Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Death in the Cemetery

Cemeteries are filled with ghosts.  Almost every large and historic cemetery has a ghost story or two tucked beneath the tomb stones.   Even small cemeteries tell stories.   I have been to large and small cemeteries and chased ghosts in large cities and in the country.   I  love cemeteries and I love the stories they tell.  I have spent a lot of time with the old cemeteries and old tombstones, but today I went to a small cemetery that merged new with old.   Although the old graves whispered of secret histories which usually call to me, today I found myself deeply touched by the new graves in this little cemetery.  While the old stones were forgotten, over grown, and so worn down the names were hard to discern, the new graves were beautiful and as lovingly tended as the most elaborate garden.  They told stories of human emotion.   Today I found graves covered with gardens and decorated with toys.  I found them topped with fairies and situated amidst gardens of wind chimes that sang in the wind whispering of fresh sorrow.  I always believe that, at least in part, the search for ghosts is a quest to explain death.   It is a quest to make death somehow more bearable and more understandable.  These graves reminded me that behind every ghost story there is the sorrow of loss.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Ghost of Founders Hall

Founders Hall is the tallest building in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Its lean form towers over the city in classic elegance.  It is home to the Bank of America Corporate Center.  It is also home to a small mall and various shops.  It is the city center.   The floors are marble and frescoes decorated the walls.  The atrium is vaulted and the last thing you would normally associate with a building like this is ghosts.

Founders Hall wasn't always what it is today.   Once, a medical school stood where the tall, modern building now stands.   Sometime in the late 1800's the body of a young girl was stolen from a grave near Salisbury, North Carolina.   The grave robbers took her body when it was still fresh.  This was a common practice in the late 1800s as medical schools paid top dollar for cadavers for dissection and study.  The famous serial killer, H.H. Holmes , used to sell the bodies of his victims to medical schools.  

After the girl's body was stolen and sold to the medical school, people began seeing the ghost of a young girl wandering around the medical school.   She wasn't a happy ghost and would often be seen screaming. 
According to legend, the girl told her woeful story to some people.   The people were so disturbed by the girl's ghost and her story that they went to the police.  The police actually acted on this information and recovered what was left of her body and returned it to her grave.  However,  her ghost still roams the halls of Founder's Hall bemoaning what was done to her body.  Witnesses to this haunting say that doors open and close on their own and loud noises can be heard throughout the building.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Ghosts of Gimghoul Castle

The ghost of Gimghoul Castle doesn't actually belong to the castle itself.  In fact, the ghost was there long before the castle. The ghost belongs to a bloodstained rock.  According to legend,  Peter Dromsgoole died and was buried beneath this bloody rock and his ghost still haunts it to this day.

Peter Dromsgoole went to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1831.  Like many young college students, he met and fell in love with a beautiful young woman at school.  The woman's name was Fanny and the two young lovers were inseparable.  Sadly, Fanny had another admirer.  Her beauty was well known and another man decided that Fanny should be his.  Peter's rival challenged him to a duel for Fanny's hand in marriage and Peter accepted this challenge.

They chose the spot for the duel on top of  Piney Prospect.  This was a hill not far from the University.  The two met at dusk and shots were fired.  Peter Dromgoole was shot and fell on the rock on top of Piney Prospect.  His blood seeped into the stone and has never left.    Murder was a crime, even then, so Peter's rival decided to quickly cover up his treacherous act.  He buried Peter beneath the blood soaked rock and made up a story about Peter running away to join the Army.

Fanny never believed the lies.  According to legend, Fanny saw Peter's ghost atop Piney Prospect and would go there ever day to wait for her phantom lover.  She sat there so long that she finally went mad and died on the rock beside her love leaving her ghost behind.   Peter's killer confessed to his murder on his death bed sixty years later.

