Monday, January 26, 2009

It's 21 Years on Broadway for The Phantom

On January 26, 1988, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera made its Broadway debut at the Majestic Theatre in New York City, New York. The debut followed its successful London, England launch at Her Majesty's Theatre a little over a year prior. The Majestic Theatre was built in 1927 and has been the site of countless productions, but few have left its mark quite like The Phantom of the Opera.

Last year on this date, the production celebrated its 20th anniversary at the theater, having clocked over 8,318 matinee and 8,319 evening performances (one of which I had the pleasure of attending back in 1998 - see photo above) at the Majestic alone. The milestone made it the first time a Broadway production had ever reached the 20-year mark, which makes this 21st anniversary yet another historical marker to beat. Between its performances in London and New York (and now Las Vegas with "additions and enhancements"), alongside its various road tours, The Phantom of the Opera has played to over 80 million theatergoers and grossed over $3.3 billion worldwide.

So here's a toast to the Angel of Music and its long-running success.

Celebrate the milestone with a visit to the Majestic Theatre.

-Casey H.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Empire State Building's Bermuda Triangle

In January 2008, the New York Daily News published a rather odd account surrounding this popular New York City landmark with the headline, "Empire State Building Car Zap Mystery". According to the report, around 10-15 vehicles per day became mysteriously disabled when in close vicinity to the structure. The phenomenon (dubbed "The Empire State Building Effect" or "An Automotive Bermuda Triangle") included cars that just stalled or remote keyless entries that had become completely non-functional by the time the owner had returned to their parked cars. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the tow truck drivers that came to their rescue had their own remedy. The drivers told the paper that if they towed the vehicle four to five blocks away from the skyscraper, it would suddenly start working again.

The owners of the Empire State Building denied that there was any direct correlation between the reports of the disabled vehicles and the skyscraper, but others were not so sure. Though there have been no further updates on whether cars are still being stranded beneath the large structure almost a year later, there was a prevailing theory at the time as to the cause of the accounts. What was it?

Click here to find out.

-Casey H.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Body Worlds Comes to Florida

After its run in Salt Lake City, Utah, the highly successful Body Worlds 3 is making its debut today at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, Florida. While this is the first exhibit of the popular Body Worlds franchise by Dr. Gunther von Hagens to appear in the state, it is not the first cadaver exhibit.

MOSI made international news back in 2005 when it played host to the debut of a similar such (though not connected with the popular franchise) exhibition, titled Bodies: The Exhibition. In fact, MOSI took the unusual step of proceeding with the exhibit, despite the State Anatomical Board voting against approving the exhibit and then-State Attorney General, Charlie Crist's recommendations that they abide by the ruling. The exhibit went forward and proved to be wildly popular. That particular exhibit is still a magnet for controversy to this day with several top officials concluding that the bodies in the exhibit may have come from prisons in China, including those tortured and/or executed, and never consented to their bodies being used in the exhibit post-mortem.

Though having faced similar accusations in the past, the Body Worlds franchise is insistent that all of the corpses on display are from donors who agreed for their remains to undergo von Hagens's so-called plastination preservation techniques and be displayed as part of the exhibits. In fact, a commission set up by the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California confirmed these claims in 2004, following an extensive review of the death certificates and body donation forms. To date, over 9,000 people have donated their bodies to von Hagens's Institute for Plastination in Germany.

In March 2007, State Senator Victor Crist introduced a bill that revised an existing "body snatching" law to legally allow for these types of exhibitions in the state, provided that an accredited museum provided proper notification of an intended transportation and/or exhibit in advance. It ultimately died in the hands of the Committee on Governmental Operations.

Regardless, Body Worlds 3 (the photo shown above is from the 2007 exhibit in Portland, Oregon), dubbed "The Story of the Heart," debuts today at MOSI - ultimately bringing the original human bodies preserved by plastination exhibit to Florida. While not without its critics or controversy, the exhibit is widely hailed as a valuable educational tool on human anatomy. To date, the Body Worlds exhibits have boasted around 26 million guests worldwide.

Read up on Body Worlds 3 on Dark Destinations.

-Casey H.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Shooting of Alfalfa

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of actor Carl Switzer. Switzer is primarily known for playing the role of Alfalfa in the Our Gang series of films (AKA: The Little Rascals). The former child actor continued in the profession as an adult, but most of his work was mostly in low-budget productions that didn't pay him well. He supplemented his income by breeding hunting dogs and guiding hunting trips for celebrities such as Jimmy Stewart.

