Tag Archives: ghosts

Mission San Antonio de Valero, AKA The Alamo

Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country,  takes us on a visit to Mission San Antonio de Valero, know to most of us as The Alamo.

In 1718, after Mission San Francisco de Solano in the Rio Grande Valley became unviable because so many of its resident Coahuiltecan Indians had left it, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares relocated it to a spot near the headwaters of the San Antonio River. He had passed through the area a decade earlier and been impressed with its suitability for a religious community. He named the new mission in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua and San Antonio de Valero, the Spanish viceroy who had approved his plan.The Alamo

Location of the mission changed several times for the first few years until 1724, when the present site was chosen, and the foundation of its stone church was laid 20 years later, in 1744. It eventually included a walled compound containing the church, a convento where the clergymen lived, and a number of adobe buildings.

While the Alamo is almost synonymous with the battle that bears its name, it was by no means the first time the mission or its residents were exposed to violence or dangers. On June 30, 1745, for example, Apaches attacked the nearby civil town of San Fernando. One hundred mission converts from the Alamo sallied out and, reinforced by European arms and tactics, helped drive them off.

Mission San Antonio de Valero was the first of the local missions to be secularized and was taken over by Spanish authorities in 1793. They established the first hospital in Texas in it. Its central location and infrastructure also made it ideal for use as a barracks and, by 1803, a company of 100 heavily armed cavalrymen, along with their families, had moved into it. They remained there for 32 years, battling Indians, the military adventurers known as filibusters, and revolutionaries. When Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, they shifted their allegiance to the new nation. And when they skirmished with Anglo-American revolutionaries near the town of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, the Texas Revolution began.

Texian forces counterattacked toward the end of that month and laid siege to San Antonio. Then, on December 5th, they attacked the town directly and, after fighting the Mexican troops toe-to-toe in brutal street fighting for five days, forced the military authorities to surrender. Thus it was that the Texians took control of the city. When General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived at the head of a Mexican army on February 23, 1836, the Texians withdrew to the east bank of the San Antonio River and occupied the Alamo. Santa Anna raised the red flag of no quarter over San Fernando church, and a siege of the mission began.

On March 6th, Santa Anna launched his final attack on the Alamo and, after a fierce 90-minute battle, captured it and slew all 189 of its defenders, at a cost of about 600 killed and wounded among his own men. Commanders William Barret Travis, James Bowie, and David Crockett were among those who fell in battle. Santa Anna ordered all the bodies burned on at least two common pyres and left to smolder for days (although that of one defender, Tejano Gregorio Esparza, whose brother was one of the Mexican officers, received a proper burial).

AlamoSix weeks later, on April 21st, Texian forces led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and the Mexican army in the Battle of San Jacinto, about 200 miles to the east. The following month, the Mexican garrison in San Antonio was ordered to destroy the Alamo and then withdraw. They did manage to tear down some of the outer walls, and their commander, Juan José Andrade, sent a detachment of men to blow up the church where the defenders had made their final stand. These men were reportedly prevented from doing so, however, by a party of what they identified as diablos. They were described by paranormal researcher Docia Schultz Williams in her book Spirits of San Antonio and South Texas as “six ghostly forms standing in a semicircle holding swords, not of steel but of fire, blocking their entry to the building.”

“They were terrified and fearful of the consequences if they should destroy the building, they reported back to their commander,” Williams continues. “It is said General Andrade went himself to the place and was also confronted by the same figures. And so it was that the building was left intact as the Mexican army marched out of San Antonio.”

Apparitions were reported again at the site in 1871—which at that point was being used as a police station—when the city tore down part of the surviving mission complex, a pair of rooms that had been located to either side of the main gate in the south wall. Guests at the Menger Hotel across the street were among those who claimed to see spectral soldiers marching along the perimeter of the old mission compound as if trying to defend it from further desecration.

Many people, too, have striven to protect the legacy of the Alamo. In the 1930s, as the centennial of the Battle of the Alamo approached, the entire complex was renovated, expanded, and converted into a parklike memorial, and a Centennial Museum was built behind the church (and currently serves as the gift shop for the site). Then, in 1968, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas opened a new museum in the convento, or “long barrack,” finally putting the oldest building on the mission grounds back into use.

The Alamo by night 
Copyright: By Danphotoman777 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Ghostly Stories from the Brooklyn Inn

L’Aura Hladik, author of Ghosthunting New York brings us a ghostly story from the Brooklyn Inn. Do you think it is haunted?

L’Aura Hladik

The Brooklyn Inn  is a tasteful and cozy bar nestled on the corner of Hoyt and Bergen Streets in Brooklyn. The building dates back to the late nineteenth century. In 1957, its owners received a Certificate of Occupancy for a bar and restaurant on the first floor along with one apartment on each of the two upper floors. When the bar changed ownership again in May 2007, rumors spread on various blogs that the Brooklyn Inn would soon close down or, worse, become a bistro. Jason Furlani, manager of the Brooklyn Inn, set the record straight in a blog response, and thankfully this bar, a place of refuge for many loyal patrons, is still in operation. In 2008, the building was seen on the CW Network show Gossip Girl in an episode  which appeared to mirror the events surrounding the change of ownership in 2007.

This is a bar, plain and simple. The former kitchen, as small as it was, has been removed to make space for a couple of tables and chairs for those who like to sit and enjoy their drinks when there is no room at the bar. I visited the Brooklyn Inn in 2009 and met with Kevin Bohl, one of the bartenders, whom I have known since my high school days. Kevin works at the Brooklyn Inn three nights a week.

Bartender Brooklyn Inn
Bartender at the Brooklyn Inn

One spring night in 2008, when Kevin had been pouring drinks at the Brooklyn Inn for three years, Kevin encountered a spirit of the paranormal kind. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary as Kevin worked his shift. “It was around 11 p.m. and the bar was packed,” he said.  I should note that, at this time, the space just beyond the bar was still a kitchen. Kevin always kept a keen eye on that area while tending bar, as patrons sometimes got a little too comfortable, eased their way around the corner of the bar, and ended up blocking the kitchen door. On this night in 2008, Kevin noticed a silhouetted figure standing in the kitchen just beyond the doorway. He did a double-take, trying to focus on who or what he was seeing. It appeared to be a man approximately five feet ten inches tall, wearing a long coat and a fedora hat. Kevin rushed about seven feet to the end of the bar to ask the gentleman to move to the front of the bar, but by the time he reached the spot, the man was gone. “I was dumbfounded. I was so cognizant of that space and the need to keep it clear. Yet I couldn’t find the guy I just saw. Like I said, the bar was packed; I thought someone had to have seen him,” Kevin explained. Of course, upon surveying the patrons in that immediate area, Kevin found that none of them had seen the “Fedora Man.”

About a year later, one of the other bartenders, Tom Vaught, witnessed this same silhouetted figure in the same doorway. Tom  said the figure appeared to be leaning against the doorframe and staring out towards the bar. Just as with Kevin, once Tom reached the doorway to ask the gentleman to step away, he was gone. At first, Kevin told no one what he had seen. He was both shocked and somewhat relieved when Tom confided in him about having seen Fedora Man. They compared notes and arrived at the conclusion that they both had seen the same thing.

The Brooklyn Inn

During my visit to the Brooklyn Inn, I took several pictures of the doorway area from both sides. Although I did not capture any apparition on my digital camera, I did notice the unsettling coolness of the air at the doorway as compared to other areas of the former kitchen and the bar. I looked behind the bar near this doorway to see if there was a refrigerator or ice machine that would account for the cooler temperature, but I saw neither.

A couple of my photos do have some orbs in them, and as much as I would love to definitively call them paranormal  manifestations, I simply cannot. The ban on smoking in New York City bars has reduced the number of false positives inherent in ghost photography. However, at this site there is a dust factor to consider: because the main entrance door is opened and closed so frequently, airborne particulates are bound to appear in digital pictures.

I met with Lauren Macaulay, a bartender employed at the Brooklyn Inn for over nine years. She pointed out the gorgeous hand-carved woodwork which was imported from Germany and dates back to 1870. Lauren showed me how the panels on the lower half of the wall can be removed, revealing old wallpaper behind the wooden façade. I asked Lauren if she has ever seen Fedora Man, and she said, “No.” She added that on several occasions she has felt uncomfortable, as if she were being observed by some ghostly presence. This feeling had come over her on occasions when the bar was busy and also when it was quiet.

Kevin confirmed that he had experienced a similar feeling, but only after hours. He described how he would close the bar at 4 a.m., then curl up in the corner with a book and a beer, hoping to unwind a bit before heading home. Instead, he would be overcome with an unnerving feeling. Rather than relaxing and winding down from his shift, he became anxious. The feeling would become unbearable, and he would lock up and leave for the night.

I inspected the basement of the Brooklyn Inn and did not capture any EVP or temperature differences indicative of paranormal activity. Usually I do not like basements, but this one did not bother me. I felt more “energy” in the bar area and in the former kitchen area. I carefully reviewed all my audio recordings of my interviews to determine if any other voices chimed in with answers or thoughts. Since there was so much background noise (the bar had been open for business while I was there), I used software to visually review the recordings to document  the voice paths for Kevin, Lauren, and me, as well as the overall background noise.

Lauren mentioned one other strange thing that had happened while she was tending bar. On a slow night with very few customers, she noticed at the far end of the bar a full glass of Guinness sitting on the bar and a woman’s sweater on the bar stool. At first she thought nothing of it, figuring the other bartender on duty had served a customer who might now be in the ladies’ room. A while later, the glass was still full and the sweater was still on the bar stool, so Lauren asked the other bartender what happened to that patron. The other bartender thought Lauren was the one who had served up the stout. By closing time, the drink and the sweater were still there. No one ever came to claim the sweater, and the bartender poured the beer down the drain. “It still bugs me to this day,” Lauren said. “How did that beer get to the bar? Why was the sweater there? The place wasn’t crowded at all. I can account for each person there, but not that one.” At this point in our conversation, Lauren showed me her arms. Merely retelling the experience had brought out goosebumps.

Could Fedora Man be the inspector who certified the building for occupancy back in 1957? That would explain his hat and coat and his need to inspect the place. It is also interesting that he has appeared both before and after the renovation of the kitchen area. I suggest you visit the Brooklyn Inn, belly up to the bar—toward the end by the former kitchen—and have yourself a drink. Better yet, order two drinks in case the owner of the sweater returns and wants her Guinness.

Haunted Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery

Donna Stewart, author of Ghosthunting Oregon, tells the story of Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery.

Ghosthunting Oregon
Ghosthunting Oregon

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery sits between Stark Street to the north and Morrison Street to the south. It is the oldest cemetery in the Portland area and the largest one managed by regional government. It covers more than 30 acres and is home to more than 25,000 gravesites. As a result of negligent maintenance and record keeping over the years, those buried within 10,000 of the sites are unknown. Oftentimes no one documented the paupers when they were interred.

If there was ever a cemetery that was ripe for hauntings, it would be Lone Fir. It has unmarked graves of insane asylum patients, a notorious murderess, graves lost in the shuffle of combining other cemeteries with Lone Fir, and possibly even graves that have not yet been discovered.

The first official burial at Lone Fir was in 1846, when Emmon Stephens was buried on a plot of land that once belonged to his neighbor, a gentleman by the name of Seldon Murray. A decade later, Murray sold Stephens’s gravesite and the adjacent 10 acres to Colburn Barrell with the stipulation that his friend’s grave be tended to. Barrell agreed and kept his word. Not long after this transfer of property, the cemetery was born.

Barrell owned a steamboat on the Willamette River called the Gazelle. In 1856 the Gazelle exploded near Oregon City and killed Barrell’s business partner, Crawford Dobbins, as well as a passenger. The 10 acres that were purchased from Seldon Murray would now be known as Mount Crawford Cemetery, after Barrell’s deceased business partner, who was interred there along with the passenger.

By 1866, Barrell added 20 acres to the cemetery and sold burial plots for $10 each. Later that same year, Barrell realized that the upkeep of a cemetery was more work than he could handle, and he offered to sell Mount Crawford to the city of Portland, which quickly declined. So Barrell sold the cemetery to a group of private investors for a tidy sum of money instead. Those investors immediately renamed the cemetery Lone Fir in honor of the single, lone fir tree that stood at the location.

But the investors had no practical idea of how to maintain a cemetery. Lone Fir fell into a sad state of disrepair. By the late 1920s, the gravesites, thousands of them unknown, were hidden beneath prickly mounds of blackberry vines and other invasive species. A few stone markers were still there, but the majority of the wooden markers had succumbed to rot or one of the many fires that swept through the area.

In 1928, Multnomah County took over control and maintenance of Lone Fir and, in 1947, paved over a large part of the cemetery and built an office on the site. Sadly, the portion paved over was the burial site for many Chinese immigrants; these remains were removed the following year and are said to have been sent back to China. In 2004 more graves were discovered beneath the office site. It was not until 2007 that the office building was removed and more Chinese immigrant remains were found. That same year Lone Fir was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the cemetery is in the capable and caring hands of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, which has brought new interest and vitality to it and removed the stigma often associated with such places. This organization has made Lone Fir a fun learning experience for visitors of all ages with tours, concerts to raise funds for headstones that have been vandalized, plays, scavenger hunts, and even Scrabble tournaments. It also runs a family-friendly Halloween event called Graveyard Goodies that it describes as a “trick-or-treating party featuring some of Lone Fir Cemetery’s most prominent ghosts.” The ghosts are actors, and visitors of all ages converse with the prominent residents, doctors, and laborers whose names have been lost or were never known. There is no need to go door-to-door for candy because the “ghosts” hand it out—and they even give autographs.

Anyone who knows a bit about the city’s sordid history will surely recognize a name or two at the cemetery—and even if they do not, chances are they will want to research a few after visiting Lone Fir. People from every walk of life—the famous, the insane, the freed slaves, the leaders in science—can be found at Lone Fir.

A white obelisk honors Dr. James C. Hawthorne, who was in charge of an insane asylum in the 1800s. Dr. Hawthorne genuinely cared for his patients, even when their families had long forgotten about them. Many times a family would not bother to claim the body of the deceased, so Dr. Hawthorne buried more than 130 of his patients at Lone Fir at his own expense. It is not known exactly where the former patients are buried, but it is speculated that they were interred in what is called Block 14 in the southwest corner of the cemetery. Block 14 is also the site of unmarked graves of numerous Chinese railroad workers.

Another notable resident of Lone Fir is Charity Lamb, who murdered her husband in 1854. Nathaniel Lamb sat at the dinner table as he usually did, entertaining his children with animated stories, when Charity quietly stepped up behind him and brought an ax down against the back of his head. Twice. Even more amazing is that Nathaniel lived for two weeks before he gave up the ghost and succumbed to the ax wounds. Charity Lamb was the first woman to be convicted of murder in the Oregon Territory. She did not receive the death penalty but was instead sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor at the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1854. A decade later, she was transferred to Dr. Hawthorne’s insane asylum, where she died in 1879. And so she ended up near Dr. Hawthorne in life and in death.

Not much is known about Michael Mitchell, a dancer in Portland who froze to death on the steps of his boardinghouse. Some say he was intoxicated and not allowed inside while under the influence. But what a shock it must have been for other boarders to emerge from the house the next morning to find him frozen and stiff on the front stoop!

Not long ago, a gentleman and his friend decided to check out Lone Fir after dark. Walking along the roadside, the pair explored the cemetery, looking at names on the headstones, when one man looked up and saw a figure standing about 50 yards away from them. He called out to the figure but received no response. His first thought was that someone had seen them and was trying to frighten them. So they walked toward the figure, playing along with the spooky prank.

As they approached, the figure seemed to jerk its head upward to the sky, just staring, and they realized that they might not be dealing with a joke after all. The figure was obscured by the trees, but as they cautiously moved closer, they could make out the face of an elderly man with a long beard, wearing a white shirt and black pants. They shouted hello, and in response, the man violently jerked his head toward them, opened his mouth, and screamed. The men say the figure’s eyes were blank as it continued to stare at them before letting go with another loud scream. After seeing the man’s weird eyes and hearing the second scream, the two of them left the cemetery in a hurry and have never been back.

No one else I spoke with reported anything nearly so frightening, and most described seeing misty figures walking across the cemetery during the daytime as well as after dark. Visitors repeatedly see a younger woman in a red dress who seems to be happily strolling through the grounds, oblivious to anyone around her.

Lone Fir Pioneer CemeteryMy visit to Lone Fir was during the daytime and, due to rain, not as long as I would have liked. Unfortunately, I did not spot the woman in the red dress or the zombie-like specter that the men saw. Occasionally I felt as though I was being watched, but not to the point that it caused me any concern or fear. After all, I was a guest in the home of those who are buried there, and I expected to be watched.

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is beautiful, even in the rain. The stately obelisks and headstones with photographs are almost breathtaking. You can feel a connection with some who are interred there because many headstones contain more information than any I have ever seen.

One in particular that I was fascinated with was the headstone for James B. and Elizabeth Stephens, who were early pioneers in the area. James B. Stephens’s father was Emmon Stephens, the first man buried on the property.

Theirs is not your normal headstone. The images of Mr. and Mrs. Stephens are carved into the headstone in a realistic style. On the back of the marker is a stone that, to me, was touching.

“Here we lie by consent after 57 years, two months, two days sojourning on earth awaiting nature’s immutable laws to return us to the elements of which we were formed,” the inscription reads.

You can’t pass up the Soldier’s Monument, which memorializes the Indian Wars, Mexican-American War, American Civil War, and Spanish-American War. It was constructed in 1903 with $3,500 in community donations and is a beautiful, stately memorial that stands strong and proud to this day.

When people ask me if Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is haunted, I have to answer, “How could it not be?” With its tragedies and thousands of forgotten graves, lost ghosts likely wander the cemetery. And whether visitors want to participate in an event or hope to catch a glimpse of a ghost, they will leave with a new knowledge of the people who were essential in making Portland the city it is today, so it is definitely worth a trip. When you find yourself in Portland, you can stop by and judge for yourself.

Jacob’s Well—A Mysterious Place in Texas

Ghost Hunting San AntonioMichael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, takes us to the mysterious Jacob’s Well in Hays County.

Peering into the mysterious and ominously beautiful depths of Jacob’s Well, it is almost hard to believe that it is not haunted. Native Indians certainly held this natural artesian spring, which rises up through a limestone tube from the unmeasured depths of the underworld, to be sacred and inhabited by elemental spirits of the land. Beyond its appearance and hallowed nature, however, it is also the site of numerous drownings, and there are those who believe the ghosts of those who have perished at this spot continue to haunt it.

Jacob’s Well, the mouth of the spring that forms the headwaters of aptly named Cypress Creek northwest of the village of Wimberley, has traditionally served as a swimming hole for locals living on the adjacent properties. Today it is a natural area that is open to the public and still a popular swimming spot—albeit one that is closed for several months a year so that it can recover from the environmental damage inflicted by people who use it.

While the spring coming up through Jacob’s Well remains a significant source of water for people living in the area, its flow is by no means as profound as it once was. In 1924, for example, so much water surged up through the spring that it shot 6 feet into the air and its discharge was measured at 170 gallons per second. Today, however, as the result of development in the region and the heavy burden placed on the local aquifers, the flow of water from its depths manifests itself only as a faint ripple on the surface of the pool. It has even stopped flowing twice in the past couple of decades, the first times it has done so in recorded history, first in 2000 and then again in 2008. In an attempt to help protect the viability of the spring, Hays County purchased 50 acres of land around Jacob’s Well, and the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association subsequently transferred an additional 31 acres from the natural area to the county.

Jacob's WellAt its mouth, Jacob’s Well is 12 feet in diameter and descends vertically for about 30 feet, at which point it disappears into the darkness of the limestone caverns from which it issues. Thereafter it descends at an angle through a series of four silted chambers separated by narrow passageways to a depth of about 120 feet. The first two chambers are relatively safe and manageable for trained divers, but the next two are increasingly dangerous, with hazards that include loose debris in both and a dead end in one that can be confused with the exit tunnel and led one diver to become trapped and killed in 1983. After the fourth chamber, the cavern becomes a tunnel that continues for about 4,300 feet (e.g., more than 0.8 mile). At least one large secondary trunk splits off from this main passageway and extends for about another 1,000 feet.

Many divers have been drawn to explore and map these water-filled subterranean tunnels, but, because many of them do not have the necessary experience or equipment and the area is inherently hazardous, at least nine of them have died here since the 1970s.

“This is the horror story side of it,” Don Dibble, a dive shop owner with more than four decades of diving experience, said in a 2001 interview with writer Louie Bond. “Jacob’s Well definitely has a national reputation of being one of the most dangerous places to dive.”

“Dibble has pulled most of the victims’ remains out of Jacob’s Well himself, and he nearly lost his own life in a 1979 recovery dive,” Bond wrote. “Dibble was attempting to retrieve the remains of two young divers . . . when he became trapped, buried past his waist in the sliding gravel lining the bottom of the well’s third chamber. Just as he ran out of air, Dibble was rescued by other divers but suffered a ruptured stomach during his rapid, unconscious ascent.”

Dibble tried to block access to the entrance of the third chamber by constructing a grate made from rebar and quickset concrete in early 1980. Six months later, however, he discovered not just that the barrier had been removed but that the well-equipped people who did so had taken the time to taunt him.

“You can’t keep us out,” they wrote on a plastic board that they left behind for him. Perhaps not. But, in the case of some of them, inexperience, bad luck, the guardian spirits of the spring, or some combination of those things have ensured that they did not leave.

“We were not looking for human remains,” Dan Misiaszek of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team wrote in his account of a 2000 foray into the perilous fourth chamber. “I first noticed one femur bone, then a second, and as I descended into the keyhole-shaped tunnel, I could see a heavily corroded scuba tank and wetsuit. It was obvious we had stumbled upon some human remains . . . The tank was still attached to a [wet suit] with weight belt.” Nearby he found a human skull and, farther on, evidence pointing to the identity of the person who had suffered a terrifying death there, alone and in the impenetrable darkness that would have been imposed by the disturbed silt.

Ironically, it is the reduced force of the spring that has in recent times allowed people to dive into it; prior to the 1970s, the flow of water would have largely prevented them from doing so. People using makeshift gear attempted to descend into the spring in the 1930s, for example, but the deepest they were able to go was about 25 feet. None of them is reported to have been killed. It is almost as if a reduction of the striking site’s inherent power has led to a proportionate increase in its lethality.

“It’s a very mysterious place, a place of constant sensation,” said author Stephen Harrigan, who wrote an acclaimed 1984 novel titled Jacob’s Well that explores the death of a diver at the site.

I can only agree with Harrigan. Staring into Jacob’s Well when I visited the site in early September 2014 was like looking into an eye that was the window to the soul of the Texas Hill Country itself. After a point, it was hard not to blink or look away, and I half expected to see the shadows of the dead or elemental spirits of the land swimming up toward me from the primordial depths. That they reside there is something I do not doubt.

Spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern

In today’s post, Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, shares with us his experiences when visiting the spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern.

One spot that travelers might want to visit along the Devil’s Backbone—a haunted highway in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio—is the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, a watering hole located on the site of an old Indian campground and what was once a stagecoach stop. It is patronized by ranchers, bikers, and locals (including the late paranormal author Bert Wall). It’s even the subject of a song. The “Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern” was written by musician Todd Snider after he spent a summer in the 1980s performing there on Friday nights.

Devil's Backbon Tavern

Devil’s Backbone Tavern is not generally open at times when I am conducting paranormal investigation along the haunted highway, but I have stopped there for a beer and chatted about the history of the establishment and paranormal phenomena people have experienced there. Tavern staff, in fact, readily acknowledge that it is haunted and are generally happy to talk about its resident spirits, as I was pleased to discover when my wife and I stopped there with some friends in September 2014.

We ordered beers and then explored the small taproom, large dancehall, and primitive restroom facilities while chatting with the bartender, Lincoln, about some of the things she and others have experienced at the tavern. She pointed out a number of interesting details to us, including a protrusion shaped like a devil’s face in the rock of the wall above the fireplace, signs acknowledging the presence of ghosts, and some pictures of deceased patrons—one framed photo once flew off the wall and struck the wife of the person shown in it when she was complaining about him! She also said that the jukebox sometimes turns on by itself and, what’s more, starts playing songs people were just talking about.

Other staff and regulars are similarly open about things they have experienced at the tavern, which include hearing disembodied footsteps and female bar staff feeling invisible hands touching
their hair.

“It felt a little spooky last night,” bartender Melaine Walker posted to the “Devil’s Backbone Tavern (Ir)Regulars” Facebook page in November 2014. “I opened the doors because it was so muggy and the next thing I saw was this weird fog swirling around in the bar. Creepy when you’re all alone! It was swirling above the shuffleboard, came up behind me and over my head as I was cleaning it.” She went on to say she thought it might have been the spirit of her deceased father, who had frequented the tavern.

“I actually have a picture of that kind of fog,” Lila McCall responded about something she experienced at the tavern around 2008. “It’s a distinct human shape.”

There is no guarantee that you will experience any of these things if you visit the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, but there is a chance that you will—and, at the least, you can enjoy a cold one and chat about the ghosts whom many believe to be present there.

 

Touched by the Lady in Black

Kala Ambrose Shares with Us the Story of the Lady in Black at the Fayetteville, North Carolina, Women’s Club

The Fayetteville Women’s Club is located in the historic Sandford House on Heritage Square, which was built in 1797. Apparitions of a lady dressed in black have been reported in the house since 1900 and are still being reported by some of the ladies of the Women’s Club. The “lady in black” frequently appears on the stairs, and many believe her to be Margaret Sandford, who lived in the house in the 1800s. But others believe in a much different tale.

One evening at the Sandford House, a Confederate soldier was visiting his true love. During this visit, news arrived stating that Union soldiers from Sherman’s army were close to taking over Fayetteville. Hearing the news, the young soldier was desperate to get to his regiment in time to help protect the bridge over the Cape Fear River.

At Sandford House, the Lady in Black Awaits the Return of Her True Love

The Sandford House had a secret tunnel inside that led to the Cape Fear River. The soldier’s beloved led him to the tunnel entrance so that he could reach his men and help protect Fayetteville. She wished him a safe and speedy return; night after night, she waited for him to come back to her through the tunnel entrance. The battle raged on, and the young soldier was never seen again, nor was his body ever found.

When the ghost of this young lady is seen, she appears in a long black dress, which all the ladies wore at that time as the color of mourning for their lost husbands, sons, and lovers. Reports state that the lady in black is often seen walking up and down the stairs, anxiously waiting for her lover to return to her home. Many witnesses have reported seeing her in several locations throughout the home, and they often feel her hand on their shoulder as she reaches out to them from behind. The legend states that some of the ladies of the Fayetteville Women’s Club believe that she touches them gently to have them turn to face her so that she can see who is in her home. Perhaps she also hopes that they will have some news for her regarding the soldier’s return.

The lady in black is reported to be gentle and sad. She appears to be patiently waiting and grieving. Her state of dress indicates that she may have received news that all the men in the battle were confirmed dead, but since his body was never found, she has a glimmer of hope that he may have survived and against all odds will return to her one day.

About the author: Kala Ambrose shares her love of history, travel, and the spirit world in her books Spirits of New Orleans and Ghosthunting North Carolina. Her books are designed to explore the history of cities in an entertaining manner while sharing haunted stories and offering travel tips on how to best see the cities to shop, dine, stay, and visit the haunted sites. Visit her on her website Explore Your Spirit.

Is the Bagdad Theatre in Portland Haunted?

Donna Stewart, author of Ghosthunting Oregon, investigated the paranormal activities at Portland’s Bagdad Theatre. Here is her report. 

Donna Stewart ComedySportz Portland
Donna Stewart

Aside from its ghosts,  the Bagdad Theatre has other claims to fame. In 1975, Hollywood came to the Bagdad Theatre when Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, and Michael Douglas attended the Oregon premiere of the now-classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Universal Studios funded construction of the Bagdad Theatre in 1927 for $100,000, spending $25,000 of that on a state-of-the-art organ. It wasn’t meant to be just another theater on a corner in the Hawthorne District of Portland but instead a centerpiece for an entire neighborhood and something to be admired.

The Bagdad had no specific style but was a cross between Middle Eastern and Spanish styles and was proudly described as “an oasis of entertainment.” Most theaters in the area at that time leaned toward a Middle Eastern theme, and the Bagdad also played to that, dressing its ushers in Arab-style attire. People in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Portland waited on the edges of their seats for the January 14, 1927, grand opening, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Paranormal Activities Recorded at Portland’s Bagdad Theatre

The Bagdad Theatre has a long record of paranormal activity. People seem to know who the ghosts of the Bagdad are—at least most of them. There is speculation that those who die in theaters, whether by suicide, murder, or accident, often remain there because of an emotional attachment to the site, because they loved to act, or because they enjoyed the job they held there. Maybe some of them just continue on with what they did in life or keep an eye on how others now perform their jobs.

One story claims that a former stagehand—a young man who wanted to be on the stage instead of behind it—committed suicide in the Bagdad’s backstage area and can now often be seen crossing in front of the screen and heard whispering behind it. So, perhaps in death, he has achieved his dream of being a performer.

Another ghost seems concerned about the work done by employees. Papers are often shifted, cleaning supplies are moved or removed from a room altogether, and many workers have reported hearing footsteps following them during the night as they perform their duties. This is especially common in the kitchen, the swinging doors to which are often seen moving with no explanation, as if someone were leaning against them on the other side.

“Nothing bad,” one young woman told me. “It just feels like a mom or a grandma making sure I am doing it the right way. So I try to do it the right way.” A more discomforting type of ghost is often seen, heard, and felt in the downstairs restroom. Many claim to have heard someone walk in while they were in the restroom. They smelled men’s cologne, and they had the strong feeling that someone was watching them from over the top of the stall. And while no one has claimed to feel threatened, they do say it is an awkward sensation. The last place anyone would want to feel spied on is in a bathroom stall.

“All that came to mind was that old men’s cologne called Hai Karate; it was that tacky and pungent,” one woman who said she had had a similar experience and heard footsteps in the restroom told me with a laugh. “Did I feel like I was being watched? Not really. I mean, I couldn’t get over the bad cologne! And, seriously, if a dead guy wants to peek over a bathroom stall at me, all the more power to him. Who says ghosts can’t be playful now and then?” I agreed. And I loved her attitude toward ghosts and the paranormal.

Other random activities could be attributed to the paranormal but do not seem to be affiliated with any specific ghost. It could be that many spirits linger at the Bagdad. People claim to have seen a young female sitting in different seats in the theater, for example, never making a noise and only visible for a few seconds before fading away. There have even been reports of children playing in the aisles. But when people notice and mention the sounds, they cease immediately.

One thing is for certain—the history of the Bagdad is alive within the restored walls. It is still quite the sight to behold in Portland.

The Bagdad is now a first-run theater with a screen that is 50% larger than in most theaters. It boasts a 20,000-watt surround-sound system, a K Prime digital projector, and lush rocker seating. Everything is state-of-the-art at the Bagdad, including closed captioning and other options for the hearing impaired.

Like the theater itself, the concession stand has grown up and into the 21st century as well. Tried-and-true treats like popcorn, sodas, and candy remain, but visitors can also enjoy an expanded menu that includes items like fresh-baked pizza, a selection of tap beers, and an ever-growing menu of delicacies. The theater also has gluten-free selections, vegetarian selections, and a host of burgers and sandwiches. And you don’t need to wait in long lines because your food can be delivered right to your theater seat.

Ghosthunting Oregon
Ghosthunting Oregon

You will still get a grand glimpse of the Bagdad’s heyday as soon as you enter the theater, with its balconies, vintage lighting and decor, and massively high ceilings. It is a combination of luxury and history that will not disappoint. Enjoy a movie in comfort, have a microbrew or two if you are so inclined, and meet the ghosts that might be seated right next to you.

Donna Stewart’s book Ghosthunting Oregon covers more than 30 haunted places throughout the Beaver State, all of them open to the public.

Is Houdini’s Ghost Haunting McSorley’s Old Ale House?

L’Aura Hladik, author of Ghosthunting New York City, investigates McSorley’s Old Ale House. Does Houdini’s ghost create mayhem at the bar?

L’Aura Hladik

John McSorley arrived in New York City from Liverpool in 1851 on the ship Colonist. In 1854 he opened a saloon at 15 East Seventh Street, naming it The Old House at Home. It was a place for Irish immigrant workingmen to feel at home while enjoying a beer with some cheese and crackers. By 1908 a storm had ripped the original sign down, and it was replaced with a new sign bearing a new name: McSorley’s Old Time Ale House. Later on, the word Time was removed from the name, and to this day the establishment is called McSorley’s Old Ale House.

In 1910, at the age of 83, John McSorley died in his apartment above the bar. His son Bill took over the business. By 1936, two years before his death, Bill sold the bar to its first non-McSorley owner, Daniel O’Connell. Only a year later, in 1939, O’Connell died, leaving the bar to his daughter, Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan. Dorothy promised her father she would not allow women in the bar, and she kept that promise. She appointed her husband, Harry Kirwan, as the manager. Dorothy entered the bar only on Sundays, after closing time. Eventually, ownership was passed along to the Kirwans’ son, Danny.

The next owner of McSorley’s was Matthew Maher. He and Harry Kirwin had met by chance when Harry was visiting Ireland in 1964. Harry’s car broke down, and along came Matthew Maher to save the day. In return, Harry promised Maher a job if he ever came to New York City. Later that year, Matthew Maher began his employment at McSorley’s as a waiter and bartender. Maher was promoted to night manager of the bar, and in 1977 he purchased the bar from Danny Kirwan.

McSorley’s has been the subject of a stage play, of poetry by e.e. cummings, and of artwork by John Sloan. Its list of notable guests ranges from Abraham Lincoln to Woody Guthrie and John Lennon. The very chair Lincoln sat in is up above the bar, in fact; a few feet away hangs one of the original “Wanted” posters for John Wilkes Booth. Amazingly, the first time women were allowed in McSorley’s was in 1969, following a lawsuit, although a ladies’ restroom was not installed until 1990. Today, McSorley’s is the fourth oldest bar in New York City. (The oldest is the Bridge Café, another entry in this book; it is believed to have opened in 1794.)

My mother and I visited McSorley’s Ale House in January 2010. The bar is within walking distance of Cooper University, which I am sure the students there greatly appreciate. The swinging wooden doors with their oval windows are worn along the edges from 156 years of use. Sawdust is strewn over the floor, and a coal-burning potbellied stove keeps the place warm and inviting.

I met with a bartender known as Pepe who has bartended at McSorley’s since 1973. At first I thought it odd to see a black plastic garbage bag suspended at his waist under his apron, but I soon realized how much sense it made as waterproofing, or beer proofing, for his trousers. Pepe’s real name is Steven Zwaryczuk. He’s not fazed by the reports of ghosts and other paranormal activity at McSorley’s. In fact, he laughingly pointed out two regular customers, Brian and Mark, as the most paranormal things to happen to him. Brian has been coming to McSorley’s since the early 1980s, when he was in the eighth grade. Back then, he said, he was the same height as he is now and weighed only about 20 pounds less. Mark was at the end of the bar where Mini, the cat, was curled up in the corner. I asked Pepe, “Was there ever a time when you were completely ‘creeped out’ by being here?” Without missing a beat, he pointed to Brian and replied: “Nothing has ever creeped me out, except him!”

Mark chimed in that a friend of his who once rented the apartment above the bar would occasionally hear tables and chairs moving, as well as distant voices, long after the bar was closed for the night. Pepe was kind enough to bring owner Matthew Maher down to the bar so I could interview him. Although Matthew has been living and working in New York City since 1964, he’s maintained a sweet Irish brogue. I asked him, “Have you had any ghostly experiences while working here?” and he chuckled and said, “Have ya got a year to spare?” Well, that certainly got my attention. Maher told me that McSorley’s is famous for always having at least one feline “on staff” at the bar. One night after closing, Maher was cleaning the kitchen. He returned to the bar area and saw the cat at the end of the bar purring and nuzzling up against an unseen hand that was petting it. According to Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg, tour guide for Ghosts of New York, whenever a cat is seen in the window of McSorley’s, Harry Houdini is present as the spirit inside the cat. Why Houdini, you ask? Dr. Schoenberg claims that the set of handcuffs secured to the footrail of the bar once belonged to Houdini.

Maher also pointed out the print depicting McSorley’s that hangs behind the bar. He said that when a local artist presented the print to him, Maher immediately commented, “Very nice! You even included one of the McSorley’s cats.” The artist, appearing confused, stood back and carefully examined the print. He told Maher that he never painted the cat and had no idea how it ended up in the finished print. The cat’s body is facing the entrance of McSorley’s, but its head is turned, looking over its shoulder toward the rear of the dining area. According to Ted Andrews in his book Animal Speak, cats represent mystery, magic, independence, and nighttime. In ancient Egypt, the cat was revered and usually represented the goddess Bast. Cats have been associated with witches as their “familiars.” In this respect, it is believed that the cat embodies the spirit of a former witch who crossed the line and did something worthy of punishment. That punishment is to incarnate as a cat and serve the needs of another witch for nine lives before being allowed to incarnate once more as a human. It’s interesting to note that cats are typically feminine in their energies and connections. McSorley’s did not allow women in the bar until 1970, yet the cats have been present all along.

Brian pointed out to me a dust-covered gas lamp that hangs in McSorley’s. On it are several turkey wishbones, also covered with dust. McSorley’s tradition calls for a soldier leaving for war to place a wishbone on the lamp, then remove it when he returns. Brian thinks this tradition started with World War I; other sources claim it started with the Civil War. Other than a soldier leaving or reclaiming his wishbone, no one is allowed to touch the gas lamp, not even to clean it. Brian said that the dusty wishbones still on the lamp serve as a memorial of sorts for the soldiers who placed them there before leaving for war and never returned.

I doubt Houdini is hanging around McSorley’s as a cat. However, the disembodied noises, the unseen admirer seen petting the cat on the bar, and the lengthy history of notable guests at the establishment certainly lend credence to assertions that the place is haunted. Personally, I did not capture any evidence of paranormal happenings. Rather, my mother and I were captured by the mouthwatering aroma of the burgers that landed on the table by the front window for a young couple having lunch. The motto of McSorley’s is “Be Good or Be Gone.” Apparently, someone is being good for an indefinite amount of time, as they’re not yet gone. Keep this in mind if you visit McSorley’s, and order an extra round of “light & dark” beer when you belly up to the bar.

Haunted Buffalo Trace Distillery

Patti Starr, author of Ghosthunting Kentucky,  investigates the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Join her on her adventure!

Patti Starr
Patti Starr

When I first got the call from Theresa, a former employee at Buffalo Trace, inviting us to investigate the distillery, I remembered that I had a student, Bobbie Vereeke, whose husband also worked there. Bobbie told me that her husband knew about the ghosts that haunt several of the buildings on the property. While she was a student in my ghosthunter course, Bobbie shared with me her unusual talent for automatic writing, in which a spirit takes control of her hand and writes out messages. I knew she would be a great asset to the investigation because she used that method to communicate with the spirits.

I organized a group of 40 ghosthunters from my organization to investigate the distillery. When we arrived on the property, we drove through the entrance into a beautiful, natural, and rustic setting. It wasn’t hard to imagine herds of buffalos grazing along the traces that lay before us as we circled around to the back of the original main house to the company parking lot below.

When we met our tour guide, she asked us if we wanted to know the history first or did we want to wait until after the investigation. I like to go into an investigation without being briefed about the place beforehand so that if a name or event is revealed to us, we will not be influenced by it until it is later validated through reliable sources. We opted not to get the history until after our investigation and went forth with our ghosthunt.

The guide led us up to the main house, called Stony Point Mansion, because that was where so many of the employees had experienced unexplainable and illogical activity. With our cameras, camcorders, audio recorders, and EMF meters in hand, we started our investigation, moving down the hall towards the back of the house. My EMF meter started to register a disturbance by beeping and flashing a red light. I wanted to electric dowse with the EMF meter, so I asked the invisible entity to stop making the meter go off by backing away. The meter came to an abrupt stop. I thanked the spirit and asked it if it would answer my questions by making the meter beep for “yes” and remain quiet for “no.” It beeped once to agree. This is a method I call electric dowsing. The tour guide was delighted to see this result. I asked if the spirit was a female, and the meter remained silent.

I asked if it was a male, and the meter immediately beeped twice for “yes.” Several gasps came from the group. I continued to ask yes and no questions in order to find out as much as I could about this personality that was coming through for us. When the session was over, I asked our guide if she had any idea who we might be communicating with. She replied, “All of the information that was validated through the meter matches that of a former president by the name of Colonel Blanton. When Blanton was 16 years old, he started to work at the distillery; by the time he was 24, he became president of the whiskey plant. His leadership allowed the company to survive the Great Depression, the Great Flood of 1937, and World War II. His love for people and the company inspired him to build a clubhouse so that employees could have a place for social and community functions. All the employees wanted to work hard and please Colonel Blanton.”

We left the first floor of the mansion and descended into the basement to see what else our instruments would reveal. This time, Bobbie Vereeke felt a strange urge to go into one of the back offices. She sat down at the desk with pen and pad and went into a mild trance so she could give in to the movement of her hand. Soon the writing began. It was amazing to see the words start to appear across her pad. After the session was over, she revealed that she had been in communications with a lady named Anna, a former employee of Colonel Blanton. She wanted to make sure all was well at the distillery. Her job had been to keep the place clean, “spic-and-span” were the words Bobbie wrote, and to keep the Colonel happy. Anna’s words read, “I worked here. I don’t have anywhere else to go. He was a great man, and I just want to please him.”

We left the basement and headed for another building, known as the Riverside house, opposite the boiler room. This house was built in 1792 and is the oldest recorded building still standing in Franklin County. The house is being renovated, but, at the time of our investigation, it was in a deteriorated condition. We were not allowed to go inside for fear of injury, so we stood at the doorway and took pictures of the shabby structure’s interior.

As we backed away from the house, I looked up and saw a face looking down at us from the second floor. I pointed my camera and took a shot but was not able to capture the face in the photo. Another member of my group took a shot and got a faint outline that appeared to be someone looking back at us. It was a good piece of evidence in the camera, but it just didn’t show up once we printed it out on paper.

It has been more than eight years since I did that investigation at Buffalo Trace, so I thought I would call to see if any of the employees were still experiencing any ghostly activity. After introducing myself and explaining the reason for my call, I was routed to Angela Traver, the public relations manager. Angela was attentive; once I asked her if she had experienced any type of paranormal activity, she was gracious enough to share her story with me.

Angela’s office is located in the sunroom of Stony Point Mansion. It was a wintry morning, still dark, when she arrived at her office. Soon after entering the room, she sat her computer case on the floor beside her desk so that she could remove her coat and scarf. As she bent down, she saw a tall, dark figure pass by on her right side. She jerked round and quickly reached for the light switch to see who else was in the room. Once the light was turned on, she could see that the room lay quiet before her with no sign of a dark figure. She recalled, “Knowing that Colonel Blanton was a tall thin man, and the fact that he died in this same room, made me think that maybe he was still making  his rounds in the manor. I was okay with that thought and proceeded to get ready for the day’s business.”

On the last leg of our investigation, we entered the Buffalo Trace Gift Shop. The sales staff gathered around to tell us about the weird experiences they had had while working in the shop. Most of them agreed that the most common occurrence was the sound of footsteps above the gift shop. It sounded as if three or four men were walking around wearing heavy boots. The area above the shop was a storage space. No one was assigned to that area unless they were adding more items to storage. Sometimes, the employees would hear the sounds of objects being dragged across the floor. They said that sometimes it sounded as if the items in storage were being rearranged, even though there was no one on the second floor at that time.

Our group was anxious to get started upstairs. As we ascended the stairs, we were met with a blanket of hot, still air that took my  breath away. It was roasting up there. I didn’t know how long we could last in such heat, so we started immediately gathering evidence. Bobbie held her notebook in her hand, and I took pictures as I recorded my requests of the spirits to speak. My husband, Chuck, took a picture of me just as I asked the spirits to come to me, and he captured the image of a spirit orb hovering over me. I glanced over at Bobbie and saw that she was starting to write. I went over to where she was standing and looked over her shoulder to see what information she was getting. It was hard to make out some of the words, but she later translated them for us. This is what she wrote: “Must be careful here. We know that it is hot, but you need to spend time . . . .” and the message stopped. Then it started back up again: “Four of us are here for work. The big man came to see us daily. He wants to make sure things are done right.” There was another break in the writing and then she continued again: “John, Amos, Fred, and Ralph.” Another pause: “There are secrets in this building. You can find them, but you must look carefully. I found them long ago and protected them. The stone walls are built to hide . . . .” There, the communication stopped.

By this time most of us were about to pass out from the heat. I knew it would not be good for any of us to remain there any longer, so we concluded our investigation and returned to the gift shop below. It was a super experience for all of us. The best part was hearing all the stories and experiences of the employees that helped validate the data that we collected while investigating the distillery.

Colonel Blanton passed away in 1959, after spending more than 55 years doing what he loved best, in the home he loved the most. During his time at the distillery, he went from being office boy to company president, and he was credited with preserving and enhancing one of Kentucky’s historic landmarks. It seems as though the Colonel has made Buffalo Trace Distillery a paranormal landmark as well.

The Story of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney

In today’s post, Michael J. Varhola, coauthor of Ghosthunting Maryland, shares with us the story of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney.

Coast Cutter TaneyInnumerable vessels have passed through Baltimore harbor over the more than three centuries that the city has served as one of the most important ports in North America. Some of these have come to stay for good and, like historic buildings, have been restored and made ready for visitors at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Also like historic buildings, a great many of them—all storied vessels and in several cases veterans of combat in foreign seas or other harrowing action—have ghost stories associated with them. And many of them, even those that are not “officially” occupied by ghosts, participate in “haunted ship” events around Halloween.

Launched in 1936, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney is notable as being the last ship afloat that fought at Pearl Harbor during the surprise Japanese attack on Hawaii in 1941. That alone would warrant it having a few ghosts aboard, but its period of active service continued for many more years, and the vessel was not decommissioned until 1986. USCGC Taney also served as a command ship at the Battle of Okinawa and as a fleet escort in the Atlantic and Mediterranean during World War II, interdicted enemy supplies during the Vietnam War, patrolled in support of drug interdiction and fisheries protection, and joined in the search for lost aviator Amelia Earhart.

In chatting with people who work around the Inner Harbor, we learned that after USS Constellation, USCGC Taney is the local vessel with the greatest reputation for being haunted. Many staff of the vessel and visitors alike—especially those participating in overnight programs—have reported constantly  catching movement out of the corners of their eyes when aboard and seeing spectral forms gliding across its decks and past its open hatchways.