S6 Ep. 4: Monstrous

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

And now…on with the show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • gas
  • fat
  • feces
  • urine

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

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

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

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

And, in Mary’s case, they were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, Sir,

Your Humble Servant

John Howard”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it for this week dear listeners.

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

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

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

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

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Sources

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

https://archive.org/details/shortnarrativeof00sain

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/21/781209908/mary-toft-or-the-rabbit-queen-asks-big-questions-about-small-animals

https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/mary-toft-and-her-extraordinary-delivery-of-rabbits

https://www.vice.com/sv/article/5gkvnz/woman-gives-birth-to-snake-203

https://books.google.com/books?id=O7wQAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA197#v=onepage&q=mary%20toft&f=false

https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/phantom-pregnancy#symptoms

https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/library/files/special/exhibns/month/aug2009.html

http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/2429/1/uk_bl_ethos_548708.pdf

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

S5 Ep. 9: Big Bad Bodie

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

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

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

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

Hello ODD Pod listeners and welcome back to another episode.

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

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

Anyway, on with the show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_buildings_in_Bodie,_California)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*edited

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Stay Spooky!

 

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://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodie,_California

https://www.visitmammoth.com/blogs/history-and-geology-bodie-ghost-town

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

https://ghost.hauntedhouses.com/california_bodie_bodie_cemetery#

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]

Haunted Monterey

S4 Ep. 10: Haunted Monterey

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This week Janine talks to author and journalist Patrick Whitehurst about his new book Haunted Monterey County. Discussion ranges from Whitehurst’s favorite haunted locations to traditional folklore tales and soul-sucking cats.

About Patrick Whitehurst

Patrick Whitehurst is a fiction and non-fiction author. As a journalist, he’s worked for a number of newspapers and covered everything from the heartbreaking deaths of nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshots to President Barack Obama’s visit to Grand Canyon. He’s also the author of the novellas Monterey Noir and Monterey Pulp, with a third, Monterey Lies, in the works. His most recent book, Haunted Monterey County, reveals the many ghostly locations found in the Central Coast community. He’s currently at work on a fifth nonfiction book for The History Press, Murder & Mayhem in Tucson, Arizona, due out late next year.

Patrick lives with his fiancé and four little dogs in Tucson, Arizona. Find him online at patrickwhitehurst.com, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Haunted Monterey County available here: https://www.amazon.com/Haunted-Monterey-County-America/dp/1467142352/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3FSJ4JN0C11N7&keywords=patrick+whitehurst&qid=1574050669&sprefix=patrick+white%2Caps%2C159&sr=8-1
https://www.instagram.com/whitehurst12/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3553441.Patrick_Whitehurst

https://twitter.com/pmwhitehurst

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPatrickWhitehurst/

 

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New Episode Available for Download!

S4 Ep: 9 Blair Witch Kinda Sh*t

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This week, Janine introduces us to (supposedly) one of the most haunted places on earth: Dudleytown, Connecticut. Does the Dudley curse keep forest creatures away from Dudleytown? Is there something lurking in the woods surrounding it? Is the Dark Entry Forest Association hiding the true sinister nature of the place? Can the cases of insanity be explained away? We’ll explore the history of the settlement and some of the urban legends surrounding the location.

This episode contains sleigh robe stealing shenanigans, the Dark Entry Forest Association, unexplained disappearances, and a beheaded witch hunter.

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The Death Of Halloween

It’s the Halloween season, a season adorned with pumpkins and fuzzy black cat cutouts from Beistle, pumpkin spice, comfy clothes, and healthy hijinks. I love Halloween, it’s my season, but there are some people who get awfully anxious about the holiday and everything it entails. But why? Obviously, kids trick or treating at night should wear something reflective, carry a flashlight, make sure they can see well out of their masks, and be accompanied by a responsible adult. Of course, they shouldn’t crisscross the street and gather their treats from one side at a time and they should absolutely have someone check their treats before anything gets consumed. I remember watching a PSA in school every year up until about junior high. The same little cartoon pumpkin telling us to beware of strangers (stranger danger was in full swing at that time) and not to accept fruit or baked goods while on our trick or treating tours. My father always told me to accept and that we’d throw those things away later. Even he wasn’t safe from the terror of tampered Halloween candy. But where did this fear come from and why are we still so concerned about psychopaths tainting our treats?

I remember filling pillowcases and those plastic pumpkin buckets (which equals roughly 3 lbs of sugar or 9k cal.) with treats from all over the neighborhood. We had a guy on my street who ran a vending company so he handed out nearly expired full-sized Snickers bars and cans of Pepsi to his trick or treaters. We always stopped there last, saving the best. I never once considered that my neighbor, the man who waved at us as we were walking to the bus stop at the base of the hill, would want to murder us with the treats he handed out.

