Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Plane that Struck the Empire State Building

Given the hustle and bustle of New York City, it is not surprising to find a few stories have slipped out of the collective consciousness and been relegated to a few paragraphs in the trivia section of travel books. However, some forgotten events become somewhat inexplicable when viewed with modern perceptions and fears. Such is the case of a B-25 bomber that crashed into the upper floors of the Empire State Building on this date 64 years ago.

On the morning of July 28, 1945, the so-called "Billy Mitchell" bomber got lost over a deep fog that enveloped the city en route to Newark, New Jersey. Pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Smith, attempted to get his bearings by descending to 1,000 feet, but found he strayed into the heart of the city. He quickly maneuvered his plane to avoid hitting the skyscrapers, but his new course of direction put him directly in line with the Empire State Building. At 9:49 A.M., the plane crashed into the building on 79th floor at a rate of approximately 200 miles per hour. At the time, the nation was nearing the end of World War II and fears immediately resonated throughout the city that it was under attack - an eerie foreshadow of events years later.

Amazingly, the tragedy was not as bad as it could have been as only 14 lives were lost in the crash, including the three-member crew of the B-25, despite a crowd of over 60 people on the observation deck at the time. The reason for this was actually quite simple. It happened on a Saturday and the typically full offices were relatively empty for the weekend. In the middle of destruction, there were also stories of survival and hope – including the tale of a woman that survived a 1,000-foot plunge in one of the building's elevators.

Read more about this and other tales of the Empire State Building.

-Casey H.

Monday, July 27, 2009

30th Anniversary of The Amityville Horror

On this date in 1979, the first film in a popular haunted house franchise hit screens. On July 27, The Amityville Horror was unleashed and became a box-office success worldwide. The film starred James Brolin, Margot Kidder, and Rod Steiger and was an adaptation of the novel of the same name by author Jay Anson. Of course, the film told of the alleged real-life haunting of the Lutz Family in a house located at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York (see Amityville Horror House).

The residence that doubled as that infamous house for the film was actually located in nearby Toms River, New Jersey, as Amityville officials turned down the studio's request to film there – reportedly already fed up with the exposure from the alleged haunting. The success of The Amityville Horror was spawned into countless sequels and even a remake in 2005 (see Amityville Horror Movie House (2005)) and reinvigorated the haunted house sub-genre of horror films. In fact, as this film celebrates its 30th Anniversary, another film based on an reputed haunting tore up screens earlier this year and is currently on top of the DVD rental charts - The Haunting in Connecticut (see The Haunting in Connecticut House).

Celebrate 30 years with a trip to Tom's River.

-Casey H.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Balloon Manor Canceled for 2009

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Balloon Manor is a haunted attraction created entirely from balloons that pops up each year in the Rochester, New York area. The story behind Balloon Manor is a romantic one. Artist Larry Moss's wife, Judy, fell into a coma in 2003 due to complications from cancer treatments. Larry would talk to her in the hopes he could bring her out of her unconscious state. One day he promised her that if she would please wake up and return to him, he would celebrate their Halloween wedding anniversary by building her a haunted castle out of balloons. When Judy finally came out of her coma, the one thing she remembered was Larry making that promise to her. In October of 2004, Larry and a team of volunteers fulfilled his romantic promise to his wife and built a 10,000 square foot haunted castle completely out of latex balloons. Everything, including the walls, furniture and monsters were made from balloons: an undertaking that took six and half days and over 100,000 balloons to make. One hundred percent of the profits for Balloon Manor went to cancer charities (and still do). Balloon Manor became a yearly tradition, with the exception of 2005 which was skipped.

Sadly, due to the current state of the economy and a lack of sponsorship this year, there will not be a Balloon Manor in 2009. There has been news coverage of Larry's struggles to drum up the support necessary for creating Balloon Manor, and while it brought in new volunteers and donations, it just wasn't enough to make Balloon Manor 2009 a reality. Larry informed me through email that he was going to make a public announcement about the cancellation later this week. He gave me the go ahead to break the news in advance through Dark Destinations since I was already in the process of updating our entry on Balloon Manor (see Balloon Manor). This is not the end of Balloon Manor, which Larry intends to bring back in the future. This also doesn't mean that Larry Moss doesn't have some other magic up his sleeve; he will also be announcing new upcoming projects that he has in development. To receive the official announcement (as well as future Balloon Manor announcements) you can sign up through http://balloonmanor.com/ or by following Balloon Manor on Twitter. Also, should you wish and are able, you can make monetary donations towards next year's Balloon Manor or even volunteer to help in its creation through the Balloon Manor Web site.

