Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mountain Meadows Massacre

I first heard parts of this story from my father who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was a ‘gentile’, which is the term Mormons give to people who are not of their faith. The story he told me was a brief tale of how some Mormons in southern Utah in the 1800s had slaughtered an entire wagon train of people who were heading west to California. He went on to describe there was an attempted cover-up in which it was said Indians had committed the crime.

I was finishing an undergraduate degree, in history, at the time he told me this story. Thinking back, I am amazed I didn’t probe him for more information. Today, I regret I didn’t for the story he told me as it turns out involves one of the most heinous crimes committed in the history of the American frontier.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre happened on September 11, 1857. The victims were a group of emigrants mostly from Arkansas who were traveling by wagon train north to south through Utah on their way to California. 

They were camped near what is the present-day town of Enterprise when they were besieged by what they thought were Indians. They circled their wagons and held their attackers at bay for four days. On the fifth day their ammunition, water and food were almost gone. So when a group of white men approached holding a white flag they were relieved. These men offered to escort them safely past the Indians to Cedar City and persuaded them to surrender their arms.

What these Arkansas emigrants didn’t know is that tensions were extremely high in Utah in September of 1857. The Mormons felt that the U.S. Army were preparing to forcefully remove Brigham Young, who was head of the Mormon church, as the Utah territorial governor and impose martial law on Utah. One of their members Parley P. Pratt had been killed in Arkansas recently which further fanned the flames of anger. The white men who offered their help to these innocent Arkansas emigrants were motivated by inflammatory sermons given by their Mormon leaders so they actually resented these ‘gentile’ travelers.

Added to this was the fact that the wagon train led by John Baker and Alexander Fancher was relatively affluent. Most of its wealth was apparent in its large herd of cattle, estimated to number around a thousand head. There were many other animals: work oxen, horses, mules etc. Besides the animals there were thirty to forty wagons and equipment, plus the individual members cash. It was estimated that the train was worth at least ten thousand dollars.

The Mormons disguised as Indians first attacked the train on September 7th with the assistance of the “usually peaceful” Paiute Indians. These Indians assisted because they were promised all of the Fancher cattle at a pow-wow held by Brigham Young in early September. The proceeding statement is denied by the Mormon Church--they deny their leaderships’ role in the massacre. They state it was done by a group of Mormons without the sanction of the church. The Mormon Church does state that the Arkansas victims’ deaths were unjustified.

John D. Lee, a Mormon militiamen, led the men who approached the wagon train holding the white flag. Under the false guise of a truce the emigrants surrendered their weapons and were told to leave all their possessions behind, all the wounded were piled into wagons, the women and children where gathered together, and each of the Arkansas men where accompanied by a Mormon. 

At the signal, “do your duty” all the men where shot point blank by the Mormon walking next to them. Then the Mormons, still wearing war paint, with the assistance of the Indians killed all the women and all the children above the age of seven. Mostly, Mormon militiamen carried out this slaughter.

The bodies were stripped and left unburied, when their bones were found later there were chew marks left from scavenging wolves and coyotes. After, travelers in this area saw the remaining hair of the victims tangled in the trees and brush nearby. Of the 140 people who made up the Baker/Fancher wagon train, most were women and children; only 17 children were spared because they were “too young to tell tales". These children were given into the care of various Mormon families.

The bones of the victims were not interred until two years later when a troop detachment was sent out from Camp Floyd. The surviving 17 children, ages two months to seven years, were found by the summer of 1858. They were returned to Arkansas to be raised by their Methodist and Presbyterian extended families. The U.S. Congress appropriated $10,000 for their recovery and restoration.

Originally, the Mormons covered up the massacre by blaming the Indians. But when it was discovered that a group of Mormons had returned to Cedar City with spoil and that the Indians were complaining that they had been treated unfairly in the division of the booty, U.S. officials stepped in and spent over a year procuring evidence. When Brigham Young was asked why he had not investigated the massacre he stated that another governor had been appointed and he did not feel it was his place.

It was not until 1859 that a trail was held, hampered all along by a very tight-knit Mormon society, the investigators had a hard time finding evidence to charge anyone with murder. So most involved where never charged. But John D. Lee was tried and found guilty. Lee at his own request was shot. Bitter that he was used as a scapegoat he did tell the truth at his trail, his accounts and the accounts given by the descendants of the Mormons who participated in the Massacre are the reason we know the truth today. The descendants of the surviving children of the Baker/Fancher Party worked for many years to get the truth told.

Of the Mormons involved, several opposed the plan to kill the Fancher Party. One Mormon descendant tells the story of how her relative was shot when he tried to assist a girl during the slaughter. But many of them being young men, and being apart of the Mormon community were bound to follow their leaders commands. Which to a Mormon back then was the ultimate authority. The irony here is all these men before the slaughter and after led decent law-abiding lives. Some say years of persecution of the Mormons caused the Mountain Meadows Massacre. One has to wonder if greed was also a part of the motivation.

In June of 2011 this high Mountain Meadow was designated a National Historic Landmark. This landscape holds untold sorrow. Some have caught EVP evidence here. But I feel it is best to leave these victims in peace.

