Moment in Oddity - Criminal Confessions to Skeleton (Suggested by: Sarah Lynn Jones)
Helene Adelaide Shelby of Oakland, California filed for U.S. Patent #1749090 on August 16, 1927 for an invention she named, "Apparatus for obtaining criminal confessions and photographically recording them." That's quite the mouthful, but what is really unique about this invention is that it entailed using a skeleton to extract confessions from criminals. A suspect would be placed in a small, dark chamber facing a curtained area. The curtain would be lifted and there before the suspect would be a skeleton, surrounded by a translucent veil and lit from above and below by electric lights, which made the skeleton appear to be like a ghost. The skeleton had red light bulbs in its eye sockets. The invention also had a recording device, so that the tape could be used in court and a suspect could not retract their confession. Shelby wrote in her patent application that "it is a well known fact in criminal practices that confessions obtained initially from those suspected of crimes through ordinary channels, are almost invariably later retracted" and that her invention could "produce a state of mind calculated to cause [a criminal], if guilty, to make confession thereof." The skeleton's eyes could blink and the examiner would ask questions through a megaphone from behind the skeleton, so it would perhaps be more believable that the skeleton was real and asking the questions. The apparatus was never built and probably couldn't have been used past 1961 when the Supreme Court ruled that coerced confessions were not admissible in court. Using a skeleton with glowing red eyes to get confessions from criminals is an interesting idea and if built, certainly would have been odd!
This Month in History - Triple Conjunction Causes the Black Death?
In the month of March, on the 20th, in 1345, a conjunction of three planets is blamed for causing the Black Death. Every 20 years, Saturn and Jupiter form a conjunction in which they cross over each other in the sky. The most recent was December 21, 2020. On this date in 1345, Jupiter and Saturn were joined by Mars in a triple conjunction. According to 14th-century scholars, this conjunction was to blame for the Black Death that swept through Europe, the Middle East and Asia during that century. Twenty-five million people died during the Plague. And as if blaming a conjunction of stars was not preposterous enough, others were blamed for the circumstances. People they referred to at the time as gypsies were blamed, as were witches or minorities like the Jews. As we know now, a bacteria caused the epidemic and stars certainly have nothing to do with that.
Nantucket is a small isolated island off of Cape Cod and has long been a summer destination for people. This had once been a whaling hub and was originally home to the Algonquian Nehantucket People. Fog regularly envelopes the island leading to it being nicknamed "The Little Grey Lady of the Sea." It seems the perfect setting for a few ghost stories and this little island has plenty of them. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Nantucket!
Nantucket Island is part of the state of Massachusetts and sits thirty miles south of Cape Cod. The name Nantucket was derived from Algonquian names for the island, which meant something like "far away island." The original group that settled here were the Niantic or as they called themselves, Nehantucket. That name refers to being "of long-necked waters" probably referring to a peninsula of land. They arrived from Rhode Island and Connecticut. The first European to arrive here was Bartholomew Gosnold and that was in 1602. A man named Thomas Mayhew bought the island in 1641, but no one would settle here until 1659 and that would be a group of Quakers led by Thomas Macy and the settlement was called Sherburne. Mayhew sold a large interest of the island to several other men for thirty pounds and two beaver hats, one for himself and one for his wife. New York was the first state to control the island, but it eventually passed to Massachusetts in 1695. At that same time, the name of the island officially became Nantucket. The first industries here were farming and raising sheep, but soon the whaling industry took hold. And the way it first started was to use the Native American population to row the small boats with one white Nantucketer on board running the show. That is the only way this became a successful whaling port. A great fire in 1846 devastated the island. Economic issues caused hardship and the Civil War finished off the whaling industry because the boats were destroyed. The 1950s would spawn an era of growth as developers turned the island into a tourist destination and a luxurious place to live. Today, Nantucket is a summer play place for the rich. Single family homes run at least a million here. And there is enough history to have spawned many ghost stories. Here are some of the reputedly haunted places on Nantucket.
Tuckernuck Island is part of the Town and County of Nantucket and is a very small island west of Nantucket. There are no paved roads here or electricity and its remoteness is inviting for people looking for solitude and a chance to relax away from the chaos of the world. That makes this the perfect spot for a cryptid! The Yoho is said to live here and the Native Americans have legends that claim that this griffin-like creature takes children who have been bad. Seems like a good way to get kids to behave themselves. There have been sightings of the Yoho though. There is a statue of the creature in its full half eagle, half lion glory on the island.
