Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Loving Legacy at the Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel — A Story of Love and Ghosts
by Kala Ambrose

Cornstalk HotelThe Cornstalk Hotel was originally built as a home in 1816 for Judge Francois Xavier-Martin, who is best known in Louisiana as a former chief justice for the Supreme Court. The home was designed according to his wishes, but records show that several homes had previously been built on this property, beginning in 1730. Each of the previous homes had been destroyed by fire, most likely by the two Great Fires of New Orleans—the first that destroyed 90% of the French Quarter and the second that destroyed more than 200 buildings. The records of who owned the homes before Judge Martin are missing (some were destroyed by fire), but it is assumed by most historians that several families lived at this location over the decades.

A cast-iron fence resembling cornstalks

The tale of the haunted Cornstalk Hotel begins with a husband’s love for his wife. In 1834 Dr. Joseph Secondo Biamenti purchased the home for himself and his Iowa bride. He ordered a cast-iron fence to be installed around the property. In New Orleans, lovely homes with cast-iron balconies and fences are features found in great abundance on every corner of the city, so the chosen material on its own is not what has made the Cornstalk Hotel famous.

What causes this building to stand out in the French Quarter is that the cast-iron fence resembles cornstalks, as if one was looking out at a field of corn made completely from cast iron. Each column of the fence is anchored with a pumpkin. Climbing up each iron post are vines, leaves, and flowers, until you reach the top of the post, where cornstalks are partially open to display the kernels of corn inside.

The effect is whimsical, and the artisan must have worked long hours to shape iron into such delicate and intricate pieces, which include a butterfly landing on the front gate. The good doctor loved his wife dearly. Knowing that the swampy soil in New Orleans would never allow a field of corn to grow, he did the next best thing he could to bring an Iowa cornfield to his wife: He designed a unique fence that would remind her of home whenever she looked out the window.

Architecturally, the hotel is fascinating. It is listed in a multitude of travel guidebooks as a must-see location to photograph in the city. This hotel meets that list for other reasons, too, including the legends of ghosts haunting the building. Guests have reported hearing children laughing as their footsteps pitter-patter back and forth inside the house and outside.

There are also reports of hotel guests hearing the sounds of someone tapping on the window, only to find no one there when they pull back the curtain. They also report doors opening and closing in the middle of the night.

Cornstalk Hotel iron fence vibrates with energy

Cornstalks Hotel2At the hotel, I was psychically drawn to spend time outdoors rather than inside. The iron fence is quite captivating, and there is something almost electric about it. Iron was used in cemeteries, as it has a reputation of keeping spirits inside the area surrounded by iron or preventing them from entering an area surrounded by an iron fence, as ancient tales state that spirits are not able to cross over iron fences and gates.

This particular iron fence vibrated with an energy that I had not noticed elsewhere in the French Quarter. The fence emanated a blue hue, as if it was magnetized with an energy field. It had the look and feel of a spell, as if someone who knew what they were doing had magically placed a charm on the fence for purposes yet unknown.

As I tuned into the fence to determine what energy had been placed there, I followed the blue auric field and saw that it surrounded the property. Protective spells had been placed in this field to shield the hotel from any harm. The hotel certainly has a warm and welcoming feel about it. If you are standing in front of the fence from the street and want to see this blue energy field for yourself, you’ll find that the left side of the fence has the most energy, as if it wants to protect itself from energy coming from that direction. On the right side, the energy field is much more open and relaxed, appearing to not detect any harm coming from this side. This right side of the property is where the ghost boys are most often seen playing on the lawn.

As I continued to study the fence and the supernatural energy attached to it, I had the distinct feeling of being watched. I looked up at the hotel and saw a woman looking out at me from an upstairs window. I gave a friendly wave to her, thinking she was a guest, until I noticed that she was wearing a dark dress with a lace collar at the neck and had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. My first thought was that she was dressed in period clothing, perhaps for an event at the hotel. This thought soon vanished, however, for as I stood there looking at her, she disappeared into thin air, except for one of her hands, which remained there at the window for a few moments longer. She appeared to me as someone who was very protective and inquisitive about the comings and goings at the hotel.

Kala AmbroseMy encounter with the woman was very brief. She was quite a distance away, as I was outside near the fence looking up and she was upstairs inside the hotel, so there wasn’t a strong connection. The one thing I did feel strongly, however, was that she was not the wife of Dr. Biamenti. This woman appeared to be dressed more in the style of the late 1700s rather than the mid-1800s, when Dr. Biamenti and his wife lived in the home. Most likely she was an occupant of one of the previous homes that burned down.

About the author: Kala Ambrose is an award-winning author, national columnist, inspirational speaker, and host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Radio and TV Show. Kala Ambrose’s teachings are described as discerning, empowering, and inspiring. For more haunted tales from New Orleans, check out her book Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire Legends and Cities of the Dead. 

 

Creole Café in Old Town San Diego

Creole Café When Anna and Charles Whaley decided to put down roots in what would become the heart of Old Town San Diego, it seems there was a plan to bring a bit of Louisiana to Southern California. Anna Whaley, of French descent, planted the majestic pepper trees outside her house in 1856. Her trees, and other New Orleans touches, were recognized by Mark Bihm more than 150 years later, drawing him to the next stage in his career. He was intrigued by the blind real estate ad that read “Deli in a parklike setting,” describing the historic building that shares the Whaley House courtyard.

“I wanted to open a restaurant, and I didn’t want to see concrete or cars,” Bihm says. He immediately came out to look at the property and fell in love with it; the place reminded him of his homeland—his family has been in Louisiana since 1750. “The New Orleans style of the Whaley House [see Whaley House chapter], the gas lamps, the pepper trees—it was kismet.” And the rest is history.

Creole Café is painstakingly restored and preserved

Bihm’s San Diego Creole Café is part of the historic courtyard that Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) created from the buildings saved from demolition and painstakingly restored to preserve San Diego’s early history. The adopted buildings are now part of the group surrounding the historic Whaley House. What Bihm didn’t realize, but now knows very well, is that he was moving into one of America’s most haunted locations.

Creole Cafe owner Mark BihmBihm and his life and business partner, Humberto Villegas, have both experienced many paranormal events in the buildings that house the Creole Café, moved from what was one of the oldest areas of San Diego called New Town, which is now part of San Diego’s downtown area. The two wooden structures with false facades definitely have a feeling about them, and many customers comment about their own experiences there.

Bihm feels that the spirits at the restaurant don’t mind his presence there and that they have actually tried to take care of the partners in the face of danger. Customers and visitors comment constantly regarding the spirits and paranormal activity in the buildings. The paranormal stories surrounding the Whaley House and Creole Café abound—and the time of the incidents is rarely confined to the darkness of night.

“I’ve been witnessing phenomena—and I have all my life,” says Bihm. “It just seems here it’s more accentuated. We all want to believe in them, and I know without a doubt that if we can figure out how they move chandeliers—goodbye energy crises, hello world prosperity. How do they do that? As far as the spirits here—too many people have come here and had the same things happen for generations—people who don’t even know each other. How else can they come up with the same phenomena? I do believe in them—absolutely. I’m not afraid. I mean, sure, there’s bad stuff out there, but not here.”

Sally Richards, author of Ghosthunting Southern California, has visited the Creole Café in Old Town San Diego and interviewed Mark Bihm. Check out this and many more haunted tales from her eerie journey through the region.

Ghosthunting Equipment for the Weekend Ghosthunter

Tips for the Weekend Ghosthunter from Helen Pattskyn

Helen PattskynProfessional ghosthunters, like the folks from Motor City Ghost Hunters, use some pretty sophisticated—and expensive—equipment. Chances are, that’s more of an investment than the average person wants to make. The good news is that the weekend ghosthunter can get by—and still get good results—with just a few ghosthunting tools.

A good-quality digital camera is an absolute must, and the greater the resolution (the more pixels) the better. I use the camera that I bought a couple of years ago for vacations. It has the added bonus of being small enough to fit easily in my purse. I use rechargeable batteries—but always carry a backup set (except for that one time at the Baldwin Theatre, the one time I needed them!). It is commonly reported that batteries die and electronics stop working in haunted places.

A second indispensable piece of equipment, according to everyone I spoke to, is a digital recorder. Most digital recorders are small and inexpensive. All of the ones I looked at had a record time of several hours.

Digital recorders are used to pick up EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena. Paranormal investigators frequently seem to record sounds and even voices on electronic devices, even when no sounds or voices were heard by the team members themselves during the investigation. Many paranormal teams post these recordings on their websites, allowing visitors to decide for themselves whether the “voices” caught on tape are real or just white noise.

A digital camera and digital recorder were the only pieces of equipment I took with me on my adventures around the state, and I really only used my digital recorder a few times. I left it on all night when I stayed at the Blue Pelican—but if anyone was there, they didn’t feel like talking to me.

About the EMF Device

Probably the next most popular ghosthunting device is an EMF detector, which is used to detect electromagnetic fields. The theory is that, where there are ghosts, the electromagnetic fields “spike.” Other things can cause electromagnetic fields to jump, too, such as outlets and major appliances. So you need to have an idea of what’s in the area before jumping to conclusions. Natural and man-made (not paranormal) electromagnetic fields can cause people to have that same “eerie feeling” so many people get when they believe there are spirits nearby. Bearing in mind that you get what you pay for, weekend ghosthunters can purchase a decent EMF meter for $30–$50 from most larger hardware stores. More expensive models start at $100.

Ghosthunting Michigan
Ghosthunting Michigan

A couple of the paranormal investigators I spoke to recommend using a 35mm camera, preferably loaded with black-and-white film, as a secondary source for ghostly images. If you’re going out with a friend, it might be interesting to compare images taken with a digital camera and the good old-fashioned way with film.

If you’re more serious—or as you become more serious—you can purchase additional equipment for your ghosthunting arsenal. Full-spectrum digital video cameras are popular, as are night vision or infrared camcorders.

It has been suggested to also document your adventures with pen and paper—or maybe start a ghosthunting journal or blog.

Helen Pattskyn is the author of Ghosthunting Michigan.

Spotlight On: Ouija Boards

About the origins of the Ouija board

Ouija BoardAccording to the website for the Museum of Talking Boards (a.k.a. Ouija boards) “modern spiritualism” began in Hydesville, New York, in 1848, when sisters Kate and Margaret Fox (ages 12 and 15, respectively) claimed to have contacted the spirit of a dead salesman. The method they used for communing with their spirit friend is known as “rapping”—that is, getting the spirit to rap or knock on a table during a séance. Messages could be spelled out this way by asking a spirit to knock once for “A” twice for “B,” and so on. Although Margaret later claimed the whole thing was just a hoax and even went so far as to demonstrate their methods to the public, the idea of speaking to the dead had already spread like wildfire across not only the United States, but also Great Britain and other European countries.

Since the dawn of human history, the idea of spirits has fascinated people, and many have sought ways to communicate with those who have passed over to “the other side.” Even after the Fox sisters were debunked, other mediums (called such because they acted as intermediaries between the living and the dead) continued to refine their methods of communicating with the deceased. Automatic writing replaced rapping; a pencil was attached to a small basket, and the medium would place his or her fingertips on it and allow the spirit to take over and write out their message. Automatic writing is still practiced by psychics today.

Eventually, the heart-shaped planchette, or “little plank,” which was used to point to letters already printed out on a board, replaced the basket and pencil. This, of course, was the original Ouija board. The first patent for a commercially produced “talking board” was filed on May 28, 1890; it lists Elijah J. Bond as the inventor.

If you are interested in the paranormal, check out America’s Haunted Road Trip books, a one-of-a-kind series of haunted travel guides. Each book profiles more than 30 haunted places open to the public. From inns and museums to cemeteries and theaters, the author visits each place, interviewing people who live and work there. Each guide also includes travel instructions, maps, and an appendix of 50 more places the reader can visit.

Picture of Ouija Board: By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Haunted Holly Hotel

Historic Holly Hotel haunts staff and guests

Holly HotelThe historic Holly Hotel is said to be the single most haunted building in the state of Michigan. It has been written about in newspapers and magazines and has been featured on both local and national television. In 2009, it was the subject of an episode of the popular Travel Channel program The Most Terrifying Places in America. Numerous paranormal investigators have visited the Holly Hotel, including the Motor City Ghost Hunters, the Ghost Hunters of Southern Michigan, the Michigan Paranormal Research Association, and well-known parapsychologist Norman Gauthier, who concluded that the building was “loaded with spirits.”

Despite its name, the Holly Hotel is no longer an inn and does not accommodate overnight guests. However, the dining room remains a favorite spot for dinner, afternoon tea, and Sunday brunch. Dinner is served nightly, while a traditional Victorian-style high tea is served every day except for Sunday. The restaurant’s menu is an award-winning blend of traditional signature dishes, some of which have changed very little over the last century, and contemporary seasonal fare. In addition to being featured in magazines and on television for its ghosts, the Holly Hotel is known nationally for its fine cuisine.

The Holly Hotel suffered two major fires in its long history. The first occurred on January 19, 1913, and the second was 65 years later on January 19, 1878. Reports have it that both fires started at “exactly the same time, to the hour.”

Former owner most active ghost at Holly Hotel

In fact, the Holly Hotel has been the sighting of a number of apparitions over the years. One of the most frequently seen is believed to be the spirit of Nora Kane, a former hostess of the inn. Many guests claim to have seen her in the bar area and in the back hallway, which used to be the main entrance to the hotel.

The inn’s most famous ghost is probably former owner Mr. Hirst, who passed away in the 1920s, but who, many believe, has never let go of his hotel. He is reputed to be the most active—and most unhappy—when renovations have been made to the property. A myriad of other spirits are said to inhabit the 120-year-old building.

Helen Pattskyn visited the Holly Hotel and interviewed the staff and owner. Find out all about their ghostly tales in her book Ghosthunting Michigan.