Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Texas Legend

"For he saw the riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry"*

One evening, in the autumn of 1889, an exhausted team of cowboys drove their weary herd toward some prime grazing atop a cuesta they had been to many times before.

But as the men surmounted the slope, they were crestfallen to find that a homestead had now been built upon it. It would take hours to reroute the herd. Worse still, a nasty thunderstorm was brewing. The wind picked up as a leaden sky roiled above and flashes of lighting erupted from angry rumbles of thunder.

The trail boss, Sawyer, angrily shouted, lashing at the cattle with his quirt driving them into a fearful stampede straight through the homestead, tearing their way through the home and anyone inside. If there were screams, they wouldn't be heard above the thunderous roar of hooves.

The raging storm continued to spur the spooked cattle onward in their stampede until they senselessly drove themselves off the sheer face of the escarpment on the other side.

As the storm settled, and dawn neared, Sawyer was able to see what his outburst had wrought: nearly a 1,000 steers and many of his own men and horses had been killed. He didn't care. He ordered his remaining men to herd the few hundred animals left onward.

Legend tells that Sawyer never found work as a trail boss again. After the tale of his maniacal stampede reached further and further afield, he found it increasingly impossible to hire new men. Despondent and destitute, he took to drinking, and eventually disappeared.

A year later, another trail boss and his team were grazing their heard atop the little mesa when suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the herd became spooked and stampeded straight off the cliff, taking several of the men with them.

Legend says this same scenario played out several more times with equally disastrous results.
Not surprisingly the place took on the name Stampede Mesa.

Cattle drives took to avoiding the area altogether. It's now considered one of the most haunted places in Texas--if you can find it.

It gets a bit tricky when you try to pin down the exact location of an event from almost 130 years ago.
Many believe Stampede Mesa comprises a part of what is now White River Lake, east of Lubbock, near the town of Crosbyton. This lake was formed when a tributary of the Brazos known as White River, which runs down from the Llano Estacado and forming Blanco Canyon along the way, was dammed in the 1960s to provide water for nearby settlements. The area is also known for the Battle of Blanco Canyon, a skirmish between Colonel Ronald S. Mackenzie and Quanah Parker on October 9, 1871.

The legend, though, is an enduring one--even if it's not immediately recognizable. It inspired a man named Stan Jones to pen the song *"Ghost Riders in the Sky" and set it to an interpretation of an Irish folk song. This song would be famously recorded by the likes of Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Spike Jones, Dick Dale, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. Jones' song also inspired The Doors' famous track "Riders on the Storm."

It is also believed to be the inspiration for the comic book character, Ghost Rider, which first showed up on in a western-themed horror comic by Magazine Enterprises before being taken over by Marvel Comics.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Many Hauntings of Battle Abbey

In East Sussex, at the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, lies the ruinous hulk of Battle Abbey, which William the Conqueror commissioned to be built in 1070 to honor the fallen at that famous clash of the Norman Conquest.

Oddly enough, it's not the spectral visage of some Norman invader or woeful Anglo-Saxon soldier that is most often reported. It seems the Benedictine monks who inhabited Battle Abbey are the real stars of the show.

Legend tells that long after the Abbey's prestige had faded, Sir Anthony Browne robbed it of its only extant treasures (William the Conqueror's cloak and the famous Battle Abbey Roll), demolished much of the structure, and used the stones to build a great house of his own.

This infuriated the monks, one of whom cursed him, stating that Sir Anthony's name would erased from the face of the earth by fire and water. With this, the remaining monks packed it in and left Battle Abbey.

Sir Anthony's home, Cowdray Park, burned down only a few short years later in 1793; his only heir, Viscount Montague, drowned in the Rhine, thus ending the lineage.

But some of the monks have never left the carcass of the old Abbey. Visitors over the many years have caught glimpses of them shuffling along the Monks Walk, murmured prayers are heard in the Undercroft, near the ice house, and of course at the Rectory.

The Crypt

A famous sighting made a big splash in the papers of 1932.

