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It’s late at night and you’re at home enjoying a little television after a long day at work when you hear a heavy knock at your door. You’re not expecting anyone, but you go to see who might be calling at this hour. Maybe it’s an emergency? You make your way to the front door as the small hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise, a feeling of unease sweeping over you. You look through the peephole and are surprised to see two small children standing on your porch. They can’t be more than 9 or 10 years old and dressed in clothing that looks old and worn. You open the door slightly to ask what’s wrong. One of the children says they’re lost and have nowhere to go. They’re cold, tired, and need to use your telephone. They beg you to let them inside, beg for an invitation to enter. You notice as they step into the light of the porch lamp that their eyes are completely black. Will you let them in? They’re just children…right?
The earliest account of BEK’s in the USA dates back to the 1950s. A boy named Harold was walking home late at night when he encountered a small boy standing alone by a fence. Harold lives in a small town where everyone knows one another, but he doesn’t recognize this boy. Harold asks the boy his name and why he’s standing out here alone, but the boy refuses to answer these questions and instead demands that Harold take him back to his house. Harold then notices the blackness of the boy’s eyes and runs as fast as he can back home to tell his parents. Harold’s father, in the most ridiculous overreaction ever, goes to find the boy with a shotgun in hand. Harold’s mother, believing that the boy has come into contact with the devil, immediately calls the local priest to have him blessed. https://www.ranker.com/list/creepy-stories-about-the-black-eyed-children/lyra-radford
Research done by David Weatherly, a writer, and paranormal investigator, for his book The Black Eyed Children (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15993689-the-black-eyed-children) dates BEK’s back as far as ancient China. He states that these children are being seen all over the world and are most often attired in old fashioned clothing. Their skin is startlingly pale and they speak in monotone. Weatherly also writes that BEK’s have been spotted prior to major natural disasters, in a similar manner that the Mothman appeared prior to the Silver Bridge Collapse in West Virginia.
Stories of BEK’s are many and varied, but how many of these tales are rooted in actual fact and how many are simply urban legends that have been told and retold? How many can be chalked up to the mind playing tricks on a dark night, waking dreams, poor word of mouth or simply just Creepy Pasta contamination? Many popular accounts of interactions with these beings have been eaten up by the internet, lending them very little in the way of credibility. Many times, a family pet will have some sort of reaction to the otherworldly visitors, barking and snarling in a way that’s out of character or outside the norm. Is this fact added for credibility or do these reactions have a basis in fact?
In 1996, in Abilene, TX, journalist Brian Bethel was heading to the offices of Camalott Communications, his internet service provider. He intended on dropping a payment for his current bill into the after-hours slot—it was between 9:30 and 10 pm at night. He parked his car next to a movie theater close by and proceeded to finish filling out the check when he heard a knock on his window. When he looked up, two boys roughly 9 and 12 years of age were standing by his car. The older one was olive-skinned with curly dark hair and the younger was a redhead, freckles peppering his pale skin. Both wore hoodies with the hoods up. The older boy explained to Bethel that they were going to see the new Mortal Kombat movie, but had left their money at his mother’s house and requested that Bethel take them there to retrieve it so that they could purchase their tickets. It was already late in the evening and Bethel could see on the marquee that the last showing of the evening had already begun and there was no way he could get them back in time. Bethel claims that the entire time he was in the presence of the two boys, he felt extreme unease and fear. The older boy continued to try and convince Bethel that he should open the car doors and let them in, saying pointedly that they were just kids and were unarmed. At this point, Bethel finally notices the boy’s eyes and feels his blood run cold. Their eyes are completely black and, as Bethel describes, “soulless.” He mutters some excuse and throws the car into gear, pulling away quickly. When he has finally choked down some of the fear caught in his throat he glances into the rearview mirror. The two boys have disappeared.
