S6 Ep. 4: Monstrous


In an article for Vice by Av Hani Richter from February of 2015, a Somali woman claims to have given birth to twins, one a boy and the other a snake. The woman was from the Afgooye district of Mogadishu and was shocked when she realized what she had delivered. She was expecting two human babies, after all. A family relative named Ali Muhammad travelled to visit the mother and new arrivals and was shocked to hear what had occurred. He said when he arrived that the mother told him the snake would only come out when she was alone and would otherwise hide under a bed or in the cupboards. Both the father and mother believed that the snake child was a miracle bestowed upon them by god himself. Of course, it’s more likely that the snake found its way into the woman’s bed and was mistaken for a delivered child.

This is not the first instance of human beings giving birth to animals. Of course, many of the documented occurrences from the 17th century involved deformities, babies born with extra limbs, fingers or toes, or without eyes. For example, a physician named Pietro Castelli stated that he had seen to two women who had given birth to “creatures.” One birthing what Castelli called “a monster” and one a “cyclops.” Castelli also claimed a woman had given birth to a “dog-like creature” in Sicily, Italy. Modern medicine has identified many deformities and defects and it’s more likely that these children fell into these categories.

A woman in Indonesia reportedly gave birth to a lizard. She exhibited every sign of pregnancy, but instead of birthing a human baby, she pushed out a lizard. The creature was covered in blood and mucus, I’m supposing they mean afterbirth, and there was no baby found in the womb. It is speculated that the woman had a miscarriage and the lizard happened to be underneath her at the time.

In the 18th century, a woman named Mary Toft gave birth to rabbits, seventeen to be exact, and for several months following this spectacle, the whole of the nation was mesmerized by the occurrence even King George I.


Hello ODD Balls, and welcome back to The ODDentity Podcast, your weekly foray into the weird, wonky, and sometimes downright spooky.

This week, I’ll introduce you to Mary Toft, an English woman from Godalming, Surrey, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she seemingly gave birth to rabbits.

Shout out to Ed from Ontario for suggesting this one. Apologies that it’s taken so long.

And now…on with the show!

Let me begin by saying that scientifically, it’s impossible for human beings to give birth to hybrid creatures and it’s likely that the majority of cases in medical history can be explained by a severe deformation, causing the child to resemble a snake or a dog. But what about a woman who gives birth to actual rabbits? Floppy, hoppy, bunnies. Well, let’s start from the ground up and work our way back to this peculiar case, shall we?

Mary was born on February 21st of 1703 to John and Jane Denyer. At 17 years of age, Mary married Joshua Toft who was 18 at the time. It wasn’t uncommon for people to marry at a young age in the 1700s. Toft was a wool-cloth worker which essentially means he worked in the textile industry doing anything from the physical labor of carrying bailed wool or cotton goods in a mill to cleaning and fine-tuning machinery. There isn’t much information about John’s means of putting bread on the table, but it’s safe to say that the Toft’s were treading the poverty line at best. Mary was born into a poor and illiterate family, was employed as a laborer in a hop field, and her marriage to John likely gave her a slight step up in terms of income, but perhaps one that was hardly noticeable. That will play into her story, as well.

From What Mary Toft Felt: Women’s Voices, Paint, Power, and the Body by Karen Harvey, “Their first child Ann was born on 27 March 1723, though she appears to have died in July of that year. The birth of their son James followed twelve months later on 8 July 1724. Thus, at the time […] Mary had given birth to two children with one still living. A third and final child, Elizabeth, was christened on 4 February 1728 […]. Mary’s parents, John and Jane Denyer, had five children of whom Mary was the second eldest. She was, though, the oldest girl; this may be why she left home to marry so early, though it is also possible there may have been an earlier pregnancy. Her parents are entirely missing from the story of the case, typical of the severing of these connections when a woman married, though the absence of her mother is perhaps peculiar given the nature of events. Joshua Toft, Mary’s husband and senior by only two or three months, was the sixth of twelve children. Joshua was named after his father and also shared this name with his elder brother, his parents’ first son, who had died two years before Joshua (jun) was born. Such naming practices were not unusual and reflected the importance of lineage and the family community. Mary Toft’s miscarriage of spring 1726 and the animal births that followed thwarted the powerful impulse to reproduce this family. The early newspaper accounts of the case and the account given by Mary in St. Andre’s pamphlet were produced when Mary was in Godalming. She was subsequently moved to the town of Guildford and then to London, where she came under the closer observation of the doctors and also of men representing the criminal justice system.”

Before we delve into Mary Toft’s specific situation and the doctors who attended to her, let’s talk a little bit about false/phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis. Nausea, fatigue, and swelling in the breasts are common while a woman is pregnant and all of these symptoms can also be present in a woman experiencing pseudocyesis. It’s an uncommon condition, but it can cause a woman to believe she is pregnant. In phantom pregnancies, there is no conception and no baby, but the symptoms can cause a woman to believe she’s expecting.

In an article titled False (Phantom) Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments by Jessica Timmons explains, “Some mental health professionals believe it’s related to an intense desire or fear of becoming pregnant. It’s possible that this affects the endocrine system, which in turn causes symptoms of pregnancy.

Another theory relates to wish fulfillment. Some mental health professionals believe that when a woman yearns to be pregnant, possibly after experiencing multiple miscarriages, infertility, or because she wants to get married, she may misinterpret certain changes in her body as a clear sign that she’s pregnant.

The third theory is related to certain chemical changes in the nervous system that are related to depressive disorders. It’s possible that these chemical changes are responsible for the symptoms of false pregnancy.

A false pregnancy often resembles pregnancy in every way, minus the presence of a baby. In all cases, the woman is absolutely certain that she is pregnant.

Physically, the most common symptom is a distended abdomen, similar to a baby bump. The belly can begin to expand just as it does during pregnancy when a developing baby grows. During a false pregnancy, this abdominal extension isn’t the result of a baby. Instead, it’s believed to be caused by a buildup of:

  • gas
  • fat
  • feces
  • urine

Irregularity of a woman’s menstrual cycle is the second most common physical symptom. Between one-half and three-quarters of women experiencing pseudocyesis reported feeling the baby move. Many women also report feeling the baby kick, even though there was never a baby present.

Other symptoms can be just as difficult to distinguish from those experienced during an actual pregnancy, and can include:

  • morning sickness and vomiting
  • tender breasts
  • changes to the breasts, including size and pigmentation
  • lactation
  • weight gain
  • labor pains
  • inverted bellybutton
  • increased appetite
  • enlargement of the uterus
  • softening of the cervix
  • false labor

These symptoms can be so believable that doctors can even be deceived.”

And, in Mary’s case, they were.

False pregnancies disproportionately occur in women who are experiencing psychological issues and it’s not uncommon for women in this situation to believe they’re pregnant. For example, Mary Tudor believed herself to be pregnant several times. The first false pregnancy in 1554 occurred when Mary was 38 years of age and likely distressed that she would not be able to produce an heir to the throne. Of course, women these days are conceiving in their 40’s, but Mary was already concerned about her biological clock and the stress of producing an heir likely sent her into a mental tailspin. There was also no way to tell that Mary was pregnant aside from the fact that she’d put on weight and her garments no longer fit her. The sheer panic she experienced when a child was not delivered several months after her due date likely added to her stress and Mary blamed the lateness of her child’s arrival on the protestant dissenters, leading to a round of executions, not the first round by a longshot. They didn’t call her Bloody Mary for nothing.

In September of 1726, King George I was informed of the birth of several rabbits by a woman located in Godalming, near Guildford, in Surrey. The woman, Mary Toft, had experienced a miscarriage only a month before (August of 1726) and still appeared to be pregnant. A neighbor, Mary Gill attended Toft during her labor and delivery of something resembling a cat with no liver. I’m having a hard time picturing what exactly that might look like. It was at this point that the family decided to contact John Howard, an obstetrician in Guildford. Upon his arrival at the Toft home, Ann Toft showed Howard the animal parts that she claimed Mary had delivered during the night. The day after, Howard helped to deliver more animal parts and continued to return and aid in the delivery of rabbit’s heads, the legs of a cat, and in one single day nine dead rabbit kits. Howard was flabbergasted by these events, having seen nothing like this before in his career in medicine, and sent letters to England’s greatest doctors. He also sent a letter to the King’s secretary informing of what he called “miraculous births.”

From The Monstrous and the Sportive Grotesque in the early Eighteenth Century by Ian David McCormick,

“The case is interesting because it displays both the danger of the female imagination and the tendency to deceive. Those who believed her story, as the account will show, were as much victims of a deception as of their own oppressive will to construct the female as an innately fanciful and monstrous construct. At the outset, Mary Toft claimed that she had encountered a hare during pregnancy and that this made an undue impression on her mind. Entering labour, she was delivered first of what was taken to be the guts of a pig; but when her labour began in earnest, it was found that she was apparently producing rabbits at an astonishing rate. […] The surgeon dealing with the case invited anyone to verify the evidence by attending a delivery. Meanwhile, nine rabbits were delivered and Mary was moved to Guildford. Mr. St Andre accepted a surgeon’s invitation to observe the case, and he verified the monstrous birth. Upon inspection, further evidence of the authenticity of the case was volunteered by Cyriacus Ahlers, Surgeon to His Majesty’s German Household.”

Nathaniel St Andre was a Swiss physician who, thorough an effort to teach fencing, was injured and became fascinated with medicine. He was impressed by the wealth of the surgeon who saw to him and decided to apprentice with a surgeon in London. Eventually, he was able to set up his own practice and gave lectures on anatomy and surgery. Eventually, St Andre examined the King and was given a sword in thanks. It was King George who sent St Andre to Howard’s aid, along with Ahlers and Samuel Molyneux (Secretary to the Prince of Wales), and also to return information to him regarding what was happening with Toft.

All of the men who witnessed the births were convinced of its authenticity. St Andre even went on to publish A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets [sic], a 40-page document outlining his experience.

St Andre begins by outlining the situation in which he finds himself and gradually moves into the purpose for his writing, including letters from John Howard to His Majesty for his evaluation.

“Since I wrote to you, I have taken or deliver’d the poor woman of three more rabbets, all three half grown, one of them a dunn rabbet; the last leap’d twenty three hours in the uterus before it dy’d. As soon as the eleventh rabbet was taken away, up leapt the twelfth rabbet, which is now leaping. If you have any curious person that is pleased to come post, may see another leap in her uterus, and shall take it from her if he pleases; which will be a great satisfaction to the curious: if she had been with child, she had but ten days more to go, so I do not know how many rabbets may be behind; I have brought the woman to Guilford for better convenience.

I am, Sir,

Your Humble Servant

John Howard”

Alexander Pope, a poet and satirist, wrote to John Caryll on December 5th of 1726 asking for more information on the case. He asked, “I want to know what faith you have in the miracle at Guildford; not doubting but as you past thro’ that town, you went as a philosopher to investigate, if not as a curious anatomist to inspect, that wonderful phenomenon.”

By this point, Mary was quite the local celebrity and she was monitored closely by Howard in his residence. St Andre took the time spent with Mary to document what occurred, aiding Howard in conducting examinations on the lungs and internal workings of the rabbits. It was through these examinations that the doctors realized the rabbits probably didn’t develop inside Mary’s womb and some of the specimens were sent back to the Kind and Prince of Wales. Each time Mary gave birth, Howard would pickle the rabbit and place it on a shelf in his study.

From the Curious Case of Mary Toft, “Ahlers examined Mary and witnessed several of her rabbit births; however, he was not convinced. On examination of the rabbit parts he had taken back to London, Ahlers found that the dung pellets in the rectum of one of the rabbits contained corn, hay and straw, which proved that it could not have developed inside Mary. Ahlers reported back to the King on November 21st that he suspected a hoax with Mary Toft and John Howard in collusion and showed these rabbit specimens as evidence. Sir Richard Manningham (1690-1759) – an eminent doctor and midwife among upper class society in London – was contacted by St André to attend upon Mary Toft. After observing her and seeing her give birth to what he believed was a hog’s bladder, he also seemed unconvinced. But he was persuaded to keep his doubts to himself by Howard and St. André until there was proof of any fraud. Howard and St. André were trying to save their reputations in the light of what Ahlers had concluded.”

Once Mary’s rabbits came to the attention of the press, it caused a sensation. In the mid-18th century, interest in monstrosities was high and people were willing to pay to see them. A poor family like the Toft’s likely saw this as a way to make money. Monsterous or deformed individuals were already being showcased all across Europe and had been for hundreds of years at this point. Poor and wealthy people alike were fascinated by such things and would happily open their pocket books for the chance to see a monstrosity like Mary’s.

It is also likely at this point that Mary, having spent all this time fabricating rabbit pregnancies and now having the interest of the King himself, became petrified by what might become of her if she came clean. Howard had taken her into his home and, being of the poorer class, she was likely enjoying all of the attention and care. Toft wove detailed narratives, at least as detailed as she could manage, stating she’d been startled by a rabbit while working in the field and found herself constantly craving rabbit, though she was too poor to afford them.

At the time, maternal impression was a popular theory used to explain deformities in birth. Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, explained his condition in a similar manner, stating his mother was startled by an elephant while she was pregnant. There were also different defects associated with the different signs and phases of the moon.

McCormick writes, “The uncertain status of reason and science was no more evident than in the validity, for some observers, of astrological proofs for such monstrous occurrences. William Whiston, who had served as Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge, for instance, attributed the Toft case to a prophecy in the apocryphal book of Esdras. It was, of course, considered dangerous to conceive under the sign of Cancer: Author of monstrous shapes! uneven set, Of tumors, wens and members incomplete! Hence. apIsh forms, and ugly births began, And gIbbous dwarfs, beneath the strain of man. Capricorn, meanwhile, Deforms the face, and blisters all the skin.”

St. Andre needed no further convincing that Mary Toft was the real deal, but the other doctors had their doubts. It is at this point that Mary is moved to a bath house in London so that other doctors, as many as 10 at a time (all men), could examine her. Their opinions were divided. Mary continued to appear to go into labor, but didn’t produce any more rabbits. She had developed a terrible infection and seizures that would sometimes cause her to lose consciousness.

Karen Harvey writes, “She gave birth to no more rabbits, and also seems to have taken quite ill. But it was during this time that a porter was caught sneaking a rabbit into Toft’s room. He explained […] that Toft’s sister-in-law, Margaret Toft, had asked him to obtain the smallest rabbit he could find. Toft refused to confess until Manningham threatened to perform surgery to determine if she had strange reproductive organs. On December 7, she came clean. The confession surprised very few, but was unfortunately timed for St. André, who had just published his thrilling, “true-to-life” exposé, “A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets,” just four days prior.”

Toft admitted that she had manually inserted dead rabbits inside herself and allowed them to be removed as if she was giving birth. Honestly, it’s amazing that the infection didn’t kill her. She penned several confessions, blaming a mysterious stranger, the wife of an organ grinder, her mother in law, and John Howard for the deception. She even claimed a travelling woman had told her how to insert the rabbits into her body and how the scheme would ensure she would never want for anything else as long as she lived.

On the 9th of December, she was charged with being a “Notorious and Vile Cheat” and sent to Bridewell Prison. Allegedly, she was placed on exhibit to large and curious crowds by the wardens.

St Andre tried to vindicate his own behavior, but to no avail. Satirical prints began to surface poking fun at the medical profession and the incompetence of the doctors involved in the Toft saga. They’re shown as ignorant fools. Pamphlets and drawings appeared ridiculing St Andre as well as the other physicians who had examined Toft depicting them as completely gullible and as charlatans.

From the Curious Case of Mary Toft, “Public interest in the case died out by around January of the following year, but the repercussions continued for those involved. For Sir Richard Manningham and James Douglas there had been temporary embarrassment regarding their close connection with the affair but their careers and reputations were secure.

St André, however, lost favour with the court and, as his reputation plummeted, his patients deserted him. He retired from London and eventually died in poverty in an almshouse in Southampton. John Howard had to answer charges of being concerned in the ‘Cheat and Conspiracy of Mary Toft’ but the case against him was dropped and he remained a respected figure in Guildford.”

It came to light after Mary’s incarceration that rabbits had been sold to Mary’s husband. Several individuals came forward to affirm that they did sell them to Toft and Toft did not purchase the rabbits to eat. I think this adds further weight to the claim that Mary fabricated her pregnancies in hopes of obtaining money and social standing within her community.

As for Mary herself, the case against her was dismissed, not for lack of proof of guilt, but probably because of the further embarrassment to the establishment that would ensue if the case were pursued any further. She spent a few months in jail then returned to relative obscurity. In the years that followed the scandal, the Duke of Richmond (who had a residence near Godalming) sometimes showed her at dinner parties for the curiosity of his guests. In April 1740 Mary was charged with receiving stolen goods and committed to the House of Correction in Guildford but was later acquitted by the jury. She died on 13th January 1763. The London papers’ obituary columns announced her death alongside those of peers and statesmen.”

There have been extensive studies in recent years regarding the theory of maternal impressions, most of which basically use the Toft rabbit ruse as an example of how flimsy the science behind this phenomenon actually is. If you’d like to learn more about maternal impressions, I’d recommend Maternal Impressions by Christina Mazzoni. Mazzoni doesn’t analyze the Toft incident at all, but it’s still an enlightening read.

Alexander Pope and William Pulteney’s anonymous satirical ballad The Discovery; or, The Squire Turn’d Ferret. Published in 1726 opens with the following verse:

Most true it is, I dare to say,
E’er since the Days of Eve,
The weakest Woman sometimes may
The wisest Man deceive.

Pope would go on to pen several satirical pieces about Toft. In one, he writes, “At Godliman, hard by the Bull, A Woman, long thought barren, Bears Rabbits, – Gad! so plentiful, You’d take her for a Warren.”