Vanessa Vane Pennell, a well-to-do society girl, and her brother John decided to spend the night in the old crypt of the Abbey. The levity of the jaunt was broken quite suddenly around midnight when a light began to emanate from one of the walls. Then they smelled the heady aroma of burning incense. Within moments, the light coalesced into the figure of a lanky, corpse-like monk that moved toward them. When the monk was only a few feet away, it seemed to shush them with its finger and motioned for the siblings to leave. Suddenly a chorus of monks began chanting from behind them. The pair spun on heel to find nothing. When they looked back toward the monk, he was gone. The brother and sister fled from the abbey and spent the remainder of the night in their car.

In the book "Haunted Gardens" you can find a photograph from 2001 taken in the novice's room that appears to show a the spectral image of a man hanging from the doorway.

The Undercroft
In one instance a school group mentioned the historical re-enactor dressed as a monk was particularly memorable. More so now, I'd wager, since the site administrator confessed there were none. This is actually a common theme at the Battle Abbey site. It's said that the staff hardly blinks an eye at the reports these days.

In 2002, a school teacher from Kent, spotted a grey haired monk wearing a red belt in the Undercroft. At the gift shop, she enquired about the re-enactor only to find out it was just one of their many ghosts.

The Chapel
Two girls once spotted, independent of one another, a figure in white in the Abbot's Hall, which crossed the chapel and vanished.

The Monks Walk
The Novice's Room
The Gatehouse

If you visit Battle Abbey, you may also meet a woman in grey/white haunting the elaborate, castle-like gatehouse. She walks with a limp. There's also another in a red dress. Fruit mysteriously shows up, it's said, in the Undercroft. On the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, witnesses have reported over the years the sounds of battle and the apparitions of mounted knights. Anglo-Saxon King Harold, died at the Battle of Hastings and many believe his ghost lingers still, the arrow that struck him dead still deeply embedded in his eye.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Restless Rye: Exploring One of Britain's Most Haunted Towns

The storybook charm of medieval Rye, belies a dark history that has given birth to many restless spirits. In fact, it's meant to be one of the most haunted villages in England. As one of the Cinque Ports—a loose confederation of coastal towns in Kent and Sussex that allied for defense and trade—Rye became an instrumental cog in the economy of its time. This success also meant a greater deal of crime, and the town became a notorious haven for smugglers. These days, its narrow cobbled lanes are filled with coastal daytrippers and the squawk of seagulls. At least, until the sun goes down...

My home base while in Rye was the quite haunted Mermaid Inn, which has even been featured on programs such as Most Haunted. Dating to the 1420s (with cellars going back to the 1100s and with some Tudor upgrades in the 16th century), the Mermaid Inn is not only one of the oldest in England, it's also among the most haunted. A woman clad in grey occasionally sits by the fireplace in Room 1. In Room 19, a man in splendid attire has been known to show himself. The apparition of a man has been seen walking through a bathroom wall into the main chamber of Room 10. 16th century duelers reenact their deadly swordplay in Room 16. Next door, in 17, the wife of a notorious smuggler named George Gray haunts a rocking chair. Guests awaken in an icy room to find it tipping back and forth.

Along Mermaid Street itself, the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress has been reported from time to time; while a small boy clad in—I kid you not—a sheet has been witnessed along Watchbell Street.

The unusually named Turkey Cock Lane is home to a spectral monk. The less than godly fellow was bricked up alive, so legend tells, after he was caught trying to elope with a local girl.

Rye  Castle (aka Ypres Tower) was built around 1250 by Roger of Savoy as a defense against the French. Later it became the property of John d' Ypres in 1430. The castle also served as a jail—one that many of the notorious smugglers of Rye no doubt became acquainted with. The ghosts of former inmates have been seen and investigations by paranormal investigators over the years have produced unusual recordings of disembodied voices.

Lamb House—Author Henry James (credited with the first modern ghost story, Turn of the Screw) stayed here in the late 1890s. He would later go on record that the ghost of an old woman helped him with his writing during his stay.  Novelist E. F. Benson is claimed to have spotted a man dressed in a cloak vanish before his eyes while he sat in the home's garden. One of the spirit's, according to some accounts, is that of Allen Grebell, who had been murdered by a local butcher.

