Friday, November 18, 2016

The Haunted Lighthouse

Most folks have seen and been entertained at one time or another by a player-piano - a self-playing piano containing a mechanical mechanism that operates the piano through pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper. Watching the piano keys moving without the assistance of human fingers however, is pretty spooky; like there is an unseen ghost sitting there on the bench playing tunes. So just imagine how spooky it is to hear piano music in a place where there is not only no pianist, but no piano either. Visitors to the Seguin Island lighthouse often have just such an experience.

About a mile off the coast of Maine near the mouth of the Kennebec River is a finger of land named Seguin Island. The recorded history of this small island is a long one, at least by American standards. In 1607, two small ships, "The Gift of God" and the "Mary and John," came to America from England and dropped anchor near the island. The settlers on board hoped to establish the first English colony in North America. They built a small town along the banks of the Kennebec River and planted a few crops. Unfortunately for them, they had arrived too late in the growing season for this area and many of the settlers perished due to the cold winter and starvation. As soon as the weather allowed, they got on their ships and high-tailed it back to England.

Even the local natives usually steered clear of the boiling waters pounding on the rocks along the island's edge. The name "Seguin" is an English corruption of an Indian word which loosely translated means "place where the sea vomits." After those first settlers departed, the island was left to the natives and largely undisturbed until the late 1700's. In 1795, with numerous ships having met their untimely end on the island's rocks, George Washington gave the order to build the first "watch tower" on the island. A year later, the lighthouse was put into operation.

Congress had appropriated $6,300 (a right tidy sum in 1795) for sturdy construction of the lighthouse using the most modern methods known at the time. The owner of the construction firm which was awarded the contract though built the tower of wood and cheap materials and absconded with the rest of the funds. Wooden towers do not long survive the wet environment and winter storms of the island and by 1819, the lighthouse had been virtually demolished and had to be rebuilt. It was rebuilt according to plans with stone and only cost $2,500.

The original lighthouse keeper was Count John Polersky who was born to a noble family in Europe and had immigrated to America where he served as a major in the Continental Army. Living alone on the uninhabited island proved to be a severe hardship. From the very first, his keeper's shack and the wooden tower were battered by the waves and weather. He built several barns to hold a few head of livestock, but storms destroyed them soon after they were built. Other storms destroyed or sank three different boats he had built to transport him back and forth to the mainland. The wet, salty air killed his garden and ruined his health. One day, after not hearing from Polersky for several weeks, a shopkeeper rowed out to check on him and found him dead on the floor of his little house.

A number of other lighthouse keepers were hired, but none stayed for long. The isolation and terrible conditions always drove them away. About 1850, a young man accepted the keeper's position. He was engaged to a young city girl and soon after accepting the position, the two were married and the young bride moved with her new husband to the isolated lighthouse home where their only neighbors were the seals and seabirds.

It didn't take long for the lively, socially outgoing bride to become bored without the interesting conversation and stimulating entertainment she had enjoyed in the city. Her husband was a quiet man who believed in hard work, but he loved his wife dearly. In an effort to lift her spirits, he purchased a piano in the city and with great effort, floated it across the inlet on a raft, hoisted it up the steep slopes of the island and installed it in the parlor of their home.

The wife very much appreciated the effort and lengths he had gone to for her and she began to practice. Unfortunately, she proved to be very musically challenged. With nothing else to do though, she practiced every day, hour after hour. She eventually managed to learn one small tune and in an effort to perfect her playing of it, she played that same tune over and over again. Her husband hinted that she should try to learn another tune, but she was either unable or unwilling to try anything but the tune she already knew. Day and night, she played the same little tune until her husband demanded she stop playing it, but apparently she had become seriously obsessed, so much so that her husband was worried about her sanity. He should have been worried about his own.

Wherever he went in the lighthouse he could hear the notes of that one maddening song repeated again and again. He could hear them in the kitchen as he made himself something to eat. He could hear them while he worked with the equipment. He could hear them as he worked with the supplies. He could hear them when he went to the top of the lighthouse. Eventually he could hear them even when his wife had left the piano and went to bed. It wasn't long before he couldn't sleep because of that damnable tune playing over and over in his head.

One day the poor keeper could stand it no longer. As his wife was playing that infernal tune yet again, he went to the tool shed, retrieved an ax and marched to the parlor where his wife sat on her stool. He lifted the heavy ax high above his head and with a mighty swing, brought it down onto the piano. The piano splintered, but he couldn't stop himself. Swing after swing rendered the piano into kindling, twisted strings and shattered ivory keys. His poor wife, too astonished or too afraid to move, was still sitting on her stool when the keeper turned the ax on her.

Amidst the piano debris, the pieces of his dear wife and the massive amount of blood, the keeper fell to the parlor floor. Coming to his senses and unable to live with himself and what he had done, he lifted the ax high in the air once more and let it fall, splitting his skull wide open.

There is no written proof of such a horrible deed happening at the lighthouse. Some say it is only a legend, but others say records were destroyed and the matter covered up or else hiring other keepers would prove to be impossible. But tourists visiting the lighthouse in the summer months very often report hearing piano music. Numerous keepers who came along later, their wives and children included, also report hearing piano music, always the same tune. They report it can be heard in the house, within the walls of the tower, and even standing outside. Many also say they have heard a soft, male voice when there is no one around. Several keepers abruptly left the island, refusing to return because of the whispering voice they heard when they were all alone. Could it be poor, lonely Count Polersky still yearning for companionship?

A few times, keepers have reported seeing ghostly figures, a man and a woman, walking hand-in-hand along the top of the cliffs at twilight, long after all visitors have left the island. It's probably just fanciful stories, but it seems more agreeable to believe it is the unfortunate husband and wife, unwilling or unable to leave the place where their lives came to such a gruesome and premature end, reunited and reconciled in the afterlife.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Haunted Baker Hotel

The Baker Hotel, 2015.
The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas was opened on November 22, 1929 just 3 weeks after the stock market crash of 1929. Known as the "Grand Old Lady," the hotel was a success as soon as it opened and was a top spa destination during the 1930s. When the nearby Fort Wolters closed down after World War II in 1946 however, both the Baker Hotel and the city declined. After the war ended and Mineral Wells was no longer the growing, bustling town it was before, the owners of the Baker Hotel did everything they could to stay in business, but costs exceeded income and it eventually closed for good in 1973.
The owner, Mr. Baker, moved into a fancy suite on the 10th floor with his family when the hotel opened. It is known he also maintained a suite for his red-headed mistress on the 7th floor. He lived in his hotel until his death in 1972. For the last 20 years of his life, he endured the decline of his fortune and watched the decline of his once luxurious hotel.

Just because the Baker Hotel has been closed to the living since 1973 doesn't mean it has been devoid of activity. The hotel remains a grand old structure containing thousands of stories of the people that stayed there - some during their last days as they sought cures for terrible illnesses. The reports of ghosts and hauntings began in the Baker long before it closed. A porter who worked there in the 1950's and 60's was the first known to witness the ghost of the woman on the 7th floor. She looks and dresses like the pictures of Mr. Baker's reported mistress. Rumors from the time say Mr. Baker refused her demands that he leave his family and marry her. Distraught, she jumped to her death from the top of the building. The year of the incident has not been verified but the room she stayed in was a suite on the southeast corner of the 7th floor. Many have reported smelling her perfume and her spirit is said to be quite flirtatious with men she may fancy.
Other records report that a drunken woman tried to jump into one of the swimming pools from the 12th floor balcony and died in the fall. Another reports that a married male cook got into a huge fight with his girlfriend, who was a maid at the hotel. She threatened to tell his wife about their love. He lost his temper and control, and stabbed her to death in the kitchen pantry. Recently a woman, who worked as a maid in the hotel, reported that on several occasions she found glasses in one particular room with red lipstick stains on the rims. This took place at times when no one was staying in the room.

The last manager of the hotel while it was still in business reported that one night he was near the main lobby on the first floor when he heard the distinct sound of a woman in high heals walking across the lobby. Thinking the footsteps to be those of his female assistant manager, he yelled out her name. The footsteps then faded away and upon further inspection, he found himself totally alone. Later he discovered that the assistant manager had not even been in the building that day.

On another occasion, he reported being on the 7th floor repairing an electrical breaker for the Christmas lights which continuously tripped every night during the display. As he was inspecting the fuse box, he heard the footsteps of an unseen person quietly walking up to his left as if not to bother him. A bit startled, he turned to look and saw no one. He said it certainly spooked him, but he spoke to the seemingly empty room and assured the possible ghost(s) that he meant no harm. After that night the lights never tripped off again.

Another incident occurred during a tour of the hotel by a group of World War II veterans and their spouses. As the group entered the empty "Brazos Room" on the first floor, which was the main dining room and dance area, a couple suddenly stopped. The woman looked at her husband and asked, "Do you hear that?" He replied, "I certainly do". About that time, several other people in the group began to hear sounds of dishes and silverware clanking as well as people talking with orchestra music in the background. Nearly all of the people there reported this event. It has never happened before nor since, but the witnesses were sure they were experiencing the ghostly echoes of a time long past.

A lady who worked at the drive-through bank located across the street from the empty hotel in the early 1990's reported that she and other tellers had their workstations facing the huge hotel. During slow times they noticed hotel windows open on various floors. Later they would notice these windows closed and others would be open. After awhile they began to take note and count which were opened and closed. One of the girls told the others "it must be the man who lives in the building and takes care of it." After that, the interest ceased and they stopped noticing. The strange thing is, no one has ever stayed in the Baker at any time since its closure in 1973 and there never was a caretaker.

A local Mineral Wells
woman who claimed to be a psychic told a reporter that ever since she was a young girl she had the ability to see spirits. She said she had been in the Baker many times and swore the numerous stories of ghosts and spirits are true. She said, "The Baker is very haunted, but not like we think. Most ghosts didn't necessarily die at the Baker, but returned after death because the hotel represented a wonderful time in their lives."

She went on to say that most of the spirits in the hotel do not want to be seen or heard with the exception of a small child. A little boy, about six to eight years old, was the only one to communicate with her. He told her he died in a hotel apartment in 1933 while his parents were seeking medicinal treatment for his leukemia. She also reported that a large shaggy dog always accompanied the child. She said he had bounced a ball to get her attention and " he was watched by an older woman who was always near him."

The psychic indicated the spirits don't necessarily look the same age as they were when they died. Some had been employees of the hotel years before they passed on and, in spirit form, looked like they did when they worked there. She said one of the resident spirits was a helicopter pilot who attended basic flight training at Ft. Wolters in the 1960's and was killed in a helicopter crash while at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. For reasons she doesn't understand, he had returned to the Baker
with his body in the same terribly mutilated condition that resulted from the crash.

In October 2000, two Paranormal Investigation teams, "DFW Ghostwatchers" from Dallas and "Lone Star Spirits" from Houston were contacted to perform a full-scale investigation. With over $100,000 of high tech scientific instrumentation, the teams made three separate visits to the building. One of the investigators using a digital camera photographed hundred's of orbs. Orbs, according to many experts, are actual spirits of the dead. Orbs were photographed throughout the building with the largest concentration being in the basement and on the 5th, 7th and 14th floors. She also captured what appeared to be 2 very distinct "ecto mist" apparitions in the 14th floor ball room. Another investigator was taking still shots with a high-end 35mm camera at the same time and captured what appeared to be another ecto mist above the first photographer. An independent psychic who accompanied the team reported "seeing" an old woman in a wheelchair in the southeast corner of the ballroom who kept saying, "I can't do it," "I can't do it".

The 5th floor was usually the most active. The psychic with the group felt uneasy and nauseous as she walked around at the west end of that floor. She felt that someone was trying to make the team "sick" so they would leave and she was too upset to go any farther in that direction. Later that night, other members of the team who visited the area began to choke and cough at the same spot. They had been on a different floor of the building and were totally unaware of the psychic's earlier experience.

Even during daylight hours and with a
professional-grade 35mm digital
camera, strange things happen and
strange images, unseen at the
time, are captured.
On the next visit, the psychic visited a room on the north end of the 5th floor and heard a young lady making rustling sounds with her dress. She sensed her  moving back and forth while making sure her makeup was applied perfectly. The spirit would move around the men in the group and seemed to be in a flirtatious mood. The psychic also sensed a man was coming to escort her to a dance in the Sky Room.

A second psychic arrived later, joined up with the group on the fifth floor and reported sensing the same thing as the first psychic. When he ventured to the west end of the floor, he picked up on a feeling of  "disgust and discomfort." He said he felt as if the area was occupied by a large disgusting man who wanted everyone to leave.

A time-lapse video camera was placed in the doorway of the Brazos room on the 1st floor  and during a 4-hour period recorded 151 instances of things moving. The room had been closed off to the investigative teams and entrance was not allowed by anyone "living." Some of the objects could have been simply dust motes reflecting light, but there was no wind that night and nothing in the room happened which would stir up the dust. Some of the objects were clearly orbs mysteriously moving around in the empty, undisturbed room.
An audio recorder placed next to the basement elevator captured the distinct sound of a man screaming in agony. A different group recorded the same sound on another investigation in June 2001. It would have been difficult for anyone in the team to mimic the sound since the area had been locked to keep everyone out. One of the expedition members gets nauseous when she gets around haunted places. At the Baker, she wasn't able to stay more than a few minutes before becoming so ill she was forced to leave. With so much activity in the building it may be one of the most haunted places in Texas if not in the country. One psychic claimed to have counted at least 49 different spirits in the building.

Once the playground for cattle barons, oil tycoons, Hollywood celebrities, and military and political leaders, the decaying grand hotel sits slowly wasting away, a remnant of a bygone era. Gone are the starlets, the proud men in uniform, the big bands, the conventions, and others who made the Baker a memorable part of their lives. It seems some never left at all or have returned to forever experience a time when Mineral Wells was one of Texas' finest cities. If you get the chance to visit the beautiful old hotel, please have respect for those who are still there - the Baker's patrons who refused to check out.