History of Tricks and Treats

The custom of trick or treating didn’t catch on in the US until the 1920/30’s, but this Halloween practice has deep roots. The Celts dressed up as evil spirits to defend against the demons thought to be wandering the earth. They celebrated the New Year on Nov. 1 (All Souls Day) and they believed that those not dressed in costume would be taken by the demons wandering the earth during the time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead was thinnest. Those in costume would be mistaken for a demon themselves and the evil spirits would leave them in peace. The Catholic Church changed the pagan tradition into All Hallows Eve and All Souls’ Day and many of the Celtic traditions were adopted. Though the church encouraged people to dress as saints and angels, some still dressed as devils and goblins. In the Middle Ages, the poor would often dress up and go door to door asking for money or food in exchange for prayers. The tradition was called “souling.” A prayer for the soul offered by a visitor.

Many Halloween traditions came about during this time, including bobbing for apples, pulling candy, and roasting chestnuts. Partygoers to Ms. Marion Bostwick’s Halloween soiree in Janesville, WI in 1889 would enjoy all of the above. They also cut open apples to examine the seeds, “In apple seeds, two are said to signify an early wedding; three, a legacy; four, indicate a great wealth; five, a voyage across the sea; six, fame as a public speaker; seven, the gift most desired by the finder.” (WPR.org) They would also remove the apple’s skin in one piece and throw it over their right shoulder, believing that the shape it took when it hit the floor would be the initial of the individual you were to marry. Celebrations would often give way to vandalism and led to the adoption of a strict trick or treating schedule, but it didn’t really stick. Sugar rationing during WWII put an end to many trick or treating practices, but boomers took it up again as standard practice after the war.

Trick or treaters of today often find themselves going door to door in the afternoon when the sun is high in the sky. Still more find that trick or treating is held one or even two weeks before the actual holiday. This practice is due in part to superstition and the tendency of many people to believe the urban legends surrounding Halloween.

Let’s talk a little about a few of the reasons why Halloween has been castrated.

Cases of Poisoned Treats

Razor blades, poison, drugs, pins, and chocolate-covered laxatives… What do all of these things have in common? They’ve all been found in Halloween treat bags, cleverly disguised by a piece of candy to hide their sinister nature and having been placed there by sinister individuals looking to harm little children.

Wait…really?

Actually, there have only been a handful of cases where children legitimately found harmful substances in their Halloween candy. One child accidentally ate his parent’s heroin stash and died. The parents put some of the heroin in the kid’s Halloween candy to make it look like he’d been poisoned by tainted treats. In another instance, a dentist gave out chocolate-covered laxatives to trick or treaters causing them to become violently ill. The dentist was caught and charges were filed. No fatalities in that case. In New York, a woman handed out poison ant buttons, dog biscuits, and steel wool as treats, something that authorities didn’t find funny even though she assured them it was just a joke and she was trying to get back at the older kids who shouldn’t be trick or treating.

In 2018, Erin Blakemore wrote an article for History.com addressing some of the reasons why Americans are antsy about Halloween and trick or treating. According to Blakemore,

“When they [sociologists and criminal justice experts Joel Best and Gerald T. Horiuchi] conducted an extensive study on so-called “Halloween sadism,” or crimes specifically committed using Halloween treats or customs, they concluded that the threat is greatly exaggerated. Though both parents and kids are taught to be on the alert for tampered-with sweets, most of the cases the researchers analyzed were either overstated or could not be linked to Halloween itself.”

Best and Joriuchi say that many (read most) reports of Halloween sadism are of “questionable authenticity” but Snopes.com will tell you that much.

The fourth and final instance of candy tampering is likely the most disturbing.

The Candyman

On a cloudy Halloween night in Pasadena, TX, Ronald Clarke O’Bryan, his son Timothy (8), and daughter Elizabeth (5) pile into the car to meet a friend from church. O’Bryan had arranged with the fellow parishioner that he and his two kids would join him and his children in their upscale neighborhood in Houston, TX to trick or treat. It’s a damp night and it’s begun to drizzle, but the rain doesn’t ruin their fun. The children run from house to house knocking on doors and laughing. At one house, the porch light is out. The kids knock anyway and O’Bryan, who had been following the children to the doors while the other father waited on the sidewalk, decided to wait for a response while the kids went to the next house. A few minutes later, O’Bryan returns with five 21” Pixy stix. He says something to the other father about the rich people who live in the neighborhood and the “premium treats” being handed out. The stix are too long to fit in the kid’s Halloween bags and buckets, so O’Bryan offers to carry them while they gather the rest of their treats.

Later, once everyone has returned to his house, O’Bryan hands out the Pixy Stix to the kids. He’s still got one left, but he says he’ll eat that one himself. A few minutes later, a group of kids knock on O’Bryan’s door including Whitney Parker, a boy O’Bryan knows from his church. He gives the Pixy stick to the boy.

Once the other kids have left, after all the excitement of the evening has died down, Timothy removes his Planet of the Apes costume and gets ready for bed. He asks his father if he can have some of his Halloween candy. O’Bryan tells him he can only have one, so Timothy chooses the Pixy Stick. The candy is clumped together and Timothy can’t get the candy out. O’Bryan helps to break it up, rolling the stick between his hands, and pours the candy down his son’s throat. Shortly thereafter, Timothy becomes violently ill, vomiting and convulsing. An ambulance is called and Timothy is rushed to the hospital, but it’s too late. Timothy is dead.

