April 10, 2010

The Rhode Island Vampire

Exeter, Rhode Island “There are such beings as vampires; some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples,” said Dr. Seward’s diary in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was Bram Stoker who took the vampire of folklore and made him beautiful, powerful, and sexy. There were cases of vampires all over the world before, during, and even after Dracula both seduced and frightened us—one of these cases was Mercy Brown, the Rhode Island vampire. Mercy Brown has the distinction of being the last of the North American vampires—at least in the traditional sense. Mercy Lena Brown was a farmer’s daughter and an upstanding member of rural Exeter, Rhode Island. She was only 19 years old when she died of consumption on January 17, 1892.

On March 17, 1892, Mercy’s body was exhumed from the cemetery because members of the community suspected the vampire Mercy Brown was attacking her dying brother, Edwin. For a deeper understanding of Mercy Brown and vampirism, I spoke with Dr. Michael Bell, a folklorist and author of Food for the Dead, a book that explores the folklore and history behind Mercy Brown as well as several other cases of New England vampires. Many people’s understanding of what a vampire is comes mostly from Bram Stoker’s work and Anne Rice novels, but the traditional vampire is actually quite different. So what is a traditional vampire?

“Paul Barber wrote a book called Vampires, Burial, and Death,” Dr. Bell said. “He gives a forensic interpretation of vampire incidents. They’re a natural phenomenon that wasn’t understood by the people at the time because they didn’t really know what happens to the bodies under different conditions. His definition is that a vampire is your classic scapegoat. I think his definition, if I can paraphrase it, is something like: A vampire is a corpse that comes to the attention of a community during a time of crisis, and is taken for the cause of that crisis.”

Vampires of folklore were not the romantic characters of modern cinema; they were the walking dead who literally drained the life out of their victims. Attacking vampires was a way for a community to physically embody and fight an evil that was plaguing them. In the case of Mercy Brown, that evil was consumption. During the 1800s, consumption, or pulmonary tuberculosis, was credited with one out of four deaths. Consumption could kill you slowly over many years, or the disease could come quickly and end your life in a matter of weeks. The effects were devastating on families and communities. Dr. Bell explained that some of the symptoms of consumption are the gradual loss of strength and skin tone.

The victim becomes pale, stops eating, and literally wastes away. At night, the condition worsens because the patient is lying on their back, and fluid and blood may collect in the lungs. During later stages, one might wake up to find blood on one’s face, neck, and nightclothes; breathing is laborious; and the body is starved for oxygen. Dr. Bell feels there is a direct connection between vampire cases and consumption. He said, “The way you look personally is the way vampires have always been portrayed in folklore—like walking corpses, which is what you are, at least in the later stages of consumption. Skin and bones, fingernails are long and curved, you look like the vampire from Nosferatu.” Consumption took its first victim within the Brown family in December of 1883 when Mercy’s mother, Mary Brown, died of the disease. Seven months later, the Browns’ eldest daughter, Mary Olive, also died of consumption. The Browns’ only son, Edwin, came down with consumption a few years after Mary Olive’s death and was sent to live in the arid climate of Colorado to try and stop the disease.

Late in 1891, Edwin returned home to Exeter because the disease was progressing—he essentially came home to die. Mercy’s battle with consumption was considerably shorter than her brother’s. Mercy had the “galloping” variety of consumption, and her battle with the disease lasted only a few months. She was laid to rest in Chestnut Hill Cemetery behind the Baptist church on Victory Highway. After Mercy’s funeral, her brother Edwin’s condition worsened rapidly, and their father, George Brown, grew more frantic. Mr. Brown had lost his wife and two of his daughters, and now he was about to lose his only son. Science and medicine had no answers for George Brown, but folklore did.

For centuries prior to Mercy Brown, there have been vampires. The practice of slaying these “walking dead” began in Europe—some of the ways people dealt with vampires was to exhume the body of the suspect, drive a stake through the heart, rearrange the skeletal remains, remove vital organs, or cremate the entire corpse. All of these rituals involve desecrating the mortal remains. The practice happened with enough regularity that the general population felt it could cure, or at the very least help, whatever evil was overwhelming them. So much death had plagued the Brown family that poor George Brown probably felt he was cursed in some way. It wouldn’t take too many chats with those empathizing with George’s plight to come up with a radical idea to stop the death.

