Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Giving Advice on the Paranormal

I follow a lot of paranormal pages and belong to a number of  paranormal groups on Facebook. It always disturbs me to see the advice people give each other when it comes to certain paranormal topics. It's like the blind leading the blind. I know this is a field where there are arguably no 'experts' and technically MOST ideas are simply conjectures and theories, but we can and must do better.  I am sick of seeing advice being given that is at best, unhelpful, and at worst, both mentally and physically dangerous.

I came across this graphic today and thought that it was a pretty good way to summarize the thought process you should go through before offering up advice or commenting on a paranormal post, especially those posts in which someone is asking for help or advice.

Let's break it down.

T - Is it True? When you're offering advice regarding a field where there are very few known absolutes, it can be difficult to keep your own opinion or even what you believe to be true out of it. But, its important that you do your best to only offer up the facts. However, if you absolutely feel it is necessary to throw in a little popular or personal opinion, make sure you qualify your statements as such.  Where applicable, provide links and sources that back up your statements and give the person asking for advice a place to go for more information.

H - Is it Helpful? Do you REALLY have something to say that is helpful to the situation? Does your statement have educational value or is it just pointless chatter? Are you fear mongering or legitimately trying to help? Are you hijacking the post with your own issues that are detracting from the original poster's? Are you even qualified to give an opinion on this matter (especially when it comes to things like health issues)? Before replying to a post asking for help, ask yourself these questions, and ask yourself whether or not you would find your statement helpful if it were you who needed the help.

I - Is it Inspiring? Okay, I'll admit that 'inspiring' posts don't really fit with this scenario of offering advice.  But, bonus points if your post is actually inspiring in any way, especially if it inspires someone to do further research on a topic or to look at an issue with a different point of view. Be an inspiration to other posters by staying on topic, offering sound advice, not giving opinions on topics which you aren't qualified to give opinions on, and being polite, kind, and professional.

N - Is it Necessary? This one sort of ties in with the helpfulness of a post. Is what you're saying necessary to contribute to the post and stay on topic? Are you offering a fresh point of view, or are you just needlessly reiterating what others have already discussed at length without adding any additional value?

K - Is it Kind? It seems like many people have issues with staying kind. For those who have studied the paranormal field for a long time, it can be frustrating when people ask very simplistic questions that we assume should be easily answered or debunked. We can't forget that we're all in different spots along our journey in this field, and thus have a wide range of knowledge and experience. Further, many of these paranormal groups are frequented by members who don't actively study the paranormal---but rather come there when they are experiencing things they can't explain. It's much more frustrating when people who ask for advice obviously have already made up their minds and don't really want to hear what you have to say...especially when what you have to say is of a more skeptical nature. It is extremely common to see posters react to any type of questioning or offering of explanations that don't fit their preconceived notions to get extremely defensive. That defensiveness often devolves into some pretty rude comments and accusations. If that happens to you, be the bigger person. Stand by the facts and accept the idea that not everyone is going to see it your way. Stay kind and stay professional. Don't stoop to name calling, shaming, or any other negative behavior.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reasons for Being Admitted to an 1800s Asylum

This image has been passed the internet for quite some time now and shows the 'reasons of admission' to insane asylums between the years of 1864 and 1889. The first time I saw a version of this was in the appendix of A Short History of Weston Hospital: Weston, WV by Joy Gilchrist-Stalnaker (2007). And as many readers will immediately recognize---Weston State Hospital was formerly operated as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a name that the current owners have re-bestowed upon the now-closed mental health facility in central West Virginia.

A similar list can also be found in the more recently published, Lunatic: The Rise and Fall of an American Asylum by Edward S. Gleason and both books contain lists with even more reasons for admission not included in this particular infographic. Further, according to the website, Appalachian History, a published list of rather strange reasons to be admitted to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum appeared in an even earlier publication---a pamphlet from 1993 written by Marjorie E. Carr, which states that these reasons were pulled from the early log books of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum between October 22, 1864 and December 12, 1889.  So, its pretty well established  WHERE these strange reasons came from...but were people REALLY admitted to an insane asylum for things like being lazy and reading too many novels?

Yes and no. Indicating that greediness and bad company were enough for one to be deemed insane, and thus admitted to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and similar facilities is a little misleading unless you understand the state of psychiatric care in the late 1800s. The book, Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum, by Mark Stevens offers one of the most simplistic explanations for the rather disturbing nature of the list above.

Throughout the 1800s, most doctors focused less on a 'diagnosis' as we'd understand it today, and instead, would ascribe a "cause of insanity" to each patient. These causes of insanity usually fell into one of two categories: 1. Moral Circumstances, which would include things like intemperance and vice; religious excitement; being unlucky in love; anxiety; and poverty. 2. Physical Conditions, which would include fever, head injuries and childbirth. 

Up until fairly recently, there wasn't a great deal of treatment options available in mental health and what was available was administered whether the patient suffered from schizophrenia, dementia, dissociative identity disorder, etc. And in a time where mental illness wasn't really understood, I guess it just seemed to make more sense to classify and group patients based on what triggered/caused their 'insanity.' So don't worry! Your son can get married, your husband can desert you, you can lose a lawsuit, or you can be imprisoned and it doesn't necessarily mean you're automatically eligible for a room with padded walls.

But...if you were a woman during this time period and your family or spouse wanted you out of the way, it was pretty darn easy under this system to have you put away for a long, long time.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's New on Facebook for November

Every November 1st I go through somewhat of a Halloween hangover. Maybe the sensation is best described as Halloween withdrawals. All throughout October, I'm constantly pumped up about the big day---and then Halloween comes and goes. I always have a great month and a great holiday, but a sort of depression or melancholy sets in immediately after. As a result, I get pretty unmotivated when it comes to the blog and maintaining Theresa's Haunted History Facebook page.

Therefore, I've decided to make it a point to post some fresh content EVERY day to Facebook. I've done daily themes before with success, so I'm hoping you all will enjoy this month's round of special posting. I'll still be posting links to my new blog entries, news stories, and anything else I find interesting, but will be implementing the plan below in an effort to stay motivated and on point. Here's a look at what to expect if you follow Theresa's Haunted History on Facebook!

Weekly Posts:

Mondays:  Monday will continue to be Monday Night Debate night. Each Monday evening, I will be asking YOU to weigh in on some of the more controversial topics making up the paranormal field today. There are no right or wrong answers---I just want to see some healthy discussion and sharing of opinions.  Feel free to speak your mind, provide evidence for your reasoning (links, etc.), and share your knowledge. All I ask is that discussions remain courteous and open-minded.

Tuesdays: Tuesday will continue to be Tuesday Night Vocabulary. I will continue to share jargon from all areas of paranormal study, including but not limited to, ufology, cryptozoology, parapsychology, etc. These words will range from common concepts that every paranormal enthusiast/investigator needs to be familiar with, to really off-the-wall terms that will never come up in normal conversation---but will go a long way in making you SOUND like an expert in the field.

Wednesday: I'll be bringing back West Virginia Wednesdays! Each Wednesday evening, I'll spotlight a different haunted location within the Mountain State.

Thursday:  Thursdays will officially be Throwback Thursday. There are a lot of really cool old stories of ghosts, monsters, and all things creepy from vintage newspapers. Each week, look for a new story originally documented over a century ago.

Friday: Friday will now be Friday Film Night. Each Friday evening, pop up some popcorn, snuggle up on the couch, and get ready for some spooky films! There are so many great FREE documentaries on a variety of paranormal topics available through various places online. I'll be sharing and reviewing some of MY favorite recommendations.

Saturday: Saturdays will now be devoted to spooky quotes. Each Saturday, I'll post a quote about some aspect of the paranormal from a celebrity, scientist, paranormal investigator, writer, etc. Get inspired by what others are saying about the field.

Sunday: Sunday will know be The Sunday Skeptic. Each Sunday evening, I'll be posting some sort of article, video, graphic, or writing on the paranormal that features a skeptical viewpoint. It is impossible to receive a comprehensive education on ANY subject without examining it through all viewpoints, and the paranormal is no exception. The information posted will be designed to get you thinking and questioning.

Daily Posts:

1. Question of the Day: I want to hear from you! Every day at noon I'll be posting a generalized question asking you about your paranormal beliefs and experiences. Please weigh in with your opinions as often as you'd like!

2. Creepy Photo of the Day: Each day at 3pm I'll be posting a creepy photo for your viewing pleasure. These photos might be alleged ghost photos, photos from spooky old buildings, or anything else I find especially interesting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Haunting of St. Mary's Church---Rhode Island


The Folklore:
According to the popular paranormal website, Haunted Places, St. Mary's Catholic Church in West Warwick, Rhode Island is haunted! The folklore, as related by the site, states that St. Mary's was the first Catholic Church to have been built in Rhode Island. This didn't sit too well with the large Protestant population in the area, and so the story goes, the Protestant congregation 'cursed' the new church, dooming the first person to break ground on its construction to an eternity beneath its walls forever.

A young woman named Mary, often quoted as being the builder's wife, was the lucky one chosen to break ground on the project. As a result, her restless ghost still remains, messing with light switches, blowing out candles, and moving objects about.

The Fact:
St. Mary's Catholic Church is in fact the oldest Catholic Church in Rhode Island. The current church dates back to 1844 and was originally operated under the name of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The need for a Catholic church arose in the 1830s when a boom in  local textile production required skilled laborers from England and Ireland, many of whom were Catholic. On September 23, 1844, Mary Doran, the wife of calico printer Paul Doran, was chosen to be the one to break ground on the construction of the new church. It would be officially dedicated on July 20, 1845.

The official church history leaves out any actual 'curse' put on the church or its members, but this WAS a time period when Irish immigrants, especially those of the Catholic faith, were not well-received in this country, and it stands to reason that there was some friction in town. And whether or not you believe any curse or not, the fact stands that Mary Doran did NOT live a long and prosperous life following her role of breaking ground on the church.

Mary and her husband Paul had two children. Their daughter Elizabeth died at the age of 11 months in May of 1849. She was followed by her ten year old brother, Edward, that December. Mary also perished that year. She passed away at the age of 33 years old, on October 1, 1849. Being that three members of the family died the same year, so close together, indicates that there was probably some illness or epidemic that struck them. In 1849, there was a major outbreak of cholera sweeping throughout the country, which would be my best guess as to what happened to the family.  Paul would live long enough to remarry and have at least one more child before he joined his first family in the family plot at the St. Mary's Cemetery. It is true that Mary will spend eternity on the church grounds...but whether or not she is actually HAUNTING the church, you can decide!

Church History
Graveyard Transcription

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mothman Festival 2015 (Day 3) and Final Thoughts

Better late than never, right? I promised over a month ago to discuss my three days spent at this year's Mothman Festival in Pt. Pleasant, WV...and just never got around to finishing it, lol. I thought I better get around to it before I had to start writing about Mothman Festival 2016. Anyway...

Like I said before, I really only planned on attending one day of festival activities, but ended up being there for all three days of Mothy fun. Since Carrie couldn't make it down on Saturday, I returned with her on Sunday, the third and final day of the festival. The main thing we wanted to accomplish on Sunday was attending the panel discussion of the event's speakers.

Rosemary Guiley moderated the discussion with guest speakers Susan Sheppard of the Parkersburg Ghost Tours, researcher Joedy Cook, cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard, cryptozoologist Lyle Blackburn, UFO researcher Stan Gordon, and cryptid researcher Bill Brock. As with the individual talks, the panel discussion took place within the historic (and haunted!) State Theater and was really quite interesting. Rosemary got the ball rolling by asking some general questions of the speakers, and then the mic was opened up to the audience.

Previously, Carrie and I had had an in-depth discussion about an issue in cryptozoology and had wanted to get the panel's take on it---but neither one of us could actually bring ourselves to standing up in front of everyone and asking our question. So, after the discussion was over, we followed the speakers back over to vendor's row. We browsed around a bit to take in all the cool art, t-shirts, books, and other paranormal/horror novelty themed merchandise for sale. We stopped by Jen's PlushyBoo booth and had a great conversation with her and her family. I was bummed that I missed my opportunity to pick up a plush Mothman (she had sold out) but she gave me a wonderful deal on a Braxton County Monster AND Man in Black plushy. Seriously, if you haven't checked out her work, go do so NOW. These little cuddly cryptids are so well made, so adorable, and just so freakin' awesome. They'd be  great gifts for paranormal researchers and enthusiasts, look great on the shelf of any collector of curiosities, or serve as a unique toy for the kids in your life. Here's her Etsy and here's her Facebook page.

My lil' cuties!

After we talked with Jen, we continued to make our way through the vendor's area...and saw Ken Gerhard at his table. Carrie and I had both been impressed with Ken's answers and his personality at the panel discussion, and since he wasn't currently bombarded with fans at the time, we decided to go have a chat...and ask the question that had been plaguing us, lol. Our question basically was about why more witnesses didn't come forward describing Bigfoot's, uh...junk. After reading several works by Linda Godfry, it seemed like several other cryptids always had their gender visible...but with Bigfoot it never really was talked about all that much.

Ken was obviously amused by our questions, but handled it like a true pro. Without making us feel too weird (we handled that all on our own) he gave some pretty good answers as to why more people aren't describing Bigfoot genitalia. And since I know you're DYING to know....basically, there are a few reasons why this phenomena is under reported. There actually have been several well documented cases of people having up-close encounters with Sasquatch creatures and they definitely reported being able to tell a difference between males and females, but generally, witnesses never get close enough to notice that detail because its not a very noticeable detail, lol. In general, primates are NOT well-endowed in relation to their body size, humans being the exception. So, in summary, people aren't reporting seeing Bigfoot junk because its too tiny to see from the distance which they are being observed.

Can you find the igloo?
After our little talk, we caught the tram tour through Pt. Pleasant and we were lucky to have Dennis Bellamy, the head guy of tourism in the city, as our guide. We learned a lot about the history of Pt. Pleasant, but a few items stuck out in particular to me. For starters, most locals still will not talk about or embrace the idea of the Mothman. After the Silver Bridge collapsed, it was like the issue was never discussed again and the Mothman mania that had gone on over the past year died down as the town mourned the loss of so many of its own. Secondly, the whole Chief Cornstalk curse thing---total fabrication. It came about as part of a play put on by the local elementary school in conjunction with the town in 1926. Still, I loved the tour, and it was a great value at only $3 a ticket. By then, though, we were getting a little tired.

However, no trip to Pt. Pleasant is ever complete without a trip to the TNT area to check out the old igloos. At one point, there were only three igloos down one little road that I knew to be open. On this trip, however, we noticed a bunch of cars parked at ANOTHER side road, so we parked the car and walked down the path to find that two igloos that I had never been in before were open. It's always a fun experience walking into those, hearing the strange acoustics, and imagining what it must have been like during the days of TNT manufacture in the area. It can definitely get a tad...spooky.

So that wrapped up our day in Pt. Pleasant, and Mothman Festival weekend for me. This year, I tried to cram in several things that I normally don't do during the festival. Every year we go to the Mothman Museum, take a tour of the Lowe Hotel, and visit the River Museum. And, if its not too busy, we eat at Harris'. All of these are wonderfully fun things to do, and I recommend them to anyone coming to the festival or visiting the area throughout the year. This year, I just wanted to do things a little differently! There are only so many hours in a day, and the Mothman Festival is so packed full of awesome activities for everyone.

I really have to congratulate Jeff Wamsley, Ashley Wamsley-Watts, and the many others who really come together to pull off such an awesome festival! As I alluded to above, there is literally so much to do that its nearly impossible to cram it all into one weekend. I also have to give the staff and guests major props---there really isn't anywhere else, and certainly no where around here, where you're going to find the caliber of speakers the Mothman Festival brings in...and for FREE! And, unlike many other conventions and festivals, the Mothman Festival allows an opportunity to really network with and get to know so many members of the paranormal community. If you haven't been, I highly recommend making the trip. Next year will be the festival's 15th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Mothman sightings, so it's sure to be big in 2016.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Paranormal Education---"Fall Semester"

Readers to this blog and the Theresa's Haunted History Facebook page have probably already realized that I am a huge supporter of higher education and continuing education for paranormal investigators. In a field that incorporates so many different disciplines and is constantly changing, we need to stay informed, educated, and at the top of our game. It's a definite step in the struggle to take paranormal research from a fringe field and turn it into a legitimate and recognized area of study!

And...I'm proud to say that even though my spare time is short and my funds are tight, I have always found ways to practice what I preach! This October, I am involved in three courses that I hope will contribute to my knowledge of the field and make me a better, more informed researcher/investigator. The first two are online classes through Open2Study. They are MOOCs----Massive Open Online Courses----and are FREE!

1. Basic Physics---This class is taught by Dr. Wayne Rowlands of the Swinburne University of Technology, and as the title says, its an introductory course in basic physics. Science courses are always recommended material for paranormal investigators, but I have a specific reason for taking this particular class. Carrie, my friend and HPIR colleague, have recently discussed the merits of becoming MUFON certified. The manual and accompanying test is a little too pricey for me right now, so the plan is to wait until after the new year. Until then, I'm trying to prepare as much as possible by reading and watching everything I can on ufology and taking relevant courses. Last month I took the Open2Study Astronomy course and was quite pleased with it.

2. Early Childhood Education---This class is taught by Caitlin O'Connell and Helen Lawrence from Gowrie Victoria. Early Childhood Education might sound like a weird option for a paranormal education, but I do think it has a lot of potential. As part of our investigative field work, we often work private residences. Many of the clients for these private residences do have young children in the home and these children are being affected in some way by the perceived paranormal activity. It's vital to be able to understand how a young child's developing mind works and how they perceive the world around them so that we can offer the best advice and course of action possible for the family. This particular class heavily emphasizes developmental milestones, normal behaviors for children at various stages up to about age 5, and of course, how they perceive and learn---all areas that can be useful when dealing with our youngest clients.


The last class I'm taking this month is an actual live, in-person class, taught at Ohio University's Southern Campus. Todd Martin is the instructor of the 4-week course community education course on Paranormal Phenomenon and Local Mysteries. This course was a great value at only $35 and in addition to the class periods (every Tuesday from 7-9pm) there will be a chance to actually investigate a potentially haunted location!

This course goes beyond just ghost hunting and ghost research, however. It delves into all areas of paranormal studies, including ufology, cryptozoology, and stuff that is just plain weird---but very, very interesting! It is so awesome to have the chance to meet and interact with so many other people who share a similar interest in the field. Although thus far I have been very familiar with most, if not all, of the topics presented, I find this course extremely interesting and beneficial. It helps me see what specific areas others are interested in and what sorts of questions they have and what kind of information they are looking for. I'll be basing plenty of future blogs on conversations generated through the course.

If you missed this session, Mr. Martin indicated that there will be a spring session offered. As soon as I see more information about it, I'll share it on Facebook. Until then, check out this nice write-up on the course from the Ironton Tribune!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Weird Art: Saint Wolfgang and the Devil

Every once in awhile I like to inject a little culture into the blog by sharing some interesting and strange art that has a paranormal twist! Today's offering is a painting by Michael Pacher entitled, Saint Wolfgang and the Devil (ca. 1475). 

This painting originally appeared as an altar piece in a church located at St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, Austria. Legend states that St. Wolfgang founded the first church in this area by throwing an axe down a mountain and building where it landed. And, as this painting depicts, St. Wolfgang even tricked the Devil himself into helping with the building labor. The Devil was promised the first living being to set foot in the church in exchange for his work.  Unfortunately for the Devil, an expected human 'offering' actually turned out to be a wolf! Pacher's work shows the Devil trying to argue his case with the soon-to-be Saint who just swindled him. 

Today, this piece is on display at Alte Pinakothek in Munich. 

*If you're wondering why the Devil has an extra face below the belt, please see my blog entry on the Osculum Infame, otherwise known as the Kiss of Shame*