Tag Archives: paranormal

Cathedral Park in Portland Haunted by Stories of Ghostly Screams

Donna Stewart, author of Ghosthunting Oregon, researched the paranormal activity at Cathedral Park. Here is her report.

Today, Cathedral Park in north Portland provides a breathtaking view of the towering St. Johns Bridge, nature, and the east shore of the Willamette River. Families often picnic there on sunny afternoons, the occasional wedding is held beneath the statuesque bridge, and the smell of trees and wildflowers adds to the picture-perfect location. You could spend hours there, taking pictures and contemplating how little the scene has changed since the construction of the bridge in 1931. But times have changed, and most of the people who walked through Cathedral Park have faded into the past and are all but forgotten. All, perhaps, except for 15-year-old Thelma Taylor, who also thought the park was beautiful—until August 5, 1949. Since that date, the park has been haunted by stories of ghostly screams and shadowy figures.

Thelma was a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Portland in the late 1940s. Thelma was not an unattractive girl but was teased in school for being skinny, among other things, and she did not have many friends. One can see Thelma sitting slightly away from the rest of her class at the end of the bottom row of her elementary school graduation picture, as if she did not belong with the rest of the children. That feeling of not quite fitting in followed Thelma throughout her short life, even as she grew into a beautiful young woman with dark hair and a brilliant, contagious smile.

Thelma was devoted to her family and did what she could to help them financially during her months away from school. In the summer of 1949, she took a job picking beans at a farm in nearby Hillsboro. She would rouse herself early in the morning and make her way to Cathedral Park, where a bus would stop to pick up those willing to spend the day working on the farm and then drop them back at the same spot late in the afternoon or early evening. But on August 5, Thelma never made it onto that bus.

There are many versions of what happened that morning, and it takes some time and research to separate truth from exaggeration. I have sifted through the myths and the ghost stories, and what follows is the truth as it appears in documents and legal records. But I must warn you that the facts are sometimes more frightening that the ghost stories. We can alter tales to fit our needs and situations, but the truth never changes.

Despite her best intentions, Thelma Taylor did not make it onto the bus that humid summer morning in 1949, and it departed without her because she was nowhere to be seen. She had been approached by a 22-year-old ex-convict named Morris Leland. To this day, no one knows what Leland said or did to entice Thelma into following him away from the bus stop to the banks of the Willamette River beneath the St. Johns Bridge; it is one of the few questions that Morris Leland did not answer in the months and years to come. We know that Leland made sexual advances toward Thelma and that she vehemently refused them. And here is where the fine line between fact and fiction gets muddied. . . .

Thelma was not raped. Morris Leland’s own words were, “I got scared because she was a good girl and would make trouble with the police.” The rape scenario is what most people read about on ghost hunter websites, but the fact is that it simply did not happen. And it is important to me that we allow Thelma to maintain that small bit of her dignity.

Leland held Thelma near the riverbank throughout the night, well hidden in an area of thick underbrush. But when morning came and Thelma could hear the workers switching cars on a nearby railroad track, her first instinct was to scream for help. It was then, to avoid detection and certain arrest, that Leland struck Thelma in the head repeatedly with a steel bar. And then, to make sure she could not possibly scream for help again, he stabbed her, silencing her forever on that bank nearly eight blocks from Cathedral Park.

Six days later, the Thursday, August 11, edition of the Reading Eagle, a Portland newspaper, reported that Morris Leland was arrested by Sergeant Vern Nicholson on suspicion of driving a stolen car and immediately blurted out a confession to the murder that police did not even suspect at the time.

The police knew that Thelma Taylor, a 15-year-old farm worker, had been reported missing the previous Saturday by her parents when she did not return home. But there had been no evidence, no hint that she could have met with such a horrible demise.

Morris Leland’s trial began on October 4, 1950, and he entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. But after a 4-month trial, Leland was found guilty of the murder and, on February 7, 1951, was sentenced to death. Morris Leland was led to the gas chamber where his sentence was carried out in January 1953.

