Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Sanctuary


On my recent trip to New York, I stayed in a small boutique hotel off of Time Square called The Sanctuary Hotel.  It is small and lovely.  The décor draws from Eastern Inspirations and features Indian inspired and Buddhist themed art.  The rooms were small but comfortable.  The staff was very friendly and the lobby was quiet.  The food was good.


The hotel wasn’t haunted.  There is nothing online that says it is haunted.   I couldn’t find anything about its history online that would indicate the building has ever had anything remarkable happen in it.  It does have a wicked, wonderful Halloween party every year, but that is as spooky as it gets.  Despite this, for my three night stay, I was awakened every night at 3am by what sounded like someone trying to get into my room, entering in my room, and stomping across my room to fidget about with something in the corner.  I sat up. Nothing was moving.  I saw no signs of a haunting, but the noise was still there and it was eerily close.  The first night, I assumed it must have been the people in the room next to me.  That was the only explanation.  It was late.  I must have misjudged the proximity of the noise.  In the morning, I looked next to my room.  There was no room next to mine.  There were pipes.  The next night I got up and walked out of my room to see if someone just loved messing with the pipes at 3am.  You never know.  People are weird.   There was nothing there.  The last night, I ignored the noise.  It wasn’t going to hurt me and I have seen and heard creepier things in my life.  I still don’t know what the noise was or why it always happened at 3am.   Staff didn’t comment.  The only history I could find of the building was that it was built in 1935 and was once an apartment complex.  I would love to hear more if anyone knows more.







Monday, February 13, 2017

How Valentine's Day Started with Naked Ladies and Dead Animals!



It is time for my annual Valentine's Day Post.  This is my favorite post of the year because Valentine's Day's origins are so beautifully twisted. I guess I am just a romantic that way.  I hope you all have a happy Valentine's Day!



My favorite thing about holidays are their bizarre origins.  Most of our modern celebrations have roots in old pagan traditions.  Valantine's Day is no different.  Its pagan roots are just more bizarre than most. They are so strange I like to write about them every year.  I know it is slightly off topic, but naked people being flogged with animal hides is worth discussing in any forum. Apparently the ancient roots of Valentine's Day begins with the Romans. The Romans celebrated Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to 15. In Roman mythology Lupercus was the equivalent of the Greek god Pan who was known to be a sexy sort of fellow who promoted fertility. His holiday was a somewhat romantic kind of celebration. During Lupercalia the men would sacrifice a goat and a dog and then whip women with the hides of the dead animals. The women would line up naked in order to be whipped. They did this because they believed this ritual would make them more fertile. Afterwards, there would be lottery in which men and women would be paired up for a night of naked fun.




I know, you are now wishing we still celebrated Valentine's day this way. Enough with the cheesy cards. Where are the dead animals, whippings, and naked people? It was the Catholic Church that ruined the fun. Emperor Claudius II killed two Valentine's in different years of February 14th. Both men were martyred and the day derives its name from these two martyred saints. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I got confused and merged the two martyrs into one person and named February 14th after them. He also absorbed the romantic traditions of Lupercalia into the day in order to soften the pagan debauchery and retake the day for Christianity. Christianity has a long history of doing this type of thing. Christmas was taken from Roman Saturnalia traditions and Norse Yule traditions. By absorbing pagan holidays rather than forbidding them, ancient Christians were able to gain new followers rather than lose them.



Chaucer and Shakespeare can be credited with further romanticizing St. Valentine's day and turning it into the romantic, kissy holiday it is today, but I will always think back to better days when women ran naked through the streets being beaten with dead animals.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Walking Through Dead Children's Playground

There is something uncanny about Dead Children's Playground in Huntsville, Alabama.  Children rarely play there and when they do their voices echo in the old quarry and resonate with a creepiness that just can't be captured without actually being there.  With this in mind, I decided to video tape Dead Children's Playground.  The footage is below.  It is one of the most beautiful and chilling places I have ever been. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Planning A Haunting Trip to New York



