Friday, November 27, 2009

The Spitzer House

C.M. Spitzer House

The Victorian-style Queen Anne Spitzer House was built in 1890 for Brigadier General Ceilan Milo Spitzer. Spitzer and his cousin Adelbert later got into banking, and their Medina, Ohio home became one of the the first Bond Houses (akin to a modern day brokerage) in the United States outside of New York City.

It's been a B&B since 1994, regularly recognized for its excellent service by industry reviewers and guests, and is filled with antiques, stained glass, lacy linens, Longaberger baskets, a cherry staircase, featherbeds, collectibles, and Victorian charm. Oh, and ghosts.

It's regarded by many as a haunted house, and was noted in the "Haunted Ohio" series of books, along with Bed and Breakfast's list of spooked-out inns.

First, it has all the accouterments common to a old home with a history. Visitors and staff have reported feelings of presence, touches and taps from an invisible source, objects that were moved or re-arranged, cold spots, voices heard when no one was present, flickering lights, slamming doors, and the sounds of a young girl's laughter.

And if you lust for a room with your own ghostie to spend the night with, this is your kinda place.

One such cubbyhole is called Ceilan's Room. A stern-looking apparition has been seen there and at the top of the steps, thought by many to be the old general himself. Anna's Room is said to be frequented by the sad ghost of a slow-witted servant girl who is claimed to appear with some regularity, sometimes on the back stairs.

Evelyn's Room features the sounds of someone pacing the floor. Sydney's Room has a sense of gloom; a psychic picked up on a small boy's presence.

Bed and Breakfast relates a story about a female apparition who appeared with limited facial features except for a heavy jaw. She was a short, stout woman, in her 20s, wearing what the Edwardians called a "wrapper" or housedress. She fired questions, asking her surprised witness about the family, and then disappeared as quickly as she came. Where she fits in with the other cast of other-wordlies, we're not sure.

Hey, just wander around if you can't book a properly haunted bed. Piano playing from an empty parlor has been reported, along with two men who can be heard talking in the dining room when no one is there.

You can do one better. It's listed on the Inn Shopper as being on the market for $650K. So if you've been hankering to get into the haunted inn biz...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Aspen Manor - Visions From Vancroft

Aspen Manor image from Bed & Breakfast

Located on the hills above Wellsburg, West Virginia, Aspen Manor dates back to 1901, built by Captain Jacob "JJ" Vandergrift of Standard Oil fame for his playboy son, Joseph "JB" Vandergrift.

The estate was planned by Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow, noted Pittsburgh architects who designed many homes for the rich and famous. The manor still holds priceless museum-quality furniture and paintings inside its walls.

It was then known as Vancroft, and was quickly nicknamed the "Monte Carlo of the Ohio Valley." Vancroft's 600 acres boasted horse races, cock fights, week-long poker games, an opium den, a billiards hall, bowling alley, indoor pool, themed rooms, hunting, and fishing.

Everything JB loved was there, including, of course, some fast ladies whom he was alleged to have cavorted with frequently.

Currently, it's a B&B and hotel known as Aspen Manor after a long run as a Catholic assisted living facility and home for retired religious.

The mansion is now at the center of a police investigation after skeletal remains were found hidden in a wall, thanks to some spirit snooping by the Brooke County Paranormal Society and a spectral plea from beyond.

The voice's human remnants were presumably found after the spook seekers said they sensed someone was buried in a wall and followed a voice saying, “Help me. I’m stuck inside of this wall." They made a gruesome discovery in the basement - old bones.

They had been chopped into pieces, and were found along with glasses and hair. The remains were sent to the state medical examiner, and they were found to be chicken bones; so much for the clucking from the walls.

Vancroft's lore is that Diane Vandergrift was having an affair with a stable hand, and her hubby found out. It was not a case of what's good for the goose is good the gander.

It's said that womanizing Joseph Vandergrift couldn't take being two-timed, and had his wife killed and her body burned in the stable along with that of her lover. Other tales say she hung herself in the stable while JB had the hired hand murdered.

They too are all just part of the mythology of the place - Diane divorced Vandy in 1904, and so her spirit isn't very likely to floating around the Aspen Manor halls.

At any rate, after the divorce in 1904, Vandy left the house, never to return, taking just a few belongings along with him and forever washing his hands of his man-toy mansion.

But even with Diane and the entombed bones out of the spectral picture, lights going on and off by themselves, freezing rooms in the middle of summer, and visions of a woman who disappears in a flash have all have been reported from Vancroft. The Brooke County psychics also picked up some clicking sounds on EVP from an old convent on the grounds, the type of sound the good nuns used to warn students to hush.

Candykitten, whose hubby owns the manor, wrote to debunk the Diane stories and added that "The only ghosts here are those of the nursing home who passed on." We appreciate her input and helping to put the Diane Vandergrift tales to bed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth

Image from
Haunted American Tours

Hey, black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors...what could be worse? How about Friday the 13th?

The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. Some sources it's the most widespread superstition in the United States today. About 9% of Americans believe that Friday the 13th is jinxed, according to a 1990 Gallup poll, more than any other bad-luck omen.

