Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweden’s The Spirit in the Glass and Black Madame

The Spirit in the Glass is Sweden’s version of a Ouija Board. Teenagers mostly participate in this activity. A large piece of paper or cardboard is used as the surface. A glass is used as a template to draw circles, within these circles are placed the letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0-9. The words: Yes, No, I Don’t Know, Start and Finish are written as well.

This glass is then used as the plancette. Before starting this glass must be warmed up. The teens do this by rubbing it between their hands, breathing on it, or warming it with a candle that has been lit.

It is warned that this activity should never be done in a room that has mirrors for the spirit can appear within this mirror--which will upset it.  This spirit then will shatter the mirror into pieces.

The teens place The Spirit in the Glass in a dark room with only candles for light. The young participants after warming the glass take turns asking a question by placing the open rim of the glass next to their mouths and whispering their question. It is then placed open rim down on the paper.

The participants place their fingers on the bottom of the glass as the answer is spelled out. If no answer is given the glass usually just tips over.

There are strict rules as to what question can and cannot be asked. For instance, the participant should never ask, “When will I die?” or “Can I speak to the devil?”

One legend is told about a young man who broke one of these rules. He asked when he would die--the glass moved to the number “4” and then to the number “0”--so 40 years old. Eerily years later to the day he died when he committed suicide by hanging himself at the age of 40.

Black Madame, Come Out!

Black Madame is the Swedish version of “Bloody Mary.” But “Swedish children are more dismissive of spirits” so their version of this game is not as scary.

The traditional game involves Black Madame or in Swedish Svarta Madame appearing after a child stands in front of a mirror and states 12 times “I don’t believe in you, Black Madame.”

Yet another version involves them chanting into a bathroom mirror “Black Madame, Black Madame, daughter of the devil show yourself.” As they chant this phrase they splash water on the mirror.

This chanting is most often done on a “dare” just like Bloody Mary.

If Black Madame appears in the mirror it is said she has green hair, red teeth and luminous yellow eyes.

Other names for her include: Bloody Black Madame, White Madame, Dirty Madame and Creepy Madame. In the 1970s some Swedish children adopted the European names of “Mary” and “Black Molly”--but the term Svarta Madame is still used widely in Sweden.

This game actually originated in Europe centuries before the European, Swedish or American children’s versions. It was a fortune-telling game--which involved “mirror gazing.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery

Chopin's grave
The Cimetière du Père Lachaise located on a hill overlooking Paris is visited more than any other cemetery in the world. 

The reason for this is twofold. This cemetery is the final resting place for a large number of famous creative, talented people plus the cemetery has some of the most spectacular, beautiful, macabre and sad gravestones, tombs, sculptures and mausoleums of any found in the world.

Burials in this Paris suburb began in 1804 and today 200 years later the Père Lachaise has over 1 million graves. The cemetery still accepts new burials but it has a long waiting list. The reason for this is limited space so graves are “leased” for 10, 20, 30 years, etc. When the family stops paying the remains are removed to a different cemetery so space can be reused.

Here are just a few of the famous permanent residents buried at Père Lachaise:

Harriet Toby an American
a ballerina who was killed at
age  23 in a plane crash
in 1952.
Balzac--writer, Karel Appel--painter, Isadora Duncan--dancer, Rosalie Duthè--courtesan, Sarah Bernhardt--actress, Frederic Chopin--composer, Molière--playwright, Jean de la Fontaine--poet/fable writer.

Marcel Marceau--mime, Jim Morrison--singer, Marcel Proust--writer, Gioachino Rossini--composer, Oscar Wilde--writer, Georges Bizet--composer/conductor, Georges Rodenbach--poet, Edith Piaf--singer, Gertrude Stein--writer, Eugene Delacroix--painter.

Oscar Wilde's tomb is normally
covered in bright red lipstick
kisses left by admiring women.
People who have visited Père Lachaise often mention the ghosts they have encountered along its shaded cobblestone paths.

One story mentions Marcel Proust and Maurice Ravel. They were a loving couple in life -- it is said they rise at night from their graves and go in search of each other.

Adolphe Thiers who was the prime minister under King Louis-Phillippe in the 19th century is said to “tug” on visitors clothes if they venture too close to his resting place.

His grave is the most

The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison is often seen roaming near his grave. 

His grave was almost the victim of the cemeteries “lease” policy when families that have deceased loved ones near his resting place gathered together when the Morrison 10 year lease was up and tried to have him moved--they did not succeed. 

The bust which was placed on the 10th anniversary by a fan was later stolen. The family pays to have the graffiti cleaned off. 

Recent photo of his grave.
There are also many other stories of visitors seeing spectral lights, translucent figures, and other disembodied spirits roaming throughout the cemetery.

The following is a 5-minute montage of pictures of the various incredible grave markers at Père Lachaise.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Illinois: Cairo Public Library


Cairo, Illinois known as the City Between Two Rivers lies at the junction where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. This town first rose to prominence in the early 1800s as a bustling steamboat port. Later during the Civil War it was used as a site to train Union troops.

With the decline of the river traffic in the early 1900s both Cairo’s economy and population were drastically impacted. Today the town represents stark contrasts. On one side is the many elegant Victorian mansions that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the other side is a town that is struggling to survive.

One shining bright spot is the Cairo Public Library. The building that houses this library is the Safford Memorial Building. A widow, Mrs. Alfred Safford presented this building to the town in 1884 in fond remembrance of her late husband.

The Cairo Women’s Club and the Library Association contributed 1500 books in exchange for the use of a room for their meetings. Today the library has over 41,000 books in its collection.

This old red brick Queen Ann building still retains most of its original charm. It is adorned with original stain-glass windows and it displays a rare Tiffany clock on one stair landing. A chandelier that hangs in the library once hung in the Cairo Opera House. 

Many of the original ornate bookshelves remain. The adult reading room contains a large round table that once was a gaming table on a steamboat.

In 1962 and 1984 improvements were made to the library with an addition of a stack room and special collections room.

Another item that has always remained the same about this library is its resident ghost.

For years, the employees of the library have seen and heard very unusual things, which cannot be easily explained.

Louise Ogg, a librarian nicknamed this ghost, Toby. Ogg actually encountered Toby on the first day she worked in the library. She was on her lunch break when she heard the sound of a rocking chair in the reading room. When she went to investigate the sound stopped but as she returned to her desk she heard the rocking chair once more. Many others have heard similar noises in this room.

Just weeks later Ogg and a colleague again on lunch break spotted a strange white light that appeared from behind the front desk. These two ladies watched as this bright light ascended from the desk and slowly passed the office. It then disappeared among the stacks.

Several librarians over the years have taken ownership of this ghost to feel more at ease around it. They often state Toby was a former patron of the library who just can’t bear to leave the place--for they are sure he has fond memories of the pleasant hours he spent reading in the building.

One library director, Monica Smith also encountered the ghost. It seems Toby likes to play games for Smith often after turning the lights off would find that they were back on in various rooms. She also on several occasions heard footsteps upstairs when she knew she was the only one in the building.

Children's Reading Room
Back in the days when the library still used card catalogs the librarians would often find these cards mixed up directly after they had been checked.

One interior door at the back of one room often opens and closes when no one is around. This phenomenon has been reported many times over the years.

When Toby hasn’t made an appearance in awhile one running joke among the staff is that he just like many a book is “overdue.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Phantom of the Opera: Fact or Fiction?

The story of the Phantom of the Opera was initially published in a series of articles in La Galois and then in a book in 1911 entitled, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra written by a French journalist, Gastón Leroux. When the story was first published, it was not popular, and the book went out of print.

Leroux whose specialty was investigative journalism based his story on true-life events. In fact, many who have researched this subject believe with just a few exceptions the story has several elements that are true.

The opera house in the story was based on the real Opera Garnier in Paris. The Opera Garnier does have underground tunnels, and it also has an underground lake. Leroux used this setting in several dramatic scenes in his story.

Chandelier at Opera Garnier
There was an incident where a chandelier did fall in the Opera Garnier setting the building on fire and killing a woman. Leroux used a falling light in his story as a distraction so his Phantom could kidnap Christine.

The “romance” between the Phantom and Christine in the story is just a fantasy, but it is believed that Leroux based both characters on real people.

The Phantom is based upon a man named Erik who was born in a small village in Normandy, near Rouen. He was born with a horribly disfigured face, so his parents abandoned him when he was eight. A circus basically took him, and for 7 years he was used as an attraction.

He escaped in Persia and worked as an entertainer for the Shah. Later he worked as an architect’s assistant--he designed and built several harems, which gave him a greater understanding of architectural design.

Paris' Opera Granier 
Now confident, he returned to France. In Paris, he so impressed Charles Garnier that he was signed on as one of the contractors that built the new opera house--the Opera Garnier. He worked 12 hour days until the project was completed.

He was no longer the deformed child that had suffered cruelly. He now was a gentleman who wore a mask to hide his distorted face. He also wore a dress suit, a cloak, and a large felt hat. He was respected and earned enough money to live a comfortable life.

Just as in the story the real-life Erik had his own personal "Box 5" at the opera house. He even had a hollow column built next to it where he could come and go without being seen. 

Erik did fall in love with a singer who performed at the Opera Garnier. But finding himself rejected he kidnapped this singer after an evening performance. She was found 3 weeks later, and shortly afterward she left Paris.

After this, a legend was spread that Erik was so heartbroken that he walled up the door to his apartment beneath the opera house and died of starvation.

Years later when the new Opera Bastille was built this small apartment was supposedly discovered by a workman who found a skeleton wearing a gold ring that Erik was known to wear. It is said Leroux used this “legend” about the real Erik as inspiration for his story.

Under Opera Garnier
The character Christine was based upon a soprano by the name of Kristina Jonasdotter. It is believed she was Leroux's inspiration because of the overwhelming similarities between her and his character.

Jonasdotter was taught to play the violin by her older brother at a young age in Sweden. Her family was impoverished, which made it necessary for her to play this instrument on the street to earn money. She was sent to Stockholm and then to Paris to continue her lessons.

Jonasdotter’s beautiful singing voice like the character in the story was discovered by accident. She started to sing at concerts and took the stage name, Kristina Nilsson in the 1860s. According to historians Nilsson had an incredible vocal range and was very beautiful with “a lovely figure and clear blue eyes.”

The Haunting

Another interesting fact about this story is that the Opera Garnier was considered to be haunted by a phantom--the French term for a ghost--at the time Leroux wrote his story.

Leroux used some of these tales to inspire his story. The performers at the opera house firmly believed there was a ghost that haunted the building and the tunnels that lay below.

These performers placed a horseshoe above the entrance to the right stage wing for good luck but also to protect them from a ghost they considered to be malevolent in nature.

The Grand Staircase

It was believed that someone was secretly living in the opera house and many felt it was the ghost of the real Erik. In fact, many claimed that near Box 5 they heard “ghostly’ voices and whispers when the area was unoccupied.

Other witnesses stated that they saw this phantom running through various parts of the opera house. Even eerier these witnesses reported this figure wore a black cape and a mask over its face.

Renata de Waele in 1993 wrote a narrative that compared the fictional to the real stories. She worked in public relations at the Opera Garnier for many years. Some of her speculations have been proven others have not. So reality is blurred with fiction which leaves the curious with an intriguing mystery.