Upon doing some research into Eastern European folklore and paganism I came across Vlach Magic which is still practiced in small villages in Serbia. Similar to Voodoo, its a blend of beliefs from the Orthodox Church and ancient pagan traditions. It’s a very secretive and ostracized practice which has been passed down from witch to witch within families. Black Weddings (marriages at funerals between the living and dead), blood, animal sacrifice, black and white magick are an integral part of the Vlach narrative. Vice did and interesting piece on this below.
Mind control, secret cults, prophecy, and murder all surround the infamous advisor to Czar Nicholas II, Grigori Rasputin. The story of Rasputin’s life and gruesome end is murky, but as time progresses more and more details reveal themselves about the true extent of his influence of the Russian aristocracy.
A humble beginning
Grigori Rasputin was born into meager means in Pokrovskoye, Siberia in 1869. His family were peasants surviving through farming and his father’s employment as a government courier. Surprising to most is that Grigori most likely was illiterate up until his later years. Peasant families often were not formally educated. As he grew, Grigori was no stranger to petty crime and known to be a mischievous young man with a checkered past. Much is unknown about his formative years, which has lead to many rumors about his wrong doings which were seemingly precursors to his blasphemes behavior as an adult in the court of the Czar.
Grigori’s transformation came after he was motivated to go on a spiritual pilgrimage at age 28. The pilgrimage was to St. Nicholas Monastery in Verkhoturye, a roughly 421 mile trip. He studied closely with staret Makary and subsequently learned to read and write. Grigori’s time spent at the monastery lasted several months. After returning home, looking disheveled and unkempt, he was a different man without vices. He traveled as a Strannik, or a “holy wanderer”, for years, gathering a small group of dedicated followers.
While still living at home with his parents even in his later years, Rasputin coopted his family’s basement and converted it to a makeshift church. His acolytes would gather here in prayer, sing unfamiliar strange hymns, and even engaged in sexual acts and orgies. One rumor was that Rasputin has begun following the fringe sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, Khlysty.
Khlysty’s root origin comes from the work “Khlyst” which translated to “whip” in Russian. Khlysts believed that instead of worshipping and communicating with the Holy Spirit through priests and holy texts, people could communicate directly with a higher power. One man and women, physical representations of both “Christ” and the “Mother of God”, lead each Khlysty Ark (or group). Ark’s regularly practiced self flagellation and the attainment of divine grace through sinful means, such as sexual orgies. This group was often persecuted and largely disavowed by church officials.
Later in life Rasputin seemingly continued the practices from this group with his followers and even his wife. Attempting to obtain redemption in the eyes of the Holy Spirit through sin, he was accused by many women of rape and assault.
At one time Rasputin had been caught violently beating his wife while she held on to his manhood, shouting: “I am your ewe, and you are Christ.” It had also been reported that the virgins that he had laid with had locks of their hair cut off. Evidence of hair was found in 1977 when authorities uncovered boxes containing hair in his garden. – Rasputin: Satanic Interpretations Versus Modern Interpretations by Simran Singh
Some of Rasputin’s occult aura may have derived from his abuse of Tantra. Tantra is a sexual energy used to align with the divine which can be misused if combined with desire. If this occurs, a devil resides in the person causing a split personality one of which would harm others. Could this be where he gained his power?
Rise to power
Rasputin’s true infamy and power came through his charisma and influence. In the early 1900s, Grigori Rasputin became well known in monastic circles as a holy man with great powers. This eventually lead to his journey to St Petersburg, during which time he befriended many in the Russian court and aristocracy. This lead him to the Czar in 1905. Rasputin’s influence over the royal family only grew from there. His acted as spiritual guide, healer, and even political advisor to Nicholas II and the Czarina, Alexandra.
One instance that solidified Rasputin’s close bond with the Czarina was the healing of her sick son, Alexei. Alexei was ailed with hemophelia, an affliction which leaves the sufferer with thin blood and the inability for it to clot. In this case, Rasputin was asked to aid in the healing of Alexei after an internal hemorrhage, which could possibly prove fatal. As a known faith healer, Alexandra desperately wrote to Rasputin for guidance.
Rasputin wrote back quickly, telling the Tsarina that “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.” – Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert Massie
Two days later, Alexei made a full recovery, allowing Rasputin full influence over Alexandra.
The slow descent
But the elite in the Russian court soon grew tired of Rasputin. Referred to as “The Mad Monk”, they viewed him as meddling and immoral. He was even subjected to surveillance, revealed in the “staircase notes”, which detail his many debaucherous behaviors with women, drink, and bribery. These were published widely in newspapers which only fueled the opposition against him.
This tension came to a head during the first World War. While Rasputin was staunchly against war, he did advise the Czar that if he did not personally take charge of the troops and their actions Russia would certainly face military defeat. Bolstered by his advisors words, Nicholas overtook control from his generals and went to the front lines with little experience. Rasputin’s advice provide disastrous.
During the Czar’s time away at war, Rasputin saw an opportunity to gain full control over the aristocracy and government. With Alexandra fully dedicated to Rasputin’s cause, his influence grew to it’s fullest potential. He soon was able to appoint handpicked officials which aligned with his views. Because of these actions, respect for the royal family declined. Alexandra, who was of Anglo-German descent, was even accused of being a German spy. Rasputin’s impact on Russia as a whole was earning him many enemies whose goal was to remove him of power.
One of these enemies was Pyotr Stolypin, the prime minister, who actively appealed to the royal family to remove Rasputin from the court. Once, while engaged in a heated argument, he later stated that Rasputin’s “satanic eyes” had quelled the argument. This was one of the many instances of Rasputin being accused of using hypnosis to bend others’ will towards his own. Stolypin was ironically assassinated soon after.
The final act
In turn, multiple assassination attempts were made against Rasputin’s life, however, the fatal encounter would take place in Moika Palace. Moika Palace was the home of Prince Felix Yusupov. Yusupov, the Grand Duke of Pavlovich, and the politician Vladimir Purishkevich. They would all participate in the final attempt.
