Using the hashtag #humpdayhaunts, I share a bit of paranormal history on my Instagram every Wednesday. I’ve been letting my followers vote between two themes. The most recent candidates? Haunted Lighthouses or Ghost Ships. The winner? Haunted Lighthouses!
I must admit, I was a bit bummed. I love lighthouses, but I wanted to explore new territory. In addition to the Instagram #humpdayhaunts, I thought I might do a short post on 3 ghost ships (since I’m doing 3 lighthouses). In the end, everyone wins.
The Ghost Ship of New Haven
English settlers of New Haven Colony sent a ship to England in January of 1647 in hopes of selling some goods. The ship was not in the best condition, prompting Reverend John Davenport to say rather prophetically, “Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our Friends in the bottom of the Sea, they are thine; save them!” The ship set sail and never returned.
A year or so later, as the legend goes, a summer thunderstorm hit New Haven. When the storm passed, the colony saw that very lost ship sailing the sky with battered sails. The Puritans took this as a sign of God’s anger.
There was a shipwreck at Block Island (Rhode Island) on December 26, 1738. The ship Princess Augusta was filled with German Palatines and led by Captain George Long. The trip itself was awful: provisions were limited, people died from illness, and water was contaminated. Captain Long was among the casualties. First Mate Andrew Brook took over and charged passengers for food.
Now, the waters of history get a bit murky.
There are several versions of what happened with this shipwreck. Here are two popular endings.
The people of Block Island saved the living passengers (that were pretty much left behind by Brook) and buried their deceased. The ship may have been scuttled or burned. Some theories said it was repaired and sent to its intended destination: Philadelphia.
The people of Block Island lured the ship to the shore using a false light. They then murdered the passengers and took all their belongings. They set the ship on fire.
During the period between Christmas and New Years, people have witnessed a burning phantom ship. The phenomenon is known as the Palatine Light.
John Greenleaf Whittier made the story famous with the 1867 poem “The Palatine.”
I have gained some new followers on social media, so I thought I might spend some time diving into the archives. Y’all have missed a lot! Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up…
Some time ago, I did a series called A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge. This series explored the paranormal basics: key terms, classifications, theories, and schools of thought. The idea was to prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. I might bring the series back some day. For now, let’s enjoy some past posts!
It is almost July and I’m burning a pumpkin scented candle. Too soon? My friends are watching their pumpkin seeds become seedlings, so I can start shoving pumpkin knowledge into your faces. Right? I will start slow with a short list of pumpkin superstitions. Enjoy!
Carrying a hollowed-out pumpkin on Halloween will protect you from evil spirits.
Eating a pumpkin stalk will make you foolish.
In China, the pumpkin is a symbol of fertility.
Pumpkins are best planted on Good Friday.
Once growing, never point at a pumpkin! It will cause them to rot.
Eating pumpkin seeds can quiet “an excessively passionate nature.”
Pumpkin seeds, when mixed with oil to create a paste and then rubbed on the skin, will eradicate freckles.
“Plant pumpkin seeds in May / And they will all run away. Plant pumpkin seeds in June / And they will come soon.”
Eating pumpkin seeds will cure worms.
If cows eat pumpkin seeds, they will go dry.
Carroll, William. Superstitions: 10,000 You Really Need. Coda Publications, 1998.
Daniels, Cora Linn. Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: Volume 2. 1903.
Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York, The Diagram Group, 2008.
Pickering, David. Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions. London, Cassell, 1995.
This is a work in progress. A (much) better version of this post appeared in Dirge Magazine when it was alive (RIP!). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save the final, edited version before the site went down. I had some really great editors! Nevertheless, I find the topic interesting and thought I would share. I’ll probably make further improvements in the future!
On September 27, 1726, a young woman in rural England gave birth to three legs of a cat, one leg of a rabbit, and the backbone of an eel. Over the next month, Mary Toft gave birth to around a dozen rabbits. Due to a theory that emotions could cause birth defects, this birth seemed plausible and Mary became a local celebrity. Eventually, mounting evidence and the threat of court-appointed and experimental pelvic surgery led to Mary’s confession that it was indeed a hoax.
How does one fake the birth of animal parts and full-grown rabbits? After a miscarriage, Mary hid the animal parts while her cervix was still open. For future births she sewed a pocket in her skirt where she hid the rabbits. While the doctor was distracted, she placed the rabbits inside her and faked birth.
This would not be the last time a woman put a peculiar thing in her vagina to trick the men of Science. At the height of Spiritualism (late 1800s and early 1900s), or the belief that the living could communicate with the spirit world, mediums put on entertaining seances with knocks, moving tables, and a mysterious white substance called ectoplasm that sometimes came out of their vaginas.
Spiritualism and Female Sexuality
Spiritualism was a movement that did not discriminate based on socioeconomic class or gender, and most mediums were women. People looked to women for a peek into the afterlife, giving them substantial power and respect. It is no surprise then that many members of the American suffrage movement were also Spiritualists and even Susan B. Anthony supported the assertion that Spiritualism was the only religious sect to acknowledge the equality of women (Dickey 74).
Spiritualism gave women the space to move their bodies and speak in ways they had not before. In Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey writes, “Spiritualism tended to valorize traits that were elsewhere labeled as women’s psychiatric diseases, including convulsions, incoherent babbling, open displays of sexuality, and other violations of Victorian decorum” (74). Behaviors that would usually get a woman institutionalized became evidence of otherworldly communication. Mediums’ open displays of sexuality during seances also revealed to observers another mystery of the universe: the vagina.
Science was already confused about female sexuality and was using new tools and procedures to explore what Freud called “the black continent.” In “Bawdy Technologies and the Birth of Ectoplasm,” Anne L. Delgado writes:
Ectoplasm emerged at a time when women’s bodies were under special scrutiny: surgical gynecology allowed physicians to examine pathological conditions hidden within the female body and medical practitioners had devised and made use of gynecological instruments like the speculum that could reveal female interiors. It was also during this period that parts of the female anatomy were being removed through procedures like the ovariotomy, a surgery designed to treat phantom ailments like nymphomania and hysteria.
Society’s misconceptions about female bodies and desire to understand the afterlife set the stage for a fascinating elaborate hoax. Using the tool of ectoplasm, women convinced many they were giving birth to a new biological order.
With any threat to patriarchy comes a wave of backlash. Although, it did not help matters that mediums were using fraudulent practices. Two key figures in the ongoing public discussion concerning Spiritualism’s credibility were magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Harry Houdini, using his knowledge of illusion creation, developed a task force to disprove dishonest mediums. Doyle, on the other hand, was a huge proponent of mediumship and a believer of ectoplasm.
Ectoplasm: The Magician’s Secret
Ectoplasm, a term coined by French physiologist Charles Richet, is the materialization of spiritual energy that extrudes from a medium during a seance. This milky white substance varies in description and its make-up may change throughout the ectoplasmic process, beginning as a vapor or solidifying into a plastic substance (Doyle). It may be snake-like, web-like, sticky, airy, smokey, doughy, moist, dry, cold, or warm. Furthermore, ectoplasm is sensitive to light and any flash of light might “drive the structure back into the medium with the force of a snapped elastic band” (Doyle).
Ectoplasm enters the world of the living through orifices of the medium’s body: pores, mouths, ears, nipples, and vaginas. Once ectoplasm is released from the body, it may transform into limbs, faces, or entire bodies. During one seance led by medium Madame d’Esperance, observers watched as a cloudy patch moved along the floor, gradually expanding. Then near the center, something began to rise from underneath the material, forming what looked like to be a 5-foot humanoid figure. In another example, Mina Crandon produced a ectoplasmic hand from her navel.
Ectoplasm was later proven fake as spiritualists were using cheesecloth, egg whites, or other this-worldly materials. You know that hand that came from Mina’s navel? It was animal tissue and trachea cut and sewn together.
The Queen of Ectoplasm: Eva Carrière
Like the mystery of female sexuality, ectoplasm baffled science, resulting in many intrusive experiments involving the examination of orifices for hidden “ectoplasm.” It was not uncommon for mediums to have their vaginas searched before mediumship experiments. No one was more intimately studied that French Spiritualist, Eva Carriere (1886-1943).
Eva Carrière (born Marthe Béraud) was so prolific in producing ectoplasm and ectoplasmic bodies that she was nicknamed the Queen of Ectoplasm (Jaher 47). Her most notable seance character was Bien Boa, a 300-year-old Brahmin Hindu that would rise from her ectoplasmic emissions. She attracted the attention of many critics and believers, including Houdini and Doyle.
Physical researcher Juliette Bisson and German physician Bardon Albert von Schrenck-Notzing would perform the most thorough and titillating examination of Eva’s body and vaginal excretions in the early 1900s. They took turns before sessions examining her vagina for any evidence of hidden material. Sometimes, even after Bisson thoroughly checked her genitalia, Eva would invite Schrenck-Notzing for a second examination.
In a letters to Schrenck-Notzing (Delgado), Bisson describes the erotic dance between Eva and the spirit world.
On my expressing a wish, the medium parted her thighs and I saw that material assumed a curious shape, resembling an orchid, decreased slowly, and entered the vagina. During the whole process I held her hands. Eva then said, ‘Wait, we will try to facilitate the passage.’ She rose, mounted on the chair, and sat down on one of the arm-rests, her feet touching the seat. Before my eyes, and with the curtain open a large spherical mass, about 8 inches in diameter, emerged from the vagina and quickly placed itself on her left thigh while she crossed her legs. I distinctly recognized in the mass a still unfinished face, whose eyes looked at me.
And months later in another letter:
Yesterday I hypnotized Eva as usual, and she unexpectedly began to produce phenomena. As soon as they began, Eva allowed me to undress her completely. I then saw a thick thread emerge from the vagina. It changed its place, left the genitals, and disappeared in the navel depression.More material emerged from the vagina, and with a sinuous serpentine motion of its own it crept up the girl’s body, giving the impression as if it were about to rise in the air. Finally it ascended to her head, entered Eva’s mouth, and disappeared. Eva then stood up, and again a mass of material appeared at the genitals, spread out, and hung suspended between her legs. A strip of it rose, took a direction towards me, receded and disappeared. All this happened while Eva stood up.
Bisson and Schrenck-Notzing also took a number of erotic photographs of Eva (you know for science), including Eva naked with fake ectoplasm dripping from her breasts. Many argue that Bisson and Eva were romantically involved, creating elaborate ectoplasmic performances to seduce and trick a male audience. Were Bisson and Eva using sexuality as a method of distraction? Were they exploring new sexual desires? We’ll never know their intentions.
Photographic evidence eventually revealed Bisson and Eva as frauds. Prior to this, Schrenck-Notzing and other male researchers found out about the hoax, but kept quiet because they believed in mediumship so strongly. After one observation of Eva, Houdini said both women had taken “advantage of the credulity and good nature of the various men with whom they had to deal” (Delgado). Basically, women were lying seductresses and men were victims of sexual misdirection.
The Witch of Lime Street: Mina Crandon
Another famous medium known for her alleged sexual behavior and vaginal ectoplasm was Mina Crandon (1888-1941) of Boston, known by her followers as Margery and by newspapers as the Witch of Lime Street. In The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, David Jaher describes Harry Houdini’s witch hunt against lauded medium Margery. She had convinced Boyle of her skills, so much so that he urged her to enter a contest sponsored by Scientific American. The publication promised a sizeable monetary award to the first authentic medium. This began a publicity war between Spiritualism and Science, and all eyes were on Mina’s body.
While Mina was never examined to the extent of Eva, her vagina was still under scrutiny. One member of the Scientific American committee, psychologist William McDougall of Harvard, said she concealed fake ectoplasmic hands in her vagina. He also said that her husband Dr. Crandon must have surgically expanded her vagina. Houdini also said she was in bed with investigators, winning their silence. Whatever way you look at it, Jaher writes, she was considered a “loose woman” by committee members. She did not win the award.
Maybe these mediums were protesting the rigid scientific analysis of female anatomy by male-dominated medicine. After all, mediums were convincing otherwise educated men that a piece of cheesecloth was a manifestation of spiritual energy. Maybe these mediums wanted the opportunities men had: captivated audiences, money, and respect. We praise Houdini for his illusions, but these mediums were just as intelligent and creative. History portrays these women as seductresses, loose women, and sexual deviants, but maybe they should be honored as Magicians of Matriarchy.
