Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thanks and Happy New Year

As the year draws to a close, Casey and I wanted to show gratitude to all of you who have supported and Dark Destinations. 2008 marked two years since returned from its five year sabbatical from the Internet. It also marked the first full year of Dark Destinations being public. It has has been a year of rapid growth: hundreds of new articles were published to Dark Destinations, we gained new contributors, started a blog and brought it to multiple Web sites. We also gained a significant number of regular readers. Dark Destinations also began a new feature called the Dark Destinations Library. We have another Dark Destinations related feature that will hopefully make its debut in 2009. This new feature has been in the works for over a year at this point and will hopefully knock your socks off when it arrives. 2009 looks like it will be an even greater year for us, and that is largely due to all of you.

We'd like to thank all of the haunted attractions who have added their haunts to our database. It is great to see the businesses we are trying to support interacting directly with us to help promote their establishments. Thanks also goes to those who became members of and contributed articles and photos to the database. Among those contributors we give special thanks to Beth "Bloody Freak" Clark, Richard Squires, John Dedeke, Adrian R., Dementia, Kelly Rain, April A. Taylor, Astrida Merritt, bamalca03 and jrock420cfh.

We'd also like to thank all of the people and organizations who have provided us with information, interviews and tours of locations over the past year. Among those who have helped us in this fashion are the City of St. Helens, Oregon and Dandelion Communications, Kenny Caperton, Kim and Steve from the Officer's Inn Bed & Breakfast, Clatsop County Historical Society, John Goodenberger, Mick Alderman of 2001 Productions, Regina Willkie of the Astoria Chamber of Commerce, the View Point Inn, The Rochester Historical Society, J.D. and Cathee from the Museum of Death and a whole lot of haunted attractions.

Casey and I also want to thank the radio shows and podcasts that invited us to be guests on their programs. Thank you to everyone at NightWatch, Ghostman and Demon Hunter, Ghost Chronicles and I100 Classic Rock in Ithaca, NY. Thanks also to Dark Party Review for the recent blog interview.

Hopefully we've remembered everybody who deserves to be on this thank you list. The last folks we want to thank are you, our readers. The comments and feedback we recieve from you helps inspire us onward and at times has provided us with information which has led to further articles. We also know that one of the ways we've picked up new readers has been through your word of mouth. Thank you for spreading the word about Dark Destinations and

Have a Happy New Year!

-Tom G

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This Date in History at the Old Idaho Penitentiary

On this date in 1901, inmate Samuel Bruner and the prison's fastest horse, Old Selam, were found missing from the former-Idaho State Penitentiary. Ironically, it was the horse's second (though presumably against its will) such escape that week. On December 24, one of Idaho's most famous prisoners, Bub Meeks who rode with Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang, had made a similar attempt. Meeks had been tracked by the prints left behind in the snow and was recaptured only a day later. Bruner was more successful as he and the horse were never seen again. Today, the legacy of the horse is celebrated in the annual Old Selam Endurance Ride, which originally sought to retrace the possible escape route of both Meeks and Bruner, but has since been moved away from the old penitentiary.

December 30 has another tie to the Old Idaho Penitentiary as well. On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was assassinated when a bomb rigged to his front gate exploded at his home in Caldwell. The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of one Harry Orchard who ultimately confessed to the crime and, in doing so, implicated three leaders of the Western Federation of Miners. According to Orchard, the three men had hired him to take out Steunenberg (along with seventeen others) as payback for the apparent favoritism shown towards mine owners during Steunenberg's time in office. The case led to one of the most famous trials in Idaho history that even pulled in famed-lawyer Clarence Darrow to help defend one of the accused. In the case of Orchard, he was incarcerated at the prison where he would remain until his death.

These stories only crack the surface of the history and tales of the Old Idaho Penitentiary. In its over-a-century of use, the prison housed the famous and the infamous, was the site of riots, executions, and escapes, and today is considered a hotspot for accounts of paranormal activity. The former penitentiary was even recently featured on a recent episode of the Travel Channel series, Ghost Adventures.

Serve time with the ghostly history of the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

-Casey H.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Lemp Family Curse

On December 29, 1922, 55-year-old William J. Lemp Jr. held a revolver to his chest and fired two shots in his office (and family home) of the Lemp Brewery in St. Louis, Missouri. He had been recently in ill health and was in the process of slowly liquidating his family's brewery business after prohibition had been instituted. Billy was not the first member of the family to die tragically, nor was he the first to take his own life.

