Friday, December 19, 2014

Okiku Doll

In 1918, a 17-year-old Japanese boy named Eikichi Suzuki who was in Sapporo for a marine exhibition purchased a 16-inch doll as a gift for his little sister. Having just turned 2-years-old, Okiku immediately fell in love with the little doll and carried it everywhere she went. At night, she slept with the doll right next to her. As her constant companion, she talked to it and played with it every day.

The next year, 3-year-old Okiku caught a bad cold which developed into pneumonia. She died holding her beloved doll. After her passing, the family placed the doll in the household alter and prayed to it every day in memory of Okiku.

Several months later, the family noticed the doll's hair had begun to grow. When bought, it had hair which was cropped short, but the hair was now almost 3 inches in length. Everyone took this as a sign that the spirit of Okiku had taken residence in the doll. The family continued to pray to the doll they now called Okiku every day and twice each year, they would take the doll from the alter and trim the hair back to the original length.

In 1938, the family moved to Sakhaline and could not take all of their possessions. The Okiku doll was placed in the care of the monks at the Mannenji Temple where it remains today. When the monks received the doll, its hair was short, but soon they too noticed the hair began to grow. They did not trim the hair back until it reached 10 inches long which is when they cut it back several inches.

The Okiku Doll's hair has continued to grow for almost 100 years now. The monks continue to trim it and they continue to believe the spirit of a loving little girl is within the doll. When they trimmed the doll's hair one time in the late 1990's, they gave the hair to a lab where scientist determined it was indeed that of a child. What the scientist and nobody else has been able to explain is how or why the hair grows when doing so is scientifically impossible. Or is it?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Dead Don't Rest In The Tower of London

In the year 1066, William The Conqueror had the Tower of London built to keep away the hostile Londoners who wanted him dead. It served its purpose well, protecting the upper ranks of the privileged from harm until 1381 when Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was dragged out of the Tower and murdered on the castle grounds by peasants. This was the first of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of deaths within the walls of the infamous Tower of London. With so much pain, anguish, torture and with so many gruesome deaths, it's no wonder this is one of the most haunted places in the world.

Inside these walls, hundreds, perhaps thousands of
guilty and innocent people have died.
On May 2, 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested on orders of her husband King Henry VIII and accused of adultery and incest. She was probably innocent, but her failure to produce a boy child as successor for the king and her strong, outspoken opinions on policy matters made her expendable. On May 19th, she was beheaded on the grounds of the Tower. She is buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the castle, but her spirit is not at rest.  Shortly after Anne's death came the first reported sighting when an unconscious chambermaid was found on a path near the execution spot. Upon being revitalized, she began babbling almost incoherently about seeing the Queen floating on the path ahead of her. The chambermaid was later sent home for the day, but she didn't return to work the next day and was never heard from again. Since then, there have been innumerable sightings of Anne Boleyn, sometimes walking the grounds, sometimes floating a few inches above the paths in the tower complex, but always near the spot of her execution. Even more unnerving, she is often reported to be seen on her walks holding in her arms her own decapitated head. On two separate occasions, witnesses reported the eyes in her head moving back and forth as if she was looking for something and when those eyes saw them, they stared with a fierceness that could only come from a being supremely upset about a terrible injustice. Perhaps the queen actually was innocent of such scandalous charges as those lodged against her and has yet to forgive her husband and those complicit in her death. Whatever the reason, one of the witnesses was reportedly found dead the very next morning with a look of utter fright on their face. A second witness claimed "the eyes saw me!" Over and over she kept repeating "the eyes saw me!" She died three days later from what was thought to be an exploded heart brought on by fright. Since then, it has been said if you happen to see a female apparition in the tower walking with her detached head held in her arms, quickly turn your own head and run away. Whatever you do, do not stand around giving the head's eyes time to lock upon you for it is surely a sign of your own imminent death.

The Queen's House within the Tower of London
where Arbelia's restless spirit roams
In 1610, Arbelia Stuart, aged 35, married 22-year-old William Seymour, the nephew of Lady Jane Grey. Unfortunately for them, they did not have the permission of King James 1 and due to court politics, the marriage was considered a threat to King James. The king arrested William and sent him to the tower. Arbelia was put under house arrest in the town of Lambeth. Arbelia plotted to free William so they could escape together and flee to France. Secret messages were sent back and forth despite the great danger by friends and servants who were loyal to the couple. At the appointed time in the dark of night, Arbelia slipped away from her guard and made it to the rendezvous point, but William's escape had been delayed. When he did not arrive on schedule, Arbelia, fearing for her life, boarded the escape boat and sailed away. William made good his escape from the tower, but arriving after Arbelia had already sailed away, he managed to board another boat and made his way safely to freedom in France. Arbelia was not so lucky. Her boat was intercepted by English authorities and she was returned and sentenced to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. She wrote numerous letters to the king begging forgiveness and to be pardoned, but he would not relent. She also wrote letters to William in France, but having discovered Arbelia did not have the money or
power she had led him to believe when they were secretly courting and now having a good time with French ladies closer to his own age, he never answered any of her entreaties. As the weeks and months turned to years, Arbelia became despondent. She took to her bed in The Queen's House in the tower complex and refused to leave it. Some reports indicate she eventually starved herself to death; other reports say the king grew so frustrated with her he ordered her murder. Either way, Arbelia was pronounced dead on September 25, 1615. After William heard of her death, he wrote to the king requesting a pardon and vowing eternal allegiance to him. The pardon was granted, William returned to England and was married to a beautiful young lady within 6 months. Is it any wonder poor Arbelia's spirit is still seen wandering the halls of The Queen's House sobbing and wailing?

Another mysterious manifestation is simply known as "The Lady in White." Still unidentified, she is said to have stood in a window of the White Tower, the oldest and most foreboding structure, waving to children playing on the other side of the moat which used to surround the tower complex. She supposedly always wore an abundance of cheap perfume. For several hundred years, a ghostly apparition of a woman dressed in a flowing white dress has been reported sadly looking out of the same window and walking up and down the steps within the White Tower. The apparition is always accompanied by the strong sweet scent of a cheap perfume that is so cloying it gags everyone who encounters it.

When Edward the IV died in April, 1483, his 12-year-old son was supposed to succeed him as Edward the V. However, before the coronation could take place, both he and his younger brother Richard were declared illegitimate by the Parliament and their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, took the throne as King Richard III. King Richard had both boys sent to the Tower of London where they were often seen running around the grounds playing and chasing each other through the halls of the buildings. Three months later, they mysteriously disappeared and were never seen again. It was later determined that Richard had ordered them killed and buried within the tower complex. In 1647, 191-years later, two small skeletons were discovered buried together beneath a staircase in the White Tower. It was assumed they were the bodies of the young princes. Visitors and guards report seeing their spirits, sometimes holding hands while whimpering and
cowering against the stone walls of various rooms within the White Tower, sometimes running, playing and laughing on the grounds throughout the complex. More often, only the happy sound of two young boys playing are heard or the unsettling sound of two children crying in fear. You will be compelled to run to the sound of the crying, wanting with all of your heart to help them, to comfort them, but when you get to where the sound is coming from, two little boys holding on to each other in a corner of the cold stone room will look at you as they and their cries slowly fade away.

