Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day: Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone. Remember to take a break from barbecuing on Monday at 3:00 p.m. for a “national moment of silence” to honor our fallen troops. One poem comes to mind that is a fitting tribute to all the brave American soldiers who have given their lives for country. Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep is my all time favorite poem or prayer.

Its’ origins are uncertain but it is often attributed as a Hopi prayer written by Mary Frye. The following version is from 1939.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there--I do not sleep.
I am the thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am a gentle autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush
I am the swift-up flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there--I did not die.

Here is a version of Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep in song form.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Museum of Talking Boards

When I first started writing this blog a little over two years ago I wrote a post about the dangers of using Ouija boards. They are portals and you have to be very careful when using them. 

This is especially true if one does not know how to use them properly. Some say that you will not have a problem with a Ouija board if your intent is good but I have found that this is not always the case. My belief is they should be left alone.

But for those of you who are curious about learning more about the history of Ouija boards or “Talking Boards” I found a site called, Museum of Talking Boards that is a fabulous resource.

Pathfinder: Amy Zemer
& Monte Farber
This museum addresses a wide-range of topics. This site has a nice section that addresses FAQs. There is a discussion that even addresses the theories of Automatism vs. Spiritualism. 

Again I do not encourage the use of these boards but this site addresses the kinds of questions to ask when using a board and how to use a Ouija board properly. They also have a nice list of links that takes the visitor to various interactive boards online where questions can be asked.

There is even useful information for the collector--which boards are still made etc. 

One topic addressed is the use of Talking Boards in the movies another is a comprehensive list of books about Talking Boards. I found the museum's “site map” useful in finding the subjects I was interested in.

Here is a link to the Museum of Talking Boards.

The Museum also has some nice "Galleries" that show various pictures of Talking Boards and Plancehettes through history. The video below shows the museum’s varied collection of Talking Boards. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

UK Wellington Market’s Ghost

This current event is intriguing. It happened this month at an old warehouse store located in Telford, Shropshire, England. As employers returned to work early on Saturday May 4th they discovered several boxes of merchandise strewn about the staircase that leads up to the manager’s office. Thinking the store had been vandalized they immediately checked out the market’s CCTV surveillance videos to see if they could spot who had done it.

“Staff from the market discovered that there had been an apparent intruder when they opened up on Saturday morning and found a large amount of stock from a shoe stall scattered down a metal staircase leading to the manager’s office. A quick check of the market’s security camera footage revealed something altogether sinister.” 

What they found was a surprise. One camera showed a mysterious wispy form walk up the staircase on the left side then cross over to the right side near the top at which point several boxes came tumbling down the stairs. Several people who have watched this video state that the time stamp on the lower left side of the frame disappears just as the boxes begin to fall so they feel this video was tampered with in some way. 

I do see a wispy form in the video. I also spotted something reach out toward the boxes just before they start falling. But others have stated it appears someone pushes the boxes off from the other side. So what I see could be my imagination…but I do see the same movement each time I watch the video.

What do you think?

Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

The Gothic short story The Tell-Tale Heart was written by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1843. 

True to Poe’s form, he draws the reader into this story by having the insane villain of the tale narrate what happened in his * own words. 

I first heard this poem as a child. One of my older sisters practiced parts of it for hours out loud. She was preparing for a dramatic interpretation that she was to present at school. I can still hear her emphasis on certain words:

“ I talked more quickly--more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased…”
“Oh, God, what could I do? I formed--I raved--I swore!”
“It grew louder--louder--louder! I swung the chair on which I had been sitting…”

This perverse narrator kills an old man who lives with him. ** 

At the beginning of the story and throughout, he professes he is not insane. But in the same breath, he openly admits he killed, and dismembered the old man, and hid his body under the floorboards in this man’s bedroom. In fact, he talks with pride about how he planned the perfect crime.

But in the end, his own guilt and madness trip him up. 

Thinking he has even effectively deceived the police, he escorts them into the old man’s room. Sitting upon the bed where he smothered his victim to death, he is confident he has presented himself with “a pleasant and easy manner.” 

But then he begins to feel uncomfortable, and he starts to hear a ringing in his ears. This sound becomes louder and louder.