Click here to learn more about Balloon Manor and to view photos from past Balloon Manors.

-Tom G

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the Trail of the Lizard Man

1988 will forever be known as the "Year of the Lizard Man" in South Carolina. That summer, sightings of a large, unknown cryptid flooded into the police office in Bishopville (see Bishopville, South Carolina) and tensions rose in the small community. A June sighting by a local teenager named Chris Davis set the tone. He reported seeing a bipedal creature that stood seven-to-eight-feet tall with reptilian skin, glowing red eyes, and long, black claws extended from the three fingers on each hand near Scape Ore Swamp. Other reports followed and it was not long before the small South Carolina community was overrun by media from around the world.

Another incident would occur on July 24 that would further provide fuel to the fire. Teenagers, Rodney Nolf and Shane Stokes, were near near Scape Ore Swamp when a large figure quickly ran across the road some 20-feet in front of their car. Coupled with secondary reports of strange howling in the same area, the police were sent out to investigate. What they found were the remains of three 40-gallon cardboard drums scattered about the road and the tops of nearby trees severely damaged some eight feet from the ground. Even more interesting was the trail of three-toed tracks that measured 14 inches long and seven inches wide. The officers were apparently able to follow the tracks 300 yards into Scape Ore Swamp and returned the next day to take castings of three of the prints.

The castings were never submitted for analysis reportedly because they were assured that no possible match to an existing animal would be found. Still other accounts have wildlife officials outright dismissing the prints as outright fakes. For the most part, the reports of an eight-foot reptilian cryptid died off, although there have been a scattering of recent reports in the area that hint that something still lurks in the area. On a sad side-note, Davis was shot to death in his home earlier this year at the young age of 37 in an unrelated incident. While his passing may deprive future investigators of a firsthand account that was considered the most credible and descriptive by local officials, theories are still being thrown around. In fact, one of the more commonly accepted theories of what is lurking in Scape Ore Swamp recalls another legendary cryptid from the area.

Click here to read that theory and even more on the famed Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp.

-Casey H.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Hawthorne Hotel of Salem, Massachusetts

The Hawthorne Hotel opened on July 23, 1925 (84 years ago today) in the infamous city of Salem, Massachusetts. The hotel, then known as just The Hawthorne, was named after one of Salem's most accomplished residents, Nathaniel Hawthorne. The name "Hawthorne" actually has an ironic connotation for the city of Salem. While it pays tribute to the famed author, it is also an unintentional reference to the city's dark past. Nathaniel Hawthorne's great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was one of the judges during the Salem Witch Trials, earning him the moniker of "The Witch Hanging Judge," and the only one to refuse to repent for his actions during the time. Out of great shame of his family's legacy, Nathaniel later legally changed his name by adding the "w" to Hawthorne.

Perhaps it is only fitting that a hotel named after an author well known for employing the supernatural in his fiction and whose own past is tied to one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the United States is itself rumored to be haunted. In fact, there is a legend that the hotel is built on the former apple orchard of Bridget Bishop, the first person to be executed during the infamous trials. According to reports, guests and staff alike encounter the phantom smell of apples throughout the hotel to this very day. Of course, that is just one of the many ghostly legends tied to the hotel. In fact, if the stories are to be believed, the hotel is one of the most haunted locations not only in the state of Massachusetts, but in the entire country.

Read more on the ghosts and legends of the Hawthorne Hotel.

-Casey H.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Mad Dog Killers of Mansfield Reformatory

Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio might be better known by its unofficial name, Mansfield Reformatory. The former reformatory is renowned for its paranormal activity and spooky appearance, which has led many to dub the facility, "Dracula's Castle." Today, it is known in the paranormal field as something of an ideal training grounds for would-be ghost hunters to learn the tools of the trade. After all, the prison is steeped in legends of past inmate violence and other notorious goings-on. In fact, sometimes it is quite difficult to separate the legend from reality, For example, it is not uncommon to hear that the Ohio State Reformatory housed the worst of the worst in the state of Ohio. In reality, it was an intermediate facility whose inmates were those too old to serve in a juvenile detention center, yet too young for the hard life awaiting them at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. That's not say that the facility did not have its bad apples and bloodshed. In fact, today is the anniversary of one of the reformatory's most notorious crimes.