To those who know the story of Thelma Taylor, the Cathedral Park area is a place where innocence lived and died, where an evil man claimed a life and spent his last days of freedom.

I have visited Cathedral Park on many occasions. During the day it is a beautiful area, surrounded by trees, the sound of the Willamette River, children laughing, and couples walking their dogs. If you stop to ask people if they know of Thelma Taylor, most locals tell you yes, and even many visitors know her story. And it is easy to talk about during the daytime. But when darkness falls, the feeling in the park changes. Perhaps this is because I know about Thelma. Or, perhaps, the stories of spectral screams and ghostly shadows hold some truth to them.

Over the decades, many people have reported hearing a young girl’s voice calling, “Help! Somebody help me, please!” Cathedral Park is a hangout after dark for the younger genera- tion who want to party, have a few beers, and the like, so many of those stories must be questioned, if only because alcohol is involved. But it is not only inebriated young people who have reported the ghostly voices and apparitions that they say dart quickly around the place.

Many paranormal researchers say that the area surrounding Cathedral Park has been primed for a haunting, and the flowing water of the river and the limestone blocks used to build St. Johns Bridge all are associated with a “residual haunting.” Residual haunting is a new term made popular by paranormal television for an old parapsychological theory proposed in the 1970s called the Stone Tape theory. This theory speculates that inanimate materials, such as stone, can absorb energy from the living, much as a tape recorder absorbs the voice of the living, especially during episodes of high tension, anxiety, and fear. Once this energy is stored, it can also be released, resulting in the display, or replay, of the recorded events.

“We have to postulate that some very emotional scene has somehow become registered on the environment, almost like a sort of psychic video has been created,” late Scottish paranormal researcher Archie Roy was quoted as saying about Stone Tape theory in the 2011 book Ghosts by Malcolm Day. “Someone who comes along who is sensitive enough acts as a sort of psychic video player and will actually play that ‘tape’ and see the figures or perhaps even hear the voices.”

Leland threw the steel pipe and the knife into the river, hoping that the current would carry them far away; he wiped his fingerprints from Thelma’s lunch pail, gathered his cigarette butts, and buried Thelma in a shallow grave underneath a pile of driftwood on the riverbank.

Color photos of Cathedral Park courtesy of Bill Reynolds from Lake Oswego, Oregon (Cathedral Park Portland Oregon) [CC BY 2.0], 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.

Ghosts of the Eastland

Ghosthunting Illinois

In today’s post, John Kachuba, author of Ghosthunting Illinois, tells us about the 1915 sinking of the Eastland in the Chicago River.

One of the most tragic maritime disasters  in U.S. history did not occur on the storm-tossed seas of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, nor was it the result of monstrous icebergs, killer storms, or enemy torpedoes. No, there was nothing dramatic in the death of the steamer Eastland except that it slowly rolled onto its side on the Chicago River, in the heart of that city, in plain view of thousands of people, killing at least 844 passengers and wiping out 22 entire families. The disaster occurred in water no more than 20 feet deep and only a few feet away from dry land.

Today, these unfortunate victims haunt the stretch of the Chicago River between the Clark and La Salle Street bridges. Witnesses have seen faces peering up at them from the watery depths of the river and have heard unexplainable screams and cries emanating from it. And it could be that the ghosts of the Eastland roam even farther into the city.

Saturday, July 24, 1915, dawned as a partly cloudy day in Chicago. The Eastland was one of the newer ships gathered at the docks that day. Rumors had circulated among the steamship lines that the Eastland was top-heavy and less than stable, but those thoughts were disregarded as passengers began to stream aboard at 6:40 a.m. Only 1 minute later, the ship began to list starboard, toward the docks.

