Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: Ghostopolis

This is my second book review this week.   I suppose that probably says a lot about my week.   It is cold outside and there has been snow on the roads.  The children have been sick and a sense of Christmas quiet has taken hold of my house.  This has given me excessive amounts of time to read.  This is wonderful.

Ghostopolis is a graphic novel for younger readers, but I enjoyed this book as much as my children.  Its protagonist is a young boy, Garth, who is dying.  There is a secondary protagonist in the form of a burnt out detective.  In truth, the detective is really more of a ghost hunter with a detective feel.  This protagonist gives us some surprisingly adult glimpses into a man torn between two worlds.  The ghost hunter works for a government agency whose job it is to send ghosts back to the afterlife.  Most of the ghosts don't seem to happy about this and he has a very stressful job.   He is also tortured by his own love for a beautiful ghost woman who dwells in between worlds.  When the ghost hunter accidentally transports Garth to the afterlife with one of his ghosts, we are transported to a world of magic and wonder where the dead rule and the living are the ghosts.  As the detective tries to find a way to bring the young boy out of the afterlife,  the young boy travels the afterlife learning about the rules of his new world and discovering secrets about who he really is. 

I read a lot of books with my boys and mostly I just make my way through them.  I endure.  This book I loved.  Like Harry Potter or The Golden Compass, Ghostopolis had an appeal that stretched way beyond its intended reading level.  In fact,  after I put my son to bed the first night we read together,  I sat up late finishing the book.  The illustrations are beautiful and the story is intriguing.  My husband also finished this graphic novel on his own.  It was a great read.  John Hodan at graphic novel reviews said, "Immediately, it is clear this book is something special."   I couldn't agree more!  I've also heard that a movie version of Ghostopolis is going to be made with Hugh Jackman as our burnt out ghost hunting detective type.  That should defiantly be interesting. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Dead Path

It took me quite a while to make it through this unusual book.  I've grown accustomed to reading books that are high on action and low on art.   Sometimes I find myself wondering if the art behind the written word is lost in horror and fantasy.  This book definitely rediscovers the art of words.  It slowly pulls you into a world of darkness and dread, a world where the dead talk and something infinitely evil lurks in the woods, killing you children and feeding on fear.

After Nicholas Close's wife dies tragically, his entire world begins to unravel.   His friends blame him for his wife's death and he blames himself.   To make matters worse, he can see the dead everywhere.   To escape his tragedy, he flees London and returns to he small town where he grew up.   He returns to his mother's home.  His mother believes Nicholas is cursed and fears his return.  Death has followed him his entire life and she is more afraid of him than ever.   After Nicholas's return, strange events remind him of the mysterious deaths of his childhood that were marked by dead birds with sticks where their heads should be.  The story steadily unwinds from here, bringing the dead of the woods and death closer and closer with each breath.

The Dead Path is Stephen M. Irwin's debut novel and isn't a light read, but it is a beautiful read and for lovers of things dealing with ghosts and darkness it is definitely worth the time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winners and Other Announcements

My Anniversary has come and gone and the winners of my contest were Dave of the Dead and LaughtingWolf.  I'll be getting in touch with both of you to get your addresses etc. so I can mail your prizes.  I used the well tested inny minny miny moe technique to chose my winners.  I'm sure this was much better than the best random number generator.

Before I begin with another year of ghost stories,  I have a few other announcements to make.  Due to my growing pressures in life,  I will be changing my blog a little bit.  I won't be a daily blog any more.  If I were completely honest,  I was never a daily blog.  I missed 65ish days of blogging this year, but I tried to blog every day.  Now I will be cutting back to two or three times a week and I'm hoping that will give me an opportunity to increase the quality of my posts and finish Haunted Chatanooga.

Also, I also want to apologize in advance for any slowing in comments to all you wonderful bloggers out there.  I have a few big life changes that have slowed me down a bit, but I'm still reading and will be commenting as often as I can.   Thanks again to everyone and I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Year of Blogging and Time for Me to Give Back

I have been blogging for one year now.  Today is my blogs birthday!  Last year,  the night before my birthday was the winter solstice and it felt like a night to make changes.  I was frustrated with my writing career and had just been moved by my publisher  from an 18 month contract to a 3 year contract meaning that they may not publish my book until 2014.  Part of me wanted to give up and another part of me just wanted to write about something I loved and enjoy it and not worry about publishing houses or agents or anything else.  So I picked something I loved, ghost stories, and began writing everyday, well, almost everyday.  I fell in love with writing all over again and fell even more in love with ghosts and hauntings and old buildings that creep and moan and speak of forgotten histories rich with tragedy.  Blogging was wonderful!

