The Haunted Schooner Jenny

The Jenny is a ghost ship you might not have ever heard of...but its story is worth reading. The Jenny was found frozen inside of an ice-barrier of the Drake Passage in 1840, almost 20 years after it first disappeared in 1823.

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One of the most haunting aspects of the Jenny was the last entry in the log book, “May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.” The captain, who wrote this message, was found still sitting in his chair with the pen in hand when the whaling ship that discovered the Jenny came upon them. Ironically, the ship that found the doomed Jenny was named Hope.

According to the German Geographical magazine, Globus. While the story is recounted by an anonymous crew member of the Hope, the details seem to match up.

The article recounts the initial experience of the crew of the Hope, they believe the Jenny was caught when in an ice wall and remained hidden until it broke open. The crew of the Hope sighted a battered ship, before they realized it was a ghost ship. Although it was battered, it appeared to be manned...in fact, seven men were even standing at attention on the main deck.

However, as the Hope approaches, they realized that these men were not dutifully standing at attention in the cold, Arctic weather...they were frozen solid.

Captain Brighton, of the Hope, was the first to board the Jenny to investigate. Below deck, he came across the Captain, eerily frozen solid writing his last entry in the ship’s log.

Some reports say that the crew of the Hope buried all those frozen aboard, including the Captain’s wife and dog, at sea. Others say that they left everything as is, except the log book which they took, abroad. Whatever condition the crew of the Hope left those poor souls on the Jenny one thing is for certain: the Jenny still sails on in the Antarctic waters but has never been seen since.

While some believe this story to be entirely fictional...one can only imagine the horror that befell the crew of the Jenny if all this is true.

The above image is an Illustration from a novel The Ghost Ship by John Conroy Hutcheson and is in the public domain.
 

Why did these Vikings Lose their Heads?

Vikings are renowned for their strength, prowess, and continued ability to surprise us. Oh, and another thing? Some of them are headless. In 2009, while building for the 2012 olympics, a burial pit of fifty beheaded young vikings were discovered. All of the bodies had been decapitated and thrown into a shallow grave, with the heads piled up on one side of the pit.

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In Astonishing legends, we’ve covered a lot of heads. From the decapitated head of Máel Brigte killing Sigurd the Mighty when his decapitated head’s teeth knocked into Sigurd’s leg, leading to an infected bite. More recently, we’ve covered the skull cult that rose up around Gobekli Tepe where skulls appeared to venerated and decorated by the mysteriously people that built Gobekli Tepe. However, we haven’t covered many decapitated bodies.

Back to the fifty young, male skeletons that were discovered in an old quarry pit in Weymouth. Excavators and researchers believe that the bodies had been executed right before tumbling into the pit and were stripped of the clothes ahead of their execution.

Defensive wounds on their remains, particularly their arms, hands, and skulls show that many of the men attempted to fight back. However, the bodies’ coordinating wounds on their shoulders and back of their necks show that they were brutally attacked and murdered. The marks on the back of the necks also showed that the attacks weren’t brutal, they were messy. It appeared that several chops and blows were used to decapitate the men.

It was believed that the now-named Ridgeway Hill Viking burial pit happened at some point between 910 and 1030 AD. In total 54 skeletons were discovered but only 51 heads lay piled at the other side of the pit.

Although, clearly, no airtight answer for what happened and why exists, it is believed because of the time period that it was a conflict between the native Anglo-Saxons and their viking invaders. Further speculation suggests that these men had been captured during an attempted raid into Anglo-Saxon territory.

One interesting development is after a serious investigation that, as Louise Loe, a member of the Oxford Archaeology team and co-author of a book on the pit notes, “Several individuals had suspected brucellocis...a highly contagious infectious disease that is passed from animals to humans, either by the ingestion of unsterilised milk or meat or by coming into close contact with secretions from infected animals.” It is believed that this party and the diseases and status of the bodies made them likely peasant-class. Perhaps this was a group of inexperienced vikings attempting to make a name for themselves.

Investigations are still on going and they will be on show at the British Museum. If anything, this find shows that we still have a lot to learn about Vikings!

 

 

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.    
Attribution: theonewhoistall

Why A Chameleon Always Changes its Spots

Many of us mistakenly think that chameleons change their color to camouflage themselves against the predators they encounter in their daily lives. However, that isn’t why they cloak themselves in so many different, wonderful colors. Nor do they only change colors to match their surroundings. Surprisingly, the answer is much more complicated.

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Sadly, chameleons cannot change their skin to match *every* background they encounter in their daily lives. Chameleons, sadly, don’t have many defenses in the wild besides blending into their surroundings, even if they can’t automatically match every background. In their natural coloring, they often already resemble the detritus on ground or even a lot like leaves or branches. However, their real skill is the ability to change how bright their skin appears, Dr. Devi Stuart-Fox, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Melbourne told National Geographic, “It’s like putting a dark wash on everything,” Stuart-Fox says. “You’ve got to imagine paint mixing: If you have green paint and mix more black into it, it will change the brightness and also the hue.”

The bright colors and elaborate displays we so often think of when we think of chameleons have nothing to do with blending in and everything to do with standing out. In fact, these colors help guard their territory. When defending territory against another male, chameleons will become a wide array of colors - yellow, red, white...anything besides the color of the forest or trees. Instead of waving a white flag, the weaker male will admit defeat by returning to their more natural colorings.

In addition to defense, they also use it go on the offense, at least when it comes to dating. They will put on displays - rapidly changing colors and brightness - to show off to the females. Female chameleons will respond with their own display indicating their interest.

It has even ANOTHER use -- to regulate their body heat! Since chameleons aren’t able to generate body heat on their own, changing the color of the skin can be an important way to do this. A cold chameleon will usually become darker to absorb heat, whereas a chameleon that has had enough may turn pale (or, at least, paler).

But, how do they do it? Well, they have transparent skin. Not completely transparent, but at least the top layer is. Under this transparent first layer of skin are more layers of skin that contain special cells called chromatophores. Chromatophores at every level of skin are, essentially, sacs that are filled with different kinds of pigment. There are several different kinds of pigment, such a iridophores (which have blue pigment) and xanthophores (yellow pigments). When the chameleon experiences changes in temperature or mod, its nervous systems tells which chromatophores to rise to the surface by expanding or contracting. This is how a chameleon can produce a whole variety of colors and patterns.

So, now we've busted an old wives tale of sorts - chameleons aren't the hide-and-seek champions we once believed they were (luckily, Bigfoot is still winning that title) and that these creatures and the way they express themselves physically is much more complicated than we originally guessed!

 

 

This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license and was created by Becker1999

The Omen's Curse

Scary movies are just that -- movies. They are fictional. However, the Omen has some horrifying elements that are not very fictional at all. In fact, many go as far as saying that the Omen movie set was cursed.

