Archive for History

He’s Baaack!

Posted in Commentary, News with tags , , , , , , on August 4, 2013 by S. P.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

After a brief hiatus to deal with a family medical situation, The Ghost Writer has returned! In addition to more regular postings on here, expect to see some other things coming your way from The Ghost Writer. Thank you for your continued loyalty and support. Please help me build this site and my facebook page by inviting your friends to join the adventure through following this blog and “liking” my facebook page. Thanks again!

The Ghost and the Saint

Posted in History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2012 by S. P.

St. John Bosco (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Not only does Christianity acknowledge the existence of the spirit world, even great saints sometimes experience encounters with “ghosts.” One such saint was John Bosco (1815 – 1888). While a young man, Bosco made an agreement with his friend Comollo that whichever of them died first would give the other some sign as to the state of his soul. As it happened, Comollo’s death came first, on April 2, 1839. The next evening, following the funeral of his friend, Bosco sat sleepless on his bed in the dorm room he shared with twenty other seminarians. At this point, we take up the story in Bosco’s own words:

“Midnight struck and I then heard a dull rolling sound from the end of the passage, which grew ever more clear, loud and deep, the nearer it came. It sounded as though a heavy dray were being drawn by many horses, like a railway train, almost like the discharge of a cannon…While the noise came nearer the dormitory, the walls, ceiling and floor of the passage re-echoed and trembled behind it…The students in the dormitory awoke, but none of them spoke…Then the door opened violently of its own accord without anybody seeing anything except a dim light of changing colour that seemed to control the sound…Then a voice was clearly heard, ‘Bosco, Bosco, Bosco, I am saved.’… The seminarists leapt out of bed and fled without knowing where to go. Some gathered in a corner of the dormitory and sought to inspire each other with courage, others crowded around the prefect, Don Giuseppe Fiorito di Rivolo; thus they passed the night and waited anxiously for the coming of day. All had heard the noise and some of them the voice without gathering the meaning of the words. I sat upon my bed and told my comrades that they had no cause for alarm. I had clearly understood the words; they were ‘I am saved.’ Some had also understood them clearly as I had done, and for a long time afterwards there was no other subject of conversation in the seminary.”[1]

[1] As quoted in: Abbot Alois Wiesinger, Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology (London: Burns and Oates, 1957) 228-229.

There’ll be Scary Ghost Stories…

Posted in History, Locations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2011 by S. P.

Railroad Convict Labor (Image: http://www.learnnc.org)

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago.

Gentle readers, in the “spirit” of the Season, I present my humble contribution of a “scary ghost story.” Turn down the lights, curl up with your computer in that big comfy chair by the fire and enjoy. Don’t worry, that noise outside is just the wind, or Santa, probably…

The metallic tink of a chorus of pick axes striking rock filled the crisp air like a bizarre industrial age symphony. In the best of conditions building a railroad was hard work. In rough terrain it was hell. This was rough terrain. Had it not been for the winter cold, the laborers would have sworn they were in hell.

In 1883, the directors of the Western North Carolina Railroad were determined to build a line linking Bryson City and points west with Dillsboro and the outside world. They’d be damned if trifling things like mountains or even the lives of workers would stand in their way, especially in the case of the men working to complete the Cowee Tunnel near Dillsboro, North Carolina.

These were no ordinary railroad workers. The area was considered so dangerous, few men signed up for the job. The state of North Carolina came to the aid of the railroad by supplying prison convicts, mostly black, for labor.

The prisoners and their guards camped across the Tuckaseegee River near a hairpin bend which Cowee Tunnel was being built to bypass. Each day groups of twenty prisoners were shackled together in ankle irons and ferried across the river in rafts under the watchful eye of a guard.

On that cold fateful winter morning in 1883, tragedy struck. The river was running high and the current swift that morning. Before they even realized what was happening, the angry river capsized one of the rafts and tossed twenty prisoners and their guard into its frigid waters. Weighed down by the heavy chains, nineteen of the prisoners met a horrific death by drowning. Only one prisoner, Anderson Drake, managed to free himself and rescue the guard, Fleet Foster.

