Sunday, October 31, 2010

One Final Gasp

Magnet # 382:  Haunted Savannah

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

I hope you're all having a Happy Halloween!  Let's face it, how could I not finish up my month of creepy posts in my own city of Savannah, which has been dubbed "America's Most Haunted?"  And with a magnet like this, you know we take that title seriously!  I was so excited when I came upon it during a trip to the Savannah History Museum earlier this year with my family.  I think the fountain featured on here is supposed to be the city's most prominent one, in Forsyth Park.  And while I've never heard of it being haunted - particularly by a host of skeletons - the nearby Mansion on Forsyth Park is located in a former funeral home and the ghost of a teenager named Lottie who once lived there supposedly haunts it.  The restaurant there is kind of pricey, but I've eaten dinner there a couple of times and seen the haunted hearse tours pull up and stop outside on the street.   It's funny to watch them out there, but I've never noticed anything unusual in my limited time at the restaurant.  But this is hardly the only eatery in town that is said to be home to the supernatural, nor is it the most notorious.

Moon River Brewing Company opened in 1999 at what was once Savannah's first hotel, the City Hotel. It was built back in 1821 and saw a great deal of people pass through its halls over the years, including the Marquis de Lafeyette and James Audubon.  But perhaps its most dubious resident was James Jones Stark, a man who loved to gamble and drink and had a pretty poor reputation.  He didn't care much for the city's physician, Dr. Philip Minus, perhaps because the other man was Jewish, and when Starke lost to him in a game of horseshoes, the situation only worsened.  He disparaged Minus so much that the two of them scheduled a duel, but it failed to happen.  But the pair continued to argue and finally Minus showed up at the City Hotel to confront Stark, who was in his room, writing a letter.  Stark started down the stairs to meet the doctor, but before he could reach the bottom, Minus shot him in front of everyone in the room.  Stark died from his wound, but when Minus was arrested and tried for murder, but he maintained that he was afraid Stark would harm him.  The jury acquitted him for his actions - after all, he was an important member of the community.  Now that his murderer has gone free, it's believed that J.J. Stark has only gotten angrier.  He's been terrorizing the third floor and people on the stairs heading to it.  The wife of a foreman repairing the building in the 1990s was apparently pushed down them by an unseen force.  Others have been slapped and touched, and bottles have been broken, and this violent behavior is usually attributed to Stark's ghost.  But he's not the only one around Moon River.  Another that's been dubbed Tony is said to frequent the billiard room, where he also pushes anyone he perceives to be an intruder.  Some have even claimed to spot a woman in white throughout the structure.  With all of this unusual activity, Moon River has received plenty of attention from paranormal investigators.  The Ghost Hunters visited in 2005, Ghost Adventures guys later spent a night there.  Both were a little unnerved by the place.  One fact that's interesting about Moon River is that much of it is unchanged since the 1800s.  Of course, that's mainly because bad, unusual things tend to happen whenever renovation attempts are made.

It's funny that Moon River is considered to be one of the most haunted spots in Savannah, because it's also one of the restaurants here where I've spent the most time.  One of my classmates really liked their Buffalo Wings and the fact that it's the only local bar that brews their own beer, so we used to hang out there between classes.  We got to know the staff pretty well, and one bartender told once us just how haunted it is and that she didn't like to be there alone at night.  I had even attended a couple of private parties in the basement over the years, but I never realized that it was one of the most reportedly haunted spots in the building at the time.  But a couple of months ago, my friend Lindsay came to Savannah with her family for a visit and we stopped by Moon River for dinner.  She's an avid fan of Ghost Adventures and the hostess actually told us one of the guys from the show had been in the night before.  Well, we were too late to meet him, but we did get permission to check out the rest of the place.  The second floor was a bit dilapidated, but we didn't get any bad vibes there.  They warned us not to go to the third floor and judging by the condition of the stairs, I wouldn't have wanted to.  And no, we didn't see the spectre of J.J. Stark heading down them toward us.  But once we had reached the basement, Lindsay said she started to have a creepy feeling.  It did seem a bit more ominous down there.  She even said that she felt warmth coming out from one spot on the wall, but I didn't get the same sensation when I held my hand there.  Still, it was fun to check out a place I'd been many times, but from a rather different perspective.

Well, once again we've come to an end of the creepy posts.  This really is my favorite time of the year to do this blog, and I've already made a list of all of the magnets I have left to post next year - so far, I have 13.  That's not a bad sign, right?  Anyway, I hope you've all had a great Halloween and my posts have helped you get into the mood for the season!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death Valley and the Maiden

Magnet # 381:  Death Valley Basin Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Sometimes, I have to wonder if Congress doesn't have a sense of humor, because this one is worthy of a joke.  What National Park was established on Halloween?  Why, that would be Death Valley, of course!  Yep, tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of when it became the National Park.  Prior to then, it had been a National Monument since 1933.  I'm not sure if the particular date of its conversion to a National Park was intentional, or just a coincidence.  In another odd twist, the settlers who first made it to Death Valley and gave it that forboding name entered on Christmas Day of 1849.  And it was just three days shy of becoming a National Monument on Valentine's Day - instead, it happened on February 11th.  Just what is it with Death Valley and holidays?

Despite its rather unsettling name, Death Valley is apparently not haunted.  At least, I couldn't find any tales of visitors having unusual experiences there.  However, in nearby Death Valley Junction an old structure known as the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel stands.  And this place has made it on lists of some of the most haunted hotels in the country.  It was built in the 1920s as part of a company town, where pretty much all of the buildings were owned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which mined in the area.  The opera house started off as a Civic Center for the town and was constructed in a U-shape.  While it had hotel rooms and offices, it also included a great variety of activities for the miners, including an ice cream parlor, a gymnasium, and a billiard room.  Perhaps its largest feature was Corkhill Hall, located at the northeastern end of the complex. A large hall, it was used for all sorts of gatherings - dances, town meetings, movie viewings, church services - and even funerals at times.  By 1927, the Civic Center had been remodeled and renamed the Amagarosa Hotel.  But by the mid-1960's, it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.  As the story goes, actress, singer, painter, and dancer Martha Becket came to the place by chance at that time when she and her then-husband when they got a flat tire during a road trip.  She was able to catch a glimpse of the theatre inside the dilapidated Spanish Colonial Revival style adobe building.  And she was inspired to rent the hall, restore it, put on performances there, and begin a four-year long process of painting an incredibly involved mural on its walls.  She renamed her creation the Amargosa Opera House.  Becket often ended up putting on performances there that nobody saw, as Death Valley Junction really is a ghost town - it currently has a population of about 20.  But word caught on about the determined artist, particularly thanks to mentions in National Geographic and Life.  And with assistance and legal advice from friends, she was able to purchase her hall and hotel, and through the Amargosa Opera House, Inc., she bought the town of Death Valley Junction.  Beckett continued to perform there until the end of the 2008-09 season.  Now 86, she still remains very involved at the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel.

Try as I might, I wasn't able to find as much information on the hauntings at Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel as I'd have liked.  One of the ghosts which may haunt it is that of a young girl who drowned at one of the buildings toward the back of the complex.  In the hotel, Room 9 supposedly has the most unusual activities going on.  And Room 24 has been nicknamed the "baby crying room," as so many guests have complained that they've heard a wailing child in it, even though none are checked in.  Others have apparently heard phantom conversations going on, and felt ghosts moving through their rooms as they're trying to sleep.  Some guests have gone do far as to flee in the middle of the night.  There's even an abandoned section of the hotel that's not been renovated.  It looks rather forlorn and the staff have dubbed it "spooky hollow."  And in the theatre, a spectral cat is said to have come onstage during Becket's performances, interrupting her.  The Ghost Adventures crew have actually checked out the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel for themselves, but the episode hasn't aired yet.  It's scheduled to on November 19th, and I'll be watching, interested to see just what they've found out about the unusual stories and occurrences at the historic site. I certainly hope they interview Martha Beckett during their time there - the investigation just wouldn't be complete without her.  I think Becket herself has plans to join the spirits of her beloved Amargosa someday.  She's even painted a mural depicting herself as a ghost dancing in the ruins of the structure.  Her life is very clearly divided into two halves - one, before she saw the decaying buildings at Death Valley Junction, and the other has been her time spent there.  Her love for this place is so great, it's hard to imagine even death will keep her away from the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel and its harsh, desert surroundings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lost But Not Forgotten

Magnet # 380:  Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

This Halloween season, I've been indulging in one of my favorite creepy activities - watching lots of programs on the Travel Channel about haunted spots all over the world.  I particularly enjoy the shows on haunted lighthouses and hadn't quite realized just how many Oregon has until this year.  So I took to the web, and was able to find a site where I bought a nice supply of very attractive magnets from the Beaver State.  Best of all, they even arrived in time for me to include them in this year's spooky posts.  I've decided to include this one featuring the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse this year, and save the rest for later.  Years ago, one particularly chilling event at this lonely site forever changed the way it's viewed, and even now people are intrigued by the mystery at Yaquina Bay.

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse has seen just about the least amount of activity of any lighthouse in the country - it was used for a mere three years.  It was first lit on November 3rd of 1871 to serve as a beacon for the very popular nearby port.  But it proved to be incapable of keeping up with the growing traffic and just four miles to the north, the taller Yaquina Head Lighthouse was constructed.  At its completion, the Fresnel lens was removed from the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and it was abandoned for about fourteen years.  There were rumors that in 1874 a Captain Evan MacClure, who had once commanded the whaling ship Monkton but had been mutinied against by his crew and put to sea in a small boat had perished and was looking for a place to stay.  People claimed to see his spectre traveling along the coast, complete with red hair and a skeleton face, and believed that he had taken up a sort of residency in the empty lighthouse. And some even said he was looking for a companion.  Later, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was used intermittently by the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, who made repairs but also eventually left the structure to the elements.  It was during one of its periods of desertion that the lighthouse received a group of young visitors.  Among them was Muriel Travenard, a teenage girl who had been born at sea to a captain and his wife, who had passed away when Muriel was young.  She sailed with her father for some time, but he eventually took her to Newport, Oregon, where he left her behind with some friends as he took what should have been a short trip to deliver goods.  For months, she awaited her father's return, and was taken in by a group of travelers.  With them, she took trips all over the area, and they finally decided to visit one of the few spots they hadn't explored - the lonely Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.  They were able to borrow a set of keys and ventured out to have a look around.  As the legend goes, the group entered the empty structure and began to look around, a bit shocked by its state of disrepair.  They soon came upon a curious iron plate on the floor of the second story.  They pried it open and were amazed to find it covered a deep hole with no visible end.  Leaving the plate open, they continued on with searching the house and its surroundings.  By the end of the day, when they were ready to leave, Muriel realized she'd left a handkerchief or shawl behind in the house.  She went back alone, at her insistence, to get it.  Her friends waited for her, but she didn't return.  Some versions of the story claim they heard three horrific cries for help come from the house.  At last, they returned to the lighthouse, calling out to the girl.  And when they came upon a pool of warm blood, they were stunned.  Drops of blood led in a trail to the iron door, which was now closed.  Try as they might, the group couldn't get it open again.  Some say they even found a bloody handkerchief there.  And althought they brought in reinforcements to search the area, they never found Muriel, or managed to open the mysterious door.  And sadly, her father never came back for her.  Gone, Muriel might have eventually been forgotten, but it seems as though she's had other plans.

Visitors to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse now claim to see bloodstains in the floor which never seem to go away, no matter how hard some try to remove them.  And some have even said they've spotted the ghost of Muriel herself, looking down at them from the lantern room, standing on the landing of the second story, or walking a path behind the lighthouse.  Others have apparently encountered the ghost of Captain MacClure.  They've also supposedly heard Muriel crying and hold that when the weather gets bad, she becomes even more agitated.  And one couple whose daughter was married at the lighthouse say that Muriel may have made an appearance in a photo that was taken of the bride on the staircase.  Of course, the mystery of just what happened to poor Muriel continues to stir interest.  One theory is that the tunnel was used to shanghai sailors to use on ships, and a fate similar to that may have befallen her.  Or perhaps a person was living in that hole and he killed the girl, then dragged her body in.  And there's always the small chance that the ghost of Captain MacClure got her.  It's impossible to know what Muriel encountered that day, but by all accounts, it was awful.  As for the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, by the 1940's, it was scheduled for demolition, but through the efforts of a local campaign and a generous donation from a wealthy industrialist, the historic site was saved.  And on December 7, 1996 it was lit for the first time in over a century thanks to a loan of a 250mm modern optic from a lighthouse historian.  Now, the light from the once dim structure can reach as far as six miles.  It's open to the public, so stop by if you want a chance to see the Captain or Muriel.  But learn from her mistake and don't wander away from your group.  The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is not a place where it's wise to venture off on your own!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Taking a Final Rest

Magnet # 379:  Borden Crime Scene Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Let's get this much straight - I did not, as is implied on this magnet, spend the night at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast.  Sleeping there didn't turn out very that well for Mr. Borden all those years ago, as you can see here.  Of course, there was also the price, the fact that I was staying in Salem, and that I'd heard booking a room there could take years.  I really didn't think it would be easy to book a room there, and I was pretty surprised when I learned they had a vacancy.  Maybe I'll consider an overnight stay someday.  But for now, I'll settle for having toured one of the most infamous and creepy places in all of the United States.

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast actually came in at the number one spot on the Travel Channel special of the Top Ten Creepiest Destinations in the World.  Of course, they left out the haunted Catacombs of Paris, where thousands of skeletons line the walls, and included Area 51, the supposed site of alien investigations, so I don't completely agree with their list.  But there really does seem to be something unusual going on at this seemingly peaceful home in Fall River, Massachusetts.  As you probably know, back on August 4th of 1892 Andrew Borden, the father of Lizzie Borden, and Abby Borden, her stepmother, were hacked to death there with either an axe or a hatchet.  Both suffered many blows to the head and the crime scene was indeed grisly.  Even more disturbing, both of their autopsies were performed at the residence.  The only person ever arrested and tried for the crime was Lizzie Borden, their unmarried daughter who lived with them.  Despite all sorts of odd behavior, she was acquitted - some think that the men on the jury just couldn't believe that a young woman would be capable of such horror.  Whoever murdered the Bordens was never brought to justice and the debate still rages over the identity of the killer - or killers.  The Borden residence was given up by Lizzie and her sister Emma after the murders.  It was a private residence for a time, but it was eventually turned into the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, where eager guests can spend the night in the room where Abby Borden was slaughtered, or sit on a sofa just like the one where her husband died.  Given their violent, sudden deaths, and the fact that their killer was never punished, this pair have every cause to be active poltergeists, and many now think that's exactly what they've become.  There are all sorts of odd phenomenons going on at the former Borden residence.  A rocking chair rocks on its own.  People claim to hear a woman weeping in the night, shoes moving across the floor and up the stairs, and bits of conversation going on in empty rooms.  Some have even claimed that an older woman in Victorian era clothes has tucked them in at night.  Others have reportedly seen the figure dusting the furniture and making beds and she's generally believed to be Abby Borden, but her husband is also believed to still be haunting his former home.  And the spirits aren't limited to the couple - it's also said to be haunted by a pair of children who supposedly drowned in the backyard.  Also, a former caretaker of the bed and breakfast named Michael who died in a fire in Connecticut apparently haunts the third floor.  The reputation of this place, its grisly murders, and its alleged spirits has brought in many television investigators, including MonsterQuest and Ghost Hunters.  And considering their murders will likely never be solved, the spirits of the Bordens many be at their former home permanently, trying in vain to have their killer brought to justice.

The tour guide who led us around the house during my visit there was clearly very interested in the Lizzie Borden trial, but he didn't strike me as much of a ghost enthusiast.  Still, he did tell us about one strange occurrence he'd had in the house.  He was lying on the bed in Bridget, the maid's, room when he felt something grab his chest.  But there was no one in the room with him and he wasn't sure what could have made such a gesture, so it freaked him out a little.  I asked him how many terrified people fled in the middle of the night during their stay, and he told me in his time there, he'd only encountered one couple who never showed up for breakfast, and it turned out that they were gone when he checked their room.  Usually, when the guests get terrified, they venture to one of the downstairs rooms, where they sit awake for the rest of the night.  He'll see them every so often when he comes to cook breakfast and they just give each other a knowing, sheepish nod.  He also said that the endless string of ghost hunters coming there can get irritating, as they stir up the ghosts for a night, and then leave him and his coworkers to deal with the aftermath.  Personally, I didn't feel anything odd while I was walking through the home, but I was also there during the day and with a group.  I'm not sure just how I'd feel there if I stayed the night, alone in the darkness.  But there are some fearless souls who stay overnight and leave change beside a photo of Mr. Borden, a banker, hoping he'll stop by.  And others may hide the money, daring his spirit to come looking for it.  Seances are performed there almost on a regular basis and guests can bring in their own supplies to try to rouse the dead, like ouija boards.  So stop by this house of horrors and spend the night if you dare - you never know, you might get a full night's sleep, but in this place, who would really want that?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blood on the Sands

Magnet # 378:  Port Boca Grande Lighthouse

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse which stands on Gasparilla Island on Florida's western coast may not be one of the best known lighthouses in the state, but many consider it to be the Sunshine State's most haunted.  And the sands of the island may have been cursed even before its construction in the late 1800's.  For many years after it was built, it served to light the way for ships traveling from ports on Charlotte Harbor to Cuba with loads of cattle.  During World War II, more than 30 ships might pass by it in a day.  But by the 1970's, it had been deactivated and abandoned by the Coast Guard.  The once-proud structure fell into disrepair as beach erosion threatened its survival.  But in the 1980's, a series of renovations began at the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and work was done to protect it from the ocean.  The building and its surrounding property were turned over to the State of Florida and are now a state park and the lighthouse has been turned into a museum.  Of course, there is more than just tanning, surf, and tours going on at Gasparilla Island - particularly when the sun goes down.

