Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hocking Hills Haunted Horrors

Moonville Train Tunnel from Haunted Hocking

Hey, H&H decided to take the easy way out of posting today. While surfing the web, we came across a great website called Haunted Hocking, kept by the Hocking Hills Investigative Team (HITS).

Hocking Hills is a 200 mile ride west from Pittsburgh, located south of Columbus, Ohio. And judging by its eerie tales, it's well worth a weekend jaunt. Some Hocking Hills haunts are:

* Ash Cave Lady: She's a shadowy apparition dressed in 1920's attire that likes to follow tourists as they wend their way along the trail.

* Ash Cave Lights: These are green and yellow orbs that have been reported floating around the cave.

* Athens Asylum: We don't know if this former sanitarium dating back to post Civil War days is spooked out or not, but its' old bones were featured on Fox Family Channel's television show Scariest Places on Earth.

* Conkle's Hollow: William Conkle was the first to settle in his neck of the woods, and fell so in love with the place that he just couldn't leave, even in death. It is said his spirit still roams his hollow that bears his name, decked out in 18th century gear. His friendly spirit watches over visitors, but he'll turn mean if you plan any harm to his woodlands.

* Georgian Manor: What's a spook site without its very own haunted B&B?

* Hope Furnace: The spirit of a watchman who had fallen into the fiery furnace and burned to death over a hundred and forty years ago has been seen carrying an orange lantern while he ambles over the Hope Furnace, as if walking on air where old building roofs once connected to the furnace.

* Lavender Lady: It is said that as a local woman was crossing a RR trestle, she was struck and killed by a train. Legend has it that her ghost still walks the area under the bridge, where her broken body landed after the accident. The scent of her lavender perfume still lingers.

* Moonville Brakie: A RR brakeman took a nap while waiting for his train to take on supplies, and helped his rest with a little taste of likker. Well, the train pulled out without him, and in his haste to climb aboard, he fell under the cars and met his doom. The ghost of the man is said to be seen stumbling down the tracks inside the Moonville tunnel with lantern in hand, eternally trying to catch the train before it leaves the station.

* Old Man's Cave: Richard Roe went out to get some water for himself and his hounds one winter day at the turn of the 19th century, and found the stream frozen. All he had with him was a bucket and his musket, so he tried to break the ice with the butt of his weapon. It went off, and he fatally shot himself. Local lore claims that those camping at the park campground have heard the baying of Roe's hunting dogs on full moon nights, crying for their master to return.

There's a couple of more stories on the Haunted Hocking site, plus the HITS investigations. Stop by, you'll enjoy the tales.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Palace Theater Ghost

Palace Theater - 1920's from Wikipedia

H&H felt a bit artsy today, and where better to scratch that itch than at the Great White Way?

We pointed the jalopy towards Manhattan and the Palace Theater. It can be found in the heart of Broadway, between 46th & 47th Streets, near Times Square, at 1564 Broadway.

The structure is kinda blah now, dwarfed by the Marriott Marquis hotel built in the 1980s on one side and a commercial building on the other. Indeed, the theater is practically invisible behind a tidal wave of huge billboards, tucked under the skyscrapers surrounding it, and only its marquee is easily visible from the street. But it is magnificent inside, fully restored to its 1913 classical splendor, and can handle 1,784 patrons.

The Palace opened on March 24, 1913, as a vaudeville showcase. It was built by promoter Mark Beck, who called the finished theater, "the Valhalla of vaudeville."

After a shaky start, the popularity of the theatre skyrocketed after Sarah Bernhard was booked to perform there, putting it on the show biz map. From 1915-1930, all the top stars, including Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Helen Keller, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Harry Houdini and Fanny Brice tread its boards, among many other top rank show-stoppers.

And not just the biggies showed up. Lesser acts from across the country shared the dream to "play the Palace" in Times Square. Jugglers, comedians, dancers of all stripes and even animal acts would do their thing on the sidewalk in front of the Palace, hoping to catch the eye of a promoter or booking agent.

Radio, movies, and the Great Depression took their toll on the genre, though. In 1931, despite high powered acts such as Kate Smith, Burns and Allen, Sophie Tucker and William Demarest, the theater owners saw the writing on the wall, and the Palace became a movie house.

In the 1950s, an attempt to revive live entertainment was made, and stars like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were booked, but it wasn't enough to pay the bills. It looked like curtains for the old vaudeville house.

But in the 1960s the Palace Theater was renovated, and it reopened as a true theater in 1966, hosting musicals. The opener was "Sweet Charity," and it just recently finished a long run of the stage edition of "Legally Blonde." And that's cool, because the aura of the old acts still remain, and they again have an audience.

And we're not talking about septuagenarian hoofers on the oldies circuit - we're talking the 100 or so ghosts that are supposed to haunt the Palace Theater.

There are said to be a couple of spooks in the orchestra pit. One is a white-gowned cellist who still plucks her ghostly strings, and who was spotted, accorded to industry lore, by actress Andrea McArdle when she was performing "Beauty and the Beast" at the Palace in 1999.

Another phenomena from the band's seating area is the phantom pianist. The Steinway starts to play, while the keys can be seen dancing up and down. The only thing missing is someone on the bench!

The Palace is home to a pair of spectral kids who are still reliving their theater days. A sad-looking little girl who looks down from the balcony has been reported, along with a boy who rolls toy trucks on the landing behind the mezzanine.

Sightings have been claimed of a man in a brown suit who walks quickly past the office doors at night, no doubt a worried manager counting the house to this day. Who knows - maybe it's Mark Beck, keeping an eye on his house.

There's also the presence of George, a former manager that hung himself by the "fly door." It's reported that when you pass the spot where he ended it all, you can smell the burning cigarettes he used to chain smoke.

And, of course, we have one of the Theater's most famous spooks, Judy Garland herself. Apparently, she never made it over the rainbow.

Her eternal hang-out is near a door that was built especially for her at the rear of the orchestra, used for her private entrances and exits onstage. It's said that she can be seen peeking out the door before vanishing. She's still crowd-conscious after all these years.

One ghost you hope to never see is the spirit of a vaudeville acrobat who, according to Palace legend, fell and broke his neck. He's Louis Borsalino, better known as the infamous "Palace Ghost."

The story is that in the 1950's, a well known high wire act of the era, "The Four Casting Pearls," had a gig at the Palace . But tragedy struck when tight rope walker Louis Borsalino, who was performing without a net, fell to his death to the floor below.

Stagehands say that when the theater is empty, Borsalino's apparition can be seen swinging from the rafters. He lets out a blood-curdling scream, then re-enacts his nose dive. With any luck, you don't catch a glimpse of his ghost; those who do are rumored to die shortly thereafter.

But did he really meet his Maker at the Palace?

The real story, as written in the New York Times, reported that Borsalino was only injured when he fell 18 feet during his performance on August 28, 1935, before a crowd of 800. But hey, though the story of his death is a little more dramatic, the Times article doesn't rule him out of haunting the site of his greatest professional flop.

Some believe that the restless spirit of Louis Borsalino is still embarrassed because he fell in such a famous venue, and will keep on trying to wow the crowd and finish the act to restore his rep, even in death. No luck yet, but we hope he'll keep on plugging away until he reaches the other side.

The show must go on at the Palace.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fort Delaware Demons

Fort Delaware from Coast Defense Study Group

Pea Patch Island is the home of Fort Delaware, a Union fortress dating back to 1859. In the middle of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware, it was built to protect the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington. The Fort was an imposing structure, boasting 32-foot high walls of granite, some parts up to 30 feet thick, gun emplacements, and a moat.

It seemed pretty well placed, too, once the Civil War broke out. But the rebs never mosied into that part of the North. So in 1862, construction began on a complex outside the fort to house 10,000 prisoners. It was switching modes, from a garrison to a POW camp.

After the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, there were almost 13,000 prisoners held at Fort Delaware. Overall, 32,000 troops, officers and political prisoners were held at the Fort during the Civil War period. By April 1864, hundreds had died from malaria and dysentery. By the end of the war, 3,200 inmates had left Fort Delaware in a pine box.

There is no official tally of escape attempts from the Fort. Union reports show a total of 273 escapes; there may have been up to 1,000 attempts. Prisoners who tried to swim to freedom were often overwhelmed by the strong tidal currents of the Delaware River. Most didn't make it.

Legend has it that one man even skated to freedom from the Fort. The Delaware River had frozen over, and Union soldiers were ice-skating. The guards decided it would be a chuckle to watch some Southern boys, strangers to ice, try to skate. According to local legend, one gray coat acted as if he couldn't skate, and repeatedly fell down, each time a little closer to shore. Finally, he got close enough to land to make a break for freedom.

It continued to be used as a coastal defense during the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. In 1951, the outdated Fort became a state park, was polished up a bit, and opened to the public.

But for many decades, the old Fort was home to its many unhappy spirits, and they lingered even though Fort Delaware shut down.

