Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Night Funny: From Cute to Creepy

There's been a lot of sloth talk in my life lately, which sparked the memory of a hilarious article I read months ago about one of nature's strangest creatures--the sloth.  Arguably, sloths are NOT paranormal, but they are SO  hilariously creepy that they make a perfect addition to the Friday Night Funny archive. Anyway...

Baby sloths are seriously the cutest things on the planet.  You can't help but fall in love with their adorable little faces, and their slow, unsteady movements. LOOK at this little guy!  I just want to give him a big hug.



But, as sloths get older their cuteness takes on a somewhat disturbing new countenance.  That inherent slothy innocence becomes twisted into a disturbing, freaky ball of awkward.  I can only imagine what depraved, evil thoughts are running through their little minds...and I'm not the only one.  What is known as the Rape Sloth meme has taken the internet by storm with its ironic mix of horrific hilarity.  I won't post any examples here, but just look at this next lil' guy.


WHAT is running through his mind?  Is he planning to murder me and my whole family or knock over a liquor store?  Those penetrating, beady eyes look like they're staring into my very soul...wait, can he STEAL my soul???  Well, maybe not, but he is pretty creepy. However, there are still visible remnants of that cute little baby hiding under the 40 year old man-boy bowl cut and bangs.  You could probably argue that he's so ugly he's cute...but only approachable with extreme caution.

Unfortunately, the evolution of the sloth's demise into horror does not stop there.  Every living thing eventually has to die and return to dust. THIS is what is left when a sloth meets its maker:



AAAAHHH!!!  What level of Dante's Hell did that thing crawl out of? It's teeny head and its long, razor-like claws (a friend described them as something Freddy Krueger would be proud of) are straight out of a nightmare.  This particular photo doesn't do it any favors, either. Can you see this thing crawling toward you in that slow, hypnotic sloth gait, reaching out with those talons and scraping them down your tender flesh? I've seen representations of demons that weren't so terror-inducing!

Well, I've succeeded in freaking myself out and I hope I've done the same for you.  Sweet dreams, tonight!




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Theresa Travels to the WV State Penitentiary at Moundsville

It's time for Part 2 of Theresa's Saturday travel journey!  If you read yesterday's blog, you'll remember that we had planned a day trip to Benwood, WV to see the country's only museum of its kind, Castle Halloween Museum.  When we originally planned the trip, I only had the vaguest of ideas where Benwood was and had associated it with being near Wheeling.  Therefore, the itinerary was to visit the museum, and then possibly get lunch and browse around some of the historic sites in downtown Wheeling.

Well, the museum IS close to Wheeling, but we ended up with slightly different plans that didn't involve Wheeling at all.  We didn't truly make the connection until we were almost at the museum that we were only about 5-10 minutes away from Moundsville...and we all know what's at Moundsville, right!?

Leaving the museum, we decided that we just HAD to drive past the prison and check it out.  We easily found the massive stone structure, and pulled into the parking lot at 10:54 am.  Daily historical tours of the prison are given each hour on the hour, beginning at 11 am, so marveling at our luck, we ran inside, purchased tickets, and eagerly awaited what was in store.

The daily historical tours (closed Mondays) run seasonally April through November 11 am to 4 pm and at $12 for an adult ticket, it is a wonderful bargain.  The tour lasts about 90 minutes and covers actually just a fairly small part of the first floor of the prison, but you still get to see some fascinating sites and hear a wealth of information.  I remember reading somewhere that all the historical guides were once employees of the prison, and that was definitely true in our case.  At 11 am, Maggie, a former prison guard who worked for ten years at Moundsville before it closed in 1995, took us into the non-contact visiting room to brief us on our 'stay' and to give an overview of the history of the prison.

I know most people reading this blog will already know quite a bit about the prison's history, and there is absolutely no way I can provide a comprehensive historical profile in this small space, but briefly, construction began on the prison in 1866 and it was built by inmate labor.  It was finally forced to shut down in 1995 as overcrowding and numerous complaints of inhumane conditions called for a new facility, Mount Olive, to be built in Fayette County.  WV State Penitentiary was built primarily from inmate labor, and between 1929 and the early 1955s, a south wing was added to help alleviate overcrowding.