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Timothy O’Bryan (farthest right) Photo from https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a39329/halloween-photo-story/

Pasadena police begin going from house to house, waiting with bated breath as the parents, having been awakened at around 3 in the morning, groggily go check on their children. The police find 4 more Pixy Stix, all laced with cyanide. The candy was unopened.

Kids often make up stories about their Halloween candy being tampered with. I did it myself. I put a piece of plastic in a Mars bar and nearly gave my grandmother a heart attack, but it was funny as hell. Of course, the trick backfired and my grandmother threw out all of the candy I’d collected for fear that ALL the candy was tainted. Parents do it, too. There have been multiple instances where parents have actually inserted razor blades and other inanimate or dangerous objects into candy in order to prove a point. I can personally think of a dozen other ways to prove the point that kids should have their parents check candy prior to consumption so that’s quite the trick in my book. No kids have been harmed by this particular trick. But Timothy wasn’t the victim of a trick gone wrong.

It turns out that O’Bryan had taken out life insurance policies on his kids and made up the entire story of the Pixy Stix in order to cover his tracks. With Timothy’s death, O’Bryan stood to gain $100,000. Unfortunately for him, his plan backfired. The individual he accused of giving him the treats, he pointed to the house that had the porch light off that night, was working as an air traffic controller and had over 200 witnesses to corroborate his story. The police quickly honed in on O’Bryan, the man who had openly wept at his son’s funeral and accepted the condolences of attendees. The boy had ingested a lethal dose of potassium cyanide. According to a pathologist, the candy Timothy had ingested contained enough cyanide to kill two adults while the other four candies contained dosages that could kill three to four adults. O’Bryan denied he had anything to do with the poisoning, but it was discovered that he had actually gone to several lab supply companies asking to buy cyanide. O’Bryan was arrested and charged with capital murder and the attempted murder of his daughter and the other children he’d given poisoned candy to on November 5, 1974. His wife immediately divorced him. In prison, child killer O’Bryan was shunned by the other inmates and was said to be entirely friendless. The other inmates even petitioned to hold an organized demonstration on his execution date to express their hatred of him. Phil Donahue (you remember the talk show Donahue, right?) interviewed O’Bryan on death row. When Donahue tells O’Bryan that people have accused him of ruining Halloween for everyone, O’Bryan laughs, gives a peaceful smile, and says, “That’s a matter of opinion.”

O’Bryan was put to death (after several stays of execution) on March 31, 1984, at the age of 39 in Huntsville, TX. His final statement was simple. “I forgive all – and I do mean all – those who have been involved in my death. God bless you all, and may God’s best blessings be always yours.”  O’Bryan never admitted to poisoning his son. Ronald Clark O’Bryan, a seemingly mild-mannered optician, would forever be known as The Candyman or The Man Who Killed Halloween.

 

Halloween PSA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC2NMHMvzZ0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcfkNr9R-T8

Urban legend Halloween candy

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

Ronald Clark O’Bryan

https://www.history.com/news/how-americans-became-convinced-their-halloween-candy-was-poisoned

https://www.wpr.org/trick-or-treating-newer-halloween-tradition-us

Werewolves: Myths and Legends

One of my favorite films is American Werewolf in London. It’s essentially a movie about two college dudes who go on a walkabout in Britain and are attacked by a werewolf that nobody they encounter will admit exists. It’s written and directed by John Landis and contains some pretty fantastic makeup and prosthetic work. It took an average of 5 hours to get it applied. My father tried to make me a werewolf for Halloween one year and I looked like I’d run into a wig shop covered in crazy glue. Trust me, it was bad. Think more along the lines of Cousin Itt. And the Spirit Gum…oh! It was awful…but anyway, here’s a brief synopsis that writer John Vogel did for IMDB.

“Two American college students are on a walking tour of Britain and are attacked by a werewolf. One is killed, the other is mauled. The werewolf is killed but reverts to its human form, and the local townspeople are unwilling to acknowledge its existence. The surviving student begins to have nightmares of hunting on four feet at first but then finds that his friend and other recent victims appear to him, demanding that he commit suicide to release them from their curse, being trapped between worlds because of their unnatural deaths.”

I was little more than 7 months old when the movie hit the theaters in August of 1981 and it grossed over 30 million worldwide. Clearly, audiences were interested in werewolves, their lore, and their tortured lives. But stories about werewolves didn’t originate with American Werewolf in London. They actually originated in one of the oldest known pieces of Western prose The Epic of Gilgamesh when Gilgamesh jilts a potential lover because she’d turned her previous mate into a wolf. A total deal-breaker for ‘ol Gilge. In Greek mythology, we are presented with the Legend of Lycaon (Lycan is a term you might have heard used in the Underworld movies, but it’s far older than that) who “angered the god Zeus when he served him a meal made from the remains of a sacrificed boy. As punishment, the enraged Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves.” Werewolves are also spoken about in Nordic folklore in the Saga of the Volsungs. The story tells of “a father and son who discovered wolf pelts that had the power to turn people into wolves for ten days. The father-son duo donned the pelts, transformed into wolves and went on a killing rampage in the forest. Their rampage ended when the father attacked his son, causing a lethal wound. The son only survived because a kind raven gave the father a leaf with healing powers.” (history.com)

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Serial Killer or Werewolf?