Gibbet's Marsh, where this historic windmill rests, the reoccurring apparition of a man has been seen in the early morning hours as he walks across the fields toward the river before suddenly vanishing.

The sound of footsteps have stalked some as the moved through the empty confines of Needles Passage.

The Union Inn also dates back to the early 1400s and is thought by some to be haunted by a young girl. She's mostly seen in the areas of the kitchen and dining room. The ghost of a young, unwed mother who died falling down the cellar stairs has been spotted as well.

The White Vine House (aka The Vine Hotel) saw some poltergeist activity in the mid 1990s. The kitchen would frequently be found in disarray and food moved or hidden. Reports of similar disturbances had occurred in the guest rooms as well.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Haunted Travels: Bodiam Castle

I've just returned from two weeks touring Ireland and the UK, among the most haunted places in the world. Suffice it to say, I've come bearing gifts. Paranormal postcards in the form of haunted tales from the places I visited. First on my stop is a haunted castle in Sussex, England.

In 1385, Sir Edward Dallingridge, knight and member of the English parliament, built the almost quintessential castle of Bodiam as a defense against French invaders and a lavish home to impress his compatriots. Over the centuries, as it is throughout much of Britain, a supernatural patina has built up on the stones of Bodiam Castle. The ghostly echo of medieval celebrations has been reported on several occasions, including raucous shouts in unfamiliar tongues and ancient music. A woman in red has been spotted now and then gazing distantly from windows in the towers. In 1994, a custodian spotted a child dressed in queerly Dickensian attire running in the direction of the castle but the boy vanished midway across the bridge.
Look for more posts in the coming days as I share more of my paranormal travels.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Horrifying Vintage Costumes...by Kids

Remember when kids made their own costumes for
Hallowe'en? It was a simpler, safer, and more
innocent time...or so you'd think. Check out these
vintage creepy AF costumes. All I can say is few
things are as creepy as a pillowcase mask with jagged
holes ripped into it or a crudely hewn papier mache mask.

Strange Signals in September

As the story goes, in September 1953 in the town of Morecambe in Lancashire, England a specialist in the nascent technologies of broadcast television picked up an unusually long-distance transmission from Houston, TX. So, too, did others throughout England as they sat about their sets. The station identification placard for KLEE-TV was only up for a moment, but it struck them odd that such a signal could reach them from half a world away. Stranger still, when investigated, it came to be learned that this station had gone off the air three years prior. Where did the signal come from? Where had it been?

Apparently, it hadn't. It seems the whole thing was a hoax.

KPRC-TV in Houston received a letter and a photograph one day from England that read:

"Enclosed herewith is a photograph taken by an ordinary box camera of what I believe is your test signal received 3:50 p.m. 14 September 1953. It would be of great interest and help if you could be so kind as to confirm or deny by return mail that this is so and at the same time it would be of great help if you would endorse the back of the photograph and return. Your help in this matter would be much appreciated."

This baffled the staff since it was not only technologically improbable that a signal from Texas would ever reach England (to say nothing of incompatible natures of American and British TV technologies), but KPRC-TV had bought out KLEE-TV back in 1950, changing the call letters at that time. No one had seen a KLEE-TV identification broadcast since.

Hypotheses were trotted out. These included the possibility that English viewers had actually seen an advertisement for Kleenex that had perhaps become distorted. The BBC could neither confirm nor deny that the errant broadcast had occurred. This would have been enough ambiguity to give birth to an urban legend, but experts at the Chrysler Corporation determined the image was authentic and that was all the burning bush anyone needed to pass the tale on as gospel.

But there are problems with the tale. KPRC-TV, for one, received only one copy of what appeared to be a form letter. Similar letters were sent out to stations all over that included these photographs of various station identification cards showing their call letters
. These were sometimes close to but just different enough from the actual cards broadcast by the station that those in the know were suspicious from the start.