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Back in the 1970s, horror movies were all the rage: The Texas Chain Saw Metro, Jaws, The Hills Have Eyes, and the Exorcist, and, of course, The Omen. The Omen was directed by Richard Donner, written by David Seltzer, and largely filmed in the UK (with brief shooting in Israel and Rome). Filming began, funny enough, in October 1975 and wrapped in January of the same year. It was released in 1976 and received acclaim from the general public and critics alike.

However, the production wasn’t necessarily the easiest few months.

It all began with Robert Munger, a born again Christian who pitched Hollywood on the idea of an antichrist movie in the wake of Rosemary’s Baby. Harvey Bernhard agreed and signed on to make The Omen a reality. However, once the idea began gaining steam Robert Munger seemed to backtrack on the idea. In fact, he said “I warned Harvey at the time. I said, ‘If you make this movie you’re going to have some problems. If the devil’s greatest single weapon is to be invisible and you’re going to do something which is going to take away his invisibility to millions of people, he’s not going to want that to happen.”

He wore a cross throughout production.

The beginning of filming started off with a bang...literally. When Gregory Peck took off in October 1975 to begin filming, his plane was struck by lightning, an ominous start to the Omen. The lightning strike caused an engine to catch fire and the plane came dangerously close to crash-landing in the Atlantic. Just a few weeks later, Mace Neufeld, a producer, was on his way to film and his plane was ALSO struck by lightning while crossing the Atlantic. And, because all things happen in threes, screenwriter David Seltzer also was riding on a plane towards the set as well...and, you guessed it, he also had a non-fatal lightning strike.

This wasn’t the only aerial issue the Omen production had. The crew was on the list to hire a local small plane to get some aerial shots for the Omen. However, at the last minute the plane’s crew decided to ex the film production and rented it to a group of tourists. Some, unsupported, gossip says that it was several people on a business trip who paid a better price. The Omen crew was told they could have the plane...but that they’d have to wait until later in the day to film. The plane the crew was supposed to be on? It crashed. Upon take off, it flew into a flock of birds. The birds disoriented the crew and obstructed the view and the plane crashed through a fence and crashed into a car.

The IRA also seemed to play a part in the curse. When Mace Neufeld and his wife were staying at the Hilton Hotel in London the Irish Republican Army blew up the building. Thankfully, neither of them were in the hotel at the time. Just a few days later, the IRA struck again! Several producers, Neufeld, and Gregory Peck were headed to a restaurant that the IRA bombed just minutes before their arrival.

The stunt  people, unsurprisingly, had it worst of all. In the escape from the cemetery scene, Gregory peck has to work with rottweilers. These dogs were trained to attack a stuntman and avoid Peck. However, when the dogs were set lose for filming...the dogs began viciously attacking him. They attacked him so viciously they decimated the protective gear and ignored their trusted trainer who they were normally obedient to. The stuntman did survive, although he did not escape unscathed.  Alf Joint believes the curse followed him. Like John Richardson, who we’ll talk about soon, he also went off shortly after The Omen to begin work on A Bridge too Far. In one shot he had to jump off a tall building and land on an airbag - for an experienced stuntman like him, it was something he had done a thousand times before. However, he jumped in an awkward, seemingly mistaken way, and landed on the ground. After regaining consciousness in hospital following treatment, he immediately told others it felt like he had been pushed by an unseen force.

After wrapping on the special effects for the Omen, designer John Richardson shortly began work on designing for another film - A Bridge too Far. While on-location in Holland he and Liz Moore (a talented special effects designer in her own right) were driving along a scenic, but empty, road one night. Shockingly, they hit another car head-on. Richardson, the driver, was knocked unconscious but Moore was decapitated when one of the front wheels viciously tore through the floor. If this isn’t gruesome enough in its own right, if you saw the Omen you might be making another connection. Richardon, just months before, had designed a gruesome decapitation scene in The Omen. Richardson also noted a road sign for the own, Ommen...guess how far away it was? 6.66 kilometers away.

Whether these events were just some strange accidents or actual works by the devil, it is impossible to say that the Omen production wasn’t, at the very least, an unlucky time in many of the cast and crew’s lives.

 

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and is entitled 'Many crows in a dark tree at New Orleans Square in Disneyland' by Jesse Weinstein (JesseW) - Own work. (ID# 16a) and is liscensed under CC2.0

The Perron Family

If you’re a fan of horror movies, you’ve no doubt heard of The Conjuring the hit 2013 movie about a family’s relentless haunting. But have you heard the actual story of the Perrons? One thing you might find interesting is that the Perrons were not the first people to have strange experiences in the house. In fact, according to the family, the previous occupant said “For the sake of your family, leave the lights on at night!”

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The movie got the timeline right, it seems, but muddled the lead up a bit. The Perrons moved in December 1970 and, according to them, strange things started happening almost immediately. However, it didn’t start off quite as scary. The entities seemed to largely ignore the parents, but their five daughters received a lot of...attention. According to the girls there was a bevy of different entities, including Mrs. Arnold who would tuck the girls in at night and kiss them on the forehead. For the adults, particularly Carolyn, there wasn’t anything outright bizarre. Unlike the girls, who seemed to play and interact with the entities, Carolyn would simply notice that things seemed to move spots around the house, or there would be small piles of dirt even though she had just finished the kitchen floor.

Although it wasn’t all kisses and dirt piles forever. In fact, a malevolent feeling soon began invading the house. The family would random smell something awful, like the smell of rotting flesh, randomly and throughout the house. The girls claimed that their father, whenever he had to enter the basement, would often feel a cold, foreboding presence behind him. In fact, the family stayed away from the cellar as much as they could. Physicality was out of the question, either. In fact almost every member of the family claimed to have experienced their beds lifting off the ground and then shaking them violently, throwing them to the ground.

There was one spirit in particular who terrified the entire family...oh, and there is a historical record of her. This female spirit actually was the focus of Amanda Perron’s book, House of Darkness: House of Light, in which she recorded her experiences in the house and her strange childhood. Most of the family encountered Bathsheba at some point in their 10 years at the house, however she focused a lot of attention on the adults of the home, particularly Carolyn. Amanda believed that Bathsheba was used to be the mistress of the house - above all other spirits, powerful, and in-control. She was jealous of Carolyn’s status of matriarch of a busy and bustling home. She would hurt Carolyn, scream threats, make herself appear to Carolyn in order to scare her, and create discontent among the children by hiding their toys and causing fights. She also expressed and touched Roger inappropriately more than once.

And...Bathsheba was real. In fact, you can see her grave right here. She was born in 1812 and was the mother of four...for a short time, at least. Sadly, three of her four children died quite young. Although the death of young children wasn’t unheard of in the 1800s, three children did seem a bit startling. Sadly, rumors began to swirl and the suspicion of the community grew and grew. The worst rumors went as far as claiming she was sacrificing her children to the death and participating in black magic. However, these claims are completely unsubstantiated. The rumors, grief of her loss, and isolation drove her to become a recluse. She died at the age of 72 and her one son survived her by many years...although he died quite young in his early 50s.


