Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beware Of America's Creepiest Roads!

They've been called urban legends, ghost stories, creepy encounters.  But they all have one thing in common—unexplained happenings on dark roads in the dead of night.  If you'll pardon the use of the word dead.

Or maybe it's more appropriate than you realize.  :)

Since October is the month of things that go bump in the night as well as Halloween, it's the perfect time of year to explore these creepy lanes and the unexplained happenings.  Here's a sampling of some of these haunted highways and byways.

Shades of Death Road in Warren Co., NJ:  Yes, Shades of Death Road is the real name of the street, but no one is sure exactly how the name came about.  Over the decades many murders have happened along this stretch of road, each its own ghastly tale, which certainly explains why so many different ghosts haunt the area.

The San Antonio Ghost Track:  If you put your car in neutral on the tracks, the car will move by itself off the tracks.  And if you cover the bumper in baby power, you'll find child-sized palm prints.  However, be careful if you decide to try it out.  There have been reports of bandits waiting in hiding for people to start their paranormal test.

The Georgia Ghost Roads:  Travelers late at night along Railroad Bed Road and Old Ghost Road (Robertson Road) see a faint orange light flashing in the distance.  As they drive closer to it, a man will appear who is digging a ditch…or perhaps a grave.  He turns and walks toward the car, but disappears before he gets there.

Buckout Road in Harrison, NY:  The shocking murders committed by Issac Buckhout are believed responsible for the area's many reports of notorious activities such as farms burning, vandalism in a local historic cemetery, and people who claimed to have been attacked by flesh-eating monsters because they parked in front of a specific red house and honked their car horn three times.

Meshack Road in Tompinsville, KY:  This is supposedly the original location of the oft repeated story of the young woman in the prom dress who is walking along the road and given a ride by a young man.  He gives her his coat to keep warm.  The next day he returns to the house where he took her in order to retrieve his coat.  The woman living there told him her daughter had died several years ago…on prom night.

Milford Road in Oxford, Ohio:  The story of star-crossed lovers.  The boy and girl were in love but the girl's father hated the boy.  The boy would flash his motorcycle headlight three times and if he saw her porch light flash three times in return he knew it was safe to go there.  One night he's killed on the road, but the flashing lights continue to haunt the area.

Mona Lisa Drive in New Orleans:  A philanthropist donated a collection of statuary to the city with one stipulation.  The statue commissioned to commemorate the death of his only daughter, Mona, be placed in a special location in the park by itself.  One night a car chase ended with a car crashing into the statue and shattering it.  After that, rumors began to circulate that Mona lurked in the park where the statue had been, haunting innocent and unsuspecting visitors.

Archer Road in Justice, IL:  Resurrection Cemetery is the site of a story similar to the Meshack Road haunting.  A young man met a pretty blond at a dance.  At the end of the evening, he drove her home.  When they reached the cemetery, she asked him to stop.  She got out of the car, walked toward the gate, and disappeared.  He went to the house where she said she lived and the woman told him her daughter had been dead for five years.

Spook Hill in Burkittsville, MD:  In addition to the ghostly reputation courtesy of the 1990s horror movie, The Blair Witch Project, an unexplained recurring happening here is similar to the Railroad Crossing in San Antonio.  When driving up Spook Hill, if you stop and put the car in neutral it won't roll back downhill.  It will continue uphill as if being pushed.  The local ghostly tale claims it's Civil War soldiers who think they're pushing one of their cannons up the hill.

Do you have any ghostly tales or spooky happenings where you live?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

America's Haunted Hotels

Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California

Are you looking for that Halloween thrill that's real rather than manufactured?  A true haunted hotel for a night away from home?  We have many haunted hotels and inns from which to choose.  Here's a sampling (in no particular order) of 20 spooky destinations to spend the night.  Or longer…if you're brave enough.  Just make sure your stay doesn't become permanent.

The Myrtles Plantation—St. Francisville, Louisiana
Built approximately 1796, this former home is considered one of the most haunted homes in the U.S. with one murder and several natural deaths. The Plantation now has 11 guest rooms.

Hotel del Coronado—Coronado, California (San Diego)
Opened in 1888 and a National Historic Landmark since 1977, the Hotel del Coronado is said to be haunted by the ghost of Kate Morgan, who died there.  This is one of my favorite hotels and has also been used as a location in many movies and television shows, probably the most well-known being SOME LIKE IT HOT starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe.

Marrero's Guest Mansion—Key West, Florida
Built in 1889 by Francisco Marrero for his bride, the 13 guest room Victorian home is rumored to still be haunted by her ghost.

Stanley Hotel—Estes Park, Colorado
First opened in 1909, this hotel is most famous these days as the inspiration for Stephen King's THE SHINING.

Queen Anne Hotel—San Francisco, California
This B&B in San Francisco's Pacific Heights area is said to be haunted by the spirit of Mary Lake who was the Head Mistress of the school that used to be located inside the building.

Manresa Castle—Port Townsend, Washington
A former 30 room private residence is haunted by 2 ghosts, including a former guest who was stood up by her lover and subsequently jumped to her death from the hotel.

Driskill Hotel—Austin, Texas
Originally built in 1886 for cattle baron Jesse Driskill, the Austin landmark hosts travelers today in addition to the spirit of Jesse Driskill.

The Lemp Mansion—St. Louis, Missouri
This hotel offers paranormal tours complete with appetizers and a drink.  Several members of the Lemp family died under various circumstances including more than one suicide.

Hawthorne Hotel—Salem, Massachusetts
The town that was the site of the Salem Witch Trials would certainly lend itself to hauntings and Halloween visitors.  Guests of the hotel reported hearing eerie sounds in the stairwells and feeling ill at ease while staying there.

Green Mountain Inn—Stowe, Vermont
Boots Berry died in a fall from the roof.  His ghost has been seen standing in room 1840, where he was born.

Buxton Inn—Granville, Ohio
The ghost of Orrin Granger, who built the Buxton Inn, has been seen wandering the halls.  The ghost of Bonnie Bounell, a former innkeeper, is said to hang out in room 9.

1866 Crescent Hotel & Spa—Eureka Springs, Arkansas
The deceased who are still residing at the hotel include a stonemason, a cancer patient, a cat and a man in a white suit.  A new ghost, a dancer, was recently spotted at the hotel.

Beverly Hills Inn—Atlanta, Georgia
This property is said to be haunted by the souls of 3 women.  An investigation in 2007 recorded voices whispering "Get out."

Hotel Queen Mary—Long Beach, California
With its history as both a luxury cruise ship and a troop transport ship during World War II, the Queen Mary is reportedly haunted by many spirits.  One of them is a young girl who broke her neck sliding down one of the ship's banisters.  She can be seen today hanging out by the swimming pool.

Gettysburg Hotel—Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Ghosts dance in the ballroom and the ghost of a Union soldier strolls through the halls.  The nearby Gettysburg Civil War battle field is considered by many to be the most haunted place in the country.

Congress Plaza Hotel—Chicago, Illinois
Built in 1893 for visitors to the Chicago World's Fair, the hotel is reputedly one of Al Capone's hideouts.  Members of a rival gang did a drive by shooting attempt on his life while he was staying there.  The hotel is said to be haunted by a young boy, possibly an innocent victim of that shooting.

The Battery Carriage House Inn—Charleston, South Carolina
Many guests have reported seeing the torso of a decapitated confederate soldier floating through the Inn.

1859 Historic National Hotel—Jamestown, California
Located in the Sierra foothills in the heart of the California gold rush country, the hotel is said to be haunted by a woman whose fiancĂ© was shot by a drunk on the hotel premises.  She is said to have died of a broken heart while wearing her wedding dress and has been giving hotel guests an uncomfortable feeling ever since.

Burn Brae Mansion—Glen Spy, New York
The former home of the third president of the Singer Sewing Machine company offers ghost tours.

Prospect Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn—Mountain City, Tennessee
The haunting spirit at this Inn apparently has a sweet tooth.  The smell of baking cookies wafts through the Inn in the wee hours of the morning.

The Colonial Inn—Concord, Massachusetts
This 24 room Inn was established in 1716.  Room 24, located in the oldest part of the Inn, was reportedly used as an emergency hospital during the Revolutionary War and that is where guests have reported odd happenings.

There are, of course, many more reportedly haunted hotels and inns in the United States.  This is just a sampling.  Do you have any haunted hotels in your city?  I have been to six of the hotels on this list and of those the Hotel del Coronado is definitely my favorite.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Halloween's Ancient Roots

Halloween Is Almost Here. The stores are filled with candy packaged in special Halloween wrapping, spooky witch and ghost decorations, pumpkins waiting to be carved into Jack O'Lanterns, and children's costumes.

I've collected several bits and pieces about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night that I'd like to share with you—starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday and then a bit of Jack O'Lantern trivia.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-Hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2nd All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from?  British author Harry Oliver wrote a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explored the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world.  Here are a few of his observations.

Black Cats Bring Bad Luck:  black cats have been linked to witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky.  If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky.  However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight:  although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision.  Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables.  There is another belief that it started during World War II.  It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark.  The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out:  when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better.  No one is sure where this one came from, but it sounds like the result of a wild college fraternity party.
And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Autumn Festivals And Fall Fun

While our friends to the south are coming out of winter into spring, here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's the beginning of autumn. There are some parts of the country where summer temperatures linger, but other locations have cooler weather—that crisp autumn feel to the air. Except for more northerly locations and some higher elevations, the first week of October is still a little early for the leaves to change to their fall colors. But that time is just around the corner.

October brings us all types of Fall Festivals across the country, some traditional for the season and others can be considered more on the weird but fun side. Here's a cross-section selection of ten festivals (in no particular order), both traditional of the season and those a little more far out.

National Apple Harvest Festival
Arendtsville, Pennsylvania
October is harvest time for apples. In a pure celebration of autumn, the tiny Pennsylvania towns of Arendtsville and Biglerville (outside of Gettysburg) come together to pay tribute to that fine autumn fruit at the annual National Apple Harvest Festival. It's a true apple celebration—visitors can go apple-bobbing, drink fresh-pressed cider, gobble up apple dumplings and apple sauce, and, of course, munch on fresh apples. Held during the first two weekends in October, the festival also features craftspeople, square dancing, Native American dancers and live music.

Trailing of the Sheep Festival
Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho
In the past century, sheep have often outnumbered humans in Idaho. This festival (about three hours east of Boise) observes the annual sheep migration to the southern part of the state. The big event of the festival is Sunday's sheep parade, where you can follow 1,500 sheep down Ketchum's Main Street. On other days of the festival, you can watch the Championship Sheepdog Trials, enjoy lamb barbecue, and hear music from sheep-loving areas of the world such as Peru, Poland and the Basque region. There are demonstrations of soap-making and wool-spinning, and various crafts.

Harvest On The Harbor
Portland, Maine
A scenic trip to Maine in the fall is a no-brainer. October is the peak of New England's leaf peeping season. Maine's four-day Harvest On The Hudson Festival in mid-October lures more than 5,000 people up to Portland's shores to enjoy a celebration of Maine's finest local foods, top chefs and other Maine-made products such as beers and wines. A variety of tastings are held: One features local foods from more than 160 chefs, wineries, distilleries and breweries, another showcases a barbecue extravaganza featuring grill masters, as well as local beers and live music.

Fire Ant Festival
Marshall, Texas
Marshall is located about two hours east of Dallas and claims to be the birthplace of boogie-woogie music. It's also home to plenty of pesky fire ants. The locals have embraced both at this annual festival, which features a lot of live music as well as a Fire Ant 5K, a cyclist-friendly Tour de Fire Ant, a costumed ant-filled parade and a kids dancing contest.

German Village Oktoberfest
Columbus, Ohio
If you weren't able to make it to Munich for the celebration of beer more commonly known as Oktoberfest, then the Columbus Oktoberfest in Columbus, Ohio offers its own memorable experience. The festival takes place in a 100,000-square-foot pavilion, complete with covered spaces for consuming a selection of brews, stages for live music, and dance floors for kicking up your heels and doing the traditional polka. While beer might be one of the festival's highlights, it certainly isn’t the only thing the festival has to offer. Oktoberfest also features dozens of craftspeople selling their wares as well as a parade and German food favorites such as frankfurters with sauerkraut and German potato salad.

Wife Carrying Championship
Bethel, Maine at the Sunday River Ski Resort
The sport of "wife carrying" began in Finland, with vaguely barbaric legends revolving around it. The thrill of the race crossed the ocean to the U.S. in 1999. The North American Championship is held each year at this ski resort, about an hour from Portland, Maine. Winners take home their wife's weight in beer and five times her weight in cash. It might be more fun to watch than to participate. Entries are limited to 50.

Wellfleet OysterFest
Wellfleet, Massachusetts
The two-day Wellfleet OysterFest celebrates the Cape Cod town's famed shellfish with shucking competitions, tastings and cooking demonstrations. The town of Wellfleet has earned international fame for its oysters. During the festival, shellfishermen present their wares—briny oysters and clams, fresh seafood chowders and stuffed clams. Despite its name, OysterFest isn't only about oysters. The event also features artisans selling handmade jewelry and other crafts. The highlight of the festival is the shuck-off. Competitors are given twenty-four oysters to shuck, and they are graded on both speed and precision. Deductions are made for broken shells, blood from sliced fingers and mutilated oysters. The festival's top shucker was able to slice through his oysters in less than two minutes.

Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Parade
Manitou Springs, Colorado)
Back in 1889, Emma Crawford moved to this town outside Colorado Springs to help her tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the move didn't help and she died. About forty years later, her poorly-buried coffin become unearthed and slid down a mountain into a canyon. Since 1994, the town has held a ghoulish parade in her honor on the weekend before Halloween. Following the parade there's the race of souped-up coffins, carried by sprinting pall-bearers, and holding costumed Emmas sitting inside.

Wine and Chile Fiesta
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta isn't as spicy as it sounds. The five-day autumn festival is a celebration of the deep-rooted traditions of Santa Fe cuisine, which does involve a lot of chiles. Santa Fe has been gaining attention as one of the best small-town culinary destinations in America, and the autumn festival highlights the best of the best. The Wine and Chile Fiesta features Santa Fe's seventy-five best restaurants along with ninety national wineries providing cooking demonstrations, wine and food tastings, special luncheons and dinners.

Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival
Coarsegold, California
Coarsegold is aptly names, it's located in the Sierra foothills in California gold rush country, near Yosemite National Park. As to the festival, we're aware of tarantulas, but how many of us truly appreciate them? Here's an opportunity to watch the hairy spiders race from a safe distance. Festivities include a Tarantula Poem Contest, a Scream-Off and a Hairy Leg Contest for both gentlemen and ladies. There's also a Trick-or-Treat parade for kids, and a bubble-gum-blowing contest.

If none of these Fall Festivals grab your attention, there are plenty more to choose from—just Google fall festivals and pick one that suits you.