Saturday, December 31, 2011

Theresa's First eBook Review!

I got a Kindle for Christmas!  I have to admit, I was much more impressed than I originally thought I would be with a Kindle.  As a devout bibliophile, I enjoy the whole experience of book ownership--not just the reading itself.  However, I quickly learned that there are a TON of free paranormal books available...and a few that only cost a small amount. 

This first eBook review, however, will actually be a double concerning two books that I actually did purchase, from the same author.  Unfortunately, as impressed as I was with the Kindle itself, these two books were FAR from impressive.

Both books were by Jeffrey Fisher, and the first one was Haunted Charleston:  Famous Haunted Locations of Charleston, WV and I paid $2.99 for it.  I ordered this book in a giddy state, since I know Charleston quite well, and was hoping for some unknown new locations to research and possibly contact about an investigation.  Instead, what I found was an embarassment.  The first entry in the VERY short book was for a location that isn't even IN Charleston!  Well, to be fair, it was in Charleston, SOUTH CAROLINA!  Slightly perturbed, I continued reading, only to find few paragraphs worth of a few additional haunted locations.  At best, the information was incomplete; at worst, it was downright erroneous in many cases.  It was if the author simply cut and pasted from Shadowlands, then added in a few additional "facts" off the top of his head.

Unfortunately, I bought the second book before I had read the first.  This one, by the same author, I paid $4.99 for, and it was entitled Haunted West Virginia:  Haunted Locations of WV.  Again, a severe disappointment.  For the price, there were only a handful of sites listed, and little to no historical background.  This person does have a third book about WV out, and I'm tempted to purchase it just to see how it stacks up against these other two. 

I really hate to start off my first ebook review with such a negative experience, and I promise that in the near future, my reviews will be of a happier nature.  However, I cannot ethically recommend the above-mentioned books to ANYONE, lol.  This author literally has hundreds of similar titles, and all the customer reviews I found basically say the same thing as I did.  If you want to read about haunted locations in West Virginia, complete with ACCURATE historical information, look no further than Theresa's Haunted History of the Tri-State!

The Pregnant Investigator

Before anyone starts getting nervous, I would like to clarify that no, I am NOT pregnant!  However, since I have been asked about the safety of pregnant investigators several times, and had to deal with the issue myself when I was pregnant with Luke, I thought I'd share my thoughts here.  This is an opinion piece, and doesn't necessarily reflect the views of other paranormal investigators.  This was taken from a message board response, so that's why it reads a little informally.

Although it is a decision that an individual has to make for herself, I investigated throughout my pregnancy, and my son turned out fine.  In fact, pregnant women are often an asset to an investigation.  As part of the whole survival of the species thing, pregnant women generally will notice a heightened sense of smell, become more observant, and increase their intuition.  These characteristics that are designed to ensure the safety of the unborn fetus from outside sources can generally be an asset to investigations.

More on the theoretical side, a pregnant woman may actually even attract more paranormal activity, either because she is seen as a great source of energy, with all those hormones spreading out like a beacon...or simply because of the maternal bond.  There is lots of anecdotal evidence that certain entities, such as those possibly of young children, who seem to cling to mommy figures...and what is more apparent as a mommy figure than someone who is visibly pregnant?  Unfortunately, those same hormones and survival characteristics COULD lead to false positives, and in extremely rare cases, may even result in cases of recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis.  RSPK, generally thought to be the source of poltergeist activity, is often attributed to a young person on the cusp of puberty.  However, pregnant woman, and even menopausal women, are going through similar hormonal and life changes that can have a similar effect.

Anyway, one of the biggest concerns people tend to have is that they are worried that something will "attach" to the unborn child. I'm not saying it COULDN'T happen, even though I have NEVER heard of such a case, but it would be extremely unlikely that anything encountered out in the field could be capable of doing something like that. Most cases are either not paranormally caused to begin with, or are residual.

If you follow the work of Dr. (well, former, since her license was yanked) Edith Fiore, you're WAY more likely to have something attach to the baby at the hospital during the delivery, since there in an abundance of lost souls wandering around confused. Due to an incompetent cervix, I ended up in the hospital for quite awhile. The hospital I stayed at already had a reputation for being haunted, and the baby next to my son in the NICU did pass away, but again, my son doesn't appear to be having any adverse affects. In fact, he's a little abnormal when it comes to the ghost stuff--a common belief is that new babies and pregnant women attract the attention of ghosts and spirits, but all activity in my house died completely out for the first 6 months he was home, lol. (According to a local psychic who "read" my son when he was a few weeks old, my grandfather's spirit moved in when my son came home, and forced all the other paranormal activity out of the home.)

Having said all that, I don't necessarily recommend pregnant women to do field investigations for more practical reasons. Many places that we go to investigate have minor safety issues that could become big safety issues for someone who is pregnant. When you're pregnant, most people's body changes so much, that they don't have the same control over it as they did before. Some drop things...all the time, lol.  A mis-step on an uneven staircase can lead to disaster.  Some locations have mold, high levels of EMF, clients who may not be the most mentally stable--all issues that are not ideal conditions for a pregnant woman. one wants to be on location with limited bathroom facilities and have to go pee every five minutes (speaking from experience, here).

Again, choosing to investigate at this time in one's life is a very personal decision, but I recommend that anyone who has ANY reservations at all refrain from actively investigating.  It is better to be safe than sorry, and not have the anxiety that if anything weird does happen, it wasn't the result of going on an investigation.

