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.)