Diversions: Poveglia Island

Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide...
Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide…

Humans have a funny way of subconsciously labeling things and places for certain tasks. Churches have become not only a place of worship, but a place to hold all sacred rights, such as marriages and funerals. Swampy areas become dumping areas, and eventually plain old dumps. In the case of Poveglia, an island became a depository for thousands of tortured souls.

Venice, Italy’s Poveglia island wasn’t always the cursed wasteland it is today. The modern history of the island begins all the way back in 421. People from two nearby communities initially fled there to escape the clutches of the barbarian hordes invading the area. Poveglia was highly defensible, making an ideal permanent home for it’s newest residents.

The community and their influence in the area slowly but steadily grew throughout the next several centuries. However, Poveglia’s period of peace and prosperity was not destined to last. Venice came under attack in 1379, prompting the relocation of the island’s residents to Giudecca, a larger island to the north.

Well that's not TOO creepy...
Well that’s not too creepy…

The island spent the next few centuries largely abandoned, though legend says that the island was used to quarantine the sick and dying during the times of the Bubonic plague. Tens of thousands of corpses are said to have been cremated on the island. Some say that the island’s topsoil is 50% human ash. What once gave life was now cursed by death.

It wasn’t until 1776 that the island saw semi-regular habitation once more. The Public Health Office used the island as a checkpoint for all goods and people entering Venice via ship. A pair of plague-infested ships arriving in 1793 made it necessary to once again use the island for the purposes of isolation. This role continued until the early 1800’s, when the island fell silent once again.

An asylum for the mentally ill was established on the island in 1922, adding to the mystique of the island. Rumors persisted for years that strange and unethical experiments were being carried out on the asylum’s residents. The culmination of those rumors was the suicide of the doctor said to be performing those experiments. He claimed to have been driven mad by the island’s ghostly residents shortly before jumping from the hospital tower.

The asylum was eventually converted to a home for long-term geriatric care. It is clear that at some point, the community decided the island was no longer a haven, but a place where people were sent to die. The facilities at Poveglia island were at last shuttered in 1968. The island was abandoned completely by the mid-seventies.

Poveglia’s legacy of death has led to the island having a reputation for being one of the most haunted locations on earth, if not a direct portal to hell itself. Local fishermen give the island a wide-berth, fearing their nets may dredge up bone fragments as well as fish. Visitors are no longer allowed on the island, and the government is very restrictive about access.

OK, that... that's definitely creepy.
OK, that… that’s definitely creepy.

While your chances of getting permission from the local government to visit the island are slim, there are a handful of boat owners that could be, shall we say, persuaded… Like all good spooky places, there are more than enough people willing to find a way to get into them, legally or otherwise. Those who have made it have come back with harrowing tales to share.

The standard haunting phenomena have been recorded: orbs, cold spots, mists, etc. But there have been other, darker experiences that only an island like this could deliver. Visitors have heard dark, demonic voices in the abandoned buildings. Doors slam shut of their own accord. The glowing eyes of something inhuman glare at you from a distance.

One particular area near the hospital is said to harbor fully-formed apparitions. Victims of the plague coalesce out of the gloom, at times right before their would-be victims, before fading away to nothingness. Others have reported being touched or even shoved in the same area. A feeling of dread is said to permeate the area right before things get interesting.

The island’s fate is now up in the air. Cash-strapped Italy auctioned off a 99-year lease on the island. An Italian businessman was the lucky bidder at $640,000. He has yet to decide what he will do with the island, but it sounds like access will be considerably less restricted in the years to come. The question now is…

Are you brave enough to visit the most haunted place in the world?

Diversions: Spooky New Orleans

"Boobs and beer, huh? I'm listening..."
“Boobs and beer, huh? I’m listening…”

If Beetlejuice were to pick a retirement destination, I’d have to think it would be New Orleans. The city is world-renowned for being America’s number-one party destination thanks to its annual Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations. Also: Enough ghost stories to fill a book. Me? I’m going to focus on three of the more popular ones.

Many of the ghostly tales that come out of New Orleans end up being tall tales. I’m pretty sure this first haunting falls under that banner, but it has become entrenched enough in the fabric of New Orleans to be mentioned. It’s also been mentioned on here before. I am of course talking about Jean Lafitte’s Black Smith Shop.

The Shop is located on the corner of infamous Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. The building is one of the oldest in New Orleans, dating back to 1772 or earlier. The building is said to have been purchased at some point by none other than infamous pirate Jean Lafitte himself. It is alleged he used it as a secret base of operations during his lifetime.

It’s also thought that Lafitte never left the Shop after shuffling off this mortal coil. The most popular tale is that either Lafitte’s gold is buried in or behind the bar’s fireplace, an area where a great many patrons feel very uneasy. Another theory posits that the fireplace serves as a marker to point adventurers in the right direction towards the burial location of said gold. How does it point the way?