Rasputin was lured by the prince to his home and ushered into the basement where he was presented with cakes and wine. Yusupov had laced each with potassium cyanide. After eating some of the cakes, Rasputin seemed unaffected. He then drank the wine. Still, no effect. Frustrated and incredulous to this, Yusupov finally took the Duke’s revolver and shot Rasputin square in the chest multiple times. While laying on the floor, the men took his clothes and one of them put them on and drove to Rasputin’s apartment. This was to give the perception that he had travelled home that night after their meeting.
This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die. – Memoir of Felix Yusupov
Upon returning to Moika Palace, the men returned to the basement to make sure Rasputin was dead. When bending down to take a closer look, Rasputin leapt up and charged the men. He managed to escape upstairs and outside until he was shot in the back and collapsed into a snowbank in the courtyard. He was bundled up, put in the car, and driven to a bridge overlooking the Malaya Nevka river. His body was thrown into the river and later found. His autopsy was rumored to show water in the lungs which could mean he actually died from drowning…not from the numerous attacks against him.
Eerily, Rasputin had previously sent this letter to the Czar shortly before his death.
I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1st.
I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, have nothing to fear, remain on your throne and govern, and you, Russian Tsar, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood, for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands from my blood. They will leave Russia.
Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death then no one of your family, that is to say, none of your children or relations will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people…I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living.
Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family.
During the tuberculosis outbreak of the late 1800s, families flocked to cure cottages in the rural country. Cure cottages were part of a new treatment method which involved exposing the afflicted to fresh air while being kept on complete bedrest. While visiting family this past weekend in the Adirondacks, I took some time out of my visit to venture out to Saranac Lake, NY; ground zero for the cure cottage movement.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which, in most cases, affects the lungs and respiratory system. Once infected, the patient, will seemingly be “consumed” by the disease experiencing extreme weight loss, hence it’s moniker “consumption”. The disease can be a silent one, often not exhibiting signs of infection in latent cases. Once the disease becomes active, more than half of patients will die if left untreated. However, in these cases consumption is not contagious to others.
My own mother, a nurse in the Adirondacks, was required by the hospital to regularly be tested for latent TB. At one point she did, in fact, test positive and was put on a regular regiment of antibiotics and treatment. Somehow she had come in contact with the disease throughout her many years caring for others in the area. After continuous testing she was cleared of any remnants of the disease in her system. However, it’s a reminder of how easily the disease can spread without the realization that someone is even encountering it.
In active cases, consumption can spread by the coughing, sneezing, spit of patients. It’s a quiet killer, almost always never exhibiting symptoms until it’s too late for the patient. Currently The World Health Organization attributes it as the leading infectious cause of death in the world with one third of the world’s population perishing at it’s hands.
During the fight with consumption, many potential cures were experimented with. The most infamous and promising of these was implemented by a German physician named Hermann Brehmer. During his studies Brehmer was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Relocating to the Himalayas, Brehmer managed to cure himself of the disease and attributed this to the fresh air and cleaner climate. He went on to write a dissertation titled, “Tuberculosis is a Cureable Disease.” The first German sanitorium for the systematic open-air treatment of tuberculosis was founded by him and carried on by Peter Deittweiler. Both of these men would have profound effect on Edward Trudeau, who would bring the practice to Saranac Lake in the 1880s by way of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium.
Chasing a Cure
Edward Trudeau would find himself in a similar position to Brehmer. His brother perishing from consumption within a 3 month period, Trudeau was compelled to become a physician to hunt down a cure for the disease that claimed his brother. During his studies, he, too, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Similarly instructed to travel to an area with clearer air, Trudeau found himself in the Adirondack mountains of New York at the Paul Smith’s Hotel. Subsequently, Trudeau was also able to cure himself after exposing himself to the fresh air of the mountains. After discovering the work of Brehmer, Trudeau would embark on a similar mission eventually founding the first institution for treatment in the area. Trudeau believed it important that patients not be put into clinical settings, but instead, cottage like homes equipped with large screened in porches. These porches would allow for patients to bathe in the fresh mountain air that would ideally cure them.
The Business of Tuberculosis
After many prominent figures would venture to the Adirondacks to cure themselves or family members, word spread of the tiny town in the mountains. Some of the most infamous being Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and Will Rogers. The town found it’s population rapidly expanding as the news that tuberculosis was a contagious disease broke. Many other towns would turn people with consumption away, afraid the the affliction would spread among their population. Saranac Lake, however, welcomed these people with open arms. The population would boom by more than 5,000 people over the course of 40 brief years.
Along with the expanding populations, homes in the area were literally expanding. Many found themselves in lucrative business opportunities and decided to build additions onto their homes. Porches and sunrooms were awkwardly tacked onto already established homes to welcome the sick. New buildings lined wall to wall with porches were erected and opened as homes for the sick.
Types of Cottages
Patients ranged from the poor to the ultra wealthy. Not surprisingly, treatment and accommodations were quite different between classes. Everyone was seeking the same results but the path to a cure was easier for some and daunting for others. Many different cottages and subsequent services were created address these differences.
When it came to the ultra wealthy, families such as the Aldrich’s whose patriarch was the head of The Atlantic Monthly, you could simply hire an architect to build a custom home for you. William Coulter, an architect in the area at the time, would design many homes for wealthy clients in the area. The house he designed for the Aldrich’s would be dubbed “The Porcupine” due to all the high points in the design. Some of the “Great Camps of the Adirondacks” were also built during this time.
Other institutions would also be built for various ethnicities, social groups, and professions. One of the most famous being the National Vaudeville Artists Hospital which was built specifically to help performance artists battling tuberculosis at the time. It currently is known as the Saranac Village at Will Rogers, operating as a senior housing facility. My own grandmother lived there for a time and I can attest to it’s grandeur as well as eeriness. My grandmother once whispered to us a rumor shared by the current residents. They told each other the furniture in the rooms was actually furnished from the basement, where the belongings of those who died there before were kept. Needless to say, the sprawling campus is a place that has a close relationship with death and the sick.
For others who couldn’t afford their own cure cottage or camp, there were a few differing types of accommodations and services. Nursing cottages were established for those who were unable to get around and take care of themselves in their advanced state. Boarding cottages would offer a place for the sick to stay for extended periods of times and also provided services for external cottages which didn’t provide boarding. This would involve bringing meals to patients at those cottages.
Cure Cottages Today
Slowly as vaccines and treatment expanded to snuff out tuberculosis, many of the cure cottages and institutions either crumbled or were repurposed for other means. Sometimes these reincarnations were masterfully done and others tragically underwhelming. Here are some of the surviving structures.
During my visit to Saranac Lake, it started as a sunny summer day and slowly as we drove into town the clouds increased and it got quite gloomy! It definitely set the mood. The trip was actually first prompted by my sister Erica and I driving up to Lake Placid together so we could both do some writing. It only occurred to me afterwards that we had the perfect opportunity to check out some really interesting history just a town over.
The area is no stranger to us. We grew up in the Adirondacks. Both of our grandparents had homes on opposite sides of Whiteface mountain; one in Jay and the other in Onchiota. Both of our parents also spent their early adult years in the mountains. To say that this area feels like home is an understatement. As I mentioned above, our Grandma also lived in Will Rogers for a time. For these reasons, this post in particular feels very personal.
Our first stop was at Noyes Cottage on Helen St. My sister was nervous about parking on the steep hill while I stepped out to snap some photos. I knew that the roads are rarely trafficked though…and apparently the same could be said about the former Noyes Cottage. It was very clear that the home had been abandoned after being converted to apartments. Windows were broken out, however, the doors were wide open with rugs hanging over the banisters. Seemingly someone may have purchased the home and be renovating it? Either way, Erica wasn’t fond when I suggested we pop inside to take a look. I mean, there wasn’t a car outside. What could go wrong? We skipped the trespassing and headed over to the next stop on Park Ave.
Park Avenue in Saranac Lake is one of the more densely populated areas when it comes to historic homes; most of these being historical cure cottages. Our destination was 247 Park Ave where the former Larom Cottage stood. Once again, this home was barren and desolate. It appeared that someone must have lived in the home within the past decade because a freestanding basketball hoop still sat by the garage in the back. That was in stark contrast to the broken windows and the crumbling cedar siding. There was a for sale sign in the front of the yard so of course I looked up the listing.
The house is over 3,000 sq feet and boasts 9 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and multiple functioning fireplaces. The home was purchased in 2017 for over $500k and for some reason was dropped more than 75% in price…any speculation as to why?
Well I have one theory and it’s pretty much my theory about everything. It’s obviously haunted. My suspicions in this case are not completely unfounded. In 2013, the Syfy channel show “Paranormal Witness” did a full episode featuring a converted cure cottage in Saranac Lake. It follows Mike, the new homeowner of a large historic home which was formerly a cure cottage. The history unbeknownst to him, his aim was to renovate the large property and convert it to apartments. He had a hard time keeping tenants once they began experiencing regular supernatural activity.
After visiting the Larom Cottage and dreaming of owning a former cure cottage, reality hit when we headed over to Pine Ridge Cemetery. Pine Ridge is the original village cemetery and is the resting place of Jacob Moody, the first settler of Saranac Lake. Covered by tall pine trees and built up in walled layers on the steep hill, we wound our way along the narrow path cleared for cars to drive through.
We managed to get out and explore for a bit. Some areas were clearly older than others and we managed to find some pretty beautiful stones. The only uncomfortable part of this was being constantly cawed at by crows in the trees and swarmed by black flies. Neither my sister or I escaped without some gnarly bug bites.
In addition to being the resting place of many early settlers of Saranac Lake, there are also over thousands of TB patients who lost their lives buried in unmarked graves throughout the sprawling hills. As many as 5,000 bodies are lying in repose here.
During her battle with tuberculosis, the famous poet Adelaide Crapsey resided at the cure cottage which overlooks the cemetery. Crapsey ended up dying from consumption and had this poem posthumously published. It reflects on her time spent in the cure cottage looking out the windows onto Pine Ridge, which she called, “Trudeau’s Garden.” I think it’s a fitting encapsultation of this trip and the reality of a very unique moment in time.
To The Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window by Adelaide Crapsy
How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.
Why are you there in your straight row on row
Where I must ever see you from my bed
That in your mere dumb presence iterate
The text so weary in my ears: “Lie still
And rest; be patient and lie still and rest.”
I’ll not be patient! I will not lie still!
There is a brown road runs between the pines,
And further on the purple woodlands lie,
And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom;
And I would walk the road and I would be
Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach
The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds.
My eyes may follow but my feet are held.
Recumbent as you others must I too
Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness
With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod?
And if the many sayings of the wise
Teach of submission I will not submit
But with a spirit all unreconciled
Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars.
Better it is to walk, to run, to dance,
Better it is to laugh and leap and sing,
To know the open skies of dawn and night,
To move untrammeled down the flaming noon,
And I will clamour it through weary days
Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp,
Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips
Of resignation, sister to defeat.
I’ll not be patient. I will not lie still.
And in ironic quietude who is
The despot of our days and lord of dust
Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop
Grim casual comment on rebellion’s end;
“Yes, yes . . Wilful and petulant but now
As dead and quiet as the others are.”
And this each body and ghost of you hath heard
That in your graves do therefore lie so still.
On this Memorial Day weekend, Americans take time to remember the fallen men and women who died fighting for our country. With great sacrifice, pain, and toil, one can understand why some historical locations are teaming with residual or active hauntings. One of the most infamous of these commemorated places is Gettysburg, PA.
Having lived in Pennsylvania for roughly 4 years out of my life, its no surprise to me that every corner of this state seems to be teaming with stories of the paranormal. New Hope, the Pennhurst Asylum, to Gettysburg, every location has such a rich history. And with such a rich history, also comes tales of sorrow and loss.