One of the better known spooks is the Kitchen Ghost. The officer’s kitchen at the Fort is a functional 1800’s kitchen, including an 1862 cast iron stove and oven. During the summer, the cookery is staffed and used as an exhibit for the public.

It features a large food pantry, and this is where the Kitchen Ghost seems to spend most of her time. She likes to hide things from the workers, such as ingredients to a dish they are making. TKG takes the spices from the work table and puts then back where they belong, in the pantry.

The Kitchen Ghost also likes to utter aloud the name of people whom walk into the pantry. She's also told people to get out. After all, it's her domain.

For all the pranks she's pulled on the visitors and staff, she's only appeared once. There were a handful of women cooking away when suddenly a woman whom none of them knew appeared, checking out the food on the stove and the table. She gave the surprised cooks a small grin, turned around, and walked through the wall.

Legend has another well-known spirit roaming the bowels of Fort Delaware, Confederate General James Jay Archer. As an officer, Archer was given plushy quarters, relatively speaking, and he had the run of the fort. He had promised Fort commander General Albin Schoepf that he wouldn't try to escape in exchange for his freedom of movement.

The prisoners naturally greatly outnumbered the guards, and Archer couldn't resist going back on his word. He came up with an escape plan, but it was found out. Schoepf, bitterly disappointed by Archer's broken promise (after all, a gentleman's word and all that...), sentenced him to solitary confinement in a windowless powder magazine.

Archer was released from his captivity during a prisoner exchange, and he was on death's doorstep from his time in solitary. He died shortly thereafter in Richmond. Visitors and fort employees have reported seeing a bearded man in a gray uniform in the area where Archer was imprisoned. Maybe his spook is still ruing his corporal decision to go back on his oath as an officer and a gentleman.

There's a grisly tale told of a 9-year old drummer boy who tried to trick his way out of the Fort. He planned to escape by hiding in a coffin. The work detail of rebels were in on the deal, and meant to let him out when they reached the cemetery across the river in New Jersey. As fate would have it, the work detail was switched at the last minute. He was buried alive. His forlorn spirit is still tethered to Fort Delaware.

Another spook is up to no good at the Fort's closed-off (to the tourists) stairwell. The steps are located in the Endicott section of the Fort, and the staff occasionally have call to climb them - if the Stairwell Spook lets them. They report that someone was trying to push or pull them down the stairs by tugging their clothes, or would send a flock of birds down the stairs in full flutter to try to knock them down the staircase. We think we'll wait for an elevator, thank you.

There are reports of a second kitchen ghost, but this one is more interested in sewing than cooking. In one of the old officer’s kitchens, there is now a laundry area set up. Staffers show visitors how laundry was done in the 1800s and let them try their hand at the nineteenth century laundromat.

The room is spooked by a friendly enough woman's spirit. She threads needles, and also collects loose buttons and strings them together. Some think she's the Kitchen Ghost in a different haunt, but this ghost seems a lot friendlier to us, and we call her the Seamstress Spook.

In the officer’s quarters inside the Fort, there's allegedly a ghost of a child that roams the second floor, and a lady-in-waiting.

The boy spook tugs on the back of people’s clothing and his laughter has been heard echoing from within the Fort. In the same officer’s quarters there's the ghost of a lady. She'll tap on a person's shoulder or take them by the hand, as if to lead them on a tour of the rooms.

There have also been accounts of books falling and swinging crystals from the rooms, but no one knows if it's the little boy at play or the lady killing time. Some think the spooks may be a mother and son act.

And hey, that's just a handful of the Fort's many reported apparitions. Here's a few more:

*People have heard moaning and the sounds of clanging chains coming from the dungeons.

*There have been sightings by boaters passing the Fort at night, claiming that there are lights on when there is no one on the island and the generator is shut down. There are also occasional sightings of someone standing on the top of the fort when it's empty, apparently pulling eternal guard duty.

*Confederate soldiers have been spotted under the ramparts and on the parade grounds.

*In one of the powder magazines, staff and visitors have heard someone swearing old oaths (no *F* bombs, we guess) when no one else is around.

*A visitor snapped a picture of a rebel soldier in the Fort's archway. There have been many orb photos taken in the Fort, sometimes with as many as eight auras at a time.

*Outside of the laundry area/officer’s kitchen, people have heard a harmonica being played. Maybe a soldier is still whiling away the time and amusing himself after all these years, or maybe he's trying to impress the Seamstress Spook.

*Disembodied voices have been heard in many areas of the Fort.

*And the only non Civil War sighting we've heard of: Local lore says that buccaneers used Pea Patch island back in the day. A park ranger reported that he saw a pirate, dressed in a green silk shirt and white silk pants, looking longingly out a window at the Fort towards the open sea. And no, we haven't the foggiest idea how a pirate ended up in a Civil War POW camp. Kinda eerie, hey?

The Fort's been written up in Civil War Ghosts at Fort Delaware by Ed Okonowicz and was featured in an episode of Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel TV.

So if you want to get your spook on, take a visit to Fort Delaware. It's open five days a week during the summer, and on weekends and holidays during the early fall. And don't miss its ghost tours.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

East Stroudburg's Spooks

East Stroudsburg University from Waymarking

Hey, since we've taken a spin through a batch of Pennsylvania's haunted halls of higher ed, we thought we'd keep the stories coming with a visit to the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County's East Stroudburg University.

East Stroudsburg started out as a Normal School in 1893 and rose in the State College ranks. It became a Teacher's College in 1927, a College in 1960, and earned University status in 1983. It educates 2,200 students in 61 buildings spread out over a 213 acre campus.

There's a theory that many of local spooks here were victims of the 1955 floods when the remnants of two hurricanes roared over East Stroudsburg, killing over 70 people and creating a whole new generation of local spirits. Many of ghosts, both collegiate and townie, are mentioned in Charles Adams III and David Siebold's Pocono Ghosts, Legends And Lore.

The Fine And Performing Arts Center: There are a couple of interesting spooks in this building. One is an entity described as ice cold. It likes to deface or change name plaques and move objects in the auditorium. It's said the police have a log of all the mischief it's caused (in case they ever catch it in the act, we guess.) Many have reported hearing its' voice.

The other is Sarah, the Theatre Ghost. She hung herself from the light rigging in the Theatre sometime in the 1970s and generally is seen overhead in the grid. Of course, one of her favorite pranks is to unplug the spotlights, especially during shows. Sometimes she does the opposite. The student stagehands can't get lights to shut off, even when they unplug them. Sarah's been spotted on occasion, and will sometimes grab a student or cause technical glitches in shows or movies. She's considered harmless, if somewhat annoying.

Hawthorne Hall: The dorm has a variety of spooks to offer its' residents. One spook is that of a young child that fell to its' death down an elevator shaft. There's another ghost that haunts the fifth floor for reasons known only to it. We also have reports of an elevator spirit on the fourth floor that opens and closes the elevators every hour on the hour between midnight and 6AM. She may also be the white spook that visits the girls in their rooms on that floor. She likes to pop in when the girl's roomie is out and she's alone.

Kemp Library: The Library is haunted by a black cat's spook. How unlucky can you get? The ghostly gato likes to hang around the government documents section. There's also alleged to be the spirit of a nine year old boy in the 300 section (history, to non-librarians) of the library, though no one quite knows how or why he's there.

Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity House: This Analomink Street house is haunted by the ghost of a former owner who the frat guys call Mrs. Booth. Her ashes are supposedly buried under the fireplace where her apparition is often seen. She's most often described as a glowing figure in a dress. Mrs. Booth has also been spotted roaming the second and third floors.

Sigma Pi Fraternity House: There's two stories concerning the Sig Pi's spook, Margie. She was a maid at the turn of the century that was caught fooling around with her master. Her punishment wasn't all that terrible. Actually, it was kinda boring. She was banished to a small third floor room to live out her days. It was said she'd just rock the time away in her rocking chair. When she died, she was cremated and her ashes put in an urn and left in the room.

Construction workers later were in the house, and here's where the stories diverge a bit. One says they spilled the ashes and set off Margie. The other says they just sealed up the room. Either way, Margie was not pleased. She's been said to restlessly roam the house, and was even alleged to take possession of a frat brother's body one night. But she gave it back in the morning.

We'll take a look at the townie tales in a later post. For now, the ESU Warriors and weirdness are enough eerieness for one day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Eerie Edinboro

Edinboro's Diebold Center

Erie County's Edinboro University was founded in 1857 as the Edinboro Academy for Teachers, and remained a teacher's institute until 1982 when it attained university status. They have nearly 8,000 students spread out over 585 acres, and it's a little slice of Scotland in the new land. Their teams are the Fighting Scots, they have a pipe band (bagpipes and drums) and host a three day Scottish games contest. Watch out for those flying tabors and burly bearded men in skirts! They're scarier than the school's many spooks.

