Saturday, October 19, 2013

Legend Tripping

Legend Tripping, otherwise known as ostention, is a name that has been recently bestowed by folklorists and anthropologists on an adolescent practice in which a nocturnal pilgrimage is made to a site which is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, or possibly supernatural event or haunting. Yup, totally had to go with the official definition there. Anyway, I'm pretty sure everyone has gone legend tripping at least once in their life. I personally have only done it once that I can remember. While visiting my cousins in New Jersey, I learned of the Atco ghost, the ghost of a young boy who had been run over in the street and now haunted the road. Knowing full well that I loved ghosts and spooky stuff, but also that I was incredibly afraid of ghosts and spooky stuff, my cousin decided that we should all drive out to the lonely road late at night. The legend was that if you flashed your lights, a bright light would appear on the road, which I guess signified the ghost. I don't remember much more, except that I didn't see anything and that I really had to go to the bathroom, so it wasn't that I was scared, I just wanted to get out of there. Don't ask any of my family members because they will disagree with this statement, but they are liars and big jerks. Needless to say, my experience with legend tripping wasn't that momentous, but that doesn't mean yours can't!

The first documented instance of legend tripping, though I'm sure this has been a thing dumb kids have been doing for thousands of years, is in Mark Twain's 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It's alright, you've probably never heard of it. The book contains several instances where the main characters visit a supposedly haunted site or an alleged lair for thieves. For there to be legend tripping, there first has to be an urban legend. Most communities has at least one urban legend/ghost story that they keep going, mostly just to make the town sound more interesting then it actually is. When I was growing up there were a few places in the surrounding towns that were said to be haunted. I've visited them all, as they have the benefit of also being places of business, but I wouldn't consider that legend tripping. I'm pretty sure I would've had to break in at night for it to be legend tripping. The point of \legend tripping is to test the veracity of the legend itself. The urban legend storytelling turns into a dare and someone has to make a trek into a cave or old house to prove that Old Man Jenkin's ghost doesn't capture little boys and girls that enter his house and make them watch Matlock with him. A good example of the dare format of legend tripping is the beginning of Tim Burton's Big Fish. In it, a young group of kids gather outside of a old woman's house who is supposed to be a witch. The main character is dared to go up there and knock on the door, testing the legend of this witch. The legend turns out to be true, with a future-seeing witch and everything. Many scary stories in my youth revolved around legend tripping and what would happen to kids if they dared go into haunted houses. Some of the stories involved a person having to do a ritual to get something to happen. Bloody Mary is a urban legend that can be tripped. It's the perfect example of legend tripping that involves a ritual. This, like many other dares stemming from legend tripping, often lead to the person's friends coming out and scaring them. What separates legend tripping from any other sort of tourism is the danger involved. Not only does legend tripping often lead to trespassing, but potentially injury or death. While kids may think they'll get hurt by a supernatural entity, when in reality they'll end up falling through the floor of an abandoned building. So, if you do decide to go to a dilapidated house, please be careful.

Legend tripping takes place in many different locales. Cemeteries, houses, caves, woods, bridges, tunnels, and roads are the most popular. Some locations are hard to get to and may be dangerous, so local police try to keep people from entering. As you can imagine, this just makes legend tripping in these locations that more enticing. You'll notice in bigger towns and cities that the chamber of commerce encourages people to go legend tripping. This, of course, is to make money. If you aren't being charged to go on a haunted tour, at least the town is having you spend money there so you can check out the supposedly haunted cave on the north side of town. If a town endorses legend tripping, it isn't going to be dangerous. The most exciting legend trips are done without endorsement. Typically there will be at least three kids going to a legend site, where someone will re-tell the story. Then, someone attempts whatever ritual is required, if any, and they see what happens. Rituals can even involve sex, drug use, or alcohol. I don't know, kids do stupid stuff when they're scared. A lot of legend tripping involves graveyards. Kids are supposed to stand on graves or headstones, remove headstones altogether, or walk around a grave several times. Any combination of asinine rituals will eventually lead to something happening, or so the kids think. Successful or not, most are just happy that they had the courage to do the ritual. One common legend attributed the graveyards are the chair monuments. Most of these monuments are pretty old and were meant as a comfort for those grieving for loved ones. Now people call them devil chairs and fear that if one sits on them, they will be plagued with bad luck, or even summon the devil itself. Some legends surround gravestones and their ability to heal themselves. If a person knocks down an old grave, the grave will be found in its original position the next day.

There are too many popular legend tripping areas to talk about, so I'll let you do some research. There are plenty of websites and books to help you locate popular locales. Legend tripping isn't just for kids, either. Sometimes it's just fun to go to legendary places and test your courage. Just don't expect anything spectacular to happen. Who knows though, these places are legends for a reason. Tell me in the comments about legend tripping that you've done!

Urban Legends Part Two

Another urban legend from my youth was the Killer in the Backseat. One version of the story has  a young woman getting into her car after she has had a few drinks with her friends and heads home. While on a deserted highway she suddenly sees a car behind her coming at her very fast. The car keeps flashing its lights at her and surging forward and it starts to freak the young woman out. It keeps happening again and again and eventually she decides to just gun it home as fast as she can. She finally gets home and bolts out of the car, but so does the person from the other car. The person yells for her to get inside, lock the doors and call the police. After the police arrive, the woman find out the terrible truth: there was a murderer in her backseat, and every time he was going to stab her, the car behind her would turn on his brights to frighten him off.  Another version has the woman stopping at a gas station and the attendant sees the murderer in her backseat and tries to warn her, but she doesn't believe him and gets back into the car. You can guess what happens next. This is one of those stories that has actually happened to people, so I can't assure you that this won't happen to you. The story stems from an incident that happend to a police officer in 1964, where an escaped killer had hid out in the back of his car. Another similar incident happened to a college girl in 2007 where she found an assailent hiding in her back seat. She hit the brakes hard and was able to jump out of the car in time. The funny thing about the first version of the story is what's stopping the killer from stabbing the girl? Why does having bright lights on him keep him from stabbing her. Maybe he didn't want to be seen in the rear-view mirror or something. I don't know, but to me this story is pretty silly. Yup, just a silly ol' story that has actually happened to people.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story, Bride-and-Seek. Sorry, I just had to throw in a Are You Afraid of the Dark reference in there. A young woman (seeing a trend here?) is about to get married and decides that she wants to have the wedding in her parent's back yard. The wedding goes off without a hitch and for part of the reception they decide to play hide-and-seek. It comes to be the groom's turn to be "it" and the bride really wants to win, so she sneaks into the attic of her childhood home and gets inside of an old chest. The groom searches everywhere for the bride but can't seem to find her. He assures the other guests that she is around here somewhere and that they could feel free to leave. When the bride's family can't find her after a few hours they start to become nervous and eventually fill out a missing person's report. Eventually they give up the hunt after a few days and the groom waits for the bride to eventually come home. A few years later, the bride's mother dies and her father decides to go up into the attic to look at some old photo albums. He happen upon an old chest and has to really try to get it open, seeing as the locking mechanism is all rusty. Inside he finds the corpse of his daughter, who had been trapped inside the whole time. When she closed the lid the clasp had gotten stuck on the rusty lock and kept her from escaping. The moral of the story is never get married! Wait...that's not it. Never get married at your parent's house! Nope...not that either. Oh! I got it! Never hide inside of an old chest, no matter how much you want to win a silly game of hide-and-seek. *Pours water on the fire*

One legend that has actually caused parents to freak out is the Blue-Star Tattoo legend. Every couple of years a parent will come across flyer telling them that there are temporary tattoos being passed around to children at elementary and middle schools and to get rid of them if found. The tattoos most commonly have a large blue star on them, or famous cartoon characters. The catch is that they are soaked in LSD and will hook your kids if they use the diabolical lick and stick tattoos. The legend stems from the fact that sometimes LSD solution is soaked in blotted paper and sold. There had never been any known accounts of this ever happening, but that didn't stop parents from circulating the flyer.
The legend has been around apparently since the 1970's and probably won't completely fade for awhile. I would compare the blue-star tattoo legend with other child centered ones like rainbow parties, sex bracelets, and poisoned candy. All of these tales are meant to scare parents, and most kids have no idea they are even a thing.

One that I've seen on TV a lot, but I doubt ever happens is the Kidney Heist. A well organized crime group has men go out to bars and other places to drug unsuspecting victims. The victim would then wake up the next day in a tub full of ice with a large cut on their side. Someone had taken one of their kidneys! Oh no! The person then gets away from the mobsters, or is killed, depending on which version you read. Geez mafia guys, I would have given you my kidney if you just would've asked! An e-mail warning about people who were drugging unsuspecting businessmen and women at airports and bars and taking their organs made its rounds in 1997. People flipped out so police departments in major cities had to issue statements telling the public that the story was completely made up. The National Kidney Foundation even had to issue a statement asking anyone who actually had their kidney taken to please contact them. Nobody ever has. While the story is very scary, it has never actually been confirmed, so don't be so paranoid about drinking at bars.

The last urban legend that I will cover is called, The Clown Statue. A young girl is asked to babysit at a neighbor's house and look after two boys. When she gets there the father tells her that once the boys go to sleep, she can go into this one room and watch TV. The house is very large and the father doesn't want the girl going around to different rooms I guess. Once the boys are asleep, she goes into the room and starts to watch TV, but is wary of a clown statue in the corner. She tries to stay in the room and ignore the creepy statue, but it's too much for her. She goes downstairs and calls the father, asking him if she can move to another room because of the creepy clown statue. He tells her to immediately grab the kids, go next door, and then call 911. She does what the father tells her and call him back. He tells her that they don't have a clown statue. The boys had been complaining of a clown watching them at night, but they had just assumed it was nightmares. The police come and arrest who turns out to be a midget wearing a clown costume. He had been living in the house for weeks, and hadn't been detected since the house was so big. This story was another that was passed around by e-mail, but nothing like it has ever happened. That is, unless you count John Wayne Gacy. That definitely happened, but he's long gone. No, this tale is just a piggyback from the babysitter and the man upstairs story, but with a clown twist. Nobody likes intruders, and nobody likes clowns. Double whammy!

There are a ton more urban legends out there. I don't think we are going to have a shortage of them anytime soon. With more and more technology being invented, I wouldn't be surprised if our urban legends started to focus on our fear of technology and the unknown.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Urban Legends Part One

Urban legends are a big part of our culture and for whatever reason, people love to propagate them. Urban legends don't have to happen in an urban setting to be an urban legend, so the name is a little bit misleading. They are merely contemporary folklore and the name is used to differentiate it from traditional folklore from pre-industrial times. Urban legends can be harmless stories to just get a rise out of people, and sometimes they can cause a panic. That's when they become no so fun, and more dangerous. You've probably heard a few yourself over the years or even seen the terrible movies based on popular urban legends. They are never told by the person it happened to, but always happened to a friend of a friend, or something of that variety. Most serve as cautionary tales and in that regard are a lot like Grimm's Fairy Tales, except that some people believe that certain urban legends are true. The internet has just made things worse, with fake stories being passed off as truth at the speed of sound. I'm just going to talk about a few that have impacted society and some that I just think are interesting.

The first urban legend I'm going to talk about is Lights Off. The legend goes like this:  a gang is going around shooting people as a part of an initiation. The prospective gang member would drive around with their brights on/lights off and wait for a car to flash their lights at them. The prospective gang member was then required to chase after the car and shoot the driver as a way of initiation. The legend appears to have started in the early 80's, but can still be found circulating around the internet. It did the most damage in 1993 when the story could be faxed and forwarded to as many people as possible. Whoever started the hoax made the "police warning" look real enough that it tricked other police stations into issuing statements themselves. Fervor died down when there were no reported incidents of people being gunned down by gang-bangers. The legend has resurfaced every once in a while and continues to make people wary of flashing their lights at cars. The point of an urban legend isn't for it to be completely out there. The tale has to have a little bit of unbelievability to it, but it also has to be something that could conceivably happen to any average joe. Flashing our lights at some joker on the road is something we do almost absent-mindedly because, "hey, that guy could get someone hurt!"

Mary I of England had another name that she earned for her persecution of Protestants: Bloody Mary. You probably know where I'm going with this. The ritual of looking into a mirror in the dark or candlelight first started with a ritual of finding out who your future husband was going to be, but later shifted to a way of conjuring a spirit. Bloody Mary is the most popular spirit that people would call on, though I'm not sure if people really connect this with Mary I or not anymore. You know the drill, you say Bloody Mary's name three times in a mirror and she'll show up and totally kill you. That, or she'll scream in your face, throw stuff at you, or any number of terrifying things. This was the first urban legend I had ever heard and it is still the most terrifying to me, even though I know it's utter garbage. I remember in first grade being told by a classmate that a friend of hers had said "Christmas Tree" three times into a mirror because she thought it was a safe thing to say, but boy was she wrong. That Christmas tree apparently messed her up good because she had to miss a bunch of days of school and by the way you probably never heard of this girl because she goes to another school but she's totally real. In this childhood version nothing was safe to say into a mirror. It was like the end of Ghostbusters with the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man. He couldn't hurt anyone, right? You better believe I never repeated words even when I was near a mirror when I was a kid. Honestly, mirrors generally freak me out. They are said to be gateways to the spirit world! This legend is a popular one for truth or dare games at kid's sleepovers where they'll get a kid to try it, then jump out and scare them if they say the name three times. Kids can be so cruel!

Another legend that I had heard at a young age was The Vanishing Hitchhiker legend. I had a book of spooky stories and one of them told the following story. A man was driving down the road late on a rainy night and spots a young boy hitchhiking. The man picks the boy up and asks him where he lives. The man notices that the boy is soaking wet, so he offers him his sweater. The boy leads the man back to his house and thanks him for the ride. The man tells the boy that he'll come back tomorrow for the sweater. The man goes back to the boy's house the next day and asks the woman there if her son is home. He is told that her son had died a month ago, but he could visit his grave if he wanted. The man locates the boys grave, and on top of it, his sweater. This is just a version of this tale. Other variations have the hitchhiker disappearing after a few minutes in the car, usually not uttering a word. Sometimes the hitchhiker does speak and stays the whole drive to the destination. This is a well-known urban legend and probably the one that helped bring urban legends to public awareness in the early 1980's.

One urban legend that gives me the heebie-jeebies is called The Spider Bite. A woman travels to a foreign location-usually Mexico or South America- and is bitten by a spider on her cheek. The bite starts to turn into a small boil and the woman become nervous about it. She travels back home to a doctor who takes a look at what has become a rather large boil. The doctor lances the boil and when it pops, hundreds of baby spiders come crawling out. The location differs and so do the situations involving how the person got bit, but they all end the same: spiders everywhere! I don't mind spiders that much, but thinking of a bunch of little ones inside of me is more than I can handle. The legend found a modern audience starting in the 1970's and has been spreading ever since. There was even a spider story involving Taco Bell. The origin of the story is thought to have come from the 1842 German short story, "Die Schwarze Spinne." In the story a woman makes a pact with the devil who seals the deal with a kiss on the woman's cheek. People would often try to cheat the devil out of the pact, and when the woman did so, the spot where the devil kissed her turned into a boil which eventually birthed venomous spiders. The good news is that spiders would never lay their eggs in your skin. The bad news is that there are other creepy crawlers that would, but it's very, very rare. Folklorists believe this story is passed around so easily because we as humans are afraid of invasion by another. It's the reason the movie Alien freaked everyone else. The spider bite tale has also been linked to pregnancy fears.

A classic urban legend is that of The Licked Hand. In the story, a young girl is spending the night by herself for the first time with only her dog to keep her company. She hears a report about a serial killer on the loose in her area, so she locks all the doors and windows and eventually falls asleep with her trusty dog sleeping underneath the bed. She wakes in the middle of the night to hear a curious dripping sound. Her bedside lamp isn't working and she's too afraid to get up and turn the light on, so she puts her hand down underneath the bed for reassurance. She feels her dog licking her hand and this gives her enough comfort to finally fall back asleep. When she gets up in the morning and enters the bathroom, she sees that her dog is hanging from the ceiling with its blood dripping into the bathtub. On the wall, written in blood are the words "HUMANS CAN LICK TOO." The tale, like many other urban legends has many different versions, but they all center around a young girl being visited by an intruder and getting away in the end. It's easy to see why this story is so scary to the general populace. Many of us don't like staying in places by ourselves, and the thought of a home invasion is downright terrifying. We all fear being the victim of random violence, and this story captures that feeling completely. The story has been circulating for years, but the first version came up in 1871. A young woman writes in her diary of a clergyman who tells them about a home invasion that took place the other day. The clergyman's wife was convinced that there is a burglar hiding under their bed, but the clergyman was convinced it was just their dog. He feels his hand being licked and assures his wife it's just the dog. They wake up the next morning to find all their valuables missing. *Sad Trombone*.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Can things happen outside of the laws of nature? Does walking under a ladder inheritly bring you bad luck? Should you kill every black cat you come across? Those are age old questions and ones that will probably be discussed for many years to come. Superstitions are in every culture and stems from the belief that one even leads to another though without any natural link between the two. Unlike natural causality where we can see the connection between two events, such as a earthquake and a collapsed building, superstitions would connect you spilling the salt with your newly collapsed building. Though an earthquake made it happen, the real cause of the event was your bad luck. I'm not going to go into the history of superstitions or its evolution over time, but instead just touch on a few common superstitions that we see in our culture. You'd be surprised how many people believe in superstitions or the concept of good and bad luck. While mostly harmless, some superstitions have had catastrophic consequences and have caused some to live in fear for illogical reasons.

Horseshoes are thought to bring good or bad luck depending on how they are utilized. A common tradition is that if you hang a horseshoe with bot points up, it will bring you luck, while both points down will bring bad. Sailors often put horseshoes on the front of their ship to give them good luck in their voyage. The source behind the horseshoe and it's inherit luck comes from the story of Saint Dunstan and the Devil. Saint Dunstan was a blacksmith by trade and when asked by Satan to put a horseshoe on the devil's horse. Dunstan instead nailed it onto Satan's foot and only took it off when Satan agreed to never enter a place where a horseshoe was hung.

The unlucky nature of Friday the 13th seems to stem from the old belief that both 13 and Friday are unlucky. Put them together and you have super unlucky! The number 13 has been considered unlucky due to 12 being so awesome. 12 is considered the number of divine organizational arrangement or of chronological completeness.  Case in point: 12 months in a year, 12 hours on the clock, 12 tribes of Isreal, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 apostles of Jesus, and 12 signs of the zodiac. Simply adding another number made the whole thing irregular. Friday's bad luck stems from the Canterbury Tales, where Friday was considered an unlucky day to start a journey or undertake projects. Another common belief associated with Friday the 13th is that if you become a camp counselor on that day, you will surely be murdered by a man in a hockey mask or by his mother.

Black cats are considered to be bad luck in Western culture (save for the British Isles), and good luck everywhere else. Black cats are often associated with witches, something that has been believed since the Middle Ages. Old women who were in the company of many cats were believed to be witches, and could even turn into cats themselves. Thus, if a black cat crossed your path, it very well may have been a witch. This had unintended consequences during the plague years, as cats were killed wholesale. Thus, the rats carrying the plague were allowed to infect more and more people without any pesky cats around.

Ever heard someone say something hopeful, then quickly utter, "knock on wood!"? Everyone says it, but nobody is really sure why. We just say it out of habit because if we don't, that hopeful wish won't come true, right? This superstition stems from the belief that if you said something boastful or proud, fate would intervene and bring you down a peg. The only way to stop this from happening was either shutting your cake-hole, or knocking on wood. But why wood? Trees were believed to house good spirits, and by knocking on where they lived, you were basically asking for their protection. Here's hoping that the tree spirit can still help you after you had it turned into a coffee table.

Four-leaf clovers are said to bring luck to anyone who possesses one. This belief stems from the hard to find clovers use as a charm in Celtic times. The clover is said to be most abundant in Ireland, leading to the association. According to tradition, the four clovers represent, in order, Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck. It is also seen as a reminder of the Cross for Christians.

As explained by The Simpsons, when you sneeze, your soul tries to escape your body, however saying "God Bless You" stuffs the soul back in. It's funny, but actually not so far from where the saying originated. People believed that the soul tried to get out when you sneezed, or that your heart stopped for a second, and seeing as you made it through the terrible, yet short ordeal, someone would "God Bless You". Another theory is that it was something Pope Gregory the Great would say to people who sneezed during the time of the Bubonic Plague. It has now turned into just something people say to each other to be polite.

There are a ton of other superstitions, but these were honestly the most interesting ones. Do some of your own research and find out why people do the crazy things they do!

Sunday, October 13, 2013


The wendigo is a demonic creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquin peoples along the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, and the upper Midwest United States. The wendigo is probably my state's only popular mythic character. Michigan's weather apparently doesn't suit many supernatural beings. As it happens, the wendigo doesn't mind our cold weather at all, and that's why it was found here and in most northern states. According to Algonquin legends, a wendigo is an insatiable, yet emaciated, beast that desired for nothing but the taste of human flesh. All wendigos were humans at one time, but had resorted to cannibalism and thus turned into this dreaded beast. Humans could also turn into wendigo's if they became too greedy or ravenous. If you were unlucky enough to run into one in the woods, it would devour you without hesitation. Wendigos were seen as a gaunt looking giant, a being that is always hungry. The fear of turning into a wendigo kept many Algonquin people from consuming too much or taking more than they needed. While greediness was looked down upon, cannibalism was extremely taboo in the Algonquin tribes. You either committed suicide in the event of famine, or resigned yourself to death. Eating someone, even to save your own life, was one of the worst things you could do. So it's easy to see why the Algonquin came up with a creature that represented all that could go wrong when you committed such acts. You weren't a human anymore, just an insatiable monster gorging itself on the flesh of your comrades.

Even though the wendigo is just a legendary figure that has never existed, that hasn't stopped anthropologists and psychologists from seeing a glimmer of it in people. Called "Wendigo Psychosis," the patient will desire human flesh, even if there are other food sources readily available. The condition is considered a culture-bound syndrome, meaning it only happens to Algonquins. Wendigo Psychosis is highly controversial, as many psychologist question if there have ever been any real cases. Scholars that don't believe in the psychosis claim that the "condition" is nothing but fantasy, something a foolish anthropologist took at face value when told of the wendigo by the Algonquin. There are still those that claim it is a real condition, though very rare now. The most famous story of Wendigo Psychosis deals with a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta, named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving, and his eldest son died. Swift Runner ate not only his eldest son, but the rest of his family too, even though there was an emergency food supply at a nearby fort twenty-five miles away. It was revealed that this was not a case of pure cannabalism, as eating his family was not a latch ditch effort to stay alive, but of Wendigo Psychosis. He gave himself up at a nearby fort and was promptly executed. A man named Fiddler Jack, a Oji-Cree chief and shaman, was said to be very good at defeating wendigos. In some cases this involved euthenizing people who were thought to be suffering from Wendigo Psychosis. He was arrested and put to death in 1907. The number of Wendigo Psychosis cases have basically vanished, as many of the Algonquin tribes have assimilated into Western culture and live less rural lifestyles. The jury is still out on whether it can actually be called a real condition or not.

Real monster or not, the wendigo has become a popular villain in many TV shows, video games, and movies, including Cabin in the Woods, Supernatural, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and Hannibal.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lizzie Borden

Everyone knows the story of Lizzie Borden, or at least the rhyme associated with her: Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Cute, huh? I knew of Lizzie Borden from this rhyme, and that's about it until a few years ago when I finally decided to learn the whole story. The funny thing was that I always assumed that Borden killed her parents, was arrested and killed/rotted in jail or even got away somehow. The real story of Borden is less exciting, but still interesting.

Lizzie Borden was born July 19th, 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts to a reasonably wealthy family. Her father was a successful property developer and owned a few textile mills in the area. Lizzie had an older sister named Emma and both were brought up in a strict religious home and were very active in their church. The two girls lived with their father and step-mother but there were inklings that the girls and their step-mother didn't get along. When questioned after the murders, the maid revealed that there may have been some animosity between Lizzie and her father, as he had violently killed all her pigeons with an ax, for he thought they were attracting intruders. The atmosphere in the house was also tense due to property dealings with other family members and the sisters felt a little jilted by their father. Things became even worse when Mr. Borden's first wife's brother came to visit to discuss transfers of property. The family was also violently ill in the days preceding the murders. So in general, you had a lot of bad vibes going around. Mrs. Borden feared that her and her family had been poisoned, seeing as Mr. Borden wasn't exactly the most popular man in town, but the doctor assured her that it was just food poisoning.

On August 4th, 1892 (making Lizzie 32 years old at the time), Mr. Borden woke and had breakfast with his wife, went out and did his usual rounds, then came back to the house around 10:45 am. The maid was on the third floor cleaning windows when she heard Lizzie call out to her from the first floor of the house a little before 11:10 am. Lizzie yelled for the maid to come quick because someone had come in and murdered her father. There was Mr. Borden, slumped on the couch and looking like he was hit with a hatchet-like weapon. Investigators later assumed that Mr. Borden was asleep on the couch when he was attacked, which would explain why the maid hadn't heard a struggle or anything. While Lizzie was being cared for by a doctor and neighbors, the maid found Mrs. Borden dead inside an upstairs guest room. The police searched the building and found a bloodless hatchet in the basement, though it was missing most of its handle. Since apparently the maid was above suspicion and Emma Borden was out of town, the police only had Lizzie as a suspect. She was promptly arrested and stood trial a few months later.

A few things came to light at the trial. The hatchet found in the basement was never determined to be the murder weapon because the police couldn't keep straight whether the missing handle was at the scene of the murder or not. No bloody clothing was found at the Borden house, though Lizzie did burn a dress in the stove claiming it was ruined after she had brushed against new paint. A similar ax murder had happened a few days before the trial, but the perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country at the time of the Borden murders. A piece of evidence that was excluded from the trial was that Lizzie had attempted to purchase prussic acid (for a sealskin cloak apparently) a day before the murders. The skulls of each victim was removed and used at the trial as evidence. Lizzie fainted upon seeing them. The jury deliberated for just an hour and a half and found her not guilty. Yup, Lizzie Borden was found innocent. You don't hear that fact very often when hearing her story.

The two sisters moved out of the death-filled house and went to the rich side of town. Lizzie started to go by Lizbeth A. Borden, but since she had only moved to a different part of the same town, I don't think it fooled anyone. The two sisters were able to afford the bigger and better house with maids and a couchman because they inherited all their dad's money. Needless to say, Lizzie was ostracized in Fall River. Most probably assumed she had gotten away with murder and treated her thus. Lizzie and her sister lived most of their lives together, both never marrying. Lizzie eventually passed away at the age of sixty-six from pneumonia in 1927, while Emma died just a few days later of chronic nephritis.

No one else was ever charged for the murders, though there are still many theories today on who actually murdered Mr. and Mrs. Borden. Lizzie is often the most considered killer since there is a lot of weird evidence that points to her. The maid is another suspect, someone who may have felt animosity towards the Borden family and couldn't take it anymore. Another theory involves any one of Mr. Borden's business partners or even his deceased wife's brother. Again, Mr. Borden was not exactly popular in the community and it is very possible someone killed him and his wife to get rid of the Borden hold on the town real estate. The last theory is that it was in fact Emma Borden who killed her parents. She apparently had an alibi that she was in Fairhaven-fifteen miles away-but some suspect that she snuck back to the Borden household to commit the murders and then traveled back to Fairhaven to receive the telegram concerning the murders. Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if Lizzie and Emma had worked together to kill their parents. They both got a bunch of money from their parents being dead and they were finally out from under them.

Unfortunately it looks like we'll never know who killed the Bordens. This case is up there with Bruno Hauptmann's trial (he's the one who stole Lindbergh's baby) and the O.J. Simpson trial in terms of public knowledge and popularity. The Borden house is still standing to this day and now serves as a B&B and a museum. The house is allegedly haunted about the spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Borden and the house has been the subject of many TV show specials including Ghost Hunters.

Monday, October 7, 2013

White House Hauntings

The White House has a long and storied history, first occupied by John Adams in 1800 and rebuilt after the British burned it down in 1814. Forty-three presidents have called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave home, and according to some reports, some never left. The White House is well known for being haunted by at least a few Presidents, first ladies, and others closely associated with the building. I'm just going to take a look at a few of them. One that takes place on the grounds of the White House is The Rose Garden. Dolly Madison first planted the beautiful garden in the early 1800's and it's been around since, because that's the way Dolly likes it! First Lady Ellen Wilson apparently didn't care for the garden and asked that it be dug up. The workers didn't ever finish the job since they claimed Dolly herself prevented them from hurting her precious garden. Apparently the workers were more scared of Dead Dolly than Ellen Wilson, because the Rose Garden is still here today. Workers inside the White House often speak of the smell of roses present in unusual areas of the building. Perhaps it is a warning to all that live in the White House that Dolly Madison will go full on War of 1812 on you if you mess with her roses.

Family and friends of the First Family stay in various bedrooms on the second floor. Many ghostly encounters have been reported from these rooms. One couple staying at the White House claimed to see a British soldier trying to set fire to their bed. Lyndon Johnson's daughter once claimed she spotted the ghost of Lincoln's son Willie, who had died in the very room she was staying in. Screams heard in the rooms have been attributed to Grover Cleveland's wife, the first woman to give birth in the White House. After renovations in the fifties, ghostly claims had fallen significantly in this area of the house.

The East Room is said to be haunted by Abigail Adam's ghost. When she lived in the White House, she used to do laundry in the East Room, which explains why when people see her ghost, they describe her as having her arms outstretched in front of her, as if holding a laundry basket. Sightings of Abigail were abundant during the Taft administration, but her ghost was also seen by a group of tourists in 2002. The Rose Bedroom is a popular spot to see Andrew Jackson, or at least hear him laugh heartily or swear loudly. Seeing as it's Jackson's old bedroom, it's easy to see why he'd show up here. There's even an infamous cold spot located in the canopy bed Jackson slept in. Perhaps the most famous ghost that wasn't part of the Presidential family is that of David Burns, the man who had to give up his land in 1790 to make room for the White House. Several people, including FDR's valet and a guard from Truman's administration have heard a disembodied voice inside the Yellow Oval Room say simply, "I'm Mr. Burns."

Perhaps the most famous haunting of the White House is by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's ghost is freaking everywhere. Lincoln has been seen in the second floor hallway pacing back and forth. Truman claimed that Lincoln even went as far as to knock on his door. Lincoln has also been seen inside the Yellow Oval Room, which functioned as his personal library room and one of his favorite places to be. He is often times seen staring out the window. He has also been seen inside the East Room, the room in which his body laid in state. The Rose Room, aka Jackson's bedroom, is the site of probably my favorite Lincoln sighting. While visiting the White House, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands woke up to a knocking at her door. She got up and answered it, only to see Abraham Lincoln staring her in the face. Needless to say, she fainted dead away. The most haunted room in the house is probably Lincoln's bedroom. Several Presidents, first ladies, first children, and heads of state have witnessed Lincoln's apparition inside this room. Winston Churchill famously refused to ever sleep in the room again after he came into it after a shower and found the 16th President standing next to the fireplace. Lincoln's ghost, along with a demon cat that supposedly lives in the basement are said to be seen before a national catastrophe or crisis. Sightings were reported right before the stock market crash in 1929 and Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

Now, these are just fun stories, and I don't give credence to any of them. Well, I guess if anyone was going to have unfinished business, it would be Abraham Lincoln, so maybe he is chillin' at the White House.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is one of my favorite supernatural beings to read about, so I decided to finally write about him. If you thought the Headless Horseman was first thought up by Washington Irving, then you'd be wrong. Legends surrounding a Headless Horseman date back to Celtic folklore where the being was called a Dullahan. The Dullahan was an Unseelie fairie who appeared as a headless rider who rode a black horse, usually with its head being carried around under its arms. I know what you're thinking. "Unseelie? Fairie? That sounds a little confusing!" Let me clarify something. While we in America generally associate fairies with beings that are non-threatening and fancy-free, ancient culture and most of the rest of the world associates them with powerful creatures that may or may not want to carry you off into the night. There are two courts that fairies belong to: Seelie and Unseelie. Seelie Court fairies are mischievous creatures, but will often seek out help from humans, warn those who accidentally offend them, and offer favors when kindness is given to them. So, not really dangerous unless you piss them off. Fairies of the Unseelie Court are not so forgiving. They are the creatures you read about that murder people outright, or take them away into the darkness. Not all members of the Unseelie Court are maleavolent, as some can grow attached to certain humans, though it is purely in the sense of a powerful being feeling attached to a pet. So, the Dullahan is a malevolent creature that most likely can't be reasoned with. The creature's black eyes dart about like flies, while the mouth is permanently in a grin, spreading from ear to ear. It would often ride a ghostly carriage with a human spine operating as its whip. When the Dullahan stopped in front of you and called out your name, you perished on the spot. I guess you can think of it more as a personification of Death than anything else. If you've ever seen Darby O'Gill and the Little People, then you've seen an example of the Dullahan. There is no way to protect against a Dullahan except for gold. They hate gold for some reason and will ultimately ride away if you have some on you. Otherwise, don't try to mess with them while they're trying to do their job, or you might get a bucket of blood thrown on you. Sounds pleasant!

In German folklore, the stories of a Headless Horseman is recounted by none other than the Brothers Grimm. The first story is set near Dresden in Eastern Germany. The tale tells of a woman who goes out to the forest to gather acorns. She hears a hunting horn blow once, than again, and when she looks up, she sees a headless horseman on a gray horse in her path. In another German tale, the Headless Horseman, or "wild huntsman" blows his hunting horn to warn the living not to go out hunting the next day, for they will suffer an accident if they do. The Headless Horseman shows up several other times in German folklore, sometimes as a villain, and sometimes as a vengeful spirit, seeking out perpetrators of capital crimes.

In America, the Headless Horseman is a character in a short story by Washington Irving. This version of the Headless Horseman is not a fairie, but a vengeful spirit. In life, the Horseman was a Hessian soldier helping the British fight the colonists in the American Revolutionary War. During the battle of Chatterton Hill, the unnamed Hessian soldier had his head taken off by an American cannonball. His body was buried in a graveyard nearby a church and that was supposed to be the end of it. The town that grew out of that area, called Sleepy Hollow, remembered the tale of the decapitated soldier, and it eventually turned into a legend. The legend went that travelers on the road at night would meet up with the Headless Horseman, an undead creature that was now looking for a replacement head. If you wanted to escape the Horseman, all you had to do was make it past the covered bridge by the church. Going past the bridge apparently put you out of the boundaries of the spirit. We all know the rest of the Irving story. The interesting point is that it is completely ambigious in the end whether there really was a Headless Horseman or not. Could it have been Brom Bones in disguise, or had the Headless Horseman actually spirited Ichabod Crane away. One question I always get from this story is why a Hessian soldier for the Horseman and not a British one? Well, Hessian soldier were contracted mercenaries mostly from Germany, and they were pretty brutal. Brutal, as in they would usually take no prisoners and they scared the living daylights out of the colonists. The Hessian involvement actually helped bring Loyalist over to the Revolutionary side. With a reputation like that, it just makes sense that Irving would make the ghost of the tale a brutal Hessian.

The legend of the Headless Horseman continues to this day, as people have claimed to have seen headless figures on horseback on those chilly Fall nights when no one else is around. Whether it's a vengeful spirit, a bringer of death, or a warning of ill-events, the Headless Horseman always spells out bad news. I think the reason I like the Horseman so much is because we really don't have many spirit stories left over from the early days of our nation. Our folklore doesn't seem to dwell as much on the spirit world as other countries, but I do feel like the Headless Horseman is probably the father of all American ghost stories.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste was just like any boat, except that mostly anyone who sailed on it met an untimely end. I'm pretty sure the ship was made out of wood from trees that came from an Indian burial ground. I mean, what other explanation is there? The Mary Celeste has a tumultuous history, though maybe the ol' girl is just misunderstood. The Mary Celeste, first named Amazon, was made by Joshua Dewis in 1861 at the village of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia. The Amazon's first captain, Robert Mclellan, contracted pneumonia nine days after taking command and died on the boat's maiden voyage. OK, so not off to a great start. John Nutting Parker, the next captain of the Amazon, struck a small fishing boat and had to take her back to the shipyard for repairs. While at the shipyard, a fire promptly broke out in the middle of the ship. The first trans-Atlantic voyage of the ship ended poorly when the ship collided with another in the English Channel. Then for six years the boat decided to ease up on its poor crew members. It didn't catch on fire or crash for six years, but apparently got bored of being owned by Canadians. The Amazon ran aground in 1867 from a storm and was promptly salvaged and sold to Richard Haines of New York. He then had it transferred to the American registry and its name was changed to the Mary Celeste: the name of pure evil.

The Mary Celeste was now going to be used strictly for trans-Atlantic runs to and from the Adriatic ports. Benjamin Briggs was to the captain of this ship, and he decided that it would be a good idea to take most of his family along with him for a trip to Italy to deliver pure alcohol. His wife Sarah and two-year-old daughter Sophia would accompany him, while his seven-year-old son won the life lottery and got to stay home with his grandma. There were ten people in all sailing on the ship, the other seven being crew members, all capable sailors. Before the Mary Celeste departed, Briggs met with an old sailor friend of his named David Morehouse. Morehouse happened to be captaining a ship, named the Dei Gratia, that was going along the same route as the Mary Celeste. Unfortunately, Morehouse was still waiting for his supplies so he would set sail a few days after the Mary Celeste. It turned out to be around seven to eight days. There had been reports of storms over the Atlantic throughout October, but the Dei Gratia did not experience any of it. After an uneventful month at sea, the Dei Gratia spotted something peculiar off in the distance. The helmsman of the Dei Gratia spotted a ship about five miles in the distance, but there was something off about it. The ship was yawning slightly and the sails looked slightly torn. Once they got closer, they realized the ship was none other than the Mary Celeste.

The Dei Gratia crept ever closer towards the Mary Celeste but kept a distance of 400 yards. The crew noticed that the Mary Celeste was under sail, yet sailing erratically on a starboard tack, and slowly heading to the Strait of Gibraltar. They watched the ship for two hours and determined that the ship was drifting after not seeing anyone at the helm or on deck, though there were no signs of a distress signal. Morehouse thought this very odd since the Mary Celeste should have docked in Italy already. Oliver Deveau, the chief mate, boarded the Mary Celeste and searched the whole ship. There was no one aboard. While he didn't find anyone, he did notice that most of the ship was flooded, with two of the three pumps being dissembled. Though it was mostly full of water, the ship wasn't sinking and was seaworthy. All of the ship's papers were missing save for the captain's logbook. The ship's clock wasn't functioning, the compass was destroyed, while the sextant and marine chronometer were both missing. The only raft the Mary Celeste had was also missing and a rope was found tied to the back of the ship leading into the water. The alcohol cargo was all in good order, though when it was eventually unloaded in Italy they found nine barrels were empty. A six-month supply of uncontaminated food was found aboard along with all of the crew's belongings and valuables, making a piracy raid seem extremely unlikely. It appeared to the crew of the Dei Gratia that the ship had been abandoned in a hurry. They couldn't find any sign of struggle or violence. For whatever reason, the crew of the Mary Celeste left everything and bolted off that ship.

The Dei Gratia and Mary Celeste were sailed to Gibraltar so they could figure out what the hell happened and apportion marine salvage rights. The commission of inquiry set up by the Attorney General of Gibraltar investigated the abandonment of the Mary Celeste for three months while the story gained worldwide attention. Both European and American maritime experts reviewed the ship and basically found nothing. Any sign of supposed foul play was quickly refuted by another expert. In the end, nobody quite knew what happened to the crew. Authorities in Washington, D.C. basically put out an APB saying that if anyone saw someone who matched the description of any of the crew members to contact them immediately. No one ever did.

James Winchester, the owner of the boat, pondered whether he should sell the boat seeing as it was probably unlucky. His mind was made up after the boat claimed the life of his father, Henry Winchester, who drowned in an accident while bringing the Mary Celeste back to America. He sold the boat at an enormous loss and the boat ended changing hands seventeen times in thirteen years. By the end of it, the boat wasn't looking so good. The last owner, G. C. Parker, who made no profit whatsoever with the boat, decided to wreck the ship purposefully for insurance fraud in the Caribbean Sea in 1885. Though it was run into a reef, the she-devil wouldn't sink so the insurance fraud plan didn't work. Parker then attempted to burn the ship, though even fire wouldn't kill the stupid thing. It did however burn up the Captain's Log, which still had Benjamin Brigg's entries in it. Parker was still found out after making an exorbitant claim on cargo he didn't have and he was promptly arrested. He ended up getting acquitted since the punishment for barratry (purposeful destruction of a vessel) was death and the jury didn't feel he deserved to die. It didn't matter, he died three months later. The Mary Celeste was deemed un-repairable and was allowed to sink deep into the sea. The curse was finally over. Or was it? Yes...yes it was.

There are several theories on what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. The most popular theory concerns the nine empty alcohol barrels. While most of the barrels were made out of white oak, the nine that were found to be empty were made out of red oak. Red oak is known to be more porous and thus more likely to emit vapor. This may have caused a buildup of vapor in the hold. Briggs was wary of the alcohol he was hauling and didn't trust the dangerous cargo. Poorly secured barrels might have rubbed together and caused sparks. The thought of this may have been enough for the crew to hastily abandon ship. Historian Conrad Byers believed Captain Briggs had ordered the hold be opened, resulting in a violent rush of fumes and steam. This caused the crew to believe they were in danger of an explosion and they boarded the lifeboat and connected a rope to the end of the ship, waiting until they thought it was safe to board again. A storm or high winds probably caused the lifeboat to become untied to the boat and they drifted in the sea until the entire crew died of starvation or exposure. The only problem with this theory is that the crew of the Dei Gratia found the hold tightly shut and when it was opened there was no smell of alcohol or fumes. The big mystery is still why the nine barrels were empty. Another viable theory was that two of the pumps had broken and the ship was filling with water, causing the crew to prematurely abandon the ship. Other theories included piracy, mutiny, or drunkenness of the crew, but those theories hold no water since there were no valuables taken, no sign of struggle, and Briggs didn't allow crew members to drink. Honestly, no one has any concrete answers as to what happened to the crew. What could have sent the crew off the Mary Celeste in such a hurry? Did the crew survive and land in Europe or Africa somewhere, though didn't come forward? Did aliens abduct the crew and get totally wasted on nine barrels of pure alcohol? My money's on that.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Houdini Seance

Everybody knows who Houdini is and what he's known for. However, most cannot say they know about the seances his wife held every year for ten years to contact her deceased husband. First let me give you a little background. Houdini made a living out of mystifying people and performing illusions. That being said, he absolutely hated mediums, who did the same exact thing, except in a different way. Mediums had become exceedingly popular in the 1920's mostly due to the first World War. Parents and family members would go to mediums and other spiritualist and try to talk to their dearly departed who had left them while across the ocean. Houdini found mediums to be crooks and givers of false hope, so he did what anyone would do: try to discredit the lot of them! Houdini was pretty well known, so he had to disguise himself. He would go to mediums and pretend to be trying to reach out to a dead loved one, then would totally call them out when they attempted to reach this person he'd just made up. Houdini gained a reputation from this endeavor, which put him at odds with a lot of people. He even offered cash to anyone that could prove that they could contact the dead. Nobody could, and it further cemented Houdini's disbelief in the spirit world.

Fast forward to 1926 when Houdini is performing at the Princess Theater in Montreal. A local college student came into Houdini's dressing room and asked him if it was true that he could take any punch. Houdini replied that it was true and was subsequently punch several times in the stomach until he had to tell the student to stop (he usually tensed up his stomach when punched but was sitting down due to a sprained ankle). Houdini performed that night in great pain and was up for several days due to the incident. He finally went to the hospital in Detroit, MI where his next show was and was told that he had appendicitis and that he should have surgery immediately. Houdini apparently also didn't believe in life saving surgery. He performed what was to be his last show in Detroit and fainted several times throughout. He was finally taken to the hospital where he eventually died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix. The story doesn't end there, though.

Houdini knew that he was dying and must have done a lot of thinking, because what he decided next was completely out of character. He told his wife, Bess, that if anyone could figure out a way to speak to the living from the afterlife, he could. He gave her a secret message that only she would know and told her to hold a seance every year on the anniversary of his death-which happened to be Halloween-for ten years. After that point she could give up on hearing from him again. Bess honored her husband's peculiar request and held a seance every year for ten years, waiting for that secret message that only she would recognize. Houdini may have been able to get out of a straitjacket with ease, but he couldn't break through the barriers of the afterlife; his wife never received the message. Though Bess gave up on the seances herself, she asked magician Walter B. Gibson to continue the Halloween tradition of trying to contact Houdini's ghost. The tradition lives on today, in fact, with an official seance taking place at The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, and countless unofficial seances taking place around the country. To this day, no one has claimed to have spoken to Houdini. One last note: Bess let it slip to the press what the secret message was. Though it was in magician code, it translated to spell out "believe."