Gettysburg was the site of the bloodiest battle during the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought over the course of 3 days in 1863. It’s considered a turning point in the war after General George Meade was able to halt General Robert E Lee’s army, preventing the Confederate army from pushing further North. The battle was hard fought and resulted in over 51,000 casualties from both armies. Some of the bloodiest battles occurred during the second day of battle at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard. The Wheatfield, which earned the nicknamed “Bloody Wheatfield”, is a tempting location to focus on. It’s said that when it rains, blood still surfaces on it’s ground. It’s soil being so saturated with the blood of the fallen. But the real area of interest for me is Devil’s Den, the reportedly most haunted location on the battlefield.
Devil’s Den has quite the sinister name and with good reason. It was here that both armies clashed in a spectacular wave amongst the maze of boulders on the ridge. Photographers at the scene purportedly had to move numerous bodies in order to get a clear short of the battlefield. The Devil’s Den was a slaughterhouse, bodies filling crooks and cavities within the rock formation. Every corner and opportunity for surprise attack. After the second day of battle, the Confederates held Devil’s Dean and forced the Union army into retreat. They wouldn’t return until after the war was won. Upon their return, they found a gruesome sight.
Days later, the Federals would return to the Devil’s Den, this time triumphant as the battle had come to an end with a Confederate defeat. As men approached, they were stunned by the scene which greeted them. The hills and boulders were covered in blood and carnage and the dead lay scattered about in every direction. One of the first soldiers to enter the area recalled that some of the dead men “had torn and twisted leaves and grass in their agonies and their mouths filled with soil… they had literally bitten the dust.” – Spirits of the Civil War
Many of the soldiers found at the ridge were not even given a burial. Instead, they were left in the crevices of the rock formations in piles. Thus began the history of Devil’s Den’s paranormal haunted history…or so many think.
A history of hauntings
Prior to the Battle of Gettysburg the area was already home to many supernatural and ghostly tales. The area of land, once inhabited by Native Americans, was the location of “The Battle of Crows”, where many lost their lives.
A Gettysburg writer named Emmanuel Bushman wrote in an 1880 article of the “many unnatural and supernatural sights and sounds” that were reported in the area of the Round Tops and what he called the Indian Fields. He wrote that the early settlers had told stories of ghosts that had been seen there and that Indian “war-whoops” could still be heard on certain nights. In addition, he reported that strange Indian ceremonies also took place here. – Spirits of the Civil War
Apparitions of Devil’s Den
Multiple apparitions have been seen in this areas including a man who helped two lost hunters find their way home after losing their way in the woods, only to vanish. Another visitor to the park reported stopping to take a photo and was surprised to see a man standing next to her when lowering her camera. He said to her, pointed to an area behind them, “What you’re looking for is there.” He disappeared moments later. This apparition has been seen many times after this incident, including by park rangers. The man, with an unkempt appearance and no shoes, is thought to be a Texan Confederate solider. Texans held the majority of Devil’s Den and being so far from home often didn’t receive the same care packages of their comrades. For this reason, the Texas troops were know to look dirty and wild…often having missing shoes.
A Personal Paranormal Gettysburg Experience
The Farnsworth House Inn
One of my own paranormal experiences happened in Gettysburg at the Farnsworth House Inn. During the war it acted as a hospital and eventual resting place for wounded Confederate soldiers. The home even sustained some fire during the war, which is evidenced by the 135 bullet holes which still riddle the side of the brick structure. Now it functions as a bed and breakfast, so of course during my trip to Gettysburg I was determined to stay there.
The McFarlane Room
For our stay I chose the McFarlane room in the original portion of the house, built in 1810. In addition to the Sarah Black room, the McFarlane room is reported to be one of the most active rooms in the house. Upon arriving front reception remarked, “Jeez, why’d you choose that room? I wouldn’t stay there.” And so began our weird adventure. Once we got to the room, I was both excited and terrified since the room decor made it look like a literal coffin. It’s incredibly accurate to the time period and also incredibly dark, even during the day. We settled in and began unpacking.
So it began…
Things seemed normal at first, despite the eerie vibe the room gave off. I went to go use the bathroom. I finished up and washed my hands in the sink, looking in the mirror half expecting someone to be standing behind me, looking back. This did not happen at any point in the stay. However, after going back to the main room, sitting on the floor, and continuing to unpack. I faced the bathroom with it’s door partially closed and heard water running. At first I thought it might be the toilet continuing the run since it was an old fashioned high tank toilet with a pull chain to flush. It seemed a bit louder than that, though.
I looked at my boyfriend at the time and said, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?”, he replied.
“It sounds like water running.”
We both locked eyes and looked very nervous and confused. Even though I love a good ghost story probably way more than the next person, I was not going to walk into that dark bathroom to see what was up. I made my boyfriend investigate and as he opened the bathroom door he said, “The faucets were turned on.”
A Sleepless Night
Needless to say we both were pretty creeped out, yet excited about our experience. Feeling very uncomfortable in the room, we made our way outside the inn and made our way over to Gettysburg National Cemetery under the cover of night to explore. After walking around a bit, we walked down to a pub in the main square and spent as much time there as possible until we had to make our way back to the room to “sleep”.
After making our way back, we headed to our room and began to settle in. First off, I refused to shut the bathroom door again while using it. I also made my boyfriend turn on the light for me. I knew I was in trouble when we got into bed and my boyfriend’s ability to basically fall into a coma in 5 minutes reminded me I would be alone in the room, and awake…for a long, long time. It was hard to close my eyes without feeling like someone would be staring at me from the end of the bed or directly in front of my face when I opened my eyes. I did fall asleep eventually, with all the lights in the room on.
In the morning we woke up and started getting ready for the day when we realized the door was ajar. We opened it an saw that the old deadlock was still turned to a locked position. Something had come into our room at night. We were happy to be leaving that morning.