In the early 1500s, a time when flicking a Bic lighter would have sent the average townsperson into a panicked frenzy, two men, Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, were accused of being werewolves. It all began when Burgot was assailed by three men in black who told him that if he didn’t denounce God they would do something terrible to him. If he did denounce God, they guaranteed the safety of the flock of sheep he was transporting and riches beyond his wildest imaginings. Of course, Burgot agreed because why not. When Verdun (one of the men in black—no not THOSE men in black) told Burgot that they would go together to meet a group of warlocks, things start to get a little weird. Verdun tells Bergot that he should strip down naked and the two began applying some sort of salve or mixture all over their bodies. Burgot and Verdun (according to Burgot) began to immediately grow coarse fur and their hands and feet became clawed. The two then took to the French countryside to murder and eat small children. You know, just a guy’s night out.

Of course, Burgot and Verdun’s rampages came to an end when they were found guilty of mass murder and burned alive (one of the only ways that were considered logical to kill a werewolf in the 1500s.) The witch trials were in full swing during this time so burning at the stake was pretty much a catchall punishment for ungodly acts. Verdun and Burgot are seen by some as serial killers who preyed on the most innocent of humanity while others still believe that the men were indeed werewolves. (https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/burgot-pierre-d-1521)

Another man by the name of Peter Stubbe who was a fifteenth-century farmer in Bedburg, Germany was supposedly a werewolf. Folklore tales tell of Stubbe transforming into a wolf-like creature and devouring any poor villager who might cross his path. Stubbe was cornered one evening by a group of hunters who claimed to have seen him transform from human to wolf and Stubbe confessed to the crimes. He was subjected to gruesome torture for his crimes. He claimed under duress that he owned a belt that was enchanted with the power to turn him into a wolf, but the belt was never found. Some believe that Stubbe was the victim of a witch hunt, but at this point in history there were fears of such creatures and it would have been difficult to find a person who did not believe that werewolves were on the prowl.

There are many logical explanations for werewolf lore and the visage/behaviors that go along with it. For example, lycanthropy is a rare psychological condition that causes people to believe they’re changing into a wolf or some other animal. Rabies can cause even the most “normal” of individuals to go batty. Hypertrichosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes excessive hair growth, could be another affliction that could cause panic. The ingestion of hallucinogenic herbs could be to blame. There are absolutely reasonable explanations out there to explain away the werewolf and its wolfy-ness, but perhaps it’s just more fun to believe that there is more to this world we live in than meets the eye.

 

Shapeshifting

In many cultures, it is believed that a human being can shapeshift into the form of a wolf because a curse has been placed upon that person. Perhaps they’ve been bitten or scratched by a wolf, another cursed human who is doomed to stalk the earth as a creature of the night. Folklore tells us that enchanted sashes, cloaks, or belts are to blame. In many werewolf stories, the person only turns into a wolf when the moon is full.

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.

You might recognize this poem from the 1941 film The Wolf Man featuring Lon Cheney Jr. It seems like every time someone brings up the subject of werewolves, the townspeople chime in with this little rhyme. This Wolfman is the image that many people associate with film representations of werewolves. But this is not the case in every culture. In Navajo culture, tales of Skinwalkers are often told. Translated, yee naaldooshii translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours.” From Wikipedia,

“Animals associated with witchcraft usually include tricksters such as the coyote, but can include other creatures, usually those associated with death or bad omens. They might also possess living animals or people and walk around in their bodies by locking eyes with them. Skin-walkers may be male or female. Skin-walker stories told among Navajo children may be complete life and death struggles that end in either skin-walker or Navajo killing the other or partial encounter stories that end in a stalemate. Encounter stories may be composed as Navajo victory stories, with the skin-walkers approaching a Hogan (the traditional dwelling of Navajo people) and being scared away

Non-Native interpretations of skin-walker stories typically take the form of partial encounter stories on the road, where the protagonist is temporarily vulnerable, but then escapes from the skin-walker in a way not traditionally seen in Navajo stories that take place away from home. Sometimes Navajo children take European folk stories and substitute skin-walkers for generic killers like The Hook. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin-walker)

These creatures will knock on windows and bang on walls in an effort to lure their victims outside. Skinwalkers have the ability to steal the faces of people you know and, if you accidentally lock eyes with one, they have the ability to absorb themselves into your body and take control of you. Most Skinwalkers are said to resemble “hollowed out dogs” (not sure what that means, but it sure as hell sounds horrifying) and you can apparently defeat a Skinwalker if you call them by their true (human) name.

I found one particularly horrifying encounter with a Skinwalker on Thought Catalogue. There is a bunch to look through there.

THEY RAN AWAY ON THEIR BACK LEGS

“So this happened about twelve years ago. My family owns a farm in the heart of an Indian reservation. One Winter I was home for Christmas taking care of the farm while my parents were away Christmas shopping. As I was home by myself, way late in the night and I hear all our cows freaking out. I knew it had to be the wild dogs that are rampant in the area. So I throw on some boots, grab a shotgun, load it up, and head out to the field. This was a perfect scenario for a horror movie, it was cloudy but there was a full moon, and it was breaking through the clouds just right to light up all the snow.

