Moment in Oddity - The Giant's Playground
We think it's safe to say that most of us enjoy a friendly game of Jenga. Trying to keep the blocks balanced CAN be a challenge. Now picture that game but with boulders that range between 3 and 10 meters! These formations are why a location near Nambia Africa is labeled The Giant's Playground. This location was believed to be formed around 180 million years ago during the separation of Pangea which resulted in some hectic disturbances on the lands surface. This area is thought to have had molten magma push through cracks in the ground which in turn surrounded dolerite boulders. After a couple of million years, the sedimentary rocks eventually eroded leaving behind the rock formations known as dolerite dykes. In addition, there were thousands of years of wind, heat and water which smoothed and polished these rock formations to give them the very clear appearance of Giant Jenga games in progress. Although there are a variety of natural wonders in this world to enjoy, seeing perfectly stacked and balanced boulders from millions of years ago that are reminiscent of a giant's family game night, certainly is odd.
This Month in History - Hiram Bingham Visits Machu Picchu For First Time
In the month of July, on the 24th, in 1911, American archeologist Hiram Bingham arrives at Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu means "Old Peak" and a farmer who lived nearby, told Bingham's team that there were ruins at the top of the mountain. This was in the Urubamba Valley northwest of Cuzco in Peru. Archeologists believe that this megalithic ruin was once an Inca settlement, probably one used as a summer retreat. The Inca had no written language, so there are no clear records about them or the places they built. Radiocarbon dating has the site inhabited from 1420 to 1532 and research from recently here in 2022 seems to indicate that the Inca called it Huayna Picchu. Archeologists named the three main structures on the site: The Temple of the Sun, The Room of the Three Windows and Intihuatana. The Inca died out in the 16th century after Spanish invaders arrived. The site is a network of stone terraces with 3,000 stone steps that stretches over five miles. Machu Picchu has been under continuous restoration since 1976 and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination that hosts around 300,000 visitors every year.
Ringwood Manor (Suggested by: Todd Bouverot)
The Ringwood Manor that stands today was constructed over a period of a hundred years and features a variety of architectural styles. This was a country estate for a number of industrialists who spent their summers in Passaic County, New Jersey. The Ringwood area was sacred to Native American people and one has to wonder if digging into the earth and pulling out resources from an area like this can cause supernatural activity. Is that why there are spirits here? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Ringwood Manor!
The area where Ringwood State Park now sits was occupied by Native Americans for years. For a long time, the Munsee-speaking Lenape peoples hunted and farmed here along the Ringwood River Valley. They had a belief about this land. That it held a certain energy and this energy fed supernatural forces. The Ringwood area was sacred for them. Beginning in the Colonial Period and running through the early 20th century, ironmasters came to collect the rich magnetite iron deposits. These iron veins not only jutted up out of the ground, but also ran thousands of feet into the ground. On top of having all this ore available, the land was richly forested and there was water available, so this was a perfect place for the iron industry to set up shop. A Welsh miner named Cornelius Board was the first to come to the area and mine for ore. The first structure on this site was an ironworks built by the Ogden family who founded the Ringwood Company. A German named Peter Hasenclever founded the American Iron Company and the company purchased the Ringwood property in 1764.
A Scottish engineer named Robert Erskine was hired in 1771 to run the ironworks. Erskine was born in Scotland in 1735 and was an engineer, ironmaster, land surveyor and inventor. His inventions even earned him a Fellowship in the Royal Society of London. It was through this group that he met Benjamin Franklin. He immigrated to America to manage the ironworks, which had over 500 employees. The house that was on-site for him to live in was unimpressive to him. He said of the Federal style and clapboard-sided house that "it was
patched together at different times creating an awkward architecture." Erskine continued his work through the Revolutionary War. He not only managed the ironworks to make sure the American cause was supplied, but General George Washington appointed him as his first Geographer and Surveyor General of the Continental Army. In that position, Erskine drew more than 275 maps and Washington visited Ringwood several times to discuss roads on those maps. Erskine also manufactured that Hudson River Chain that we talked about in the last episode that featured West Point. He was given a commission to Captain a local militia and those troops drilled on the Ringwood property. Death would bring Erskine's career to an early end on October 2, 1780. He was only 45 and had apparently caught a cold with a fever, so probably died from pneumonia. History claims that General Washington was at his bedside. Erskine was buried at the cemetery at Ringwood and Washington planted an oak tree by the grave. Eventually the cemetery would be filled with Revolutionary War soldiers, early pioneers to the area and iron workers.