EastlandAs more passengers crowded onboard, the Eastland began to list to the port side, where many people had congregated to watch the other ships boarding. The ship continued to sway back and forth, some of the passengers joking about it as loose objects slid along the deck. Water began entering the Eastland on the lower port side. The gangplank had been removed from the overcrowded ship, which now held more than 2,500 passengers. The crew began to worry and started to move some of the passengers to the starboard side. Water continued to enter the ship from below.

Passengers below deck began climbing out of gangways and windows on the starboard side as the ship continued to lean toward port. The passengers panicked. The ship continued to list dangerously to port. Before the eyes of hundreds of horrified spectators on nearby streets and docks, the Eastland slowly rolled over onto its port side.

Many passengers were pitched into the Chicago River, where, encumbered by suits and long dresses, they were pulled below the water. Many more were trapped below, where they drowned. Some were killed by the thick smoke that filled the ship when some of its machinery exploded. Lucky survivors managed to climb onto the hull of the ship, while others were pulled from the river by rescuers in boats and even by onlookers who jumped into the water to save the floundering passengers. Others struggled to stay afloat and clung to whatever floating debris they could find.

Policemen, firemen, and other rescuers climbed onto the hull of the Eastland, where they cut holes in the metal plate to bring up the survivors and the dead. Screams echoed all around them from the river and those trapped below deck. They worked frantically to free those inside, but the screams gradually diminished even as they worked. By 8 a.m. all the survivors had been rescued, but 844 bodies were pulled from the ship and the river. The Second Regiment Armory on Washington Boulevard was pressed into service as a temporary morgue.

The original armory building was incorporated into what became Harpo Studios, which produced the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is said that the ghosts of the Eastland victims are not at peace in the building. According to Chicago ghosthunter Dale Kaczmarek, one common apparition is the Lady in Gray, the shadowy figure of a woman in a long, flowing dress and ornate hat who is seen drifting through the halls. Supposedly, her image has even been captured on the building’s security monitors. In addition to the Lady in Gray, studio employees and security guards have reported hearing crying, the laughter of children, and old-time music. The footsteps of crowds of invisible people are heard going up and down the lobby staircase, accompanied by opening and slamming doors.

Another location that ghosts of the Eastland are rumored to haunt is Excalibur, a nightclub housed in the Romanesque-style brick building originally constructed for the Chicago Historical Society in 1892. Some people think that Eastland victims were also brought to the Historical Society, as well as the armory.

In 1997, a segment of the television show Sightings was filmed at Excalibur, featuring host Tim White, a local ghosthunter, and a psychic. The psychic heard a child’s voice say, “Stop and watch me.” Excalibur employees have heard small voices, like children, crying and have seen a little girl looking over the railing in the club’s Dome Room. Adult figures have been seen in the club, as well, including a white-tuxedoed figure and a bluish-colored shape that floats up the stairs.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Spotlight on Michigan’s Ada Witch

Helen Pattskyn, author of Ghosthunting Michigan, shares with us the tale of Michigan’s
Ada Witch.

Ghosthunting Michigan
Ghosthunting Michigan

The Ada Witch is perhaps one of western Michigan’s most famous ghosts. It is unclear how the title “witch” got attached to her name—or even what her true name might be—but that’s what locals call the adulterous specter who is believed to haunt Findlay Cemetery and Honeycreek Road in Ada Township. Ada is a small community, located a little more than 10 miles east of Grand Rapids and first settled in 1821. It was in those early years that many believe the so-called “witch” met her tragic end, an end she may have brought upon herself.

One website dedicated exclusively to the legend of the Ada Witch claims that she died in the year 1868. It is impossible to verify that date, however, as neither the woman’s name nor the actual whereabouts of her grave are known for certain. We can only speculate.