Unfortunately, Drake, unwilling or unable to part with his criminal ways, stole Foster’s wallet during the rescue. What should have been a heroic triumph became brutal punishment when the wallet turned up at the bottom of Drake’s duffel bag. The guards whipped Drake and sent him back to work on the tunnel.

The bodies of the nineteen less fortunate convicts were pulled from the river then hastily buried in unmarked graves on the hillside near the mouth of the tunnel. Since no one much cared about the fate of a few prisoners, their unmarked graves were quickly forgotten as work immediately resumed on the tunnel. Even today, the exact location of the graves remains uncertain.

What seems not so uncertain is the restlessness of their spirits. From shortly after the time of the mishap itself to the present, witness after witness near Cowee Tunnel report hearing unexplained sounds of splashing water, clinking chains and axes, and perhaps most disturbing of all, loud, mournful, pitiful wails of anguish. Do the dead still haunt Cowee Tunnel, seeking to remind us of the presence of their nearby, but neglected, graves?

If you’re brave enough to find out for yourself, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Their excursion train runs from Bryson City to Dillsboro, passing through the infamous Cowee Tunnel. Just to be safe, you might want to keep the windows of your carriage closed…

Merry Christmas and have a spook-tacular holiday!

Sources:

Baldwin, Juanitta. Smoky Mountain Ghostlore. Virginia Beach, VA: Suntop Press, 2005.

Osment, Timothy N. “Railroads in Western North Carolina.” Learn NC, no date. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newsouth/5503.

Taylor, Troy. Down in the Darkness: The Shadowy History of America’s Haunted Mines, Tunnels and Caverns. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2003.

©2011 S P Schultz, All Rights Reserved

The Real [Non-] Pagan History of Halloween

Posted in Commentary, History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2011 by S. P.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For most of its history, no one in the United States connected Halloween to “paganism” or “wicca.” Only within the past few decades has it gone from a harmless “kid’s holiday” to an urban legend taking root among both New Agers and fundamentalist Christians about Halloween’s supposed “pagan” past.  Thanks to continued repetition of this urban legend by venues such as the History Channel and various New Age and “paranormal” publications, as well as fundamentalist Christian anti-Halloween “crusades,” most people today accept it as fact, never bothering to investigate it further.  Today’s urban legend claims Halloween directly dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic Druid festival which the (evil) Catholic Church co-opted in order to “suppress” pagans.  As with most urban legends, this one contains a dash of truth in order to hold together a bunch of complete nonsense.

The customs we now accept as associated with Halloween are actually of much more recent origin than New Age urban legend suggests and are a mix of traditions and practices from throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland.  As with most things which began across the Atlantic and reached American shores, these various customs and traditions were blended, “Americanized” and repackaged into what we now call Halloween.  What we do know for certain is that the modern Halloween celebration has no direct religious connection with the ancient Druids of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

It’s true the Druids celebrated a minor festival at the end of October, as they did at the end of every month, but they had long since ceased to exist as an organized people when Halloween developed.  At the beginning of what eventually became the New Age movement, Druidism saw a “revival” in the 1700s and 1800s, but just like the current New Age movement, this involved people with no real connection to ancient Druids – except in their minds – and no real connection to actual ancient Druid practices.  Just like today’s New Age “pagans” and “wiccans,” a bunch of people pretended to be “Druids” with little actual historical knowledge (other than what they invented for themselves) of actual ancient pagan groups and practices.

Let’s examine the ancient Druids a bit closer.  First, unlike the image today’s self-styled “pagans” like to project, the Druids were not peace-loving “greenies” who liked to get naked and commune with nature.  Instead, they were a rather violent and blood thirsty Celtic people who inhabited pre-Roman Britain and Ireland.  The ancient Druids had much more in common with brutal peoples like the Aztecs than Kumbaya-singing hippies.  Our earliest records of the Druids come from the Romans.  It’s significant to note that even the Romans found these people excessively brutal.  We also find that it was the Romans who suppressed Druidism.  Tiberius (Roman emperor from AD 14 to 37) first outlawed the practice of Druidism.  Under Claudius (emperor from AD 41 to 54), the Druids were completely wiped out.

The Roman record brings out two extremely important points regarding Druidism.  First, very clearly, the suppression of the Druids had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, which had not spread much outside Judea at this point in history.  So claims that the Church co-opted a Druid festival to create Halloween and force the conversion of Druids are flat-out false.  Second, a hallmark of the Roman Empire was allowing conquered territories a large amount of relative autonomy as long as they continued to acknowledge Rome and pay tribute – this included allowing people to maintain local religious customs (we see this very clearly in Judea).  The fact the Romans felt compelled to stamp out Druidism shows the Druids were anything but peace-loving nature freaks.

So how does the Catholic Church get drawn into all this?  In the fourth century, the Church instituted a feast day to honor all Christian martyrs of the faith.  This feast day was originally celebrated on May 13.  In 615, Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” and commemorated it with the dedication of a basilica in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs.  By 741, the feast had grown to include remembering not only all martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well.  As a result, the name was changed to the “Feast of All Saints” in 840.  In 844, long after the passing of the Druids and long after Christianity had become the predominate western religion, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st.

October 31st itself held no special significance in the Church calendar until 1484 (again, long, long past the time of the Druids) when Pope Sixtus IV declared the “Feast of All Saints” a holy day of obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass – in addition to Sundays) and gave it a vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast (the octave of All Saints was removed from the Church calendar in 1955).  For Catholics, the vigil is celebrated on the evening before the feast – hence Christmas Eve.  Saints were known as “hallowed” in old English.  Therefore, the vigil for the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” – Halloween.  The fact that “Halloween” is derived from old English and the Druids happened to inhabit ancient Britain is as closer as we come to a direct connection between the Catholic Church, Druids and today’s Halloween.

While it’s true that traditions such as dressing in costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and Jack-o-lanterns were originally inspired by ancient religious practices to ward off evil spirits, even by the time these practices made their way to America, they had long since lost their religious meaning. Instead, they’d become much more along the lines of cultural traditions. Most telling is the fact that there is no mention of Halloween being a “pagan,” “wiccan,” or “evil” celebration in the past historical record. Only in recent decades has this notion taken hold. Once we consider the true facts, it leads me to ask just who exactly is it that has actually co-opted Halloween for their own purposes?

So, carve your Jack-o-lantern, throw on your costume, and go Trick-or-Treating all without fear that you’re participating in an “evil,” “pagan,” or “wiccan” celebration. Happy Halloween!

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe…

Posted in History, Locations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by S. P.

The Borden House (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

August 4th, 1892, began as a typical day for the Borden household in Fall River, MA. The patriarch, Andrew Borden, departed the home in the morning for his normal routine of checking in at the bank where he was president and stopping by the post office. Meanwhile, his second wife, Abby, and his daughter from his first marriage, Elizabeth, went about the daily chores at home along with the family’s hired maid, 26-year old Bridget Sullivan. Elizabeth’s older sister, Emma, was not at home.

Around 10:45 am, Mr. Borden returned home. Claiming he felt ill, Andrew sat down for a nap on the sofa in the front room. Bridget Sullivan later testified that she was lying down in her third floor room when she heard Elizabeth around 11:00 am frantically calling out to her that someone had killed Elizabeth’s father. Rushing downstairs, Bridget saw Mr. Borden’s body slumped in the sofa as if he’d been sleeping. The left side of his face was a bloody pulp.

The body of Andrew Borden. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As neighbors tended to Elizabeth in the kitchen, Bridget made another grisly discovery. She found the body of Abby Borden slumped on the floor of the upstairs guest bedroom, likewise dead from blows to the head.

In the ensuing police investigation, it was discovered both Bordens died from hatchet blows to the head – 18 or 19 in the case of Abby and 11 for Andrew. Despite a heavily contaminated crime scene – it wasn’t secured until hours later – the police discovered a hatchet head broken off from its handle. The police assumed this was the murder weapon. With the crowds tramping through the house in the hours following the murders, most other physical evidence was destroyed.

Elizabeth told several varying and inconsistent stories to investigators regarding unknown mysterious persons. However, in the end, the police believed the circumstantial evidence pointed towards Elizabeth as the murderer. She was arrested on August 11th and tried at court in June 1893. With only weak circumstantial evidence and no witnesses, the jury acquitted Elizabeth on June 20, 1893.

Following the murders and trial, Elizabeth and Emma moved into another house in Falls River. In June 1905, the two had a falling out and Emma moved out. Both sisters died in 1927; Elizabeth on June 1st and Emma on June 10th. Neither ever married.

Rumors have swirled since immediately following the murders. It’s clear that following the death of the sisters’ biological mother, Sarah, in 1863, the Borden household was not a pleasant place for the sisters. Neither particularly liked their stepmother and by all accounts Andrew Borden was not a particularly cheerful fellow. While most believe Elizabeth was involved in the murders, many believe she didn’t act alone. Claims of incest and mentally handicapped illegitimate children still surface. We do know the Borden sisters were very upset with Andrew for giving property to relatives while providing them nothing. However, like so many similar murder cases, it’s likely that we’ll never know the full truth since those who did are now long since dead.

The Borden house currently operates as a museum, and bed and breakfast. Extensive paranormal claims surround the property, including reports of a very mean apparition of Andrew Borden. Are they real or merely products of over-active imaginations?

[© 2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

PIA Conference Presentation – On the Nature of Ghosts

Posted in Commentary, Events, History, Investigations, News, Poltergeists, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by S. P.

White Noise Paranormal Network

Thanks to White Noise Paranormal Network, you can click on the link below to view my presentation, On the Nature of Ghosts, from the 2011 PIA Conference:

http://justin.tv/whitenoise02/b/291569213

You can also access videos of the other presentations through this link:

http://www.ghostshow.net/pia/

5th Annual PIA Conference a Success

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by S. P.

2011 PIA Conference

The fifth annual Paranormal Information Association Conference came to a successful conclusion this past Sunday in Sebring, Florida. The PIA, which began life as the Florida Ghost Gathering, aims to bring together researchers of anomalous phenomena from around the state in order to share ideas, network, and build friendships. Unlike other conferences which largely cater to “fans” of “paranormal” television, the PIA Conference is open only to members of organized research and investigation groups. Another key feature of the PIA Conferences is the fact they are held “at cost” – everyone, including speakers, pays a modest registration fee and no one makes money off the conference. No, you won’t hear the latest “celebrity” speaking about the latest “hit” television show. Instead, you will encounter people with decades of actual field experience in anomalous phenomena research eager to share ideas and information with fellow colleagues. Also, unlike other conferences, the PIA Conference is not limited to merely the discussion of “ghosts,” but includes all areas of anomalous phenomena research including cryptozoology and UFOs/UAPs.

This year’s gathering was held at the historic Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring, Florida. The lodge opened in 1916 and has seen its share of well-known guests, including playing host to a meeting of US governors in 1924. The Kenilworth served as the perfect backdrop for the PIA Conference. The organizers of the PIA Conference hope to establish good relationships with a few historic hotels around the state in order to set-up something of a “rotation” for future PIA gatherings.

The event featured an excellent line-up of speakers on a wide variety of topics. Along with a variety of presentations, another hallmark of PIA Conferences are social activities to encourage networking and the building of relationships and friendships among various teams and investigators. This year’s event delivered in this aspect as well with all of Saturday evening devoted to social activities.

PIA’s organizers understand that the “turf wars” and personality conflicts which seem to dominate the field are not helpful. Their events are dedicated to breaking down those barriers by helping everyone understand we’re all working towards the same goal and we can more easily reach it by working together rather than by working against each other.

If you’ve already attended a PIA Conference, I’m sure you need no further motivation to keep attending. If you haven’t attended, I highly encourage you to do so – I strongly suspect it will only take one time to make you a regular!

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