In corresponding back, KPRC-TV learned that a hoax was afoot to sell the English on a new type of television that could pull broadcasts from all over the world. To prove this, the hoaxers played various faked call signs from stations in the USA, South America, and even in Russia (all in English, of course) through their sets and encouraged viewers to take pictures as proof and verify themselves that these call letters were real. And this, so the explanation states, is where the letters came from.

But is this the truth? Letters were received, true, but the seemed to be strikingly similar, according to reports, thus bolstering the "form letter" hypothesis that these letters all came from the same source. Was there ever actually a scam to sell these exceptional TV sets that could retrieve signals from all over the globe? Or was that another lay of a more complicated hoax?

It's not hard to see why the legend endures, given that even the supposed known facts aren't much more solid than the hearsay of the original tale.
"Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century," Janet and Colin Bord

Monday, February 29, 2016

Nemeta: Sacred Sites of the Ancient Celts

C. Hudson, 2016"No bird nested in the Nemeton, nor did any animal lurk nearby; the leaves constantly shivered though no breeze stirred. Altars stood in its midst, and the images of the gods. Every tree was stained with sacrificial blood. the very earth groaned, dead yews revived; unconsumed trees were surrounded with flame, and huge serpents twined round the oaks. The people feared to approach the grove, and even the priests [druids] would not walk there at midday or midnight lest he should then meet its divine guardian." -- Lucan, Pharsalia

To the Celtic peoples, Nemeta were sacred places, often a copse or rock outcropping, utilized for ritual purposes. The goddess Nemetona was the divine guardian that Lucan spoke of. Given that even Romans such as Marcus Aurelius allied her with the war god Mars, it can be concluded that she was seen as fearful indeed.

These Nemeta can be found in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and in the UK and Ireland.
The Nemeton derives its name from the Latin nemus (plural: nemora), meaning forest or woods. The related word, Lucus, refers specifically to a sacred grove.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Lunacy of Lost 'London'

The famous lost Lon Chaney film, "London After Midnight" (aka "The Hypnotist") was said to be the driving force behind the murder of Julia Mangan in London's Hyde Park in October of 1928.

The killer, a Welsh carpenter named Robert Williams, believed that Chaney's unnerving depiction of a near-supernatural killer in the film had driven him insane. It was reported that Williams could see Chaney in a corner, shouting and making faces at him and that he felt as if steam were coming out of his own ears.

Williams seemed to think he had been set into a dissociative
state by this apparition because he could not remember pulling a razor from his pocket and slitting Mangan's throat or attempting then to take his own life.

The defense attempted to pin his unhinging on the disturbing visage Chaney donned for his character in London After Midnight, but the jury didn't buy it: They sentenced Williams to death on January 10, 1929.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Blue Man

Someone I know recently shared a strange encounter he had at a Walmart in Texas (I know, I know...narrow it down, right?) that left him a bit bewildered and somewhat unsettled.

An elderly man in sunglasses spotted him from across the crowded store, and seeing him leaving, somehow managed to beat him outside where he cornered my friend and began speaking to him as if the two had been long time pals. The elderly man proceeded to harangue him on myriad topics, including politics. However, the man seemed to have no specific information upon which to talk, forming instead a Dadaist rant that left my friend unnerved. To be fair, much of his discomfort stemmed from the fact the old stranger was... Well, he was blue. His skin was blue.

After several minutes of this rambling conversation, my friend managed to extricate himself from the situation and the elderly blue gentleman drove off in his Cadillac.

So my friend asks me if I had ever heard of people with blue skin. As it turns out, I have.

Methemoglobinemia is a rare condition (often genetic) that occurs when there is too much methemoglobin in the blood, a situation that can leave the skin with a bluish cast. On a fairly pale skinned individual, this would likely present as a striking blue shade.

A 19th Century Kentucky family, known as the "Blue Fugates" were a famous example of this oft-heriditary condition. And in 1942, the "Blue Men of Lurgan" were treated by Irish doctor, James Deeny.