The story says that the woman known as the Ada Witch was having an extramarital affair and would meet secretly with her lover in the marshes outside of town, near what is now Honeycreek Road. When her husband became suspicious of her late-night comings and goings, he followed her and caught her in the arms of her lover. In a jealous rage, the husband murdered first his wife and then the other man. During the struggle with his wife’s lover, the husband was also fatally wounded and died a short while later. Perhaps that’s why some people report not only seeing a mysterious ghostly woman wandering the area, but also a pair of ghostly men—maybe the men are the Ada Witch’s husband and her lover.

The woman is believed to be buried in Findlay Cemetery, but nothing is noted in the stories about where either of the two men might have been interred. Although no one can prove that the gravestone is hers, locals believe that a broken old headstone near the back of Findlay Cemetery is that of the legendary Ada Witch. Visitors often light candles or leave trinkets for her there.

Helen PattskynSeveral paranormal investigators have been to the cemetery and believe that it is indeed haunted. There is evidence in the form of orb photos and other unusual phenomena that have been caught on film and on digital cameras. Of course, just as there are many people who believe the story is true, there are just as many who think the Ada Witch is little more than an urban legend.

In her book Ghosthunting Michigan, author Helen Pattskyn explores 30 of the scariest spots in the Wolverine State, all of which are open to the public—so you can test your own ghosthunting skills, if you dare.

Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage Beast

Do Spirits Haunt Cincinnati Music Hall ?

Cincinnati Music HallIf music can, indeed, calm the hearts of wild animals, might it not also calm the restless spirits of those who have died and wander the earth as ghosts? John Kachuba, author of Ghosthunting Ohio cannot think of any better place to find the answer to that question than at Cincinnati Music Hall.

Built in 1878, the redbrick Victorian Gothic structure rises majestically on the corner of 14th and Elm streets. Central Parkway runs parallel to the rear of the building now, but when Music Hall first opened its doors, that thoroughfare was actually the Miami Canal. Designed by a local architectural firm, the edifice is eccentric, with its garrets, turrets, gables, insets, nooks, broken surfaces and planes, and ornate rose window. Some witty Cincinnatians have dubbed the style “Sauerbraten Byzantine.”

The building is located upon the site where the tin-roofed wooden Sangerhalle once stood, a hall built by a German immigrant singing society, the Saengerbund, for its May Festivals. But there is also a more somber atmosphere associated with other former occupants of the site. The present Music Hall rests upon the foundations of the 1844 Orphan Asylum. Before that, it was the Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum with its Pest House, a section for the indigent with contagious diseases. A potter’s field also occupied the site, the final resting place for suicides and strangers, the indigent and homeless of Cincinnati, as well as those who died in the Pest House. These unfortunates were buried without the benefit of coffins; they were simply bundled up and dropped into the earth. Over the years, there have been many renovations to Music Hall and human bones have often been unearthed during construction.

Cincinnati Music HallThe famous Cincinnati journalist Lafcadio Hearn wrote about one such discovery in the October 22, 1876, edition of the Cincinnati Commercial:

“This rich yellow soil, fat with the human flesh and bone and brain it has devoured, is being disemboweled by a hundred spades and forced to exhibit its ghastly secrets to the sun…you will behold small Golgothas—mingled with piles of skulls, loose vertebrae, fibulas, tibias and the great curving bones of the thigh…All are yellow, like the cannibal clay which denuded them of their fleshly masks…Bone after bone…is turned over with a scientific application of kicks…dirty fingers are poked into empty eyesockets…ribs crack in pitiful remonstrance to reckless feet; and tobacco juice is carelessly squirted among the decaying skulls…by night there come medical students to steal the poor skulls.”

Hearn reported that the dead began to make themselves known to the living just shortly after these macabre discoveries were made. Shadowy figures roamed the halls at night, and ghostly dancers were seen in the ballroom on the second floor. One exhibitor at a business fair in Music Hall saw a young, pale woman in old-fashioned clothing standing by his booth. As he approached her, he felt a sudden rush of cold air as the figure became transparent then disappeared. Hearn wrote: “The tall woman had been sepulchered under the yellow clay below the planking upon which he stood; and the worms had formed the wedding-rings of Death about her fingers half a century before.”