Today, ‘The Mountain Meadows Association” have members that are descendants from both sides; they have come together to promote understanding and forgiveness. Their mission is to preserve the memory of the victims.

The following video is a good summary of what happened.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Initial Ghost Hunting Forms

A ghost hunting team should always keep comprehensive paperwork. The Initial paperwork you use helps keep your team organized. From forms where you record your initial interviews with witnesses to a grid map that shows the area or building(s) you need to investigate-- paperwork is essential.

My group has an initial packet that we use and keep with every investigation we do. An important form in this packet is our permission/release form. We always have our clients—the owner of property and structure--sign a form that gives us permission to conduct the investigation. 

This form includes their name, phone number, address/name of area we are going to investigate and the date of the investigation. On this form we also have a “release statement for liability” this statement basically lets the client know that if one of us is injured on their property we will not hold them libel or responsible. The client signs this part of the form as well.

We also have a confidentiality form that clarifies what information my team can and cannot release. My team does reserve the right to use any evidence we capture but we give our clients the choice as to whether they want their personal name or name of business used or withheld. 

If we investigate a private residence we give our clients the choice of whether they want their name or pictures of themselves used. We encourage our clients to be present during our investigations so we often have them on video etc.

In cases of confidentiality we will sometimes put evidence, if any, we have captured on our web site etc. But we do not release the location of the home or business. In fact, I request my investigators don’t even point out the location to their family and friends. 

Keeping the “trust” with clients insures good word of mouth. This is very important, you do not want a present or past client to be plagued or bothered by what I call “looky-loos”.

Our initial witness interview forms are a combination of both checklist and lines. On these lines is where we put more in-depth information. For example we ask witnesses to describe what they remember about each entity they have encountered: appearance, location, time of day or night etc. 

One question is when the activity started, how often it occurs, what activity is most pronounced, which rooms or areas have the most activity, have there been other witnesses etc. Have voices been heard and what they said. 

We ask if other sounds have been heard or if objects have been moved etc. Has anyone has been physically touched or injured etc. 

We also ask the client if they believe the activity that has occurred is paranormal in nature. This is just a sampling of what we ask. We also have questions that probe for more in-depth responses.

On this same form we ask our clients what their expectations are for the investigation. This question is very important because it allows us to realistically inform our client what we can and cannot do for them. This saves misunderstandings down the road. 

An example of this is the client who expects you to get rid of the activity. I always clarify that my team does not do this but that we have resources our clients can tap into if this is their wish.

As mentioned above my team uses a grid to draw out a map of the area or structure so we can keep track of the locations where the activity has been experienced in the past. This helps us decide where to set up our stationary equipment when we do the investigation. This information by the way is not set in stone. 

It is good to be flexible for sometimes this flexibility has helped us capture more evidence. We have found that if we use our baseline data that we collect at the beginning of our investigation—it helps us eliminate man made causes--with this added information we can make a more precise decision as to where to set up our stationary equipment.

In future posts I will share information about how I train new members, some good basic EVP questions they can depend upon etc. and what kind of baseline data my team always collects during investigations.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jean Lafitte: Pirate Ghost

In the early 19th century Jean Lafitte was known for his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, he was also known for his heroism during the Battle of New Orleans. 

But did his good traits cancel out his bad traits? 

On three separate occasions, U.S. presidents condemned and then exonerated and again condemned his actions. Some considered him a hero others considered him a rogue. Either way he was one of the most colorful characters in history.

Lafitte hated being called a pirate.

“I am not a pirate—I am a corsair (owner of) a privateer.”
                                                                                Jean Lafitte

Louisiana became a United States territory in 1804 with the Louisiana Purchase. In 1805 Jean and his elder brother Pierre operated a warehouse in New Orleans—they used it to dispense the goods Pierre smuggled. 

When the U.S. government passed the Embargo Act of 1807 the brothers moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay. 

By 1810 this new port was a success and the bothers continued smuggling and started to engage in piracy. Through this activity Jean Lafitte gained a fleet of ships.

President Madison put the Embargo Act in place in order to stop American ships from docking at foreign ports—it was hoped this act would insure Americans would not trade with either Britain or France who were engaged in a war. 

Madison wanted to prevent the appearance that the Americans were favoring one country over the other. This put a great hardship upon American merchants and the economy especially in the south. 

The embargo didn’t work and in fact it was the reason we became involved in the War of 1812 with Britain.

Jean Lafitte being an entrepreneur and astute diplomat was able to take an island in Barataria full of shiftless seafarers, and fisherman and turn them into an organized group of buccaneers, smugglers, and wholesalers. 

From the ships they plundered off the Caribbean Coast and the Atlantic he and his crews kept a constant flow of black-market provisions—including negro slaves which were a very important commodity to the south-- moving through the Mississippi Delta to help feed and clothe Louisiana. 

As a result, he won the praise of the local rich and poor alike and for a time the authorities even turned a blind eye.