Approximately 1000 people died while imprisoned within Moundsville's walls and over the years, this maximum security facility gained the reputation of being the country's most violent prison.  Over 200 escapes or escape attempts and two major riots are also a part of the prison's history.



In addition to being known as the country's most violent prison, many also believe it to be the most haunted as well.  Numerous television shows have featured the hauntings, and the prison and its permanent inmates have been featured in countless books and articles.  However, our historical tour really focused on the HISTORY, and shied away from the hauntings for the most part...saving that information for specialized ghost hunts and tours, also offered by the prison!


While we didn't get to go on the ghost tour THIS time around (we are planning on going in November) I'm not disappointed.  In order to really understand why a place might be haunted and to maximize your investigation opportunity, its vital to understand the conditions and what went on at a location.  I strongly encourage anyone planning an investigation of Moundsville, whether public or private, to first go on the historical tour and gain that additional insight and perspective.  We were even given the opportunity to be locked into one of the tiny 5 by 7 cells, that sometimes housed up to THREE inmates!

Our tour guide, Maggie, was wonderful at fulfilling those requirements.  By actually being there, she was able to recount to us first-hand perspective on what it was like in the prison, both for guards and for inmates.  She was blunt, and told it like it was, holding nothing back. There are a lot of misconceptions about life in the lock-up, and there is also a human element that sometimes gets lost in the sea of violence and the prison's haunted reputation.  It's all part of the history of our state, and our social history as well and I think its wonderful that it's being preserved and taught to new generations.  I'm really looking forward to our return!

Some things to take into consideration if touring:

*WV Pen Tours is the official website for all tours/hunts/events. Check out their site for a wide variety of different tours, tour prices, and availability.  In addition to the history tours, they offer private and public ghost hunts, night tours, photo tours, and a special Halloween haunted house attraction.

*Dress seasonably and wear comfy shoes.  Like the Halloween museum, it was fairly hot inside the prison during our late summer visit.  Bottled water was stationed at two different locations, available free to anyone who needed it.  There are some uneven spots in the floor, and some minor steps, but nothing too severe.  The actual walking was kept to a minimum with plenty of breaks and even a few places to sit while on the tour.

*Moundsville has a wonderful gift shop, and items are very fairly priced.  It is free to browse the gift shop and the small displays in the lobby, including a wide selection of shanks and Ol' Sparky the electric chair!

*Need a quick snack or ice cream break before or after your tour?  Across from the main entrance is an awesome little ice cream diner called Johnny Shar's Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor and Circus Carnival Museum.  Food choices are limited, but it has the biggest selection of ice cream flavors I've seen under one roof!  As an added bonus, for $3, you can take a tour of the upstairs circus and carnival museum.  But, there's plenty of awesome memorabilia to see for free downstairs, as well!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Theresa Travels to the Castle Halloween Museum

Photo by Stephen David Entertainment, via Location Library
Castle Halloween Museum
Address: 1595 Boggs Run Rd. Benwood, WV 

Contact: 304-233-1031

Hours: Open by appointment only

Price: $8 admission

Gift Shop/Antique Boutique on-site



Over this past weekend, a very small planned trip north morphed into an unexpected adventure beyond what we ever thought we'd be doing in a whole year, let alone the span of a half a day!  In this first installment of a 3-part blog, join me on the first leg of our journey and how we came to get there in the first place!

Theresa Discovers The Castle Halloween Museum

For the past several years, members of HPIR have promoted our Haunted and Historic Guyandotte Tours at the yearly History Day at the Legislature, held each February at the State Capitol.  It's a day where historical interest groups from all over the state can come together...and its a great resource for finding unique tourism opportunities!  

At least, that's what happened several years ago when I picked up a newsletter being passed out by the West Virginia Association of Museums.  Sitting at our info table, I started reading through the newsletter during a lull in the action and was pleasantly surprised to see an article about a unique museum in our Northern Panhandle devoted entirely to the social history of Halloween.  I filed that information away, with an understanding that one day, I would take the time to make the trip.  For me, Halloween isn't just a one-day event; it's a lifestyle.  