Half a dozen skeletons were unearthed by workers in 1927, placed in a cement crypt and reburied, only to be discovered again during a renovation in 1969. The bones were placed inside another concrete box and reburied—and uncovered in 1988 for the third time when the shaft for the concert hall’s freight elevator was deepened. It seems the dead at Music Hall simply cannot rest in peace. Pieces, yes, but peace? No.

When my wife, Mary, and I lived in the Cincinnati area, we attended several performances of various kinds at Music Hall, but that was before we had ever heard the ghost stories, and we had never been behind the scenes. We were lucky enough, however, on a recent Valentine’s Day, to have a tour of Music Hall led by Marie Gallagher, a volunteer there for 25 years. It was a public tour, and we were joined by approximately two dozen people who were interested in seeing the grand old building. We gathered in the Main Foyer, with its checkerboard marble floor and graceful columns.

Cincinnati Music HallMarie knew every nook and cranny of Music Hall and regaled us with tales and anecdotes about some of the famous people who had performed there—John Philip Sousa, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Jascha Heifitz, Maria Callas, Andres Segovia, Luciano Pavarotti, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan; the list is endless.

The heart and soul of Music Hall is the 3,630-seat Springer Auditorium. Marie led us up into the gallery where we could look down at the burgundy colored seats and the stage. Even though larger than most concert halls, the acoustics in Springer Auditorium are said to be the best in the country, if not the world. Ed Vignale, Jr., Music Hall’s facilities engineer, told me in a later conversation that a person standing in the gallery of the empty auditorium could hear someone speaking from behind the stage as though he or she were only 20 feet away from the listener. Could it be that such perfect acoustics are the explanation for some of the ghostly sounds heard at Music Hall?

“I hear them when I’m on duty alone at night,” says Kitty Love, who has been part of the private police force at Music Hall for 21 years. “Footsteps, doors slamming, and music playing, and I know I was the only one in the building.”

Kitty has heard the footsteps and slamming doors in the stage area of Springer Auditorium and in other parts of the building’s south side, the side that was built over the cemetery.

As our tour group stood in the gallery of the auditorium, gazing out at the magnificent 1,500-pound crystal chandelier suspended from the dome ceiling and its Arthur Thompson oil painting, “Allegory of the Arts,” I thought of what Kitty had said and took a few pictures with my digital camera. (Later, when I download the images to my computer, I will find three beautiful but unexplainable orbs floating in the otherwise clear air above the gallery.)

Marie continued to lead us on the tour—the enormous backstage area with its vertiginous catwalks barely distinguishable in the darkness high above us, the massive workshop where stage sets and props are built, the costume room with its many rows of outfits of every description hung around and above us like an enormous dry cleaner, the dressing rooms that resembled high school locker rooms, and the more luxuriously appointed dressing rooms of the stars.

When the tour concluded back in the Main Foyer, Marie took us aside privately and brought us back into an office area. In this section was a freight elevator, the very elevator beneath which a small casket of bones from the old cemetery was uncovered.

“I haven’t seen or heard anything unusual in Music Hall and I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Marie, “but this is where a security guard said he heard strange music. He was so impressed by what he heard, he wrote it all down.”

She handed me a file folder containing a photocopy of security guard John G. Engst’s handwritten account of what he experienced on February 22, 1987. In it he tells how he was escorting three caterers from a party held in Music Hall’s Corbett Tower down to the first floor in the elevator. It was about 12:30 a.m. As they descended, the three women asked him if he heard music. He said he did not, but they asked him again when they reached the first floor and this time he said he had heard it. The women told John they had heard the same music when they went up to Corbett Tower a few hours earlier but didn’t think much of it then.

After the women loaded their truck and drove away, John went back to the elevator. The music, sounding something like a music box, continued to play a tune that John thought he recognized as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” John stopped the elevator at different levels to see if the music would still be audible. It was. He wrote, “It was as beautiful as ever, but I’m getting more bewildered.”

Author John Kachuba
Author John Kachuba

John checked all the areas outside the elevator at the various levels but could not find any source for the music. He was so frightened and awed by his experiences that he wrote, “For nearly two weeks I could not approach the elevator shaft on the first floor late at night without my whole body tingling.”

In the final analysis, however, the experience was an affirming, life-altering one for John Engst. He wrote: “The experience is now all positive and will be forever, I now believe. I pray more intensely, don’t fear death and am glad to have had this profound experience.”

Kitty Love has heard similar ghostly music at Music Hall but in different locations from the freight elevator. “You hear music playing somewhere late at night when you know no one is there, but when you get there, you find it coming from some other place. You go to that place and then you hear it coming from yet another place.”

Ed Vignale said a musical greeting card had been found at the bottom of the elevator shaft, but that didn’t convince Engst that there was a rational explanation for the music he heard. Maybe John is right. Those greeting cards don’t usually last very long nor do they play continuously. Once opened they play only a few seconds before they must be closed and reopened to play again. Could a card have been heard continuously for several hours? And what about the ethereal music Kitty heard in other parts of Music Hall? Are there ghosts roaming Music Hall?

Even though Ed Vignale said that he has never seen nor heard spirits in the 34 years he has worked at Music Hall, he admits that some people have told him of seeing men and women dressed in late-19th-century clothing walking through the halls of the building. Other people have said that sometimes an extra unknown “cast member” may appear in an operatic production or that unusual looking figures may appear among the audience.

“There is definitely something strange going on here,” Ed said. “In all the time I’ve worked here, I’ve only seen two mice and one rat in the building, very unusual for a building of this size and age.” Ed went on to say that during a 1967 production at Music Hall called wild Animal Cargo, two baby snakes, a python and boa constrictor, somehow disappeared and were never found. The show left town without them and Music Hall was left with a unique system of rodent extermination.

How long do those snakes live anyway? One can only hope that, if they are still alive, those creatures have long ago been tamed by the musical charms of Cincinnati Music Hall’s resident spirits.

Copyrights: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At Arnaud’s get a meal, a museum visit and a ghost story!

Arnaud As you step off Bourbon Street and round the corner to Arnaud’s, you instantly feel as if you have stepped back in time and are preparing to dine like a real Creole. Founded in 1918, a French wine salesman named Arnaud Cazena built the restaurant.

A variety of private dining rooms, as well as a museum filled with New Orleans memorabilia on the second floor, are inside. The museum includes elaborate Mardi Gras costumes worn by Count Arnaud and his daughter, Germaine Wells, who reigned as queen over 22 Mardi Gras balls, more than any other woman in the history of Carnival.

Ghost Sightings at Arnaud’s Restaurant

There have been hundreds of paranormal sightings at the restaurant, including a ghostly gentleman standing near the beveled glass windows, who has been seen by employees. At first the tuxedo-clad man is noticed standing alone. When approached, he immediately disappears. Most believe that it is Count Arnaud checking in on the restaurant.

Others report seeing a woman wearing a hat exiting the ladies’ room and crossing the hall, where she then walks into the wall and disappears. There have been so many reports of this sighting that investigations were held to determine the original structure and layout of the building. It was discovered that this area once had a staircase where the wall is now placed. The ghostly woman is simply walking to the stairs from the time when she was here; in her world, there is no wall there to block her entry. Some believe this ghost to be Germaine, the daughter of Arnaud, who still enjoys the restaurant as well. She reportedly also appears in the museum by her costumes and has been seen in her ghostly form at various Carnival balls each year.