I ran out into the middle of the field, and just in time I see two dogs, they were standing up facing each other and fighting. I think “perfect two for one.” So I pump a shell into the chamber of Mr. 12 gauge and then it happened. The two dogs heard the rack, they both stopped, looked over at me, and ran away, ON THEIR BACK LEGS. Immediately I froze, and every ghost story about Skinwalkers and all the other Native legends I grew up with flew through my mind. Keep in mind I am a white guy, and up until then, these were all just boogie man stories the Native kids like to tell to scare us. That night, they became real to me.” (https://thoughtcatalog.com/jacob-geers/2016/10/14-facts-about-skinwalkers-that-will-100-scare-the-shit-out-of-you/)

American Werewolf in London, The Wolf Man, Skinwalkers…these are all just fantastical tales that tickle the imagination and serve to creep us out, right? All I can say is, if you hop in your car and drive to Holy Hill Road in Washington County, WI, and hang out for a bit, you might see something you can’t explain. Reports of werewolf sightings in that area go back to the 1930s and they show no signs of slowing down. Steve Krueger, a DNR worker, has encountered a werewolf first hand. When picking up carcasses in the Holy Hill area, Krueger claims he saw a beast that had pointed ears on top of its head. It was stocky, covered in coarse hair, and came in at roughly 6 to 7’ in height. Apparently, there have been many sightings over the years of giant wolves stalking the area. Linda Godfrey, an author, and journalist, has been stalking the werewolf legend in that area for 17 years. She lives in Elkhorn and has received hundreds of reports of sightings, many just miles from her home. A documentary, The Beast of Bray Road is available on Amazon Prime for those of you with access and there are some pretty spooky tales about these creatures. Godfrey has written eight books about The Beast and now she’s getting stories of encounters from all over the world. In an interview with NBC15, Godfrey said, “Whatever it is, there is more than one. It seems to be more of a scavenger that wants to frighten people. Maybe it’s territorial. It seems to want people to leave it alone.” (https://www.nbc15.com/home/headlines/70005732.html)

Godfrey believes it might be a timber wolf that has evolved or adapted to walk on its hind legs, but she’s not ready to rule out the supernatural.

Cures

According to livescience.com (https://www.livescience.com/24412-werewolves.html), there are several ways in which an individual could be purged of the werewolf curse. You see, lycanthropy was often seen as a curse and the afflicted was often seen as a monster AND a victim.  Ian Woodward, the author of The Werewolf Delusion, states that werewolves could be cured medicinally and surgically. The afflicted might be exorcized or shot with a silver bullet. For “medicinal and surgical cures” please read “bloodletting, forced vomiting, and vinegar drinking.” At least the “cures” didn’t involve poop as they most often did way back when. I can’t make this stuff up. And luckily, I don’t have to because it’s all written down in historical medical texts! Of course, many victims who were suspected of or believed themselves to be werewolves died while trying these “cures.”

Summerwind Mansion

Located on the shores of West Bay Lake in the Northeast region of WI, Summerwind Mansion (also known as Lamont Mansion) sits as a shell of its former self. It was constructed in 1916 by Robert P. Lamont as a summer home for him and his family, but the experience of living within the walls of Summerwind would soon turn sour.

Many claim that the paranormal activity at Summerwind didn’t begin until after the Lamonts occupied the mansion, but there are accounts of paranormal activity on the property during this time. In one such account, Lamont shot at a spirit in the kitchen one evening. He believed it to be an intruder, but the bullet went right through the specter and lodged itself in the basement door. The bullet holes remained as a reminder of the occurrence.

The house was sold several times after the Lamonts occupied Summerwind and eventually fell into the hands of Arnold Hinshaw and his wife Ginger. The Hinshaw’s and their 6 children moved in in the 1970s and remained there for a rather eventful 6 months.

It seemed as if the house came alive immediately and the Hinshaw’s began to see and experience all the paranormal activity that Summerwind had to offer. They would see vague shapes and shadows in the hallways, hear mumbled voices in empty rooms, and would often see the ghost of a woman in the dining room before she turned and floated straight through the closed french doors. However, whenever the Hinshaw’s would walk into a room or occupy a space in which something paranormal had been observed, the activity would abruptly stop. The family thought that the paranormal activity was imagined, but the events continued. At times, when certain items in the house would break down (a water pump for example,) Arnold would go to fix it, but it would already be repaired. It was as if the items were repairing themselves. Windows and doors would reopen after they had been shut tight. One window had to be nailed shut because it would constantly open again, even after it had been locked. These odd occurrences were innocuous enough and the Hinshaw’s went on living with the ghosts because it seemed as if they meant anyone harm. One morning, as Arnold got into his car to go to work, the vehicle burst into flames. The fire was investigated, but no cause was found. Perhaps the ghosts were not so innocuous after all?