Maybe the Brown family was under vampire attacks from beyond the grave. Was Mercy Brown the vampire, or was it Mercy’s mother or sister? George Brown was willing to dig up the body of his recently deceased daughter, remove her heart, burn it, and feed the ashes to his son because he felt he had no other choice. In Dr. Bell’s book, Food for the Dead, he recounts an extensive interview he conducted with Everett Peck, a descendant of Mercy Brown and life-long resident of Exeter, Rhode Island. “Everett heard the story from people who had been there [at the exhumation of Mercy Brown]—who were alive at the time,” Dr. Bell said.

“The newspaper [Providence Journal] says they exhumed all three bodies, that is, Mercy’s mother, her sister who had died before her, and Mercy. Everett said they only dug up Mercy. He implied that there was some sign that Mercy was the one—that’s the supernatural creeping into his story. Everett said that after they had dug her up, [they saw that] she had turned over in the grave—but there’s no mention of that in the newspaper or the eyewitness accounts.” Mercy Brown died before embalming became a common practice. During decomposition, it is possible for bodies to sit up, jerk—even sounds can emit from them because bloating can occur, and if wind escapes, passing over the vocal chords, there could be groans. We don’t know exactly what position her body was in on that day in March when George Brown and some of his friends and family came to examine Mercy’s body. We do know that she looked “too well preserved.”

“There’s a suggestion in the newspaper that she wasn’t actually interred in the ground,” Dr. Bell said. “She was actually put in an above-ground crypt, because bodies were stored in the wintertime when the ground was frozen and they couldn’t really dig. When the thaw came, they would bury them. So it’s possible that she wasn’t even really interred.” Her visual condition prompted the group to cut open her chest cavity and examine her innards. Dr. Bell said, “They examined her organs. The newspaper said her heart and liver had blood in it. It was liquid blood, which they interpreted as fresh blood.”

Bell explained how forensics can clarify how blood can coagulate and become liquid again, but at the time, the liquid was taken as evidence that Mercy was indeed a vampire and the one draining the life from Edwin and possibly other consumption victims in the community. Dr. Bell said, “They cut her heart out, and as Everett said, they burned it on a nearby rock. Then according to the newspaper, they fed them [the ashes of the heart] to Edwin.”

The folklore said that destroying the heart of a vampire would kill it, and by consuming the remains of the vampire’s heart—the spell would be broken and the victim would get well. The community’s vampire slaying had failed to save Edwin—he died two months later—but perhaps it helped others in the community? Dr. Bell’s view on Mercy Brown is that she was the scapegoat author Paul Barber discussed. Dr. Bell said, “She basically absorbs the ignorance, the fears, and in some cases the guilt that people have because their neighbors, friends, and family are dying, and they don’t understand why and they can’t stop it.”

Today some claim to see Mercy Brown’s specter near her headstone. Others have also spotted a glowing ball of light above her grave. Dr. Bell said, “That’s called a ‘corpse light’ in folklore. That’s a wellknown phenomenon—it’s been reported all over the place. There have been explanations, like the process of decomposing organic matter, like human flesh creating methane gas that can be ignited, and so on, but who knows? Things like that, you feel that there must be something behind it even if you can’t explain exactly what it is.”

Mercy Brown is arguably North America’s most famous vampire because she is also the most recent. The event caused such a stir in 1892 because newspapers such as the Providence Journal editorialized that the idea of exhuming a body to burn the heart is completely barbaric in those modern times. As Dr. Bell said, “Folklore always has an answer—it may not be the scientifically valid answer, but sometimes it’s better to have any answer than none at all.”

From Wikipedia The Mercy Brown Vampire Incident, which occurred in 1892, is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. In Exeter, Rhode Island Exeter, the family of George and Mary Brown suffered a sequence of tuberculosis infections in the final two decades of the 19th century.

Tuberculosis was called "consumption" at the time and was a devastating and much-feared disease. The mother, Mary, was the first to die of the disease, followed in 1888 by their eldest daughter, Mary Olive. Two years later, in 1890, their son Edwin also became sick. In 1891, another daughter, Mercy, contracted the disease and died in January 1892. She was buried in the cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter. Friends and neighbors of the family believed that one of the dead family members was a vampire (although they did not use that name) and caused Edwin's illness. This was in accordance with threads of contemporary folklore linking multiple deaths in one family to undead activity.