That’s it for this week dear listeners.

Tune in next week for more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal. Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

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Book: Delivery of Rabbets https://www.gutenberg.org/files/62720/62720-h/62720-h.htm










S6 Ep. 3: Demented


The year is 1885. Mark Twain published Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, President Chester A. Arthur dedicated the Washington Monument (President Grover Cleveland is sworn in March 4th), inventor Sarah E. Goode applies for (and receives) a patent for the invention of the Hideaway Bed (the first female African American to do so), the Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor, and Dr. Pepper is served for the first time. This was also the point in history when a man named Erasmus Wilson penned an article for the Pennsylvania Dispatch as the “Quiet Observer” entitled, “What Girls Are Good For,” a response to a letter a father with 5 unmarried daughters had sent to the paper. According to Wilson, they’re not good for very much and many men of the time were in agreement with some of the points he made in his article. Wilson even went so far as to say that working women were a monstrosity and suggested that American parents address an excess of women in a similar manner as China had dealt with an excess of boys, female-specific infanticide (maybe he was joking?) Wilson also wrote an article about where sweat comes from so it’s likely a lot of women of the time weren’t too enthused about his subject matter (“tubing and secretions”) to begin with.

Elizabeth Cochrane was 20 at the time and was infuriated by the article. Cochrane was from a wealthy family and her father had 15 children between 2 marriages. Disgusted by Wilson’s writings, Elizabeth wrote a response to the article, focusing on the struggles of lower-class single mothers, a position Elizabeth’s mother found herself in after the death of her husband (Elizabeth was only 6 at the time.) Elizabeth understood that a person’s class would limit available opportunities in life and she addressed the response to “butterflies of fashions, ladies of leisure,” those women of the upper class who might not understand the struggle of a lower-class woman. She also addressed Wilson’s flippant comment about China.

From Mental Floss, “Can they that have full and plenty of this world’s good realize what it is to be a poor working woman, abiding in one or two bare rooms, without fire enough to keep warm, while her threadbare clothes refuse to protect her from the wind and cold, and denying herself necessary food that her little ones may not go hungry; fearing the landlord’s frown and threat to cast her out and sell what little she has, begging for employment of any kind that she may earn enough to pay for the bare rooms she calls home, no one to speak kindly to or encourage her, nothing to make life worth living? If sin in the form of a man comes forward with a wily smile and says “fear no more, your debts shall be paid,” she cannot let her children freeze or starve, and so falls. Perhaps she had not the advantage of a good education, consequently cannot teach; or, providing she is capable, the girl that needs it not half as much, but has the influential friends, gets the preference. Mr. Quiet Observations says: “In China they kill girl babies. Who knows but that this country may have to resort to this sometime.” Would it not be well, as in some cases it would save a life of misery and sin and many a lost soul? How many wealthy and great men could be pointed out who started in the depths but where are the many women? Let a youth start as errand boy and he will work his way up until he is one of the firm. Girls are just as smart, a great deal quicker to learn; why, then, can they not do the same? Here would be a good field for believers in women’s rights. Let them forego their lecturing and writing and go to work; more work and less talk. Take some girls that have the ability, procure for them situations, start them on their way, and by so doing accomplish more than by years of talking.”

Upon receipt of this commentary, the Editor of the Dispatch, George Madden contacted Cochrane, he had to do a bit of searching as she signed her response as “Lonely Orphan Girl”, so he published an ad in the paper and requested she come by the offices. When she did so, Madden offered her a writing position on the spot. She was also given a pen name under which to write: Nellie Bly.

Hello ODD Balls, and welcome back to The ODDentity Podcast, your weekly foray into the weird, wonky, and sometimes downright spooky.

This week, I’ll introduce you to Elizabeth Cochrane, a young woman who went undercover and posed as someone with mental illness in order to expose abuses within the local asylum. She was an interesting and ambitious young woman who helped a lot of people who had otherwise been forgotten and the time she spent within the asylum changed the way in which it operated in a big way.

Shout out to Dave from Mississippi and Megan from Alaska who suggested this topic.

Also, additional shout outs to a couple of newcomers to the little Insta network I’m part of. Wassup Wit it Podcast and Ladies Pitch Podcast, two great casts that should get a little sub love.

And now…on with the show!

Elizabeth Cochrane received little formal schooling and was essentially a woman waiting to be married off until the death of her father. Up until this point, Elizabeth had a life of luxury. After her father’s death, Elizabeth would work with her mother in the running of a boarding house in order to make ends meet. It wasn’t until 1885 that Elizabeth, who had always had a desire to become something more, realized her dream of becoming a writer for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The pseudonym Nellie Bly was borrowed from a popular Stephen Foster song published in 1850, Foster was an American composer who primarily wrote minstrel songs and sentimental ballads. The song itself showcases the life of a woman of the time period, serving her husband who provides for her.

Nelly Bly! Nelly Bly! Bring de broom along,
We’ll sweep de kitchen clean, my dear, and hab a little song.
Poke de wood, my lady lub, and make de fire burn,
And while I take de banjo down, just gib de mush a turn.
Heigh! Nelly, Ho! Nelly, listen lub, to me,
I’ll sing for you, play for you, a dulcem melody.
Heigh! Nelly, Ho! Nelly, listen lub, to me,
I’ll sing for you, play for you, a dulcem melody.

There’s more, but I’ll leave it to you to find the rest. Ultimately, the pseudonym was chosen because Elizabeth Cochrane wrote about topics that addressed the inequalities women had to endure. She wrote about poor women in slums and conditions for working girls and was allowed to report on wider issues than what would generally be confined to the “women’s pages” in the paper.

From Britannica.com, “In 1886–87 she traveled for several months through Mexico, sending back reports on official corruption and the condition of the poor. Her sharply critical articles angered Mexican officials and caused her expulsion from the country. The articles were subsequently collected in Six Months in Mexico (1888). In 1887 Cochrane left Pittsburgh for New York City and went to work for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. One of her first undertakings for that paper was to get herself committed to the asylum on Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island by feigning insanity.”

And what an undertaking it was. In her book, 10 Days in a Mad House, Cochrane outlines her plan to infiltrate the asylum on Blackwell’s Island from the beginning and it’s a fascinating read. It can be found online for free courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania. I’ll drop a link to it in the show notes. There were worries, of course, that she would be found out before she ever got to Blackwell’s or that once she arrived a psychiatrist would speak with her and declare her sane. These people were experts, after all. They’d know a viable patient if they saw one…right?

From 10 Days in a Madhouse, “ON the 22d of September I was asked by the World if I could have myself committed to one of the asylums for the insane in New York, with a view to writing a plain and unvarnished narrative of the treatment of the patients therein and the methods of management, etc. Did I think I had the courage to go through such an ordeal as the mission would demand? Could I assume the characteristics of insanity to such a degree that I could pass the doctors, live for a week among the insane without the authorities there finding out that I was only a “chiel amang ’em takin’ notes?” I said I believed I could. I had some faith in my own ability as an actress and thought I could assume insanity long enough to accomplish any mission intrusted to me. Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.

My instructions were simply to go on with my work as soon as I felt that I was ready. I was to chronicle faithfully the experiences I underwent, and when once within the walls of the asylum to find out and describe its inside workings, which are always, so effectually hidden by white-capped nurses, as well as by bolts and bars, from the knowledge of the public. “We do not ask you to go there for the purpose of making sensational revelations. Write up things as you find them, good or bad; give praise or blame as you think best, and the truth all the time. But I am afraid of that chronic smile of yours,” said the editor. “I will smile no more,” I said, and I went away to execute my delicate and, as I found out, difficult mission.

If I did get into the asylum, which I hardly hoped to do, I had no idea that my experiences would contain aught else than a simple tale of life in an asylum. That such an institution could be mismanaged, and that cruelties could exist ‘neath its roof, I did not deem possible. I always had a desire to know asylum life more thoroughly–a desire to be convinced that the most helpless of God’s creatures, the insane, were cared for kindly and properly. The many stories I had read of abuses in such institutions I had regarded as wildly exaggerated or else romances, yet there was a latent desire to know positively.

I shuddered to think how completely the insane were in the power of their keepers, and how one could weep and plead for release, and all of no avail, if the keepers were so minded. Eagerly I accepted the mission to learn the inside workings of the Blackwell Island Insane Asylum.


“How will you get me out,” I asked my editor, “after I once get in?”

“I do not know,” he replied, “but we will get you out if we have to tell who you are, and for what purpose you feigned insanity–only get in.”

I had little belief in my ability to deceive the insanity experts, and I think my editor had less.

All the preliminary preparations for my ordeal were left to be planned by myself. Only one thing was decided upon, namely, that I should pass under the pseudonym of Nellie Brown, the initials of which would agree with my own name and my linen, so that there would be no difficulty in keeping track of my movements and assisting me out of any difficulties or dangers I might get into. There were ways of getting into the insane ward, but I did not know them. I might adopt one of two courses. Either I could feign insanity at the house of friends, and get myself committed on the decision of two competent physicians, or I could go to my goal by way of the police courts.”

Cochrane opted to find a boarding house and claim that she was seeking work. She selected the Temporary Home for Females on No. 84 Second Avenue, a dark and crowded place filled with working class women. When she arrived, she was greeted at the door by a young girl with an oddly mature face. She was ushered inside and, when she asked if the matron was in, was told the matron was busy and she should wait in the back parlor. After some time, a woman who introduced herself as the matron’s assistant told her that the boarding house was crowded and she’d have to share a room, but lodging was available at the cost of .30 cents per night which included the room and a meal. Cochrane saw no issue with sharing a room as she assumed she’d be in close quarters on Blackwell’s Island soon enough. She was shown to her room and began writing several pages of what Cochrane calls “utter nonsense for inquisitive scientists” in a journal along with the name of the matron’s assistant, Ms. Stanard. After a dinner of boiled beef, potatoes, coffee, and bread, she paid her .30 cents for the first night. Cochrane describes the interior of the boarding house with great detail and chagrin stating that “honest workers, the most deserving of women, are asked to call this spot of bareness—home.”

Cochrane took her place in the back parlor, watching the women around her knit and make lace. The room is crowded and there aren’t enough places for women to sit, so some stand leaning. One woman keeps falling asleep and waking herself up with her own snoring. The doorbell seems to be ringing all the time.

“As it drew toward evening Mrs. Stanard came to me and said:

“What is wrong with you? Have you some sorrow or trouble?”

“No,” I said, almost stunned at the suggestion. “Why?”

“Oh, because,” she said, womanlike, “I can see it in your face. It tells the story of a great trouble.”

“Yes, everything is so sad,” I said, in a haphazard way, which I had intended to reflect my craziness.

“But you must not allow that to worry you. We all have our troubles, but we get over them in good time. What kind of work are you trying to get?”

“I do not know; it’s all so sad,” I replied.

“Would you like to be a nurse for children and wear a nice white cap and apron?” she asked.

I put my handkerchief up to my face to hide a smile, and replied in a muffled tone, “I never worked; I don’t know how.”

“But you must learn,” she urged; “all these women here work.”

“Do they?” I said, in a low, thrilling whisper. “Why, they look horrible to me; just like crazy women. I am so afraid of them.”

“They don’t look very nice,” she answered, assentingly, “but they are good, honest working women. We do not keep crazy people here.”

I again used my handkerchief to hide a smile, as I thought that before morning she would at least think she had one crazy person among her flock.

“They all look crazy,” I asserted again, “and I am afraid of them. There are so many crazy people about, and one can never tell what they will do. Then there are so many murders committed, and the police never catch the murderers,” and I finished with a sob that would have broken up an audience of blase critics. She gave a sudden and convulsive start, and I knew my first stroke had gone home. It was amusing to see what a remarkably short time it took her to get up from her chair and to whisper hurriedly: “I’ll come back to talk with you after a while.” I knew she would not come back and she did not.”

Over the course of the evening, Cochrane began acting strangely, continually stating that the women in the boarding house were crazy and meant her harm and explaining to one lady, a Mrs. Ruth Caine, that her trunks and personal effects had been lost. When asked for clarification as to what she was missing, Cochrane explained she’d had a terrible headache and remembered nothing about it. Caine offered to sleep in the same room with her while the other residents of the boarding house kept their distance, fearing that Cochrane might kill one of them in the night. One woman even had a terrible nightmare in which Cochrane attacked her with a knife. The woman woke screaming. Cochrane spent the entire night sitting up, staring at the wall while Caine slept, waking periodically to check on her roommate. Of Caine’s kindness, Cochrane said, “By every means she tried to have me go to bed and rest, and when it drew toward morning she got up and wrapped a blanket around me for fear I might get cold; then she kissed me on the brow and whispered, compassionately: “Poor child, poor child!” How much I admired that little woman’s courage and kindness. How I longed to reassure her and whisper that I was not insane, and how I hoped that, if any poor girl should ever be so unfortunate as to be what I was pretending to be, she might meet with one who possessed the same spirit of human kindness possessed by Mrs. Ruth Caine.”

By morning, the residents of the boarding house had felt they’d been through quite enough and Ms. Stanard contacted the authorities to have Cochrane collected and taken from the premises. At first, Cochrane feigned reluctance, claiming again that her trunks were missing and she’d need them before she would leave. The police were ready to drag her out if she wouldn’t go, but Mrs. Caine assured her that these policemen were here to take her to the express office to find her belongings. Cochrane went with Stanard with the two policemen following behind. At the station, Cochrane was transported by car to the courthouse where a judge heard her case. She kept talking about her missing trunks, sticking to her story, and claiming that terrible headaches had made her lose her memory. The judge said she should be taken to Bellevue Hospital for examination, to be held there until “the drug” wears off. The judge believed Cochrane had been drugged and this is what had led to her forgetfulness. An ambulance was called and a routine examination performed. A doctor looked into Cochrane’s eyes, checked her pulse, listened to her heart, and asked her to stick out her tongue, proclaiming that he believed she had taken belladonna, or nightshade. She was loaded into the ambulance and trucked off to Bellevue with a trail of gawkers trying to get a glimpse of the “crazy lady.” There was even an article written about her in the Sunday issue of the Sun.

At Bellevue, Cochrane was fed a meal of boiled meat and a potato and given a moth-eaten shawl to wear to combat the cold. All of the windows stood open and even the nurses wore heavy garments to keep warm. When Cochrane complained of the cold and asked if they would close the windows, the nurses explained to her that this was a place of charity and she should not complain. At this point, she’s further interviewed by a psychiatrist at the hospital who declares her “positively demented” and in need of someone to take care of her. She is further interviewed after a cold and sleepless night by a young psychiatrist who asks if she hears voices or sees faces on the walls. Cochrane says she does. Her interview over, she sits outside the door and waits to hear how other interviews are conducted. Cochrane writes, “With little variation the examination was exactly the same as mine. All the patients were asked if they saw faces on the wall, heard voices, and what they said. I might also add each patient denied any such peculiar freaks of sight and hearing.” In the hospital, she finds many other women who don’t belong and are cold and hungry. Food rations are slim and consist mostly of unbuttered bread, potatoes, and broth. She’s also introduced to Warden O’Rourke who brings well-dressed men and women into the ward to have a gawk at the people housed there. After several days at Bellevue, Cochrane and several others are rounded up and brought to the wharf where they are loaded onto a small boat that will take them to Blackwell’s Island. When they arrive, Cochrane and the four other women are herded into an ambulance. When Cochrane asks where she is, the ambulance driver says flatly, “”Blackwell’s Island, an insane place, where you’ll never get out of.”

Cochrane could see the fear etched into the faces of the women around her and she wondered as the ambulance climbed the hill toward the the lunatic asylum what life would be like from here on out. The women with her had little hope of ever being released from Blackwell’s. The only means of leaving was to escape or to die and escape from the asylum was pointless as there was no way off the island.

When the group arrived, they were ordered out of the ambulance and led into the main entry, down a long, carpeted hallway and into a sitting room filled with other women. Some shifted to make room for the new arrivals.

One woman approached Cochrane asking who sent her to Blackwell’s. She replied that doctors had sent her to which the woman queried what they sent her for. She explained the doctor’s said she was insane, to which the woman replied incredulously, “Insane! It cannot be seen in your face!”

Each new woman was interviewed individually by a nurse named Miss Grupe. Each answer to the questions Grupe asked seemed logical enough to Cochrane. Dr. Kinier who sat in an adjacent room asking names and what their husbands did for a living. One woman spoke only German and, as there was no translator, could not plead her case for release. Cochrane writes of this experience, “Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz begged in German to know where she was, and pleaded for liberty. Her voice broken by sobs; she was led unheard out to us.”

After interviews, the women are ordered into a room filled with long tables, a small bowl of an odd, pink-colored “tea,” 5 prunes, and a slice of bread with butter are at laid out at each seat. One patient gathers up several bowls and slices of bread, consuming them hungrily. Cochrane herself has her bread stolen and is unable to stomach the tea. It had a strange copper aftertaste and contains no sugar. Another patient offers her their serving of bread, but Cochrane declines. She asks a nurse for bread and the food is all but thrown at her. Once all the food was consumed, everyone was ordered back to the sitting room. Cochrane knows how to play piano and so she plays Rock-a-bye Baby while another patient sings.

After a couple of hours, the patients are told it’s time for their bath. The ward is freezing to the point that many of the patients are blue with cold. Up until this point, the new arrivals have worn the clothing they came in, but when the nurses order them to the bath, they are told to strip. A patient is assigned, one Cochrane describes as a “crazy old woman chattering to herself,” to do the washing as the nurses look on. When Cochrane arrived, she noticed how clean the building was, but she now realizes that the nurses aren’t the ones doing the cleaning. Cochrane is ordered into the tub, the water is unchanged and murky, and the old woman rubs a paste-like soap all over. After a vigorous washing that borders on painful, she’s rinsed with 3 buckets of ice-cold water. Once rinsed, she’s dragged from the tub and, dripping wet, is dressed in a short canton flannel slip with “LUNATIC ASYLUM, B.I.H.6” emblazoned on the front. The letters mean “Blackwell’s Island, Hall 6.”