The Summerwind mansion, in Land O’ Lakes, fell into disrepair after a succession of owners, some who supposedly were driven away by ghosts.
http://archive.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/ghost-fans-hope-to-rebuild-mansion–haunting-and-all-b99381544z1-281025652.html

The Hinshaw’s, having spent a fair bit of money on Summerwind, decided to invest in the property and take care of some maintenance that needed to be done. They hired workers to help with tasks that they could not do themselves, but those they hired would fake illness to get out of coming to the property or refused to work altogether. They had heard the stories about Summerwind and were afraid to even set foot on the grounds. The Hinshaw’s, having no reliable help, began renovating Summerwind on their own.

I’m assuming that having little experience with home reno, they decided to start with a smaller project: a bedroom closet. In the closet, as was the case with many Victorian houses built in the 19th century, was a dresser that was built into the wall. Each drawer could be removed leaving an opening in the wall. Arnold kind of wedged himself into one of the openings, perhaps to see how to go about removing the framing for the built-in, when he was startled by an object in the wall. He was sure he saw something, perhaps an animal corpse of some kind, and scurried back in fright. I guess Arnold wasn’t campaigning for father of the year because when his daughter came home from school, he asked her to climb in through the opening to see what was back there. Mary was small in stature and could fit easily.  Shortly after entering the space, she came upon a human skeleton, a skull with dirty black hair, and what remained of an arm and a leg, in the opening. I’m sure this was horrifying for the young girl. I wonder if therapy was equally as expensive in the 70s as it is now? Anyway… This event was never reported to the authorities so there’s no way to know whether this is fact or fiction. It is entirely possible that Mary made up the story to scare her father, but there’s no way to know.  It’s possible that these remains were the cause of the haunting at Summerwind, but the spirit was never allowed to move on as the remains were just left in the wall.

Yep. You read that right. The remains were left in the wall.

At this point, things take a turn for the worst. Arnold begins staying up all hours playing the organ. He enjoys playing, but the music has become more and more sinister and becomes louder as the evenings progress. Ginger and the children huddle together in an upstairs bedroom as Arnold plays nonsensical gibberish that just gets louder and louder. Not surprisingly, Arnold is eventually committed and Ginger, unable to handle the situation with Arnold or Summerwind, attempts suicide.

While Arnold is undergoing treatment, Ginger and Arnold divorce, unable to fix what has been broken. After Ginger remarries, her father announces that he will buy Summerwind. Ginger has never told him what happened at the property and does the best she can to dissuade her father, but he sees potential in the place and will not be deterred. Ginger’s father, Raymond Bober, is a popcorn vendor/businessman who is highly motivated to turn the property into something worthwhile. He also says he knows the identity of the ghost that is haunting the location: Johnathan Carver.

Carver was an 18th-century British explorer who is searching for a deed that was given to him by the Sioux Indians. The document gives him the rights to the northern third of Wisconsin and Carver wants the document back. Supposedly, the deed is sealed within the foundation at Summerwind and Bober claims that through dreams, trances, and the use of a Ouija board, that Carver has requested his help. These experiences cause Bober to write The Carver Effect, which Bober publishes under the pen name Wolfgang Von Bober.

Once Bober purchases Summerwind, he, his son Karl, Ginger, and her new husband George take a walk through the property. George sees the bedroom closet in which Mary discovered the skeletonized remains previously and goes straight for it, almost as if some strange force were pulling him. George pulls out all of the drawers as if he’s searching for something, but Ginger has never told him about the body. When they finish and are leaving the house, Ginger fills him in. Once George hears the story, he and Karl immediately head back inside to investigate the space more thoroughly, but they find nothing.

At the end of the summer, Karl travels to the property alone in order to get estimates on various construction projects that have to be done as well as to do some yard cleanup. It begins to rain, so Karl heads inside and begins closing windows. In an upstairs hallway, he thinks he hears a voice calling his name. He investigates, but there is nobody else on the property with him and the house is empty. Suddenly, he hears the sound of a gunshot coming from the kitchen. He races to see what’s happening but when he arrives nobody is there. The smell of gunpowder lingers in the air and, upon closer inspection, Karl finds two bullet holes in the basement door. They are worn smooth and have clearly been there a while. Karl left Summerwind that afternoon.

Bober had dreams of turning the property into a restaurant and an inn, but he was faced with the same issues as the Hinshaw’s. Workers refused to come to the site and finding help to renovate the site was almost impossible. Tools would disappear from work areas and the workers who did stay complained of feeling like they were being watched. Bober’s wife agreed with the workmen, claiming she constantly felt as if something unseen was following her around the house.

Likely one of the most interesting ghostly occurrences at Summerwind was the shrinking and enlargement of rooms within the mansion itself. Apparently, workers trying to measure for new plywood or siding would measure, go to purchase supplies and cut what was needed, return with the correctly measured piece, and find that the piece didn’t fit or was too large for the space they’d intended. It was as if Summerwind was expanding and contracting in order to avoid being remodeled. The original plans for the house didn’t match the actual size of the rooms, in one case a room that should have been able to accommodate 150 people could only accommodate 50, and photos taken of certain interior spaces caused those spaces to look far larger than they actually were. Ginger had taken photos of the living room after she had removed the curtains (following she and Arnolds move out of Summerwind) and the curtains appeared in photos she took of the property afterward. The project to restore the mansion was abandoned and never came to fruition.