Still, this doesn't explain the other weird aspects of my friends own blue man encounter that left him disturbed.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Crete's Petrified Monsters

Agii Theodori, the petrified monsters, are two small islands off the coast of Crete. Legend tells that long ago these islands didn't exist. A sea monster and its baby were coming to attack the villagers who prayed to the Virgin Mary and to St. George to spare them. Then a miracle occurred and the monsters were petrified into stone, thus forming these two small islands.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Detroit Ghost City

Check out this haunting documentary about the spirits that haunt Detroit, MI, a city that is fast becoming America's haunted house.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Strange Travels: Greece, Turkey, Croatia (Part I)

I recently returned from visiting Turkey, Greece, and Croatia.  As always, I collected stories along the way as I visited ancient Greek and Roman ruins, Byzantine palaces, historic mosques, and more. Some of the strangest are as follows.

Daksa Island, in the Adriadic, lies within swimming distance of the Croatian city of Dubrovnik. The island's haunted reputation arises from a legend about 48 presumed Nazi collaborators that were executed without trial on the uninhabited island at the close of World War II.

Also close to shore is the neighboring island of Lokrum, which has its own dark legends. The curse, they call it, befell the island when occupying French forces ordered a 13th century monastery on the island to be shuttered. The Benedictines who were removed leveled a curse against anyone claiming ownership of the small island. It seemed to work almost immediately, three of the aristocrats who colluded with the Benedictine expulsion met with untimely deaths shortly thereafter. A wealthy seaman, Captain TomaĊĦevic, took over the island next and it nearly bankrupted him. The Archduke Maximilian, the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I, took up residency next, restoring the monastery as a home for he and his wife. The idyllic sanctuary was shattered when Maximilian was sent to Mexico in 1864 as governor. He was shot to death less than 3 years later. After the city of Dubrovnik refused to purchase the island--even for an extremely paltry sum--a man named Dujmovic from Poljica purchased Lokrum and scandalously met economic ruin soon after. His nephew soon inherited the island, but he drowned crossing the short distance from the shore to the island when his boat capsized in a strong wind. Once more the Hapsburg's took control off the island. Rudolf, the remaining son of Emperor Francis Joseph I and his bride Elizabeth, visited the tiny island with the big curse with his wife Stefani. Legend tells that a small earthquake shook the region the moment they stepped ashore. While initially a blissful tenure, things grew darker when Rudolf fell in love with his mistress Maria Vecer and, for reasons unexplained, they took their lives in a double suicide. Empress Elizabeth decided they needed to be rid of the accursed island and so she sailed from her palace on Corfu to offer a large sum of money to the Benedictines if they took the island back. But the brotherhood stood firm on their decree to never return to the island. So, the family offered the island to the Dominicans with the provision that the Hapsburg family could repurchase the island if they so chose to. And they did. The granddaughter of Francis Joseph I, Princess Elizabeth Windischgratz, purchased Lokrum in 1879. But the title wasn't transferred immediately. When it was finally put down into the family name again, tragedy struck. Empress Elizabeth left her palace on Corfu to return to Geneva when she was shot and killed by an Italian anarchist named Lucceni. The mishaps for the Hapsburgs are legendary, including Archduke Francis Ferdinand whose assassination kicked off the first World War. But legend tells that the island's curse is still palpable and that many non-famous or historical persons have fallen to it. Few, they say, have stayed long of the cursed island of Lokrum.

In the summer of 1969, a rain of frogs fell on the city of Istanbul. Famed anomalist Charles Fort collected many such accounts of "falls," as they're termed. Some may be explained by weather anomalies, but other far more unusual reportings are harder to rationalize.

Some say the famous Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria still walks the halls of her Achillion Palace on the island of Corfu.
On the Greek island of Crete, at a 14th century Venetian fortress known as Frangokastello, the Drosoulites come each year. These "Dew People," so named for their arrival with the morning dew, are shadow wraiths that ride horses and walk with weapons like a phantom army from the monastery at Agios Charalambos to Frangokastello. Legend has it that these are the Greeks who died in the battle of May 17, 1828.  In 1890, Turkish soldiers fled in fear at the sight of the Drosoulites. In World War I, German soldiers opened fire when they mistook the spirits for enemy soldiers. Imagine their surprise at learning the truth.