Erskine's wife stayed on at Ringwood until 1782 when she remarried to a man named Robert Lettis Hopper, Jr. and they moved to Belleville, NJ. The American Iron Company maintained the running of the ironworks and later sold it to a Pennsylvania business group in 1795. We're not sure what kind of group this was, but they their business savvy with the ironworks didn't go well and they declared bankruptcy. James Lyle acquired the property in 1804 and he sold it to Martin J. Ryerson. Martin J. Ryerson was born to a Dutch immigrant family in 1751. They had traveled over from Amsterdam in 1646 and arrived in Hackensack, eventually making their way to Long Island. Martin was born and raised on a farmstead and left in 1778 when he married Frouche Van Winkle. They moved to the Pompton area and Ryerson got involved with the ironworks business, purchasing the Pompton Ironworks in 1797. With the wealth he was building, he opened up forges in two other towns. The Ryersons had three sons that were also involved in the ironworks business. Ryerson purchased the Ringwood property in 1807 for $27,500. The records about the house that was on the property are murky, but the Ryersons didn't move into the house Erskine had lived in. They either tore that down or it had burned in a fire.
The family began building the first section of the manor house that stands today in 1810. This section was two-stories, had ten rooms, an attached kitchen wing and was built in the Federal and Dutch Colonial styles. Typical of the style at the time, the floors were set up with an entrance hall stairway off to the side and two rooms to the left. There were two parlors, separated for men and women by an elaborate screen made from a large set of pocket doors and pantries. Ringwood was a headquarters for Ryerson and his sons as they ran several forges in the area. During the War of 1812, the Ringwood Ironworks was called upon to keep the war effort supplied. Martin Ryerson died in 1839 and the business began to struggle. Jacob was running the iron business on his own as his brother John had died even before their father. He finally came to a point where he was going to have to sell the ironworks and property.
Peter Cooper was an inventor and industrialist who learned from his father that a trade was better than an education. He married Sarah Bedell in Hempstead, NY in 1813 and they had six children. Only two would live to adulthood. Many of his inventions were ingenious and grew from necessity. He came up with the self-rocking cradle after many nights of rocking his own baby after a long day of work. He also made a machine for shaping hubs of wheels, a rotary steam engine and a way to siphon power from ocean tides. And probably the most important invention he created was made with his wife. This was the first widely-used package table gelatin in America now known as "Jell-o." He purchased Ringwood Manor in 1854. He paid $100,000 for the 19,000 acre site and ran the ironworks under Trenton Ironworks. This business was managed by his son Edward and his son's business partner, Abram S. Hewitt, who eventually married Cooper's daughter and Edward's sister, Sarah Amelia. The Cooper & Hewitt iron business was one of the largest iron businesses at the time and supplied the Union side of the Civil War heavily.
Cooper built a large addition in the Romantic Revival style in 1864. There was a cupola in
the center of the roof and gothic trefoil carvings. Carved trefoil designs were also added to the interior. Abram Hewitt would be the last ironworker to live in the house. He hired architect Edward JM Derrick in 1878 to modernize and enlarge the 1864 wing. Derrick liked the Queen Anne style and he added many of those elements to the house. An expansive living hall replaced the side-hall-with-stair arrangement and the back of the house was expanded to include a kitchen and dining room. Lots of wood was added to the house and the floors with accents of cherry, maple, chestnut and walnut. The columned porch was added as was an oriel window at the front of the Federal wing. An oriel window projects out from the wall and is a bay window. Cooper died in 1883 at the age of 92 from pneumonia. The Hewitts took over the manor as a summer home and made more changes. Abram got involved in politics and helped shut down Boss Tweed and reform Tammany Hall. He gave the dedication speech for the Brooklyn Bridge and eventually was elected mayor of New York City.
In the 1880s, toilets were added to the manor, along with coal fired furnaces and outbuildings were expanded. The 1900s brought more changes under the hand of Stanford White, of the firm McKim, Mead and White. This was a firm that specialized in the Beaux-Arts style. The name Stanford White might be familiar to you as we've mentioned him on the podcast before in regards to his murder at Madison Square Garden at the hand of Harry Kendall Thaw. White had drugged, raped and started an affair with his wife, Evelyn Nesbit, before the two had married. The trial was one of those "Trials of the Century" and Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Although his firm specialized in a different architectural style, White was embracing the neoclassicism that was becoming popular in the beginning of the 20th century. The clapboard walls were covered over in stucco and an Ionic-columned veranda was added. A gambrel roof was added over much of the manor and an east wing was added with a symmetrical 2 and 1/2 half story gable-roof. All of these changes were meant to make the house look more uniform and get rid of the quirks, but it didn't completely work, which is good because the Victorian style would have been lost.
