Thursday, January 29, 2015

Houston's Haunted Zoo

Ever since I wrote the blog post on the phantom lioness of the Cincinnati Zoo, I've been intrigued with the idea of haunted zoos.   You wouldn't believe how many zoos throughout the United States have ghost stories attached to them, but none seem as mysterious as the haunting of the Houston Zoo.

The Houston Zoo is located on the grounds of Hermann Park, and has been at this location since 1922 after the need for a larger facility to house additional animals was decided upon.  With this new location came a new employee:  Hans Nagel.  It is believed that Nagel was born in Germany in 1892.  As the son of a military officer, he was sent at a young age to Officer Training School.  However, the military life was not in the cards for Nagel; he went AWOL and literally jumped off a ship, only to be rescued by an animal collector working with Hagenback Gardens.  Nagel had found his calling and quickly learned the animal training trade.

His journey to America and specifically to Texas is a shady one, but the important this is, he made it and was quickly given employment with the Houston Zoo.  Nagel was a showman; his lion-taming feats, among other amazing shows, were constantly featured in newsreels and publications of the day, bringing in numerous guests to the now-thriving zoo.

Before long, Nagel was made head keeper/director of the facility, and it was a job he took very seriously.  He was known to patrol the grounds of the zoo with his 9mm Luger pistol, keeping it safe from intruders...and the occasional rogue animal.  The city of Houston once awarded Nagel a gold medal for shooting to death a Bengal tiger that was attacking one of the zoo officials.  The city also awarded Nagel a commissions as a special police for the zoo.

That distinction was pulled from Nagel in 1929 by Mayor Walter Monteith on the recommendation of the City Park Commission over issues that Nagel was abusing his authority.  But, a lack of title wasn't going to stop Nagel from protecting his beloved zoo.  Unfortunately, six bullets would.

Hans is on the left
On a Monday afternoon in November of 1941, a police officer patrolling the area of the zoo noticed Nagel hiding in some bushes, spying on a car of teenagers.  The officer asked the teens if they knew they were being watched, which was an obvious 'no.'  The officer then attempted to handcuff Nagel and bring him to the station to discuss the matter of jurisdiction.  At this point, things get a little sketchy.  Nagel apparently resisted arrest, and the officer claims he went for that famous Luger pistol he always kept at his side.  Before he could reach the pistol, the officer shot Nagel six times, killing him.  The officer was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

Those six bullets may have stopped Nagel's body, but even they couldn't stop his spirit.  Many believe he is still keeping a watchful eye over his zoo.  Unexplained occurrences have been noted in the Denton A. Cooley Animal Hospital, but the majority of ghostly activity is associated with the Commissary building.  The Commissary is where all the food for the animals is stored and prepared.  Staff reporting to work in the building between 5 and 6 am have reported hearing voices and seeing the shadowy figure of a man walking around.  The ghost stories are such an integral part of the zoo's history that they are extensively covered in the zoo's official blog.  Further, amateur ghost hunters on staff at the zoo routinely take turns spending the night in the building in hopes of collecting evidence of Nagel's presence.  So far, a couple of really good EVPs have been caught (which can be heard on the link below) but I personally think they sound like a woman's voice.

But why would Hans choose the haunt the Commissary, a building that wasn't even built at the time of his death?  Zoo staff believe they have solved that mystery; according to police reports, Nagel was shot "about 300 feet from the Outer Belt Road and on a gravel road leading West to East."  When they compared old maps of the zoo, they found that this area coincides with the current location of the Commissary building.


Official Houston Zoo Blog

Houston Chronicle article by Craig Hlavaty

Houston Museum District

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review for Haunted Lewisburg West Virginia

Title: Haunted Lewisburg West Virginia
Authors: Nancy Richmond, Tammy Workman, and Misty Murray Walkup
Published: 2011
Amazon Info
Also available on Kindle!

Haunted Lewisburg is an awesome collection of ten haunted locations in Lewisburg, WV.  This historic town, voted the Coolest Small Town in America in 2011, may not cover many square miles, but its definitely packed with plenty of haunted buildings, cemeteries, and even streets.

This is actually the second book from the authors that I've read; back in 2012 I read and reviewed Ghosts of Greenbrier County which focused on the whole county where Lewisburg is located.  I thoroughly enjoyed that book, and was not disappointed with this one either.  In fact...I think I may like it even better!  Like Ghosts of Greenbrier County, Haunted Lewisburg was well-written and accentuated with beautiful, full-page color photos of the haunted locations.  However, while Ghosts of Greenbrier featured a variety of stories, both personal and public, Haunted Lewisburg really focused on ten locations that are easily accessible to the public, but also to paranormal investigators.  In fact, in some cases, the results of paranormal investigations of these locations are included.

I was also surprised that even though there are a few overlaps in locations between the two books, there wasn't an issue of repeated, copy-and-paste information that I've seen with other local authors.  Haunted Lewisburg really fleshed out the information behind these locations, and provided plenty of updated information on the hauntings.  My only problem was that this book was too short!