Diebold Center For The Performing Arts: One of the older buildings on campus, the structure was erected in 1906. It's served many purposes, from gymnasium to student union, and now hosts local and university stage productions and programs. It's spook is supposed to be Dr. Dorothy Clifford, a former professor that ran the drama department.

Her story, according to one of our readers is: "Her badly decomposed body was found in her home, and the cause of her death was never determined. Some students were convinced that she was reincarnated as a particularly hideous stray cat that appeared on campus right after her death. Some of us called the cat, 'D.C' after Dr. Clifford's nickname; others called the cat 'Thing of Evil.'"

Her spook liked to fiddle with the stage volume, until some one hung a rosary on the control button. Her footsteps can be heard on the back stairs and around the stage area. Actors have reported seeing a face floating through the audience during sold out performances, as if looking for a seat. They haven't had any more trouble from Dorothy ever since the cast put out an extra chair with a program on it for her before the show.

Diebold’s namesake building today serves as a classroom, lecture, and conference facility, and houses the Intergenerational Center. There's no word on how Dorothy amuses herself now as she tries to while away eternity.

Evergreen Tavern: The tavern was over a century old, and we included it because it was a popular student hangout. Its latest incarnation was as the Hotel Evergreen. There were allegedly several spooks there, the most famous being the playful Worthington, a former employee from the turn of the century who haunted the upstairs rooms.

There were also supposed to be other unnamed ghosties that roamed the halls of the old tavern. The spooks were written up by the Edinboro student newspaper The Spectator in the 1990s, but it's not archived on-line. And sadly, we'll never be able to check it out personally - it burned down in April, 2008. Another haunt gone.

Lawrence Towers: One of the more recent dorms put up at Edinboro, the twin towers were built in 1974. The story goes that a music major committed suicide in Room 517 of Tower A. You can feel her presence in the halls, and on some nights, you can still hear her softly singing.

One of readers adds that "The elevators in the building will stop at floor five no matter what floor you want to go to before taking you to the proper floor." So take the steps if you wanna get upstairs in a hurry. (Emily wrote in and said she was told the elevator has a mechanical flaw that causes it to stop at five. So take your pick, wiring or weirdness.)

Reeder Hall: Reeder Hall was built as a dorm in 1908 until it was closed in 1972. It sat empty until 1986, when it was renovated as an administrative building. During that time, it's said that the cellar was used to hold seances and was also co-opted by a coven to celebrate occult rites. The basement is supposed to very cold, and the lights will turn themselves off. It sounds like every old cellar we've ever been in (except for the seances & witches part.)

Rose Hall: In the early 1980's a RA was reputed to have committed suicide by lighting a gas grill and sealing his room, turning it, in effect, into a gas chamber. It's said to that the victim's spirit remains behind as a poltergeist prankster, creating eerie noises and rearranging objects. Doesn't sound all that threatening, but at least one RA moved out of his Rose Hall room because he couldn't take the disturbances any longer.

The Tower Woods: A reader added this bit of woodsy lore after a visit: "If you go into the stand of trees between towers and the health center at night, you can catch some unusual goings on. We captured EVPs and orbs after disturbing whatever it is that resides there. Also, it's beyond creepy if you go into the woods behind towers. There are three trees in a triangle with large boulders at the base; odd phenomenon occur there. And don't go into the ravine in the woods after dark, flashlights won't work there, and there wasn't even light by the full moon, in the middle of winter with snow and bare trees."

Scots and spooks - our kinda school!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Andalusia College Exploding Spook

Image from Theocracy of the Pale

Dr. William Chapman ran a school for boys in the early 1800's in a building that was the forerunner to Andulasia College in Bensalem, Bucks County. He did a good job relating to his students, but not so well with his missus.

She and a lover - some tales say it was a Spanish vagabond, others say a student - had an affair, and in 1831 decided that three was a crowd. So they poisoned the doc with arsenic.

They might have gotten away with it, too, except they poured the evidence into the dirt outside and the ducks got into it. They starting dying, which led into an investigation. It's a sign of the times that a person could suddenly croak without question, but when fowl play was suspected...

At any rate, the guy was hung, although Mrs. Bowman finangled her way out of the mess. The building eventually became a boarding house, and that's where the ghost story begins.

A lawyer named Horace W. Eshback was sleeping when a glow woke him up. To his dismay, he saw a head and torso - no legs - with a white mantle wrapped around it floating by his bed. In a bit of a panic, he said "What do you want?" to the spook.

Wrong question. It's response was to punch him in the mouth and then explode! It's ghostly remains dissipated through the ceiling. Must have been quite a wallop. The glow gradually diminished, and Eshback woke up with a fat lip.

Was it the shade of one of the Chapman's? The hung Romeo? Or perhaps a spirit of one of the nameless souls that called the school/boarding house home? Tough to tell, although if you're in the area and spot a legless spook, don't give it any lip, unless you want yours fattened.

The wooden structure is long gone now, as is its pugnacious phantom, replaced by St. Charles Borromeo Church. Read all about the eerie encounter in the December 4, 1886 NY Times.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Carson Long's Creeped-Out Cadets

Col. Theodore Long

Based in New Bloomfield, Perry County, Carson Long Institute is the longest tenured military boarding school in the country. It started in 1836 as the New Bloomfield Academy. In 1914 it became the Carson Long Institute after Theodore Long bought the school and named it after his son who had died in a logging accident. It's got a colorful haunted history:

The Chapel: The red eyed ghost of Colonel Edward Holman, who ran the school from after WW1 until 1971, has been reported in the Chapel. His portrait hangs in the Chapel, and it's said that its' eyes follow you around the church. It's also been alleged that the eyes of a sculpture of an eagle carved above the Chapel doors glow red. So if you think someone's watching you, well, you're probably right.

Dorm Stories: It's said you can spot a pool of blood outside one dorm where a cadet crashed a sled into the wall and died. Another report claims you can hear screams and a crackling fire from a boiler room where a teacher's wife died while trapped in a blaze. Another tale tells of a student that died while "huffing" aerosols, which led to a fatal fall down the stairs. You can allegedly hear him still walking up and down the steps. There's also a story of a cadet that hung himself in a room after getting into disciplinary problems. The lights supposedly flicker in the room, and you can see shadows flitting around it. The most famous legend is that of the phantom drummer. You can sometimes hear the distant drumming begin after taps. It's supposedly the work of the ghost of a cadet drummer who died after accidentally locking himself in an attic.

The Maples: This is the oldest building on campus, dating back to 1840. It housed classrooms and living quarters originally. Now the building is a museum and reception hall. It's said that you can see a pale figure looking out the bay window of the building. Some speculate its' the ghost of Carson Long; other believe it's an old commandant who's been seen walking the Maples grounds or perhaps his father Theodore. There's also reports of voices and poltergeist activity such as opening & closing doors, TV pranks, and the moving of museum exhibits at Maples.

Colonel Carson Holman, CLMI's president, denies that there are any spooks on campus, or even that any student has ever died there. In fact, one teacher said that the faculty embellishes the tales to help keep the students in their rooms after curfew. So urban legend, spooky soldiers, or instructor's aid, take your pick...

Here is a former cadet's view of the whole tale, as he wrote to us:
"Most of the stories above are crap. I attended CLI for 4 years in the mid 1980s. The chapel is most definitely haunted. It was not uncommon for an old piano in the basement to start playing on its own when activities were taking place in the building. Strange noise were also very common. The story of the cadet who died while huffing is true. He fell down the metal steps in the Annex building smashing his skull. There was no ghost activity in the building however. By far the chapel is the most creepy place."

Hey, one confirmed ghost chapel and a few urban legends. That's plenty for us and the good folk at Carson Long.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Macabre Marcy State Hospital

Leech Farm Complex from Allegheny County

Marcy was originally opened as the Pittsburgh City Tuberculosis Sanatorium (known as the "Haven of Rest") in 1915, eventually becoming the C. Howard Marcy State Hospital in 1957 when the state took it over. It became a mental institution in 1974 before closing in 1984.

The facility was also know as the Leech Farm hospital, after the site it was built on.

Over 2,000 patients died while it was a TB hospital, with reports of patient abuse, outdated medical practices, and suicides. Not too surprisingly, there are quite a few bad vibes and stories allegedly associated with the place.

The shadowy ghosts of former patients have been reported roaming the property, with some that vanish or walk through walls. Other sightings include a man standing at the third floor window of the hospital, looking out; shadows seen going from window to window, as if they're walking through the building's interior walls; and another figure seen in the bathroom, with the black edema of tuberculosis visible on his body.

In another hospital wing, crying, screaming voices and laughter can be heard, mists can be seen floating in the shower area, and some poltergeist type activity occurs, according to reports.

There's also the tale of a small child in a hospital gown, bouncing a red rubber ball, dating back from the days when the hospital still operated. She asked for her mother, and if you didn't answer, she bounced her ball off your door for the next several evenings. Her sighting is one of the most common in the complex.