In 1541, at the age of 72, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, became the undeserving target for Henry VIII's vengeance. Margaret's son, Cardinal Pole, wrote a series of letters soundly denouncing the king's claim as head of the Church of England. The king couldn't get to Cardinal Pole as he was safely ensconced in France, so he did the next best thing, he had his mother arrested and sent to the Tower of London for execution. At the time of her scheduled execution by beheading, the feisty old lady was led onto the sturdy wooden platform and told by the Royal Executioner to kneel. She refused to do so, saying "So should traitors do and I am none." The executioner said very well and swung his huge ax at her neck, but Margaret ducked and began running around the platform. The horrified spectators stood watching as the ax-man continued to chase the aged lady around the platform, down the stairs and across the grounds, swinging his ax and cutting her to pieces even as she continued to run away screaming in terror and pain. Finally able to strike a blow which brought Margaret crashing to the ground, the executioner proceeded to hack her to death in a most bloody and gruesome manner. This horrible incident has been repeated by their spirits on numerous occasions which have been seen by a large number of witnesses, each time on May 27th, the anniversary of the death by hacking. It seems poor Margaret's screaming phantom is being chased for all eternity by her ghostly executioner.

These are just a few of the many ghosts, spirits and apparitions encountered within the walls of the Tower complex. Over 900 years old, drab gray in color with a sense of sadness and foreboding all around, the site of uncounted deaths in the most horrible of manners, the Tower of London has well earned its reputation as the most haunted place in England.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Mystery of the Death Ship Ourang Medan

For centuries, chilling stories of ghost ships like the Flying Dutchman and the Mary Celeste have been passed down from one generation of seafarers to the next. As eerie as these tales of abandoned ships are, there is another even more disturbing class of haunted vessels - those vessels found sailing the seas unguided by a human hand because every member of their unfortunate crews mysteriously perished.  This is the true story of just such a ship, the SS Ourang Medan.

The Straits of Malaka between Sumatra and Malaysia is a well traveled shipping lane used by ships from all nations. In February, 1948, a number of ships sailing in the Straits as well as two listening posts on the coasts picked up a disturbing SOS signal from an unknown ship. It obviously was not sent by a radio operator as the signal did not follow any of the normal seafaring protocols of ship identification and position. Evidently a crewman on the doomed ship had a rudimentary knowledge of Morse code and was sending in a slow and deliberate manner the last message that would ever be heard from the Ourang Medan. The message was as disturbing as it was simple. 

"All officers including captain are dead lying in chart room and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." This was followed by a short line of undecipherable Morse code and then in clear and unmistakable code, a final and chilling message, "I die." Nothing but eerie silence followed. 

The British listening post which picked up the signal worked with the Dutch listening post who also heard the SOS and several American ships in the area to triangulate the source of the signal. It was finally deduced to have come from the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan. An American merchant ship, the Silver Star, was the closest ship to the last known position of the stricken vessel and the captain and crew quickly changed course and went to all ahead full in an effort to assist. Several hours later, the Silver Star's lookout spotted the Ourang Medan rising and falling with the swells of the Straits of Malaka. It didn't take long to come up beside the darkened vessel as her engines were silent, a sure sign for a ship at sea that something was very wrong. There was no sign of life on the Ourang Medan and nobody returned the hails from the Silver Star. A bording party was assembled from volunteers.

As soon as the Americans boarded, they found whoever had sent the distress message had not exaggerated. Bodies of the Dutch crew were laying all around the decks, the corpses all had faces twisted in horror and agony, the eyes wide open and staring, their outstretched arms seeming to be grasping at invisible assailants. Even stranger, all of the bodies were facing in the same direction as if something beyond horrible had come for them. Even the ship's guard dog was found dead, its menacing snarl frozen into a ghastly grimace.

As the boarding party searched further, the body of the captain was found on the bridge; the ship's officers were found lying around the wheelhouse and chart room, just as the distress signal had said. In the communications shack, the remains of a crewman was found, his dead fingers resting on the telegraph keys. All of the bodies had the same terrified expressions as those found on the open decks.

Going below to the engine room, more bodies were found. Stranger still, the outside temperature was a blistering 110 degrees, but in the boiler room, which is always the hottest part of a ship, the search party found themselves walking into an unnatural chill. Each of the men told of feeling uneasy and anxious, as if something evil was down there with them. After quickly examining the bodies, the men beat a hasty retreat from below decks.

The search team could clearly see the men of the Ourang Medan had all been in agony at the moment of death, but they found no evidence of physical injury or foul play and there was no damage to the ship. Clearly, something horrible had befallen the crew, but exactly what was a complete and total mystery.

After reporting their findings to the captain of the Silver Star, he decided to take the death ship under tow and deliver it to the nearest port for further examination. As soon as the tow line was attached however, an ominous column of smoke was observed rising from below decks in the Number 4 hold, the one nearest the boiler room. Several members of the boarding party ran back to investigate the smoke, but they were driven away by the unbearable heat from a raging inferno. The men quickly cut the tow line and had barely made it back aboard their own ship when the Ourang Medan exploded with such force that it "lifted herself clear above the water and then swiftly sank.

The watery grave which so quickly claimed the death ship sent the Ourang Medan directly into the realm of myth and legends and insured it would become one of the most mysterious sea tales of modern times. 

It is said we know more about space and planets and stars than we do of what lives below the waves of our own waters. What happened to the SS Ourang Medan? What did the seasoned crew see that terrified one and all to the point of death? What could be so horrible that even the dog seemingly died of fright? Whatever it was, we can only hope those poor agonized lost souls took it into the briny deep with them and we pray, there it will stay.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spirits in the Capitol of Texas

Texas State Capitol Building, 2013
The State Capitol Building of Texas, constructed between 1882 and 1888, is located on 22 beautifully landscaped acres in downtown Austin. The current building replaced the original which was simply a log structure built in 1853. That building burned to the ground in 1881 and later that same year, the famous architect Elijah Myers won a nation-wide design contest for the new capitol building. He was paid the princely sum of $1,700 for his design. 

