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.

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