However, if  one chooses not to actively investigate or do field research during the pregnancy, that doesn't mean being completely left out of the investigation process; there are plenty of other things that can be done  besides actually go out in the field. This is a perfect opportunity to help with evidence review, website maintenance if you are on a team with a site, research possible locations, learn as much about the field as possible, and train yourself on basic equipment. If possible, take a photography class, or study up on how different equipment works.  Make calls to locations about possible investigations, and continue to participate in any group meetings.  Before long, these particular limitations will be over, and you'll have a new member of the next generation of paranormal investigators!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


In the paranormal investigation field, "pay-to-plays" are those locations that one must pay a fee for the privilege of investigating.  In short, a location, for whatever reason, charges investigation teams a fee for a set period of time to investigate said property.  Investigators have mixed opinions on these types of investigations, so to help you decide on whether these investigations are right for you and your team, I've compiled a list of pros and cons that I've discovered are applicable to the "pay-to-play."

*Many big name "holy grail" type places of the ghost hunting world are now pay-to-plays, and paying a fee may be the only way to ever gain access for an investigation.

*Some pay-to-play locations are reasonably priced, and the money goes straight for the upkeep and historical preservation of the site.  Although I don't think statistics have ever been compiled, but I would wager that more than a few historically significant properties have been saved thanks to the tourism and investigation fee dollars.  In fact, some locations, such as the Ramsdell House in Ceredo, WV, "rent" the space out for a variety of events.  You just rent the space for the standard fee, which is quite fair, and ghost hunting is welcomed, right along with banquets and baby showers!

*For new teams starting out, pay-to-plays are a great way to gain experience and start building up a resume of sorts.  In order to get cases, potential clients like to see past can offer this experience and fodder for the group's website.

*Pay-to-plays are less stressful!  Unlike a private case, there is no obligation to do intensive follow-up, and no distraught clients needing answers.  Also, historical and background information on these places abound, requiring very little heavy duty research before a case...unless of course you WANT to engage in this research, and possibly uncover documentation that can make or break the claims of paranormal activity!

*Pay-to-plays are an accessible way for a non-investigator with an armchair interest in ghost hunting to try it out...get his/her feet wet, so to speak.  You do not have to have an investigation team to participate in many locations' investigations, but you probably will get to meet several teams that you can network with, and learn various investigation methods from.

*Pay-to-plays can be VERY expensive, going up to several hundreds of dollars for just a few hours investigation time.  And, if a nationally known television show has filmed there in the past, these rates may actually skyrocket.  In some circles, this is known as the TAPS Effect, taken obviously from the impact that Ghost Hunters has had on the tourism industry.

*Pay-to-plays don't always offer the investigation team private access.  At times, several different groups may book the location on the same night, causing less than ideal conditions.  Even if the other team is a stellar team, any additional bodies in the location can lead to unneccesary false positives and evidence contamination.

*In order to keep bringing in the revenue, owners of such establishments have, at times, been accused of "enhancing" the chance of a paranormal experience.  At the very least, any evidence NOT supporting a haunting my be suppressed, and investigators who debunk well known paranormal claims may not be welcome on site in the future.

*Some pay-to-plays have in-house investigation teams.  This can lead to territorialism and a monopoly over the location, and certain hard feelings can arise in this era of paradrama. 

I personally prefer to stay away from these types of establishments as much as possible, but do recognize the benefits of such, especially to newer groups. Fortunately, HPIR over the years has been blessed with an ample amount of free investigations close to home which have occupied all our free time.  That said, we have done a few of these pay-to-plays in the past, and most likely, will continue on into the future with them, when time affords us. 

If interested in experiencing one of these ghost hunting opportunities for yourself, please see the partial list of pay-to-plays in the tri-state area:

List Pay-to-Plays:
 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV
WV State Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV
The Buffington House in Huntington, WV
Gist House near Wellsburg, WV
Waverly Hills in Louisville, KY
Bobby Mackey's in Wilder, KY
Rogers House in OH
Prospect Place in Trinway, OH
Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH

Washington's Lost Colony

In 1754, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia promised Virginia officers 200,000 acres of land in western Virginia in exchange for their service in the French and Indian War.  However, by 1770, the land was still unclaimed, so on behalf of the men, George Washington led a small expedition to explore the uncharted lands.  By November 2 of that year, the small party arrived in what is believed to be present-day Arbuckle, and there, found plentiful game and rich land.

Washington returned home on December 1, and the following June, hired Captain William Crawford to survey some land on the south side of the Kanawha River.  This surveyed land turned into Washington's personal 10,990 acre claim to Gov. Dinwiddie's land proclamation.  The tract ran about 17 miles along the Kanawha River, starting about two miles from its mouth, and ending approximately at the present-day Putnam County line.  Washington decided to sell what he considered to be valuable and potentially profitable tracts to western settlers, but had no buyers due to rising conflicts with settlers and local Indians in the area.

As a result of this conflict, October of 1774 saw the Battle of Point Pleasant, a battle in which the colonists were victorious, resulting in a temporary peace with the Shawnee.

Washington, believing that this peace agreement would finally lure settlers in the area decided in January of 1775 to appoint an overseer of his western lands, and ready it for settlement.  He appointed James Cleveland, and sent with him a number of indentured servants from England, purchased in Alexandria, Virginia.  The men were to clear lands, plant peach tree seeds, and generally ready the land for habitation at an area around the middle of the tract of land.