With Jean Lafitte’s own eyes, staring out of the fireplace, glowing blood red. Cozy notion, innit? It is said that a “lucky” few might lock eyes with the specter before Lafitte gazes in a specific direction out of the bar. Supposedly the gaze points the way to his treasure. The other story is that he’s trying to scare people off from his horde hidden away right there on the spot. That spot, which should be warm from a fire, is said to often have a cold aura surrounding it.

Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau

Existing somewhere between legend and reality is the queen of New Orleans herself, Marie Laveau. The voodoo queen was very much a real person, born in 1801 and passed in 1881. Her and her daughter of the same name held great influence in both black and white communities in the city during their lives, an influence that has extended well beyond the end of their mortal lives.

While it’s not entirely clear, Laveau is believed to be buried in a plot in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in the Glapion family crypt. Some believe that the voodoo priestess can still be reached through her grave by following a specific protocol. If you wish for Laveau to do something for you, you are to draw an “X” on her grave. Then you must spin around three times and clearly announce what you wish to be done. If it comes to pass, you must come back, circle your “X”, and leave an offering in thanks.

From the queen to the mean: My bet would be many 1800’s-era New Orleans residents would have been thankful if Delphine LaLaurie had never reared her twisted head in their city. LaLaurie built her three-story mansion, complete with slave quarters, in the city in 1832. She lived there with her husband and two of her daughters, eventually becoming a major New Orleans socialite.

Her standing in society quickly crumbled after a fire at the residence in 1834. It turned out to be a suicide attempt made by a 70 year old slave chained to the stove. The cook said she was attempting to take her life in order to avoid being sent to the uppermost room of the mansion. She told authorities that every slave that had been sent to that room never came back down.

LaLaurie's mansion today
LaLaurie’s mansion today

Suspicions were furthered when the keys to the slave quarters were not relinquished. Bystanders broke down the door, wishing to make sure that the slaves had been evacuated in wake of the fire. What they saw likely haunted them for the rest of their lives. Seven horribly mutilated slaves were discovered, all hanging by their necks. Their limbs had been “stretched and torn.” The slaves said they had been there for months.

Ultimately two of the slaves died. The bodies of two other slaves were discovered on the premises after irate citizens descended on the mansion and literally tore apart and gutted the building. Delphine LaLaurie fled New Orleans during the turmoil, never to return… at least not alive.

LaLaurie is said to have returned to her mansion in the years since her death, sometimes in good spirits, more often in bad. While one woman reported seeing a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her infant, many more reported being attacked by the crazed apparition of a woman wielding a whip. Other times she was seen merely passing by, wrapped in shrouds and looking bereaved.

Some of the abused slaves have apparently not found peace, either. They also have varying moods. A couple of people reported being attacked by a stark-naked black man that vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The most common appearance of the slaves have been in auditory form: moans, whispers and even screams.

Another layer to New Orleans, and another reason to visit. Stick around after the sun goes down and see if you can commune with Marie Laveau, or perhaps catch a glimpse of Delphine LaLaurie peering out from behind a window. Just don’t stare too long into Lafitte’s fireplace…

New Orleans: Come for the booze, stay for the boos! …I’ll see myself out.

Diversions: Haunted Gettysburg

Things only seem quiet at one of America's largest graveyards...
Things only seem quiet at one of America’s largest graveyards…

Did you know that it’s Halloween month? Because it’s totally Halloween month. The site of the Battle of Gettysburg is widely thought of as one of the most haunted places in the US. Good place to start? Oh, yeah…

The actual battle took place from July 1st through the 3rd of 1863. While this battle was not the longest of the war, it was most certainly the bloodiest. Many consider it a turning point for the war. Some 8,900 men lost their lives. Another 27,000 were injured, and approximately 11,000 were captured or declared missing. If any place deserves to be haunted, it’s this one.

The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.
The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.

So many were the dead that they were initially buried where they fell. This was a common practice in the aftermath of Civil War battles. Eventually over 3,500 Union soldiers were reburied in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Hundreds of bodies were also disinterred and shipped off to other cemeteries to be laid to rest. It’s no wonder there would be lost, restless spirits with all these bodies flying everywhere.

The Gettysburg National Military Park now covers some 3.3 by 5.3 miles of land in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The National Park Service manages over 1,300 monuments, 410 cannons, and 148 historic buildings. This has provided a veritable playground for Civil War enthusiasts, and plenty of opportunity for so-called ghost hunters to find paranormal hot spots.

One such spot is the Devil’s Den, located near Little Round Top. It was used by artillery and infantry as a sniper position. Originally held by Union soldiers, the spot was captured by the Confederate army. Initially offering an advantage, the Confederates were eventually pressed back and forced to seek refuge in the rocky area. A nasty-looking Confederate soldier with long, grey hair is said to be seen there on occasion.

Another proposed paranormal hot-spot is the Farnsworth House Inn. The Confederate army used the house as a makeshift hospital during the battle. Soldiers also used it as a place to rest between engagements. Nowadays a whole host of ghosts are said to walk the Inn’s dark corridors, ranging from children to midwives to Confederate soldiers. As always, these stories (many of which come from the owners) must be taken with a grain of salt. The Inn quite obviously stands to profit from thrill seekers coming to investigate for themselves.