On the evening of January 21, 1959, Switzer and his friend Jack Piott arrived at the home of Moses "Bud" Stiltz. Switzer and Piott are said to have been drinking prior to paying Stiltz a visit. Switzer was angry over $50 he felt Stiltz owed him. Switzer had lost one of Stiltz's dogs that he'd borrowed. Switzer paid a $35 reward to the man who returned the dog as well as buying the man $15 in drinks at a bar. Despite the dog's loss having been the fault of Carl Switzer, he felt that Moses Stiltz should have to reimburse him for the money. There was apparently a scuffle and Switzer was shot in the groin by Stiltz. Switzer bled to death at the scene.

Also present at the scene of the shooting was Stiltz's wife, Stiltz's stepdaughters and stepson, Thomas Corrigan. Corrigan, Piott and Stiltz all gave differing accounts of the incident. One thing that both Piott and Corrigan's statements about the incident agreed upon was that Stiltz murdered Switzer with little provocation. Corrigan was never called upon to testify in court however, and Stiltz was found not guilty of murder for reason of self-defense. A closed penknife had been found under the body of Switzer by investigators at the scene of the shooting.

Switzer is one of two Little Rascals buried at Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles.

Pay a visit to the cemetery to find out the identity of the other Little Rascal buried there.

-Tom G

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy 200 to Edgar Allan Poe!

On this date in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. By his death on October 7, 1849, Poe's tales of madness and horror had left a permanent park on the literary world, which has resulted in a reverence today that was absent during his career. Indeed, he is even credited as single-handily inventing the detective-fiction genre with the publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Poe led a fairly transient lifestyle as evidenced by the many cities holding celebrations today in his honor and attempting to claim the ownership of "Poe's Hometown". Interestingly enough, Boston has not traditionally been one of these cities, despite being the city the author was born in. That is about to change. In addition to the city's main intersection of Boylston and South Charles will soon be officially named as "Poe Square," Boston College held a two-night event over last week to celebrate the life and works of their hometown author.

In Richmond, Virginia, The Poe Museum is holding a 24-hour birthday bash that got underway in the early morning with a séance attempting to contact his spirit. In addition to the museum's exhibits and even birthday cake, the museum is also hosting Segway tours of Poe sites, a later candlelight walking tour, and reading of Poe's works.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site closed its doors in December in order to prepare for this bicentennial event. The new exhibit opened this weekend with new lighting, carpets, and artifacts to celebrate the opening of their new exhibits that explore the author's life.

Over in The Bronx, New York, actor Tristan Laurence will be assuming the identity of Poe for a series of readings of the author's works - reportedly even taking questions from the audience. The event will be hosted at the Poe Cottage.

Finally, the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is teaming up with the Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation and the Baltimore City Department of Planning for a series of events throughout the rest of January. These events include performances by actor John Astin (who adopted Poe's persona for the critically acclaimed and highly successful play, Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight), a theatrical performance of Poe's Hop Frog, and much, much more. The events will all be hosted at the Old Westminster Burial Ground, where Poe was buried following his death.

Of course, the cemetery is also the site of the annual early morning pilgrimage by the so-called "Poe Toaster" who traditionally leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of Cognac on the author's grave - successfully eluding the various spectators who gather to watch. The news from Baltimore this morning reports that the tradition continued again this year, though the Toaster did not leave a note (as they have done in the past) to acknowledge the milestone anniversary.

-Casey H.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Virtual Drive through Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

As many of you know, Dark Destinations incorporates Google Maps as part of the site to help pinpoint our destinations geographically and assist in planning trips. The technology is made available through a Web developer API, which is not necessarily the same as the main Google Maps site itself. One of the main differences is a relatively new feature that is available on their main site, but not to us developers just yet - Street View.

This new technology allows us all to take a virtual drive down countless roads that have been mapped and filmed by specially equipped vehicles to get a true 360 degrees look at the surrounding area. Not surprisingly, not all roads have been given the "Street View" treatment just yet. Major roads are pretty well represented, but the company is still working on the various side streets of even some of the major metropolitan areas. With so many public roads yet to be catalogued and represented, it is a rarity to find a place like Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. While it is not a surprise to see that the various public roads around the grounds represented in "Street View," it is quite astonishing to find the roads inside the grounds covered as well.

Angelus-Rosedale is one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angles, having been found when the population in the city was still in the tens of thousands. It is the home to the first crematory west of the Rockies and reportedly only the second crematory in the entire nation. It is also the final resting place of various influential pioneers of the area, and given its proximity to Hollywood, even features more than a few movie personalities. The colorful collection of characters include everyone from Dracula (1931) director Tod Browning and Oscar winning actress Hattie McDaniel, to a famed Tombstone doctor (whose offbeat wit was evident on various coroner reports), a Donner Party survivor, famed magician Harry Kellar, an infamous California serial killer, and even the murder victim (not connected to the serial killer) in a controversial crime that was later adapted to film. Finally, the grounds made an appearance in various episodes of the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as such shows as Charmed and Six Feet Under.

So if you are interested in taking a "Sunday drive" from the comfort of your computer, we invite you to take a look at our write-up on Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. Once you have a feeling for the place and the personalities buried there, click on the link below that to take your own "virtual tour" of the cemetery through the "Street View" option on Google Maps main site. You can experience the early history of Los Angeles, while also being amazed at just how far technology has come.

Read the tales of Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery on Dark Destinations.
Take a virtual tour of the grounds on Google Maps Street View. (Give it a chance to load and it should work on most browsers)

-Casey H.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Demise of Chang and Eng

It was on this date in 1874, that Chang and Eng Bunker passed away. The conjoined twins originally came from Thailand (then known as Siam). Their fame in show business led to conjoined twins in general to be mistakenly referred to as "Siamese twins." After leaving show business, the twins settled in North Carolina in the United States. They married a pair of sisters and father 21 children between the two of them.

In 1874, Chang's health had been failing for years. A known alcoholic (his brother Eng refused to drink alcohol), Chang had also suffered a stroke years earlier. Poor Eng woke up on this chilly January morning in 1874, to find his twin dead. Horrified, he called to his family to fetch a doctor to separate him from the corpse. He lay there for hours, connected by his flesh to the cooling body of Chang. The family was unable to reach a doctor in time. After two and half hours of terror, Eng himself passed away.

While some have attributed Eng's death to sepsis resulting from having the congealing blood of a corpse slowly making its way into his body, it is generally believed that Eng died from shock resulting from the fear he was experiencing that dreadful January morning.

That was not the end of Chang and Eng's story however. They were to buried and reburied on multiple occasions and not all of them made it back to the grave. Part of them is in Pennsylvania and the rest lies in North Carolina.

Pay a visit to Chang and Eng in White Plains Baptist Church Cemetery in North Carolina or at the Mutter Museum in Pennsylvania.

-Tom G

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jefferson Davis and the Anchuca Mansion

In January of 1869 (the actual day is unknown), former President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, spoke to the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi from the balcony of one of the town's mansions. The particular home was Anchuca Mansion, which at the time was owned by Davis's brother, Joseph Davis. Many sources cite the speech as his conciliatory remarks marking an end to the American Civil War, but the conflict had been over for four years by that point. Rather, it would be one of his last public speeches after having becoming essentially banned from political life for his leadership of the Confederacy.

His brother, Joseph, would pass away one year later and Anchuca Mansion would again trade hands. The property was one of the few in Vicksburg to escape damage from the famous Siege of Vicksburg that resulted in a Union victory, though it would see the damage caused by the lives that were adversely affected that took shelter inside its walls. Like other homes in the city, it is also ripe with ghost sightings and reported paranormal activity. The tales of the mansion, which today serves as a bed and breakfast, include the apparitions of a Civil War-era soldier and daughter of a former owner.

Read the history of Anchuca Mansion at Dark Destinations.

-Casey H.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Do These Things Have in Common?

What do the following things have in common? The song "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam, television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", the novel "Interview with a Vampire", the films "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" and "Valley Girl", WWE wrestler Shawn Michaels and ventriloquists Jay Johnson and Jeff Dunham.

Click here to find out!

-Tom G

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Ghastly Execution of David Dodd

On this day, 145 years ago, the Union Army executed a 17-year-old boy named David Dodd in Little Rock, Arkansas. A notebook containing the positions of Union troops had been found in his possession, which led to him being tried and convicted as a spy for the Confederate Army. After more than a week of being held prisoner in a local arsenal, the boy was led to his execution seated in his own coffin in the back of a wagon. Reportedly, there was an audience of thousands of people for David Dodd's final moments. The young man faced his death bravely according to accounts of the time. However, his hanging apparently failed to go smoothly.

The tailgate of the wagon Dodd and his coffin rode in was propped up with a plank to form a makeshift trapdoor. The boy was made to stand on the tailgate with his hands and legs bound, while a noose was placed around his neck. The executioner discovered that he'd failed to bring a blindfold; a problem that was resolved when Dodd volunteered the handkerchief from his own back pocket. The plank was kicked out from under the tailgate, causing Dodd to drop. The rope from which he was hung had not been properly measured to take stretching into a account. The young man's toes were able to touch the ground, causing him to slowly strangle as he struggled in his last moments. A Union soldier leapt to action and pulled on the rope in an attempt to decrease the boy's suffering by speeding up the execution. David Dodd is said to have taken roughly five minutes to expire in this manner. Many onlookers are said to have become ill from witnessing the event, with some of the crowd passing out as the young man struggled gruesomely in his final moments.

David Dodd's execution rallied Confederate supporters in Arkansas at a time when the state had been considering rejoining the Union. Dodd became known as "The Boy Martyr of the Confederacy." He was buried less than a mile away, in Mount Holly Cemetery (reportedly a hot spot for paranormal activity). There are multiple memorials in Arkansas for Dodd, including one that stands where he was executed.

Pay a visit to David Dodd's Execution Memorial.

-Tom G

Monday, January 5, 2009

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls in Oregon recently came to the international attention of fans of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga due to its use in the filming of the Twilight movie. However, the location has long been known for an association with the paranormal long before Meyer's fictional vampires came to play there. Native American legend holds that Multnomah Falls were created by the Great Spirit because of the sacrifice of a young maiden. Some believe that it is that long dead maiden who haunts the falls even in modern day. Stories of haunting at the falls include a woman's face appearing in the cascading water as well as a feminine figure clad in white appearing near the falls.

Multnomah Falls is also of interest for cryptozoologists. There have been multiple Bigfoot sightings in the area around the falls. In 1986, one couple, along with their infant child, are said to have had a remarkable (and somewhat frightening) encounter with a Sasquatch at a rest stop not far from the falls.

Pay a visit to Multnomah Falls. It's not just for vampires.

-Tom G

Saturday, January 3, 2009

For Sale: One Casket, Used For 48 Years, Good Condition

This morning I read an article about how the casket that formerly held the body of Jiles Perry Richardson Jr. (AKA: The Big Bopper) was going to be up for sale on Ebay in the next few weeks. Richardson died on February 3, 1959 in the same plane crash that took the lives of Ritchie Valenz and Buddy Holly. The deadly crash into an Iowa cornfield led to February 3 being referred to as "The Day the Music Died"; a description of the event popularized in Don McClean's song "American Pie."

The Big Bopper was a musician/song writer and former radio disc jockey. He is also credited as being the person who coined the term "music video." His remains were exhumed in January of 2007 at the request of his son Jay Richardson. An autopsy was conducted to clarify the nature of The Big Bopper's death and dispel rumors of his having survived the initial crash or that a gun had been involved in his demise. The autopsy revealed that the late musician had died immediately from extreme trauma resulting from the crash. It was also noted that Richardson's earthly remains were very well preserved for having been buried for nearly 48 years.

When his remains were reburied, it was in a new casket built by the same company that had designed his original one. The Big Bopper's original casket has been on display since then in the Texas Musicians Museum in Hilsboro, Texas. The casket, however, is still the property of Richardson's family. They have decided to auction the casket on Ebay at some point in coming weeks. The casket is made of 16-gauge steel and is said to be in great shape considering the amount of time it has spent in the ground with a corpse inside of it. A lime stain and some minor rust are the only reported damage to the casket.

It is illegal for funeral homes to sell a used coffin or casket due to the fluids that can leak from the deceased. It is considered a biohazard and can cause serious illness. As far as I know, there are no laws blocking the Richardson family from selling The Big Bopper's casket though. I'm personally hoping that the casket finds its way into a museum, where it might be presented with some class. Even as a coffin owner myself (mine was never used to hold remains), I can't imagine wanting to own that held anyone's remains, even if they were famous. I'm also fairly certain that even if I did want such a thing, it would probably be the last straw for my wife (she insists I keep my own unused coffin out in the shed).

Reading about the upcoming sale of The Big Bopper's casket raised some questions for me. Is it ethical to sell a used casket or coffin to the open public? Is this a form of grave robbery (even though it was done by relatives and the remains received a new casket)? What would you like to see happen to the casket? Should it be put on display in a museum? Should it be destroyed? Should it be allowed to fall into the hands of a private collector (and who knows what they'd do with it)? Is this valid memorabilia or just plain sick?

Apparently the money the sale raises will go toward funding a music show about The Big Bopper. Is this justification enough for the auction?

Pay a visit to the memorial at the plane crash site or the Surf Ballroom where The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valenz and Buddy Holly last played.

-Tom G