The mission seemed doomed from the beginning.  There were not adequate supplies for the men, and some of those were lost near Parkersburg when winds and a leaky canoe overcame the men.  Arriving in the Pt. Pleasant area, the men stopped over at Ft. Blair where they were introduced to Captain Russell, who would assist the group several times over their tenure. 

It took three days of exploration, but the group finally decided where the middle of the tract a bend that is believed to be at the present site of Nine Mile Creek.  While at the settlement, Cleveland wrote home to George Washington, and three of those letters do survive today.  The first one, however, is less than complimentary to the region.  Cleveland called it the worst land ever.  The abundance of game that Washington observed five years earlier was gone, and not even the fish were biting.  The closest place to buy corn was in Ft. Union (present-day Lewisburg), which was over 165 miles away.

Trouble also loomed with the indentured servants.  Cleveland was constantly having to deal with runaways.  Some were caught, but many either escaped to freedom, or were presumed dead.  However, even with all of these obstacles, Cleveland managed to eke out a fairly successful establishment, with the help of Captain Russell.

By August of that year, a tax appraisal was done, dated for the fourth.  It noted that the men had cleared and fenced 28 acres, had planted 2,000 peach seeds, erected 14 buildings, and had large crops of corn and various other items.  This appraisal wasn't delivered, however, until April 2, 1776, when Captain Crawford delivered it to the Fincastle Court House in Virginia.

Unfortunately, Washington was never able to check in on his project.  Two months before the tax appraisal was completed, Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary War troops, and went off into battle.  Also around this time, Ft. Blair was ordered to be evacuated, due to another bout of Indian uprisings against white settlers, and Captain Russell began plans to leave within 6-8 weeks.

After the appraisal of August 1775, no additional records of the settlement have been found.  In addition, after the war, Washington retained the lands, up until his death.  No sign of the 14 buildings, peach trees, or anything else indicating a settlement was ever found, and the men were not heard from again.

Several theories abound as to what may have happened.  Ft. Blair was burned by the Indians in August of 1775, so perhaps the settlement here was also burned, and nature allowed to reclaim it.  Perhaps the men fled, or joined Captain Russell's retreat.  Perhaps...we simply are not meant to know the fate of James Cleveland and his band of unnamed indentured servants. 

Photo from the WV State Archives

Monday, December 26, 2011


The term "cryptomnesia" literally means hidden or forgotten memory, but a more scholarly definition would be:  "the retention of unconscious memory of information learned through normal channels."  The term was first coined by a psychology professor by the name of Theodore Flournoy, and studied at length by psychologist Carl Jung.  Jung believed that cryptomnesia was a necessary function of the human mind in which information learned is subsequently forgotten in order to prevent an information overload in the brain.  When subjected to certain triggers, or accessed through hypnosis, this information can be recovered.

Cryptomnesia is often a skeptical explanation given to cases of suspected reincarnation, but it plays several roles in the paranormal field, including alleged cases of psychic mediums.  In fact, the first recorderd case of cryptomnesia occurred in 1874 when an English medium by the name of William Stanton Moses seemingly channeled the spirits of two Indian brothers who had recently passed away.  When investigators researched the case, it was discovered that an obituary recently ran for the two brothers.  Everything that was said in the seance was in the obituary, with no additional information.

Another case where cryptomnesia turned out to be a likely cause for suspected paranormal phenomena was in 1977, when a woman named Jan underwent a past life regression hypnosis session.  While discussing details of her past life, Jan discussed an accused witch by the name of Joan Waterhouse.  The witch was tried and set free in the year 1566.  However, Jan gave the erroneous date of this event as 1556.  As it turns out, 1556 was a misprint found in a Victorian reprint of the event, and a copy of such is on display at the British museum.

Cryptomnesia doesn't necessarily have to manifest as a false paranormal phenomenon, however.  Many cases of plagiarism have also been attributed to cryptomnesia.  Helen Keller's The Frost King is believed to be the product of cryptomnesia stemming from Margaret Canby's The Frost Fairies.

More Information
Skeptic's Dictionary
The Mystica

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hilltop House Hotel

Unfortunately, the Hilltop House Hotel of Harper's Ferry is closed indefinitely.  Structural and other problems led to the building being purchased in 2008 by a group of investors who have shelved the controversial restoration plans at this time.

However, this location still remains one of my favorite Harper's Ferry area haunts!  The hotel was built in 1888 by Mr. Thomas S. Lovett, a local man of African American descent, who dreamed of managing a hotel overlooking John Brown's historic act.  This first hotel burned in 1912, and its replacement burned again in 1917 or 1918.  Still, Lovett and his wife Lavonia perservered, and the Hilltop House Hotel became host to such notable figures as Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Bill Clinton.

It has also hosted a myriad of ghost sightings and paranormal experiences, witnessed by both visitors and staff alike.  Among various apparitions, it is said that between 2 and 3am, noises such as pots banging, laughing, and voices can be heard coming from an empty kitchen.  Furniture has been known to move on its own, and although it wasn't built until after the Civil War, there's allegedly sightings of soldiers, including a whole regiment that makes its way up and down the road. 

Room #66 was one spot in particular that was said to be haunted by the ghost of a small boy.  The boy, who died in the c. 1917 fire, is heard crying in that room, and allegedly a portrait of a young boy gracing the walls of #66 was said to cry real tears.

Many readers will be too young to remember that this location was also the starting point for a popular Harper's Ferry ghost tour led by Shirley Dougherty.  I had the pleasure of attending one of Shirley's last tours, and exploring the hotel and Harper's Ferry park grounds.  Before the tour started, we were walking into the town when we were met head-on with a pack of weary soldiers heading in the opposite direction.  Not one of these people looked at us, or acknowledged our presence in any way.  At the time, I thought they were some really dedicated reenactors heading home after a day of work...but now that I've learned all these stories about the phantom regiment...I'm not so sure!