Roberts House Inn
The Roberts House inn is part of the historic district of Nantucket. The Roberts House Inn was built in 1846 in the Greek Revival style. Before this was on this site, there was a postage stamp house that burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1846. Real estate developer William Hussey bought the land and built the house, which was a private residence. His daughter Alice inherited the house and converted it to an inn in 1883. She operated that inn for 15 years and then it was auctioned off. John Roberts bought it and ran it as an inn also and his daughters continued that work through to 1960. Roberts bought the Quaker Meeting House next door and remodeled that into a restuarant and added rooms to the second floor. Someone else bought and ran the inn from 1960 to 1974 and then the O'Reilly family bought it and in 1986 they bought the Royal Manor, which had been next to the Quaker Meeting House. So the complete property is three buildings and two of them have ghost stories connected.
The first story dates to 1977 and features the spirit of a young woman. An employee was down in the basement of the inn when they saw the young woman and they described her as having long hair and she was wearing a nightgown. This same apparition was seen later by another person on the third floor. The Manor House has hauntings as well. Mike O'Reilly was running the property in the early 2000s when they were remodeling the Manor House and his cousin was doing some of the work. He was doing some carpentry one evening all by himself and he left to get some dinner. He locked up everything tight before leaving. When he returned later, he looked up and saw a woman looking down from a window. He was shocked because he couldn't figure out how someone got in the building. He ran inside, but there was no one anywhere inside. A guest staying in one of the rooms claimed to feel as if something was floating over the bed.
The Old Mill
The Old Mill in Nantucket is located at 50 Prospect Street and was built in 1746 by a sailor named Nathan Wilbur. The style is a classic Holland-like windmill and is thought to be the oldest functioning mill in the country. There had been four mills on Nantucket and this is the only one still there. The construction of the mill is a bit murky and ownership as well. There were two men who ran the mill early on named Eliakim Swain and John Way. White sails were used to turn the shaft that made the interior gears move the granite mill-wheels. This was a grist mill and was used to grind corn. This ground corn would be used to make Indian Pudding, cornbread, cornmeal mush, Hasty Pudding and Johnny Cake. The sons of Swain and Way inherited the operation and they ran it until 1829 when Jared Gardner bought it for $40. He repaired it and continued to run it until 1834 when he tried to sell it, but he got no takers. His heirs inherited it in 1842 when he died. The Azores are a group of islands off of Portugal. Immigrants from here would travel to Nantucket and become millers. A group of them ran the mill until 1866 when Francis Sylvia bought the mill and he owned it for 30 years until he died in 1896. Nantucket's Historical Association bought the mill at that time. They restored it several times and it still continues to grind corn today.
There is a spirit here that is believed to belong to a former mill operator. This is a protective spirit and many believe that this is Timothy Swain who died in the mill of natural causes. A worker named Ed Dougan, who ran the mill from 1977 to 1980, reported that whenever he left the helm of the mill, it would pick up speed and vibrate violently and this would cause him to come back to where he was supposed to be. The places he would wander to were dangerous, so it seems someone was trying to keep him safe. Dougan tested his theory in front of people and sure enough, the mill would pick up speed when he walked away. There was also a large gap in the mill's turning radius that workers would fill with wax. Islanders would save their candle nubs and give them to the mill. One night Dougan filled up the gap with some of these nubs and then he locked up for the night. When he returned the next morning, the wicks had been removed from the nubs and they were sitting in two neat piles. He knew he didn't do that and he was the only one with the key to the mill, so he assumed the spirit did this.
The Nantucket Cottage Hospital
The original Nantucket Cottage Hospital was founded in 1911 by Dr. John S. Grouard and Dr. Benjamin Sharp. The two men had a hard time finding a location though. As Dr. Sharp put it in 1912, "Our hope, and longings, are for the hospital. But no house turned up in the accessible parts of town which did not have a next-door neighbor who objected." In December 1912, the old Charles Este homestead on West Chester Street that had three buildings was purchased. This property was used until 1957 when a new facility was opened to accommodate the growing needs of the island. The buildings then became a couple of private residences and a condo and then apartments. It was when this was apartments that ghost stories started to be told. The spirit liked to hide items from people, especially keys. These items would disappear for a while and then reappear. The basement apartment had a lot of activity probably because it had once been the morgue. The tenants complained that it was always cold. The landlord would check the furnace and it was always working, but the chill would never leave the apartment. A tenant claimed that his watch never worked right in the apartment. It was set to beep every hour, but in the apartment it would beep at weird times like seven minutes til the hour or twelve minutes after. Outside of the apartment, it worked fine. And tenants often felt they were being watched by something they couldn't see.