I was helped along the way by other bloggers who found my blog and encouraged me to keep writing.  Courtney Mroch from Haunt Jaunts was and is amazing.  Her blog inspires me every day.   Autumn Forest of Ghost Hunting Theories was also there with ideas and inspiration from the very beginning.  And what have I gained from my year in blogging?

*  I have posted 299 posts of ghosts, hauntings, and all things dark and beautiful
*   I have met numerous other bloggers, artists, and ghost hunters and found a world of wonder that I have    enjoyed exploring
*  I got to travel all over the country and go to some amazing places looking for wonderful stories.
*  I was invited by a publisher to write a book based on my blog and it was published this year
*  I am working on my second book that will come out next year
*  I have a column in the Valley Planet and I can write even more ghost stories there!
*  I have learned that sometimes if you just do what you love everything else will follow.

If you had told me a year ago that I would gain all these things just by sitting down almost every day and writing I wouldn't have believed you.  It has been a wonderful year filled with travel, hauntings, and fun and I accomplished all this in one year of blogging and I owe it to all of my readers and those other bloggers who have helped me on the way.   So,  in order to give back to my blogging friends,  I will be giving away 2 Barnes and Noble Gift Cards for $25 dollars  on my birthday, tomorrow.   Spread the word.  All you have to do is comment below and twitter or facebook about this post to enter to win!  Thank you all for a wonderful year of blogging, it has been an amazing year.

I also made a promise to the Mobile Rape Crisis Center 6 months ago that when by book came out I would give them  five cents for every follower I gained on twitter.   Well,  I am now on a three year contract with my publisher, but since I've had a wonderful year with blogging I'm celebrating by doing that now.   I have 2,800 followers on twitter today and I'm writing a check.   I learned from Courtney Mroch from Haunt Jaunts who gave to the Leukemia Society on her 1 year anniversary that the best way to celebrate is to give back.  So I'm giving back to victims and I'm giving back to my readers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Lonely Bridge

Haunted Bridges are a common thing in ghost lore.  Throughout the South, stories of cry baby hollows and  bridges that lead to hell can be found in every other town.  As a collector of ghost stories, I've heard so many of these stories they begin to blend together in my head so I can't remember which town and which bridge held which story of ghostly sorrow.  It is rare for one of these stories to stand out to me, but the story of a bridge in Gadsden, Alabama that I heard recently left an impression.  

According to local legend, there is a bridge in Gadsden, Alabama that is haunted.  It is an old bridge with an old history.  According to the story, there was a young couple who lived near the bridge.  They had just had their first baby and times were hard for them.  They were pressed upon by economic concerns and the stress of their newborn baby.  Such stress is common in young parents and it is also common for these stresses to lead to fights.  The couple had been fighting often enough, but one night the fighting escalated to a fevered pitch and the young wife couldn't take it any longer.   She packed up her baby and walked out into the night.  She stepped out to get away from the tension and get away from the fighting.

After a while, her husband felt bad about the fight and about his wife and child walking alone in the dark night.  He grew concerned and took the carriage out to look for his family.  His wife and daughter were just crossing over the bridge when he caught up with them in the carriage.   It was dark and his wife was in black.   In the darkness, the poor young man didn't see his beloved and it was his carriage that pushed her and her baby over the edge into the dark waters below.  Both wife and baby died that night on the bridge.    Since that time,  people have described seeing a woman in black wandering the area around the bridge.  She wanders the bridge looking for the baby she dropped in the dark.   People have also described hearing the baby cry out.  People have also seen the husband wandering the bridge looking for something, heard carriage wheels, and heard the sound of a lonely woman screaming in the dark.  Many locals also say that the house near the bridge that is thought to belong to the young couple is also very haunted.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Ghosts of the Vicious Circle

The Vicious Circle is a group of writers that shaped the literature of their time.  This group was also known as the Algonquin Round Table and consisted of such notable wits as Franklin Pierce Adams,  Robert Benchley,  Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross,
Robert E. Sherwood, John Peter Toohey, and Alexander Woollcott.  The impact of all of these writers as a collective is amazing.  One was the founder of the New Yorker, others were famous playwrights and journalists.  Dorothy Parker is my favorite of this group because she seems like the kind of woman I could really relate too. She is famous for such brilliant quotes as, "Brevity is the heart of lingerie."  All of the vicious circle were all influential and they all met together at the Algonquin Hotel to talk.   The Algonquin Hotel still houses the famous restaurant where these literary giants met  and as soon as you walk into the Algonquin you can feel the presence of these great minds.  The restaurant even features pictures of the famous circle of writers on the back of the menu.  