UPDATE:  In  April 2012 I was at the library looking through newspaper archives for an obituary.  I ran across an article on this location, dated from March 2010.  It appears that the hotel, closed due to structural problems, suffered a partial collapse.  Although the company that bought the hotel had plans on tearing the structure down anyway to make room for a new, historically sensitive design based on the original, the loss of this historic icon was still a blow to the small community of Harper's Ferry.

Brochure with tons of historic photos

Blennerhassett Island

In the year 1795 Harman Blennerhassett and his young wife, Margaret, left Ireland to come to the United States, landing in New York in 1796.  Although of a wealthy, prestigious family, it is believed that the couple came to America due to the stigma of their relationship--Margaret was not only Harman's wife, but she was also his niece.

By 1798, the couple had made their way down south to an area along the Ohio River, several miles north of present-day Parkersburg, WV.  They purchased the northern half of Backus Island, named for Elijah Backus, who purchased the island in 1792.  By 1800, a Palladian style mansion of the utmost grandeur was completed, and Harman and Margaret moved in.  Sometime during the next few years, Margaret would give birth to a baby girl, whom she would also name Margaret.  This little girl would die before the age of two, and was believed to be buried behind the mansion.

In 1806, Harman unfortunately met up with Aaron Burr, and was implemented in Burr's plot to create a separate empire in what is now the Louisana/Texas area.  When Thomas Jefferson learned of the plan, both men were accused of treason, and Harman was forced to flee his beloved island home.  Although he was later caught and imprisioned in Virginia, Harman was later released.  However, he'd never return to Blennerhassett Island.

In 1807, many of the family's furnishings and other belongings that had been left behind were auctioned off, and by 1811, the mansion was accidentally burned to the ground.  Harman died in 1831 and was buried off the coast of Ireland on Guernsey.  Margaret returned to the United States in 1840, and died shortly thereafter in New York City

Over the years, the island was used for a variety of purposes, and in 1973, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the original mansion.  A new, replica mansion was built between 1984 and 1991, and now the island is open as a tourist attraction, with tours being held of the reproduction mansion.  People come to explore the history of the island and buildings, fish, bicycle on the many paths...but they also come in hopes of catching a glimpse of the resident island ghost.

This resident island ghost is believed to be that of Margaret Blennerhassett.  Although Margaret did not die on the island, many who have seen the apparition of a lady in all white with flowing chestnut hair, claim that it is none other than Margaret.  And although Margaret was much older when she actually died, she always appears to be around the age of 30 years old.  Margaret has been seen on numerous ocassions, and is said to sometimes be accompanied by the smell of either a floral perfume, or the smell of horses, as she was an accomplished equestrian who loved horses, and brought many over to the island.  Horses who work on the island today are said to be easily spooked for no reason, a phenomena commonly attributed to Margaret's spirit.  Margaret has also been seen not just wandering the island, but standing along the banks, looking out over the river as if waiting for someone to return.

Some believe that Margaret is searching for the remains of her daughter.  One legend states that two farmers did find a tiny skeleton behind where the mansion once stood, and reburied it nearby.  However, knowledge of that location has not survived, and the little girl's remains are still lost.  Others believe that she is looking for Harman.  Although it is known that he was buried on the island of Guernsey, Harman's exact burial spot is a mystery.  Still, others believe Margaret is just seen wandering the island and the grounds of her beloved home...something that in life was cut short from her. 

Photo property of Aaron Doughty.  It's from a visit we took to the island last May.  Don't worry...that's not Margaret approaching me and Luke...simply a tour guide, lol.  However, you CAN buy postcards featuring Margaret's ghost in the gift shop!

More information

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and Graveyard

The subject of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Graveyard in Teays Valley has been weighing heavily on my mind for several weeks now, so I decided the time was right to dig a little deeper into its history.  This post will be updated if I hear of any new information, but for now....please enjoy reading my latest weird encounter!

Several months ago, I got serious about geocaching again, and whenever I had some spare time and found a cool cache that I could easily find, I'd set out to find it.  Such a cache was located in the Mt. Vernon graveyard.  The night I decided to find this geocache, I set out in the early evening.  It was already dark by the time I arrived, but it still wasn't what I would consider was between 8 and 8:30pm.  I felt confident that I could easily find the hidden "treasure," despite the fact that I could NOT find my GPS...but the pictures posted and the description and clue gave me a pretty good idea of exactly where to look. 

As I pulled my car onto the road through the graveyard, I noticed that it seemed very, very dark that evening, despite the usual glow of the neon fast food signs in the distance, and the nearby housing development that literally butted up against the side of the graveyard property.  Still, I didn't feel like anything was wrong.  I had been in this graveyard many times, and all hours of the day, doing research for the Find-a-Grave site, and just to explore.

However, as I got to about the middle of the cemetery, right before where the road slopes down, I felt like I literally became paralyzed with fear.  I stopped the car, because this is about where I thought I needed to be to find the cache anyway, but REALLY didn't want to get out.  That's the first time I can ever really remember being that scared, and especially in that cemetery.  I had previous feelings of uneasiness in the area down past that knoll, but never in this section.  Trying to be brave, and not wanting to give up on my geocache so easily, I grabbed the flashlight and headed out. 