In 1910, a piazza replaced the Victorian porch on the west side of the Manor and the chimneys were simplified. The woodwork and trim on the interior were painted white and French styling was brought in with furnishings and decor. By the time the Hewitts were done renovating and adding to the manor, there were 51 rooms. The house was full of many collections the Hewitts had put together over the years and they had enhanced the gardens with sculptures. Ringwood's iron mines eventually closed and the Hewitt family decided to donate the manor to the state of New Jersey in 1938 and this included its contents. The state turned the manor into a museum and opened Ringwood State Park. The property was listed as a National Historic Landmark District in November of 1966. There is a carriage barn on the property and these were signs at the time that the property owner had great wealth. It's kinda like having a really large garage, clearly you have several horses and carriages if you have a large carriage barn. This barn would be the first thing visitors saw when they arrived at Ringwood Manor. Sarah Hewitt had more than 40 horse-drawn carriages and nearly all were custom made. She owned hundreds of additional reins, bridles, blankets, saddles, whips, and tack and all of this was donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This barn was fairly luxurious with heated grates to keep the horses warm, twelve regular-sized horse stalls and three double-sized rooms for the thoroughbreds.
Tours are offered of the manor, including Enchanted Evening Tours, and one of the people to visit was none other than ghost hunter Hans Holzer. He said that it was one of the most interesting haunted houses he had ever visited. He brought a psychic named Ethel Johnson Meyers with him and she claimed that she had contacted three separate entities. The first was a man named Jackson White who was both Native American and black and was a 19th century servant at Ringwood Manor. Legend claims he was beat to death by a white worker who caught him stealing from the pantry. The second spirit was also a servant, but he had served the Erskines and was named Jeremiah. He told the psychic that he had been abused. The final spirit was Mrs. Erskine and she spoke through Ethel and told Holzer he needed to get off her property. Holzer concluded that the area of the manor that had the most activity was Mrs. Erskine's former bedroom from the house that had stood there before. The bed in here is often rumpled.
Someone else that experienced Mrs. Erskine was said to be Martin Ryerson. He told people that someone kept opening locked windows and he felt cold spots. Ryerson would make sure to check every window and door at night to make sure things were locked up tight. It never mattered. He would find the windows and doors opened in the morning. Visitors to the house felt as though they are being watched in the
upstairs and downstairs hallways. Cold spots are also felt by people in these
In a New York Times article in 1986, the museum curator at the time, Elbertus J. Prol, said of one of the ghosts, "He or she - we don't know the identity of this particular person - is said to pass through the door, slam it, bound noisily through the hallway and up the stairs, where it vanishes atop the second-floor landing. If you ask me, whatever it is certainly is going nowhere in a hurry. It kind of falls in the realm of a poltergeist, since it's always heard but never seen." A Superintendent of the Manor named Alexander heard disembodied footsteps and they sounded as though they came from two different spirits. He also would lock everything up at night and then come back in the morning to find all the doors opened wide, just like Martin Ryerson.
It's not just Mrs. Erskine who is here though. Her husband is said to be here as well. Curator Prol said of this spectre, "Legend has it that Erskine sits upon his tomb, and he also has been known to escort travelers late at night to the wooden bridge at Drink Brook. It has been said that he appears carrying a pale-blue lantern that smacks against his shinbone. Upon reaching the bridge, he vanishes." Erskine isn't the only one to rise in the cemetery. A group of French soldiers who fought under Rochambeau during the Revolutionary War were buried here. People have claimed to see the spirits of these soldiers rise at night and they walk around the pond. Disembodied whispers in French are also heard, not just near the pond, but also in the house.
A female spirit enjoys the pond as well. She likes to be alone there and will chase away anyone who encroaches on her solitude. Several fisherman who have come to the pond claim that their fishing tackle and rods will mysteriously disappear and then reappear some time later or in a different spot, usually their vehicles. It's like she is packing up their stuff and telling them to leave. A fragrant perfume is smelled here as well. An old mining road is near the house called Margaret King Avenue. Near the road is a large rock nicknamed "Spook Rock." Another unknown female spirit rises from this rock and she wails and moans. Then she vanishes back into the rock. People call her "Mad Mag" using the road name for inspiration.
The Native Americans called the forest here the Haunted Woods. This land is a place of iron and water. It's no wonder that there may be some supernatural activity here. The Manor played host to many families. Are the spirits trapped here? Are there ghosts that have chosen to stay? Is Ringwood Manor haunted? That is for you to decide!
Martha wrote: "I used to work as a housekeeper once or twice a week at an older refurbished home built in the early 1900s called Nehapwa. Located on rt 23c, in Tannersville NY. One day, after I cleaned the dining room, I took a picture of it. There, leaning against the table is a ghost of the original houseboy, with his haircut parted in the middle, a red tie, white shirt and light brown pants. He just loves that home, and you'd love it to, because it’s beautiful."