Cochrane is ushered into her own room containing a small bed and a large barred window while other patients are 6 to a room. Cochrane is told she’s to sleep alone as she will talk too much. The story in the paper has given her some notoriety, it seems. Since her arrival at Blackwell’s, she has questioned the treatment of the patients, hesitant to follow the rules, and asked for what a nurse believed to be additional food rations. She’s not a favorite of the nurses. She’s given a wool blanket that is too short, still drenched from her bath, and tries her best to keep warm while sleeping on wet sheets. Her door, as well as the doors of the other patients, are locked tight. As she lies shivering in the dark, she ponders what might happen if there is ever a fire at Blackwell’s. All of the patients would surely die as the nurses would save themselves. Cochrane writes, “Every door is locked separately and the windows are heavily barred, so that escape is impossible. In the one building alone there are, I think Dr. Ingram told me, some three hundred women. They are locked, one to ten to a room. It is impossible to get out unless these doors are unlocked. A fire is not improbable, but one of the most likely occurrences. Should the building burn, the jailers or nurses would never think of releasing their crazy patients. This I can prove to you later when I come to tell of their cruel treatment of the poor things intrusted to their care. As I say, in case of fire, not a dozen women could escape. All would be left to roast to death. Even if the nurses were kind, which they are not, it would require more presence of mind than women of their class possess to risk the flames and their own lives while they unlocked the hundred doors for the insane prisoners. Unless there is a change there will some day be a tale of horror never equaled.”

In the morning, the patients are given clothes to wear that are made by the patients themselves, they are threadbare and barely enough to keep them covered, certainly not enough that they could stay warm, and brought to the bathroom where they are told to wash their faces. The water in the washbasins is unchanged between patients and some have lesions (Cochrane describes them as “eruptions”) on their faces. The patients also share the towels to dry their faces. Cochrane opts to use her slip as a towel. The patients are then sat on a long bench to have their hair combed. Combs are also shared and it is clear to Cochrane that some of the patients have lice and other afflictions. She endures the combing, painful because she had slept on her wet hair and it had become matted, and her hair is done in a plat and tied with a red rag. Cochrane is now the picture of a patient at Blackwell’s and blends perfectly well with the others. After hygiene is taken care of, the women are then told to clean the hall from top to bottom, even the nurse’s quarters.

After the cleaning is completed to the nurse’s standards, the patients go to breakfast. Breakfast consists of oatmeal with molasses, tea, and buttered bread. All are inedible and Cochrane finds a spider baked into her bread. She chooses not to eat it. The food tastes of mold and rot. Since coming to Blackwell’s, Cochrane has been unable to eat the food there. It is often cold, ill prepared, and teeming with bugs.

When breakfast is through, new patients get to see the doctor again. The other patients are instructed to the sitting room and don’t get to see the doctor. Cochrane is examined briskly while the doctor flirts with a nurse who is present and her pleas to have her notebook and pencil returned to her are denied.

After a few days in Hall 6, Cochrane and her fellow patients get to go on an outing, a short walk around the grounds. It is then that she is introduced to the Lodge, a hall where the most violent and depraved patients are kept. As they walk past the building, Cochrane can see that the patients in the yard are filthy and starving. Some are being led around by nurses and are fastened together with a long cable rope and, while most are walking along easily enough, others are stumbling and being shoved along by the nurses. There are 1600 women housed on Blackwell’s Island at this point.

During her time on Blackwell’s island, Cochrane witnessed all manner of abuses being inflicted on patients. From threats of violence to beatings, being dragged by the hair and locked in a closet, being forced to eat terrible food while the doctors and nurses ate like royalty, Cochrane saw it all. Each day at Blackwell’s was the same and they all began bleeding together. She found that working women and those living below the poverty line were sent to the asylum for the most ridiculous things, many of the women present weren’t suffering from any sort of mental illness. On visiting days, the women are hastily dressed and groomed for their relatives when they normally only receive a bath and clean clothing once per week in an effort to disguise their mistreatment. As I mentioned before, the water wasn’t changed between patients on bath nights and, if the water was let out, the tub wasn’t rinsed before it was refilled. All manner of diseases ran rampant within the institution. The nurses left the care of their most ill charges up to other patients and seldom lifted a finger to do anything to help. Women were beaten regularly, held underwater until they almost drowned, then brought around and nearly drowned again, some women had huge clumps of their hair pulled out by nurses, and some nurses would feed the delusions of mentally ill patients for their own amusement. Cochrane witnessed the death of several patients and the birth of a baby in this house of horrors. Blackwell’s was truly a hell on earth. Corchrane says of exiting Blackwell’s, “I had, toward the last, been shut off from all visitors, and so when the lawyer, Peter A. Hendricks, came and told me that friends of mine were willing to take charge of me if I would rather be with them than in the asylum, I was only too glad to give my consent. I asked him to send me something to eat immediately on his arrival in the city, and then I waited anxiously for my release.

I had looked forward so eagerly to leaving the horrible place, yet when my release came and I knew that God’s sunlight was to be free for me again, there was a certain pain in leaving. For ten days I had been one of them. Foolishly enough, it seemed intensely selfish to leave them to their sufferings. I felt a Quixotic desire to help them by sympathy and presence. But only for a moment. The bars were down and freedom was sweeter to me than ever.”

Upon her return to normal life, Cochrane was summoned to appear before the Grand Jury. She related all of the information she had collected on Blackwell’s including the ill treatment of patients and the quality of life to them. Miss Anne Neville, a fellow patient who had traveled with Cochrane to the asylum on the first say was asked to verify her claims in order to convince the jury she was sane.

Neville told those present that the nurses were cruel and the food was often rancid and inedible. She also stated there was not enough clothing to keep the patients warm and, although they asked for additional clothing constantly, they were denied. Neville explained that, since Miss Brown (Cochrane) had left, the food and conditions had improved. The jurors visited the kitchens which had been deep cleaned beforehand to eliminate all sign of neglect and beautiful white bread and fruit was on display. Two barrels of salt stood conspicuously by the door. Mattresses had been replaced and the entire institution was a showplace. The women Cochrane had spent time with on the wards were gone, spirited off to other places to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Cochrane concludes, “I hardly expected the grand jury to sustain me, after they saw everything different from what it had been while I was there. Yet they did, and their report to the court advises all the changes made that I had proposed.

I have one consolation for my work–on the strength of my story the committee of appropriation provides $1,000,000 more than was ever before given, for the benefit of the insane.”

Cochrane’s time at Blackwell’s Island was not the highlight of her journalistic career. Rather, it was her trip around the world in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds, a challenge she posed against Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. She was even transported from San Francisco to New York by a special train and stopped periodically in her journey to be greeted by brass bands, cheering onlookers, and fireworks. A link to her book, Around the World in 72 Days is in the show notes. It’s also free to view.

Cochrane eventually retired from newspaper reporting, marrying millionaire Robert Seaman in 1985, but returned to work at the New York Journal in 1920. She died in January 1922 of pneumonia at the age of 57, but her work as a super spy will not soon be forgotten.

That’s it for this week dear listeners.

Tune in next week for more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal. Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

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http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/bly/world/world.html Around the World in 72 Days

https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/bly/madhouse/madhouse.html 10 Days in a Madhouse

S6 Ep. 2: The Heretic

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a location without history. Like people, buildings, and land hold on to the energies and memories of the past, energies that linger just beneath the surface, be they positive or negative. The roads we travel and the homes we make are infused with memories that linger long after we’re gone. These memories are often corrupted by tales of urban legends and myths that muddle the truth, but a few drops of truth can be the first step clear an otherwise muddled stream of fiction.

A long time ago, in a land not too different from the place you’re currently occupying, a man traveled with a large group of followers to a faraway place in search of a sanctuary, unburdened, and uncut ground, where he could begin a great undertaking. One that would involve a perilous journey by ship across a vast ocean to a new world-leading to many an untimely death due to harsh conditions, a train ride that would also cause loss of life, many struggles to succeed in a new place, and natural events that would be blamed for many supernatural happenings. The destination was St. Nazianz, a small town in Northeast Wisconsin, and the man leading the group was Father Ambrose Oschwald, a heretic priest. His followers called themselves The Association. According to an article in the Milwaukee Evening Paper from April of 1918, “Father Oschwald formed his people into an association, organized upon essentially communistic lines. It was his aim to found a society that should be a unit, both in respect to religion and worldly possessions and in passages from the Book of Acts found authority for his plan.”

Hello dear listeners, and welcome back to another episode of The ODDentity Podcast, your weekly foray into the weird, wonky, and sometimes downright spooky.

This week, I’ll be taking you to St. Nazianz, a haunted Wisconsin town founded by a heretic priest and a ragtag group of cult followers. It’s been a while since I covered a topic close to home and I figured it was about time to bring it back. This one is going to be fun.

Shout out to Jeanette from North Carolina, Nickolas from Australia, Phil from Dublin, and Isiah from Wisconsin for suggesting this topic.

I’d also like to thank Tony Farina for his wonderful review of my podcast on his blog, Fantastic Universes. I’ll drop a link to that review in the show notes so you can peruse it. I’m thoroughly grateful for the glowing praise. Tony is a multi-talented individual who writes about all manner of nerdy tomfoolery. I feel privileged that my tomfoolery made the cut.

And now…on with the show!

Father Ambrose Oschwald was born on March 14th, 1801, in Mundel-fingen, Germany. He was the son of parents who were highly esteemed and Ambrose and his two siblings were taught at an early age how to work in the fields and make themselves useful on the farm. His father was a miller. Ambrose had a strong desire to become a priest and it was apparent to his family that their son was destined for something more than farm labor. They lightened Ambrose’s workload and encouraged him to prepare for the priesthood.

In 1822, Ambrose was admitted to the gymnasium (the most advanced of the three types of German secondary schools) and graduated with high honors, continuing his studies at the University of Freiburg in Baden. In 1832 he entered the Arch-Episcopal Priests’ Seminary in Freiburg and, one year later, he was consecrated to the priesthood.

From Manitowoc.com (town histories), “Oschwald’s most fervent wish was to completely devote himself to missionary labor in foreign lands, but as many difficulties arose, he gave up this ambition and devoted his ministrations to his countrymen. For twenty years he was incessantly, and greatly to his credit, so engaged until 1852, when he went to Munich and there matriculated in the university for the purpose of studying botany and the secrets of medicine, especially that branch pertaining to the immediate aid of the sick. It appears that even at that time he had conceived the plan of emigrating to America. He desired, however, to be a helper to his flock in all matters and that he was successful in his wishes no doubt has ever been harbored, as his many kindly deeds and successful endeavors in his chosen field of labor fully attest. Friend and foe and even those who came from other communities found through the efforts and ministrations of Oschwald that for which they had hoped and prayed.”

Oschwald did emigrate to America with one hundred and fourteen of his followers and, up until this point, you’ve likely been wondering what you’re listening to. You’ve double-checked that the podcast is correct and you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you’re just going to have to listen while I wax poetic about religion and such. Wait for it…!

There’s a reason why Oschwald left Germany. There always is! I mean, not a reason to leave Germany specifically, but you know what I mean. You see, Oschwald was fleeing religious persecution when he came to Wisconsin in 1854 to found what is now St. Nazianz. The Roman Catholic Church had suspended him from his duties in the parish to which he was assigned in the Black Forest of Germany due to “mystical, prophetic, and heretical works.” I’ve tried digging to figure out what he actually did to bring down the wrath of the Church, but I’ve come up empty. Honestly, he may have just deviated from the traditional mass of the time in some way. It likely didn’t take much. The fact that I can’t find any information on it makes me a little uneasy, though. There are many things a priest could do or say that would make them a heretic. There’s an entire list with an appendix online that I could rattle off, but that’s neither here nor there. The bottom line is, he did something the Catholic Church wasn’t a fan of and was stripped of his duties. Whatever it was, it prompted (or possibly further prompted him) to leave Germany. At that time, Germany had passed through a period of revolution and the entire country was in a perpetual state of unrest. Many German people had already emigrated and this also influenced Oschwald to go.

His flock sold their belongings in order to raise the money to make the trip, earning 24,000 florins and set out on a fifty-four-day journey by sea to New York. Of course, not everyone survived the journey and several lives were lost, but the group finally arrived in New York. After a few days, the group traveled by train and oxcart to arrive at what would become known as St. Nazianz.

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According to The Wisconsin Magazine of History, “They arrived


Times were tough for the new settlers. There was an outbreak of malaria causing several of the group to lose their lives and the weather was often so bad it was difficult to plant and harvest food. Life was hard.

During the first summer, the group did manage to erect a church at the location which is still standing today. The building was only 24’ by 32’ tall and was constructed using logs from the nearby woods. Sixteen men working together could carry one log to the desired location. In addition to this structure, they also built housing (men’s and women’s dormitories and individual houses for married couples) for the members of The Association, looms for weaving cloth, barns for the animals they eventually procured, a convent, a school, and a tannery. Although life was difficult, there was a definite downturn upon the death of Oschwald.

In 1873, Reverend Peter Mutz succeeded to the leadership and many of the original colonists left St. Nazianz. Mutz felt that only married members and their children were entitled to the fruits of their labor and he conveyed portions of the land to those families. Those people who were unmarried but loyal to the group were left out and sought to carve out life elsewhere.


So that’s the history of the place. As I said, histories are important and the past is never too far away. In the case of St. Nazianz, the story of Oschwald doesn’t end with his death. In some ways, his death was only the beginning.

When Oschwald was on his death bed, a man named Anton Still stayed at his side. He wrote, “A number of times, I have observed that he, with closed eyes, when there was no one else in the room but I alone, would extend his hands in blessing, and then with his hand, signal someone away, and yet I saw no one in the room.”

Many people in town reported a knocking within the walls of their homes and Still himself reported hearing pounding inside the walls of Oschwald’s room while he sat with the dying man. In some cases, it was reported to be so loud and so persistent, that items hanging on the walls fell from their nails. The sounds supposedly continued through the night on February 26th, 1873, and ceased when Oschwald passed away the following morning.

From Cult of Weird, “A judge from Manitowoc came to view Oschwald’s body the day before the funeral. He was taken aback by the liveliness of the corpse, warning not to bury it because Oschwald was not dead.

Oshwald’s tomb had not yet been complete, so his coffin was placed on view in a crypt beneath the high altar of the old St. Ambrose church. The coffin was reopened on April 29th for examination before it was to be placed in the completed chamber. A priest by the name of Father Mutz, along with a group called the Oschwald Sisters, noted that his body had not decayed, and there was no odor of corruption. Oshwald’s eyes had sunken in, but his skin had a lifelike complexion, his hair and fingernails were growing. They washed his face and noted that it served to give him an even more natural complexion.”

Oschwald’s remains were finally interred 63 days following his death. Many members of the clergy observed that, in 1926, when his body was being moved to a new stone mausoleum below Laretto Hill, even though his skin had shriveled and looked sallow, his vestments were still intact and his body showed little sign of decomposition. Essentially, they’re saying that Oschwald’s body was not subject to decay or dissolution and is incorruptible, a description generally reserved for saints. It’s likely that the body was left in a state that should have led to purification and liquefaction of internal organs but that didn’t happen. Perhaps there was an odor of sanctity wafting from Oschwald’s resting place, a floral smell that many religious people see as a sign from god. When corpses are removed from their original resting place, this generally leads to further deterioration. Exposure to air and moisture and whatnot. Likely why there hasn’t been too much of a peep about Oschwald and his incorruptible remains since. Or perhaps they just haven’t taken him for a walkabout. I’ve seen a few incorruptible bodies in my time, having wandered in the Vatican for several hours, it really only adds to my whole religion=creepy argument.

In St. Nazianz, the Salvatorian Seminary (the Salvatoran’s took over in 1895), known now as JFK Prep, has many a ghost story associated with it. It’s said that many lost and tortured souls roam the halls of this building, having been tortured at the hands of abusive nuns. Many who have visited the old buildings claim that the spirits there are not restless and mean no harm, but others have an entirely different story. The property itself has been in a kind of stasis since the ’80s. Funding issues in the 60s, 70s, and 80s led to the location being shuttered and reopened several times, but many buildings on the property are currently shuttered.

I think a lot of the information I’ve gleaned from various websites has been largely influenced by the fact that this location was an old religious commune and a school that is now defunct. People are enthused by the prospect that this location might be haunted and I totally get it. Some of the buildings are in disrepair and it’s cool and creepy to try and wander around them late at night (disclaimer, don’t do that or you’ll be arrested.) People dig ruin porn. They’ll pay to wander an abandoned location with a camera and a flashlight. So, I’m going to go through some of the claims of haunted activity that I’ve found and picked them apart a little bit. If you believe in the paranormal and consider this location to be haunted, please continue to believe that. If it brings you joy, please allow it to bring you joy. I’m just not sure I can say it’s haunted. And I won’t


Twenty years after Oschwald’s death, the state took upwards of 3800 acres away from the colony, supposedly angering Oschwald’s ghost and leading to a curse on the town. A tornado in the year 2000 that caused over 100 million in damages has been attributed to the curse as well as many other similar happenings. I’m not a fan of blaming natural disasters on ghosts so I’m just going to move along.

There are stories of a headless priest being spotted in the woods surrounding JFK Prep, but apparently, this story stemmed from a prank. It’s said the priest rides around the grounds at night on a horse, but the story was created when a priest tried to scare a bunch of kids who were students at the school while riding a horse with his head covered by a hood. The story still exists, so I suppose the tale has at least earned its stripes as an urban legend.