However, the fact that the property would never be a bed and breakfast never deterred Bober from searching for Carver’s deed. He and those family members who visited Summerwind never actually stayed inside. Rather, they lived in an RV on the property. Bober claimed that Carver had become angry because his deed had not yet been found and living within the walls of the mansion would be dangerous. Bober spent countless hours in the basement, feverishly chipping away at the foundation and peering into the crevices, but he found nothing. The man who originally poured the foundation was asked years later if anything had been placed within it while it was hardening, but he said nothing had been hidden there.

Even if Bober had found the deed it would have been worthless. I can’t imagine that Carver’s ghost cared much about the validity of the document, but I suppose that point is moot. Also, the Sioux Indians are not a single tribe, they were an entire nation of people and many different tribes. Additionally, the British government ruled against the individual purchase of Indian land and the Sioux never claimed land west of the Mississippi. However, the land wasn’t sold to Carver it was supposedly gifted. Is it possible the Sioux abandoned the land and deeded it to Carver?

Bober spent less than 2 summers at Summerwind and, in a last-ditch effort to make the property into something more than a haunted hovel, he tried to procure a concessions license. It was denied.

Is Summerwind (what’s left of it) really haunted? The property was struck by lightning in 1988 after changing hands a couple of times and burned to the ground, so only the foundation, some stairs, and the chimney stack remain. Could spirits still be lingering here seeking release? What do you think?

Until next time, Stay Spooky.

Janine

Twitter and IG: @oddentitypod

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Sources:

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

https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/columnists/jim-stingl/2017/10/26/stingl-northern-wisconsins-haunted-summerwind-mansion-torched-some-claim/799097001/

http://www.cultofweird.com/paranormal/summerwind-mansion-wisconsin/

 

 

S4 Ep. 6: Panty Mice

S4 Ep. 6: Panty Mice

Oddentitypod.podbean.com

Hello ODDballs! This week, Janine revives a classic tale from the archives, the haunting of Summerwind Mansion and Katie concludes her “Jim Bob” saga with an ending you won’t soon forget!

This episode contains panty mice (stay with us here,) horrifying organ music, more of the demonic energy you’ve come to know and love, and a terrifying car ride.

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Sources:

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

https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/columnists/jim-stingl/2017/10/26/stingl-northern-wisconsins-haunted-summerwind-mansion-torched-some-claim/799097001/

http://www.cultofweird.com/paranormal/summerwind-mansion-wisconsin/

Ghostbuster Ruling: I ‘aint ‘fraid of no…lawsuit?

Helen Ackley moved into 1 La Veta Place, a large 18 room Victorian on a dead-end street in 1960, at which time she says the house was most definitely haunted. It had been built around 1900 and had been used as both a single residence and a boarding house. Ackley fell in love with the structure, even though it required a major renovation, and she and her family quickly made 1 La Veta Place home. Every old home should get the opportunity to once again host a family, to have its halls filled with the laughter of children and the everyday monotony that we call life, but the Ackley’s home was filled with even more. It wasn’t long before Helen began to report to the neighbors that the house was haunted. She described phantom footsteps, beds shaking, slamming doors, and voices clearly heard in unoccupied rooms. Supposedly, the spirits were that of Sir George and Lady Margaret (no last names, kinda like Prince I guess,) a Revolutionary War-era couple, though Helen’s son would also report coming face to face with another spirit in a military uniform within the walls of their home. A psychic stated, “that the spectral couple had died in England in the 1750s which makes their presence in Nyack, New York, somewhat confusing.” (Ranker) The other ghost seen by Helen’s son was not mentioned by the psychic. The psychic did say there was a Sir George from England who married a woman named Lady Margaret, but they died almost 200 years later (in 1750) than the psychic stated and also in England. Not sure why their spirits traveled all the way to NY to haunt a random Victorian house. All in all, the Ackley’s coexisted with their extended ghostly family and life went on as normal. The ghosts would even leave she and her family little gifts. Helen wrote to Reader’s Digest regarding her haunted abode. The piece was published in the May 1977 issue of the magazine. The Ackley’s, particularly Helen herself, wasn’t quiet about their house being haunted. They pretty much told anyone who would listen.

All of this information might seem a little blasé, but the ensuing court battle over the sale of the above location is very interesting.

 

Legally Haunted

Your house is a little haunted. Not terribly so. Perhaps you hear the occasional voice or see the odd personal artifact levitate out of the corner of your eye. Clearly, the spirit you’re living with is harmless as it hasn’t tried to harm you or your family. You’ve just been living with the odd occurrences, the bumps in the night and voices calling out from darkened rooms since you purchased the house a few years ago. It’s really no big deal for you and your family and you’ve come to find the activity of the mischievous ghostly residents to be endearing and sometimes even humorous. Now, you play along. So do your kids, asking the ghosts to move specific objects and even purchasing a Ouija Board in an effort to make that communication even easier. You’ve mentioned the activity to your neighbors and find out that there was a mass murder in your living room. Before you know it, your house is a stop on a murder tour and a ghost walk. The local paper does a story on your house that winds up on the front page.