July 21, 1948 marked the start of a two-week crime spree that would take the lives of six innocent civilians and spread fear throughout the community. Interestingly, the crimes were sparked not by inmates then serving time, but rather two men who had recently been paroled. On this day 61 years ago, Robert Daniels and John West returned to Ohio State Reformatory to enact revenge on an employee of the prison. When that individual could not be located, the two men went to the home of the prison's farm superintendent and kidnapped the man, his wife and his daughter. They took the three souls to a nearby cornfield and executed them in cold blood. As it turned out, the crime spree had only just begun and it would last for two weeks longer until it ended in a shootout with West dead and Daniels in handcuffs. Robert Daniels would ultimately be executed for the crimes, for which the press dubbed the men the "Mad Dog Killers."

Read more of the history and the stories of ghostly activity at the Ohio State Reformatory.

-Casey H.

Monday, July 20, 2009

She Cries by the Light of the Moon

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 touching down on the lunar surface, we thought we would throw together our own little tribute to the Moon.

Our first stop is on the Earth's surface and at just one of many legends that the Moon is said to play a role. The story behind the lake and a small falls at Creve Coeur County Park in Missouri (just outside St. Louis) involves a Native American princess whose love of a French fur trader went unrequited. With a shattered heart, she took her own life by jumping from the cliff near the lake and her agony was suddenly reflected by the lake itself, which morphed to resemble a broken heart, while a small spring began to run over the cliff to represent her tears. Today, the ghost of the young maiden is said to be seen crying at the top of the cliff on Dripping Springs, but only by the light of the full Moon. On other nights, she is seen and heard in other ways.

Read more about the Native American Princess at Creve Coeur County Park.

We'll leave our own atmosphere for our next stop. As many of you are aware, Dark Destinations incorporates Google Maps into our site to make navigating your travels all the more easier. While Google Maps, and its offshoot Google Earth, are extremely popular, not everyone is aware that Google's reach extends beyond our own planet. In fact, Google has launched similar service that maps out and give you a satellite's view of the Moon (a similar interface is also available for the planet Mars). On Google Moon, they have even added an interface that allows you to see the landing spots of the Apollo missions and learn even more about what each mission entailed. Unfortunately, some features like Street View are not yet an option for obvious reasons. However, it probably won't be long knowing Google. Why else do you think NASA has future plans to send unmanned craft back to the lunar surface?

We do not yet have any Dark Destinations on the Moon, but maybe someday. After all, as Pink Floyd put it, “There is no dark side of the Moon, really. As a matter of fact, it's all dark."

-Casey H.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Sun Rises on Day of the Dead

Following the cult-like status of his previous zombie films (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead), George A. Romero set out in 1984 to make the third film in the original trilogy. Although it had a limited release just weeks earlier, Day of the Dead zombie-walked into a much wider release on this day in 1985. Romero had originally intended to make a high budget zombie film and he had arranged around seven million in financing. However, the budget was sliced in half after a dispute arose between the financiers and Romero when the latter insisted that the film be released unrated, rather than submit it to the Motion Pictures Association of America and receive a probable 'X' rating.

Although the film utilized locations in both Pennsylvania (the ol' stomping grounds in former Romero zombie films) and Florida, the major set piece of Day of the Dead was an underground military facility where the humans could live in safety from the zombie apocalypse outside. In reality, the base was a former limestone mine (known as the Wampum Mine in Wampum, Pennsylvania) that had been converted into an underground storage facility shortly after World War II. Today, the facility still serves in that capacity and is now known as the Gateway Commerce Center. While the inside may be locked off to tourists interested in its zombie-lore past, it still manages to hold a special place in the pantheons of the Romero's Dead films.

Read more on the Wampum Mine.

-Casey H.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Escape from Fort Delaware

In the early days of the American Civil War, the Union-run prisoner of war camp, Fort Delaware, still had a relatively low inmate population (still over half of what it would become only a year later) and few problems. It was run by Captain Augustus Gibson, whose general philosophy was to show the same respect and treatment to the captured Confederate troops that he would hope to be shown if he was in their shoes. While the attitude won him respect from the very prisoners he was in charge of guarding, it also raised suspicions about his loyalty to the Union by some of his troops and nearby residents. He remained confident of his approach however and that confidence proved to be his undoing.

After a general had visited the camp and had expressed a specific concern regarding the lack of gunboat patrols around the island that could keep a lookout for escape attempts, Captain Gibson assured his general that he had things completely under control. Only a few weeks later, this would prove to be a big mistake. 143 years ago to this day, 19 inmates at Fort Delaware constructed a makeshift raft and managed to navigate it across the Delaware River to the shore of Delaware, where local residents aided in their escape. For the high command it was obvious that Gibson's overconfidence (and suspect allegiance) was a detriment to his command and he was removed.

Things changed drastically after Gibson had left the camp. The population continued to swell and the treatment of the inmates went from bad to worse. In total, the Union estimates put the total of successful escape attempts at 273, although Confederate estimates nearly double, if not quadruple, the number. Escapes from the island were fraught with danger. Those that tried faced everything from drowning in the swift currents to patrol boats to sentries to sharks. It is unclear about how many perished by attempting to escape, which might account for some of the paranormal activity reported on the grounds of the former prison to this day. During the second week of June, these escape attempts are recreated with the annual Escape from Fort Delaware Triathlon, which attracts around 400 athletes per year.

Read more tales of Fort Delaware.

-Casey H.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Myths and Legends of the Hollywood Sign

Now a world-famous landmark, the Hollywood Sign was originally erected in 1923 to advertise real estate above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. It was officially dedicated on July 13 and each letter on the sign originally measured 30 feet wide and 50 feet high (it has since been resized) and adorned with light bulbs - 4,000 in total. While the real estate deal didn't work out, the sign was unofficially adopted by the burgeoning film industry as a symbolic marquee of the very industry itself.

Today, the sign is maintained by the Hollywood Sign Trust and has countless imitators around the world. While the sign is an iconic image for Hollywood, it is also the subject of countless of stories. Aside from the various urban legends about the sign, the various pranks throughout the years, its regular appearance (and typically destruction in film and television), the sign was also the site of a tragic suicide of a young starlet within a decade of its dedication. Following her death, the sign has also become the source for countless tales of paranormal activity and apparitions that are said to haunt the sign to this day.

Read all of the stories of the Hollywood Sign.

-Casey H.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

100 Years of Ghosts and Monsters at Oregon Caves

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of President William Howard Taft declaring a 480-acre plot of land in Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains as the Oregon Caves National Monument. The massive marble cave in the mountain has since been open to tour groups and expansion into further caverns has expanded the tour to 90 minutes today. 25 years later, the Oregon Caves Chateau was built directly adjacent the caves entrance to serve overnight guests to the park. In the years since, both have gained a reputation for some rather strange experiences.

Deep in the caves is an appropriately-named Ghost Room, which is said to be haunted by formal guide who was known for his pranks. Recently in 2000, an Oregon psychologist was walking with his family on the trails outside the cave when he reported seeing large upright figure that he described as fitting the descriptions of the famous Bigfoot. In the Chateau, guests on the third floor (and Room 310 in particular) have reported strange activity that staff have attributed to the ghost of Elizabeth - An early guest that was said to take her life on her honeymoon after finding her husband in another woman's arms.

From Tom and I here at Dark Destinations, a very happy 100 years to the Oregon Cave National Monument and all of its stories! Here's hoping that the next 100 bring even more interesting stories to light.

Read more stories about the Oregon Caves National Monument.

Or pay a visit to Elizabeth and Room 310 at the Oregon Caves Chateau.

-Casey H.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Bell Witch in Mississippi

The stories of the Bell Witch haunting and tormenting the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee are well known and documented (see The Bell Witch Historical Marker). However, there is another part of the story that is seldom told. Following the death of John Bell (some say at the hands of the entity), the life of the other focus of the spirit's taunting, Elizabeth “Betsy" Bell, was not much better. Though the “haunting" had seemingly finished for the time being, Betsy continued to suffer a variety of hardships and tragedies. She would live to see the death of five of her children (four at a young age, the fifth died fighting in the Civil War). Her husband, Richard Powell, would suffer a stroke and Betsy (now Elizabeth Powell) would spend 11 years caring for him before his death.

The story of the Bell Witch haunted Betsy for the rest of her life. In 1849, she was forced to threaten a lawsuit against the Saturday Evening Post who had recounted the legend of the entity, but alleged that the paranormal accounts were fiction and that Betsy was actually responsible for the events themselves. The magazine recanted the article and publicly apologized to Betsy.

In her later years, she moved to Mississippi to be closer to her children. She died there July 11, 1888 and was laid to rest at the Long Branch Cemetery in Water Valley. However, the story was not quite done. There are many that allege that the Bell Witch's torment of Betsy Bell continued until the day she died. In fact, there are many that report strange activity in and around Long Branch Cemetery to this day and that whatever taunted Betsy Bell in life has stayed around her even in death.

Visit the Long Branch Cemetery in Water Valley, Mississippi.

-Casey H.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Death of a Los Angeles Icon

90 years ago today, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith passed away at the age of 69. Griffith's name will forever be connected to the city of Los Angeles, California for the famous Griffith Park or Griffith Observatory, which were donated to the city by the eccentric industrialist. The park has long been connected with the so-called “Griffith Park Curse," though its roots extend back before his ownership. The legend states that a curse was placed on the land over a real estate dispute following the ownership of Don Antonio Feliz. The reported curse ravaged the finances of subsequent owners and even resulted in some of their untimely ends. Griffith's time was no different as similar misfortunes continued and he even reported seeing ghostly specters haunting the property at night. Reportedly hoping to escape the curse, Griffith donated the land to the city in 1896.

Some allege that it did little good, as Griffith's eccentricities were only exacerbated during his ownership of the property. Only seven years after his donation, Griffith accused his wife Christina of conspiring with the Pope to poison him and shot her in the head. She survived the attack, but Griffith's lawyers were able to use his stature in the community to secure him a short two-year prison sentence. Following his incarceration, Griffith tried to repair his name by donating money for the observatory, an amphitheater, and more at the park, but he was turned down by the city who did not want to associate with a known felon. Only after his death in 1919 did the city relent and accept Griffith's final gifts to the city. Griffith J. Griffith was laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Click here to read about more personalities at Hollywood Forever.

-Casey H.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Change of Ownership at the Bates Motel

On this date in 1987, the NBC network debuted the two-hour TV movie, Bates Motel, which picked up on the legacy of the Psycho series. In the film, an inmate by the name of Alex West (Bud Cort) is cell mate with the notorious Norman Bates (Kurt Paul). Near death, Bates encourages the soon-to-be-released West to take over ownership of his infamous hotel and bring it back to respectability. West is aided by a runaway named Willie (Lori Petty) in his new venture, but strange things begin to happen.

Marketed at the time as a thriller/comedy, Bates Motel was originally conceptualized as the pilot to a potential new series. As it turned out, it had a respectful debut and placed number one in programming against reruns on other networks. Regardless, studio executives decided against continuing the storyline in series format and the idea was shelved. Today, copies of Bates Motel are hard to come by, as the TV movie has had no known official DVD release. Naturally, the infamous Bates Motel and Psycho House on the Universal back lot were used for the new take on the Psycho mythos, as they were for the films (with one exception). While they are easily recognizable from those works, it is not generally known that the motel and house have also made quite a few appearances in other unrelated works as well.

Read more on the history of the famous set pieces - Psycho House and Bates Motel.

-Casey H.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Basin Park Hotel of Eureka Springs

Although often overshadowed by its often better known sister-hotel, Crescent Hotel (see Crescent Hotel & Spa), the Basin Park Hotel offers more stories for ghost enthusiasts to explore in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The hotel opened on this date in 1905 and at one-time hosted unsavory Chicago mobsters because of the hotel's owners outright ignoring of city laws that banned alcohol and slot machines. Today, the site plays host to ghost tours that explore not only the hotel itself, but downtown Eureka Springs. Like the Crescent, multiple spirits are said the haunt the halls of Basin Park Hotel and guests and staff alike still report strange encounters to this day.

Read the history and stories of the Basin Park Hotel.

-Casey H.