Seconds after leaving the road and walking among the tombs, my flashlight flickered and died.  It was a trigger light, and no matter how much I pumped and squeezed, the thing refused to come back on.  Being that it was REALLY dark, I figured I was screwed, but decided to give a look around and see if I could pinpoint where the name on the stone that the geocache was allegedly hidden near.  I looked high and low, but figured it was just too dark, so I started walking back toward the car.  That's when I heard a figure crunching through the leaves and fallen twigs.  I could barely make out the shape of a man, or what I thought was a man.  Thinking that it was either another geocacher or someone coming to check on why I was poking around the graveyard at night, I stopped and called out "hello!"  The crunching of the leaves stopped...and what I thought was a shape of the man faded into the inky blackness of night.  I ran the rest of the way to the car, jumped in, and zoomed off.

I actually did go back later that evening...around 11pm.  The weird feelings I had on my initial visit were gone, and I actually parked at the church's back lot, and walked directly to the geocache.  I haven't been back there since, but I've remained fascinated with the location, and wanted to learn more.  Many, many years when I was in middle school...I had a dream about the church.  I was standing where the graveyard is now...on the knoll...but there were no tombstones.  There was also no Mt. Vernon Rd.  I was standing in a line with many other people and we were waiting for transportation to go somewhere.

A friend of mine who grew up nearby also had strange dreams about the place, dreams that seemed to have been set in the time of the Civil War.  This same friend also had some creepy experiences in the graveyard.  Doing some online research, I've noticed that although there's nothing really that says the graveyard is haunted, several paranormal teams HAVE investigated.  In fact, several years ago, a young man posted some photos from the graveyard on a message board that I belonged to.  To me, the photos, which were said to show anomalous lights of paranormal nature, actually  just showed some neon marquees from the many nearby restaurants and gas stations...but something must have drawn him and others to look into the possibility of paranormal phenomena at this location.

I'm still following some leads and have contacted several people, but from what I've been able to verify so far, the location does have quite the historical roots. The Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is believed to have the oldest organized congregation in present-day Putnam County.  The church was organized on July 1, 1843 and made up of 30 members of the Mt. Salem Church (no longer standing) and 23 members from Union Baptist Church, which still stands in Milton.  The first pastor was Rev. James Mitchell, and the original congregation contained a man of color, simply named as "George," and a woman of color, known only as Milly.  George and Milly were actually not allowed to attend services with the rest of the congregation, and thus, sat in the overhead hayloft during services.

The original church was a converted sheep barn located on property given to the church by a J.W. West, who in turn, became the first deacon of the church.  By 1859, the church had outgrown its former barn, and a wooden frame structure was built at the site of the present church.  During the Civil War, records went silent, but it is believed that the church did act as a Civil War hospital, serving troops from both the Union and the Confederacy.

By 1909, the brick structure that stands today was started, with an official dedication in 1910, with Pastor Rev. J.F. Cook.  Over the years, many additions and renovations have taken place to accomodate the growing congregation.  The newest sanctuary has two reserved seats in honor of George and Milly, who in their lifetime, were not permitted to be seated with the rest of the congregation, and when the church celebrated its 167th anniversary last year, a processional was led from the site of the former sheep barn to the new church.

As for the graveyard, the earliest stones seem to only date back to the 1908-1909 period, indicating that the burial ground was only implemented when the brick church was erected.  Whether or not an earlier burial ground existed nearby or on the same land is a question I'm hoping to soon uncover!  If you have any information on the history of this location, or have your own weird, creepy, or paranormal experience, please let me know! 

UPDATE July 2013:  I actually had another creepy experience here of my own!  While sitting in the parking lot one night, I experienced a shadowy figure approach my car and disappear.  I'm beginning to think there is a ghostly protector of this property, shooing away those who are loitering around where they don't belong.  You can read about my latest experience HERE.

Links of interest:
Church's website, with lots of great history
Find-a-Grave Internments

Photo above from the church's homepage-history section.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Huntington's Tunnels!

After so many, many questions, I thought it might be a good idea to transcribe an article on the tunnels in Huntington, lol.  This excellent article was written by Joseph Platania and appeared in the Spring 1996 edition of  Huntington Quarterly magazine.  This is probably the best source of information out there on this subject, which has been a controversy in the tri-state for many a year.  A copy of this edition can be found at the Cabell County Library.  At the end, I've supplemented with some additional information.

The Mystery of Tunnels in Huntington
by Joseph Platania

There is something inherently mysterious about a tunnel, or a passageway burrowed under the earth to connect two locations or to reach a specific point.  There were tunnels associated with the Underground Railroad during slavery times and the catacombs of the early Christians that were built underneath Rome.  Tunnels have been built through mountains and underneath rivers to carry railroad tracks and highways.  Tunnels have also been important in bootlegging and smuggling activities.

For years there have been rumors of the existence of tunnels underneath downtown Huntington.  The rumors say that there were tunnels connecting such prominent buildings as the Hotel Prichard with a private club across  Ninth Street, connecting the Frederick Hotel with the Keith-Albee and the Keith-Albee with the Cinema Theater.  There also was a rumor that the Coal Exchange Building was connected by a tunnel with the West Virginia Building two blocks away.

Former Huntington Main Street director Renee Maass says that a rumor that has been around for decades states that there were tunnels leading from the Ohio River into downtown.  Specifically, these tunnels connected with downtown vaudeville theaters and were used by performers to transport their props, baggage, and other equipment, including animals from riverboats to the theaters, says Maass.