Poe’s next plot twist is why this story is a classic. 

Spiraling further into unreality, the narrator becomes convinced that the ringing in his ears is actually his victim’s heartbeat beneath his feet, beating louder and louder. 

Thinking the police must hear these beats as well, he loses complete control. He confesses his crime and tears the floorboards up to reveal the body in pieces. 

The irony here is the police actually do not hear anything, it is all in the narrator's head.

Edgar Allan Poe
*  Poe never makes clear whether the narrator's character is a man or a woman.

** Poe is also vague about why the narrator kills the old man other than the fact he has a strange eye, that disturbs the narrator. Some speculate that the old man’s pupil-less eye actually represented a secret he could use against the main character.

Here is a link to the story.

The following is my favorite version of The Tell-Tale Heart. It is an animated seven-minute feature made in 1953 and narrated by the English actor James Mason. This short film is preserved in the United States National Film Registry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Japan's Haunted Military Bases

In Japanese tradition ghosts, spirits and demons appear more often than any other culture. In other posts I have shared several traditional Japanese ghost stories.

 In addition to Japan’s rich ghost legend tradition they have many locations that are today considered haunted by real ghosts. Not surprising many of these haunted places are military bases.

A short drive from Tokyo is Atsugi Navel Base. Today all the military bases in Japan are controlled by American Military Forces.

 One infamous American who was stationed at Atsugi in 1957 was Lee Harvey Oswald who assassinated John F. Kennedy. Another young Marine was killed while stationed on this base in a car accident in the 1960s. 

Witnesses state they often see his restless spirit wandering from room to room at Atsugi. Across the base from where his ghost is seen is an old airplane hanger. During World War ll Japanese Kamikaze pilots used this hanger. 

When Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces several of these pilots in disgrace, committed suicide in this hanger. Today soldiers state they still hear doors slam without cause in this hanger. Other witnesses have reported seeing floating “red eyes” in this area.

Sagami Depot another military base located in Kanagawa Prefecture is also said to be haunted. In recent years, a Marine staying in a field hospital located on this base went into a drunken rage and broke a mirror. He then picked up one of the broken shards and used it to slit his wrist. 

Since, late at night other American soldiers who have stayed in this same room have seen a ghostly face in the room’s mirror. More than one reported feeling very frightened when they saw glaring eyes staring back at them.

At yet another American Military base, Camp Hansen located in Okinawa a full-bodied apparition was seen by soldiers and these witnesses even conversed with this ghost. 

On weekends soldiers stationed at one of the Camp’s gates reported seeing a soldier approach them wearing bloodied WW ll fatigues. Holding a cigarette in his hand he would ask the MPs on duty for a light. Each soldier that obliged reported that once they lit his cigarette he then vanished where he stood. 

The base did not acknowledge this haunting but this experience so unnerved these soldiers that it was decided to shut this gate down permanently.

A ghost from an era even further back haunts one Navel base located at Yokosuka. On this base there is a narrow tunnel that runs through a hill. Countless witnesses have reported seeing the ghost of a Samurai warrior in and around this spot. 

The story that is told is that this Samurai was on his way to avenge the death of his master when he was ambushed in this tunnel and killed. It is stated that since he failed to avenge his master he must remain in the area where he died. 

In more recent years several motorists who have driven by this tunnel have been so disconcerted at the sight of this ghost that they have lost control of their cars. Unfortunately this has resulted in some bad accidents. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Ghost of Jane Austen

It has been 200 years since Jane Austen published her first book. She is still one of the world’s most beloved writers. Hundreds of pieces have been written about Austen and why her six novels are so enduring. People wonder how this sheltered 18th century woman was able to write about characters and form plots that still resound in today’s modern world. 

The answer to this is simple. Austen made her characters human and she placed them in the real world. She wrote about real people and their real problems. Her plots dealt with everyday life and how not only to survive it but how to thrive.

The strands that ran through Jane’s own life also run through her novels. She used her own families’ middle class experience to reflect the real social issues of the time. Her mother born at a higher rank than her father was allowed to marry him because of his education and standing in the community as a clergyman. She watched her mother thrive within this union as opposed to becoming bitter. 