Prior to Billy's suicide, the family had already suffered the loss of a son who had died from health issues, as well as two additional suicides in the forms of Billy's father and sister. In fact, after his sister's suicide at a property elsewhere in St. Louis, Billy was said to have commented, "That's the Lemp family for you." Tragically, the deaths did not end with Billy. In the 1940s, his only son (though there are unsubstantiated rumors that Billy had also sired an illegitimate child) died of a heart attack and another brother also took his own life.

Today, the Lemp Mansion operates as a bed and breakfast/restaurant in the city of St. Louis. While not all of the deaths occurred inside its walls, the building saw its fair share of death over the years. In fact, the room that Billy shot himself is the front dining room (see photo above), while the site of his father's suicide is now the William Lemp Suite. If you believe the tales, the Lemp family left their mark on the site, which is often regarded as one of the most haunted sites in America with countless tales of ghostly activity.

Pay a visit to the reportedly haunted Lemp Mansion of St. Louis.

-Casey H.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Visit to the Catacombs of Palermo

Today's blog entry takes us to the Italian city of Palermo on the island of Sicily and a rather unique tourist attraction. The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (sometimes called King Capuchin Catacombs) are quite literally a city of the dead. Around 8,000 corpses line the various halls of the underworld and consist of all ages and both males and females. Though initially intended for friars of the local monastery, the idea took off with the local population that began to donate money to have their own relatives interred.

Starting in 1599 and lasting through the 1920s, corpses were put on display for their grieving loved ones to come and pray and mourn their passing. The halls were even categorized for convenience sake and bodies were moved according to the categorizations: men, women, children, priests, and even a spot for virgins. Even more unusual was the special requests of the entombed before their death that their clothes were changed at frequent intervals.

Though it stopped accepting new interments in the 1920s, the catacombs have continued to be a popular tourist destination in Palermo and even serve as something of a historical record of the area. Some of the interred have even become well known in death, such as two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo. One of the last corpses admitted in the catacombs, Rosalia is a unique addition considering the excellent preservation state of her body. Though her mummification is credited to Dr. Alfredo Salafia, no one is quite sure what techniques he used to achieve such dramatic results and it is believed that he never shared his knowledge with others. Today, Rosalia is encased in a glass coffin and aside from an unnatural skin tone, generally looks as if she is only resting which has led to her being dubbed "Sleeping Beauty."

A special thanks to Dark Destinations contributor Dementia for adding The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo to our database and bringing this rather unique location to our attention!

Visit her article on The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo.

-Casey H.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering Leo Gordon

On December 26, 2000, Leo Gordon passed away in Los Angeles, California from heart failure following a brief illness. Gordon was a prolific actor, screenwriter, and novelist who was often cast in the role of a antagonist due to his impressive size and deep voice. Though he is known for his work (both acting and writing) in the Western genre, he also made several significant contributions to the horror genre.

Gordon appeared in such films as The Haunted Palace (1963), The Lucifer Complex (1978), and Bog (1983) but his was his work with American International Pictures (AIP) that he made the biggest impact in the genre. James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff founded the company that specialized in independent, low-budget movies often produced (and sometimes directed) by none other than Roger Corman. Gordon was tapped early on as a screenwriter for the firm and even appeared in several AIP films, including some he had written. Among his horror credits are the films Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), Tower of London (1962), and The Terror (1963).

In 2004, Gordon was joined in eternal rest by his longtime wife, Lynn Cartwright, who was also bitten by the acting bug and even appeared in a few of her husband's films. They are both currently interred in the Chapel columbarium of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Pay your respects at Hollywood Forever.

-Casey H.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stagger Lee Shot Billy

The night was clear and the moon was yellow,
And the leaves came tumbling down.
I was standing on the corner, when I heard my bulldog bark.
He was barking at the two men, who were gambling in the dark.
It was Stagger Lee and Billy, two men who gambled late.

The song is Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price - the first commercially successful version of a folk murder ballad that had long been a mainstay in nightclubs throughout the South. It may have also been one of the first versions of the tune (also known as Stagolee, Stack Lee, etc.) that was also commercially viable, as early renditions were often more graphic with more than a few of those words that George Carlin warned us all about. It was also not entirely accurate.

The weather at the time is not known, but it most definitely was not the fall. In fact (and perhaps ironically), the legend of Stagger Lee was born on Christmas Night, 1895 in the Bill Curtis Saloon in an area of St. Louis, Missouri that at the time was the red light district. The two men were Lee "Stack Lee" Shelton (an area pimp with political connections) and William "Billy" Lyons. And despite the song's portrayal of a night of gambling gone bad, the conflict really began over an argument of politics after an otherwise innocent night of drinks and laughs.

Stagger Lee shot Billy.
Oh, he shot that poor boy so bad.
'Till the bullet came through Billy
And broke the bartender's glass.

That much is true, though the fate of the bartender's glass is unclear. In fact, the bartender was one of the few witnesses left in the saloon after Shelton had pulled out his .44 and took aim. Like the song suggests, he was after his white Stetson hat; though not because he lost it in a bet but rather because Lyons had snagged it after Shelton had broken his Derby in the heat of the argument. The end result was the same though - Shelton shot once and calmly walked out of the bar, while Lyons was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

So how did a known pimp and a murder in an area that was infamous for crime transform into one of the most well-known murder ballads of all time? It is not entirely known, though it is worth pointing out that Duncan killed Brady (Duncan and Brady) quite literally across the street just five years earlier, while Frankie shot Johnny (actually Allan Britt - of Frankie and Johnny fame) four years later a couple blocks away. It is safe to say that some balladeer was kept busy.

At any rate, Stagger Lee has come to represent the baddest of the bad in musical form; not unlike Mack the Knife or Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, though if you listen to some renditions of Stagger Lee, he could take them out without breaking a sweat too. And it all started on Christmas Day.

The Bill Curtis Saloon may no longer exist, but a few blocks away is a historic home (photo above) that looks somewhat out-of-place in a primarily industrial area and was once the home of Lee Shelton - complete with the "crib houses" for Shelton's working girls. Also in town is the St. Peters Cemetery where Billy was buried in an unmarked grave. Ironically, Shelton is buried only a block or so away at the Greenwood Cemetery (also in an unmarked grave), where he was laid to rest after succumbing to tuberculosis while serving time at the Missouri State Penitentiary for a separate crime. And though it has since been closed town, the story even inspired a local bar and grill to take on the name of the city's local legend for awhile - Stagger Lee's.

So I leave you with this often overlooked Christmas legend and wish you and your family a very happy and safe holiday.

-Casey H.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Baikal Region Adoptive Family Fund

Today the Dark Destinations blog is going to be a little different than usual. My friend Jason is the web master of Baikal Region Adoptive Family Fund. After discussing the project that Jason is part of, Casey and I decided we would show support and spread the word about B.R.A.F.F.

The Baikal Region Adoptive Family Fund is set up to help orphans in Baikal region of both Russia and Mongolia. The fund assists potential parents seeking to adopt children from that region. It also provides programs to improve the welfare of the many orphaned children who will not find new families. The reasons for this need are summed up in this message on B.R.A.F.F.'s Internet site:

Political instability and a collapsed economy have put almost fifty percent of the
population in poverty. Seven hundred thousand children live in under-funded,
under-staffed orphanages in Russia, and many more in even worse conditions
in Mongolia.

After leaving their orphanages

60% will be homeless and without a job
50% will turn to crime or prostitution
40% will use drugs
10% will commit suicide

With budgets of only a few cents per day with which to feed, cloth and care for
these poor unfortunates, Siberian social service providers are struggling to
perform miracles. As you may know, things tend to get worse financially in the
hinterland, far from the public eye in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Despite
terrible shortages and wages that are far too low and behind schedule,
dedicated and loving workers are struggling daily to keep these children alive.
These efforts are often at great cost to their own families.

I'm spreading the word about the work this fund is doing in the hopes that our readers will in turn show some support. If you aren't able to make a donation (I know there are lot of folks who may not have it in their budget with the current recession going on), you could show support by spreading the word about this cause; blog it, bulletin it, email it, or if you happen to be one of our readers on MySpace you can add as a friend. The fund's MySpace URL is

As a horror fan and dark traveler I used to certain people assuming that I'm some sort of psycho. I imagine that those of you who share similar interests as mine have also at times faced judgemental assumptions from people who just don't get what you are about. However, I've watched many horror fans show support for charitable causes and serve their community over the years; from the fans of the Saw movies conducting their blood drives to attendees at conventions raising money and awareness for groups like the A.S.P.C.A. I've also seen the Paranormal Community work together to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. I also witness a lot of heart and compassion in some of the responses we've had through email or in comments to some our more tragic tales of dark history.

So, I open the floor to our readers. Please feel free to comment and share links to charities or causes you support.

Have a Happy Holiday!
-Tom G

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Travels of the Blair Witch

We jump from the story of the Bell Witch a few days ago to the more modern (albeit fabricated) mythology of the Blair Witch of Maryland today. On this date in 1974, Blair Witch actress Heather Donahue was born. Although she has appeared in other films and TV work since, she is known primarily for her work in the 1999 first-person/mock-doc horror film, The Blair Witch Project. She even went by her real name in the film to add a level of authenticity to her fictional "disappearance" in the storyline.

Though the most profitable independent film of all time and by all standards a smash-hit at the box-office, the film was met equally with as much disdain as it was acceptance. According to some interviews, Donahue bore the brunt of some of that and talked openly about being confronted my angry moviegoers and reportedly was even run off the road while driving once. Despite the backlash of the film, The Blair Witch Project maintains an impressive 85% positive rating on the review-monitoring service, Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether Donahue ever wants to revisit the film that subsequently launched and somewhat sabotaged her acting career or not, the locations behind The Blair Witch Project have become something of tourist attractions following the success of the movie. So whether you are a fan or only someone interested in the sites behind a movie, we have compiled this collection of four locations (as of right now) used in the making of the film.

Bearing the brunt of Blair Witch-inspired tourism was the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. Aside from being the fictional former-home of the Blair Witch, it was the very real site of a Civil War battle that left its mark on the town and was a precursor to the very bloody Battle of Antietam a few days later. The battle's casualties were interred in the town's Union Cemetery, which also made an appearance at the start of the film and is said to be haunted these days by spirits that date back to the battle. The infamous "Coffin Rock" (where in the story's mythology a search party was discovered and ritualistically sacrificed) is to the south of the town, while the home of Rustin Parr (where the characters meet their fate at the end of the film) is over 40 miles to the east.

I admit I have a soft spot for The Blair Witch Project and first-person (where the camera becomes a character in the film) horror films in general. Aside from researching Dark Destinations, I also try to keep an eye on this relatively unknown sub-genre that existed well before the Blair Witch and continues to this day. To date, I have watched over 50 different films that were shot (sometimes partially) in the same format. We even cover more than a few locales used in the recent Cloverfield and will soon be adding some from the recent Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

In closing, I wanted to throw it out to all of you and find out which "first-person" horror films you enjoy... if any. Which ones are the best or the worst? You can even give your thoughts on The Blair Witch Project if you wish - What made it great/horrible for you?

-Casey H.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day Rochester Exploded

Today marks the anniversary of the Rochester Naphtha Explosions of 1887. On the morning of December 21, 1887, the Vacuum Oil Works company in Rochester, New York attempted an underground transfer of 14,000 gallons of naphtha gas to the Municipal Gas Company. The gas failed to arrive at its intended location. Unbeknownst to anyone, recent sewer construction had ruptured the pipeline in question.
14,000 gallons of volatile naphtha gas flowed out into sewers of Rochester and made its way toward the industrial district of Browns Race. Situated along Rochester's High Falls, Brown's race had a number of mills and factories that benefited from proximity to the Genessee River. Throughout the day, laborers complained about smelling gas in a few different workplaces in Browns Race. The workers were told to stop complaining and return to their jobs.

That afternoon, after hours of gas and vapor build up, something inside a factory on Platt Street ignited the naphtha and the factory exploded. This in turn ignited the gas in the sewers, setting off a chain reaction of explosions that lasted for hours. More factories exploded and/or caught on fire and sections of street were blown skyward. The scene was one of absolute chaos and confusion. To some it may have seemed like the end of the world.

Pay a visit to Browns Race to learn more about the horrific events of December 21, 1887.

-Tom G

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Bell Witch and the Death of John Bell

188 years ago on this day, the family of John Bell awoke to find the family patriarch had passed away in the night. The previous evening, on December 19, Bell had reportedly drunk from a vial that supposedly contained medication that had been prescribed by a local doctor. According to some accounts, the family grew suspicious that the medicine no longer looked the same as when the doctor had given it to him and decided to give a small sample to their cat. It promptly died.

For over three years, John and daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) had been tormented by an unseen entity that they knew as "Kate," though is more commonly known today as the Bell Witch. In addition to the taunts and sometimes-physical abuse it unleashed on the family, it reportedly made constant threats that it would continue until John Bell was dead. Those that attended Bell's funeral even reported hearing the Bell Witch sing and laugh throughout the service in celebration. Because of the length and public notoriety, John Bell's death is considered among many to be the only documented case of someone dying by the unseen hands of a supernatural entity.

Bell was buried on his family plot, which is private property today and closed off from the public. In 1957, Bell-descendant Leslie Covington designed and built the Bellwood Cemetery in the Bell's hometown of Adams, Tennessee. While some descendants of John Bell were exhumed and re-interred in the new cemetery (including Charles Bailey Bell who documented his family's travails in the 1934 book, The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit), the body of John Bell, his wife, and son were left in the original family plot. Betsy Bell was buried in Water Valley, Mississippi where she had moved later in life. However, the Bellwood Cemetery includes an obelisk honoring the Bell family and their contributions to the early history of Adams, Tennessee.

As with many things indirectly or directly associated with the Bell Witch, the Bellwood Cemetery is also home to various reports of paranormal activity that some believe is associated with the entity. Strange lights have been reported at night, guests sense the presence of being watched, and anomalies have shown up on photographs taken on the grounds. It is hardly alone in the strange phenomena - activity has been reported at the nearby popular landmark, The Bell Witch Cave, and some have attributed the tragic death of the curator of the Adams Museum at the Old Bell School to the entity.

Visit the Bellwood Cemetery in Adams, Tennessee - Home of the Bell Witch.

-Casey H.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gift Ideas for Dark Travelers

Dark Destinations has a new feature! Last night we premiered the Dark Destinations Library at It is a list of books and DVDs that are helpful to anyone planning to travel to dark locations. It also happens to provide a list of great gift ideas for any dark travelers, paranormal investigators, horror fans, etc. in your life.

The Dark Destinations Library supplements the preexisting Dark Destinations Internet Resources page, where we recommend other Web sites for further help in researching dark locations. The Library will be an ever-expanding list that will provide a synopsis and mini-review of the books and DVDs featured. It also allows site users to rate and comment on the featured items. If you have a book or DVD that isn't on our list yet and you'd like to recommend it, write us and let us know.

Pay a visit to the Dark Destinations Library.

-Tom G

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Resurrected (and Haunted) Landers Theatre

The Landers Theatre today is a historic landmark in the city of Springfield, Missouri, but an incident in its early years almost sealed its fate. The theater was constructed in 1909 and hosted a variety of vaudeville acts. Then, on December 17, 1920, a major fire broke out that almost entirely destroyed the facility and closed it down. Rather than scrap the project, Ensley Barbour stepped forward and put up the money for the repairs and reconstruction. Two years later the Landers Theatre was once again opened and has hosted such personalities as Lon Chaney, Kathleen Turner, Lillian Russel, and Springfield-native Brad Pitt (some sources say he got his start at the Landers) in the years since.

If you believe the stories, some of the people who have passed through its doors have never left, even in death. The Landers Theatre is home to a variety of accounts of paranormal activity throughout its four stories. Ghosts are said to include a janitor that is believed to have perished in the tragic 1920 fire, a baby that was said to have fallen from the balcony and its grieving mother, former actors and actresses, and even a strange entity that stands in the middle of the auditorium that brings audience participation to a whole new level.

Read the ghostly tales of the Landers Theatre at Dark Destinations.

-Casey H.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Stories of the Point Wilson Lighthouse

On December 15, 1879, the Point Wilson Lighthouse first lit up to help ships navigate the waters between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Admiralty Inlet of Puget Sound at Port Townsend, Washington. The light tower was first constructed as an extension to the still-existing keeper's quarters, but was later given its own structure after Mother Nature took its toll on the surrounding beach. The area around it would serve as a U.S. Army base, which today stands as Fort Worden State Park. Though automated, the lighthouse is still in use to this day.

In its first 129 years of service, the Point Wilson Lighthouse has seen a few tragedies. However, none may have left a mark on the property quite like the sinking of the S.S. Governor. In 1921, the ship was carrying 240 passengers when it collided with another ship just off Point Wilson and began to take on water. Through heroic rescue efforts, most of the passengers were saved. However, eight people perished in the crash, including two young girls and the mother who refused to leave them behind. Most tie this disaster to at least some of the current reports of paranormal activity reported at the keeper's quarters and the lighthouse itself.

Visit the link below to read the stories of the shipwreck and various accounts of ghosts and other supernatural activity reported on the grounds to this day. Also read the current plans of the property's transfer of ownership and suggested relocation that will save this historical property for the generations to come.

Pay a visit to the Point Wilson Lighthouse on Dark Destinations.

You can explore this and many more Dark Destinations at:

-Casey H.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Spirits of the Whitney Restaurant

On December 12, 1986, the Whitney re-opened its doors to the population of Detroit, Michigan as a first class restaurant. The facility was once home to Detroit-resident David Whitney Jr. and wife Sarah and was one of the most elaborate mansions in the city. Both David and Sarah were believed to have passed away in the home and the mansion would later passed from owner to owner - at one time serving as a medical society's headquarters. It was finally purchased by Richard Kughn in 1980 and after six years of renovations was re-established as The Whitney restaurant.

It was reportedly during its renovations into a restaurant when the echoes of the past began to be felt and heard. Staff and guests alike have reported unusual phenomena from all three floors of the facility and strongly believe that facility is haunted by more than one spirit. The stories are so common these days that they have been the focus of past events that have probed the facility's paranormal past.

Read the ghostly tales of The Whitney.

-Casey H.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Fort Garry Hotel

95 years ago today, the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada opened for business. Over the years the hotel has undergone many changes. However, one thing remains constant -- the stories of it being haunted. Staff and guests alike have apparently witnessed unexplained phenomena over the years. The alleged manifestations have ranged from disembodied sounds to outright apparitions (including one that was eating a spectral dinner).

Pay a visit to the Fort Garry Hotel and meet its ghostly guests.

-Tom G

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dark and Disturbing Holiday Gift Ideas

As I'm currently conducting my own gift-shopping for the holidays, it got me thinking about the stores we have entries for at Dark Destinations. Here are some of the items/stores that have caught my eye (sometimes literally). Maybe you'll get some gift ideas for your favorite ghoul.

The Bone room has bats preserved and mounded in a Lucite covered frames. The Bone Room, as their name implies, also sells both animal and human bones. Yes, you can buy an actual human skull from this company and it is perfectly legal. They also have an excellent selection of preserved and mounted insects. A relative bought a gift for me from the Bone Room last year; a collection of large Asian beetles. They hang in a frame on the wall of my den. Click here to visit the Bone Room's entry at Dark Destinations.

Screams Ice Cream Parlor in Hell, Michigan offers a number of Hellish gifts, including making a loved one honorary Mayor of Hell for a day. The "Mayor" receives a set of devil horns, an official badge with their name on it, a written proclamation naming the recipient as Hell’s mayor for that particular day, a key to the town of Hell, a card signed by some of Hell’s residents, a T-shirt to let everyone know they were once the Mayor of Hell, and ownership of one square inch of Hell. On the day where they serve as Mayor, the recipient will also receive a series of calls with various problems in Hell that need their attention. During the course of their brief but hellish political career, the recipient will also have their name posted publicly as Mayor of Hell outside of Screams Ice Cream. Click here to learn more about shopping in Hell (beats going to the mall).

Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo in New Orleans offers a variety of Voodoo and Santeria items, including authentic Voodoo dolls and altars. They don't seem to have an online store, but they might do mail order if you call them. Click here to see our entry on this famous Voodoo shop.

Skulls Unlimited carries a selection of animal skeletons as well as recreations of fossil hominid skulls. They carry a selection of one-of-a-kind items that currently includes the skull of a deformed calf. Click here to learn more about Skulls Unlimited.

Here is a couple more locations that have interesting gift items available but aren't primarily retail businesses.

The National Museum of Funeral History offers some macabre gift items, including die-cast hearses. I might have played cars with the other boys more as a kid if I'd had a little hearse to play with. The museum also has a number of items with their inspiring motto "Any day above ground is a good one." Shop til you drop at the National Museum of Funeral History.

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast offers vials of brick dust from the Borden house in their gift shop. They also carry Lizzie Borden skateboards, bobbleheads, hatchet-shaped jewelry and a moderate selection of Lizzie Borden books and apparel. Don't forget to axe Santa for something from the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast this Holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

-Tom G

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Curse of McGraw Mansion

Today marks 102 years since a horrible fire took the lives of four members of the Chi Psi fraternity at Cornell University. Three firemen perished while fighting the blaze as well. It was a tragic incident that destroyed a mansion that some believe was cursed by the death of its original owner, Jennie McGraw. The tale of Jennie McGraw is a long story, filled with tragedy, romance, conspiracy, money, courtroom drama and possibly a curse and a haunting. I will only relate only a tiny portion of the tale here.

Jennie McGraw was a wealthy heiress. She was the only child of lumber merchant John McGraw. Both Jennie and her father were benefactors of Cornell University and two buildings there are named for them; McGraw Hall and McGraw Tower. After her father's passing, Jennie ordered a mansion built for her on the University property. She went to Europe to purchase furnishings for the new home as it was being built. Jennie had long suffered the effects of tuberculosis and her condition worsened while overseas. Her time in Europe extended into years and her mansion, once finished, stood empty in wait for its mistress.

While in Italy, Jennie fell in love and married a Cornell professor who was also travelling. There was much whispering over whether it was true love or the work of a gold-digger in league with fellow conspirators out to get their hands on Jennie's fortune. Alas, that is a part of the tale we won't be discussing today.

In 1881, Jennie and her new husband were told by a doctor that she had only weeks to live. She decided it was finally time to leave Europe and head home to Ithaca, New York to die in a familiar place. Her and husband returned to Ithaca, whereupon she was taken by coach to a care facility to spend her final days. During the coach ride, Jennie was driven past the mansion she would never have opportunity to live it. She raised her head weakly from her pillows where she lay in the coach long enough to gaze upon the mansion and state her approval of its construction. After her death, she would finally enter the home. The mansion's housewarming was her funeral. The years that followed her death involved a good deal of legal ugliness that turned friends against each other and caused embarrassment for Cornell. The scars of this time are still evident on the campus today. A plaque featuring a bitter jab at Jennie's widow can be seen hanging at the Uris Library.

Some say that this tragic start for the McGraw Mansion tainted it with a curse. A curse that ultimately resulted in a massive fire that destroyed the mansion and the lives of seven men on December 7, 1906. For the last ten years of its existence, the McGraw Mansion had become a lodge for the Chi Psi fraternity on the campus. Tragically, a fire caused by oily rags stored in an unused elevator shaft combined with the way the home was constructed caused the mansion to become a raging inferno within a very short period of time. The fire spread rapidly upwards and outwards while the fraternity brothers slept. By the time it was discovered, it was too late for the building and for most of the fraternity members to escape in a safe fashion.

Some fraternity brothers jumped three floors to the ground to escape. Others on the second and third floors were lucky to escape from the blaze with non-fatal injuries when the section of wall they were near collapsed into the yard. Two other members were not so lucky and perished while trapped in the tall tower of the lodge. Still two other Chi Psi brothers died of injuries sustained from heroically trying to save their friends. At least one of these two heroes (a student named in the newspapers as O.L. Schmuck) escaped the mansion, only to run back into the burning building in an attempt to save his roommate (who was one of the students trapped in the tower).

Members of Cornell's football team and other students assisted fire fighters in an attempt to save lives and quell the flames. The fire was too widespread and the construction of the house made it very dangerous. The wooden interior burned quickly, causing the brick walls to collapse suddenly in sections. Three brave firefighters were killed when a flaming wall collapsed outward causing them to be pinned under the wreckage and "slowly roasted to death" as the New York Times stated later that day. It was a tragic end for a mansion with a tragic beginning.

The foundation of the mansion was used the following year to build a new lodge for the Chi Psi fraternity. They still occupy it to this day.

Visit the Chi Psi Lodge at Cornell University.

Or pay a visit to the tower at Cornell Jenny is said to haunt and discover the details of the drama that surrounded her and her death.

-Tom G

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Restless Remains

On today's date in 1891, young pianist Emma Crawford passed away from tuberculosis. As per her request, she was buried near the top of Red Mountain in Manitou Springs, Colorado. More than 20 years later a railroad transplanted her remains to another part of the mountain, causing her remains to wash down the side of the mountain in 1929. After some time spent in custody of the city of Manitou Springs, she was finally buried in Crystal Valley Cemetery and there she's stayed. While Emma's story has made her the most famous resident of Crystal Valley Cemetery (the city has a yearly festival in her name), there are other unusual tales of the dead associated with Crystal Valley cemetery.

There is a man whose body never made it to the cemetery. Tom O'Neal was mummified using embalming techniques that the county coroner was experimenting with. His body was regularly brought out of storage over the years so that it could dry in the sun. Eventually, the coroner died and was buried in Crystal Valley. A relative of the coroner buried Tom O'Neal as well, but the burial didn't last long. Graverobbers stole the body and it wound up as part of a traveling sideshow.

The ultimate fate of Tom O'Neal's body is unknown. It may have finally been lain to rest. It might just be in storage somewhere. In 1976, while filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man on location at a fun house in Long Beach, California, a crewman accidentally broke the arm off of a mannequin used in a display. It was quickly discovered to not have been a mannequin at all, but a mummified corpse! Celebrity pathologist Dr. Thomas Noguchi solved the case when he proved the body had belonged to gunfighter Elmer J. McCurdy. McCurdy, who like Tom O'Neal was never claimed by relatives, had his mummy wind up in a sideshow. Many years later, after his sideshow days were finished, McCurdy wound up in a warehouse full of mannequins. He eventually got purchased as a mannequin for use in an amusement park fun house.

Once identified, McCurdy was finally lain to rest in Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1977. McCurdy's corpse wandered for 65 years before being discovered more than 1,300 miles from where he had died. Who is to say the same fate hasn't befallen Tom O'Neal? The next time you visit a dark fun house in an old amusement park or pass by a mannequin in a store that doesn't look quite right, you might just be looking at the corpse of Tom O'Neal.

After these tales of restless remains, it may be surprising to read the tale of Theresa Kenny, the woman who loved her plot at Crystal Valley Cemetery so much that she spent a decent portion of the last decade of her life sitting in a rocking chair there.

