Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Rain Boy

dancing in the fountain

In late 1983, Don Decker, an unemployed 20 year old, was released from the local jail to attend his grandfather's funeral. He had lived with him, and after the burial he was taken in by a family on Ann Street in Stroudsburg.

Young Don didn't have many talents, but the one he did have was a doozy. "I can make it rain," he told police officers. Could he ever - in his home, in jail, in front of friends, strangers, and the police. At his whim, jets of water would rain down from no apparent source. He also could drop the temperature of a room to freezing cold in a heartbeat.

Some of the splashdowns were witnessed and verified by the local gendarmes, including Stroud Area Regional Police Chief John Baujan and former Stroudsburg cop Richard Wolbert.

A friend of his, Pam Scarfano, tried to get him under control by putting a crucifix around his neck. It left a burn mark on him before he could tear it off. Then, a year to the day after his grandfather's death, the rainmaker suddenly lost his power.

Parapsychologists still haven't figured out the cause of his short-lived ability to call down rain, but Decker always thought it was his grandfather's spirit channeling through him.

The Ann Street house he performed his rain dance in has been demolished - for a church parking lot. Now there's an exorcism for you! His watery feats have been shown on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries and the French TV series 30 Most Mysterious Mysteries.

Rain, rain, go away...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jersey Devil


We're gonna share one of our neighbor's tales with you today as we gaze eastward towards the woodlands of New Jersey and its' infamous Devil. The well-traveled Jersey Devil has been known to cross state lines to spook small town Pennsylvanians, so we figure it's fair game for this blog.

The Jersey Devil is a legendary critter said to generally cavort in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. It's sort of a cross between a pterodactyl and a horse.

The Jersey Devil's home is the Blue Hole. According to popular folklore, the pond is a gateway to Hell. The water in the hole is always frigid, even during the summer. And the pool is said to have a whirlpool effect on any person who dives into it, swirling you into the depths of Hades - or the Jersey Devil's living room.

Unlike the surrounding rivers and lakes in the region, the Blue Hole has crystal clear water, which is one of its stranger features. Clean water in Jersey? Now that's eerie. (Actually, the Pine Barrens is one of the state's major aquifers.)

The most popular version of the Jersey Devil legend begins in the 18th century when Jane Smith arrived from England and went to the Pine Barrens to marry a Mr. Leeds, who wanted heirs to continue the family name. As a result, the missus was continually preggers, getting frumpier and grumpier by the child.

After bearing twelve healthy children, she lost it when she became pregnant with her thirteenth kid. She cursed the unborn child, saying she'd rather have the Devil's child than another Leeds' legacy. Guess the blush was off the rose by then, hey?

According to legend, her wish was granted. Her new child had cloven hooves, claws, and a tail. The gruesome babe devoured the other Leeds children and then its' parents before escaping through the chimney to begin its' reign of terror. (Yah, it seemed odd to us too that all the witnesses became Devil chow. Maybe the nanny busted it.)

This version, cool as it may be, is waylaid by the fact that Mother Leeds has descendants that, as of 1998, still lived in Atlantic County NJ according to the New York Times. Bummer.

But there are several twists of the Leeds tale, like the one claiming that in 1735, Mrs. Leeds discovered that she was pregnant with her 13th child. She complained to her friends and relatives that the “Devil can take the next one”, and he did.

The child was born with horns, a tail, wings, and a horse-like head. Leeds threw it out of the house, but the creature came by and visited its' mom everyday, like a good son. And every day, she stood at the door and told it to leave. After awhile, the Devil took the hint and never came back, retiring to the Barrens.

Another similar bit of folklore says a Mrs. Shourds made a wish that if she ever had another child, she wanted it to be a devil. Watch what you wish for.

Her next child was born misshapen and deformed. She hid the baby in the house, so the curious wouldn't see him. One stormy night, the child flapped it's arms, which turned into wings, and escaped out the chimney and was never seen by the family again.

The Shourds House (Leeds Point, Atlantic County, NJ) is considered sacred ground for Jersey Devil devotees. It's alleged to be the Devil's birthplace, and the ruins of its' old stone house still remain. So whether its' ma was Mrs. Leeds or its' home was Leeds Point, the Jersey Devil is also often known as the Leeds Devil.

But there are other older origins for the Jersey Devil legend besides the Leeds' family feud. The local Lenni Lenape tribes called the area around Pine Barrens "Popuessing," meaning "place of the dragon." Swedish explorers later named it "Drake Kill", "drake" being a Swedish word for dragon, and "kill" meaning river.