As it is, life got in the way and the museum, while not forgotten, lost priority until my boyfriend came home one day and excitedly asked me if I had ever heard of a Halloween museum near Wheeling.  He then proceeded to show me a video on Youtube he found featuring an in-depth overview of all the wonders the museum has to offer.  We decided unanimously to up the priority level and make sure we crossed this one off our bucket list.  It took almost a year, but finally, we called and set everything up!  Early Saturday morning, the car was packed and we were off.

Planning The Trip

Boggs Run School: Undated photo from Marshall Co. GenWeb
The Castle Halloween Museum is open by appointment only and you'll need to call a few days in advance---even though the museum is a short drive off US 250, communications are spotty and it might be a day or so before the owners can return your call.  You can reach them through an email form provided on the website, www.castlehalloween.com, or you can call.  The phone number is 304-233-1031 and it totally went over my head until writing this down that last four digits of the phone number are 10/31, as in, October 31st---Halloween!

The museum itself is housed in the old  Boggs Run School, located on Boggs Run Road in Benwood.  A short drive directly off U.S. Route 250, the museum is just a few minutes away from both Wheeling, WV and Moundsville, WV...which, we'll discuss a little later on!  Anyway, Boggs Run, which wasn't incorporated into the town of Benwood until 1944 (and named after James Boggs who settled in the area in the late 1700s) is prone to flooding, so keep that in mind if the rains have been especially heavy.


The Tour

Our tour was scheduled for 9 am Saturday morning and we arrived a few minutes early after our nearly 3 hour drive from Charleston, WV.  Pulling into the parking lot, we were delighted to see the old school building adorned with gargoyles.  We entered through the "cemetery gates" and into the lower level of the building where immediately we were seized with hundreds of vintage boxed costumes, a collection of children's books, and other fun stuff.  We met our tour guide and owner, Pamela Apkarian-Russell, and her delightful husband, Chris, and began the guided portion of the tour.

Pamela is know as the Halloween Queen, and for good reason.  Not only has she amassed and curated a 35,000+ collection of Halloween and related memorabilia, she's also authored an impressive collection of books about Halloween-themed antiques and collectibles, as well as collections of ghost stories and history.

The guided part of the tour lasts around 90 minutes and Pamela is extremely knowledgeable about the history and the social and cultural significance of each piece in the massive collection.  Vintage costumes including Dennison crepe paper examples dating all the way back to the early 20th century,  Halloween-themed Fenton glass, mourning jewelry and other memento mori, board games, pottery, original paintings, folk art, voodoo memorabilia, decorations, advertising...this is just a minuscule example of what is available to see.  Plenty of antiques from early times up through modern vintage definitely evoke a feeling of nostalgia...and exhibits featuring newer examples of pop culture, such as Harry Potter and The Nightmare Before Christmas will interest the younger visitors.   If you're looking for a gory, horrifying house of terror, you're in the wrong place.  However, if you're looking for an excellent slice of America's favorite holiday from a cultural and historical perspective, you'll be in heaven.

Halloween Queen Pamela, and husband Chris.  Courtesy of castlehalloween.com

After the guided portion of the tour, you're free to roam about on your own to take a closer look.  There is so much to see that it is quite overwhelming!  You could spend a month in there and not see everything, which gives us plenty of reason to plan another trip!  We did spend a few minutes taking in some of what we missed the first time around, but found ourselves enjoying plenty of off-topic conversation with our gracious hosts.  We learned that they had moved the museum to WV about ten years ago, after living in New England.  Shoddy construction crews had destroyed the roof, and as a result, a corner of the main exhibit showroom was heavily damaged by rainwater.  We also learned that even though people have come from all over the world to this little corner of West Virginia to visit the Halloween museum, it is not well-received by the locals.  

For that reason, I strongly encourage each and every one of you out there reading this to visit this museum as soon as possible and bring your friends and family along!  This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in history, or anything even remotely related to Halloween.  It is truly a unique experience and you'll never seen anything quite like it anywhere else.  We need to spread the word!  Make a donation or buy one of Pamela's books, available online if you cannot make the trip.  Certain instances have left a poor impression of West Virginia and her people on this couple, and I'd like to show them that this is NOT representative of all of us, or even the majority of us.  So, please support this awesome destination and help make it an integral part of Northern Panhandle tourism.

Extra Stuff to Consider:

*Are you visiting Moundsville Penitentiary for a tour or ghost hunt?  The Castle Halloween Museum is a very short and easy drive from the prison; it took us seriously only about 5-10 minutes to get there.  If you're coming from out of town, plan out a few extra hours before or after your penitentiary experience to tour the Halloween Museum.  You will NOT be disappointed!

*Bringing children?  Children are welcome on the tour, which can be customized within reason to fit their age level and interests.  However, in my opinion, this is a tour that will be most enjoyed by those ages 10 and up.  

*Mobility issues?  There are some very tight spaces, and a few stairs leading up to the front door and down to the main level of the museum.  However, if you require a wheelchair, please give them a call and let them know the situation.  I believe I read online somewhere that special accommodations can be made.  The good thing is, there really isn't much walking involved.  Still, wear a pair of comfy shoes, and dress seasonably.  Fans were placed liberally throughout the museum, offering a chance to cool down and keep the air moving, but it was still quite hot inside during our visit.

*Photography is allowed and encouraged!

*Bring cash for your $8 admission fee!

In Conclusion

I could spend hours just talking about all the cool things we saw and how much fun we had at West Virginia's best kept little secret.  In fact, our original itinerary was just to visit the museum, maybe walk around downtown Wheeling for a bit, have lunch, and then head back home.  Plans quickly changed after we realized how freaking close we were to Moundsville!  Check back tomorrow for part two of this blog series...and find out what was going on at one of the most haunted locations in the world!















Monday, August 18, 2014

Video: Spirit Leaving Car Accident Victim's Body?

Another video has taken the paranormal social media scene by storm.  The video allegedly shows First Responders working the scene of a horrific head-on collision.  As a news commentator makes note of the lack of information to the extent of the injuries suffered, a shadowy figure can be seen ascending from the red vehicle, raising its arms, and shooting up towards the heavens.  The overwhelming consensus on so many of Facebook's notorious paranormal groups is that this is either the soul of the deceased leaving the body....or perhaps something supernatural coming to collect that soul.  Watch the video below:



Did you see it?

This horrific accident took place in late April of 2012 near Brattleboro, VT.  32 year old Dustin North was driving his black Audi with a passenger.  Before the crash, witnesses had reported seeing North swerving back and forth at high speeds along Route 30.  Richard Kenyon (58), was heading in the opposite direction when he swerved into the opposite lane to avoid North's car, which was in the wrong lane at the time.  North swerved back into the correct lane and hit Kenyon's red Jetta head on.  The accident happened north of Grafton Village Cheese, near the I-91 overpass.

Fortunately, North and his passenger walked away with only minor injuries.  Richard Kenyon also walked away with only minor injuries.  However, his passenger, 65 year old Joseph Chagnon, had to be cut out of the vehicle and airlifted to UMass Medical Center with a host of severe injuries.  He spent four days in ICU in critical condition, suffering from a broken back, broken ribs, a broken clavicle, broken neck, broken leg, and internal bleeding from lacerations of the liver and kidney.  Fortunately, Chagnon survived and was released from the hospital to continue his healing at home.  The following November, North was sentenced to 3.5 to 7 years prison for the accident.  At the time, he had been under the influence of pain killers, Xanax, and methadone.

Okay...so no one died from this accident.  Does that mean the video is necessarily a fake?  Perhaps it was a Guardian Angel or spirit guide, watching over and keeping all four men involved in the crash relatively safe.  I'd like to believe that...as I'm sure many others would like, as well.

But...that is not the case with this video.  If the cartoonish appearance of the apparition didn't alert you to its lack of authenticity, then perhaps this video will convince you.  This is the original video footage; notably absent is the black apparition:



Sources:
Man Sentenced For Causing Near-Fatal Crash While High on Prescription Drugs, by Susan Smallheer.  From Vermont Today (November 15, 2012)

Brattleboro News Youtube Channel, Info from the Brattleboro Informer

Monday, August 4, 2014

Charles Lindbergh and the Third Man Factor

Charles Lindbergh in WV, 1927
Today is somewhat of an interesting day for West Virginia history.  On August 4, 1927 the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh landed his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, at Moundsville's Langin Field.  Following the success of his solo, non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight that May, Lindbergh was on the West Virginia leg of his country-wide tour promoting aviation.

As far as I know, there were no spooky occurrences directly related to the stop in Moundsville or Lindbergh's public appearance in Wheeling...but the same cannot be said about his actual trans-Atlantic journey!  During his solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, Lindbergh fought a storm, disorienting fog, ice in the fuselage and severe fatigue.  At one point, he actually was reported as falling asleep with his eyes open and suffering hallucinations.

But were these images really just simple hallucinations...or something else altogether?  Many believe that Charles Lindbergh experienced a very unique (possibly) paranormal phenomena that only a handful of others have experienced over the years:  The Third Man Factor.

These incidents wouldn't hit the mainstream public until 1953, when the book, The Spirit of St. Louis, was published.  The text contains a timeline of events, including notes concerning the idea that maybe Lindbergh WASN'T alone in his plane during his trans-Atlantic flight.  Here's just a few quotes, courtesy of Good Ghosts That Help, about the beings he began seeing around halfway through his historic flight :

* "Those phantoms speak with human voices.  They are friendly, vapor-like shapes without substance, able to appear or disappear at will, to pass in and out through the walls of the fuselage.."

* "They were discussing problems of my navigation, reassuring me, giving me messages of importance unattainable in ordinary life."

*  "These spirits have no rigid bodies, yet they remain human in outline and form.  They're neither intruders nor strangers, its more like a gathering of friends and family after years of separation, as though I'd known all of them before in some past life."

The Spirit of St. Louis at Langin Field

What Charles Lindbergh experienced while all alone up there in his plane has come to be known as the Third Man Factor.  The "third-man" moniker comes from Ernest Shackleton's experience of the phenomena when making the historic trip to the South Pole in 1916.  Shackleton, along with another member of the party, F.A. Worsley, both made statements to the effect that they had a strong sensation that they were accompanied by a fourth member of the expedition, or...a third companion. T.S. Eliot drew on that experience, and wrote a poem called The Waste Land, changing the Fourth Man to the Third Man.

However, it wouldn't be until 2009 that the term would really pick up steam.

That year, John Geiger released the book, The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible.  Building on over six years of research, the book chronicles the case studies of numerous people who survived with a little help and/or reassurance from someone who wasn't truly there.  According to Geiger, the Third Man is an unseen being that intervenes at a critical moment---when people are in great stress or in a life or death struggle---to give comfort, aid, or support.

Mountain climbers, solo sailors, survivors of shipwrecks, and polar explorers make up the largest demographic of witnesses to this phenomena, but the Third Man can pop up anywhere to anyone, it seems. In addition to Charles Lindbergh, another notable case is that of Ron DiFrancesco.  DiFrancesco was one of the last, if not THE last person to make it out of the second tower alive during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  At one point where DiFrancesco was giving up, he heard a voice calling him by name, telling him to get up, and that he could do this.  DiFrancesco claimed that not only did he hear the unidentified voice, but he also felt an unseen presence with him.  He even felt that 'person' lift him up and guide him to safety!

There are definitely enough case studies to show that something is happening to these people, but what exactly that might be is hotly debated.  Some believe that these beings are supernatural in origin.  Perhaps they are guardian angels or spirit guides?  Maybe they're the spirits of loved ones who have passed away coming back to help us when we need them the most?  One page I found went as far as to theorize that these beings are gremlins.

Other theories are a little more psychological and/or scientific.  It's highly likely that these ARE hallucinations, but hallucinations that are part of a larger coping mechanism as the witnesses are trying to make sense out of tough situations and subconsciously make appropriate choices that the conscious might not be able to tackle.  The process might have something to do with the theory of bicameralism, an idea that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking," and a second part which listens and obeys.  To me, the theory of the bicameral mind sounds a lot like the idea of Socrates' daimon...a being he thought was a separate entity, but that later scholars argue was simply a manifestation of Socrates' own conscious.  Still...to many, this phenomena takes on a very religious or spiritual nature, especially for Christians as the similarities to the Footsteps poem are obvious.