When you walk into the Algonquin you know why the Vicious Circle chose it.  It is cozy and and comfortable with an atmosphere that invites you in.   You can also see why the ghosts of these famous literary minds might linger.  It is a dark place, filled with shadows and hidden places.   Shadowed corners provide privacy and seclusion for phantoms.  I ate dinner at the Algonquin and I wasn't lucky enough to see any ghosts, but guests at the Algonquin have reported seeing moving objects and the faces and figures of the old writing circle. Numerous reports of  ghosts and spectral visitations have filled this old hotel over the years.  Although I had a wonderful meal and wandered through the lobby, I didn't see any evidence of these stories.   Perhaps next time I'll have to stay the night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Worst Nightmare

This is a horror story of a different sort. There are no ghosts, but I certainly felt haunted.    I wasn't alone in my haunting.  Yesterday, it seemed like every single person who set foot in New York Lagaurdia Airport was being chased by a demon with a violent disposition.  The demon, in this case, was a massive blizzard that was cutting through the middle of the country and grinding air travel down to an utter standstill.   In New York it was warm.  There was a gentle rain, but just to the other side of the Appalachian Mountains the country was being buried in snow.

When I walked into the airport, the line was already so long it hung outside the building.   We waited for hours just to check in.  I knew my flights had been cancelled and had already spoken with a very unhelpful woman who told me it would probably be several days before I escaped from NewYork.  I got to the front and another lady did what she could.  She put me on standby on a flight to Atlanta that if  if left on time at 3pm I could then catch a flight to Huntsville, Alabama that left at 6pm  What were the odds?  The people in front of me in line had already waited for standby seats 3 times and I was the 10th person on the standby list.   But I went and waited.   The bathrooms were filthy because thousands of people were crammed into terminal C praying to get anywhere and also, apparently, peeing on the toilet seat and floor in their anxiety.   

The waiting areas spoke of the cultural differences between North and South.   There were so many people there weren't anywhere near enough seats so people were sitting and laying on the ground.   I looked around and saw women in their 60's and pregnant women sitting on the floor while young men and middle aged men mostly had the chairs.   I was switched between gates 6 times and as I struggled with my bags I was pushed aside for being to slow.  After my standby flight came in later than expected, one woman told me she could get me on the next flight to Atlanta.  She said just to take it because I might not get out of New York for a while.  She said take it even though all the flights to Huntsville from Atlanta were oversold.  She gave me a first class ticket and I figured I was at least closer to home.  May I say that first class is amazing.  They fed me a meal, gave me liquor (which I needed), warm towels, and kept my drink glass full. It is amazing how much the little things matter.  That terrible, half froze, airplane sandwich made me feel like everything was going to be fine.

I made it to Atlanta and I knew I was back home in the South.  Several gentlemen offered to help me with my bags instead of pushing me over.  In the full train, gentlemen gave up their seats for ladies and elderly.  The South may have its problems, but they also know how to to be kind and unselfish.  I was happy to be home.   I went to the last flight to Huntsville and found that it was almost empty. Everyone who was meant t be on the flight was trapped somewhere and virtually no one had made it to their connecting flight.  I made it home and I've never been happier to be back in the South, even though it is colder here than it was in New York.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Ghosts of Grand Central Station

 I skipped my list today.  I was far too tired to travel to far from home to chase fog and specters.  So instead I stayed close to home and went to Grand Central Station, one of the most famous haunted locations in the city. Grand Central Station is an imposing structure that is embedded into the corner of 42nd and Park  in Manhattan.  It is the largest train station in the world and one of the most famous landmarks in New York City.  The terminal is home to 44 platforms and 66 tracks.   The station is a living breathing work of art and a part of history.  Grand Central Station was built in 1871 and has been remodeled on many occasions.  The mural on the ceiling has been repainted two times now and the current painting is both lovely and infamous.  It is a picture of the Constellations.  One of the more interesting facts about the ceiling is that the constellations on it have been flipped.  The artist claims he did this purposely to show God's view of the constellations but many believe the artist just made a mistake.