Gimghoul Castle was built beside the bloody rock on Piney Prospect in 1926.   The castle is a place of mystery and shadow. It is the house of a secret society that originally named themselves after the infamous Peter Dromgoole.  The founders of this organization believed Peter to be the embodiment of Arthurian ideals of chivalry.  They later changed their name to the Order of Gimghoul in "accordance to midnight graves and weirdness.".  The castle is a dark and mysterious looking place and the ghost stories have bled over to include the castle as haunted.  However, by most accounts,  the ghosts of Peter and Fanny have always been seen on the bloody rock waiting for each other in the dark.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The River of Blood

Chickamauga Battlefield just South of Chattanooga is one of the most haunted battlefields in the world.   In the United States, it is second only to Gettysburg.   I have begun researching Chickamauga for my new History Press book, Haunted Chattanooga, and what is most interesting about Chickamauga is that it seems to have been haunted long before the first shots of  The Battle of Chickamauga were fired.   The Battle of Chickamauga was a bloody affair killing 35,000 men and leaving the ground littered with corpses and the air filled with the scent of decay for months to come.  Yet even before this, Chickamauga was linked to darkness, death, and demons.

Chickamauga was named for the Chickamauga River that runs through the battlefield.  This river was named by the Cherokee people who were in the area long before the white man set foot there.   Although the exact translation of the word Chickamauga is often disputed, it is widely believed that Chickamauga is upper Cherokee for "The River of Blood."    It is believed that the Cherokee people named Chickamauga the River of blood because after the white man came they brought disease with them.   Small Pox decimated the native population.  It killed more natives than any guns and it is said that the Cherokee people who were infected with small pox went to the river to die.   They named the river the river of blood because so many people died there.   So death clings to Chickamauga like a wet cloth and the ghosts of the battlefield are so many they can't even be listed.

One of the most famous things that haunts the battlefield is thought to be older than even the natives.   Old Green Eyes has been seen by innumerable visitors to the battlefield and his legend is well known throughout the Southeast.  Old Green Eyes is a demon like creature with green eyes and sharp teeth.  He has long claws and an almost human aspect about him.  There is much debate over what Old Green Eyes is.  Many believe he is a demon.  Others say he is an elemental being of some kind. After the battle of Chickamauga, he was seen in the tall grass on Snoddgrass Hill feeding off the dead.   The living still see him watching from the shadows with his glowing green eyes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Valentine's Day Began with Dead Goats and Naked Ladies

A friend of mine sent me a wonderful article on the origins of Valentine's Day on NPR.   This article filled me with so much wicked happiness I had to blog about it.  I know it is slightly off topic, but naked people being flogged with animal hides is worth discussing in any forum.  Apparently the ancient roots of Valentine's Day begins with the Romans.   The Romans celebrated Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to 15. In Roman mythology Lupercus was the equivalent of the Greek god Pan who was known to be a sexy sort of fellow who promoted fertility.  His holiday was a somewhat romantic kind of celebration.  During Lupercalia the men would sacrifice a goat and a dog and then whip women with the hides of the dead animals.  The women would line up naked in order to be whipped.  They did this because they believed this ritual would make them more fertile.   Afterwards, there would be lottery in which men and women would be paired up for a night of naked fun. 

I know, you are now wishing we still celebrated Valentine's day this way.  Enough with the cheesy cards.  Where are the dead animals, whippings, and naked people?  It was the Catholic Church that ruined the fun.   Emperor Claudius II killed two Valentine's in different years of February 14th.  Both men were martyred and the day derives its name from these two martyred saints.   In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I got confused and merged the two martyrs into one person and named February 14th after them.  He also absorbed the romantic traditions of Lupercalia into the day in order to soften the pagan debauchery and retake the day for Christianity.  Christianity has a long history of doing this type of thing.  Christmas was taken from Roman Saturnalia traditions and Norse Yule traditions.  By absorbing pagan holidays rather than forbidding them, ancient Christians were able to gain new followers rather than lose them. 

Chaucer and Shakespeare can be credited with further romanticizing St. Valentine's day and turning it into the romantic, kissy holiday it is today, but  I will always think back to better days when women ran naked through the streets being beaten with dead animals.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Rite

Exorcism based films, books, and movies have become very popular over the last few years.   The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcist, And Exorcist Tells His Tale, have all been popular.  Due to the rising interest in exorcisms and exorcists the Vatican has gone so far as to open their files revealing video and  tapes of the many exorcisms they've performed.   Discovery Channel will be doing a new television show based on the Vatican's files.