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In the Satan Room, it’s said that Father Oschwald encountered…you guessed it…SATAN. The story states that the room was boarded up to protect the students and faculty at the school, but the school wasn’t around when Oschwald was in charge so I guess that debunks this haunted happening. If you really want to scare religious people, though, a good way to do it would be to tell them that someone saw Satan. My grandmother would shit her britches. There’s no sign that any of the rooms on the fourth floor have been boarded up and ghost hunters who have explored the fourth floor had no experiences on that floor.

The Suitcase Room is apparently near the Satan Room and contains yup, suitcases. Creepy, haunted suitcases that just sit on the floor standing open. Are you horrified? I know I am. Apparently, when you try to close them and walk away, they’ll open again. It’s been documented by several people, but it can be explained by an uneven floor or the fact that the suitcases aren’t sitting completely flat. I’ve never seen said suitcases so I’m not sure how they’re positioned.

On the east side of the grounds, there are a series of stone pillars that seem to be placed kind of haphazardly. These once displayed the Stations of the Cross, but all the statues but one has been removed. There were reports of the statues themselves bleeding while they were displayed and many speculate, they were removed because of this fact. There’s also speculation that the bases of the statues were made of iron and, over time, the iron began to bleed over the statue. The reddish color could have been mistaken for blood if this is the case. If the bases are not made of iron, there’s really no explanation for this. According to encyclopedia.com, “Statues and pictures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints have appeared to bleed, and they bleed in significant ways, from the hands or the brow, places where Christ was wounded during His last days on Earth, or from the eyes, as if weeping. While such phenomena had been reported since antiquity, in the twentieth century such reports have taken on added significance in light of the attack on supernatural occurrences in the contemporary secular world. The number of such incidents has increased decade by decade during the last half of the century. Many traditional religionists view such miraculous occurrences as the bleeding statues and pictures in much the same way as Spiritualists view mediumistic phenomena, as a demonstration of a supernatural world.”

In fact, there have been several documented instances of religious statues weeping or bleeding. For example, a statue of the Virgin Mary owned by Olga Rodriguez of Santiago, Chile, stated that the statue began to “bleed from its eyes” in November of 1992. The statue was outside her home and locals who had stopped by to witness the phenomena contacted the police for some reason (Karen? Is that you?). The substance was collected by authorities and determined to be type O blood. “In 1994, stories came from Ireland, Australia, and Puerto Rico. In 1996 reports came from Trinidad and Kansas, and in 1997, from Benin (Africa). Through the decade more than a dozen cases appeared in Italy alone. Blood from a statue of the Virgin in Las Vegas that began bleeding in 1998 has been caught on pieces of cotton and given away to the faithful. It has been tied to a number of healings.

As with the case in Chile, many of these cases have been investigated at least minimally, and the substance oozing from the pictures or statues is indeed blood, though the type of blood varies from incident to incident. Many have been seen by large groups and have occurred in such a way that the more obvious means of faking the phenomena have been ruled out. Possibly the most spectacular modern case of a bleeding statue occurred in Akita, Japan, where a statue of the Virgin Mary wept, perspired, and bled from the right hand in what appeared to be a cross-shaped wound. This case passed a rigorous investigation by local scientists, the local diocesan authorities, and the Vatican. The phenomena were associated with the stigmata and three apparitions of the Virgin Mary received by a deaf Japanese Roman Catholic nun, Sister Agnes Sasagawa.”

Skeptics, scientists, and parapsychologists have tried to debunk this phenomenon over the years, but there have been some that have hung on. Ultimately, the only explanation for this (aside from it being a complete hoax) are to relate the experiences to poltergeists or psychokinetic occurrences. I’m not really sure how I feel about that.

There are other stories about the graveyard on the property and the stones shifting up and down over time which I can kind of get behind. My great grandfather (I’m not even sure how many he’s that far back) is buried in a small cemetery that’s rather boggy. Every couple of years someone has to go and make sure his gravestone hasn’t been swallowed up because the ground is constantly wet. As far as stones moving around, I doubt the change would be that noticeable even if there was a shift. Changes like this can happen, but unless there’s some sort of seismic event, I doubt you’ll actually see it as it occurs.

In 1871, there was a fire that consumed one (or possibly some of the buildings, I’m not clear which) that apparently resulted in loss of life. The only fire I can find was that of the Peshtigo fire. It was supposedly started when a cow kicked a lantern, but that’s a familiar story you might remember about the Great Chicago Fire.

From weather.gov, “The story of the Peshtigo Fire, gleaned from survivor accounts and conjecture, is that railroad workers clearing land for tracks that Sunday evening started a brush fire which, somehow, became an inferno.

It had been an unusually dry summer, and the fire moved fast. Some survivors said it moved so fast it was “like a tornado.”

The sudden, convulsive speed of the flames consumed available oxygen. Some trying to flee burst into flames.

It scorched 1.2 million acres, although it skipped over the waters of Green Bay to burn parts of Door and Kewaunee counties. The damage estimate was at $169 million, about the same as for the Chicago Fire.

The fire also burned 16 other towns, but the damage in Peshtigo was the worst. The city was gone in an hour. In Peshtigo alone, 800 lives were lost.”

EVP’s on the grounds of JFK Prep have turned up disembodied voices saying, “burning.” No full-bodied apparitions have been seen. Children’s voices have also been recorded.

Other tales I’ve encountered:

A supposed suicide on the property produced some EVP’s for paranormal investigators. A suicide note was given to the investigators as “proof.” Not sure who they received the note from or if they were able to authenticate it at all. The story states that the individual was a former JFK Prep student. There’s no real way to check this story and I haven’t come across any news articles or obituaries that would confirm a suicide on the property.

A nun who gave birth and drowned the baby on the property. Some have reported hearing a baby crying by a body of water close to JFK Prep. Again, no proof and no way to verify this claim. Lake Oschwald is nearby so I’m assuming this is the body of water the account is referring to. Otherwise, there’s no additional information to be found. I’m thinking this one is pure fiction.

There is a renovation effort underway, a painstaking process of replacing windows and painting over graffiti. $20 million is being actively sought to bring the location back. I hope they find it. There is apparently a thrift store at the location and people do live at the site. I’ve read the buildings are open from dawn to dusk, but haven’t read anything specific about which buildings are accessible. If you’re interested in a tour, perhaps stop by and speak with someone in the thrift shop, but be aware that they’re not keen on the paranormal stories being told about the place. I’d keep that to myself. St. Nazianz is located about an hour and a half outside Milwaukee, WI via I-43 North and WI-57 North.

So, what do we make of the haunting of the JFK Prep grounds? Are there spirits lingering or are the majority of the stories told about the place primarily to scare bored teenagers? Teens frequent the grounds, often breaking into buildings, all the buildings have been boarded or otherwise sealed up so there’s no other way to access them, leaving graffiti and broken windows in their wake. They make their way into the tunnel system that winds beneath the buildings in an effort to scare their friends, girlfriends, boyfriends. The stories are just icing on the cake. Wouldn’t that make sense? The one piece of evidence that still chills me is one word, captured via a recorder in the form of an EVP. The haunting reminder of a tragedy. A piece of history frozen in time.


That’s it for this week dear listeners. Tune in next week for more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal. Until next time, Stay Spooky!


The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

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Review of the ODD Pod: http://www.fantasticuniverses.com/2020/07/podcast-review-oddentiy-podcast.html










S6 Ep. 1: Palms Up


Sandalwood. Yes, that’s what I’m smelling.

I look lazily around the crowded room, filled with crystals and mystical nick-knacks, and the smoke from several incense sticks standing upright in a crystal holder at the center of a round table swirls about my head. A woman in flowing garb, a galaxy of colors ranging from peacock blue and lavender to chartreuse and hot pink, sits at the table, tugging at its ratty cloth with absent fingers, settling in for her next reading. I’m told to clear my mind and extend my arm, placing my hand palm up in front of her.

Her calloused hands take mine and her eyes squint as she runs the tip of a finger along the ley lines crisscrossing my palm. She’s likely in her 50’s, her hair is grey and kept in a tightly braided plat that falls over one shoulder. She’s wearing Birkenstocks and she smells faintly of sweat and, oddly enough, oranges and trout.

She smiles, cradling my palm like a newborn and sitting back, closing her eyes and tilting her head backward, causing the old chair she’s sitting in to creak and groan. The seconds tick past.

After a few minutes, I laugh out of unease. It’s been quiet for far too long and I am far too awkward and odd to allow the silence to stand. “You know,” I chuckle. “I’ve been told by other palm readers that my lifeline doesn’t show longevity.”

Her head snaps up. She blinks. “Most who practice palmistry believe the lifeline has very little to do with longevity. Rather, it’s the combination of heart, head, and lifelines together. Only read the lifeline itself and you aren’t getting the whole story.” She bites her lip, once again tracing the lines, a look of deep concentration settling on her face. “Your story, my dear, has only just begun.”

Hello ODD Balls, and welcome back to the first episode of Season 6 of The ODDentity Podcast, your weekly foray into the weird, wonky, and sometimes downright spooky.

This week, I’ll be talking about the practice of palmistry, its origins, and one of the more famous palmists, Chiro (kairo). Palmistry has a long and interesting history and is still practiced today. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an outdoor carnival or Halloween party that didn’t feature some type of fortune-telling or palmistry.

Before we get started, I wanted to let you all in on what’s been happening behind the scenes. Since its inception, originating as the Haunt Heads Podcast, the Odd Pod has developed a faithful following of listeners from all over the world. I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for their continued support and for letting others know about this odd little cast. My email inbox has been filling up with questions about when I’d be releasing a new episode and suggestions for future topics.

The past couple of months have been a little hectic and filled with much uncertainty so I appreciate your sticking with me while I took a little break. Truthfully, I’m sure we’re all a little exhausted both physically and emotionally because of the world we’re currently living in. I don’t like to get political on this podcast as you all know, but I did want to give a shout out to all those in support of and marching with members from the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s important that we are all able to be respected and valued as human beings. As MLK once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Truer words have never been spoken. I stand with Black Lives Matter and support them wholeheartedly. As a white woman, I will never know the types of discrimination and hate that people of color have to endure, but I’m sure as hell not going to sit idly by. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all equal. I want to make sure I’m standing on the right side of history. I know that I am. I hope that you are, too.

I’d also like to take a moment to give a shout out to several of my podcasting pals on Instagram. If you’re not already subscribing, these are some great suggestions for further listening. They range in topics from nerdcore and manga to current events and classic conversation about the weird and mundane.

The Mr. Know It All Podcast

Made In the ’90s

The Nerd Lounge

The Area 81 Podcast

The JB Show

The Brochillians Podcast

Chit Chats w/Professor V

3 Little Blerds

A Shot of Facts Podcast

The Grownup-ish Podcast

I Got Problems Podcast

Ready or Not Radio

Mastermind Team’s Robcast

Bar Study Podcast

Genuine Chit-Chat

The Tragedy Academy

These Dudes Right Here Podcast

Special shoutout to the Black Label Podcast Studio

All awesome pods and all worth a listen! Time to expand your listening horizons and mash subscribe on some new ear candy. You’ll be glad you did! Listening numbers have been down all across the board due to this pandemic (people aren’t listening during their morning commute to work and it shows) and we could use your help.

You might notice a difference in this episode. I’ve found a couple of affiliates that I’ll be promoting. You might hear 1-2 ads per episode, but I’ll try to keep them short and sweet so they don’t take too much away from the show itself. Seriously, though, I was super picky when finding affiliates so the products I’m advertising are ones I use AND love. I’d never advertise something I didn’t believe in or think was generally awesome.

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Apologies for all the updates this week! I promise there will be MUCH less housekeeping next week.

And now…on with the show!


The history of palmistry or chiromancy can be separated into two categories, ancient and modern palmistry.

From Wikipedia,

“Ancient Palmistry is a practice common to many different places on the Eurasian landmass; it has been practised in the cultures of India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Persia, Sumeria, Palestine and Babylonia.

The acupuncturist Yoshiaki Omura describes its roots in Hindu astrology (known in Sanskrit as jyotish), Chinese Yijing (I Ching), and Roma fortune tellers. Several thousand years ago, the Hindu sage Valmiki is thought to have written a book comprising 567 stanzas, the title of which translates in English as The Teachings of Valmiki Maharshi on Male Palmistry. From India, the art of palmistry spread to China, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and to other countries in Europe.

From India, palmistry progressed to Greece where Anaxagoras practiced it. Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) discovered a treatise on the subject of palmistry on an altar of Hermes, which he then presented to Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.), who took great interest in examining the character of his officers by analyzing the lines on their hands.

During the Middle Ages the art of palmistry was actively suppressed by the Catholic Church as pagan superstition. In Renaissance magic, palmistry (known as “chiromancy”) was classified as one of the seven “forbidden arts”, along with necromancy, geomancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and scapulimancy.

Modern palmistry

Palmistry experienced a revival in the modern era starting with Captain Casimir Stanislas D’Arpentigny’s publication La Chirognomie in 1839. The Chirological Society of Great Britain was founded in London by Katharine St. Hill in 1889 with the stated aim to advance and systematise the art of palmistry and to prevent charlatans from abusing the art. Edgar de Valcourt-Vermont (Comte C. de Saint-Germain) founded the American Chirological Society in 1897.

A pivotal figure in the modern palmistry movement was the Irish William John Warner, known by his sobriquet, Cheiro. After studying under gurus in India, he set up a palmistry practice in London and enjoyed a wide following of famous clients from around the world, including famous celebrities like Mark Twain, W. T. Stead, Sarah Bernhardt, Mata Hari, Oscar Wilde, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison, the Prince of Wales, General Kitchener, William Ewart Gladstone, and Joseph Chamberlain. So popular was Cheiro as a “society palmist” that even those who were not believers in the occult had their hands read by him. The skeptical Mark Twain wrote in Cheiro’s visitor’s book that he had “…exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy.”

Chiromancy is the practice of evaluating the character of an individual or their future by “reading” that person’s palm. It’s essentially a method of reading lines (heart line, lifeline, etc.) and mounts, sometimes called bumps. This particular aspect of palm reading is called Chirognomy. Other aspects of the palm such as the shape and length of the fingers, fingernails, fingerprints, skin patterns, color, the shape of the palm, and overall flexibility of the hand are also considered. One hand represents the unconscious mind while the other, the individual’s dominant hand (writing hand), represents the conscious mind. The reader will generally begin with the dominant hand though some palmists will examine the non-dominant hand as it is sometimes believed to carry hereditary traits. This preference ultimately depends on the palmist’s cosmological beliefs.ipalmis0

What is considered to be “classical” palmistry, the kind most widely taught and practiced, is said to have roots in Greek mythology, and each section of the palm, fingers, and features relate in some way to a god or goddess. The ring finger is commonly associated with Apollo and might be tied to a person’s associations with music, art, fame, or wealth. It is also a possibility that palmistry originated in the Sanatan Dharma or Indic Civilization and then was carried over to the Greeks. Cheiro himself had stated that his knowledge of palmistry was attained in the Indian village, Konkan.

Hand shape can also affect a reading depending on the type of palmistry being practiced. In fact, in most schools of palmistry, various hand shapes are separated into anywhere from 4 to 11 major types.

The most common classifications used by modern palmists (and variations are many and dependent on the palmist themselves) are:

Earth: palms are broad and square. Fingers are thick and the skin is coarse. The length of the palm is usually equal to the length of the fingers.

Water: palms are long and sometimes oval-shaped. Long, flexible fingers. The length of the palm is less than the width across the widest section of the palm and usually equal to the length of the fingers.

Air: Square or rectangular palms, long fingers, and low-set thumbs. The length of the palm from the wrist to the bottom of the fingers is usually equal to the length of the fingers.

Fire: Square or rectangular palm with shorter fingers, Length of the palm from the wrist to the bottom of the fingers is usually greater than the length of the fingers.

Earth and water hands have fewer lines and those that are present are deeper while air and fire hands have more lines but those lines have less definition.


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Now that we’ve ascertained the four types of palms, let’s take a closer look at the lines marking your palm.

The heart line represents love and attraction and would be the first major line inspected by your palm reader. It is found at the top of the palm and arches slightly downward from your pointer finger to your pinkie. This line represents your emotional life and therefore will offer a look into what the subject will act out or act upon in their emotional life. It’s claimed that the heart line can show intimate relationships and how those relationships will play out. For example, a “chained” heart line (your heard line has a bunch of little lines striking through it) points to a flirtatious attitude and means the individual will fall in love easily. It’s also said that this line is affiliated with heart health and all those little lines could be an indication of high blood pressure. Better cut down on those pork rinds.

The head line travels across your palm and is the line that begins between your thumb and pointer finger and extends toward the outside edge. It is often joined with the lifeline (we’ll talk about that in a minute) where it begins. Palmists see this line as a window into the mind and the way it works. It can relay information like communication style, intellect, and a preference for creative or analytical approaches (right vs. left brain) to life.

The lifeline is the most controversial as it’s believed to represent vitality, physical health, and general wellbeing.  It also reflects major life events like physical injuries and relocations. Modern palmists don’t necessarily believe that the lifeline is tied to the length of a person’s life. If that’s true, I’m living on borrowed time.

The combined length of these lines strung together is also said to have meaning. If the length is longer than the person’s foot, they may be overbearing whereas a shorter line would indicate someone who gives in too easily. A relatively equal length suggests someone who is well balanced. My lines combined are definitely on the shorter side.

” Additional major lines or variations include: A simian crease, or fusing of the heart and head lines, has special significance since this single line must be read to infer details about a subject’s emotional and reasoning nature. According to Cheiro, this line is thought to endow a person with an intensity of purpose or single-mindedness, the nature of which is decided upon by the exact position of this line on the hand and the direction of any branches shooting from it. In hands where such a line exists without any branches as a singular mark, it is taken to indicate an extremely intense nature, and special care is needed for such persons.

