Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Legend Tripping: Gates of Hell

Ghost stories are sometimes told to inspire “Legend Tripping.” The Gates of Hell is just one tale of many told in the United States.

Most communities in the United State large and small have at least one Legend Tripping tale if not more than one.

Teenagers tell these tales about a supposed haunted area, house, cemetery etc. where “scary” activity has been reported.

They are told to one’s peer group in order to “set the stage” or scare the listeners before they visit the haunted area themselves--preferably at night and alone or with a small group.

Legend Tripping is often done “on a dare” and means these teens have to go into abandoned places at night. Often they have to “trespass” to get to these locations.

I talk about a scary place in my state where many teens have Legend Tripped here.

This can be dangerous. While in High School, one of my nephews Legend Tripped at an old abandoned asylum in our area. Years later, when he told me about this, I was upset.

This is the former Insane Asylum
where my nephew Legend Tripped.
This location has several basements and now they are just covered up by rotting boards. He could have fallen through one of these and gotten seriously injured--especially in the dark.

The following is a classic tale told to inspire Legend Tripping.

Pennsylvania’s Tent Church Road

Gates of Hell
Along this rural road located outside Uniontown are two steel gates known as the Gates of Hell.

At one time a house stood further back from these gates. The story goes that a man and woman that lived in this house died.

In one version this man killed his wife and then set fire to the house--he then killed himself. This property is considered haunted because of this.

It is said, if a person dares to park their car near these gates at night they will hear unexplained noises.

People have heard: children’s laughter, the sounds of voices all talking at once, whispering and growly sounds near the gates. Others have stated they saw shadows and strange balls of lights flashing.

Inspiration for Legend Tripping

These tales are always told with a personal connection--my friend or relative saw or heard this…

My cousin Brent and a group of his friends decided to drive down to the Gates of Hell one night.

The gates have a large chain lock
on them to prevent trespassers.

After they arrived Brent got out of the car and walked up to the gates. He then yelled out, “Hello, is anybody there, we just came to chat.”

He then got back into the car. When nothing happened the group started to talk and laugh.

A short while later, Brent thinking he heard something shushed his friends. As they listened they heard several voices all talking at once.

These sounds were coming from behind the gates as well as just outside their car.

One member of the group spotted a blue ball of light moving around the gates--he pointed it out to the rest of the group.

When this ball of light headed for their car Brent decided it was time to leave. As he started the ignition and hit the accelerator the car hadn’t moved ten yards before the front end crashed down.

The group exited the car and discovered that the front right tire had fallen off--its 5 lug nuts were missing.

Brent retrieved a flashlight but he couldn’t find these lug nuts anywhere.

The group now scared decided to high tail it out of the area. It was before cell phones so the teens walked to a nearby house where they called a tow truck.

None of them wanted to return to the car to wait for this truck.

The following group seems to be part Legend Trippers and part ghost hunters. If the viewer can get passed all their fanfare at the beginning they do come up with some results while at the Gates of Hell.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Considerate Hosts

December issue 1939.
Thorp McClusky wrote The Considerate Hosts. It first appeared in 1939 in the December issue of the pulps’ “Weird Tales.” McClusky was a free-lance writer who published 40 short stories in the 1930s and 40s.

His stories were often published in The Pulps, which I write about here.

McClusky wrote in the horror genre and most of his stories were about zombies, vampires and ghosts. He also occasionally wrote westerns and mysteries.

His most well-know titles include: Loot of Vampires--published in book form in 1975, The Crawling Horror, 1936, The Considerate Hosts, 1936, and White Zombies Walked, 1939, which the film Revenge of the Zombies, 1943 starring John Carradine was based upon.

I first read The Considerate Hosts in Bennett Cerf’s Modern Library collection of ghost stories entitled, Famous Ghost Stories. I share some of Cerf’s quotes from this book, here.

McClusky avoids the “flowery language” that many of The Pulps writers indulged in.

The Considerate Hosts is a story that the reader remembers. McClusky’s writing is effortless which reflects a writer who mastered his craft.

Stranded in a Storm

Marvin, the main character in this story is driving home at midnight in a torrential rain. A patrolman stops him and tells him the bridge up ahead is washed out.

He then takes a detour on an unknown dirt road that has turned to mud. His car engine dies and he is forced to seek shelter.

He spots and old house with its lights on and knocks on the door.

There is something odd about the couple that answers, their cold rudeness, their antiquated phone, and then their confession...

What ensues next is a story with many plot twists, which includes: ghosts seeking revenge, redemption and a surprise ending that provides justice for all.

This story has been published numerous times. It can be found in the following two collections:

The Big Book of Ghost Stories, By Otto Penzler, here.

Short & Scary Thrillers, by Rebecca Rizzo, here.

The Bennett Cerf collection Famous Ghost Stories published in 1944 is still available for purchase but it is costly. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

America was divided. Richard Nixon was president and American soldiers were dying in Vietnam everyday. Many Americans considered this war to be unnecessary and unjust.

On college campuses across the country students were protesting this war. President Nixon held a deep and paranoid animus toward these protestors, which he called “bums’ and “communists.”

Setting more fuel to the fire that raged, Nixon announced in a speech on April 30, 1970 that his administration was authorizing a military invasion of Cambodia.

In this same speech he stated:

“We live in a time of anarchy, abroad and at home.”

He went on to state that he would not tolerate an attack on the “great institutions, which have been created by a free civilization in the last 500 years.” Especially he noted, “universities.”

Shootings at Kent State University

The governor of Ohio in 1970 was James Rhodes. He agreed with Nixon’s opinion of student protestors. He hoped to be Nixon’s vice-presidential running mate in 1972.

After Nixon’s speech on April 30th Kent State erupted with protects against the war and Nixon.

Governor Rhodes denounced these protestors as “un-American.” He promised that the National Guard would “restore order.” They did exactly this with grisly results.

On May 4, 1970 a small group of guardsmen without warning or provocation fired 67 shots in the direction of dispersing demonstrators.

Four students, 2 men and 2 women were killed. The victims were: Allison Krause, Jeffery Miller, Sandra Scheuer and Bill Schroeder. Nine other students were wounded.

This photo taken by John Filo of
 runaway Mary Ann Vecehio
kneeling by Jeffrey Miller's body.
This photo won the Pulitzer Prize that year.
Of the 4 killed two weren’t even there to protest the war. Scheuer was crossing the parking lot en route to her next class.

Schroeder, a campus basketball star, was actually a member of the campus ROTC recruitment center, which student protestors had burnt to the ground just 3 days before.

He had simply stopped near the protest to see what all the fuss was about.

The university had banned any protests on campus after May 3rd but the students despite this rallied on May 4th. The guardsmen fired tear gas into the crowd but the 600+ students continued to rally.

The guardsmen afterwards stated they “genuinely feared for their lives.” They were armed none of the students were.

Some in support of these killings stated it was the student’s fault-- that the ROTC center being burned and rocks being thrown 3 days previous to May 4th was provocation enough.

Many however did not feel this way. People cautioned “mere words” and “non-violent protest” could get you killed.

Four Students killed

Reaction to the Kent State killings was swift.

Students at over 900 universities and colleges launched a fresh wave of protests--which resulted in the first successful student strike in U.S. history.

The country was as bitterly divided over Kent State as it was over the war.

Despite this controversy, the Kent State massacre did shock the national conscience. In the end it was probably the leading factor that forced the Nixon administration to wind down the Vietnam War more quickly than they originally intended.

Vice-President Spiro Agnew, a former prosecutor, stunned his fellow conservatives when he admitted, “while not premeditated, the guardsmen actions had constituted “murder.”

Despite two witnesses, both former marines and Vietnam vets, who reported seeing a guardsman officer drop his hand to signal his troops to fire upon the fleeing students-- no officers were held legally culpable for this action.

These men had all removed their nametags that day.

Most of the lawsuits that were brought on behalf of the dead students were dismissed.

Allison Krause’s parents, who sued the state of Ohio, eventually received a token “apology” and $15,000 in cash as compensation.

The Shooting Victim’s Ghosts

Unfortunately, Kent State will always be associated with the tragic events of May 4. 1970.

For 35 years of the 44 years since these shootings occurred the campus administration did not officially recognized the anniversary of this tragedy--that is until the 40th anniversary.

Parents and others held unofficial anniversary ceremonies instead.

But there are other reminders in various places around Kent State’s campus that keep these victims tragic end in the forefront.

Since their deaths, many witnesses believe the spirits of these four students still haunt the university grounds.

Four cement slabs in the shape of rectangular boxes mark the exact spot where each of the 4 killed exactly fell. Apparitions have been seen hovering over these cement markers.

Cement Markers

More often though their apparitions are seen in the commons area where Stopher Hall once stood. It was in this building that the bodies of the 4 killed where placed for several hours after they were shot.

There have also been numerous accounts that these 4 haunt their former dorm or apartment rooms. It is said that Allison Krause’s dorm room in Engleman Hall is especially active.

Here is Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's famous song about this tragedy-- Ohio along with pictures of student protests of the time.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poltergeist: Fire Spook, Part ll

In Part l of this post I recount a terrifying haunting that drove a farm family--the MacDonalds-- from their home in Nova Scotia.

Multiple fires had started in their farmhouse and there was strange activity that centered upon the MacDonald’s livestock.

This case garnered so much attention in 1922 around the world that many people who only knew the “sensational story” from newspapers accounts began to put forth theories. 

Many stated it was obviously not a haunting but just “pranks” that had been committed on this farm.

The prank theory doesn’t take into account the fact that the MacDonald livestock always escaped within seconds of the farmer securing them. Or that many of the fires started when no one was in the farmhouse.

An Odd Investigation

Dr. Walter Prince
As mentioned in Part l a famous scientist, Dr. Walter Prince--on invitation-- traveled to Caledonia Mills to investigate this case.

Before he arrived he had already made up his mind--he believed the activity was a poltergeist that was attached to the MacDonald’s 15-year old foster daughter, Mary Ellen.

A journalist, Harold Whidden who had initially brought the case to the world’s eyes accompanied Prince during part of his investigation, which lasted 3 weeks from late February to mid March. He spent six of these days at the farm.

Whidden noted that Prince went about his investigation in odd ways. He seemed more concerned about the cold than the haunting.

He spent the first day he arrived in arranging a comfortable room for himself. He demanded privacy. He insisted that no one could stay at the farm with him during his investigation without an invitation including the MacDonald family--which left a sour impression.

He did invite the MacDonald family at one point hoping they would trigger the activity. He also included Whiddon who while in the farmhouse felt the same sensation he had during his own investigation with Detective Carroll.

At one point Dr. Prince, Dan Gillivray-- a neighbor of the MacDonalds and the three MacDonald’s all witnessed Whidden walk across the room appearing to be in a trance.

He demanded a pencil and scribbled on bits of paper for over 2 hours.

He seemed to be possessed by the poltergeist that wrote a confession he had set the fires. Right after, Prince agreed with this conclusion.

Surprise Findings

In the cases he investigated Dr. Prince’s findings were considered the “final word.”

Before the investigation he had proclaimed the activity was a poltergeist but his findings, which the public had greatly anticipated, were a complete turn about.

He denied seeing Whidden do the automatic writing. 

He reported that a human hand had set the fires. He stated he had found wads of cotton soaked with an odorless flammable liquid had been positioned about 5 feet high--the same height as Mary Ellen--or thrown higher.

So he accused Mary Ellen of being the culprit. He tempered his report by stating that she was probably possessed or sleepwalking when these fires were set--so she was most likely unaware of her actions.

As for Whidden’s and Carroll’s previous experiences in the house he stated they were extremely cold and probably just hallucinating.

He never directly addressed the strange phenomenon with the cattle and horses.

A Rebuttal

After Prince’s report came out Mary Ellen became the villain of the piece in the public’s eyes. They now saw her as an arsonist.

Whidden had always gotten his information from the neighbor's the McGillivrays-- but now the MacDonald’s understandably upset, broke their silence for the first time.

In a statement Mary Ellen defended herself passionately. She accused Dr. Prince of “fibbing.” She stated:

“I have never set fires. I have never untied the cattle in the barns. I never plaited the tails of the horses. I would have been afraid to. First they claimed I had a boyfriend--a sweetheart--who did it now they say I did it. I tell you I don’t care who Dr. Prince is. He ought to be ashamed of himself.”

Shortly after this interview Dr. Prince labeled it just another fake, stating the Mary Ellen he’d met would not have been able to make this statement for she had “the mind of a four year old.”

Dr. Prince had too much clout. Public sentiment from around the world took his side.

No one thought to check with the Caledonia Mills residents who knew Mary Ellen. She was a teen of normal intelligence that was known to have a bright smile and a happy disposition.

Tragic Outcome

Newspapers now dubbed the teenage girl, Mary Ellen Fire Spook.

The MacDonald family moved back to the farm just months afterward. All was calm through the summer but by the following October the fires started as suddenly and incomprehensibly as before.

Word spread quickly the Fire Spook was back. There was no sympathy for the family this time. Police officers that were not local showed up at the farm. They had come for Mary Ellen.

Alex and Janet desperately fought to keep their foster daughter. Janet had to be pulled forcibly away from holding Mary Ellen.

The authorities had “sectioned” their daughter without a by-your-leave.

She was placed in the Nova Scotia Home for the Insane located in Dartmouth where the 16-year old was kept in solitary confinement for a long time.

She was considered too dangerous to be placed with the other inmates. She might set fire to something.

Mary Ellen at asylum.
Within days of her arrival Superintendent Lawler of the asylum was giving statements to the New York press. He stated she was a “common variety of the moron family and not particularly interesting…an arsonist with the mind of a child.”

After this the fires stopped which gave more credence to Dr. Prince’s version.

Mary Ellen spent the rest of her life in this asylum.

In Poltergeist: Fire Spook,Part I-- I share more details about this haunting and the Whidden and Carroll investigation.

Poltergeist: Fire Spook, Part l

This story is about how unexplained paranormal activity ruined one teenage girl’s life.

A worldwide firestorm was started in the winter of 1922 when two reliable witnesses confirmed that a family that lived on a farm located in Antigonish County in Nova Scotia was experiencing a terrifying haunting.

It was in January of this winter that Alex MacDonald his wife Janet and their 15-year old foster daughter Mary Ellen fled their home in terror.

Mr. MacDonald then had to walk a mile and a half twice a day to feed his livestock for he refused to stay any longer overnight at his farm. There was something malicious and deadly haunting the farmhouse.

Fires where starting faster than he could put them out without reasonable cause. The day the MacDonald’s left there were over a dozen fires that started within a 24-hour period.

The family had also experienced some bizarre activity with their livestock. Regardless of how many times Mr. MacDonald penned or tied up his cattle they were able to get loose within seconds of him leaving. Frustrated, he even chained each cow separately. They quickly escaped again.

Another mystery involved the farm’s horses. Their tails were found braided on several occasions.

Desperate the family not knowing what to do turned to the police. But they didn’t know what to do either.

The Story Heats Up

After the MacDonald’s abandoned their home it didn’t take long for the word to spread.

Just four days after the family left a reporter, Harold B. Whidden, who lived a 100 miles away in Halifax, visited the town of Caledonia Mills where the farm was located.
Harold Whidden
He interviewed a neighbor of the MacDonald’s Leo McGillivray who had seen the fires firsthand and whom the displaced family was now staying.

Whidden finding the story noteworthy wrote an editorial that was received favorably and with much interest.

He quickly decided to return to Caledonia Mills. This time he planned to stay at the MacDonald farm.

He enlisted the help of a local retired Detective, P.O. Carroll who was used to investigations and could view the story with a critical eye.

In the meantime the story of the Nova Scotia poltergeist was being reported as far away as Utah. The Ogden Standard Examiner not taking the story seriously reported that the only “spirits” in the MacDonald farmhouse were probably from a “little brown jug.”

Before this story ran its course newspapers from around the world printed it.

Two Witnesses

Detective Carroll
Whidden’s goal was to scoop the story but in the end he walked away a believer. Detective Carroll who had more to lose when it came to his reputation also openly admitted that the farm was haunted.

The two men accompanied by Alex MacDonald planned to stay at the farm for 3 days--they ended up staying for just 2.

The farmhouse was freezing, the fires had burned most of the furniture and the range, damaged as well, was unusable. The three men wore many layers of clothing to stay warm.

It wasn’t until the second night in the house that the activity began. Whidden and Carroll were sitting in two remaining chairs and MacDonald lay on the floor sleeping.

The two men heard strange noises coming from over their heads. These noises were quickly joined by footsteps as if someone were pacing in the bedroom on the second floor above the room where they sat.

The two became nervous knowing that no one else was in the farmhouse. After it had been quiet for a while Whidden felt a strong blow against his forearm.

He looked over at Carroll but the detective had not moved. He was just as perplexed as Whiddon for something had pulled firmly at his left arm.

Both men had felt these strong sensations through several layers of clothing. Whidden was wearing two shirts, a sweater a fur-lined overcoat and a horse-rug.

Now panicked, he awakened MacDonald and asked him if he had punched him--knowing full well that he had been sleeping.

For the next 20 minutes Whidden felt there was a presence in the room with them, it was watching them. It was determined later he had some psychic ability.

An “Expert”

The MacDonald case was so high profile it attracted the attention of a prominent scientist, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince.

He was a leading member of the American Institute of Scientific Research and an officer of the Boston Society for Psychic Research. These impressive credentials guaranteed that he always had the “final word.”

Prince was approached to investigate the MacDonald farm. Once he arrived he both intimidated and irritated the Nova Scotians. He quickly alienated his escort who was Harold Whidden.

Whidden, the journalist who had already encountered the activity noted Prince seemed to “already have made up his mind” as to what was happening before he arrived.

Prince felt “adolescents attracted poltergeists”--therefore the MacDonald’s foster daughter Mary Ellen must be the cause--all he had to do was prove it.

In Poltergeist: Fire Spook,Part ll-- I discuss Prince’s odd behavior, his conclusions and how it unjustly effected the MacDonald family.