Long before the lighthouse was ever built on Gasparilla Island, legend tells of a pirate named Jose Gaspar who frequented it, and supposedly buried his treasure there.  The island was named in his honor and some say he once brought a Spanish princess named Josefa there after he had kidnapped her.  Why anyone would let her on a ship that a pirate could capture, I have no idea.  Regardless, Gaspar had fallen for the princess and made his move on her, only to be coldly rejected.  Enraged, he pulled out his sword and cut off her head before he could stop to think.  Ashamed of his behavior, he buried Josefa's body on the beach, but it's said he kept her head with him for the rest of his life, unable to part from her beauty.  And now, some claim to have seen her headless body wandering the sands, apparently in search of its head.  And the construction of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse hasn't stopped her nightly searches, but it has apparently given Josefa a ghostly companion.  One of the lighthouse keepers is believed to have had a young daughter that stayed with him until she passed away from either whooping cough or diphtheria.  Rangers at the lighthouse now say that they can hear the girl playing on the second floor around midnight.  All of this ghostly activity has earned the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse a spot on lists of the country's most haunted lighthouses.

Ever since I read about haunted lighthouses around the country for last year's creepy posts, this was one magnet I really wanted to get for this year's round.  When I was first planning to travel down to Tampa and Weekee Wachee Springs with Lindsay in January, I thought we might be able to make it down to Gasparilla Island, but it was just too far South.  Later, another friend was heading to Sarasota, and I asked him to look for it, but he wasn't able to get it, either.  So you can imagine my delight when I came upon it at the Florida State Capitol in landlocked Tallahassee, of all places.  It was the only lighthouse magnet they had and the clerk told me that it had been there for ages.  Maybe it was waiting for me.  In any event, I was thrilled to pick it up - it even looks a little ominous all on its own.  And perhaps I'll make it to the lighthouse itself one day.  Of course, that isn't the best time to check out Port Boca Grande Lighthouse - wait until dark if you want a chance to see what truly makes this lighthouse and its island intriguing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dark Beauty

Magnet # 377:  Victoria Frances' Red Basque

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

If this isn't the right time of the year to post a creepy, goth-inspired fantasy art magnet up here, I'm not sure when would be better.  And, appropriately enough, this is dark fantasy artist's Victoria Frances' birthday, which makes this the perfect day to post another one of her haunting images.  For those who could pull this look off, it's a great idea for an elegant Halloween costume.  And for those of us who couldn't, it's still nice to have a look at it, particularly for this time of year.

Victoria Frances was born in the Spanish city of Valencia in 1982 but spent much of her formative years in the historic community of Galicia on the Atlantic coast.  There, she was intrigued by the forests, which would later influence her work.  Frances also traveled throughout much of Europe and found further inspiration in cities like London and Paris.  The haunting atmosphere of these cities, which helped bring classic Gothic literature to life also worked its magic on her art.  Later, she studied Fine Arts at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and while there, she began working as an illustrator, producing book covers and commissioned work.  And in April of 2003, her first book, Favole, was released and it introduced her stunning, dark art to the world.  It met with moderate success, but when the artist put in her first public appearance at a comic book convention in Barcelona the following year, it caught on worldwide.  She's since toured in the United States and Madrid.  I first saw her work when it was published in Spectrum, an annual book that features current fantasy and sci-fi art.  I was initially interested in it because she uses colored pencil, my medium of choice.  But how she makes it look so amazing, I have no idea.  Frances most often depicts ghostly, beautiful women in long, flowing dresses.  I really like how she tends to include so much detail in her work and never neglects the backgrounds.  Her images of Venice are particularly impressive.  She's published two more volumes of Favole and they've both brought her even more success.  In fact, she's earned a very devoted following of fans all over the world.  Frances herself is as attractive as the women she features in her art, with a slim figure, lovely face, and red hair.  In fact, she even resembles the figure on this magnet a little bit.  Every so often, she also does photo shoots, dressed in elegant, flowing gowns like those of her subjects.  I don't know how one woman is so lucky to be both that stunning and produce such amazing work, but it's tough to be envious when Frances puts out such great art.  I'm just looking forward to seeing what she draws next!

Well, I've just gotten back from my final progressive trip of the year.  This time, I headed northwest into West Virginia and Kentucky before returning home though the Carolinas.  While I wasn't able to fit many haunted destinations into my itinerary, I still had a great time.  I stopped by two state capitols, two artisan craft centers, a few landmarks, and a couple of places I'd seen featured on the Travel Channel.  The weather was pretty much perfect for my trip - I only had to deal with rain on the first morning for about an hour, when it got pretty ugly.  It was another great expedition, and now I'm finally able to add West Virginia magnets to my collection, which means I've just about gotten at least one from every state.  Plus, I was able to get some more attractive horse magnets from Kentucky.  I'm really looking forward to posting those.  In fact, I've already been figuring out just when to feature most of the magnets I bought up here.  I think I'll start recapping the trip in mid to late November, when I have some free days.  For the present, I intend to make the most of the time I have left until Halloween, posting every scary magnet I can manage.  Now that we're toward the end, I'm posting some of my best ones from some of the scariest places out there - and just who will make the cut?  With only six days left in the month, we'll find out soon enough!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Horrors of the Harbor

Magnet # 376:  Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

I know I've mentioned on here before of just how nervous I was during my trip to Baltimore last year and how I felt that its Inner Harbor was one of the few places I felt safe there, but I'm starting to wonder if that's really the case.  Sure, there's an increased police presence there, and I might have less chance of being robbed or attacked, but this historic site, along with other places off of Baltimore Harbor, are reputed to be perhaps the most haunted part in the city. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit the one nearby place where much of the paranormal activity is said to go on, but reading about it has been pretty interesting.

One of the Inner Harbor's most famous sights is the U.S.S. Constellation, the first U.S. Navy vessel to be put to the sea in 1797.  She saw much action and violence over the years, becoming the first of our ships to engage and defeat an enemy vessel, and participating in multiple wars.  She was built in Baltimore's Fells Point and the people of the city wanted their ship back to proudly display it.  Some have argued that what is now docked at the Inner Harbor is another version of the ship, rather than an original version of it, but the ghosts of those who sailed on it seem content that this is their vessel.  Many have been seen on board over the years and it's believed that they began their hauntings when the ship was dormant, awaiting repairs.  Plenty of men died on here, including a young physician's assistant who was stabbed to death by two sailors for unknown reasons.  His spirit is said to still be there.  Another sailor who supposedly hung himself as he was unable to deal with the difficult life at sea has reportedly has been spotted wandering around the gun deck.  But the most disturbing death on the ship may very well have been that of Neil Harvey.  He made the unfortunate mistake of falling asleep when he was on guard duty.  And when he was caught, it was considered to be a very serious offense.  Captain Thomas Truxton, the first to command the Constellation, ordered Harvey to be tied to a cannon and blown apart to warn the other sailors against making his mistake. He may have already been dead by then, but it was a horrific act nonetheless.  Now, Harvey is seen almost more than any other spirit aboard the ship and usually haunts the lowest deck.  Captain Truxton himself seems to have remained aboard after his death in 1822.  People claim to have seen him and he's even believed to be the subject in a photograph taken by a Naval lieutenant commander in 1955.  It featured a figure in Navy uniform with gold epaulets bending over, perhaps reaching for a sword and was printed in the local newspaper.  And there seems to at least one haunt on board the ship that lived a happy life there - Carl Hansen, who served there as a night watchman.  Some have claimed to see him playing cards on the lower decks and attending a Halloween party.  One priest holds that it was this apparition that gave him a very insightful and enthusiastic tour of the vessel.  When he spoke of the guide to other staff, they said there was no one working that fit his description.  People also hear cries and moans, see phantom figures, hear and feel people running around them, and have smelled gun smoke aboard the Constellation.  It certainly seems that there is more than meets the eye going on at this landmark.