The normal position for the simian crease is starting below the index finger and ending where normally the heart line terminates at the edge of the hand below the little finger. The upper part of the palm lying immediately below the fingers is considered to represent the higher or intellectual nature and the lower part of the palm to represent the materialistic side of the nature. If one of these parts is larger than the other, as decided by the central placement of the simian crease, it shows greater development of that aspect of the nature.

Based on this general principle, if the simian crease is placed below its normal position it indicates an intensely intellectual nature. If it is placed above its normal position it indicates an intensely materialistic nature and interests. The direction in which any branches may be found shooting from this line are used to infer more details about the subject’s temperament.

The fate line runs from the bottom of the palm near the wrist, up through the center of the palm towards the middle finger. This line is believed to be tied to the person’s life path, including school and career choices, successes and obstacles. Sometimes this line is thought to reflect circumstances beyond the individual’s control, or alternately the person’s choices and their consequences.


The mounts in palmistry:
Jupiter, Saturn, Apollo, Mercury, Mars positive, Mars negative, plain of Mars, Luna mount, Neptune mount, Venus mount

Other minor lines:

  • Sun line: Parallel to the Fate Line, under the ring finger; believed to indicate fame or scandal
  • Girdle of Venus: Starts between the little and ring fingers, runs in a rough arc under the ring and middle fingers to end between the middle and pointer fingers; thought to relate to emotional intelligence and the ability to manipulate
  • Union lines: Short horizontal lines found on the percussive edge of the palm between the Heart Line and the bottom of the little finger; believed to indicate close relationships, sometimes—but not always—romantic.
  • Mercury line: Runs from the bottom of the palm near the wrist, up through the palm towards the little finger; purported to be an indicator of persistent health issues, business acumen, or skill in communication.
  • Travel lines: These are horizontal lines found on the percussive edge of the palm between the wrist and the heart line; each line is said to represent a trip taken by the subject—the longer the line, the more important the trip is to the subject.
  • Other markings: These include stars, crosses, triangles, squares, tridents, and rings under each of the fingers; their supposed impact and meaning varies by location on the palm and freedom from other interfering lines.
  • “Apollo line”: The Apollo line is said to represent a fortunate life; it travels from the Mount of the Moon at the wrist to beneath the Apollo finger.”


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Now, let’s get to know Cheiro as he was more famously called, and learn a little bit about his palmistry dealings.

In Palmistry for All, Cheiro included a special intro for American readers.

“There is no country in the world where the “study of character” is more indulged in than in the United States of America. During my many visits there I could not help remarking how even the “hardest headed” businessmen used any form of this study that they could get hold of to help them in their business dealings with other men and also in endeavoring to ascertain the character of their clerks and employees.

In looking over the records of my career I find that in the course of my visits to America I gave private lessons to the heads of two hundred and seventy business establishments in New York, one hundred and thirty-five in Boston, and three hundred and forty-two in Chicago.

All these men were large employers of labour and what they principally wanted was, to have some help beyond that of their own judgment in dealing with those with whom they came in contact in the regular course of their business careers. In no other country did I find the same interest taken in the study of character from a practical standpoint.

It is for this reason that I write a special Preface for this Edition, believing as I do that my American[Pg iv] readers will appreciate the added information I may be able to give regarding the obtaining by a mere glance at a hand a quick grasp of the leading characteristics of the persons with whom they are thrown into contact, or for whatever reason they choose to make use of this study.

Everyone knows that “the face can wear a mask,” that a person may be a good actor and put on a certain expression that may deceive even the best judgment.

But hands cannot change as the result of a mere effort to please; the character they express is the real nature of the individual—the true character that has been formed by heredity or that has grown up with the person by long years of habit.

The characteristics alluded to below are those which may be easily observed and which are aids to a rapid judgment of character and which I have never before been able to give to the public in such a concise way.

The more elaborate details concerning the ultimate success of the person one is talking to, their more intimate character and their future development will be found in their proper place, in the subsequent chapters.”

Born William John Warner (and taking the name Count Louis Hamon in later years), Cheiro was born in Rathdown, a village just outside Dublin. He acquired his expertise in palm reading in India and traveled to the Bombay port of Apollo Bunder where he met the man who would become his guru, Chitpavan Brahmin. Brahmin took Cheiro to his village and was later permitted to study an ancient text that contained many studies of the hand. He spent two years in the Konkan region of Maharashtra and then left for London where he started what would be a long and illustrious career as a palmist.

His following grew over time and by the late 19th/early 20th century he was reading the fortunes of celebrities like Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Joseph Chamberlain. He documented all of his sittings and encouraged his patrons to sign the book and comment on their experiences. He even read the palm of the Prince of Wales and William Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolf, the company that built the Titanic. Cheiro predicted the Titanic’s demise telling Pirrie he “would soon be in a fight” for his life.

Believers and non-believers got their readings from Cheiro and, after living in London for some time and hobnobbing with the upper crust of society there, he moved to America. He spent his last years in Hollywood, California seeing upwards of twenty clients a day. His obituary read, “Count Louis Hamon (“Cheiro”), 69, celebrated oldtime palmist; after long illness; in Hollywood. Author of a book on palmistry at 13, owned an English-language newspaper in Paris, The American Register. On the night he died, said his nurse, the clock outside his room struck the hour of one thrice.” It is said he predicted his own death to the day and the hour.

Cheiro wrote many occult texts on fortune-telling and a large number of them are still in print today. They’re available in both English and foreign language editions so, if you’re interested in numerology, palmistry, or astrology, look up some of his work. He even dabbled in fiction writing with his book A Study of Destiny (published in 1898 as The Hand of Fate.)

You may recall the 1947 cartoon Fun and Fancy-Free where Mickey Mouse, in a telling of Jack and the Beanstalk, reads the giant’s palm to escape being otherwise clobbered by the beast for stealing a golden egg. References like this in cartoons and movies have led to a hefty skepticism of palmistry in general. Even The Simpsons and Harry Potter have jumped on the bandwagon. Truthfully, there is a lack of empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of palmistry and it’s largely seen as a pseudoscientific belief that falls into the realm of superstition. Palmists are also frequently dumped onto the list of alleged psychics who cold read, using high probability guessing and then using cues from the person they’re reading. I think it’s a great bit of fun to go to a palmist and have my lines read, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on any advice I was given. Life tends to work out how it will. Maybe your palmist will hit the nail on the head or maybe you’ll leave feeling like the entire sitting was a waste of time. I suppose you’ll have to go and visit your local palm reader and find out which reading you’ll get and if you’re keen on delving a little more into pseudoscience, I’d recommend The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, & Dangerous Delusions by Robert Todd Carroll. According to Carroll, “The Skeptic’s Dictionary is aimed at four distinct audiences: the open-minded seeker, who makes no commitment to or disavowal of occult claims; the soft skeptic, who is more prone to doubt than to believe; the hardened skeptic, who has strong disbelief about all things occult; and the believing doubter, who is prone to believe but has some doubts. The one group this book is not aimed at is the ‘true believer’ in the occult. If you have no skepticism in you, this book is not for you.” As I’ve said many times before, I believe it’s important to have a healthy level of skepticism while still enjoying all the wonderful and the weird that the world has to offer.


That’s it for this week dear listeners. I’ll drop a link to Chiro’s book Palmistry for All in the show notes. It’s a fascinating read.

Tune in next week for more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal. Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

Please take a moment to leave a 5* review on iTunes and, if you haven’t already, please make sure to mash that Subscribe button to be sure you’re in the know when a new episode drops. Sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps!


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Visit https://bit.ly/2BTUUSL and be entered every week to win a FREE Lume product! Orders over $20 get FREE first-class shipping.


Palmistry for All (Free Online Access) https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20480/20480-h/20480-h.htm

Link to Carroll’s book https://www.amazon.com/Skeptics-Dictionary-Collection-Deceptions-Dangerous/dp/0471272426/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2H89GOJBPHVUX&dchild=1&keywords=the+skeptics+dictionary&qid=1594314795&sprefix=the+skeptics+dicti%2Caps%2C161&sr=8-1



S5 Ep. 12: Sweet Springs

This week, I bring you an interview with Cindie Harper, an author and the Director of Historical Research and Paranormal Documentation of Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation and Sweet Springs Sanitarium in Sweet Springs, West Virginia. Cindie is also the official paranormal documentarian for Sweet Springs Sanitarium. Cindie’s connection to the paranormal runs deep. In childhood, she experienced seeing mist-like apparitions and poltergeist-type activity. She used cassette recorders and cameras to conduct her own paranormal experiments and enjoyed reading and collecting ghost stories. Cindie has many years of experience in paranormal research and maintains an active role within the paranormal community by managing tours of Old Sweet (as it’s affectionately called) and continuing to document paranormal experiences.


I had a lot of fun doing this interview and it’s clear to me that Cindie adores Old Sweet and is thoroughly invested in the history the property has. Please note that this interview was conducted via phone, so the audio might be a little low in places. I’ve done my best to tweak here and there so that you’ll be able to have an enjoyable listening experience. Stay tuned at the end of this episode for info about booking a tour (paranormal or otherwise) at Old Sweet and how you can help to bring the resort back to its former glory.

If you enjoyed this week’s episode and would like to learn more about Sweet Springs Sanitarium, you can visit their website at www.sweetspringssanitarium.com. You can find them on Facebook as haunted sweet springs and on Instagram @sweetspringssanitarium.

For more information about Cindie’s books, visit her Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/cynthiaharper. I’ll drop a link to her Memorial Cemetery book into the show notes.

For more stories about Cindie’s experiences with the paranormal, find her page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hauntedharper/
If you’d like to arrange a private paranormal investigation or exploration of Sweet Springs Sanitarium, please email Cindie at: sweetspringssanitarium@gmail.com

If you’d like to donate toward the preservation efforts at the sanitarium, you can go to https://www.sweetspringsresortpark.org/donate.

Thanks so much for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal.

Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and on Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

Please take a moment to leave a 5* review on iTunes and, if you haven’t already, please make sure to mash that Subscribe button to be sure you’re in the know when a new episode drops. Sincerest thanks to those who have promoted

Show Notes:

Find Sweet Springs Sanitarium and get social!
instagram: @sweetspringssanitarium

Cindie’s Books/Info

Cindie’s Amazon Author Page:


Follow Cindie on Social Media:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/femmeforce

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sweet-Springs-Sanitarium-1046408435539952/



Personal paranormal experiences Facebook page:


Twitter: @sweetsspringssan

Instagram: @sweetspringssanitarium


S5 Ep. 11: A Burking We Will Go


The Anatomy Act of 1832, an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom giving freer license to doctors, teachers of anatomy and bona fide medical students to dissect donated bodies, was enacted in response to the illegal trade in corpses by medical schools. It was common practice, particularly in the 19th century, to remove the recently interred from their final resting place for the purposes of selling the remains to doctors so they could learn more about the inner workings of the human body and train others in medical practice. Of course, doctors couldn’t be seen skulking around cemeteries late at night, so they relied on the “expertise” of body snatchers, otherwise known as Resurrection Men. These individuals would dig up bodies, the fresher the better, and bring the remains to medical schools for dissection. The doctors in training got to dissect a human specimen and the resurrection men were paid for their delivery. Prior to the Anatomy Act, the only legal way to obtain corpses for anatomical purposes was through the prison system, such as it was. Those punished for harsher crimes like murder would often be sentenced to dissection and, upon execution, their bodies would be delivered to private anatomy schools to further their studies. Unfortunately, by the 19th century, very few people were being sentenced to capital punishment meaning the number of bodies available was very low, around 50. Medical schools continued to expand and as many as 500 corpses might be needed annually to fulfill their needs. Authorities didn’t see body snatching as anything more than a misdemeanor and so the offender wasn’t executed. Many saw this as a means to make a living and the business was profitable. The police generally ignored what they considered to be a necessary evil so resurrection men would take to the cemeteries and graveyards, seeking the recently deceased in order to line their pockets by lantern light.

Hello ODD Pod listeners and welcome back to another episode.

This week, we tag along to the local cemetery with the resurrection men, men who dug up fresh corpses for the purposes of medical study. We’ll examine the history of body snatching, the purpose and practice, and learn about Burke and Hare, two notorious murderers who were also body snatchers and grave robbers.

Before we get started, I just wanted to let you all know that this is episode 11. The ODDentity Podcast has 12 episodes per season and the final episode for this season is fast approaching. Episode 12 features that unforgettable interview I mentioned at the start of this season and I think it’s a great note to end on. Season 6 will be a little delayed as I’ve got some other projects that need my attention, but I’m hoping the downtime will be no more than 6 weeks. I hope you’ll still continue to subscribe so you’ll know when the new episodes are available and that you’ll continue to follow me on social media as I’ll still be posting things that I hope will bring your odd little hearts much joy.

Also, I’d like to thank Forty-Two Books for publishing my narrative non-fiction essay Radium in the most recent issue of Satan Speaks. It’s a pleasure to have my work featured alongside so many talented people. If you’d like to pick up a copy of that issue, I’ll drop a link into the show notes. The publication was unpaid, but I think it’s important to support lit rags as I run one myself. If you’re a writer who specializes in horror, the odd, or general weirdness, please send me your work for consideration! Submissions can be sent to corevink@gmail.com. Please review submission guidelines at corev.ink. The summer issue drops on July 1 so there’s still time to get your subs in before the window slams shut.

And now, on with the show!

The theft of human remains was so common in the 19th century that it was pretty common for relatives and friends of the deceased to watch over the body prior to and after burial. Iron coffins and bars that covered the grace site were frequently used so that family members could rest easy knowing that the body of their relative wouldn’t be stolen in the night. Oh, and before we go any further, those iron bars? They weren’t installed to prevent zombies or vampires from rising from the grave. They’re called mortsafes, designed to protect graves from being disturbed.

From Wikipedia, “The mortsafe was invented in about 1816. These were iron or iron-and-stone devices of great weight, in many different designs. Often they were complex heavy iron contraptions of rods and plates, padlocked together – examples have been found close to all Scottish medical schools. A plate was placed over the coffin and rods with heads were pushed through holes in it. These rods were kept in place by locking a second plate over the first to form extremely heavy protection. It would be removed by two people with keys. They were placed over the coffins for about six weeks, then removed for further use when the body inside was sufficiently decayed. There is a model of a mortsafe of this type in Marischal Museum, Aberdeen. Sometimes a church bought them and hired them out. Societies were also formed to purchase them and control their use, with annual membership fees, and charges made to non-members.”

You see, many families couldn’t afford heavy table tombstones, vaults, or mausolea, such things were only affordable to the higher classes. Those who could afford a mortsafe went that route. Those who couldn’t afford even that resorted to placing pebbles and flowers on graves to detect whether the soil had been disturbed. They would drive branches into the soil to make disinterment more laborious and time consuming. They basically used whatever was at their disposal to keep the theft from happening.

Friends and relatives took turns watching the graves, spending long hours sitting in the cemetery. If they could afford to, some families would hire a man to watch the grave during the night and watch towers were erected to shelter the men whose job it was to do this. Some communities used mortsafes and employed watchers while others constructed watch towers to house the watchers during their nightly stays in the cemetery. Of course, they’d only have to hang out in the cemetery until the body began to decay. Then it wasn’t fresh enough and wasn’t suitable for dissection.

Body snatching was an issue in the UK, but what about here in America?

“In the United States, body snatchers generally worked in small groups, which scouted and pillaged fresh graves. Fresh graves were generally given preference since the earth had not yet settled, thus making digging easier work. The removed earth was often shoveled onto canvas tarp laid by the grave, so the nearby grounds were undisturbed. Digging commenced at the head of the grave, clear to the coffin. The remaining earth on the coffin provided a counterweight which snapped the partially covered coffin lid (which was covered in sacking to muffle noise) as crowbars or hooks pulled the lid free at the head of the coffin. Usually, the body would be disrobed–the garments thrown back into the coffin before the earth was put back into place.

Resurrectionists have also been known to hire women to act the part of grieving relatives and to claim the bodies of dead at poorhouses. Women were also hired to attend funerals as grieving mourners; their purpose was to ascertain any hardships the body snatchers may later encounter during the disinterment. Bribed servants would sometimes offer body snatchers access to their dead master or mistress lying in state; the removed body would be replaced with weights.

Although medical research and education lagged in the United States compared to medical colleges’ European counterparts, the interest in anatomical dissection grew in the United States. Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York with several medical schools, were renowned for body snatching activity: all locales provided plenty of cadavers. Finding subjects for dissection proved to be “morally troubling” for students of anatomy. As late as the mid-19th century, John Gorham Coffin, a prominent aptly named professor and medical physician wondered how any ethical physician could participate in the traffic of dead bodies.

Charles Knowlton (1800–1850) was imprisoned for two months in the Worcester (Massachusetts) County Jail for “illegal dissection” in 1824, a couple of months after graduating with distinction from Dartmouth Medical School. His thesis defended dissection on the rationalist basis that “value of any art or science should be determined by the tendency it has to increase the happiness, or to diminish the misery, of mankind.” Knowlton called for doctors to relieve “public prejudice” by donating their own bodies for dissection.

The body of Ohio congressman John Scott Harrison, son of William Henry Harrison, was snatched in 1878 for Ohio Medical College, and discovered by his son John Harrison, brother of President Benjamin Harrison.

Large, gated, centralized cemeteries, which sometimes employed armed guards, emerged as a response to grave-robbing fears. Gated, “high-security” cemeteries were also a response to the discovery that many old urban and rural burying grounds were found to be practically empty of their human contents when downtown areas were re-developed and old pioneer cemeteries moved, as in Indianapolis.


