Friday, September 25, 2009

Crazy Bet

As of today, it has been 109 years since the death of American Civil War Spy Elizabeth “Crazy Bet” Van Lew. During the war, Elizabeth was a young lady living in what had become the capitol city of the Confederate States of America (also known as the Confederacy). She garnered a reputation for being “hysterical” due to her very outspoken support of the Union both before and during the war. Her blatant support for the other side led others to believe her insane – something that Elizabeth Van Lew picked up on and used to her advantage. She purposely let her hair go scraggly and wore unkempt clothing to further the misconception that she was mentally ill, leading to her nickname “Crazy Bet.” Elizabeth wasn't insane, but she was crazy like a fox as they say.

Due to her falsely perceived insanity and the social status of her family, Van Lew was allowed access to Union soldiers captured and imprisoned nearby. She would bring them care packages and books – allowing secret messages to be slipped back and forth by using pins to mark under letters on pages of the books, spelling out information beneficial to the Union. The Confederacy's arrogance in underestimating the intelligence of both African Americans and women added significantly to their downfall. Van Lew's servants (former slaves she'd freed who chose to work for her) were included in her spy ring. Elizabeth even managed to place one servant spy, Mary Bowser, directly into the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. There, Mary risked her life as one of at least two spies posing as slaves in the Davis home (the other was a man named William Jackson). Jefferson Davis so underestimated the intelligence of African American slaves that he left important classified papers laying about and conducted military planning discussions right front of slaves in his household. Davis assumed the slaves were all dull and illiterate. Not only could Mary Bowser read, it was stated in some accounts by those she relayed information to that Mary possessed a photographic memory, enabling her to retain every word in the documents without having to worry about being caught transcribing.

Elizabeth Van Lew and her servants were the first to proudly fly the United States flag once again in Richmond, Virginia when the Union retook the city from the Confederacy.

Pay your respects at Shockhoe Hill Cemetery to learn more about Elizabeth Van Lew and others who are buried there.

-Tom G

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stephen King's Birthday

Prolific horror author Stephen King turns 62-years-old today. In honor of his birthday today's Dark Destination is the Stanley Hotel. The hotel was part of the inspiration for Stephen King's 1977 horror novel, The Shining. King was inspired after staying at the hotel with his wife on October 30, 1974. It was the night before the hotel closed down for the season and the author and his wife were the only guests. The empty halls and ballroom along with ghost stories about the place caused King to resurrect a story he'd never finished and change the setting from a carnival to a hotel called The Overlook.

Over two decades later, the hotel became the primary shooting location for the television mini-series adaption of the novel, directed by Mick Garris. Dark Destination's own Casey Hopkins was actually on set during part of that shoot, and had the chance to chat with King and others after being invited by the director following an interview for the site. Perhaps he'll share his story with all of you sometime. The mini-series followed King's novel closer than Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaption, leading to fans being polarized in opinion over the two adaptions. It is rare to find a fan who enjoys both adaptions equally.

Which adaption do you prefer?

Stay the night in the haunted rooms of the Stanley Hotel if you dare.

-Tom G

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Torture Tree

The month of September holds a number of dates associated with the historical tale of the Boyd-Parker Ambush – today is one of the few that actually has a positive note to it. On September 17, 1927, the Livingston County Historical Society dedicated the Boyd and Parker Wayside Shrine. The event drew a large crowd and brought attention to a place of historical significance that had largely been forgotten for decades. The creation of the shrine eventually led to what is now Boyd & Parker Memorial Park.

The story of what happened to Lt. Thomas Boyd and Sgt. Michael Parker is one of the most gruesome tales to come out of the American Revolutionary War. I can recall my seventh grade history teacher, Mr. Dumas, telling my fellow classmates and I the gory details of the tortures visited upon these two men who had the misfortune of being captured by Chief Little Beard's Seneca tribe. It was so extreme, that I thought he was embellishing the story. I found out decades later that he hadn't embellished a bit. I was also surprised to find out that the story didn't end with their agonizingly prolonged deaths, but continued with with tales of grave robbery, conspiracy accusations, and human remains dug up and denied proper burial for more than two decades (and even once finally buried, were dug up yet again).

A large bur oak (pictured in the background of the photo above) that still stands in the park is believed to be the tree which played an incredibly sickening role in the final moments of Boyd and Parker back in 1779. Estimated at over 240-years-old, it is known as the Torture Tree. It looms over the park, an ancient reminder of the horrors of war and the painful sacrifice that likely prevented an ambush of General Sullivan's army by British Loyalists and their Native American allies.

Pay a visit to Boyd & Parker Memorial Park – though be cautioned, the stories there are very bloody and aren't for the faint of heart.

-Tom G

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rediscovery of a Legend

24 years ago on this day, a joint American-French expedition located the wreckage of the famed-ship, the R.M.S. Titanic. The expedition was led by Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel and was funded by the United State Navy with the understanding that Ballard would first lead secret missions to survey the wreckage of the naval nuclear submarines, Thresher and Scorpion. The knowledge and experience he learned from the two missions aided him greatly in his search for the famous Titanic. In fact, it was his new understanding of underwater debris field which led him directly to the famous wreckage. On September 1, 1985, the team's lifelong dreams were fulfilled and the Titanic was found. The ship had sunk during its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912 and took an estimated 1,520 lives with it - a tragedy that left the world shaken and installed the name "Titanic" forever in popular culture.

Read more about the famed ship at Dark Destinations.

-Casey H.