Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jack the Ripper

Are you up for another unsolved mystery?  I've got a whopper for you this time!  A figure that instills fear by name alone - Jack the Ripper.

For as much publicity as his story has gotten, very little is actually known of Jack the Ripper.  He was never captured, so no one knows what he looked like.  He lived and killed during a time when murders were on the rise.  A lot of those murders were extremely violent and seemingly unconnected, so we don't even know how many people Jack the Ripper really killed.  In fact, there are so many theories about who this man was that there is a term given to the study of related cases - "ripperology."

Between April 3, 1888 and February 13, 1891, eleven murders were reported in and around Whitechapel, the town in London where Jack the Ripper's victims were found.  Of these eleven cases, five victims are thought to be those of Jack the Ripper.  The things each of these victims had in common were slashed throats, abdominal/genital mutilation, missing internal organs, facial mutilation, and they were prostitutes.

Though the man that committed these dastardly deeds was never captured, an investigation was conducted.  As per the method of the times, policemen went door-to-door to question people.  It has been said that over 2000 people were interviewed, about 300 people were investigated, and 80 people were arrested.  Just like with many other historical outbreaks of hysteria, certain sorts of people were targeted more than others.  With the case of Jack the Ripper, butchers, slaughterers, surgeons and physicians were under heavy scrutiny because of the condition of the suspected victims.  Other speculations were that the killer lived close by (because of the location of the bodies) and that he was a member of the upper-class (because of his possible attire as per some witnesses).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Edgar Allen Poe

Pretty much everyone has heard of Edgar Allen Poe for his poetry like "Lenore" and "The Raven."  Poe's short stories like "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" are well known too.  Here are a few facts about the first American to make writing a full-time career.

Edgar Poe (January 19, 1809-October 7, 1849) was born to Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe in Boston, MA.  He had a brother and a sister.  When Edgar was just a year old, his father left the family.  A year later, his mother died of tuberculosis. 

Left an orphan, Edgar went to live with John and Frances Valentine Allen.  The Allen's raised Edgar and gave him the name Edgar Allen Poe, but they never officially adopted him.

Poe joined the United States Army on May 27, 1827.  He lied and said his age was 22, but he was only 18.  In the same year, he published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems.  Eventually, Poe was discharged and went to West Point where he graduated on July 1, 1830.

Poe secretly married his cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm, when he was 26.  Virginia was 13, but their marriage certificate said she was 21.  During his lifetime, Poe was best known as a literary critic.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious.  He was hospitalized and ended up dying four days later.  His cause of death is still a mystery.

My favorite work of Poe's is "The Tell-Tale Heart."  What's yours? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Mutter Museum

I love the strange and unusual.  I also enjoy going to museums.  When the two of them are put together, it results in the Mutter Museum.

The Mutter Museum was established in 1858 as a place of medical research and education.  It is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

Gretchen Worden, a former curator for the museum, would often appear on the Late Show with David Letterman and various documentaries.  She would use humor and shock value to instill interest in the Mutter Museum.

Some of the exhibits in the museum are:
  • The Soap Lady - A woman died and was buried in a sackcloth which was sprinkled with lye (a common practice of the time).  Underground, her body fat and the lye mixed together and produced a chemical reaction.  The resulting substance was soap-like and mummified the body.
  • Human Balloon - A man was afflicted with a colon which lacked the ability of peristalsis (the squeezing motion that gets everything moving).  He became so constipated that he died due to pressure on his other internal organs.
  • Lady With a Horn - A French washerwoman had a horn growing from her head.  The horn was made up of the same cells as hair and fingernails.
The Mutter Museum is also home to numerous other medical oddities.  Though it is part of an educational system, it is open to the public.  This museum is definitely on my bucket list!

For this blog post, I researched the Mutter Museum in the book Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Matt Lake.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Amityville Horror Story

When the Amityville Horror is mentioned, what comes to mind?  For me, it's the oddly shaped windows on the well-known house, and the murders that occurred in the house.  For some people, the book that was supposed to be based on true events may come to mind.


Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family, in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY.


The Amityville Horror: A True Story was written by Jay Anson, and was published in September 1977.  The book centers around the Lutz family and the house located at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY.    The Lutz family was said to have purchased the six bedroom house for $80,000. 

According to the book, the Lutz's also acquired the furniture of the previous owners for an extra $400.  A friend of the family heard of the house's history and insisted the house be blessed.

Some of the paranormal activity mentioned in the book included:
  • father waking up at 3:15 each morning (the time the murders took place)
  • cold spots
  • strange odors
  • swarms of flies
  • apparitions
  • strange sounds
  • glowing red eyes
  • slime oozing from the walls
  • cloven hoof prints in the snow outside the house
The book also claims that a second house blessing was conducted in January 1976.  After this blessing failed, the Lutz's took the necessities with them to a family member's house nearby.  The family claimed that the paranormal activity followed them.  The Lutz's officially moved out of the house on January 14, 1976.


There has been much debate on whether The Amityville Horror: A True Story was actually a true story to begin with.  Some of the things skeptics have brought up have been:
  • the book looks too much like what occurred in The Exorcist
  • research of documented events in the house do not coincide with what the book claims
  • the priest that blessed the house has given different accounts of what took place
  • there was no snow on the ground the day the cloven hoof prints were supposed to have been seen
  • changes were made in the text with different editions of the book
With all of the evidence debunking the events in The Amityville Horror: A True Story, I think it is safe to say that it is a work of fiction.  To claim truth of a paranormal story is a popular tactic, as is people's willingness to believe everything they read/see, even if told the book/movie is fictitious.  Other sources we've seen this in have been The Blair Witch Project, the Paranormal Activity movies, The Da Vinci Code, and more.

Also, the events recorded in the book were said to take place over the course of 28 days, with the Lutz's moving out January 14, 1976.  The book was released in September 1977.  The author was said to have used 45 hours of recorded tapes on which to base his story.  From what I have learned during the past year while I've studied the craft of writing, it takes a lot longer than a year and some change to come up with a novel of historical facts.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bram Stoker

Abraham Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 8, 1847.  Just about everyone knows that he was the author of the 1897 novel DRACULA.   But most don't know that Stoker was best known as the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London during his lifetime.

Stoker was the victim of an unknown illness which left him bedridden until he was seven years old.  After his recovery, he began school.  Fortunately Stoker was able to grow up without further illnesses.  He even became quite the athlete.

Stoker was a Protestant and worshiped in the Church of Ireland.  He graduated from college with honors with a B.A. in mathematics.  Stoker married Florence Balcombe, and together they had one son, Irving Noel.

Stoker died on April 20, 1912.  The cause of his death is a bit of a controversy.  Some historians think he died of tertiary syphilis, others believe he was overworked.  Stoker's body was cremated and his ashes were displayed at the Golders Green Crematorium.  The ashes of his son are in the same urn.  Visitors that wish to see the urn are permitted in the room under supervision, as vandalism is feared.

The first film adaptation of DRACULA was released in 1922.  It was called NOSFERATU.  Stoker's wife claimed that she was never asked for permission to make the book into a movie.  Eventually she won the case and the film was supposed to have been destroyed.  However, the movie can still be found today.  In my opinion, it is still very creepy!  The first authorized adaptation of DRACULA was released in 1931 and stared Bela Lugosi.

Happy birthday, Bram Stoker!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Baba Yaga

Allow me to take you on a trip to Russia.  Well okay, not an actual trip-trip, but something more akin to a folkloric journey.  On our "trip" we will discuss the story of Baba Yaga.

There is some debate on the name Baba Yaga.  In Old Russian, the word BABA may have meant "midwife," "sorceress," or "fortune teller."  In today's Russian language, BABA probably refers to "grandmother."  The most common translations I have found on YAGA have been "witch," "worry," and "pain."

Some common themes in the various versions of Baba Yaga are:
  • Repulsiveness (ugly, big nose, deformed sexual parts)
  • Flying around in a mortar
  • Wielding a pestle
  • Dwelling is a hut that stands on chicken legs
  • Fence is decorated with human skulls
  • Cannibalism  (she is said to eat her victims)
Just like with all folklore stories, there are many versions of Baba Yaga.  In some tales, she is a lone woman who lives deep in the woods.  In others, she is not one woman, but three.

I have seen a version of Baba Yaga on TV, in the SyFy program LOST GIRL.  In that version, Baba Yaga was interested in young women.  She put them to work in her house as servants and ate them when they displeased her.

I have also read a version of Baba Yaga.  In the story, two children were sent to the home of Baba Yaga by their unloving stepmother.  They were put to work as servants in the witch's house.  By the end of the story, the children were able to escape Baba Yaga with the help of some animals and a tree.  The morals of the story - as I saw them - were (1) evil thoughts and hatred grow inside of a person until there is no more good within them, and (2) as long as you are nice and kind, others will be nice and kind in return.

Have you seen or read a different version of Baba Yaga?  I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tower of London

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, A.K.A. the Tower of London, is located along the River Thames in London.  It has been used as a royal residence, an armory, a treasury, a menagerie and a prison, to name a few purposes.  In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will be exploring the darker side of the tower.

The Tower of London has an infamous reputation as being a place of torture and death.  However, the tower itself was home to only seven deaths before the World Wars.  The deaths associated with the Tower of London were generally conducted north of the castle, on Tower Hill.  Over the course of 400 years, 112 deaths occurred there.  During the World Wars, twelve men were executed for espionage.

With such a rich history, it's no wonder the Tower of London would be the home of a few ghosts.  Some of the more notorious specters are Anne Boleyn, Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, and the Princes in the Tower.

Being a bit of an amateur ghost hunter myself, I've got a mental bucket list of places to visit.  Most of the destinations on my list are locations within the United States.  But in the event I ever find myself in England, the Tower of London is a MUST SEE.

Have you visited the Tower of London?  Tell me about it!