One of our readers tells us that "I worked at Marcy. My work place was a lab room next to the former morgue in the basement. Never experienced anything odd during the day, but staffers usually heard movement or banging at night in the morgue room. Creepy and most likely haunted." And what self respecting morgue isn't?

The Farm House, which was home for the hospital's head administrators, features flashes of light emanating from within, with sightings of a former administrator seen on the front porch and through the windows (which have since been boarded up. Whether that's because of spooks or asbestos depends on who you ask).

The legend says that he killed his family before taking his own life because the warden suspected that he and his family had contracted the dreaded and at the time incurable disease of tuberculosis themselves, although the official line is that the family did die of consumption, but not by the administrator's hand. Nothing like an ironic spook story.

Leech Farm Job Corp students have written in, and their views on the complex lay somewhere between "creepy" and "definitely haunted."

If you're ever up for a visit, Marcy's deserted buildings are located on Leech Farm Road/Highland Drive in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood, off of Washington Boulevard. Its ramshackle bones are nestled among the newer institutional buildings that now fill Leech Farm.

Maybe you'll get to met the spirits that couldn't rest peacefully in life and can't find the light in death.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Houdini's Halloween Seance

Thanks to Wikipedia

Hungarian-born Harry Houdini (nee Ehrich Weiss) was the world's greatest conjuror of magick, performing deeds beyond human comprehension. But he wasn't in any way, shape, or form a believer in the paranormal. His tricks were all cunningly designed, and his body was trained to withstand rigors that would make a Navy SEAL squeal "momma!"

Houdini lived in an age when Spiritualism ran rampant. He battled mediums in court, because he could easily see through the tricks they used to fool the gullible. After all, Harry probably invented a couple of them. He duplicated the medium's act, debunking them in the witness box and on public stages.

In fact, he was an original member of the Scientific American committee that offered a cash prize to any medium who could successfully contact the dead. No one has ever collected on the dare.

His friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ended in a bitter breakup because of their opposing views on Spirituality. Doyle was a great supporter of spooks interacting with the material plane; the Great Houdini thought contacting the spirit world was just pure hokum.

Oddly, Harry debunked a seance that Doyle attended so well that Sir Arthur though Houdini himself wasn't exposing, but channeling, the supernatural. You just can't win.

On Halloween, October 31, 1926, Harry Houdini joined the netherworld spirits he had spent so much effort fighting, dying of a ruptured appendix. He was buried in a coffin he used in his show for one of his bits of derring-do.

Houdini was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his gravestone. To this day, the Society holds its "Broken Wand" ceremony at his resting place every Halloween, the anniversary of his passing.

But the great escape artist, despite his skepticism, had one more trick up his sleeve. Before his death, he set up a code that he'd contact his wife Bess with if he could somehow wriggle through the wall separating the living from the dead. She would pass the same code on to him if she died first.

Partially, he hit upon the idea because he never passed on a challenge. But practically, Houdini came up with the encryption so that Spiritualists couldn't claim to have made contact with their great nemesis once he was on the other side and couldn't defend himself in this earthly vale.

The cypher was based on an old vaudeville trick and something that only he and Bess would know. The message was, "Rosabelle-answer-tell-pray, answer-look-tell-answer, answer-tell". Sounds kinda mysterious, but for an old show biz couple, it was simplicity exemplified.

The inside of Bess' wedding band was engraved with "Rosabelle", the name of a popular song she sang in her act when they first met. The other words represented an alphabetic code used by the magician and his assistants to pass asides without the audience knowing. In stage shorthand, the rest of the message spelled out "Believe."

Bess Houdini held annual seances on Halloween for ten years after Houdini's death, but Houdini never showed. Oh, once a Reverend Ford claimed to be in contact with Houdini and his mom, code and all, but it ended up that Bess had inadvertently let the message slip to newspaper writers the year before.

In 1936, after a last unsuccessful seance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she put out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death, later saying "ten years is long enough to wait for any man."

Then the moment she snuffed out the candle, a violent thunderstorm broke out overhead, with boomers, lightning, and a torrential downpour. They would later learn that the cloudburst didn't occur anywhere else in Hollywood, just above the Hotel. Was it a freak storm or did he show up after all?

Anyway, the tradition of holding a seance for Houdini continues by magicians throughout the world to this day.

The yearly Houdini Seances are most notably held at the Houdini Museum in Scranton by magician Dorothy Dietrich, who had sat for them at New York's famous Magic Towne House. Bess had asked Walter Gibson to carry on the tradition after her fruitless decade, and before Gibson died he asked Dietrich to continue the mystic circle after him.

And yes, the seances have joined the modern age of internet magick. The museum is asking that serious channelers ("no kooks, please," it requests of participants) try to contact Harry and e-mail the results to the museum.

A web seance...we think it's time to let the Great Houdini get some rest. Maybe he finally got himself into one spot where he can't escape. But then again...

According to Prairie Ghosts, some say that the shade of Houdini roams where his old Laurel Canyon home once stood. Those that pay a visit on Halloween claim to see a dark figure standing on the spectral staircases or walking in the garden grotto.

Many believe that this shadowy shape is that of Harry Houdini himself. The magician always said that if it would be possible for him to come back, he would. Maybe he has.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Travel Channel Visits WV State Pen

Hey, gang, looking for something to blast on your 52" plasma HDTV on Halloween? The Travel Channel has just premiered a Friday Night series called "Ghost Adventures" and sent out a trailer for its All Hallow's eve show at West Virginia State Pen, a true spookhouse. Here it be:

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Halloween Story

Credit to Wikipedia

Halloween traces its roots back to the Celts, who celebrated their New Year on November 1, signifying the end of harvest and the beginning of winter, the transition time between fertility and death.

They believed that on October 31, known as Samhain, the boundary between the living and the dead opened wide, and the spirits were free to cause havoc and bring on sickness and poor crops.

While those dang spooks caused nothing but trouble for the earth-bound, the Celts also thought that their presence made it easier for the Druids to see into the future. Their prophecies helped shape the Celtic plans for the upcoming year.

They’d all gather around sacred bonfires, torching crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods while listening to Druid mumbo-jumbo. Imbibing ale and wine was also a crucial part of the ceremony. Something about opening up to the subconscious state, hehe.

The Celts dressed up for these rites, wearing animal heads and skins to masquerade themselves to the impish spirits. When they headed home, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred Druid bonfire to help protect them during the long winter.

By A.D. 43, the Romans became the new boss. During the four centuries that they ruled Britannia, two of their festivals were blended into the mix.

One was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and that probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is still carried on today.

Then the Vatican got involved in the ninth century. Pope Boniface IV made November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It was the old switcheroo, giving a wink-wink OK to the Celtic festival of the dead by sanctioning a related, but church approved, holiday instead.

The celebration was called All-Hallowmas, from the Middle English Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints' Day. The night before was called All-Hallows Eve and somewhere in the mists of time, it became known as Halloween.

Later, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three inter-related celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" if they would pray for the family's dead relatives.

The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church to replace the olden habit of leaving food and wine for the roaming spirits (and also a way to promote a little charity among neighbors). The practice, called "going a-souling" became the domain of children, who would haunt the neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money. It lives on as trick or treating.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. On Halloween, when it was believed all over the Isles and the Continent that ghosts came back to the physical realm, people feared that they would meet up with the restless and mischievous undead if they left their homes.

To avoid being recognized by these ghosts as mere humans to be trifled with in whatever ghoulish manner possible, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would think they were kindred spirits out for an evening‘s boo.

As European immigrants came to America, they brought their Halloween customs with them.

Not much of a party broke out in the early years. The Puritans frowned on anything that sounded like fun. It was much more common a celebration in Maryland and the southern colonies, far removed from the Mayflower blue noses.

There, the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and American Indians meshed, creating a distinctly American version of Halloween.

The first celebrations featured big public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would get together and swap stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. Just ask Ichabod Crane.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, these autumn affairs were commonplace, but Halloween wasn‘t a national headliner yet. That didn’t happen until a flood of Irish washed over the U.S. shores, fleeing the 1846 potato famine. They put Halloween on the American map.

Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to make Halloween into a holiday more about neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks, and witches. Pansies! At least the Holy See believed in spirits, angels and demons. Not so for the button-down Protestants.

At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day, focusing on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were barraged by newspapers, ministers, and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations.

Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century. Hmmmph.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become an accepted civic holiday, with parades and town square bashes. The adults had successfully snatched the fun away from the kiddies for themselves, but that would change after WW2.

Because of the high number of young children born during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from community-wide shindigs like the Fourth of July and into the classroom and home, where the youngsters could reign.

Soon the practice of trick-or-treating also came back. It was a cheap way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. You could give out a treat or get tricked, usually by a barrage of well-aimed eggs. A new American tradition was born.

BTW, the tradition of the jack o’lantern goes back to Ireland, and has a pretty popular tale to go with it.

It can be traced back to the legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into its trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip.

