Samhain: An Overview

According to Celtic lore, the year is divided into two halves, the dark half and the light half. The dark half begins on November 1st and is marked by Samhain. It was on the day of Samhain where the veil between this world and the otherworld was believed to be thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through.

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Like Hallow’s Eve, Samhain is also an ‘eve.’ Samhain preparations and celebrations begin early on Samhain Eve. Since Samhain marks the end of summer, families usually begin the day with an intense fall cleaning so they could begin winter with a fresh, clean home.

Like many things, Samhain is all about balance. There were both good and bad spirits that could visit them during Samhain. Family’s ancestors and loved ones were welcomed into the homes of the living and celebrated while costumes, masks, and other creations were used to disguise and scare off the spirits that wished to do harm.

The colors orange and black also have their origin in Samhain. The black represents the time of darkness and, according to some sources, the death of god(s) (linked to the sabbat Lughnasadh) and the orange symbolizes the hope of the coming dawn during Yule when god is reborn. Some believe Jack-o’-lanterns also have their beginnings in Samhain when turnips and gourds were carved into scary faces, hollowed out, and lit up with a candle in some cases. The horrific faces were meant to scare away bad spirits. However, there is also the belief that light leads spirits to the afterlife (which is why bonfires and lanterns are important to Samhain).

As quoted in Time, “According to historian Nicholas Rogers, author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Samhain was a “time of stock-taking and perhaps sacrifice” — including probably animal sacrifice — during which “pastoral communities [prepared] to survive the winter.”

Although some sacrifices were made they weren’t gruesome or uncommon for the time period. Typically crops and sometimes livestock would be burned in bonfires. These were offerings for the other side as a way to protect against evil and gain favor from the more malicious spirits that may try to malign or hurt the community.

Bonfires also raged throughout the night. All of the community would come by the bonfire and enjoy food, drink, and dancing. Some members of the community would wear costumes, usually dressing up as fearsome animals, as a way to scare bad spirits away from the community.

Because the veil was so thin it was also a popular time for human tricks. Many people played tricks, pranks, or got up to other mischievous business and instead of taking responsibility for these actions they were often blamed on fairies and spirits which were running rampant.

In addition to tricks, Samhain was also supposed to be the best time to try your hand at divination. Divination was accomplished in a variety of ways such as throwing bones, reading tea leaves, and other means. Or, people who would not normally want or desire their future told feel the need to find out or ask by the light of the bonfire.

In the 800s AD, due to the Christianization of Britain, the early Church attempted to take Celtic festivals and Christianize them. Pope Boniface IV called November 1st (Samhain) All Saints Day which had similar themes of honoring the dead and preparing for the winter. October 31st (Samhain Eve) was then named “All Hallows Eve”...and that would eventually phase into ‘Halloween.’

The above image is an 1866 painting Dancing Fairies by A Malmström. This work is in the public domain.

Where does Trick-or-Treating Come From?

Although Trick-or-Treating a very American practice the phrase itself dates all the way back to medieval Europe. Like many ancient celebrations, they occurred at specific times of year (which is why there are so many festivals and traditions worldwide from late September through early November). In fact, before it was trick-or-treating it was known as ‘Souling’ and later as ‘guising.’

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A common practice called ‘Souling' is reminiscent of Halloween. In its earliest form (and likely with pre-Christian roots) Souling entails leaving ‘soul-cakes’ a sweet, simple treat outside the home for departed souls to munch on (and leave those in the dwelling alone). However, this developed into a practice by the impoverished and later children. Impoverished people went ‘Souling’ going from day-to-day on November 1st singing ancient songs and prayers for the deceased a people’s doors. They would be rewarded for their songs and prayers with soul cakes (or other small loaves and quick bread). Later, children also joined in to get treats from those whose ancestors they sang and prayed for.

In Scotland and Ireland ‘guising’ was also popular. Unlike ‘Souling’ the young people would purposefully dress up and sing, juggle, recite poems, tell a joke, or perform some other kind of ‘trick’ to be rewarded with fruit, nuts, coins, or other small treats.

It was believed that these traditions of Souling and guising traveled with immigrants to America and began weaving themselves into the fabric of Halloween. However, the phrase trick-or-treat would not really take hold until the 1930s.

Although it got off to a bit of a rough start especially with the sugar-rationing of WWII by the early 1940s trick-or-treating, dressing up in costume, and asking for candy from the community became as popular and American as apple pie (which is to say, like apple pie trick-or-treating had a long and storied history before it became an American hallmark).

The above image is by Paul Sapiano. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Dia de Los Muertos

November 1st is for many a holiday that rivals Halloween in its power and personal meaning. Día de Los Muertos is Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st through November 2nd. Día de Los Muertos is a time to commemorate death. Although it is often compared to Halloween there is nothing scary about Día de Los Muertos. In fact, it is a celebration that is imbued with love and remembrance of those that have gone.

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According to the National Hispanic Center, “Essential to Día de Los Muertos rituals and practices is the pre-Columbian belief in the universal duality of life; birth and death, light and dark, joy and pain are critical and necessary partners in the cycle our existence.” The basic premise of Día de Los Muertos is the belief that at midnight on October 31st the souls of the dead are able to reunite with their loved ones. Those who died in childhood are said to come on November 1st whereas adults come down November 2nd.

To celebrate their homecoming families construct colorful, merry altars in their homes. These altars are usually decorated with flowers, candles, their loved one’s favorite food, pictures of the deceased, the deceased’s favorite things, and pan de muerto. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread that is made specifically to celebrate Día de Los Muertos.

But, Día de Los Muertos is not just celebrated in the home. In fact, loved ones travel to cemeteries to picnic, play music, clean off the gravestones, dance, and sing to the departed. Some even will spend the night in the graveyard.

You may be wondering how Día de Los Muertos most unique and identifiable symbol, the Sugar Skull, came to be. They are called ‘Calavera Catrina’ now but before there were sugar skulls, there were Literary Calaveras. Calavera does mean skull but in the 18th and 19th century the most popular way to celebrate the dead on Día de Los Muertos was to write short, silly poems that sarcastically poked fun at the living.

This began to shift in the early 20th century thanks to Mexican political cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada. He created a design to go along with literary Calavera. In this design, he personified death as a feminine skeleton dressed decadently in French clothing. According to National Geographic, he meant it to act as “social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos Somos Calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our man-made trappings, we are all the same.”

In 1947 artist Diego Rivera featured this fancy French skeleton in his famous painting, ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.’ He named her Catrina and ever since her colorful and extravagantly decorated skull has been made in sugar form.

In addition to celebrating at cemeteries, with home altars, and by sharing sugar skulls Día de LosMuertos also involves a larger celebration. Oftentimes, people dress up as skeletons, pain their face to mimic Calavera Catrina, and wear fancy clothes and costumes.

Today Día de Los Muertos is more popular than ever...but don’t confuse it for Halloween!

This image is from the Thacher Gallery. “Day of the Dead: Altar Building with Chisme y Comida.” Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Jack-o’-Lantern: A Brief History

The word Jack-o’-Lantern has only been used since the early 19th century in American but the term dates back to 17th-century Britain, where it referred to a night watchman with a lantern tasked on keeping watch through the night. But, the use of gourds lit with candles goes back much farther than either of these terms.

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The history of the Jack-o’-Lantern is muddled with poor research and confusing accounts. Why? Well because a lot of the tradition occurred in times where recording traditions like this weren’t very common.

Although pumpkins are the Jack of choice these days turnips, in pre-Christian Britain, were the most popular Jack-o’-Lanterns. However, beets and other smaller gourds were also popular Jacks to use. The early Jack-o’-Lantern had a similar function to a man with a lantern. During Samhain, which is believed to be when the lanterns were used the most, however, it is not unthinkable that it could be used during other time of the year. These turnips and other vegetables were carved with the most frightening faces a person could imagine. The scarier the better because it was the person’s hope that these carvings would scare away the spirits that would wander by their homes when the veil was thin. These faces were also sometimes illuminated by coals.

There is also the myth of Stingy Jack which is also linked to Jack-o’-Lanterns. In Ireland, ages ago, there lived a man named Stingy Jack. Based on name alone I’m sure you can guess he wasn’t a very fun fellow. He was known as the town drunkard and on top of that he often lied, cheated, stole, and played countless pranks on unsuspecting townsfolk. Every night he would walk down the pub and drink until he was kicked out.

One night on his evening sojourn to the pub he came across a grotesque and inhuman body lying on the ground. This frightening body was that of the Devil who had come to collect Jack’s soul and bring him to the depths of hell. Shocked, Jack requested one more earthly delight...another drink.