Just across from the Inner Harbor is Fort McHenry, which has served as the seaport's guardian since its  completion in 1803.  It was made famous in 1814, when defended Baltimore Harbor from a British attack during the War of 1812.  That was the event that, of course, inspired the creation of our national anthem,"The Star-Spangled Banner."  But that's not the extent of what this famous location is known for. Lieutenant Levi Claggett was one of those killed during the conflict and many now feel that he is haunting the place of his demise. A figure walks the exact spot where he perished, wearing traditional 1814 military attire, and has also appeared at other locations throughout the grounds.  He may have even appeared in a photo.  A mysterious woman has also been seen looking out of a second-story window.  She's thought to have been a wife of sergeant and may have knocked one visitor down when he got too close to her territory.  There are also stories of a Private named John Drew who, like Neil Harvey, fell asleep while at his post.  He was imprisoned and distraught over the loss of his military career, managed to kill himself.  Now, those who stand in the cell where his life ended may feel an unnatural chill.  Drew may also continue to guard the same outer batter where he failed all of those years ago, as some have claimed to see a phantom there.  And other unusual occurrences at Fort McHenry have included lights going on and off, doors and windows being opened and closed, and ghostly footsteps.  Park administrators have tried to downplay the curious presences there, discontinuing popular ghost tours, but with all of these sightings and activities, it's been impossible to do away with their supernatural reputation entirely.

Defending a nation can be a brutal business.  Whether fighting off the enemy or simply trying to maintain peace, all sorts of deaths and mistakes can occur.  And now, two sites on opposite ends of  Baltimore's Harbor serve as reminders of the high price many have paid for our freedom.  Worst of all, the spirits which are perhaps trapped in the Constellation and Fort McHenry may continue to pay the price for our freedom throughout eternity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Belles From the Beyond

Magnet # 375:  Oak Alley Plantation Southern Belle

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

With their grand histories, rich former residents, and reliance upon slave labor, the plantations of the South, particularly Louisiana, are great places to look for the supernatural.  On my trip to the Pelican State's Plantation Alley earlier this year, I was able to visit its most iconic home, Oak Alley Plantation.  It's famous for the double row of majestic live oaks that line its entrance, but the locale has also gained some notoriety for being supposedly haunted.  It's even appeared on lists of the scariest places on earth.  And whether they come for the aesthetics or in hopes of having an encounter with a ghostly specter, this attraction continues to draw in the crowds.

The story of Oak Alley Plantation and its reputedly permanent residents dates back to 1836, when Jacques Telesphore Roman III bought the land to build a home there for his lovely wife, Celina.  And when their home was completed, it was one of the most picturesque along the Mississippi River.  But all did not go well for the couple.  They lost three of their children at young ages to disease.  And Celina, a city girl at heart, left their home to stay in New Orleans as much as possible, often overspending.  Jacques wrote to her and begged her to return, but she mostly ignored his pleas, even when his health began to decline, and he eventually developed tuberculosis.  He died alone in 1848 and Celina was left overwhelmed by her grief, wearing black for much of the rest of her life.  Their daughter Louise later suffered a great misfortune of her own when a suitor insulted her and she ran away from him, too angry to control herself.  She fell, and the iron frame in her hoop skirt cut her leg so badly that she developed gangrene and it had to be removed.  She was no longer considered good enough to marry in her class and, distraught, she left Louisiana to become a nun in Saint Louis, Missouri.  And though they tried to save Oak Alley, Celina and her son Henri, who carried on after her death, were unable to maintain the family empire.  It was sold at auction in 1866 and passed through many hands, eventually decaying from years of neglect.  Fortunately, a couple named Andrew and Josephine Stewart was able to purchase the home in 1925.  They adored their new home and hired an architect, setting out on an extensive restoration project.  And when it was finished, Oak Alley was once again the pride of Plantation Alley.  Andrew died, but Josephine continued on there alone for the next 26 years until she passed away.  The house was very dear to her and she often sat on the veranda, listening to opera music and watching the Mississippi River.  She also spent a great deal of time in the lavender room on the second floor.  When she finally passed away, she was laid out in that room.  One of her last acts for her beloved home was to create a non-profit foundation that would allow it to be appreciated long after her death.  And some think that she was so tied to her home that she has never left it.

Oak Alley Plantation is now reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in the country.  Four ghosts in all are said to haunt this historic home.  People often talk of their unusual experiences there and many have said they've seen a young, slender woman clad in black walking all through the house, up on the widow's walk, and even riding a phantom horse on the grounds.  Some have also apparently heard noises that sound like a horse drawn carriage on the grounds and a woman crying in the mansion.  There is also a man who has been spotted wearing grey clothes and riding boots.  Odd indentations have appeared on the beds, as if someone has been sitting there, although no one was around to produce them.  An entire tour group once witnessed a candlestick fly across a room, and that's not the only item that has apparently moved on its own.  Perhaps the most impressive encounter came one night after a private function when several employees and one of their daughters were closing up the house.  Once outside, they looked up and were surprised to see a light on in the lavender room.  As they stood reassuring each other that they had turned off all of the lights, they saw a ghostly figure move through the room that bore a striking resemblance to Josephine Stewart and look down on them.  After more lights turned on, they all fled to the cars and hurried away.  Once on the River Road, they took a look back at the house and saw that it was once again dark.  I think that would be enough to make a believer out of anyone!  After I took the tour at Oak Alley Plantation, I asked the guide if she had ever had any encounters with the unexplainable.  She was pretty new there, so she hadn't, but she did tell me that some of her co-workers had claimed to see the famous woman dressed in black.  Who knows, perhaps Celina, Josephine, and maybe even Louise truly are still looking after the home that meant so much to all of them.

One regret I had on my trip to Louisiana earlier this year is that I just couldn't make it up to the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville.  Even though it's just about a half-hour north of Baton Rogue, I wasn't able to squeeze in a tour.  This locale is considered to be the most haunted plantation in all of the world.  It's rumored to be haunted by the ghost of the mistress of the home's former master, and two of his daughters, whom she accidentally killed.  I did run into a couple at another plantation tour that claimed the staff at the Myrtles isn't very open to discussing the ghosts unless they are giving a ghost tour.  Still, I'd like to get a chance to see it for myself sometime.  But for now, at least I have the satisfaction of having visited the most beautiful plantation home that's also haunted.  Oak Alley Plantation, is easily one of the more striking homes in all of the nation, and it's haunting beauty will stay with you, tempting you to venture back to the bayou.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No Island Paradise

Magnet # 374:  Venetian Gondola

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Dad

When most people think of the city of Venice, images of shimmering canals, glorious architecture, and lavish festivals tend to fill their heads.  That's partially because, through the ages, its leaders have done their best to maintain its sterling reputation as one of Europe's most stunning locations.  So when the first wave of the Black Death came to the historic place in 1348 and the bodies of its citizens began to pile up in the streets, they did as any pragmatic politicians would - sent the victims elsewhere to die.  The nearby island of Poveglia thus became the dumping ground for thousands of Venetians over the centuries.  With all of the death and suffering that occurred there, it's now known as one of the world's scariest places and has been given a dubious nickname - Island of Horror.

It's believed that the practice of isolating plague victims on Poveglia began in Roman times.  And when the Black Plague came to Venice and the bodies started dropping, the living became disgusted with the decay and stench. Some of the afflicted were even bricked up in their own homes.  As a solution and to prevent the spread of the disease, the bodies were once again taken to Poveglia.  There, they were tossed into large pits or burned in massive bonfires.  As fear of the plague grew, panicked ensued.  Any of those who showed even a symptom could be dragged from their homes to the island.  No one bothered try to cure them once they arrived at Poveglia - the dead and living were both dumped into the same piles.  If they weren't burned alive, they died a slower, agonizing death in the plague pits.  There were those that held the piles of bodies reached all the way to Hell.  Perhaps as many as 160,000 bodies were brought to the island during the course of multiple plague outbreaks.  Over time, all of the burning of the bodies produced an ash that combined with the soil of the island to form a disturbing layer of sediment that covers Poveglia.  It's a fine dust that is said to swirl disturbingly in breezes and make breathing a little difficult.  With all of the dark history of the island, no one wanted to live there.  The Doge, Venice's most powerful figure, offered it to Camaldolese monks, but they'd have no part of it.  Neither would the descendants of those who once inhabited the island when they were given the opportunity to rebuild there over 100 years after the monks' refusal.  It was eventually used as a check point for goods and people on their way to Venice.  When two ships were found to have plague victims in 1793, it became a confinement place that housed the ill yet again.  At least these ones were treated for their sicknesses.  Napoleon Bonaparte had the island's old church torn down and its bell tower converted into a lighthouse.  And in 1922, a retirement community was opened on Poveglia that made use of its historic buildings - or at least, that's the story.  Some say its hospital was really a cover for a mental hospital.  And the already disturbed patients truly lost it when they began having encounters with spirits of the plague victims.  One doctor decided to take advantage of the situation and began experimenting on these poor souls, hoping to  make a name for himself by discovering the cause of their insanity.  The methods he used were rather disturbing, lobotomizing with a hammer or chisel - at best, he used a basic hand drill.  As the years passed, it's said he began to see the ghosts of Poveglia for himself and that they drove him to the top of the bell tower.  He jumped from there, somehow surviving the fall.  One nurse claimed that as he lay there in excruciating pain, the mists of the island rose up and filled his lungs, chocking him to death.  Rumors hold that his body was bricked up in the bell tower.  The hospital and retirement community have since closed.

Nowadays, the Island of Horror is off-limits to visitors and under police control.  No one lives there.  From afar, it appears to be another idyllic Italian island, complete with a historic structure on one end.  But those who are familiar with the destination know better.  Some of the more determined have been able to sneak on the island and have a look around, only to regret their rash actions.  Local fishermen know better - they stay away, not wanting to catch any bones of the dead.  And none of the locals are willing to venture out to the island.  They understand that most of those who have perished here were not given a proper burial, and that their souls have become restless.  But it has become an attraction to paranormal investigators around the world.  It was featured on the television series Scariest Places on Earth and an episode of Ghost Adventures was filmed there.  During their time, the crew heard phantom noises, footsteps, and voices and began to act out of character, lashing out at each other and feeling drained of their energy.  Some of their devices also lost power.  And one very large light seemed to fall over on its own.  And more items crashed one man tried to contact a priest who perished on the island.  It was one of their stranger experiences.  Others who have been to Poveglia have claimed to hear cries of suffering all over it, and been warned to leave and never return when they enter the hospital.  One family received permission to spend a night there, in hopes of buying land cheaply to construct a vacation home.  They fled before the night was over and although they've never said just what happened to drive them away, their daughter had a gash on her face that required twenty stitches.  And many nearby can hear the bell on the island tolling on a still night, although they know nobody is there to ring it.  A visit to Poveglia is not only incredibly difficult to arrange, it's also ill-advised.  Any who set foot on the Island of Horror risk carrying its curse with them for the rest of their lives - and perhaps even longer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grave Matters

Magnet # 373:  Salem Tombstone

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Just mention the town of Salem, Massachusetts and it conjures up visions of witches, ghosts, and dark occurrences.  The Witch Trials which took place there in 1692 seem to have left an eternal stain on the place.  So it should come as no surprise that it's reputed to be one of the most haunted areas in the world, plagued by both the victims of those notorious days and others who have met with their own sad endings.

One of the more haunted spots in Salem is said to be the Old Burying Point Cemetery.  It's the second oldest known cemetery in the country, and two of the judges who participated in the Witch Trials are buries here.  I visited it by daylight and was intrigued by the headstones - they look like the one featured on this magnet.  They certainly don't make them like that anymore!  And while I took photos, none of them turned out with ghostly looking features, as others have claimed theirs have.  Howard Street Cemetary is another supposedly haunted graveyard there.  This is near where the notorious Witch Dungeon once stood and where poor Giles Corey was pressed to death.  And now his ghost is said to lurk there.  Giles Corey was an ornery 80-year old who even stood against his wife Martha, when the Witch Trials began, but later recanted when he witnessed how awful they had become.  But it was too late - he was accused of witchcraft by Abagail Hobbs.  One of the lesser-known facts about the trials is that anyone found guilty of witchcraft lost all of their property.  Corey didn't waste his breath proclaiming innocence, believing he'd be found guilty anyway.  Instead, he refused to give any reply at all.  To force a plea out of him, the local authorities made him lie down and they placed a board over him.  One by one, large rocks were placed on the board, making it ever harder for Corey to breathe.  Yet when they asked him if he was innocent, Corey only replied with two words - "More weight!"  The process dragged on and he eventually died from it, but with his last breath, it's said that he cursed the local sheriff and all of Salem.  Thanks to his stubbornness, all of his belongings passed down to his children.  And there has been a disturbing trend with Salem's sheriffs - years later, sheriff and historian Robert Cahill noted that the sheriff Corey cursed died of a heart attack not long after the trials came to an end.  Since then, every local sheriff had either died in office or taken early retirement from a heart or blood ailment.  Cahill himself left the job after heart trouble,  Some sheriffs have even supposedly felt his presence in their homes, and claimed to feel a great weight on their chest.  As for Corey's ghost, he's said to appear before times of great tragedy in the town, such as the Great Salem Fire of 1914, which nearly wiped out the entire town.  People claimed to see an unusual old man in the cemetery prior to the burning.  Perhaps Corey and some of his fellow victims are still wreaking their vengeance on the town that treated them so cruelly, and Salem may be facing an eternal curse.

When I went to Salem earlier this year, I was interested in taking another ghost tour like the one I'd done in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, I'd had a few issues that day and I ended up just going back to my hotel room to turn in early.  But that might not have been bad.  Apparently, the most ghostly activity doesn't really go on in the town that's currently known as Salem.  Danvers, the original Salem Village that was renamed after the Witch Trials, is where the real action is said to be.  There, the residents aren't so eager to revel in the past and peddle witch-themed souvenirs.  Nonetheless, it's home to the Danvers State Hospital, an insane asylum that some say was the site of the first pre-frontal lobotomy.  Part of this structure is said to have been built on land where the house of John Hathorne, the notorious hanging judge of the Salem Witch trials, once stood.  He was the only judge who never recanted his actions during the trial when he sentenced so many innocent people to death.  He always maintained that he was doing the Lord's work.  Now if that doesn't sound like land that's cursed, I don't know what land would.  The institution first opened its doors in 1878, long after the horrors of the Witch Trials had come to an end.  You might think that the city had learned its lesson back then, but apparently not.  At first, intentions for this establishment were very honorable - they provided a beautiful setting in which patients could relax without the threat of mechanical restraint.  But as more and more patients were crammed into a facility that was designed to hold no more than 600 and funds began to run dry, their idealism began to wane.  At one point, a night shift of nine employees had more than 2,300 patients on their hands, some of them criminally insane.  To manage so many troubled people, administrators began to use some objectionable methods to subdue the more difficult residents, including lobotomies, strait jackets, shock therapy, and drugs.  With all of this disturbing activity going on, Danvers State Hospital was already said to be haunted by the 1960's.  There was talk of people seeing apparitions thereout of nowhere and scowled at them.  Another time, her covers were pulled off of her as she lay in bed.  Unfortunately, getting many other first-hand accounts of the strange happenings there is pretty difficult.  The police presence was very stringent at the institution, and many would-be ghost hunters were arrested and put in jail.  In 1992, the facility was closed due to budget cuts.  And in 2005, an apartment company was able to buy it.  Despite protests and a lawsuit, they have begun tearing the place down to make way for new buildings, but have left some of the original facades.  Also, some of the tunnels that connected the original buildings remain, as does the asylum cemetery.  I'm betting some of the folks who move in there are in for an ugly surprise.  Homes built both on top of a demented judge's former home and an asylum for the criminally insane should be completely normal, right?  Try as they might to deny it, Danvers and nearby Salem are places where the blood of innocents has been shed and terrible atrocities have occurred.  That sort of history has a way of sticking with a place, and resulting in all kinds of eerie occurrences.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Death Metallic

Magnet # 372:  Sloss Furnaces Haystacks Silhouette

Material:  Vinyl

Purchased By:  Me

Because of its rapid, almost overnight growth thanks to its steel production, Birmingham, Alabama is known as the Magic City.  And if there is magic at work there, one of its most famous landmarks, Sloss Furnaces, is almost certainly controlled by dark magic.  While this location played a critical role in Birmingham's transformation, it was also a place of great suffering.  In the late 1800s and into the twentieth century, a great deal of steel and iron were created at Sloss for use in the South and around the world.  Unfortunately, workers' rights were pretty much unheard of back then, and the owners of the furnaces cared nothing for the lives of their workers.  It was even said that they'd rather loose a mule than a man, as it was cheaper to replace a man.  Thanks to this shameful working environment, many were killed in accidents at Sloss from causes ranging from falling into the furnaces, being crushed to death, and being severely burned.  All in all, around 60 died in under a century.  And it seems some of them have chosen to stick around.

Perhaps the best known figure associated with the heydays of Sloss and its current dark reputation is James Robert Wormwood, who was better known as Slag.  He was a demented supervisor of the graveyard shift who cared nothing for the well-being of his workers, abusing them in an effort to produce more steel and impress those above him.  He ignored safety precautions and many of his men paid the price with their lives.  His ruthlessness brought about 47 deaths and many more severe accidents.  Slag was so awful that nearly everyone unfortunate to work for him hated him.  But he too perished in Ocober of 1899 when he fell from the highest point in Sloss, Big Alice, into one of the furnaces.  It was a place he never usually went to and some have wondered if he wasn't dragged up there and thrown in by the men he had tormented.  And even though Slag seemed to be gone, these are those who believe he never really left Sloss.  People claim that he is still there, as wicked as ever, and they hear him yelling at them to get back to work.  He has even gotten physical, shoving people, punching them, and slapping them in the face.  He tends to favor the night, when he used in be in charge of the facility, and some think they have even seen his badly burned figure then.  Another formed employee of Sloss named Theophilus Calvin Jowers is said to haunt the place.  He was very proud of his work as an assistant foundryman there, and even bragged about how the furnace was his friend.  Unfortunately, his overconfidence cost him greatly when he too fell into Big Alice in 1887 while doing maintenance work on it.  The only part of him that could be recovered was a shoe with his foot still in it.  But Jowers has kept his vigilance in death, and people have claimed to see him checking Sloss, making sure all was still well with it.  Even his family has apparently seen him there.  Some also think that a young girl who was pregnant out of wedlock and killed herself by jumping into one of the furnaces is still there, in the form of a deer that appears when crowds are gathered for important events.  There are also other unexplainable occurrences at Sloss, such as lights bobbing around, whistles going off on their own, and footsteps sounding when no one is around.  The Birmingham Police have been called to the site on many occasions, and have dozens of files detailing the paranormal activity there.

I visited Sloss Furnaces in late May of this year, partially to buy a souvenir to post up here.  This striking image wasn't available on a magnet, so I bought a sticker that I've converted into this magnet.  I just love this design - it features such clean, minimal graphics but it really catches the viewer's attention.  It even has creepy undertones, a nod to the dark side of Sloss.  I don't know who produced it for the Sloss Foundation, but I saw even more stunning images in their gift shop that undoubtedly came from the same source.  I have to say, Sloss has some of the nicest graphic illustrations of any attraction I've visited and they certainly add to the experience.  Even though I didn't bump into any ghosts there - as far as I know - I still had a really great time just walking around, checking it out.  With its giant haystacks, massive equipment, and intricate details, it really is different from just about any other attractions out there.  It's more like a metal city, albeit one that is past its prime.  And if you're able to see it in person, this is a great time to do so.  Every year during the Halloween season, Sloss Furnaces holds its Fright Furnace, when it is transformed into a haunted attraction.  Visitors have two trails to choose from - Slag's Revenge and Descent Into Darkness.  Both wind them through the site, made to look as frightening as possible, as  costumed performers leap out and try to paralyze them with fear.  And there's always the possibility of running into other, more supernatural entities as they walk through the site, a thought which just adds to the terror.  Check out if you're curious.  Even if you can't make it now, it's worth checking out anytime of the year.  And don't worry - Slag and his fellow spirits will likely be waiting for you, no matter when you stop by!

Monday, October 18, 2010

From Russia With Love

Magnet # 371:  Native Alaskans in Canoe

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Way up north, they're celebrating Alaska Day.  This is the anniversary of the day in 1867 when Russia transferred control of the Alaskan territory over to the United States.  The main festivities take place in Sitka, where a parade and a reenactment of the changing of the Russian flag for the Stars and Stripes are held.  Other activities include the mayor's proclamation, races, concerts, dance performances, and tea at the Pioneer Home, the local assisted living home that dates back to 1913.  A costume ball is also held, and participants are encouraged to grow beards, if applicable, and dress in clothes that would have been worn back when the change was made.  In fact, awards are given for the best period costumes.  The celebrations in Sitka stretch on for three days, but people all over the state can join in on the fun, particularly because it's a legal holiday throughout the Last Frontier and all state employees have the day off.  And as an increased awareness of Alaska Day has spread across the Lower 48, more and more visitors from other parts of the country have ventured up to join in.

Although Russia had been in control of Alaska for decades, their fur trade there had dwindled down and the nation was no longer very interested in the area.  And when the Crimean War had ended, they were prepared to sell the entire territory to the United States rather than risk losing it in battle to another nation.  And our Secretary of State, William H. Seward, was eager to take it off their hands.  Despite some protest, on March 30, 1867, Seward signed the Alaska Purchase treaty, buying the land from Russia for about two cents an acre.  Seward's Day is now held every last Monday of March in Alaska to commemorate that event.  The leaders in Sitka, at that time Alaska's capital, were soon informed of the purchase and that a formal transfer would occur.  And on the 18th of October, American officials arrived finally arrived.  Escorted by 250 U.S. soldiers in uniform, they headed to the flagstaff at the Governor's house on Sitka's "Castle Hill."  To the left of the flag, 100 Russian soldiers awaited them, along with emissaries from the nation.  The ceremony wasn't without incident.  Apparently, the Russian Double Eagle flag didn't want to come down.  It was stuck fast at the top.  Some of the soldiers tried to climb up to it, but had no luck.  Finally, they were able to lift a Russian soldier up to it.  He managed to free the flag, but accidentally dropped it.  It then fell and was blown into the Russian soldier's bayonets, shocking many in attendance.  Regardless, they carried on and the American flag was quickly raised without a hitch, some words were spoken, and it was all over.  Even those not there for the ceremony must have known something important was going on - a nearby ship gave a 21-gun salute.  Each blow was answered by a Russian cannon.  The day marked a particularly unusual change for the residents of Alaska - as they moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, Friday, October 6th was followed by Friday, October 18th.  What are the odds or ever having two Fridays in a row like that again!  For some time, the United States government presence in the Alaskan territory was pretty limited, and it passed through the management of the War Department, the Treasury Department, and finally the Navy Department, none of which had much interest in the territory or looking after the problems of its residents.  But when gold was discovered in the nearby Klondike district of Canada's Yukon region and then in Alaska itself, settlers began pouring into the area and towns began to spring up.  Juneau replaced Sitka as the territory's capital and remained capitol when Alaska gained statehood in 1959.  Still, Sitka remained an important port and one of the most populated areas in the state.  And it would always remain the location of the transfer that altered the future of Alaska.  The anniversary of that historic day wasn't marked until the first Alaska day event was held in 1949, more than eighty years later.  In honor of the special occasion, a statue titled The Prospector was unveiled.  It was modeled after one of the pioneers that settled Alaska in its earlier days, William "Skagway Bill" Fonda, who came from New York.  It now stands in front of the Sitka Pioneer Home.  By 1954, Alaska Day Festival, Incorporated had been formed to ensure the occasion would continue to be held long into the future.  The festival has gone on to become a beloved part of Alaskan culture.  It's hard to imagine what might have happened to the people there if they hadn't become citizens of the United States.  How would the Soviet Union have reacted if they'd had access to the natural resources of the land?  Or would another nation, like Great Britain, have acquired it instead?  Alaska might have had a very difficult time if not for the change that came one October afternoon all of those years ago, and it's easy to understand why those living there are eager to celebrate the path their land has taken.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ain't No Sunshine

Magnet # 370:  Sunshine Skyway Bridge Aerial Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Halloween is the perfect opportunity to delve into a few of our own fears.  And there is no question in my mind what I am most terrified by - bridges.  And, yes, this is not the first time I've mentioned my phobia here.  Sure, I posted London Bridge earlier this month and while it's not a place where I'd like to spend much time, those sort of bridges don't really get to me.  When these structures start rising 40 or 50 feet to let ships pass under them and have scaffolding towering over traffic, they make me cringe.  But Florida's Sunshine Skyway Bridge may very well be one of the worst out there.  At exactly five-and-a-half miles, it's one of the longer ones in the country.  It's highest point for traffic is a staggering 175 feet.  Plus, it's surrounded by clear waters that just keep reminding you of where you are.  But, worst of all, it's the second bridge to span from Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg.  And what happened to it's predecessor?  Well on one particularly stormy night in 1980 when there was no sunshine to be found, a freighter crashed into a support column, sending around 1200 feet of the structure into the water, along with six automobiles and a Greyhound bus.  It killed 35 people, but one truck actually fell onto the freighter, an act which saved its driver's life.  Still, it was rebuilt, and the authorities claim the "dolphins," or large concrete barriers that flank parts of it will prevent another similar tragedy.  Of course, there are still a high rate of suicides there, and plenty have claimed to have ghostly experiences on or around it.  This place is the embodiment of why I hate bridges.

It's hard to imagine anyone dreaming up a friendlier, more inviting name for a bridge than Sunshine Skyway.  With a name that delightful, it's almost begging for trouble.  And it may very well have been cursed from the beginning.  There are rumors that parts of the roadway leading up to the structure were actually built atop an old Indian burial ground.  If you know much about the legends surrounding hauntings, you're probably aware that's an act that can bring the wrath of angry poltergeists for years to come.  With its great height, and perhaps a little help from its cursed location, the bridge began to attract depressed people looking to end their lives by jumping soon after its completion in 1954.  Before long, drivers on the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge were talking about a blond girl in a tight t-shirt and jeans who was out there, hitchhiking near the mid-span.  They'd pick her up and some claimed she was soaking wet, but others nothing about her was out of the ordinary.  She usually told the drivers that she desperately needed to get to the other side of the bridge.  But as they drove closer to the summit of the bridge, she would become very agitated.  When they'd turn to comfort her, however, she'd have vanished.  Some thought she was the spirit of one of the bridge's suicides, as she'd also supposedly been seen at times poised to jump off of the bridge.  But another theory about her began to circulate after the 1980 crash - that she was a harbinger, trying to warn of the impending doom and death on the structure.  And now, there are conflicting stories about the specter.  There are those that say she has never been seen on the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge, while others maintain that they've spotted her there, only now she appears to be a brunette.  And the horrible accident has apparently brought another haunting to the location.  Two fishermen at the nearby Skyway Fishing Pier State Park claimed that almost on the tenth anniversary of the crash, they had an odd feeling and looked up.  One man has held that he saw a Greyhound Bus careening past him and disappear in the water.  Others have come forward since then, claiming to have the same eerie vision on the pier.  While the driver appears to be calm and steady, with both hands on the wheel, the passengers may have looks of terror on their faces.  And many report that there is one odd woman seated in the back of the bus, wearing black.  She turns to viewers, smiling and waving as they go by.  At other times, some on the pier claim to feel an unusual rush of wind and smell of gasoline, as if an invisible bus has just rushed past them.  I wonder if the pier is anywhere near where the old Indian burial ground used to be.  There is even talk that when the bus was recovered by Greyhound after the crash, they salvaged whatever parts they could, using them in other buses, which have been cursed ever since.  It seems as through the bad vibes of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge may have been exported all over the nation after the accident.

While you can travel over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in a car, it's not recommended that you stop for any reason.  With at least 130 suicides committed there since the completion of the new bridge in 1987, the local authorities are very wary of anyone pulling over on it.  But you can still have a great view on the nearby pier, and maybe even a ghostly encounter with the 22 victims of the Greyhound bus.  Take it from me, that's a much better place to be than on the bridge - you never know just what might happen there.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

D.C. After Dark

Magnet # 369:  Washington D.C. Landmarks by Night Photo Collage

Material:  PVC

Purchased By:  Me

Even though millions of tourists flood into our nation's capitol, Washington D.C., every year to take in some of the most historic and significant places we have to offer, many of them are unaware that there may be much more going on there than they're able to experience.  Once the sun goes down, its streets can be somewhat frightening, and not just due to the unusually high crime rate there.  D.C. is actually reputed to be one of the most haunted spots on Earth.  It's experienced assassinations, corruption, war, and tragedy over the years and some of the suffering and loss that has gone on there may have left their mark on this otherwise proud spot.

The Capitol Building is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks, and it's also supposed to be the site of some creepy activity.  When it was under construction, one of the workers fell from scaffolding while working on the rotunda to his death.  People now claim to see his spirit floating high above their heads, carrying a wooden tool tray.  And at the other end of the building, the Demon Cat is said to stalk the underground crypt.  Some who have spotted it hold that at first, it seems to be a normal black cat, but as it approaches them, it grows larger and larger into a menacing, snarling, horrible beast.  The figure will leap at its onlooker, only to vanish before it actually makes contact.  It's also said to be a harbinger of doom, appearing before times of tragedy and assassinations, and occasionally great change.  There are those who hold that it stalked the grounds before the market crash of the 1920s and before John F. Kennedy's assassination. Apparently, the Demon Cat only comes out at night and when its viewer is alone, so I guess tourists pretty much have no chance of ever seeing it.  But there are plenty more ghosts scattered throughout the rest of the building. President John Quincy Adams later became a member of the United States House of Representative, was there when a vote was there when a vote was being taken to honor US Army members who fought in the Mexican-American War.  As the rest of his fellow members responded with 'ayes,' she shouted out 'no,' only to suffer from a cerebral hemorrhage.  He died two days later in the Speaker's Room of the Capitol Building, and since then, his ghost has supposedly been seen and heard there.  So has James Garfield, the President who was assassinated after only 200 days in office.  His killer has also been seen by some on the stairs, even though that was not where he shot Garfield.  The ghost of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was hired to design Washington D.C. but was never paid what he was promised, has also reportedly been spotted there, carrying papers and looking upset, most likely over his financial woes.  The spirits of workers are also said to be roaming through the halls, including a librarian who searches for a considerable sum of money he hid away in a book, another who stamps books and papers, and a custodian who died while he was at work.  Some have claimed to see a mop gliding across the floors, not held by anyone, and think that he is responsible for it.  It certainly seems that the Capitol Building is one of the most spiritually active spots in the city, but there is another that is considered to be even more haunted - the White House.

The specter of Abraham Lincoln is still said to walk the halls of the home in which he led the country through one of its most difficult times.  Calvin Coolidge's wife Grace is the first to have claimed to actually see his ghost, standing at the window of the Oval Office with his hands clasped behind his back, looking out toward the Potomac.  Presidents including Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman have all said they've heard unexplainable knocks on their bedroom doors.  But Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands also heard the knocking when she was staying in the Rose Room, or Queen's Bedroom, and was unfortunate enough to supposedly find Lincoln himself standing there when she opened the door, wearing his iconic top hat.  She fainted on the spot, and when she awoke, he was gone.  And when Winston Churchill was spending the night in the Lincoln Bedroom, he claims to have stepped out of the tub, still undressed, and walk into the room, only to see Lincoln standing by the fireplace.  He was able to remark "Good evening, Mr. President.  You seem to have me at a disadvantage" before the seemingly embarrassed ghost vanished.  And many more have reportedly felt Lincoln's presence throughout the residence, including Dwight Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ladybird Johnson, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  But Lincoln is hardly the only ghost that has been said to be lurking in these hallowed halls.  The Rose Room is also said to be haunted by Andrew Jackson, where a canopy bed that is believed to have belonged to him stands. True to his nature, many have heard him cussing up a storm there.  They have also heard him laughing and felt cold spots.  Some have also claimed that the ghost of William Henry Harrison, who held the office of President for only a month, the shortest time ever, in the attic.  There, he rummages about, through no one knows what he is in search of, plenty have claimed to hear him up there.  And Abigail Adams, wife of the second President, has supposedly been seen passing through doors.  She also hangs clothes in the East Room as she did in life, and some have held that they've smelled the scent of dam clothes and soap there.  Another former First Lady, Dolley Madison, is said to have returned when Woodrow Wilson's wife ordered her beloved Rose Garden dug up.  Her presence blocked workers from destroying the garden she had planted all those years ago, and it has been left alone ever since.  Some have also claimed to hear the cries of Grover Cleveland's wife, Frances.  She was the first wife of the President to give birth at the White House.  Also, Willie Lincoln, beloved son of the President who died at the White House when he was only 11 years old, has been spotted there ever since, usually in second-floor bedrooms.  His parents used to have seances there in the hopes of connecting with their lost boy.  There are also less-famous spirits said to be haunting the mansion, including the ghost of a British soldier who fought in the War of 1812.  He carries a light torch and one couple claim he tried to set their bed on fire.  The ghost of a woman whose mother was executed for conspiring against Lincoln is said to still bang on doors, begging for her release.  A pair of former employees apparently still turn off lights and open doors.  It's hard to find anyplace in the world that is home to so many spirits of famous figures - perhaps only the Tower of London can give the White House a run for its money.  Unfortunately, for most of us, this place can be visited on a very limited basis - particularly at night.  But I guess that just makes it even more mysterious.

While the Capitol Building and the White House may be two of the most haunted locales in Washington, D.C., they're hardly the only ones.  At Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, some have reportedly seen his spirit trying to reconcile with that of John Wilkes Booth.  At Fort McNair, where conspirators involved in the crime were hanged, there have also been sightings.  Both the Library of Congress and the National Theatre are said to have their resident ghosts.  Really,  the list of haunted spots goes on and on.  And let's not forget that the steps used in the movie The Exorcist can be seen in Georgetown.  While they're not said to be haunted, they're certainly creepy.  So, travel to this one-of-a-kind city if you have the opportunity.  You can be a patriot by day and a ghost hunter by night!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Lonely Place To Die

Magnet # 368:  New London Ledge Lighthouse

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

There's no doubt that the New London Ledge lighthouse is one of the most unique of its kind.  With its red bricks and mansard roof, it almost more resembles a schoolhouse than a lighthouse.  It's also not attached to any land at all, simply rising up out of the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut on a concrete pier.  But that's not all this seemingly charming New England lighthouse is known for.  It's also said to be the eternal home to the ghost of its truly miserable keeper, "Ernie."  He took his life there in 1936, and many of those who have followed him to the isolated place still claim to have encounters with him.