Arnaud New OrleansBeyond the supernatural sightings reported by local diners, tourists, and waitstaff, Arnaud’s reports that even its CPA experienced a ghostly visitation in the restaurant when he was alone one evening conducting inventory. While he was working, he  noticed a strong drop in temperature in the room. As he felt the cold chill overtake him, he became aware of a presence standing behind him. Turning around, he found himself alone in the room. The CPA was in the Richelieu Bar at the time, which is one of the oldest standing structures in the restaurant, dating back to the late 1700s. In a building still standing for several centuries, there is the opportunity for a wide variety of hauntings over its incarnations. Over the years, so many different ghosts have been seen and felt at the restaurant that not all of them have been identified by name.

When dining at Arnaud’s, try the Oysters Bienville with shrimp, mushrooms, herbs, and seasonings in a white wine sauce; it’s elegantly delicious!

Join Kala Ambrose, author of Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire Legends and Cities of the Dead, your travel guide to the other side, as she takes you back to her roots to discover the Spirits of New Orleans.

Discover the Ghosts of the Mabel Tainter Theater

Mabel TainterThe Mabel Tainter Theater has been a center for the arts in Menomonie, Wisconsin, since it was built in 1889. Originally, the structure was created as a tribute to Mabel Tainter, a young woman from the area who loved theater and the arts. She died at the age of 19 in 1886, and her wealthy lumber baron parents decided to construct the theater as a memorial to her. No expenses were spared in the creation of the building. The best stone from the area was used to construct the exterior façade. The designs on the walls and ceilings were created by hand. Huge stained glass masterpieces and gorgeous marble stairs and floors decorate this beautiful building. The centerpiece of the theater is a gigantic pipe organ with 1,597 pipes in the 313-seat theater auditorium.

The theater has been in constant operation since its completion and dedication in 1890 and has seen countless employees and patrons walk through its doors. The building also contained the Menomonie Public Library until 1984, when it moved to a larger building. The only remnant of the library is the Reading Room within the theater building.

The Ghost Story

There are several places in the building where paranormal activity seems to occur. The first is the changing room area in the downstairs of the building. People have seen shadowy figures and heard phantom footsteps here. A paranormal group conducting an investigation in the building caught phantom voices on their audio recorders that they didn’t hear at the time the recordings were made. Sometimes, people in the changing rooms feel as if they are being watched or feel generally uncomfortable.

Another haunted area in the building is the theater’s auditorium, where the performances take place. Again, people see shadowy figures walking through this area, who, upon further investigation, simply disappear. The figures that appear most often are seen on the catwalks that tower over the top of the stage. People see figures on the catwalks and hear voices and footsteps coming from the catwalks despite there being no one there. Other times, while actors rehearse on the stage, they see people watching them from the seats. These figures vanish. Still other times, strange things happen with the sound boards, and the organ makes noise on its own.

The most famous ghost to haunt the theater is said to be that of Mabel Tainter herself. The apparition of a woman in a white dress has often been seen floating through the building. These apparitions are seen most often on the second floor and in the women’s restrooms. The apparition who appears on the second floor seems to just float by eyewitnesses. The apparition who appears in the women’s restroom looks at herself in the mirror and will vanish.

Visiting the Mable Tainter Theater in Menomonie, Wisconsin

Twin Cities Haunted Handbook

The theater offers guided tours, including ghost tours. For tour times and showtimes, check the theater’s Website.

From downtown St. Paul, take I-94 East for about 57 miles into Wisconsin. Take Exit 41, the WI-25 exit towards Menomonie/Barron. Stay right at the fork to get onto North Broadway Street and follow that for about 2 miles. Turn left onto Main Street East and the theater will be on the left.

In Twin Cities Haunted Handbook, ghost hunters Jeff Morris, Garett Merk, and Dain Charbonneau explore all the best haunted locales Minneapolis has to offer, including Dead Man’s Pond, Memorial Pet Cemetery, Padelford Packet Boat Company, the Old Jail Bed and Breakfast, and St. Thomas College and the Legend of the 13 Graves.