There might have been ways to discourage resurrectionists from stealing grandma from her grave, but these thieves were a crafty sort. The process went fairly quickly and there were several methods for removal.

One method involved digging at the head end of the grave with a wooden spade, wooden tools were quieter than metal ones, and putting a rope around the body. Once the rope was secure, it was just a matter of pulling the body out through the hole. Graves were shallow in many cemeteries way back when so this was a fairly easy task.

Another method was to cut a square of turf, about the size of a manhole cover, out of the ground about 15-20’ from the head of the grave. Corpses were generally buried 4’ below the earth and a tunnel would be dug to intercept the coffin. The end of the coffin would be pried off and the corpse would be pulled through the tunnel. Once the turf was replaced, it was impossible to notice any disturbance and family members checking on their loved ones would be none the wiser. An article in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, stated that a number of empty coffins had been discovered in graveyards in the UK proving that body snatching was quite frequent.

The demand for human dissection grew as more medical schools were established state side. Between 1758 and 1788, only 63 of 3,500 physicians had studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and the study of anatomy legitimized their positions. Without dissection, how was the medical field any different from homeopathic or botanical studies? The American Medical Association was formed in order to differentiate medicine from these other practices and thereby asserting it as a true science.

In 1762, John Morgan and William Shippen Jr. founded a medical department at the University of Pennsylvania. In November of that year, Shippen advertised his lectures about the “art of dissecting, injections, etc.” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The cost to attend was 5 pistoles (a little more than $5.50 USD today.) Apparently, there was some doubt as to where Shippen got his corpses as a mob arrived on his doorstep in 1765 claiming he’d desecrated a burial ground near a church. Although Shippen denied the accusation, claiming he’d only ever used the bodies of suicides, executed felons, and Potter’s Field, there was still speculation that Shippen was a body snatcher.

Medical students in Boston also struggled with finding specimens for dissection. John Collins Warren Jr., an American surgeon and President of the American Surgical Association, wrote, “No occurrences in the course of my life have given me more trouble and anxiety than the procuring of subjects for dissection.” Warren’s father had encountered similar difficulties in finding subjects during the Revolutionary War when many soldiers died with no relation to claim their remains. He and his friends at Harvard University had started a secret anatomic society called the “Spunkers” who performed dissections using cadavers that they procured themselves, likely through body snatching. The dissections that Warren was able to perform gave him the knowledge and experience needed to begin lectures on anatomy in 1781. John Warren Sr. was elected Professor of Anatomy and Surgery when Harvard Medical School was established in November of 1782. Jr., following in his father’s footsteps, attended Harvard in 1796 when there were few subjects for dissection. He writes, “Having understood that a man without relations was to be buried in the North Burying-Ground, I formed a party … When my father came up in the morning to lecture, and found that I had been engaged in this scrape, he was very much alarmed.” Warren would later enlist the aid of an old family friend named John Revere (son of Paul Revere) to obtain corpses. Through several connections, the two men were introduced to one James Henderson who was apparently able to make miracles happen and abracadabra corpses onto dissection tables.

Michael Sappol, in A traffic of dead bodies: anatomy and embodied social identity in nineteenth-century America, writes that Warren Jr. attempted to set up a cadaver provision system that mirrored systems already set up in New York and Philadelphia. “If schools or physicians differed over who should get an allotment of bodies, the dispute was to be settled by the mayor–a high-reaching conspiracy that resulted in a harvest of about 450 bodies per school year.”

Public graveyards were arranged by social and economic standing, but also by race, and many professional body snatchers would find their corpses in the segregated sections of Potters Field. From Emily Bazelon’s Grave Offense, “In December 1882, it was discovered that six bodies had been disinterred from Lebanon Cemetery and were en route to Jefferson Medical College for dissection. Philadelphia’s African-Americans were outraged, and a crowd assembled at the city morgue where the discovered bodies were sent. Reportedly, one of the crowd urged the group to swear that they would seek revenge for those who participated in desecration of the graves. Another man screamed when he discovered the body of his 29-year-old brother. The Philadelphia Press broke the story when a teary elderly woman identified her husband’s body, whose burial she had afforded only by begging for the $22 at the wharves where he had been employed.”

Between 1765 and 1884, there were (at minimum) 25 crowd actions that were documented against medical schools and medical students which eventually led to various acts that would make body snatching a serious offense. One such uprising in April of 1788 called the Doctor’s Riot brought many poor New Yorker’s to City Hospital to protest the theft of their loved one’s bodies for medical dissection. Supposedly, a young boy had been playing nearby and looked into one of the hospital’s windows to see his mother’s body (she had died very recently) being dissected. The boy claimed a medical student had lifted the corpse’s arm and waved it at him. Traumatized, the boy ran to tell his father about the incident which led to the riot. In this particular instance, seeing that there was a risk of destruction on a massive scale and even the murder of medical students and doctors alike, authorities stepped in and led searched of local physician’s houses, seeking medical students, professors, and stolen corpses. The mob was satiated for a time, but reassembled at the jail where several medical students were being held for their own safety. It wasn’t until militia members joined the defense effort that the mob finally dispersed. Three rioters were killed.

So, selling corpses to medical schools was a pretty lucrative business. Generally, no questions were asked and payment was swift. For many, making fast money like this was alluring and Resurrection Men did quite well for themselves, whether the bodies came legitimately or through…more nefarious means.

Enter Burke and Hare, two men who found a way to exploit the corpse-buying system by committing murder in order to supply the remains for medical research.

Now, before we go any further, let’s talk a little bit about the difference between grave robbing and body snatching. Body snatching is literally the taking of a corpse. Resurrection Men would remove the body from the grave and leave clothing and any valuables that may have been buried with the individuals in the coffin. This was the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. Grave robbing is essentially taking valuables from the grave to sell for personal gain. Of course, grave robbing and body snatching often went hand in hand, but many Resurrection Men didn’t want to take the chance of being caught in possession of or selling stolen goods.

Moving right along…

Ben Johnson writes for historic-uk.com, “William Burke and William Hare both originated from the Province of Ulster in the north of Ireland and moved to Scotland to work on the Union Canal, Burke having abandoned a wife and two children back in Ireland. The pair met and became close friends when Burke moved with his mistress Helen McDougal to lodgings in Tanner’s Close in the West Port area of Edinburgh. Hare lived on the same street and was running a boarding house there with Margaret Laird, a widower with whom he lived as man and wife, and who was also known as Margaret Hare even though they were not legally married.

The pair’s first foray into the world of medical science happened in December 1827 when one of Hare’s tenants, an elderly army pensioner by the name of Old Donald, died of natural causes whilst still owing £4.00 in rent. To cover the man’s outstanding debt the pair weighed his coffin down with tanning bark prior to his funeral and took his body to the medical school at Edinburgh University where they were swiftly pointed in the direction of Professor Robert Knox, a popular anatomy lecturer. Knox paid the duo seven pounds and ten shillings for Donald’s body.

Encouraged by the ease with which they had made this money, the pair struck again in early 1828 when another tenant named Joseph became ill. Too impatient to see if Joseph would actually die from his afflictions, Burke and Hare took it upon themselves to help him along – plying him with whisky and then suffocating him by covering his mouth and nose while he was forcibly restrained. This became their favoured method of execution as it left the body unmarked and undamaged for the students who were later to dissect the cadavers. In the aftermath of their killing spree, the practice become known as ‘Burking’.

In the absence of any further ill tenants the pair decided to entice victims to the lodging house, preying on Edinburgh’s poorest communities who were less likely to be missed or recognised. In total Burke and Hare are said to have murdered at least 16 people for between seven to ten pounds apiece, although the real total is likely to be a lot higher.

A local prostitute, Janet Brown, was lucky to escape with her life when she and a friend, Mary Patterson, were invited to stay by Burke. Having excused herself earlier in the evening, Janet returned to find her friend missing and was told Mary and Burke had stepped out. Having waited for her friend to return, Janet eventually decided to leave, having no idea that Mary was lying dead in the next room ready to be taken to Knox and that she herself was the next likely victim!

Burke and Hare soon became greedy and no one was safe. An elderly grandmother was killed with an overdose of painkillers and Hare murdered her blind young grandson by breaking the boy’s back across his knee. Even a relative of Helen’s, Ann McDougal, was unhesitatingly dispatched. However, with greed came carelessness.

A number of Knox’s students were said to have recognised Mary and two other prostitutes murdered by the pair, Elizabeth Halden and her daughter, who made the unfortunate mistake of calling at the lodging house to enquire after her missing mother. The gossip was exacerbated when the pair brought in a handicapped children’s entertainer by the name of James Wilson who was well known in the city as ‘Daft Jamie’. Knox was said to strongly deny the identity of the body but swiftly removed his head and deformed foot during the dissection.”

Burke was suspicious that Hare and Margaret were cutting him out of deals they were making with Knox, so Burke and Helen decided to take in lodgers of their own. Halloween of 1828 marks Burke and Hare’s last victim, Marjory Campbell Docherty. A couple, James and Ann Gray, received an invitation to temporarily at Hare’s boarding house in order to set the scene for the murder. The Gray’s were fed a story about Marjory coming on to Burke once they returned to their original lodging house and became suspicious when they weren’t allowed to enter a room in which they’d stored some of their belongings. When the Gray’s were left alone, they entered the room and found Marjory’s body under the bed. They were offered a bribe of 10 pounds a week to keep quiet, but the Gray’s refused and reported the murder to police. By the time the police arrived, the body had already been removed and taken to Knox. Burke and Hare, along with Helen, were arrested, but all gave conflicting accounts with Burge and Hare ultimately blaming each other in a desperate bid to save themselves.

Through investigations by police, Knox was found in his lecture hall and James Gray was able to ID the body as Marjory, which he was currently dissecting. Hare was offered immunity in exchange for his testimony against Burke and both Burke and Helen were charged with Marjory Docherty’s murder. Burke was also charged with Mary Patterson and James Wilson’s murders. Helen was ultimately set free because there was no way for authorities to prove she was complicit in the murders. Burke was sentenced to death by hanging in front of a cheering crowd of over 25,000 people in January of 1829. His body, in a rather appropriate turn of events, was donated to medical science. If you’d like to visit the final resting place of Burke, you need look no further than Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh. His skeleton is on display along with a death mask of his face and a book bound in his skin. Hare’s life mask is also displayed. Hare was released in February of 1829 and disappeared after he escaped across the border into England. There are rumors he was attacked by an angry mob and he was thrown into a lime quarry. He survived the incident, but lived the rest of his life as a blind beggar in London. Helen and Margaret emigrated elsewhere and Knox, despite the fact that the public was outraged regarding his involvement, was cleared of wrongdoing. He moved to London to try and salvage his career, but it was in ruins.

After the murders, a new word was coined. Burking, meaning to smother a victim or commit anatomy murder, and a delightful rhyme began circulating around the streets of Edinburgh, often sung by school children skipping rope.

“Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke and Hare,
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief, Knox the man who buys the beef.
Burke and Hare they were a pair, Killed a wife and didnae care.
Burkes the Butcher, Hares the thief, Knox’s the yin that buys the beef!”

— 19th century Edinburgh rhyme

Catchy tune, isn’t it?

That’s it for this week dear listeners. As a little something extra, I’ve dropped a link into the show notes to an audio version of “The Body Snatcher” a short story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. It was first published in the Pall Mall Christmas “Extra” in December 1884 and its characters were based on criminals in the employ of real-life surgeon Robert Knox. It makes for great bedtime reading. Enjoy!

Tune in next week for more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal. Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and on Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

Please take a moment to leave a 5* review on iTunes and, if you haven’t already, please make sure to mash that Subscribe button to be sure you’re in the know when a new episode drops. Sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps!











Sappol, Michael (2002). A traffic of dead bodies: anatomy and embodied social identity in nineteenth-century America. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05925-X.


A little something extra:

The Body Snatcher” is a short story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). First published in the Pall Mall Christmas “Extra” in December 1884, its characters were based on criminals in the employ of real-life surgeon Robert Knox (1791–1862) around the time of the notorious Burke and Hare murders (1828)”

A link to an audio download is below. Enjoy!


S5 Ep. 10: Urban Legendary


A dozen miles outside of Baltimore, the main road from New York (Route Number One) is crossed by another important highway. It is a dangerous intersection, and there is talk of building and underpass for the east-west road. To date, however, the plans exist only on paper. Dr. Eckersall was driving home from a country-club dance late one Saturday night. He slowed up for the intersection, and was surprised to see a lovely young girl, dressed in the sheerest of evening gowns, beckoning him for a lift. He jammed on his brakes, and motioned her to climb into the back seat of his roadster. “All cluttered up with golf clubs and bags up here in front,” he explained. “But what on earth is a youngster like you doing out here all alone at this time of night?”

“It’s too long a story to tell you now,” said the girl. Her voice was sweet and somewhat shrill — like the tinkling of sleigh bells. “Please, please take me home. I’ll explain everything there. The address is ___ North Charles Street. I do hope it’s not too far out of your way.”

The doctor grunted, and set the car in motion. He drove rapidly to the address she had given him, and as he pulled up before the shuttered house, he said, “Here we are.” Then he turned around. The back seat was empty!

“What the devil?” the doctor muttered to himself. The girl couldn’t possibly have fallen from the car. Nor could she simply have vanished. He rang insistently on the house bell, confused as he had never been in his life before. At long last the door opened. A gray-haired, very tired-looking man peered out at him.

“I can’t tell you what an amazing thing has happened,” began the doctor. “A young girl gave me this address a while back. I drove her here and . . .”

“Yes, yes, I know,” said the man wearily. “This has happened several other Saturday evenings in the past month. That young girl, sir, was my daughter. She was killed in an automobile accident at that intersection where you saw her almost two years ago . . .”


Hello ODD Pod Listeners, and welcome back to another episode.

This week, I tell the tale of the Vanishing Hitchhiker and unravel the urban folklore that surrounds this fascinating legend. It’s an old story, some written accounts dating back to 1948, and it seems as if there are many incarnations of this particular urban legend. I’ll get into the history of this legend, dissect the historical tellings that exist, and introduce you to some theories about how it originated. You might even meet some new hitchhikers along the way.


And so, on with the show!


White Lady ghosts are typically reported in rural areas and associated with local legends of tragedy. These legends are found in many countries around the world and all of these stories contain elements of accidental death, murder, or suicide, and themes of loss, unrequited love, or betrayal but, of  all the urban legends that exist, The Vanishing Hitchhiker breaks a cardinal rule: urban legends don’t deal in the supernatural. Perhaps this story belongs in its own subgenre, but it’s been circulating for so long that it’s just become part of the canon. That’s not to say that there’s truth to it, but it’s held its weight for a long time.


Fabrication and folklore, that’s where most people hang their hats when it comes to phantom hitchhiker stories. In his book, The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-Hikers, Paranormal researcher Michael Goss comes firmly down on the side that these hitchhiking ghosts simply don’t exist. He discovers, through exhaustive research, that most of the tales can be chalked up to hallucinations or folklore stories. Goss states that the stories he’s come across are “fabricated, folklore creations retold in new settings.” I applaud Goss for being able to find sources on the subject of urban legends. These tales aren’t just told by one person, they’re relayed from host to host. Because the legend is told from the perspective of a friend of a friend (Jan Harold Brunvand talks a lot about the FOAF phenomena in his work) it’s impossible to find a reliable narrator. Hats off to you, Michael!


Skeptic Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry who also writes regularly for the Skeptical Inquirer, investigated two alleged cases and found that there is no reliable evidence to prove either claim. Nickell says it’s all exaggeration or hoaxing. He doesn’t believe a word.


Historical examples of these entities seem to have their roots in folklore, but the examination of the vanishing hitchhiker phenomena has been on researcher’s minds for some time.


From Wikipedia, “The first proper study of the story of the vanishing hitchhiker was undertaken in 1942–43 by American folklorists Richard Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey, who collected as many accounts as they could and attempted to analyze them.

The Beardsley-Hankey survey elicited 79 written accounts of encounters with vanishing hitchhikers, drawn from across the United States. They found: “Four distinctly different versions, distinguishable because of obvious differences in development and essence.” These are described as:

  • Stories where the hitchhiker gives an address through which the motorist learns he has just given a lift to a ghost.
    • 49 of the Beardsley-Hankey samples fell into this category, with responses from 16 states of the United States.
  • Stories where the hitchhiker is an old woman who prophesies disaster or the end of World War II; subsequent inquiries likewise reveal her to be deceased.
    • Nine of the samples fit this description, and eight of these came from the vicinity of Chicago. Beardsley and Hankey felt that this indicated a local origin, which they dated to approximately 1933: two of the version B hitchhikers in this sample foretold disaster at the Century of Progress Exposition and another foresaw calamity “at the World’s Fair”. The strict topicality of these unsuccessful forecasts did not appear to thwart the appearance of further Version ‘B’ hitch-hikers, one of whom warned that Northerly Island, in Lake Michigan, would soon be submerged (this has not yet occurred).
  • Stories where a girl is met at some place of entertainment, e.g., dance, instead of on the road; she leaves some token (often the overcoat she borrowed from the motorist) on her grave by way of corroborating the experience and her identity.
    • The uniformity amongst separate accounts of this variant led Beardsley and Hankey to strongly doubt its folkloric authenticity.
  • Stories where the hitchhiker is later identified as a local divinity.

Beardsley and Hankey were particularly interested to note one instance (location: Kingston, New York, 1941) in which the vanishing hitchhiker was subsequently identified as the late Mother Cabrini, founder of the local Sacred Heart Orphanage, who was beatified for her work. The authors felt that this was a case of Version ‘B’ glimpsed in transition to Version ‘D’.

Beardsley and Hankey concluded that Version ‘A’ was closest to the original form of the story, containing the essential elements of the legend. Version ‘B’ and ‘D’, they believed, were localized variations, while ‘C’ was supposed to have started life as a separate ghost story which at some stage became conflated with the original vanishing hitchhiker story (Version ‘A’).

