Friday, September 27, 2013

Haunting In Yellowstone

The historic Roosevelt Arch, the north entrance to Yellowstone 
National Park. It was dedicated on April 24, 1903.
Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, but in a short-sighted budget move, the government allocated no funds for the upkeep, protection and management of the park. For the first 14 years of its existence, the park was seriously threatened by poachers killing the animals, people throwing rocks and broken tree limbs into the geysers and hot springs in a misguided attempt to stop them up, souvenir hunters broke off large pieces of the geysers and unauthorized developers set up camps for tourists next to hot springs where they built bath and laundry facilities along with toilet facilities located directly over the streams. 

Finally, Congress hired civilian superintendents to protect the land, but there were only a handful to oversee more than 2 million acres of park. In 1886, the park looked to the U.S. Army for help. The cavalry soldiers who came to Yellowstone made their headquarters at the foot of the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Their campground was called Camp Sheridan, but after enduring 5 harsh winters in poorly constructed "temporary" buildings, a permanent post was built and named Fort Yellowstone. 

Simple headstones and wooden markers still stand over the graves
of civilian workers and family members of the soldiers.
By 1910, there were 324 soldiers stationed at Fort Yellowstone. In addition to the soldiers, there were officer's families (marriage was discouraged for enlisted men) and many civilian employees living in the fort. Most of the soldiers considered the assignment to be a good duty station as the work was varied and the scenery couldn't be beat. However, with the very hard winters, encounters with wild animals and the general hazardous duty of army life, deaths inevitably occurred.  Soldiers, wives, children and civilian employees alike were all buried in the nicely tended Fort Yellowstone Army Cemetery.

Congress eventually appropriated sufficient funds for civilian operation of the park and at sunset on July 4, 1916, an Army cannon located at the top of Capitol Hill was fired for the last time. The next day, the army left behind Yellowstone and their dearly departed friends and loved ones. The cemetery was left unattended and for the next year, the grass and weeds grew over the graves and the headstones and wooden markers faded in the winds and snows of winter. The dead didn't seem to mind. 

Even today, coffin-shaped sunken indention's in the ground can 
be found where the soldiers remains were removed.
The very next summer, however, some government official made the decision to move the army dead from Fort Yellowstone Cemetery to  the military cemetery at Custer's Battlefield in Montana. All remains of the soldiers were dug up, but the wives and children were left where they lay. 

An obviously very loved 5 year-old boy's grave. The inscription reads -
"Tis a little grave, but oh take care. Fond hopes are buried there."
That fall, reports started coming in; reports of something strange happening around the old Army Cemetery. Visitors who happened to find themselves  near the cemetery after the sun went down were hearing voices and the sounds of children crying, always coming from the direction of the fenced-in graveyard. Too many reports from too many strangers to dismiss out of hand and all of them saying basically the same thing - children crying, the sound of footsteps in the high grass when nobody could be seen and a feeling of deep sorrow and sadness overcoming those few brave enough to approach near the graves. It's been so for almost a hundred years now. 

The Park Service eventually began maintaining the cemetery; the weeds are kept cut back and an iron post fence was erected a few years ago. But sometimes, after the sun has set, people have reported the children are still crying and the voices are still calling out, calling for their fathers and husbands and friends who were taken away from them.
So many children and all destined to spend eternity without
a  daddy beside them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Buried Alive!

Being buried alive is a fear which is as old as the custom of burying the dead. Writers such as Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe have written of it. Horror films starring Vincent Price and Boris Karloff have frightened viewers for years. Folklore is full of tales of narrow escapes and of exhumed coffins containing corpses with broken stubs of fingers, hair pulled out by the fistful  and faces frozen in screaming terror as some poor unfortunate soul was buried prematurely and woke up to realize the horrible fate to which they were doomed. Most of these tales are simply that, tales of imagination, tales told from people's fear. But in one case, one woman's fear of being buried alive became a horrific fact.

In the early 1700's, Edinburgh had become known around the world for the advanced medical studies of the human anatomy being conducted there. Doctoral students were assigned one body each to dissect and practice their studies upon. There was also a constant need for bodies to be used by teachers as visual aids. At first, the bodies were of executed criminals and there were enough to fill the demand, but as more and more students were enrolled in the physician program, the demand for bodies became more than the supply. Soon, enterprising individuals began the lucrative business of filling that need by "body snatching" - the illegal digging up and stealing of the reasonably fresh bodies of the recently dearly departed. And if the body happened to have been buried with valuables, well, the ghouls who made a career of body snatching were certainly not above adding grave robbing to their "resurrectionist" resume.

Shankill Graveyard
In 1705 a lady by the name of Margorie McCall lived in Lurgan. She was the wife of John, a successful surgeon, and lived the rather privileged life her husband's profession afforded. Then one day, Margorie contracted a fever and after several days, despite her husbands best efforts, her condition deteriorated and she died. As was common during that time in an effort to curb the spread of the fever, a wake was quickly arranged and burial arrangements were made. During the afternoon wake, a number of people commented on the very expensive ring she wore on her finger in the coffin, but her husband explained that due to her illness, her finger had swollen making it impossible to remove. She was buried in the Shankill Graveyard that evening.

After darkness fell that very same night, just several hours after internment, by the dim light of a small sliver of moon, 2 grave robbers began their grizzly task of digging up Margorie's body. The dirt was still loose so the digging proceeded quickly. Upon uncovering the coffin and prying open the lid, the robbers were happy to see the body was indeed fresh and the expensive ring was still on Margorie's finger. The thieves tried to pull the ring from her finger, but due to the swollen condition, it wouldn't budge so, figuring the dead wouldn't mind, they decided to simply severe the finger. Producing a knife from his pocket, one of the men made a deep cut into the ring finger. With that first drawing of blood, Margorie revived from her coma, sat straight up in her coffin, opened her eyes wide and while staring at the astonished would-be thieves, screamed like a hound from hell!

It was later rumored that 2 very frightened, dirty, stinking men entered a bar several miles from the graveyard. Nobody would go near them as it was obvious by sight and smell their bowels had failed them and the pants they wore were destined for the trash heap. They told their story to the barkeep and after several strong drinks which they gulped down, hastily left and were never seen in the area afterwards.

(BBC photo of Margorie's grave)
Back at the cemetery, Margorie climbed out of her grave and walked back to her home several blocks away. Her husband and children were gathered around the fireplace, together in their sorrow, when they heard a knock at the front door. John, wracked with grief, said, "If your mother were still alive, I'd swear that was her knock." Upon opening the door, he found his late wife standing there in her burial clothes, blood dripping from her cut finger, but still very much alive. Unfortunately, the shock was too much for his heart and he dropped dead on the spot. Two days later, he was buried in the grave that was originally intended to forever hold his wife.

Margorie survived her ordeal, eventually remarried and had several more children. When she finally died for good, her body was again buried in the Shankill graveyard. A tombstone reads, "Margorie McCall - Lived Once. Buried Twice"

Friday, September 13, 2013

Haunted Hotel Del Coronoda

 Built in 1888, the Hotel Del Coronado is located just a short way down Coronado Beach from where the U.S. Navy trains its SEAL warriors outside San Diego, California. With its iconic red turrets rising into the blue sky and with Victorian splendor throughout the complex, it has long been proclaimed as one of America's most beautiful resorts. Through the years, movies such as Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Cry for Happy with Glenn Ford and Donald O'Connor, Moon Over Miami with George Raft, Ida Lupino, Edward Kennedy and John Barrymore and Coronado with Jack Haley and Andy Devine and many others have used the Del as their setting. A large book could be filled just with the names of movie stars, politicians and moguls of industry who have stayed here  
The mysterious "Lottie" about 1886 (historical photo)

Few who stay in this five-star hotel however, know about the eternal guest who lives here until they run into her late at night. Lottie A. Bernard, a beautiful lady in her mid-20's checked in alone on Thanksgiving Day in 1892 and was given room 302 (renumbered to 3312 afterwards and then renumbered again to 3327). Hotel employees who had interactions with her stated she always seemed to be sad or despondent and ill. She reported to them she was waiting on her brother, a doctor, but he never showed up. 

Five days later, poor Lottie was found in an exterior stairwell leading to the beach. She had died with a gunshot wound to her temple. The San Diego coroner declared it to be a suicide, but there were a number of clues which indicated she had been murdered instead. When her room was searched, there were no personal belongings. In fact, there was nothing on her body or in her room that identified her in any way. It was soon discovered there was no Lottie A. Bernard in Detroit where "Lottie" had told people she was from. Police broadcast a picture of the dead woman trying to find someone to identify and claim her body, but nobody ever did. News that "Lottie" was pregnant at the time of her death leaked out and it was said the bullet removed from her brain was a .38 caliber while the gun she owned and was found beside her body was a .44 caliber. The sad case of the "Beautiful Stranger" became a sensation in local and national newspapers for many weeks afterward until "Lottie" was finally identified as Kate Morgan from Iowa, wife of the gambler Tom Morgan who made his living playing card games on trains. One man claimed he had seen Kate and a man (presumably Tom,) arguing on the train and that the man had gotten off the train at the stop in Orange, but Kate had stayed on until arriving in San Diego. Everyone assumed Kate was actually waiting for Tom to join her at the hotel, but when he had not arrived after 5 days, in her despondency, she killed herself.

The Hotel Del Coronado as seen from the beach
Apparently, Kate is still at the Hotel Del Coronado, waiting for her husband, or perhaps she is waiting for the truth to be revealed. Guests staying in her room have reported swinging light fixtures, flickering lights, telephone calls with nothing but hollow-sounding static on the other end when the call is answered. One man became so frustrated by numerous phantom phone calls one night that he finally shouted, "Kate Morgan, enough! Leave me in peace!" The alarm clock immediately buzzed three times and the calls stopped. There have also been numerous reports about the TV coming on by itself. Repairmen can find nothing wrong, but though the hotel has replaced a number of televisions in the room, even brand-new right out of the box sets often come on in the middle of the night and cannot be turned off until all of a sudden, it turns off by itself. Perhaps most frightening, there have been several guests who demanded to be given a different room after awaking to see a dark figure pulling the sheets off them in the night. When they screamed, the figure immediately disappeared. One time, a female guest stopped to unlock her room late at night and saw a pretty woman mirroring her actions a few feet away next door. The woman smiled at her. She didn't realize she’d seen a ghost until she went inside and recalled that the woman was dressed in turn-of-the-century period clothes. The cleaning staff has reported seeing the window drapes move and be pulled back when they go outside right after cleaning the room and they know nobody is in there.

Room 3519 has also been reported to be inhabited by a spirit. Ashtrays and other objects fall off tables and have even flown across the room and the noise of footsteps and loud voices can be heard from the floor above. The problem is the only thing above this room is the roof. In 1983, an unnamed Secret Service agent staying in the hotel on assignment with then-VP George Bush complained of voices and noises above the room so loud that he couldn't fall asleep. When he was finally able to drift off, he awoke to find the drapes standing straight out even though the windows were closed and neither the air conditioning or heat was on. When he jumped up and turned on a light, they slowly drifted back to hanging down perfectly still. He turned off the light to see if it would happen again only to find the room bathed in an eerie greenish glow. He turned on every light in the room and immediately demanded to be moved elsewhere.

Manifestations have been recorded in other rooms as well, but they seem to be confined mostly to the third floor where the hallways are much narrower than on the floors below. A center of activity not on the 3rd floor is the hotel’s gift shop. Hotel management reports that weird things started happening when they started selling Marilyn Monroe merchandise. Marilyn stayed in the hotel while filming Some Like It Hot and several paranormal investigators have said that Kate got jealous when attention was taken away from her. Gift shop workers have seen books fly off shelves, shadow figures in the place after it is locked up, and souvenir mugs jump off a ledge with nobody near them. The store manager once found an entire row of books in her office tuned around so the spines were facing the wall and occasionally  upon first entering her locked office in the morning, will find one or several books turned upside down or thrown onto the floor.

The tree on the grounds of the hotel which
was made famous appearing in a scene from
the movie, "Some Like It Hot"

The Hotel Del Coronado is indeed a beautiful place to spend a romantic weekend or a few nights of vacation or even longer if you can afford it; rates are generally $500 - $800+ per night. Maybe those moans and murmuring voices heard in certain rooms and hallways are just the waves of the ocean rolling onto the nearby beach. Maybe that unexplained chill in the air, those strange cold spots you encounter as you walk down a hallway or enter your room is from the ocean fog. Maybe that's all it is. But if you wake up in the middle of the night with unseen hands pulling the sheets off you, you'll know who it is. You'll know.

The garden area of the Hotel Del Coronado

Friday, September 6, 2013

Crossroads Devil

You've heard the term "sell your soul to the devil" and for almost everyone, it's just terminology to indicate how bad you want something. But for Robert Johnson, it might not have been just a saying.

One of the few pictures of Robert Johnson
Born in Mississippi in 1911, Robert Johnson grew up to be known as the king of the Delta Blues singers. His music inspired people and bands like the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cream and Eric Clapton, all of whom have recorded versions of his songs and sang his praises as a genius guitar player and blues writer. While listening to his recordings, Keith Richards once said of him, "If you want to know how good the Blues can be, this is it."

One day when he was a teenager, Robert was walking along a dirt road when he saw a pile of trash someone had thrown out and in that trash was a beat-up old guitar. He rescued that guitar and began teaching himself to play. He was a pretty good harmonica (or "mouth harp" as it was called) player, but he really wanted to be able to play that guitar. 

In 1929, Robert was living and working as a sharecropper when he married 16-year-old Virginia Travis. She died giving birth to a stillborn baby not long afterward and Robert responded by taking to the road. He became an itinerant Blues singer. 

About a year later, the noted blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville, Mississippi where Robert was living at the time and became friends with him. Son later told biographers that Robert was a decent harmonica player, but a terrible guitar player. He was so bad, he said, customers of the juke joints where Robert played would often loudly insist he stop playing and get off the stage. 

Robert Johnson's reputed grave beside Payne Chapel in Quoto, MS.
Robert left Robinsonville and moved to the area around Martinsville, Mississippi, close to where he was born in Hazlehurst. Soon, stories began to be whispered about Robert and another musician named Ike Zinnerman and their habit of going to cemeteries in the dead of night, sitting on tombstones writing songs and practicing their music. When asked about it, Robert explained simply, "That's where it's quiet."

Just a few months later when Robert returned to Robinsonville, he had somehow acquired not just the ability to be a good guitar player, but to be a world-class guitar player with a complex and extremely advanced style all his own; a style which nobody had previously heard and very few even today can duplicate. From that point on, Robert was almost constantly on the road, playing in juke joints, night clubs and on street corners. His refreshment of choice was whiskey and he rarely had to pay for a drink, a meal or a room to spend the night because everywhere he went, men would buy him drinks and, at least until a husband or boyfriend returned home, women would open their kitchens and their arms for him. It was said Robert certainly had a way with women and was almost as good with them as he was with that guitar of his. Music, women, whiskey and the road was his life. 

Close-up of Robert's headstone - "Resting In The Blues"
In 1936, Robert got hooked up with a record producer in San Antonio, Texas and over the next year, recorded 29 of his songs. But then, at the age of 27, Robert died. His death at such a young age is a bit of a mystery, but one story is the owner of a bar that Robert performed in had a wife who may or may not have fallen to Robert's charms. When the husband found out that Robert had made advances on her, he didn't let on that he knew, he waited. The next time Robert was in town and played at his bar, he sent over a free drink. Robert drank it down, poison and all. Shortly afterwards, he began to feel ill and had to be helped back to the home of a friend. For 3 days Robert's condition worsened as he suffered convulsions and cramps. He finally died in severe pain.

Reputed to be the crossroads where Robert made his pact with the
Devil, there is a marker here, but it is no longer a dusty, country
road intersection.
The rumor of how Robert so quickly acquired his amazing talent, how he sold his soul to the devil at a dark, country crossroad at midnight has become the stuff of legends. People who knew him reported that he regretted the deal with the devil as soon as he had made it, but there is no reneging on a deal with the King of Damnation. Listen to his music and you will hear the forlorn wailing of a condemned sinner. Listen to the words of his songs and you will hear references to the pact he made with the devil himself. 

One of his songs "Crossroads Blues" has gotten a well-deserved reputation as cursed. Eric Clapton and his band Cream recorded the song and not long afterwards, the band disbanded and Eric was deep in the pit of heroin addiction. The Allman Brothers Band recorded it and in 1971, Duane Allman, who loved playing the song in concerts, was killed in a motorcycle accident at a crossroads near Macon, Georgia. In 1972, another band member, Berry Oakley, was killed in a motorcycle accident less than 1 mile form the crossroads where Duane had crashed. Gregg Allman, Duane's brother, later immortalized the connection to a crossroad in a song he wrote, "Mellissa" - "Crossroads will you ever let him go? Or will you hide the dead man's ghost?"  Lynyrd Skynyrd began singing the song during their concerts. In 1977, their plane crashed into a swamp in Mississippi and 2 band members, including their lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, were killed along with the pilots and several family members. Led Zeppelin performed the song at their live performances and in 1977, Robert Plant's son died a tragic death. Then Jimmy Page almost died while in the throes of heroin addition. In 1980, John Bonham, the band's drummer died and the band broke up. Kurt Cobain performed an acoustic version of "Crossroads Blues" for his family, his band Nirvana and a few friends. It was reported he was working on a version for the band to record when he was found dead of a shotgun blast to the head. Some claim that when Robert Johnson died, it was the devil come to collect his dues. Evidently, the devil is still collecting.

A Vision of Robert Johnson At The Crossroads (as told by Henry Goodman)

"Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, "Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin people nuts." Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson's spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there. Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, "You're late, Robert Johnson." 

Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, "Maybe not."

The man stands up, tall, barrel-chested, and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson's stillborn baby and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, "Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and all the women you want? 

"That's a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man." 

"I know you, Robert Johnson," says the man.

Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his fee and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, "That dog gone mad."

The man laughs, "That hound belong to me. He ain't mad, he's got the Blues. You see, I got his soul in my hand."

The dog lets out a low, long soulful moan, a howling like never heard before, rhythmic, syncopated grunts, yelps, and barks, seizing Robert Johnson like a Grand Mal and causing the strings on his guitar to vibrate, hum and sing with a sound dark and blue, beautiful, soulful chords and notes possessing Robert Johnson, taking him over, spinning him around, losing him inside of his own self, wasting him, lifting him up into the sky. Robert Johnson looks over in the ditch and sees the eyes of the dog reflecting the bright moonlight or, more likely so it seems to Robert Johnson, glowing on their own, a deep violet penetrating glow and Robert Johnson knows and feels that he is staring into the eyes of a Hellhound as his body shudders from head to toe.

The man says, "The dog ain't for sale, Robert Johnson, but the sound can be yours. That's the sound of the Delta Blues."

"I got to have that sound, Devil-Man. That sound is mine. Where do I sign?"

The man says, "You ain't got a pencil, Robert Johnson. Your word is good enough. All you got to do is keep walking north. But you better be prepared. There are consequences."

"Prepared for what, Devil-Man?"

"You know where you are, Robert Johnson? You are standing in the middle of the crossroads. At midnight, that full moon is right over your head. You take one more step, you'll be in Rosedale. You take this road to the east, you'll get back over to Highway 61 in Cleveland, or you can turn around and go back down to Beulah or just go to the west and sit up on the levee and look at the river. But if you take one more step in the direction you're headed, you going to be in Rosedale at midnight under this full October moon and you are going to have the Blues like never known to the world. My left hand will be forever wrapped around your soul and your music will possess all who hear it. That's what's going to happen. That's what you better be prepared for. Your soul will belong to me. This is not just any crossroads. I put this "X" here for a reason and I been waiting on you."

Robert Johnson rolls his head around, his eyes upwards in their sockets to stare at the blinding light of the moon which has now completely filled the pitch-black Delta night, piercing his right eye like a bolt of lightning as the midnight hour hits. He looks the big man squarely in the eyes and says, "Step back, Devil-Man, I'm going to Rosedale. I am the Blues."

The man moves to one side and says, "Go on, Robert Johnson. You the King of the Delta Blues. Go on home to Rosedale. And when you get on up in town, you get you a plate of hot tamales because you going to be needing something on your stomach where you're headed."