It's believed the ancient Roman spirits-lares and lemures-that once reigned over the palace of Diocletian in Split, Croatia still skulk about in the shadows.

Some believe that Istanbul's Grand Bazaar--one of the largest and oldest shopping centers--is not only haunted but built around a portal leading to another dimension, doubtlessly some evil one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

London's Crime Museum Opens To The Public

Long shuttered away, the Museum of London's Crime Museum was once set up to train police and forensic officers. Now anyone can get a glimpse of these famous mementos of notorious crimes: masks used by the Stratton brothers, Champagne belonging to the Great Train Robbers, implements of forgery, secret Soviet spy messages, handwritten notes written by Donald Swanson, Senior Investigating Officer on the Jack the Ripper case... The list goes on.

Find out more at the Museum of London's website.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Gathering Of Ghosts

The story centers around this 1868
courthouse, which was demolished
in 1927 and replaced by the County's
newer Art Deco structure.
A story that ran in the mid-January papers of 1896 tells the weird tale of phantom footprints at a courthouse in Kokomo, IN. It seems officers who entered the well-secured building discovered the distinct footprints of a woman that traveled down the halls, up the stairs, and into locked rooms. The earliest reports of this manifestation began not long after the acquittal of a man for the murder of a young woman named Stansifer. Many came to believe these ghostly footsteps were her own as she trudged nightly on a sorrowful sojourn.

Nezperce in 1911
In the winter of 1906, a ghostly apparition stalked the dark streets of Nezperce, Idaho. C. W. Felt was the first to spot her. He was mocked for reporting a spectral woman in black whose face was obscured by a scarf walking silently through the dark streets, sometimes standing stark still for long stretches. But the laughter died off as others began to spot her as well. Young Mike O'Conner spotted her in an alley between two downtown buildings; John Olson was disturbed to find her standing in front of her home for more than two hours. Many of the sightings, some noted, occurred within the vicinity of John Muir's home. Muir had hanged himself on January 1, 1905--a year prior to the phantom woman's arrival.

Farmhand, Henry Lipenstick, disappeared in 1915 from a farm in Painesville, OH. Over the years following, that farm saw bad times: repeated crop failures, a house fire, and an inability to maintain any tenants. Locals blamed it on the ghost. It's probably the ghost that Carl Logies encountered when he purchased the land in 1921. Whenever Carl went to the barn, he would spot a white wraith. Disturbed, but not entirely put out, Carl followed the wraith with his gun on numerous occasions. The apparition always vanished in the vicinity of an old well. Finally, Carl decided to clean out the rock and debris that had been tossed down into the well. That's when he discovered the body of Henry Lipenstick. Once the Sheriff was called, it wasn't long before the dots were connected and a tenant from 7 years before, Frank Lemon, was in jail awaiting grand jury charges of murder.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ghost Caught on Film?

What is seen here in this close up of an empty sanctuary defies explanation.

The image was shot last summer at an old gothic revival church in Oklahoma City. The lighting was too dark for a proper shot of the transept, but the brightly lit sanctuary beyond prevented the flash from firing. This caused the camera to automatically adjust to a slower shutter speed, hence the motion blurring seen here. However, the remarkable thing was the sanctuary was completely vacant at the time.
Blown up, it has the appearance of a woman in a blue, short-sleeve blouse.  Upon interviewing church members, it was learned there was once a woman who fit this description at the church. She frequently sat in those pews until she died in the 1980s.  Subsequent exploration of the area, the image's EXIF data, and the camera could provide no explanations. No other photos emerged with this anomaly present (and one was taken a scant second later without said figure).
An on-location investigation was conducted that brought up some anomalies (pipe smoke in an area where someone who smoked a pipe could be found; the sound of a large group of people talking was heard in the sanctuary as coming from the fellowship hall in the basement, but an investigator in the hall heard nothing; furtive figures glimpsed in choir lofts, etc.)