Saturday, October 26, 2019
Halloween Is Almost Here. Since early September the stores have been filled with candy packaged in special Halloween wrapping, spooky witch and ghost decorations, pumpkins waiting to be carved into Jack O' Lanterns, and costumes for both children and adults. These have now been picked over with what remains having been put on sale at drastically reduced prices. Retailers have already moved on to Christmas.
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 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 1 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 2 as 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 commonly depicted as much scarier and our emphasis on customs and superstitions more horror related.
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 black magic and the ancient concept of 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 19, 2019
With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to occasionally dwell on ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. This week I'm blogging about America's most haunted cities.
There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order. Here's one list of 10 cities that recently came to my attention.
10) Portland, Oregon: Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest. It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the participants refuse to leave. One of the most famous…or more accurately, most infamous…historical haunts are the Shanghai Tunnels. We've all heard the expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning to be abducted. This is where it originated. In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members. Local middlemen drugged pub goers, dropped the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held captive until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each. These ships were quite often headed for China and the port of Shanghai, thus the term being Shanghaied. Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels. Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.
9) San Francisco, California: A city of many haunted locations and happenings. One of the most interesting is Alcatraz. The island has a long history, first as a military prison during the Civil War. It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good. Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways. Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz. Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.
8) Chicago, Illinois: Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the famous St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground. There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity. Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery. She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.
7) Charleston, South Carolina: The downtown area known as The Battery was an artillery installation during the Civil War. The area is known for its ghost stories. The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings. The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso. The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for reasons unknown, jumped off the roof and killed himself. The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War. There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.
6) St. Augustine, Florida: The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement on our shores, dating back to its founding in 1565. Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon. The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build. Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported. It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.
5) San Antonio, Texas: The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas. Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793. It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years. On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission. The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation. Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.
4) New Orleans, Louisiana: With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city. Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings. Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still-in-service cemetery has been the setting for many haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome. But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.
3) Salem, Massachusetts: This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities. Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there. It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.
2) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted in fifty-one thousand casualties. It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity. Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee. In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.
1) Savannah, Georgia: Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology. The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground as well as Civil Way actions. Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that all of these cities offer ghost tours. Have any of you ever had any first hand experience with hauntings?
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Are you looking for that Halloween thrill that's real rather than manufactured? A true haunted hotel for a night away from home? The U.S. has many haunted hotels and inns from which to choose. Here's a sampling (in no particular order) of 21 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 horror novel, 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 have 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 U.S. When the battle ended on July 3, 1863, there had been 51,000 casualties on both the Confederate and Union side.
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 fiancé 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 seven of the hotels on this list and of those the Hotel del Coronado is definitely my favorite. Actually, it's one of my favorite hotels in any season.
Saturday, October 5, 2019
Superstitions flourish in all countries and all cultures. Some of the origins are so obscured by time that no one knows when, how, or why they came into being. Friday the 13th always brings out superstitions and the rituals used to thwart them.
And then there's 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.
Here's a list of ten superstitions that seem to apply specifically to Halloween.
1) If a candle goes out on its own on Halloween, it is thought a ghost has come to call.
2) A burning candle inside of a Jack-o-lantern on Halloween keeps evil spirits at bay.
3) You invite bad luck into your home if you allow a fire to burn out on Halloween.
4) A person born on Halloween can both see and talk to spirits.
5) Seeing a spider on Halloween could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.
6) If you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween, don't look back because it could be the dead following you.
7) Don't look at your shadow in moonlight on Halloween night. If you do, you will die within a short period of time.
8) If a bat flies around a house three times, it is a death omen.
9) Ringing a bell on Halloween will scare evil spirits away.
10) A bat that enters a home may have been let in by a ghost.
Do you have any superstitions that apply to Halloween?