Friday, July 27, 2012

An Indian Ghost Story

While I was traveling this summer, I was lucky enough to visit with an old friend.  This old friend can still remember me when I was a wild, wicked thing with only my own ghosts to chase.  My friend was kind enough to share a family ghost story with me.  My friend is Indian and, according to her, belief in ghosts is intrinsic in her culture and her family.  Because of this, when her uncle began seeing the ghost of her grandmother on a regular basis, everyone believed him.  Her uncle not only saw the ghost of her grandmother, but he would fall into trance states and have fits.  When he fell into these states, her grandmother was able to speak through him.  According to family members, when he is in these states, he knows things that only her grandmother could know.  

My friend's grandmother was a young mother when she died.   She had several young children and so much to live for.   She loved her children and was a good and dedicated mother.  She had married young and was still a youth when death came for her.  Her death was a tragedy and everyone mourned her, especially her husband who loved her like the moon and the stars.  The two had loved each other greatly and everyone believed that she would miss him

The family believes that the grandmother's spirit couldn't rest because she couldn't let go of her family.  This is a great tragedy in her culture because she was never able to be reincarnated like she should have been.  This is made more tragic by the fact that the family believes that the grandfather was already reincarnated in the form of my friend's eldest son.  Supposedly, the ghost knows my friend's son is the grandfather and whenever she is around she is drawn to him.

Ghosts from other cultures always fascinate me.   Ghost stories travel across all cultures and permeate the fabric of human experience.  My friend's ghost story is interesting to me because it is common in India for ghosts to possess people to communicate when they aren't reincarnated.   This is something separate from our culture's tales and adds another shade of darkness to the texture of this sad tale.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Causes Poltergiest Activity?

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.

Poltergeist activity has historically been some of the most interesting supernatural activity.   Take, for example, stone throwing poltergeists. Stone-throwing poltergeist phenomena cases date back, at least, to 530 CE when it was recorded that Deacon Helpidium, King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths’ physician, was besieged by stones. One of the more interesting cases of stone throwing poltergeist activity is the Grottendieck case. In 1903, a Dutch engineer living in Indonesia, Grottendieck, awoke to a storm of rocks falling through the roof of his hut and hitting him on the head.  Grottendieck was perplexed, but the serving boy 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. 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 caused the strange falling stones.

This disagreement on the cause of poltergeist activity in general persists to this day.  People don't seem to entirely know what causes poltergeist activity.  There are three main  theories on what causes poltergeist activity.

The first theory is the most obvious.  This is that a particularly hostile spirit is causing the activity.  In the infamous  Bell Witch case from Adams, Tennessee,  Betsy Adams was tortured by a malignant spirit that they called the Bell Witch.  Betsy Adams attacker was aggressive and hurt her and those close to her physically.  Betsy eventually died of her injuries.   In this case, the belief was that a hostile spirit in the form of the Bell Witch was causing the moving objects and the harm to young Ms. Adams.

The second theory is less obvious but can be seen as possible in both the Grottendieck case and the Bell Witch case.  Poltergeist cases usually seem to center around one person.  The activity only occurs when that person is present and the harm occurs only to those within proximity of the target person.  In the Adams case, it was Betsy who was the center of activity.  In the Grottendieck case, the young serving boy was the center.  Those who have observed this argue that poltergeist activity is caused by psychokinetic activity of the target person.  Here is a quote from Wikipedia on the subject that I think sums up this theory very well:
    "In parapsychology, Nandor Fodor proposed that poltergeist disturbances were caused by human agents suffering from some form of emotional stress or tension. William G. Roll studied 116 different poltergeist cases and found that the agents were often children or teenagers, and supposed that recurrent neuronal discharges resulting in epileptic symptoms may cause recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK), which would affect the person's surroundings."

Of course the last theory of poltergeist activity needs to be mentioned.  It is the belief that all of these cases are pranks or hoaxes.  I don't think I need to discuss this too deeply because it is the obvious belief of all skeptics.

So it is hard to say what causes poltergeist activity in the end.  I tend to believe Fodor.  My childhood home was filled with poltergeist activity when I was young.  Keys moved across the table on their own.  Our ping pong table was crushed.  Stack of boxes migrated.  My father, an engineer who thinks the paranormal is utter nonsense, has never been able to explain these events despite all of his logic and engineering knowledge.  The events began when my sister fell into a depression and ended when she left the house.

I am always open to other explanations of poltergeist activity, but I tend to believe the person centered theory.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Survivor's Story

As all of my regular readers know, I rarely write about anything but ghosts. I try to stay on topic so that my readers can dependably find ghost stories and learn about haunted places at this blog. However, I was touched by this story and wanted to share it. This was sent to me by Heather Von St. James and she wanted to share her story of survival on my blog. I love ghosts stories, but I love survivor's stories even more. So here is Heather's Story:

You have heard the old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child.” You hear it more when you have a baby and I came to find that there is no truer statement. On August 4th, 2005, after a mainly uneventful pregnancy, except an emergency C-section, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Lily. Our “village”– my parents, my husband’s family, and our friends came to give us their loving wishes and welcome Lily into our lives. We had no idea that a vicious storm was brewing.

I returned to work full time, but within a month things started going downhill. I was always so tired, lacked energy, and unable to catch my breath properly. I attributed this to being a new mom. Even so, in the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t completely right. I went to my doctor and, after a myriad of tests, I had an answer.

Three and a half short months after Lily was born, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.  It seems that I had been unknowingly exposed to asbestos thirty years ago. The devastating part of this, I was told I only had 15 months to live if I did not do anything about my disease.  Because the prognosis for mesothelioma is grim, we decided to proceed with the most radical treatment that was available.

On February 2nd, 2006, in Boston, I underwent a surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumenectomy. It was the removal of my left lung and all the tissue surrounding it. I was in recovery at the hospital for 18 days and needed two months additional recovery before chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  

Lily lived with my parents in South Dakota, while my husband and I were in Boston. My witness to her growing and development came through grainy black and white photocopies of pictures my mom emailed and my husband printed off a community printer for me.  She was the reason I was there, away from her, fighting for my life. I was so thankful; she was in the best hands while I was going through this.  

My parents still worked full-time had their “village” to lend a hand, give support, and surround them and our baby with love in South Dakota. My husband and I also had amazing people surround us in Boston.

My prognosis, dire as it was, has shown us what a “village” can do. Never will these people know how grateful I am for the support they gave me and my family. No one said life was easy, it can be very fragile.  Learn to embrace all that life throws at you.

Heather Von St James is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, she vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The People Behind the Painting

The old Rathbone house is the creepiest house in Lafayette Square.  There isn't anything tangible about the creepiness.  It is just something you feel in your bones.  The square is littered with ghost stories, but this house feels more haunted than the others. This house was the home of Henry Rathbone.

Henry Rathbone was a very respected member of Washington society.  He was the son of a wealthy man and the step son of a Senator.  Rathbone and his wife, Clara Harris, were close friends with Abraham Lincoln and his wife.  When Rathbone and Harris were engaged, the Lincolns' invited them to the theater with them.  This was a great honor and the Rathbones sat in the presidential box with the Lincolns.  Midway through the play, John Wilkes Booth snuck into the theater and attacked the president with a large knife.  Rathbone had fought in the civil war and was a very brave man.  He jumped up and put himself between Booth and Lincoln.  Rathbone was stabbed several times and was severly injured.

Lincoln was shot by Booth and his ghost has its own story, but Rathbone survived.  Rathbone was never the same.  He married his fiance, Clara Harris, and the two lived in a lovely home on Lafayette Square across from the White House.  They had three children and for a while things seemed fine on the surface.  Beneath the surface, Rathbone was falling apart.  His deteriorating mental health was slowly pulling his family down and when Washington society could bare his behavior no longer, he and his family were sent to Germany as consuls.  The move was all it took to push Rathbone over the edge.  One night he crept up to his sleeping wife and shot and stabbed her.   When he was done, he crept into the children's room and looked down upon them sleeping.  As he raised the knife to stab them, the nurse barged in and shooed him away.  He fled and stabbed himself.

Rathbone was committed to an asylum in Germany.  When the police interviewed him and asked him why he wanted to murder his family, he said that the people behind the painting told him to do it.

Rathbone and his wife were buried in Germany and their graves were forgotten.  They were abandoned and left to rot.  Eventually, the state decided they needed the grave space and dug them up, cremated them, and shipped them back to the states.  Their remains were lost.  Ever since that time the old Rathbone house on Lafayette Square has been haunted.  Visitors to the house describe seeing phantom lights and hearing odd noises.  Rathbone and his bride have both been seen in their old house.   Perhaps the people behind the painting brought them home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ghosts of Lafayette Park

I spent last week touring our capitol.  As usual, I made sure to take a tour of the haunted side of Washington DC while I was there.  There are several ghost walks in Washington DC, but I chose the one with the best brochure.   I chose Washington Ghost Tours (http://www.dcchosttours.com/).   I was careful and called early to book my tour.  The woman who I booked the tour with was very helpful and told me some interesting things.  DC Ghost Tours is run by National Ghost Tours which has ghost tours in Nashville and Chattanooga.   The ghost tour they sponsor in Chattanooga is run by the amazing Amy Petulla, the co-author of my book, Haunted Chattanooga.  It is a small world.  We talked about Amy and how wonderful her tour is a little before the woman told me about how her tour group requires each ghost story discussed on their tours to have 3 independent sources before it can be listed as a haunted place.  I was excited.  I love historically accurate ghost tours.

The ghost tour was a two hour walk around Lafayette Park. Lafayette Park is directly in front of the white house.  My ghost tour was lead by a woman named Rachel who described herself as our lady in blue.  She wore historical garb and carried a lantern.  Interestingly, this tour was different from many of the tours I have been on because the paranormal tended to be overshadowed.  Our tour was positively steeped in history and the history of  Lafayette Park and I felt like I had a much better grasp of our nation's history when I left the tour.  Tucked in the pockets of the amazing history of Lafayette Park, were tragic tales of woe and horror that evolved into wonderful ghost stories.  The shere volume of ghost stories around Lafayette Park is somewhat amazing.  The tour advertises the park as the most haunted square in the country and I could easily believe that.

One of my favorite stories was the story of St. John's Church.  Every president in the church's history has attended at least one service at this little church.  St. John's is most known for its beautiful bell.  Whenever a president dies, the bell rings twelve times to honor the fallen leader.  According to some,  when the bell tolls at midnight, if you walk into the church, you will see six, black hooded apparitions sitting in the pews.  She also told us stories of duels and shootings and demon cats and poltergeists.   I will write about a few of them on the blog, but I wouldn't want to ruin them for anyone who might want to take the tour so I'll be sure to leave most of them for the guide.

I have been on more than a few ghost tours at this point and they all have their own flavor.  Some I love and some I hate.  I loved this ghost tour.  It was made unique by its focus on history and its dedication to the facts.   This tour was definitely worth the price and it took us right to the steps of  the White House where we learned about the ghosts inside.  That alone is worth the walk.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Twilight Saint

HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13th!  This is the most lucky day for me.  Good things always happen to me on Friday the 13th.  Today's  good thing is the release of my post-apocalyptic fantasy, The Twilight Saint.    I have a blog tour scheduled next week to celebrate the release of this novel and I'm excited.  If you like fantasy or post-apocalyptic novels, please add this to your reading list.  If you are interested in a free kindle copy of the book, just send me your email address at jessica.penot@gmail.com and I will send you a copy!
It has been thousands of years since the fall of the great nations and the tribes that remain in the ashes of the fallen must fight to survive in the shadows. In this desperate landscape, Ailive has spent her entire life fighting for the honor of her tribe and she has grown weary of war. When Ailive sees a chance to escape her fate, she flees into a chaotic landscape where death and darkness lurk behind every friendly face until she finds refuge in the peaceful city at the center of her world. In this city, Ailive finds everything she’s ever dreamt of, but news of a strange prophet from the South brings whispers of war to Ailive’s peaceful home. Now Ailive alone can stop the genocide of an entire tribe of people. Ailive alone holds the key to bringing peace to the world and destroying the monstrous man whom she once loved, if she can only gain the courage to pick up her sword again and make herself fulfill the destiny she’s fought her entire life.


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Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Ghost of Phillip Barton Key

I have been traveling through Washington DC for the last few days.  DC is filled with more than a few ghost stories and the history here is as much a part of the landscape as it can be.   Last night, I went  on Washington Ghost Tours evening ghost walk with a young lady named Rachel.   I forgot the cable that connects my camera to my computer so I can't upload all of my photographs and do my  ghost walk review tonight, but I can tell one story Ms. Rachel told during the walk.  
This sad story comes from Lafayette Square.   This portion of Washington DC is drenched in blood and the ghost stories here are as thick as the history.  One of the most interesting ghost stories from around the square is the story of Daniel Sickles and his beautiful bride, Theresa Sickles.  Daniel Sickles was an influential man in old Washington.   He was a New York Senator with unlimited ambition.  He loved Washington society and struggled to be the top dog in every arena of society and politics.  He even wanted to marry the most lovely bride.  He married his young wife when she was only fifteen years old and her beauty and charm made Sickles the envy of Washington.

Unfortunately, Theresa was a trophy bride that was quickly forgotten.  Sickles was chronically unfaithful to his beautiful wife.  He had numerous mistresses and affairs and even took one of his mistresses to meet Queen Victoria on a trip to London.  Theresa bore her husband's unending infidelities with as much grace as she could.  She might have born it indefinitely if it hadn't have been for the handsome son of  Francis Scott Key, Phillip Barton Key.  Phillip fell in love with Theresa and wooed her with great intensity.   Theresa fell in love with Key and the two had a passionate affair. 

The affair was doomed from the beginning.  The lovers enjoyed each other's warmth and company for a mere hiccup in time.  Theresa was discovered by her cruel husband and she confessed everything to him.  Daniel was so angry when he discovered his wife's indiscretion, he forced her to write every detail of her affair down.  He took the confession and used it to ruin his wife's good name.   Yet, Daniel was still irate and he planned to further punish the two lovers.  He caught up with Phillip in front of Washington Gentleman's Club on Lafayette Square and shot Phillip dead.  The blood pooled on the ground and Phillip's ghost hasn't left since.    Some say that Phillip still wanders the park and area he was shot because he is searching for his lost love.  Other's say he wanders searching for the justice he never had in life.  Sickles was never brought to justice in life.  He was tried for his crime and he used the first temporary insanity plea in American history.  He was found innocent, driven mad by his wife's betrayal,. 

Phillip Barton Key's ghost has been so active that he has become part of history.  The Gentleman's Club where he was shot was torn down and a home was built in its place.  The house was haunted and many fled the haunted building.  However, Lincoln's secretary of state, Seward, was too busy to worry about ghost stories.    Seward would become grateful for Phillip's ghost, however, after the night Lincoln was assassinated.   Many people plotted the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and some of the other conspirators were sent out to kill other key government officials.  Seward was meant to be assassinated by a young man by the name of Powell.   When Powell snuck in to murder Seward, however,  a loud, mysterious ban woke everyone and brought them to the hall.  Powell fled before he could harm Seward and many believe it was Phillip's ghost that drove him away with the mysterious bang.  Phillip's ghost has been seen throughout the square since that time.  It has also been seen in the courthouse where the gentlemen's club and Seward's home used to be.  We sat on the steps where Keywas shot as  we listened to Rachel tell her tale.  The photograph above is of the very place where Sickles was shot.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ghosts of Macknac Bridge


The Mackinac Bridge is always impressive.  Driving across the bridge makes it seem even more impressive.  Its length and height alone make it a daunting site.  Mackinac Bridge is five miles long and from cable to anchorages, it is the longest suspension bridge in the world.  The bridge connects the two tourist towns of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace and is crowded with travel, trailers, campers and cars.  It is filled with travelers on the road to their vacations or returning from them. The bridge was designed by Dr. David B. Steinman and opened to traffic on November 1, 1957,  The construction of this bridge was hazardous and fraught with danger as the Straights of Mackinac are known to be turbulent and treacherous.  However, the bridge was completed on time and now seres as the primary link between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.

Mackinac Bridge is amazing.  Its graceful form stretches over the blue water with an eerie grace and it isn't surprising that the bridge has gathered a few ghost stories.  Driving over the bridge is a bit unsettling.  It is creepy know that there are miles between you and the nearest land and seeing nothing but blue water beneath you.   The ghost stories associated with this lovely bridge aren't that impressive.   They are certainly less impressive than the bridge itself.   Local lore states that a family once had a traffic accident on the bridge and a baby died in the collision.  Since that time, cries of babies have been heard on the bridge at night.   There are also many stories linking the bridge to multiple suicides.  Local legend says that the ghosts of those that ended their lives by leaping from the bridge still roam the bridge looking for the solace they could never find in life.