Why is it a pumpkin now instead of a turnip? Did you ever try to hollow out a turnip? Actually, the pumpkin was associated with the harvest in America way before Halloween was introduced here, so it's a natural for the season. Plus it is a heck of a lot easier to carve a smiley face on than a turnip.

Halloween is celebrated in several other countries of the western world, most commonly in Ireland, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and in parts of Australia.

Today, Americans spend nearly $7 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday. From the Celts to your local rug rats…Halloween.

(H&H would like to say that he spent hours poring over Druid runes, visited the Vatican library, and interviewed a Wiccan or two. However, he can’t. Being in a rush to get to the Halloween party down the street - the neighbors make a yummy witches brew - H&H took the low road and more or less stole the History Channel’s history of Halloween, added a few snippets from Wikipedia, and morphed it to his usual bewitched standards. Hey, whatever works. Happy Haunting!)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surf City, Here I Come...

Surf City Hotel

Hey, we hopped in the jalopy, aimed south, and headed towards the shores of Jersey. What should come on the radio but a little Jan and Dean, and that gave us an idea - "Ya, we're goin' to Surf City, gonna have some fun..."

The Jersey town of Surf City has gone by many names since it was first settled - the Great Swamp, Buzby’s Place, Old Mansion, and Long Beach City. In 1894 the name was changed to the current Surf City, and that looks like it's a keeper.

Likewise, the Surf City Hotel has had several reincarnations, doing business as the Mansion of Health, Mansion House, Long Beach Inn, Marquette Hotel, and the Surf City Hotel. The hotel has a colorful history, especially gaining noteriety as a Prohibition era party spot.

But our ghost tale goes back to its beginning.

Part of Long Beach Island was once known as The Great Swamp, and it was there that the grand Mansion of Health was built in 1822. The Mansion was constructed near where West Seventh Street stands today.

It was three stories high, and the largest hotel on the Jersey shore in its day. The mansion featured a balcony that ran along the entire top floor with a magnificent view of both the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay.

Then on April 18, 1854, a legendary storm battered Long Beach Island. Fighting the hurricane winds and currents offshore was the schooner Powhattan, which carried 300 German immigrants looking to start anew in America. They'd never make it.

The Powhattan was slammed against the shoals and a large hole punctured the bow of the now-doomed ship. It bobbed around in the angry Atlantic, with nowhere to go but down to Davy Jone's locker.

As word spread of the disaster, a small crowd of people gathered on shore, but the storm was too powerful to put together any kind of rescue effort.

The ship began to break apart in the dark, and passengers began to wash overboard. The people on the shore could only watch helplessly and wait for the bodies. The entire crew and all of the passengers perished in the disaster, and only fifty of the bodies drifted ashore to Long Beach Island. The rest were consigned to the deep blue sea.

The Powhattan was certainly not the first, and wouldn't be the last, ship to flounder off the coast, and New Jersey appointed wreckmasters for the all-too-common event of a shipwreck. The wreckmaster's duty was to salvage anything of value that washed ashore, and to collect the dead until the coroner could identify them and get them properly buried.

The wreckmaster at Long Beach Island was the manager of the Mansion of Health, Edward Jennings, and the debris and the deceased were neatly stacked outside the hotel for the coroner, who arrived the next morning.

Oddly, as he examined the bodies of the dead he found one thing to be kinda peculiar. None of the men or women had anything of value on their person.

When immigrants arrived in America, they came with everything they could carry, especially cash and jewelry. It was customary for passengers to wear money-belts around their waists to protect their nest egg, but the coroner couldn't find any sign of their gelt.

Immediately, people lifted a cocked eye at Jennings, but there was no proof that he had stolen any money from the corpses, or that indeed any money existed for him to swipe. Still, it smelled awfully fishy.

The victim's bodies were eventually sent along to Manahawkin and buried in pauper's graves in the Baptist cemetery. As time went on, the wreck was forgotten and life went on in the Great Swamp.

But a few months later, another storm ripped through the Island. The frenzied waves crashed near the Mansion, and washed the sand and soil away from the stump of an old cedar tree, a throw-back to the old freshwater swamp that once dominated the landscape.

Among the uncovered roots were dozens of soggy money-belts, all slit open and empty. Jennings was busted, and he was forced to flee the Island in disgrace before the long arm of the Jersey law and the local lynch mob could get to him.

But his troubles didn't end there. It's said that Jennings suffered from terrible nightmares for the rest of his life, haunted by the spirits of those unforunate souls he robbed. He died in a barroom brawl in San Francisco. We'll bet he had some explaining to do for those 300 avenging spirits when he landed in the netherworld.

But the Powhattan spooks didn't go to the light with the death of Jennings. They took over his Mansion of Health. Guests heard sobs during the night and caught shadowy glimpses of misty figures walking on the balcony.

It didn't take long for rumors to spread, and within the year, the hotel was shuttered and closed. The Haunted Mansion of Health remained empty, as it found that most paying customers weren't keen on sharing their suites with spooks.

One summer night in 1861, a group of five local teens broke into the empty building. After horsing around in the deserted halls, they sacked out on the third floor to catch the cool ocean breeze. Just as they began to drift away, one of the boys glanced out the window at the balcony, lit by the full moon.

There stood a young woman holding a small child, gazing sadly out to sea. The light from the moon shined through her. Spooked, he woke up his buds, who also saw the apparition. Then in a flash, both mother and child vanished.

The Mansion of Health didn't get many nocturnal visits after that tale spread around town, and it burned to the ground thirteen years later, in 1874.

When the RR's hit the burg in the mid-1880s, a new hotel call the Mansion House was built on the old foundations of the burned out shell. It flopped, too, and stories of restless spirits in its halls continued to be told.

At the turn of the century, the hotel was moved to the ocean side of Eighth Street, where it now stands as part of Crane's Surf City Hotel.

It seems that the departed Deutsch appreciated the move nearer to their watery ocean doom; maybe it released their spirits. Then again, they may have shuffled off to their eternal home when the State of New Jersey placed a monument on their unmarked Manahawkin graves, memoralizing the ghosts burial spot and setting them free.

Whatever the reason, the hauntings have ceased now, and the spooks of the Powhattan are finally resting in peace so far as we know. But if you're ever on the third floor and hear "Gott, hilf uns, bitte!" out of the clear blue, well, maybe they're back...

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Monster Mash - Zombie Walk 2008

zombie day
Zombie Fest

H&H blames it all on George Romero. He just had to shoot that little low-budget Living Dead fright-flick, and look at the monster it's created. Well, monsters, actually - as in zombies by the hundreds.

In 2006, a pack of the undead gathered to hold a Zombie-Fest at Monroeville Mall, where the "Dawn of the Dead" mall rats first hung out thirty years ago. The "It's Alive" crew held their initial Zombie Walk there, and nearly 900 living dead set a Guinness record by dragging their oozing carcasses through the Gap stores and food court (hold the mayo on that McBrain burger, will ya?).

They did it again last year, and over 1000 rotting corpses set another record. Pittsbugh was declared the Zombie Capital of the World - the Visitor's Center was soooo pleased to add that accolade to its Three Rivers brag book - and elicited undead envy throughout the world.

And yes, they're out to outdo themselves again.

Mark Menold, organizer of Zombie Fest and chief cook and bottle-washer of the "It’s Alive" show, Pittsburgh’s late night chiller TV and web program, said “People come from around the globe to make a pilgrimage to the Monroeville Mall. It’s like a zombie Mecca.”

The highlight of the weekend will be World Zombie Day on Sunday, October 26 (zombies can register beginning at 9 AM) featuring zombie walks with food drives aimed at raising awareness of the problem of global hunger. And we all know how ravenous zombie appetites can be (although the food collected will go to the living).

Forty-six cities have signed on to host undead gatherings, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, London and Hong Kong as well as cities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. They all want that coveted "Zombie Capital" title for their very own.

Menold promises a memorable time for fans who participate in Pittsburgh's ghoulish gala. “I want people who come to Zombie Fest to be able to mingle with the guests and dance at the Zombie Ball, to play zombie games, have a chance to appear in a TV show about zombies, rock out to live bands, and to participate in another world record attempt at the Monroeville Mall. You can actually be a zombie for a day. Three days, really.”

Pretty cool guest list, too - Peter Washington (Ken Foree), Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), Dusty (Sam Nicotero), Head Nurse Zombie (Sharon Ceccatti-Hill) and all your favorite resurrected bods and Romero movie backstagers will be on hand.

The living dead's weekend starts Friday, October 24, when a Zombie Masquerade Ball will be held at the Churchill Valley Country Club ($22/zombie). The Ball will feature bands, a DJ, and is a 21 and over event. Prizes will be awarded for best overall costume as well as best zombie costume.

From noon-six on Saturday, a zombie and horror convention, with film screenings, memorabilia, auction, and special guests who will haunt the halls of the Mall.

