Using Commonplace Books to Study (Save?) Halloween

Photo by Andyone on Unsplash

This Halloween will definitely be interesting as we create new traditions in response to COVID-19. What is great about Halloween is that it has always adapted to societal challenges and in impactful (and sometimes questionable) ways. Did you know that haunted houses have roots in the Great Depression? Instead of lamenting the fact that some traditions might be put on hold (i.e. trick-or-treating), let us celebrate the fact that this Halloween’s adaptations may inspire new traditions and activities.

With that said, I have an exercise that will (1) aid in exploring the history of Halloween, (2) help with inspiring new traditions for your own family in quarantine, and (3) introduce you to a new hobby. I am asking you to start a Halloween commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book? I explain more in the next section, but commonplaces books “serve as a means of storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work” (Harvard University Library). I sometimes describe them as DIY textbooks with one reader in mind: you.

Now, before you are scared off (Boo!), commonplace books are accessible to everyone. You simply need the desire to learn. You will not be tested on the material. There will be no final paper! You are simply researching and documenting for the sake of learning.

You can start a commonplace book on any topic, but today I challenge my spooky friends to study Halloween. By looking back you might feel rejuvenated in a time when everything seems “on pause.” History reveals, though, that nothing is really dormant.

In the following post I briefly introduce the topic, explain how to start one, and list general tips, topics, and resources to get you going. Also, please check back to this post at a later date. I will update it with more information and resources as it comes up.

What is a Commonplace Book?

The commonplace book, not be confused with a journal, organizes information by topic (rather than by date) so that it can be easily accessed at a later date. This information includes research notes, clippings from newspapers, printed articles, collected quotes, readings notes, images/photographs, drawings, and more. Think of it as a repository.

These do not need to be beautifully designed and handwritten. Organized chaos is welcome here! So don’t feel pressured to make everything look neat. This book is meant for the individual’s learning.

I have always loved learning new things and have found commonplace books an effective tool in archiving that information just in case my memory fails me. We all absorb so much information each day, especially due to social media. Why not take time to learn something new and really sit with it? Commonplace books give me the opportunity to (slow down and) document and reflect on topics I am passionate about. In some ways, it is an act of self-care.

I have written about this topic at length before. I have covered the history (with pictures!), addressed how tech-savvy people can use commonplace books, and given so many tips on starting and maintaining your own. If you would like a detailed introduction, check out these two posts:

Starting Your Commonplace Book

I am going to explain how to start a physical commonplace book, but you can definitely make a digital version. I just prefer the “paper and pen break” from technology. Again, I have written about this topic at length, so check out those blog posts linked above. They even include photographs of commonplace books as examples.

  1. Find a notebook. You can use whatever type of notebook you like. I prefer sturdy, beautifully decorated notebooks. Picking out my next commonplace book is always a fun experience. I have a commonplace book for each subject. For example, I have a commonplace book just for spooky topics. You might have one strictly for Halloween, another for Literature, Occult History, Witchcraft, whatever!
  2. Create a Table of Contents. Save a couple of pages in the beginning for the Table of Contents. You will be adding entries as you go.
  3. Number your pages. You can number all the pages at once or you can number as you go. When you start a new entry, you will put the title and page number on the Table of Contents page.
  4. Start archiving! Sometimes I start an entry with a topic in mind. Sometimes I watch a show or find an article I want to take notes on. Sometimes my entries are just entire articles printed and pasted into my book for future reference (with all the citation information of course). I take my book along to paranormal conferences to take notes. The possibilities are endless, really.

This commonplace book will explore the topic of Halloween. What is it all about? What are its origins? How has it changed over time? Through the study of Halloween, you might feel inspired to create new ways or bring back old ways of celebrating the holiday (safely!). For example, by researching vintage postcards, you might feel inspired to design your own and send them to friends. And, Halloween has a long history of games you can bring into your own home as well. Maybe adding entries to this very commonplace book will be a new tradition.

An Example of a Table of Contents Page
An Example of an Entry

General Tips

Here are some general tips. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. I will address them in this section as well.