If you're looking for a quick read and are interested in the ghostly folklore of West Virginia, pick this book up today! It is another must-have for any tri-state paranormal investigator as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Jiangshi

From The World of Chinese: A Chinese Ghost Primer
I recently watched a really awesome documentary on Netflix called Doc of the Dead.  This film is an excellent look at the evolution of the zombie film, and the effect of such on popular culture.  Early in the film, people off the street are being interviewed about their thoughts on zombies and a young Chinese couple share some interesting cultural information about zombies that...hop.

The creature in question is called a Jiangshi, a word that literally translates to stiff corpse.  The corpse is so stiff that it cannot bend its legs and walk like you and me.  Instead, with its legs locked rigidly and its arms straight out in front of it, it furiously HOPS after its victims, not stopping until it has succeeded in sucking the victim's life force dry!

Sometimes referred to as a vampire and sometimes referred to as a zombie, but always described as a reanimated corpse, the Jiangshi was first mentioned by Ji Xiaolan of the Qing Dynasty.  It is believed that the Jiangshi legends originated with a folk belief concerning the burial of those who died many miles from their ancestral homes.  If proper transportation could not be afforded by the family to bring the body home, they could hire a Taoist priest who could teach the reanimated corpse to HOP its way home under the cover of night.  Supposedly, this myth has some historic ties as many young people in one of China's many provinces would leave to work elsewhere.  If they died away from home, their bodies were carried back in a bamboo contraption carried by two men; as the body was carried along the route, the bamboo would flex, and it would appear as if the body were hopping up and down by itself.

You can spot a Jiangshi by its furry greenish white moldy skin, and its penchant for wearing the traditional garb of a Qing Dynasty official. Also present is the mystical tag attached to the creature's forehead. And, if heaven forbid you actually find yourself being pursued by one, there are a host of ways to scare it off, including swords made of peach wood, the blood of a black dog and your garden-variety broom, among others!

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, January 26, 2015

Kith Haven Wheelchair Ghost

Today's ghost photo is sometimes referred to as either the Wheelchair Ghost or the Nursing Home Ghost.  It first appeared a couple of years ago on's Paranormal Photos page and according to the person submitting it, it was taken on November 23, 2012 in the basement of the Kith Haven Assisted Living Facility in Flint, Michigan.

Allegedly, an employee working in the basement actually saw the apparition with her own eyes, and the ethereal gentleman was kind enough to stay put long enough for her to grab her cell phone and take a picture.  Unfortunately for the paranormal world, this is another image that is just too good to be true.  It is simply one in a long list of spooky photographs created with the help of a cell phone application that adds in a fake ghost image to one's own pictures.                                                                                                     

This particular ghost app is the Ghost Cam, published by Nightinart and is available for Android phones and devices.  The awesome website, Bust That Ghost, which is working on a comprehensive database of ghost app images has provided the image and app information.                                                                                                                     
Obviously, this image pulled from the menu of the Ghost Cam app is pretty proof-positive that the image was fraudulently created...but seriously, just the description that accompanied the photo on is enough to cause serious doubt: 

"This photo was sent to my friend and co-worker. He received it from his ex-wife. Her cousin took it. She said she was working in the basement of the home and was walking quickly between rooms when she noticed something from the corner of her eye.  She stepped back and it was right there---and stayed there---while she took the photo with her phone! She was amazed to see the image in the center of the hall---could not believe it was real!"

So, you've got the photo being shared by someone who is three times removed from the actual photographer and the revelation that a cell phone camera was used.  I'm guessing this case follows the same pattern as so many other ghost app images---someone was playing a prank on someone else and sent them the altered photo with a bogus story.  That person, in turn, shares it with all of his/her friends who share it with their friends, each time adding a little more to the back story and not realizing that this was a simple joke.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Faces of Waverly Hills

I've posted this video before on Theresa's Haunted History Facebook page, but I thought it deserved a more permanent homage here on the blog.  The first time I saw this video, I completely fell in love with it.  As you all know, I am obviously drawn to the historic research aspect of paranormal investigation.  In addition to the history, I'm drawn to the human element behind the hauntings.  In each case, no matter how small or how big, I think we need to get to know the people behind a suspected haunting, give them the respect and recognition they deserve, and honor their memories.  So much bad is associated with Waverly Hills--this video does an excellent job showing the role the institution played in so many peoples' lives, including happier times.

This video was posted to Youtube on March 2, 2014 by kingzimage.  In the description, he notes that these photos are from a period between 1922 and 2008.  The photos and video came from a variety of sources, from internet research, to family photos from the Mattingly's, and even footage taken by the Youtube user himself.  The music is 'Any Other Name' from American Beauty

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Aunt Pratt's Haunted Portrait--Shirley Plantation

Aunt 'Pratt'
Okay, so Haunted and Cursed Paintings Week on the blog hasn't gone as planned!  I've not felt well this week and with my boyfriend being out of town for work all week, I've been too busy with my son to really get much accomplished. But, here's another spooky painting to keep the ball rolling!

Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia has a long, long history.  The plantation itself began in 1613 with Edward Hill I, and by 1638, it was a working farm with homestead.  However, in 1723, construction began on the Great House, a brick structure that would replace the old home and become the residence of Edward Hill I's great-granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth married Robert Carter and the palatial home was completed by 1738.  Today, the home is still in the Hill-Carter family and is the oldest family owned business in the United States.  It was spared destruction during the Civil War by being turned into a field hospital for both Union and Confederate troops, and many of the deceased soldiers were buried in the plantation's cemetery.

With such a long history, especially one including involvement as a Civil War hospital, you'd expect the house and property to pick up a few ghost stories.  However, contrary to what one may think, the prevalent ghost tale of Shirley Plantation is NOT connected with the Civil War!  Rather, it has to do with a certain painting.

Elizabeth had a sister named Martha Hill (known to the family as Aunt Pratt) who left for England to study.  While there, she met and married a man named Hugh Gifford (also called Griffin or Griffith in various sources). She never came back to the United States to live, and died in England some years later.  Before she left, though, she left a signed portrait of herself in her second story bedroom.

By 1858, the current generation of Hill-Carters living in the home decided to remodel, and removed Aunt
Pratt's portrait to the attic.  Immediately, the family began to be plagued with horrible sounds coming from the attic each night.  The sound of shuffling and rummaging through boxes was overshadowed by severe knocking that progressively got worse. Whenever the family would investigate the source of the noises, they'd find nothing out of place in the attic.  They finally realized that Aunt Pratt, who was long deceased, was unhappy about being relegated to the attic space and wanted to return to her bedroom on the second floor.  There she remained happily until the outbreak of the Civil War, where once again she was sent to the attic.  With the home being used as a hospital and valuables being packed up out of sight, Aunt Pratt understandably kept pretty quiet and as a reward upon the end of the war, the family moved her portrait to a place of honor on the first floor.

Aunt Pratt was okay with that position for awhile, but soon longed for her own personal space and the knocking and rocking once again returned, only to stop when she was returned to her rightful spot on the second floor.  And, for over 100 years, there she stayed, with the family passing down the tales of Aunt Pratt's ghostly portrait to each new generation.

In 1974, the painting was taken to New York City for a special display in Rockefeller Center on haunted and cursed items.  Aunt Pratt made it quite clear that she was unhappy with the arrangement and her portrait began to rock and shake violently, being witnessed by many spectators.  One of those spectators was an NBC reporter on his way to lunch who happened to catch video footage of the painting rocking back and forth.  The painting would rock so violently that it was soon removed from the display and put into a locked box in storage.  Workers at the storage facility reported hearing banging and crying noises coming from the box and weren't really all that shocked to see that the painting had somehow escaped from the box and seemed to be trying to head for the door.

It was shipped back to Virginia, but before returning home to Shirley Plantation, the portrait was sent to Linden Galleries---Aunt Pratt had rocked herself so hard that she had damaged her own portrait's frame and it needed to be fixed.  She must have been pleased with the treatment received at Linden because workers there reported hearing the sounds of bells ringing in the vicinity of the painting.  Today, Aunt Pratt is right where she wants to be, and tours of Shirley Plantation are available to provide a glimpse of her.  Tour guides have been known to tell visitors not to block Aunt Pratt's view of the outdoors, and once or twice her spirit has been seen peering out the window.

Shirley Plantation Website

Article by Stacey Graham

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Japanese Suicide Girl Painting

Welcome to Day 2 of Haunted/Cursed Paintings Week!  The next 'painting'  has been floating around the internet for years and has recently made a comeback.  According to popular legend, it was a self-portrait painted by a young Japanese girl named Sonee, who then scanned the image and uploaded onto the web.  She then committed suicide.

After it was posted to a Korean forum, many members of the site claimed that the picture had eerie powers.  Some said that if you stared into the piercing blue eyes of the subject for more than five minutes, you too would go mad and commit suicide.  Others believed that if you stared at it long enough, the girl's ghost would appear and sometimes kill you, making it look like a suicide.  In another version of the tall tale, it is stated that the portrait changes as you gaze at it.  The melancholy young girl's mouth turns to an evil smirk, her brows furrow, and her eyes darken.  A dark mist then envelopes her petite frame.

Pretty cool urban legend, right?  And that's all that it is--an urban legend.

This artwork is actually by a Thai artist named Robert Chang and is of his original character creation, Princess Ruu, created for a screenplay he was working on called Tellurian Sky.  According to Chang, Princess Ruu is the only heir to the throne and is forced into a position of power at an early age, doomed never to have the chance of being with her true love.  This portrait, which was actually created using a computer program called Corel Painter, is supposed to be her last casual portrait before taking power.

Robert Chang's website

Urban Legends Online