All photos from Wikimedia Commons. All Public Domain.
Delgado, Anne L. ““Bawdy Technologies and the Birth of Ectoplasm.” Genders, no. 54, 2011.
Dickey, Colin. Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places. Viking, 2016.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism, vol. 2, 1926.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Facts on File, 1992.
Jaher, David. The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in The Spirit World. Broadway Books New York, 2013.
Reilly, Lucas. “The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.” mental_floss, 28 January 2014.
The Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana (incorporated in 1881) has fully embraced their ghost(s). They allowed websites to place cameras in the library so internet users could watch and capture possible paranormal activity 24/7. These sites gave me a chance to ghost hunt from the safety of my computer chair and, although I could not watch at night (I was a teen with a bedtime after all), I was able to see what other users had captured during their “investigations.” The whole thing was wild to me. People from all over the United States and beyond were watching this library in my home state Indiana, waiting to spot something off.
My husband told me recently our friends were moving to Evansville. Of course my response was: “Let’s visit. I can finally go to Willard Library.” I began to reminisce about the hours I spent on AOL looking for the Grey Lady of Willard Library. Lucky enough, these sites are still up and running.
Put up your metaphorical away message and take a trip with me down memory lane…
*BRB* Watching ghosts on Willard Library’s Ghost Cam. =-O
About the Ghost
The Grey Lady Ghost of Willard Library is believed to be Louise Carpenter, the daughter of the library’s founder. Some say she harbors resentment for the library, because her father left much of his estate to it. First seen by a custodian in the 1930s, the ghost was last seen in 2015 (arguably):
[…] two library staff members in the children’s department noticed a security camera showing a strange woman looking out a glass door. She turned to look at the camera, but then her image began pixelating on the video. (Source)
The ghost has been spotted throughout the library, even the elevator (spooky!). Some paranormal activity attributed to the ghost include: water being turned on and off, cold temperatures, the smell of perfume, odd noises (including the clinking of typewriter keys), hair and earrings being touched, new objects appearing, and objects being moved (Source).
The Web Cams
There are two different websites with Willard Library webcams (both linked on Willard Library’s main site). Both sites’ cams provide different angles and capture entities other than the Grey Lady. The first site is Library Ghost, which has cameras in three locations: (1) the children’s room, (2) the basement hall, and (3) the research room. The site is hit-and-miss now; sometimes the cams don’t work. This site also hosts a forum, but no one really moderates or participates anymore (Some robot posted about bathroom faucets 300 times. Maybe it’s the Grey Lady? She does play with faucets at the library).
The second site, Willard Ghost, has recent user interaction (last post was this month). The three camera locations in the library include: (1) the main room , (2) the children’s room, and (3) a stairwell. You can capture shots of the ghost and submit them to the moderator, who then posts them on the site with comments. The site also shares audio captured on microphones placed in the library.
These sites are not as active as they were in my childhood, but are still running! Take a few minutes (or hours!) today to catch a ghost, before these sites become ghost towns.
“In My Commonplace Book” is a regular series in which I share the recent scribblings from my commonplace book. Opposed to my well-researched posts, these are simply interesting things I have been reading about. To learn more about commonplace books, you can read a general introduction here. Each of these posts will include a writing prompt to get you writing in your own notebook/commonplace book.
In between titled entries in my commonplace book are random pages filled with quotes that I come across while reading. I thought I might share some of my favorites.
“All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.” – Samuel Johnson on ghosts
“Ghosts — if they cannot exactly be described as living history — certainly personify our shared past by replaying it. They are so valuable to us because they are externalised memories, reminding us of the layers of history beneath our feet, of the old stories that refused to be erased” – The Ghost by Susan Owens (page 12)
“‘Think of it Ben,’ she said. ‘Controlled multiple haunting. Something absolutely unique in haunted houses: a surviving will so powerful that he can use that power to dominate every other surviving personality in the house.'” – Florence in Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)
“Fear seemed to exude from the walls, to dim the mirrors with its clammy breath, to stir shuddering among the tattered draperies, to impregnate the whole atmosphere as with an essence, a gas, a contagious disease.” – Ella D’Arcy’s “The Villa Lucienne” (1896)
“It seems rather to be more like a memory image of the person, as if some startling or highly dramatic event had left such an impact that the house is impregnated with it. The theory is: during acts of violence great waves of hysteria or emotion-laden thoughts are released, which somehow seem to photograph the actual event just as if a movie had been take at the scene. This ‘physic film’ is capable of being seen when conditions are just right, or by especially sensitive people.” – Susy Smith on ghosts without a purpose in Haunted Houses by the Millions (page 15)
“Certainly poltergeists seem to like company, while the more normal ghosts generally prefer solitude.” – Joseph Braddock’s Haunted Houses of Great Britain (page 82)
“The room itself might have been full of secrets. They seemed to be piling themselves up, as evening fell, like the layers and layers of velvet shadow dropping from the low ceiling, the dusky walls of books, the smoke-blurred sculpture of the hooded hearth.” – Edith Wharton’s “Afterward”
I am currently working on a long-form blog post about haunted offices (is there anything scarier?) and I came across this interesting news clipping about “The Chopper.” If going to the dentist wasn’t scary enough…
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 September 1983, page 3.
I have a hobby of searching old newspapers for state history on hauntings. So often do stories of ghosts slip trough the cracks of time, while others are documented in books and lore. So, I thought I would share interesting stories I come across in my newspaper research.
“Cole Was Haunted Day and Night – Daviess County Man Confesses Murder of Cousin” (The Elwood Daily Record, 20 December 1909)
Stephen Cole was in jail for the murder of his cousin, George Cole, and claimed to be innocent. His son Charles had written to his mother, pleading for her to say anything she might know to exonerate him. When Cole got wind of the communication, he called his lawyer and finally admitted his guilt. He was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. While this could pass as another episode of Law and Order, the article ends with a supernatural twist. It seems he was haunted day and night by his murdered cousin in Daviess County jail.
During his confinement in the jail Cole has told the attaches that he has nightly been haunted by ghosts of the murdered man, and many times in the night would call to them that he was being haunted and that on two occasions when he called that he had in mind to make a clean breast of the affair, and when they would enter the cell he would again gain courage to stave it off.
“A Ghost Story: How a Citizens’ Committee Investigated the Mystery of a Haunted Church” (Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, 29 December 1885)
This article was a reprint from the Cincinnati Enquirer. This story was in “Our Five Cent Column” among advertisements for medical cures (Salvation Oil and Ely’s Cream Balm) and local businesses.
There was an old and empty church for sale at the entrance of a cemetery in New Bremen, Ohio. Rumors began to spread throughout the village about strange noises and lights appearing in the church at midnight, even though it had not held a service in many years. Some believed the rumors were started by interested buyers trying to lower the cost. Others truly believed it was haunted, briskly walking past the church at night. The town was so excited by the supposed haunting that they appointed a committee to investigate.
One dark night, a committee led by the village Marshal approached the haunted church. Before even entering the church, lights were seen and clatter was heard in the attic (“like some’ one beating on a lot of tin pans”). They continued into the church and up the stairs towards the attic. Suddenly, the lights turned off.
The Marshal tried to convince the committee to continue the investigation in the morning, but was met with jeers. He finally agreed to go upstairs alone, with just his butcher knife, while the committee stayed at the bottom of the stairs.
He heard groans as he turned the door knob. When he opened the door, a white object came flying towards him. Frightened, he stabbed it with his knife, which caused a noise “as if a thousand hailstones had fallen.” The Marshal, having already been deserted by the rest of the committee, ran straight out of the church. So emotionally scarred, it took him several weeks to even leave his house.
Well, this is what really happened.
The Marshal’s son and friends caught wind of the committee’s investigation and decided to have a little fun. The boys lit some candles (the mysterious lights) and waited for the Marshal to arrive. When they heard him coming, they put out the candles and hid in the attic. They had hung a bag of nuts so when the door at the entrance of the stairs opened, the bag moved aside. When the attic door opened, the bag would swing across the entrance. When the Marshal stabbed the bag, nuts rolled out of the bag and down the stairs (the hailstorm).
Well, the story leaked and the Marshal became a village joke. So much, in fact, he had to resign.