The earliest zombie walk on record was held in the summer of 2001 in Sacramento. The first documented non-commercial zombie walk was held in October, 2003, in Toronto. In many places, zombie walks are still flash mob scenes.

But hey, if Transylvania is the natural habitat of Dracula, surely Pittsburgh is where zombies reign supreme, even if we were a bit late in joining the fun (The Steel City didn't hold its own zombie walk until September, 2006, in the South Side's Rex Theater).

And if Monroeville is too far for your stiff gray limbs to carry you, there's the Living Dead Festival, set for 6:30 p.m. on Halloween in EDCO Park in Evans City. Maybe you can stop at the cemetery first and pay homage to Barbara.

The event will celebrate the 40th anniversary of George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" with an outdoor screening of the film. The doors open at 6:30, and it'll cost you $10 to get in. But what's money to the undead?

So whatta ya waitin' for? Get a jump start on Halloween, satisfy that hankering for some yummy brains, revel in the close knit kinship of the zombie clan, and do the Walk.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

NYC's Haunted Hotels

hotel chelsea
Hotel Chelsea from Wikipedia Commons

The sun's out, the top's down, the wind's blowing in our hair, and we're cruising catty-corner across Ohio, Pennsylvania and the Empire State. We're heading for the Big Apple.

H&H is ready to gawk. We're hot to see Ellis Island, to find out if any of our forebears are haunting the portal to the Promised Land. But first, we need a place to crash.

The old Brittany Hotel on East Tenth Street looks like a fine place to park our bags. Built in 1929, it's right by the spook-laden Washington Square Park and has all the amenities we're looking for in a rent-a-room. It's penthouse was once a speakeasy, and its guests included Walter Winchell, Jerry Garcia, and Al Pacino.

What? It's a New York University dorm now? Will my 1971 Pitt ID get me a spot to flop? OK, OK, quit pushin', I'm going.

Just as well, we suppose. Old hotel regulars and the dorm residents have reported hearing mysterious music, bodiless footsteps, and the sense of being watched. The basement is supposed to be an especially eerie maze, and the penthouse is said to host a noisy, never-ending ghost gala. Party on, phantom dudes!

One roomie even reported being transported at warp speed by a house spook through the Brittany electrical system in a dream and deposited in his room's smoke detector - which woke him up when it went off. So that's how they get around!

Well, we'll just get a room in the stately Grosvenor Hotel on Fifth Avenue, opened in 1925. Dang! NYU bought up this grand old dame in 1964, made it a dorm and named it Rubin Hall. Where's a man to lay his head? Do we have to enroll at NYU to get a bed in the City that never sleeps?

Hmmm...on second thought, we might not get a good night's rest there, either. It seems the shades of former Grosvenor boarders have taken up in one of the dorm's rooms. According to rumors among Rubin students and staff, an older couple, who were the last two people to leave the building after the University bought it, have returned to reclaim their familiar former digs in the afterlife.

In another case, after learning from a Rubin RA that her room, #903, was haunted, a NYU student used her Ouija board to contact the ghost. During their chat, she discovered that the spook's name was Al and believes he was a bootlegger in the 1930s. Now that they're on a first-name basis, he doesn't lock her in the bathroom anymore. Spirits are such comedians!

One alleged ghostie there has been debunked, though. Samuel Clemens (you may know him as Mark Twain), who according to local lore does haunt the halls of the old Breevort apartments (the "Death House") down the street, doesn't hang out in the Grosvenor. He was supposed to have lived there, but since he died 15 years before it was built...

Maybe the Hotel des Artistes on 67th Street in Central Park West will have a vacancy. Oooops, just looked at the rates...H&H will be moving on. But first, a stop in its cafe for a cold one before we continue our search.

There we hear about the bar's famous spook. The help is mum, but the regulars tell of a cloudlike apparition that reaches out and touches the paying customers as it goes by. No one is really sure who the downstairs drinking hole shadow is, but the list of suspects is pretty impressive - Marcel Duchamp, Isadora Duncan, and Fiorella LaGuardia are just a few of the names under the scope.

Off we trudge to Manhattan, and the artsy Algonquin Hotel. It opened for business in 1902 and was an instant drawing card for the literary set. Across the street from the Ziegfield Folly foxes, it was also close at hand to famed eateries like Delmonico's and crowd magnets Times Square and the Great White Way.

It drew all kinds of big-time literati and actors, but its most famous crew was the acid-tongued wits of the Round Table (aka, the "Vicious Circle"), who met for lunch every day and after the shows at the Algonquin during the 1920s. Among them were Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, Heywood Broun, George Kaufman and Edna Ferber, part of a cast of dozens eager to puncture whatever show biz balloon that happened to float by.

Besides injuring the pride of countless performers, they continue to scare the pants off of innocent hotel guests. Some of the visitors claimed to have seen the ghosts of the Round Table's members lurking around the hotel halls and bar, the Oak Room, where patrons have reportedly channeled some of their famous quips. Ah, the power of spectral suggestion.

The historic Algonquin was renovated in 2004, and the updates seemed to have displeased the hotel's resident spirits. Eerie noises emanated from a 13th floor room on the night the work was completed (a hotel with a 13th floor? It deserves to be haunted!) At 3 AM, a picture of Dorothy Parker fell off the wall and shattered. Maybe her shade was a bit tipsy at that hour.

The resident cat, Matilda, is apparently well-acquainted with the sarcastic spooks.

"The cat seems to know things the rest of us don't know," Barbara McGurn, hotel historian, told Fox News in 2005. "She could be looking at people she sees whom we can't. I think she tries to make peace among the various ghosts of characters who stayed here and lived here and partied here."

The Algonquin ghost tale is so much a part of the hotel's history that every New Year's Eve, at the stroke of midnight, the kitchen staff marches around the building banging pots and pans in an effort to chase the building's apparitions to a quieter locale. It hasn't worked, so far.

As is our wont, we stopped for a beverage before inquiring about a room. The room was nice, the crowd friendly, and the bar tab for a C.C. and soda was $15. We continued on our search. We wonder if NYC has any hostels?

Hey, there's another joint. We'll try our luck here, at the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street. It was built in 1883 as an early co-op, and it sports a guest list of cutting edge artists a mile long.

In fact, Leonard Cohen penned a song about it, "Chelsea Hotel," and Andy Warhol was inspired by its muse when he filmed "Chelsea Girl." There are at least 50 references to the Hotel Chelsea in films, songs, and books, according to Wikipedia.

As Janis Joplin said: "A lot of funky things happen at the Chelsea." Maybe she was alluding to actress Sarah Bernhardt, who used to sleep in a coffin when she lived there. But most of the funkiness can be attributed to its cast of artists who checked in, but never checked out of their NYC home. It's said that half of its rooms host a spectral presence.

John Ritchie, better known as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, may or may not have knifed his lady in Room #100 of the hotel in 1978, but he's stayed on. It's said that you can share a ride with him occasionally on the building elevator, even though he died of a heroin OD in 1979.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas spent his final days on the planet in an alcoholic daze. He died in the hotel after drinking himself into a stupor at the nearby White Horse Tavern and being carried back to the crib by his bar room buds. Local lore claims that his soused specter haunts both spots now.

The spooks of writers Eugene O'Neill and Thomas Wolfe have also been reported as loitering in the Algonquin. Its bar, the Star Lounge, has troubles with its electrical system, noises clattering from its back room, and lights that flicker on and off that it blames on the paranormal. And, according to a visiting psychic, it has it's own spook, an unhappy older lady that left life but couldn't bear to part with her lounge lizard friends partying downstairs.

Maybe we'll pass on this place, too. Looks like we'll spend the night curled up in the back seat of the ol' clunker. We don't think there are any spooks there, except maybe for the ghost of a Primanti Brother's sandwich.

The Ellis Island expedition? Nary a spirit to be found. Just the residual phenomena of children's laughter and crying, voices, and footsteps are all that's reported from those hallowed halls. It seems like everyone was in such a hurry to get on with their new life that they all moved on, body and soul.

Too bad. I really would have liked to have one more chat with grandpap Rocco.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mahoning Valley's Haunted University

Sweeney Center

We bid a fond adieu to the Pen and head northwest, to the home of Sylvester the Jester and Lady Miss Kier - yep, on to Youngstown, Ohio.

Our next stop is Youngstown State University, home of the Penguins - and the paranormal (as if a 7' penguin mascot isn't scary enough!).

The Wick Mansion was built in 1906 by Col. George Dennick Wick, president of Youngstown Steel, and his wife, Mollie. It sits at the intersection of Wick Avenue and Route 422.

The wealthy couple didn't have long to enjoy their new digs. In 1912, the Wicks booked a cabin aboard the Titanic. Mollie was saved after the unsinkable liner sank; the Colonel went down with the ship.

Mollie returned to her Youngstown mansion, never to remarry. After she joined George in the afterlife, the house was sold to the Wellers. In the 1980's, YSU bought the property and turned it into dorms known as the Wick House.

Weird stuff happened there, as witnessed by the students. The front door would open itself, blinds would roll up the window panes, and the lights would flash on and off. The staff even unplugged the lights, but they still burned bright. People experienced an uneasy, eerie feeling in the old Mansion, especially at night. And no wonder.

Rumors were that Mollie was still in the building. One resident accused her of stealing her socks - we suppose even spooks get cold feet - and several students reported seeing an etheral female haunting the lobby.

Once, YSU workers saw a face staring at them from the second floor window, where Mollie and one of her daughters had passed away.

The university closed the dorm several years ago, and it's now the home of YSU's Disability Services. But the spooky shenanigans with the lights and blinds can still be spotted by the residents of the next-door Weller House at night. Mollie must be afraid of the dark.

We soldier on to the Kilcawley House, a residence attached to the University's hub, the mid-campus Kilcawley Center.

Strange voices, gurgling and raspy, have reportedly been heard in the back stairwell of the K-House. This is the same stairwell where, according to university lore, a janitor met his fate years ago. Some say he died from a tumble down the stairs, while others say he hung himself.

His shade has been reportedly seen roaming the sixth floor, where students also say they hear unexplained scratching noises and the sound of the wind whistling through the hall.

That story sent us scampering to the nearest church. Well, actually, it's not a church now, but it was when it was built in 1908. The holy house eventually became Dana Hall, and currently the building goes by the name of the Sweeney Welcoming Center, YSU's recruiting and admissions office.

If you're new to the school - and why else would you be in Sweeney Hall? - try to stay out of the basement. It's urban legend is that a reverend committed suicide there, and for his eternal purgatory, his sad spirit is ordained to forever roam the place of his self-inflicted doom.

From the serenity of an old chapel, we're off to the livelier pad of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity on Broadway Avenue. There's more going on there than just the usual keggers and mixers.

The house is a rental, and it's been a halfway house and later a home to other Greek organizations during its time. And according to some of the brothers, the old residents of its past have never left.

There have been reports of footsteps when no one is around, things being dragged around in an empty cellar, and mumbling voices in the stairway to the basement. The front door has opened, but nobody's there. People have experienced stereos turning on by themselves and cupboards opening on their own volition.

One brother even claimed that the spook of a young girl watched him from the kitchen doorway and then disappeared.

Psychics have visited the place, and sensed trouble in the basement. One said there was a malignant spirit that resided in a side room, and could feel that a violent act took place in the cellar, involving a couple of girls. Both are places where the Sig Taus have felt uneasiness.

Some of the brothers believe the place is haunted. Other say that they've never heard or seen anything out of the ordinary in the admittedly creaky and creepy old house. Who to believe?

(These tales were reported in a series of articles over the years by the YSU student newspaper "The Jambar." H&H thanks them for keeping the lore of the University alive.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

West Virginia Penitentiary

moundsville prison
West Virginia Penitentiary from Wikipedia Commons

Now we follow the setting sun to the West Virginia panhandle, where our next stop is the infamous West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville.

Construction of the old West Virginia State Penitentiary was started in 1866, just three years after West Virginia seceded from Virginia. The state legislature chose Moundsville for the prison because it was only 12 miles south of Wheeling, the capital at that time.

The builders used Joliet prison as their model. WVSP was an imposing Gothic stone structure, with turrets and battlements, like a castle. But unlike a castle, which was built to keep intruders out, this one was meant to keep people in.

It was enclosed by a stone wall 5 feet thick at the bottom, 2-1/2 feet thick at the top, and with a foundation that was buried 5 feet below the surface. The wall was six feet thick.

The first building constructed at the penitentiary was called the Wagon Gate. One hundred and fifty inmates lived there while they built their own prison. In 1876, the West Virginia Penitentiary officially opened for full operation, with 251 inmates. It would grow to a population of 2,000 in the fifties.

Prisoners at the Pen were used as next-to-free labor. They toiled in a blacksmith shop, stone cutting shop, a bakery, a farm, wagon works, broom & whip factory, and a coal mine. The prison paid for itself.

The majority of inmates were minor crooks, serving sentences of one to ten years. The prisoners were allowed to spend a lot of time outside their cells during the day and locked up in their 5'x7' cells at night.

Just to make sure they didn't get any ideas during their free time, they were reminded of the price of disobedience every time they sat down in the dining room. There the "Prison Pet" sat - a fully-loaded Gatling gun aimed at the prisoners.

Don't get the idea that being sent to the West Virginia Pen was soft time. For most of the years of its existence, Moundsville held a spot on the Department of Justice's top ten most violent correctional facilities list. Killed or be killed was the mentality of many of its lifers - and guards.

The big-time hoods were housed in North Hall, the maximum security area, and had to spend twenty-two hours a day locked in their cells. They were allowed two hours a day in the exercise yard.

In 1929 the prison was expanded to almost double it's size. Inmates were forced to again help construct their own jailhouse. The expansion was needed because the prison was so crowded that three people were crammed to a cell. It was finished in 1959.

Ninety-four men were executed in the Pen. Eighty-five were hanged from 1899-1949, and the other nine were electrocuted in later years. The original electric chair, "Old Sparky," is still on display.

It was built by Paul Glenn, an inmate of the facility. The hangings were viewed by a public bleacher section on Eighth Street until 1931, when the rope decapitated its victim.

In 1982, a judge ruled that the prison violated the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The West Virginia Supreme Court reinforced the ruling when it said that Penitentiary's 5 x 7 cells were cruel and unusual in 1986.

That's the same year the prison had its famous riot, one of many, when several guards were held hostage and three inmates murdered by other prisoners. The Pen's captives got a new cafeteria for their feral efforts.

The Pen officially closed in 1995, when the state was unwilling to update the old hoosegaw to the jurist's satisfaction and the last prisoner was transferred.

The lease for the Pen is now held by the Moundsville Economic Development Council. They conduct daily tours of the prison, and host a "Dungeon of Horrors" haunted house attraction throughout October. It also shares space with a law training facility.

The West Virginia Penitentiary still has it's share of long-timers roaming the grounds. They're the spooks who never left its dank confines.

Four Cherokees, sentenced to life at the Pen, are buried on its grounds. And according to popular legend, they're not alone. The prison buildings are said to be built on an old Native American burial ground.

Some believe that disturbing the ancient dead, coupled with its violent past, is why the Pen is haunted. No one has ever been able to confirm the lore, but Moundsville itself is named for the Indian burial mounds in the area.

An area well known for spooky occurrences is the revolving-door entrance gate known as the Wheel House that was used to intake arriving inmates. According to reports, the circular cage still turns periodically by itself, giving the impression that the spirits of criminals are still arriving at the prison.

One of the better-known phantom inmates believed to still stalk the halls of West Virginia Penitentiary is J.D. Wall. During his stay, it is said that he was liked by all and used by both the guards and inmates alike to trade information.

The story goes that some new prisoners saw Wall speaking with the warden one day and assumed that he was a snitch. Three inmates cornered him in the basement of the administration building and savagely attacked him with shivs, leaving his body headless and chopped beyond recognition.

To this day, people report seeing his spirit wandering around the basement, sometimes with and sometimes without his head.

The ghost of a true snitch has also been reported. He lived in the basement where he took care of the boiler system and the pipes. He was stabbed repeatedly while going to the bathroom during the 1986 riots. Geez, it's bad enough to be stuck in the cellar for eternity, but to be trapped in the loo?

One of the Pen's paranormal hot spots is the Sugar Shack. The Sugar Shack is a basement room that was used as a rec area. When the weather was bad, the prisoners were sent into the Sugar Shack rather than the usual outdoor exercise yards.

The prisoners were on their own there, with a guard that periodically checked in on them. No one was ever reported killed in the room, but fights often broke out, and prisoner sex and rapes were common (hence the name Sugar Shack). Today, visitors claim to hear footsteps, screams and cries, and some even report being physically assaulted by an invisible entity.

The North Wagon Gate also has its share of eerie experiences. The building was used in the early days for hangings. One of the ghosts believed to haunt this area is Arvil Paul Adkins, who was dropped from the second floor trap door not once, but twice (when he survived the first hanging, the guards carried him back up the steps and hung him again). Visitors also report feeling a sinister presence or the feeling of being watched.

On Death Row, tourists have complained of feeling moisture splashing on their bodies. They may not be happy to learn that the prisoners used to while away the time spitting and urinating on the guards. After all, what did they have to lose?

The Hole, used for solitary confinement, is also notorious, with visitors feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or fear caused by an unseen presence. People have spotted a featureless Shadow Man that roams the cafeteria, the psychiatric ward, and the basement.

An inmate named Roberts supposedly haunts his cell block and the room where he met his death. It was reported that his body was buried behind a wall. The North Hall is supposed to be crackling with negative psychic energy from its hard core prisoners. It was so bad there that it was called the Alamo, and the guards had to wear helmets and flak jackets.