Haunted History of the McFarlane Room
Most interesting are the stories found about the room after we left. Here’s some from Hunters of the Unknown.
The claims from the McFarlane room include water turning on in the bathroom by itself, footsteps overhead, the room being extraordinarily hot or cold, a baby crying (no children can stay at the inn), and a creepy feeling to the room.
…The man staying in the McFarlane room was trying to sleep when he heard what sounded like drunks in the hallway so he goes to check it out but finds nobody in the hallway. He returns to bed and his bed started shaking. He looked at bottom of bed and found two shadow figures of men standing at the end of bed. One man said what should we do about the Yankee sleeping in my bed? The other replied we should slit his throat. The man jumped out of bed and fled out the door.
…A guest in the Eisenhower room, across the hall from the McFarlane room, heard what sounded like someone being murdered in the room across the hall. He went to check it out and saw a man burst through the McFarlane room and passed out in hallway from fright. When he woke he told the man he couldn’t stay there, left his luggage, and moved to the Holiday Inn. His luggage had to be brought to him the next day.
Luckily we didn’t have any encounters with the confederate soldiers in the room, but we did have a few good stories to tell when we got back home. Have you had a paranormal experience? Visited Gettysburg? Both? Tell me your story below.
Many New Yorkers are oblivious to the existence of a mass grave right below their feet. The AOL series “What Remains” did a fantastic episode on the Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York. The crypt in the park holds over 11,500 bodies of POWs from during the American Revolutionary War. Take some time to watch this episode and learn how the abandoned bodies, left to time on the sandy banks of New York City, made their way to be interned in the Fort Greene crypt.
La Paz, Bolivia, November 8th, a stream of Bolivians rush hurriedly into the Cemetery General church looking for blessings. However, these are no ordinary blessings. This congregation carries in hand human skulls. Today is the Fiesta de las ñatitas.
What are Ñatitas?
Ñatitas, translated to “pug nosed ones”, are human skulls inhabited with spirits believed to have supernatural abilities. Filling the cemeteries across La Paz, the festival is an opportunity for families to both receive blessings from other ñatitas while also sharing their own ñatitas with their community. The powers possessed by each ñatita can range from curing illnesses to even specializing in criminal cases, helping law enforcement to capture criminals.
The sourcing of these human skulls is unique in that many aren’t closely associated with the families they end up with. You’d expect them to be close family members or loved ones that met an early death, but most are sourced from medical facilities, archeological sites, and many are even from cemetery plots. Although unfathomable to Americans, many cultures lease cemetery plots to families. This process works fine until a family lapses on a lease payment and grandma is moved out to make way for the next paying customer. The bodies in these cases are cremated but the skull retained, hence your ñatitas.
Cultural Remnants of the Armayans
The ability to commune with the divine through the ñatitas for any number of afflictions or daily challenges is a welcome connection to this group’s religious past; previously, driven underground by Spanish colonialism in the 16th century. The Spanish brought with them Catholicism and they didn’t tolerate the perceived hedonist practices of the indigenous Aymara people. While much of the Aymara did convert, many privately retained ties to their culture’s past creating an amalgamation of their two religions. One of the surviving practices is the ritual of the ñatitas.
Matchmaking of Ñatitas
There is an element of matchmaking, however, with the skulls that find their way into a family’s home. It’s said that each ñatita has its own personality and those don’t always mix with their owners. The building of a relationship between the ñatita and patron takes time and effort, but eventually can yield a long and beneficial relationship for each. Upon receiving a ñatita, the spirit residing within will visit a family member within their dreams during their slumber. Through these dreams the two will communicate, learning about each other, and eventually the ñatita is said to reveal their identity. Interestingly enough, this identity doesn’t always match the owner of the physical manifestation of the skull. The Aymara believe each person is a union of many souls each contributing to various aspects of our personality. After death, however, these souls are able to separate and act of their own volition, in this case communicating with families and bestowing knowledge, blessings, and good fortune.
Ñatitas become fully integrated members of families. Offerings are made and they can regularly be seen surrounded by cocoa leaves, candy, and alcohol. Often they’re dressed in other adornments, such as floral crowns, glasses, cotton in place of their eye sockets and noses, as well as the occasional cigarette placed between their loose or sometimes missing teeth. The Bolivian people take pride in their ñatitas, as you would your own family member, so it’s crucial to them that they pay their respects and keep them looking and feeling immaculate in their homes.
The bond is not between the living and the dead, however, because to those assembled at the Fiesta the “dead” are in fact still a vital and sentient group. The bond is simply one between friends, who on one side happen to be living, and on the other side happen to be dead. – Paul Koudounaris
But it’s during this day that each family gets to share and appreciate their ñatitas with the world. Cemeteries become gathering places for hundreds of Aymara. They come carrying their ñatitas on beautiful velvet pillows, inside glass cases, or even within makeshift boxes to stage multiple skulls. It’s a time for communing and embracing their culture, which is finally being allowed to be celebrated. Up until 2006 when Evo Morales, an Aymaran himself, was elected as Bolivia’s President, Aymarans were still persecuted. Bolivia is becoming a country shifting to focus on the needs of the indigenous majority. The Fiesta de las Ñatitas shows the power of one culture’s embrace of death. This spirit acting as a source of strength within their community.
While walking in New Orleans it’s easy to miss the large brick building with the bright red door at the corner of Ursuline and Royal street. In 1902, it would be home to one of the most infamous vampires in the world outside of the Vlad the Impaler. One could even argue Saint Germain far surpassed Vlad in his thirst for blood. In the dark streets of New Orleans, Germain hid in plain sight as an opulent member of the city elite. Jacques had a mysterious and colored past which he conveniently left behind before his voyage to the recently settled New Orleans which would allow him to lure many a soul into his home to their own peril.
While Germain moved into the New Orleans mansion in 1902, oddly enough he was rumored to had been born sometime late in the 17th century. Jacques Saint Germain claimed he was a descendant from Comte (Count) de Saint Germain. Details point to Comte being a prolific alchemist during the 1600s (far before his supposed birth). During the time, society became enamored with alchemy. Alchemy was the sibling to modern day chemistry and involved transforming matter into various materials, specifically base metals into gold. Another goal of the alchemist was the search for the Philosopher’s Stone; a stone that grants the wielder immortality. Many believed Comte was the holder of this stone. Supporting this theory, Jacques looked hauntingly familiar to his supposed ancestor.
The Undying Time Traveler
But if Saint Germaine was born in the late 17th century, why did people believe he was immortal? Well, sightings of the Count can be traced all the way back to the wedding at Cana during the time of Jesus Christ. Imagine being a witness to infamous water turned to wine transmutation! He may have also been present for the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D..
Regardless of rumored history, a handful of notable historical figures spoke regularly about a character eerily similar to the Count; these included Voltaire, Casanova, King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Franz Anton Mesmer, the father of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. To add to the err of mystery, New Orleans residents commented on the uncanny resemblance between the two and even started believing that Jacques could be Comte himself, ageless and immortal (an accusation Jacques would neither confirm nor deny).
The first record of his suspected immortality was at a party at the manor of Madame de Pompadour, then mistress of King Louis XV of France. The year was 1760 and a confused Countess von Gregory approached the man, thinking it was the son of the man she knew in 1710, whom she knew to be the Count de Saint-Germain also. On approach she discovered it was the same man who didn’t seem to have aged a day in the fifty years that had passed. It is noted that the Comte didn’t even deny that it was him, or play himself off as the son. It is even said that he joked with the Countess that he was indeed over 100 years old. – Mardi Gras: Celebrate New Orleans with Vampires, Parajunkee
There is a record of Comte’s death in 1784, however, he continued to be sighted across Europe. Each sighting he was reported to never appear a day over 45 years old, despite pushing at least a century and a half.
The Mysterious Stranger of Royal St
Why Saint Germain traveled to New Orleans is anyone’s guess, but when he arrived, he arrived with a bang. Upon moving into the home at Ursulines and Royal street, he threw a lavish party to essentially announce his arrival. Jacques had a mysterious past but it didn’t matter to the local elite since he was one of the wealthiest and cultured people in the city. He was charismatic, spoke numerous languages, and told engrossing tall tales of adventure. These parties became a regular occurrence for the new debutant. Despite never eating any of the food provided, and only drinking what appeared to be red wine, the public took to the charismatic new character of the French Quarter. But Jacques’ time in the Big Easy would be short lived.
A Bloody Turn
It wouldn’t be the rumors of his past history that would plagued Saint Germain in the end. Instead, it only took one jarring incident to truly immortalize the vampire of New Orleans.
During one of his extravagant parties, a young woman somehow coerced into a secluded area of the mansion, found herself exploring the luxe room. With her back to Saint Germaine, she was unaware of his intentions. She spun around to see him charge at her with alarming speed and ferocity. Upon pinning her to the wall he began biting into her neck, drawing blood.
Party goers looking to find their host ventured to the room and began pounding on the door, coaxing Jacques to come out and join the rest of the party. This startled Jacques and allowed for the woman to get away. Not seeing any other mode of escaping her attacker, she eyed a window leading out to a balcony, which she threw herself out of. Upon hitting the street she had broken bones in her feet and legs and cried out for help. Police arrived and the woman taken to the hospital. The explanation from Jacques? She was just drunk.
The police, not taking this justification at face value, told Saint Germain they would need him at the station first thing in the morning. Because all criminals should be allowed to get a good night’s rest, right? Morning came and Saint Germain was not at the station. The police immediately went to his home only to find that not only was Jacques Saint Germain no longer in the residence, neither were any of his belongings. Out of some of the trivial trinkets left behind police found no food, utensils to eat with, or any evidence of someone who consumed any sort of food. There was one macabre memento left behind; Saint Germain’s many bottles of red wine which upon taste were found to be partially mixed with blood. Upon further inspection police found rooms covered in blood stains, each seemingly having occurred at different points in time.
A bloody and violent history left behind, no one could ever track down the vampire of New Orleans, Jacques Saint Germain.
Bring the kids for a fun filled, light hearted day of spectacular sights are the circus! During my childhood I remember books like Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Circus and going to a few circus shows in local school gyms after my parents got discounted tickets. Looking back I realize these spectacles were cruel and exploitive of the animals involved in the performances, but never the less, at a young age they enchanted me. However, it’s important to note that the history of the circus also includes the origin of the sideshow. The freaks which society would normally shun had a spotlight shone on them in a moment of grandeur and curiosity.
The Vintage Everyday recently did a piece highlighting some long lost photos from past incarnations of the circus.
The Creator and Conman of the Circus
The most recent representation of the sideshow and circus was with the 2018 release of the movie The Greatest Showman, in which Hugh Jackman is presented as the charismatic ring leader, P.T. Barnum, of a rag tag team of outcasts. Even the number in which all the sideshow performers sing, “This is Me” as a moment of empowerment it completely erases from history the fact that, when it comes right down to it, P.T. Barnum exploited people with disabilities.
One of the earliest examples of this was the literal purchase of his first act, Joice Heth, for $1,000. He then carted her around the states touting her as the 161 year old nurse of George Washington. Heth, of course, was found to be only 80 years old at the time of her death. Part of the heinousness of this situation was the concept that an eldery, blind, black woman was a spectacle. This created the stigma that that which society abhorred could be show.
Abundance of Fame, Lack of Agency
Barnum’s exploitation continued with the acquisition of a young 10 year old boy by the name Charles Stratton, who would late famously be known as Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb became one of Barnum’s highest grossing attractions due to his abnormally short stature. As a 10 year old boy, however, Charles was left with no agency or ability to make decisions on his own.
While the performers did tend to live lavish lifestyles, they did lose their pride and a piece of their humanity. Something which they intrinsically could not control; a deformity, a disease, and mental health issue render them an object to be displayed to a gawking crowd.
The stories of Barnum’s dark past don’t end there but in this blog post will. I suggest if you’re tempted to attend a circus in the near future you research the subject and teach your children compassion towards their fellow man and especially those with disabilities.
Saving the Circus Sideshow
The practice of the “Freak Show” is still present in modern day but in which the performers have self agency and autonomy. One of the most infamous of these is the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. The group is a non-profit dedicated to keep alive the American past time of the circus sideshow.
I personally have attended the sideshow and was thoroughly entertained. While there was handful of us for the showing sitting in a dark room on bleachers similar to your high school’s wooden bleachers fro 1950. In front of us was a stage, during which you could occasionally see performers behind the curtains reading their acts. The act featured sword swallowers, blockheads, jugglers (of FIRE), along with one performance I was actually asked to participate in on stage!
Have a Seat in the Electric Chair
I was instructed to sit on a metal folding chair after walking up on stage . While sitting, I was to instructed to stick out my tongue, straight into the air. I was informed that this performance was called, “The Electric Chair.” Oh, goody. I stuck my tongue out as instructed and the electricity to the chair was turned on beneath me. While I felt a charge, it was in no way painful. In fact, it felt like when you have way too much espresso without eating a full meal prior. The performer approached me with a long tube light lulb and slowly lowered it to closely to my tongue. While not completely touching my tongue I saw the bulb light up brightly. I felt like a human Tesla experiment. None the less, I felt elated to be part of a such a unique experience!
It’s important for us to pay tribute to our cultural history, such as the circus and the sideshow, which recognizing the painful and dark shades of it from the past. We’ve managed to dispel the notion that those with disabilities or malformations should be viewed as spectacles to be kept behind curtains Instead, we embrace the concept of performers perfecting their craft, no matter how bizarre it is.
A couple of weeks ago while running errands I found myself driving some backroads I don’t take on my normal route. Out in Montopolis, southeast of the center Austin, TX, I passed some unconventional cemetery gates which framed some severely overgrown grounds. Remnants of last year’s Dia De Los Muertos still apparent from the dried marigolds strewn from it’s gate. I had to find out more about San Jose Cementerio.
Contributing to the death positive movement
After reading The Order of the Good Death’s, The Year of Action Resource Guide post earlier this year, I’ve been yearning to find a way I could contribute to the death positivity movement. But how could I do that? I can’t be a funeral director. Mortician? Death doula? Too much of a learning curve and emotional weight. One item stood out to me – cemetery preservation. This was something that didn’t involve working directly with the grieving or dying, which is an area I’m very hesitant to go into. Nothing like the gung ho death positivity girl blundering her way through comforting the grieving. I’m humble enough to know I’m in no position to provide guidance in such a trying time. While I have an interest in mortuary science, I tend to find myself gravitating more towards the historical aspects of death and culture. I was surprised I had never thought about this route before.
I begin reading through the resources provided which included the following:
- Saving Graves
- National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Chicora Foundation
- Find A Grave
Saving Graves was particularly rich with helpful information surrounding the art of cemetery preservation and the best path forward if you want to form a coalition to help work on a local graveyard. However, I found none of these resources really lead me to where I could find resources on a local level. There was a registry of endangered gravesites but there was only one listing for Austin, TX. That couldn’t be right, could it? So I stalled out a bit.
But ask and ye shall receive! My drive back San Jose immediately presented my with an opportunity. I went home and googled it to see what other historical information I could find. I could only find one website, The Austin Genealogical Society, and one video, which had some helpful information. With the discovery of The Austin Genealogical Society’s website I uncovered a whole list of endangered graveyards! I was also able to find the Save Austin’s Cemeteries group which regularly holds events to document gravesites, clean the grounds, and repair stones. San Jose was the key to unlocking this information.
…I found none of these resources really lead me to where I could find resources on a local level…San Jose was the key to unlocking this information.
The history of San Jose Cementerio
Here’s what I uncovered about this graveyard’s history. The site is actually abandoned and has no formal caretakers. It’s flanked by two churches but neither are affiliated with the cemetery. While the gates you see in the photo above appear to be the main entrance to the site, the original entrance remains in the northeast corner. You can still see the cement pillars with deteriorating decorative gates. It features a variety of grave marker and headstone styes – wooden crosses, cement stones with handcarved names and dates, tile decorated stones, to only funeral home markers. One of the most elaborate are the two gated family plots by the large oak tree which are encased by large ornate iron gates in the shape of stars.
There is no uniformity to the graves in terms of rows, which direction they face or even era. Most of the marked graves seem to date from the late 1800s to the 1950s. However, it’s clear there are many unmarked graves here due to the sunken uneven ground and misaligned stones. Many stones I came across were broken and barely visible. It’s easy to imagine other graves simply vanishing after a decade with no one even aware they existed.
Surrounding the people buried here and the history of the site, it’s one of many unclaimed Travis county cemeteries which is home to the early Mexican Americans in the area. If you can imagine this area was previously surrounded by fields filled with crops in a rural location. Currently it’s surrounded by homes, busy highways, and Mexican mom and pop shops. The areas was a popular spot for newly migrated Mexican Americans and became a vibrant spot for Mexican culture.
From its beginning the cemetery maintained a policy of free burial for any person of Mexican descent. The founders made a point of providing space, coffin, and religious rites for the burial of any Mexican transient that died in the area, claiming the bodies from the City of Austin to ensure appropriate burial. – San Jose Cemetery, Austin Central Library
Because of this policy, the grounds filled quickly, was expanded and even then, again, was filled. With no records of the burials or plot locations, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see multiple graves stacked one atop the other. This would also contribute to the uneven grounds and sparsely marked graves.
The grounds were originally founded by the Union Fraternal Mexicana in 1919. Thereafter, it received regular care up to the late 50’s but has sat in a general state of disrepair since then. Community members and state historical commissions contribute when able but there is no one responsible party. San Jose sits on it’s own.
Exploration and understanding
Upon my visit, I pulled up to the western side of the cemetery on Richardson Lane. I parked my care and began the trek into the grounds. While making my way in I noticed a neighbor by his fence peering my way, watching me probably assuming this goth girl is going to do something weird. Nevertheless, I continued.
I immediately noticed the grounds had it’s grass moved since my original drive by the site. I was prepared for at least knee high weeds and overgrowth. But who was tending to this? Perhaps an ally in my quest? A mystery to be solved! Upon further exploration I noticed the bizarre spacing of the stones. There were no rows and no general direction they were facing. It was a hodge podge of graves and markers. Nothing was uniform.
The most depressing observation was the state of the headstones and markers. Only a few remain standing with names and dates visible. Many lay broken in half or completely gone with just a base remaining. It broke my heart to see all of these people’s last remaining mark on earth just forgotten about. In Mexican culture its told once you’re forgotten by the living you truly die. Knowing this it made my exploration even more sombre.
But amongst this sad backdrop were some truly majestic moments of beauty and grandeur. The most obvious is the beautiful oak tree in the center of the site, which can be seen at the top of this post. This thing is massive. If you’ve ever been down to Texas you know how amazing this type of tree can be. The canopy probably had a radius of around 30 feet. When you walk underneath it feels like you’re under mother nature’s outstretched arms and she’s protecting you while also embracing you. Every crackle of the branches in the breeze, tumbling leaf, and crunch under your feet makes you keenly aware of it’s life amidst a sea of the dead. Another equisite tree was found on the eastern side of the yard, old and gnarly, in stark contrast to the perfection of the live oak.
A personal connection and mystery solved
As I concluded my exploration, I made my way back to my car on the west side of the yard. As I approached my car, I noticed the same suspicious neighbor eyeing me. I figured rather than hop in my car and drive away I’d introduce myself and ask a few questions.
I made my way over to the older gentleman, looking to be in his late 50s, and explained the reasoning for my walk around the cemetery. His sister and mother sat on the front porch of the house on a porch swing, looking onward. The yard was a sea of Texas bluebonnets. He explained that his family has lived in the same house for generations, with his mother growing up in the home. This meant that he was extremely familiar with the history of the cemetery across the street. He mentioned how when he and his siblings were younger they would play in the graveyard and even buried a few pets on the grounds.
Another tidbit of information he shared solved the mystery as to who was tending to the site. He pointed me in the direction of a couple up the street who have been extremely passionate about the care of San Jose. The husband, who receives no payment for his services, makes it a point to drive his riding mower down to the site to do his part in keeping the grounds manageable. While not perfect, and still considered overgrown, you have to truly appreciate this couple’s sense of duty and responsibility. I can’t imagine the scope of the job to clean up the entire site.
At the end of the conversation, he asked if I had seen “the man” in the cemetery. The man?! Immediately I was ecstatic. Not only did I find a graveyard with some history, but potentially some ghost stories? He quickly dispelled that myth by telling me there’s a homeless man who likes to stay under the large oak tree. He cautioned me about wandering alone in the area. As a girl from a rural area in New England, I never paid a thought to this and realized I probably need to be more cautious in my exploration. With that, I hopped back in my car looking forward to more time I could spend with San Jose Cementerio.
This past week, the Golden State Killer, one of the most prolific and elusive criminals in history, was caught. After a push to retest formerly “discarded” DNA samples, it was found to match that of Joseph DeAngelo, a 72 yr old resident of Citrus Heights, California. DeAngelo, a former police officer, was fired from the force after being charged with shoplifting dog repellant and a hammer from a local hardware store. Consequently, this is the exact time the East Area Rapist stepped up his crimes to murder, earning him the nickname of the Golden State Killer. All in all, the East Area Rapist would commit 50 rapes and 12 murders. After DeAngelo’s arrest it was also made clear that he was the criminal responsible for the Visalia breaking and entering cases, earning him the nickname of the “Visalia Ransacker”. While new details are being uncovered daily, if you need a solid place to start to understand this case, take a listen to the following podcasts.
5. Criminology – Season Two: The East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer
Criminology didn’t dedicate one episode to the EAR, no, they dedicated an entire season. While the majority of the the season has been underway before the recent arrest, the team promises to continue the season as more information about the case surfaces.
4. My Favorite Murder – Episode 1: My Firstest Murder
Karen and Georgia’s very first episode of their podcast which defines the new era of true crime obsession, My Favorite Murder, covers both the Jon Benet Ramsey murder as well as the East Area Rapist. Meet Elvis for the first time and listen to these two murderinos talk the OG Night Stalker.
3. And That’s Why We Drink – Episode 48: The Island of Misfit Priests and the Easter Egg Rapist
It’s no secret that I wish Christine and Em were my BFF’s IRL. In each of their episodes for …And That’s Why We Drink they blend the paranormal and true crime. A perfect combination. Better yet, brevity isn’t their strong suit so you get 90 minutes packed with great stories and even funnier banter. While this isn’t the most clinical or factual representation of the EAR case, it’s safe to say it’s the most entertaining.
2. Exposed – The East Area Rapist
Exposed is an entire podcast dedicated to covering the East Area Rapist from the perspective of people on the ground, during the time of the crimes. A lot of podcasts recap the stories and facts of the case years later but the Fox News media outlet who pieced together this 3 part series takes the approach of following law enforcement of the time and getting first hand accounts of the terror during the 70s and 80s when the EAR was active.
1. Casefile – Case 53: The East Area Rapist 1976
Casefile has steadily grown to be one of my favorite true crime podcasts. Casefile’s host, who’s somehow has remained anonymous, and the Casefile team researches cases extensively and brings you the most factual and riveting accounts of true crime. Lucky for you, they did a 5 part series on the East Area Rapist. This is the deepest dive I’ve encountered into this case covering everything from the Visalia Ransacking B&E case to the murder cases.