Eventually, the family called in the Warrens for their help as they were well known in the area. The Warrens visited several times and, on their last visit, Carolyn allegedly became possessed by the spirit of Bathsheba. After the possession experience and attempted contact, Roger, feeling helpless asked the Warrens to leave immediately. Roger feared for his wife’s mental and physical stability and the Warrens only provoke Bathsheba to attack more.

Sadly the Warrens lived at the home for a decade due to insufficient funds to move away. When they moved in 1980 and left the house far behind they were no longer haunted or followed. There were no more sightings, no more unexplained smells, and no more feeling of fear in their own home.

As for me...what do I think? I haven't read Amanda's book yet but it is definitely on my list. Outside of the Perrons' own testimony and Ed & Lorraine Warrens, there doesn't seem to be a lot of support. In fact, the current homeowner highlighted several falsified claims about Bathsheba (like her trial) and says she has never had an experience. However, some of the chilling eye witness testimony of the children does seem to be quite haunting. At the end of the day, I think this would take a lot more investigating than a simple blog post going through the timeline of events. I'd be interested in digging into the surrounding area and learning more about the geography, other homes, and the community response. 

 

This image is unrelated to the story and is from Smabs Sputzer on Flickr. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

Sawney Bean: A History

According to lore, Sawney Bean and his clan were some of the most fearsome people in all of Scotland. If you believe the hype, the Bean clan purportedly killed (and ate) roughly a thousand people during a 25-year reign of terror. This cannibalistic clan lived in the sea caves dotting Scotland’s south-west coast and terrorized all those who dared pass.

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But before we get to the clan and the thousand dead, let’s talk a little bit about what we know about Sawney Bean, the man that started it all. According to Historic UK, “Sawney Bean was born Alexander Bean in East Lothian during the time of James VI.”  It was believed that during this time and his short time in East lothian that his main trade was as a tanner. He also was married during this time, shortly before he left East Lothian. Young Bean and his wife moved out of town to an isolated cavern named Bennane Cave.

This cavern was said to be about  200 feet deep, and, adding even more secrency to his dwelling, the entrance was completely obstructed during high tide. It as also said to have offshoot tunnels, creating a complicating and confusing web of rooms.

Shortly after the Beans got settled in, Mrs. Bean began having little beans at an astonishing rate. As the mouths to feed grew and grew to 14, Sawney no longer could hawk his meager trade and decided to turn towards the road to steal.

However, the more he robbed the more word spread about the dangers of the road. In an effort to cover his tracks, Sawney and his children began to murder their victims as well. But what to do with the bodies? Throw them in the water? Bury them? Hide them within the cavern?

How about none of the above?

This is where Sawney gruesomely killed two birds with one stone. Instead of disposing of the bodies, he decided to eat them. The Beans would bring the body back to their cave, bucher it accordingly, and salt the meat. This way, the Beans could enjoy a high protein diet without too many trips to town. It was also said that curiously preserved, carved body parts were discovered on nearby beaches.

The Beans and their 14 children grew strong and even acquired a test and craving for human flesh, apparently preferring it to other meats. For 20 years the Beans ruled the area through fear, butchery, and brute force. Their clan continued to grow due to incest and new generations of Bean children grew to help their forebears.

That was, until, one fateful night where everything went wrong. The Beans were on the prowl one evening and a man and woman riding  home from town were on the road alone. They saw their vulnerable victims and pounced from two different directions. One group mercilessly pulled the woman from her horse and were disemboweling her almost immediately. The second group, focusing on the man, were a little slower. He had already realized what fate he might shortly meet if he didn’t act fast. He fled for his life and attempted to run his horse through the throng of strange people. Luckily for him, a large group of about two dozen people were also on their way home from town. They happened upon the horrifying scene and a fight to save the man broke out between the Beans and those on the road. The Beans, not used to victims that fought back or outnumbered them, quickly retreated, leaving behind the mutilated body of their female victim.

Needless to say, the nearby towns were terrified when they heard about the grisly encounter. Police action was taken and the man went to talk about his tale in front of the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow. The Chief and his team put together the testimony from the attacked man, the long missing persons list from the area, and the reports of pickled body parts washing up near local beaches. Knowing how dangerous this situation could be and that there might be another attack, the case was elevated all the way to James I.

James, never one to shy away from a confrontation, quickly made for Ayrshire with 400 men, tracking dogs, and local volunteers. Before the Beans even knew it, one of the biggest manhunts the country had ever seen was searching for them.

As the search wore on, the army and volunteers kept coming up with nothing. However, they caught a lucky break when the dogs caught the scent of decaying flesh near the Bean lair. As the troops entered the water cave, Historic-UK writes ,”Nothing could have prepared them for the sight they witnessed that day. The damp walls of the cave were strewn with row upon row of human limbs and body parts, like meat hanging in a butchers shop. Other areas of the cave stored bundles of clothing, piles of watches and rings and heaps of discarded bones from previous feasts.”

Although they fought, the entire Sawney Bean family (allegedly numbering 48) were captured, rounded up, and marched all the way to Edinburgh. Their crimes were heinous that the normal justice system just couldn’t cut it. The women were burned in huge fires while the men of the family had their limbs cut off and were left alone to bleed to death.

But this legend might not be verifiable. In fact, many believe that the Sawney Bean story was a vehicle for anti-Scottish sentiment. The story, despite historians best efforts, can only be tracked to London-based books. The earliest mention of the Bean clan is over 150 years *after* the events were meant to take place. Now, just because there are no earlier accounts of the story does not mean it is entirely false...but it doesn’t help the validity of this clan.

Others believe this story may originate from actual roadside cannibal killers, like Christie Cleek who terrorized travelers in the mid 1300s. Although he had no clan and operated alone, it was said that he took cuts of his victims to stave off hunger.

 

The above image is of the alleged cave by Tony Page, "English: Sawny Bean's Cave Port Balcreuchan and the cave of Sawney Bean, Ayrshire's infamous serial cannibal. Mr. Bean and his family are credited with killing and eating over 1000 hapless victims in the 16th century - kind of makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussy cat!" and is liscensed under  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

What Are Number Stations?

Since I began with the show, we have been getting requests to cover number stations. As more and more of these requests rolled in, I realized I had no idea why people found number stations so interesting. So, today I decided to dive a little deeper into the pool of number stations and figure out just why so many of you are so interested in them.

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We’re going to have to go all the way back to the World War II era to get the beginnings of number stations. During the war, these number stations transmitted coded, secret messages via shortwave radio antennas.  While they served a purpose, it’s not like this purpose could just be announced so when casual radio listeners stumbled upon them they were...freaked out, weirded out, etc. The voices counting out the numbers in strange, monotone voices in various languages. It is believed they also use morse code. Other times, the voices don’t even begin until full minutes pass.

An article by the BBC notes, “Starting with a weird melody or the sound of several beeps, these transmissions might be followed by the unnerving sound of a strange woman's voice counting in German or the creepy voice of a child reciting letters in English.”

Why use such unsettling voices in order to convey the message? This is one question that has me scratching my own head.If you are looking to avoid detection and remain secret and unassuming, why use strange voices, especially the voices of a child which would no doubt be out of place. Wouldn’t this call for attention to the fact that there might be some sort of importance to the string of numbers being read?

Mark Stout, a historian at the International Spy Museum, told NPR “That the stations are unlicensed, which makes it hard to figure out where they're broadcasting from. And the mystery only deepens: No government has ever officially admitted to using numbers stations. No one's really sure when the stations began broadcasting, though they're most likely a Cold War-era invention.” Although Stout claims they may have not even begun until the Cold War, there are some that believe they began even before WWII in WWI.

Today, there are still dozens of number stations on the radio broadcasting these codes. Although code-breakers have been trying to break them for decades, it does not appear that any have been broken. In the age of computers, coded messages sent over a lesser-used media might be the best way to convey top-secret, world-changing information. So, that’s why people are still interested in them today!



The above is an image of Shortwave radio station of Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE in Pori, Finland. Completed 1939, in function 1948-1987. Design by architect Hugo Harmia. It is in the public domain.

 

The Hidebehind

One thing I recently realized was lacking in the blog? American Folklore! So, today we remedy that with a short tale about one of the little known creatures of 19th century American Folklore, the Hidebehind. Tales of this creature seem to spring up around lumber communities and particularly with lumberjacks. 19th century lumberjacks had a lot to worry about - physical injury, bears, falling trees...and, of course, the Hidebehind.

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According to the lore, the Hidebehind got its name from how it stalked its prey - hiding behind it. It hid behind trees in the forest and stalked its prey as it concealed itself amongst the forest. Whenever someone’s back was turned, it would creep closer. When it finally was close enough to its victim it would instantly gouge out the stomach and intestines of the victim. The Hidebehind would then feast on the raw meat. Assaults by the Hidebehind were so instant that even if not completely deadly, the victim often died of fright alone.

The Hidebehind’s physical description is hard to nail down, as it is so rarely seen. However, those who have glimpsed this horrid creature describe it as wraith-like and vaguely humanoid. The body of this creature was undeniably slender, though, as it was able to conceal itself behind a whole variety of trees. Additionally, one would have to guess that it has fearsome claws in order to eviscerate its victims instantaneously.

How could one possibly evade the Hidebehind if it was fast, sneaky, and armed with claws? Well, drinking helps. No, seriously. According to most accounts, the monster hated the smell of alcohol. If it hated the smell, it sure didn’t want to eat something chock full of it. So, the lumberjacks drank as a way to protect themselves when they thought they might be on the hunting grounds of a Hidebehind. However, many saw this solution as an excuse to drink more.

So, where and why did these tales arise? As mentioned above, these stories took place in logging country in the USA (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan) which were pretty wild places in the 19th century. Being a lumberjack was a taxing job with a myriad of dangers to contend with every single day. Perhaps the Hidebehind was a story to keep men vigilant for bears and other wild animals that may be lurking in the woods. Or, perhaps, this isn’t an animal specific threat and just a grander reason and reminder for lumberjacks to stay vigilant at all times in order to avoid vulnerability.

However, it might also be a way to deal with mysterious disappearances and deaths of fellow lumberjacks. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth describes the creature as "A predatory cannibal beast that lurked around the loggers' camps until one was alone long enough to be grabbed and carried away to be consumed." Perhaps this creature was a way for logging camps to deal with the fear of accidental kills, lost men, and fallen friends.

The above is an image of Federal Forest Highway 13, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by Jim Toomey. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

The Ring of Senicianus

There are many pieces of jewelry that live in museums, private collections, and more around the world. Many of these pieces are rings and several of these are Roman rings. Roman jewelry is a popular museum piece, as so many tell stories and let us learn more about the cultures that produced them. One of these rings, however, stands alone: The Ring of Senicianus. This ring is also known as the Vyne Ring and the Ring of Silvianus. It was stolen over 1,500 years ago and, according to legend, whoever steals this ring will be cursed by the gods.

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As the story goes, Silviaus was a Roman stationed in Gloucestershire in England. One day, he decided to visit the infamous baths of Nodens, a Celtic God of healing, the sea, and hunting. During his time at Nodens’ temple and the baths his precious golden ring was stolen from him.

The ring was quite large, which hints that it was meant to be worn outside of a gloved finger or on the thumb. It is about 1-inch in diameter and weighs 12 grams. It has ten faces and a square bezel engraved with a picture of venus. The ten gold sides were bare when Silvianus had the ring.

So, in anger and retaliation to the thief he went to the temple and created a lead defixio, also known as a curse tablet. Defixios ask the gods to perform a curse on a person or action. According to legend, he engraved (in Latin, but here’s the translation): “For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a gold ring and is donating one-half of its worth to Nodens. Of the man called Senicianus, permit no good health upon him until the ring is returned back to the temple of Nodens.”

The ring was found in the year 1785. It was discovered in a plowed field in Silchester, England. When it was found, “SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE” proving that, perhaps, Silviaus was right and Senicianus did in fact steal his ring. It went into private holding and the official finding was not published until 1888, when its existence was published in Chaloner Chute. Then, in 1929, a link between the Silvianus curse tablet and what was then known as the Vyne Ring. We can thank Sir Mortimer Wheeler for that link!

Despite its theft centuries ago, it is currently the property of the National Trust and is on view at the Vyne Manner. It is said that this ring is the inspiration behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Series. This link is highlighted in Gollum’s actions toward Bilbo when…”he cried out in rage, “Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it; we hates it, we hates it forever!” Both Silvianus and Gollum knew who stole their rings and cursed them accordingly. Not to mention, Tolkien had a relationship with Wheeler. He had gotten in touch with Wheeler to learn more about the god, Noden. However, he got more than he bargained for when he learned of the ring. The Hobbit was written in 1937...less than 10 years after the link was made!

 

The Vyne © National Trust / Helen Sanderson

The Cladh Hallan Bog Bodies

Scotland has two prehistoric mummies that were found in Cladh Hallan. These two bodies are not totally typical and are actually classified as bog bodies. But, what are bog bodies? They are bodies that have either been thrown into or fell into bogs while still living. Peat bogs in particular are helpful in preservation, thanks to their rich mats of sphagnum moss. As the sphagnum moss dies and is replaced by new growth, the old moss begins to turn to peat, which is great for heat. The bog water then interacts with the acids in the moss, produces tannin, and other chemicals that work to preserve the bodies. So, these two prehistoric mummies are important for two reasons, 1) They are the only prehistoric mummies to be found in Scotland, and 2) They are bog bodies...but now a third reason is arising: these two bodies aren’t two bodies.

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The third unique element of the Cladh Hallan bodies? Each of these bodies are not singular bodies, which are in fact made from composite remains of several people.

Research has shown that these bodies were buried about 300-600 years after their deaths were discovered in 2001. They were buried so long after their deaths because the bodies were place specifically in a peat bog just long enough to keep them preserved. After that, they were reburied hundreds of years later.

They were found below the houses of Cladh Hallan, an 11th century village on the island of South Uist. Since their 2001 find, archaeological researchers have noted several strange details, especially in the female skeleton. These abnormalities include a jaw that did not fit the rest of the skull and face. And, over 10 years later, the DNA of both specimens was finally tested. This DNA testing revealed something entirely surprising: these skeletons were made up of completely different people, and, furthermore, people who did not even share the same mother. However, all the female body is made up of female bones that died around the same time. The male body, is slightly different, as it contains men that died a few HUNDRED years apart!

This is especially weird, as the bodies are still articulated, meaning they were attached to each other as they would be in life. The reasons as to why the villagers carried out this strange process or why they constructed these composite mummies. There are some theories, such as the were replacing the bones lost of an important person. Another theory is that they were built for symbolic reasons. This archaeological find also hints that there might be more bodies like this one to be found nearby and from afar. 

This piece of astonishing archaeology raises many questions - why did they do this? how did they keep track of the bodies? and why go to the trouble of making this happen?

 

This image, entitled "Bog. Typical Mounth scenery - peat bog with dark pools. Lochnagar in the distance" by Richard Webb does not depict where the bog bodies were found. It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. 

The Devil’s Toy Box



What buildings come to mind when you think of places you might be driven mad by purely existing in them? Perhaps the post office, the doctor’s office, the DMV. Or, maybe something more sinister comes to mind like an abandoned building or a sanitarium. According to those in the know, none of these places can compare to the Devil’s Toy Box.

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It is not entirely clear if the The Devil’s Toy Box is all urban legend, creepypasta, hints at truth, or is completely true. For the purposes of this post, I am going to go with the middle option - that there is something about this story, this type of place, that gets at truth.

Now, where is this alleged evil place? Northern Louisiana. In fact,  its creation was inspired by the Clive Barker Hellraiser movies. Although some debate remains about its creation and location, the most accepted explanation is that it was an attraction set up in the annual halloween attraction, Farmer Grave’s haunted Orchard.

Unlike the movies, however, this toy box is not something you can fit in your hand or even a room.

The Devil’s Toy Box is described as a shack. From the outside, it is unappealing and average. But the interior of the Devil’s Toy Box is what gives this strange room its lasting reputation. According to several sources, the inside of the shack consists of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, including the walls.

No one can last more than five minutes in this room.

People who have been unlucky enough to stumble upon this room have been hospitalized, driven mad, and run out screaming.

The man alleged to last the longest was Roger Heltz, who lasted four minutes and 37 seconds. Heltz was, by all accounts, fairly normal. He was a 52-year-old family man and father of three. Sadly, his experience in the room severely damaged him and, since that day, he has been unable to speak. Heltz’s is only one of the tales of madness and terror. Dozens of teenagers have been seriously disturbed, horrified at what lay inside, or otherwise unable to last more than just a few seconds inside the attraction.

So what happens in the room? ThoughtCatalog reports  “According to the legend, if you stood inside this mirror-room alone for too long, supposedly the devil would show up and steal your soul. In most versions of this story, he did so by flaying you alive. I mention all of this because about two weeks ago, I got an email from an 18-year-old girl located in Northern Louisiana who we’ll call “Erin” (the specific town where Erin lived shall go unnamed for reasons that will soon become clear).”

The rumor mill was spinning so local law enforcement quickly stepped in and closed down the attraction. Even after it was shut down, several teens attempted to visit the property (accessible by a two-lane road near the Sawyers’ property), but it has never been discovered again.

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and was taken by Paulo Valdivieso, entitled
Dirt Road #1. It liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Severed Hands in Ancient Egypt

In the news in the last few months we’ve been seeing tons of stories popping up regarding the severed feet washing up in the PNW and Canada. But, this is not the first time in human history that a strange amount of severed body parts have all been found in one place. In fact, archaeologists working on excavating a palace in what was once Avaris in Egypt made quite an eerie discovery.

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The ancient city of Avaris (now known as Tell el-Daba) is northeast of Cairo, along the Nile. The palace owner, at that time, was Seusernre Khyan. The bones are believed to be about 3,600 years old and are from the Hyksos people.

The hands were first discovered when archaeologists unearthed four pits that were, believed to be, in front of what would have been the throne room. Two of the pits contained one hand per pit. It is believed, according to ehyptologis Manfred Bietak and his team, that each hand in the pit represent a particular ceremony. Fourteen additions hands, believed to be buried at a later date, were found in two pits located in the outer grounds of the palace.

All of the hands are right hands. And, Bietak notes, “Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large.”

This archaeological discovery is actually the first physical proof that is common in ancient Egyptian writing and art. Remember when Bietak pointed out the size of the hands? Well, it is likely because they are the hands of soldiers. The ritual consists of a soldier presenting the severed right hand of an enemy to a noble in exchange for gold.

According to LiveScience, “One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part:

"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905).”

But, why only right hands?

Well, there are a few reasons. One of them is quite mundane - it is easier to keep track of how many victims the soldier claimed. Additionally, Bietak explains that the removal of the right hand is symbolic, "You deprive him of his power eternally.”

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and is in the public domain. This painting is by Hermann Vogel (1854 - 1921) and is entitled Einfall der Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders are depicted just after a victorious battle against the Egyptians.

Dragsholm Castle and its One Hundred Ghosts

Dragsholm Castle is a stunning castle located on the west coast of Sealand, just an hour’s drive from Copenhagen. The stunning white castle looks like something out of a fairytale and has stood for more than 800 years. It was built in 1215 by the Bishop of Roskilde. It was later modified in the middle ages to be a fortified castle. In fact, the castle was almost impenetrable and said to be the only castle on Zealand to withstand the brutal armies of Count Christoffer.  Today, the castle boasts a Michelin star restaurant, gorgeous suites, rave reviews, and over one hundred ghosts. Yes, you read that right...one hundred ghosts.

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Dragsholm is said to be home to over 100 spirits who are not quite ready to leave this world. One of the reasons Dragsholm is so haunted is because it once served as a prison space for very special prisoners. When the castle was given to King Christian III in 1536, it was modified to become a prison for noble and high-ranking ecclesiastical prisoners. Many of the ghosts are believed to be from these prisoners and the staff that tended to the castle, which remained a prison for almost 100 years. There were several notable prisoners, including the Mad Squire. In life, he was known as Ejler Brockenhuus and was a former confidant of the King. When he was imprisoned and his life coming to an end he began length and incomprehensible diatribes. It is said that you can still hear him rambling in the corridors near his cell.

Another infamous prisoner-turned-ghost was James Hepburn, an Earl. He was the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, he had previously jilted a Danish fiancee before marrying Mary and when he fled Scotland he sought solace in Denmark. Seeking solace here was...not the best idea. Why? Well not only had he jilted a member of a powerful family, he also ran off with a sizable dowry that her father had given him for his ex-fiancee, Anna Rustung. For this, he was captured and imprisoned in Dragsholm. It was said he went insane while imprisoned and died at the young age of 44. His ghost has frequently been spotted amongst the castle’s grounds and entering the grounds in a ghostly horse-drawn carriage.

Dragsholm is also home to its very own Women in White (or, in this case, Lady in White). It is believed that this ghostly woman was once Celina Bolves, daughter of the powerful and noble Bovles family. Unfortunately for Celina, she fell in love with a laborer far below her own rank. Disregarding her family’s pleas to leave him she remained with him and soon became pregnant with his child. Her father discovered what his daughter had done and imprisoned her in the castle’s dungeons. It was there she died.

Those who have experience the White Lady say that she appears to be looking for someone (perhaps her lover) and often moans or sighs in sorrow because she is never able to find him. Though beautiful, she is often described as a tragic figure who brings a sense of sadness to those who see her.

The most surprising thing about the Lady in White of Dragsholm castle? In the 1930s when workmen were busy repairing the basement plumbing at the castle they discovered a skeleton wearing a white dress imprisoned in a wall.

There is also a happy ghost that haunts the merry halls of Dragsholm. She was a maid that worked at Dragsholm but did not live on the property. One day, after her commute to work, she began complaining of a painful toothache. The generous master of the castle at that time gave her a poultice to help soothe her toothache. Soon enough, she began feeling better and was very grateful. Sadly, shortly after this good deed her life was cut short and she died. It seems her spirit returned to the castle to eternally show her gratitude. She is often seen at night and appears to be a protective and helpful spirit that happily guards Dragsholm.

These are just a few of the ghosts that haunt what is potentially the most haunted castle in Denmark. Do you know of any other hauntings at Dragsholm?

 

The above image is of Dragsholm Castle taken by Bococo it is licensed under CC-SA 3.0.

Moll Dyer

In 17th century Leonardtown, Maryland there was an infamous woman named Moll Dyer. Although no direct historical record has been found of her existence, a road, a stream, and a large rock all bear her name. But who do we think she was?

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Similarly to the Bell Witch, we aren’t quite sure what exactly her origins were before her title of ‘witch.’ Most sources seem to agree that she was a woman that lived in semi-isolation on the edge of town. Her origin was unknown to many of the townspeople and this created a hotbed of speculation - some believed she was an Irish noblewoman on the run, others believed she was running a way (or even killed a husband), and some believed she had been run out of her hometown. As noted before there was no record of a ‘Moll’ Dyer, but there were several Dyers in the area at the time and ‘Moll’ could have been a nickname of one of them, or that her birth certificate was never created or otherwise improperly filed and lost to the archives of time. Her story wasn’t recorded until the 19th century when a local writer, Joseph F. Morgan decided to write the story down.

In addition to her isolation, it is believed she practiced as a healer. Like many healers during the 17th century as soon as a series of misfortunes took hold of the town Moll was blamed and labeled a witch. During a particularly cold winter, the townspeople arrived at her small house and ran her out. Some stories says the townsfolk came to her door dramatically - torches and pitchforks in hand. Others say that their intent was just to scare her enough to get her to move. Moll, unbelievably, escaped this small but angry mob. She ran from the fire of her home and it was believed she ran in the dead of a cold, cold night until she fell upon a large boulder. It was at this boulder that she died. Several days later, a young boy came upon her corpse. Her body was frozen and one of her arms was allegedly stretched towards the heavens, perhaps in a last ditch effort for her or as a way to curse her tormentors.

How do we know this? Well, it is rumored that the imprints of her hand remained burned into the rock for hundreds of years. This boulder is so important that the local historical society had it moved and placed in front of their building. It is also said that at the original site of the rock the fields were strangely barren for years after her passing.

However, her curse had more effects than leaving behind handprints and making a few fields barren. It was said that the men responsible for leading the mob to Moll’s door all had bouts of horrible luck. Their lands became barren, their livestock died, they got sick, and their families suffered.

It should also be noted that some people believed Leonardtown and the story of Moll Dyer partly inspired the being and energy in The Blair Witch Project.


The above image is unrelated to the story it is by Aleks G and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
 

The Kikimora

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll know I (Tess) have a soft spot for household spirits. I’m not what draws me so much to the lore of these creatures, but I find them hopelessly endearing (especially the curmudgeonly ones). One I recently learned about was the Kikimora. Kikimora is a female house spirit in Slavic folklore. Unlike some household beings, though, Kikimora does not often make life either.

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Kikimora strongly resemble humanoid chickens, with a beaked mouth and nose, clawed fingers, and chicken feet. She is typically dressed in a housedress with a headscarf tied around her scraggly hair. She is often depicted spinning flax with evil intent. Looking in her the eyes should be avoided at all costs - in fact, children were even advised to stare at their pillows or out their windows if they felt she was in the room.   

How does a Kikimora get into your house? Well, through the keyhole of course. It is for this reason that many Slavic women kept their keys in the keyholes or stuffed keyholes with small pieces of cloth or papers to stifle the entrance of a Kikimora. Kikimoras usually appear along with life-changing bad news like death or the loss of a child. If these events have not occurred, she is also believed to be a messenger of bad fortune. It is said that if you lay your eyes upon a Kikimora, your death will be swift.

These creatures, like many household beings, prefer to live in nooks and crannies. The Kikimora are said to prefer staying behind the hearth, near stoves, under the floorboards, in cupboards, and in attics. If she is displeased or wants to make her presence known it is said that she makes noises similar to a mouse. If she is offered food, some believe she will leave the house and stop disturbing the inhabitants.

Interestingly enough, Kikimoras are often linked to troubles at night, specifically sleep paralysis, terrifying nightmares, or accidents that happen in the night (livestock being killed, food spoiling, etc).

New Jersey's Devil Tree

Sacred trees can be found in ancient origin stories all the way to the popular world of fiction with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents. Trees, stretching all the way back to ancient times, is a universal symbol of growth, fertility, and transformation. There are trees where people travel for pilgrimage, perform rituals, worship, and celebrate around. But are there haunted trees?

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According to many locals of Bernards Township in New Jersey, there is at least one haunted tree: The Devil’s Tree. The Devil’s Tree does appear fairly ominous, but at its surface there seems to be nothing unique about this solemn oak tree. The Devil’s Tree presides over a field in Somerset County and is, according to local lore, surrounded by loss, evil, and blood.

Like any local legend, the origin story of The Devil’s Tree isn’t readily apparent. One of the most pervasive origins of the evil surrounding this tree has to do with New Jersey’s branch of the KKK. Bernards Township with the focal point of KKK meetings in New Jersey. Because of this, many demonstrations, meetings, and even lynchings happened near the field and in the surrounding area. Many believe the malignant feeling the tree emits is due to the spirits of innocent African Americans who were so brutally murdered in its branches.

Although the KKK brutality and hate seems to be the most popular theory, it is not the only one. The tree is in a secluded and private field, far from the view of curious eyes. For this reason, it is also the alleged site of several suicides. One of the most curious cases is a nearby farmer who murdered his entire family. Unable to live with what he had done, he went to the tree and hung himself. It is believed that his deeds, hate, and malice have permeated the wood of the tree, tainting. Of course, no name or even year can be provided for sleuths looking to find out the identity of this man. Local lore alleged that those who pluck up the courage to touch their hand to the tree have oily, black stains appearing on their hands...and they are not easy to remove.

It seems that the pervasiveness of tree lore also enters into the paranormal realm as well. Stories of devil trees, which seem popular all over the USA, seem to pervert the hallowed symbol of the tree into something to be feared - surrounded in local lore, rumors, and an impretable sinister feeling.

Today, there are pranksters and thrill-seekers alike who venture to the tree. Another rumor that has cropped up is a car that ‘chases’ the would be tree vandals. There are reports of a big pick up truck that will barrel towards you and will chase you down away from the tree, its headlights blazing. But, when you turn around or go to confront the car, the headlights are gone and the car has inexplicably vanished. The Devil’s Tree is such a popular destination that locals have constructed a wire fence around the base of the tree, in an effort to ward off vandals.

A the Weird NJ article (linked above) quotes a local citizen who did not wish to be identified as saying, “The inherent unholiness of the Devil’s Tree is the result of the evil that men do, and should not be blamed on the Devil.”

Do you have a local devil tree’s lore?

 

 

The above image was provided in creative commons from wikimedia commons. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27

Vrykolakas

The undead dead have always been an interesting aspect of global folklore. Many cultures seem to have at least a few folkloric creatures or mythic beings that are near to a Vampire. However, each culture seems to have its own “twist” on the common creature. One of my favorites is the Greek Vrykolakas - whose journey from human to vampire, and their life afterwards, is totally unique.

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One doesn’t become a Vrykolakas by being bitten, in fact one can become a Vrykolakas fairly simply. It is said that if you live a sacrilegious life, were excommunicated, or were buried in unconsecrated ground that you run the risk of joining the undead. Of course, there is one more strange way to become a Vrykolakas...by eating mutton that was previously eaten by a werewolf.

The word “Vrykolakas” isn’t strictly vampiric in and of itself, and is actually linked to wolves! It is Slavic in origin and comes from the root words meaning “wolf.” According to ByLightUnseen.net, “he etymological leap from werewolf to vampire is obscure.” The earliest uses of the word seem to be around the mid-1600s. In 1645, Leo Allatius. According to Allatius, “The vrykolakas is an evil and wicked person who may have been excommunicated by a bishop. Its body swells up so that all its limbs are distended, it is hard, and when tapped it thrums like a drum.” It has also been reported, along with the rise of the Greek Orthodox Church, that the Vrykolakas had to do with evil (or the devil) inhabiting a body of the already-dead, causing it to move.

As I mentioned previously, the Vrykolakas does not turn those with a bite. Instead, it would spread death through disease. If you saw a Vrykolakas walking around town, you would immediately know your town was in mortal peril. In order to draw people out, it would knock on doors. Once a person opened the door, they would soon die. To this day in Greece, it is common in some places to not open the door until the second knock. However, it also seems that not all Vrykolakas wanted to kill everyone they came into contact with. Sometimes, Vrykolakas were people who had died unfortunate or violent deaths and had to attend to some unfinished business.

You can get rid of a Vrykolakas much the same way you’d get rid of an Eastern European vampire - a stake through the heart, some kind of impaling, cremating the corpse, etc. However, there Vrykolakas also has some times to poltergeist-like activity and the devil, so an exorcism is also said to work.

One infamous Vrykolakas was called Patino. Patino, before his turning, was a merchant from Patmos, who died while on a trip to Natolia. While being shipped home for proper burial, he was revived. Although his wife buried him with a funeral, he soon began appearing around town assaulting people, damaging property, and generally creating mayhem. In an effort to stop him, an exorcism was attempted and prayer was increases...unfortunately, this had no effect on Patino. Eventually, not sure what to do next, the village had his body exhumed and sent back to Natolia. During his travel back in the coffin, he terrified sailors and they decided to burn his corpse which finally ended the phenomena.

Another story is told by Phlegon, who lived during Emperor Hardrian’s rule.  Demostratus and Chrito’s daughter, Philinnon, died very young. About six months after her death, a strange woman was seen entering the living quarters of Machates, a young guest. Charito, confused, questioned Machates about his visitor. Machates, unaware of his hosts’ recent loss, said the girl’s name was Philinnon. He then went to his room to show the couple the things she had left behind, her breast band and her ring. To their horror, Philinnon’s parents recognized these belongings as their dead daughter’s. The next night, she returned to his room. Desperate to see their daughter, the couple rushed in only for her to regard them coldly and tell them that she had been given three days reprieve of death to visit with him but, because they had interrupted, she had to die again. In front of their eyes, their daughter’s body returned to its corpse-form. Despite trying to keep her return quiet, it was soon discovered and her burial vault was investigated. Philinnon’s grave held several favors from Machates, but no body.

 

 

The above image is unrelated to the story. It is by Henry Hemming, entitled Tomb  and was taken at the Kensal Green Cemetery in northwest London. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

North Berwick Witch Trials

North Berwick hugs the coast of East Lothian, not too far from Edinburgh, in Scotland. Today, if you walked along the streets there, you’d see a small and sleepy fishing town with lovely houses and kind people. This picturesque piece of land is also one of the sights of the most brutal and unforgiving Witch Trials in all of Scotland. In November 1590, David Seton accused his servant, Geillis Duncan, of being a witch. This one accusation was the very start of the now infamous North Berwick Witch Trials. Geillis Duncan was likely accused because she was a well-known healer in the area. Seton tortured Duncan and forced her to name other accomplices and witches.
 

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Geillis, the first to be accused, was a well-known healer in the area. She was suspected (and later accused) of being a witch because some of her healings worked too well, according to local townsfolk. She was officially accused and subsequently tortured by her employer, David Seton. Although at first she claimed innocence and no have no dalliance with the devil, after so much torture the young woman finally broke. She confessed that she was a witch, had sold her soul to the devil, and all of his masterful healings were work of the devil. However, there wasn’t enough for her accusers to be sated. They continued the torture until she would name her coven. Breaking, once again, she named several others...many of them healers in town. The people accused now fit the stereotypes we in the contemporary age are familiar with when it comes to witch-based accusations. For example, Barbara Napier who was the powerful widow of an Earl, Eupherria Maclean the daughter of a local lord, Agnes Sampson a midwife and healer, and Dr. John Fian, a local school master. All of Geillis’ confessions could not save her, though. Gellis Duncan was burned at the stake.

The exact number of the accused and murdered is unknown, however somewhere between 70-200 witches were accused during this time in North Berwick and from several surrounding areas. Young women, like Geillis, who were known healers soon found themselves swept up in the madness.  North Berwick became the epicenter of a rash of witch accusations and trials, with local gossip saying that the Devil met with many in the North Berwick churchyard at the witching hour. According to Witchcraft and Witches.com, “on Halloween of 1590, the Devil had the witches dig up corpses and cut off different joints or organs which were then attached to a dead cat and thrown into the sea in order to call up the storm which had nearly shipwrecked the King’s ship.” It is the implication that the witches of North Berwick had conspired against the king that would continue to raise the madness.

The reason James VI was in a ship in the first place was because he was journeying to Denmark for his new wife, Anne of Denmark in 1589. However, storms during the crossing proved too severe and the ship and the king were forced to retreat. James, unable to find a suitable solution, was convinced that his misfortune was caused by the menacing witches of North Berwick, which he had her rumors about.

James’ interest in witches, magic, and the occult is a very storied one and difficult to go into (and, honestly, deserves its own post) so, to make things simple here I will say that James wrote a book called “Daemonologie” which explored these strange subjects and some time later began a distinctive crusade against the wonders which he once wrote about.

Agnes Sampson, who I mentioned above, was personally inspected and interviewed by King James at his palace, Holyrood House. According to records, she was fastened to the wall of her cell with an iron instrument consisting of four sharp prongs forced into the mouth, two on the tongue and two on the cheeks. This instrument has many names, including the “Witch’s Bridle” and the “Scold’s Bridle.” If you think it would be hard to make a confession or defend yourself with this kind of contraption, you would be correct. After wearing this, being denied sleep, and other misfortunes she eventually confessed and was strangled and burned as a witch.

The trials in North Berwick would produce a pamphlet entitled “Newes from Scotland” which detailed the King’s role in the recent trials and began a rash of witch accusations, trials, and burnings.

 

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less. You can view it here.

Historically Horrible Houseguests

If you’re going to be a houseguest there are some easy rules to follow - don’t make a mess, don’t insult the host, and, perhaps most easy to follow, don’t kill anyone. Sadly, for a group of folks in Glencoe, Scotland in 1692 their houseguests decided to not follow these rules. In fact, they massacred their hosts, members of the MacDonald clan.

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Derek Alexander, the head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland is leading a research team to find out why, in the late 17th century, the Glencoe branch of the well-known and respected MacDonald clan were brutally murdered.

In a new archaeological undertaking Alexander and his team will be “trying to find remains that tie the landscape to the story of the massacre.” The story, it seems, we do know.

In Glencoe, Scotland roughly 70-80 people, most linked to the MacDonald clan, lived in several farm settlements. These people lived a modest life by farming, raising cattle, and engaging in some light, but typical for the time, tribal stealing from other clans (usually cattle).

Their standard life took a major turn in early February, 1692 when two companies of soldiers (a total of roughly 120 men) came to Glencoe with orders to lodge there and throughout the valley. It was a duty of the people to house and feed soldiers, so this act in and of itself was not incredibly surprising.

However, after two relatively uneventful weeks the commanding officer of all the soldiers, Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, “carried out secret orders to "put all to the sword" in Glencoe.” The people of Glencoe and even the soldiers, seemed to have no idea of these gruesome orders.

On the night of February 13th, a brutal blizzard blew through Glencoe, causing whiteout conditions. It was during this time that, according to BBC, “systematically killing everyone they could. 38 lay dead the next morning, including the chief, MacIain. Many more escaped into the hills, some finding shelter before the elements could kill them, some, including MacIain’s elderly wife, dying on the mountainside.”

However, the low number (38 would be less than half the village) is attributed to soldiers being disgusted with their orders and horrified at an order towards people who had been taking care of them for two weeks and warning families ahead of time. Sadly, roughly 40 people froze to death before they could reach the safety of the next village, although some remained alive to tell the tale.

But what was the reason behind this horrific mass-murder? The village chief not swearing his oath of allegiance to the King. It was a punishment and warning to other Highlanders the price of not swearing fealty and acknowledging the king. Although, the villagers claimed that the reason for missing the deadline was not recklessness or a feeling of superiority, but heavy snow which cased travel delays. Others claimed it was a punishment for the rebellious Highlanders who were also Catholic.

The archaeological team from NTS is currently working through three sites, specifically three farm settlements where the remains of building foundations are. Although the researchers are still in the early stages at the sites, they hope to find the archaeological evidence that aligns with this mythic story.

The archaeological study and research is still in its early stages, and we will be sure to keep you updated!

 

This above image is entitled "Some sun breaks through onto the Buachaille Etive Mòr on an otherwise cloudy day" and is part of the Highlands, although not tied to the current archaeological search. It is by Graham Grinner Lewis and is liscensed under CC BY 2.0. 

Sachs Covered Bridge

Located in a bucolic stretch of Pennsylvania, one of its most historic covered bridges is also one of the country’s most haunted. Looking at the preserved bridge one would hesitate to call it haunted, as it looks like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Sachs Covered Bridge in Gettysburg, designated Pennsylvania’s “most historic bridge" in 1938 and also on the National Register of Historic Places, has quite a storied, and potentially haunted history.

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Before it was haunted, it was a bridge built in 1852. Sach’s bridge is a “Town Truss” bridge, which is a lattice-like bridge. Almost ten years later, it became an important bridge during the Civil War. On July 1st, 1863 the bridge was crossed by I Corps of the Union Army marching towards Gettysburg. Just four days later, much of Robert E. Lee’s Army would retreat back over the bridge after the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg.

But not every Confederate soldier made it safely across the bridge. Rumor has it that three Confederate soldiers who had attempted to desert during Gettysburg were found and cut here. Perhaps even more interesting is that there is another rumor that these alleged Confederate soldiers were not deserters at all, but spies. Although neither story has been totally verified, many people who have had experiences at the bridge report hearing battle fire, screams of people that sound as if they’re being wounded and killed, and others have even reported seeing full-bodied and uniformed apparitions of these soldiers! Even more mention feeling cold spots and even seeing a strange, dark, and unexplainable mist.

This bridge is like many bridges in America, especially many covered bridges: haunted. What makes bridges so haunted? Why does every town - big and small alike, seem to have some sort of haunted bridge lurking just on the periphery?

In folklore, bridges often serve s important points in stories - where devils make deals, where trolls live, and especially where ghosts lurk. Is it because we come so close to being washed away should a wood plank give out or our cars fail on top? Is it because the “Imp of the Impure” calls us to the edge and asks what would happen if we jumped?

In my mind, I think it is because it is a liminal space. In between nature and man-made, danger and safety, and the known and the unknown, because we know where the road will take us but not the river.

This image was taken by Kevin A. Trostle and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.