But some of the most intriguing reasons given for the tunnels underneath Huntington include bootlegging, a secret courier service and a getaway route for members of the mafia who were here on business from Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  The  rumor states that the underworld figures could hide out at a hotel or private club and then, if necessary, sneak out via an underground passageway.  And, one of the many other rumors maintains that the tunnels were used as a meeting place for city officials in case of an emergency or natural disaster.  But, the question remains, can any of these rumors be substantiated?

Derek Hyman, president of The Greater Huntington Theater Corporation, states that he has heard a rumor that there was a tunnel connecting his Keith-Albee and the Frederick Hotel in order to shuttle guest performers between the theater and the hotel.  This rumor is false, says Hyman, as is the rumor of a tunnel connecting the Keith with the Cinema Theater almost two blocks away on Fourth Avenue.  He adds that there are several tunnels underneath the Keith-Albee, bu they are for maintenance and delivery purposes and they end at the curb.  He has explored "both sides of the wall" at the ends of Keith-Albee's tunnels and underneath the Frederick and has found no evidence of any connecting underground passages.

William Ritter has also heard the rumor of a tunnel connecting the Hotel Frederick and the Keith-Albee as well as other tunnel rumors, but he believes there is nothing to them.

Huntington architect Keith Dean says that there are tunnels all over town that run underneath sidewalks, but usually end at the curb.

However, an anonymous source and lifelong resident of Huntington is convinced there was indeed a tunnel connecting the Keith-Albee with the Frederick, as well as many more passageways throughout the city.

"There are three reasons why the tunnels cannot be found today," says the anonymous source.  "The tunnels were either covered up deliberately, destroyed by the 1937 flood or used as the foundation for the city's sewer system."

Some have said that the tunnels would be difficult to construct because they would have to be dug through vast quantities of sand and gravel that a millennium ago were  deposited by the Ohio River.

But don't tell that to William A. "Buck" Thompson, retired vice president and manager of C.F. Reuschlein Jewelers.

In the early 1970s, because of urban renewal Reuschlein's had to move from its longtime Third Avenue location and the store purchased the Morgan Arcade at 825 Fourth Avenue.  According to Thompson, the building was remodeled by the Streater Division of Litton Industries.  During the remodeling, an entrance to a tunnel was discovered in the basement of the old arcade, says Thompson.  He adds that further exploration found that the tunnel went underneath the alley and up into a lower level of what now is the city annex building at 824 Fifth Avenue.  The three-story building now has some state offices and the city sanitary board as tenants.

Thompson states that the tunnel apparently connected the present city building with the arcade basement.  He recalls going into the tunnel and that it was approximately six feet high and was finished with some sort of wood or other material on the walls.  The tunnel was still open when they discovered it, says Thompson.  The site of the tunnel opening in Reuschlein's basement has since been covered with a wall.

Jim Morgan, owner of the Stadium Bookstore, recalls hearing about a tunnel.  His father, J. Hanley Morgan, purchased the building, then called the Lewis Arcade, in 1959 and it became the Morgan Arcade.

Morgan states that it is his understanding that during World War II, a tunnel connected the basement of the Lewis Arcade with the "sub-basement level" of the building at 824 Fifth Avenue that was then owned by the Polan family.

The tunnel was used for federal government operations during the war years, said Morgan, adding that there was "nothing clandestine going on there."

During the war years, the Fifth Avenue Arcade had offices of the Zenith Optical Co., that was owned by the Polan family and made precision instruments for the federal government and others.  In fact, the 1945 directory lists Zenith Optical as the building's only occupant.

A clue to the identity of the tunnel's builder came from an interview with Mrs. Dorothy Lewis Polan of Huntington.

Mrs. Polan states that she has never heard of a tunnel between the former Lewis Arcade and the present city annex building.  Her father, Walter H. Lewis, who died in 1970, was a well known Huntington businessman and real estate developer.  Sometime in the mid-to-late 1920s, he built both the Fifth Avenue Arcade and the Lewis Arcade "one after another," said Mrs. Polan.  She adds that he lost the Fifth Avenue Arcade to the bank after the 1929 stock market crash that started the Great Depression.

Mrs. Polan recalls that a tunnel was not put in the Lewis Arcade during the World War II era.  She adds that if there had been a tunnel then, "it would have been a topic of conversation."  But, Mrs. Polan states that during a recent conversation, Mrs. David Foard of  Foard-Harwood Shoes informed her that she had indeed heard about a tunnel in the Lewis Arcade.

 Another piece to the Lewis Arcade puzzle was provided by the Cohen family of Huntington.  For many years, Isador and Louis Cohen owned and operated the Citizen Loan Co., located on the second floor of the Lewis Arcade building.  Isador Cohen states that he came to Huntington in September 1929 to join his brother Louis in business, who had arrived seven years earlier.  According to Cohen, both the Fifth Avenue Arcade and the Lewis Arcade were standing at that time.  He adds that he had been in the building's basement many times, but had never seen or heard of a tunnel.

But later, Mr. Cohen told me that because of our conversation he had spoken with Charles Botts, brother of the deceased janitor at the Lewis Arcade, who believes there was a tunnel entrance in the basement.  Botts told Cohen that he had spent a lot of time with his brother in the basement and believes some sort of tunnel went from that building to one across the alley. 

With an eyewitness account and three persons who had stated they had heard about a tunnel in the Lewis Arcade, I thought my research had reached a dead end.  Then, thanks to an observant and helpful researcher, Nina Johnson in the local history room of the Cabell County Public Library, I acquired copies of microfilm of Huntington newspaper articles for late August and early September 1924.  Reading these articles, the story of a tunnel in the heart of Huntington's central business district began to emerge.

The August 27, 1924 Herald-Advertiser states that the Lewis Arcade, a ten-story building then under construction on Fifth Avenue just east of city hall, "will have the deepest and heaviest foundation of any building in the city," according to C. Harrison Smith, general contractor and D.G. Javins, superintendent in charge of the work.  The article adds that the foundation had been cut straight down to a depth of 30 feet.

Another article in the same edition of the newspaper reports that plans for the new building "will include an arcade connecting Fifth and Fourth Avenue."  The building would be connected with the part already completed on Fourth Avenue, "by means of two passageways, one over and one under the alley which separated the two buildings, says the article.

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch of September 3, 1924 reports that on the previous day, city commissioners granted four franchises that had been requested by Walter Lewis "in connection with the construction of his ten-story office building and arcade on Fifth Avenue near city hall."

According to the newspaper article, the franchises provided for the following projects:
(1) "Covering of a passageway across Court Street (4 1/2 alley) from the new Lewis building to the present Lewis Arcade on Fourth Avenue;
(2) "Boring of a tunnel underground between the two buildings;
(3) "Construction of an archway entrance to the arcade for the Fifth Avenue side, and;
(4) "Hanging of a marquee over the Fifth Avenue entrance to the building."

The article adds that the commissioners were unanimous in their belief that the new office building when complete "will be one of the handsomest in the city."

Franchise number two, which calls for the "boring of a tunnel underground between the two buildings" grabbed my attention.  The mysterious origin of the Lewis Arcade tunnel and its purpose had been solved.

Although a passageway across the alley and an archway entrance to the arcade from Fifth Avenue never were constructed, we now know from eyewitness accounts that a tunnel was indeed bored underground.

The builder of both arcades and the tunnel was Walter H. Lewis, Sr. A Huntington newspaper article published the day after his death on April 13, 1970 states that Lewis was born in Lithuania in 1885.  He came to the United States as a child and lived for several years in Texas before moving to Huntington in 1908, says the article.  It adds that Lewis established a chain of furniture stores in Huntington as well as in other West Virginia cities and in Ohio and Kentucky.  He also was well known as a Huntington financier and real estate developer.

At the time of his death, Lewis was chairman of the board of several real estate companies, Lewis Furniture Companies and Southern Wholesale Furniture, Co., says the newspaper account.  It adds that for many years he was active in "many community and philanthropic affairs."

With plans for a covered pedestrian walkway over a street and connecting two retail and office arcades as well as a pedestrian tunnel, Walter Lewis was a visionary in the field of retail marketing, anticipating the age of shopping centers and malls.

Coincidentally, another tunnel lies across the street from the former Lewis Arcade and near one of Huntington's busiest downtown thoroughfares.  Huntington photographer David Fattaleh recalls that some 25 years ago, when he was in high school, he and some of his friends would go inside the federal building at 502 Eighth Street and stop by the military recruiters' offices on the first floor.  They would then go downstairs to the basement and walk through a tunnel that came out inside the basement of the old post office building about a half a block to the east on Fifth Avenue.  He recalls that the tunnel had smooth, metallic-looking walls.  Fattaleh said that he and his friends were later told not to go downstairs in the federal building.

The General Services Administration is the agency responsible for constructing and maintaining all federal buildings.  A local GSA employee in the former post office building confirms that there is a tunnel that connects the basement of the federal building at 502 Eighth Street with the basement of the Sidney Christie Federal Building and Courthouse (formerly the post office) on Fifth Avenue.  She states that both are "secured buildings" with security guards, metal detectors, and security checks.  She adds that the tunnel is finished "with regular block walls."

Steve Wright, public affairs officer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices at 502 Eighth Street, states that the tunnel "is for convenience sake" and, until recently, was not restricted to any particular government agency.  He explains that in bad weather and at other times, government employees from the former post office building, the federal court, the IRS and other agencies could walk through the tunnel and into the federal building on Eighth Street and use its snack bar.  He adds that the Corps of Engineers has an exercise and training room in the basement of the former post office building and the tunnel was used by employees to go back and forth.

For security reasons following the Oklahoma City bombing, use of the tunnel has been restricted for the past year by a system of electronic ID cards similar to ones used in other federal buildings, says Wright.  He adds that as a result of these security measures, only a few Corps of Engineers' employees now have access to the tunnel.

While discussing the subject, Wright revealed that there is a tunnel of sorts that goes underneath the railroad tracks on West Fifth Street in Huntington and connects West Seventh and West Eighth Avenues.  In the past, this tunnel was primarily used by employees of the former Owens-Brockway Glass Company plant on West Fifth Street as a pedestrian underpass to access a nearby parking lot.

And there is evidence of yet another tunnel in downtown Huntington, this one in the basement of the newly-opened BrewBakers Restaurant.

Lake Polan, III states that in 1922 his grandfather (Walter H. Lewis) acquired the Foster Building at Third Avenue and Ninth Street on a 99 year lease and it became the popular Huntington Dry Goods Store.  He adds that in the early 1960s while on a trip to New York City, Lewis observed how a basement was being put into an existing building.  After his return to Huntington, he put a basement into the Huntington Store building which was "quite an innovative thing to do," says Polan.  He adds that Lewis did it by "undercutting" the building, using mining techniques such as conveyor belts.  Polan states that there is a tunnel going out from the unfinished part of the basement of the former Huntington Store and in the direction of the Ohio River...

While all the rumors regarding tunnels underneath downtown Huntington cannot be accounted for, therea re other indications of how such stories may have started. 

Mr. William Newcomb was an officer of the former Anderson-Newcomb Department Store.  Now in his 90s, he is one of Huntington's senior historians.  He states in the city's early years, there were reservoirs located underneath Third Avenue and speculates that this may have given rise to rumors of tunnels in downtown.  He says that these reservoirs, build during the 1870s, held hundreds, or even thousands, of gallons of water drawn from the Ohio River.  He points out that in case of fire, water could be drawn from these storage containers and used to extinguish the blaze.

Mr. Newcomb explains that horse-drawn, water-tight wagons were driven into the river, filled to capacity and then emptied into the cisterns.  This was before the city had its own water system which was first built in the early 1890s, says Newcomb.  Before that time, city residents used cisterns to collect rain water or to store river water for washing clothes and irrigating gardens.  For drinking water, residents had private wells and there were public wells and pumps along Third Avenue, says Newcomb, adding that people used charcoal filters to try and purify the water and improve its taste.

Mr. Newcomb recalls that sometime in the late 1960s a part of the street at the intersection of Ninth Street and Third Avenue caved in.  It was discovered that the cause was the collapse of an old underground reservoir that had long ago been forgotten.  In regard to tunnel rumors, Mr. Newcomb states that when they laid the main sewers in downtown, some of them "were big enough to walk through."

Whether there are only a couple of passageways underneath downtown Huntington or an undiscovered intricate web of tunnels is today an unanswered question.  Whether they were developed for reservoirs, walkways or something more scandalous, such as bootlegging, may never be known.  However, one this is certain...everyone loves a mystery!

Theresa's Note:  Like many tri-state residents, I grew up hearing rumors about the tunnels in Huntington. As a freshman at Marshall University in the fall of 2001, this topic was as relevant as it was 20 years ago...and it was as relevant as it is today.  I was dating a guy who did some work with the Keith Albee theater, and told me of a massive tunnel system under that building, that led to the Frederick building across the street.  Apparently, the tunnel was not only used to shuffle early vaudeville performers who were staying at the hotel into the theater unnoticed, but it also served as an escape route during the days of Prohibition.  (On a side note, a story I would hear years later from one of my legal professors was that the Frederick building is the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa---it was noted that several large black limousines were seen pulling into the underground parking area, and that day, the pool was mysteriously concreted over.) 

Years later, as Historic Research Manager for HPIR, the subject of tunnels again came up...over and over.  Upon getting to actually investigate the Keith Albee theater, we did get to go down into the basement area.  The basement area is a maze of hallways and corridors and storage rooms.  It is and of itself, a tunnel system, so I'm not sure if people are confusing that with the tunnel system or not...but I do know if you take a wrong turn, you'll end up right in the middle of the entryway for an autism services office, hehe!

There is a doorway in the Keith Albee basement that could possibly lead to an outside tunnel, but flooding over the years in Huntington has made any entry impassable.  We also were told of a small tunnel that leads only to the edge of the sidewalk...its used for deliveries to the building.

It would not surprise me if there were tunnels under Huntington's downtown.  However, I agree with Newcomb in the article above, and believe that many were actually part of the old sewer system, and are today, either blocked over, or completely flooded, especially in part to the 1937 Flood.  And, after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the convenience tunnels located near federal or other government buildings are going to be completely off-limits.  It also would not surprise me if it was proven that opportunists used these once mundane tunnels for various nefarious activities, including moving bootleg liquor, organized crime, and potential escape routes during the Cold War scare.  Today, however, these tunnels are mostly inaccessible, should they still exist at all.

Moving on to Guyandotte...a lot of misinformation about tunnels being in Guyandotte is also floating around out there.  Guyandotte, predating Huntington by about 60 years, has tunnel rumors that largely concern a connection to the Underground Railroad.  While a union recruitment camp was set up in Guyandotte in 1861, the majority of the town was of Confederate sympathies.  Unfortunately, none of the tunnel rumors in Guyandotte have been confirmed, and in fact, one of the most prevalent, has actually been debunked.  One house that is said to have a tunnel is the Hysell House on Main Street.  The tunnel, allegedly part of the Underground Railroad, was said to have led to the Methodist Church across the road, and then on to the river.  A tunnel of sorts WAS found at the Hysell House...but according to a local historian who investigated, it turned out to be nothing more than a bricked over cellar.  The tunnel that allegedly led to the Methodist Church turned out to exit in an area of the church that did not exist until well after the Civil War.

And there you have it...a short primer on the history of Huntington's tunnel system.  The truth is, no one really knows the entire truth, which, in the words of Joseph Plantania..."everyone loves a mystery!"

Please Note:  The photo above is NOT from Huntington, WV

Friday, December 2, 2011

Top 5 Links of the Day (4)

Here are Theresa's Top 5 Paranormal link choices for the month of December!  Enjoy and Happy Haunting!

1. ParaScience-a great scientific resource for paranormal articles.

2. HPIR's ParaBlog-HPIR's own blog about all things ghosty going on in the Huntington area and beyond...

3. Association TransCommunication-formerly the American Association of EVP (AA-EVP).  Another one-stop-shop for anything associated with electronic voice phenomena, and other forms of ITC.

4. The Devil's Penny-Interesting collection of historic ghost/paranormal stories from old newspapers

5. Grave Addiction-lots of ghost stories, haunted locations, and tons and tons of cemetery information!