Boldly Lafitte advertised his market days on billboards and posters throughout New Orleans:

COME ONE! COME ALL!
TO JEAN LAFITTES’S
BAZAAR & SLAVE AUCTION
TOMORROW
AT THE TEMPLE
***FOR YOUR DELIGHT***
CLOTHING GEMS & KNICK-KNACKS
FROM THE SEVEN SEAS

“The Temple” was named after an ancient Indian sacrificial altar. Lafitte and his brother chose this spot because it was accessible and halfway between New Orleans and Barataria Bay.

Barataria Bay
Jean Lafitte was considered a gentleman pirate. He never attacked an American ship; in fact he respected the American Constitution and American ideals. 

He was a man without a country and he hoped that one day his Barataria island kingdom would become a part of these same ideals. 

Despite Lafitte’s shifty methods his steady supply of clothes, spices and, furniture etc.—all sold at discount prices—while avoiding high tariffs--helped New Orleans survive and thrive.

In 1814 a new territorial governor, W.C.C. Claiborne decided Lafitte should not be accepted into polite society anymore. Claiborne made sure Lafitte was harassed, and that his island home at Barataria was destroyed. 

He then imprisoned Lafitte. But Lafitte proved that America meant more to him than his own personal wealth. With the War of 1812 underway, Americans needed ships and men. Lafitte and his men back at sea in 1815 helped Andrew Jackson protect New Orleans and the entire Mississippi river from the British.

Lafitte National Historical Park and Reserve
His contemporaries described Lafitte as a man of grace and elegant manners—accomplished in conversation. 

Yet this was the man who was often described as the “ferocious head of desperadoes.” Unfortunately, the nation that he trusted did not trust him. 

When he sailed away from American shores for the last time he felt betrayed by a country that didn’t understand him. Whether he was pirate, thief, businessman, or savior—Jean Lafitte lives on as a hero.

Many witnesses in the Gulf of Mexico report ghostly sightings of Jean Lafitte and his fleet of ships. 

Workers on oil platforms throughout the Gulf state they have seen a billow of sails on the horizon before sunset, always heading east. 

Crews of offshore supply vessels describe hearing the flapping of sail riggings and the cry of phantom voices, calling out commands to their ghostly crews in the Creole patois once spoken in Barataria. 

Small boats have felt the passage of an entire ghostly fleet that is unseen but produces visible white foam where their bows break the waves—finished passing they leave a tremendous wake in the dark waters.

One three-man crew on a charter fishing boat, anchored off the Grand Isle near Barataria Bay in the dead of night reported that they all saw an apparition of a pale man, clad in black and wearing a wide-brim hat such as the one Lafitte wore, standing on the aft deck of their sport fisherman. 

They stated the apparition looked at them forlornly then turned his head in the direction of Louisiana and disappeared before their eyes.

Many believe that when Lafitte’s ghostly fleet is seen it is a protective harbinger that warns something bad or evil is about to befall the Louisiana coast. The apparition of Jean Lafitte and his fleet where spotted just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

On dry land the ghost of Lafitte is seen at the Blacksmith shop his brother owned in the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

While alive, Lafitte and his brother where said to plan their raids in this shop. 

Today this structure is a bar. Several witnesses have seen Lafitte sitting in the dark at a table in the rear. He holds a brandy in one hand and the smell of cigar smoke surrounds him. When they look again his figure is gone.

 Others state that they have encountered him in the bar’s ladies room.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Ghosts of Devil’s Den and Little Round Top


Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site for the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The war had dragged on for two long years when the Union (North) and Confederate (South) soldiers met by accident at Gettysburg in July of 1863. 

At the end of this three-day battle, 53,000 Americans were dead. It was the battle that “broke the Confederates back” for they lost at Gettysburg and for the next two years till the war ended they were on the defense.

On July 2nd the second day of the battle the Confederates launched a joint attack on Little Round Top and the Devil’s Den in an attempt to secure the high ground for their troops.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a college professor in Maine when the Civil War started. He volunteered to fight for the Union. As Confederate troops from the 15th Alabama Infantry charged up the Little Round Top hill led by William C. Oates, it was Colonel Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine who were assigned to defend its southern slopes. 

Chamberlain knew that since his troops were at the end of the Union’s left flank that they needed, at any cost to strategically prevent the Confederates from taking the hill.

Time and time again the Confederates struck. With many causalities and hardly any ammunition left Colonel Chamberlain, knowing the Rebs were tired ordered his men to do a bayonet charge. They charged down the hill, most without bullets—this strategy worked for the Confederates started to retreat. Chamberlain’s men captured 101 Confederate soldiers, again without bullets, and successfully defended the hill. 

Chamberlain’s gallant effort raised him to the rank of Major General by the end of the war and he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war he served as the governor of Maine for four terms and as president of Bowdoin College.

At the same time just south of Little Round Top, the Confederates First Corps under the command of Major General John Bell Hood, made up of men from the Texas Brigade and the 3rd Alabama, were charging the Union Armies left flank through very rocky terrain, near a central outcropping of massive boulders known as Devil’s Den. 