Jared Coffin House
The Jared Coffin House is located at 29 Broad Street. The house was constructed in 1845 by Jared Coffin who was a very successful whaler. The mansion is three stories and made from red brick with black shutters on all the windows and a slate roof. This was the first mansion on the island. The mansion escaped the great fire that happened the next year. Mrs. Coffin wanted to live closer to Boston, so the couple wasn't in the home long. Eben W. Allen bought the house and added a three-story addition with sixteen bedrooms in 1857. The property was restored in 1961 and runs as a hotel with thirty rooms in the main building and thirteen rooms in the Daniel Webster building, located next door. Even though the Coffins left the house early on, Jared seems to have returned. He liked to rock in a chair near the fire and there is a rocking chair that reportedly rocks on its own whenever the fire is lit in the fireplace. The apparition of an elderly man is seen sitting in it too. He likes to appear in Room 223 as well.
There are other spirits here as well. Shadow people make appearances and there is the spectre of a Puritan woman. She visits the rooms of unmarried couples who are sharing a bed. She will yank the covers off the couple or just stand over the bed, glaring menacingly. Items move around on their own. And the ghost of a little girl has been seen. cljd3 wrote on TripAdvisor in 2007, "We stayed here for two nights in a family room with husband myself and 4 yr old son. Room was large pull out sofa for boy, canape bed nice linens, clean. Building we were in was from 18th century very settled sloped floors, spooky. First night my bathroom door moved a few times. I was told a tale from someone who had worked at the inn once at dinner on second night. I was scared when I got back to my room although nothing scary happened to us. We were told the room is haunted by a lady named Phoebe who was a Puritan and gets quite upset by unmarried guests. We were happily married and safe! She will pull the covers off while you sleep and then appear scowling at the foot of the bed. I was so scared I hardly slept at all clutching my covers to me (definitely did not need to hear that story after dark). My sons DVD player was playing when we came back to the room(Sleeping Beauty) she must have enjoyed the music) I was certain we had turned it off. That was the worst of it, my husband and son were fine with it we had an overall good stay."
The Wauwinet Hotel
The Wauwinet Hotel has welcomed guests for nearly 150 years. This is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area of Nantucket. The hotel was built in 1875 by ship captains and named for the chief of the tribe that once inhabited the eastern section of the island. One of the draws of the hotel in the past and still in the present is the food. The hotel would host shore dinners serving up boiled lobster, clam chowder and decadent pastries and cost 75 cents. Dances would follow the dinners on the regular. Asa Small bought the hotel in 1882 for $1700 and added a laundry and new bathhouses. James A. Backus managed the Wauwinet starting in the mid-1890's and then he bought it after the turn of the century and his family would own it until 1978. He added a second floor and a veranda to the front of the hotel, complete with rocking chairs. The Wauwinet Casino was built in the early 1900s, but this wasn't a place to gamble. It was a restaurant with a five-piece orchestra, and became the most popular restaurant on the island. Robert B. Bowmans became the new owner in 1978, but he didn't hold it for long, selling it the the Karp family in 1986. They did an extensive renovation and redecorated, reopening in 1988.
The reason this hotel may be haunted is that there is a rumor it was built on an old Indian burial ground. All the regular haunts like lights flickering and doors and sinks having minds of their own happen here. But there is also the phantom smell of roses and gardenias smelled in different areas of the hotel. And one of the stranger phenomenon is the sound of running water in the lobby, but there is no fountain or other water decor in the lobby. Disembodied voices are also heard and that sometimes is in the form of echoing laughter.