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., an estimated 17 million to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day.

Some folk are so paralyzed by Friday the Thirteenth's bad mojo that they alter their normal daily routines, call off work, avoid taking flights, or for that matter, don't even get out of bed. It's been estimated that over $800 million is lost in business on this day.

You can trace the infamy of the number 13 back to the ancients. For starters, the dynastic Egyptians of the Pharaohs' era equated the number 13 with death (although they considered it lucky, as it marked the beginning of the afterlife).

In Norse mythology, the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the trouble-making god Loki, who crashed the party of twelve, bringing the group to, yep, 13.

It also has a basis in Christian theology. Thirteen is significant because it is the number of people who were present at the Last Supper (Jesus and his 12 apostles). Judas, the apostle w­ho betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member of the party to arrive.

There's more lore. Legend has it that if 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary. Many cities don't have a 13th Street; many buildings don't have a 13th floor; and many airlines don't have a 13th row of seats.

If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven.

Hey, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino wore #13 for seventeen years. He was the hottest QB this side of Joe Namath, and still never won a Super Bowl. He never won a championship at his alma mater, Pitt, either, despite being All-America. Marino wore #13 there, too.

Friday isn't such a hot day, either, according to the Norse and later Christians.

"Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of love and fertility. When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil - a gathering of thirteen - and plotted ill turns of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as 'Witches' Sabbath'," explains Origins author Charles Panati.

And of course, Friday is the day that Jesus was crucified. Friday is also supposed to be the day that Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit, the builders of the Tower of Babel started to babble, and that God launched the flood that drowned everything but Noah and his ark mates.

Cain slew his brother, Abel, on a Friday, and the Egyptians were visited with their 10th plague, the death of every first-born son, on that day, too.

Friday is an especially bad day to start a journey or project, and according to lore, for sailors to set sail. One hundred years ago, the British government sought to quell once and for all the widespread superstition among seamen that setting sail on Fridays was unlucky.

A special ship was commissioned, named "H.M.S. Friday." They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday and hired a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. Well, H.M.S. Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday, and was never seen or heard from again.

Some bad luck of Biblical proportions has occurred on this date in history.

On Friday the 13th of October 1066, the decision was made by King Harold II to go to battle the next day, rather than allow his troops a day of rest, despite his army having made a long and arduous march from a previous battle.

The decision to offer combat before the Brit troops were rested resulted in a bloody English defeat and King Harold's death, and helped establish Friday the 13th as an unlucky day throughout the Isles.

Katharine Kurtz in Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books, 1995) writes that "On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices.

None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force 'confessions,' and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake."

The Aztecs brutally killed 39,000 in one day on Friday the 13th of August, 1539. This was done at the request of the recently arrived Hernan Cortez, who claimed to be a god seeking tribute. The next day he overthrew their empire.

Of course, it just may be another media creation. In 13: The Story of the World's Most Popular Superstition (Avalon, 2004), author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer argues that the pairing of "unlucky Friday" and "unlucky 13" had its genesis in the pages of a a novel published in 1907 titled — what else? — Friday, the Thirteenth.

The book, all but forgotten now, concerned dirty dealings in the stock market (everything old is new again, hey?) and sold quite well in its day. Both the phrase and the premise behind it — superstitious people regard Friday the 13th as a horridly unlucky day — were instantly adopted and popularized by the press.

Now in truth, the day was considered unlucky long before the book and was well-rooted in American folklore, but it sure helped cement the concept as a part of Americana.

At any rate, it's a way old superstition based in both mythology and Christianity. So if you decide to do anything other than stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head, well, it's your roll of the dice.

But if you're reading this, you've already survived February and March's Friday the 13ths this year, so...

Main Sources: Wikipedia and

Saturday, November 7, 2009

John Brown's Body...

John Brown's Tannery image from Explore PA History

In Crawford County, John Brown ran a farm and tannery in New Richmond, about a dozen miles from Meadville, from 1825 to 1835. Indeed, he spent more time in New Richmond than any other place during his adult life.

It was also, as you might surmise, a major stop of the Underground Railroad, passing some 2,500 slaves through it's hidden room.

After some early success, the business eventually failed and John Brown moved on to Ohio, then New York, and marched on into history. But his body doesn't lie mouldering in the grave, according to some reports.

A tall, strapping man that many believe is John Brown has been allegedly seen here, although his spook is more commonly associated with Harper's Ferry.

It's debated whether he's returning to the place where he knew peace, or if he's drawn to the site because it's where his first wife, Dianthe, and two children are buried. In fact, one visitor claims to have a photo of Brown with his wife and kids at the small graveyard.

There's also the spirit of a black man seen at dusk and dawn, perhaps one of the escaped slaves. Voices have been heard, and there's a cemetery on the property that may be the final resting spot for the bodies of slaves, workers, family, even soldiers; no one's exactly sure who all reside there.

The place is a museum now, offering historical displays and tours. And who knows what piece of history you may run across there? Haunted Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson & Mark Nesbitt briefly covers the Tannery's spooks.