Sunday, July 23, 2017
Searcy State Hospital is located in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Prior to being a state hospital the old hospital has a long and dark history that is very difficult to find, but easy to see upon casual observation. The hospital is encased in long, chipped, white walls that seem as old as anything in the United States. From outside these walls, you can see a battered watchtower that gives testament to the fact that the hospital is in the same location as a 300 year old fort. The fort bears witness to American history. It was originally a French fort and then a Spanish Fort. It switched hands during the Louisiana Purchase and became a US fort. After the US took possession of the fort it was converted to a military arsenal and became known as the Mount Vernon Arsenal.
The Arsenal switched hands again several times and was taken by the Confederates during the civil war only to be passed back over the United States again in 1862. From 1887 to 1894, The Arsenal became a Barracks and was used as a prison for the captured Apache people. The most famous of the Apache people to be held in these barracks was Geronimo. There is a door in the lobby of the old hospital that is labeled as the door to Geronimo's cell. It is beautiful and intricate. Sadly, history notes that Geronimo was not kept in a cell during his stay at Mt. Vernon. He was allowed freedom to wander the barrack, so the door is just a lovely bit of folklore. The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point after his notorious gun fight.
In 1900, the Barracks were transformed once again and the prison became a mental hospital. Searcy hospital was built as the African American mental hospital in Alabama. Conditions in the hospital were beyond questionable and at one time there were over 2000 patients in the crowded hospital and all were seen by one psychiatrist. All patients were expected to work in the fields. After I wrote my first story about Searcy, I learned more about the tragedies that took place here. I got numerous emails from family members of former patients asking if I had any access to records. Apparently, many African American families had family members taken from them, institutionalized here, and they were never seen or heard from again. I had an elderly lady write me asking if I could find out what happened to her mother. It broke my heart that I could not. She said her mother had been sane but had offended a white woman. The white woman had took her mother before a judge and no one ever heard from her again. The elderly lady just wanted to know where her mother was buried. Searcy was a place of unspeakable sorrow.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Poltergeists have always fascinated me. There are many theories about poltergeists. In folklore, a poltergeist is the apparent manifestation of an imperceptible but noisy, disruptive or destructive entity. Poltergeist means "noisy ghost" in German. Poltergeist cases differ from regular hauntings in that they are particularly loud and often cause objects to move. Physical harm to people is also possible in these cases. One of the most interesting types of poltergeist activity was featured in my favorite novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hillhouse. The stone-throwing poltergeists are rare and difficult for skeptics to explain.
Stone-throwing poltergeist phenomena cases date back, at least, to 530 CE when it was recorded that Deacon, King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths’ physician, was besieged by stones. One of the more interesting cases of stone throwing poltergiest activity is the Grottendieck case. In 1903, a Dutch engineer living in Inodonesia, Grottendieck, awoke to a storm of rocks falling through the roof of his hut and hitting him in the head. Of course, this was concerning to Grottendieck who awoke a servant to help him figure out the origins of the rock storm. They explored the outside area around the hut and they found nothing that explained the rocks. Inside, the rocks continued to fall. They also began to change directions and started falling horizontally. Grottendieck was perplexed, but the serving boys was horrified and he ran away into the jungle.
No sooner had the boy fled than the rocks stopped falling. Grottendieck saved several of the stones and went to be. Grottendieck published a story on this incident in the Journal of the Society of Psychical Research. His hypothesis was that the stones had been sent by the ghost of his dead sister who was trying to communicate with him from beyond the grave. Many other researchers disagreed and believed that the rocks were a product of poltergeist activity brought on by the serving boy's subconscious mind. There was never any consensus on the cause of this strange case and people still conjecture as to what might have causes the strange falling stones.
In 1981, Ward End residents at Thornton Road told police they could not locate the source of stones being thrown that were causing significant damage to windows and roof tiles. The police were called in to investigate. They staked the properties out and waited. They stayed overnight. They used cameras and recording devices, but despite all their work, they couldn't find any observable source for the rocks that continued to besiege Ward End. Of course, they couldn't blame a poltergeist so they reported that the criminal must have used a long distance catapult.
