Thursday, April 14, 2016

New Jersey Haunted by Its Own Devil

It was described as resembling a kangaroo with the head of a goat, horns, leathery bat-like wings, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail. It would move quickly and announce its presence with a blood-curdling scream.

Legend has it that the New Jersey Devil first made its appearance in 1735, born of Mother Deborah Leeds as her 13th child. Mother Leeds was supposedly a witch and prophesied this child would be born as the Devil himself. Although born looking like a normal child, the entity quickly morphed into the aforementioned creature, killing the midwife before flying up the chimney and out into the woods. It would be seen circling in the air above many villages in what is now known as Atlantic, New Jersey. A clergyman exorcised the demon from the area in 1740 whereupon it was not seen for nearly 80 years.

A night photo claiming an image of 
the New Jersey Devil chasing after a deer.
In 1820, Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of the French leader Napoleon, claimed to see the Jersey Devil while hunting on his Borden estate. Twenty years later, several livestock killings were blamed on the beast.

There have been several tales surrounding the Devil in the 20th century:
1909: Hundreds of claimed encounters with the Jersey Devil were posted in newspapers all over the state. These included the creature attacking a trolley car in Haddon Heights and a social club in Camden. Camden police fired at the creature without stopping it. Strange footprints in the snow and other sightings of the Devil were reported throughout the state, prompting several schools and businesses to close. The Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10,000 rewards for the creature's dung.

1925: A corpse matching the description of the beast was reported in Greenwich when a farmer shot the animal as it tried to steal his chickens. The creature defied formal identification.

1937: Downingtown, Pennsylvania residents reported seeing an unknown animal with red eyes that matched the description of the New Jersey Devil.

1951: A group of Gibbstown, New Jersey, boys claimed to have seen a monster matching the Devil's description.

1957: Another corpse was found with the features of the Leeds demon.

Despite the non-believers, it cannot be disputed that New Jersey Devils can indeed be found. They play for the National Hockey League, having adopted their name from the famous tales of the area's flying monster when they moved to Newark, New Jersey, in 1982.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Travels of Chopin's Heart

Frederic Chopin, one of the greatest musical composers of all time, was born near Warsaw, Poland, in 1810. Twenty years later, he traveled to Paris, choosing to live in self-exile rather than under repression of Imperial Russia. Twenty years after his move, Chopin lay gasping for breath on his death bed, whispering a final request: "Remove my heart after I die and entomb it in Poland." Chopin had possessed a fear of being buried alive. Removal of his heart would not only ensure this never happened, but that part of him would return to his beloved homeland.

While the composer's body has rested in peace at Paris' famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery, his heart has endured a wild journey of intrigue:

1. It was first sealed in a jar of cognac liquor.

2. His sister, Ludwika, smuggled it under her skirts past Russian border guards to Chopin's hometown of Warsaw.

3. The heart was kept in the family for several years, and then...

4. ... passed through the hands of several relatives.

5. It was eventually enshrined within a pillar in central Warsaw's Baroque Holy Cross Church.

6. During World War II, Chopin's heart fell into the clutches of the Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Germans felt the organ rightfully belonged to them due to the musical influence they believed Germanys' great composers had had on Chopin. Going block by block, the Nazis would slaughter 200,000 Poles in retribution for the would-be revolution, yet they took great pains to preserve the composer's relic.

7. After the war, the heart was returned to the Polish church with ceremony meant to show German respect towards the composer.

8. The organ has been subsequently exhumed several times.

9. The most recent exhumation was conducted in a secret operation this year.

For years, Chopin experts had petitioned to carry out genetic testing on the heart to establish whether the sickly genius died of tuberculosis (as is generally believed), cystic fibrosis (a disease unknown at the time) or from some other cause. Their efforts had been, however, stymied by the Polish church and government. As custodians of the heart, all requests had been refused partly because of opposition from one of Chopin's distant relatives. This year, however, consent was finally granted to a superficial inspection after a forensic scientist raised the alarm that the alcohol could have evaporated over the years, leaving the heart to dry up and darken.

Thus, thirteen people -- sworn to secrecy -- gathered in the dark sanctuary of Holy Cross Church on April 14, 2015. The group, focused and in whispers, removed the heart from its resting place to take more than 1,000 photos of it and add hot wax to the jar's seal to prevent evaporation. Prayers were recited over the heart as it was returned to its niche. Although these photos were not released to the public, it was reported that the heart appeared as an enlarged white lump submerged in an amber-colored fluid within a crystal jar.

Interested scientists will have another chance to conduct their genetic tests on the heart when the next exhumation occurs -- scheduled 50 years from now.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Celebrity Paranormal Experiences: George S. Patton

General George S. Patton was convinced that he was a solder and a great general in his many past lives and had no problem meshing his Protestant faith with his reincarnation beliefs. Always a soldier, he once stood shoulder to shoulder with Alexander the Great and Napoleon. He crossed the Alps on an elephant while residing in the body of the Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal. Patton was also quite certain that he once fought for the great Caesar as a Roman legionary.

These beliefs were strengthened by two very prominent occurrences during World War I:  On one occasion, he found himself pressed to the ground during a battle, terrified to stand and fight. He saw the faces of his dead grandfather and several uncles demanding that he stop being a coward. The other instance took place in Langres, France, once occupied by the ancient Romans. Though having never visited the city, Patton was able to navigate his way without the help of his French liaison officer. He gave the Frenchman a tour of the Roman ruins: the amphitheater, parade ground, and various temples dedicated to a deity. He also drove straight to the spot where Caesar had once camped and pointed to where the Roman leader had once pitched his tent. (from "Killing Patton" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.)

When Patton died in 1945, both his daughters experienced a last paranormal good-bye from their general father. Ruth Ellen woke up at the moment of his death and saw him standing at the floor of her bed in full uniform. "'I sat up in bed -- I could see him plainly. When he saw I was looking at him, he gave me the sweetest smile I've ever seen,'" she recounted.

Ruth Ellen called her sister, Beatrice, the next morning. Beatrice had had a similar experience. She had been fast asleep when the phone by her bed rang. She picked it up and there was a lot of static as if it were an overseas call. She heard her father's voice ask, "Little Bee, are you alright?" before the line went dead. When young Beatrice called the overseas operator, she was told there had been no call. (from "The Button Box: A Daughter's Loving Memoir of Mrs. George S. Patton by Ruth Ellen Patton.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Ghosts of the Haywood Park Hotel

Our facebook post for October 12, 2015, chronicled a TripAdvisor review telling of the guests' paranormal experience during their stay at the Haywood Park Hotel. The review referenced an earlier TripAdvisor post speaking of a paranormal event. Here is that post:

New Orleans
Reviewed December 6, 2011

"Am I the only one who had a paranormal experience at this hotel??? It's a great place to stay but I got really scared so we checked out one day early. This was back in January of 2007. I woke up around 1:45am to use the bathroom. I was in one of the beds with my young daughter and my husband was in the other. The suites are large (very nice) and as I walked toward the bathroom, I could hear a man and a young girl conversing back and forth. It was very muffled but I heard it. I back [sic] up to check on my daughter and husband and of course, they were both sound asleep like they were seconds before when I got out of bed. As I got closer to the bathroom, I heard a little girl's voice singing "lalalalala..." very faintly. I couldn't understand why I would hear someone talking in another room? outside the hotel room door? -- because it was the beginning of January and the hotel was virtually empty. I thought only 3 of the 8 rooms on the floor were taken. Also, why would a young kid be awake at the time of the morning? Anyway, I proceeded into the bathroom and as I'm about to sit on the toilet, very LOUD in my ear, I head a man's voice say "GOOD MORNING!" It scared me sooo much!

I ran out the bathroom hitting my thigh on the point of the dresser. Jumped back into the bed with my daughter and just lay there quietly, listening. Never heard anything else and eventually I drifted off back so sleep. I told my husband about it first thing in the morning. It was so surreal but I know what I heard! This happened on our 2nd night there and although we checked out one day early, it was not because of the hotel itself, which I thought was really nice. If you want to try and have an encounter with something "unknown" -- I would recommend staying there.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Legend of Azzurrina

Ugolinuccio Malatesta did not understand this poor twist of luck. He was the feudal lord of a magnificent castle, Castello di Montebello Terriana, he had magnificent holdings, envied by all far and wide... but now his newborn daughter, Guendalina, had been born an albino. She would be considered evil and burned at the stake as were all albinos in 1375 A.D. Italy.
"Do not worry, my love. I have a plan. It will work," his beloved wife told Ugolinuccio. And so it was that Guendalina's white hair was dyed with natural herbs. Unfortunately, albino hair did not hold color well, and the child's locks turned a bluish tint. With her eyes also a light shade of blue, she earned the nickname Azzurrina or Little Blue One. She spent most of her time in the castle since her pale skin did not tolerate sun well.

The time came when castle staff was busy with preparations for the approaching summer solstice celebration. Azzurina's father gave her a new red rag ball to entertain her and keep her out of the way. The child was enchanted with the new toy -- rolling, throwing it into the air, and kicking it. Down the stairs it rolled into a basement room with Azzurrina fast behind, laughing gaily.

Azzurrina would never be seen again. She would, however, be heard: laughing, crying, running, yelling "Papa, Papa, I'm here!" every five years on June 21st, the summer solstice.

On June 21, 1990 (the summer solstice), an investigative team came to the castle armed with ghost-hunting equipment. Not only did they capture recordings of the aforementioned sounds, but an apparition of the small girl was also seen holding her red ball. Investigations have since commenced every five years on the summer solstice with "Azzurinna activity" always being captured with paranormal equipment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"R" Marked the Spot

Scientific recreation of Richard III's face
The royal body had been missing since 1485. For two days, its mortal remains had hung in the city square, proving the king was dead. Then, his body was hurriedly thrown into a shallow, dirt grave to be found centuries later in a hidden, long-forgotten tomb.

Although ruling a scant 2 years, Richard III has always had numerous stories and rumors swirl around him and his reign. The last of the Platagenet dynasty to rule England, Richard III was depicted as a repulsive monster and a hunchback with a withered arm. His life and throne had been lost in the final skirmish of the decade-long War of the Roses -- a humiliating loss as Richard III had the larger army and greater support from the English people.

In 1924, the Richard III Society was created, and members began the laborious task of separating fact from fiction surrounding the king. Their first task: finding his lost body.

It was known that Richard III was originally buried inside the GreyFriars Church of the Annunciation of Mary the Virgin, but the church had been demolished in 1538 with no records detailing its location. Five hundred years later and using old maps, Phillip Langley guesstimated what she believed to be the location of the body under a concrete car park in Leicester.

Digging began August 24, 2012 over a mysterious white-written "R" written on the concrete parking lot. Richard's remains were immediately found at odds of 1,785 to 1 that he would be discovered on day one of the search. His skeleton was completely intact including a predominately curved spinal column. Mitochondrial DNA from a tooth proved positive the identity of the ancient monarch.

His remains told volumes. As foretold, Richard III's spine did have a severe curvature from scoliosis, but there was no sign of the fabled withered arm. Other discoveries: two mortal blows had shattered his skull; his diet was rich in fish, sugar and carbohydrates; Richard would have been 5'8" had he a straight spine; the king greatly suffered from round worms (up to a foot long); and, he ground his teeth presumably from stress. Through forensic science used on his skull, technicians were also able to re-create his looks and prove the accuracy of early portraiture.

This story serves as a perfect illustration that ghost hunting need not be a daytime preoccupation or an old house the only site worth investigating for spirits. Although there has been no publicity surrounding a ghost investigation at this site, it would be an interesting venture -- and a reminder that we never know what buried secrets lay beneath our feet as we tread throughout the day -- be they old relics, burial grounds ... or the bones of royalty.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Mystical Number 7

Symbolically thinking, seven is the granddaddy of sacred numbers.

In the Bible there are seven days of creation, seven virtues, seven deadly sins, seven pillars of wisdom, seven sorrows (and joys) of the Virgin, seven divisions of the Lord's Prayer, seven sacraments, seven cardinal sins, and seven graces.

The Book of Revelations, the last chapter of the New Testament, is built around the number seven. It speaks of seven trumpets (heralding the end of days), seven golden lamp stands (representing the seven churches of the apocalypse), seven golden stars (representing the seven angels of the apocalypse), seven spirits before the throne of God, seven plagues, seven bowls of wrath, seven vials, seven judgments, seven kings, a seven-headed beast, a dragon with seven heads wearing seven diadems, a lamb with seven eyes, and an earthquake that kills seven thousand people.

The three most important Jewish feasts each lasts seven days, as do Levitical purifications, and the sabbatical occurs every seven years. Ancient astrologers recognized seven plants. In Islam, there are seven heavens and seven holy sleepers. Buddhists revere the seven treasures. In many religions, the seventh son of a seventh son is endowed with magical powers. Japanese folklore has seven gods of good fortune.

There are seven days in a week, seven seas, seven continents, seven wonders of the ancient world, and seven whole notes in a Western scale. Shakespeare famously wrote of the seven ages of man. The average number of objects a human being can retain in short-term memory is seven. (This is why phone numbers have seven digits.)

Taken from the book Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone, published by HarperCollins in 2012.