The Rite is one of the many films on the topic of exorcists and exorcisms and it is unique in that it is a little more realistic than the other possession films I've seen.  The Rite is based on a book of the same name written by a priest.   The story is the story of one of 14 US based exorcists.  It is the story of his journey through faith to remain a priest and become an exorcist.  This movie was almost universally panned by critics despite a wonderful performance by Anthony Hopkins as the older exorcist who has been worn thin by too many years in the presence of demons.    The young priest, the protagonist, is apprenticed to Anthony Hopkins and participates in a couple of exorcisms with him.  These exorcisms are mellow by our pea soup spitting standards and the young priest remains unconvinced there is anything but severe mental illness at work in the two possessed victims.  However, after the older priest becomes possessed the young priest rediscovers his faith and comes to believe in demons.

Whatever the critcs may say, I enjoyed this movie very much.  It wasn't as violent or spectular as other movies in this genre, but it makes up for that in realism.  What is most terrifying about his movie to me is that is is based on a true story.  The events in the movie were witnessed by a journalist who reported and confirmed the events in the movie.  No one's head spins around and there is no pea soup, but the victims live in constant fear and terror and are haunted by relentlessly hateful spirits that are more terrifying than most of the other depictions I've seen.  I also watched The Last Exorcism this weekend and the two movies were a stark contrast to me.  The Last Exorcism was a slow attempt at realism that became silly and laughable at the end and The Rite maintained its tone and texture well.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Phantom Bird

Anyone who has ever read Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven knows that there is something terrifying about a ghoulish bird.  Birds can be somewhat frightening to begin with.  They loom over us and stare out at us with glowing eyes.  The very sound of an owl late at night can bring to mind old ghost stories and whisper of childhood fears.  At the Lincoln Inn in London, such fears are justified.

Lincoln's Inn is in the center of legal London. It is not an inn as Americans define inns. It is one of four Inns of Court in London to which attorneys are called to bar.  It has a long and dark history that lends itself well to stories of ghosts and hauntings.  Lord Antony Babington was convicted of trying to assassinate Elizabeth 1st in 1586 and he and his followers were hanged, drawn and quartered at Lincoln’s Inn.  Lord William Russel's notoriously grisly execution also took place at Lincoln's Inn.

According to legend,  a group of young men were attacked at the law offices of  Lincoln's Inn in 1913.  The young men were accosted by a giant bird.  The bird cast no shadow and when the assault was over one of the young attorney's was left dead.  Charles Appleby was found covered in claw parks and drenched in blood.  A few years later another young man, John Radlett, was found hanging in the same office. The young man had locked himself in the office and huge claw marks were found on the walls and the doors of the office.    Rumors of the phantom bird spread quickly after this and the two journalists decided the story was worth investigating.  They locked themselves into the haunted room and began their investigation.
At first, nothing happened.  In fact so much nothing happened, the investigators began playing cards and wrote the story off as local legend and folklore.   It was only when the men were relaxed that the bird struck.  The windows were flung open and the room was filled with a sound of great flapping.  The doors shut and claw marks could be seen across the floor of the haunted room.  Shortly after this, the building containing this cursed room was destroyed and the bird vanished with the building, but the story is still one of the most terrifying haunted bird stories I have heard.  It would make Alfred Hitchcock shiver. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nightmares in the Sky

When I was young I loved books of photography.  Beautiful Death was one of my favorite books and Nightmares in the Sky was another one of my favorite books.  Nightmares in the Sky was a collection of photographs from various cities.  The photographs were of the small architectural details most people walk by without even noticing.  They are everywhere in cities.  They hide behind corners and in shadows and the average resident and tourist fails to even see them tucked away neatly in the corners of buildings.   Of course, the book focused on the gargoyles and dragons that lurk above pedestrians gazing out with hungry, stone eyes.  

Part of my passion for finding haunted places comes from my love of architecture and the art of the building.   I find these little details to be some of the most beautiful things in the world.  I can spend entire days wandering cities staring at the corner of an unknown building and photographing the strange monsters that sit forgotten on a ledge.   These photographs represent a small portion of my collection of  the nightmares I have seen in the sky, watching the world pass them by with shadowy eyes.  Not all of these are scary, but they are all haunting in their own way.  These pictures were taken in Chicago, New York, and Paris.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Green Orb

Someone told me an interesting story this week.   She had read my post about colored orbs and was very interested in the meaning behind the colors of orbs.  She said she had an experience with a green orb several years ago.  She was laying in her bed reading at night.  Her husband was asleep beside her.  She said a green orb came into the room through a door.  It hovered in her room for a few moments and then vanished as it had come.  Naturally, she was quite scared and she woke her husband to discuss the orb.   This reader had encountered unexplained things before and was able to forget about the orb fairly quickly and move on.  

However,  when she read my post about colored orbs, it brought up many questions about her experience.  The first question has to do with the nature of this orb.  Although orbs are always being debated about in the paranormal community,  they are also always in photographs.   The big debate surrounding orbs questions whether or not orbs are true indications of the paranormal or are due primarily to errors in digital photography.   This debate could in no way explain my friend's orb experience as there was no photography involved.  I should also state that this person who saw the orb is one of them most stable and reality grounded people I know.  She does not hunt for ghosts or look for the odd.  She is a person who believes in the tangible and is not prone to flights of fancy or mental illness so I believe that she saw what she saw and it wasn't due to any kind of cognitive defects or attribution bias.

A brief internet search on orbs outside of photography did nothing to help either of us explain her orb.  The only orbs seen with the naked eye were thought to be alien related rather than ghost related.    This left both of us with even more questions.  People who have claimed to see orbs in person have claimed they had alien encounters.  Although I love ghost stories,  I stay away from alien stories and am not sure how I feel about aliens.   My friend has no opinion on what the orb was but the encounter she described to me seemed more ghostly than otherworldly and I have no answers to give her.  I have really never heard of anything like this.  So I am left with more questions than answers and my friend is left to wonder what it was that drifted into her bedroom at night.  Maybe one of my brilliant readers can help shed some light on this matter?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ghost Dogs of the South

It doesn't take too much to get me really excited.  I love the little things in life.  I find immense joy in a good meal and a good book.  Everything else can fall apart, but if I have the little things, I'm happy.  The little thing that brought a huge smile to my face today is the book Ghost Dogs of the South by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett.  I love ghosts, dogs, and the South so this book was made for me.  It is a collection of dog related ghost stories.  There are 20 Southern, ghost tales in this charming collection and I enjoyed them all.

My favorite one is from Mississippi and is a little bit scary.  It is the story of a charming little girl.   She is so sweet she takes a cake to her elderly neighbor for his birthday.  Her neighbor loves animals and has a house filled with cats.  When the girl delivers the cake,  the neighbor tells her there are puppies in the back yard.  She picks out a puppy and names it Buddy and the two are inseparable from then on.  The dog even sleeps with the little girl every night.  Time passes as it always does and the girl's mother notices that the bond between girl and dog are fading.  She asks the little girl why the dog isn't going with her into her room or sleeping with her at night.  The girls says that "Mildred"  hates Buddy.

The mother asks about Mildred.  The girls tells her mother that Mildred used to live in the house and she left her locket behind.  The mother was concerned.   She asked her daughter who Mildred was and the girl laughed and said that Mildred was standing behind her.   Chills went up and down the mother's spine.  She knew something had to be done and she asked her little girl for the locket.  It took some coaxing.  The girl didn't want to part with the trinket and she liked her friend Mildred, but the mother was firm and took the locket.   She took the locket out to the backyard.  Buddy followed her and together the two buried the locket far from the house where the little girl could never find it.  She dug deep.  The treasure would never be found.  Mildred was never heard from again and Buddy returned to his position on the little girl's bed and in her heart, but if it hadn't have been for Buddy the mother never would have noticed her daughter's unnatural friendship with Mildred.

I think I will post a few more of these little stories because they are so wonderful, but if you want to read all of them you may have to buy the book :).