The New London Ledge lighthouse was built in 1909, and was one of the last lighthouses constructed in New England.  For years, mariners and residents of the area had argued the need for a lighthouse that would guide ships on the Thames River and the harbor of New London in Long Island Sound.  One that was built onshore was unable to provide adequate assistance, so finally the Lighthouse Board intervened, detailing to Congress just how dangerous these waters were, particularly when filled with ships, and they relented.  Creating the support for the lighthouse was a difficult process, and involved creating a giant crib of timber, iron, and steel onshore.  Four tugboats had to drag the structure out a rather short distance over eight hours.  Once there, it was filled with concrete and other materials and sunk into place at the bottom of the river.  On top of this, a concrete pier was created that rose 18 feet above the water.  At last, the lighthouse itself was added.  It was made as attractive as possible to keep the nearby affluent residents happy, and therefore doesn't look much like a typical lighthouse.  One of the place's early keepers was John Randolph, who brought his young wife along with him.  There, she found life to be incredibly lonely and she began flirting with fishermen and sailors to overcome the isolation.  Finally, she'd had enough of her life there and ran away with the captain of the Block Island Ferry while her husband was away purchasing supplies.  When he returned home to find her gone, he was so overwhelmed with grief that he climbed to the roof, slit his throat, and plunged to his death.  His body was never found, but that is rumored to not have been the end of John Randolph.  How he was later given the name of Ernie, I don't know, but before long, others who traveled to the lighthouse were claiming to feel his presence there.  They blamed him for peculiar acts such as opening and closing doors, rearranging items in locked drawers, untucking sheets, and untying previously secured boats, setting them adrift.  However, he isn't entirely troublesome - he also apparently operates the light and washes the decks.  Oddly enough, only women and children are said to see him.  Eventually, the lighthouse came under the control of the United States Coast Guard and it was one of the last in the Long Island Sound to be automated.  On the final night before the switch, one keeper wrote in the log that the site was "a rock of slow torture," Hell on Earth," "Ernie's domain," and that he was through with it.  Now, Ernie has less company there, but some do come out there for maritime classes.  And the spot has become a popular place for paranormal investigators to visit.  In fact, an episode of Ghost Hunters was filmed there.  They only experienced minimal signs of paranormal activity, such as cold spots, and were unable to determine if it was truly haunted.  A Japanese reporter also spent the night there, and captured sounds of loud whispering noises.  If this place is truly haunted, it's a shame that this poor soul is still trapped at the place of his abandonment and despair in life.  But as long as New London Ledge lighthouse stands in Long Island Sound, it seems as though Ernie will continue to keep his post there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Northern Frights

Magnet # 367:  Skagway Wolves Silhouette

Material:  Porcelain

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

My folks took a trip to Alaska earlier this year, so I was finally able to score some magnets from the Last Frontier.  Actually, I went from having no Alaskan magnets to being more or less inundated, which is fine with me.  But, given that this time of year, I'm posting my scary-themed magnets, I decided to do a search of haunted places in Alaska and see if I could post at least one of them and tie it in with some hauntings.  I actually found out Skagway is one of the more allegedly haunted spots in the state.  And that works out perfectly, as this probably the creepiest magnet my parents bought during their trip.  Those wolves look almost sinister all blacked out except for the whites of their eyes.  I don't know what they're up to, but it feels like it's probably not good.  I don't think they could have intentionally picked a better one to fit in with this month's theme, and I'm thrilled that they just happened to pick it up.  It was also the only one that broke - perhaps there are bad vibes at work in Skagway, and they got to this magnet?  Alright I doubt it, but this one is at least a little unsettling.

In its early days of development, Skagway had a pretty rough start.  The Klondike Gold Rush brought crowds of prospectors to the area - gambling, prostitution, fighting, and drinking in the streets followed shortly.  And the town may still be stained by all of the hard living during those times.  Perhaps the most reportedly haunted spot in all of Skagway is its Golden North Hotel.  Built in 1898, it's the oldest operating hotel in the state and started off as a two-story building.  Later, it was moved, another story was added, and a gold dome was placed atop the structure.  It became the most recognizable building in town, and it soon also became known for supposedly having one guest who never left.  The staff have dubbed her Mary and with her fiancee, she checked into Room 23.  Not long after, her fiancee left to search for gold, and she became very ill.  She held on, hoping to see him again but her condition worsened, and she had perished before he could return.  She's now said to haunt the room, appearing in ghostly form and even one photo.  Guests claim they can feel a choking their throats as they lie in bed, almost as though they are suffering from the pneumonia that killed Mary.  There's also said to be a ghostly orb that appears at night in Room 14, moving about it, but there are no stories to account for the phenomenon.  But that's hardly the extent of Skagway's ghosts.  There's also supposed to be some in the Red Onion Saloon, which started off rather scandalously as a bordello.  Its second floor was filled with narrow rooms where the girls entertained their clients, and that's where the unexplainable tends to happen.  There, people have supposedly heard footsteps, although no one was around, and smelled perfume wafting around, though no one knows where it has come from.  A particularly helpful spectre may also be there.  Plants are watered by an unseen entity and some have also reportedly seen a ghostly woman watering phantom plants.  Skagway is also home to the White House that was once used as a hospital, hotel, and day-care center.  The woman who ran the day-care center is now said to haunt it as the "woman in white."  She's reportedly a benign spirit that often appears to children.  The White House was damaged by fire, so it has been abandoned for some time on the edge of town - sounds creepy!  Another reportedly haunted locale is Eagles Hall, home to the local Fraternal Order of Eagles, where the second floor is filled with unexplainable cold spots that are believed to be caused by ghosts.  And finally, there's the Mulvihill House, a charming Victorian residence that was once home to the chief dispatcher for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad.  He's said to have remained there since his death, closing doors, walking around in heavy work boots, and typing out messages on a phantom telegraph, just like he used in life.  While the house is privately owned and permission must be granted to enter, it's often included in the town's walking tour.  All in all, that's five spots, each said to be haunted, in a town of under 900 yearly residents.  Skagway certainly seems to have more than its fair share of apparitions!  It may very well be Alaska's most haunted spot and for anyone wanting to hunt for spirits in the Last Frontier, this town is a must-see.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Noh Way To Go

Magnet # 366:  Japanese Noh Demon Mask

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Jasmine & Matt

Still looking for the right mask to wear this Halloween?  Well, this one ought to scare the heck out of any Trick-or-Treaters who knock on your door.  It's used in Noh performances, which have been part of Japanese culture for centuries.  Only men participate in these dramas, and some of them wear masks.  This particular one, which is called a Hannya Oni, would be used to portray a woman who has transformed from rage and jealousy into a demon and inspire fear in the audience.  I think it gets the point across pretty clearly.  As more and more visitors around the world have been introduced to Noh theatre, the masks used in them, or others based on them, have become popular souvenirs that customers can use to frighten their friends and family worldwide.

Not only does Japan produce some pretty scary masks, it's also home to one of the creepiest places on Earth - the Aokigahara Forest.  It's located at the base of Mount Fuji, one of the most sacred areas in the nation.  Here, the trees are very densely placed, blocking sound and even a good deal of light from the outside world.  It's also said to be eerily devoid of any wildlife.  And despite its also being known as the Sea of Trees, a somewhat idyllic name, this is not a peaceful place.  Legends and folklore have held for centuries that it is haunted by demons and goblins.  Perhaps the most frightening spirits said to stalk the woods are the yurei, ghosts who have been taken unexpectedly and unnaturally from their lives.  And if the proper burial rites are not performed, they enter a state of purgatory where they howl their suffering on the winds, haunting anyone unlucky enough to encounter them.  Many of these are said to be concentrated within Aokigahara Forest.  In the 19th century, the site was used in a pretty abominable practice - that of ubasute.  This was undertaken by poor families who abandon their young, old, or infirmed that they can no longer care for to the elements, where they die by exposure, starvation, or dehydration.  It was most often used during times of famine and drought, and some feudal officials even ordered its use.  Now, many of those left behind may still be trapped in their final resting place, terrorizing those that disturb it.  Aokigahara was also a place where suicide was popular over the years, but with the publication of Kuroi Jukai in 1960, the rate of suicides committed in the forest has risen alarmingly high.  That novel tells of two young lovers who are haunted within Aokigahara and eventually kill themselves there.  There are plenty who have followed in their example - since the 1950s, over 500 have died in the Sea of Trees, and most of them were suicides.  On average, about 30 lives end there annually.  The most disturbing year was 2003, when about 100 bodies were discovered there.  Since then, local officials have stopped publishing the suicide rate, and they've also placed signs throughout Aokigahara, encouraging visitors not to take their lives.  And while they've worked in some cases, the forest is still said to be the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide, coming in behind San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  Some say that the trees themselves have become malevolent from all of the death, preventing visitors from leaving, and that the spirits are calling out for lost souls to come there and end their lives.  Perhaps most disturbing is the annual body search, which has been held since 1970.  Aokigahara is known as the most haunted place in Japan, and with good reason.  I know I'd be a little nervous about visiting it if I ever got the chance.

With its lovely, graceful geishas, serene art, and booming urban culture, Japan has many different sides, but most don't tend to think of the nation as a particularly creepy spot.  However, it clearly has a dark side, no matter how well it is hidden.  And despite all of its rapid, industrial growth, there are some areas of Japan that have remained more or less untouched by the modern world.  It seems that no matter how advanced the nation manages to become, the dark forest of Aokigahara will remain steeped in its ages old reputation of being a place where the dark side of Japan gathers to prey on those who enter, particularly those who have lost their way in life.