S5 Ep. 8: The 13th Child

S5 Ep. 8: The 13th Child

https://oddentitypod.podbean.com/mf/play/sh52xg/s5ep8JD.mp3

This week, I bring you the tale of a favorite cryptid of mine, The Jersey Devil, and the folklore that surrounds this fascinating creature. This show suggestion has been hanging around for a little while and I thought with all the unknowns we’re dealing with in our crazy world, a cryptid wouldn’t go astray.

I’d also like to fill you all in as far as what’s happening in my world right now. Currently, I’m in the process of editing the thesis for my MFA program (a 200-page document) and I’m fitting that in between work and the podcast. For the next couple of weeks, I won’t be posting episodes as I’ll be waist-deep in that document, but I’ll return on the 27th with a new episode.

This episode contains a very shitty Benjamin Franklin, a creepy cryptid, and some unreliable news sources.

Pregnancy comes with its own set of fears and frustrations. Some mothers worry their baby might be born with a deformity while others fear they might have to be pregnant forever. Others simply become frustrated with the experience, the uncomfortable nature of carrying around new life, swollen ankles, and the cravings for, often disgusting, concoctions. Jane Leeds was no different. Her frustrations came to a head when she was told of the birth of her 13th child. Jane had already given birth to 12 children and was at her wits end after receiving the news. The year was 1735, long before contraception or abstinence was an option. Infant mortality rates were high and having so many children was a necessary evil. But up until this point, Jane didn’t know evil. She cursed the child in frustration, crying out that the child would be the devil. On a stormy night as the wind and rain raged outside their small home, Jane gave birth to her 13th child. Appearing normal at first, the child gradually morphed into a creature with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. The creature gained its footing and attacked the family members present, killing as many as it could. Then, it turned and flew up the chimney, destroying the structure. The remaining family members cowered in fear, listening to the creature’s bloodcurdling shriek as it disappeared into the night.

 

This week, I bring you the tale of a favorite cryptid of mine, The Jersey Devil, and the folklore that surrounds this fascinating creature. This show suggestion has been hanging around for a little while and I thought with all the unknowns we’re dealing with in our crazy world, a cryptid wouldn’t go astray. I’d also like to fill you all in as far as what’s happening in my world right now. Currently, I’m in the process of editing the thesis for my MFA program (a 200 page document) and I’m fitting that in between work and the podcast. For the next couple of weeks, I won’t be posting episodes as I’ll be waist deep in that document, but I’ll return on the 27th with a new episode. I also think it’s important to take time to breathe and I feel like I haven’t been giving myself much of a chance lately. I pretty much just go from episode to episode and never really take time to enjoy the content. I’ll be doing a little of that as well during this downtime.

In addition to that news, I wanted to give a shout out to Lawyer Douglas and Tyler Zottarelle, owners of The Wilde Collection in Houston, TX. I visited Houston a few years ago because I’d been invited to sit on a panel at a writing conference there and happened upon The Wilde Collection. The store was simply amazing, filled to the brim with amazing taxidermy and one of a kind items. It was beautiful and mesmerizing and I seriously could have lived there. In November of last year, a man suffering from mental health issues walked into the store, poured gasoline, and lit a match. The beautiful Wilde Collection went up in flames and, although the owners have found some artifacts amongst the rubble that could be saved, the store itself is a total loss. A terrible loss. They’re very close to their $70,000 clean up goal, but I wanted to reach out to my listeners and see if anyone could lend a hand. The Wilde Collection was such an amazing place. It absolutely deserves to return and bring joy to oddies hearts once more. Lawyer Douglas has started a Go Fund Me page in order to offset the repair costs not covered by insurance. I’ll drop the link into the show notes so that you can navigate there easily. The loss of The Wilde Collection is a terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with Lawyer and Tyler during this difficult rebuilding process.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/please-help-us-rebuild-the-wilde-collection?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&rcid=6b3b3524d42c43898c28d272f67908b3&fbclid=IwAR0hrX6RL12uGWbl-XRsvOOHM-iPIQePd8BP_ijJ9LBnUQtB3H4SOfoa-dc

And now…on with the show.

Whether you believe the tale of the Leeds family or not, you have to admit that the legend surrounding the Jersey Devil is fascinating. The story has been told and retold, but the facts remain basically the same. Not often the case with these kinds of stories. Many once referred to it by different names like Jabberwock, air hoss, and wozzle bug, but the term Jersey Devil has stuck around.

Now, I relayed the most popular folklore related to the Devil in my intro this week, but I also wanted to present a couple of other tales that have worked their way into this already odd story.

From AtlanticCounty.org, “Another story tells of a young Leeds Point girl who had fallen in love with a British soldier. The British had come to the region because the iron furnaces at Batsto were supplying the privateers. In 1778, the British engaged the Americans at the Battle of Chestnut Neck. The townsfolk opposed the match, calling her liaison an act of treason. They cursed the girl. According to legend, when she later gave birth to a child – it became known as the Leeds Devil.

A variation on the tale tells of a young woman who encounters a passing gypsy begging for food. She was frightened and refused. The gypsy cursed her for her refusal. Years later in 1850, with the curse forgotten, when the girl gave birth to her first child – a male – he became a devil and fled into the woods.”

The Jersey Devil (sometimes called the Leeds Devil or Devil of Leeds) is known by many either as being connected to the Leeds family or Leeds Point in New Jersey. Historically, some threads have been found to connect the dots and make the legend make sense, though I wonder if the researchers were just grasping in order to create something tangible. “Mother Leeds” has been identified by some of these researchers as Deborah Leeds. Her husband was Japhet Leeds and they lived in the Leeds Point section of (now) Atlantic County where the Jersey Devil is said to reside.

From Wikipedia,” Brian Regal, a historian of science at Kean University, theorizes that the story of Mother Leeds, rather than being based on a single historical person, originated from colonial southern New Jersey religio-political disputes that became the subject of folklore and gossip among the local population. According to Regal, folk legends concerning these historical disputes evolved through the years and ultimately resulted in the modern popular legend of the Jersey Devil during the early 20th century. Regal contends that “colonial-era political intrigue” involving early New Jersey politicians, Benjamin Franklin, and Franklin’s rival almanac publisher Daniel Leeds (1651–1720) resulted in the Leeds family being described as “monsters”, and it was Daniel Leeds’ negative description as the “Leeds Devil”, rather than any actual creature, that created the later legend of the Jersey Devil.

Much like the Mother Leeds of the Jersey Devil myth, Daniel Leeds’ third wife had given birth to nine children, a large number of children even for the time. Leeds’ second wife and first daughter had both died during childbirth. As a royal surveyor with strong allegiance to the British crown, Leeds had also surveyed and acquired land in the Egg Harbor area, located within the Pine Barrens. The land was inherited by Leeds’ sons and family and is now known as Leeds Point, one of the areas in the Pine Barrens currently most associated with the Jersey Devil legend and alleged Jersey Devil sightings.

Daniel Leeds was a Quaker and a prominent individual of pre-Revolution colonial southern New Jersey where the Pine Barrens are located but he was ostracized by his congregation because he published almanacs containing astrological symbols in 1687. These Pagan practices were blasphemous and the Quaker community confiscated and burned the writings. Leeds continued to publish, writing about Christian occultism and mysticism, cosmology, demonology, and natural magics. In the 1690s, Leeds, after further censorship of his work, converted to Anglicanism and published anti-Quaker documents that criticized the theology and accused Quakers of being anti-monarchists. Eventually, Leeds’ writings would be endorsed by Lord Cornbury, a man the Quaker community despised, and Leeds himself would work as a councilor to Cornbury. The Quakers saw Leeds as a traitor for rejecting Quaker beliefs and aiding the crown (leading me to believe that perhaps Leeds calling Quakers anti-monarchists actually wasn’t a far cry from the truth) and condemned him as evil.

When Leeds’ son Titan inherited his father’s almanac business, he began to include his family crest on the documents. It depicted a wyvern, a dragon-like creature that stands upright on two clawed feet. Perhaps the poor reputation of his family and the inclusion of the crest caused some to put two and two together to make 5 and create a monster. The beef between Benjamin Franklin and Titan Leeds for readers likely didn’t help either. Leeds “eventually competed with Benjamin Franklin’s popular Poor Richard’s Almanac. The competition between the two men intensified when, during 1733, Franklin satirically used astrology in his almanac to predict Titan Leeds’ death on October of that same year. Though Franklin’s prediction was intended as a joke at his competitor’s expense and a means to boost almanac sales, Titan Leeds was apparently offended at the death prediction, publishing a public admonition of Franklin as a “fool” and a “liar”. In a published response, Franklin mocked Titan Leeds’ outrage and humorously suggested that, in fact, Titan Leeds had died in accordance with the earlier prediction and was thus writing his almanacs as a ghost, resurrected from the grave to haunt and torment Franklin. Franklin continued to jokingly refer to Titan Leeds as a “ghost” even after Titan Leeds’ actual death during 1738. Daniel Leeds’ blasphemous and occultist reputation and his pro-monarchy stance in the largely anti-monarchist colonial south of New Jersey, combined with Benjamin Franklin’s later ongoing depiction of Titan Leeds as a ghost, may have originated or contributed to the local folk legend of a so-called “Leeds Devil” lurking in the Pine Barrens.”

Angela Tung from The Week wrote in 2014, “Crackpots aren’t the only ones who claim to have seen the creepy critter. In the early 19th century, U.S. Commodore Stephen Decatur is said to have seen it when he was “testing cannonballs in the Pine Barrens.” Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) and Bordentown, N.J., resident, had his own sighting as well. According to Mental Floss, he was hunting alone in the woods when he heard a “strange hissing noise” and found himself face-to-face with an animal with a “long neck, wings, legs like a crane with horse’s hooves at the end, stumpy arms with paws, and a face like a horse or a camel.” It hissed once more before flying away.

Since then sightings of the monster have spread to areas all over the Garden State. […] For many New Jerseyans, the legend of the Jersey Devil is a fact, or fiction, of life.”

In case you’ve never been, the Pine Barrens area in New Jersey is almost impenetrable and filled with thick groundcover. It’s difficult to traverse and getting in to that place to take a look around is a challenge. This practically impassible area makes for the basis of some great creepy stories, but what about sightings of the Devil on the Garden State Parkway and the Jersey turnpike? People have clearly seen the creature in these areas as well and they’re pretty clear on what it was they saw.

Let’s look into some of the many reports from 1909. From Weird New Jersey, “In 18th and 19th centuries, the Jersey Devil was spotted sporadically throughout the Pine Barrens region, frightening local residents and any of those brave enough to traverse the vast undeveloped expanses of New Jersey’s southern reaches. Unearthly wails were often reported emanating from the dark forests and swampy bogs, and the slaughter of domesticated animals would invariably be attributed to the Phantom of the Pines. Over the years the legend of the Leeds Devil grew, occasionally even overstepping the boundaries of its rural Pine Barrens haunt to terrorize local towns and cities.

The most infamous of these incidents occurred during the week of January 16 through 23, 1909. Early in the week reports starting emerging from all across the Delaware Valley that strange tracks were being found in the snow. The mysterious footprints went over and under fences, through fields and backyards, and across the rooftops of houses. They were even reported in the large cities of Camden and Philadelphia. Panic immediately began to spread, and posses formed in more than one town. Fear and intrigue grew even greater when it was reported that bloodhounds refused to follow the unidentified creature’s trail in Hammonton. Schools closed or suffered low attendance throughout lower NJ and in Philadelphia. Mills in the Pine Barrens were forced to close when workers refused to leave their homes and travel through the woods to get to their jobs.

Eyewitnesses spotted the beast in Camden and in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and in both cities, police fired on it but did not manage to bring it down. A few days later it reappeared in Camden, attacking a late-night meeting of a social club and then flying away. Earlier that day it had appeared in Haddon Heights, terrorizing a trolley car full of passengers before flying away. Witnesses claimed that it looked like a large flying kangaroo. Another trolley car-full of people saw it in Burlington when it scurried across the tracks in front of their car.  In West Collingswood it appeared on the roof of a house and was described as an ostrich-like creature. Firemen turned their hose upon it, but it attacked them and then flew away. The entire week people reported that their livestock, particularly their chickens, were being slaughtered. This was most widespread in the towns of Bridgeton and Millville.

The marauding misanthrope reappeared later in the week in Camden, where a local woman found the beast attempting to eat her dog. She hit it with a broomstick and it flew away.

While there has not since been another week to match the frequency, fervor, and intensity of the January 1909 rampage, numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil have continued to be reported to this day.”

There are many old stories about the Jersey Devil but the Philadelphia Inquirer warns that journalistic standards were “loose” and newspapermen would often write stories as favors for people who gave them free meals or alcohol in payment. Newspapers would also try to outdo one another in terms of sightings.

One such Philadelphia newspaperman/vaudeville publicist, Norman Jeffries was likely to blame for a lot of the fake news circulating at the time. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“On Jan. 22, 1909, thanks most likely to Norman Jeffries, the Inquirer ran a story that offered a possible explanation to the mystery.

“VAMPIRE MISSING; LOOK OUT, JERSEY,” a headline on Page Two shouted. “Australian Wonder, Cross Between a Kangaroo and Bat, Strangely Disappears,” the subhead noted.

From where it disappeared and when, the story did not say, but it did recount a series of supposed encounters with the creature around South Jersey.

That very day, a hunting party “captured” the creature in Fairmount Park, the Inquirer reported Jan. 23.

It was, the story said, a cross between “a kangaroo and an Australian water bird” and called a “kangowing,” a made-up name for a nonexistent creature.

On Jan. 24, an ad for the struggling Dime Museum at Ninth and Arch Streets, which Jeffries had represented for years, appeared in the paper announcing that the captured Leeds Devil would be on display.

After the creature was reportedly captured in “the wilds of Fairmount Park,” ads invited the public to see the “Leeds Devil” at a museum at 9th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia.

A follow-up story that could have been written by Jeffries himself reported that “thousands” had turned out to see the “fuming and fretting” creature chained in a cage.

Some newspapers, however, were not buying it, and instead reported that the Leeds Devil was killed when its tail hit the electrified third rail of a train line in Gloucester County, disappearing in an explosion that left behind only a large patch of melted snow.

Years later, Jeffries, whose name also appears as Jefferies in newspaper clips, confessed to staging the stunt.

When he died at the age of 67 (or 57, according to the New York Times), the Inquirer said, “Reports that the Jersey Devil had reappeared aroused his showman instinct and he used all the arts of a press agent to build up the belief in the legend.”

As for the devil that appeared at the museum, Jeffries’ obituary said it was a “cleverly disguised kangaroo” — one that, despite its intent, did not save the showplace. It remained open for only a few more weeks, according to phillyhistory.org”

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So, should the old accounts be believed? Given the propensity for papers at the time to weave tales to boost readership, they’re not reliable sources. But, if that’s really the case, if the Jersey Devil was simply made up to sell newspapers, why are people still seeing the Devil today? Let’s get into some reported sightings of the Jersey Devil that can’t be lumped in with the 1,000 or so sightings from 1909. These reports are all from nj.com and are likely the most popular sightings, not the only reported sightings.

In 1927, a cab driver in Salem City was changing a tire when he was allegedly attacked by the beast. This happened years before electric streetlights so it would have been extremely dark. The creature was screeching and screaming. He told police that he jumped back in the cab as quickly as he could and the creature was “pounding on the roof of the cab” as he drove away.

In the 1960s, screaming sounds could be heard at night. There was no explanation for the noises, though one could speculate it might have been a raccoon that found a nest of baby rabbits or a coyote. Regardless, randomly hearing something screaming late at night is unnerving. I’ll give them that. Several residents of Mays Landing heard the sound and contacted local authorities. Police tried to let people know that the Devil was a hoax, but “a circus owner countered their appeal by offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who could capture the creature.” The reward was never claimed.

It was on a night in 1972 when Mary Ritzer Christianson got a creepy feeling while driving from Blackwood to Glassboro. She claims she saw a figure cross the road 25’ behind her car, something taller than average that appeared to have thick haunches and a large head like that of a goat. The sighting was on Greentree Road.

In the early 1980s, a forest ranger, Chief Ranger Alan MacFarlane, came upon a scene on a South Jersey farm where a pack of pigs had been killed. He said, “the backs of their heads had been eaten and their bodies were scratched and torn.” There were no visible tracks and no blood found on the ground.

Fast forward to 1988, a Howell Township resident tells a reporter about an encounter with the Devil that he’d had 7 years prior. The account is highly detailed, right down to the teeth the creature had.

Somewhere between ’88 and ’89, a group riding dirt bikes in the Pine Barrens experienced malfunctions with their bikes. They wouldn’t start. The group was about 100 yards from a camp that they’d set up when they heard “a piercing, inhuman scream coming from the woods.” They quickly returned to camp and those who had stayed behind said they’d heard the screams too. When one of the riders visited a bar a few days after the incident, the bartender who overheard the story said he thought the rider had an encounter with the Jersey Devil.

In 1993, Forest Ranger John Irwin saw a strange creature in the road ahead of him along the Mullica River. Irwin reported it was about 6’ tall with horns and matted black fur. The creature stared Irwin down for a few moments before turning and running into the forest.

Fran Coppalo, owner of the Smithville Inn in Galloway Township witnessed a strange shadow on a wall in front of her while taking out the trash. Coppalo says she felt a strange calm when she saw the winged beast.

On Route 9 in Bayville, cars were forced to slam on their brakes when a 10’ tall figure came out of a wooded area and ran across the roadway. It disappeared just as quickly into the trees on the other side.

In 2015, in Galloway Township, Little Egg Harbor resident David Black was driving home on Route 9. He was near a golf course when he says he saw what he thought was a llama at the tree line at the side of the road. The creature suddenly spread its wings and flew out of sight. There’s a cell phone video of this sighting. I’ll add a link to the show notes. A few days after this video appeared, a woman named Emily Martin also caught the creature on video. Both Black and Martin claim the videos are unedited, but I think you’ll have the same suspicions I do. https://youtu.be/cXjUDCA2ovI

On Jan. 21, 2019 an article appeared in the Inquirer with a headline that read, “WHAT-IS-IT Visits All South Jersey.” A photo with “footprints” accompanied a story which told of “hoof-like tracks” that could be seen on “practically every block” of Burlington City. According to the Inquirer, “hounds put on the trail refused to follow the tracks and, with bristling hair and the picture of terror, ran home.” Farmers in the township tracked the Devil for four miles but found the trail went cold and the Devil had disappeared. There were, as I said before, different news reports in different papers, some amped up to gain more readership, but many of those papers reported that South Jersey residents were invoking the Leeds family name and telling the folklore of the Leeds Devil to explain the events.

The Leeds Devil has existed since the 18th century, but Regal claims the more modern version of the Jersey Devil became standardized during the 20th century, specifically 1909. Bat-like wings, a horse’s head, claws, and the general appearance of a dragon (or wyvern) now seem to be the standard. Among those who live in the Pine Barrens, this is the image of the Devil that is most familiar to them. It’s also common knowledge that the New Jersey Devils hockey team adopted the cryptid as a mascot and New Jersey is the only state to have an official state demon. Many people have witnessed the creature, their reactions ranging from inquisitive to absolutely horrified, and there is a strong belief held by many Pine Barren residents that it does exist.

From the Pinelands Alliance website, “Countless stories have circulated describing the Devils escapades, raiding chicken coops and farms, destroying crops and killing animals. His presence has been seen and felt by many in at least fifty different towns when he emerges from his natural lair in the Pinelands and wanders throughout Southern New Jersey, sometimes intriguing and sometimes terrorizing the residents. Posses were constantly formed to apprehend the Devil, but to no avail and at one point, as much as $250,000 was offered for the capture of the Jersey Devil, dead or alive. Several reports of the Jersey Devil’s death also proved to be inconclusive and even the scientific community could not explain its existence.

Belief in the Jersey Devil is quite real and based on records of concrete occurrences. Reliable people, including police, government officials, businessmen and many others who so integrity is beyond question, have witnessed the Devil’s activities. To this day, people traveling down the Garden State Parkway or the Atlantic City Expressway reported sightings of “something” or tell stories of strange occurrences. Many continue to believe that the legendary being is still around disturbing the region and will continue to do so for generations to come.”

Television shows like Scariest Places on Earth and Paranormal State have tried to track the Devil and explain away the strange occurrences that many have reported, but the tale of the Jersey Devil seems eternal, unwilling to die out with the previous generations who have witnessed it, and existing in a sort of limbo as a cryptid, a tourist attraction, and a mascot. Does the Devil exist? Perhaps we’ll never really know.

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.

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Sources:

https://pinelandsalliance.org/learn-about-the-pinelands/pinelands-history-and-culture/the-jersey-devil-and-folklore/https://web.archive.org/web/20131204044250/http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/history/devil/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil

https://weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/

https://theweek.com/articles/442631/mysterious-origins-jersey-devil

https://www.inquirer.com/news/new-jersey/jersey-devil-history-fake-news-norman-jeffries-20190123.html

https://www.nj.com/entertainment/2016/10/13_places_the_jersey_devil_has_been_spotted_in_the.html

https://www.atlantic-county.org/history/jersey-devil-pg1.asp

S5 Ep. 7: Electronic Biceps

oddentitypod.podbean.com

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-q5egn-d78e87

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

I wanted to start this episode by thanking everyone, all of my equally odd friends, listeners, and family, for their continued support. It seems as if the world has gotten a little odd in itself and I want you all to know I’m happy you’re joining me for this episode and for future episodes. We’re all super stressed and this whole Covid-19 thing is super freaky, but let’s all remember to keep our heads and help those who might need it. No more wrastlin’ in the Wal-Mart for the last bottle of hand sanitizer. If you have an elderly neighbor or someone who can’t make it to the store, offer to pick something up for them or leave some supplies by their door. Even if you don’t have the means to purchase items for someone else, just knowing that another human being is thinking about you and cares about your wellbeing is the best thing in the world. Give your neighbors a call and check in. On a lighter note, all of this alone time will likely motivate the creatives of this world to create amazing things! I mean, wasn’t Stoker feverishly writing Dracula during a cholera epidemic? There will also likely be a whole lotta babies on the way what with all the staying home and who doesn’t like babies? So, care about your fellow humans, embrace social distancing, and wash your fuckin’ hands.

Anyway…on with the show.

 

Spiritualism and mediumship, two topics I keep coming back to as this podcast progresses. This week, I bring you the tale of the charlatan who swindled Mary Todd Lincoln and his connections to a presidential assassin, and tales of other first ladies who entertained mediums at the White House. I’ll also discuss a medium that Jane Pierce swore was the real deal and even told the woman that, when she resided in the White House, she would bring the woman in via the front door, an illustrious entrance indeed. Of course, that never actually happened. She *did* get to use a side entrance once. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, folks.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, I thought it would be prudent to get to know the art of fortune telling a little bit and how it differs depending on what services are offered. There are many different practices in fortune telling and those practices vary from psychic to psychic. Many psychics only rely on the practice of consultation, almost like talk therapy but about what might happen in the future or what might have happened in a past life.

From Wikipedia:

“Common methods used for fortune telling in Europe and the Americas include astromancyhorary astrologypendulum reading, spirit board reading, tasseography (reading tea leaves in a cup), cartomancy (fortune telling with cards), tarot readingcrystallomancy (reading of a crystal sphere), and chiromancy (palmistry, reading of the palms). The last three have traditional associations in the popular mind with the Roma and Sinti people (often called “gypsies”).

Another form of fortune telling, sometimes called “reading” or “spiritual consultation”, does not rely on specific devices or methods, but rather the practitioner gives the client advice and predictions which are said to have come from spirits or in visions.

 

Discussing the role of fortune telling in society, Ronald H. Isaacs, an American rabbi and author, opined, “Since time immemorial humans have longed to learn that which the future holds for them. Thus, in ancient civilization, and even today with fortune telling as a true profession, humankind continues to be curious about its future, both out of sheer curiosity as well as out of desire to better prepare for it.”

Popular media outlets like The New York Times have explained to their American readers that although 5000 years ago, soothsayers were prized advisers to the Assyrians, they lost respect and reverence during the rise of Reason in the 17th and 18th centuries.

With the rise of commercialism, “the sale of occult practices [adapted to survive] in the larger society,” according to sociologists Danny L. and Lin Jorgensen.[6] Ken Feingold, writer of “Interactive Art as Divination as a Vending Machine,” stated that with the invention of money, fortune telling became “a private service, a commodity within the marketplace”.

As J. Peder Zane wrote in The New York Times in 1994, referring to the Psychic Friends Network, “Whether it’s 3 P.M. or 3 A.M., there’s Dionne Warwick and her psychic friends selling advice on love, money and success. In a nation where the power of crystals and the likelihood that angels hover nearby prompt more contemplation than ridicule, it may not be surprising that one million people a year call Ms. Warwick’s friends.”

 

Whether you think that all of this is real or not, I kind of admire the amount of work that goes into reading a person and convincing them that what you’re saying is legitimate. The art of fortune telling has been depicted in woodcuts dating all the way back to the 1500s, so there’s got to be something to it. Lincoln’s wife certainly thought so.

 

Mary Todd Lincoln was inconsolable over the loss of her husband and her sons and did everything in her power to speak with them again…even reach out to the world beyond the curtain. Personal grief can be a great motivator when it comes to spending inordinate amounts of money and time on what many would consider a frivolous venture.

It’s weird to think that seances were held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, isn’t it? I thought so and I’m not even American. Apparently, Abe Lincoln wasn’t convinced that spiritualism and seances were real, but he dutifully sat in on one or two to appease his wife. Spiritualism during the 1800’s though wasn’t odd at all. Many people invited mediums into their homes and held seances to try and contact loved ones who had passed. Even the man who would eventually take Lincoln’s life, John Wilkes Booth, attended seances in hopes of contacting his sister. It’s hard to get an accurate tally of exactly how many spiritualists there were during this time because most spiritualists didn’t attend a formal church, but it’s estimated that anywhere from 200,000 to 11 million people embraced the practice. Quite a leap, I know.

Now, I don’t want you to think that Mary Todd Lincoln was the only first lady to hold seances at the White House. In fact, several first ladies have performed seances or invited spiritualist mediums in to hold them on the property.

In an article for Vice.com, Amanda Arnold writes, “While it’s possible some Ladies were better at concealing their practices, [four] in particular—Jane Pierce, […] Edith Wilson, Florence Harding, and Nancy Reagan—held moderate-to-strong interests in the occult, according to Pat Krider, the executive director of the National First Ladies’ Library. That list could also include Grace Coolidge, Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jackie Kennedy, all of whom claimed to have seen Lincoln’s ghost or felt his presence during their years in the White House, though they weren’t bringing in astrologers or using mediums like others did. As to how these Ladies formed a fascination with the occult, Krider told Broadly: “People who are desperate for help, for answers, sometimes go to extreme measures.”

The assertion that many of the former presidents’ wives were “desperate for help” is easily argued. Pierce, the first-known First Lady occultist, came to bear the nickname “the shadow in the White House” and lived in a permanently depressed state after her last surviving child, her son Benny, died in a tragic train accident at 11 years old. Weighed down with extreme guilt and anxiety, she initially attempted to beckon his spirit by addressing an emotional letter to him, asking him to return to her so she could repent her motherly shortcomings.

“God help me now to correct in bitterness my errors when oh! It is too late for you to have the sweet benefit of it—and now this Sabbath evening you will come in fancy before me and I sit close by you, with your hand in mine perhaps, or you will lean against me on the sofa, or as sometimes you did on Sunday evening sit on my lap a little while…” Pierce wrote.

Determined to reconnect with her son, Pierce invited the Fox sisters, key figures in the Modern Spiritualism movement from upstate New York, into the White House to hold seances. Supposedly, the sessions provided Pierce some respite, though it wasn’t lasting. According to her page on the White House website, at the conclusion of her husband’s presidency, the couple “made a prolonged trip abroad in search of health for [her]—she carried Benny’s Bible throughout the journey. The quest was unsuccessful, so the couple came home to New Hampshire to be near family and friends until Jane’s death in 1863. She was buried near Benny’s grave.”

After the Pierces vacated the White House, life-long bachelor James Buchanan moved in for four years […] but the next spiritualist to live in the White House moved in just after Buchanan’s term: Mary Lincoln. Like Pierce, Lincoln lived through the deaths of her sons (one before Abe’s term, one during, and one after), and her occult process of choice was also seances. Even the purportedly Honest husband himself attended a seance, according to historian Carl Anthony, that the Mrs. held in the White House Red Room. Apparently, she reached both her dead sons, Willie and Eddie, whose ghosts she claimed visited her in her White House bedroom.

“[Willie] comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed with the same, sweet adorable smile he has always had,” Lincoln told her sister, according to The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage. “He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him.” After her husband’s assassination, reports claimed she attended a “spiritualist commune,” and seven years after his death, she asked the infamous spiritualist photographer William M. Mumler to take a couple’s picture of her and her husband’s ghost.”

—–End Quote Here—–

Spirit photography, the “capture” of deceased individuals in photos, was quite popular in the 19th century and, in some cases, the faces that appeared on the finished product weren’t even dead. The practice originated as a farce in the 1850’s, stereo cards that depicted specters hovering over the heads of unsuspecting individuals. They were simply for fun, amusement until a man named Mumler figured out he could turn it into a money-making endeavor.

From Wikipedia “Spirit photography was first used by William H. Mumler in the 1860s. Mumler discovered the technique by accident after he saw a second person in a photograph he took of himself, which he found was actually a double exposure.” There’s actually a very famous photo by Mumler of Mary Todd Lincoln with her husband’s ghostly form standing behind her. “Seeing there was a market for it, Mumler started working as a medium, taking people’s pictures and doctoring the negatives to add lost loved ones into them (mostly using other photographs as a basis). Mumler’s fraud was discovered after he put identifiable living Boston residents in the photos as spirits.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_photography)

Mumler’s photo of the ghostly Lincoln watching over his family from beyond was printed and reprinted. Months after his assassination, these photos were widely popular. At this point in history, many families were struggling with the loss of their fathers, brothers, and sons and so the image of the father of the nation looking over them was a comfort. The interesting thing about the Lincoln photo by Mumler is, when Mary Todd Lincoln sat for that photo, she already knew that Mumler was a fraud, but perhaps that didn’t matter to her.

So, let’s explore Mary Todd Lincoln’s love affair with spiritualism.

Long before she got to the White House, Mary had been in regular contact with mediums and chart readers in both Chicago and Springfield, IL. She would often go to Georgetown to “join a circle” (a term referring to a gathering of spiritualists who met to summon spirits) at the home of Margaret Laurie and her daughter Belle Miller. Both had been successful (to Mary’s standards) in bringing her son back in spirit form and she consulted with them regularly. Miller was supposedly able to levitate pianos, one of her many parlor tricks, which actually coaxed Lincoln into joining his wife for one of their seances. Mary believed in the power of Ouija boards, spiritualism, and horoscopes but completely dismissed premonitions. In fact, when Abe Lincoln spoke to her about a dream he had of seeing himself in a coffin at an East Room Funeral after being assassinated, she replied, “I am glad I don’t believe in dreams, or I should be in terror from this time forth.” To Lincoln himself, the spirit world was simply nonexistent. He referred to it jokingly as “the upper country” and firmly believed that the soul lost its identity after death.

After her husband’s passing, Mary was often visited by spiritualists who sought to console her (the majority likely visited just to line their pockets.) One of those mediums was “Lord” Charles J. Colchester.

Colchester was an Englishman with bold blue eyes and a large mustache and he professed to have remarkable powers. In his circles, he would produce words on his forearms in blood, read letters that were unopened, produce apparitions, and call out the names of the deceased friends of those sitting at the table. One Cincinnati newspaper touted Colchester as the leader of Spiritualism in America.

I’d like to point out that I use the word Lord in quotations. He wasn’t actually a Lord and the closest he might have gotten to a noble pedigree was whatever purebred pooches happened to follow him around.  Colchester’s seances were full of spectacle, a feature that doesn’t necessarily mean “this shit is real,” and he was an avid performer. He’s even said to have conducted a séance at the Soldier’s Home, a veteran’s hospice. Colchester was a professional charlatan so I’m guessing there were lots of spirits and ectoplasm. Journalist Noah Brooks witnessed Colchester’s séance and exposed the man as a fraud, simultaneously thwarting an attempt to blackmail Mrs. Lincoln.

The following is Brooks’ account.

“The most terrifying threat that could be held over a zealous war-correspondent was that of arrest and confinement in the old Capitol prison. Every person who spent much time in Washington during the war will recall with mingled amusement and dread the freedom with which this threat was bandied about among people who were not by any means authorized to promote the rapid transit of anybody to that malodorous bastille. Let me give an instance in which, though one of the unauthorized, I made use of this fear-compelling threat. A seamstress [Elizabeth Keckley] employed in the White House had induced Mrs. Lincoln to listen to the artful tales of a so-called spiritual medium who masqueraded under the name of Colchester, and who pretended to be the illegitimate son of an English duke. The poor lady at that time was well-nigh distraught with grief at the death of her son Willie. By playing on her motherly sorrows, Colchester actually succeeded in inducing Mrs. Lincoln to receive him in the family residence at the Soldier’s Home, where, in a darkened room, he pretended to produce messages from the dead boy by means of scratches on the wainscoting and taps on the walls and furniture. Mrs. Lincoln told me of these so-called manifestations, and asked me to be present in the White House when Colchester would give an exhibition of his powers. I declined; but meanwhile I received an invitation to invest one dollar and attend ‘a Colchester sitting’ at the house of a Washington gentleman who was a profound believer in this pretentious seer. To gratify my curiosity, I paid the entrance fee, and accompanied by a trusty friend, went to the seance. After the company had been seated around the table in the usual approved manner, and the lights were turned out, the silence was broken by the thumping of a drum, the twanging of a banjo, and the ringing of bells, all of which instruments had been laid on the table, ready for use. By some hocus-pocus, it was evident, the operator had freed his hands from the hands of those who sat on each side of him, and was himself making ‘music in the air.’ Loosening my hands from my neighbors’, who were unbelievers, I rose, and, grasping in the direction of the drum-beat, grabbed a very solid and fleshy hand in which was held a bell that was being thumped on a drum-head. I shouted, ‘Strike a light!’ My friend, after what appeared to be an unconscionable length of time, lighted a match; but meanwhile somebody had dealt me a severe blow with the drum, the edge of which cut a slight wound on my forehead. When the gas was finally lighted, the singular spectacle was presented of ‘the son of the duke’ firmly grasped by a man whose forehead was covered with blood, while the arrested scion of nobility was glowering at the drum and bells which he still held in his hands. The meeting broke up in the most admired disorder, ‘Lord Colchester’ slipping out of the room in the confusion. His host subsequently brought down word from the discomfited seer to the effect that Colchester was ‘so outraged by this insult’ that he refused to reappear!

A day or two after this, I was astonished by a note from Mrs. Lincoln requesting me to come to the White House without a moment’s delay, on a matter of the most distressing importance. On my arrival, the lady, somewhat discomposed, showed me a note from ‘Colchester,’ in which he requested that she should procure for him from the War Department a pass to New York, and intimated that in case she refused he might have some unpleasant things to say to her. We made an arrangement by which Colchester came to the White House at a specified hour the next day, and after I had been formally introduced to the charlatan, Mrs. Lincoln withdrew from the room. Going up to Colchester, I lifted the hair from the scar on my forehead, yet unhealed, and said, ‘Do you recognize this? The man muttered something about his having been insulted, and then I said: ‘You know that I know you are a swindler and a humbug. Get out of this house and out of this city at once. If you are in Washington to-morrow afternoon at this time, you will be at the old Capitol prison.’ The little scamp pulled himself together and sneaked out of the house, and, so far as I know, out of Washington. I never saw or heard of him afterward.

Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein noted: “Lincoln was concerned enough about Colchester’s influence to consult with Dr. Joseph Henry, an eminent scientist and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The scientist invited Colchester to demonstrate his powers in one of the rooms of the Smithsonian. Henry reported to the president that the ‘medium’ was a fake – the sound he produced were coming from his own body; but Henry could not prove this without thoroughly examining him; and the trickster refused to disrobe.” Epstein wrote: “Colchester’s banishment, occurring in the summer of 1863, marked the beginning of the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s séances at home, but it was not the end of her commerce with spirits. She continued to consult with mediums in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia until a few years before she died.”

There are other accounts of Henry’s inspection of Colchester’s tomfoolery and came to discover that Colchester’s knocking noises, sounds he could seemingly summon from any part of a room, were produced by a specially designed electrical noisemaker that he strapped to his biceps. Henry happened upon this information purely by chance when he struck up a conversation with a man on a train who had made the device in question and had sold it to Colchester. Small world.

Colchester was keen on cheating people whom he believed to be fools but was apparently “honest” if he liked a client. I’m not sure how honest he could be, summoning noises from his electronic biceps and claiming to conjure spirits into being, but I guess he had standards? And to further illustrate how small a world it actually is, Colchester was an aqquaintance of John Wilkes Booth. Yep, that John Wilkes Booth. They apparently spent ample time together, too. As I mentioned before, Booth would often sit in circles to try and communicate with his departed sister. Apparently, he spent time in Colchester’s circles as well and Colchester spent social time with the future presidential assassin.

Colchester was not only a fan of the spirits in the sense of spiritualism, he was also keen on having a swallow or twelve and most of the money he earned he spent on whiskey. His alcoholism also caused him to be perpetually short of cash so when friends asked him out, he went without much convincing, though he did say he had to ask the spirits first. The ghost spirits…not the whiskey spirits. Anyway…the spirits were never to deny their conjurer a drink

Colchester’s association with Booth also extended to meeting him at the National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just 6 blocks from the Capitol and a stone’s throw to Ford’s Theatre. Colchester would sit with Booth and speak to him, not about the spirit world, but about the future. You see, apparently, he was a man of many talents. Colchester supposedly warned Lincoln himself about Booth’s intention to assassinate him, but didn’t come right out and tell the man of Booth’s plot. Lincoln, as I mentioned before, wasn’t keen on such tomfoolery and brushed the other man off. When Lincoln was assassinated and Booth fled, Col. Henry H. Wells, a top military policeman, went to the National Hotel and questioned a man named Bunker, one of the clerks. Bunker told him about Booth and his associations with Colchester, but by this time Colchester had left the Washington House Hotel where he’d been staying and completely disappeared.

Mary Todd Lincoln found comfort in seances, so much so that she began holding her own at the White House in what is known as the Red Room. From Whitehousehistory.org, “There is evidence to suggest that she hosted as many as eight séances in the White House and that her husband was even in attendance for a few of them.

The séances proved to be such an effective coping mechanism for Mrs. Lincoln that she once remarked to her half-sister that, “Willie Lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile that he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie [her son that perished at the age of four] is sometimes with him.”

Through spiritualism, Mrs. Lincoln, like many Americans at the time, found solace in the belief that one could communicate with lost loved ones. Despite this, Mrs. Lincoln did take a step back from her practice after several months due to societal pressures. The ghosts of Willie and Eddie Lincoln were not the only Lincoln ghosts believed to haunt the White House. The ghost of their father, President Abraham Lincoln, is arguably the most well-known spirit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The assassination of President Lincoln shook the nation to its core and almost immediately rumors about his spirit began to circulate. Many cite that he appears in both the Lincoln Bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room. First Lady Grace Coolidge, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands have all claimed to have seen Lincoln’s ghost.

These rumors were perpetrated by White House employee, Jeremiah “Jerry” Smith. He served as the official duster of the White House for over thirty-five years, starting in the late 1860s. He would often congregate around the North Entrance and spin tales of ghost sightings to reporters on slow news days. The majority of White House ghost stories developed during the nineteenth century when spiritualism reached its peak. This was a side effect of the nation’s shifting conceptions of death and mourning during the Civil War. Today, these stories have lost most of their prevalence due to the fact that death is perceived much differently in the twenty-first century. The level of deaths that occurred during the Civil War no longer holds true in comparison to modern warfare. Fallen soldiers are easier to identify thanks to advancements in DNA and the use of dog tags. Additionally, life expectancy and childhood survival rates have climbed exponentially since the nineteenth century. Death is less commonplace and visible than it was during the Civil War. Spiritualism offered a coping mechanism that was necessary during a time when life was shrouded in death. While today’s society looks at the ghost of Lincoln as a silly myth, it once brought solace to a wounded nation.”

 

As I’ve illustrated, Mary Todd Lincoln wasn’t the only first lady who embraced the spirit world. I’ve mentioned a few above, but I’d like to focus now on another medium, Madame Marcia Champney. Both Mary and Jane Pierce used Madame’s services in the White House and attended seances and readings with her off site. She’d also entertained senators at her sittings and was a very famous medium in those circles.

Champney was a fortune teller. She used crystal balls, tarot cards, and horoscopes to deliver messages from the beyond to her paying customers and those customers consisted largely of politicians, their wives, and socialites. She apparently made comment to an individual who had attended one of her sittings as a spy that, “a number of senators were coming to her readings; in fact, most of the senators…almost all the people in the White House believed in spiritualism.” Given that politicians were seen by many as the best and the brightest, this certainly dimmed their light.

In 1926, Harry Houdini, a man hell bent on exposing every trickster and charlatan that claimed to be a medium or have psychic powers, took to the United States Congress and sat for four days of physical altercations and police interruptions, in an effort to support House Resolution 8989. The HR would ban the practice of fortune telling in the District of Columbia. Houdini was so confident that he could prove the audience, largely psychic mediums, to be fakes he held an unopened telegram in the air and asked the crowd if anyone could tell him what was inside. If they were unable to do so, they belonged in jail, Houdini argued. None of the assembled would even try. Houdini was on a quest to bring the truth of spiritualism to light and he would not back down. He was horrified that individuals in congress and the White House would use the services of these people to tell the future or resurrect the past. From Atlas Obscura, “The famous illusionist claimed that America’s elected officials were in thrall to psychic mediums, and that this posed a danger to the nation. At the time, most people saw nothing harmful about seeking clairvoyant advice; it seemed amusing and potentially useful. Indeed, spiritualism and the occult enjoyed renewed popularity after World War I.”

image
smithsonianmag.com

Newspapers nationwide reported, “Hints of Seances at White House” and “Lawmakers Consult Mediums.” It was Houdini’s efforts that caused most people to believe that anyone claiming to have psychic powers was a fraud and that believing such things were real showed a person to be gullible or suffering from some form of insanity. No political campaign could run effectively if there were even a whiff of that candidate entertaining psychics.

Of course, Spiritualists defended their practices claiming that conjuring spirits was a major part of the foundation of their religion. They sought protection under the First Amendment. Representative Ralph Gilbert of Kentucky said of the plea, “I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in fairies, in a way and [Houdini] is taking the matter entirely too seriously.”

Houdini used his showmanship and power of persuasion to change people’s minds about spiritualism and called upon scientific authorities like that of psychologists Joseph Jastrow and Hugo Munsterberg.  “Houdini started at the top by outing elected officials, with lasting repercussions for the role of faith in American politics. Some beliefs—the mainstream kind—are still mandatory to prove a candidate’s moral character. But believing in less conventional forms of supernatural agency, like clairvoyance or astrology, is a serious liability.” Ultimately, Houdini came out the winner.

Marcia Champney supposedly foresaw Warren G. Harding’s election and his death. She would go on to write an expose titled “When An Astrologer Ruled the White House” and spiritualists would forever spend their time trying to get the public to understand that their religion was only concerned with delivering messages to the spirit world and not associated with psychics and fortune tellers. Champney also predicted the death of Houdini, though she was one day off. She said he would be dead by November of that year. He passed away on October 31st, 1926.

That’s it for this week, dear listeners. I’ll be back 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!

 

Sources:

Herbert Mitgang, editor, Noah Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time, pp. 66-68.

Daniel Mark Epstein, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, p. 385.

Epstein, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, p. 386.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-spiritualist-who-warned-lincoln-was-also-booths-drinking-buddy-180954317/?page=2

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-1926-houdini-spent-4-days-shaming-congress-for-being-in-thrall-to-fortunetellers

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1988/05/04/mediums-and-messages/e28b3463-2c78-4ab6-8cca-9382357fd018/

https://www.whitehousehistory.org/seances-in-the-red-room

http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/marys-charlatans/marys-charlatans-charles-j-colchester/

https://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln44.html

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xwzvwn/the-first-ladies-who-brought-witchcraft-to-the-white-house

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortune-telling

S5 Ep. 6: Q & A

S5 Ep 6: Q & A

Oddentitypod.podbean.com

This week I answer listener questions about me, the podcast, and my creepy collection. I welcome my dear friend Patti Wolf to ask away and peel back my crusty layers. 😀

This episode contains MANY excellent questions, a chat about anxiety and treatment, and various dead things from furry to wet.

PLEASE NOTE: Patti had to call in for this episode and the audio is a little odd in some parts. I’ve tried to clean it up as best I can, but without a mixer it’s a bit trying.

NEXT EPISODE: March 30

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. 5: Through A Glass, Darkly

Through A Glass Darkly

This scene is likely familiar to you. You’re standing in your best friend’s bathroom, probably the one in the basement because you’ve been told the sleepover is in the rec room, staring into the mirror. One of you has smuggled in a lighter and a single votive candle in front of the mirror illuminates the scene. The door is closed tight and you can hear your friends laughing just outside, calling out that you can’t leave the bathroom until you do it! If you refuse, you’ll be ridiculed, but if you call upon the demonic entity they wish for you to conjure, you’ll be terrified. You’re already terrified. You close your eyes and steady your breathing, summoning all of your courage to say the words. Three times. You have to say it three times or it doesn’t count. Eyes open. Into the mirror. Unblinking.

Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary.

You jump back suddenly as the face in the mirror, the one you once knew as your own familiar visage, distorts into the face of a monster. Sunken eyes and teeth protruding from a black hole of a mouth. There’s a keening sound, a sound normally associated with frightened animals, filling the room and you realize…it’s coming from you.

Hello ODDPod listeners and welcome back to another episode. This week, I’d like to introduce you to Mary Worth, otherwise known as Bloody Mary (depending on who you ask) and the urban legends surrounding this common childhood experience. And speaking of blood…as I posted on social media, the 21st of February was my birthday and I took the weekend off to celebrate. My friend Patti made the most amazing cake; an (almost) anatomically correct heart with fondant superior vena cava and brachiocephalic trunk, blue fondant cardiac veins (visible when you cut into the cake,) and dripping in raspberry cake filling. It was delightful and truly memorable so this week’s shoutout goes to Patti Wolf and the best organ cake I’ve ever tasted. I’m hoping it won’t be the last!

And now…on with the show.

Email first became popular in the 1990s and apparently, people had nothing better to send than chain letters. The year is 1994 and chain letters are in abundance, but one, in particular, stands out. It’s the story of Bloody Mary or Mary Worth. You likely received it yourself.

“When I was about nine years old, I went to a friend’s place for a birthday/slumber party. There were about 10 other girls there. At about midnight, we decided to play Mary Worth. Some of us had never heard of this, so one of the girls told the story.

Mary Worth lived a long time ago. She was a very beautiful young girl. One day she had a terrible accident that left her face so disfigured that nobody would look at her. She had not been allowed to see her own reflection after this accident for fear that she would lose her mind. Before this, she had spent long hours admiring her beauty in her bedroom mirror.

One night, after everyone had gone to bed, unable to fight the curiosity any longer, she crept into a room that had a mirror. As soon as she saw her face, she broke down into terrible screams and sobs. It was at this moment that she was so heartbroken and wanted her old reflection back, she walked into the mirror to find it, vowing to disfigure anybody that came looking for her in the mirror.

After hearing this story, which was told very scarily, we decided to turn out all of the lights and try it. We all huddled around the mirror and started repeating ‘Mary Worth, Mary Worth, I believe in Mary Worth.’

Halloween-card-mirror-2

About the seventh time, we said it, one of the girls that were in front of the mirror started screaming and trying to push her way back away from the mirror. She was screaming so loud that my friend’s mom came running into the room. She quickly turned on the lights and found this girl huddled in the corner screaming. She turned her around to see what the problem was and saw these long fingernail scratches running down her right cheek. I will never forget her face as long as I live!”

You’ve likely received a chain letter or two in your time, either a physical copy or an email, but I bet you’ve never really thought about the origin story of the annoyance. Have you? Chain letters have a pretty interesting history. Apparently, 55 years after Jesus had been resurrected and ascended to heaven, he authored a chain letter. Yeah, apparently Jesus was kind of a douche. A young boy retrieved the letter from under a rock that he was mysteriously able to lift (read: he put it there in the first place) and the letter was copied and circulated from there. It read, “He that copieth this letter shall be blessed of me. He that does not shall be cursed.”. I’m not a believer in this story and it’s likely that neither are you, because the origins of chain letters are often muddy and can serve a multitude of purposes, everything from sending good vibes to manipulation.  When you think about it, it’s actually not a terrible way to get someone’s attention. Chain letters are a great way to pique someone’s curiosity or agitate their superstitious streak. I’ve written a couple myself, just to get the water bubbling, but chain letters aren’t always about manipulation. Sometimes they mean well.

For example, I remember one of my friend’s grandma’s sending out a bunch of little cards that said, “Send .10 cents and receive 1 prayer.” I’m sure that grandma thought she was very forward-thinking in trying to pad the collection plate at her church, but it wasn’t a new idea. From Mental Floss,

“In 1888, a Methodist women’s missionary group was having serious cash flow problems. Additions to their facilities had added up to an astounding $16,000. While the group leaders prayed for assistance, they also acknowledged they might need to take the initiative.

Just when all hope seemed lost, a woman who had heard of their troubles said that she had a possible solution: Someone had told her that arranging for a chain letter could be a possible avenue to financial reward. Around the same time, the church received a chain letter requesting funds for another now forgotten object, sent to them by someone who thought it would work for this group as well. The head of the congregation, Lucy Rider Meyer, took the suggestions seriously and drafted a letter that contained both a solicitation to send her one dime and to send a copy of the letter to three friends, who would (hopefully) repeat the process.

Meyer dashed off 1500 copies and waited. The responses came pouring in. The missionaries eventually raised $6000, with many people sending more than a dime and others even using the letter as the inspiration to join their flock. In spirit and cold cash, the chain letter had been a success. Mostly.

While most recipients were happy to either contribute or disregard the letter, a few took the time to write back and complain about being targeted multiple times. One irritated addressee wrote:

“To tell the plain truth, I am exasperated with this plan. I am a very busy woman, and this is the third benevolence I have been asked to help in this way.”

Others took a more direct way of holding on to their cash:

“I have figured up, and you must already have an abundance of money for the house. So I won’t send any.”

The missionaries dubbed the chain letter a “peripatetic contribution box,” a kind of postal hat-passing that immediately began growing in popularity. Newspapers like the New York World printed forms to raise money for a memorial for Spanish-American war soldiers; in 1898, a 17-year-old volunteer for the Red Cross devised a chain that solicited money for ice to send to troops stationed in Cuba. So many thousands of letters poured in that they choked her Babylon, New York post office, prompting her mother to issue an open plea to stop people from sending any more.

While potentially annoying to some, many of these letters were altruistic in nature—an attempt to drum up financial support for what was considered to be a worthy cause. But it didn’t take long for the template to be adapted to a less noble pursuit: conning people out of money.” (mentalfloss.com)

As was the case with the missionaries, grandma received many a nasty note back admonishing her for wasting people’s time and demanding money outside of normal collections. You see, grandma wasn’t the first person to think of asking for money in this way and people were just kinda over it. By the time she got to it, the idea was out like stirrup pants, but to be fair stirrup pants were actually a fantastic idea, though unflattering on most people.

The sending of a dime was also a popular money-making scam during the depression era. People were asked to aid the Send-a-Dime effort and were given a list with a bunch of names on it. Their name was on the list, too. So, when their turn came around, they would also receive money. Unfortunately, many people fell for this scam and lost what little money they had banking on the concept that because they had been good, good would come their way soon enough. The postal service even threatened to sue Western Union for over 27 million dollars for helping to execute such a fraud. You’d think that people would have learned that chain letters don’t pay by the 1970s, but no. The Circle of Gold scam involved a letter being purchased for a hundred bucks, $50 of which would go to the seller and the other $50 mailed to a name at the top of a random list of people. Sound familiar? Then, the name at the top of the sheet would be removed and the next name would move up a space. If you think these attempts at scamming people out of their hard-earned cash have fallen by the wayside, you’d be wrong. Ever hear of the Holiday Wine Exchange? It seems to make the rounds every year. The message reads,

Let’s be clear here. You’re not going to get “an insane amount of wine.” You’re going to get scammed, which will make you very sad indeed. Someone else will get an insane amount of wine and you’ll be forced to buy your own…which will obviously make you even sadder. Just don’t do it, okay? Okay. Besides, you might get nicked for mail fraud because USPS (that’s the United States Postal Service for my pals abroad) has some very strict rules about gambling and pyramid schemes. The bottom line is, it’s illegal. Sending vino via the post is also illegal. Also, you have to consider the fact that the people you’re mailing wine to are not of drinking age. It’s just bad all around.

Anyway…now that we know a little bit about the origin of chain letters in general, let’s talk about the practice of gazing into a mirror and calling upon a power greater than yourself. “The art of scrying is rooted in antiquity. The practice is to use a shiny device like a darkened mirror, or reflecting water surface and gaze towards it to see visions of the future. It’s a bit like how you alter your gaze when looking at one of those 3D images that suddenly pop out when your focus is adjusted. Not only is it little-known, scrying is one of the more difficult divination techniques.” (psychic-junkie.com)

Apparently, the practice of scrying is pretty old and was first described in the Bible. I’d like to pause a moment here and let you know that this has not suddenly become a religious podcast. I respect everyone’s religious beliefs and their right to believe whatever they want. It just seems like this particular topic has some religious roots. Foretelling the future by “see[ing] through a glass, darkly” is described in 1 Corinthians 13. There’s also mention of the use of a mirror for divination in Chaucer’s “The Squire’s Tale,” written in 1390 and in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” written in 1606. In all honesty, if you’ve ever read any sort of fantasy novel, you’ve likely been exposed to fortune-telling or divination of this type. I remember being terrified of the Disney movie Snow White because of Maleficent, but I also remember that the evil queen had an affinity for gazing upon herself in her magic mirror. The original story was written by the Brother’s Grimm and, as is the case with many a Disney adaption, the Disney movie is decidedly lacking in dark underbelly. The original is horrifying. Of course, I recommend you read it. 😊 Even Sir John Tenniel, creator of the illustrations in Alice in Wonderland touched upon the looking glass in his work. In Tenniel’s The Haunted Lady, a woman in finery looks with horror upon the woman who created her dress and observes the true cost of her finery. The woman on the other side of the mirror appears to have met death after a hard life of working for starvation wages under inhumane conditions. Now, I’m not sure how difficult scrying is, I suppose you have to believe in the practice to get the most out of it, but I wonder if something else might be the cause of a successful scrying session. The Troxler Effect.

Maclen Stanley, a staff writer at Psychology Today writes, “In a study conducted by Dr. Caputo of the University of Urbino, participants were asked to stare into a mirror in dim lighting for ten minutes. Results demonstrated that 66% of participants experienced huge deformations of their own face, 28% saw an unknown person, and 48% saw fantastical and monstrous beings.

These surprising results beg the question: How can staring into a mirror possibly cause our faces to shapeshift into unknown and potentially terrifying deformations? The answer lies in our brain’s penchant for selective processing. In simple terms, our brains can only handle so much information at a time. Right now, as you’re reading this article, you probably aren’t noticing the feeling of your clothes against your skin, the pattern of your breath, or any of the delicate sounds around you. Your brain simply turns a blind eye to these various stimuli to better focus on what it deems most important (right now, these words). Our sense of sight works no differently. When faced with an abundance of visual stimulation, only some of which are considered relevant, our brains will tune out the non-relevant parts.

This phenomenon is termed the Troxler Effect, discovered long ago in 1804 by a physician and philosopher named Ignaz Troxler. It is this effect that underlies many of the optical illusions you can find on the Internet. Stare at a red dot in the middle of a circle for long enough and suddenly the outside circle fades away and disappears. This is because your brain has deemed the outer edges irrelevant and it has lessened its processing burden by simply fading it out of our perceptual domain.

Having tried this experiment myself, I can attest that the effect is real. While I did not see or experience anything particularly traumatizing, I was nevertheless greeted with noticeable deformations in both shape and color along the outer edges of my face and eyes. My eye sockets, already deep-set by nature, appeared to sink further and further into my face, looking like two lunar craters. For those venturing to experiment with this effect, I admonish that the experience, while intriguing, can also be immensely uncomfortable.”

It’s also important to consider the myths and legends surrounding mirrors that we still take to heart, for example covering mirrors when a loved one passes. Some believe this is done out of respect for the dead while others think that an exposed mirror is an invitation for spirits to enter the home or for the spirit of the deceased to become trapped there on its journey out of the earthly realm. I still worry that I’ll incur 10 years of bad luck for breaking a mirror. I personally try to avoid looking into the mirror late at night when I’m on the way to the lavatory or the refrigerator. There’s something about gazing into a mirror at a face that you know is your own and seeing it shift in unfamiliar ways that cause my insides to buckle. I’ll even stand to the left of the medicine cabinet and open it to get out whatever I need and then leave it ajar while I take whatever med I’ve squirreled out of there, just to avoid looking at myself in the dim light. As Stanley said, it’s uncomfortable.

I’m not alone. Clearly, there are many, many other people who have experienced seeing their visage in a mirror in a dimly lit room and been frightened by what they saw. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Bloody Mary.

The legend itself is many-sided and many variations of it exist. For example, sometimes Bloody Mary appears after 3 chants of her name. Sometimes it’s 7. Sometimes it’s 13. Older versions of Mary Worth involved walking backward up a darkened staircase while holding a candle and a hand mirror, something I don’t think I’d be able to pull off so I’m glad that Bloody Mary evolved into a game played in front of a bathroom mirror. Or am I? In Japan, Hanako San haunts the bathroom and sometimes protects those who use it from other toilet ghosts. Just when you thought it was safe to go to the bathroom… Doesn’t Moaning Myrtle haunt the bathroom at Hogwarts? Also, isn’t it interesting that Japanese folklore contains stories about haunted bathrooms while most of the North American tales of haunted places revolve around basements or attics? That’s a tangent for another day.

I don’t think there’s anything scarier than dying in a toilet stall, except maybe having to ask the person in the can next to you for TP.

From an article by David Emery titled Explaining the Legend of Bloody Mary in the Mirror, “As best anyone can tell, the legend of Bloody Mary and its comparably gory variants emerged in the early 1960s as an adolescent party game. In most versions, there’s no connection drawn between the Bloody Mary whose ghost haunts bathroom mirrors and the British queen of the same name. Likewise, there is no apparent connection between the Mary Worth of the legend and the Mary Worth of comic strip fame.

Folklorist Alan Dunes has suggested that Bloody Mary is a metaphor for the onset of puberty in girls, describing both the fear of one’s body changing and the excitement of the taboo nature of sex. Others argue that the story is just the product of overactive childhood imagination. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget describes this as “nominal realism,” the belief that words and thoughts can influence real-world events.”

Emery goes on to discuss the film Urban Legend (1998) and Candyman (1992,) two films I know I’ve spoken about on this podcast before. Can you say Candyman 5 times in front of a mirror in a dimly lit room and NOT think that Tony Todd, 6 feet 5 inches of him, is going to magically appear and rip you to shreds with his hook? I know I can’t. Snopes.com states that the folklore/legend of Bloody Mary/Mary Worth/Hell Mary only extends back to around 1978 when folklorist Janet Langlois published her essay on the topic, “Mary Whales, I Believe in You: Myth and Ritual Subdued”. At this time, belief in the legend was widespread. Generally, if there’s a sleepover and a bathroom with a large mirror, someone is going to suggest calling upon Bloody Mary. Why bathrooms? Langlois explains that most suburban bathrooms have large mirrors and generally have smaller windows making them darker. I think it’s likely because having to walk backwards up the stairs caused too many house fires and fatalities. I could be wrong.

Alan Dundes work Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety was published in Western Folklore, volume 57 in the 1990s. He disagrees with Langlois’ interpretation of the Bloody Mary legend. He also disagrees with Jan Harold Brunvand’s interpretation, a reaction to Brunvand’s work that’s a little odd given that Brunvand is the authority on many urban myths and legends (recommended reading: Encyclopedia of Urban Legends.) I certainly hang my hat on his work/research. Dundes admonishes Brunvand and Langlois for not investigating the legend more fully stating that, “if folklorists themselves are unwilling or unable to interpret folklore, they can scarcely blame others for holding the discipline in such low intellectual repute.” Yikes.
Dundes writes:

“What exactly does the reflection of Bloody Mary mean? Or is it essentially meaningless? And why does the ritual almost invariably take place in a bathroom? What is the significance, if any, of the names: Mary Worth, Mary Whales, Bloody Mary? No analysis of an item of folklore can be deemed complete unless it can explain all of the traits or details of that item. There are important clues in the texts reported by Langlois, clues which have thus far not been adequately explored by folklorists. For example, more than half of the texts she elicited herself (as opposed to those on file in the Indiana University folklore archives) were combined with the ‘Vanishing Hitchhiker”. So one additional question to be asked is why is the “Bloody Mary” ritual attached to this particular legend? Let us consider the first text presented by Langlois.

It was collected from twelve-year-old Anna L. in February of 1973:

  1. Have you heard about a dead girl called Mary Whales or Mary Worth?
  2. Yes, I’ve heard about Mary Whales. Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know much about her. All I know is that she stood on [the] corner when it rained and she had a long white dress on. and when someone stopped to give her a ride she would disappear in the back seat and just leave a wet spot with blood on the seat, and she wouldn’t be in [the] car anymore (1978:13).

What is noteworthy about this abbreviated legend is the reference to a “wet spot with blood” in the backseat of the car. There are numerous recorded versions of this popular legend (Motif E 332.3.3.1, The Vanishing Hitchhiker; for more than one hundred references, see Bennett and Smith 1993:338). But in those versions where an object is left behind as “proof’ of the truth value of the legend, that object can be “a purse, a suitcase, a blanket, a sweater, a scarf or some other item of clothing, or simply footprints or water spots in the car” (Brunvand 1981:27). There is no mention of blood at all. Wet spots or footprints in the car are “often mentioned in connection with American vanishing hitchhikers,” notes Brunvand, the acknowledged authority on this and other modern legends, but “Why, or how, a spirit would get wet feet is not explained, though” (Brunvand 1993:251). The wetness motif is explained by neither the folk nor folklorist Brunvand. By now the astute reader may already suspect what the possible significance of the “Bloody Mary” ritual might be. But for those who may still be in the dark, let me present a small but representative sampling of 10 texts from more than seventy-five reports, collected in 1996 unless otherwise noted, from my undergraduate folklore students at the University of California, Berkeley.

Text 1: Bloody Mary During recess at school, you go into the girls’ bathroom. Your friends wait outside because only [one] person is allowed in at a time. One girl stands at the door to turn out the lights once you’re positioned in front of the mirror. Once the lights are out, you close your eyes and turn around three times. Then you open them and stare straight into the mirror and chant, “Bloody Mary, show your fright. Show your fright this starry night.” You have to chant slowly so she has time to come from the spirit world. Then you wait to see her face. Once you see her, you have to run out of the bathroom where your friends are waiting. If you’ve sinned or done anything evil in your life then you will have three scratches of blood on your cheek. (Learned in the third grade in 1983 at Apollo Elementary School in Bossier City, Louisiana by the female collector, age 20)

Text 2: A bunch of us young girls went into the bathroom to call Bloody Mary. We turned off the lights, turned around 5 times chanting “Bloody Mary” over and over; then stopped quickly and looked in the mirror We were supposed to look for a headless female in a white gown with a bloody knife in one hand and her head in the other. (Learned in California by a female, age 20, when she was between the ages of ten and twelve)

Text 3: A group of girls usually go into a dark room where a mirror is present. Then everyone starts chanting “Bloody Mary” until it appears. A woman’s bloody face will appear in the mirror. (Learned by a nineteen-year-old Mexican-American female in Riverbank, California, when she was in the sixth grade [circa 1989])

Text 4: Okay, you go into the bathroom and you turn out the lights and you turn around three times and you say “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary” and then Bloody Mary’s head is supposed to appear on the mirror. (Learned by a sixteen-year-old Chinese-American female as a sixth-grader when she attended slumber parties in Palos Verdes in Southern California)

Text 5: If you go into a bathroom mirror every night for three nights, and you say “Bloody Mary” three times, then the first night a spot of blood appears and the second night, it’s a little bigger, and the third night, it’s supposed to be a woman’s face. (Collected in 1994 from a 22-year-old Irish-American female who learned it at a slumber party in Los Altos, California, in 1979, when she was a second-grader)

Text 6: To make Bloody Mary appear, you look into a mirror at midnight and chant “Bloody Mary” three times. You are then supposed to see your own bloodied face in the reflection. (Collected from a 23-year-old female who learned it in sixth grade in Fairfield, California)

Text 7: When I was in grade school (about fifth grade), I would go into the girls’ bathroom at St. Thomas Aquinas school [in Monterey Park, California] with two or three of my friends to see Bloody Mary. We turned off the lights, approached the four-foot-wide mirror, and sprinkled water on the mirror. After the sprinkling, we chanted, “Bloody Mary” three times in hopes of seeing her in the mirror. Then we flushed all of the toilets in the stalls and ran out of the bathroom. Bloody Mary’s mark would appear later on in the day through bleeding. For example, after I had completed the Bloody Mary ritual, I went to play frisbee during recess. In trying to catch the frisbee, I jammed my index finger, causing it to bleed. All of the girls who had done the Bloody Mary ritual with me attributed the bleeding to Bloody Mary. (Collected from a female, age 20)

Text 8: It can be any time of day, but you usually do it at night. You go into the bathroom, the hot water has to be on, you turn on the hot water full blast, and the bathroom has to have a mirror. Then you flush the toilet and as you’re flushing the toilet, you say, “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary”-three times you say “Bloody 124 BLOODY MARY IN THE MIRROR Mary” and you turn three times while you’re saying it. and then you look in the mirror and some people say you see Bloody Mary. If you see her, she haunts your house. (Collected in 1995 from a 9-year-old female who learned the custom in the second grade at the Hamlin School for Girls in San Francisco)

Text 9: “Bloody Mary” You go into the bathroom at school, turn out the lights, and close the door. You can go by yourself or with two or three friends. I’m not positive, but I think boys can do it too if they want to. You light some red candles, like about three, and you put them in front of you in a triangle, two on a side and one in the front. Then you keep on chanting “Bloody Mary” like about three times or something. You’re sitting there and looking at the water in the toilet and chanting. And they say she will appear, her face in the water. Then you have a weird reaction or something and she pulls you down into the toilet and flushes your head down the toilet. And you never come back or something. (Collected from an 11-year-old Vietnamese-American female who learned it in third grade, in 1992, at Hellyer Elementary School in San Jose, California)

Text 10: When I was in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, many of the girls celebrated their birthdays (turning age 9, 10, 11) with a slumber party. I remember the game being played a few different ways. The idea was that you go into the bathroom alone and the light would be off, or there would be a candle or flashlight so that it would be barely visible in the bathroom. Then you were supposed to chant “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary” as you look in the mirror After you say “Bloody Mary” three times, there were a couple of things that could happen: 1) An image of a woman covered with blood would appear in the mirror 2) You see your own reflection in the mirror but the mirror would soon be covered with blood so that it looked like you were covered in blood. At this point, the girls would either run out of the bathroom screaming or at some parties I remember the girls had to flush the toilet before they could come out. I think the toilet flushing was supposed to make the image go away, but no one ever stayed in the bathroom long enough to see anything disappear. As soon as they pushed the toilet lever, they would run out scared and screaming. The other version of Bloody Mary I remember goes like this: You say “Bloody Mary” three times, in a dark bathroom, but this time instead of looking at a mirror, you look at the toilet. After you finish the chant, the toilet water was supposed to turn red, or bloody, and then you had to flush the toilet in order to come out. Or, after the chant, you flush the toilet and as the toilet is flushing, the water turns red. (Collected from a 21-year-old Korean-American female who learned it in Downey, California, in 1978)

These ten texts should suffice to demonstrate both the traditionality and the gamut of variation of the Bloody Mary ritual. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that this girls’ ritual has something to do with the onset of the first menses. The dramatic change from girlhood to womanhood is signaled physiologically by this catamenial condition.”

[Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety Author(s): Alan Dundes Source: Western Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2/3 (Spring – Summer, 1998), pp. 119-135 Published by: Western States Folklore Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500216 Accessed: 29/2/2020 3:12:37 PM CST]

Bloody Mary in the Mirror is available for free online through JSTOR. I’ll pop the link into the show notes for anyone who’d like to peruse the work further.

So, let’s talk a little about Mary Worth (Tudor). I know David Emery says there’s no connection between Bloody Mary and Mary Worth (Tudor), but I think it’s important to address the fact that Mary (if this is indeed the same Mary we’re talking about) earned her nickname. The monarch, daughter of Henry the 8th and Catherine of Aragon, was determined to make England a Catholic country (again with the religion, I know. Bear with me.) and burned an estimated 300 people at the stake for being Protestants. Mary was keen on conceiving a child to validate her marriage to Prince Philip of Spain once she took the throne in 1553. If you’ve never watched The Tudors, I heartily recommend it as all of the above is outlined in the show. Unfortunately for Mary, Philip was 10 years her junior and didn’t exactly have the same sexual desire or amorous feelings (he basically did what he had to do, punched the time clock as it were and went back to being all monarch-y) so when she did become pregnant, she was overjoyed. 6 weeks prior to the baby’s arrival, Mary sequestered herself with a handful of servants and excitedly awaited the arrival of (what she hoped would be) a male heir, but after her delivery date had been pushed back several times it appeared that no heir was on the horizon. It is thought that Mary, so desperate for a baby, had invented the pregnancy in her mind and her body had responded with the ceasing of her menstrual cycle and the bloating of her belly. It’s also speculated that Mary suffered from uterine or ovarian cancer, illnesses which, at the time, could only be treated with bloodletting. Mary believed that God was punishing her for her inability to conceive. She would never produce an heir and passed away at the age of 42.

In my opinion, there is some evidence that the story of Mary Tudor survives to this day in the form of the Bloody Mary urban legend. Bloody Mary often appears to those who chant her name holding a baby, the one she was not able to conceive in life. The burning of so many for their religious beliefs adds to the darkness of the tale. Perhaps those who relay the legend now are largely unaware of who Mary Worth actually was, but I think it’s entirely possible that way back when people believed the benevolent spirit of the English monarch appeared to them in the looking glass.

That’s it for this week, dear listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in and special thanks to those who shared their experiences with me for this episode. I’ll be back again next week 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.

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Sources:

https://www.liveabout.com/bloody-mary-in-the-mirror-3299478

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-sense-chaos/201408/monsters-in-the-mirror-no-really-literal-monsters

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/87625/brief-history-chain-letter

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/money/news/a41819/holiday-wine-exchange-facebook/

https://www.inverse.com/culture/sir-john-tenniel-illustrations-most-haunting-punch-alice-in-wonderland

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/bloody-mary-story/

https://allthatsinteresting.com/bloody-mary

Dundes Article http://home.iscte-iul.pt/~fgvs/Dundes%20bloody.pdf

[Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety Author(s): Alan Dundes Source: Western Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2/3 (Spring – Summer, 1998), pp. 119-135 Published by: Western States Folklore Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500216 Accessed: 29/2/2020 3:12:37 PM CST]

S5 Ep. 4: World’s Fair

In October of 1871, Chicago was a tinderbox. The city’s 185 firefighters were exhausted and things wouldn’t get better anytime soon. In the last 3 months, Chicago had only seen an inch of rain and the wooden structures and raised wooden sidewalks painted a picture of disaster. The Chicago fire was absolutely that. The fire swept through the city at an alarming rate, turning everything in its path to rubble and cinder. People scattered to escape the flames, grabbing what little they could. There were many people trying to flee the destruction via Randolph Street Bridge. There are collisions between wagons, trucks, and people. Many lives are lost and the level of damage and loss almost unimaginable.

All of this loss and destruction is in the past by the time the Columbian Exhibition opens in 1893 and, as I’m sure was the case for many Chicagoans, there was a collective sigh and a sense of awe associated with the event. Columbus had arrived in the new world 401 years earlier and Chicago beat out New York, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. for the privilege of hosting the World’s Fair. Chicagoans were so invested in fact in the idea of having the fair in Chicago, large crowds would gather in front of the newspaper offices and await the tallies to see who would win the prize of being host to the event. The city had hosted the Centennial Exposition in 1876, but the World’s Fair would be far larger and feature a wide range of acts, new inventions, and speakers.

From Chicago: City of the Century on pbs.com, “Daniel Hudson Burnham, of the Chicago architectural partnership Burnham and Root, the chief of construction for the fair, enthusiastically adopted this proposal. Burnham then suggested that the greatest American architects of the time contribute designs for the buildings. The contributors included Richard Morris Hunt (who built the façade of the Metropolitan Museum in New York), Charles McKim (New York Public Library), Robert Peabody, George B. Post (New York Times building), Henry Van Brunt, Louis Sullivan, and William LeBaron Jenney (Home Insurance Building of Chicago, among the first with a steel skeleton). The sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, as artistic director, oversaw the decorative program of the fair, which included works by Daniel Chester French, who later created the statue of Lincoln for that president’s memorial, and the Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt.

When the architects met in Chicago in 1891 to share their designs with one another, Olmsted noted, “the general comradeship and fervor of the artists was delightful to witness & more delightful to fall into.” Together, they collaborated on a magnificent vision — and enjoyed their own audacity in dreaming it up. Saint-Gaudens compared the group to the Italian Renaissance geniuses who built Florence. “Look here, old fellow,” he said to Burnham, “do you realize that this is the greatest meeting of artists since the fifteenth century!”

The Neo-Classical buildings of Hunt, McKim and the other eastern architects stood around a basin in the Court of Honor; Sullivan’s multicolored Transportation Building was off to one side. A mile-long commercial strip, the Midway Plaisance, provided entertainments nearby.

The Court of Honor’s buildings served as exhibition halls, housing the newest inventions and appliances for the home and farm, many of them powered by electricity. Visitors gawked at electric incubators for chicken eggs, electric chairs for executions, an electric sidewalk, an early fax machine that sent pictures over telegraph lines, electric irons, sewing machines and laundry machines, and Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, the first moving pictures. For many of the fairgoers, Edison’s fourteen-year-old invention, the electric lightbulb, was a novelty they had never seen before. That the Court was lit at night was itself astonishing. The exhibits helped to demystify the many mysterious new inventions of the age.”

There were boat races, donkey races, international tug of war competitions, swim races in the lagoon, tightrope walking, parachute drops, and George Washington Gale Ferris’s gigantic wheel ride; the first Ferris wheel ever built. Over the course of the exhibition, 1.4 million people paid .50 cents apiece and experienced two revolutions. The 250’ diameter wheel brought riders higher than the crown on the Statue of Liberty. This was likely the closest that many of these riders would come to actually flying.

On the Midway, escape artist Harry Houdini entertained and mystified onlookers, Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show delighted and amused (Cody had apparently been denied a spot on the Midway, but set up on the outskirts and ran his show anyway because fuck the police, I guess?), and ragtime pianist Scott Joplin tickled the ivories. Americans experienced hamburgers and carbonated beverages and purchased a new invention called a postcard which they could send to their friends or family and regale them of their time at the Columbian Exhibition. There were Hindu jugglers, beauty contests, and even a two-headed pig. And while all of this was going on, while the city delighted in the new ideas brought forth by this event and ate their hamburgers and laughed and basked in the glory of the White City, in the shadows a monster was lurking. A monster who would take advantage of the large crowds and use the climate to his own benefit. A living darkness that would soon open its mouth and scream.

Hello dear listeners, and welcome back to another episode of The ODDentity Podcast. The podcast your mama warned you about…or likely recommended you listen to! I’m hoping it’s more of the latter!

This week, I’ll be taking you to the Windy City of 1893, the World’s Fair, and introducing you to a, particularly diabolical fellow. A man who saw the fair as an opportunity to swindle and to murder. A man by the name of Herman Webster Mudgett, otherwise known by his alias Dr. Henry Howard Holmes.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank Cindie Harper, the Director of Historical Research and Paranormal Documentation at Sweet Springs Sanitarium in West Virginia. The interview I did with Cindie will be available on a future episode, but I wanted to express my sincere gratitude for the time Cindie spent talking with me about Old Sweet, the paranormal happenings there, the fascinating history of the place, and the restoration efforts that are ongoing. Thanks, Cindie! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to chat with you. It’s always a treat to meet a fellow paranormal enthusiast and to learn about a new haunted location! Say hi to the spirits for me.

There’ll be more info about Old Sweet when that episode goes live, but I do want to let you know that there is an effort to collect funds for the rebuilding and repair of structures at the Sanitarium. If you’d like to help out, pop on over to sweetspringsresortpark.org and mash that donate button!

And now…on with the show.

Herman Webster Mudgett was born in New Hampshire in 1861to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price. Both parents were descended from the first English immigrants in the area and Herman was the third child. He had an older sister, Ellen, an older brother, Arthur, a younger brother Henry, and a younger sister, Mary. There is some speculation regarding Mudgett’s past and whether or not he exhibited the tell-tale signs of becoming a serial killer later in life, but there is little proof to substantiate such claims. There is a story of young Mudgett being locked in a doctor’s office with a human skeleton, but Mudgett himself has told this story and I find him to be a rather unreliable narrator.

At age 16, Mudgett graduated high school and began teaching in Gilmanton and Alton. In 1878, he married Clara Lovering who gave birth to a son, Robert, in 1880. Mudgett enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington, but left after only a year. He was 18 years old. In 1882, he enrolled in the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery and passed his exams in 1884. While in attendance at U of M, he worked in the anatomy lab under the chief anatomy instructor, Professor Herdman. Mudgett had also apprenticed in New Hampshire under noted advocate of human dissection, Dr. Nahum Wight. Later in life, Mudgett would admit to using cadavers to defraud insurance companies. By 1884, Clara and Robert had moved back to New Hampshire to avoid Mudgett’s violent outbursts which were many. Apparently, some of his housemates had witnessed this behavior.

Mudgett’s next moves were meandering. He spent some time in Mooers Forks, New York, leaving quickly after he was under suspicion of being seen with a small boy who later disappeared. Mudgett claimed the boy had gone back to Massachusetts and the authorities must have accepted his word as fact because there was no investigation. Mudgett left town after this incident. From there, he traveled to Pennsylvania and got a job at the Norristown State Hospital but he quit after a very short time. He also worked at a druggist in Philadelphia but immediately (and a little suspiciously) left the city after a boy fell ill after having taken medicine prepared at the store. Mudgett again denied any involvement.

From Holmes’ Own Words (H.H. Holmes’ Biography): (Read P. 19 – bottom)

I’m not sure why Mudgett would run unless he was guilty of the crime or he was worried his past deeds would be brought to light if authorities became involved.

Right before his move to Chicago, Mudgett adopted the alias of H. H. Holmes, likely to cover his tracks and to avoid possible prosecution for his previous scams.

From Wikipedia, “In late 1886, while still married to Clara, Holmes married Myrta Belknap (b. October 1862 in Pennsylvania) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He filed for divorce from Clara a few weeks after marrying Myrta, alleging infidelity on her part. The claims could not be proven and the suit went nowhere. Surviving paperwork indicated she probably was never even informed of the suit. In any case, the divorce was never finalized; it was dismissed June 4, 1891, on the grounds of “want of prosecution”.

Holmes had a daughter with Myrta, Lucy Theodate Holmes, who was born on July 4, 1889, in Englewood, Chicago, Illinois; as an adult, Lucy became a public school teacher. Holmes lived with Myrta and Lucy in Wilmette, Illinois, and spent most of his time in Chicago tending to business. Holmes married Georgiana Yoke on January 17, 1894, in Denver, Colorado, while still married to both Clara and Myrta.”

By the time Holmes arrived in Chicago, he was already wanted for several insurance scams. Holmes would mutilate cadavers donated to medical schools for dissection in order to defraud insurance companies, claiming the already deceased individuals were the victims of some terrible accident. He was a con artist and a bigamist and fled from one town to the next to escape prosecution.

In Chicago, Holmes set his sights on a pharmacy at the corner of 63rd and Wallace streets and began working there, but his eye soon wandered to the location across the street where he would eventually begin building a large 3 story structure that would take over an entire city block, contain more than 100 rooms, and would become known as the Murder Castle. It would contain a drug store, retail space, and apartments, though Holmes’ definition of “apartment” would eventually prove to be a little different. Holmes himself called it the World’s Fair Hotel and said it would accommodate tourists visiting from outside the city who wished to enjoy the fair, but the building served a much darker purpose. Women seeking better opportunities came to the city in droves and the large crowds gathering for the Exposition would create a perfect storm for these women to disappear without a trace.

During construction, Holmes would suddenly fire workers and hire new ones in order to keep the plans of the location a secret. He would get one carpenter to build a wall and immediately let the man go, then refuse to pay him claiming shoddy workmanship. The cycle repeated all the while the building was being constructed. Holmes himself hid supplies he had purchased on credit within the Castle and refused to pay his bills.

From All That’s Interesting, “There were hinged walls and false partitions. Some rooms had five doors and others had none. Secret, airless chambers hid underneath floorboards and iron plate-lined walls stifled all sound.

Holmes’ own apartment had a trapdoor in the bathroom, which opened to reveal a staircase, which led to a windowless cubicle. In the cubicle, there was a large chute that tunneled through to the basement. (Spoiler: It wasn’t used for dirty laundry.)

One notable room was lined with gas fixtures. Here, Holmes would seal his victims in, flip a switch in an adjacent room, and wait. Another chute was nearby.

All of the doors and some of the steps were connected to an intricate alarm system. Whenever someone stepped into the hall or headed downstairs, a buzzer sounded in Holmes’ bedroom.”

At one point, a large safe was purchased and a room was built around it. The safe would come to serve a nefarious purpose in suffocating victims who Holmes trapped inside. When the company came to Holmes demanding their safe back, he supposedly told them that they could have it but only if they could get it out without damaging the room around it. By 1892, the Murder Castle was complete…just as the grounds of nearby Jackson Park were being prepped for the Columbian Exposition.

Now, at this point, I think it’s important to go through the supposed list of victims. Some believe there were over 200 victims, others 27, but it seems that there is a master list of 9 that is pretty consistent. I’d also like to point out that the hotel portion of Holmes’ Murder Castle was never opened. He likely never intended to use it as a hotel and just used the ruse of opening a large and luxurious hotel to swindle investors out of their money. Holmes was a con man and a swindler for sure. I’m not going to list all 27 supposed victims here, but you can find a comprehensive list at mysteriouschicago.com Adam Selzer has left a list with all 27 victims and the stories behind their supposed murders here and has written about H.H. Holmes. He does a lot of research and is a tour guide and Atlas Obscura field agent with 10+ years of experience in the city of Chicago. He’s also often called upon to offer expertise on varying topics on The History Channel and The Travel Channel. He’s also got a podcast called Cemetery Mixtape which is phenomenal. Absolutely worth a listen.

The 4 known victims of Holmes are Ben, Howard, Alice, and Nellie Pitezel. These four were murdered in the autumn of 1894 and their bodies were recovered. All but Howard’s body were positively identified. Howard’s remains were burned and could not be identified. Holmes only received a conviction on Benjamin Pitezel’s murder and never stood trial for the other 3.

The assumed victims of Holmes are Julia and Pearl Conner who were both murdered in 1891, Emeline Cigrand who was murdered in 1892, and Minnie and Nannie Williams who were murdered in 1893. Julia, Emeline, and Nannie and Minnie Williams remains were never recovered. There is speculation that Holmes sold their skeletons to medical schools and disposed of the rest of their remains. Holmes claimed that Julia and Emeline died during illegal abortions and Holmes admitted to one of his attorneys that he had killed Julia. It’s unlikely that Holmes would have been convicted of their murders as there were no bodies or evidence to prove it. Bones found in the basement of the Castle were said to be those of Pearl Conner, but forensics was a new idea at the time and the bones couldn’t be positively identified. It is believed however that Holmes did, in fact, kill the 5 women.

Selzer states on his website that newspapers at the time would publish a story about Holmes or the Castle investigation, the finding of remains, etc., and authorities would come to find out that the items found weren’t human remains at all. This correction wouldn’t be published and so the original story would be the only one available. He also states that writer Herbert Asbury suggested at one time that the total number of Holmes victims could be in the hundreds. This is simply not true.

In an effort to make some fast money and possibly avoid the death penalty, Holmes began writing his memoir in prison. He cut a deal with Philadelphia publishers Burk and McFetridge in 1895, the year after his arrest. The book is titled Holmes’ Own Story and a copy cost 25 cents. The book itself was likely another scam to trick the public into believing that he was simply a man trying to make his way in the world and squeeze a penny out here and there when he could. His crimes had been published in every newspaper at the time, painting him as a horrifying monster and degenerate swindler and he likely created the manuscript to further con those individuals who had read the accounts of his heinous crimes into believing that he never perpetrated the murder of which he was convicted. It was also likely to explain away the other murders he was suspected of committing but never stood trial for. In the Author’s Preface to the Original Edition, Holmes lays out his intentions for the book. He writes:

Holmes goes on to outline every moment he spent with his supposed victims. The stories appear to be well-rehearsed in his mind and I wonder how much time he spent during the act of murdering each of these people and the time spent in prison putting all of this together. Upon reading the entire collection of Holmes’ written work, I can only say that the man was a pathological liar. At the end of the memoir, as it’s published by Parnilis Media, there is a confession letter. Holmes sent this letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On May 8th, 1896, the New York Times published an article titled, “Holmes Cool to the End.”  (Avail. on podcast only)

Holmes swung by the neck until dead, approximately 20 minutes because his neck apparently didn’t snap like it was supposed to. He is buried outside Pennsylvania at Holy Cross Cemetery. His remains were encased in cement and buried 10’ deep to deter anyone from using his body for dissection.

As Holmes stated in his memoir. “I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

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!

 

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.

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Sources:
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/chicago-worlds-columbian-exposition-1893/

https://allthatsinteresting.com/hh-holmes-hotel

http://mysteriouschicago.com/new-master-list-of-hh-holmes-victims/

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/serial-killer-h-h-holmes-body-exhumed-what-we-know-126699/

https://www.history.com/topics/crime/murder-castle

Parnilis Media’s Holmes: a serial killer in his own words

Holmes’ Own Story by Herman Mudgett alias H. H. Holmes

Not in Vein: Barbers & Bloodletting

We’ve all heard stories that make us do a double-take, tales that just don’t compute and so we sit with our heads cocked like confused spaniels and await a further explanation. Humans are narrative animals, after all, and so we relay important information via storytelling. Sometimes the stories we hear serve a purpose, to warn us away from danger perhaps. Other times, the stories are just for fun, for the purpose of being weird. This is one of those stories.

My grandfather said a barber taught him how to drive a car. A barber, I asked? Why in the world would a barber teach you how to drive a car? Well, it’s wasn’t like I could go to the DMV and take a road test, he scoffed. Things were different back then. So, what happened, I asked? He said he went to the barber for a trim, the guy had his Ford parked by the door, my grandfather got his haircut and the barber, having finished, for the time being, offered to teach my grandfather how to drive. He said the barber took him up the road a ways, told him to speed up, slow down, turn around, and put the car in park. My grandfather did all of this and he and the barber went back to the barbershop and the barber dubbed him able to drive. Apparently, this was a regular occurrence in his small town in the 1930s/40s. Really, I asked? Sure, he said. We had to come back early though because he would have been late for a bloodletting.

Wait…what??

Hello ODD Balls, and welcome back to another episode of The ODDentity Podcast, your weekly foray into the weird, wonky, and sometimes downright spooky. This week, I wanted to focus on the practice of bloodletting, the bleeding of an individual to remove various illnesses. If you’re a queasy sort, I’d maybe skip this one. I don’t expect it to be too graphic, but we’ll absolutely be talking about blood.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank Daniel from Michigan and Cat from Minnesota for their lovely emails. I always enjoy reading about spooky places and practices from other parts of the world and I’ll be adding their suggestions to my ever-growing list. What were their suggestions, you ask? You’ll just have to wait and see!

I’d also like to give a shout out to Mike Burton of the Genuine Chit-Chat Podcast. Interviewing with Mike was a hoot and I’m looking forward to the next time we might sit down and have a chat. If you’re interested in listening to the two-part interview I did with Mike, pop on over to genuinechitchat.podbean.com and check out episode #78 (part 1 and 2.) We talked about a bunch of stuff including some of my collections and my passion for folklore and urban legends. Truly though, Mike has a great podcast and interviews some really interesting people. You should absolutely have a listen to the other episodes as well and subscribe if you like what you hear. Thanks for the time, Mike! And for god’s sake, STOP bleaching your mustache. 😉

Anyway…

Boar bile enemas, urine as an antiseptic, and thick needles used to remove cataracts… Medical history is weird and some aspects of it are absolutely horrifying. I mean, I understand that we had to start somewhere. How were we to know that creating a poultice for an open wound using human excrement was a bad idea? We had to try it and see what would happen! Guesswork. All of it.

In a past episode, I talked about the four humors and how an imbalance in blood and bile was blamed for many ailments. I won’t rehash a lot of that info here, you’ll have to listen to that episode a little later (S2 Ep. 5), but I do want to put things in perspective.

There are four humors: Blood/Sanguine, Phlegm, Yellow Bile, and Black Bile and these four humors (according to Hippocrates) governed a large majority of early “medical” practices.

Blood: Blood is found in veins and arteries (seems pretty normal, right?) and can also be referred to as Sanguine (Latin for to deal with blood.) Hippocrates believed that the liver was exclusively in charge of the blood-making process within the body and that the amount of blood within a single individual could influence their complexion as well as their personality. Production of blood was linked to spring and summer and, as the seasons got warmer, the increasing heat brought blood to the surface of the skin producing sweat in an effort to cool off (likely why the blood humor is linked to heat and moisture.) If you had an excess of blood, it meant you were Sanguine and your personality would be jovial or charismatic. It could also mean that you were big into daydreaming and sociable toward others. Sanguine personalities often had red complexions, further leading *” physicians” of the time to believe that their evaluation of Sanguine individuals was correct. Bleeding was the general cure for too much of this humor.

*Please note that I’ve put the term “physician” within quotation marks. During this time, anyone could be a physician on a whim. There were “good physicians,” but nobody really had a clue as to the inner workings of the human body. Anyone could wake up one morning and decide to start treating patients. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. Moving right along…

Phlegm: You’ve likely become familiar with this humor while hacking up a lung during cold and flu season. Way back when phlegm was associated with winter and cold weather. Makes sense. While it was cold and damp outside, people had a tendency to get sick and, of course, the phlegm itself was considered the cause of the illness (not a byproduct.) The treatment would be to avoid cold foods and liquids. If you’re sick, you don’t really have that get up and go, which is likely why people who were categorized as Phlegmatic were quiet and sluggish. The brain and lungs were said to produce this humor.

Black Bile: It just doesn’t exist within the human body. It is likely that clotted blood was mistaken for black bile and was categorized as such. It was believed that Black Bile was produced by the gall bladder and diseases of “fear and despondency” (read anxiety and depression.) This was later called melancholia (melancholy,) meaning sad. Black bile is associated with the earth and the season of autumn.

Yellow Bile: If you’ve ever gone a while without eating to the point of being physically sick, you’ve likely met this humor. Yellow Bile was associated with aggression and the element of fire. That makes sense because vomiting stomach acid can be very uncomfortable.

The particular episode on which this information was originally shared was about corpse medicine, the use of mummies (yeah, like mummies from Egypt) to cure certain ailments, but these descriptions of what were believed to be the internal workings of the human body are essentially interchangeable. The above informed early “physicians” regarding many medical issues so I think it’s pertinent to know the humors and understand their supposed purposes. Plus, it’s kind of odd and creepy, so totally on brand!

In 1215, the Pope decreed that patients who needed bloodletting would have to go to barbershops. You see, barbers had all the equipment needed to perform the task. They could also pull teeth, administer leeches (we’ll talk a little about those little bloodsuckers later), and amputate limbs if needed. Why would barbers be considered capable? Well, they knew how to use a razor and so presumably they would be skillful at any treatment that involved cutting skin. That seems like quite a stretch to me, but okay.

From The Vintage News, “Blood was removed from the patient’s body by using tools such as lancet (a small surgical knife with a sharp point). Depending on the condition of the patient, different amounts of blood were drawn from the patient’s body. During the procedure, the patients were given a pole which they gripped in order to make their veins bulge.

The blood was kept in shallow bowls or flint glass cups which barbers placed on the windows of the barbershops. The used bandages were hung on the barber’s pole in order to advertise the services that the barbers offered. Today the barber’s poles have red and white stripes which represent the blood and the bandages.”

Surgeons still performed the practice of bloodletting, but in the 14th century, many surgeons were wiped out during the Black Plague and so the number of people seeking bloodletting increased. They would travel from town to town and set up tents where they would perform their services. Don’t worry, I’m sure it was super sterile! The barbers that did this were known as The Flying Barbers. Super cute. Barbering wasn’t completely separated from medicine to be considered an independent profession until the 19th century but it apparently wasn’t odd to find a small-town barber who could drain your blood and teach you how to drive.

So now that we know a little about barbers and bloodletting, let’s get a little into the history of the practice.

Bloodletting, essentially the practice of withdrawing blood from a patient to prevent an illness or to cure a disease, was performed by surgeons from antiquity until the late 19th century. It was used to treat many diseases and afflictions (perceived and otherwise) including acne, asthma, cancer, cholera, coma, convulsions, diabetes, epilepsy, gangrene, gout, herpes, indigestion, insanity, jaundice, leprosy, ophthalmia, plague, pneumonia, scurvy, smallpox, stroke, tetanus, and tuberculosis to name a few. If you got a nosebleed, you’d be bled. If your period was excessive, you’d be bled. If you had bleeding for hemorrhoids, you guessed it, you’d be bled. It seems counterproductive, doesn’t it? There were even some physicians (quotations again) who claimed bleeding would cure heartbreak. From Wikipedia, “A French physician, Jacques Ferrand wrote a book in 1623 on the uses of bloodletting to cure a broken heart. He recommended bloodletting to the point of heart failure (literal.)” Bleed you until you literally died. Seems legit, right?

From History.com, “Considered one of medicine’s oldest practices, bloodletting is thought to have originated in ancient Egypt. It then spread to Greece, where physicians such as Erasistratus, who lived in the third century B.C., believed that all illnesses stemmed from an overabundance of blood or plethora. (Erasistratus also thought arteries transported air rather than blood, so at least some of his patients’ blood vessels were spared his eager blade.) In the second century A.D., the influential Galen of Pergamum expanded on Hippocrates’ earlier theory that good health required a perfect balance of the four “humors”—blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. His writings and teachings made bloodletting a common technique throughout the Roman empire. Before long it flourished in India and the Arab world as well.

In medieval Europe, bloodletting became the standard treatment for various conditions, from plague and smallpox to epilepsy and gout. Practitioners typically nicked veins or arteries in the forearm or neck, sometimes using a special tool featuring a fixed blade and known as a fleam. In 1163 a church edict prohibited monks and priests, who often stood in as doctors, from performing bloodletting, stating that the church “abhorred” the procedure. Partly in response to this injunction, barbers began offering a range of services that included bloodletting, cupping, tooth extractions, lancing, and even amputations—along with, of course, trims and shaves. The modern striped barber’s pole harkens back to the bloodstained towels that would hang outside the offices of these “barber-surgeons.”

So, people went to get a haircut and then had some of their blood drained. Nothing strange about that! The invent of scarificators and spring-loaded lancets in the 18th century did make the process of bleeding slightly less painful, but I’ve never been good with unpredictable pain and “count of three” bullshit. And in case you’re wondering what a scarificator is, the device contained multiple blades that would make a set of parallel cuts in the skin. You pushed a button on top of the scarificator and the blades would flash against the skin. Around this time, bleeding was reserved for the elite. Marie Antoinette was bled while in childbirth. She fainted mid push and was revived by bloodletting! Actually, someone opened a window and the fresh air revived her, but physicians back then were always looking for reasons to extoll the practice.

Leeches were also used for bloodletting. On the morning of July 13, 1824, a French Sergeant sustained a stab wound to the chest. It only took a few minutes for him to faint from blood loss, but once he arrived at the hospital, he was bled another 20 ounces to “prevent inflammation.” During the night he was bled another 24 ounces and another 10 the following morning. Over the course of the next 14 hours, he was supposedly bled 5 more times!

“Medical attendants thus intentionally removed more than half of the patient’s normal blood supply—in addition to the initial blood loss which caused the sergeant to faint. Bleedings continued over the next several days. By 29 July, the wound had become inflamed. The physician applied 32 leeches to the most sensitive part of the wound. Over the next three days, there were more bleedings and a total of 40 more leeches. The sergeant recovered and was discharged on 3 October. His physician wrote that “by the large quantity of blood lost, amounting to 170 ounces [nearly eleven pints] (4.8 liters), besides that drawn by the application of leeches [perhaps another two pints] (1.1 liters), the life of the patient was preserved”. By nineteenth-century standards, thirteen pints of blood taken over the space of a month was a large but not an exceptional quantity. The medical literature of the period contains many similar accounts-some successful, some not.”

There is also another form of therapy called Cupping, a form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin. Generally, when you start reading about bloodletting and leeches you start to tumble down a black hole of medical quackery. Cupping was believed to be beneficial and generally went hand in hand with bloodletting during medieval times.  From Wikipedia, “While details vary between practitioners, societies, and cultures, the practice consists of drawing tissue into a cap placed on the targeted area by creating a partial vacuum – either by the heating and subsequent cooling of the air in the cup or via a mechanical pump. The cup is usually left in place for somewhere between five and fifteen minutes.

Cupping therapy types can be classified using four distinct methods of categorisation. The first system of categorisation relates to “technical types” including dry, wet, massage, and flash cupping therapy. The second categorisation relates to “the power of suction related types” including light, medium, and strong cupping therapy. The third categorisation relates to “the method of suction related types” including fire, manual suction, and electrical suction cupping therapy. The fourth categorisation relates to “materials inside cups” including herbal products, water, ozone, moxa, needle, and magnetic cupping therapy.

Further categories of cupping were developed later. The fifth relates to the area treated including: facial, abdominal, female, male, and orthopedic cupping therapy. The sixth relates to “other cupping types” that include sports and aquatic cupping.”

You know, all this talk of cupping makes me feel a little uncomfortable so I’m going to move this show along. There’s absolutely no real evidence that cupping offers any health benefits whatsoever and has been deemed complete trash by medical professionals.

The belief here was that it was better to do something, anything, to try and alleviate a patient’s symptoms or suffering than nothing at all. I mean, you could also just throw them in the road and have someone run them over with a cart repeatedly and call that “medicine.” Honestly, if I were suffering from a headache or a broken finger and someone ran me over with a cart, the symptoms I started with would be more or less “alleviated” because they’d be the furthest thing from my mind. “I’ve been run over 35 times with a horse cart and all of my bones are essentially mush, but Christ if only I didn’t have this damned headache!”

Now, by the late 1800s, new treatments had taken the place of bloodletting and many physicians at the time discredited the practice, saying it had no value. But this form of medicine hasn’t fallen to the wayside. In some ways, it has. Bleeding is not the catch-all cure it used to be and is now only rarely used except for a few very specific medical conditions. For example, Hereditary hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder characterized by excessive intestinal absorption of dietary iron, resulting in a pathological increase in total body iron stores. Humans, like most animals, have no means to excrete excess iron. Additionally, Polycythemia vera is an uncommon myeloproliferative neoplasm in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. It may also result in the overproduction of white blood cells and platelets.

From here I’m going to talk a little bit about self-bloodletting. If you’re triggered by talk of self-mutilation, self-harm, or suicide, I’d recommend skipping this next bit.

There are also individuals who suffer from SBL or Self-Bloodletting. The Eurasian Journal of Medicine published an academic paper by Onur Burak Dursun, Fatma Varol Tas, and Taner Guvenir titled “Self-Bloodletting: An Unusual Form of Self-Mutilation in Adolescence.” In the paper, they address self-mutilation and make the claim that bloodletting can actually be lumped in with eating and personality disorders. There is a sense of euphoria from being bled and people who suffer from SBL will sometimes bleed themselves to the point just shy of death in order to feel the high. “Deliberate self-harm is a common clinical problem in adolescence. Self-bloodletting (SBL), however, is a rare form of self-mutilation that refers to the act of draining one’s own blood by venipuncture or an intravenous cannula [1]. In the literature, this behavior is commonly associated with eating and personality disorders. The French literature describes this as a syndrome called “Lasthenia de Ferjol”, which is characterized by self-induced hemorrhage, anemia and a pathologic personality [2]. ‘Factitious anemia’ is another term to describe obscure anemia cases caused by SBL [3]. Fatalities have also been reported due to SBL. In this paper, we present the in-patient treatment of a 17-year-old female who was letting up to 250 ccs of blood per day. To our knowledge, this is the first adolescent case reported.”

The following is the case of a young woman who, for the purposes of confidentiality, is only referred to as E.B.

“E.B. is a 17-year-old girl studying at a nursing high school. She was referred to our clinic by a psychiatrist for hospitalization.

In the assessment session, we were informed that her problems began two years ago when she began high school. She initially complained of restlessness, especially at nights. Her first method of reducing distress was self-cutting, and she did this several times. As she began her training rotation in hospital wards, she discovered a new way of relieving herself: self-bloodletting. Initially, she took blood from her antecubital vein using a 5-ml syringe. The amount increased to 60 ccs per day. In one incident, she used an IV cannula to let 250 ccs of blood. Following this incident, she discarded blood or flushed it down the toilet. Although her primary aim was to reduce distress and experience relief, in the course of her illness, she also began to perceive bloodletting as an indirect and gradual type of suicide. Six months prior to admission to our clinic, E. B. fainted during her practice in the hospital, and her hemoglobin level was 5 g/dl. Clinicians did not find any sign of blood loss or bleeding from the gastrointestinal, urinary or reproductive systems. She was admitted to the internal medicine ward and received a blood transfusion. Nevertheless, on her second day in the ward, she left the hospital against doctors’ orders to hide the cause of her anemia. Following the advice of the intern doctors, her family decided to seek psychiatric help. E. B. talked about her bloodletting behavior in her mental state assessment and was admitted to our in-patient unit. In her initial assessment, E. B. told her clinician that in the last 6 months she felt upset, tired and had no interest in routine activities. She had also lost appetite and weight. She had suicidal thoughts and overdosed one month before admission.

E.B. had poor peer relationships but high academic performance, especially at her current high school. Her family had a low socioeconomic status; her father was a street vendor, who E. B. described as a distant and cold man. Her mother was a caring housewife. She had two siblings: a 19-year-old sister and a 14-year-old brother. She did not report any psychiatric illnesses, or drug or alcohol dependence in her personal or family psychiatric history. She had no remarkable medical history.

The psychopharmacological section of her treatment began with 50 mg/day of sertraline for her depression, olanzapine 10 mg/day for impulse control and benzodiazepine-only if needed-to reduce distress. She attended group and personal therapy sessions twice a week and all other therapeutic pursuits, except for out-clinic activities due to her high suicidal and destructive risk. During her stay, she showed clear borderline personality disorder behavioral trends. Her mood was unstable and we observed a rapid devaluation of her relationships with other young people and the staff in the unit. E. B. complained of feeling empty. While in a dissociative state, the unit team refused her request for a syringe; she then attempted to choke herself or cut her wrists with any sharp item she could find. These states would last nearly half an hour and could only be ended by chemical or physical restrains. After calming down, she would try to convince the unit team that she was in an unconscious state and did not remember what she had done and would promise not to repeat her behavior.

E.B.’s eating pattern was another concern. Although her symptoms did not fulfill the criteria for a DSM IV eating disorder, she suffered from severe eating problems. In addition to her poor appetite (which was related to her depression), she also refused food. She lost 2.7 kilograms in the first week in our unit. She later managed to convey that refusing food was also a type of self-harming behavior, perhaps with the goal of a painful death.

In spite of all the therapeutic interventions she received, E. B.’s self-destructive behaviors did not diminish during her 2-week stay. Ensuring her safety and maintaining treatment for both her and other patients became impossible; the unit team decided to refer her to a more secure unit. E. B. showed no clinical improvement at discharge.”

 

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

Until next time, Stay Spooky!

If you are contemplating suicide or just need someone to talk to about what you’re feeling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 (in the U.S.) I’m also including a link to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Call 1-800-950-NAMI or Text NAMI to 741741. I’ve also included a list of helplines worldwide.

Please remember: You are not alone.

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine/Top-HelpLine-Resources

https://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines

 

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!

 

Sources:
https://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-bloodletting

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261330/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupping_therapy

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/02/24/patients-that-needed-bloodletting-were-sent-to-the-barbershops-hence-the-red-white-pole-outside-of-them/

 

S5 Ep. 2: Scared to Death

Nightmare Death Syndrome and The Hat Man

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So, I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”
― John Lennon

 

You wake in a cold sweat, fighting to regain your composure, wrestling for control of the reality you think you know. It’s happened again. The same dream. The same man. The man in the hat…

In the late 1970s/early 80s, 18 seemingly healthy Hmong men living in the United States suddenly died in their sleep. This event in itself wasn’t odd, but 100 more deaths followed in the next decade before dropping off. What did these men have in common? Most notably, they were all of Southeast Asian descent. Apparently, a syndrome is to blame. It’s been called SUNDS or Sudden Unexpected/Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome in the United States. Researchers have come to theorize that the deaths were caused by Brugada Syndrome, a condition that causes irregular heartbeat in people of Southeast Asian descent and causes the sufferer to have an irregular heartbeat, increasing the risk of sudden death. In the Philippines, Thailand, and Laos, places where this event is common, it’s known as Nightmare Death Syndrome. As if it were the dream itself and not the heart issue that caused the individual to expire.

Welcome back to another sleep-depriving episode of The ODDentity Podcast. This week, I wanted to explore the nightmarish vision that is The Man in the Hat, a common figure seen during what many of us know as sleep paralysis. I’ve tackled my rendition of the creature that causes sleep paralysis in my part of the world on a past episode, The Hag and the folklore surrounding it, but I find it very interesting that The Man in the Hat is a commonality in many American cases of sleep paralysis. I wondered if people of other cultures from other parts of the world had seen him and, sure enough, when I went looking for reports they appeared one after another. Google blew up with stories of experiences and it was difficult for me to narrow down some of these stories for this episode. Difficult, but not impossible.

And so, on with the show…

Upon reading about the deaths of the Hmong refugees, Shelley Adler, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Francisco, became interested in nightmares and their cultural origins.

In an October issue of Quartz, Corrine Purtill writes, “In an effort to understand Hmong interpretations of these deaths, Adler interviewed Hmong refugees living in Stockton, California. When asked about common nightmares, men and women described a figure called dab tsog (pronounced “da cho”), an evil spirit that visited sleepers at night, pressed upon their chests, and attempted to smother them as they slept. Almost all of the interviewees were familiar with dab tsog (“da cho”); 58% reported having been visited by the nightmare themselves.

But the Hmong were hardly the first or the only people to have an oral record of such suffocating night-time visitors, as Adler describes in her book, Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-body Connection. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0051NXHEM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1)

For about as long as written records have existed, people have described a frightening night-time vision that paralyzes them with fear and seems to suck the breath right out of them, often by pressing directly upon their chest. Tales of such evil spirits come from ancient Assyria and Greece. Among the Canadian Inuit, the word uqumangirniq (ook-uhman-gear-nique) described this awake-but-paralyzed feeling; in Japan, kanashibari (can-ash-e-bar-e). Folklore from Newfoundland describes an old hag who sits upon sufferers’ chests as they sleep.

“The entity has stalked human beings throughout history, not merely within a particular society or during a specific time,” Adler wrote.”

Before we get into stories about The Hat Man, let’s talk a little bit about what sleep paralysis is and what causes it.

According to WebMD, “Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an overpowering need to sleep caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep.”

If you find it generally occurs while you’re in the process of falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital. If you experience it when you’re beginning to wake up, it’s hypnopompic or postdormital. So, what does all that mean?

During Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis, “As you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes. Usually you become less aware, so you do not notice the change. However, if you remain or become aware while falling asleep, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.

During Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis, “During sleep, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. One cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep occurs first and takes up to 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and restores itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move quickly and dreams occur, but the rest of your body remains very relaxed. Your muscles are “turned off” during REM sleep. If you become aware before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.”

There are 3 phases of non-REM sleep. In phase 1, you’ve just closed your eyes. It’s easy to wake you at this point and you won’t feel any disorientation if someone were to “wake you up.” This phase generally lasts anywhere from 5-10 minutes. In stage 2, your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows in preparation for deep sleep. It’s still fairly easy to rouse you at this point. Stage 3 is deep sleep. If someone were to jostle you awake at this point, you’d likely be disoriented. People like this deserve a high five in the face with a chair, but I digress. This stage is known as NREM sleep, when the body works to repair itself, build bone and muscle, and strengthen the immune system. Studies have shown that the older you get the less deep sleep you get and aging has been linked to shorter sleep periods. My grandfather sleeps maybe 5 ½ hours a night and always wakes refreshed. He’s clearly magic. However, this doesn’t mean you will be as vibrant at the age of 88 if you sleep 5 ½ hours a night. Studies have also shown that you need just as much sleep as you did when you were younger.

So, 90 minutes after all of the above happens, you slip into what is known as REM sleep, the final stage of the sleep process. As you sleep, your REM stages lengthen, the final stage might last up to an hour. Intense dreams are the mark of REM sleep because your brain is more active during this time. Your heart rate and breathing quickens. Fun fact: Babies spend up to 50% of their sleep in this stage.

What do we make of these night frights and the Freddy Krueger-esque feeling of dread we get when we think that our nightmares might kill us? Apparently 40% of people will have at least one experience in their lifetime and around 8% of us experience sleep paralysis regularly. If you have issues falling into or out of REM sleep, and your experience involves hallucinations or you’re unable to move or speak as you begin the waking process, you might be experiencing sleep paralysis.

Psychology professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, Christopher French explains, “you’re in this weird kind of hybrid state, a mix of normal waking consciousness and dream consciousness. You know you can’t move. You can see that you’re in your bedroom. So it feels very, very real. When I sat and thought about [the Hat Man], the thing that came to my mind was Freddy Krueger. This notion that you can be attacked when you’re asleep, that’s when you’re vulnerable. And of course, Krueger wears a hat.”

The Hat Man has become somewhat of an urban legend to those of us who experience sleep paralysis and I wonder if the telling and retelling of similar stories and experiences has poisoned the well a little. I don’t doubt what people see. I wouldn’t want that judgement of what I know I’ve experienced. I just wonder. It intrigues me that all of the experiences are so similar. There’s a description of The Hat Man that seems to cover every story I’ve read. He’s tall, dressed in all black, and completely featureless. Sometimes he’s wearing a long black coat or a cloak. He wears a hat with a brim (either something that looks like a top hat or a wide-brimmed fedora.)  How is it that so many people have described the same apparition? For the Quartz article, Purtill reached out to several Redditors and listened to countless stories about The Hat Man. People from the United States and Mexico had similar stories. I’m from Canada originally and I have my own Hat Man story which is very similar, if not almost identical, to those I’ve read. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t familiar with The Hat Man until I searched for him the first time…right after I saw him in my room one night.

It was late, likely 2 or 3 am on a weeknight. I was anxious about a test I had (likely maths though I don’t recall specifically) in the morning, first period, and was having trouble sleeping. I awoke at the aforementioned time with the feeling that someone was watching me. I opened my eyes and looked toward the door. I had recently moved into the basement of my grandparent’s house because one of my uncles had bought a house so the room was larger than my previous space. It had 2 areas, a “living” area where I had an old sofa (my uncle had left it behind) and a TV set up, and a sleeping area that contained my bed, a desk, and a dresser. From where I was, I could only see half of the door and I usually kept it closed, but when I opened my eyes, I saw that it was ajar. In the hallway beyond the door, illuminated by the light from the street beyond the windows behind it, stood a man in a hat. He was tall and his form was solid black. He wore all black clothing, a long jacket that came down past his knees, and seemed to be watching me. I couldn’t make out his features and he didn’t move. He just stood there and watched me. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t make a sound. I tried to sit up but it felt as if a weight were pressing down on my chest, pinning me to the bed. I remember being able to wiggle my fingers and toes, but I couldn’t look away from the man in the hat. I was terrified, though he didn’t move and didn’t speak out loud he seemed to exude fear. I could hear a scratching sound in my head. It sounded like someone lightly running their fingernails along a guitar string. It almost sounded like more than one person hissing out the words at once, but I couldn’t make sense of what he was telling me. The next thing I remember is my grandfather shaking me awake. He said I’d been screaming and he’d found it difficult to wake me.

In the years since, I’ve tried to sort this experience out and find the logic in it. I had felt awake, but must have been asleep if my grandfather had witnessed me doing so and had been trying to rouse me. It seemed to me that I had a partial witness to the experience leading me to believe that it must have been a nightmare. To this day I don’t know what The Hat Man was trying to tell me.

I’ve not only seen The Hat Man. I’ve also seen various shadow people, though it’s sometimes difficult to call them that. They’re often just black masses that appear in a doorway or at a window and disappear again as suddenly as they appeared there. I’m not the only person whose seen them. Shadow people are a staple in the folklore and legends of many people and places throughout the world.

From Wikipedia, “The Coast to Coast AM late night radio talk show helped popularize modern beliefs in shadow people. The first time the topic of shadow people was discussed at length on the show was April 12, 2001 when host Art Bell interviewed Native American elder Thunder Strikes, who is also known as Harley “SwiftDeer” Reagan. During the show, listeners were encouraged to submit drawings of shadow people that they had seen and a large number of these drawings were immediately shared publicly on the website. In October that year, Heidi Hollis published her first book on the topic of shadow people, and later became a regular guest on Coast to Coast. Hollis describes shadow people as dark silhouettes with human shapes and profiles that flicker in and out of peripheral vision, and claims that people have reported the figures attempting to “jump on their chest and choke them”. She believes the figures to be negative, alien beings that can be repelled by various means, including invoking “the Name of Jesus”.

Although participants in online discussion forums devoted to paranormal and supernatural topics describe them as menacing, other believers and paranormal authors do not agree whether shadow people are either evil, helpful, or neutral, and some even speculate that shadow people may be the extra-dimensional inhabitants of another universe. Some paranormal investigators and authors such as Chad Stambaugh claim to have recorded images of shadow people on video.

The thought that shadow people might be from another dimension within our universe reminded me of the horror film Mirrors featuring Kiefer Sutherland. He plays a security guard charged with watching a department store that’s been gutted by a fire. There are scenes in that movie that smack of experiences I’ve personally had with shadow people, catching a glimpse of them in a mirror.

I’m also reminded of the 2015 documentary The Nightmare which interviews several sufferers of sleep paralysis from different parts of the world and investigates some of the experiences they’ve had with shadow people through a cultural lens. If you experience sleep paralysis, this is a must watch. I’d definitely recommend it. You’ll also get the opportunity to hear the Newfoundland accent, which I think is pretty cool. The documentary is free to watch on YouTube. I’ll drop a link into the show notes.

You might remember a past episode of this podcast where Katie told her story about The Hat Man. She’s seen him on several occasions, waiting in a darkened corner of a room or just beyond a doorway. The difference with Katie’s experience is that she also saw this shadow figure while she was driving home, reflected in the window of a nearby car. I have no explanation for this. The fact I’ve seen him myself doesn’t make him real or lend credibility to his existence. It just means that we’ve both had similar experiences that might have been due to high stress, too much caffeine, too little sleep… Apparently, he’s a common hallucination, tacked on to the list of various other critters and creatures including spiders or insects. This explanation doesn’t make these experience any less terrifying and, if you don’t experience sleep paralysis, you’ll soon understand how frightening these experiences can be. I’ve reached out to a few of my Reddit friends and received a few emails about The Hat Man. Some run a little longer, others are to the point.

Kayla, Missouri

I was twelve and living with my dad. My parents had divorced and my time was split between two houses. When my grandmother on my father’s side passed away, he inherited her house. It wasn’t long before we moved from a cramped apartment to a three-bedroom house. It was cool having all that space and I immediately claimed the third bedroom, the one in the attic. It was brighter than all the other rooms and had a large window looking out over the neighborhood. We settled in and unpacked.

One night a few months after that I woke up in the middle of the night to a scratching sound. I could hear the sound but couldn’t see where it was coming from. I scanned the room but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I closed my eyes again and tried to go back to sleep. Suddenly, I felt air on my cheek and opened my eyes again. There was a solid black figure standing over me, close enough that I could feel its breath on my face. I tried to move but it felt like I was frozen and I could only look into whatever this dark thing was. It only lasted a few moments but it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. I was afraid of everything as a kid, especially horror movies so I know I didn’t watch something before bed that would freak me out. The next day at school I told my friend what I’d seen and she said she’d seen him too in the past.

Noxy, London

I haven’t told anyone this but sometimes when I wake up at night, I see a dark figure in my room. He wears a hat with a wide brim and I can’t make out his face. I don’t know why he comes or what he wants, but I always feel afraid when I see him and I hear whispers like my room is filled with lots of voices. Sometimes I sleep at my mates flat because I don’t want to go home.

Phil, Amsterdam

Sometime around 1976, I moved to Amsterdam with my family. I came here to teach English and stayed after I retired from teaching. I remember several times seeing a figure in my room at night. My wife would be asleep next to me and I’d watch as the figure leaned over her as if it was whispering something to her. I couldn’t move or do anything; I could only watch. In the morning, she would tell me about a bad dream she had about someone in the room. She also would have terrible headaches in the morning after experiencing this the night before. It was very strange and I still have no explanation.

Another time we were visiting friends and stayed overnight because we were a couple of hours from home and had stayed too late. I again saw a man in a hat leaning over my wife while she was asleep and again in the morning she complained of headaches and nightmares. I’m not sure if this is the type of story you’re looking for, but these experiences are very real to me.

Antonio, Mexico

I dream of him every night, though I’m not sure it is a dream. He’s often in the doorway to my room that I share with my older brother and he doesn’t say anything. I think it’s a he. I feel like it is. He watches us from the dark corner of the doorway and disappears slowly. It’s almost like he’s made of smoke. It’s like when you put out a cigarette. He’s there and then gone again. I feel fear when I see him, but he’s never hurt me. I feel like he could if he wanted to.

Brent, Florida

My wife and I bought a house a few years back and it has a storage room that you can get to through a little door. It’s like a trap door with a little handle and it opens out. We made the room with the trap door our bedroom because it was the master and our son who was 16 at the time wanted to live in the basement bedroom. The house was built in the 40s and has some creaks and groans, but is mostly in good shape. We’ve been fixing it up for a few years now.

My wife has sleep paralysis and has gone for sleep studies to try and figure out why she can’t get good sleep. She’s tried many different medications and even warm milk before bed. Nothing will help her sleep better. So she’s up and down in the night time because she can’t sleep at all or has had what she calls a bad dream. I’ve never been one to have bad dreams until recently.

I dream that there is a shadow standing in the corner of the bedroom next to the trap door. He’s tall and wears a hat. He’s solid and you can’t see through him, but it seems like he comes out of the trap door. The door doesn’t open, it’s like he slips through the crack where the door meets the frame. He just stands there looking at me. I’m not sure what he wants, but now I’ve started talking to my doctor about medication because I can’t get what I’m seeing to go away and now I’m not sleeping well either.

Amanda, California

Ever since I was very little, I’ve been able to see shadow people. I’ve done a lot of research about them online and read a lot of books about them because I want to understand what I’m seeing. I’ll see them just as I’m going to sleep but I’ve also seen them in my house and in other places like stores and supermarkets. They hide behind displays and peek out around corners. I remember you talking about your being able to see spirits on an episode of this podcast so I thought I’d send my story along. I love the podcast and that it is so supportive of those who have had these experiences. A lot of people think I’m crazy, but once a week I get to listen to the ODD Pod and all that worry goes away! Thanks for that.

Anyway… I’ve always had imaginary friends. I was always the kid who would want to play by themselves because I was never really alone. I found out when I was in my teens that not everyone can see shadow people or spirits. I used to think that everyone had imaginary friends that nobody else could see.

I remember one night when I was in bed, I woke up to someone saying my name. They said it very loudly and it seemed like they were right next to me sitting on the floor and level with my right ear. I looked around but didn’t see anyone. Later that night, I woke up again to my name being called out. When I opened my eyes, I was looking at a black mass. It was like it was all around me and I couldn’t see through it. I felt cold and it felt like hands were pushing me down. My parent’s bedroom was right next to mine but even though I was screaming in my head I couldn’t make any noise out loud. The next morning at breakfast I told my mom about it. She said it was just a bad dream and I should just forget about it.

The next couple of weeks, I kept seeing the black mass in my room at night and I kept having the same experiences. I told my mother each time it happened and my father too, but they didn’t believe me. They did however send me to a psychiatrist who told me I have schizophrenia. I’m not on medication anymore because it didn’t help, but I moved out of my parents house when I was in my early 20’s and have not seen the menacing shadow since. I’ve seen hundreds of shadow people, but none of them have made me fear for my own safety like this one has.

Toby, Michigan

Back in 1998 I went to live with my aunt and uncle because my parents were in an accident and lost their lives. I had never seen anything I would consider weird before then, but when I moved in with them The Man in the Hat would visit me regularly. He never said anything, just watched me. I didn’t sleep well until I went away to college. He left me alone after that.

Rhonda, Cape Town, South Africa

My whole family has trouble sleeping and we’ve been to doctors to have it checked. My father was an insomniac and my mother has trouble getting to sleep. I’ve always had nightmares, I guess some people call them night terrors, and often have dreams about a man that has a wide-brimmed hat. The top of the hat is sometimes pointy kind of like a witch hat, but I think this might be just the way I see him or the way he appears to me. I’ve read a lot about other people’s experiences and about shadow people and I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is real or not. I know it terrifies me when I see him and can’t move. I never talked to anyone about him because I thought they’d think I was crazy.

Tom, Belize

I’m an ex-pat living in Central America and have always seen shadows. They look a little like people but more often than not are just black blobs. Sometimes I think they want to tell me something because of the way they appear. Sometimes it looks like they’re gesturing or trying to get my attention. I’m not sure what they want but I don’t try to talk to them. I’m afraid to try because of what I’ve heard and read about possession and communicating with people from the other side. I see them regularly, several times a week. When I see them, I also sometimes see a man wearing a top hat. He doesn’t say anything either but he also doesn’t do any gesturing. I wonder sometimes if he wants them to deliver his message for him.

If you’re interested in reading more Hat Man stories, check out thehatmanproject.com. It appears that many of the links at the top of the page don’t work, but there are a ton of experiences catalogued here. Additionally, Reddit is a great source for spooky stories about the spectacularly spooky. I’ve come across several shadow person stories on the No Sleep subreddit. There are also a bunch of videos on YouTube about The Hat Man and his shadow companions that are sure to whet your creepy whistle. I’ll drop the links into the show notes for anyone who’s keen on freaking themselves out even further.

That’s it for this week, dear listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in and special thanks to those who shared their experiences with me for this episode. I’ll be back again next week 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!

 

Sources/Additional Links:

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-paralysis#1

https://qz.com/quartzy/1444843/what-is-sleep-paralysis/

https://nerdist.com/article/hat-man-nightmares-sleep-paralysis/

www.thehatmanproject.com

The Nightmare: Sleep Paralysis Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY2gh51KdnQ

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/nightmares

https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/

Evaporated People

Without A Trace: Japan’s Evaporated People

You’ve likely heard of people who disappear without a trace. Sometimes, they are the victims of foul play. Perhaps they left their homes on a perfectly normal morning after breakfast with their families and simply never returned. Perhaps these individuals were snatched off the street or met an untimely end and their remains have not yet been discovered, or perhaps they left their homes with the intention of disappearing and, in most cases, never to be seen or heard from again.

 

Welcome back, dear listeners, for another season of The ODDentity Podcast. I’ve got a bunch of new ideas for episodes and I can’t wait to present more weird, wonderful, and macabre stories designed to titillate and terrify. 11 new episodes PLUS a very special interview that you’re sure to love if you’re a professional weirdo like me. This week, I’d like to introduce you to the Johatsu, or evaporated people, of Japan. Those who voluntarily choose to disappear out of the lives they know to begin new ones somewhere else. It’ll be an interesting ride.

A little news before we get started this week.

Shout out to Clive from London, England who listens to The ODD Pod on his morning commute through The Tube and to Geoff and Gina from Nebraska who bond over the weird and wonderful and have found a home here within the ranks of their fellow Odd Balls. I’m so pleased you’re all enjoying the podcast and I greatly appreciate your continued support!

As you may have seen on social media, the pod closet has gotten a bit of an upgrade. The wifey added a shelf so that I can have more room to work and I’ve put up soundproofing material in an effort to further improve audio quality. A heavy moving blanket has been added as an extra layer of soundproofing for the door and all in all recording in there is akin (I’m sure) to recording in a crypt. I’m enjoying it immensely. 😊 I’ve also been fiddling with mic settings and am considering adding a mixer to my setup in the future. I’ll likely be using my employee discount in the not too distant future to procure a mixer or interface and upgrade further. All in due time.

Well, without further delay, on with the show…

 

The population of Japan (according to a 2019 evaluation) is somewhere around 124.8 million. Within this sea of people, it’s no surprise that some might slip through the cracks or that disappearing would be fairly easy. In Japan, there is a term for this. Johatsu or “evaporated people.” Individuals who choose to disappear or orchestrate their disappearances and vanish. This phenomenon is not new to those who live in Japan. As a matter of fact, disappearing was the easiest way to break an unhappy marriage or break the bonds of family life. Trying to avoid creditors? Disappear. Want to get out of an abusive relationship? Disappear. There are literally hundreds of companies in Japan that cater to those who wish to leave their current lives and begin anew and charge anywhere from $2,000-$12,000.00 American for their services.

From the New York Post:

“A shadow economy has emerged to service those who want never to be found — who want to make their disappearances look like abductions, their homes look like they’ve been robbed, no paper trail or financial transactions to track them down.

Nighttime Movers was one such company, started by a man named Shou Hatori. He’d run a legitimate moving service until one night, in a karaoke bar, a woman asked if Hatori could arrange for her to “disappear, along with her furniture. She said she could not stand her husband’s debts, which were ruining her life.”

Hatori charged $3,400 per midnight move. His clientele was vast: from housewives who’d shopped their families into debt to women whose husbands had left them to university students who were sick of doing chores in their dorms.

He refused to give specifics to the authors, but he eventually quit; as a child, Hatori himself had disappeared with his parents from Kyoto, after they found themselves in debt. He believes that his former line of work was a kindness.

“People often associate [this] with cowardice,” he says. “But while doing this work, I came to understand it as a beneficial move.”

“According to a 2014 report by the World Health Organization, Japan’s suicide rate is 60 percent higher than the global average. There are between 60 and 90 suicides per day. It’s a centuries-old concept dating back to the Samurai, who committed seppuku — suicide by ritual disembowelment — and one as recent as the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II.

Japanese culture also emphasizes uniformity, the importance of the group over the individual. “You must hit the nail that stands out” is a Japanese maxim, and for those who can’t, or won’t, fit into society, adhere to its strict cultural norms and near-religious devotion to work, to vanish is to find freedom of a sort.”

According to “The Vanished: The ‘Evaporated People’ of Japan in Stories and Photographs,” by Léna Mauger and Stéphane Remael, French authors who spent 5 years traveling around Japan in 2008, the trend is troubling and shows no sign of stopping. They met loved ones of individuals who had disappeared and created a book that catalogs, through words and photographs, the trend of Johatsu. Government data about this practice doesn’t exist, but Mauger and Remael believe some 100,000 people disappear annually. Many family members believe that their loved ones might return someday and are often so ashamed by their disappearance that they don’t report it to police. I’ll leave a link to the book in the show notes for anyone who’d like to grab a copy.

In a place like Japan, where culturally it’s appropriate to blend with the masses and avoid standing out too much, it’s no surprise that so many people might use a night moving company and free themselves from the bonds of assimilation (perceived or otherwise.)

So, walking out on your life is a little weird and random, but that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. I’m taking a dive into Japanese lore and finding possible connections between the disappearances of so many people and folkloric creatures that inhabit another world to which these people could possibly be spirited away. A film called Spirited Away is one of Japan’s highest-grossing films. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I offer a brief synopsis from IMDB. “In this animated feature by noted Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, 10-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) and her parents (Takashi Naitô, Yasuko Sawaguchi) stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku (Miyu Irino), who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.”

Let’s begin by talking about the plausible. Each year, there are those who travel to the forest at the base of Mt. Fuji, known as Aokigahara or The Sea of Trees. It’s a piece of land known for its popularity as a suicide spot. You might recall the piece I did on a previous episode, but I’ll rehash the basics.

Aokigahara is a densely forested area at the base of Mt. Fuji where those who have given up on life, or possibly those searching for a reason to live, are often lost. Many bodies have been uncovered within the forest and signage is posted telling those who enter to reconsider if they are considering suicide. There are people charged with entering the forest in order to find those who might have gotten lost or taken their own lives and personal items can often be found abandoned either at the site where human remains are found or in random locations throughout Aokigahara. Cell signals are poor and, even though some have used twine or ribbon to mark their route through The Sea of Trees, they might get turned around and not be able to find their way out. Even a compass won’t help.

There are many Japanese folklore tales that involve some mythical creature taking humans from the earth and transporting them onto an otherworldly plane. For example, the Kappa is a frog-like creature, roughly the size of a child, with a turtle shell on its back and it’s been blamed for drownings and disappearances. Apparently, the Kappa enjoys sumo wrestling and will challenge its victim to a match in order to remove a mythical organ called the shirikodama from their victim’s anus. I guess we all have this organ and it contains our soul. Not sure why it’s in our anus, but that’s the story. It was customary for people to consume cucumbers, supposedly the Kappa’s favorite food, for protection before water travel or swimming. It’s likely that, when a family member disappeared, something like the Kappa might have been blamed for the loss. Clearly, someone forgot to eat their cucumber or lost a sumo wrestling match.

As is the case with many cultures, if a reasonable explanation could not be found for an event, the supernatural would be named as the cause. Where I come from, people used to believe that sleep paralysis was caused by a creature that sat on your chest. There were people who slept with “anti-hag devices” (a board with a nail in it) on their chest so that they could be protected while they slept. If a disappearance defied explanation, it was likely easier to blame some fantastical creature than to examine what the actual cause might be.

As a child, you may have been told fantastical tales of witches, ogres, princesses in peril, and monstrous beasts by your caretakers. In Japanese culture, children are often told stories very similar to those you might have heard during your childhood. Grimm’s Fairytale-style tales. In Japan, there are many kamikakushi stories, otherwise known as stories about being “spirited away.” When I was a child, I was told to watch out for faeries in the woods, small creatures who would lure you into the depths of the forest to perish or leave you with a permanent mark so that anyone who saw it would know you had strayed from the path of safety and trespassed onto their lands. There are stories like these in Japanese culture as well and they essentially serve the purpose of warning children away from harmful situations. However, some of them can be quite horrifying. For example, there is a story about a little boy who gets lost in the mountains for several days and returns with a belly full of live snails. Truly disturbing. Other tales, that of Visu the Woodsman and the Old Priest, for example, serve to promote balance and warn of what one might lose if balance is shifted.

“Many years ago there lived on the then barren plain of Suruga a woodsman by the name of Visu. He was a giant in stature and lived in a hut with his wife and children.

One day Visu received a visit from an old priest, who said to him: “Honorable woodsman, I am afraid you never pray.”

Visu replied: “If you had a wife and a large family to keep, you would never have time to pray.”

This remark made the priest angry, and the old man gave the woodcutter a vivid description of the horror of being reborn as a toad, or a mouse, or an insect for millions of years. Such lurid details were not to Visu’s liking, and he accordingly promised the priest that in future he would pray.

“Work and pray,” said the priest as he took his departure.

Unfortunately, Visu did nothing but pray. He prayed all day long and refused to do any work so that his rice crops withered and his wife and family starved. Visu’s wife, who had hitherto never said a harsh or bitter word to her husband, now became extremely angry, and, pointing to the poor thin bodies of her children, she exclaimed: “Rise, Visu, take up your ax and do something more helpful to us all than the mere mumbling of prayers!”

Visu was so utterly amazed at what his wife had said that it was some time before he could think of a fitting reply. When he did so his words came hot and strong to the ears of his poor, much-wronged wife.

“Woman,” said he, “the Gods come first. You are an impertinent creature to speak to me so, and I will have nothing more to do with you!” Visu snatched up his ax and, without looking round to say farewell, he left the hut, strode out of the wood, and climbed up Fujiyama, where a mist hid him from sight.

When Visu had seated himself upon the mountain he heard a soft rustling sound, and immediately afterward saw a fox dart into a thicket. Now Visu deemed it extremely lucky to see a fox, and, forgetting his prayers, he sprang up, and ran hither and thither in the hope of again finding this sharp-nosed little creature.

He was about to give up the chase when, coming to an open space in a wood, he saw two ladies sitting down by a brook playing go. The woodsman was so completely fascinated that he could do nothing but sit down and watch them. There was no sound except the soft click of pieces on the board and the song of the running brook. The ladies took no notice of Visu, for they seemed to be playing a strange game that had no end, a game that entirely absorbed their attention. Visu could not keep his eyes off these fair women. He watched their long black hair and the little quick hands that shot out now and again from their big silk sleeves in order to move the pieces.

After he had been sitting there for three hundred years, though to him it was but a summer’s afternoon, he saw that one of the players had made a false move. “Wrong, most lovely lady!” he exclaimed excitedly. In a moment these women turned into foxes and ran away.

When Visu attempted to pursue them he found to his horror that his limbs were terribly stiff, that his hair was very long, and that his beard touched the ground. He discovered, moreover, that the handle of his ax, though made of the hardest wood, had crumbled away into a little heap of dust.

After many painful efforts, Visu was able to stand on his feet and proceed very slowly toward his little home. When he reached the spot he was surprised to see no hut, and, perceiving a very old woman, he said: “Good lady, I am amazed to find that my little home has disappeared. I went away this afternoon, and now in the evening it has vanished!”

The old woman, who believed that a madman was addressing her, inquired his name. When she was told, she exclaimed: “Bah! You must indeed be mad! Visu lived three hundred years ago! He went away one day, and he never came back again.”

“Three hundred years!” murmured Visu. “It cannot be possible. Where are my dear wife and children?”

“Buried!” hissed the old woman, “and, if what you say is true, you children’s children too. The Gods have prolonged your miserable life in punishment for having neglected your wife and little children.”

Big tears ran down Visu’s withered cheeks as he said in a husky voice: “I have lost my manhood. I have prayed when my dear ones starved and needed the labor of my once strong hands. Old woman, remember my last words: “If you pray, work too!”

We do not know how long the poor but repentant Visu lived after he returned from his strange adventures. His white spirit is still said to haunt Fujiyama when the moon shines brightly.

  • Source: F. Hadland Davis, Myths and Legends of Japan (London: George G. Harrap and Company, 1912), pp. 136-39.
  • This is a type 766 folktale. Davis entitles the story “The Rip van Winkle of Old Japan.”

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html

 

This story appears on page 136 of a 1912 printing of Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis and is comparable to the tale of Rip van Winkle, but you could also read into the text and find the theme of being “spirited away,” warped in time. I wonder if these kinds of tales are relatable to those who are missing loved ones who have disappeared? Perhaps. There are many Japanese families who are still wondering where their loved ones are and when, or if, they might return.

There are also many folktales in Japan that speak of disguising oneself as something else and hiding in plain sight or wishing to be another person or object more powerful or of higher regard than the form a person might currently take. It seems to be that being powerless or lacking in the ability to control your own fate or path is a common theme and something that many of the subjects within these legends struggle with. For example, there is the tale of The Stonecutter, a man who toils in the sun day in and day out to cut stones for walls, roadways, and tombstones. One day he carries a tombstone to the home of a rich man and sees all of the beautiful things the man owns. He wishes out loud that he might be as a rich as this man and, because there’s a spirit living within the mountain he’s working upon, his wish is granted. Throughout the story, the Stonecutter continues to wish to be that which he thinks is more powerful or of higher regard than that of which he last wished. He wishes to be a prince and the wish is granted, but finds that even the prince can be burned by the scorching sun overhead.  So, he wishes to be the sun. This new power is exciting but eventually becomes tiresome. He then sees the clouds striking the earth with thunder and pelting the ground with rain causing floods and creating life. He wishes to be a cloud. Eventually, this too becomes tiresome. In the end, the Stonecutter wishes to be the mountain because he deems it to be strong and immoveable.

“Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain, only the great rock on the mountainside remained unmoved. The cloud was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: “Is the rock, then, mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!”

And the mountain spirit answered; “Your wish is heard; the rock you shall be!”

And the rock he was and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood, and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him. “This is better than all!” he said to himself. But one day he heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see what it could be, he saw a stonecutter driving tools into his surface. Even while he looked a trembling feeling ran all through him, and a great block broke off and fell upon the ground. Then he cried in his wrath: “Is a mere child of earth mightier than a rock? Oh, if I were only a man!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard. A man once more you shall be!”

And a man he was, and in the sweat of his brow, he toiled again at his trade of stone cutting. His bed was hard and his food scanty, but he had learned to be satisfied with it and did not long to be something or somebody else. And as he never asked for things he did not have or desired to be greater and mightier than other people, he was happy at last, and never again heard the voice of the mountain spirit.”

(Source: Andrew Lang, The Crimson Fairy Book (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1903), pp. 192-97. Lang’s source: David Brauns, “Der Steinhauer,” Japanische Märchen (Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Friedrich, 1885), pp. 87-89.)

 

Who are we if we are powerful? We are the mountain. We are the sun and the clouds. But who are we if we are powerless? Who are we without strength? It seems that these are all questions brought to mind while reading these legends. Not everyone can be powerful and hold all the cards. Not everyone can have the same balance in their lives. Perhaps, after hearing stories like this in their childhoods and living within the collective hum some individuals decided to break away. Indeed, some of the Johatsu may have taken their own lives, some may have run from creditors or abusive spouses, but others may have just wanted to escape and be free to become their own person.

Now, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Japan’s love of ghost stories in this episode. There’s certainly a ghostly quality to some of the stories I’ve read regarding those who have disappeared without a trace. It’s almost as if they are swallowed up by some sort of vortex and cease to exist, even though there is proof that many of these people wind up moving to new places and beginning again. So I guess from here I should talk a little about Yokai, otherwise known as tales of ghosts, demons, monsters, or the unexplained. Yokai is basically a catch-all term for creepy shit. I’m all about that.

In December of 2019, the Albuquerque Journal released a story about Yokai and the showing of some Japanese artifacts at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Curator Felicia Katz-Harris was interviewed about the exhibit.

“Japan is famous for its variety of yokai. Early imagery appeared in religion; they materialized as oni (demons or goblins), complete with horns and fangs.

The roots of many of the stories and images extend back to Muromachi Period scroll paintings from about 1336 to 1573. A scroll from the Edo Period (1603-1867) describing “The Night Parade of 100 Demons” also helped set the stage. Yokai may range from the malevolent to the mischievous.”

“They’re these weird, inexplicable shared experiences,” Katz-Harris said. “Then there becomes this yokai that becomes the bean washer. By the Edo period (1603-1867), artists began depicting these phantoms in woodblock prints, then books. Kabuki theater and puppets expressed the yokai on stage. “This was a time of relative peace,” Katz-Harris said. “There were new markets for leisure activities like books.” Illustrated graphic novels and comic books appeared in Japan long before their occurrence in the West.

By the time of the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan’s 250-year-old feudal isolationist policies crumbled with the overthrow of the government. Social issues began to surface in yokai arts.

“The Tale of Genji,” a story about a woman who is rejected by a married womanizer, appears in Taiso Yoshitoshi’s 1886 woodblock print of a ghostly woman sitting on a tangled vine. Equal parts sexist and yokai, a mask of the ghost Hannya by artist Terai Ichiyu depicts a woman who transforms into a demon through jealousy and rage.”

There have been instances where people who have disappeared have been seen on the street or in a marketplace. Friends and family members have witnessed these appearances and are sure that it is their loved one they’re seeing. When they try to catch the person or approach them, it’s as if they disappear completely. Have these people passed on and become a part of the continual energy swirling around us or did they simply become aware they’d been spotted and slipped into some otherwise unseen area, seemingly swallowed up by some supernatural vortex?

 

That’s it for this week, dear listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in. I’ll be back again next week 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 sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps!

 

Sources:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html#stonecutter

https://time.com/4646293/japan-missing-people-johatsu-evaporated/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/

https://www.amazon.com/Vanished-Evaporated-People-Stories-Photographs/dp/151070826X

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVc_AdJoAVs

https://nypost.com/2016/12/10/the-chilling-stories-behind-japans-evaporating-people/

 

 

S5 Ep. 1: Evaporated People

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-x89pi-d04182

S5 Ep. 1: Evaporated People

Every year, over 100,000 people go missing in Japan and there’s a whole business surrounding orchestrated disappearances. Join me as I take you inside the Night Moving business in Japan and the folklore and spooky tales that permeate this part of the world. Is there a connection?

This episode contains a magical body part, a dude who wants to be a rock, some Japanese folklore, and tales of being spirited away.

Get Social!

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 sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps!

Sources:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html#stonecutter

https://time.com/4646293/japan-missing-people-johatsu-evaporated/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/

https://www.amazon.com/Vanished-Evaporated-People-Stories-Photographs/dp/151070826X

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVc_AdJoAVs

https://nypost.com/2016/12/10/the-chilling-stories-behind-japans-evaporating-people/

S5 Ep. 1: Evaporated People

S5 Ep. 1: Evaporated People

Every year, over 100,000 people go missing in Japan and there’s a whole business surrounding orchestrated disappearances. Join me as I take you inside the Night Moving business in Japan and the folklore and spooky tales that permeate this part of the world. Is there a connection?

This episode contains a magical body part, a dude who wants to be a rock, some Japanese folklore, and tales of being spirited away.

Get Social!

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 sincerest thanks to those who have promoted The ODDentity Podcast to their family, friends, and coworkers. Every little bit helps!

Sources:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html#stonecutter

https://time.com/4646293/japan-missing-people-johatsu-evaporated/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/

https://www.amazon.com/Vanished-Evaporated-People-Stories-Photographs/dp/151070826X

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVc_AdJoAVs

https://nypost.com/2016/12/10/the-chilling-stories-behind-japans-evaporating-people/