Friday, October 30, 2015

Not All Haunted Houses Are Scary

There are horrifying stories of hauntings like The Devil's House and frightening possessions like the evil Raggedy Ann doll. But contrary to popular belief, not all hauntings are frightening. Take the case of the Rose of Sharon house in Waxahachie, Texas for instance.

Sharon was a realtor and was able to see beyond the weeds in the yard and the rundown condition of the long deserted house, at least enough to know that underneath all the neglect, the basic structure was sound. She realized that with a lot of work and effort, the sad house could once again be the beautiful home it once was.

The house was built in 1892 by F. P. Powell, an attorney, for his new bride and the children they hoped to have. Two daughters were born to the union and the Powell's happily lived in their Waxahachie home for 20 years. In 1912, F. P. was offered a job in Austin, one with enough of a raise and increased benefits that he couldn't turn it down and so the home they loved was sold.

Unfortunately, over the next 70 years, the house was sold a number of times and none of the owners did much in the way of taking care of it. With each successive owner, the home's condition deteriorated a little more until it was eventually abandoned.

When Sharon purchased the house, she found that it originally had wrap-around porches which provided shade and a place to sit on a porch swing to enjoy a pretty spring day, but one of the previous owners had sealed in the porches and turned the house into a number of small apartments which were rented out. The exterior walls were covered in dead vines and the walls inside were full of holes. The floors were covered with trash and creaked when they were walked on, the stairs seemed ready to fall to pieces. In short, the house was in a sad state indeed.

The day after the sale had been completed and before any restoration work had begun, Sharon took a walk around the inside. Entering a small room which at one time had been a large dining parlor, she sat her oversized handbag on the floor in the middle of the room. leaving the heavy bag, she proceeded through several more rooms until finally entering one that contained piles of old magazines and newspapers. Sitting down to thumb through the stacks, she lost track of time as she became fascinated with the news and fashions from years past. 

When the shadows began to lengthen and the light to dim, she realized she had been there longer than she had intended. Hurrying back into the dining parlor to retrieve her bag, she found it right where she had left it, but sitting next to it was a pair of 14-karat gold earrings. The earrings were ones Sharon had loved and treasured, but had lost more than a year ago! She had looked everywhere for the missing jewelry, but no trace of them had turned up until now, a year after she lost them, sitting next to her handbag on the floor of a house she had not even known existed a year ago! Sharon believed then and still believes the return of her earrings had been a housewarming present from Mrs. Powell, long dead, but obviously happy Sharon had purchased her home and intended to restore it and once again fill it with love.

As the restoration work continued, Sharon would often enter a room and feel a presence of someone else. She could feel she wasn't alone, but it was never spooky and she was never frightened. Quite the contrary in fact as she said it was always a welcoming sensation.

After restoration, Sharon decided to open her now beautiful home to other people by turning it into a bed & breakfast. She doesn't advertise the ghostly presence, but some of her guests have reported hearing footsteps in the hallways at night when nobody is up and around. Sometimes footsteps are heard going up and down the stairs long after everyone has retired for the night. There are also reports of soft waltz music being heard which seems to emanate from everywhere and nowhere at the same time with no source able to be pinpointed. Most describe the sound as seeming to be stringed instruments, most likely violins. The haunting sounds are exactly what one would expect to hear coming from a cultured family home of the early 1900's.

Sharon often catches a glimpse of a family, but they are barely visible and completely disappear almost as soon as they are seen. The man wears a top hat and the woman is always wearing a long dress which appears to be from the late 1800's. There are also two children, little girls who always stand in front of their parents holding hands. They give the appearance of being very happy. Sharon thinks they are the Powell family and they seem pleased with what she has done and the way she takes care of "their" home.

The Rose of Sharon is a nice, homey bed & breakfast in the interesting town of Waxahachie, Texas. It is often full of paying guests, many of whom are repeats - folks who found the inn to be so inviting that they return multiple times. And nobody minds at all the friendly, happy ghosts that continue to watch over their home.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Phantoms of the Minot's Ledge Lighthouse

A mile east of Scituate, Massachusetts is a slice of rock that at low tide is just above the crashing waves of the northeastern coast. Now known as Minot's Ledge, when the first white settlers arrived in the area, they found the Native Americans to be terrified of it.

Their stories told of a man-eating monster that lived amongst the bluffs overlooking the ledge. They called him Hobomock and they believed when Hobomock grew angry, he unleashed terrible storms which often destroyed their villages and killed many of their people. To appease Hobomock, the natives made frequent offerings to him by paddling out at low tide to leave food, ornaments and flowers on the rock. Most of the time their offerings kept him happy and sleeping peacefully, but occasionally he woke up in a bad mood and rejected their offerings. He would then rise from beneath the waves, tear into the shore with ferocious winds and waves and cause the Indians to flee inland, away from Hobomock's terrible fury.

Of course the Europeans didn't believe the native peoples and never made offerings. For almost 300 years, they paid the price. Time and again Hobomock rose up to smash ships and drown sailors. During even the mildest of storms, the rocky ledge was covered with waves and impossible for the ship's captains to see and avoid it. Few, if any, obstacles along the east coast caused as many lost ships and took as many human lives as Minot's Ledge. When the count went over 400, there was great demand for the government to do something.

There was a reason no actions were taken previously. Building a lighthouse on the ledge, no matter how much it was needed, was considered impossible. Anything built there would be totally exposed to the full force of the ocean storms and would be battered to pieces. That is, until a lighthouse inspector named I. W. P. Lewis came up with a radical suggestion. Instead of the normal cylindrical tower built on the rocks, it was proposed this lighthouse be built upon eight iron pilings, each of which would be sunk 5 feet into the rocks and cemented into place. The theory was the lighthouse structure containing the light and the keepers living quarters would be high above any waves and the eight iron legs would offer almost no resistance to the crashing water.

With the great need for something to be done for the safety of ships and seamen, the Treasury Department authorized the funds and the building commenced in early 1847. Numerous times storms would sweep drilling rigs and construction equipment off the rocks and into the sea, but work was always started again. Finally, after 3 years of labor, the lighthouse was put into service on New Year's Day, 1850.

Mr. Lewis declared the structure would weather even the harshest storm with no damage, but the first keeper, Isaac Dunham, quickly declared his misgivings. Living in the lighthouse, he claimed he could feel it swaying in a strong wind and the iron legs would groan and bend as they were hit by waves. Many of his official reports indicated his concerns. His beloved assistant at the isolated lighthouse was a cat which helped keep the population of rats down and provided him with much needed companionship. His feline friend evidently felt their home was unsafe as well. He never seemed to relax and constantly alerted and ran from one room to another. One day during a storm, the lighthouse suddenly jerked as an exceptionally large wave hit it and the cat was so startled, it ran through a door which had come open and jumped over the rail. Unfortunately, there was nothing below but a raging sea and the cat was lost. When the storm finally abated the next day, Isaac rowed back to land in the station's boat and quit his post. He had been on the job for exactly 9 months.

Within several weeks, a man named John Bennett was hired to replace Isaac. Because of the isolation and damage the structure had suffered which needed to be repaired, two assistants were hired with him. A month after his hiring, John came back to town on shore to purchase supplies. While there, a vicious storm came up and he was forced to stay in town. The storm grew even worse and huge waves pounded the shore. Bennett began to wonder if the lighthouse and his two assistants, Joseph Antoine and Joseph Wilson, would survive. Bennett was looking through binoculars toward the lighthouse from the building where he had taken shelter when at 1:00 in the afternoon, he saw the iron legs begin to sag back toward land and he knew right off the lighthouse and his two friends were doomed. Within minutes the whole structure collapsed. Several days later, the battered and bloated bodies of the assistants were recovered from the rocks where they had been thrown by the storm.

Within a year, construction was begun on a new lighthouse, one that would actually be able to withstand the pounding of the ocean waves. Over the next 8 years, a tower was built with huge granite blocks laying in parallel on top of foundation stones weighing two tons each. Now, more than 150 years after it was put in service, the second lighthouse remains standing. Fully automated, the old lighthouse still sends out its light to warn ships and sailors to keep away, but even though living humans are no longer needed to keep the light burning, that doesn't mean the old station is not occupied.

For almost 100 years, lighthouse keepers, sometimes with their wives, lived in the cold, dank living quarters. Often stranded for weeks at a time due to stormy seas making the trip to land too dangerous in the station's small boat, they endured isolation and stifling boredom. One thing many of them came to agree on was that the old stone tower was haunted.

A look in the official logbooks reveals many strange occurrences. Keepers often noted a tap, tap, taping on the granite walls of the tower. They heard pounding on the doors even during storms when nobody could possibly be out there. And often, they heard voices which seemed to come from all directions at once. In a number of cases, keepers would abruptly quit upon being able to get back into town. Some would just say they didn't want to talk about it. Others said they had to leave before they went mad. A few said they couldn't stand the voices anymore.

Nobody has lived at the Minot's Ledge Lighthouse since it was automated in 1947, but fishermen who pass the lighthouse on their way into Scituate harbor often report seeing the dark figure of a man climbing the iron ladder leading to the outer door. They say the man calls out to them in a foreign language that sounds like Portuguese. Historians note that Joseph Antoine, one of the assistants killed in the collapse of the first structure, was born and raised in Portugal.

And sometimes, boaters who have passed the lighthouse say they have seen, and heard, a very wet and anxious cat standing on the station's boat landing, squalling at the top of its lungs.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hotel Monte Vista's Permanent Residents

Located on old Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona is the Hotel Monte Vista. Constructed in 1926 and opened on New Year's Day, 1927, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel has played host to such notable people as John Wayne, Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Humphry Bogart, Lee Marvin, Jane Russell, and President Harry Truman, but all of its many distinguished and famous guests came and left after a brief stay. What the Hotel Monte Vista is most famous for are the guests who came and never left.

The Phantom Bellboy - Many guests over the years, especially those staying on the 2nd floor, have reported a knocking at their door and then hearing a faint, muffled announcement, "Room service," but when they open the door, nobody is there. One guest reported he just happened to be walking toward the door in the act of leaving his room when he was startled to hear the knock and voice. He opened his door within 2 seconds and just like all the other reports, nobody was there and no one was in the hall. It couldn't have been someone playing a trick because a person could not have ran away fast enough to not be seen. Even John Wayne reported having the same experience. According to him, when he opened his door, nobody was there, but he could feel a presence as if someone unseen was standing there. The Duke said he didn't feel threatened at all and it seemed to him the ghost was actually a friendly sort.

The Little Boy - Guests have for years reported seeing a little boy wearing "old fashioned" clothes wandering around the halls. Sometimes his voice can be heard as he looks up toward an invisible grownup person beside him. His mumbled words can't be made out, but everyone says it appears and sounds for all the world like he is looking up and talking to his mother. Occasionally a guest reports they were walking down a hall when they felt a cold little hand grasp theirs and when they jump and turn around, the ghostly image of a little boy abruptly vanishes.

The Rocking Chair - By all accounts, Room 305 is the most active room. There have been numerous reports by guests of seeing an old woman sitting beside a window in an old rocking chair. Sometimes the woman can't be seen, but the chair consistently rocks back and forth all by itself. Some unwary guests have been so unnerved by being awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of the chair creaking as it rocks that they went down to the desk in their night clothes demanding someone come back to the room with them and move themselves and their belongings to a different room. Cleaning staff consistently report moving the chair to a different place in the room only to return later to find it back exactly where it had been even though the room had been locked and nobody had been in it. Historical hotel records indicate that an elderly woman was once a long-term border in room 305 and she spent countless hours sitting in that same rocking chair staring out the window. Nobody knows what she was looking at or who she was waiting for. Evidentially she waits and watches for that person even in death.

Baby in the Basement - Probably the most unnerving of all the haunts is that of a crying baby in the basement. Reported time and again by maintenance and laundry personnel, there is never a reason found for the sound, no records exist showing a baby died in the basement, but people are often driven upstairs to escape the pitiful and incessant crying of an infant.  Turnover is normally rather high among staff performing these jobs at any hotel, but it is not uncommon at the Hotel Monte Vista for the personnel to come into the office visibly shaken, turn in their hotel key and quit on the spot while saying, "I can't take it anymore!"

Ghostly Dancers - Lounge staff and patrons have often seen the ghostly apparition of a man and woman dressed in period clothing slowly swaying to music only they can hear out on the dance floor. Their clothing is formal and they are seen laughing as they dance, holding each other close for all eternity.

Phantom Fallen Doves - In the early 1940's, the Red Light District was just 2 blocks from the hotel. One night a male guest of the hotel returned with 2 ladies of the night and they retired to his room, number 306. For one reason or another, both girls were killed during the night, their bodies thrown from the 3rd floor room's window to land on the cold street below. The male guest disappeared without a trace and was never found. For some reason, female guests staying in the room never seem to have any trouble, but male guests often report an uneasy feeling of being watched the whole time they remain in the room. There have been many male guests who reported being awakened in the middle of the night unable to breathe, feeling like a hand is being held tightly over their nose and mouth. Once awakened in such a manner, the men find it impossible to return to sleep because they feel extremely anxious and have a strong sense that someone is in the room "keeping an eye" on them.

Call from the Beyond - Staff working the night shift on the front desk have become accustomed to the desk phone ringing in the middle of the night with a call from Room 210. It only happens though when there are no guests staying in that room. When the call is answered, the clerk is able to make out a faint, scratchy sounding "Hello" through the static noise coming from the handset.

Dead Bank Robber - In 1970, three men robbed a nearby bank. As they were running out with their ill-gotten-booty, a guard pulled a hidden revolver and managed to shoot one of the robbers. Passing by the hotel, the men, not comprehending the severity of their companion's wound, decided to hide out from the arriving police as well as to celebrate their success by having a drink in the hotel's bar. Sitting in a corner booth, the wounded man died before finishing his drink. Since then, staff and patrons have repeatedly reported seeing drinks and even bar stools move seemingly on their own and are often greeted with a faint, but cheery "Hello" from what appears to be empty air as they enter the bar.

Meat Man - In the early 1980's, one of the hotel's long-term guests was known among the staff as "Meat Man" due to his strange habit of hanging pieces of raw meat from the chandelier in his room. The cleaning staff only cleaned his room once each week so it wasn't odd that his body was only discovered in his room, #220, three or four days after his death. The room was cleaned and aired out and 3 days later, maintenance workers were making repairs and updating the room in preparation for the next guests. Breaking for lunch, the men locked the door and left for the break room. Returning about 30 minutes later, the men entered the still locked room to find it in disarray, the bed clothes stripped off and the TV on with the volume turned up. There was also the distinct smell of meat present. The workers found it extremely strange, but assumed somebody had somehow gotten into the room while they were gone. They alerted the cleaning staff to get the room back in order and finished up their work just in time for the arrival of the night's guest. In the middle of the night, that guest, a male traveling alone, rushed downstairs to the front desk dressed only in underwear and a t-shirt very upset because somebody he couldn't see was in his room pulling the covers off the bed! The clerk accompanied the man back up to his room and found the bed clothes strewn around the room in profusion. He also wrote in his report that there was a distinct smell of "raw bacon" in the room. Since then, not every guest has such a terrifying experience, but the staff has leaned to not rent it to anyone traveling with a pet, especially a dog as it will invariably go crazy barking throughout the night, staring intently in corners and often up toward the ceiling, right where meat once hung from the chandelier. 

Located at 100 N. San Francisco Street, this renovated hotel still serves guests today and according to many witnesses, remains home to a number of guests who for one reason or another have chosen to not go toward the light.