Like all other poltergeist activity, there is no consensus on what causes the stone throwing incidents in these cases. Many believe that the stones are thrown by ghosts. Others believe that the telekinetic powers of certain people in crisis cause these events. Most believe that the rock throwing must be caused by some brilliant prankster who is capable of raining rocks on neighborhoods with handcrafted catapults'. Whatever the cause, I imagine in must be terrifying to look out your window and see rocks raining from the sky.
The second most haunted place in France is the famous cementery, Pere La Chaise. As far as I can tell, this necropolis is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the art lurking in the shadows of death in this strange museum put the art in the Louvre to shame. Pere La Chaise is the most visited cementery in the world and is the final resting place of numerous famous people including Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde. The cementary is named for Louis the XIV's confessor. Napoleon took the land and turned it into a cementery in 1804. Since the ground wasn't properly consecrated, Catholics couldn't bury their dead at this beautiful necropolis and for many years the cemetery was small and forgotten. At the end of 1804, only thirteen lonely graves decorated the cemetery. The cemetery began a marketing champagne shortly after this that was amazingly successful. The graves of several famous people including Moliere were transferred to the cemetery and the rest of the dead followed in droves. Since that time the number of brilliant people buried there has grown over time turning a stroll through these hallowed grounds into a small history lesson.
Friday, July 14, 2017
The Cliffs of Moher are resoundingly beautiful. They are a stark and foreboding reminder of the power of nature and their juxtaposition against the stark landscape of Western Ireland can only be described as breathtaking. But as you wander the wind torn landscape you can’t help but feel they are also deadly. I felt this as clearly as I had ever felt the whisper of death as I walked on the cliffs last month. Looking down, I became profoundly aware that one misstep would lead to my death. As I clutched my son’s hand, I was even more aware that he could fall and I would never see him again. Without even knowing the Cliffs are haunted, I knew the cliffs were haunted. I knew that over Ireland’s long and ancient history death must have been engraved in the history of the cliffs. I wasn’t wrong. Stories of sorrow and tragedy cling to the cliffs like they do to Golden Gate Bridge. The cliffs have many ghosts and legends.
I found numerous stories of death surrounding the cliffs. One story came from a young man who described the numerous suicides he has seen on the cliffs at Irish Central. The young man had worked at the Cliffs of Moher and the years had shown him that many people go there to end their lives. He was particularly moved by a woman whose story he hear after he saw her body drifting in the tide in a red dress.
"I have reported down the years on some of the suicides at Moher. I have seen a couple of bodies away down below in the surf line after the events.
One sight that stays with me is that of a female body wearing a bright red dress, tossing and turning in heavy seas which prevented the rescuers from reaching her. I will never forget that sight.
Her story later emerged and it was almost standard for the scenario. She was a middle-aged Dubliner, with no mental or personal problems her family and friends were aware of, and she traveled down to Moher as a passenger on a coach tour.
She was missing when the party boarded the coach again after viewing the mighty cliffs and enjoying one of the most scenic vistas along the Wild Atlantic Way that has been so successful as a tourist attraction in recent years. There was no warning for anyone who traveled with her about her dread intentions."
EMG.com ranks The Cliffs of Moher as the tenth most deadly place in the world you can visit. It is not surprising that the cliffs’ beauty have been inspiring myths and legends for millennia. Since humankind first glimpsed the beauty of the cliff's tales have been told of them.
At Hags Head, there is a tragic legend of a witch named Mal who fell in love with the hero Cuchulainn. Apparently, love spells are useless, even in legends, and Mal’s love for Cuchulainn was unrequited and so she was doomed to follow Cuchulaiin through Ireland without any hope of gaining his love. Mal chased her love to the Hag’s Head and there Cuchulainn leapt to a small island. Mal was unable to follow him but tried and died at the feet of Hag’s Head. According to legend, she was turned into the face of Hag’s Head to remind young lovers to avoid chasing foolish love.
Many mythic beings met their demise at The Cliffs of Moher. At the Cliff of Foals, the mythic gods the Tuatha De Danann met their end. The Tuatha De Dannann ruled Ireland for countless centuries and served as the inspiration for Tolkien’s Elves. Sadly, Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and Christianity drove the old gods from Ireland. Near Foal’s Head they transformed themselves into horses and hid in a cave near the cliffs. After centuries they emerged from the cliffs and were blinded by the light and fell into the ocean. The Cliff is still named for them. The Cliff of the Foals.
Another tale speaks of the lost city of Cill Stuifin. The city sank when the king lost the golden key that opened the door to his castle. It is said that you can see the city off of the coast every seven years. If you keep site of it, you can walk to it, but if you turn away it will vanish in the mist.
O’Brien Tower is one of the most notable man made structures on the cliffs. O’Brien’s ghost is so famous that he is even featured in the local Halloween party.
Many of the tales that surround the cliffs are legend, but you can’t help but wonder how many of those who have died at the feet of these deadly cliffs still make their home with the Tuatha De Dannan in the mists of the Cliffs of Moher.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Leap Castle is not easy to find. It isn’t off any major roads nor is it by any reasonably size cities. The castle is notoriously haunted and has been seen on many ghost hunting television shows and is in almost every haunted Ireland book or article ever written. Many people call it the most haunted castle in the world…. or at least in Europe.
When I found Leap Castle, I was sure I was in the wrong place. I was expecting something terrifying and imposing. I was expecting a Gothic castle from a nightmare that was well marked and either closed off or open for national tours. Leap Castle is neither of these things. As we drove through the gates and down the long driveway to castle, I thought I had accidentally pulled up into someone’s home. The castle itself was mostly a ruin, but the front door looked inviting and there was a lovely garden and a green house. Fluffy cats emerged from shady places to mew for pets. We rang the doorbell and an old Irishman from a fairy tale answered the door. He had a long gray beard and a welcoming smile. He didn’t say anything. He waited for us to speak and I was sure at this point we were at the wrong place.
We asked for a tour of Leap Castle and he let us in. He didn’t ask for money and he showed us about his main sitting room and his sun room. He let me walk through his kitchen to his bathroom that was decorated with glitter, transparent, ocean themed toilet seats and accessories. It felt like my grandmother’s bathroom.
The main living area was filled with dear heads and taxidermied animals but it didn’t feel haunted or terrifying. The sun room offered a beautiful view of the valley and was filled with so many plants it was hard to move. Strange paintings and odd statues littered the walls and floors. There was a huge fire in the fireplace. It was a little cramped and the gentleman said nothing about ghosts as he showed us around.
Finally, I asked if the castle was haunted. Mr. Ryan, the owner, responded that they would never call it that in Ireland. He said the castle had spirits. He said lots of old places in Ireland have spirits and that he was comfortable with the spirits of Leap Castle. He said they never did them any harm. They made their presence known and that was all. He then showed us the way up a long, precarious, winding staircase up to the “Bloody Chapel”. He told us to be careful to close the door because there was quite a draft.
We climbed slowly up to the chapel, looking in small halls and doors as we went. The place was surreal and the further you climbed up the more unreal and disconnected I felt, buy the time I got to the chapel my phone was down to 2% charge and I had charged it before arrival. I had just enough battery to take a few photographs. Doors lead out of the chapel. There were more winding staircases, but the stairs were littered with crows nests and debris. We were alone and discussed trying to descend them, but the first staircase had featured cracked steps and holes and these staircases seemed even more treacherous. We also suspected one of the staircases was the path to the bloody Oubliette, from which numerous corpses had been pulled out of in the 1800s.
We descended to the entry way carefully and listened to the gentleman play the flute and left. Again, Mr. Ryan’s music seemed out of place. It was beautiful and upbeat. We bought a CD and paid him twelve euros and left the way we had come. The cats said goodbye.
This seems like a strange end for a place that was once the location of such terror. Despite our dread ascending the winding staircase, the rest of the castle seemed strangely peaceful. The history of the castle is long a filled with death.
According to Wikipedia:
“There are varied accounts as to when exactly the main tower/keep was constructed; ranging anywhere from the 13th century to the late 15th century, but most likely around 1250 CE. It was built by the O'Bannon clan and was originally called "Léim Uí Bhanáin" (as was the fertile land around the castle which was associated with the Bannon clan), or "Leap of the O'Bannons". The O'Bannons were the "secondary chieftains" of the territory and were subject to the ruling O'Carroll clan. There is evidence that it was constructed on the same site as another ancient stone structure perhaps ceremonial in nature, and that that area has been occupied consistently since at least the Iron Age (500 BCE) and possibly since Neolithic times.
The Annals of the Four Masters record that the Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald, tried unsuccessfully to seize the castle in 1513. Three years later, he attacked the castle again and managed to partially demolish it. However, by 1557 the O'Carrolls had regained possession.
Following the death of Mulrooney O'Carroll in 1532, family struggles plagued the O'Carroll clan. A fierce rivalry for the leadership erupted within the family. The bitter fight for power turned brother against brother. One of the brothers was a priest. While he was holding mass for a group of his family (in what is now called the "Bloody Chapel"), his rival brother burst into the chapel, plunged his sword into him and fatally wounded him. The butchered priest fell across the altar and died in front of his family.
In 1659, the castle passed by marriage into the ownership of the Darby family, notable members of which included Vice-Admiral George Darby, Admiral Sir Henry D'Esterre Darby and John Nelson Darby. By the time the castle was owned by Jonathan Charles Darby. His wife Mildred Darby wrote Gothic novels and held séances in the castle. This led to the publicity about the castle and its ghosts. The central keep was later expanded with significant extensions. However, in order to pay for these extensions, rents were raised and much of the land accompanying the castle was sold. This is one theorised motivation for the burning of the castle during the Irish Civil War in 1922.
In 1974 the castle was bought by Australian historian Peter Bartlett, whose mother had been a Bannon. Bartlett, together with builder Joe Sullivan, did extensive restoration work on the castle up to the time of his death in 1989.
Since 1991, the castle has been privately owned by musician Seán Ryan, who is continuing the restoration work.” (Wikipedia)
The Castle is also said to be home of an Oubliette. There was a room where live prisoners would be entombed to die slowly and dead bodies could be tossed when they became inconvenient. The spirits of the castle are said to be many, but Mr. Ryan seems to be comfortable enough with them and I suppose I would be too.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
We have now spent a week at Carrigain, sometimes called Cargin Castle. After our week at Carrigain Castle we discovered many haunting stories. I have already done one blog post on the castle and I promised a ghost story. The first ghost story comes from David Scully, the boatsman. He has been helping patrons of Cargin Castle for years now and he recalls helping one woman who was traveling through Ireland on her own. She went fishing with David a couple of times and was very friendly. The woman had recently had a spiritual crisis. She had left the Mormon religion and become an atheist as she was utterly disillusioned with the notion of spirituality and the supernatural from her experiences with the Mormon Faith. She may have stayed that way if it weren’t for the ghosts of Carraigin Castle. One morning she called David in desperation. She told him she couldn’t stay at the castle any longer. When Davie asked why she told him that she had come to the castle believing that death was the end of all things, but after a few nights alone in Carraigin Castle she knew that death was only the beginning.
During our stay, we didn’t have any shocking supernatural experiences. I rarely do. I have walked through places that others have called the most haunted in the world and seen nothing. I have slept in haunted rooms and wandered through many cursed places alone at night and seen nothing. Cargin Castle was not much different. The only difference was my son, who has watched me chase ghosts since he was little and has come to believe ghosts are nonsense. However, here at Cargin my son became so afraid he asked me to sleep in the lower level bed chambers with him for one night. He wouldn’t tell me why, he just said there was something here. I felt it too. It was something intangible that passed with the week. Lights turned on and off . I had bad dreams and heard footsteps. All these things could be explained away, but I think there is something here.
Another historical story from this old castle comes again from “Of Beauty Rarest.” It describes an account of the Ormond Rebellion in the 1570s that was written by Emily Lawless.
“Hught thought that he must certainly be still asleep, for nothing was as it had been when he had gone to bed. Doors were broken down, there were red lights everywhere, excited tongues of flame were darting here and there into the rafters, and catching at the bundles of dry rushes; the stairs felt slippery under his feet with revolting slipperiness; there was a stinging smell of gunpowder in the air; and prostrate figures-in attitudes that did not at all look like sleep-lay about at every angle of the stairs. All of a sudden the moon, which had been shinnin in through slit-like windows, dipped and went out behind clouds. It seemed as if something had met its ciew too ugly for it to go on looking at it a moment longer.
One glimpse Hugh had caught, and only one. It was the glimpse which he felt quite sure no rubbing would ever get off his brain again. The great door, sgudded with irnon nails, leading into the hall was half open as he passed in, and instinctively he had glassed in. It was full of armed men, all wearing the short leather coats and red badges of the De Burghs (the family that held Ashfield Castle in Cong).
There were dead bodies about the floor, the bodies of his uncle’s serving men, lying doubled up in every attitude, and nearest the door lay poor, good-natured, red-headed Christ Culkeen, whom he had been dreaming about, his honest mouth wide open, his innocent, sheepish face white and distorted, his eyes turned hideously back in the agony of his last glance; while at the upper end, just where he was in the habit of sitting, tied to one of his own stone pillars by the arms and legs, with a rope around his neck, his forehead streaming blood from a cut which nearly divided it in two, hugh saw his uncle, Sir Meredith. You Huber De Burg, the youngest of the Earl’s two sons- the Mac-an-Iarlas as they were called-was standing right in front of him with a look of satisfaction on his handsome, girlish face, stroking down a dainty moustache with one finger, and smiling pleasantly as he eyed his prisoner. For this was a grudge of many years standing. Had not Sir Meredith been invited to Connaught by the Dr Burghs themselves, who had give this castle of Cargin to keep? And had he not not in spite of this dared to oppose, and even, on more than one occasion of late, defeat them? Cerily, it was a piece of presumption for which he was about to reap a hot and bloody return.”
Indeed there are many reasons for the old castle to be haunted. Even if it is, it is a beautiful place to stay and I hope that I may return someday. It is a magical thing to stay in a castle steeped so deeply in over a half of century of history and to call it your own, even if it is only for a week. I spoke to the owner of Leap Castle last week and I asked him how he felt living in such a haunted place. He said that the Irish didn't call it a haunting. He said his castle and spirits and that most of them were positive. He said spirits were everywhere and there was nothing to fear in them. I think that describes Castle Cargin. It is a place with spirits, but it is a wonderful place.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
What I do remember clearly, was his telling of the history and ghosts of Cargin Castle. He even pointed us to a small, self published book in the library of Cargin Castle where I could find its history written. The book he guided me to was called "A Beauty Most Rare" and its history seemed to contradict much of the history I found online about the castle. First, according to online sources the castle was just a manor house of no military significance. According to Michael Carol, Castle Cargin was built by "the Norman DeBurgos in the late 13th century. It was a strategic fortress, along with Annaghkeen Castle in defendint the Manor of Headford from incursions across Lough Corrib (or Lough Orbsen as it was then known) by the dispossessed O'Flaherty clan." The castle was of military and strategic use and was more than a country house. Carol sites Oscar Wilde's father's histories of the region (William Wilde) in his bibliography as well Christopher Murphy. According to Carol, De Burgo installed another Norman family, the Gaynards, as tenants of the castle and woods in Cargin and Clydagh. In this turbulent period of Irish history, raids and counter-raids to and fro across the lake made life at the castle and in the area a turbulent one. The Gaynard family which was considered an Old English family was tossed out of the castle by Cromwell supporters in the 1650s and the house was passed to the New English Staunton family. The Stauntons stripped the castle of stone and abadoned it. They used the stone to build a Georgian Manor house and the castle was left to decay. In the 1970's the castle was restored to what it is today.
The book told several stories associated with the castle and I will retell two of them. One came from Thomas Egan:
"The Normans who lived in Cargin Castle were very friendly with those of Annaghkeen who were bitter enemies of the soldiers of Cong.
One day a small band of Cong soldiers came to Annaghkeen and seeing a man working in a field, they cut off his hands and legs and killed him.
When the soldiers in Annaghkeen Castle heard of this outrage, they sough help from the soldiers in Cargin and together marched to Cong. A great battle was fought on the plain of Maigh Tuireadh in which many men from both sides were killed.
Neither of the parties were satisfied and they fought another more bloody battle a few hundred yards from Cargin Castle beside Lough Corrib. The Cargin and Annaghkeen soldiers were victorious although very few of either army returned home.
At the place where that terrible battle took place there is a small hill, supposed to have been formed by the heap of slain soldiers who were buried there. The hill is now covered by the trees of the Clydagh Woods."
I will save the second tale of bloodshed from Cargin Castle for the second part of this post. There is too much for one blog post. But I will end today's post with the name of the ghost David said haunts the castle. He calls her Elizabeth and I think we have had a few run ins with her since we have been here. She kept my oldest son up quite a bit one night and she had fun with us and the light switches on another night.
If you would like to stay at the castle, you can find it on VRBO.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Castle Hackett is said to be haunted still by the fairy king and all his subjects. Local lore says that he kidnaps young women and carries them away to be his lovers. Anyone who has visited Castle Hackett could believe this to be true as the castle is as close to a fairy kingdom as I have ever seen.
Friday, June 9, 2017
The Hellfire Club was a club of young, wealthy gentleman that came together in the early 18th century to rebel against traditional Christian ideology. They were largely a product of the humanist movement and the Irish called the blasters, short for blasphemy. The actual hunting lodge that is commonly called The Hellfire Club is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland by some and was a meeting place for the blasters off and on.
On my tour of the Hellfire Club today it was clear that the tour guide thought much of the darker history of Hellfire Club was nonsense, but that didn't stop him from telling it. As we approached the club, I could hear the screams of children. It is a mile and a half hike uphill to reach the old lodge once owned by Phillip, The Duke of Wharton. As the most spectacular views of Dublin appeared at the top of the hill, it was clear I hadn't been imaging the shrill screams that lingered in the cold, wet air. A group of children were playing in the rain in the grassy area in front of the decaying lodge. As our guide told us that the site we were standing on was once the site of an ancient Irish Cairn and burial ground, I watched children dance and sing.
We went into the first room and our guide told us the story of a priest who had once visited the lodge. The priest arrived for dinner and saw members of the club were treating a black cat as if it were the guest of honor. When the priest asked why, members of the club answered that the cat was the oldest and wisest of them. The priest muttered an exorcism and the cat turned to smoke and returned to Hell. Other stories include members of the club burning themselves alive to get closer to hell. One medium saw mountains of corpses in one chamber and tales of human sacrifice abound. Campers there resort seeing demons in the walls and locals tell tales of burning cats fleeing the club.
History does show members drank to excess and had orgies at the lodge. The guide reported that he has seen evidence of current occult activity while he has been up there. People have left circles of candles and makeshift ouijii boards behind. When I was there, I had difficulty breathing, but that could be due to the cold air. Whatever the truth hidden in the walls of Hellfire Club, it is a particularly cold and creepy place. The natural beauty of the location juxtaposed with tales of satanic rituals and human sacrifice make you feel lightheaded and cold beyond measure.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Every expedition requires a base camp. And although the primary goal of our journey is to see Leap Castle and all the most notorious haunted, castles of Ireland, we chose our primary residence with care. We will be staying at Carraigin Castle in Galway for our two week journey to Ireland. Carraigin Castle is perfect for us. It is beautiful and has an amazing view. It is comfortable and is large enough for our little family to be spread out in and it has a little bit of dark history to keep us up at night.
For ten generations Castle Carraigin was home to family and descendants of Adam Gaynard III. The castle dates back to 1238 and was never intended to be a fortress or a protective structure. It was a family home. It was owned by the Gaynard family and the Staunton family. The castle had a bit of a dark history when it was burned down by the IRA in 1922 ( http://www.ciaranmchugh.com/?pagid=carraigin-graveyard) and local folklore says that there is a tunnel that connects the castle to the neighboring cemetery. The castle was restored in 1970 and is now available to rent on VRBO, which is where we found it.
We leave next week and I will be posting videos and photographs from all the wonderful places we will be going and there will certainly be many stories from Carraigin Castle.