Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Party Madness

This week has been filled with planning for Halloween. Our annual Halloween party was last night and here are a few pictures of our nonsense.   I hope all of your Halloweens are as fun as ours has become!

Our little mortuary before the night made it too creepy.

We brought back fortune telling as a Halloween tradition.

My little Cthulu and his brother the brain eating zombie terrorized the party guests.

I decided I was too pregnant to stand half way through the party and let my husband, the pirate, bring me drinks.

We  borrowed the design for this creepy tree from   It turned out wonderfully and made our Hearth room into a haunted forest.  Our pet conure fit right in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Forgotten Halloween Traditions to Bring Back

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might remember this post.  As I hang spiders and bake mummy dogs by the dozens for tomorrow's Halloween party, I thought it might be nice to reuse my favorite Halloween post from last year. Halloween is my favorite Holiday. It has a very long history that is often forgotten. Although Halloween's roots can be traced back to pagan practices, it's name came from Christians. Halloween was the time of year when the ancient Celts believed that the veil between this world and the "otherworld" became thin allowing for spirits to have more access to our world. This was, naturally, quite terrifying to the Celts. In order to protect themselves from the spirits, people built enormous bonfires and cast bones into them to scare the spirits away. They also dressed up as terrifying spirits to confuse wicked spirits into believing they were spirits themselves. The Celts called Halloween Samhain. It was the Catholics that came up with the name Halloween. The early Christians were masters at taking local pagan holidays and integrating into their own Christian days. Even Christmas was stolen from Saturnalia. Catholics took Samhain and made it All Saints day, a day to celebrate the spirits of all the deceased saint. All Hallow's Eve was the night before All Saints day. The term All Hallow's Eve was eventually shortened to Halloween.

Through Halloween's long history there have been many traditions that have been simply left behind. This saddens me. So here are some I think we should bring back.

1.Colcannon: This is an Irish dish made with cabbage, kale, and potatoes. Small coins and prizes are usually hidden in this dish making it a little treasure hunt. I admit, this dish sounds repugnant, however, if altered slightly to regular potatoes the treasure hunt in dinner form is great fun for kids and adults. Just don't swallow the pennies.

2. Barmbrack: This is another food tradition. It is a tradition Irish fruitcake baked into a ring. Items are placed within the cake that for tell the future. For example, if you find the wedding ring, you'll be married soon. Finding coins predicts great wealth.

3. Tricking: Back in the old days the trick in trick or treating had meaning. People would hit the streets causing mayhem and playing tricks on people in their costumes and the only way to avoid the "tricking" was to give out treats. What happened to the tricks? Not saying you should set your neighbor's lawn on fire or anything, but if stingy old Ms. Brown isn't giving out candy this year, some fake poo on her porch might be perfect.

4. Bonfires: Why not scare bad spirits away with fires? Fires are fun. I'm building a fire in my fire pit this Halloween.

5. Fortune Telling: There are many types of fortune telling done on Halloween night, but one's fortune was always believe to be most easily predicted on Halloween. Whether you were reading tea leaves, apple peals, or gazing into mirrors to see your future, a prediction made on Halloween was always accurate.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A True Horror Story

Halloween is filled with horror stories.  Horror movies are on television and writers paper the world with stories of things that go bump in the night, but fiction is always slightly less terrifying than real life.  There is little in the world of fiction that can compare with the atrocities of the holocaust or the rape of Nanjing.   The Countess Bathory and Lady LaLaurie are more terrifying than any fictional serial killer.   So for tonight,  I will tell a true tale of a flesh and blood monster who is more terrifying to me than Freddy or Jason.

This is the story of a small man named Schafer.   Schafer was born into a time of violence and hatred and he embraced it was a lustful passion.   He was a German who was part of the Hitler youth in his childhood.  As a young adult, he embraced the Nazi mission and became a medic in the army, but his part in the Nazi atrocities was a small thing compared to the monster he was to become.  As an adult, he became a Lutheran minister and set up a home for orphaned children.   He seemed like a good man and many good German citizens followed him in his charitable crusade.   They more than followed him, they worshipped him.  To Schaffer's followers, he became a vision of God on Earth.  He became a symbol of Christian goodness in their eyes and he became a cult leader to his followers.  In 1959,  he founded the Private Social Mission.  Its purpose was to help poor children and those who followed him saw the goodness in this.  Yet, that same year, Schafer had to flee West Germany.  His followers fled with him and still believed in him, but the authorities wanted him for the sexual abuse of the very children he claimed to be trying to save.

Schafer took his hundreds of followers to Chile where he founded the  Colonia Dignidad community. In this community his followers worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day to create Schafer's ideal utopia.   It was in the Colonia that Schafer showed his true colors to his followers.   He surrounded the colony in barbed wire fences and had a watch tower at the center of the camp.  Descent or complaints were met severe punishment and torture.  Schaffer built a medical facility in the camp that became renowned as a torture facility.  Sex was strictly prohibited in the camp.  One of his ex-followers described his punishment for breaking the laws of the camp.   He and his wife had sex and she became pregnant.   The couple attempted to flee the camp, but were captured.   The woman was forced to have an abortion and tortured with electric shock and so was the man.  The only sex that was allowed in the camp was that between Schaffer and the new orphans he had brought to the camp and the other children of the camp.  He founded yet another orphanage and home for abandoned children and this time there was no limit to his cruelty.  Schafer sexually abused the children and subjected them to bizarre experiments involving electroshock to the genitals to try to prevent them from maturing into adults.

Schafer's torture techniques became so famous that when dictator Pinochette took over Chile, he paid Schafer to use his medical wing for torture of political prisoners.  Schafer's colony held the official torture chamber for the Pinochette dictatorship so Schafer had political sanction for his cruelty to his people and the people that were brought to him.   After the Pinochette dictatorship collapsed, people finally began to report the atrocities that had been committed to them by Schaffer.  Schafer fled the colony in 1997 after he was accused of child molestation and crimes against humanity.  He wasn't convicted until 2006.  He died in prison at the age of 88, but he thrived as the kind of monster that make fairy tale witches seem pleasant for decades.

I did wonder if the colony was haunted.  It seems a place that bore witness to such horror must hold ghosts, but it seems the colony still remains somewhat active.   In 2006,  there were still residents at the camp.  Schafer so sheltered his followers from the real world that even after the horror, they didn't know where to flee.  They had been trapped in a world of work where everyone still wore 1950s garb and sung German folk songs.  Those that live in the colony today don't speak of ghosts, but ask for forgiveness for the sins of their former leader.  Sometimes, the real monsters are more terrifying than anything anyone can dream of and Schafer was one of those monsters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Horror Novel for Halloween!

My first novel was my darkest.   I think I was having a dark night of the soul when I wrote this one.  It was littered with sex, violence, and old gods.  I've changed a lot since I wrote this novel, but the novel itself has remained the same.   My inspiration for this bit of horror was the state hospital where I did my internship, Searcy State Hospital.  As soon as I stepped into this old, battered hospital with its dark history and old ghosts I knew something had to be written about it.  So I wrote Circe.   Even though this was my first book written, Circe is my fourth book to be released.   It was released in ebook format today.   If you read ebooks and you like sex, violence, and old demons that grab hold of the world through the voices of the insane,  this might be a good book for your Halloween reading!

I will be celebrating the release of this book with giveaways and fun once I have all the details!  I'm thinking I should give away something fun for this book like a Cthulhu hand puppet or a collection of Lovecraft short stories, since Lovecraft strongly influenced me when I wrote this book.  What do ya'll think?

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Why We Wear Halloween Costumes

One of the most popular parts of Halloween is the costumes.  Dressing up as a sexy maid or a horrible zombie is the Hallmark of our modern Holiday celebration.  But as Halloween creeps up on us, I always think it is fun to think back to where this tradition came from.  It is good to know why we dress up on Halloween.  Halloween's history is most commonly traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. During Samhain, the Celts believed that the divider between this world and the next became thin. This thinning allowed both malevolent and benevolent spirits to cross over to our world. This naturally caused a good deal of fear and anxiety for the ancient Celts. While family ghosts were welcomed, bad spirits had to be scared off. Celts used bonfires to drive evil spirits off. They also used apotropaic devices to scare off bad spirits.

Apotropaic literally means to ward off evil but apotopaic devices are often devices that are so terrifying that they scare away evil. My favorite examples of apotropaic devices are the gargoyles and terrible monsters that line the outside and insides of medieval cathedrals in Europe. The most holy places in the medieval world were lined with horrifying demons and monsters that are often depicted devouring people and animals. These horrors were so terrible that medieval people thought that even evil spirits would be frightened off.

Costumes were used as both apotropaic devices and disguises to confuse the spirits. In Scotland, young men pretended to be dead by blackening their faces. These costumes evolved over the years and were eventually used in the late medieval practice of souling when poor people would go door to door asking for food. This practice eventually evolved into costumed trick or treating. So as you plan your costume this year remember that it should not only be interesting, but it should scare off evil spirits as well!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sharing Ghost Stories at the Huntsville Public Library

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the Huntsville Public Library tonight.  I was invited to share my ghost stories and spread chilling tales for Halloween.  This was wonderful for me.  I was nervous. I'm a writer not a speaker so I wasn't sure how I'd do, but I was helped by a fabulous audience and the staff at the library.   I may have floundered a bit with my story telling skills, but my audience saved me with fabulous stories.

One of my favorite stories came from a lady sitting in the front row.  She is going to send me photographs and details later, but from what she said tonight I learned a lot about The Moody Brick.  Her great-great grandfather was involved in a tragedy I hadn't heard of at my favorite haunted house, The Moody Brick.  I wrote about the Moody Brick in my book Haunted North Alabama.  It is a house that has been haunted by dark shadow from its construction.  Many have died there, but this lady told me her family story.   Her ancestor was an abolitionist and three men who resented his views murdered him and buried him at The Moody Brick.  His murders were apprehended and hung from the old tree in front of the house.  This only adds to the many horror stories and tragedies that creep out of the haunted location like a dark shadow and the lady shared her story with everyone making the Moody Brick more real and more personal.

Another visitor told a story about another haunted location from my book.  He spoke of Hell's Gates.  I've been to Hell's Gates looking for ghosts and found only wind and darkness.  But he says while he visited this dark location, an unseen force pelted him with sticks and bramble and sent him running into the darkness.  In the darkness, he tripped and hurt his ankle.   Another gentleman told us about the house he lived in, which is very haunted.   He says his ghost is a moody sort of woman who is protective of her old home.  A final lady, stood up and told us stories from Huntsville's haunted train station, The Huntsville Depot.  She shared the encounters of those she knew and spoke of the multitude of ghost that creep out of the old train station.

I learned a lot tonight, but mostly I learned that public speaking is the best way to gather new ghost stories.  I also learned it is much more fun to listen than to speak.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll

Maple Hill Cemetery is one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in the Southeast. It contains the remains of some of the most important people in Southern History and every year the dead rise to share their stories in the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll.  I enjoyed a lovely day of history and ghosts this Sunday on this cemetery stroll.  Here are some images of the walk.

Sally Carter  is one of the most famous ghosts in Huntsville, Alabama.  Here she tells her tragic tale of woe.

Talula Bankhead starred in numerous films, including Alfred Hitchcock's famous "Lifeboat".   She remembers her last words at the cemetery walk.  They were, "I need more bourbon."

Huntsville's Gypsy Queen reminds locals that she was buried with her treasure and any who dare touch it will be haunted by her for the rest of their lives.

The famous cow, Lily Flag, that won the 1982 World's Fair trophy, shares its mooooving story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Pizza Parlor Ghost

Tucked away in between a mini-golf course and a old cemetery there is  an old parking lot in the back of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  This parking lot is very unremarkable.   Kudzu climbs down the walls of the embankment above the lot and covers all the parking signs.  Steep hills climb up in ever direction into thick folliage.  The best view from this lot is of the mini-golf course.  As you wander the lot, you can see children cheering and swinging thier clubs.

You would never know that this old piece of pavement used to be a pizza parlor.  It was the first pizza parlor in Gatlinburg. One night, the owners came into the pizza parlor and found that the restaurant was completely trashed.   Food was scattered about the floor, chairs were overturned.  Furniture was thrown in corners.   The owners called the police and things seemed normal for a while.  But the unknown vandals began to return on a regular basis.   The staff would frequently come in to find the place completely trashed.  Finally, the owners decided to put a camera in at night to catch the vandals in the act.   The vandals were caught, but they weren't the vandals the owners expected.  Video evidence showed objects moving on their own and things fliying about at night.

The owners tried to hide the video.  They were afraid word of the haunting would destroy business so they destroyed the tape.  Word of the haunting spread quickly despite the tape's absence, however.   Everyone knew about pizza parlor ghosts.  This actually only increased business.  People came from all over to eat with the ghosts.  Sadly, the pizza parlor was a popular place to eat, but the staff was less than happy to work there.    Those that worked there said that this old pizza parlor was tormented by ghosts.   Objects moved on their own.  Pizza's flew off the counter.   Chairs fell over.   The lights went on and off.  Odd noises filled dark corners at night.   No one wanted to work with the ghosts so the staff fled and no one would replace them.   The pizza parlor had to be shut down because no one would work there.

When the parlor was sold, it was sold to a company that turned it into a parking lot.  During construction,  bones from the cemetery beside the pizza parlor were unearthed beneath  the foundation of the old parlor.   The skeletal remains of dozens of people were exumed and buried elsewhere, but the problem still remained.  The first settlers of the regions didn't use proper gravestones.  Sometimes the only thing that marked the graves were jars of stones, so it is possible and probable that bones still may remain beneath the parking lot and the adjacent mini-golf course.  Local legend says that if touists park in this parking lot their cars will have flat tires, dings, and engine problems.   Tourists that play in the mini-golf course can't make the last hole or do worse than they usually would.   I know I've played mini-golf at this course many times and I will testify that I sucked every single time.  Damn ghosts.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reviewing The Ghost Walk of Gatlinburg

I have developed a strong love of Ghost Walks.   There is no better way to spend a crisp autumn night than wandering through the secret histories of old cities and learning about their secrets and ghosts.   This weekend I went to one of my favorite vacation spots.   I rented a cabin high in the mountains surrounded by the orange and red trees and the warm smell of campfire.  We made s'mores and walked in the woods and on Friday night we went on the Ghost Walk of Gatlinburg. 

I have been on many ghost walks and ghost tours.  Some have been  a disappointment.  Some tour guides have made me mad by spouting strange theories like they were facts set in stone by scientists.  Some I have loved and wanted to do twice.  The Ghost Walk of Gatlinburg was one of the ghost walks I loved.  It was a fabulous tour filled with the type of stories that keep you listening.   The tour started out poorly.   Apparently, their office is staffed by idiots.   They didn't have our reservation at all and they lost the other people we were travelling with's credit card information so they had to give it out over a cell phone, which made them very uncomfortable.  We expected the worst after this, but our tour guide, Ron, was fabulous.   As soon as he started talking, we knew we were going to have a good time.  Not only did he know the history of Gatlinburg very well, but he told his stories with verve and a unique sense of humor that made me laugh out loud on several occasions.  This tour also handed out EMF detectors so everyone on the tour could ghost hunt as they listened to the guide tell his haunting tales of blood and horror.

The tour started at the old White Oaks Flat Cemetery.  This cemetery is tucked behind a little shopping center filled with pancakes and souvenirs.   I never would have even suspected it was up there, pressed against mini-golf courses and and arcades, if it weren't for this ghost walk.  We went on this ghost walk with several young children and Ron really spent a lot of time making sure the walk was fun for them.  He joked with them and made them laugh so hard they say it was their favorite part of their Gatlinburg vacation.   Ron told many ghost stories I had never heard before and also loaded the quiet parts of the tour with fun facts and folklore.  

One of my favorite folklore stories Ron told was the story of a mountain witch.  This witch was captured by locals and killed.  She was buried face down, so that if she did try to escape her coffin after death she would dig down, towards hell rather than up towards humanity.   She was also buried beneath a crossroads so her power would be diminished and to make sure she was tormented even after death she was buried beneath a crosswalk so all the people walking over her grave would constantly torture her.

Over the next few days,  I will placing some of the stories Ron told with photographs on the blog.   I will of course, leave some out so that I don't ruin the fun and excitement for those who might go on this Ghost Walk in the future.  This is something I would highly recommend, because this really was one of the best ghost walks I have ever been on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Kind of Haunting Do You Have?

I have written about this before, but I thought this topic was worth a revisit.  For me,  this question has come up again and again, which probably means its worth discussing more than once.  The more I write about ghosts, the more I realize how important it is to define what kind of ghosts or spiritual disturbance might be lingering in each haunted place. I began researching this topic thinking there would be an easy breakdown to types of hauntings. This was not the case. Every different website I have visited and book I've picked up has broken down ghosts and hauntings differently. There are some that classify ghosts according to geography and break them down into hospital hauntings, battlefield hauntings, house hauntings etc. There are others who classify ghosts by form. They break ghosts up into orbs, ectoplasm, dark ghosts, conical ghosts, etc. The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts breaks ghosts up into 26 categories that include possessive ghosts, religious ghosts, materializations, and spirits. The spiritual research foundation is very scientific in their break down of ghosts and uses the chart below to categorize ghosts.

I have broken types of hauntings down more simply based on what I've found in other sources, what I've seen, and what others have told me. I've also made my breakdown a little more simple.

1. Classic Haunting: A classic haunting is the most commonly described haunting. This is the lingering ghost that seems to cling to a location. This type of ghost can also be attached to an object. It is the attachment of the deceased that lingers and keeps them bound to this realm of existence. It is the ghost in the haunted house that is usually harmless, but sometimes a little creepy.

2. Angry Ghost Haunting: Many believe that when someone dies in a situation that results in intense anger, fear, or hurt that emotion binds the ghost to the realm of the living. This angry ghost often permeates an entire location with a negative feeling. People often describe places with this type of ghost as having a bad feeling or feeling wrong.

3. Denial Ghost Haunting: This is a haunting that is caused by a ghost that doesn't want to admit they are dead. They go through the motions of life and refuse to let go.

4. Poltergeist: This haunting is associated with moving objects and things vanishing. Although this type of haunting seems like a ghost at first, it is usually caused by a person who is going through incredible angst. This person may have psychic powers that they are unaware of and can cause mayhem without knowing they are doing it.

5. Demons: These are malevolent spirits that attack the living. They are not ghosts and were never human and seem to be out to hurt people. The classic Haunting on Larabee Street may have fallen into this class as the house was new and couldn't have been the residence of the deceased.

This is my very reductionistic classification system and I know that there may be other systems, but for a quick way to get a sense of what you are dealing with, I think this may be helpful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Decorating for Halloween

It is finally October and it is the season of dark clouds and ghouls.  Halloween or Samhain is in the air.  The ancients believed that the veil between worlds thinned at this time of year.  They believed that this thinning allowed for ghosts and dark spirits to cross over to our world.   Bon fires were lit to drive such spirits away and many of our traditions come from techniques people used to drive bad spirits away.  All of this is usually forgotten now, however. Halloween has evolved into the most exciting time of year for all of us out there that like the dark side of things and I've begun to decorate.  Here are a few pictures of the first of my Halloween decorations to go up this year.   There will be more, but this is a fun beginning!  Happy preparations and I hope everyone out there is having as much fun as I am getting ready for Halloween.   I will be traveling this week and will be posting many ghostly tales to get everyone ready for this most ghostly time of year.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The White Devil: A Ghost Story

The White Devil by Justin Evans opens with a splash.   It immediately pulls the reader into a dark and Gothic world that is riddled with ghosts and mystery.   The White Devil's protagonist is a young man,  Andrew Taylor, who has been expelled from many American boarding schools.   His family comes from old money that has been lost and Andrew has squandered his family's hopes with fast living and bad behavior.   He is sent across the ocean to an ancient, British, boarding school to redeem himself and if he doesn't redeem himself his father has made it quite clear he will be disowned.  Andrew is a lost soul and a complex character and as soon as he sets foot in the old English boarding school, the ghosts of Harrow School rise up to great him.

Andrew immediately witnesses a murder and then he falls in with the only girl on the campus.  Trouble follows Andrew like a shadow and he quickly becomes entangled in a ghostly mystery.  He is tormented by visions of the ghost of Harrow School and he can't escape the mystery surrounding the ghost that haunts him.  Andrew is the spitting image of Byron and his dark story and Byron's mirror each other as the ghost story around Andrew slowly unfolds.

As a ghost story, The White Devil is beautifully written and very well done.  It isn't a horror story and it certainly won't keep you up at night, but the mysterious ghosts of Harrow School will keep you turning the pages, wondering what is next.  This is wonderful novel for any connoisseur  of good ghost stories and dark Gothic mysteries that keep you wondering what is lurking around the next corner.