The Union lll Corps-- a division of the Union Army of the Potomac made up of Northeastern Virginians—defended the Devil’s Den. Their commander was Major General David B. Birney. The Confederates placed a sharpshooter hidden between the boulders at Devil’s Den. This strategy has become a legend among snipers. This one soldier was able to harass the Union artillery battery, preventing them from firing. He also was able to shoot many Union soldiers as they passed through the Den all the while staying undetected. *

When Birney’s division was demolished, the Union army was finally able to find this snipers location by using field glasses and mirrors which allowed them to spot the smoke coming from the sharpshooters’ discharging rifle, they then shot a percussion shell killing him. 

Hood was injured early in the fight and had to withdraw, Brigadier General Evander M. Law assumed command, this caused confusion, which ultimately changed the outcome of the battle. The Union Army stood their ground.

The next day during the “Battle of Gettysburg” the Confederates under the command of General Robert E. Lee made a fatal error in sending 12,500 troops across open ground against the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. The Union's rifle and artillery fire repulsed this attack resulting in horrendous losses for the Confederate Army forcing Lee to retreat back to Virginia.

The ghosts of many of these soldiers still linger at Gettysburg—the area around Devil’s Den is one of the most active locations. Many explanations have been put forth as to why these soldiers are still present. This three-day battle and the human loss that resulted on both sides is more than just a tragic death toll.

The Civil War literally caused brother to fight against brother. At Gettysburg many of the officers on the Union side knew the officers on the Confederate side--they had attended West Point together or had served together before the south seceded from the union. Many officers knew enlisted men from the opposing sides—because these soldiers had served under their commands before the outbreak of the Civil War.

A compelling example of this is Captain Lewis “Lo” Armistead a confederate officer  who was mortally wounded while leading his brigade towards the center of the Union line in Pickett’s Charge toward Cemetery Hill. Armistead was shot three times just after crossing a wall. When he went down he gave the Masonic sign asking for assistance. A fellow Mason, Captain Henry H. Bingham, a Union officer—after the war he became a very influential Congressman—offered Armistead help. 

Bingham informed Armistead that an old friend of his—Winfred Scott Hancock who had served as Armistead’s quartermaster before the war in Los Angeles, California –had been commanding this part of the Union defensive line, but that Hancock too, had just been wounded. Armistead died two days later at a Union field hospital.

The ghosts at Devin’s Den want to be treated with respect. When people try to take pictures the batteries in their digital cameras and camcorders often drain. Are these soldiers so burdened they can not leave Gettysburg? The reason for their presence is unknown but it should be obvious that they deserve to be left in peace.

* This report of just one sniper is hotly debated. Regardless, snipers placed in Devil's Den did keep the Union troops at bay for a time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Haunted Octagon House

I first ran across the history of the Octagon House, in Washington D. C., when I was doing research on Dolley Madison. Her and her husband James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, lived there from 1814 till the end of Madison’s second term. 

The British burnt down the White House during the War of 1812. The Octagon House was one of the few structures in Washington that was spared by the British.


Colonel John Tayloe, a Virginia plantation owner, had this three-story home built in 1800 at the encouragement of his good friend George Washington. 

The house was nicknamed “The Octagon” because it was designed with six sides in order to fit the property it was built upon. 

It has a stunning oval central staircase with many odd-shaped rooms. It originally had tunnels in the rear that led to the White House near by. It is said these tunnels were used as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.

John Tayloe moved his family, a wife and 15 children from their Virginia home to the Octagon when it was completed. They lived there until 1855, except during and after the War of 1812. During the war Tayloe rented the house to the French ambassador to the United States and then later to the Madisons.

The first spirit known to haunt the house was one of John Tayloe’s daughters. This daughter fell in love with a British officer in the early 1800s. 

John Tayloe objecting to this relationship would not let this officer enter his home. 

One night Tayloe and his daughter argued bitterly over this matter. Frustrated, this daughter took a candle and stormed upstairs. Tayloe heard a shriek and then saw his daughter tumble over the railing and down the stairwell to her death. 

It is not known if she tripped and fell or if she took her own life.

Her restless spirit soon started to haunt the house. For years at night people have reported seeing a shadow of a flickering candle as it moves slowly up the wall along the staircase. Many report hearing a shriek right after this sight and then the sound of something heavy hitting the bottom of the stairwell. An area rug is seen moving in this exact spot.

To John Tayloe’s horror this tragic history repeated itself several years later when his family moved back into the Octagon House after James Madison left office. This same staircase claimed a second member of the family. 

This daughter had eloped against her father’s will and returned to ask for his forgiveness. They met on the staircase, an angry Tayloe tried to pass by her. She lost her footing and like her ill-fated sister she fell to her death. Her ghost too haunts the scene of this tragedy.

After Mrs. Tayloe died in 1855, John Tayloe sold the house. During the following years and ever since Dolley Madison’s ghost has been seen at the Octagon. In my post about her I wrote about some common reported sightings of her at the Octagon here

Another “residual” ghost that is seen is that of a gambler who while at the Octagon during the Civil War was accused of cheating and then shot. His ghost is seen over and over at the moment of his death.

Other common reports of phenomena include: thumping sounds within the walls, moans, screams, sighs, the clanking of swords, smells of phantom food cooking in the kitchen, the appearance of footprints in otherwise undisturbed dust and the scent of lilacs—this was known to be Dolley’s favorite scent. 

Several witnesses have reported seeing the apparitions of footmen attending ghostly carriages.

One of the most compelling stories is about the sounds of thumping within the walls. This phenomenon was heard for almost 100 years until 1902 when the American Institute of Architects purchased the property. 

During their renovation they found the skeleton of a young girl behind the wall, her hands were clenched. It was discovered that during the French occupancy of the house, a soldier killed his slave girl lover and hid her body within one of the walls. 

The thumping sounds stopped when her body was given a proper burial.

The Octagon House is considered one of Washington D.C.’s most haunted places. Today the American Architectural Foundation preserves it as a museum.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Steamboat Harbinger: Eliza Battle

The Eliza Battle is a ghost vessel that is seen along the Tombigbee River in Alabama. 

She was a side-wheeled paddle steamer that was first launched in 1852. Over the course of her life she was a luxurious riverboat that hosted presidents and dignitaries alike. The story of the disaster that struck her has become apart of southwestern Alabama folklore.



On March 1, 1858 she carried fifty-six passengers and a crew of forty-five. She was fully loaded with more than 1200 bales of cotton. 

In the early morning hours a strong north wind began to blow, the temperature decreased rapidly by 40 degrees in just two hours. Being the winter the Tombigbee River waters ran high. 

Around 2:00 a.m. near Beckley’s Landing it was discovered that several cotton bales on the main deck were on fire. The strong winds spread the fire quickly.

1888 photograph near site of disaster
The crew realizing the blaze was out of control forced the passengers, whom were all in their nightclothes, to seek refuge in the icy waters of the Tombigbee River. 

Some survived by floating atop cotton bales. Other survivors were found along the flooded river in treetops and rescued by local residents.

This was the greatest maritime disaster in Tombigbee River history. In the aftermath it was found that twenty-six people in all had perished. All of these casualties were attributed to exposure to the extreme cold during the night. 

The steamboat itself after the fire started continued out of control downstream. The Eliza Battle finally came to rest above Kemp’s Landing, near what is today the bridge near Alabama State Route 114. 

What was left of the ship sank—the burned wooden hull is still here, located 28 feet below the surface.

The Eliza Battle became known as “The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbee”. Many newspaper accounts of sightings of this legendary ghost vessel have been written. These sightings tend to happen on cold and windy nights. 

The ship is seen fully engulfed in flames near the exact locations the disaster took place. People have seen the name “Eliza Battle” written on the side as the ship passes and then vanishes. 

Other witnesses near the riverbank describe seeing the flames but state curiously they did not smell a fire or feel any heat. Some have reported hearing music playing within the ship as it burns.

Fishermen and captains alike in the area consider the ghostly appearance of the Eliza Battle to be an ill omen. For she is a harbinger—if seen it is believed she warns of impending disaster.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Haunted Bohemian Hotel Chelsea


The Chelsea was built in 1884 on 23rd Street in New York’s original theatre district. It was built originally with 100-units as a co-op apartment building with soundproof walls and fireplaces. It is a ten story red brick structure in the Victorian Gothic style with wrought-iron balconies on the front. Its roof is crowned with turrets and gables. Its grand wrought-iron staircase still stands proudly in the center of its interior.

In the Hotel Chelsea’s halcyon days its stain glass windows and ornate woodwork gleamed. Today this woodwork is covered in several layers of paint. Over the years the plate glass mirrors that still adorn its walls have reflected some of New York’s most creative residents-- artists, actors, writers, and musicians. These same mirrors have reflected some of New York's worst vises—drug use, alcoholism, and crime.
Staircase

By the 1900s the Chelsea was turned into New York’s version of a hotel. Its original 100 two and four bedroom units were split into 400—100 of the units became hotel rentals while 300 of them remained homes for long-term residents. The rooms at the Chelsea though stayed unique in the sense that each have their own features. 

Most of the Chelsea’s long-term residents have always been considered counter culture or creative artistic types. One recent writer described the Chelsea as “The Tower of Babel of creativity and bad behavior.” But there has always been a mixture of residents. After the Titanic sank several survivors of this disaster stayed at the Chelsea. During and after World War ll many refugees moved into the Chelsea.

By the late 1950s when the son of an owner, Stanley Bard, became the resident landlord the Chelsea became "the place" for people in the counter-culture to live. Bard became apart of the artistic crowd that surrounded him. He often let tenets’ rent slide and would take art pieces instead for payment. Many of these resident art pieces still adorn the Chelsea today.

It is said people did not stay at the Chelsea for peace and quiet—they lived there instead because of its innate sense of “excitement”. Through the years many famous people have taken up residence in the Chelsea. Eugene O’Neil, Thomas Wolfe, and Arthur C. Clarke—who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey” while in residence at the Chelsea--, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Frank Zappa, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, and the poet Dylan Thomas all stayed or lived at the Chelsea. Madonna shot her Sex book at the Chelsea Hotel.

Dylan Thomas actually died at the Chelsea in room 206 in 1953 after going on a drinking binge that led to alcohol poisoning. Dylan’s last words are said to have been, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskeys, and I think that is a record.” Charles R. Jackson— who wrote “The Lost Weekend,” committed suicide in his room in 1968. Charles James often referred to America’s first couturier died in his room in 1978, after living at the Chelsea for fourteen years.

Another death to take place at the Chelsea in 1978 in room 100 was that of former Sex Pistol musician Sid Vicious's girlfriend Nancy Spungen. They were living at the Chelsea after Sid’s career took a plunge. After a drug binge on October 12, 1978 Nancy was found stabbed to death. Sid had no idea if he did it or someone broke in and killed Nancy. Before he could stand trail he died of a heroin overdose. Some think his mom gave it to him because he told her he couldn’t go back to jail.

Because of the Chelsea Hotel's history many feel it is haunted. There is a wonderful blog entitled “Living with Legends: Hotel Chelsea Blog,” about the Chelsea Hotel and the ghosts people have reported feeling, hearing and seeing. Some say that amidst the various residents and bugs that reside at the Chelsea today that the resident ghosts outnumber them.

Nancy Spungen and several others mentioned above haunt the Chelsea to this day. 

But one of my favorite stories is about a long-standing ghost named Mary. She was one of the Titanic survivors who came to live at the Chelsea in 1912. Mary having lost her husband when the Titanic sank lived on the eighth floor of the Chelsea. Not being able to adjust to her loss she hung herself in her room. Since, her ghost has been seen always looking in mirrors—specifically at one on the west side of the building where a hall archway is located now--this area once was an apartment’s entryway. 

She is known as the “vain” ghost because she is forever checking out her appearance. She is described as wearing a hat with a plume, her hair is swept up in the Gibson style. Some witnesses have reported that her demeanor sends the strong message, to the living, that she thinks they are just a bother.

In a future post I will write about another one of my favorite ghosts who haunts the Hotel Chelsea.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

White Light Protection

This form of protection is a method both investigators and clients can use if they want to protect themselves from or get rid of unwanted paranormal activity. 

Investigators typically do this ritual before an investigation and during if needed. Clients can do it whenever they sense or notice the activity. White light protection is a form of visualization.

Some spirits like to play with an investigator or clients’ emotions—this is one way a spirit can attach to a living person. Some people believe spirits can attack them in this way. 

The only prerequisite in order to use this protection is just to be aware. 

If you know how you normally feel, think and react in typical circumstances, you can better determine if you are experiencing subtle emotional shifts which might indicate a spirit is playing with you. 

The white light ritual can prevent this from happening and it can also banish the activity.

The best thing about “White Light Protection” is it is extremely easy to do. Plus you don’t have to be religious for it to work. But if you are religious you can say a simple prayer as you visualize your protective light.

How to use White Light Protection

As mentioned above this method uses visualization. In its simplest form the person just visualizes a white light surrounding them—forming a protective barrier where nothing can touch or harm them. 

This light does not have to be white it can be a person’s favorite color or a veritable rainbow of colors. Each person should choose what color or colors that works for them.

Some people visualize this light as a bubble that surrounds them while expanding outward in a kind of protective force field. Others visualize an egg-shaped sphere of brilliant light completely surrounding them –from head to toe. 

Once you have formed one of these images in your mind you just continue to focus on the light making it a more solid barrier of protection that nothing can cross. At this point you can state a prayer of protection if this is your belief.

Clients that are bothered by activity at night often do this ritual before they go to bed.

You can use this method for just yourself or you can protect loved ones, your house or even your car. You can just visualize the light surrounding others or your entire home or car. 

Some believe if they use this method on a regular basis, in the morning and at night, it will over time build up a strong shield of protection that is with them always.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Archduke’s Cursed Car


It has been said over the years that the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie at the hands of a Serbian nationalist secret society known as the “Black Hand” started World War l. 

This is not entirely true the reason being that the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and most of the Austrian people, admitting it was a tragedy, were not exactly saddened by this event. The Archduke was not popular so actually no one cared. What really started World War l were events that occurred after the assassination.

Austria-Hungry had been looking for an excuse to engage in a war with Serbia in order to weaken or destroy them so they could take back territory in the Balkans that they had lost during the Balkan Wars. 

They needed Germany’s support in order to do this and with the assassination they were able to secure a promise from Germany that they would aid them with a war against Serbia and possibly Russia in the off chance they entered the war because of a treaty they held with Serbia. 

The Austro-Hungarians didn’t think this would occur, in fact they thought it would be a small war that would end quickly. Unfortunately, Russia did enter the war. World War l escalated into one of the bloodiest wars in human history. By the end, 15 million people had died.

So what does all this have to do with a cursed car? 

A Graf and Stift was the most luxurious automobile in the early 1900s. One of their most prestigious customers was the Austro-Hungarian court. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand went on that fateful state visit to Bosnia with his wife he took his new red Graf & Stift limousine. 

While driving through the crowded streets of Sarajevo, a Black Hand gunman approached the open touring car firing the shots that killed the two passengers.

The archduke’s car is called “the automobile that started World War I,” but as I discussed above it wasn’t the assassination—so this is a misnomer. 

The deaths of the archduke and his wife were just the beginning of a series of tragedies connected to this automobile. Some say that Ferdinand and Sophie left a ghostly imprint on the car. Regardless of whether this is true or not the car is truly cursed.

This is the archduke's Graf & Shift with a double phaeton body.
It is powered by a 4 cylinder engine with 32 HP.
The first owner after the Archdukes’ death was a General Potiorek. He developed mental problems and later died in an insane asylum. 

An army captain, the next owner; died in an accident after hitting and killing two peasants on the road. 

The governor of Yugoslavia bought the car, he had four accidents in four months while driving the car; the last resulted in the amputation of his right arm. 

The governor sold the car to a doctor, who lost his life when the car overturned and crushed him.

With each successive owner the tragedies continued. They were either injured or killed in accidents while in possession of the car. 

In all, thirteen people associated with the car died—it was then taken out of service. 

Today this supposedly haunted Graf & Stift automobile is displayed at the War History Museum in Vienna—the bullet holes from the assassination are still visible.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Ghost of Margaret Varrick


This is the story of a misplaced body. The haunting takes place at Liberty Hall in Frankfurt, Kentucky. The ghost who resides at Liberty Hall is known as the “Lady in Gray”. 

Senator John Brown, the first senator from Kentucky, in 1796 built a beautiful Federal brick mansion, just above the Kentucky River. The Browns entertained many important luminaries including General Lafayette and Aaron Burr. Several generations of the Brown family inherited Liberty Hall until 1934 when the last descendant sold the mansion to a group of concerned citizens, in 1937 it became a historical museum. Liberty Hall today is a National Historic Landmark.

The Lady in Gray tale begins when Margaret Varrick, Mrs. Browns’ aunt, traveled 800 miles from New York to Liberty Hall in 1817 to assist and comfort the Browns when one of their children died. Margaret was 65 years old at the time and unfortunately three days after she arrived she died of a heart attack in one of the mansion’s bedrooms. She was buried in the small family plot in Liberty Hall’s gardens.

Later when the family plot was moved, Margaret’s remains were lost. It was after this that her ghost, small and prim, dressed all in gray, began to appear in various rooms throughout the mansion. Margaret's ghost is considered an intelligent haunting. She has often interacted with people. While the Brown family still owned the mansion the ghost of Margaret woke several of their guests; they were startled to see she was tucking them in. Staff members at the hall found blankets folded and mending tasks completed in the morning.

Margaret's ghost has been attributed to opening and closing doors, and turning light switches on and off. Strange lights have been seen moving around the mansion at night. Other activity has been noted through the years-- visitors and staff have reported feeling cold spots and Margaret has been seen peering out of the mansions’ upstairs windows.

A new bride, married to Senator Brown’s grandson, Benjamin was the first to encounter the Lady in Gray. She was staying in the bedroom where Margaret died when she saw her walk across the room. Since this sighting many more have occurred in this same room. One visitor, Rebecca Averill, saw Margaret standing by the fireplace, frightened she ducked under the covers when she looked again the ghost had vanished. Benjamin’s niece, Mary Mason Scott, saw Margaret on several occasions. In the early 1930s as Mary slept in the haunted room she awoke to see Margaret’s ghost standing by her bed.

Since the Lady in Gray’s ghost had been seen numerous times standing at an upstairs window in the hall, a college professor wanted to determine if moonlit nights could cause ghostly optical illusions in the window pane. He stayed at the mansion through one moon cycle and found it couldn’t. During one of the last nights he slept in the mansion he felt a gentle touch, he woke up and saw Margaret’s ghost smiling at him.

One of the
bracelets 
In recent times during a restoration of Liberty Hall a curator of the museum was taking pictures to document the progress. In one picture there was a faint image of a woman coming down the staircase. No one was on the stairs when this picture was taken. This same curator found three antique gold bracelets, from the 1800s, on the nightstand in the haunted bedroom. No one had ever noticed them before and they were not listed on the museums’ inventory.

Some say Margaret’s presence has been seen and felt all these years because her peace was disturbed. Her spirit seems to be benevolent--so maybe she just enjoys hanging around.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ghost Hunting in a Cemetery

As I mentioned in another post most cemeteries in my state are off-limits to ghost hunters. The main reason for this law is because at one time in New Mexico’s history grave robbers were prevalent. 

There are some cemeteries that we do have access to but we always make sure we have permission, and we always alert the local police so if a neighbor near the cemetery reports suspicious activity at night we are covered. 

We always have something in writing that states we have permission, we also always carry personal ID’s with us—actually we do this for every ghost hunt we do.

My stance on hunting in cemeteries is different than most hunters. I have found over the years that cemeteries are not any more likely to be haunted than other historical places. But some are haunted. If you want to participate in a cemetery investigation consider the following advice.

Just like every ghost hunt the priority should be to treat spirits or ghosts with respect. This is especially important if you plan to investigate a cemetery. 

Some cemeteries are only open from dawn to dusk so it important is to be quiet while you investigate. Don’t carry on loud discussions about what you are doing because if there are family members of the deceased in the cemetery they often believe their loved ones have moved on to a better place--which in most deaths is the case. 

Keep in mind not everyone believes in ghosts and these visiting relatives might not want to address the concept that spirits might linger. Of course if you are investigating at night you will also need to be quiet. Note: not everyone believes in an afterlife--I do--so my opinion of course reflects this.