Nantucket Hotel and Resort
The Nantucket Hotel and Resort opened in the summer of 1891 as the Point Breeze Hotel. It was built on Brant Point where shipbuilding had previously been the main industry. There were forty rooms and each was equipped with electric bells to ring the hotel lobby for service. An early ad for the hotel reads:
The hotel still offers live music and New England Clambakes. In 1900, the east wing was added to the building. In 1925, a fire razed the west wing and the tower. The hotel started in the Folger family and remained there in the 1930s when Gordon Folger, Jr. took over the operation. His grandfather had originally built the hotel. He renamed the hotel the Gordon Folger Hotel and added a new restaurant he called The Whale. This is today the Breeze Bar and Cafe. The Gonella family bought the hotel in the 1990s and refurbished it and changed the name back to the original. The Snider family bought the hotel and renovated it, reopening in 2012 as the Nantucket Hotel and Resort. This is the only full-service hotel on the island that is open year round. The hotel seems to have several ghosts hanging out though no one knows who they are. Full-bodied apparitions are seen in period clothing and guests claim to feel they are being watched. Disembodied voices are also heard.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum
The Nantucket Whaling Museum is located at 15 Broad Street. William Hadwen and Nathaniel Barney partnered to open the Hadwen and Barney Oil and Candle Factory in 1847. They didn't move into the building that no houses the Whaling Museum until the following year. This is a Greek Revival industrial building and was part of a complex of buildings that produced oil and candles. The oil was used to not only light lighthouses along the Atlantic Coast, but was shipped to London and Paris to light street lamps. Whaling ended in Nantucket in 1869, so the building became a warehouse. Then an antiques store opened there. Edward F. Sanderson had collected whaling artifacts over the years and he donated the collection to the Nantucket Historical Association. They bought the former factory in 1929 to display the collection and in 1930, the Whaling Museum opened. A woman visiting the museum had a weird experience. She was looking at a portrait hanging on one of the walls and she became mesmerized by the image of a man in the portrait. Her sister said it was like the woman was in a trance. She had to physically shake her to get her attention again. The woman told her sister that she felt as though she knew the man, perhaps in a previous life. She later found out that there was a strange story connected to the picture. The man had claimed to be in love with a mermaid. BTW, the museum has holographic spirits that share about the history of the island and whaling.
The Hadwen House
The Nantucket Historical Association also manages the Hadwen House located at 96 Main Street. This was built by William Hadwen and is a gorgeous white Greek Revival style mansion. The mansion was built in 1846 by local builder Frederick Brown Coleman. Coleman was known for his intricate carvings and pillar designs and this is on display at the Hadwen House. The facade of the house has four colossal pilasters rising the two-and-a-half stories of the clapboard house. These are part of the pedimented ionic portico. The mansion was eventually owned by Jean Satler Williams and he gave it to the Nantucket Historical Association in 1963. In 1964, the Hadwen House was opened to the public as a house museum. People can tour the house and see period furniture, some of which had belonged to the Hadwens. The silverware on display is also original to the house. And the former owners still seem to love their silverware. In 2018, janwilson515 wrote on TripAdvisor, "From what I hear the Hadwens had many parties and dinners at this house (you can see the original china on display) and the interns who sleep upstairs often hear dishes and glasses clinking, chairs being moved, and laughter and chatter, but when they come downstairs of course it is dark and quiet, no one is there."
Obed Starbuck was a very successful whaling captain and he built the Ships Inn that sits at 13 Fair Street in 1831. Starbuck inspired a main character in Moby Dick, the first mate. And yes, this is where Starbuck's gets its name too. The rooms in the inn are named after the ships in Starbuck's fleet. Fun Fact: One of the rooms was named Spermo, but that had to be changed since too many keys with the name went missing. Everybody needs a naughty souvenir, right? The inn was recently restored and offers ten rooms with private baths. There is also a restaurant at the inn. Ellie Gottwald is the owner of the inn with her husband Mark. She is better known as actress Ellie Cornell and played Rachel Carruthers in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. And that seems fitting since the inn is said to be haunted. There are stories that a couple of ghosts haunt the property. Obed Starbuck is thought to be one of the spirits. He is known to walk around the hallways at night. Ellie says the Captain likes to gaze out the front window towards the sea. She has seen him. She said, "I saw him once. It was late one night when I was painting upstairs. He went through one closed door then right through the wall to the next room."
The Sherburne Inn had originally been the Silk Factory. Silk was a big commodity in the mid-1830s. William H. Gardner, William Coffin and Samuel B. Tuck got together to create the Atlantic Silk Company and they built a massive building on Academy Hill. The company had one of only two power looms in the whole world. They planted White Mulberry Trees, which were needed for feeding the silkworms, but the soil of the island is sandy and the trees didn't thrive. By 1844, the silk business was done in Nantucket. The east side of the building was converted into a guesthouse, which is today the Sherburne Inn. This is of Greek Revival style. The inn passed through many hands and is now in the hands of TPG Hotel, Resorts and Marinas. The inn offers eight guest rooms.