One day, you receive your property assessment in the mail and are stunned to see that you could actually make a killing if you sold your home. You’d get a return of almost twice what you paid and the idea is too good to pass up. You call your real estate agent and they list the house, leaving the haunting out of your conversation. You find a buyer in a matter of weeks who puts down a hefty down payment and you move into a new house (sadly, without the ghostly friends you’ve made), moving blissfully along in the ebb and flow of everyday life. That is, until your phone rings and you find out your sale isn’t going through. The buyer is threatening to take you to court! Apparently, you failed to disclose the ghosts and the new occupants don’t appreciate having breakfast with the dead. The flickering lights, voices, and handprints in the steam on the shower door make them uneasy. They want out.

laveta
http://www.ghosttheory.com/2015/09/03/the-haunted-house-on-the-hudson

A similar situation happened to Jeffrey Stambovsky in 1990 when he attempted to purchase a home in Nyack, NY, close to Sleepy Hollow.

From Atlas Obscura, “Helen and George Ackley, who lived in the home for more than 20 years, reported that they had seen a ghost in the house on at least one occasion and that they would be awoken every morning by a shaking bed, but otherwise lived in peace with whatever spirits resided in their home. When they decided to move and sold the house in 1990, they didn’t bother to tell the new buyers about the ghost problem.”

If your house is haunted, are you legally obligated to disclose this information to potential buyers? In some states, AZ, for example, your real estate agent doesn’t need to disclose any violent death or suicide on the property, but they ARE obligated to tell you if the house you’re about to purchase is haunted.

“With $32,500 in escrow, Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky backed out of the contract when they learned that the house was haunted. When the Ackley’s refused to refund the deposit, the Stambovskys sued, leading to what would come to be known as the “Ghostbusters” ruling. The New York Appellate court ruled that, because a routine home inspection would never uncover it, sellers must disclose that a house is haunted to potential buyers.” Atlas Obscura

On Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty homepage, I did see mention that the seller (Ackley) did ask the real estate agent to disclose the haunted history of the property and the agent did give this information to the buyers. The buyers joked that they would just “call in the Ghostbusters.” The film had just hit theaters at the time. It was a little while later that the Stambovsky’s had a change of heart and backed out of the sale. The New York Supreme court ruled in 1991 that 1 LaVeta Place is officially a haunted house and, whenever the property is sold the seller must let the buyer know that the location is legally, without a shadow of a doubt, haunted.

Haunted Happenings

The Ackley’s claimed to have experienced/witnessed several paranormal phenomena while living in the home. There have been two confirmed deaths in the home. Helen’s husband passed away in the home (his name was George, not to be confused with Sir George) as did a young dinner guest who suddenly suffered a brain aneurysm. According to many sources I came across, Helen herself perpetrated the rumors of the house being haunted and the home was never actually haunted at all.

Cynthia (one of Helen and George’s children,) reported that her bed would shake each morning to wake her for school. One evening before the start of spring break, Cynthia told the spirit that she wanted to sleep in the next day as it was spring break and she didn’t have school. The bed did not shake the following morning.

Helen’s sons would often be given coins by the spirits and would find them throughout the house.

Cynthia received a pair of silver sugar tongs from the spirits.

 

To Buy or Not to Buy

What’s the market for a haunted house? I feel as if homes that are reported as haunted don’t stay on the market for too terribly long as long as they’re in decent shape, but with the rise of the sale of haunted literally everything on eBay and the conversion of many locations into haunted attractions, I can’t imagine it would be difficult to sell your haunted house. Who might buy a house with a dark past (or even a supposed dark past?) Again, those looking to make a quick buck might snap up a haunted house that’s in a decent location and open it for tours. Otherwise, Halloweenies, though people who decorate their cubicles at work for Halloween before August has even peeked its head out, would be ideal buyers.

Alejandro Rojas, a Writer, blogger, video and podcast host had this to say about haunted houses and their selling potential.

“If you are looking to sell your haunted house, you could turn this into a marketing opportunity. In a recent story in Realtor Magazine, a real estate agent in Omaha, Nebraska did just that. In his listing description, instead of focusing on the great backyard or the newly renovated kitchen, he focused on the house’s haunted reputation.

Unfortunately, the owners took the house off of the market before it sold. They claimed the haunting had turned violent, so they had to get out quick and decided to turn the house into a rental. However, the real estate agent says his marketing strategy created a lot of interest.” Huffpost.com

 

As someone who has lived with other creatures that go bump in the night (ghosts included,) I can honestly say that I’d absolutely buy a house with a haunted past. How about you?

 

https://nyacknewsandviews.com/2016/10/nyack-sketch-log-legally-haunted-house/

https://www.ranker.com/list/ghostbusters-ruling-new-york/april-a-taylor?page=3

http://www.ktransit.com/Kavanagh/Ghost/ghost-background.htm

https://seeksghosts.blogspot.com/search/label/Reader%27s%20Digest

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-you-need-to-tell-a-buyer-your-house-is-haunted_b_8435418