Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tornadoes and Zombies in Pennsylvania

In July 1967, a group of filmmakers descended on a cemetery in rural Pennsylvania to film the opening scene of their small independent horror film. The film involved a group of survivors trying to find refuge as the dead inexplicably became reanimated and sought to devour living human flesh. The small film was George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and it is considered one of the greatest (and most important) horror films of all time. Its success and cult following has also transformed Evans City Cemetery into a must-see tourism spot for fans interested in seeing where it all began.

In the fictional world, the cemetery in essence ushered in a zombie apocalypse that resulted in several sequels and countless imitations – spawning the flesh-devouring sub-genre of zombie horror films. Evans City Cemetery is still overly recognizable as that virtual “ground zero” of the dead rising from the grave… mostly. Some visitors to the grounds might not know that the cemetery was the site of true chaos and destruction a couple of decades following the film’s release – courtesy of Mother Nature. On May 31, 1985, a tornado touched down on the cemetery grounds and wiped out trees, shrubbery, a mausoleum, and displaced 361 gravestones. It was only one of many tornadoes that struck the state of Pennsylvania (and surrounding states) that day, which caused mass destruction and took the lives of 69 people.

-Casey H.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

He Hangs Upside Down and Backwards

If you were to visit the city of Salem, Massachusetts, one sight you'd be unlikely to see would be the Salem Marine Society's meeting place. It is hidden from the public, way up high on the roof of the Hawthorne Hotel. The society has long met at that location (though once at a lower elevation), even prior to the construction of the hotel itself. The meeting place of the Salem Marine Society is closed to the general public, though it would probably make a fine tourist attraction. The small building that sits atop the Hawthorne was actually constructed to look like the cabin of an old sailing ship known as the Taria Topan. Within the meeting room are relics of Salem's marine past, a time when the shipping industry was the life's blood of Salem's economy rather than tourism.

Among the old items to be found in the Salem Marine Society's headquarters are a pair of portraits with an unusual tale behind them. Both portraits are of the same man, Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury; only one of the portraits is hung upside down and facing the wall. It has hung in that manner for 148 years as of today. On May 30, 1861, the Salem Marine Society voted to so dishonor Maury (who had been named an honorary member due to his great naval achievements, particularly in the field of navigation) due to his efforts in the Confederate Navy. The same talents that had allowed Maury to benefit mariners in general had made him a deadly foe that had cost the Union dearly in the lives of their own Navy. It was decided that his portrait would hang in dishonor rather than be entirely removed from the meeting place.

In 2007, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities provided the Salem Mariner's Society with a new portrait of Maury and a sign detailing his accomplishments. The Society hung the new portrait and sign in a proper manner next to the disgraced portrait. While the Salem Mariner's Society now honors Maury with the newer portrait, there is no plan to change the state of the old portrait which continues to hang upside down and backwards due to the side he chose in the war.

This is one of the many stories behind the Hawthorne Hotel. Pay a visit to the Hawthorne to read other tales associated with the hotel.

-Tom G

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dark Destinations Top 50 for Spring 2009

Here is a list of the current top 50 location articles at Dark Destinations. The popularity of the articles is determined by the number of hits each has gotten since they premiered on the Web site. Some of the articles found on this list have been on Dark Destinations for years at this point, others (such as our current number three on the list) have been featured on the site for only a few months. Our first number one location (Waverly Hills Sanatorium) has slid to the number five spot over the past year. The location currently in the number one spot (The Sylvia Likens House) was recently demolished. While it has a large lead, it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see The Haunting in Connecticut House give it a run for its money when The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) hits DVD later this year. Fans of the Twilight books and movie will be pleased to see that locations associated with both are featured multiple times on the list.

We will once again post a top locations list in October. We already have some ideas what may be rising up the list, based on the aforementioned DVD release as well as an upcoming 40th anniversary of an infamous crime that already has multiple locations associated with it listed at Dark Destinations. Of course, Casey and I have at times been surprised by a location rising up the chart faster than we could have predicted or by an unpredictable event in the news that drives new readers to read one of our articles. We can make educated guesses, but we can't predict the future. It will be interesting to see how things will change over the next five months. Click on any of the fifty links below to read the article in question.

-Tom G

1. The Sylvia Likens House
2. Twilight (2008): Thunderbird and Whale
3. The Haunting in Connecticut House
4. Twilight Saga: The Cullen House
5. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
6. Amityville Horror House
7. La Push, Washington
8. Sylvia Likens Memorial
9. The Simpson/Goldman House
10. The Oregon Vortex
11. The Sharon Tate House
12. Twilight (2008): Kalama High School
13. Twilight (2008): The Swan House
14. Old Tennessee State Prison
15. Twilight Saga: The Swan House
16. The Body Farm, Knoxville, TN
17. The Saint Louis Exorcist House
18. Fort Garry Hotel
19. Oak Hill Cemetery, Lebanon, IN
20. Spahn Ranch
21. West Virginia Penitentiary
22. Forks, Washington
23. Twilight (2008): Bloated Toad
24. Old Alexian Brothers Hospital
25. Forks Chamber of Commerce Twilight Tours
26. Eastern State Penitentiary
27. Hammond Castle
28. Frontier Field / Fear at Frontier
29. The Haunted World
30. Amityville Horror Movie House (2005)
31. The Lemp Mansion
32. Lake Erie
33. The Museum of Death
34. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre
35. Twilight Saga: Forks High School
36. Leeds Point, New Jersey
37. Twilight (2008): The Port Angeles Alley
38. Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses
39. Mekong River, Thailand
40. The Dent School House
41. First Beach, La Push, WA
42. Sleepy Hollow, New York
43. Johnny Cash's Childhood Hometown
44. Lake Compounce Amusement Park
45. Twilight (2008): The Stone Cliff Inn
46. Madison High School, Portland, OR
47. Amityville Horror Movie House (1979)
48. Hollywood Forever Cemetery
49. The Empire State Building
50. Missouri State Penitentiary

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Police Station from A Nightmare on Elm Street

Although set it an unnamed Midwestern town (it would not be until the sequel that the city name of Springwood was unveiled and the later television series that established the state as Ohio), Wes Craven's classic 1984 horror film, A Nightmare on Elm Street, was shot in-and-around Los Angeles, California, as were many of its sequels. Today, we are focusing in on the location that doubled as the "5th Precinct" police station where the main character, Nancy Thompson's (Heather Langenkamp) father (John Saxon) worked. It was also the site where Nancy's friend, Rod (Nick Corri), meets his demise by getting strung up in his sleep by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).

In reality, the 5th Precinct Police Station is actually the Cahuenga Branch Library that has been serving the area since 1916 and is one of the few surviving libraries in Los Angeles that was funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. In fact, the Cahuenga Branch Library is celebrating an anniversary of sorts today. On May 19, 1987, it had the honor of joining a few other libraries in the city in being added to the National Register of Historic Places. Although it has had some recent remodeling, the library is still easily identifiable from its role in the film - including the window next to the right entrance where Nancy checked in on Rod.

Read more about the library or read up on other locations from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

-Casey H.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

P.T. Barnum vs. the Brooklyn Bridge

Today marks the 125th Anniversary of a rather strange event on the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, New York. On May 17, 1884, famed showman P.T. Barnum decided to unleash a public spectacle by leading a menagerie of his circus animals across the still relatively young landmark. The train of animals included seven camels, ten one-humped Arabian camels, and 21 elephants, including the world famous Jumbo - a large African bush elephant that stood at an estimated 11-13 feet. The event was naturally well publicized and a massive crowd was said to have roared in applause as the convoy made its way across the bridge.

So why the need for such a spectacle? The Brooklyn Bridge had only opened one year earlier and questions about the bridge's stability started almost immediately. Tragically, those fears led to tragedy less than a week after its opening. On May 30, 1883, the bridge was loaded with people when a rumor went through the crowd that the bridge was about to collapse. The frightened crowd immediately made way for either side of the bridge and a stampede occurred. Officials were finally able to restore order over fifteen minutes later, but the damage had already been done. 12 people had either been trampled to death or died after being pushed into the river below, while another 35 were injured. Just short of one year later and " the interest of the dear public," P.T. Barnum and his circus arrived to prove once and for all that the bridge was safe. The stunt worked and the questions about the stability of the structure were silenced.

Read more tales about the Brooklyn Bridge.

-Casey H.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Rather Unusual Obelisk

Those that take a leisurely stroll through the Little Rock Arsenal in Little Rock, Arkansas might stumble across a very odd dedication. Some distance behind the famed Tower Building in the park area stands an obelisk that was erected on this date in 1927 by the Arkansas Medical Society. The white obelisk commemorates the first human dissection in the state of Arkansas, which apparently was done on the very spot the obelisk now stands in 1874. A human dissection obelisk is but one of the intriguing stories of the Little Rock Arsenal. It is also well known as the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur, hosted first the Confederate Army and later, the Union Army (who incarcerated the "Boy Hero of the Confederacy" here before his execution), in the midst of the Civil War, and is believed to be haunted by guests and staff alike to this day.

Read more about the Little Rock Arsenal.

On a completely unrelated note, today is also the anniversary of a fictional milestone as well. On May 12, 1984, a T-800 cyborg assassin arrived from the future with the intent of executing a waitress by the name of Sarah Connor. Fortunately for her, a human resistance fighter named Kyle Reese was also sent back who successfully thwarted the machine's plans. Ironically, 25 years later, the character of Sarah Connor is facing a "termination" of a different sort as executives at the Fox Network debate bringing the television show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, back for another season despite struggling ratings.

-Casey H.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Siamese Twins of the Mutter Museum

On this date in 1811, the world-famous conjoined twins, Chang and Eng, were born in Siam (now known as Thailand). At the ages of 18, Scottish merchant, Robert Hunter, hired the young men and introduced them into the world of show business. They began to travel the world and were billed the "Siamese Twins" in reference to their country of origin. Their legacy would become so strong that the name "Siamese Twins" is still incorrectly used as a reference for conjoined twins to this day.

A month after their death in 1874, the wives of the two men agreed to let their corpses be examined by the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A full autopsy followed that ultimately delivered some very grim news. Chang had died of natural causes, but Eng's death was attributed to either the extreme fright of being attached to a then-dead twin or sepsis from his brother's dead blood traveling through his own body. Although medicine was not advanced enough to determine if the brothers could be separated safely in life, the autopsy more or less confirmed that they probably could have led separate, healthy lives. Ligaments, skin, and a portion of their livers were all that conjoined the two men.

For a short time, their body was exhibited to medical professionals at the now-famous Mutter Museum in Philadelphia before being returned to their families in North Carolina (see White Plains Baptist Church Cemetery, Mt. Airy, NC). However, before the bodies left the museum, a death cast was made for future studies and the conjoined liver was removed. Both are still on display at the Mutter Museum to this day and are only a tiny part of the vast collections of medical oddities, specimens, and antique medical equipment - making it one of the more bizarre, but vastly popular tourist stops in Philadelphia.

Read about more exhibits at the Mutter Museum.

-Casey H.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cursed Videotapes in Astoria

Five years ago today, filmmakers behind the horror sequel, The Ring Two, held an open casting call in Astoria, Oregon looking for extras to appear in the new film. The event was held at the Astoria Middle School, which ironically also managed to land its own role in the film as the school of Aidan Keller (David Dorfman), the son (and later vessel of the evil spirit) of the main character, Rachel (Naomi Watts). Following the box office success of the first film (which itself was a remake of the Japanese horror film, Ringu), a sequel was quickly given the green light.

The action shifted from Seattle, Washington from the first film to this small port city on the northwest corner of Oregon. Rachel and Aidan fled to Astoria (also playing itself in the film) to escape from the evil force known as Samara, who kills anyone who happens to watch her cursed videotape. The middle school was not the only local setting to make an appearance in the film, as production took place at various spots around the community. The area might be familiar to moviegoers for its appearances in other films as well. Aside from The Ring Two, Astoria has also been utilized for such films as The Goonies (and we have a few of those locations as well), Kindergarten Cop, Short Circuit, Free Willy, and many more.

Most recently, Astoria appeared in the Lovecraft-inspired film, Cthulhu, and I have already personally visited many of the locations seen in that film. Keep an eye on the site over the next few weeks as they are added to the list as well. In the meantime, check out the various locations we have assembled that appeared in the 2005 horror sequel, The Ring Two:

Astoria Middle School (Aidan's school)
The City Park (opening scene)
Crossover Road (deer attack)
The Daily Astorian (Rachel's employer)
The Keller House (the home of the main characters)

-Casey H.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Calling on Haunted Attractions

We're looking for any haunted attractions (Halloween or otherwise) that are not currently listed on Dark Destinations, but interested in participating. Last year, we were thrilled when we finally reached listing the 100 Halloween haunts across the United States milestone, including at least one in each of the fifty states. This year, we want to expand out even more and provide more options for our users in their local areas.

Since I know that building and running a haunt is very time consuming as it is, I am more than willing to write the article on your haunt for you. All you need to do is contact me and I'll send you a list of questions (and possible follow-ups) for me to work off of. Last Halloween, we were inundated with folks looking for more information of haunts near them and we expect even more traffic this year. It is a great way to get word out and raise interest on your own haunt well in advance of the coming Halloween season.

The offer is also open to haunts that are currently listed on the site, but are interested in updating their articles with new information. Similarly, if you run any special events (conventions, ghost tours, film festivals, etc.), feel free to contact us as well. We will do our very best to get you listed as quickly as we can.

For example of our work, please take a look at the following haunts:
Terror Behind the Walls
Haunted Theatre, Wenatchee, WA
Forest of Fright, Philo, OH
The Haunted Forest, Williston, VT

Interested parties can contact us through this blog or via

Look forward to hearing from you!
-Casey H.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How Sad Was the Career, How Dark the Fate...

On today's date in 1885, the Actors Guild of New York a monument to Edgar Allan Poe that the guild had commissioned years prior. The ceremony was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where the monument was originally displayed. The ceremony to honor the deceased poet and author featured multiple speeches and music performances. Perhaps the greatest speech given at the event was very long and thoughtful observation on the life of Poe by the Reverend William Rounseville Alger. The following is a small excerpt from the speech (which is 21 pages in length in its entirety):

"How sad was the career, how dark the fate, of the proud dazzling, ill-starred unspeakably afflicted genius we are this day commemorating - overwhelmed with poverty, unappreciated by his contemporaries, beset with calamity, the lights of paradise and the flames of perdition contending in his breast. He was not a bad man in the proper sense of the term; that is, one who willfully preys on others. According to all the evidence, he has been a constant victim of misinterpretation, now ignorantly abused, now unfairly caricatured, now wantonly belied. He had many qualities which compel admiration, and many traits which are worthy of love - his extraordinary intellectuality, his imaginative worship of beauty, his ideal enthusiasm for literary art, his ineffaceable memory of the dead, his unfailing devotion to his wife and mother. He was not in any sense or in any approach a man of deliberate depravity. The worst that can be justly said against him is that he was stained with vicious wickedness - was variously defective and sinful; while his life was a series of trials, griefs, disappointments and tortures which in their intense and fearful array appeal irresistibly for the compassion of every chivalrous nature and the charitable judgments of mankind. Terribly indeed did he atone for his faults such as they were. For more than ten years he gave the world the dread sight of his genius, a kinglier Laoco├Ân, constricted and strangling in the coils of the crueler serpents, pride, appetite, and neglect. And he was deeply and darkly conscious of it, impotently struggling against it, til the divine torch, lighted at first in the sky, went out at last in the gutter."

Reverend Alger's speech was the second to last given at the ceremony. The first speech was delivered by the brother of an infamous assassin.

Pay a visit to The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia (where the monument now stands) and learn the identity of the opening orator that day long ago.

-Tom G

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Town that Dreaded Sundown

In 1972, director Charles B. Pierce made a splash with the surprise success of the low budget film, The Legend of Boggy Creek. The movie was presented in a docudrama format and detailed the legend of the so-called Fouke Monster in Boggy Creek just outside Fouke, Arkansas (see Boggy Creek, Arkansas). Pierce lived nearby in Texarkana, Texas and had formerly worked as an advertising salesman before his venture into filmmaking. The Legend of Boggy Creek grossed around $20 million and its gritty documentary-style approach unnerved theatergoers in drive-ins around the country.

In early-1977, Pierce would again return to the docudrama format for the horror film, The Town that Dreaded Sundown. Like The Legend of Boggy Creek, the new film played off another local legend in the area - The Moonlight Murders. The story dated back to early-1946 when the so-called Phantom Killer tormented the city of Texarkana, Texas over a period of a couple months. It started on February 22 with an attack that left two young adults injured but alive. Over the next two months (see March 24 and April 14), four more people were killed at the hands of the unknown assailant and police were desperate for leads. The Phantom Killer struck one more time (this time just across the border in Arkansas) on May 3 that left one victim dead and another in serious condition. The killer was never caught.

The events of 1946 were framed as a pseudo-documentary for The Town that Dreaded Sundown and followed a Texas Ranger as he attempted to crack the case. Much like the realness of The Legend of Boggy Creek caught viewers off-guard, the docudrama approach (complete with a narrator) chilled viewers across the world for Pierce's take on the infamous murders of Texarkana. Today, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is considered a minor cult classic.

-Casey H.