Joking is another issue. It is never appropriate to joke around in a cemetery. A first hand account that was told to me this past year illustrates that this is never a good idea. 

A friend’s husband while in high school decided to take his date on a walk through the local village cemetery. To impress her he started to joke around, he dared the spirits in the area to appear. He was standing off the main path near a headstone as he called out his challenge. The grave craved in under his feet and he dropped down. He felt this was not a coincidence.

When in a cemetery it is important to stay on designated paths as much as humanly possible. Do not lean on walls or gravestones. 

Do not bring food or drink into a cemetery, do not smoke in a cemetery. Actually if you have smokers in your group request they do not smoke during any investigation. This can create a false anomaly in your photographs. 

My group always announces our “good intentions” before we start any investigation. This is especially important in a cemetery. You should always ask permission before you start taking pictures etc.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Tale of the Greenbrier Ghost

In the state of West Virginia there is a historical marker that reads:

“Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.”

As the marker above mentions the Greenbrier Ghost helped solve a West Virginia murder, in fact, it was this very murder that created the ghost.

This tale starts in October of 1896 when Elva “Zona” Heaster ignoring strenuous objections from her mother, Mary Jane Heaster, married Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue. Erasmus, sometimes called Edward, was a newcomer to Greenbrier who stated he was trying to get a fresh start as a blacksmith. Zona, who had a child out of wedlock in 1895 and worked in a shop in Greenbrier, jumped at this second chance.

Zona
The two appeared to be happy but in January of 1897 an eleven-year old African American boy, Andy Jones, discovered Zona’s body lying on the floor. He had been sent to the home by Edward to ask Zona if she needed anything from the store. The young boy upon discovering her body ran home to tell his mother.

It took the local doctor over an hour to reach the Shue home. When the doctor arrived he found that Edward, apparently grief-stricken had carried Zona upstairs. In fact, Edward had already dressed her in her Sunday best—a dress that had a high stiff collar tied with a large bow. This was unusual for the time because women normally performed this task. Edward had covered her face with a veil and clung to his dead wife’s upper body sobbing. The doctor impressed by Edwards’ grief examined the body very briefly and then pronounced Zona’s death to be related it to a female problem that he had been treating her for in recent weeks.

At Zona’s wake the townsfolk noted that Edward was acting oddly. He seemed nearly frantic in his efforts to keep his wife’s body comfortable—wedging an extra pillow, and a rolled up sheet near her head in the coffin. He did not allow people to move too close to her body. When her coffin was moved several people noted her head appeared to flop from side to side. At one point, after Zona was buried her mother tried to return the sheet that she had removed from the coffin to Edward but he would not accept it. When she took it home she noticed a strange smell so she washed it, oddly the water turned a rusty red in color and the sheet formed a stain that would not come out. Mary Jane, who disliked Edward intensely, took this as a sign that her daughter had met with foul play. She prayed for four weeks that her daughter would give her a sign.

Zona did exactly this when she returned to haunt her mother’s dreams for four nights in a row. She described the cruel abuse she had endured as Edwards’s wife. She told her mother how one night when Edward had come home he went into a rage when he mistakenly thought dinner was not ready—he then broke her neck. In Mary Jane’s dream her daughter turned her head all the way around to prove this to her mother.

Mary Jane
Mary Jane fearful her daughter’s soul could not rest in peace approached the local prosecuting attorney, John Alfred Preston, and described to him what her daughter’s ghost had told her. This information plus the stories circulating about Edward’s odd behavior, before, during, and after the funeral convinced Preston to check into the matter further.

Zona’s body was exhumed in February of 1897 and an autopsy was performed. Edward by law was required to attend—he objected strenuously. It was found Zona’s windpipe was crushed and her neck was broken. The cause of death was deemed strangulation. Edward muttered he had not done it. Preston then checked into Edward’s life before he moved to Greenbrier, he found that Edward had abused his first wife who then divorced him. His second wife had died under mysterious circumstances.

At this point Edward was arrested. Delusional he appeared confused when he was charged with murder. He suggested at one point that they should suspect the young boy, Andy Jones, who had discovered his wife’s body. Once in jail his spirits lifted for he bragged that Zona had been his third wife and he intended to have at least four more wives before he died.

Edward was convicted of the murder and nearly lynched by a local crowd in July of 1897 before he was moved to the state penitentiary where he died three years later. Mary Jane’s testimony about her daughter’s appearance was not solicited by Preston in court but when the defense cross-examined her Edward’s lawyer brought up her daughter’s ghostly visits hoping to discredit her—instead this strategy backfired when Mary Jane stuck to her story—so the jurors were sent to deliberate with a favorable impression of her ghost’s tale.

Mary Jane won twice. She got her wish because Zona’s spirit apparently satisfied never appeared again. She also proved that her daughter’s ghost had visited her—the jury believed her testimony. She lived until 1916 never recanting the story of her daughter’s ghostly visits. The Greenbrier case in the late 1800’s is the only one recorded where the alleged “testimony of a ghost” was accepted as evidence in a murder trail.

Shue House
The house where Zona was murdered still stands and is a private residence today.