In fact, the whole place is spooked out. Reports vary from residual hauntings to the sounds of phantom footsteps, voices, screams, and slamming doors when no one else is around.

It's a favorite spot for paranormal TV producers. MTV's Fear shot its first episode there in 2000. The Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters also visited the location in 2006. The network liked the place so much it came back to film an episode of Proof Positive. ABC Family’s Scariest Places On Earth featured the Pen that same year. Its tale was also aired on Anderson Cooper's 360 on CNN.

And you'll almost certainly trip over paranormal investigators if you ever visit the joint. It's on the A-List of every spook hunter's itinerary.

The eternal inmates are more famous in death than they ever were in life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Black Aggie

Black Aggie from

We have happy feet again - it's time to rev up the ol' gas guzzler for our Halloween road trip. H&H thinks that a stop in Pikesville, Maryland, is in order to brush up on the lore of an old friend, Black Aggie.

Black Aggie is the name of a statue that once marked the grave of General Felix Agnus, who was buried at Druid Ridge Cemetery in 1925.

The statue itself is an unauthorized replica of Augustus St. Gaudens' monument, popularly called "Grief". It's located at the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and was recast on the sly by Edward L. A. Pausch. The figure is of a seated woman wrapped in a shroud.

St. Gaudens was a noted American sculptor of the late 1800’s. "Grief" would become one of his most famed works, said to be named by none other than Mark Twain. It took him four years to create, and was the memorial for Marian Adams, who committed suicide. It marked her final resting place, along with hubby Henry.

Oddly, the Washington original has no spooky tales associated with it, despite the suicidal and probably mad Marian. But the pirated copy made by Pausch became one of Baltimore's most enduring urban legends.

General Felix Agnus purchased the Pausch version of the sculpture in 1905. He was a much decorated, and wounded (it was said that he had so many lead balls in him that he rattled when he walked), Civil War vet, starting out as a private and ending up a brigadier general.

He built a family memorial in Pikesville's Druid Ridge Cemetery, with the "Grief" clone as its centerpiece. As soon as the granite pedestal was laid, he had his mom's remains transferred from his French birthplace to the new family plot.

The general's wife, Annie, died in 1922 and Angus joined her in eternal repose three years later at the age of 86. They were laid to rest at the feet of "Black Aggie." Then the fun began.

It was said that the statue's eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight. People claimed that the spirits of the dead rose from their graves to gather around her on moonless nights, and that living persons who returned her gaze were struck blind. Sitting in her cold lap was a death sentence.

If you spoke Black Aggie's name three times at midnight in front of a dark mirror, an evil angel appeared to escort you to hell. Other variations of the theme claim that Aggie herself showed up behind you, and some say with a knife to plunge into your back repeatedly.

Pregnant women who passed through her shadow would suffer miscarriages. The grass wouldn't grow wherever Aggie's shadow touched the ground. She came to life and strolled the grounds in the darkness.

Another story tells of a guy that used Aggie's hand as an ashtray. He was found dead soon thereafter. Aggie doesn't take to disrespect very well.

It's even said that any virgin placed in the outstretched arms of Black Aggie will lose her virginity in 24 hours. Now that's a paranormal phenomena we never heard of before.

But it took a frat rat to launch her into headline haunting news. Supposedly, local fraternity pledges had to sit on Aggie's lap all night as part of their "hell week" initiation. (Geez. At Pitt, the worst we had to do was run back to the house from Schenley Pond in our skivvies).

One bit of lore claims that she once came to life and crushed a hapless freshman in her bronze hands, in front of the eyes of two of his fellow fraternity brothers.

Another tale of Greek hazing gone astray claimed that one night, at the stroke of midnight, the cemetery watchman heard a scream. When he reached Black Aggie, he found a young man lying dead at the foot of the statue. He had died of fright.

It gets stranger. One morning in 1962, it was discovered that one of Aggie's arms had been cut off. The missing limb was later found in the trunk of a sheet metal worker's car, along with a saw. Open and shut case, right? Wrong. He had a defense.

He told the judge that Black Aggie had cut off her own arm while in the throes of depression and had given it to him. Many people believed the tradesman's tale, but not the person that counted - the judge. The tin-knocker was hauled off to jail.

Allow us to digress a minute. Aggie's name is assumed to be taken from her wards, the Agnus family. But another legend tells of a turn of the century nurse named Aggie. She was popular, but her patients had a way of unexpectedly dying off under her care.

The locals thought she was hastening their trip to the River Jordan, and lynched the assumed angel of death. But ooops, they were soon proven wrong, sadly after the fact. The story ends that the monument was built for her as atonement, which is obviously wrong.

But did her vengeful spirit adopt the statue? It would sure explain the eerie goings-on surrounding the bronze sculpture. OK, back to our regularly scheduled post.

In addition to Aggie’s arm being hacked off, graffiti was scrawled on the statue, the granite base and its outer wall, while trash heaped up everywhere from the midnight thrill seekers. Groundskeepers did everything they could to control the vandalism, including planting thorny shrubs around Aggie, but they were overwhelmed.

The Agnus family, upset by the desecration, donated Aggie to the Smithsonian in 1967. It sat for years in storage at the National Museum of American Art (later the Smithsonian American Art Museum), where an authorized recasting of the original Adams Memorial statue is now exhibited. Heaven forbid the Smithsonian deal in fake artwork!

The Smithsonian refused to even admit it had the ersatz sculpture, but it's location was finally run down by an enterprising young reporter, Shara Terjung, rescuing it from oblivion in an outdoor storage lot.

After being rediscovered, Black Aggie was moved to an I Street courtyard behind the Dolly Madison House on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, where she's quietly enjoying her tranquil new home.

If you want to see her, enter the courtyard during the day, through the entryway off the street. Walk straight back, look to the right, and Black Aggie will be there, waiting for you in the middle of the flowers, looking as serene as can be. You might even tuck a coin in her hand, a good luck tradition from the Druid Ridge days.

Just don't sit in her lap.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Katy's Church

katy's church
Photo of Katy's Church by Eric on Blackstar Blog - Scooter Trips

The popular mid-state legend goes that an unmarried pregnant girl, Katy Vandine, ostracized by the community, hung herself on a tree outside the Emmanuel Lutheran Church graveyard in Muncy Hills, Columbia County, near Bloomsburg.

Other darker varitions on the theme claim that father of her child was a married man worried about his own hide, and so accused her of witchcraft. The church members accepted his self-serving word and hung her from a tree in the cemetery. What, there wasn't any stake to burn her on in Muncy Hills?

It's said that if you stand on her grave, which is right beside the tree she hung herself on, and knock on the tree that her ghost, dressed in shimmering white, will walk down the hill towards you. According to local lore, this sighting only occurs the night of a harvest moon. It's also said that you can hear her crying from inside the church, or hear her call your name.

There's an alternate tale. It says she was waiting to marry a soldier, but he was killed before they could wed. Distraught, she hung herself in her wedding dress. She's supposedly been seen in church and walking the road between her house and the cemetery.

Some reports say that her noose can be see hanging from the tree overlooking the cemetery. There are even stories of blood gushing from the windows of the small hilltop church.

Other tales allege that her tombstone is located just outside the consecrated grounds of the cemetery, while others say it's in the graveyard proper, but her marker faces the opposite direction of all the others. This, at least, can be debunked, as her grave is in the boneyard and pointed the same way as the others.

Another legend says that there's a bottomless pit covered by a boulder on the grounds. If you can move the rock a smidge and toss a stone down the hole, you'll never hear it land.

Of course, some people believe the tale was just a by-product of the 2002 mystery book "Katie's Church" by L.A. Flick, which recounts - or maybe invents - the legend of Katy. On the other hand, we have a reader that says the legend predates the novel, and others that support him.

BaltimoreMan wrote:
I am originally from a couple of miles from Katy's. The tale has been around for a long time. I couldn't guess the original source, but definitely not a 2002 book.

Another reader added:
"I also live near Katy's church. I am 36 and have heard the tales since I was a young child."

So we can cross Ms. Flick off the list off rumor-mongers.

May Shetler, granddaughter of Katy several times removed, denies the tales on her web site:
"Catherine Vandine attended services there until her passing at 87 years old. Since its closing in 1969, the urban legends surrounding Katys Church have given birth to increased incidences of vandalism, tales of hauntings, and even a horror novel. But, as with most legends, these tales are simply not based on fact. The only haunting comes from the young people in search of an adventure who are being fined for trespassing and destruction of private property."

Sadly, this is another spot that vandals have ransacked. The church, which by some tales is also haunted, isn't used for regular services anymore, just weddings and other special events, and goofs feel free to break in and spray graffiti on the walls and floor.

The cemetery has been desecrated, despite being fenced, gated and watched over by the locals, the caretaker, and the State Police. Those folk that use the graveyard as a party spot should be much more ashamed than poor Katy.