Consumption was a poorly understood condition at the time and the subject of much urban mythology. George Brown was persuaded to exhume the bodies, which he did with the help of several villagers on March 17, 1892. While the bodies of both Mary and Mary Olive had undergone significant decomposition over the intervening years, the more recently buried body of Mercy was still relatively unchanged and had blood in the heart. This was taken as a sign that the young woman was undead and the agent of young Edwin's condition. The cold New England weather made the soil virtually impenetrable, essentially guaranteeing that Mercy's body was kept in freezer-like conditions in an above-ground crypt during the 2 months following her death. Mercy's heart was removed from her body, burnt, and the remnants mixed with water and given to the sick Edwin to drink. He died two months later.

Sources : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercy_Brown_vampire_incident.

According to Richard Spiers, The little boy hugged close to his mother. Men were breathing hard in the cold March air of the Rhode Island farming community. Digging through the tenacious cemetery dirt, mists formed around their perspiring flesh. Suddenly, a thud of shovel on coffin lid came from the dark hole. Grunts ensued as the heavy box lifted in the last red glints of sunset. The boy's pappy pried loose the lid to reveal the girl. Men nearly wretched as the cadaverous grave odor from the pine box wafted through the twilight. The boy's uncle was a serious man, a no-nonsense farmer. Desperation had driven him to this point. Tears filled his eyes as he reached into the box, plied a steel knife, and then ripped the heart of his daughter from the dead body.

Over to the red-hot kettle he staggered. His trembling hand dropped the icy thing into the glowing iron pot. Immediately the sizzle emitted a bloody spew of rancid steam. In a few minutes, the charred muscle became charcoal. The boy's pappy ground it into dust. He added water to make a rusty nail smelling tea. The stooped farmer, the boy's Uncle, spoke in his loud baritone as all listened. "Drink this! We must save ourselves from the devil's curse!" Then taking a deep swig, he passed the cup around for the moaning men, gagging children and weeping women to drink. *** So, you think you know all about vampires. Did you know for more than 150 years they lurked in the green valleys of New England? These revenants, ghost-like beings that came back from the dead, were once living victims of consumption. The disease came upon them slowly at first. Shortness of breath grew steadily worse as infected bronchia swelled.

There was no rest as something constantly attacked the body. Fever accompanied night sweats. Appetite faded. Pains in the shoulder blades from fatigued breathing felt like gnarled claws ripping to get inside. Finally, lungs filled with pustules of infections. Oxygen could not enter the blood, so arteries ran blue making the skin pallid. Tissue necrosis ensued. Victims coughed up dead lung tissue accompanied by dark blood. After weeks of wasting disease, death came quickly, often at night when the damp air was worse. In the days before the Revolutionary War, several clans of families immigrated to America. Facing the challenges of a savage land, they chose to remain isolated from their neighbors.

As disease struck, the rustics believed they could do more for themselves, especially as they saw physicians at the turn of the nineteenth century have no success at curing tuberculosis. They had brought their own eclectic myths from their native lands coupling them with legends the Native Americans told. These folk tales told how the dead, lonely when they died, so cold in the ground, that they came back at night to suck the heat and life out of the living family members.

These dead departed had no malice in their behavior. Yet the living had their rights also. The clan leaders assembled to decide how to remedy this. They reasoned that the first who died started the chain reaction, so if that revenant stopped, the curse would stop. Therefore they must exhume that body and burn the heart. If they did nothing, more would die of the disease until the dead outnumbered the living, thus killing the entire community. Why the heart? We turn to "body forensics". In order to understand this, thanks goes to both the prolific author Patricia Cornwell and the hit show CSI.

When a body deteriorates in the grave, the temperature and conditions of the ground very greatly, but in general, the fatty tissues succumb first, then the muscles. The heart's dense muscle often takes decades for bacteria to break down the organ. Extracted from the earth, even years later, the heart resides in place within the skeleton. Frequently the organ still contains sour blood dark with iron-laden hemoglobin. The elders in the clan knew this, too. The durability of the heart made it the seat of the spirit in folklore legend. When they dug open the grave they received a shock. After burial in the cold New England soil, the body might look reasonably preserved for several months or longer. In special cases, the corpse might still have bloody froth about the lips. Certainly they felt the dead had come from the ground in a spirit form to feed on the remaining family members. This had to be the work of the devil! We turn now to the marvelous research of Michael E. Bell in his book Food For The Dead.