  • Your note-taking style will be as unique as you. My notes are truly inspired by my work in academia. I use lots of bulleted lists, highlighting, and tables. I sometimes create sidebars and text boxes (like a textbook). That’s just me though! Take notes in a way that works for you.
  • Make sure to write down where you get your sources. Do not worry! You do not need to follow the citation style taught in school. Just make sure to write as much information as possible so that you can find it again (if necessary).
  • Get creative if you want! I usually just fill my book with text. Sometimes I feel especially inspired and will add flourishes on my page with stamps, stickers, and colored pencils.

Possible Topics and Resources

Here are some possible topics to start with.

  • Origins of the Jack-o’-lantern
  • Origins of Trick-or-Treating
  • Interesting Halloween Festivals Across the United States
  • The History of the Haunted House
  • Halloween Postcards

Here are some possible resources to start with.


If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. This is a “living” blog post and I will update it if something comes up (a question, new resource I come across, etc.). Don’t hesitate to ask questions! I love talking about commonplace books. 👻

Interview with Leigh Paynter, Author of the The Pine Barrens’ Devil

Leigh Paynter provided me a copy of her book, The Pine Barrens’ Devil, to review. I enjoyed the book so much that I asked Leigh for an interview and I am thrilled she agreed. The Pine Barrens’ Devil is a collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, each set in a different time period. In Leigh’s book, the Jersey Devil is an intelligent, seductive, and manipulative being able to pinpoint and use the insecurities, desires, fears, and misdirections of his human prey as an opportunity to pounce. The devil, in this book, does not pull humans apart with his teeth or claws, but with psychological mind play.

The Jersey Devil is not the only central character of the book, but it is also the vast, confusing forest. The forest is a living being that seems to suck in the human visitors of each story. Get lost in the woods and you might find yourself trapped in another dimension, like a mouse in the Jersey Devil’s cage. After reading each story, you might find yourself reaching out for something tangible (a wall, a chair, your dog) to ensure you were not absorbed into the Pine Barrens as well.

The book, less than 150 pages, is a quick and spooky read, perfect for a stormy night or while sitting outside on a cool autumn evening. You could read it while camping but, after reading the book, I recommend you “Stay out of the forest!” (My Favorite Murder). With digital and print format under five dollars, this book is a spooky bargain.

I was excited to learn more about Leigh’s book and writing process. Enjoy the interview below and then check out the book for yourself!

For those unfamiliar with New Jersey, could you explain what the Pine Barrens is (and is like) and your experiences with the area? 

The Pine Barrens is 1.1 million acres of relatively untouched pine and cedar forest that stretches across the middle of New Jersey. The soil is sandy, so it’s not good for farming, but the water, despite being brown in color, is chemically pure. The U.S government describes it as being like glacial ice water.

Having grown up near the Pine Barrens, it can be scary because it’s very easy to get lost in it if you are not following the river. Adding to the creepiness are several abandoned colonial and mid-1800 era villages.

My favorite location is Batsto Village. It’s an old ironworks village from pre-Revolutionary times that has most of the original buildings still standing and is beautiful during the fall.

Who is the Jersey Devil? And, how much does the Jersey Devil permeate the culture of New Jersey? Your life?

Most South Jerseyans grew up hearing about the Jersey Devil. The professional hockey team is even named “The New Jersey Devils.” The legend says in the 1700s the Jersey Devil was born a beautiful boy to a Mrs. Leeds, who didn’t want to have a 13th child. She cursed him during childbirth. Shortly after he was born, he started to turn from a chubby, blue-eyed baby into a demon who flew out the chimney and into the Pine Barrens.

The stories of missing livestock, strange tracks, odd noises and bizarre creature sightings all direct back to the mysterious Jersey Devil. There have been multiple newspaper articles written about the Jersey Devil, a few movies and books, and a diner called Lucille’s Country Cooking that has a wooden statue of the Jersey Devil outside.

My younger brother and I loved being scared and we would seek out books on cryptids and monsters at the library when we were kids. We both experienced night terrors and I started using those nightmares as inspiration for campfire stories.

In your stories, the Jersey Devil is sort of a chess player and the humans that wander into his woods are his pawns. What made you portray the Jersey Devil in such a way? 

My mother first told me the legend of the Jersey Devil and perhaps because of the way she told it – she sounded so sad when she said his mother didn’t want him – I always grew up seeing the Jersey Devil as a sympathetic character and more man than creature.