Her characters often showed this same resilience. Austin well educated, understood the irony that society expected her as a female to never be above a man either socially or intellectually. She did not agree so she adroitly presented this concept in her stories with good-natured humor. She stayed away from bitterness because she wanted her readers to see the absurdity of this concept.

She brought joy and a love of life to her female characters because she had experienced this in her own life. In her youth she attended parties in Bath where she loved to dance, laugh, converse and flirt with the opposite sex. She fell madly in love. Unfortunately, despite her gentility she was not considered a “good catch”. 

She fell in love with an Irishman, Tom Lefroy who was the nephew of one of her best friends Anne Lefroy. But Tom’s Aunt Anne worried his connection to Jane would ultimately mean his disownment so she whisked him away to the country. He later became Chief Justice of Ireland. 

In 1801 Jane did have another brief romance while vacationing on the coast with her family. She met and fell in love with a young clergyman. The pair arranged for her to meet his family but he died suddenly.

Jane’s own disappointment in love again did not make her bitter. She understood that marriage was a good goal, besides the financial benefits for her female characters, she was always careful to emphasize that affection was an important component to matrimony. This belief was adverse to the societal norms of the time. 

Despite her lost loves Jane did not live without love. Her family was always supportive of her. Very shy by nature Jane’s older sister Cassandra was her best friend. The two sisters’ bond was even made closer because Cassandra had also lost her fianc√© to death. This strong sisterly bond was reflected in many of her female characters. In her novel Pride and Prejudice her character Elizabeth understands the importance of being a good sister.

In her first book Sense and Sensibility she showed her understanding of lost love. In Persuasion her female character has a second chance at love, later in life. This reflected Austen’s own unwavering hope.

Jane was also very close to her older six brothers. She admired their oxford educations but she was the only one in her family to be published. The heroes in her novels all had similar professions to the men in her life. 

Her male characters were landed gentlemen, clergymen, and navel officers. Jane’s brother Frank had a successful career in the British navy. She used this information when she wrote Persuasion. When her father died, her mother, sister and herself where thrown on the mercy of her older brother, Edward who in 1809 gave them his cottage in Chawton to live in. Again shades of Sense and Sensibility.

Austin used her two main characters in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett to reflect what 18th century society expected, including all of its restraints. Her character Elizabeth reflected her own desire for freewill. By the time she wrote Pride and Prejudice she had become self-reliant in her own life. Austin made Darcy’s character sympatric as well by showing he could change through self-reflection, this trait made his character more relatable and human. 

Austin was careful never to make her characters too perfect or too inhuman. Even in dealing with the character of Mr. Wickham who is morally corrupt she has Elizabeth take the high ground and forgive.

One overriding theme in all Austen’s novels was the human fallacy people have to misjudge each other. She showed through her character’s trails and tribulations what a mistake it is to misjudge someone on just a first impression. She points out time and time again how human perception is not necessarily reality. 

Austin also always redeemed her characters in the end by allowing them to make mistakes, learn and grow and change their minds. 

Having the compassion to give her characters the opportunity to improve also draws the reader to her stories. She effectively conveys that regardless of the mistakes we make, we as humans can still attain happiness.

Austin’s novels were well received by the public and critics while she was still alive. 

She like many female Georgian writers remained anonymous. She published Sense in Sensibility in 1811 with the byline, “By a Lady. When Pride and Prejudice 1813, Mansfield Park 1814 and Emma 1815 were published the byline was, “By the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until her death in 1817 at age 41, probably from cancer, that her brother finally revealed her true name to the public when her last two novels were published posthumously.

Since her death millions of her books have been sold worldwide. She is number “70” on a list of 100 of Great Briton's most famous people. Her novels have been made into television and films productions numerous times. Her books remain as relevant today as they did when she first wrote them.

Jane lived at Chawton Cottage for eight happy years. Today it is a museum. Many of Jane’s personal items remain in this home, her furniture including a small table where she wrote her novels, a lock of her hair, her library of favorite books, her letters of which she wrote many, and her jewelry. It is stated that her ghost still haunts this house as well as Chawton Village. The following video shows Chawton Cottage.