Construction began in February, 1882 and for the next 4 years, 1,000 men worked every day to complete the massive 360,000-square-foot building. The contractor was paid not with money, but with 3,000,000 acres of land. This land later became the largest ranch in the world, the famed XIT Ranch. When the capitol opened, it was the 7th largest building in the world and is still the largest state capitol in America. Covering 3 acres, standing 311 feet tall and made of "Sunset Red" granite quarried in Marble Falls, Texas, plus over 11,000 railroad cars of Texas limestone, the structure contains 392 rooms, 18 steel and concrete vaults, 924 windows, 404 doors and cost $3,744,600 of 1880's money to build. According to many, it also houses several spirits who roam the halls and grounds.

Shortly before the original log capitol building burned, a well-respected Indian scout was having a romantic rendezvous with his Indian maiden lover in one of the back rooms when her father, a bad-tempered Comanche chief found them. Bursting into the room, the outraged father killed the scout with a knife plunged into his heart. Grief-stricken, his distraught daughter pulled the knife from her dead lover's chest and before her father could stop her, plunged the knife into her own chest. Her father cried out and fell to the floor where he gently cradled her, but she died in his arms. Numerous witnesses have reported seeing the ghostly figures of the lovers as hand-in-hand they wander around the oak trees and stately grounds of the capitol. Wearing buckskin clothing and moccasins, they are seen walking along, but seem to be floating several inches above the ground and slowly disappear into thin air as the witness watches.

The "Goddess of Wisdom, Justice and Victory" which sits atop the 
dome of the Texas Capitol Building as workmen prepared to 

place her. (photo courtesy of Texas State Library & Archives)
In 1903, Robert Marshall Love, a Confederate veteran who had survived the Civil War, was serving as the state's Comptroller when he was shot and killed in his first-floor office by a disgruntled associate. Love was wearing a dark suit in the fashion of the era and top-hat when he was killed. His final words were, "I have no idea why he shot me. May the Lord bless him and forgive him. I cannot say more." The translucent figure of a man wearing an old-fashioned dark suit and top-hat has startled numerous government workers, visitors and state troopers as it paces up and down the hallway outside of the Comptroller's office.

On the 3rd floor in the office suite held by former House Speaker Pete Laney, the night cleaning crew has complained of a woman dressed in red who sometimes appears inside the office and then walks around a corner. When the crew goes to investigate, there is nobody there. Voices speaking in whispers, giggling and other mysterious sounds come from a secret stairwell behind that office. Research has shown the lady to be the lover of the man who occupied that office and the stairwell is where the couple often held "private meetings."

The Texas State Capitol Building during restoration, 1990.
(photo courtesy of Texas State Library & Archives)
On December 13, 1922, Ed Wheeler was painting the inside of the rotunda when he tragically fell 160 feet to his death. There are no reports of Ed wandering around the building, but interestingly, every now and then, a strong smell of fresh paint wafts through the air when there is no painting activity. It is speculated it could be Mr. Wheeler still trying to finish his painting job so he can finally go toward the light.

In the late 1970's, a newly hired Senate cook and waiter by the name of Tim Mateer was alone one evening while cleaning the reception room when he saw a lady pass by in the hall and go into a small room. Thinking she might be lost, he immediately followed her into the room she had entered, but there was no one there. Several days later, Mateer was walking through the Senate press conference room when he spotted a portrait of the lady he had seen, former Texas First Lady Fay Wright Stevenson, wife of Coke Stevenson when he was Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Texas. Mrs. Stevenson had served as the hostess for many Senate functions during that time. She had died of cancer in 1942 and the small room Mateer had seen her enter had served as her office. 

Perhaps the most interesting story is about a certain window in the east wing of the building in a senate reception room. On February 6, 1983, a fire broke out in the apartment of William P. Hobby, the Lieutenant Governor. A 23-year-old man, a guest of Mr. Hobby, was asleep in the apartment when the fire broke out. He was trapped in a back room and several fireman were injured trying to rescue him while he screamed and banged on a window trying to get out. Unfortunately, the firemen were unsuccessful in their rescue attempts and the young man burned to death in excruciating pain. The unbroken window was left in place during the restoration work and still today, on foggy and high humidity mornings, even though the window has been repeatedly cleaned, the clear outline of hand prints appear in the condensation on the window.

Politics can be downright spooky, but Texas it seems, takes the term to a whole other level.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Real Life Chuckie

Near the turn of the 20th century, Thomas Otto and his wife moved into what is now known as "The Artist's House" in Key West, Florida. Mr. and Mrs. Otto were very wealthy and spent most of their time traveling and attending social activities around the world. A son, Thomas "Gene" Otto, was born, but shortly after his birth, the Otto's resumed their life of leisure and travel, leaving young Gene in the care of a Jamaican nanny and the upkeep and running of their home to various servants and hired hands. Held to rigid expectations and expecting strict obedience, staff turnover was unusually high and the Otto's soon earned a reputation for being difficult employers.

The Otto's were rarely home so it was natural that the nanny and Gene quickly formed a very close relationship as they spent their days and nights together playing games and taking walks. One day shortly before his 5th birthday, Mr. and Mrs. Otto returned from one of their trips and Mrs. Otto became incensed when she found some of Gene's toys scattered on the floor instead of neatly put away in his room. She immediately fired the nanny who, without employment, faced deportation back to Jamaica. That evening however, the nanny briefly returned to the house to give Gene a doll she had been making for him as a surprise. The elder Otto's allowed their son to have the doll, but the poor woman was then banished from the house and Gene never saw his beloved nanny again.

The doll was given Gene's real first name, Robert, and from the moment he laid eyes on him, Gene would never let the doll out of his sight. His mother bought Gene a sailor suit to wear just like the one the doll wore and with his new nanny, the boy and his doll would often be seen taking a stroll in the nearby park or following along behind his mother on one of her numerous shopping trips, both wearing the same neatly-pressed clothes. Robert went everywhere and did everything with Gene. Robert had his own chair at the main table during meals, he sat on the side of the tub when Gene took his baths and when it was bedtime, Robert was tucked in for the night snug beside Gene ready to share his dreams. 

At first, everything was cute and innocent, but then things turned troubling. Gene would often be heard playing joyfully in his toy room, but then all would be quiet for several seconds and a conversation could be heard starting with one side of the conversation being in Gene's boyish voice and the other side in a much different tone. Sometimes Gene's voice would sound agitated with the responding voice sounding very insistent. the servants often heard these conversations and informed Mrs. Otto about them. On several occasions, Mrs. Otto herself heard them and burst into the room only to find her son cowering in the corner and the doll on a chair or bed appearing to be glaring down at Gene.