One of their conclusions certainly seems reflected in the continuation of vanishing hitchhiker stories: The hitchhiker is, in the majority of cases, female and the lift-giver male. Beardsley and Hankey’s sample contained 47 young female apparitions, 14 old lady apparitions, and 14 more of an indeterminate sort.

Ernest W. Baughman’s Type- and Motif-Index of the Folk Tales of England and North America (1966) delineates the basic vanishing hitchhiker as follows:

Ghost of young woman asks for ride in automobile, disappears from closed car without the driver’s knowledge, after giving him an address to which she wishes to be taken. The driver asks person at the address about the rider, finds she has been dead for some time. (Often the driver finds that the ghost has made similar attempts to return, usually on the anniversary of death in automobile accident. Often, too, the ghost leaves some item such as a scarf or traveling bag in the car.)

Baughman’s classification system grades this basic story as motif E332.3.3.1.

Subcategories include:

  • 3.3.1(a) for vanishing hitchhikers who reappear on anniversaries;
  • 3.3.1(b) for vanishing hitchhikers who leave items in vehicles, unless the item is in a pool of water in which case it is E332.3.3.1(c);
  • 3.3.1(d) is for accounts of sinister old ladies who prophesy disasters;
  • 3.3.1(e) contains accounts of phantoms who are apparently sufficiently solid to engage in activities such as eating or drinking during their journey;
  • 3.3.1(f) is for phantom parents who want to be taken to the sickbed of their dying son;
  • 3.3.1(g) is for hitchhikers simply requesting a lift home;
  • 3.3.1(h-j) are a category reserved exclusively for vanishing nuns (a surprisingly common variant), some of whom foretell the future.

Here, the phenomenon blends into religious encounters, with the next and last vanishing hitchhiker classification  — E332.3.3.2 — being for encounters with divinities who take to the road as hitchhikers. The legend of Saint Christopher is considered one of these, and the story of Philip the Evangelist being transported by God after encountering the Ethiopian on the road (Acts 8:26-39) is sometimes similarly interpreted.”


In every Vanishing Hitchhiker story, there’s an object left behind. Some tangible proof that the woman was actually there. This detail adds realism to the story and the gaps in the narrative allow the storyteller to add on to the current tale, dropping in their own elements as they see fit. Perhaps this time, the hitchhiker is a blonde. Maybe the driver gives her his overcoat. Perhaps that overcoat is found draped over her tombstone in the cemetery. Or maybe she’s a brunette wearing a scarf and the scarf is left behind on the passenger seat. Maybe the deceased woman’s parents are surprised by the arrival of the generous gentleman who gave the ghost of their daughter a ride back home or maybe they’re expecting it because every Saturday night since she passed away has brought a visitor to their doorstep with the same story. As a storyteller, I can tell you that the more bits and bobs you drop into the narrative, the more you rope in your listener. There’s a higher investment for the listener and they’ll devote all of their attention to the tale you’re relaying.

Mike J. Koven, a folklorist at the University of Wales says that the reason why we crave urban legends is because life is just more interesting with monsters in it. The legends are just good stories.

In an article for Live Science.com, Heather Whipps states, “Like the variations in the stories themselves, folklorists all have their own definitions of what makes an urban legend. Academics have always disagreed on whether urban legends are, by definition, too fantastic to be true or at least partly based on fact, said Koven, who tends to believe the latter.

Discovering the truth behind urban legends, however, isn’t as important as the lessons they impart, experts say. Urban legends aren’t easily verifiable, by nature. Usually passed on by word of mouth or—more commonly today—in e-mail form, they often invoke the famous “it happened to friend of a friend” (or FOAF) clause that makes finding the original source of the story virtually impossible.

“The lack of verification in no way diminishes the appeal that urban legends have for us,” writes Jan Harold Brunvand in “The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings” (W.W. Norton & Company, 1981). “We enjoy them merely as stories, and tend to at least half-believe them as possibly accurate reports.”

A renowned folklorist, Brunvand is considered the pre-eminent scholar on urban legends and “The Vanishing Hitchhiker,” named for a classic legend, the subject’s seminal work. The definition of an urban legend, he writes, is “a strong basic story-appeal, a foundation in actual belief, and a meaningful message or ‘moral.'”

Most urban legends tend to offer a moral lesson, Koven agreed, that is always interpreted differently depending on the individual. The lessons don’t necessarily have to be of the deep, meaning-of-life, variety, he said.

Urban legends are also good indicators of what’s going on in current society, said Koven, who is part of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) and is editor of its peer-reviewed journal, Contemporary Legend.

“By looking at what’s implied in a story, we get an insight into the fears of a group in society,” he told LiveScience. Urban legends “need to make cultural sense,” he said, noting that some stick around for decades while others fizzle out depending on their relevance to the modern social order.

It’s a lack of information coupled with these fears that tends to give rise to new legends, Koven said. “When demand exceeds supply, people will fill in the gaps with their own information…they’ll just make it up.””

So, let’s take a moment to look at the legend itself and pick out some familiar elements that can be found in every urban legend ever told.

First, let’s examine the element of caution or warning within the tale. The message here isn’t totally obvious as might be the case with other legends like The Hook Man. It seems to me that this legend is saying something about being cautious on the roadway, certainly being aware while you’re driving so as not to cause an accident. The woman in the legend is killed in a vehicle at an intersection and a lot of intersections are notorious for causing accidents. However, I do find it interesting the female hitchhiker is always picked up by a male motorist. As a woman, I’m very aware of my surroundings when I go out and I’m certainly not going to put myself in harm’s way by thumbing a ride if my car breaks down. I think, if not for the supernatural element within it, this might have fallen into the category of a cautionary tale. Perhaps this legend is trying to say something about unsuspecting men falling victim to the lure of a beautiful ghost? I’m not really sure there’s much else there.

As far as elements of mystery or intrigue are concerned, this legend has them in spades. A mysterious woman walking on a nondescript roadway alone at night. A ghostly remnant left on the car seat when she exits the vehicle. Confusion when the man goes to return the item only to find the woman has been dead for some time. This tale is absolutely spine chilling and it fulfills every desire I’d have for a good ghost story. There are some missing details in the story which only adds to the overall mystique and likely contributes to the spreading of this urban legend.

The driver is surprised to find out the woman is dead and, in some tellings, the parents are shocked to find out that their daughter’s ghost is haunting the intersection and asking strangers to drive her back to her childhood home.

There’s a sense that this could happen to anyone, something that urban legends do very well. The story makes you believe that you too could be driving down a darkened roadway and see a ghostly woman seeking a ride. The roadway could be any roadway in the country and the driver could literally be anyone (though according to North American tellings of this legend I’m thinking being a white male would up your chances of seeing the ghost.)

In other retellings of this legend, the woman will sometimes offer a prophecy about the future, she might vanish before the final destination is reached, a photo of the hitchhiker (while still living) is always present at the home where the driver ends up to let him know he’s in the right place, the driver always learns that the woman died several years ago, though the number varies, and an item lent to the hitchhiker (primarily a jacket or coat) is found on a grave stone in a local cemetery. Sometimes, the address the woman gives the motorist is that of the cemetery in which she’s buried. In an interesting twist, this urban legend, when told in Hawaii involves the goddess Pele who travels the roadway in disguise and rewards those who pick her up.

We often associate the paranormal with creepy old houses and bumps in the night, but the motorist in this story finds the paranormal in a place he least expects to. It gives us the idea that the paranormal can be anywhere and everywhere. Would we even know if we’d encountered it? Pretty spooky, huh?

Have you ever heard of Resurrection Mary? The ghost of Archer Avenue? This tale is a spin on the urban legend set in Chicago, IL and the phenomena is a popular subject for documentaries. In a past episode of this podcast, you might remember I talked about one such documentary by Derek Quint of Addovolt Productions titled A Murky Path Down Archer Avenue. It’s a short documentary, only about 13 minutes long, but it tells the story of Resurrection Mary quite well and frames the appearance of a ghostly hitchhiker as something that might not be abnormal at all. Truthfully, we’re surrounded by the spirit world all the time. We just don’t always realize it.

The story of Resurrection Mary is often confused with the tail of the wailing woman in Archer Woods or the multitude of female ghosts that have supposedly been seen wandering the roadways dressed in white, but Mary herself is unique. The woman we know as Mary is presumed (by some) to be Anna Norkis (possibly Norkus), a woman who was killed in a car crash in 1927 somewhere along Archer Avenue. Another tale explains that Mary went dancing with her fiancée at the O’Henry Ballroom (it eventually became the Willowbrook Ballroom) and left after the two had a disagreement that ended in a verbal altercation. Mary decided to walk home down Archer Avenue, but was struck and killed by a motorist. Of course, I couldn’t verify any of this information, aside from the locations in the story that absolutely do (or did) exist, so take all of this with a rather large grain of salt.  Archer Avenue is around 33 miles long and Mary has supposedly been spotted at various points along it, looking for a ride. If a motorist picks her up, she’ll sometimes engage in cryptic conversations and eventually disappear out of the car. Sometimes she’s in the front seat, other times she’s in the back, but the stories that have been told about Mary are all basically the same. They even share elements with The Vanishing Hitchhiker.

In addition to Pele and Resurrection Mary, there are several other ghosts that share similarities. For example, the White Woman (or weisse Frau) ghost who haunts the Belchen Tunnel that is located on a part of the A2 motorway in Switzerland. The tunnel was opened in 1966 and renovated in 2003. In January of 1981, a myth began to circulate involving a woman clothed completely in white who appears in the tunnel out of nowhere, apparently hitchhiking to points beyond. She often speaks to the drivers who pick her up. The first known report of the phenomenon was actually of a male ghost who was picked up in June of 1980. The male hitchhiker supposedly vanished from the vehicle while it was in motion. Toward the end of the 1980’s, the tale of the white woman persisted. The tabloid Blick told the story of the phantom hitchhiker and soon other media outlets picked up on the story. There wasn’t any proof or witnesses to corroborate the stories, just the story itself, but that was apparently enough to help the legend spread. The police received dozens of calls which they dutifully logged regarding this phenomenon.

Reports of the weisse Frau dropped off until the 1983 edition of the book Baselbeiter Sagen reported further sightings. This time, two female motorists, both were apparently lawyers or law students, claimed to pick up a middle-aged woman. She was pale and sickly and offered a cryptic message to the two women regarding a future event. “Something really awful is going to happen, “she said. “Something very dreadful!” When the women turned to look in the back seat, they found it empty. The woman had disappeared.

These visitations apparently don’t only happen in and around tunnels. Similar cases have been reported in a re-edited edition of the Baselbieter Sagen. “the Heidegg castle’s lady,” “the maiden on the goat,” and “the grey woman in Zunzgen.” In Läufelfingen, the woman wears a green loden coat. In the Canton of Bern, a girl in a short leather jacket appears. In the area of Basel, as with the case in Tenniken, a man wearing black is seen. The man prophesizes an earthquake and a hard winter before disappearing. The mysterious hitchhikers can even disappear if the car has only front doors and no back doors.”

A 1981 article in Schweizer Volkskunde describes additional visitations of what they call “modern ghosts of the road.” Apparently, they’ve also been spotted in other Swiss Cantons and tunnels in Luzernerland area and in Toggenburg.

The Niles Canyon ghost story might also sound familiar to you as it’s based off the Vanishing Hitchhiker archetype. All versions involve a woman being involved in a vehicle accident, sometimes she’s walking and is struck by a car and other times is driving herself and is killed in the vehicle, but February 26th is a common date. The year changes depending on the storyteller. The girl was supposedly killed in a car accident on Niles Canyon Road off the 680 freeway in Sunol, California, on the way to her senior prom.

From Wikipedia, “The girl died on impact and to this day is said to haunt Niles Canyon road every February 26. The tale of the haunting goes that people traveling along Niles Canyon road (now Highway 84) on the night of February 26 will see a normal-looking high school-aged girl walking along the road in a prom dress (many people have said it is white). People traveling along the road (mostly those traveling alone) have said to have stopped and offered the girl a ride. She accepts the ride, giving the driver an address across the bridge (either Dumbarton or Bay Bridge depending on the storyteller). Once the driver gets to the beginning of the bridge, the girl will disappear. Sometimes people have gone to the address to find that a girl many years ago matching that description once lived there.”

Over the years, there have been many accounts of white or gray lady ghosts haunting roadways all over the world, but how much of the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend can be believed? According to some experts, every word can be debated and picked apart, but I wonder about the concept of highway hypnosis and whether or not this might have something to do with all the otherworldly experiences people have supposedly had.

Highway hypnosis, also known as white line fever, is an altered mental state that some drivers experience. The motorist is able to drive their automobile great distances and respond to traffic changes and external events in a safe manner, but their consciousness is focused elsewhere. It’s akin to automaticity, the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required. Sort of like muscle memory.

In an article for thoughtco.com, Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. writes, “Have you ever driven home and arrived at your destination without remembering how you got there? No, you weren’t abducted by aliens or taken over by your alternate persona. You simply experienced highway hypnosis. Highway hypnosis or white line fever is a trance-like state under which a person drives a motor vehicle in a normal, safe manner yet has no recollection of having done so. Drivers experiencing highway hypnosis may zone out for short distances or hundreds of miles.”

So, are drivers simply hallucinating when they claim to see a ghostly apparition by the roadside? Can highway hypnosis also account for the action of pulling the car over and letting the woman into the car? Did the person having the experience just think that all of this happened when it was really all a figment of their imaginations? What about situations where there are two people in the car like the reported sighting in Switzerland with the two jurists? Were they both hallucinating, traveling for such a long period of time that they’d both slipped into some trance-like state and succumbed to this form of hypnosis? According to many experts, highway hypnosis kicks in when the driver has driven a long distance and uses familiar roadways. I’m thinking of someone who commutes an hour or more from a rural area into the city for work on a regular basis. They’ve taken the trip so many times that they don’t really need to check road signs or pavement markers. They’re on autopilot. According to Jim Horne of the Sleep Research Centre in Loughborough University, highway hypnosis is “like reading the newspaper at breakfast but you’re not taking in the words because you’re listening to what’s going on in the kitchen.”

I also wonder about the mental states of the individuals having these experiences. If you’re under severe stress or experiencing grief, you are vulnerable to having hallucinations. Intense negative emotions have been known to make the mind go a little wonky. Even individuals who suffer from anxiety are susceptible to hallucinations, though many studies have shown it’s not as common for people who have nonpsychotic disorders to hallucinate, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. A case from the Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry by Dr. Ankur Sachdeva reports on a patient presenting signs of severe anxiety and also hallucinating.

“The patient also reported seeing images of a lady that no one else could see during the last 2 months. These clear and distinct images occurred when he was awake and fully conscious and appeared real. He reported seeing them five to ten times a day, for 5 minutes at a time. Sometimes, the image would say some words to him in a language he could not understand. The patient was usually fearful of these images. His father reported that the images appeared when the patient was very anxious, fidgety, and sweating heavily.

The patient had previously had two depressive episodes that lasted for around 3 months each and resolved completely with treatment, one 1 year previously and one 7 years previously. However, no medical records were available about these episodes. There was no family history of significant mental illnesses. The patient had no history suggestive of drug or alcohol abuse, head injury, significant medical illness, or other psychiatric illness. No symptoms suggestive of depression were reported during the current episode.

On mental status examination the patient appeared anxious and fidgety. There was increased psychomotor activity, increased rate of speech, and poor eye contact. He reported visual hallucinations that he believed to be real (i. e., he had no insight about these symptoms) but his higher mental functions were intact except for inattention and distractibility. His general physical examination was normal except for tachycardia (pulse 120/minute), increased sweating, hand tremors, and a trembling voice. The patient’s test results including blood cell counts, kidney and liver function tests, electrolytes, and blood glucose were all within normal limits. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan of the head revealed no significant abnormality.”

Perhaps we can hang our hats on the idea that the individuals who have seen the lady in white were experiencing some sort of mental distress at the time they claim to have had the experience. It’s certainly one explanation and it makes a little sense. Unfortunately, we can’t ask the people who have had these experiences what their mental states were at the time because the Vanishing Hitchhiker stories, in true urban legend fashion, are told about a friend of a friend and finding those links is all but impossible.

I’m a firm believer that ghosts are around us all the time. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. After all, some people can’t see certain colors and just because you can’t see the color red doesn’t mean it isn’t there.


That’s it for this week, dear listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal.

Until next time, Stay Spooky!

The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.

The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Janine Mercer (unless otherwise stated), and the music is provided by Garage Band.

Find the odd pod on Twitter and Instagram @oddentitypod and on Facebook as The Oddentity Podcast. You are welcome to email suggestions for future episodes to theoddentitypodcast@gmail.com and if you’d like a transcript of this episode, one will be available at theoddentitypodcast.wordpress.com.

Please take a moment to leave a 5* review on iTunes and, if you haven’t already, please make sure to mash that Subscribe button to be sure you’re in the know when a new episode drops. Sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps.











S5 Ep. 9: Big Bad Bodie

Hopers and dreamers make wonderful things happen. They have a fleeting thought, an idea that nibbles at them until they take the first steps to creation. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” Trailblazers. Hope and a dream.

It was the winter of 1859, cold and unforgiving. The gold rush was on and men from every walk of life crowded to Bodie, California in hopes of striking it rich. Of course, the place wasn’t named Bodie when they arrived, the name came later, but let’s just say that people were mining and panning in an area in eastern California, just north of Mono Lake. A man whose first name was Waterman set down roots here, having come from Poughkeepsie, NY to find his fortune. In the 1845 edition of the Poughkeepsie Business Directory, he is listed as a tin manufacturer with his shop address as 345 Main Street. His home address is listed to be on the corner of South Hamilton and Montgomery streets. The important thing to remember here is that the man’s last name was Bodey, B-o-d-e-y, later misspelled by a sign painter as B-o-d-i-e. The land he claimed would later become known as Bodie Bluff and a town was built there to house the many prospectors that made their way there.

