The Hoosier Bloody Mary

ryan-holloway-168913What version of Bloody Mary were you told as a child? There’s Mary. There’s a mirror. There’s the risk of a bloody end. But, what words did you utter (and how many times)? What origin story were you told? Who was the real Bloody Mary? Mary Worth? Mary Weatherby? Mary Worthington? Mary Lou? 

The ritual and biography of Bloody Mary has variations, and my favorite origin story begins at a farm in Lake County, Indiana with a young girl named Mary Whales.


Sometime during the 19th Century, there lived a belligerent farmer named Old Man Whales. Old Man Whales supplemented his farm income by catching and selling runaway slaves. An evil man, he only loved himself and his wife Virginia.

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This story is adapted from S.E. Schlosser’s Spooky Indiana. This is my favorite book on Indiana folklore and hauntings. Highly recommend: beautiful writing style and illustrations.

After the Civil War, Old Man Whales’ life crumbled around him. He lost income from his nefarious business and his wife died during childbirth.

But, Virginia left a beautiful gift on this earth: Mary.

Old Man Whales hated Mary. She represented the cause of Virginia’s death. Mary, in blond curls and dressed in dirty rags, was kind and hardworking. While her dad drank himself to sleep, she did most of the housekeeping and chores. The only thing that brought her happiness were books. Books allowed her to escape that small farm in Lake County.

One night, Old Man Whales came home especially drunk and angry. He marched into Mary’s room while she slept and stabbed her to death with the same knife he used to slaughter pigs. Her screams could not save her. He left her bloody body in the bed with her head nearly severed. He went to bed, proud of his work.

The next morning, Old Man Whales took her body and buried her in the basement. He thought it was the last he would see of his daughter. As these things go, it would not be.

Two nights later, Old Man Whales entered the house after doing his evening chores. Standing in the kitchen was Mary, smiling through a “knife-split mouth.” Her head dangled off her neck and pool of blood surrounded her feet. “Ffffaaaatttthhherrr…” she hissed, running towards him. He ran out of the house and spent the night in the barn.

The next day, Old Man Whales returned to the house and saw no signs of last night’s bloody incident. He blamed the alcohol and went about his life. A week later, as he read the newspaper next to the fire, Mary appeared again. She sat across the room from him, with her dress covered in blood and head moving about. She flew towards him, clutching knitting needles like knives. Old Man Whales ran out of the house and into the barn. He looked at his back and his shirt was bloody with knife-like gashes.

thomas-shellberg-31280For days, Old Man Whales slept in the barn, but finally convinced himself that the image of his murdered daughter was just the whiskey. He decided to go back into the house one morning, clean up, and head into town.

When he looked into the mirror to start shaving, a face was peering back at him. Flesh fell from her pale face and through her sharp teeth Mary said, “Ffffaaaatttthhherrr.” Using her long nails she reached through the mirror and slapped Old Man Whales twice across the face. He fled again to the barn.

Old Man Whales thought he was safe in the barn, but heard a voice behind him: “”Ffffaaaatttthhherrr.” After he turned, she pointed to a noose hanging in the rafters. He began to climb up the ladder. The noose looked so welcoming…

This story is adapted from S.E. Schlosser’s Spooky Indiana. 

The House of Blue Lights

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Misunderstood people are sometimes feared to the point of folklore legacy. We cling to myth to avoid confronting the other, creating monsters that aren’t really there. So much of my own childhood lore was attached to that neighbor that seemed “off.” For example, “Old Man Bill,” that lived down the street of my childhood home, was rumored to have chased dogs and children out of his yard with a butcher knife. I could, like Kevin McCallister, approach this eccentric man and dig deep into his own personal loss. But, I was always told to stay away from strangers and the alleged tales of his violence helped in doing so.

But then there were the games. “I dare you to run to Old Man Bill’s yard and stick your toe in the grass.” “No…I dare you to knock on his door.” No one wanted those games to end and we looked forward to taunting younger children with the same tale and dares.

When do these tales go to far? When do these dares become harassment? How do our fears rewrite history? Where does fact end and fiction begin?

The House of Blue Lights

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Skiles Edward Test

Growing up in the Indianapolis area, the story of The House of Blue Lights was an important part of my paranormal history.

The story begins with the tragic death of a millionaire’s wife. While the versions of the story differ from one storyteller to the next, I was told he kept her in a glass coffin in his mansion, surrounding her with blue (her favorite color) Christmas lights. Some legends say the lights were around the pool and other areas of his property. Some say you can see a woman walking the property at night, catching glimpses of her in one of the blue lights (the USC Digital Folklore Archives interviewed someone about this very story).

This man behind the blue lights was Skiles Edward Test.

Skiles Edward Test was born on October 19, 1889 and died on March 18, 1964. His father, Charles Test, made his fortune as president of Indianapolis Chain Works. Historic Indianapolis describes his childhood:

Skiles grew up, along with brother Donald and sister Dorothy, in the mansion their father Charles built at 795 Middle Drive in Woodruff Place on the near east side. The mansion still sits on a giant lot, its heavily wooded garden obscuring the carriage house set back from the street. Nearby Arsenal Technical High School wouldn’t open until 1912, so young Skiles attended Manual Training High School, located at 525 South Meridian before it was relocated to Madison Avenue in 1953. Skiles was a permanent fixture on the Honor Roll and finished in 3 1/2 years, graduating in 1908. If he had intended on going to college, he never got an opportunity. Charles Test passed away in a Wisconsin sanitarium of Bright’s Disease in 1910, leaving the eldest child, Skiles, to head the family.

In 1913, Skiles and his new wife, Josephine Benges, moved onto a large wooded and secluded property. His property was remarkable and had a full farm, large pool, small rail system, and it’s own working power plant. He definitely found interesting ways to spend his inheritance, but made sure to share it with his family and community.

According to Find a Grave:

The Skiles estate included two complete power plants and a cat and dog cemetery with headstones. Mr. Test loved animals and refused to turn away strays. At one time he reportedly had 150 cats and 15 St. Bernard dogs on his estate. After his death, albums of photographs of dogs, cats, squirrels and other animals lying in state in small caskets were found among his possessions. In spite of his reputation for eccentricity, Mr. Test was a friendly and generous man who supported many charities. He donated a large tract of land to the Lawrence Township School District that is now the site of Skiles Test Elementary School and a nearby nature preserve. A large portrait of Mr. Test is displayed in the lobby of the school.

He also, along with his siblings, constructed a building on the Monument Circle of downtown Indianapolis in his father’s honor (complete with Indianapolis’s first parking garage).

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The tale of The House of Blue Lights popped up sometime between the two world wars. Author and former farmhand of Skiles, Garry Ledbetter, says closer to WWII. One explanation for these blue lights, according to Historic Indianapolis, was that “Skiles loved the color blue.  He put up blue lights each Christmas and hung blue bug-zapping lights around his enormous swimming pool.” And, his wife wasn’t even dead. But the story took hold and curious trespassers wanted a peek at the coffin. Historic Indianapolis describes these nightly visitors:

Throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties, the trespassers and vandals became increasingly bold. Skiles found a group of teens swimming in his pool and took their clothes and keys, only to be sued by one boy’s father. Trespassers released dogs from their pens and started fires in outbuildings.  Skiles found a teen in his kitchen drinking a Coke he’d taken from the fridge. For a while, he took to sleeping in the multi-story pool house, its cinder-block construction being more fire-proof than the house. Plagued with stress-related ulcers, Skiles began to leave each night and stayed at his girlfriend’s house, so as to not be tormented by the nonstop onslaught of lookie-loos.

It seemed that the stories of trespassing became lore. I once heard that a trespasser put one of Skiles’s cats in a cage with an aggressive dog.

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The House of Blue Lights is a reminder that we must enjoy the tales we hear, but with a critical mind. We can become the “monster” if we get too caught up in the mystery, missing the opportunity to learn the other’s truth and wisdom.

The property and surrounding structures have been torn down since, but some still report flickering blue lights. I like to think that its just Skiles messing with us.


For more information, you might check out houseofbluelights.com.

Also, Skiles is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, a place I visited in a past post.

Six Haunted Bridges in Indiana

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Indiana is known for its crumbling infrastructure, so I thought there must be some haunted bridges around. As someone that cannot swim and is also afraid of heights, bridges trigger a daunting feeling for me. Will I make it across? Will it collapse under the weight of my car? Is the railing prepared for any sudden jerks of the wheel?

In mythology, bridges represented the link between life and death. Thus, it makes sense that spirits would be trapped in the seam of this world and the afterlife. Or that bridges are a place for us to call forth these spirits. Though, as these legends tell us, we must be careful traveling across the shadowy bridge between darkness and light.

Hell’s Gate – Diamond, IN

A train derailment supposedly brought spirits to this bridge. If you stop your car on the bridge at night, you can hear laughing, screaming, and a crashing noise. Or you can follow very specific instructions to see ghost children and risk possible death:

  1. Stop your car at the bridge and flash your lights 3 times.
  2. Drive through and turnaround at the end, then stop at the middle of the bridge.
  3. Turn off your car and sit there for 10 minutes (not a minute longer!).
  4. Then, graffiti will start to glow and blood will run down the walls of the bridge.
  5. If your name appears on the wall, then you will begin to hear banging on your car roof and windows. After that’s over, start your car and leave (duh).
  6. In a nearby tree, you will see 2 ghost children hanging. Get out of there, because seeing your name on the wall means you’re supposed to die.

Do what you want, but I’m not going to spend all that time risking death when I could be eating cheese sticks or napping.

Edna Collins Bridge – Greencastle, IN

When Edna Collins was a young girl, her parents would drop her off at a nearby bridge, so she could swim with her dog in the local creek. When it was time to come home, her parents would stop on the bridge and honk. One day, they honked several times and Edna never came. When they went down to the creek, they found her dog, but no Edna. The dog led them to Edna’s body; she had drowned. To this day, you can see the ghost of Edna behind the bridge with her dog, waiting for her parents to pick her up.

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Edna Collins Bridge (Photo taken by Jennifer Wiggins; license)

Dog Face Bridge – San Pierre, IN

In the 1950s, a couple was driving towards their honeymoon destination. While driving over a bridge, a dog ran out in front of their car. They swerved off the bridge, killing themselves and the dog. The woman and dog were instantly decapitated. The dog’s head and the woman’s body were never found. People have reported seeing the ghost of a woman with a dog’s head, along with growling and howling noises.

Legend says that if you visit the site, the dog-headed woman will chase you and try to kill you. While a very weird legend, people have reported bodies being found and people being shot at.

Purple Head Bridge – Vincennes, IN

Across the Wabash River is a bridge where a man hung himself. He was decapitated and his head was never found (yet again). Another version says it was the location of hangings in the 1800s. On rainy days, a purple head will float around and towards you. And, you might hear screams.

Cry Baby Bridge – Anderson, Columbus, Pendleton, and Bargersville, IN

As you can see, this story is attributed to many bridges in Indiana, but it’s also attributed to bridges in other states: Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. According to Wikipedia, a “Maryland folklorist Jesse Glass presented a case against several crybaby bridges being genuine folklore, contending that they were instead fakelore that was knowingly being propagated through the internet.”

The story usually goes like this: A baby was abandoned after a car accident and died, OR a mother drowned her baby. You can hear a baby (and/or woman) crying when near the bridge.

Haunted Bridge – Avon, IN

This bridge has three stories.

Story #1

In the 1850s, the bridge was being built by immigrant Irish workers. They mixed cement in large narrow vats, which hardened into the form of a pylon. One afternoon, a platform collapsed, sending a worker into a cement vat. The other workers struggled to save him, because the cement held tightly. While he fell deeper into the cement, they could hear him knocking on the sides of the vat. Due to time constraints, they did not make a new pylon. He would be trapped in there for eternity. Years following, people could hear knocking and screaming from that very pylon. Later, when the bridge was torn down, there was a number of sightings of a man wandering the tracks, trying to flag down trains.

Story #2

In 1907, during bridge construction, a drunk man named Henry Johnson fell into wet cement and died. When you visit the bridge, you can hear Henry Johnson’s footsteps.

Story #3

A woman was walking across the bridge late one night with her sick baby after a visit to the doctor. Her foot got trapped in the railroad tracks, when a large locomotive was quickly approaching. She was able to free her foot and then, clutching her baby, she jumped from the bridge. She survived the fall, but her baby did not. If you drive under the bridge at night, you can hear the mother screaming for her baby.

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Avon Haunted Bridge (Photo taken by wplynn; license)


Wet cement, car accidents, hangings, and drownings plague the history of Indiana bridges, leaving many spirits trapped between our world and who knows. American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “The grave is but a covered bridge. Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” Though I might ask: what happens to those that never make it across the bridge? Where’s the light for them?