Pay a visit to Crystal Valley Cemetery and learn that while "dead men tell no tales" there are still plenty of unusual stories to be read about the deceased.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Dark Shadows of Lyndhurst

Happy Birthday to actor Jonathan Frid, who turns 84-years-old today! Frid is primarily known for his role as the vampire Barnabas Collins on the popular 1960s Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The show had suffered from weak ratings until it began to dabble with supernatural elements. The introduction of ghosts into the plot generated a little interest, but it was the introduction of the character Barnabas Collins in an episode aired on March 22, 1967 that caused the series to take off. The show quickly became a hit with teens and older kids who raced home from school to catch the latest episode. Wisely, producer Dan Curtis and others responsible for the show decided to keep Jonathan Frid on the show and introduced new monsters into the series, wildly wandering far from the show's original concept.

The popularity of the TV series led to the production of a Dark Shadows movie for release in theaters. The film House of Dark Shadows was filmed concurrently with the show, causing some of the major characters to be written out of the show temporarily so the actors could star in the film. This is why in 1970 the show had Frid's Barnabas get locked away in a coffin for weeks. It's because Frid was North of the studio in Manhattan, involved in a production at Lyndhurst Mansion.

Lyndhurst, a large Gothic mansion in Tarrytown, New York had once been considered for use as the fictional Collinwood mansion exterior shots on the show. While it lost out to a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island for that role, a number of other buildings on the Lyndhurst estate were used in the production of the soap opera. Lyndhurst Mansion also won out as the shooting location for both indoor and outdoor scenes depicting the Collinwood home in House of Dark Shadows. The movie varied from the show in that it displayed violence and blood that could never be shown on television in that era. Another big variance with House of Dark Shadows was the the character of Barnabas Collins not being turned into a sympathetic hero. Instead, he remained a villain throughout the film. House of Dark Shadows was a big success in theaters and led to a sequel, Night of Dark Shadows, the following year.

Sadly, in the interim, ABC made the silly mistake of cancelling the popular series despite its low production costs and high ratings. At that time, the youth market wasn't considered desirable to advertisers in that time slot. Night of Dark Shadows, was made without the character of Barnabas Collins in it. The sequel was still a moderate success, but didn't perform as well as the first film. These two events spelled the end of Dark Shadows for a time.

In celebration of the birthday of Jonathan Frid, today's Dark Destination is the Lyndhurst Estate. If you dare to pay a visit there, you'll learn that Barnabas wasn't the only vampire to dwell in Lyndhurst. You will also read about a creature of the night discovered at Lyndhurst by film crew and kept as a mascot during the production of House of Dark Shadows.

Enter Lyndhurst and see what other buildings on the estate were used in the production of Dark Shadows.

-Tom G

Monday, December 1, 2008

Battle of Franklin (Part 2/2): Carnton Plantation

We return to the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin with a visit to the Carnton Plantation. Located in Franklin, Tennessee and just over a mile from the Carter House, this house was the home of a former mayor of nearby-Nashville, Randal McGavock, and his wife, Carrie. It was the site of great despair and grief even prior to the Civil War after three of the McGavock's children suffered a prolonged illness at an early age that eventually claimed their lives. When the Battle of Franklin came to town on November 30, 1864, the house and family would play a major role - Not in the battle itself, but during the aftermath.

It has been said that after losing her three children, Carrie McGavock spiraled into a deep depression and withdrew from the world. She would again find a purpose during the Civil War battle when wounded soldiers were quite literally brought to her doorstep. Reportedly in the heart of battle, there were so many injured soldiers brought to the Carnton Plantation that the wounded lined the house from top to bottom, as well as other buildings on the property, and more lined the property outside. Reportedly, the corpses of five Confederate Generals lined the porch as they awaited burial.

By all accounts, the family did everything they could do to assist the wounded from both the Union and Confederate side. After the doctors ran low of bandages, Carrie McGavock freely offered the family's towels and napkins. When they ran low, she supplied sheets, tablecloths, clothes, and even her own undergarments to patch up the wounds. Through her efforts and her subsequent mourning over the loss of lives, she earned the nickname of "The Widow of the South" and influenced a historical fiction novel by the same name from author Robert Hicks 141 years later.

McGavock emerged from her grief in 1866 when her and her husband decided to donate two-acres of the family's property to a proper Confederate cemetery. They even went so far as to actively raise money and take part in exhuming the over-1,500 soldiers that were buried on their property, as well as nearby-properties, and place them in proper graves. Today the cemetery is known as the McGavock Confederate Cemetery and sits adjacent to the house.

The house has since been turned into a museum that explores its historical past and is reportedly the site of paranormal activity. Ghosts of all genders and ages have been sited on the property and the sounds of the wounded are said to still occasionally echo from nowhere. It is even said that the ghost of a Confederate General is often seen by tourists to the property pacing back and forth on the porch outside.

Visit the makeshift Civil War hospital and read more on its ghostly past.

-Casey H.