Unfortunately, Bodie wouldn’t live to see his name be attributed to the place because, as the weather was inclined to do in the winter months, there was a terrible snowstorm. Bodie, needing supplies from Monoville, decided to travel with a Native American companion through the storm regardless of the risk. Slogged down by snow and howling winds, the two quickly became disoriented and walked in circles endlessly. They found themselves without shelter, a fire, or food. Bodie perished in the storm, being unable to walk any further, and his body was found during the spring thaw.

Sometimes hope and a dream can only take you so far. Sometimes you also need shelter from the storm.

Hello ODD Pod listeners and welcome back to another episode.

This week, I bring you an in-depth look at Bodie California and the ghostly history that still lingers within some of the dilapidated buildings. I realized recently that I hadn’t taken you to a haunted location for a little while and I thought Bodie would be perfect.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank everyone for their well wishes regarding my thesis. The document is finally finished and submitted to my university for their archives. I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ll get my diploma in May, but I’ve been working toward this accomplishment for 2 years and I’m more than happy to be done. So, thanks to my faithful followers for the notes of encouragement and support. Also, big thanks to my lovely wife and to my dear friend Tony who helped to keep me on track and heading toward that goal. You guys are awesome.

Anyway, on with the show!

Interest in Bodie may have been high at the start, but by 1868 only two stamp mills had been built in Bodie by two separate companies. Both failed. But don’t despair for Bodie just yet!

From Wikipedia, “In 1876, the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore, which transformed Bodie from an isolated mining camp comprising a few prospectors and company employees to a Wild West boomtown. Rich discoveries in the adjacent Bodie Mine during 1878 attracted even more hopeful people. By 1879, Bodie had a population of approximately 5,000–7,000 people and around 2,000 buildings. One legend says that in 1880, Bodie was California’s second or third-largest city, but the U.S. Census of that year disproves this. Over the years, Bodie’s mines produced gold valued at nearly US$34 million.

Bodie boomed from late 1877 through mid– to late 1880. The first newspaper, The Standard Pioneer Journal of Mono County, published its first edition on October 10, 1877. Starting as a weekly, it soon expanded publication to three times a week. It was also during this time that a telegraph line was built which connected Bodie with Bridgeport and Genoa, Nevada. California and Nevada newspapers predicted Bodie would become the next Comstock Lode. Men from both states were lured to Bodie by the prospect of another bonanza.

Gold bullion from the town’s […] stamp mills was shipped to Carson City, Nevada, by way of Aurora, Wellington and Gardnerville. Most shipments were accompanied by armed guards. After the bullion reached Carson City, it was delivered to the mint there, or sent by rail to the mint in San Francisco.”

At its peak, Bodie boasted around 2,000 buildings including:

McDonell/Dolan House Donald and Mary McDonnell lived here with their son Frank around 1920, and later schoolteacher Alice Dolan lived here from 1935 to 1937.
Methodist Church The church was built in 1882 and is the only one left in Bodie.
D. V. Cain House This was built in 1873 and housed David Victor Cain and his wife Ella M. Cody.
Red Barn While faded over time, there is still some red paint left on the barn.
Miller House Tom and Jessie Miller lived here with their two children. Tom worked as a teamster for the Bodie Railway and Lumber Company.
James Stuart Cain House James S. Cain and his wife Martha Delilah Wells lived here. Cain was a lumber merchant and banker, owning many of the properties in Bodie.
Saddle Room This was owned by Harvey Boone, operator of a general store.
Morgue This mortuary still has caskets inside. This is the only building in town made from red brick that was laid 3 layers thick. It was likely to help maintain a cooler temperature for the deceased.
Miners’ Union Hall This served as a gathering place for union members and was used to host large festivals. It has since been renovated into a museum and gift shop.
I.O.O.F. Hall The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was a fraternal society that operated in Bodie.
DeChambeau Hotel As of 1879, it was initially a post office, but it later became a hotel and finally a bar and café.
County Barn
Swasey (Swazey) Hotel Horace F. Swasey bought this building in 1894. Later it became a clothing store and casino.
Boone Store and Warehouse Harvey Boone and James W. Wright operated this general store, which had a Shell gas station adjacent to the right.
Lottie and Eli Johl House The Johls were successful mining investors who purchase many properties in Bodie. This building housed the post office from 1932 to 1942.
Sam Leon’s Bar Sam Leon was owner of the U.S. Hotel until it was destroyed in a 1932 fire. In 1937 he opened a bar in this location.
Joe Hahner Barber Shop Joe Hahner was the last barber to work in Bodie.
Firehouse Bodie was subject to frequent fires, most notably in 1892 and 1932. The California Conservation Corps rebuilt this building in the 1930s.
Wheaton and Luhrs George H. Wheaton and Nicholas C. Luhrs operated a general store here in the 1880s, which was later purchased by James Cain in 18998.
Hydroelectric Building This was an electricity substation for the town.
Schoolhouse Having reached a maximum enrollment of 615 in 1879-1880, the school finally shut down in 1942.
Gregory House Nathan Gregory was a cattle rancher who lived here with his wife Catherine and their four children.
McMillan House A. E. McMillan served as secretary of the Bodie Miners’ Union.
Miller Boarding House William and Annie Currie Miller ran this boarding house, providing lodging primarily to single miners.
Conway House Thomas Robert and Annie Conway lived here with their three children.
Dr. Street’s House John A. Street worked as a doctor for the Treadwell-Yukon Mining Company from 1930 to 1932.
Quinville House Frank F. Quinville, a blacksmith, lived here with his wife Mary and their five children.
Standard Mill The Standard Consolidated Mining Company was the most important mining company in Bodie, and this was their stamp mill. This area has been deemed unsafe and visitors may not enter except as part of a guided tour.
Chinese Laundry Previously this site was home to Bodie’s Masonic Hall, Lodge No. 252, but a laundry building was moved here after the lodge was consolidated with the one in Bishop in 1918.
Bodie Bank The ruins consist of the bank’s brick vault, the only thing left after it was destroyed by a fire in 1932.
Kirkwood Stable Stewart Kirkwood ran a stable with a blacksmith shop inside. Horses and mules were used to transport goods on wagons.
Jail Constable John Kirgan ran the jail from 1878 to 1881.
Moyle House (north) The Moyle family owned two houses, the other one further south.
Stewart Kirkwood House In addition to running the stables, Kirkwood was also a deputy sheriff.
Bell Machine Shop Son of Lester Bell, Bobby Bell worked in mining and assisted in the establishment of the state park.
Reddy House Patrick Reddy was a California State Senator and defense attorney who had offices in both Bodie and San Francisco.
Murphy/McRae House The 1880 census identified this as the Murphy house, but it is unknown who exactly lived here out of the many Murphys. Carpenter William McRae was the last known resident.
Cody House Michael J. Cody, a miner and Mono County Sheriff, lived here with his wife Catherine and their six children.
Menesini House Joseph and Fortunata Menesini lived here with their daughter.
Lester E. Bell House Bell managed Standard’s cyanide plant, which used cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore.
Cameron House Andrew P. Cameron, a miner, lived here with his wife and two children.
Seiler House August Seiler, a saloonkeeper, lived here with his wife Theresa and four children.
Donnelly House Charlie Donnelly and his wife Annie Pagdin lived here, and afterwards Emil W. and Dolly Billeb moved in.
Sawmill The sawmill provided firewood to help residents endure Bodie’s harsh winters.
McDonald House Dan McDonald worked for Standard, where he was injured in an explosion. Later Solomon Burkham came to own this place.
Metzger House Henry Metzger, foreman of Standard Mill, lived here with his wife Lena and their five children.


Blogger Jason Abplanalp describes early life in Bodie vividly on his blog. “At its peak between 1879 and 1881, Bodie’s main street reached over a mile in length. During this time, Bodie had 2 churches (Catholic and Methodist), at least 2 newspapers, a telegraph station, post office, 22 operating mines,  many large (and very noisy) stamp-style ore mills, multiple motels, several general stores and mercantiles, stables, doctors and pharmacists, union halls, schools, breweries, and several dozen saloons. Although it is difficult to accurately gauge the size of the town due to the transient nature of the region’s population in the 1870’s and 1880’s, Bodie was likely the 6th or 7th largest city in California at this time.

Aside from the vast mineral wealth and the rough and tumble reputation of the town, Bodie’s next claim to fame is the installation and operation of the world’s first long-distance electrical transmission network. In 1892, the Superintendent of Bodie’s Standard Mine began designing an electrical system to replace the facility’s expensive and laborious steam plant. After locating a suitable site for a hydroelectric station on Green Creek near Bridgeport, 12.5 miles of suspended power lines were strung linking the 3300-volt hydroelectric station to the mine. At this time, electrical transmission over such a great distance was unheard of and many of the mine’s investors were skeptical of the undertaking. Once the lights turned on and the machinery began turning on electrical power, the skeptics were turned to believers and industry was revolutionized at a global scale.”

Some parts of Bodie were civilized, filled with upstanding citizens who used their wealth to better their living situation, while many more spent their money on women, booze, and gambling. It was sometimes so rowdy, that the town earned the nickname Big Bad Bodie. The local Methodist minister, Rev. F.M. Warrington commented that Bodie was a “sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion!” The town was also a magnet for other unsavory characters like murderers and thieves who likely knew that Bodie only had one jail and hardly enough police presence to keep the seedy side under control. At least one person per day met their end at the hands of one of these cutthroats. The funeral business was booming in Bodie.


People in Bodie were able to make a life for themselves and they lived well, but in 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned and its iron tracks were scrapped, though Bodie had first been described as a ghost town two years before that. An action like this can be the first indicator of the doom of a small town and it absolutely was. Truthfully, people had already started to leave Bodie for Montana, Tombstone, and Arizona in the 1880s. These places were next in line to experience the boom that Bodie once had. In the summer of 1892, a kitchen fire destroyed much of the town west of Main Street. Although the buildings were rebuilt, many residents decided to leave. Another fire in the summer of 1932, started by a boy playing with matches, was the final nail in the coffin. There’s a story that goes something like, the boy was upset he didn’t get the birthday cake he wanted so he lit a table on fire. I’m not sure if I believe that. The last mine closed in 1942, due to War Production Board order L-208. This meant that all non-essential gold mines were shut down during WWII.  Mining never resumed after the war.

By the tail end of the 1940s, Bodie was only really visited by tourists who were interested in the historical value of the place. In 1962, after years of negligence, the town became a State Historic Park. Eventually, it graduated to become a California Historic Site.

Of course, a place like Bodie, steeped in so much history, is never truly empty. In fact, some of the residents of Bodie never left. They’ve lingered there, keeping an eye on the place from the afterlife.

A lot of people were killed during Bodie’s gold rush era either by a bullet, a mine collapse, or just poor living conditions. The history is a little dicey here, so bear with me. According to some, the spirit of a man named Ed haunts Bodie, shaking his fist at onlookers. Ed was a resident of Bodie who lived with his Native American bride. I’m not sure what caused it, but one day Ed shot his wife fatally. She died in the hospital. Three townsfolk who decided to take the law into their own hands tied Ed up and took him to a nearby creek. They kicked and beat him until he went unconscious, then left him to drown. As the story goes, these three men died one after the other in a series of strange occurrences after Ed’s ghost appeared to them shaking his fist. One man died after sustaining a huge gash to his face, the second died from a hemorrhage that caused fluid to build up in his head, the third disappeared and died in a ravine. Did they all die because Ed had placed some sort of curse on them? Was it just the luck of the draw given the conditions in Bodie?

There are many active shadow people in Bodie, seen out of the corner of your eye peeking out a window or a door that’s ajar and some of these spirits see fit to punish those who choose to ignore the rules of the park. Visitors aren’t allowed to take any sort of souvenir from the place as these items are historic, but people try to break these rules all the time. Dutiful spirits keep an eye on visitors and, if someone chooses to break the rules, they are doomed to experience misfortune. It is supposed that the spirits are cursing stolen objects the visitors are bringing home with them. The park rangers regularly receive letters and packages containing items that were stolen in hopes that returning the item might lift the curse placed on them.

So, let’s visit some of the haunted locations within Bodie, starting with the Gregory House. The house is relatively small with only enough floor space for a chair, a bed, and a small table. Historians believe the home was much larger as it belonged to a wealthy family and that this is all that remains of the structure. Visitors have reported seeing an old woman rocking in a rocking chair inside the house, knitting peacefully. Occasionally, the chair can be seen rocking by itself with nobody in it. There has been no evidence captured of this particular entity, but rangers, volunteers, and repairmen have all said they’ve seen her and can even pick out her facial features clearly when she manifests.

A man named Mendocini drive freight trucks from Aurora to Bodie and had a modest home there. The Mendocini home is one of the structurally sound buildings in town and rangers often live there in season. The Mendocini children are often heard playing and laughing inside and outside the home and they are curious about the people who inhabit their home. The spirit of Mrs. Mendocini or the eldest daughter Anna often offers hospitality to the rangers any way they can. Sometimes, the house smells of wonderful Italian food or strongly of garlic. One park ranger, after wishing he had garlic for the lasagna he made had to leave the house when a strong aroma of garlic began to make his eyes water and his sinuses burn. Yet another ranger was sitting alone reading when he heard the sounds of a raucous party going on. He heard loud voices and glasses clinking. The ranger checked outside but saw no one. When he entered the house again, he thanked the hostess for inviting him to the party, but he had a lot of reading to do. The disembodies voices and general noise completely disappeared.

John S. Cain wound up owning the Standard Mine and Mill in Bodie and became the town’s principal property owner. He was very rich and the level of his wealth is apparent in the house he built for his family. It’s filled with beautiful woodwork, large windows, and a second story. Cain could even afford to hire servants that took care of all the chores in the working of the house and his family. Supposedly, Mr. Cain was having an affair with one servant in particular and, when Mrs. Cain found out about it, she promptly told him to fire her. The woman, having had a reputation destroyed and unwilling to join the sex trade, is said to have taken her own life. In the Cain house, doors open and close on their own. The spirit of the female servant is said to make her presence known, particularly in the bedrooms and often tries to “play” with children who are staying at the house or touring it. Her figure can be seen in the upstairs windows, smiling down at people on the street. The sound of a music box playing can be heard in an upstairs bedroom.

Many rangers have reported waking suddenly to an almost suffocating pressure on their chest. Some of the ranger’s wives have also reported this. Whoever this female servant was has a problem with couples who stay at the Cain House.

Our last stop on the Bodie tour is the Bodie Cemetery. As I mentioned before, there’s a “good” cemetery and a “bad” cemetery and those who committed crimes weren’t permitted to be buried within the fence. They were laid to rest outside the fence.

From hauntedhouses.com, “Bodie Cemetery has around eighty tombstones still marking the graves of the departed. There are three official large sections of sub-cemeteries that make up the majority of graves in Bodie Cemetery: The Miner’s Union Cemetery area; (38 marked graves), for the general public: the Wards Cemetery area; (29 marked graves), and The Masonic Cemetery area; (9 marked graves).

The other people while alive that didn’t quite measure up to social ethnic standards […] and/or behavioral standards; (*sex workers, thugs, etc,) were buried outside the perimeters of the Bodie official cemetery plots, due to their line of work when they were alive.

Just west of the three sub-cemeteries was the Chinese Cemetery. The Chinese who died in California wanted to be buried only long enough for their bones to be clean, so their family members could take their bones back to the homeland. Unfortunately, several hundred Chinese remain buried in their cemetery section because of the need for their relatives to leave Bodie due to violent prejudice and to find work elsewhere.

The outcasts of Bodie, that include gunmen, murderers, prostitutes, children born out of wedlock, were buried in their own section, marked with only posts or piles of rocks.”


Some of the more frequently seen spirits in the cemetery are those of children. Often, these spirits appear to children who are the age they were when they passed away. One little girl named Evelyn who was accidentally struck in the head with a pickaxe, often appears to other little girls who visit the cemetery. When parents ask their kids who they’re talking to or playing with, some children have said they’re playing with the little girl who has a hole in her head. Adults have also heard Evelyn. A male tourist heard “a plaintive, hopeful little cry from an unseen child presence say “Daddy?””

The area outside the cemetery is home to many Chinese individuals who were interred there often based solely on their ethnicity. Their spirits are often seen wandering, likely longing for the place they once called home and seeking rest with their ancestors. The portion of Bodie known as Chinatown is long gone, likely burned in the 1932 fire, but the staff who work there often experience lights turning off and on, cold spots, doors opening and closing, and disembodied voices. Perhaps these spirits aren’t just confined to the cemetery.

In many cases, the tombstones on these graves cannot be read as time has washed away the names, but efforts have been made to identify those who were laid to rest there. I’ll drop a link into the show notes so that you can pay your respects. There are over 150 markers and 200 known burial sites so it might take you a while.

Annually, Bodie sees around 200,000 visitors who come to explore the dirt roadways, cemeteries (there are 2, one for respectable citizens and one for “others”, which made up a lot of the population of Bodie during its heyday), and stamp mill. Though some of the buildings are used as residences for the living (park rangers and volunteers in season), many venture to into Bodie hoping to catch a glimpse of what life was like for prospectors and maybe even meet a few spirits along the way. Just remember to leave things as you found them and don’t take anything home.

That’s it for this week, dear listeners. I’ll be back again next week with more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal.

Until next time, Stay Spooky!


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Pay your respects to the spirits of Bodie at https://www.bodie.com/history/cemetery/