The ghosts that linger in this station are many.  There are so many ghosts in the station that there is a ghost walk just for Grand Central.  My favorite ghost story from Grand Central is a lovely bit of folklore.  In the 1880s, when Grand Central was new,  Vanderbilt was one of the richest men in the nation.  He was so rich he could indulge in things that others might view as extravagant.  One thing he indulged in was race horse.   He bought the fastest racehorse in the world, Maud. S. and had her stabled next to grand central station so when he arrived on a train he could have the fastest horse in the world to deliver him home.  Maud S. died next to the station and her specter is said to wander Grand Central to this day.  There may be many more tragic ghosts in Grand Central.  The ghosts of those who have died in accidents and suicides linger in the shadows of the famous building, but Maud's ghost is by far the largest and the most interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Haunted New York Wish List

I am travelling again.  This time I'm going to New York for the rest of the week.  It will be a long, cold trip, but I will be bundled up in many layers of clothing and their are many secret haunted places in Manhattan to keep me company during the long, dark nights after my conference ends.   At the beginning of every journey, I make a wish list.  It is the list of places I would visit if everything went right and time were as abundant as sand.  Sadly, I rarely finish my wish lists, but they are wonderful starting points and any place I miss this time I can see next time.   So here are all the haunted locations I would like to see while I am in the big apple.

1.  The Algonquin Hotel:  The Algonquin Hotel was once home to the vicious circle of writers that once included some of the most famous writers of the time.  Some say that the ghosts of these writers still haunt this old hotel.  The linger in corners and behind shadows.  

2.  "The House of Death".  How could I not want to visit a haunted location with such an ominous name.  This house is believed to be haunted by 22 people including the Mark Twain.   I love Mark Twain and would go to New York just to see his ghost.

3.  The Empire States Building:   Many depressed people have taken the elevator to the top of this famous building just to jump to their deaths.  Their ghosts are said to haunt the building to this day.

4.  Manhattan Bistro:  This SoHo bistro is said to be haunted by a young woman who was murdered in the building in 1799.  She haunts this restaurant knocking ashtrays off of tables, breaking plates, and causing other  havoc.

5.  The Chelsea:   I am a Sex Pistols fan so this location has to be on my list.  It is room 100 at The Chelsea that the notorious Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols killed his girl friend Nancy.  Her ghost is said to remain at the Chelsea to this day.  The Ghost of Sid Vicious himself is said to haunt the elevator.

6.  Bridge Cafe:  This bar that is said to be the oldest in New York dates back to 1794.  Ghosts of the pirates that used to frequent this establishment have been sited at the cafe.

Those are my top six.  Hopefully,  I'll get the time to see all of these haunted locations, but if I miss a few, I'll enjoy the ones I do see.  I might go to the Chelsea first.  I've always wanted to meet Sid Vicious.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to Protect Your Home from Haunting and Evil Spirits

 While exploring the Burritt Museum and the many historic cabins within it last night,  I came upon an old witch bottle sitting atop a shelf in a cabin from 1825.   The witch bottle was a hideous and fearsome thing that reminded me of my love of folklore and folk remedies.  I especially love old cures for hauntings.  Witch bottles have a long history and have been popular for well over a millennium.  They were most popular in the 16th century when fear of witches, hauntings, and bad spirits reached a kind of fevered pitch that resulted in many a poor soul being burned a live for witchcraft.

The basic theory behind witch bottles is that spirits and ghosts have to count every item in a house or building before they can enter and haunt the home.  The bottle was meant to have so many small items in it that no spirit or ghost could ever count its contents. Thus the house was protected from haunting.  Early bottles were filled were filled with sand, dirt, pebbles and other small items that would be difficult to count.  By the sixteenth century the bottles took on a more sinister and disgusting tone.  They were often filled with urine, toe nails, hair, pins, and nails.   These witch bottles were thought to actually prevent a witch from casting a harmful spell on you.  They were also believed to lure evil spirits in and trap them, impaling them on the nails and pins so they can't escape.  These bottles were usually hidden and buried upside down in the home.  The picture to the side shows a classic witch jar from the seventeenth century.  It was thought that if such a witch bottle was thrown in the fire any witch that had set a curse on the owner of the witch jar would die.

Now the witch bottle has gone full circle.  Modern incarnations of these jars are said to protect against bad spirits and ghosts and are again filled with more pleasant things.  I looked at many crazy websites with recipes for witch bottles and it seems that some people still prefer the stinky bottle and place hair, nails, finger nails etc in the bottle, but that is just gross.  Also, these people are often using the bottles for larger magical purposes that I avoid.  Here is a simple recipe for a witch jar to protect your home from bad spirits and ghosts and hauntings.  These type of witch bottles are pretty and smell good too!

1.  Choose a pretty bottle with a lid and clean it
2.  Fill the bottle with some sand  or salt to make a foundation for the rest of the materials to rest on.
3 Add the pebbles, sea shells, or rosemary alternately to the bottle. After you have added these, add a bit more sand.
4.  Add  flower petals or  greenery .  There is no right or wrong way to make the bottle. Keep in mind your intent while making the bottle and envision what you want it to look like.

After you have all the items in the bottle, affix the lid. Tie the ribbon around mouth of the bottle near the lid as a final touch
Here is a picture of a modern witch bottle I found on Etsy.  The seller says the witch bottle will banish evil spirits.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ghosts on the Mountain

Burritt Museum is a living history museum on the top of scenic Monte Sano Mountain.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful location.  It sits perched atop the mountain lost in the clouds.  The view from its steps is awe inspiring.  The museum began with the Burritt Museum which is a mansion once owned by a local physician that donated the land and the house.  Since that time,  numerous historic cabins have been moved up on the mountain so as you walk through the property it is like travelling through history.  Each cabin is staffed by volunteers dressed in period costumes and kept to look like it would have in the year it was built.   According to legend, the mansion is haunted.  I don't have all the details, but here are the pictures from my trip to the mountain today.  More will come later.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Ghosts of The Algonquin Roundtable Writers

Next week I will embark on a journey that is completely ill advised.  I am going to New York to attend one of the Algonquin Writer's Conferences.  This trip is ill advised because I don't have the money to waste on a trip to New York,  I am leaving my children during a time when they need me, and the probability of me actually accomplishing anything with this conference is slim.  During this conference,  I will have an opportunity to pitch my latest fiction novel to 4 editors from big houses like Penguin.  I will be nervous and sweaty and will probably stutter and drool, making the likelihood of them having interest in my book even lower.   Why am I going you may ask?  I am going because I am a dreamer and I just can't help myself.  I really want to be a fiction writer. 

As I have prepared for me trip, I found a link between my trip and the ghosts of many old writers. This link, however tangential, has just made my day.  The Algonquin group  is running the conference  I am going to and one of the most haunted locations in New York is the Algonquin Hotel, which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Algonquin Writers Round table.   The Algonquin Hotel  was made famous as being the meeting place for the Algonquin writer's circle who were considered to be some of the best writers of the time.  The Hotel is said to be haunted by these authors to this day.   The group, who called themselves "The Vicious Circle" included Dorothy Parker, Franklin Pierce, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Alexander Woolcott, Harpo Marx, Harold Ross, Heywood Broun, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Franklin Pierce Adams, and Edna Ferber.   Guests at the Alonquin have claimed to have seen various members of this group of writers throughout the hotel.   They have also claimed to hear odd noises and witnessed other supernatural occurrences withing the hotel.

I'm not sure what the link between the group that is hosting the conference I am going to and the old Algonquin writing circle is, but I feel inspired to know that there is some kind of link between the conference and the ghosts of more successful writers.  The Algonquin Hotel will be the first haunted location I visit in New York.  Maybe I can find inspiration in the ghosts of greater writers than me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Time to Begin Your Krampus Day Celebrations!!

In America, we embrace all cultures and pull their traditions into our own culture and make it our own. I believe we should do the same for Krampus Day.   It is time to begin our Krampus Day Celebrations!  According to Wikipedia,   "Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching – by Krampus, especially of young girls"

Krampus is part of Austrian and Hungarian folklore and is associated with Christmas. His name, taken from the Germanic Krampen means claw. Krampus looks like and acts like the devil. He is a demon that travels with Saint Nickolas on Christmas Eve and while Santa delivers candies and treats to the good little children, Krampus delivers corporal punishment and horror to the bad little children. He provides a little extra incentive for the children to be good. Apparently in Austria, not getting presents wasn't enough to motivate children. Satan himself had to beat the children with willow branches and carry them off to hell.  I think it would take about this much incentive to get my boys to stop fighting on a nightly basis, so they might be on to something.

Krampus became so popular that his story and legends spread throughout Europe and became especially popular in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and northern Italy. He became so popular that he earned his own holiday. Dec 5 is Krampus day. It is almost like  a prolonged Devil's Night in Detroit, without the fire. On Krampus day and the days around it, young men take to the streets dressed in their most fearful Krampus costumes. They roam the streets scaring children with loud rusty bells and chains. They chase down young girls and hit them with birch branches.  I feel like this would add some spice to our Christmas preparations.  Who wouldn't want to be terrified by a large devil in these days leading up to Christmas?  I have to say that it would make shopping a little bit less painful and it certainly sounds like more fun than black Friday! So get out your rusty chains and bells an find your ugliest mask and take to the streets.  It is almost Krampus Day.