A remarkable folklore researcher, this scientist has combed the legends of New England. Through hard work over decades, including interviews with family descendents, he discovered that immigrants to western Rhode Island just before the Revolutionary War came up with this unique way to deal with tuberculosis. The first documented cases Bell found came from the Tillinghast clan and their acquaintances. In the 1790's, the Harris, Spaulding, Staples and Tillinghast families all participated in digging up graves and burning hearts. The practice continued sporadically for nearly 150 years. In all, Bell found at least twenty occurrences he documented around Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Ontario and Illinois.

As the clans married, they carried the practice with them whenever an outbreak of tuberculosis struck. At the turn of the twentieth century, progressiveness was king. Powerful men such as Bell, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford and his close friend Edison forged ahead with electric motors, electric lights, telephones, 'auto-mobiles', and gas powered engines. Others steered steel ships and built steel bridges over huge waterways, harnessed radio transmissions, or utilized medical x-rays from radioactive elements. It was an era of science.

In the midst of this, the 1892 Providence Journal editors fumed over scandalous barbarism just outside their modern city. A group of rustic know-nothings had dug up a body and burned the heart in order to rid the community of tuberculosis. This last case of a heart burning to stop tuberculosis vampirism is that of Mercy Brown. The Brown family lived in a farming community near Exeter, Rhode Island during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Brown family situated between Exeter and North Kingstown experienced several bouts of consumption.

In 1883 the mother, Mary Eliza, died. Shortly after this, a daughter Mary Olive died. Then, in early 1891, the only son Edwin contracted the disease. Brown sent the man to Colorado hoping the change in climate might rescue his heir. Later in 1891, daughter Mercy Lena caught 'galloping' tuberculosis and died quickly. Faced with a decade of death, the community leaders gathered to suggest the old folk remedy handed down by clan elders. Brown was aghast, but peer pressure coupled with desperation caused him to call the attending community physician, Dr. Metcalf. Metcalf came to dissuade the leaders to not do this horrendous ceremony, but he arrived too late. He found Brown surrounded by four men who had taken three bodies from the family vault. Mrs. Brown's corpse had most of the muscle tissue remaining, but no blood in the heart. Mary Olive's corpse was but skeleton and hair.

Mercy Lena's cadaver was but two months in the cold earth. The men pulled out the heart and liver for examination. The heart was dripping with blood, a sure sign that Mercy was the vampire! They incinerated the organs to powder. Old Doc Metcalf seemed to quickly cover his culpability when he spoke to the reporter at the newspaper. No one could agree whether or not Edwin drank a tea made with the ashes, though it seems that the community leaders would insist on this. Editors and Mayors exploded in anger throughout New England over such barbaric practices in their modern, progressive society.

The scandal apparently provoked the rural authorities to insure this never happened again. The newspaper pages yellowed as the story faded into oblivion and rumors throughout Rhode Island. However, two great horror writers, Bram Stoker and H. P. Lovecraft preserved the incident in their writings. Stoker sat struggling in his study working on a complicated novel about a modern day vampire. It was to be his homage to his hero J. S. LeFanu.

What would a man of science do if he encountered a medieval myth? How would late Victorian London react? Could science or faith succeed in such an encounter? From out of the blue, a New York Times reprint of the Providence Journal article crossed his desk. Inspired by the clipping, he created the character of Lucy Westenra. Perhaps the name playfully alluded to western Rhode Island.

Yet it is H. P. Lovecraft we must thank most for preserving the legends of Mercy Brown in his satirical weird tale: The Shunned House. Written between October 16-19, 1924, he reflected the disgust that the modern elitist gentry of Rhode Island had on such a barbaric tradition. Lovecraft, having been born in 1890, had lived in Providence most of his life. He knew the details of the legends well, though he relied heavily upon the folklorist Sidney Rider for many of the details he used in the story.

As Lovecraft's Mercy Dexter character allows the plot to flow, he cagily reveals, "[don't] hire anyone from the Nooseneck Hill country … seat of uncomfortable superstitions. As lately as 1892, an Exeter community exhumed a dead body and ceremoniously burnt its heart in order to prevent certain alleged visitations." So, there we have it.

Real vampires lurked in the imagination of numerous rustic farmers and merchants for over 150 years. Finally, progress coupled with embalming techniques eradicated the practice by 1892. Mercy Brown was the last case. Or was it? Christopher Coleman's Strange Tales of The Dark and Bloody Ground reports that just before WWI in the hill country of Bradley County, Tennessee, road workers uncovered an old unmarked grave. The mummified remains of a woman had a stake driven in its heart! As archaeologists or folklore scholars continue to look, perhaps other vampires will show up? Look around. Is there someone in your own community still waiting to stake a vampire?

Sources : http://www.underworldtales.com/submissions/mercy.htm.

April 07, 2010

Flagstaff Train Station

Flagstaff has a lot of history, but some of the history is hidden and most people don't realize a lot of the haunted places in Flagstaff. It may be hard for some to believe that Flagstaff could be such a haunted town, but the Haunted Places walking tour proves Flagstaff has its own share of the paranormal. Visitor Center workers have reported feeling like they were being watched as they climbed the stairs to the upper floor of the station. Other have described the stairs as having an eerie or cold feeling to them. Strange things often happen here but are normally glossed over by the staff, such as locked doors that have often been found unlocked when the janitorial staff comes in the night. The Flagstaff Amtrak station is located at 1 East Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona. The station, formerly the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway depot, doubles as a visitor center and is located in the midst of the shops, cafes, and boutiques of downtown Flagstaff. Northern Arizona University is located nearby, as are the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered), Sunset Crater, the Walnut Canyon National Monument, ski resorts, and other attractions.

A musty smell lingered in the air as James Hardy, an administrative specialist with the Flagstaff Visitor Center and tour guide for the Haunted Places tour, began with the story of The Brakeman. Prior to 1926, when the station was built, the railroad tracks would have run right through the middle of the building. On these original tracks, in an unfortunate but very common accident, a brakeman was killed – crushed between the couplings of two boxcars. Is it possible that this brakeman is still here at the spot where his life was cut short?

A member of the staff here after hours reported seeing and hearing people in the locked and secure building, only to find no one was around when he went to check.

Sources :
Flagstaff’s Haunted Places Compiled and Written by James Hardy;
http://azdailysun.com/news/local/article_dd25f1c9-6a17-5d8c-92de-810b9d68c36b.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagstaff_%28Amtrak_station%29

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April 05, 2010

Boggo Road Gaol

Boggo Road Gaol (jail) in the Queensland city of Brisbane is now a museum that holds relics of Australia’s early penal system. The site was a notorious Australian prison located on Annerley Road in Dutton Park, an inner southern suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. And the only surviving intact gaol in Queensland that reflects penological principles of the 19th century. For many years it was Queensland's main prison. Inside, visitors see how the prison worked, its cell blocks, its old furnishings, and on some occasions, the ghosts of its former inmates. It was officially known as "Brisbane Jail" but was commonly known as "Boggo Road Jail" because Annerley Road became known as "Boggo Road" due to its poor condition, after originally being named "Bolgo Road". Boggo Road was originally an unofficial and unmaintained short-cut between Ipswich Road and Stanley Street that became very boggy after rain. The Boggo Road Gaol site was designated as a penitentiary reserve in 1880. The first cellblock (The ‘No.1 Division’) opened on 2 July 1883, and over the years many other buildings came and went on the site. It was the scene of 42 hangings, including the hanging of Ernest Austin in 1913—the last execution in Queensland.

The first buildings were built by Robert Porter, contained 57 cells. It is heritage-listed. In 1898, the state government deemed that a new women’s prison was also necessary, and construction of the new facility began in October 1901. The female division, number two division, opened on October 3, 1903—the first women’s prison in Queensland. Number two division operated as a women’s prison until 1921,when the demands for more prison space forced the government to make all of Boggo Road’s facilities for men. Boggo Road was a place where many different criminals did time.

A new prison was built around the perimeter of No.1 prison during the 1960s and No.1 prison was demolished leaving area for a oval and recreational facilities for the newly built prison and this prison had running cold water and toilet facilities in all cells. Under the oval was the facility that became known as the "black hole" where prisoners were subjected to "punishment". The "black hole" continued in use until the late '80s.

John Banks began working as a guard at Boggo Road in 1972. The prison closed in 1989, and most of Boggo Road’s buildings were demolished with the exception of division two. With the help of John Banks and two other former guards, the site became a museum in 1992. More than 20,000 visitors a year pass through the iron gates to see what prison life was like. Boggo Road’s most well-known inmate is also one of its most notorious. The local lore says this notorious criminal is still around—that he made a deal with the devil.

On September 22, 1913, Ernest Austin had the distinction of being the last prisoner hung in all of Queensland before capital punishment was abolished throughout Australia in 1922. Austin was sentenced to death for murdering an 11- year-old girl named Ivy Mitchell, who lived in the Samford section of northern Brisbane. Austin showed no remorse during his trial. When Austin got to the gallows, the official report said he announced his remorse and then was hung without incident. But there’s another version—one that may explain why Austin might still be hanging around.

The historical record actually tells a very different version of events. Far from being proud of his crime, Austin had tried to hang himself in the police watch-house, and had appeared resigned during his trial and imprisonment. His execution took place in front of several reporters and officials, and although there were some minor discrepancies in their reports on the event, they all told a very different story to the one above. His last words, no doubt under the influence of morphine, were reported in the Brisbane Courier as:

"I ask you all to forgive me. I ask the people of Samford to forgive me. I ask my mother to forgive me. May you all live long and die happy. God save the King! God save the King! God be with you all! Send a wire to my mother and tell her I died happy, won’t you. Yes tell her I died happy with no fear. Goodbye all! Goodbye all!"
(Brisbane Courier, 23 September 1913).

A similar account appeared in the Truth newspaper, this one reporting that “God save the King” were his actual last words. Did they lie? It could be claimed that this version of events was just part an official cover-up of the more-disturbing events on the gallows, as the authorities were trying to maintain public support for hanging and did not want the awful truth of what Austin had really said getting out.

However, the Courier and the Truth took opposing stands on capital punishment, so why write the same story? Surely it would have suited the anti-hanging propogandists at the Truth to print a story with Austin laughing at his executioners, showing the failure of the death sentence to impress any sense of repentance upon him. The angle they instead took was to to portray Austin as a 'feeble-minded degenerate', someone with a 'mental deficiency' who was raised in a home for neglected children and lived an institutionalised life that made a monster of him.

The headline proclaimed 'THE STATE SLAYS ITS OWN CREATION'. Blame for the crime was to be shared with the state, his Frankenstinian creators. In later years, Austin was to be re-created again, this time as a supernatural demon.

It is interesting that Austin is now said to haunt No.2 Division. Like all the other prisoners executed at Boggo Road, Austin was actually hanged in the original No.1 Division, which was demolished to make way for a newer No.1 Division in the early 1970s. The newer No.1 Division prison was demolished in the 1990s.

Jack Sim, local Brisbane historian, has been running Brisbane Ghost Tours since 1998. “The papers at the time reported he [Austin] was sorry for what he did,” Sim said. “But old-timers here reckon he laughed and said: ‘She loved it’—referring to his victim—‘she enjoyed it’—referring to the terrible act he perpetrated upon her—and ‘I would do it again if I could.’ “As the executioner released the trapdoors beneath his feet, the murderer began to laugh, all the way to the very end of the 13-foot rope. Even then he tried to force out one last little chuckle from between his lips. It was said that the laughter was often heard in the early mornings in the cellblocks.”

According to Sim, some of the locals believed part of Austin’s agreement with the devil was to gather more souls. This could be part of the reason for many Austin sightings around the prison. Sim said, “Ernest Austin was reported to torment the prisoners and guards for years after his death. The prison has what I would define as a haunted atmosphere. It definitely still has a feeling of human occupation, even though it’s been unused as a prison since 1992.”

One security feature of the prison was the peastone gravel placed all around the divisions. On quiet evenings it’s impossible to walk on the gravel without making a lot of crunching noise. Guards reported seeing darting shadows and other “ghosties” that their sleepy states seemed to induce. There is a long history at Boggo Road of guards avoiding the night shift in all possible ways. “There were some ‘screws,’ who would not do the night shifts,” Sim said. “When they were rostered onto night shifts, they would do anything to swap to a different night. Some of them appear on the rosters of the time, but they maintain that they actually didn’t show up; another officer took their place. One officer told me that a mate of his never once in 15 years as a guard here actually did night shift. On his record it says he did, as it does on his timesheets. But, a packet of tobacco slipped to the right person took care of the details.”

According to Sim, one documented ghost encounter occurred in 1970 when a prison officer saw what he referred to as a “big, white, shapeless mass” on top of the dividing wall of the exercise yard in the old number one division. This was in the early hours of the morning— the officer claimed the white mass slid off the wall and disappeared into the darkness. Sim said, “The spot where he saw the ‘ghost’ was just behind A Wing, where the gallows used to be. The prison officer asked for a transfer to Townsville Jail. Who could blame him? I’d have transferred from here too if I could have.” Although the exact number of prisoners who died at Boggo Road jail during its 106 years of operation is not exactly known, including account for executions, suicides, murders, disease, and natural causes, conservative estimates put the number of deaths in excess of 100.

Conditions were so bad at the prison that there were uprisings. From 1974 until 1985, prisoners insighted several riots. Clothing and furniture would be burned. The foam mattresses would be set ablaze until the foam melted into a boiling hot ooze of chemicals. The rioting inmates would fill tins with the hot substance and throw it at the guards. Banks said, “It’s most probably as bad as what it would be in the front line of a war. It’s a hell of an experience. People yelling and smashing and making noises.” Watching out for the living inmates was not the only thing a Boggo Road guard had to encounter.

The first time Banks heard about the ghosts at Boggo Road Gaol was shortly after he started working there in the 1970s. “We had officers here you’d have to relieve at 2:00 in the morning because they just didn’t want to be here,” Banks said. “They’d turn around and be white as a sheet and say, ‘I’ve seen a ghost.’ So you’d move him away from here and put him somewhere else. We’ve had officers here that have seen ghosts walk around. They’ll see a person walk by and they know quite well they’re the only one here.” The guard killed in 1966 has been spotted in the jail by guards and visitors alike.

Sim has spotted a specter on his ghost tours at Boggo Road. He said, “I’ve seen the ghost of a prison officer walking the grounds of number two division; there’s no doubt.” Some of the prisoners at Boggo Road Gaol appear to have an eternal life sentence. The old buildings, cells, and furniture speak to passersby of a rigid lifestyle where some prisoners were forced into submission, others into madness and suicide, and some were lucky enough to get out and on with their lives.

Sources :
The World’s Most Haunted Places by Jeff Belanger;

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April 04, 2010

Catacomb Museum of Paris

There is one Paris museum that’s as haunted as it is macabre. You won’t find it on the Champs-Elysees; in fact, you won’t find it above ground at all. To get to the Catacombs, you’ll be traveling more than 20 meters below the city streets in the Montparnasse section of Paris. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867. Following an incident of vandalism, they were closed to the public in September of 2009 and reopened 19 December of the same year. There are human bones stacked in the tunnels under the city—a lot of them. The Catacombs of Paris are a network of tunnels and caves that run for more than 300 kilometers under the city. To build a city, you need materials. The Romans were the first to quarry the limestone in the area in 60 B.C.E.; however, those quarries were the open-air kind—the Romans just dug out the rock that was exposed. As the city grew and covered the landscape, tunneling would be required to get more building materials.

In 1180 C.E., Philippe-Auguste became King. He was a major proponent of tunneling to quarry in order to build ramparts to protect the city, and it was under his rule that this tunnel network was truly born. The quarries grew in size and complexity and produced building materials for centuries to come. Quarrying continued with reckless abandon until problems began to arise. In the 18th century, the city of Paris (and the weight of its buildings) continued to grow as the ground became more hollow underneath. Some buildings began to collapse and fall into the earth that was opening up below them.

On April 4,1777, the Inspection Générale des Carrières was formed to manage, fill in, or close sections of the tunnels deemed dangerous. It was during the 18th century that a second problem arose for Parisians: The graveyards were getting full—very full. The Cimetière des Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocent) alone held more than 30 generations of human remains. The government had been searching for and consolidating long abandoned stone quarries in and around the capital since 1777, and it was the Police Lieutenant General overseeing the renovations, Alexandre Lenoir, who first had the idea to use empty underground tunnels on the outskirts of the capital to this end. His successor, Thiroux de Crosne, chose a place to the south of Paris' "porte d'Enfer" city gate (the place Denfert-Rochereau today), and the exhumation and transfer of all Paris' dead to the underground sepulture began in 1785, when the bones were moved to the underground network en masse, the quarries became the Catacombs.

Disturbing the dead is a bit of a universal taboo. It’s understood across many cultures that one should leave the dead alone, and many go through great care to perform rituals and ceremonies to see off their departed loved ones to the afterlife. However, the living will usually take precedence over the bodies of their kin who have passed on.

Located off the Denfert-Rochereau Metro stop, the Catacomb Museum exists to oversee the tunnels and bones, to teach the history of why the bones are there, and to provide the only means to visit the mortal remains of more than 1,000 years of Parisians. For €5 (euros), visitors can descend into the Catacombs. A spiral cement staircase leads visitors down 130 steps, to 20 meters below the surface. At the bottom of the stairs, there are two rooms full of photographs of ancient graffiti from within the Catacombs as well as some of the below-ground structures. After passing through the two small rooms, you’ll enter the actual Catacombs.

The ceiling of the tunnel is as low as 6 feet and as high as about 12 feet on average, though some sections have an almost cathedral-looking structure high above your head. The lighting is very low, but your eyes adjust. The limestone walls are tan in color and cool to the touch. The fine gravel under your feet crunches with each step, and the only other sound is an occasional drip-drip from somewhere in the tunnels. Parts of the ceiling collect water in an upside-down puddle, and when the water gets too heavy, it drips on an unsuspecting passerby or to the ground.

Along the walls there are dated carvings and graffiti spray-painted in French. The tunnel makes 90-degree right and left turns, and in this part of the Catacombs, the environment feels like a tunnel in the rock—nothing more. After a few more long tunnels, rights, and lefts, visitors will approach some painted pillars surrounding a narrow doorway. The sign on top reads: “Arrete! C’est ici L’Empire de la Mort”—”Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead.”

Due to the difference in darkness between the two rooms, you can’t see what is in the tunnel beyond until you walk through. It’s a good idea to pause here for a moment before passing into the Ossuary of Denfert-Rochereaux, what lies on the other side is overwhelming. In a passage no more than 6 to 8 feet in width are stacks of human bones and skulls. At the doorway they are stacked about four feet high. The skulls greet those who enter with empty but powerful stares. All around you there is nothing but the ornate patterns of bones and skulls as far down the tunnel as light will allow you to see. Within the entire Catacombs, there are more than 6 million bodies stored— only bones now. Though some bones can be found in the Catacombs in other parts of Paris, most of the bones are housed in the 1.7-kilometer stretch that the Catacomb Museum manages.

In different sections, the skulls form patterns within the stacks of arm and leg bones. There are skull crosses, hearts, arcs, and other groupings. The stacking of bones is intricate, symmetrical, and very macabre. Dumping millions of human remains down a 20-meter hole is not very respectful of the dead. Perhaps the meticulous care in the arrangement of the remains was the workers’ way of trying to give some dignity and beauty to the deceased. In different lengths of tunnel, there are signs marking which cemetery the particular bones came from, along with the date they were placed. The process started in 1785, and the oldest year marked in the museum is 1859.

Though the movement of bones to the Catacombs wasn’t a nonstop process, for at least seven decades bones were being transferred below ground. The lights are very dim in the tunnels, and as your body blocks the sparse lighting, shadows dance around the bones. Water drips and echoes in the distance, and sounds carry as they bounce around the limestone walls. The skulls certainly add to the very supernatural mood.

In a cavern just before the exit stairway leading to a building on the rue Dareau (former 'rue des Catacombes') above, one could see an example of the Quarry Inspection's work in the rest of Paris' underground caverns: its roof is two 11-metre high domes of naturally degraded, but reinforced, rock; the dates painted into the highest point of each bear witness to what year the work to the collapsing cavern ceiling was done, and whether it has degraded since. These "fontis" were the reason for a general panic in late-18th-century Paris, after several houses and roadways collapsed into previously unknown caverns below.

Near the end of your Catacomb tour, it’s worth reminding yourself that these people all had names. Every one of them was a person. Those 6 million people sacrificed their eternal resting ground so the city of Paris could grow and thrive. Noblemen’s bones are intertwined with peasants, families’ skeletal remains may be crushed with their ancestors’ bones, and visitors walk through all of it. There are 30 generations speaking to each passerby, forced into a single collective voice. If you listen closely, you may just hear some of those voices.

Sources :
The World’s Most haunted Places by Jeff Belanger;

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