As a kid, I loved Washington Irving’s stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and I gravitated to the idea that the protagonists were not heroes, but flawed people.

While writing The Pine Barrens’ Devil, I used real people who had been in the subject of national news as inspiration. I’ve always been curious about what people are truly capable of – is evil something that will inevitably come out or does it take an experience, an opportunity, or a test to reveal itself?

What inspired you to write these stories? And, since each story is set in a different time period, what type of research did you do? How much were you inspired by Jersey Devil folklore? 

I first started telling these stories as a middle school-aged kid to entertain my little brother. Chapter Four I created in high school. They were always oral stories, but my brother asked me back in 2012 to write them down for him. He died in 2014 after a long battle with veteran’s PTSD.

Translating an oral campfire story into a written story required a lot more work, so these are not exactly as my brother would remember them. I needed to build out the characters and provide more detail for someone not familiar with New Jersey or the legend.

Being from New Jersey, I know that New Jerseyans would be very insulted if I did not accurately portray the history and geography of the state. I spent a whole year gathering research on what actually was around during certain time periods: what the towns’ original names were under British rule, dates of certain historical events, and how tall trees in the Pine Barrens could grow, for example.

I did change the original legend, because I learned that Benjamin Franklin may have made up the whole story to tarnish the reputation of Titan Leeds, a rival publisher. The strange sightings also predate Benjamin Franklin and the legend.

This is your first book (right?), could you share the experience of writing your first book for those that may be interested in doing so in the future? 

I never intended to be an author. This was a gift to honor my late brother, Jared. The whole process took two years, but mostly because I needed to do so much research on New Jersey’s history.

I wanted to keep it short for a first book, so it’s novella length – just slightly longer than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

For new writers, I highly recommend hiring a freelance professional editor. I hired two through Reedsy – the first was an editor from Simon & Schuster, who gave me an editorial assessment. Then after I made revisions, I hired a second editor from Penguin Random House to copy edit and proofread. I also hired a digital artist, who I discovered on Instagram to do my book’s cover art.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I saw an opportunity to get my book out right away by self-publishing through Amazon and hopefully reach people bored sheltering in place. Amazon has a user-friendly platform and you’re able to make changes and market on the website and Kindle. Amazon also did a great job on paperback publishing.

I set up a website to help further promote my book, but since the pandemic shut down many events this year such as cryptid and horror cons and Halloween book readings, the best help has been to find influencers that can introduce the book to a bigger audience.


If you are not already, follow Leigh on Instagram at @tainted_candy. Leigh also has a website: leighpaynter.com.

You can purchase the book on Amazon in both Kindle ($2.99) and print ($4.99) format. 

I’m Back! (& Haunted Post Offices)

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Hello! Thank you for your patience as I was launching my Patreon page. On my Patreon page, patrons pick a tier, pay a low-cost fee ($1-$5 a month), and receive exclusive content (more haunted history!). This was my first time doing such a thing, so it took more planning than expected! The experience has been great thus far and, now that I have an idea what I am doing, I can return to blogging my usual (free) content as well!

To thank you for your patience as I got my life together (😆), my latest Patreon post is free to the public. Click here to read about haunted post offices!

I have some great things planned for September and October, so keep this page bookmarked!

Thanks for sticking around and for your continued support!

-Ash

🖤

Ghosts in My Family Tree (Part I)

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My mother and I have recently started to build our family tree and my first thought was: Ohhhh. I wonder if I’m related to an actual ghost?! In this two-part series, I explore two haunted stories I came across during my genealogy research. We will start with The She-Wolf of France.

About the She-Wolf

I will briefly touch on the life of Isabella of France as (1) I am still learning about her and (2) much of her biography is contested. Isabella of France (1295 – 22 August 1358) was queen consort of Edward II of England and played a key role in his disposition in 1327.

After King Edward II’s favorite Piers Gaveston (earl of Cornwall) was murdered by a jealous baron in 1312, Isabella tried to make peace between the king and the rest of the barons. Instead, Edward started hanging out with the Despenser family and Isabella was not a fan. In 1325, she refused to return to England after taking a trip to France (with her son, Edward III) to handle a dispute. During her time away, she became Roger Mortimer of Wigmore’s mistress

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Isabella landing in England with her son, the future Edward III in 1326 // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1326, Isabella, her lover, and some barons invaded England. The Despensers fell and Edward II’s throne was taken away. Edward was eventually murdered and Roger Mortimer (and Isabella) were implicated. During this chaotic time, Mortimer basically ruled as king and made a lot of people angry. In 1330, Edward III (King Edward II’s son) had him seized, put in the Tower, named a traitor, and hanged.

Edward III basically sent his mother into retirement, ending up at Castle Rising Castle in Norfolk. It is a common misconception that Isabella was a prisoner. She actually roamed around and enjoyed “regal splendor” (Jones 74). According to legend, she was “racked by violent dementia” (Jones 74) and/or possibly had a breakdown due to the death of her lover. This is where the haunting comes in. 

Her Ghost

Although she died at Hertford Castle (also haunted), Isabella haunts Castle Rising where “the echoes of her last troubled years are still said to rebound through the corridors of the Castle” (Jones 74). Visitors have heard hysterical laughter. The village nearby has also heard screams and laughter coming from the castle in the early morning hours.

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Engraving of the ruined keep in 1782, by William Byrne // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I hope I can stay in the village someday and wake up to the sound of my very distant grandma’s ghost screaming into the morning.

Sources

Encyclopedia Britannica 

Johns, Richard. Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland. London, New Holland Publishers, 2005.

More Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

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I recently shared two haunted cemetery statues on my Instagram during my weekly #humpdayhaunts post. This took me down a spooky rabbit hole on the internet.

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I know, I'm very late with #humpdayhaunts. SImply put: I've been tired! But I'm here now with two haunted cemetery statues from Texas (see my Stories for images). Flora Charlotte Kemp (1890-1910) is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her grave is marked with a beautiful monument of a woman walking down a short set of stairs. Local lore says Flora died on her wedding day when she tripped, fell down the stairs, and broke her neck. Local records say she died of typhoid fever. Regardless, the statue is called "The Crying Bride" and it is rumored to cry. 👻 In Forest Lawn Cemetery of Beaumont, Texas stands a life-size statue of a couple hold each other's arms and looking towards the sky. If you are brave enough, take your car to the drive behind the cemetery at night. Then, shine your brights on the statue and wait. According to Weird Texas: "Witnesses have reported seeing the girl's face turning sideways toward her lover as his white marbled arms reach around to caress her back and the two share a long, spectral kiss." According to one internet comment: after the statues kissed, the man turned and looked at the witnesses. Sweet and spooky! 📖: Find a Grave, Weird Texas (online) 👻 I added a link in my Stories to a blog post on haunted cemetery statues if you’re interested! 👻 . . . . . #halloween #halloweeneveryday #halloween365 #ghost #ghosts #haunted #spooky #halloweencollector #autumn #fall #october #hauntedplaces #october31st #halloweencountdown #trickortreat #pumpkin #halloweenobsessed #autumnnights #autumnvibes🍁 #bookworm #booknerd #ghoststories #texas #cemetery_lovers #cemetery #taphophile #graveyard #paranormal #supernatural

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I have covered this topic before on the blog, but I thought I might quickly share some more haunted cemetery statues. I got a lot of these statues from one of my favorite websites: www.hauntedplaces.org. This website allows users to submit haunted locations and other users can share their experiences, ask questions, and/or share their perspective. My favorite feature of the website? The Random button. Click it and you will get a random haunted location. Mindless spooky fun.

With that said, I always try to find other sources to verify the legend (making sure it was not pull out of nowhere, that it has been established as lore). Regardless, it is a fun and interactive archive of ghost stories.

Some (More) Cemetery Statues

  • A statue of a woman comes to life and drowns herself in the nearby lake at La Belle Cemetery (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin). Legend says she died the same way. Some say the statue’s hands drip blood.
  • In Logan Cemetery (Logan, Utah) a statue of a woman weeps for her eight children. Legend says they passed after their father cursed them. Others say she lost her children to illness.
  • If you stand under a certain angel statue in Evergreen Cemetery (Judsonia, Arkansa) and stare into her eyes, they might turn red.
  • In Brunswick, New York’s Forest Park Cemetery (Pinewoods Cemetery), a decapitated statue bleeds from the neck.
  • A mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery (Muscatine, Iowa) holds a statue of kneeling woman with her right arm stretched forward. The statue is called the Blue Angel because a cobalt blue window behind her sometimes gives her a blue glow. Some say if you see the blue light hit the statue, you will receive good luck. If she comes alive, you might die. Some say she comes alive to chase away vandals. Her right hand is missing and it once held a rose. It was believed that if you witnessed her drop the rose at midnight on Halloween, you will die. Allegedly, someone took matters into their own hands and cut off the hand holding the rose. Although, visitors report still seeing the hand holding a rose.
  • A statue moves around at night in the back of Memory Gardens (Rensselaer, Indiana). The statue’s head, arms, or entire body will move to keep watch on people walking by. Maybe the statue is protecting the graves. Be on your best behavior!

For fun, here’s another cemetery statue from an old #humpdayhaunts.

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#humpdayhaunts | If you visit Elmwood Cemetery in the small town of Centralia, IL at night, you might hear sweet violin music. This otherworldly music is from “Violin Annie,” a full-sized statue of a young girl standing atop a large memorial. She holds a violin and bow (though I’ve read the bow has been broken by vandals). 🎻 The monument was built for Harriet Annie Marshall (Sept 7, 1879 – Sept 30, 1890), a girl that died of diphtheria at age 11. During her short time on earth, she was always attached to her violin. Some say she was the best violinist in the area. 🎻 The specifics of her hauntings depend on who you ask. Sometimes she only plays for a certain hour or on a certain day. Some think her statue glows on #Halloween night. One internet user complained that Violin Annie, like the 7 Gates of Hell, is a complete waste of time. 🎻 The cemetery was originally called Centralia Cemetery and was established in 1877.

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Stay safe my friends!

Related Post: Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

 

Photo by Haley Owens on Unsplash

In My Commonplace Book: Grave Bombs

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When visiting any cemetery, I like to do my research. My research on Mount Hope Cemetery of Logansport, Indiana revealed an interesting bit of history. Yes, I have heard about the various methods used to protect graves from graverobbers, but I never knew graves were sometimes protected with bombs. Yes, bombs.

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From the 1939 article in the Pharos-Tribune (From Newspapers.com)

According to an 1939 article in Logansport’s Pharos-Tribune, gravediggers found a bomb  in Mount Hope Cemetery that had been buried with Catherine Grabel Huntley in 1885. The article explains this mechanism:

It is understood that metal were placed beneath the surface the burial lots and wires, attached to the mechanism, were stretched across the grave so that when “grave ghouls” attempted to dig into the freshly made mound to procure a body, their shovel or spade would come in contact with one of the wires, causing the to explode.

During the “reign” of the “grave ghouls” many such devices were placed in cemeteries of the county by relatives of deceased persons as a protection against possible loss of the newly buried body.

The bomb found in Mount Hope was turned over to the family, then eventually handed over to police to “tap” the device so to avoid any dangerous explosions. A hole was drilled into the bomb, exposing a black powder. The powder, having lost some of its effectiveness, still would have burned. The bomb eventually ended up with Cass County Historical Society in Logansport.

Sources

“Grave Bomb is Located in Cemetery.” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 15 Dec 1939, LINK.

Kirk, Mitchell. “Blasts from the past: Bombs once necessary to protect area’s graves.” Kokomo Tribune, 1 May 2105, LINK.

 

Indiana Cemeteries: Mount Hope

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This past weekend, I visited Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana. The city is named for James Renick-Logan (“Captain Logan”), a scout (of debated background) who served under William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812. When it was incorporated in 1838, they chose the name Logan’s Port as the city was a port on the Wabash Erie Canal. The city’s slogan, “Where two rivers meet” speaks to the junction of the Eel and Wabash Rivers. Along with river transportation, the historic Michigan Road and several freight train routes run through Logansport

Logansport is home to a Dentzel Carousel, a national historic landmark. I remember riding the carousel as a young child, lifting my arm high to grab a brass ring. During this visit, I would not be grabbing brass rings, but visiting a (supposedly) haunted cemetery.

About the Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery is reportedly the third largest cemetery in Indiana with 200 acres. The cemetery came into existence in 1854, but also includes the 9th Street Cemetery which started in 1828.

I learned something very cool about this cemetery, but I’ll talk about that more in my next post!

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About The Haunting

According to very casual internet research, this cemetery may be haunted. Paranormal activity includes:

  • the sound of galloping horses
  • the sound of cannon fire (there are canons next to the war memorial, see above)
  • the sound of whistles (especially in response to your own whistling)
  • inscriptions in/on the mausoleums which read “Knock three times and they shall come.”

I did not witness anything (whomp whomp).

Cemetery Highlights

I wrap up this post with some photographic highlights from my visit. First, I was intrigued by this gate memorial. “In Christian funerary symbolism,” Douglas Keister writes in Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, “gates represent the passage from one realm to the next” (116). I love how the gate appears to be opening, welcoming William B. Lanchester to heaven.

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There were a number of treestones (see bottom right of picture below), but I unfortunately was enjoying them too much to get photos. I guess I will have to make another visit (no complaints here). Popular to the Midwest, treestones (or tree stumps) were very popular from the 1880s to about 1905 (Kiester 65). According to Kiester:

Where one treestone is seen, often many will be found, suggesting that their popularity may have been tied to particularly aggressive monument dealer in the area or a ready local supply of limestone, which was the carving material of choice. Treestones could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck. (65)

While I’m not sure the reasoning for the treestones of Mount Hope, I did find that piece of history very interesting!

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I couldn’t help but notice this large and deep columbarium.

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The cemetery also had a number of beautiful mausoleums. I loved the beautiful gates!

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Thanks for coming along on my tour. Cannot wait to share more after my second visit.

Sources

City of Logansport Cemetery website

Johnston, Courtney. “These 8 Haunted Cemeteries in Indiana Are Not For the Faint of Heart.” Only in Your State, 20 July 2016. 

Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Gibbs Smith, 2004.

Logansport – Cass County Chamber of Commerce website 

“Logansport, Indiana.” Wikipedia 

“Mount Hope Cemetery.” Hauntedplaces.org

 

 

It Wasn’t Ghosts (Part III)

erik-muller-zrfD9aVUVsU-unsplashHello! I’m back with ghost hoaxes and false spirits from the newspaper archives. If you haven’t yet, check out Part I & Part II.

Today’s stories have a theme: pipes.

What’s in the Oil Well?

Tales of a haunted oil well on the edge of Rosedale Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania spread in 1910. Residents reported hearing “blood-curdling groans” and desperate pleas: Help! Let me out! I’m being smothered!

A party decided to investigate as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

It was found that a pipe extended from the casing of the well back into the woods. A member of the Investigating party groaned into the pipe. His colleagues at the well almost jumped out of their shoes. The groans, apparently, came from far down in the earth. The mystery was solved. 

Even though they found the hoaxer’s tool, the hoaxer was never identified.

Source: 23 September 1910, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (pg. 2)

“A Pipe Dream”

Residents of Joplin, Missouri found out their local ghost story was just “a pipe dream” according to the Joplin Globe (1929). A disembodied voice that sounded like it was coming from the “bowels of the earth” was repeatedly heard near a cottage at 12th Street and Michigan Avenue. A ghost moving around in a pasture next to the cottage was also reported. The cause? Child’s play!

A brother and sister found that talking into a drainage pipe in their yard would frighten their playmates and neighbors as it created spooky sounds. The kids even took it to the next level by creating a ghost with a broomstick and a sheet.

Source: 27 August 1929, Joplin Globe, Joplin, Missouri (pg. 2)

Who knew pipes were so good for supernatural tricks!

 

Photo by Erik Müller on Unsplash

Happy Valentine’s Day: Breakup Via Séance

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In February of 1956, newspapers across the United States—from New York to California—told the story of a relationship between a British girl and a ghost ending after a séance.

A three-week “out of this world” romance between a pretty cockney bobby-soxer and her poltergeist boyfriend was over yesterday—or at least her family hoped it was.

Three weeks before the séance, 15-year-old Shirley Hitchings of London met her ghost sweetheart through tappings on her bedroom wall. Shirley first felt his presence, then the tappings began. She had set up an alphabet card and was able to decipher his messages. His name was Donald and he was from New Zealand. Shirley was scared at first but, as she told reporters, “[…] I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a feeling of love, and not fear that surrounded Donald.”

The tapping communication worked like so. One tap meant “yes.” Two taps meant “no.” Three taps meant “I don’t know.” Then, using the alphabet card, Shirley and Donald were able to talk using more complex messages. She would point at letters and he would tap when she reached the next letter to spell out words, as if her finger where a sort of planchette.

So things started off pretty sweet, but teenage love can get complicated. “It was great fun having a ghost for a boyfriend after I got used to it,” Shirley said, “But it got kind of complicated when he started throwing furniture around.” The noise woke up her father and alerted the family to the paranormal romance. Her grandmother put up a crucifix in her bedroom, but things just got worse. Donald threw more objects, including a clock.

The family, fed up with this violent boyfriend, decided to throw a séance.  It was quite the event. Three mediums, including spiritualist Harry Hanks, a crowd of newsmen, and “angry” police were all in attendance.  The one-hour seance, though, was pretty anti-climatic as no objects were thrown (the rowdy newsmen were making more of a racket than Donald). Rather, Shirley felt a sudden feeling of being free. She was reluctant to end things with Donald, but decided it was for the best after the séance. She felt happy.

Shirley’s father was relieved to have his quiet nights back (as he told reporters through a yawn). What was next for Donald? Well, Shirley’s father told reporters he would probably have to get a job.

Source: “Seance Ends Romance With Ghost,” The Troy Record, February 24, 1956, page 34.

More Valentine’s Day Reading

Mourners Find Love in a Cemetery

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Since Valentine’s Day is this Friday, I thought I might share some romantic content. During my research in the newspaper archives, I found two stories about mourners falling in love with cemetery employees.

“Aged Couple Married in Cemetery Romance,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 19, 1945

Mrs. Thoresca Cartisser (age 72) married Louis Schafer (age 74) in a simple ceremony on July 18, 1945. The bride wore lavender with matching posies in her straw hat. The two met at St. George’s Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Cartisser was visiting her second husband’s grave (“dressed in mourning black”) and Schafer was the cemetery caretaker. The romance began with walks and then led into phone calls from Schafer to Cartissser’s residence. Along with their age, the article explains, they both had the German language in common (she was from Austria and he was from Germany). In addition, they were both married twice before.

“Romance In Cemetery: Gravedigger Wins Widow at Grave of Husband,” East Oregonian, August 16, 1909

Charles Kramer, the oldest gravedigger of the Evergreen Cemetery in New York, “has probably dug more graves than any other man living in this city.” He fell in love and “wooed” Mrs. Theresa Furman, having spotted her during her daily visits to her late husband’s grave.

Every time Mrs. Furman appeared at her husband’s grave, Kramer, somehow or other, always succeeded in being ahead of her. He carried water for her. helped her plant flowers and did other little things, all of which aided him later when the time to propose to the Widow Furman arrived.

A few weeks later they were married and the gravedigger moved in with Mrs. Furman and her stepson James Weigand and son William Furman. One night, Kramer got into a quarrel with the sons over a “trifling matter.” The next night he received a blow when entering the home: “biff! something struck me over the head. It appeared to me as is some one was intent upon slipping me into one of the holes I had dug that day.”

The gravedigger left the matter alone, only to be hit again:

Last night I was going into the house when something fell on my head again. I heard some one say, ‘We hit him square that time,’ and disappear. I thought at first the house had fallen on me. but later discovered that it was nothing more than a good sized baseball bat.

Well, as you’ve probably figured out, it was the two sons. They were held on $100 bail. Kramer just went back to doing what he does best: “Evergreen’s champion grave digger then hurried to his place of employment, announcing that he had a ‘little job of digging a few graves’ waiting for him.”

I am not sure of the effect this incident had on the marriage of the mourner and gravedigger as the article just ends with no mention of Mrs. Theresa Furman.

Sorry to end on a depressing note. If you can handle it, check out my past Valentine’s Day post on ghost stories of tragic love. 

 

Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash