Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dartmoor: The Devil’s Footprints

In the early morning hours of February 8, 1855 a heavy snow fell across Devonshire in southwest England.

In the 19th century travel was limited and most country folk did not travel at night especially in the cold and snow.

So when the residents of Devonshire awoke on the morning of the 8th they were surprised to seen thousands of mysterious footprints in the freshly fallen snow.

These odd tracks were not only seen on the ground but trailing across housetops, leading up walls and even more strange leading up and down drainpipes.

Witnesses noted they seemed to walk right through walls and haystacks appearing on the other side. One set was tracked across a two-mile estuary.

Most disturbing of all was the appearance of these prints. They looked like clearly defined cloven feet. They also were sunk deep into the snow.

Some descriptions mentioned they appeared to be burnt into the snow with a hot iron.

Drawings by witnesses.

People started to question what could have created these prints. Many began to wonder if the Devil himself had visited Devon.

Various clergymen followed up with announcements that the Devil was roaming the countryside for sinners.

The Devil rumor spread like wild fire and people now afraid began to lock their doors at night.

In order to calm the populace, investigators dismissed the Devil theory and tried to come up with a more credible explanation.

There were so many witnesses to this strange phenomenon that no one ever disputed it actually happened. 

But since it was disturbing investigators immediately put forth several theories.

One common theory was that a bird or animal made these tracks. The problem with this was no prints like these had been seen before or since this incident in 1855.

People noted no animal could have kept to a straight line for the long distances made by these tracks.

Another theory put forth was that wind or atmospheric conditions left these prints. But this fails to explain the precise directions these tracks made or the fact that each print had a clearly defined shape.

If the weather was the cause, then people questioned why these prints were only seen in Devon.

Others stated that these prints must have been a hoax.

But no humans in 1855 could have managed to cover an almost hundred mile area in one night. Let alone do it in total darkness and in the freezing cold.

In an attempt to knock down the Devil theory one group even speculated a Kangaroo that escaped from a private zoo near Sidmouth caused the prints. But a Kangaroo's tracks look nothing like what was left in the snow.

It has been over 159 years since these prints were seen and they still remain one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in the world.

Dartmoor: The Legend of Cutty Dyer

The moors in Dartmoor cover 368 square miles. This area located in the South Devon countryside in England is considered to be one of the spookiest places on earth.

These moors misty bleakness and changeable weather conditions are most likely responsible for this reputation. Because of this, the area has inspired an incredible assortment of myths, legends and ghost tales--notably Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of The Baskervilles.

In the future, I will share more of these tales.

One myth told by the locals in the town of Ashburton that sits on the border of Dartmoor  is a cautionary tale told to children and drunks to warn them about misbehavior and being too close to the water.

The story of Ashburton’s Cutty Dryer--sometimes spelled “Kutty.” is its most popular myth.

An Evil Water Sprite

Cutty Dyer is an evil little water sprite or ogre that lives under bridges along the Yeo River. One version states he is seen near Williams Crossing and the town hall in Ashburton.

Generations of this town’s “naughty” children have been warned to keep away from the Yeo or Cutty Dyer would cut their throats and drink their blood.

Stories about this ogre state he has no fondness for drunks. It is said persons that are inebriated fall victim to the same fate.

One account that describes  Cutty Dyer was published in the “Devonshire Association of Science, Literature, and Art in 1879.

“Old Townspeople of Ashburton recollect well the dread of their lives when children, was a mysterious being supposed to inhabit the river Yeo, with whose displeasure and its undefined consequences they were threatened by parents and nurses as a punishment for disobedience and childish frolics.

To the generation before, namely, to our great grandparents, “Cutty Dyer” was the dread of their more matured years, and was supposed to inflict summary punishment on topers as they reeled with difficulty by night through the dark streets to their houses.”

This account went on to describe what Cutty Dryer looked like.

“He was described by persons who saw him as being very tall, standing in the water to his waist, with red eyes as large as saucers, endeavoring to pull them into the water. When the stream was bridged he remained only a scare to children, and on the streets being lighted disappeared altogether.

 Two Witnesses

Two adult witnesses encountered Cutty Dyer at William Crossing late one night.

The two men were walking along the bank of Yeo when they saw an ogre with “great goggle-eyes, black hair hanging over his shoulders in twisted snake-like locks, a beard of the same color, and teeth like a shark.

Luckily, these two were able to escape unharmed.

This story is still used today in Ashburton as a warning.

In one recent BBC interview the town clerk, John Germon notes that this story worked, for he and his friends when young were so afraid of the water sprite that cut children’s throats, they stayed away from the area.

In another post, I share the tale of La Llorona. This legend is told in New Mexico--it is also used to warn children to stay away from water. How La Llorona does this can be found here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, Part ll

Lafcadio Hearn
Lafcadio Hearn wrote one of his most popular books, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, just before he died in 1904.

This book is better known today by the title, Kwaidan, which means “Ghost Story” in Japanese.

Hearn in his introduction to the first edition of this book explains that most of the 17 ghost stories he includes. he translated from old Japanese texts.

One story included in Kwaidan is entitled, A Dead Secret. This story uses the classic premise that ghosts sometimes return to take care of “unfinished business.”

 A Dead Secret

A long time ago a merchant who lived in the rural province of Tamba had a daughter called O-Sono.

O-Sono’s father observing she was both pretty and clever decided to send her to Kyoto where she could be trained in the polite accomplishments taught to young ladies in the capital.

After O-Sono finished her education, she married a merchant named Nagaraya who she lived with happily. The couple had one child--a son.

Sadly, O-Sono in her fourth year of marriage fell ill, and died.

On the night of his mother’s funeral her son announced to the rest of the family, that he had seen his mamma upstairs. She had smiled at him but had not said a word.

Becoming afraid he had run away.

Members of the family then went upstairs, to O-Sono’s room. By the light of a small lamp, they were startled to see the figure of the dead mother.

She was standing in front of a tansu, a chest of drawers, which still contained her clothes and ornaments.

Her head and shoulders were seen clearly, but from the waist down her figure faded into invisibility.

Afraid now too, the family members left the room. They consulted together downstairs. O-Sono’s mother-in-law stated that maybe she was so fond of her things she could not bare to part with them.

She suggested they give O-Sono’s belongings to the parish-temple so that she could rest in peace.

The family agreed and the drawers of the chest were emptied quickly and the items were taken to the temple.

But O-Sono’s ghost came back the next night, like before she stood before the tansu. She also came back the night following and the night after that, in fact, she returned every night-- leaving the household in fear.

The mother-in-law then went to the chief priest at the Zen temple and asked what could be done.

This priest a very old wise man felt that there must be something O-Sono was anxious about either in or near her tansu.

The mother-in-law insisted the chest was empty. The priest promised to come to the house that night and keep watch in the room.

When he arrived he announced it would be best if he kept vigil alone. When O-Sono appeared he noted she had a wistful look and her eyes were fixated upon the chest.

He announced to her that he was there to help. “Perhaps in the tansu there is something that you feel anxious about. Shall I try and find it for you?”

The shadowy figure appeared to give her consent with a slight nod of her head. The priest then went through each of the four drawers but found nothing.

He noted the figure continued to gaze wistfully at the chest. It suddenly occurred to him that there might be something hidden under the paper which lined each drawer.

He searched the chest from top to bottom. In the last drawer he found--a letter. “Is this the thing that troubles you?” O-Sono’s gaze fixed upon the letter.

“Shall I burn it for you?” O-Sono then bowed before him.

He promised her that he would burn it that very morning. “No one shall read it, except myself.”

The figure then smiled and vanished.

The priest reassured the family as he descended the stairs that they need no longer worry. “She will not appear again.”

And she never did.

The letter was a love note O-Sono had written during the time she studied at Kyoto. The priest burned it and her secret died with him.

In Part l of Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret I share more information about him and his writing.

Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, Part l


“Lafcadio Hearn is almost as Japanese as haiku.”

            --From Tuttle’s “publisher foreword” to Hearn’s editions

The Writer

Lafcadio Hearn
Lafcadio Hearn’s flight from Western materialism brought him to Japan in 1890. He became a Japanese citizen taking the name--Yakumo Koizumi--and married the daughter of a samurai family.

He was born on the Greek island of Lefkas in 1850. His father was an Anglo-Irish surgeon and a Major in the British army. His mother was Greek.

At age 6, when his parents divorced, Hearn went to live with a great-aunt in Dublin, Ireland. At age 16, he lost sight in his left eye, and soon after, his father died.

Hearn was forced to leave school when his aunt declared bankruptcy. At 19, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became a newspaper reporter.

In 1877 Hearn moved to New Orleans, where he lived for ten years and continued to write--specifically a series of articles.

He gained success with his literary translations. Harper Publishing Co. sent him on assignment to the West Indies from 1887-89. He wrote two novels during this period.

In 1890 he decided to go to Japan, where he befriended Basil Hall Chamberlain. At Chamberlain’s encouragement, he taught English at a middle school.

He married and taught at another middle school where he wrote his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan published in 1894.

He then secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle.

With Chamberlain’s assistance in 1896 he was given a position at Tokyo’ s “Imperial” University where he taught English Literature.

Hearn’s most famous books include: a collection of lectures Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, 1904, Exotics and Retrospectives, 1998, In Ghostly Japan, 1899, Shadowings, 1900, Japanese Miscellany, 1901, and Kwaidan, 1904.

He died in 1904, at the age of 54 from heart failure.

Hearn with his wife, Koizumi Setsu.
He always was photographed
in profile so his left eye
could not be seen.
The Great Interpreter

Hearn admired Japan for its beauty and tranquility. He loved its customs and values. A confirmed “Japanophile,” he lived in Japan for the rest of his life.

His keen intellect and his clear writing style made him the quintessential go-to source for the western world about “all things Japanese.”

Lafcadio Hearn’s artful translations of traditional Japanese Ghost, stories are why they are known outside of Japan today.

In Part ll of Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, I share one of my favorite ghost stories translated by him in his book, Kwaidan.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Spiritualism: Talking With the Dead

This movement was based upon the idea that the dead could communicate with the living.

It had a broad appeal because it was hailed as proof that there was “life after death.”

Spiritualism attracted 2 million followers by 1855 and quickly became a religion. It fueled an explosive interest in mediums and séances both in England and America.

Terms such as, Talking Boards, table tipping and automatic writing became part of the vernacular.

The Fox Sisters

The Fox sisters.
The Spiritualism movement began in Hydesville, New York in 1848. It was here that two sisters, Katie and Margaret Fox claimed they spoke to a murdered man who haunted their home.

The two sisters clapped their hands in response to the ghostly “raps” they heard.

They found they could communicate with this spirit a peddler who told them a former owner of the house they lived in had slashed his throat. He stated he was buried in the cellar.

The family invited neighbors in to view this phenomenon and it wasn’t long before the press had sensationalized the story.

Katie and Margaret’s stern older sister Leah took charge and managed her sisters as they traveled  from city to city sharing “spirit demonstrations.”

Despite the fact that the Fox sisters were routinely called out as frauds no “trickery” was ever discovered. Their popularity increased.

At one point P. T. Barnum brought the girls to New York to perform. Horace Greeley, editor of the Tribune, let them stay at his mansion.

Fox cottage in Hydesville.
By the mid 1850s fame had taken its toll on both sisters. They both became alcoholics.

Margaret converted to Catholicism and wanted to leave the act but family pressure kept her in. She went into a deep depression when her fiancé died before they could marry.

Leah married a wealthy businessman and left the act in 1857. Katie married an Englishman, and had two sons. When her husband died she returned to New York.

By the 1880s interest in Spiritualism began to wane in the United States.

Margaret under investigation for fraud in 1884 failed the tests a commission provided.

In 1888, Margaret denounced Spiritualism as fraud. She stated she and Katie had created the rappings in Hydesville to play a trick on their mother.

The two sisters now toured to “expose” Spiritualism. Katie continued to work as a medium during this time. Leah maintained a low profile.

Devoted followers of Spiritualism stated that Margaret was just sick and raving. Katie who rarely spoke now stated she did not agree with her sister.

In 1891, Margaret recanted her confession probably out of guilt.

Some felt that Margaret had just made the story up to take revenge on Leah who was a taskmaster and had Katie's sons taken away from her because she was an "unfit mother."

Leah died in 1890. Katie drank herself to death. She died at the age of 55 in 1892. Margaret ill and destitute, died in 1893 at the age of 59. 

Example of table tipping.

Some Positive Outcomes

By the turn of the 20th century Spiritualism ceased to be widespread but it remains an energetic religion in Britain, the United States, and Latin America.

Following the sensation of the Fox sisters, mediums and spiritualistic journals thrived.

Séances became the rage. Not all were performed publically. Family and friends would gather privately and conduct Home Circles.

Mediums were most often women. This allowed them to play a new role in society. In Victorian England this meant freedom from many societal constraints placed upon women.

In America the concept of equality espoused in Spirit teachings attracted members of the suffrage movement. Victoria Woodhull, Elisabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Beecher Stowe were spiritualists.

Susan B. Anthony was also inclined in this direction.

Despite the fact that scientists felt that Spiritualism did not provide proof of the soul and its immortality this early psychical research did establish that paranormal phenomena does occur.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Cursed Henry Graves Watch

This watch know as the “Supercomplication” or the “Holy Grail” of all watches was designed and then made over a period of 8 years.

Henry Graves Jr.
Henry Graves Jr. was born into a wealthy New York family. As a young man he shrewdly increased the family fortune via investments in railroads and banking.

Like most multi-millionaires of the time Graves was a collector. He had a passion for expensive watches.

He bought his first watch from the Swiss manufacturer Patek Phillippe in 1903.

In a friendly competition with the luxury car manufacturer, James Ward Packard, Henry Graves secretly commissioned Patek Phillippe in 1925 to make him “the most complicated watch” * on the planet.

*  “Complications” are any features added to a watch beyond just giving the time.

The Holy Grail's Features

A team of scientists, engineers and craftsmen spent 3 years designing the Supercomplication timepiece. They spend another 5 years making it.

The watch they created has 24 complications.

Click to enlarge
Among these are: a face on either side, phases of the moon, times for sunrise and sunset in New York City and a pattern of the stars for every night above Grave’s apartment in the city.

The watch also has remarkable chimes, and it shows the days of the week, has an alarm, is a stopwatch and is a perpetual calendar.

All of this was created before computers were invented.

Graves received delivery of the watch in 1933 for the cost of  $15,000--in today’s terms that would be over $700,000.

This timepiece that outshone any that Packard owned did not bring Graves the anticipated pleasure he expected--in fact, it brought the opposite.

A Cursed Talisman

Ownership of The Holy Grail brought Henry Graves both unwanted attention and grave misfortune.

In 1933 America was in the grips of the Great Depression. When people who were starving caught wind of the fact that Graves could spend thousands on luxury items they started to “resent him.”

On top of this Graves became firmly convinced that his new watch was cursed.

At one point he was about to throw the timepiece off his boat into a lake in Upper State New York. His daughter, Gwendolen convinced him not to at the last minute.

Just a short 7 months after Graves received the watch his best friend died. Then in November of 1934 he received word his youngest son had died in a car crash in Pasadena, California.

This news was made worse considering Graves had lost his eldest son to another car crash in 1922.

So Graves felt the Holy Grail had brought nothing but grief and hateful publicity into his life.

By the time of death in 1953 at the age of 86 he refused to have anything more to do with the watch that he once had so coveted.


Graves’ daughter inherited the watch and then she passed it on to her son, Reginald Fullerton in 1960. Fullerton sold it to an industrialist in Illinois for $200,000.

After this an Illinois museum displayed the watch until 1999.

Sotheby’s in New York then sold the watch for the highest bid to that point for a watch--$11 million in 1999.

The sheik that owned it died at the age of 48 just two days before it was sold again, just last month-- November of 2014

Sotheby’s in Geneva sold it to an anonymous collector for over $24 million.

Here is a video about the Holy Grail.