There are a ton of excellent sources on the theory of The Third Man Factor, and I suggest anyone with an interest to do some research of their own as there is no way I can do the subject justice without making this post the size of a book!  I've listed a few sources that I used in this blog to get you started, though. Happy Reading!

Additional Reading:
Lindberg Lands in Moundsville, by Thomas O. James
Article from the Moundsville Journal
Charles Lindbergh's Gremlins, by Seeks Ghosts
Third Man Factor from Wikipedia
NPR's Guardian Angels or the Third Man Factor? 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

South Carolina's Forgotten Ghost Photo

The information for today's post comes from an excellent little book called The Ghosts of Charleston by Edward B. Macy and Julian T. Buxton III. While fairly short, its packed with stories from Charleston, South Carolina's many, many haunted hot spots, including a whole chapter dedicated to today's photograph:


The photograph above was taken about 11 pm on June 10, 1987 at the St. Philip's Church Graveyard.  Local resident, Harry Reynolds, had been out all day testing his new Kodak ASA-200 film camera, when he decided to end the day with a couple of shots at the nearby cemetery.  Unfortunately, the gates were already locked for the evening...so Harry cut through a nearby playground that adjoined the cemetery property, and took his photos through the wrought iron gate.

Most of the cemetery shots turned out rather dark, but the image above, which was the last on the roll, came out showing what appears to be a clear image of a shrouded woman kneeling over a grave!  Thinking it was a simple double exposure, Harry sent the photo and the negatives off to the Kodak lab, where experts ruled out that possibility, as well as the possibility of tampering.

Convinced he had caught a real ghost on film, Harry then set out with the help of his wife and a friend to discover who the ghost could be.  They learned that the grave belonged to Sue (Susan) Howard Hardy, wife of Gaston Hardy, who was the Secretary of the Treasury for the South Carolina Railroad.   She had died on June 16, 1888 at only 29 years old.  As their research would show, Sue passed away from complications due to labor.  Her stillborn baby had died six days earlier...on June 10th.

Harry had taken a photograph of what appears to be a woman in mourning, 99 years to the day, after Sue Hardy's child had died.  Is this a photograph of a mother mourning the loss of her child from beyond the grave or simply a camera malfunction?  If you're in the area, you can find out for yourself! Today, the cemetery is a favorite stop on the different Charleston ghost tours and it is reported that the mournful cries of a woman can be heard at certain times in the evening.  Some of the tours also offer a warning:  When copies of the photograph by Harry Reynolds are passed out to guests, pregnant women are warned not to touch them after several incidents have arisen where pregnant women DID handle the photographs and consequently felt as if they were being choked, felt nauseous, etc. The church, however, doesn't put much stock into these reports, and has gone as far as to issue the following signage:



Further Reading:
St. Philip's Church website
Scares and Haunts of Charleston
Find-a-Grave: Sue Howard Hardy

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Alaska's Haunted Boney Courthouse

From Pbase.com
Today's Haunted America location comes from Anchorage, Alaska and is really more of a fright bite.  As interesting as the story is to me, there just really isn't any information on this location and its hauntings anywhere online.  Nevertheless...

Alaska became a part of the United States in 1959, but it wouldn't be until over five years later that its first governor, William Egan, established the state's Supreme Court (1965).  Originally composed of three justices, Buell Nesbett led the group as the Chief Justice.  As the state's needs continued to grow, the decision to increase the number of justices from 3 to 5 was made in 1968, and one of those justices was the Honorable George Frank Boney.  Boney served as a justice for two years.

In 1968, Judge Nesbett retired, and Judge Boney took his place, becoming Alaska's second (and youngest) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, tragedy would cut Boney's career short and he died in a boating accident on August 30, 1972.  Born in July of 1930, Boney was only 42 years old.

Chief Justice George Boney, seated
His legacy would live on, though.  Completed in 1973, Anchorage's new judicial building was named the Boney Memorial Courthouse at the insistence of a former state attorney who claimed to feel the presence of the deceased judge.  In fact, the modern courthouse, the first to incorporate public art in its design and planning, is said to be haunted by none other than Judge George Boney himself.


Sources:
Anchorage Daily News
The Alaska Court System: Celebrating 50 Years