Soon, the disturbing activities moved out of the playroom and into the rest of the house and it became very evident to everyone living there that something was very wrong with the doll and the odd hold it had on Gene. Even more disturbing were the inexplicable events that began - glassware thrown across the room to shatter against the far wall when no one was in the room, heavy pieces of furniture overturned, various clothing items cut up and strewn around the house, bedding in rooms which had not been used in months would be rumpled and pillows shredded with the feathers strewn around. Most troubling were some of Gene's favorite toys which began to be found mutilated and broken. And the eerie, unsettling giggling which would often be heard in the middle of the night seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. 

Of course, Gene was blamed for these events, but on every occasion, no matter what punishment was meted out, he protested his innocence, saying Robert did it. His parents didn't believe him, but several of the servants had known the former nanny who had been summarily dismissed and they informed Mr. and Mrs. Otto that she had been a practitioner of voodoo. They advised the doll be burned, but the Otto's paid no attention to such nonsense and the doll stayed. Servant turnover increased and soon, there were few who would come to work in the Otto household.

After several months of turmoil, an elderly great-aunt came for a visit. After a few days, she told Gene's parents they needed to get rid of that doll. Even though Gene became distraught, they packed Robert away in a tightly sealed box and placed it in the attic. The very next morning, the great-aunt was found dead in her bed, a look of fright frozen on her face. When the Otto's went to wake up Gene, they found Robert laying beside him in bed.

Over the following years, unexplained events continued to bedevil the Otto household. Eventually, the elder Otto's grew old and both passed away. Gene never left the family home and Robert continued to be by his side at all times. Having inherited the home and a large fortune upon his parent's death, Gene took up painting and showed a natural talent. His works were soon in much demand and served to only increase his wealth. 

Gene found it so hard to hire and keep household help that he eventually only had two servants who would come during the daylight hours to perform maintenance and clean the downstairs rooms and cook his meals. They refused to stay after sundown and they also refused to enter the "Turret Room" which used to be Gene's as a little boy, but was now where Gene painted and Robert stayed most of the time. 

Gene decided he needed a wife and spared no expense finding one. After a short courtship, he married a concert and jazz pianist named Ann. The marriage was in trouble from the start as Gene insisted that Robert go on their honeymoon with them. The doll continued to have a seat at the dinning room table and was with them every evening in the parlor before they went to bed. The new Mrs. Otto tried to understand her husband's odd obsession with the doll, chalking it up to the peculiarities of a talented artist, but what she found most perturbing was his insistence that Robert sit in a chair next to and facing the newlywed's bed when they retired for the night. Sadly, within a few months, Ann began exhibiting what Gene called "odd behavior" and he had her declared insane. She later died of undisclosed causes while residing in an institution.

Artist's House with view of the Turret Room
Gene never remarried and continued to live alone as rumors around town increased. Stories were told of people walking by the "Artist's house" and hearing from the Turret room strange giggling which would erupt into maniacal laughter. Frightened school children told of seeing Robert in a Turret room window looking down on them and sliding from one side of the window to the other as they passed by. Unexplained lights would often be seen in the darkened upstairs rooms when Gene would be seen downstairs. The two daytime servants told of walking into rooms and doors slamming shut and locking from the inside when no one else was in the room.

In 1972, Gene was found in the house dead, apparently of a heart attack or stroke, Robert on the floor by his side. Medical personnel removed the body, but left the doll where it was. The house was sealed and put up for sale. Robert was left alone in the house for several years until new owners acquired the property. Upon finding Robert sitting in a chair in the Turret Room, they discovered everything to be just as the room was when Gene was a boy - the furniture, the curtains and on shelves, the tolerated toys which Robert had not destroyed during Gene's youth. Along with the toys, they placed Robert in a box and relegated it to the attic.

The new owners were astounded and very confused when they found Robert in a chair in the parlor several days later. The next day they found him sitting at the table in the dining room. Over the next several weeks as they worked to restore the house to its former glory, they continued to find Robert in different rooms. They became very uncomfortable when they started hearing a child giggling in the middle of the night and even more so as the giggling devolved into a low, menacing growling sound. The last straw was when they woke up one morning to find Robert sitting at the foot of their bed seemingly glaring at them and holding a knife in his right hand. They moved out that same day and never came back.

The owners hired a crew to pack up everything and get the house ready to be put back on the market. They arranged for Robert to be given to the East Martello Museum in Key West. Robert seems to not be pleased about being on display. Visitors who do not know his story often report they found the sight of him to be unsettling. Others have reported the expression on the doll's face to have changed right before their eyes. "One minute he was smiling then the next instant he was frowning and mad." Others who have tried to take his photo are disappointed to find nothing but black frames instead of pictures. Digital cameras often will not work near him, but will resume working just fine once away from his sealed case. Museum staff repeat the refrain, "Robert did it" whenever something strange happens or a bump in the night is heard. Publicly they laugh at the notion of an evil or possessed doll, but in an effort to keep him happy they place peppermints beside his case and none of them wants to be the last to leave at night and turn off the lights alone.

Robert is still on display, encased in hardened glass and waiting to greet you at the museum. He seems to be waiting for a nice family to take him home, hopefully one with a small child who will love him and treat him as if he were a real boy. Waiting for you perhaps?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Story Behind "The Town That Dreaded Sundown"

The Texarkana Post Office/Courthouse. The left half  is
 in Texas while the right is in Arkansas.
Texarkana is a nice, small city. With half of the town in the state of Texas and the other half in Arkansas, the road that divides the two halves is named State Line. Shoppers on one side of the street are in Arkansas and just a few feet away on the other side of the yellow line in the middle of the road the stores are in Texas. The Post Office/Courthouse Building sits astride the state line - Texas offices on one side of the building, Arkansas offices on the other. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy as well as several popular parks where families go for a picnic lunch or to play Little League baseball or simply to enjoy a lazy summer day in the shade of the many trees. 

One of those popular parks though, Spring Lake Park, has a sordid history. Many of the old timers still refuse to go into the park after dark. You see, back in the mid-1940's, it was the favorite hunting grounds of a serial killer. The murders shocked and terrorized the quiet, close-knit town. Doors and windows in homes that previously were never locked, were locked and checked several times after darkness fell. Men began carrying guns; women stopped walking alone when running errands and children were forbidden to play outside. As more innocent people turned up brutally killed and the murders went unsolved, neighbors and friends of many years began to suspect and turn on each other. In the mid-1970's, a horror movie, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was made about the crimes. The true horror is that the story was based on fact.

The entrance to Spring Lake Park
On the night of February 22, 1946, 24-year-old Jimmy Hollis and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Mary Jean Larey, went on a date, a date that started off as any number of dates taken by any normal young couple, but this particular date would end very differently. After dinner and a movie, Mary Jean accompanied Jimmy in his car to a dark, secluded spot in the park for a romantic interlude. Jimmy glanced at his watch and noted the time as 11:45. He had promised his father to have the car home by midnight, but the moon was full, Mary Jean was lovely, her sweet perfume filled the air and when he leaned in for a kiss, she didn't resist. Facing the wrath of his father's anger later was no match for the lure of Mary Jean now. Soon, only the sounds of heavy breathing could be heard in the car and the young couple were not aware of anything other than their passion.

When Mary Jean opened her eyes to look into Jimmy's, she saw a dark shape beside the car. When she gasped and pull away, Jimmy looked up and saw the figure of a man. Expecting to see the uniform of a policeman, he began to roll down the window and was startled to see not a policeman, but a man dressed in dark clothing with a hood over his head. In a muffled voice, the man said, "Get out of the car now!" and tapped on the partially opened window with a .32 caliber pistol he held in his hand. 

Fearing the man would shoot through the window if they didn't do as he demanded, they both exited out of the driver's side door. They offered to give him their money and the keys to the car, but the hooded man hit Jimmy in the head twice with the butt of the gun knocking him out. He then turned his attention to Mary Jean. In desperation, she ran, but the man quickly caught her and threw her to the ground. After slapping her several times, he began to rip off her clothes and, still holding the gun, began roughly fondling her. After several minutes but what seemed like hours and frightened beyond words, Mary Jean had resigned herself to her fate when she saw the dirty canvas that covered her attacker's head light up. The man groaned and shouted several coarse cuss words. At first confused, Mary Jean then realized it was a car coming down the road and its headlights had illuminated the scene. The hooded man stood up and after hitting her in the face with his fists several times, ran off into the darkness.

The approaching car, occupied by a kindly farmer and his wife who were coming home from a late movie, stopped to see what was going on. They managed to get Jimmy into the back seat and rushed the injured couple to the nearest hospital. Physically, Mary Jean only had bruises and scratches, but Jimmy's injuries from being hit in the head with the butt of the gun were more serious. Although he suffered from two skull fractures so severe that he had to spend days in the hospital, both he and Mary Jean lived to tell their story. At the time, they were not aware of how lucky they actually were.

When the police failed to find and arrest the attacker, the crime was written off by the residents as an anomaly, a sad byproduct of having a railroad going through town. The perpetrator must have been a transient and he had no doubt hopped a railway car and was long gone. No need to fear.

On March 24th, just one month later, a visitor to the park noticed a 1941 Oldsmobile parked partially hidden about 100 yards from the road in a grove of trees. Thinking it might be a stolen vehicle and he should investigate, the driver approached the car. He saw what he thought at first was a man asleep behind the wheel, but when he got close, he saw a body covered in blood. He ran, jumped in his car and made it to a store nearby where he called the police.

After rushing to the scene, police found not one, but two bodies in the car. The man sitting in the driver's seat was identified as being 29-year-old Richard Griffin who had recently received his discharge as a Navy SeaBee. Laying in the back seat was his girlfriend, Polly Ann More. Both had been shot in the head with a .32 pistol. Polly had been roughly sexually assaulted. Evidence indicated Richard had been shot outside of the car and Polly had been tied to a nearby tree with rope. Police theorized the attacker had incapacitated Richard and then tied Polly to the tree. He had made her watch as he beat and then fatally shot her boyfriend. For some reason, he drug Richard's body back to the car and placed it in the driver's seat. He then proceeded to assault Polly while she was still tied up. She eventually was killed and drug to the car where her body was placed in the back seat. Once again, the police were unable to find any clue that would lead them to a suspect. He seemed to have vanished into thin air.

The town now knew there was a sadistic killer among them. Papers across the state picked up on the news and began calling the case the "Texarkana Moonlight Murders. With the public clamoring for an arrest, the local police called in the vaunted Texas Rangers for help. Three weeks later on April 14th, with the Rangers in town performing their investigation, the killer struck again.

15-year-old Betty Booker was an exceptionally gifted saxophone player. To help with her family's income, she sometimes played in a band which performed at proms and other social events. The band was asked to play for a dance one night at the local VFW and since she was a straight-A student, it would be for good pay, and he had come to trust the band's adult leader, her father gave his permission for her to join her band-mates and then attend a slumber party at a friend's house. After the performance was over at about 1:00AM, a friend and former classmate of Betty, Paul Martin, offered to drive her to her friend's house for the slumber party and drop her off. Paul was a clean-cut, innocent-looking young man who had not partaken of any alcoholic beverages so the band leader said it was OK. After packing her sax in its case, the two said their goodbye's. It was the last time they would be seen alive.

The road going into the park where Paul's car
was found.
Several hours later, parents at the slumber party became worried that Betty had not yet arrived so they called her parents to see if maybe she had decided to go home instead. Soon, the police were notified that Betty was missing and a search was quickly begun. Paul's car was found abandoned on the side of the road just inside the entrance of Spring Lake Park, nowhere near where the slumber party took place. Paul's body was finally found over a mile away and Betty's was found almost 2 miles from the car. Both were riddled with bullets from a .32 cal revolver and Betty had been sexually assaulted. It was a mystery as to why Paul's car was found so far from the slumber party destination. The pair had not be linked romantically and both had reputations for being good kids so there was no reason for them to be at the park. Betty's saxophone was missing and police put out notices in the papers and to pawn shops to be on the lookout for it. The instrument, still in its case, was found 2 months later rotting in the muck around a small pond inside the park several hundred yards away from where the car was found. It had obviously been thrown there the night of the murders as it was half-submerged and rusted. Why it was taken and why it was thrown there so far away from the car and the bodies is unknown. The leader of the band Betty had played in felt so guilty that he had let her go with Paul rather than drive her himself that he disbanded the popular group. The Rhythmaires never played again.

The pond near where Betty's saxophone was found
is now cleaned and maintained.
After testing, it was determined all of the bullets from each of the murders was from the same gun. Once again, the perpetrator had disappeared and neither the police nor the Rangers found anything which would lead to the identity of the killer. The papers began calling him "The Phantom."

Texarkana became a town under siege. Gun shops sold out of shotguns and ammunition; hardware stores completely sold out of locks and latches. Homeowners began constructing burglar devices that would drop nails and tacks on the floor. Shotguns were rigged to fire with strings attached to doorknobs and triggers. Business' closed at sunset when the streets and sidewalks emptied. Groups of vigilantes, men armed with shotguns, patrolled all over town. Unfamiliar cars driving through town were stopped and the passengers made to identify themselves and give a good reason for being there. Older teenagers staged traps in the park - a boy and girl would park along a dark secluded roadway and pretend to make out while a pack of armed boys would be hidden in the trees waiting for The Phantom to make an appearance. The police had their hands full trying to disperse and send the armed groups home before some innocent person was shot. It was all to no avail - The Phantom seemed to be able to sniff out any traps and stayed away.

As to capturing The Phantom, the police were clueless and the Rangers embarrassed. In desperation, the FBI was called in. Over 300 people were detained and questioned - people caught roaming around in the dark, people considered "odd" by their neighbors, hermits, loners, and every person in town who had any kind of criminal record. Soon, the FBI was just as perplexed as the other lawmen. Newspapers around the country picked up the story and Texarkana came into public awareness for the wrong reason.

On May 3rd, with groups of armed men roaming around, police on high alert, the Texas Rangers and the FBI still in town in force, The Phantom struck again. 

Virgil and Katy Starks owned a farm 12 miles outside of Texarkana. About 9:00PM, Virgil retired to his easy chair in the living room, turned on the radio and began to read the newspaper. Katy finished cleaning the kitchen, went upstairs, changed into her nightgown and lay on the bed reading the Post magazine she had recently purchased. As Katy began to relax, she was startled by what sounded like two gunshots and breaking glass downstairs. She jumped out of bed, put on her slippers and rushed down to her husband's side. She saw glass blown into the room from a shattered window pane and then she saw her husband slumped over and covered with blood from two gunshots to the head. She immediately thought, "Phantom!" and rushed across the room to the phone to call the police. Her shaking finger managed to dial 0 on the rotary phone, but as a female voice answered, "Operator, how may I help you?" she felt a tremendous blow to her right jaw and the phone flew from her hand. The blast of a gun shot registered in her brain and she instinctively turned toward the sound only to feel another bullet smash through her left jaw. As if in slow motion, she fell to the floor and saw her shattered teeth flying through the air above her. When she hit the wooden floor, she swallowed a mouthful of blood. 

Incredibly, Katy remain conscious and fighting through the pain and shock, began crawling toward the kitchen away from the window where the shots were coming from. Bleeding profusely, she made it to the kitchen only to discover to her horror that the shooter, failing to gain entry through the locked front door, had ran around to the kitchen door in the back and was trying to get in. It too was locked and she could hear the monster on the other side cursing in frustration as he kicked and slammed his body into the door trying to break in. Struggling to not pass out, Katy found a determination borne of desperation to not be another of The Phantom's victims. She made it to her feet and ran to the front door. As she unlocked it and ran out, she heard the kitchen door finally give way. As she stumbled across the porch and into the front yard, she heard more curses as The Phantom found her to be gone.

She made it into the dark before the intruder saw her and made it to a neighbor's house down the road. After banging on the door, she passed out. Finding her on the porch in her bloody nightgown, the neighbors called police and then rushed her to the hospital. Katy was immediately taken into surgery and spent several weeks in the hospital in critical condition, but, physically anyway, she eventually recovered. She had terrible scars, but the physical scars were nothing compared to the emotional scars she suffered for the rest of her life.

Back at the Starks home, authorities entered to discover no one alive. Virgil's body was found laying on the floor in a pool of blood. Muddy footprints were found going from the smashed back door, through the kitchen, into the living room where the killer evidently had dabbed his palms in Virgil's blood, then up the stairs into the bedroom and back down again through the front door. The walls had been smeared with bloody hand prints. The monster had obviously been hunting for the whereabouts of Katy. Bloodhounds were brought in and they followed the scent out the front door, across the yard and into the woods where Katy had fled. They then doubled back for about 200 yards and disappeared where he evidently had gotten into his car and drove away.

The authorities were ecstatic because this time they had hand prints and shoe prints, plenty of them. However, in spite of the evidence and all of their efforts, The Phantom's identity remained unknown. There was no record of his prints to match, his shoe prints were non-remarkable, there were no witnesses and again the perpetrator seemed to have vanished into thin air without a trace.

As suddenly as the killings started, they stopped. Nobody was ever arrested. Nobody ever confessed. Nobody knows who The Phantom was, why he did what he did, why he stopped, if he fled Texarkana or stayed in town as a neighbor and friend to unsuspecting residents. The case is still open today and unsolved. But that's not exactly the end of the story.

Whispered rumors continue of faint female screams and cries coming from the woods in the park after dark; of cold spots suddenly walked into on a warm summer night's stroll through the park's remote roads and paths. The tree that poor Polly had been tied to still stands; the tree she had been tied to and forced to watch her lover's gruesome death, the tree she had been tied to and forced to suffer a humiliating sexual assault before being killed herself. And legend has it that if you lean against this tree, you will feel a constriction as if a rope is tying you to that tree. It might be Polly's spirit struggling to get loose. Or just maybe, poor Polly is looking for someone to take her place so she can finally be free from that night of horror.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spirit in the House

Mrs. Keever's house
When John and Donna purchased the 2-story Georgian-style home in Ennis, Texas that day in 1980, they had no idea they would soon be living with the former owner. The problem was, she had died several years before.

The couple had decided they wanted to get away from the crowds and temptations of the big city of Dallas and raise their son, Kevin, in a calmer, quieter place. They had been looking for several months when they found the house on Knox Street in Ennis, a small city about 35 miles from Dallas. Sitting on a large, nicely landscaped lot, it was one of the larger homes in the neighborhood. Painted gray with white trim and forest green shutters, John and Donna both fell in love with it. 

The house had sat vacant for several years, but the real estate company had kept it well maintained. The asking price had steadily dropped and the couple couldn't figure out why such a nice home had not yet sold. Before deciding to make an offer, they visited the house several times and for some reason, on each visit Donna became nauseated and had a feeling of unease, but she thought it was just nerves over contemplating purchasing a house that would strain their budget. They also found it strange that the real estate agent who showed the property would never go inside the house, but would wait in his car or stand on the sidewalk by the street. He always told them to take their time and look around. John and Donna chalked it up to just the real estate's odd personality.

The house was built in 1920 by master carpenters hired by Mr. J. E. Keever, a well respected businessman who owned the local mortuary and funeral home. Every detail of the home was custom made. All of the cherry wood cabinets, doors and trim were hand-made on site. There were three bedrooms upstairs and a sleeping porch downstairs. There was a large living room, formal dinning room, and a library with built-in bookcases, but the real gem of the downstairs was the very large kitchen. This room was actually a kitchen, walk-in pantry, breakfast room, sun room and laundry room all in one. Donna loved it and this more than anything else made her want the house for her and her family.

After several weeks of thinking about it, John and Donna made a low-ball offer for the house. To their surprise, the offer was quickly accepted. Right after they had signed all of the paperwork finalizing the sale, the salesman muttered, "Welcome to Amityville." That movie had been released a short time before and everyone knew what it was about. John asked the salesman, "What do you mean? What are you talking about?" He replied, "You'll soon find out." He then agreed however, for the first time, to enter the house with them to do the final walk-through.

After a few minutes of standing in the living room, the salesman said, "I believe she likes you." Donna asked, "who is 'she'?" Again, his answer was a cryptic, "You'll soon find out." He then told them that his wife and a lot of other people refused to go into the house, but he had a feeling John and Donna would be acceptable to her. They couldn't get him to explain further what he was talking about or exactly who "she" was, but the walk-through showed the house to be in good working order so as quickly as they could they ushered him out of the door and their new home. It wasn't hard as the strange man seemed ready to bolt at any moment anyway.

Within a few days of moving in and getting things out of boxes and in their proper place, strange things began to happen which led John and Donna to believe the house was occupied by a spirit. At odd hours, there would be unexplained banging noises from the kitchen and upon inspection, various cabinet doors would be found standing open. A previous owner had painted over the cherry wood cabinets with an ugly yellow latex paint. When John and Donna began the work of removing the paint and restoring the wood to its original luster, something they had planned to do when they bought it, the strange banging and opening of cabinet doors ceased.

The lights on the front porch then began to turn on and off by themselves. Upon close investigation, it was discovered that what the couple assumed were cheap black and fake stained-glass lamps were actually solid rose-brass lamps with expensive leaded glass stained windows. Someone had simply spray painted the brass black. They began the task of removing the spray paint and then had the brass refinished. They then had gleaming porch lights at the front door with no problem of turning off and on by themselves.

After doing a lot of investigation and talking to neighbors and other townspeople, John and Donna came to the conclusion they did indeed have a spirit living with them and that spirit was none other than the proud and possessive Mrs. Keever, former mistress of the house. They came to the conclusion she simply wanted her home to be as beautiful as it once was and did not approve of the changes that had been done to it over the years. Donna said she felt like they had been guided, compelled even, in each task they took to restore the home to its former beauty.

Mrs. Keever had loved to entertain and show off her fine house which had been the scene of frequent social occasions and open houses. John and Donna frequently smelled roses as they walked around their home even though there were no roses blooming during the winter and there was nothing to account for the smell. Donna hated room fragrance and refused to allow it in the home, but she discovered roses were Mrs. Keever's favorite flower and she always wore tea rose perfume.

Donna and John had a number of family members and friends that would come and stay with them for the weekend, sleeping in the downstairs sleeping porch. Often guests would ask Donna if she had come downstairs the previous night after they had gone to bed and walked around checking all the doors to ensure they were locked. They said they had seen the dark shadow of someone walking around and had heard footsteps. They also heard what sounded like doorknobs being jiggled as if someone were checking to make sure they were securely locked. When she told them it was "just Mrs. Keever checking to make sure everything was ok," they wouldn't believe it really wasn't her.

When they first moved into the home, their son Kevin was just 4 years old. He was the only one whom Mrs. Keever interacted with and purposely showed herself. Within the first few days, Kevin told his mom that a lady in white had come to his room to visit him during the night. John and Donna figured it was just a child's imagination, but over the next several years as Kevin continued to report "the woman in white" visiting him during the night and even telling of conversations she had with him, John and Donna began to believe him. Kevin was never frightened of the apparition and Donna figured Mrs. Keever, the mother of two sons herself, was simply happy to have a little boy in the house again.

Occasionally running into unexplained cold spots while walking around the house and hearing footsteps and noises at all hours didn't bother Donna all that much, but there was one place in the house that made her extremely uncomfortable. The area beneath the stairs was a small storage room which always smelled musty and moldy. It contained a number of boxes, but Donna couldn't bring herself to go in to open them and find out what they contained. Even John said he didn't feel right going in there and Donna became physically sick every time she forced herself to get even a few inches inside. She felt an overwhelming sense that she was trespassing. The door to the room would sometimes fling itself open and when this happened, they both could sense something very unsettling had come out. A new locking latch was put on the door, but the door still managed to come open. John even stacked heavy bricks in front of the door, but every couple of months, they would return home or wake up to find the bricks knocked over, the latch unhooked and the door open.

Several years after moving into the house, Donna became good friends with a young woman named Rebecca who was studying for her master's degree in theology at Texas Christian University's seminary in Fort Worth in preparation for going into the ministry. Part of the program required work as a pastor each weekend and Rebecca found a small church in Ennis to preach at each Sunday. To save the expense of a hotel, Donna invited Rebecca to stay with the family. The very first night she spent in the guest sleeping porch, a bloodcurdling scream was heard throughout the house. John and Donna rushed downstairs to find their guest sitting upright in bed with a terrified look on her face. John asked her what was wrong, but Rebecca answered, "Who screamed? It wasn't me!" After looking around the house and not finding anything wrong, they all went back to bed. The scream was not heard again that night or any other, but Rebecca reported in the morning that she hadn't been able to sleep all night as she kept hearing footsteps and seeing a dark human-like shadow walking back and forth across the room. She also reported becoming almost sick from the overwhelming smell of roses. Rebecca had no idea of what was happening since Donna had never told her about the strange things that went on in their house and she was not from the area so she had never heard the rumors and stories. 

Rebecca got in touch with a Reverend D. Smart who was an Episcopal priest in Ennis. She told him of the terror filled night in John and Donna's house and asked him to perform a "house blessing." Reverend Smart had heard the stories about a spirit in that house so it wasn't hard to convince him of the need. Several days later, he brought his holy water, incense and a cross to bless the house which would hopefully release the spirit to go on to the next level.

The blessing evidently worked as there was no more contact with Mrs. Keever afterwards. No more cold spots, no more footsteps in the night were heard, no more smell of roses, and the door to the storage room under the stairs stayed closed even after John had removed the bricks in front of the door several months later. When Donna dared to open the storage door after he had removed the bricks, she was shocked to find the musty odor had disappeared, though she still couldn't bring herself to venture in and open the boxes. They were convinced Mrs. Keever had moved on, right up until the time when they were talking about her being gone in front of Kevin. The boy told them, "No, she's not gone. She still comes to talk to me at night sometimes."

Current owners say they do not believe the house
is haunted and enjoy living there.
John and Donna eventually sold the house in Ennis and moved back to Dallas. They were not driven out by the spirit; they simply missed their friends and family back in Dallas and they missed the shopping and cultural activities they had grown to take for granted while living there. They just weren't cut out to be small town folks after all. Donna will tell you they love being back with family and friends close by, but they miss that 2-story Georgian home. Sometimes they even miss Mrs. Keever.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Phantom Horses of Palo Duro

Palo Duro Canyon
In late summer of 1874, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa warriors left their reservations to hunt and bring back food for their women and children who stayed behind on their reservations. They made their winter camp within the Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle of Texas. There they began stockpiling the food and supplies they had managed to gather. 

General Ronald MacKenzie and a large number of troops from of the 4th U.S. Cavalry using paid Tonkawa scouts had orders to force the renegade Indians back to the reservations in Indian Territory. After several skirmishes with small parties of Comanches which resulted in about 15 Indian dead, MacKenzie's scouts were able to track the larger band to Palo Duro. From the rim, they could see the camps of the Indians spread in groups along the canyon floor.

After finding passable trails down into the canyon, early on the morning of September 28, MacKenzie's forces attempted to make a surprise attack, but a Comanche lookout spotted the soldiers and fired a warning shot before he was killed. The alerted Indians were able to flee from the charging troops by climbing up the steep canyon walls, but only a few of them managed to make it out on one of their horses. Many of them turned and fired on the soldiers from the canyon rim, but only 1 soldier was killed and 1 wounded. In the one sided fight, between 50 and 60 Indians were killed and the troops and their scouts captured all of the Indian's supplies and almost 2,000 horses.

Following MacKenzie's orders, all of the Indian lodges were pulled down, the hides were slashed and the lodge poles were broken and all of the food and other supplies were destroyed. After giving 30 of the captured ponies to the lead Tonkawa scout and 300 more to be divided among the rest of the scouts as a bonus, the remaining horses, about 1,400, were herded up to the plains above the canyon and slaughtered. After the buzzards and other wildlife ate the flesh, the huge pile of sun-bleached bones served as a trail marker for many years. With their horses, tepees, supplies and food gone, most of the Indians who escaped were forced to return to the reservation.

Rim of Palo Duro Canyon
A short time later, a party of 3 men came into Fort Concho and told of hearing a great herd of phantom horses stampeding along the rim of the canyon where they made camp one night. They were accused of telling a wildly imaginative story, but over the years, more people began reporting the same tale. 

On certain bright moonlit nights, it begins with a distant noise. As it gets nearer and swells in volume, it becomes clearly identifiable as the thunder of hundreds and hundreds of horse hooves. Then the specters appear - beautiful, ghostly pinto horses galloping at full speed along the canyon rim. Within a few seconds, the translucent horses and the noise abruptly vanish leaving nothing but a chilling silence. 

The large pile of bones are gone and few of the witnesses know of the long ago battle, but they have just seen the ghosts of horses massacred by soldiers in their effort to disable the Plains Indian tribes, horses destined to forever run where they were slain along the rim of Palo Duro Canyon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mount Holly Cemetery

Cemeteries speak to the living. The rows upon rows of graves marked by headstones, monuments and effigies remind us that we will follow. Sooner or later, we will follow. 

The word "cemetery" comes from a Greek word meaning "sleeping chamber." The term "graveyard" is  considered coarse terminology for where the dead are buried. Death sounds so final and permanent when "graveyard" is used, but a "sleeping chamber" is comforting and soft. In a cemetery, when the body is lowered into the ground, you can comfort yourself with the thought that the dearly departed is merely sleeping until you meet again.  Resembling a calm, restful park with cut grass, shade trees and walkways, some cemeteries seem to welcome us to drop by and visit before we come to stay.

Mount Holly Cemetery is Little Rock, Arkansas's oldest graveyard and the final resting place for many of the state's past leaders, governors, mayors, and Supreme Court Justices. Civil War generals, an Indian Princess, a spy who was hung and other souls from all walks of life are all in their final rest here. But for some, "rest" doesn't appear to be anything they are interested in doing.

While within the 20 acres of the fenced and walled cemetery, visitors have reported hearing flute music, drumbeats, and horse hooves with the sound fading away as it proceeds between the rows of headstones.  They often report a feeling of being watched even though they can see there there is no one else there. After the sun goes down, the massive obelisks, ornate mausoleums, gated plots and narrow carriage-rutted lanes make it almost impossible for the mind to not see movement where there shouldn't be, shadows flitting around and ghostly figures slowly drifting in the ground fog. What is even more disturbing though, all these things sometimes happen in broad daylight also. Almost from the very beginning of its existence in 1843, there have been reports of odd things happening there - too many unrelated individuals, too many independent reports of things not easily explained to simply dismiss them all as pure imagination.

Residents in nearby apartments have reported seeing gravestones appear in their yards only to disappear into thin air even as they watch. One lady and her husband moved from out of state into one of the apartments across the street from Mount Holly. The couple had no previous knowledge of anything related to the cemetery. Just 1 week after moving in, the lady went to call in her cat from outside before going to bed for the night. When she opened her front door, she was shocked to see a huge, seemingly very solid 12-foot high grave marker standing upright just 3 feet from her steps. Thinking it must be a prank being pulled by local teenagers, she ran back inside to get her husband. They both returned to the door not 60 seconds later and as they watched in confusion, the marker slowly disappeared as a very cold draft of air wafted over them. They then noticed their kitty was standing at the edge of the porch facing the now vanished marker, its fur up, hissing. The next morning, they made their way around the cemetery and found the marker on the old grave of a wealthy business man. It was made of limestone 1-foot thick and estimated to weigh over 1,800 pounds.

David Dodd grave marker and area of most
paranormal activity in the graveyard
In 1864, The Union Army which was in control of Little Rock, hung a 17-year-old suspected Confederate spy, David O. Dodd. The area around his Mount Holly grave has long been reported as the most frequent place where visitors walk into cold spots even on a hot summer day, where often is felt an overwhelming sense of despair and sadness, and even in the bright light of day, moaning and choking sounds can be heard. You see, when David was hung on that cold winter day, the rope was new and therefore it stretched, the condemned was slight in stature, and the distance from the bed of the wagon to the ground wasn't far enough. Instead of breaking his neck and a quick, merciful death, the condemned's tiptoes touched the dirt and he slowly strangled, struggling and jerking for almost 5 minutes. Women observers and a few men became sick and at least one battle-hardened soldier fainted. Finally, two of the enemy soldiers took pity or maybe they just couldn't stand to watch the spectacle any more themselves and each grabbed one of the hanging legs and pulled down, adding weight to hasten his death. Is it any wonder that David's soul cannot rest?

Also in 1864, the bodies of 640 Confederate soldiers who had been killed in battles were dug up and, along with their headstones, moved to a different cemetery across town. Disturbing the dead by moving their bodies has long been believed to be a reason for ghostly activities. It seems to upset them, to confuse them. Even those souls who are apparently resting in peace after accepting their new home where they are buried appear to be confused and angry when their bodies are moved. Relocating 640 of them was like kicking a fire ant nest - a frenzy of paranormal activity was started which has yet to cease.

Go for a visit yourself. Walk the quiet, shaded paths and read history in the headstones and markers of the dead. Don't be afraid. Unexplainable things usually don't happen in the daylight hours. Not much anyway. I wouldn't tarry when the sun begins to set though. Mount Holly, you see, is one of those weird, unsettling places where the dividing line between the land of the living and the realm of the dead blurs. And who knows what might cross over that line?