It has been a long time since I regularly posted on this blog.  I used to post every day, but as I have recently been consumed by novel writing I have lost track of my passion for the paranormal.  This seems particularly sad to me as ghosts are what pulled me to writing in the first place.  Haunted North Alabama was my first book and I still love retelling the tales from that collection of regional folklore.  With the sequel to my kindle best seller The Accidental Witch is coming out his year, I have had a little time to return to my first love.  As I return to my passionate collecting of ghost stories, I had to think back on what I did to be able to write a ghost story a day when I started this blog.  I was able to do this by traveling.  So, for my first step to discovering ghost stories again is to travel to New York in two weeks and find some of New York’s most interesting haunts.

My first step in planning my journey was to research New York’s most interesting haunted locations.  I have already explored New York’s haunted side before so I wanted to go places I had never been before.  After reading and ruling out what I had already seen, I finished with this list for my haunted New York trip.

1.      *  Washington Square Park:  I am always drawn to parks with sinister histories and Washington Square’s history is more sinister than most.  Before it was a park, Washington square was a burial ground for the poor and slaves.  The ghosts of those who were once buried in this ghostly attraction still come out at night to torment visitors.  There is also a tree called Hangmen’s Elm I would like to see and learn more about.

2.     *   The Merchant’s House Museum:   This museum was once the home of Ms. Gertrude Tredwell.  Ms. Tredwell was so dedicated to her family home that she is said to still haunt this museum to this day.   This museum is said to plagued by many disturbing apparitions including strange smells, odd sounds, and full body apparitions.  I also added this location to my list because I love museums and any excuse to go to one is good enough for me. 

3.       * St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery:   Old Churches are always haunting but this old church is more haunting than most.  This church is more than 200 years old and is said to be haunted by Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of New Amsterdam.    He isn’t alone in his haunting either, spectral women and strange men have also been seen wandering the lovely, church. 

4.   *    The Dakota:  I have a passionate fan of architecture and The Dakota, an apartment building on 14 West and 10th Street, has some breathtaking architecture.  It is also where John Lennon was shot.  Yoko Ono and John Lennon lived here together and Ms. Ono reported that she continued to see him here long after his death.   His ghost isn’t alone in this gothic building.  Looming shadows and haunting women also call this apartment building home.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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January 25, 2017


An excerpt from Jessica Penot's

CIRCE
"...gloriously haunting...great read!"

A chilling novel of madness and murder from writer and psychologist Jessica Penot is disturbing and delighting readers.

"...will leave you wanting to crawl under the covers and hide!"

An internship at a mysterious psychiatric hospital in Alabama threatens to destroy everything Dr. David Black holds dear -- his wife, his family, even his very sanity.

 
"...absolutely amazing...an exciting journey."

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Heading home to Alabama seems like the right thing to do in this Kindle Nation excerpt from
by Jessica Penot

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Here's the set-up:

When Dr. David Black takes an internship at a very old psychiatric hospital back home in Alabama, he vows two things—that he will be a better husband to his beautiful and loving wife Pria, and that he will stop cheating on her.

Then his enigmatic supervisor Dr. Cassie Allen, a self-proclaimed witch with ties to the underworld, begins to draw him into her darkness. David finds it hard to resist her wicked sensuality, but even harder to resist her evil pull.

As strange and violent deaths pile up left and right, David realizes that Cassie’s psychotic behavior is connected to the mysterious hospital itself. There a demonic force threatens to destroy everything that David holds dear—his wife, his family, even his very sanity.
an excerpt from
CIRCE
by Jessica Penot
Copyright © 2017 by Jessica Penot and published here with her permission
Chapter 1
 
When monster meets monster, one monster must give way,
and that monster will never be me.
Tennessee Williams
 
Kano – Opening
 
The road to Circe is little more than a path through the swamps. The pavement recedes silently into the mind of the traveler, and the swamps themselves seem to take the land. The land is thick and overgrown and the undergrowth reaches up for you, suffocating you with its moist, green fingers. The water is still, muddied by insects and the remnants of life. Alligators hide beneath the water's tall grass. They wait quietly. You can barely see them in the daylight. The institution crawls out of this murky soil, as if planted there by nature herself. It sits, waiting quietly. Its white walls lean awkwardly into the soft, damp earth. From a distance the old watchtower can be seen. It’s crooked and battered. Despite its years of constant use, no one has bothered to repair the older parts of the institution. They remain quiet and dull, listening to the voices of the madmen within them.
Cassie once told me that ancient and angry spirits guarded the fort. They were the keepers of the institution. They were its patients and its doctors. I never believed her. I rarely believed anything she said. But I always listened. I watched her pale lips bob up and down and wondered at all the strange philosophies that drifted out of her mind. Cassie became Circe for me. Not the lonely witch who seduced Ulysses, but the place. She became cool stone and marble. A fantasy with the power of a haunted house or a lost dream.
“Circe” is what we called the place. It was actually named after some long dead man with gray whiskers and a propensity for racism. Dr. Clement Richard Clark had enough vision to turn an abandoned fort into an institution and Circe carried his name. With a little bit of an Alabama slur, C.R.C. always came out Circe and throughout my childhood I thought the hospital was named Circe. After I took my first mythology class, I figured they named it after the mythological enchantress. As an adult, despite my knowledge, it seemed more appropriate that the hospital be called Circe.
Circe always seemed to have some power over us. It had a power over all of those who lived and worked there, whether they knew it or not. The first time we saw its crooked and chipped walls it carried an unnamed mystery. It was foggy that first day. It’s often foggy in the swamps of Southern Alabama. The air was thick and hot and we drove to Circe because it was our future. Our rite of passage. We would no longer be graduate students after we left this place. We would be psychologists. Healers of the mind and soul. We were to become the modern witch doctors. So the mystery with which I perceived Circe on that foggy morning came as much from my own psyche as from any of the fog that encased it, but it had that effect on all of us. All of the interns were daunted by the future it held for us. The buildings were hidden at first. Hidden behind the veil. All we could see of the place was the parking lot, wrapped in 12-foot fences and barbed wire. It was ugly, as parking lots always are. In front of it, perched on a mailbox, there was an azure peacock. Its tail feathers were spread widely, exposing all of its extravagant beauty. It gazed out at us, through the fog, as if it was guarding the stark parking lot. It was out of place. A fish in the desert. At first, I thought it was some plastic bauble set up to decorate something hideous, but then it moved. It drew breath and walked away and we all laughed. We laughed at the absurdity of the creature itself.
The white walls of Circe crept out in front of us as if they belonged to the swamp. These high, impregnable walls had once withstood weeks of cannon fire, and now they entombed the mentally ill. Three doors allowed entry into the hospital. A beautiful and ornate arch opened up into the main court from the picturesque visitor’s parking lot. All around this entrance there were beautiful things. An old fountain spat rust-filled water into the sticky air. Flowers lined the walkway. Huge oaks lined the gardens. All this beauty and splendor also encased the second entrance to Circe. That door opened up into the main office, which was rumored to have held Geronimo on his trail of tears. The old building had once been a prison and an armory. Now it was decorated with pictures of pink daisies and happy children. Plump secretaries sat behind cool desks smiling happily at visitors on the same floors where countless Indians had marched to their demise.
The last entry into the fort was hidden. A tiny door had been built into the walls of the fort forty years ago to allow the staff to go directly from the dreary staff lot into the main hospital.
Buildings from long ago peppered the square within the wall. The large watchtower in the center of the fort used for vocational rehabilitation had existed for as long as anyone could remember. It rose out of the earth like a monolith, taller than anything around it. It could be seen from miles away. It was a fading testament to the French occupiers who had been there before. There was another building, old and dark, built out of red brick and crowned with a cupola, which loomed near the front of Circe. This dilapidated structure had been constructed during the Victorian period. Huge, ornate, and beautiful, its dark windows looked out onto the square. Motionlessness engulfed the building. Cassie told me that this building was constructed at the turn of the century. It had been abandoned not because it was structurally unsound, as I was to be told, but because people were too afraid of its dark history.
The modern facilities didn’t fit in with the rest of the fort. Their architecture stood out as a monument to 1950’s postmodernism in all of its glory. They were faded and tattered, but these antiquated buildings housed all of the patients of Circe. Cassie avoided the first of them. She described the admissions unit as a processing center for the mad where the acutely mentally ill would stay until a better place was found for them. On the other side of the tower lurked Cassie’s building. It looked exactly like the admissions unit, but the chronic ward hid in the back of the hospital, alone in an empty field. The patients who lived here were too far from reality to ever hope to find a way back.
To me, when I think back, it all began there. My voyage. My journey. When I close my eyes it is all I can see, staring back at me through the mist. But I had a life before that place and my story does not begin within its walls. It begins with my wife. My beautiful wife.
I often ask myself now, "Who was I?" I wonder at the kind of man I had been. I had been empty. Empty and hungry. Always searching for something out of reach. I went into psychology because it happened upon me. My father had been a psychologist, and I excelled in the subject. I did wonderfully in math and I did wonderfully on my Graduate Record Exams. I was competitive enough to get into the best Clinical Psychology programs in the nation. I chose to go to the North because I wanted to see a new world. I took my wife with me knowing she despised the North. I took her with me, knowing how much she wanted to stay in Alabama. She cried when we packed the U-Haul and she cried when we drove away, but she never blamed me for the next four years. She never blamed me for Detroit.
Circe made my wife jubilant at first. The night I told her my internship was going to be there, I was finishing my dissertation early. I had built off someone else's research. This made it much easier for me to produce an excellent dissertation in less time. I was working on the conclusion of my dissertation that Christmas Eve. We did not go home that year. We couldn’t afford it. Pria, my wife, had been supporting us both. She had supported me financially and emotionally. She snuck up behind me that night, and wrapped her arms around me.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered.
"Is it Christmas?" I asked. I did not turn to face her, although now I wish I had. I wish I could remember the curve of her cheek illuminated by the computer screen. I wish I could see the line of her body, with the Christmas lights she had so painstakingly put up glowing behind her perfect black hair. But I kept on typing. I kept on working and I never looked back.
"Yes," she said. There was such sadness in her voice. "Can we open our presents?"
"Go get everything set up," I muttered. "I'll be in after I enter this last set of numbers."
Pria was a mixture of perfect paradoxes. Her mother was from Northern India and her father had been born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. Instead of compromising on faith, her mother had tried to raise her Muslim and her father had tried to raise her Baptist. Pria believed in both and neither. She could talk about Christ and Mohammed in the same sentence. She would mouth devotion to make her parents happy, but she clung only to the rituals that she found the most interesting. She would fast for Ramadan (mostly because it helped her lose weight), and then celebrate Christmas with a vengeance, manger scenes and all. Her personality was as dichotomous as her faith. She was brilliant, but could be banal. She was all parts of woman: independent and unyielding, but needing and compromising. She was addicted to modern culture, but constantly seeking her mother’s traditions. She would wear the most stylish modern clothes, only to turn around and wear a sari the next day. She was all things to me and I adored her.
After I finished my work, I followed her into the living room of our tiny apartment. She was smiling brightly. My wife was a beautiful woman. She had a tiny waist and large hips and chest. Her skin was dark and so were her eyes. I called her my fertility goddess. She used to get mad at me for that. She said that meant I thought she was fat. But I never thought that. Her skin was smooth and soft, and was never puckered with cellulite or excessive fat. Her curves gave her a sexuality that glowed from her whenever she moved. The mix of ethnicity in her was perfect.
I sat down beside the tree with her. "You only get coal this year, you know," I said.
"I think it’s you who gets the coal this year. Working all the time and neglecting your poor wife."
I leaned over and kissed her. "I would never neglect you. How could I?"
"My other lover says that you neglect me."
"Other lover? Are you saying that you’re sleeping with another man?"
"Not just one," she teased. "Ten beautiful men who hang on my every word. And all of them promise that they'll take me back to Alabama for New Years."
I became serious. I always took her seriously. "I'm sorry about this."
"Nothing to be sorry about." She smiled as she cried. "I knew what I was getting into when I married you. You never lied to me and I'll never regret it."
She kissed me and I forgot about my dissertation. She had that power. "Open your first present from me then," I said.
"Which one should I open?"
"The small one." She shook the little box before she opened it. She tore into the silver paper like a child. Her hands quaked as she unfolded the small scrap of paper inside the box and as soon as she read the scrap she laughed almost hysterically. The laughter melted into tears and she threw her arms around my neck.
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
I basked in the warmth of my success. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I mean, you can have any internship you want. You could go to one of the best internships in the country."
"I don't want that. I know you think I can't, but I know how sad you've been. You hate this place."
"Oh no. I love it. I love the yellow snow and the black ice. I love the smell and I love the fact that I'm terrified to walk the dog after 5:00 p.m. What's not to like?"
"Always joking," I said with a wry grin.
"My humor is what has kept me alive these last four years."
"It hasn't been that bad?"
"Not that bad. I had you and I have a few friends. I'm just homesick and I hate the cold."
"Well, to Pintlala, Alabama we go then." I said with a grimace
"It wouldn't have been my first choice, but it is still closer to home than before."
"There aren't too many internships available in Alabama."
"I know. I'm not complaining at all. Have you ever been to Pintlala?"
"No. I've been to Mobile. That's about as close as you can get and not end up on dirt roads."
She laughed. "Sweet home Alabama." I hugged her.
"Aren't you going to open the rest of your presents?" I asked.
"I don't need to. This is all I want. We'll only be a few miles away from Mom and Dad and Sally and Rachel and all of our friends. It'll be good for you too, you know. You’ll never have to have my icy feet on your belly again."
"Somehow I doubt that. Your feet will be cold when it is 90 degrees. Your feet are always cold."
"That's not fair. My feet get warm."
"I can't think of when."
That was a good Christmas. She was happy. I had made her happy. I had made her glow and that was all that mattered. I did not want to return to Alabama. We were going home and I was ambivalent about this; I had been content in Detroit. I found its stark landscape alluring and I loved the way the steam rose from the manholes in the winter. I liked the silence with which the general population moved through life. Never greeting one another. Afraid to make eye contact on the street. They were all separate and estranged. They never asked questions or cared what you did or whom you did it with.
      At home, everyone smiled and asked you how your day was going. They hugged you when they didn't know you and talked about you when they didn't care. It didn't matter. It was just a place, like any other.
... Continued...

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

7 Terrifying Stories from Notorious American Asylums by Harry Parsons





Danvers State Hospital – Period Photograph Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, dignified and effective treatment for the mentally ill hasn’t always been the American standard. In fact, many insane asylums were notorious for subjecting patients to procedures that would today be considered sketchy and unethical, at best. All things considered, it’s understandable that old asylums in general often come attached to rumors that they’re haunted or otherwise unsettling.

However, some asylums have earned a higher degree of notoriety than others, and with good reason. The following are just a few of the many that make a hypothetical stay at American Horror Story: Asylum’s Briarcliff Manor sound like a walk in the park.

1.      Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, West Virginia

The situation that eventually developed within the walls of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum started out as a result of drastic overcrowding. It was originally built to house a hard maximum of 250 patients. However, by the year 1949, there were well over 2000 patients living there, instead.

An eventual investigation conducted by The Charleston Gazette uncovered absolutely abominable conditions. Among the horrors discovered were extreme neglect in regards to hundreds of the patients, patients locked in cages, and procedures like lobotomies being performed with such inappropriate tools as ice picks. Unsurprisingly, the Trans-Allegheny saw tens of thousands of deaths before it finally closed in the 1990s. However, thrill seekers can still visit and even stay overnight if they are so inclined.

2.      Topeka State Hospital – Topeka, Kansas

Topeka State Hospital is just one of the many hospitals that saw patients being subjected to unspeakable cruelty with the intent to “cure” them of their ailments. However, there was a lot of abuse that went on there, as well. Many patients were raped and otherwise physically abused. Some were left permanently restrained with leather straps to the point where their skin began to grow over the restraints themselves.

The staff at this hospital was especially notorious for castrating a high number of the patients under care there. It started just after state law greenlit castration as an acceptable treatment for the hopelessly or criminally insane in 1931 – to the tune of 54 castrations. This is especially troubling when you consider the fact that quite of few of the hospital’s patients came attached to unknown identities and conditions.

3.      Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital – Morris Plains, New Jersey

Greystone started out with the intention to provide the mentally ill with a proper sanctuary and truly therapeutic treatment. However, it wasn’t long before overcrowding became a massive issue, as it was for many asylums. Greystone was built to house up to 1600 people, but at one point housed closer to 2500, instead.

What’s more, Greystone is another asylum that chose to implement sketchy, controversial treatment options in the past to treat multiple illnesses. Examples include but are not limited to electroshock therapy for the treatment of PTSD, insulin shock therapy, and more. The hospital is also connected to many stories of rape, mysterious death, suicide, and even the escape of a rapist.

Greystone is still in operation today, although the notorious practices are no longer in use there. Also, the state of New Jersey is currently planning to replace it with a smaller facility.

4.      Bloomingdale Insane Asylum – Morningside Heights, New York City

Today, the building that was once home to Bloomingdale Insane Asylum is Columbia University’s Buell Hall. However, it was once used to house (and rehabilitate) mentally ill patients of all types.

As you might guess, there were some unsavory practices at work, many of which were officially exposed by a journalist named Julius Chambers in the late 19th century. (He had himself committed to Bloomingdale for ten days.) Among other things, Chambers talked of patients being choked, kicked, hit, and otherwise abused until they bled freely. He also spoke of patients being driven to suicide (or close to it) by the sheer cruelty on the part of the staff.

Thankfully, his work yielded positive results. Not only were twelve of Bloomingdale’s patients released (as they were not insane), but the book he wrote about his experiences – A Mad World and Its People – paved the way for badly needed reforms as far as how the mentally ill are treated in America.

5.      Byberry Mental Hospital – Byberry, Pennsylvania

In operation from 1907 all the way to 1987, Byberry was described as containing wards reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps by one Charlie Lord, a former staff member at the hospital. Lord eventually took it upon himself to expose the conditions there with 36 grayscale photographs – images that would eventually be published by Life in 1946.

Among the circumstances documented by the photos were filthy living conditions that found many patients sleeping in their own bodily waste. Hundreds were allowed to roam the halls of the facility completely naked. Thankfully, this exposure led to not only the eventual closure of the facility, but also far-reaching reform as far as the conditions associated with mental health facilities.

6.      Danvers State Hospital – Danvers, Massachusetts

Danvers State Hospital is one of the many defunct mental institutions rumored to be heavily haunted by malicious spirits, and it’s not hard to understand why. To begin with, it was built on the very grounds that saw the notorious Salem Witch Trials centuries ago. It was also a place that saw unspeakable acts of human cruelty committed.

Patients were confined using straitjackets and uncomfortable leather restraints. They were also subjected to treatments considered today to be cruel and inhumane, including but not limited to lobotomies and electroshock therapy. The hospital was even used to shoot a horror film dealing with demonic infestation in asylums – Session 9.

7.      Overbrook Insane Asylum – Cedar Grove, New Jersey

At first glance, the building known as Overbrook Insane Asylum appears to be a beautiful, house-like building. However, like many notorious asylums, it saw untold horrors being committed within its walls.

To begin with, the patients were neglected to a horrifying extent. The year 1917 saw a total of 24 patients being allowed to freeze to death in their beds. The small facility also would become dangerously overcrowded after World War II and see nearly 150 patients go missing. Overbrook is another asylum said to be very haunted today. It was used as the set for the screen adaptation for Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke.