 years! There was no plan for the property, so Nelson County put it up on the auction block. The lucky winners of the auction were Challen and Fran McCoy. They decided to renovate the old jail into a bed and breakfast of sorts. In 1989, they opened the Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast with six guest rooms that have been expanded to nine guest rooms with private baths. One of the rooms, the former women's building, even has bunks that were used by the prisoners and still resembles a cell. Tours are offered daily. TripAdvisor awarded it a "Top Ten Quirkiest Lodging" in 2012. The McCoy's son Paul took over in 1995 and he runs it with his wife Kim. The McCoys like to say that people pay to get in, rather than to get out and they refer to guests as inmates. When you leave, well, you're just breaking out.
And a fun story from the jail was reported in 2012 in the Kentucky Standard by Jennifer Corbett under the headline "Escapee from Jailer’s Inn Found." It reads, "The inmate who “escaped” from Jailer’s Inn last Saturday was found Monday afternoon. Joe Average Inmate” was found sitting inside the John Fitch memorial Monday. According to Paul McCoy, co-owner of the Jailer’s Inn, the mannequin, known as “Joe Average Inmate,” was found sitting inside the John Fitch boat memorial on Labor Day. “I’m glad Joe’s back in his cell,” McCoy said Tuesday morning. “Capturing him again is a relief for the town and community.” McCoy stressed that the disappearance and reappearance of “Joe Average Inmate” a week later was not a publicity stunt. “This was not a practical joke we did,” he said. “This is not something we did personally. Someone really did steal ‘Joe.’” “Joe Average Inmate,” who has been a fixture at the Jailer’s Inn for more than 20 years, was reported stolen after his cell was found empty at the Jailer’s Inn last Saturday. Reports stated that “Joe Average Inmate,” who was last seen wearing a black-and-white striped shirt and blue jeans, most likely was taken out the back gate. Throughout the years, McCoy said, “Joe Average Inmate” has caused some ruckus from his jail cell. “He was only supposed to serve a six-month sentence, but he has been here for 25 years,” McCoy said when the mannequin was first reported stolen. “His mischievousness kept him here for over 20 years.” Most of all, McCoy said they’re relieved to have the beloved Jailer’s Inn’s mannequin back in his usual jail cell, joking that they’ll have to keep a bear lock on his cell door now. “We’re glad to have ‘Joe’ back at the Jailer’s Inn,” McCoy said. “We’re glad he’s unharmed. We, at Jailer’s Inn, had nothing to do with helping ‘Joe’ escape for publicity. The humor of the event made for a good, fun story. I’m glad all came out well.”
The Travel Channel ranked the Jailer's Inn as one of the ten most haunted places in the United States in 2002, so clearly there must be some kind of paranormal activity going on here. This isn't surprising since most old jails seem to be haunted. This one was also formed from limestone and as we've discussed on other episodes featuring Kentucky locations, limestone runs under most of Kentucky. Bardstown is no exception. Unexplained experiences include disembodied footsteps and voices, objects moving or disappearing on their own and televisions turning on and off by themselves. A baby's cry is sometimes heard and there are even the notes of a piano that play on the air.
A maid had a terrifying experiencing one day. She was cleaning a room in the oldest part of the jail and when she looked up and glanced in the mirror, she saw a man glaring at her angrily. She spun around to face the man and found no one else in the room. She turned back around and started cleaning again trying to shake her uneasiness. The employee glanced at the mirror again and saw the glaring man once again. That was enough for her and she was done. One of the rooms is named the Colonial Room. This room seems to have a haunted red globe light that turns on by itself, usually around 3am. One guest actually was happy to have the light do this when he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It helped him see his way. Although it was also a little unnerving.
Patti Starr is a local ghost hunter who once managed the Old Talbott Tavern that is next to the Jailer's Inn. She owned and operated ScareFest from 2008 to 2016, she has written several books on ghosthunting, started the Bardstown Ghost Trek and Ghost Walk of Lexington and has taught paranormal investigating classes for years. So she knows a thing or to about haunted history. She felt spirits the moment she entered Jailer's Inn and one of those spirits seemed to be a female who was in charge and guarding the place. Possibly Maxie McCay? She is thought to be a friendly spirit, but several guests have been startled in the middle of the night to awake and find her standing at the end of their bed. Some of them have left in the middle of the night because they were so scared.
Another female spirit was felt in the dungeon. When Patti went to research females connected to the jail, she found a 1909 newspaper article headlined "Is the Bastille Haunted." The article detailed how prisoners had been complaining of hearing disembodied screams and the sounds of chains dragging. After doing the research, Starr thought perhaps this female energy might be the wife of Martin Hill because during a dowsing session, the female spirit claimed that she had not lived at the jail and didn't die there. Some other guests who stayed in this room, took some pictures of the decor. They were stunned to see what appeared to be the apparition of a woman standing in the corner in one of the photos.
Martin John Hill was one of the inmates at the jail. He had a bad temper and one day in a fit of rage, he killed his wife Esther Graves Hill in 1885. The couple had four children and lived seven miles southwest of Bardstown in Hill Neighborhood. Martin had been drinking for several days and he started getting abusive and he broke several household items. Esther was afraid and gathered the children and fled to a neighbor's house, which happened to be her brother-in-law. The group was warming themselves at the fire when Martin burst in with a whiskey bottle in his hand. He told two of his daughters and wife to have a drink and they all refused. He asked his wife if she was ready to come home and when she said "No," he pulled out a double action revolver and shot Esther in the stomach. His brother and another man subdued him, while another went to fetch a doctor. Esther had been mortally wounded and died the following morning.
Martin was arrested and showed no remorse and even thought he would be returned home soon. That changed when he stood before Judge Hardin and was charged with murder. Martin claimed it was an accident. He said that Esther had taken the whiskey and the gun out of his pockets and when she was handing the gun back to him, it accidentally went off. Nobody was buying that as Martin had been connected to the killing of a Bardstown man and he had also shot his brother Steve. A grand Jury indicted him and he was later convicted and sentenced to hang. He never did make it onto the gallows though. He became ill and passed away before his execution date. While he was feverish, he screamed out vile and obscene things.
Martin Hill is believed to be one of the spirits at the jail. One guest at the inn claimed to have seen the apparition of Hill and spoke to him for over fifteen minutes. Prisoners, guests and staff all claimed to experience the spirit of Hill. Mainly they would hear his obscene disembodied cries. According to the 1909 article, “Prisoners who have since been confined in the jail hear strange sounds in the cell where he died. He is heard, it is alleged, pacing up and down, as was his wont, during his confinement. He is also heard to groan and toss relentlessly upon his bunk, and, as a climax to the whole, the blood curdling scream he omitted while struggling in the throes of death, rings again through the stone corridors with thrilling distinctness.” Is his wife's spirit here too? Is she getting retribution in the afterlife?
Todd at the Witchery Arts blog wrote about his overnight stay at the inn, "The only troubling sound I heard the night I spent in the Jailer’s Inn in Bardstown, Kentucky was the sound of a cell door closing. There are two reasons I found that disturbing. First, the jail was shut down late in the twentieth century, so there are no inmates, and it’s unlikely the staff was strolling through the cell block at that time of night."
The courtyard where the gallows were situated is also thought to be haunted. People feel as though they are being watched when sitting out there.One guest even claims to have had a conversation with a man in the courtyard. He was distracted and looked away and when he turned back to the man, he was gone. And some ghosts disappear into walls. A salesman came through town often and he always stayed at the Jailer's Inn. One day he was sitting in his room reading the newspaper when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked over and saw a man walking to the other side of the room. The salesman glanced at his door, thinking that the man must have come through that, but it was closed and locked. He turned back towards the man and watched him walk through the wall. The salesman then scrambled outside, so that he could see if the man was on the other side and sure enough, he found him sitting on a wrought iron bench in the courtyard. He walked over towards the man and as he got closer and closer, the man faded and disappeared. The salesman was so moved by the experience that he returned every year for three years on the exact same day, hoping to see the specter again. Apparently, there had once been a door where the ghost walked through the wall, so perhaps this was a guard making his usual rounds in a residual way.
Staying overnight here sounds like a one-of-a-kind experience. Imagine sleeping overnight in a former jail cell. Experiencing a haunting would just be a bonus. Is the Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast haunted? That is or you to decide!