A couple of the owners were Susan Gasparich and Dale Hamilton. They had bought the inn in 1994 and the previous owner told them the inn was haunted. This owner had seen the apparition of a woman wearing a white Victorian dress with long red hair. Soon, weird things started happening to Susan and Dale. A guest told Susan one morning that she had been awakened at 2am and that she saw a misty, cloud-like figure moving through the room. She had thought it was a dream until her husband told her that he woke up at the same time and saw it as well. Another guest was locked out on his balcony and he had to yell for help. The ghost gives off a feeling of peace, but can be a bit of a prankster. One prank happened to a couple staying in Room 5. They heard the sound of fingernails scratching down the wall above the headboard. This happened over and over, starting at the top of the wall and scratching downward. The couple just threw the blanket over their heads and tried to sleep, hoping nothing would appear. A resident who had lived in the building in 1978 claimed that she heard knocking on her apartment door, but no one was there. She also saw the apparition of the woman and often felt as though she were being watched.
Nantucket Unitarian Church
The Nantucket Unitarian Church was once known as South Church on Orange Street. This had originally been the Second Congregational Meeting House Society and their building was constructed in 1809. This is a very distinctive building with a large bell tower capped with a gold dome. The bell was cast in Lisbon, Portugal and brought over in 1812. The first town clock was added to the tower in 1823 and was electrified in 1957. The Goodrich organ was added in 1831 and is the oldest American-built organ still in use. The church is officially known today as the Second Congregational Meeting House Society, Unitarian Universalist. Quite the mouthful. The first minister here was Seth Freeman Swift. He served from 1810 to 1833 and during his tenure, the congregation considered themselves Congregationalists. After he passed away, the people voted to be Unitarians. This may have set Seth off because he is haunting the heck out of this church.
His apparition has been seen many times and people recognize him because a portrait of him hangs in the church and reveals his long, lean face, square chin, spectacles and auburn hair. Fuddy Van Arsdale was a former sexton and she was alone in the church cleaning one evening. She suddenly heard heavy footsteps coming towards her, but she didn't see anybody. Fuddy started whispering a hymn to herself to ease her nerves and the footsteps stopped. She didn't hear them retreat, so she was still unnerved. She had heard stories that Seth Swift haunted the place. Now she was a believer. After that evening, she always say "Hi" to Seth whenever she entered the church and he never snuck up on her again. Bob Lehman was a member of the church and he told the Pelican Pub, "I’ve heard all about Seth. The old sextons told stories about being here at night, and they’d hear people walking upstairs, but when they’d check, they couldn’t find anyone. Seth is an old ghost, you know. He doesn’t approve of everything we do. I have not run into him, but then, I’m afraid of the dark, so I don’t come here at night. Seth is everywhere; he has taken on a life of his own."Seth has a habit of banging on the vestry windows, but he will stop when people yell out for him to do so. One day, some boys were being rambunctious in the upper part of the church. The custodian heard them tear don the stairs and go out the door, slamming it behind themselves. It was icy cold outside, so he thought it was weird that they would leave the warmth of the church. they soon returned because of the chill and tapped on the window to be let in. The custodian was perturbed because he had just let them in not long before this, so he demanded to know why they left if they were only going to bother him to be let back in again. The boys answered, "We were scared. A man jumped out from behind the
pulpit and chased us. He didn’t want us there." The custodian assumed it was Seth because he was the only man in the church. Seth may not be the only spirit here. Susan Jarrell was the music director from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. She said, "I was sitting at the organ practicing one Sunday morning before service, and two soldiers marched in wearing Revolutionary War garb—red pants, swords, black hats." Despite the scare, Jarrell continued to practice playing and the ghosts left.
Imagine the New England Clambakes and lobster boils that took place here. The scent of the sea breeze enveloping you as you relax in a chair on the lawn. Perhaps a boat or two has taken to the water. Nantucket sounds like a dreamy place to visit, especially back during the Victorian era. So much from that time still seems to permeate the island. Have spirits continued to stay on here? Are these locations in Nantucket haunted? That is for you to decide!