The Devil, surprisingly, agreed. So, they both walked to the pub and Jack ordered a drink. When he had finished his ale he turned to the Devil and with some unknown confidence requested the Devil pay the tab. The Devil was equally shocked at this request and wanting to continue the fun he transformed himself into a sixpence so he could walk over and give it to the bartender...but Jack didn’t pay.

Instead, he slid the six-pence piece into his pocket right next to his crucifix. Being so close to a crucifix trapped the Devil and lessened his powers. Having all the power, Jack decided to make a deal with the Devil...he’d let the Devil out of his pocket but only if he promised his spare his soul for another decade. The Devil agreed.

Ten years pass and a scene much like his first meeting with the Devil occurs. Jack, knowing his time was up, agreed but made one more request. He requested to eat one more able from a nearby apple tree. The Devil, pleased at this simple request, agreed and climbed up a tree. As he was climbing and distracted, Stingy Jack cunningly carved a cross into the tree with his knife. The Devil was stuck...again. And Jack had another barter. The Devil had to promise to never take his soul to hell. The Devil agreed.

Stingy Jack finally died after a long life of drinking and debauchery. He was turned away at the gates of heaven but was unable to go to Hell, either. So, he was doomed to wander alone. The Devil, strangely, felt something for the cunning man who had eluded him twice and gave Jack a single, burning ember to help light his way through the dark.

When Jack came upon a turnip he hollowed it out, placed the ever-burning ember inside, and created a lantern that would forever guide his way through the darkness of the netherworld. It was then he lost his nickname Stingy Jack and gained a new one...Jack of the Lantern.

So how did it come back in the 19th century? Well, Halloween used to be epically pranky. One of the most popular pranks involved carving faces into pumpkins and then using those pumpkin heads to scare people in the dead of night.

At the end of the 19th century, their attractiveness and symbology of Halloween took hold in America and they became a common decoration.

The above image is from Flickr user Benny Mazur. It is licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Nos Galan Gaeaf

You might know November 1st as a day to celebrate All Souls Day or Días De La Muerta but there is another holiday that also takes place on November 1st: Calan Gaeaf. Calan Gaeaf is a Welsh holiday. Like Halloween the day before Calan Gaeaf was called Nos Galan Gaeaf or Spirit Night.


Similar to our understanding of Halloween and traditions that shaped Halloween it is believed that Nos Galan Gaeaf is the time when the veil is the thinnest between the living and the dead. On Nos Galan Gaeaf it is suggested that you avoid all places where spirits are likely to gather such as churchyards, graveyards, and crossroads.

One of the popular albeit morbid games often played was called Coelcerth. Families would build massive fires and place stones in the fires with their names on it. If any of the stones were unable to be found it was believed that it would mean that the person whose stone was missing would die within a year.

Nos Galan Gaeaf was also a time to celebrate the second harvest and the stored food that would see the people through their winter. A harvest feast was typically had and there were dancing and frolicking into the night.

In North and South Wales there are two different focuses of Nos Galan Gaeaf that bringing together bring together two important parts of the world, black and white, together. In the south, there is the focus of ‘Ladi Wen’, also known as a Lady in White. Although this Lady in White isn’t our typical Resurrection Mary because Ladi Wen has no head. In the North, there is ‘nwch ddu gwta’ which presented a black sow without a tail. Together they would roam all of Wales together on the night of Nos Galan Gaeaf. They were two terrifying beings so if you weren’t by a raging outdoor fire, in a barn, home, or another dwelling you might be in serious trouble.

Nos Galan Gaeaf was also a good night to try and test future-telling. It was said that boys could ten ivy leaves throw away one and put the rest under his head before he sleeps to see his future. Girls should train a wild rose to grow into a hoop then on Nos Galan Gaeaf she should climb through it three times, cut it in complete silence, and go to bed with its length under her pillow.

Around the 18th century as Wales grew less and less rural the traditions of Nos Galan Gaeaf began to die away. However, Nos Galan Gaeaf night is still not wholly forgotten and remains a night to think about strange spectres, headless wraiths, and foreboding tailless sows.

The above image is unrelated to the story and is by Flickr user aseop. It is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Folklore Behind Bobbing for Apples

A common Halloween party tradition is bobbing for apples. But, how did this strange tradition begin? While it is a fun party game today its origins and development can be traced back to the Samhain festival, ancient Rome, and has its roots in divination.

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The Romans originally brought apples to the Celtic people when they covered Britain. One of the many things they brought with them were the apple trees and a goddess of beauty and fertility, Pomona. The Celtic people had been celebrating Samhain long before the Romans came and the Romans saw a way to blend the two cultures through apples.

When the Celts first encountered apples they couldn’t help but notice that when you cut an apple in half its seeds form a pentagram. The pentagram in Celtic culture was a fertility symbol and since Pomona, the Roman goddess represented by the apple tree is also a fertility goddess apples seem to be a highly potent fertility symbol.

They also have some pretty serious implications. Atlas Obscura points out, “bobbing for apples is sometimes called dooking or douking for apples, the same word used to describe dunking a woman in water to test if she might be a witch.”

During Samhain, it was believed that bobbing for apples could be a divination tool. Back then, bobbing for apples was for a very specific set of people: unmarried young people. Young unmarried people would try to bite into an apple and it could either be floating in water or hanging from a string (it is usually called snap apple when on a string). It was said the first person to bite into an apple would be the next one to marry. This is the most simplistic take on the tradition.

But, the game doesn’t have to be over when one person gets the apple. The game can also be held en masse. For example, if multiple young, unwed people are bobbing at once the moment they catch one they could peel it quite carefully and then wrap the peeling (all in one ribbon) around their head. Once they’ve wrapped it they are to throw it over their shoulder. Once the peel is flung the shape it lands in will be representative of the first letter of their true love’s first name.

Ann English tradition-spin on bobbing for apples doesn’t really look like the classic bucket full of water and apples. In fact, apples are strung up and then twirled so they spin in front of a lit fireplace. The order the apples fall will tell the order in which the people that hung them will be married.

Other times the divination aspect is slightly altered because the young names of those bobbing would also be written or etched into the apples. So, if you watched carefully enough you could aim to snag the apple with your lover’s or crush’s name!

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833. It was inspired by a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. It is liscensed in the public domain.

The Hungry Ghost Festival

Now that we’re just one week away from Halloween I wanted to change up #Blogstonishing a bit. This last week will focus on exploring Halloween traditions and similar celebrations in other cultures. We’re starting with The Hungry Ghost Festival. The Hungry Ghost Festival starts a few months before Halloween but shares many similarities.

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The Hungry Ghost Festival takes place on the 15th night of the 7th Chinese month, which is usually in mid-to-late August. However, sometimes it is held in early September. Also known as Yu Lan it has its roots in Taoist and Buddhist beliefs. On this day the gates to the spirit world are opened and the deceased are permitted to walk the earth once again. In fact, Anven Wu Yim-ching, a director the Federation of Hong Kong Chiu Chow Community Organizations, says “It can be just like Halloween,” and even included a Ghost Festival costume contest in 2015.

Similar to early Western conceptions and festivals (and what would later come to form Halloween) The Hungry Ghost Festival takes place in a liminal space where the dead have free reign over the living world once again. It is the practice to make offerings in order to appease and pacify these ghosts and ensure the living’s safety.

Hungry Ghost Festivals have their origin in the Ullambana Sutra. According to this sutra one of Buddha's disciples, Mahamaudgalyayana, learned that his mother who had passed away had been reborn as a hungry ghost. Hungry ghosts, according to legend, are beings with huge stomachs but their mouths are too small and their neck too thin to take in enough food and so they live with an insatiable craving. Some believe that you can become a hungry ghost is you live a life of gluttony, obsession or addiction. Mahamaudgalyayana tried to ease his mother’s suffering but when he offered her food it transformed into burning coals. So, he turned to the Buddha to learn how to help his mother.

Buddha told him that on the 15th day of the 7th month the Buddhist community should fill bowls with fruits and other food. In addition to physical food spiritual offerings of incense and candles should also be made. Then, they should place the bowls of food in front of an altar and recite prayers en masse. The ghosts who arise will receive the food and be blessed for a hundred years.

When the ghosts of your ancestors arise on this day it is important to make offerings to them. Should you ignore Ghost Month and especially the Hungry Ghost Festival your ancestors might curse, haunt, or otherwise malign you. Popular gifts include Zhizha (hell money, which dates backs to 1000 BC) which should be burned so it can be transported to the underworld and ghosts can use it as they please.

According to Terence Hang, a sociologist from the Singapore Institute of Technology, “Individuals now purchase and burn whatever is fashionable to consume in a contemporary, globalized society. One can get hold of paper iPads, paper credit cards, paper Rolls Royces, and more.” Paper effigies of everything from popular beers to TVs can be found and offered.

However, real food is still used. If you are going to use real wood you should place fresh food outdoors near your home (maybe on a porch or balcony). During this time of year, according to Louise Hung, “For the entire ghost month, my street in West Kowloon was never without takeaway boxes of food placed on the sidewalk after dark. Some laid out red cloth or flowers for the food to sit on, others placed bottles of water or beer alongside the offerings. It was all about giving people’s ancestors their favorite foods, or pleasing passing spirits so they wouldn’t bother the inhabitants of someone’s home or shop.” She noted that she rarely saw leftovers or trash left out in the morning, save for a few food items that may have gotten run over in the night.

Now that we have learned what to do during Hungry Ghost Month Louise Hung provides on the blog, Order of the Good Death, a list of things to avoid during this month:

1) Don’t begin a new job, get a new home, get married, be born, or do anything new during ghost month. Your new beginning may be doomed. If you have to be a special snowflake and be born during ghost month, only celebrate your birthday during the daylight hours.

2) Ghosts are drawn to red, so don’t wear red or else a ghost may attach itself to you.

3) Don’t pee on a tree. A ghost may be living in that tree.

4) Always close exterior doors, you don’t want to invite in wandering ghosts.

5) Don’t lean on walls – ghosts stick to walls.

6) Never disturb a ghost’s food and offerings. If you do, apologize profusely.

7) The night is not yours during ghost month, it’s for the dead. Unless it’s in honor of them, don’t do things outside after dark.

I have also read on various other sites (sources linked above) that you should not buy a house during this time, enter a romantic relationship, or make big moves (like a marriage proposal or trying to start a family) within an existing romantic relationship.

The above image is licensed in the public domain. It is entitled the Second section of the Hungry Ghosts Scroll located at the Kyoto National Museum. The scroll depicts the world of the hungry ghosts, one of the six realms of Buddhism and contains tales of salvation of the hungry ghosts. This particular section explains how those who have been born as hungry ghosts are saved by the offerings of the living. It relates the story of one of the thirty-six types of hungry ghosts who constantly seek water to drink. The central scene of this section shows people pouring water on a funerary marker for the ullambana festival for the dead. The whole scroll has been designated as National Treasure of Japan in the category paintings. It was possibly part of a set of scrolls depicting the six realms which were kept at Sanjūsangen-dō.

Jerome of Sandy Cove

One lovely summer afternoon on September 7th, 1863 fishermen were tending to their nets and lobster pots in the Bay of Fundy, right off Digby Neck. While they were working they noticed an odd white ship in the distance. However, full-rigged ships in the bay were quite common and they went about the work. But, after some time whispers began arising that the ship didn’t look quite right.

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Some fishermen commented that it looked like a foreign ship. As they worked the ship continue to hover right offshore going back-and-forth on the same short course. This furthered curiosity among the fishermen and they could not decide on a logical explanation for why a ship, especially a foreign ship, would be acting so strangely in the bay.

The next day something even stranger happened. On September 8th, 1863 8-year-old George Colin ‘Collie’ Albright discovered a figure huddled by the rock. At first, the strange shape could have been mistaken for a seal or other detritus from the bay but upon closer inspection, Collie discovered it was a young man who was horrendously hurt. He went back home and got his family to go and help the man.

The man appeared to be in his mid-twenties. When he was found he was partially conscious and mumbling indistinctly in what people believed to be an unidentified foreign language. The sand around his body was deeply stained with blood from his very recently amputated legs. Besides this man were a loaf of bread and a jug of water. There were footprints on the beach, clearly not made by this man. Although the injury seemed dastardly what remained of his legs were skillfully and purposefully bandaged. His clothing was also strange. He had a wonderfully lined waistcoat with a pattern not seen before in Digby Neck, his shirt was made from extremely lovely linen, and his knee-length pants were equally strange and wonderful.

The man had been moved to Mr. Gidney’s in Mink Cove. Within hours the word has spread of the strange and injured visitor and people from all over made their way to the Gidneys. Many people tried to speak to him in languages other than English including Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. The man responded positively to none of these languages.

According to the Gidneys he only really uttered one recognizable word, ‘Jerome’ which is what he then became known as to the community. After moving around the community a bit, locals unsure what to do with him but not wanting to abandon him, Jerome finally found a somewhat permanent home at the Nicolas.

Jerome seemed comfortable at the home of Jean Nicola and would stay for over seven years. Early in his time with the community he would growl at people trying to ask him questions, remain aloof, or simply smile sadly.

Wanting to help out Jerome without too much strife the community petitioned Nova Scotia to help pay for his keep. The government gave the family that cared for him $2 a week to help support him.

After seven years at the Nichola household Jeans wife, Juliette, passed away and Jean decided to return to Europe. Jerome then moved in Mrs. Deider Comeau. The Comeau family did use Jerome a bit and charged an admission to those who wished to visit with him. Jerome did not seem to put out by this idea and would remain with the family until his death.

The only true joy people saw in Jerome was when he was around children. In fact, when he was positive there were no other adults to overhear him he would speak ever so slightly to the children. He was reported saying in French ‘Non, non, non’ when children asked why he didn’t speak to other adults. On another occasion, a child asked what happened to his legs and he responded simply with ‘chains.’ He would also laugh and smile around children. Digby Neck stories report that “Not many months before he died, a Mrs. Doucet visited Jerome. She was the daughter of Jean Nicola and had been a child when Jerome lived at her father’s home. Mrs. Doucet had pleasant memories of the strange man who loved to watch children at play. Jerome’s eyes lit up as she entered the room. She appealed to him to speak to her. Tears came to his eyes as he leaned forward and tried to speak. But the words would not come. Evidently, the vocal cords, idle so long, would not respond.”

So, it appears, the man had some joy in his quiet and removed life.

He did utter a few words. According to Digby Neck stories, “Once, when asked where he came from, he snapped a reply: "Trieste." Another time someone asked what ship brought him to Nova Scotia, and he answered: "Colombo.” Each time he spoke even just one word to an adult he would withdraw and grow even more sullen and aloof. These moods would last for weeks after he had spoken.

Jerome spent his last thirty years alive in complete silence. He died on April 15, 1912, without ever having discussed where he had come from, what happened to his legs, or any other identifying information. He was believed to be in his mid-70s. He was buried and his headstone simply says ‘Jerome.’

However, theories abound with who Jerome was before he was found in 1863. One of the most logical answers is that he was a sailor who incited an unsuccessful mutiny. He was punished with the double amputation before being laid on the beach with the provisions where he would be found. Perhaps his silence stems from PTSD or even just the shame of going against his Captain. However, it was reported he had smooth hands and was dressed in finery which seems a bit odd for a sailor.

Others believed he was some kind of disgraced nobleman who had perhaps tried to gain more power or went against a higher-ranking noble and was cast off and crippled purposefully.

Others believe he had suffered some kind of head wound that impaired him (perhaps in the same accident that led to the loss of his legs or perhaps he lost his legs as a result of his injury and impaired judgment.) He was said to have rage, fear, and other problems controlling strong emotions and this could have been linked to an inability to clearly express himself because of his brain injury.

What do you think happened to Jerome?

Thanks to Neil A for this #blogstonishing topic suggestion!

The above image is not directly linked to the story. It is made available in the Public Domain and is entitled, “The war in America : the Federal steamer Chesapeake, seized by Confederates, landing crew and passengers off Musquash harbour, Bay of Fundy.”

Bog Butter

Besides bodies, butter is another artifact often discovered in the watery, misty bogs of Ireland and Scotland. Bog butter was likely originally placed in a bog for safe-keeping. The acidic, low-oxygen waters of bogs were cool places to store butter and also acts as a natural preservative. So, bogs acted as ancient refrigerators. But why go to so much trouble for butter...and how does it stay, well, butter for hundreds of years?

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Although bog butter served a practical purpose - storing the butter to keep for later, it also had a ritualistic angle as well. Many large hoards of bog butter have been discovered in places with great ritual significance to the lifestyles of the early Irish and Scottish. This theory is also supported by what has been found alongside bog butter such as weapons, jewelry, regalia pieces, wooden sculptures, tools, and even bog bodies. Researchers believed that butter, along with the other items, were offered to regional deities with the hope of securing that deity’s protection. In these instances, the butter was never meant to be recovered.

Dark Side of History posits an interesting theory of how bog butter went from ritualistic to practical, “discovered in a bog by chance by someone who passed by. This unknown person from an unknown time inspected the substance and tasted it out of curiosity, discovering that it was still edible and might have even enjoyed the taste of bog butter, deciding to make more; the technique was very simple after all. The person also realized that butter could be preserved and stashed for leaner times in the bog, and started doing just that.”

Bog butter is somewhat commonly discovered and peat bogs and is usually contained within wooden boxes, animal skins, or earthenware pots. When opened the bog butter reportedly still smells like butter and even as a buttery texture...however eating it randomly is not necessarily suggested, as it could date back as far as the Iron Age!

According to Atlas Obscura, when Andrew Zimmerin, a food historian, tried 3,000-year-old bog butter he noted it as having “a lot of funk” with “a crazy moldy finish.”

Butter was also protected because, according to the Nordic Food Lab, “Butter and other dairy products were frequently used as a form of taxation and rent.” Furthermore, “Butter is valuable: for that reason alone worth hiding, even more so in lawless times. One author gives testimony that treasures were buried inside fats, so when bog butter was discovered it was pierced from all directions to check for valuables”

There are so many examples of bog butter being found likely because of the earlier, ritualistic nature where the butter was never meant to surface again and the fact that sometimes people forgot or died before they could retrieve the bog butter they had purposefully laid in the bog.

Thank you to Friday V for the #Blogstonishing topic suggestion!

This image is not directly related to the story. It is entitled “On the Watershed Bogland near Lochan an Fhitich beneath Sgurr Chòinich. The water I am standing in will flow, slowly at first towards the North Sea via the Allt an Fhitich, Allt Ghariadh Ghualaich, Loch and River Garry, Loch and River Oich and Loch and River Ness. Lochan an Fhitich are hidden amongst the peat hags. A short fair interval on an increasingly foul day, typical of mid altitudes in a Scottish Winter.” Richard Webb / On the Watershed / CC BY-SA 2.0


Pukwudgies are a magical, humanoid race of people that feature prominently in Algonquian folklore. To different tribes, the Pukwudgie acts and looks differently. For example, in the Ojibwe tribes they are described as a mischievous but mostly good-natured being that may trick people but rarely has malicious intent. The Wampanoag and many other tribes of New England know the Pukwudgie to be both a trickster but also dangerous. They are known to play tricks but, in some cases, help out a human who has encountered them. If you wrong them or somehow offend them they are known to steal children, commit acts of terror, and can even be deadly.

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Pukwudgies are usually likened to the Western European fairy or gnome. While almost all accounts note that they are tricksters accounts vary on whether or not they have malicious intent. They are typically described as being about knee-high to an average height human. They have large hands, sagging shoulders, a stooped appearance, and a tendency to hunch forward when they walk. Despite this, they still appear to be agile and quick. Although they are small they are typically carrying arrows (which sometimes have poison arrows), knives, or spears. They also can attack in unison to kidnap people, push them off cliffs, or otherwise intimidate.

Their name denotes they habitat. ‘Pukwudgie’ translates directly to ‘person of the wilderness’ and they are often revered and respected of protectors or spirits of the forest. They are also known to have special powers. These powers vary depending on the tribe speaking about Pukwudgie lore, but they usually include the ability to become invisible, confound people, shapeshift, and bring harm to people simply through their gaze.

Native Americans believed that if you were to cross the path of a Pukwudgie you should avoid it as much as possible and not interact with the being at all.

The Wampanoag legend of the Pukwudgie is particularly interesting had a connection to Maushop, the creation giant who is believed to have created the land which is now Cape Cod. He was a beloved god and the Wampanoag people often felt they were blessed and especially taken care of by Maushop. The Pukwudgies felt forgotten and tried to help out the Wampanoag people so the Pukwudgies could be as revered as Maushop. However, their efforts often backfired or their tricksy nature got the best of them and the Wampanoag people were not, at the time, grateful for them.

Sensing that they would never be as beloved as Maushop the Pukwudgies decided to fire back. They became more and more malevolent. They played tricks, scared Wampanoag people, and did nothing to improve their daily lives. One day they Wampanoag were fed up with the feud and decided to visit Granny Squanit, Maushop’s wife, for guidance. Maushop, on his wife’s orders, collected up as many Pukwudgies as he could and flung them all around the area - from New England to the Great Lakes and even as far south as Delaware! He hoped this would lessen their power and if they were more spread out it would be harder for them to have such a big impact on humans’ lives.

Satisfied but exhausted from the work Maushop and his wife took a short sabbatical. However, during this time the Pukwudgies snuck back to Massachusetts. Infuriated that the Wampanoag were behind their scattering they elevated their attacks on them. Instead of just being nuisances and tricksters, the Pukwudgies began stealing children, burning villages, leading those lost in the woods to their deaths, and other horrible misdeeds.

Maushop was aware of this but did not want to fully return yet so he sent his five sons to fix the Pukwudgie problem. However, his sons were not a match for the Pukwudgies and they tricked them, ensnared them, and killed all five of them. Maushop and Granny Squaint were furious over their sons’ deaths and they attacked and killed as many Pukwudgies as they could. However, many escaped to the lands of New England.

Many still survive to this day and, according to some stories, a group of Pukwudgies overwhelmed Maushop and killed him.

It is interesting to note that after this story takes places Maushop largely disappears from the Wampanoags’’ mythos.

The folklore of the Pukwudgie is so pervasive that The Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, includes a brief section on Pukwudgies. It was published in 1855 and you can read it in full here:

“Far and wide among the nations

Spread the name and fame of Kwasind;

No man dared to strive with Kwasind,

No man could compete with Kwasind.

But the mischievous Puk-Wudjies,

They the envious Little People,

They the fairies and the pygmies,

Plotted and conspired against him.”

Eyewitness accounts of the Pukwudgies and their good (and bad) deeds have been around for centuries. Although running into a Pukwudgie is always a scary situation because of their power and capricious nature it is not necessarily a death sentence. However, it is important to be wary of them and their intentions.

One of the areas with the most activity is in Freetown-Fall River State Forest in Massachusetts. It is on this land that a 227-acre Watuppa Reservation, which belongs to the Wampanoag Nation, is located. In fact, reports in the Freetown-Fall River State Forest forest rangers have put up a ‘Pukwudgie Crossing’ sign. Although this may be in jest, it does reflect the large number of calls, stories, and experiences with Pukwudgies that emerge from this area.

One of the most famous encounters occurred in the Forest. A local named Joan was walking her dog along a path in the forest, something she had done many times before. Without warning her dog began running excitedly off the path and into the forest. When the dog finally stopped running and Joan caught her breath she raised her head and found herself face to face with a small, humanoid creature. According to Joan, the being was roughly two feet tall, with pale gray skin, and short, stocky legs. It had large lips, a canine-like nose, and a human-like face.

The creature did not make a move towards Joan and her dog and Joan simply stared. Soon her dog began pulling her back towards the path and Joan followed. Unsettled by this strange and unexplainable experience Joan tried to forget it. However, this did not seem to make the Pukwudgie very happy. Later that night, and for a number of weeks, the creature would appear at Joan’s bedroom window in the middle of the night and wake her up.

Does the Pukwudgie crave human attention, or perhaps need it in some way? It is important to remember that previous to the Wampanoags’ run-in with them and the fight that erupted between Pukwudgies and Maushop, they enjoyed at least respect and acceptance of the Wampanoag people...they just wanted more. Although sightings are somewhat rare and scattered over the years I wonder if Pukwudgies make themselves known after they have been out of the news for some time. If they didn’t need or care about human interaction...why not just disappear deeper into the woods? If they have the ability to make themselves invisible why would they ever let themselves be seen? For this reason, I believe there is some kind of cross-over or necessity of human attention directed towards Pukwudgies...good or bad attention.

Thanks to Fallyn E T for the #blogstonishing topic suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story and is entitled Road through the Forest (Berkshires), Scenic. It is made available under the public domain.

Ohio Grassman

The Ohio Grassman is a legend that has persisted for nearly 150 years in Ohio. The first sightings date back to 1869. They described the being, which would later become know as the Ohio Grassman, as a large, hairy, bipedal creature that stood at a staggering nine feet tall.

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The Grassman is quite similar to Bigfoot based on description alone as it a large, hairy, bipedal creature. However, its behavior and habits set it apart from typical Bigfoot lore. The Grassman seems to largely eat tall grasses. In fact, that’s where The Ohio Grassman gets its name from! The Grassman is often seen around farms and especially eating tall grasses such as wheat. This is perhaps the reason it is so particular to Ohio, which has quite a bit of farmland. 150 years ago when the sightings first began, Ohio was quite underpopulated and there was plenty of water, places to shelter, and even game to hunt. Although it appears the Grassman’s main diet is wheat and other farm products when these are no longer available they could hunt game, which is plentiful.

In addition to a different diet, the Grassman also seems much more sociable than Bigfoot. Many Grassman sightings include more than one Grassman, and it is reported that mothers have been seen with babies.

One of the most famous sightings too place in 1978 at Evelyn and Howe Cayton’s home. The family was enjoying a quiet evening with their children, grandchildren, and a few friends. While Evelyn and Howe were relaxing in their home when suddenly their children and a few of their friends came screaming through the door, apparently scared to death. They told Evelyn and Howe that while they were playing outside they came across a monster in a gravel pit. Unsure of what to do but believed the fear of the children so the pair headed outside and saw a creature covered in dark hair that was about 7ft and around 300 pounds.  When asked, Evelyn said that the Grassman simply stood there...although she hightailed it out of there quickly after witnessing it.

This would not be the last time the Caytons would see this creature and they reported they saw it many more times. Sometimes they would simply smell that it had been there as it often left a strong rotten-eggs smell whenever it passed through.

The Caytons never reported to the creature stealing anything, disrupting the family, or acting aggressively which against puts it at odds against similar creatures like the Minerva Monster.

Thanks to Lea B for the #blogstonishing suggestion!

The above image is not directly related to the story. It is a farm in Ohio. The picture is entitled Remodeled house on Scioto Farms, Ohio and is made available thanks to the public domain.

Wampus Cat

A Wampus Cat might sound like the name of a cartoon cat but in reality, it is something much more complex and much more sinister. Although Wampus Cat legends can be heard throughout the South in the United States they seem to be predominantly prominent in Appalachia and has its origins in Cherokee lore.

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There are several different version of how the Wampus Cat came to be. One of the most prominent legends behind the Wampus Cat says that a group of Native American men set out for a long and grueling hunting trip. Because of the nature and duration of this hunt, no women were permitted to accompany the men. Both the men and the women of the tribe were incredibly upset about this order. One particularly spirited wife decided to secretly follow the men along of their hunt.

In order to camouflage herself, the woman decided to wear the hide of a cougar and hang near their campfire. She listened with rapture to the tales of the hunt, the rites of the hunt, and the conversation of the men. However, she soon made herself known. Perhaps she coughed, or gasped, or repositioned herself and broke a stick. But, whatever happened the men discovered her and were infuriated. They brought her back to their village and let the shaman decide her fate. The shaman punished this woman by turning her into the animal she wore on a back.

Thus, the Wampus Cat was created. The Wampus cat is half-human, half-cougar and is cursed until the end of time to walk the woods alone. Because of her terrifying experience, all those who cross her path are terrified of her and typically run screaming, thus preventing her from ever having positive human contact.

It is said the Wampus Cat has the ability to walk on her hind legs and has the snout and ears of a feline. The Wampus Cat likes to stalk campfires, especially those only with men, perhaps as a way to avenge her situation. Sometimes she simply steals food, but other times she attacks those around the campfire.

Interestingly enough, the Wampus Cat is where the term ‘Catawmpus’ allegedly comes from. Catamountain was a common way to say ‘Mountain Cat.’ Catawampus was used to describe an atypical or strange cat that those in the mountains believed they were seeing.

Thanks to Stacy C for the #blogstonishing  topic suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story and was taken on the trail leading up to the Appalachian Trail. It was taken by MaciEej and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.

I-4 Deadzone

One of the deadliest roads of America is a quarter mile of Florida's I-4 Highway. It is said that accidents happen for no reason, ghostly sightings are the norm, and other unexplained phenomena riddle this short stretch of asphalt.

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Before the I-4 Deadzone was known as the I-4 Deadzone, before it Sanford, Florida, it was the home of the Mayaca (also known as the Jojoro). The Mayaca, tragically, were primarily wiped out by early contact with Europeans and the ensuing war and disease that the Europeans left in their wake.

After the Mayaca were wiped out and many Native Americans had left the area, especially after the Seminole wars, Swedish immigrants began working the very same land. Tirelessly, they strove to conquer this strange and somewhat alien terrain with farms, buildings, and more. However, just ten years after the initial colony was created a fire broke out and decimated much of the settlement. Shortly after the fire that razed so much to the ground an outbreak of Yellow Fever followed and, since tragedies came in threes,a historic freeze would ruin the citrus crop and hurt the industry.

A few years after this in the late 1870s Henry Sanford, a prominent businessman, turned his eyes towards Florida, believing he could cash-in. He bought up a lot of land in central Florida, including what would later be called Sanford, and had hopes of building a Catholic farming community.

To his dismay, only a handful of families took him and his business partner up on this offer. And, from the very smart, just like the Swedes, Sanford and those who took him up on his offer were in for hardship. Originally, they established a town called St. Joseph’s but that was soon snuffed out by the mosquitoes and the deadly diseases they carried: yellow fever. The homestead was abandoned by 1887.

The farms and homesteads remained empty until the early 20th century. In 1905 Albert Hawkins bought up the land and whatever was left over on it and built a home and farm for his family. He was likely not very aware of the sordid history of the land and was surprised when he came upon a rusty wire fence with four wooden crosses. As a pious man wanting to respect those who attempted to farm the land before him, he rebuilt and began maintaining this tiny cemetery. He put a new fence up, mowed the lawn, and always kept it spic and span. He was extremely serious about its upkeep and was sure to tell his children and grandchildren to respect the graveyard and stay away from it.

However, not everyone was as respectful as the Hawkins. Rumor has it that a neighbor tore down a piece of the fence that surrounded the cemetery. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but his home was struck lightning the same day and completely burnt to the ground. This would only be the start of strange activity as other neighbors began to complain of strange things happening in their home, like toys moving on their own, rooms with drafts, and more.

It would appear that Albert Hawkins was prudent to respect the family that had once lived on his land, as they seem to be the type to hold a grudge and exact vengeance. According to “ In the 1950’s, a friend of Mr. Hawkins’ grandson thought it would be fun to kick over the wooden crosses and maybe dig up some bones. The next day as he was walking through town, he was struck by a car and died instantly. The driver was never identified, and witnesses to the accident - lifelong residents of Sanford – didn’t recognize the car.”

Around the same time as this man was hit by a car, a superhighway was proposed. The plan had it cutting right through Sanford. Hawkins’ wife, as he had died, decided to sell the land including the small graveyard. The land surveyors, who were aware of the graves, decided that they were so old that they did not warrant refiguring the highway to go around the graves or exhuming and reburying the graves. Instead, they just decided to build over the small plots.

If kicking wooden crosses and messing with the fence made the spirits of this land angry, you can only imagine what building a superhighway over them would do.

The first years of the I-4 in the early 1960s had drivers reporting glowing orbs, full-bodied apparitions, issues with their radios, and disembodied voices.

At first, many of these happenings were dismissed as drivers being tired, bored, over-imaginative, and even driving under the influence. However, soon enough local law enforcement realized something else was a play. For the stretch of highway that passed through Hawkins’ once well-maintained graveyard, there was an inordinate amount of accidents.

Since the I-4 opened in 1963, there have been over 2,000 accidents in that quarter mile stretch alone. That is why it is called ‘The Dead Zone.’ In fact, in 2017 the I-4, in general, was named the most deadly highway in America.  Using federal data, a study found I-4 that the road held an average of 1.25 fatalities per mile and have increased 10% since 2015.

So, what came first? Was this story created to explain and warn others about the dangerous driving conditions of the I-4? Or, is the land the road is built on dating back to pre-European contact simply who and for what reason, we may never know.

Thanks to Ericha Loch T for the blogstonishing suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story (not taken in the dead zone). It is entitled, ‘Old Florida Interstate 4 shield in downtown Orlando. Taken May 24, 2003’ by SPUI.This work has been released into the public domain by its author, SPUI.

Franklin Castle

Franklin Castle is a gorgeous Victorian home situated on Franklin Avenue in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. It claims to be the most haunted home in Ohio. But, why is that? Is it because of its strange turrets, watchful gargoyles, and odd six-foot iron gate? Or, does this haunting go more than skin deep?

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The home was built by Hannes Tiedmann and his wife Louise. Hannes was a banker and co-founder of Union Bankings & Savings Co. and used his wealth to build the gorgeous home in 1881. Tiedmann decided to name the grand home after the street it was on, Franklin. The home took about three years to complete and the Tiedmanns, along with their young children, moved in in 1883.

Sadly, shortly after moving into this beautiful home tragedy struck the Tiedmanns as their fifteen-year-old daughter, Emma, died from complications of her diabetes. Her grandmother, Hannes’ mother, would die shortly after. However, these deaths would not be the last in the home. By 1887, three more of the Tiedmann children had died in just three years.

In a likely bid to distract himself to the five deaths that occurred in the newly built mansion, Tiedemann continued to expand the home and make it ever and ever grander. He added a ballroom, turrets, and even gargoyles. The Tiedmanns would leave the home in 1896 after Hannes’ wife, Louise, passed away.

Although no activity was ever cited or discussed by the Tiedmanns, their time in their new home was weighed down with tragedy and death. Sadly, rumors that Hannes was behind these deaths swirled in the community. He was also accused of killing his mentally ill niece, his mistress (and servant) Rachel, his four children, and an illegitimate daughter. He would later die of a stroke.

In 1913, the Mullhauser family, who had the home, sold the castle to the German-American League for Culture which some sources report as being the German Socialist Party. The German-American League for Culture taking over the grand home sparked even more rumors that the home may have been chosen for its tragic background or hidden passageways, which the party would use for medical experimentation and spying on their neighbors. During this time the home was known as Eintracht Hall. It was owned by the league for almost fifty years, from 1921-1968.

In 1968, the Romanos and their six children moved into the home. Mrs. Romano had grown up in the area and had always been fascinating by the strange and striking home. Initially, they toyed with the idea of opening up a restaurant within the home although they changed their minds. Mrs. Romano recalls many strange occurrences within the house, including footsteps, disembodied voices, and the sound of people in the ballroom. Scared at the activity, they called a Catholic priest who declined on doing an exorcism. Perhaps this was because he was a not a licensed or trained exorcist? Or, maybe he thought the Romanos were being a little excessive. However, it is said he acknowledged there was something wrong with the home and that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move. Not prepared to leave the house, they contacted the Ohio Psychical Research Group. Rumors say that one of the members was so terrified he ran screaming from the home. In 1974, the Romanos left the home.

The house was sold to Sam Muscatello who wanted to capitalize on these rumors of a haunting and offered haunted tours of the castle. He made sure to write down every visitor’s experience and often contacted the media to cover the home. This was bolstered by a discovery of a cache of human bones, believed to be baby bones, were discovered. These may have been planted by the owner who wanted to continue the haunted tours, though. Ultimately, he wasn’t able to make Franklin Castle a must-see haunted attraction and sold the place to a doctor who later sold it to Cleveland's police chief, Richard Hongisto.

The Hongistos were allegedly thrilled to snag the home but would abruptly move out just one year later when they sold it to George Mirceta who, not from the area, had no idea of the home’s strange history. Once he did learn of its history, though, he also decided to run haunted tours.

The home was sold again in 1984 to Judy Garland’s final husband, Michael DeVinko. DeVinko would spend almost one million dollars and a decade of his life restoring the home to glory. He said he has no problems with ghosts or haunting activity and jokingly said it was because he was taking care of the home. He would move out ten years later, in 1994.

It was empty for five years but sold again in 1999. However, before the new owner could move in, an arsonist took to the home and caused extreme damage and the new owner would spend quite a bit on repairs but not enough to make it livable. It was sold in 2003 and then stood empty until 2011 when it was announced the castle would be redesigned and zoned to become a three-family dwelling.

Today, Franklin Castle is home to a record company, Norton Records and Zac Webb, an artist who has lived inside the castle since June 2018. According to Cleveland Scene, “Webb's exhibition "Faces of the Castle" will be on display during the party, and is featuring portraits inspired by his time living in the old Tiedemann House. When asked if Webb has ever experienced anything he notes, "I definitely have had a few experiences in the castle, as has everyone that's ever stayed there," Webb says. "As far as 'haunted?' I'm not quite sure." Webb explains that he frequently had unexplained experiences, including noises made when no one else was around.” He also has had strange dreams in the home and these strange dreams and the faces in them were the inspiration of many of the featured paintings.”

Thanks to Sandy C for the suggestion!

The above image is by Christopher Busta-Peck “A view of the Hannes Tiedemann House at 4308 Franklin Avenue, in Cleveland, Ohio. The structure, built in 1881, was designed by Cudell and Richardson, architects. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

Church Grims

It is known as the Church Grim or the Kirk Grim in English, Kyrkogrim in Swedish, and Kirkonavki in Finnish. No matter where you may hear the story the lore surrounding this particular creature is fascinating. Church Grims are popular in both English and Scandinavian folklore. Despite its ominous and frightening appearance many believe the Church Grim is an attendant spirit, sent to oversee a church.

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Although they are an attendant spirit, Church Grims are not some dapper gentleman dressed in clothes of old or a gentle animal. Instead, Church Grims usually appear as intensely fierce black dogs ready to protect the church. In some stories, the dogs can also be rams, horses, roosters, or ravens. In Scandinavian legend it is also said that they can also appear as pale, human-like ghosts who were once parishioners.

The Church Grim may not be as cute and cuddly as our beloved Greyfriars Bobby, it does not call forth evil. Instead, the Church Grim’s one goal is to protect the church safe from the devil. It is a guardian spirit and some people believe this was because early Christians may have sacrificed animals when a new church was built and bury them on the north side of the land. Why would they do this? Well, it was once assumed by several different religious traditions, including early Christianity, that whoever was the first and/or last being interred in the Church’s cemetery would be forced to serve as its guardian for all the years to come. So that this tough existence wouldn't be granted to some poor soul at random, an animal was sacrificed and buried in the churchyard or on the church grounds. Some of the more gruesome traditions suggest that the animal would be buried alive.  

However good its intentions may be, you don’t want to bump into the Church Grim. Church Grim’s are often an omen and herald doom and death to those who witness it.

Thanks to Luke C for the suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story and is by Flickr user Matthias Ripp. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Smurl Haunting

The Smurl family was just like any other family living in Pittston, Pennsylvania in the 1980s. The Smurls were a family of six, Janet and Jack Smurl were the parents of four daughters: Dawn, Heather, and twins Shannon and Carin. Their story begins with a completely natural phenomenon. Hurricane Agnes flooded their home in 1972. The Smurls moved in with Jack’s parents to a duplex on 330 Chase St. This home would soon send them careening into the hold of something evil.

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The Duplex was originally built in 1896 and was located on a quiet street in a lovely middle-class neighborhood. The house was bought in 1973. Jack’s parents lived on the right half and the Smurl family lived on the left. The Smurls put a lot of love into their side of the home and spent what money they could redecorating and remodeling in an effort to make their new house a home.

The Smurl family was a well-respected Catholic family. Jack and Janet both grew up nearby. They met in 1967 and married in 1968. Jack served in the Navy and would later become a neuropsychiatric technician.

The haunting began innocently enough in January 1974. A strange stain appeared on one of the home’s new carpets that had no explanation and could not be easily removed. Then the floodgates open. A television set burst into flames, pipes continued to leak despite being re-soldered, the new sink and bathtub were unexplainably scratched. In 1975 Dawn, the oldest daughter, began telling her parents she saw people floating around her bedroom.

This activity may be reminiscent to listeners who tuned into the Black Monk series. Just like the Smurls, the Pritchards also experienced strange figures, leaking pipes, and inexplicable mini-disasters. In addition, two other infamous hauntings, the Perrone family and the Hodgson family both had several daughters. Is it possible that the number and gender of children could also be a factor in these kinds of hauntings?

In 1977, after years of intermittent and easily overlooked experiences the phenomena inside the home began to intensify. In addition to the inexplicable things noted above the family also began hearing footsteps. Other incidents like unplugged radios blaring music, cold spots randomly appearing, drawers were angrily opens and closed, also plagued the home. There were reports of a permeating aroma of rot around the home as well. Furthermore, Jack began to feel an unseen hand caress him and the consistent feeling that he was being watched.

In 1985 the activity sparked to an all-time high. During this time Janet gave birth to the twins (Shannon and Carin) which only seemed to further increase the activity. Scratches began appearing on the family members, the walls would rattle, and the dog and Janet experienced levitation. Jack’s parents, the elder Smurls, often heard insults, screams, and other loud noises emanating from the Smurls side of the duplex. However, nothing evr appeared in their own home.

In January 1986 after years of unexplained annoyances and months of terrifying experiences the Smurls decided to try and get in touch with the Warrens. The Warrens responded positively and made their way from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. They brought along Rosemary Frueh who was a nurse and psychic.

Their investigation would last months - well into August, 1986. In their initial walkthrough they believed there to be four different entities within the home. Three were fairly minor and likely responsible for some of the ‘smaller’ unexplained phenomena. However, the fourth entity was very powerful...and angry. According to the Times Leader, Ed Warren said, “The Smurls are truly a family coming under a visual attack,” Warren said. “The ghost, devil, demon – or whatever you call it – is in that home.”

To deal with the most powerful entity, believed to be a demon, Ed Warren decided to contact a Vatican-mandated exorcist - Father McKenna. The attempted an exorcism did not go very well and seemed to only make the demon angrier.

During this time several members of the family reported being sexually violated or otherwise made ill by the entities. According to Helly Star, “Janet said she had been sexually assaulted by the shadows she had seen, one of the twins, Carin, suddenly fell ill and nearly died from this inexplicable infection, and Dawn, the second twin, she became also sexually assaulting the entity. Janet and her mother-in-law had traces of beatings, bites, and bites all over the body.”

Father McKenna attempted another exorcism some months later but, like the first, this exorcism did not yield positive results.

It was during this time of the activity that rumors began to swirl about the family. Many believed the family might be looking to sell their home or make money off the haunting, as they had recently fallen on tough times.

A third exorcism was attempted but this time with several priests as well as a group of parishioners from a local church. It is important to note that this exorcism does not seem to be supported by the Vatican. However, it appeared to phenomenon was experienced for a number of months. Activity began creeping in again, though, and the family decided to finally leave the home.

Rumors of the haunt being a fake were further bolstered when Ed Warren contacted Robert Curran and suggested he write a book about the Smurls and their haunting.

The person who moved into the home 1988 has never reported supernatural activity. The Smurls have not reported any lingering activity in their new home. In 1991, the Haunted (the same name as the book) was made into a made-for-TV movie.

Thanks to Sonya C-S for the topic suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story and was taken by Flickr user Hamish Duncan. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


The realm of the ocean is so unexplored that it almost makes sense that some rumored, but yet unseen, creatures may call this strange blue world home. One of these rumored creatures to exist in the great depths of the ocean is the Ningen. The being is huge, stark white, and vaguely humanoid (in fact, the Japanese characters that represent Ningen means humanoid: 人間).

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It was first allegedly spotted by a group of Japanese fishermen who were in the Arctic around 2007. Since then, it has only been sporadically seen and reported although it is becoming more and more well known. They seem to largely populate the icy and distant waters of Antarctica.

As mentioned above they are quite large, some reports saying up to 30 meters although some reports have been smaller. They are also a bright and obvious white, which attracts the human eye. In addition to their size and color, they are also quite humanoid. They have what appears to be a human-head-shaped head, as well as a short and thick neck. The Ningen also seems to have shoulders and two large, long and perhaps unjointed arms. The arms typically end in long fins that are reminiscent of hands, and some reports go as far as to say they have five fingers on the hand (which would seem to be a not very good advantage for swimming and swift movement). These are the main humanoid features, as it appears its torso and rest of its body ends in a tapering body ending in a fin.

In regards to the fact, although it appears human-like, it is flat and smooth and doesn’t seem to have any discernible features besides two very large eyes (which are typically linked to creatures who inhabit the deep ocean) and a long, thin slit for a mouth.

Although it is shocking that something this big could go unnoticed or unremarked, one should consider the giant squid. The first images ever of giant live squid were discovered by researchers in Japan in 2004, and the first live squid found was not brought to the surface until 2006.

Is it possible this strange Ningen isn’t a new creature, but a different kind of giant squid or a deformed giant squid? Like the Ningen, Giant Squids are quite elusive, have massive eyes, barely ever break the surface, have massive bodies, and carcasses of giant squids have been found in all of the world’s oceans, even the Antarctic. In fact, there a specific squid that is called the ‘Colossal’ Squid (M. hamiltoni) that has been found in the Antarctic and the largest specimen ever caught, also the largest cephalopod ever caught alive was also in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic.

Other theories believe that the Ningen may be simple pareidolia, which is the perception of recognizable shapes in a random pattern. Perhaps the Ningen sightings are a result of human-shaped icebergs?

Or, is there a brand new creature that looks strangely human-like trolling the deep?

Thanks to Luke C for the suggestion!

The above image is from Wikimedia commons from AWeith and this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.

The Van Meter Visitor

It was a seemingly average day in Van Meter, Iowa on September 29th, 1903. However, the creature known as the Van Meter Visitor would radically alter this average day. The nights of Tuesday, Sept 29th through October 3rd would be filled with terror, shock, and the sound of giant wings flapping in the sky.

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The Van Meter Visitor appeared out of, apparently, nowhere. Which is surprising, considering its size. It was reported by dozens of witnesses as roughly an 8 foot-tall half-man-half-winged-beast. It had a horn on its head that, at the tip, shot out a blinding and disorienting white light. To me, it sounds similar to the Jersey Devil but bigger, especially the detail of leathery wings. Although, unlike the Jersey Devil, the Van Meter Visitor seems to have a development that specifically works to disorient and confuse people that see it. Some people even said the light temporarily blinded them.

The first event took place downtown, right in the heard of the city’s business district which meant many credible witnesses and town pillars came out in defense of seeing the Van Meter Visitor. It’s the first appearance, though, happened at 1am.

U.G. Griffith was the first person, it is believed, to have experienced the Van Meter Visitor. Initially, he thought it was a spotlight moving around a rooftop and woke up annoyed and ready to confront whoever was behind it. When he approached the source of the light, something huge jumped to a different rooftop all the way across the street and then completely disappeared into the night.

The very next night around the same time, Dr. Alcott, the town doctor was fast asleep in a room above his office. Like Griffith, he was also was awoken by a bright light shining into his window. And, also like Griffith, he rushed out to confront whoever was shining that light. Gun in hand, he was shocked to discover the Van Meter Visitor, which he described as a humanoid with bat-like wings. He reported that he also saw that the blinding light came from a blunt horn in the creature’s forehead. Shocked, but still well in control of his faculties, he attempted to shoot the creature down a shocking five times. After firing, he noticed that there was absolutely no effect on the creature and fled back into his home.

Because all bad things come in threes, there is one more experience to go over.

Once again the Van Meter Visitor made his nightly rounds, this time shining his onto a watchful Clarence Dunn. By this time and after two encounters by trusted people in the community rumors were just beginning to swirl. Dunn had heard about Dr. Alcott’s experiences (although it is not clear if he had heard about Griffith’s) and decided to keep watch through the night. He posted up in the bank and brought his shotgun along to keep him company, should the Visitor stop by. Although, he still believed clever burglars were behind the strange sightings. Like the other two men, at around 1am the Van Meter Visitor made himself known. Unlike the other experiences though, this time Dunn said he heard a ‘strangling noise’ outside his home and that is what pushed him to investigate, not a light shining in the window. Almost instantaneously, as he moved to open the door he was hit in close range in the face through the window with the blinding light of the Van Meter Visitor. When the light briefly let up, according to The Bigfoot Diaries interview with the authors of the Van Meter Visitor,  “some kind of great from behind the light.” Dunn, instinctively, fired his shotgun at the mysterious being, right through the bank’s front window. Like the shots by Dr. Alcott, it had no effect on the Visitor. The next morning outside of the bank he saw several sets of three-toed footprints (another call back to the Jersey Devil?) and said he made plaster casts of them, although they have never been found.

More sightings were reported throughout the three days. This includes O.V. White, the owner of a local hardware store, who saw the monster asleep on a telephone pole and tried to shoot it. Interestingly, instead of using his light or making a strangling noise, the Van Meter Visitor expressed his annoyance by releasing a ‘terrible smell’ towards White. Mr. White’s neighbor, Sidney Gregg, also saw the creature at the same time dismount the pole and then fly through town, apparently heading towards the old coal mine on the outskirts of town. Most interestingly and semi-related to the Mothman, rather than the Jersey Devil, is the experience at the mine.

Fed up after three days of their town being terrorized at sundown, several people from Van Meter geared up and headed towards the mines, where Sidney had said the creature had flown to the previous day. By this time, strange noises were being reported coming from the abandoned coal mines.

A local allegedly described these sounds as, “though Satan and a regiment of imps were coming forth for a battle.”  When the men got to the mines, they found the Van Meter Visitor wasn’t alone. Instead, it was accompanied by a second creature (which was spotted emerging from the mine and taking off into the night). Before they could confront either creature, they both had fled.

The men decided to wait to see if the creatures returned. They eventually did and the crowd opened fire on the creatures. Apparently, they didn’t think very much of the previous attempts to bring down the Van Meter Visitor with the gunshot. Once again, despite the increased numbers and firepower, they were still shocked when the creatures were completely immune to their firepower.

Unsure of what to do next or how to handle these creatures that could not be easily brought down, they decided to simply brick up the abandoned mines to ensure that those things could never see the light of day again. Perhaps there was another way out and perhaps they flew away into the night, but they were never seen again in Van Meter.

Thanks to Ander S for the suggestion!

The above image is not directly related to the story. It is by Blondinrikard Fröberg, entitled Spotlight Graveyard live at Liseberg, Göteborg, August 6, 2014. It is licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Borley Rectory: An Overview of Activity

Borley is a village in Essex that is an exemplary slice of pastoral England. In fact, the Saxon words "Bap" and "Ley", where Borley comes from, translates to "Boar's Pasture." However, this lovely English hamlet was once home to one of the most intense and storied haunted buildings in England and, perhaps, the world: Borley Rectory.

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Borley Rectory was first built in 1863. It was erected on the site of an ancient monastery, potentially dating back to the 13th century. The long history of this particular piece of land was well known during the Victorian Age. In fact, there was even a ghost story. The legend said that, on the site of the monastery, there was a sad, sullen ghostly nun who would walk back and forth on a specific walk and the locals called it ‘Nun’s Walk.’ The nun was said to hail from Bures and that she had fallen in love with a monk at the Borley Monastery. The two had an illicit love affair and even attempted to elope but were tracked down and punished. Both were executed and, as the legend goes, bricked up in the cellar (which, of course, seems like a bit of a stretch).

This is all to say, the land of the Borley Rectory was occupied long before the walls of the Rectory went up.

The Rectory was first built for Reverend Henry Bull and his family of thirteen (often misnumbered as 14) children, his wife Sarah, along with a small staff to run the stately home. It was twenty-three room, two-story red brick home, and its grounds stretched nearly four acres. Shortly after the Bulls and their staff moved in, things began...happening. It was said to have, like most hauntings, begun as fairly benign, footsteps heard when no one was there, whispering, and other small noises. But, as time progressed things became more and more intense.

While the family reported experiencing these haunting and ghostly noises throughout their time there, it remained the family seat until 1892. It seems that, for the most part, the hauntings were limited to noises although there are some claims the family would sometimes see ghostly faces in second story windows or full-bodied apparitions on the house and grounds.

Interestingly enough, Britannica Online reports, “Revd Bull had a summer-house put up overlooking the Nun's walk so that he could watch the manifestations. However, the lady soon became something of nuisance: often startled guests by peering at them through the windows of the new rectory.”

When his father died in 1892, Henry Foyster Bull inherited his father’s home. He moved in, clearly not put off by the haunting, and remained there until his death in 1927. Perhaps the family had gotten used to the extra noises throughout the home or had even struck up a deal with those extra guests in the 60+ years someone from the Bull family lived there.

Between 1927 and when the new family moved in, it was empty for about eighteen months. The new rector, Rev. Guy Eric Smith, moved in with his wife in 1928 but, unlike the Bull family, did not even stay an entire year. It seems that, during the Smiths short stay that the activity really kicked up. They experienced similar hauntings as the Bulls but in addition, also saw lights and heard the servant bells’ ringing despite being disconnected long ago. Perhaps most horrifically, Mrs. Smith discovered a human skull deep inside one of the rectory’s cupboards.

Although they didn’t stay long, it was the Smiths who first brought attention outside of Borley to the Rectory. They contacted the local paper in hopes of getting in touch with the Society for Psychical Research. Unhelpfully, the paper sent out a reporter to cover the story and write articles. At this time, Harry Price, a famed paranormal investigator, was also contacted.

It is said when Price visited the activity got louder and more intense, including objects flying around rooms and loud knocking from inside the walls. Price left without conclusions but after he did leave the grounds the haunting relaxed. Mr. Smith later said he believed Price was behind the escalated noises and experiences.

The Rectory did not stay empty long this time and in 1930, Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their daughter moved in. This small family would experience some of the most intense hauntings the home had seen yet.

Unlike previous residents, the haunting seemed particularly focused and attracted to Marianne. Soon, in addition to the disembodied noises and footsteps often heard in the home, messages and her name began to be scrawled randomly on the walls of the home. In one case, it was said witnesses watched this writing manifest before their very eyes. According to Historic Mysteries,  “However, despite attempts at communication, most remained unintelligible. Though one certainly read, "Marianne, please help get" and another, "Pleas for help and prayers".

Interestingly enough Marianne later confessed that much of it had been a hoax. She had been having an affair with one of the Rectory’s lodgers and that she covered up her physical activities with the intense haunting episodes. Although, this could be a falsity, as some sources cite it and others don’t and there doesn’t seem to be any definitive proof she said this. However, it could be a perfect explanation as to why the haunting, even if it was real to a degree, was so hyper-focused on one person whereas before it never was.

After the Foysters moved out in 1937, the next several reverends decided to live elsewhere and the Rectory remained empty. Returning in 1937 almost a decade after his first experience in the home, Harry Price rented the rectory in order to carry out a detailed investigation in May 1937-38.

In his typical and media-centric approach, he contacted the Times and a story about his impending investigation ran on May 25th, 1937 and an ad for ‘Official Observers’ to come to the Rectory. Price was not investigation alone, though. He created a team of 48 ‘official observers’ to lend credibility and insight into his investigation. These ‘official observers’ included an army colonel, a doctor and an engineer. Sadly, no official log of events was kept. But, Sidney Herbert Glanville, who stayed at the rectory on many occasions and wrote up his experiences.

On March 27th, 1938 a seance was held in the home. A voice from beyond shared the fate of the Rectory. It was said that a fire would catch in the hallway that very night and burn down the home. In the ruin of the fire, a nun's body would be discovered amongst the ruins.

Despite this extraordinary, exciting, and dangerous fortune...nothing happened.

In May 1938, Harry Price’s lease ended and he left. The Rectory was then leased by Captain Gregson, apparently unafraid of the Rectory’s hauntings. Like every other person who has inhabited, or even stayed at the home for a few nights, he was subjected to continuing mysterious happenings. Sadly, this included the loss of his two beloved dogs.

One night, exactly eleven months to the day after the seance held by Harry Price that told the fate of the home, an oil lamp unaccountably fell over in the hall and Borley Rectory burnt to the ground.

According to witnesses, ghostly figures were seen roaming around and through the flames and a nun's face peered down at the destruction from an upper window.

In 1943 it appears the final part of the fortune would be found true. Harry Price returned a third time to the ruins of the home. He had a team of excavators under his organization dig in the cellar and remains of the Rectory. Amazingly, a human female jaw bone was discovered. Price believed these lend credibility to the nun story that existed long before the Rectory was eve built. In an effort to end the hauntings of the Rectory’s ruins and the very land itself, Price gave the jaw, along with the few articles found near it, a Christian burial.

Sadly, the origin of the jaw bones and the articles (including medallions) was later contested and disputed. Although no official evidence or reports have been made one way or another.

The Rectory’s remains remained upright until 1944 when it was completely demolished. However, strange reports still flow out of the former place of the Rectory and the four acres it had.

Thanks to Caztor T for the suggestion!

The above image is of the Borley Rectory after the fire incident. It is in the public domain.

Copiale Cipher

For quite some time the Copiale Cipher was a complete mystery, seemingly lost to time. The text is over 250 years old and the title ‘Copiale Cipher’ was the only clear aspect of the text. It contained strange symbols, random strings of letters, and other secrets.

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The text was first re-discovered in 1970 inside of an East Germany library. Although several throughout the years tried to crack the code the book once again fell into obscurity. However, in 2011 it fell into the hands of a private collector who passed it off to an international team of academics and cryptographists from Sweden and the United States.

The book itself is quite beautiful. It is bound in stately gold-and-green brocade paper and is believed to have been published between 1760-1780. Is 105 pages, contains 75,000 characters with 90 different cipher letters.

Astonishingly, the cipher was broken in April 2011. Their first step was to transcribe the entire document into something that could be read by a machine. Then, they ran through 80+ languages to see if they could find a match but that ended in failure. It was then that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the team noticed something important: “The cryptography team realized the Roman characters were "nulls" intended to mislead readers, somewhat like how pig Latin adds the suffix "ay" to words in an attempt to confuse listeners. It was the abstract symbols that held the message.”

From this, they gathered that the symbols with similar shapes represented the same groups of letters. From this practice and in analyzing these lines, the first words broke through the service ‘Ceremonies of Initiation’ then, ‘Secret Section.’

As more and more words and phrases began to be understood it was revealed that it contained rituals, including a German Masonic ritual. The Oculists, the people who are responsible for writing and ciphering the text, were a group of ophthalmologists.

Their links to ophthalmology help make sense of some of the various strange rituals including an initiation ritual that requires the person to read a blank page. Once they confess their inability to read it, they are given a pair of eyeglasses and asked to try again. Then, again after they wash their eyes with a cloth. The imitation ends in an ‘operation’ in which a single eyebrow hair is plucked.

It is believed the purpose of this text was so that the Oculists, who had links to the Freemasons, could pass along the secret Masonic rites which had been banned by Pope Clement XII.

Thanks to Jon L for the suggestion!

Copiale Cipher; scaled page 16/17 18th century - Kevin Knight, Beáta Megyesi, Christiane Schaefer. It is in the public domain.