Some skeptics believe the Jersey Devil is nothing more than a morality tale of the English settlers. The Pine Barrens were shunned by the early locals as a desolate, threatening place. Isolated in the misty forest, it became a natural refuge for those on the lam, such as religious dissenters, loyalists, fugitives and deserters in colonial times.

The runaways formed groups known as "pineys", some of whom became bandits called "pine robbers". Pineys were further demonized after two early 20th century eugenics studies depicted them as inbred congenital idiots and criminals (Modern geneticists say that the studies weren't worth the paper they were written on, but the stigma is hard to shake, even today.)

It's easy to imagine early tales of terrible monsters arising from a combination of sightings of wild life, fear of outlaws, and dread of the Barrens. Don't you love it when a story comes together?

But Jersey Devil lore is backed by many reputable eyewitnesses who have reportedly seen the creature, dating over two centuries to the present day.

In 1778, Commodore Stephen Decatur, hero of Tripoli, visited the Hanover Iron Works in the Barrens to test artillery at a firing range, where he witnessed a strange, pale white creature flying overhead. Using cannon fire, Decatur punctured the wing of the creature, which continued on its' merry way without missing so much as a flutter.

The problem with this tale is that Decatur wasn't born until 1779. But it could have happened between 1816 and 1820, when he was the Naval Commissioner in charge of testing equipment and materials used to build new warships.

Joseph Bonaparte, the oldest brother of Napoleon, is said to have witnessed the Jersey Devil while hunting on his Bordentown estate around 1820.

In 1840, the Devil was blamed for cattle killings. Similar attacks were seen in 1841, accompanied by strange tracks and unearthly screams. The devil made an 1859 appearance in Haddonfield. Bridgeton witnessed a flurry of sightings during the winter of 1873.

About 1887, the Jersey Devil was sighted near a house, scattering the local rugrats. The Devil was spotted in the woods soon after that, and just as in Decatur's story, it was shot in the right wing, but still kept flying.

There were reported Jersey Devil sightings throughout the 1800s, include an 1899 raid on Vincentown and Burrsville, during which many sheep and chickens disappeared, presumably becoming a quick snack for the Devil.

January of 1909, however, was the mother of all Devil sightings. Thousands of people claimed to witness the Jersey Devil during the week of January 16–23 in towns, hamlets, and farms all over New Jersey. Newspapers nationwide followed the story and published breathless eyewitness reports.

The Philadelphia Zoo posted a $1M reward for the Devil's capture. The offer set off a chain of hoaxes, including one involving a kangaroo with artificial wings. None were good enough to pass the Zoo's muster, and the reward remains unclaimed to this day.

Since that week of the Devil, sightings have been much less frequent, but didn't end by any means. In 1951 there was an uproar in Gibbstown after local boys claimed to have seen a screaming humanoid monster.

A telephone lineman working near Pleasantville was chased up a telephone pole by the Jersey Devil. He stayed there until a co-worker arrived and shot the Devil in the wing, wounding it. The Devil escaped into the surrounding woods.

In 1991, a pizza delivery driver in Edison described a night encounter with a white, horselike creature. In Freehold, in 2007, a woman supposedly saw a huge creature with bat-like wings near her home.

In August of the same year, a young man driving home near the border of Mount Laurel and Moorestown reported a similar sighting, claiming that he spotted a "gargoyle-like creature with partially spread bat wings" of an enormous wingspan perched in some trees near the road.

In January 23, 2008 the Jersey Devil was spotted again, this time in Litchfield, PA, by a local resident that claims to have seen the creature standing on his barn roof.

Many theorists believe that the Jersey Devil could possibly be a very rare, unclassified species which instinctually fears and attempts to avoid humans. Pretty smart critter, no?

Supporters of the crypto theory point out the similarities of the creature's appearance (horselike head, long neck and tail, leathery wings, cloven hooves, blood-curdling scream), with the only difference being the height and color.

Another fact supporting the cryptozoological theory is that it's much more likely that a species could endure over a span of several hundred years, rather than a single creature surviving since the days of the Lenni Lenape.

Some people think the Sandhill Crane (which has a 7' wing span) could be the Jersey Devil. But the physical descriptions of the Devil seem to be match up with the species pterosaur, Jurassic Park era dinos known popularly in museums as "winged lizards."

A rotting corpse vaguely matching the Jersey Devil's description was discovered in 1957, leaving some to believe the creature was dead. However, there have been several sightings since that time, soooo...