Bethel shared his experience with a select few, but once the internet catches wind of the tale it spreads like wildfire. His ordeal has even been featured on a few television shows including a travel show on the Destination America Channel. Bethel says he’s made no money from his story. (https://web.archive.org/web/20151208221117/http://www.reporternews.com/news/columnists/brian-bethel/brian-bethel-recounts-his-possible-paranormal-encounter-with-beks-ep-384772497-348207271.html) In 2013, he recounts his experience with the BEK’s in the Abilene Reporter. Bethel writes:
“What did I see?
Your guess is literally as good as anyones. I’ve had everything from vampires to demons to ghosts to aliens to a somewhat-detailed hallucination posited as possibilities.
I do feel like I can say this with some authority: This was back in the day when freaky coal-black contacts weren’t widely available to a couple of kids in Abilene, Texas, for anything under a small fortune.
And there wasn’t enough time to even put such things on in the short time I broke the spokesman’s gaze if they could afford them.
Will I ever know for certain what I saw?
Do I ever care to see them again?
As much as I still don’t know about what happened that night and why here’s one thing that I do know. It’s a gut feeling, but one that rises to a level of almost certainty.
If I had given the spokesman and his friend a ride on that long-ago evening, I don’t think I would be here to type this now.
End of story.”
Bethel still remembers the voice of the older boy calling out as he drove away.
“We can’t come in unless you invite us!”
BEK’s seem to prey on the human need to nurture and protect, asking to come inside, to be invited in, in order to call their parents. They might say they’re lost or scared and don’t know their way back home. Many stories relating to interactions with BEK’s are from the perspective of a child or happen specifically to young people. Is it because they think that children will relate to them better in their current form?
In Louisiana, at a gas station, a man sees 2 children approach on bikes. It’s late and he’s already locked up for the night, he’s just counting the till before shutting off the lights. The children drop their bikes on the pavement and call out to the man, asking to be let in. He can’t just leave two kids outside like that all alone in the middle of nowhere, so he opens the door and lets them inside. They ask to use the telephone to call their mother, but when the man hands one of the children his flip phone, she says, “I need a real one!” The man directs them to the payphone just outside the door. He feels uneasy at the presence of these two and ushers them out, locking the door behind them. They use the phone briefly and then stand to stare at the man through the locked door. Eventually, they turn and get back on their bikes, seemingly disappearing into the darkness.
In Ohio, 2 teenagers tried to gain entry into a data center. A report collected by authorities states that the boys asked to use the phone via the CCTV system and an intercom that was manned by a night watchman. Nobody was allowed inside the center after hours and, though the teens tried to gain entry, they ultimately could not. The watchman says that when he looked into their faces on the closed-circuit system, he couldn’t make out their pupils and their eyes appeared entirely black. When the boys couldn’t gain entry, one went around the back of the building while the other stayed in the front and stared into the security cameras for a long time, unblinking. Finally, both boys disappeared from view and were not seen on any of the cameras again. The watchman called the police, but by the time they arrived, the boys were long gone. They tried to review the security footage, but it appeared as if the system had been turned off.
Anthony Milhorn is a paranormal investigator with a branch of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) in Arizona. He seems to take some strong stances on paranormal phenomena, particularly orbs and offers psychological explanations for the presence of BEK’s. According to Milhorn, there are several elements to consider. One is priming. When we read material that’s creepy or that we think might be paranormal in nature, we’re more inclined to be attentive to scenarios in your own life that might mirror what we’ve read. I guess it has something to do with the investment you’ve made into finding this information out. You took the time to do the reading and now it’s in your subconscious. It’s like when you’re looking for a new car and have a particular type in mind. You’ve been reading about it and doing research and suddenly that specific car is literally everywhere! They call that the Baader-Meinhof (pronounced badder mainhoff) phenomena and you’ve likely experienced it more than once. In the case of BEK’s, you might be more inclined to experience unease when speaking to teenagers or kids late at night who might need your help or demand your attention. Stephen Wegner, in an article on the website liveabout.com in an article titled “Black-Eyed Kids: Horror or Hoax,” says that, according to Milhorn, “Only an activator stimulus that is appropriately vague in the right circumstances sets off the connection between the knowledge in your brain and your senses, making a false connection between the two, and leading you to a flawed conclusion that isn’t supported by evidence.” (https://www.liveabout.com/black-eyed-kids-horror-or-hoax-2594476)
Let us know in the comments what you think about the BEK phenomena. Are they just children playing a prank? Are they ghosts or demonic entities? Are they not of this world? If you’ve had experiences with these beings, please drop us a line at email@example.com or leave us a comment here and, as always…
Spiritualism is a topic I seem to keep coming back to. You might recall a past episode on which I spoke about the Fox sisters, the Stratford knockings and the practice of Spiritualism, but I think I should rehash a little bit to refresh your memory as to what Spiritualism actually is.
Spiritualism is a religious practice or a system of belief that is based upon supposed communications with the dead via a medium. Harry Houdini revealed that the Fox Sisters, Kate (12) and Leah (14) of Hydesville, NY, were simply adept at cracking their joints to simulate knocking noises and had no actual connection with the dead. The girls claimed to have communications with an entity in their home named Mr. Splitfoot (I’m assuming they meant the Devil) and eventually took their show on the road, ultimately making a lot of money through their ruse. He’d to go Spiritualist gatherings and show the assembled crowd exactly what was happening behind the curtain. Houdini was so frustrated with Spiritualists taking advantage of innocent people that he made it his personal mission to debunk every claim made by a Spiritualist who was attempting to swindle money from the bereaved or anyone else for that matter. Shady mediums in the 1850s lived with the fear that, one day, Houdini would enter their establishment, flip a table, and expose them for the charlatans that they were. He legit wasn’t fuckin’ around.
Are there legitimate Medium’s? Probably. We can’t exactly be sure as there’s no real way to measure a Medium’s abilities. With the invent of a little tool called the internet, anyone can Google their arses off and know all about every haunting ever. There are no real secrets anymore. Obviously, some are shadier than others *cough*Long Island Medium*cough* Sorry, I’ve got a bit of a tickle. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is Spiritualism is a pseudo-religious system. Spiritualists believe that Mediums are capable of communicating with spirits on the “other side” and relay that received information to their paying customers. Again, some are better than others. *cough*John Edward*cough* Sorry, guys. I think I need a lozenge.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing a lot of what I’ve already said about Spiritualism, though I do find it quite fascinating from a performative standpoint, but I do want to bring you another interesting tale worthy of our weird little podcast.
I present to you the Bull Valley Police Headquarters! Just stay with me here. I’m actually speaking of the George Stickney House or Stickney Mansion which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and became the Bull Valley Police Headquarters in 1985. It’s a beautiful old building with an interesting past and the place is wonderfully spooky.
George and Silvia Stickney built the mansion in 1865, choosing a plot of land that was relatively isolated in order to facilitate their practice of Spiritualism. They were both accomplished Mediums and the seclusion offered by the Illinois countryside was perfect. The Stickneys had 10 children, only three making it to adulthood, and it’s believed that their spiritual leanings were due in large part to their children’s passing. They conducted séances to try and communicate with them. They held these events on the second floor of their home in what was, and still is, known as Sylvia’s ballroom. In the years since the Stickneys vacated Stickney Mansion, new owners have reported supernatural occurrences.
“The house itself was very unusual in its design. It has two stories, although the second floor was reserved for a ballroom that ran the entire length of the building. The house is actually very big for being built in the 1800s. Upstairs has two rooms, one with a bathroom, and down the hall is Sylvia’s ballroom that has three more rooms connecting to it. During the Civil War, the house also served as quarters for Federal soldiers and was home to the first piano in McHenry County.” The Stickneys insisted on adding distinctive features into the design of the house. These features, they assured the architect, would assist them when holding seances and gatherings at the property. They believed that spirits have a tendency to get stuck in 90-degree corners.”
Apparently, ghosts and corners don’t mix. They just sort of get stuck there and can’t navigate their way out. Sort of like me when I try to do a sit-up. It’s less fitness and more turtle that’s been flipped on its back. It might also be that the Stickneys believed that corners attracted evil spirits which was a common belief of Spiritualists during that time period. The home is designed to have no 90-degree angles between the walls at all. It is rumored that there was one 90-degree angle in the house which was the cause of George Stickney’s demise, but the house has been laboriously inspected and no 90-degree angles can be found within it. George’s death was undocumented, there is no official cause, though the legend states George found the corner and died of heart failure with a look of horror on his face.
The home changed hands a few times over the coming years. In the 60’s it was supposedly home to a group of hippies who spray-painted the walls and set fires in the middle of the floor. In the 1970s a man named Rodrick Smith purchased the house and claimed that the hippies who once resided there were devil worshippers. They may have painted the rooms gaudy colors and left drug paraphernalia in their wake, but I think devil worship is a stretch of the imagination. Smith was convinced that the hippies had changed the vibe of the house and he felt uncomfortable there. It is said that he only managed to stay in the house for a couple of nights before fleeing in terror. Apparently, Smith experienced paranormal activity (knocking, footsteps, disembodied voices…) and this caused him to sell the property. Eventually (sometime around 1988) Stickney Mansion became the headquarters for the Bull Valley Police Department.
Let’s get into a little of the paranormal activity experienced at Stickney Mansion. In 2005 Chief Norbert Sauers described several of his own experiences within Stickney Mansion as well as the experiences of some village employees. The employees have heard many strange noises throughout Stickney Mansion that defy explanation. Footsteps are sometimes heard on the second floor in the ballroom where Silvia held her many séances. The room is used for storage of village records today, but it once hosted lavish parties dedicated to communicating with the dead. The footsteps have also been heard in the stairwell. Sauers claims he’s heard “human-sounding noises or voices” and even hears toilets flushing when nobody else is around. Employees have caught glimpses of human forms reflected in their computer monitors while they’re working. He’s personally experienced random items moving around on his desk, doorknobs turning and doors opening, and lights turning on and off. He’s also heard voices, having one particularly vocal ghost shout into his ear. Again, he was alone. Another police officer claims to have seen Stickney’s father-in-law appear before his eyes.
Visitors to the mansion have noted cold spots, strange mists, and noises. People who have driven by the building experience car trouble, either the car shutting off completely (in one case the fuel gauge showed empty when the driver had only just filled up) or finding it difficult to accelerate. After a few minutes, the car will turn back on again.
Is Stickney Mansion a haunted hot spot? Many paranormal investigators and enthusiasts believe that it is. I think there’s a lot of energy trapped in that house and, if you don’t believe me, you can ask the real estate agent who listed the home for sale for Rodrick Smith. He snapped photos of the home’s exterior for an online listing and, when he looked at the photos, he could clearly see an older woman looking out through an upstairs window. He insists the woman wasn’t there when he took the picture.
What do you think? Is the Bull Valley Police Station really haunted by the spirits conjured by the Stickneys? Are the Stickneys haunting the location themselves, unable to pass over? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment and, as always…
NEW EPISODE AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD!
S4 Ep. 4: Dark Energy
Whatever you do, don’t invite them in! This week, Janine talks about black eyed kids (otherwise known as BEK’s,) and Katie tells of a real paranormal event from her childhood.
This episode contains culty homeschooling, a hedge of protection, creepy small children in moth-eaten clothing, and a discussion of how much Katie’s new haircut makes her look like the dude from the “Aliens” meme.
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S4 Ep. 3: Polluting the Nest
This week, Katie gives some insight into owl myths and lore going all the way back to cave drawings. Janine takes us to Stickney Mansion (now a police station) and introduces us to its strange past and its roots in the Spiritualist movement.
This episode contains a sheriff named Norbert, a little Houdini (otherwise known as the dude who took no shit and spared no punches when it came to Spiritualism,) some very interesting mythological facts about owls, and a research spiral (courtesy of Katie.)
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www.mysteriousuniverse.org (the owl/UFO connection)
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www.learnreligions.com (lore of owls)
www.owlcation.com (owl folklore)
As Featured On S4 Ep. 1: Runaway Train
The Hagenbeck-Wallace circus actually began as the Carl Hagenbeck Circus (1844-1913.) Hagebneck was an animal trainer who pioneered the use of reward-based animal training vs. fear-based training. Benjamin Wallace was a livery stable owner from Peru, Indiana and created The Great Wallace Show with his business partner James Anderson. Anderson was bought out in 1890 and Wallace changed the name to the B.E. Wallace Circus. Wallace purchased the Carl Hagenbeck Circus in 1907 and merged the two creating the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Hagenbeck protested the use of his name but lost in the ensuing court battle.
In March of 1913, during the Great Flood, the circus lost a large number of its animals including 8 elephants, 21 lions and tigers, and 8 performing horses. But this wouldn’t be the only tragedy to strike the Hagenbeck Wallace circus.
June 22, 1918
Alonzo Sargent had been an engineer for over 16 years and had been charged with transporting troops for the war effort. Sargent worked for the Michigan Central Railroad and his cargo consisted of 20 empty Pullman cars. He had slept very little prior to undertaking this particular trip and a mix of rich food and medication caused him to become drowsy. At approximately 4:00 am, he missed at least two automatic signals and warnings posted by a brakeman of the 26-car circus train, which had made an emergency stop to check a hot box on one of the flatcars. By this time, the gentle rolling of his locomotive had rocked him into a dead sleep. His train plowed into the caboose and four rear sleeper cars of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus at a rail crossing known as Ivanhoe Interlocking at roughly 35 mph. 127 people were injured and 86 lost their lives almost immediately.
“The flagman waved a lit flare at the speeding train, now bearing down. It was approaching too fast. His own train, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train, had stopped on the Michigan Central line. Engineers were cooling an overheated axle box. It was 4 a.m., June 22, 1918, just outside of Hammond. The circus train had left Michigan City hours before and was headed to Hammond for a show. The train behind it, a 21-car military troop transport, had left Michigan City about an hour later. It barreled forward now.
According to testimony, he passed two yellow signals of caution, then two red signals. In addition, the flagman had left a flare of warning on the tracks about a mile behind the stopped circus train. Sargent passed this too.
Before the trains collided, the circus flagman testified, that in a last desperate attempt at getting the attention of the sleeping engineer, he flung his flare at the front window of the hurtling locomotive.” (Wikipedia)
The human cargo of the circus train Sargent was following (by all reports a little too closely) consisted of roustabouts, those who were charged with setting up the large circus tents, games, and other attractions, clowns, and trapeze artists. Among the passengers were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the Great Dierckx Brothers, a strongman act, and Jennie Ward Todd of The Flying Wards. Kerosene lanterns that hung inside the sleeper cars were knocked from their resting places and the wooden cars burst into flames. Those who managed to escape the fire tried desperately to save the lives of the people who were still trapped inside the wreckage.
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) investigated the crash and concluded: “This accident was caused by Engineman Sargent being asleep, and from this cause, failing to observe the stop indication of automatic signal 2581, and the warnings of the flagman of the circus train, and to be governed by them.”
In court, Sargent could only say, “I must have been dozing,” though there was talk of steam from the engine obscuring track signals.
Those lost in this horrific accident, one of the worst train accidents in history, are buried in a section of Woodlawn Cemetery, at the intersection of Cermak Road and Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park, Illinois. The land had been purchased by the Showmen’s League of America only a few months prior and a mass grave, in a seven hundred and fifty plot section, was dug at the site which became known as Showmen’s Rest. Five days after the accident, the bodies of those lost, most burned beyond recognition, were buried here. Many gravestones read “Unknown Male #19,” “Unknown Female #43,” and “4 Horse Driver.” Other graves have only the names the performers went by during their acts as their circus family only knew them by those names. “Smiley” and “Baldy,” two roustabouts, are buried under their nicknames. Roustabouts came and went (these were the people who ran off to join the circus) and it was likely that these individuals were not with the circus very long, having only jumped onto the circus train a month or even a few weeks prior. Joe Coyle, a clown, was seen weeping beside the bodies of his wife and child who had only just come to visit him. Coyle had been thrown free of the wreckage, but his family had been trapped beneath it. The Indy Star wrote in June of 2018, “A history website called Region Rambler reports that in 1922 he managed a vaudeville show called George White’s Scandals. (The Three Stooges got their start there). Coyle later returned to clowning under the name Koko the Clown, working mostly the Chicago area. He worked as a clown into the mid-1950s at children’s parties and retail stores.”
This tragedy caused only two cancellations. Circuses around the country lent performers to the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and within one day of the disaster, the circus was performing its scheduled show in Wisconsin. Sargent was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but despite being found responsible for the deaths of 86 people because he’d fallen asleep on the job, he was acquitted.
If you’re keen, original circus wagons from the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus can be viewed at Circus World in Baraboo, WI.
Now, I can’t leave you without mentioning a little haunted tidbit about Showmen’s Rest. This is, after all, a podcast that deals with haunted places on occasion. There’s even a little urban legend in this story for good measure.
In Chicago, many a child on the schoolyard has heard the tale of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus and the terrible loss of life. That’s what really happened. The story goes on to tell of the five elephants that perished in the crash. Apparently (according to some kids on the playground, not the most reliable source,) the elephants were too big to move very far and so the five statues that guard Showmen’s Rest are actually grave markers for these five elephants. It is said (again, according to kids on the playground) that if you visit the cemetery around the time of the accident, at about 4 a.m., you can hear the phantom cries of the elephants who lost their lives. I know what you’re thinking. The Brookfield Zoo is close by. It’s just the trumpeting of the living elephants at the zoo! That might be true if the zoo hadn’t lost its last elephant in 2010. So, are there elephants buried under the statues? Nope. They’re just statues. Other rumors include mercy killings of those trapped in the wreckage, preferring to be killed than experience being burned alive. This is also untrue.
The cemetery itself is super creepy, though. I wandered onto the hauntedplaces.org website and found several accounts of hearing strange sounds and voices in the cemetery late at night. Some mentioned a feeling of unease or being watched. Others just said it was spooky. I mean, it IS a cemetery where dead clowns are buried. Live clowns are scary enough. On frightfind.com, there were a few stories about paranormal happenings. An Oak Park police officer reported that the ground beneath him began to vibrate as if elephants were running by. Laughter and circus music can also be heard at odd hours. Many paranormal seekers have investigated the spot over the years and all have experienced drains on their equipment or the equipment being inexplicably jammed, nonfunctioning, and unusable when it was fully operational prior to entering the cemetery. The activity at Showmen’s Rest is interesting especially when you take into account that the site of the accident is well over forty miles away. You would think the actual site would have more paranormal happenings, but apparently, that’s not the case.
According to paranormal historian and investigator Bob Trzeciak, visitors to the cemetery may experience full-bodied apparitions. He says the faces of the spirits cannot be seen and are blurred, but the fact that those individuals involved in the crash were so badly burned likely makes this fact a small mercy. Trzeciak also claims that there is sometimes a strong odor of burning fuel at the location. Again, very interesting that these experiences would be at the cemetery and not at the actual crash site.
What are your thoughts on the hauntings at Showmen’s Rest? Let me know in the comments. 😊
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