How ingrained is this story into the Jersey psyche? Well, the New Jersey Devils hockey team takes its name from the legendary critter. It sure beats the New Jersey Sopranos, right?

(The top and bottom images are from the
Elk Township - Jersey Devil site.)


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Eastern State Penitentary

eastern state prison
Eastern State Penitentary

Built in 1829 in a spooky Gothic style with 30' walls, many consider Eastern State in Philly to be the first true penitentiary ever constructed. Oddly, it was built as part of a Quaker inspired penal reformation to help rehab prisoners.

It didn't seem to meet with much success with the 80,000 felons that occupied its' cells at one time or another, including hard core crooks like Slick Willie Sutton, who died there in a tunnel cave-in during an escape try, and Scarface Al Capone.

Prisoners at Eastern State had a toilet, table, bunk and Bible in their cells, in which they were locked all but one hour a day. When the inmates did leave their cells, a black hood would be placed over their head so they couldn't see any other prisoners as they walked through the halls of the prison. Any form of communication between inmates was strictly forbidden, and if violated cost the con some time in the hole on half rations of food and water.

Inmates lived a life of monastic solitude and would only get a glimpse of sunlight, known as "The Eye of God" which came through a tiny slit in the prison ceiling.

After being shut down in 1971, it's now operated as a ghoulish museum of sorts by the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Society as a National Historic Landmark.

The facility has been kept in "preserved ruin," meaning that no significant attempts have been made for renovations or upkeep. Guests are asked to sign a liability waiver and several sections remain closed to the public.

It has a great Halloween tour called Terror Behind the Walls. The prison's a must on the list of every ghost hunting organization in the region and been featured in many books, articles, and on TV. That's because the prison is still run by the inmates.

As early as the 1940's employees and prisoners alike began reporting unusual activity within the prison's walls. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps in the long, dark corridors and wails that come from from empty cells.

One ghosthunter, on the stairs that lead to a catwalk, was shooting some photos when a voice from nowhere said, "You don't have to take a damn picture." Just moments later, the same voice added "I'm lonely..."

Cell Block 6 has reported sightings of shadowy forms gliding against the wall and flitting in and out of cells, and Cell Block 13 also has reports of shadow people. Cell Block 12 features the echoes of voices laughing hysterically. It also holds the spook of the Soap Lady, a female dressed in white that appears in the shower area.

The TAPS team found a shadowy spirit dressed in a dark cloak and light trousers haunting the cellblock, too.

In Cell Block 4, a locksmith was surrounded by floating apparitions and faces crying out to him. In the older cellblocks, a featureless dark figure has been reported many times, standing deathly still and watching the visitors. He disappears if you get too close to him. He's the most widely reported spirit in the building.

A voice has been reported from the prison greenhouse, saying "hello" to visitors. Death Row has also been the scene of eerie encounters with the same shadowy figures commonly seen by others throughout the prison structure.

The spook of a mobster that Al Capone ordered gunned down on St. Valentine's Day, Jimmy Clark (Bugs Moran's brother-in-law), is said to have followed him to Eastern. Capone could be heard screaming in his cell at night for "Jimmy" to leave him alone. Clark's ghost followed him when he was released, too, and Capone's bodyguards at his HQ, Chicago's Lexington Hotel, would often hear the same cry for "Jimmy" to go away.

He went so far as to call a psychic, Alice Britt, to get rid of Clark’s vengeful spirit. The ensuing seance didn't work. Hymie Cornish, Capone’s aide, also saw the ghost. He entered Capone’s apartment once and spotted a tall man standing near the window. He demanded to know the man’s name but the shadowy figure stepped behind a curtain. Cornish called two bodyguards in, but a search of the room found no one there but Capone, who insisted the vision had been Clark.

Years later, a dying Capone would say that Jimmy Clark was following him to the grave.

The image of a former turnkey who had his throat slashed by an inmate has been seen, as have maids in white dresses (We're not sure how they got there. We didn't think the prisoners had room service.) The wraith of a guard in the watch tower has been spotted often, and the sounds of a barking dog have been heard from the same area.

Most of this paranormal activity started after the deserted prison became a public attraction. ESPHS manager Devon Gillian believes it's because all the visitors have disturbed the prison's many spirits, who are upset over the change in jailhouse routine.

One thing's for sure. When you did your stretch at Eastern, you weren't doing easy time. And forget about parole, even in the afterlife. Once they slammed the iron doors behind you, you weren't going anywhere - ever.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crystal Skulls

crytal skull
Crystal Skull from Wikipedia

Every so often we deviate from the Keystone path, and this post takes one of those side trips. After watching History and Sci-Fi Channel programs about Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls, we thought we'd see whassup with them. Here's the H&H answer, based on an AP article and our crackerjack research skills (i.e., Google), with a link to a meatier story below:

The legend goes that the ancient Maya possessed 13 crystal skulls which, when united, hold the power of saving the Earth.

New-agers have linked the skulls to the Maya "Long Count" calendar that ends on December 21, 2012, when it reaches the final day of a 5,126-year cycle. According to the tale, all 13 skulls must be reunited and lined up together to prevent the world from falling off its axis.

Don't laugh. It could happen, and already has once. Recent work by geologists Adam Maloof of Princeton and Galen Halverson of Paul Sabatier University found that the north pole shifted more than 50 degrees (about the distance between Alaska and the equator) some 800 million years ago during the Precambrian time period. But it took about 20 million years to wander that far afield. Science is often stranger than spooks. But back to the skulls.

They were hidden all over the earth by the wily Mayan priests. Seven are believed found and in private or institutional collections, with another half dozen yet to be discovered. The catch - mankind must be morally and mentally ready to use them in our time of need. That's a tough one, given our current track record.

Others believe that they act like crystal balls and you can see images of the past and future in them. Some think they are ET or Atlantean communication devices, like computer chips, that hold our origins, history and perhaps destiny, but that humans can't quite figure out how to turn them on yet. There are those that claim the skulls are powerful physical and spiritual healing tools.

Experts dismiss the hundreds of existing crystal skulls as fakes that were probably made by shady antiquities traders in the 19th century. But Mayan priests worship the skulls, even today, and real-life skull hunters still search for them. Go figure.

The story of the skulls stretches over continents and many decades, and may even hold more twists and turns than the tale portrayed by Indiana Jones, while every bit as mercenary.

Few of today's crystal skulls can be dated any further back than the 1860s, when Europe was swept by a rage for pre-Hispanic "relics."

Frenchman Eugene Boban, a colorful rascal with a checkered past and murky political ties, set up a store to supply the relics market after the French invaded Mexico. Eventually he carted his skulls to New York, Paris and Mexico City, selling them to private collectors.

Buyers were told that the skulls were made by the Mayas, whose civilization peaked between 300 and 900 A.D. But no crystal skull has ever been excavated from a documented Mesoamerican archaeological dig. Caveat emptor, hey?

Some believe the skulls can emit and focus light, project visions, heal, and even influence natural forces. Today, these beliefs persist in the jungles of southern Mexico among the Lacandon, the last of the Mayas, some of whom still worship the skulls. Even they don't know where they came from originally.

Thousands of miles away in Washington, Jane MacLaren Walsh keeps one of the skulls in her office at the Smithsonian Institution. She doubts the ancient Mayans ever worshipped any such skulls.

An anthropologist and antiquities sleuth, she has spent more than a decade studying the better known skulls, like the ones acquired by the British Museum and Paris' Quai Branly museum over a century ago, as well as the Smithsonian's own skull.

She says they are artistically unlike pre-Hispanic depictions of death's heads, and often show microscopic markings from fairly modern cutting tools.

"None of them is ancient," Walsh said. About their touted powers, she notes wryly: "I've been sitting in fairly close proximity to one of the skulls for about 16 years, and I have not witnessed anything like what people say."

The British Museum keeps a skull in its collection largely as a curiosity, listing its pedigree as "probably European, 19th century."

It's possible that the near-human sized fakes may have been inspired by two real crystal skulls now on display at Mexico City's renowned National Anthropology Museum. One was purchased in 1874 for 28 pesos by the museum from Mexican collector Luis Costantino, and another for 30 pesos in 1880.

Much smaller and less perfectly carved than the ones held at the museums in Europe, these jewelry-sized trinkets, about an inch in height and made of milky rather than clear crystal, are in the Aztec and Oaxaca collections. The museum classifies them as either late pre-Hispanic or early colonial.

These smaller crystal skulls may have been genuine Mesoamerican beads that were later carved into a skull shape. They might also reflect Latino Catholic culture. At least one skull has been found attached to the base of a crucifix, that being the Catholic symbolism for Golgotha, the "place of the skull." Or they could just be macabre jewelry. Quetzelcoatl and the gang ain't telling.

At least those skulls are the real McCoys, originally used as necklace pendants and ornaments by the natives in one form or another. They may have been the height of Maya chic, but supernatural...well, we'll find out in a few years - 2012, to be exact.

This tale was taken from CNN.
Here's an article by Skeptoid regarding the skulls.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Fiddling Ghost of Mahoning Valley


Two men who worked on the Rochester & Pittsburgh railroad being built through 19th century Indiana County shared a small house. One of them was an avid fiddler who played the local dances, barn-raisings, and other social events of the day.

He played his tunes at home, too, early in the morning and late at night. He showed no consideration at all for his roomie, who apparently didn't share his love of fiddle music.

The manic fiddler was found stabbed to death one day by fellow railroaders after he didn't show up for work. His fiddle was smashed to pieces and the bow snapped in two. His roommate was nowhere to be found, no doubt off to quieter (and further from the long reach of the law) locales.

It's said you can see the old fiddler on the roof of his deserted house, still sawing away to this day. You can even hear his weird, eerie melody floating through the air. He's been called the noisiest ghost in Indiana County.

One report places this haunting in Smicksburg, but the original site of the town has been razed so the spook doesn't have a roof left to fiddle from there. Besides, it's not likely the Amish farmers would be hosting English railroaders in their tight knit community, though they may still be tapping a foot to his tunes.

Many of the region's folk tales, including this one, are set down in That's What Happened by local folklorist Frances Strong Helman. Regional historian George Swetnam also related this story in a long ago edition of the now defunct Pittsburgh Press.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Devil's Den

devil's den
Devil's Den after Gettysburg from Sons of the South
(photo by Alexander Gardner, 1863)

The Devil's Den, located between Big and Little Round Tops on the Gettysburg battlefield, was a spook hot spot long before the Civil War. The rock strewn locale allegedly got its' name from an elusive monster snake that was said to inhabit the boulders, called "The Devil" by the locals. It was supposed to also be a Native American ceremonial site, and the early settlers reported Indian ghosts and the sound of "war whoops" among the rocks.

Another story concerns Pauline Noel, a young woman that literally lost her her head in a wagon crash there. Her headless ghost has been reported seen, and some say if you run across her, she'll try to take yours, too (actually, the legend is she'll try to eat it, but without a head of her own...) Its' also said that her name, P. Noel, was carved into the rocks by her spook so that she's never forgotten. It's thought that if you trace the engraved name with your finger, her ghost is likely to appear.

It's also a place where cameras quite often malfunction as a sort of curse brought about because of the ghoulish moving and posing of bodies by Civil War photographers. There have also been alleged sightings of battle reenactments by the spook soldiers, and the sight of ghostly snipers, gangs of roaming graycoats, and the sounds of gunfire have been commonly reported.

The most famous spook is that of the Texan reb who's been seen by many, serving as a sort of a tourist guide and happily posing for pictures (although when developed, his figure is missing.) Once he was described to a park ranger as a barefoot hippie because of his floppy hat and loose shirt - the uniform of the Texas Confederate regiment.

The areas between Devil's Den and the Round Tops were known as The Valley of Death and Slaughter Pen, and some troops seem to be stuck in an endless loop of reliving the battle - and their deaths, in America's most senseless and brutal war.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grand Midway Hotel

The Grand Midway Hotel from Kerouac Fest

The Grand Midway Hotel is located in Windber, Somerset County. It isn't a public hotel, but an artists co-op owned by film maker Blair Murphy. He made the move from LA to Windber when he won the hotel in an E-Bay auction. The turn of the century, 33 room building is plenty roomy enough for the artists, who host an annual Kerouac Fest, and their ghostly guests.

Blair's had a posse of psychic investigators stop by, and so far they've found rhyming Sarah, a young girl with long curly hair in a white pinafore with a doll, a girl in the wall, another that won't show herself, and heard various voices.

Sarah told psychic Voxx “609, come and see me anytime – I play in riddle and in rhyme – my father killed me, what a crime.” Voxx believes that 609 is spook speak for the year she died, 1906. The next ghost, responding to Patty Wilson's questioning, told her she had been hiding in the wall since 1929. Rosemary Eileen Guiley and Adam Blai got another woman's spirit to blurt “I can't help you if you can't see me,” after repeated requests to show herself.

The Ghost Research Foundation investigated the Hotel, and left with the following impressions: A spirit called the Professor lurks in the second floor office. He has a liking for Anne Rice books on the shelf. When they entered the “Canopy Room”, they felt intense cold and heard a spook say “We are not leaving!” They sensed a strong female presence there, which was not too surprising as the place was once a bordello. They also felt that the basement had a body or two buried in it at one time.

That's how it is with those E-Bay purchases. You have to take the house as is, no returns.