That place was <strong>built</strong> for haunting.
That place was built for haunting.

Gettysburg college, as would befit any such place of higher learning, is also flush with tales of the paranormal. Attending school at the time were students who had also volunteered for Union service. The students saw battle, but did not suffer many casualties. The college’s unique placement in the area interestingly led to both Union and Confederate armies using the complex as a makeshift hospital.

Perhaps the most interesting story related about the college comes from a pair of school administrators. The two were taking an elevator in Pennsylvania Hall. The elevator went past their floor and down into the basement instead. The doors opened, revealing a Civil War era hospital scene devoid of sound. One of the orderlies peered up to look at the new arrivals before the elevator doors closed once again.

What I would argue is the most curious and eerie of all the stories concerning Gettysburg comes from Little Round Top. The smaller of two rocky hills, Little Round Top proved to be a key defensive and offensive spot for Union soldiers. Confederate forces were unable to take the position, the Union being afforded the advantage of having the high ground.

The following story is difficult to verify, if only because it came from a bunch of actors. A group of Civil War re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg claimed to have had a supernatural encounter. They were visited by a man dressed in Union dress that handed them ammunition.

At first the men assumed the man was a fellow actor, and that the rounds offered were blanks. Closer inspection revealed that the ammunition consisted of real musket rounds. It was later determined that the rounds could be dated back to the appropriate time period and were in pristine condition.

Is a Confederate soldier still wearily patrolling the Devil’s Den? Are soldiers still reliving their last moments in makeshift hospitals of the past? And did one Union soldier pass through time itself to lend mistaken aid to a group of Civil War re-enactors? It’s hard to say for certain, but you can go find out for yourself, if you dare…

Diversions: The Real Robin Hood

Die, innocent peasants!
Die, innocent peasants!

Nottinghamshire, a county near the heart of England contains the (not so) small village (city) of Nottingham. There, a rogue and his band of merry men are said to have robbed from the rich and to have given to the poor possibly as far back as the 12th century. A lot has happened in the ensuing centuries, and Nottingham has become much, much more than a backdrop for a dramatic story.

We’ll start with what everyone’s most interested in anyway: Robin Hood. A young yeoman, Robin Hood becomes an outlaw after numerous run-ins with the law. Seeing the poor suffer even as the rich became richer, Robin seeked to find balance by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. He enlisted the help of Little John, his second in command, after besting him in a duel of staffs. John, Friar Tuck, and his merry men aided Robin Hood in his undertakings, all the while taunting and running from the crooked Sheriff of Nottingham.

Okay, so everyone’s familiar with the story, but how much of it is really on the up and up? Believe it or not, many historians are totally cool with the idea of there once being a dude in tights running around Sherwood forest being all outlawish. While the earliest recorded stories and mentions of Robin Hood date back to the 1400’s, some historians place him as far back as the 12th century.

The green gallivanter  may have also been an amalgamation of various infamous outlaws of the time. Little John likewise may have a basis in history, or be a representative character of the men who aided Robin Hood in his deeds. Despite this, he is the only one of the two to have an (alleged) actual grave site.

A man so big, he needed two tombstones
A man so big, he needed two tombstones

It is located in Hathersage, Derbyshire, England in a churchyard. It is said that the grave was exhumed in the 18th century, revealing the bones of a man at least seven feet in stature. Robin Hood wasn’t so lucky. He has supposed grave sites in a number of places in England, with little to no proof to back any of them up. There’s also little proof to back up the existence of Friar Tuck. The earliest friars came after the time of Robin Hood.

The settings of Robin Hood’s tales are also real. In the aforementioned Nottinghamshire can be found the Sherwood forest. This would be the forest that the merry men reputedly used as their hideout from the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Located therein is the famous Major Oak. This is the specific area the merry men made their base of operations, according to legend. That legend would be completely, terribly wrong. Experts estimate that the tree was nothing more than an acorn taking root at the time Robin Hood was running about. The tree’s age and impressive stature is most likely the reason this legend came to be.

Not your great-great-great-great-great... grandfather's Nottingham
Not your great-great-great-great-great… grandfather’s Nottingham

At the heart of Robin Hood’s story is Nottingham, and it’s definitely real. It’s also definitely grown since Robin’s time. Nottingham may have been settled as far back as the year 600, although it did not receive city status until 1897. The famous Nottingham Castle was constructed in 1067 and, although largely destroyed, parts of the original lower reaches of the castle survive today.

Nottingham has become a thriving city of over 300,000 residents. The burgeoning city exploded in size during the industrial revolution through the textile industry. Nowadays, the city is home to many well-known companies such as Speedo, Siemens, capital One and others. The city also has two major universities servicing over 60,000 students, and major art and sports facilities.

It all leaves two questions in my mind: What would Robin Hood make of Nottinghamshire today? And why can’t I stop picturing Robin Hood in a speedo? I guess we will never know…

Diversions: Tombstone, Arizona

Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.
Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.

Welcome to Tombstone, Arizona. Dust off your chaps, leave your side-irons with the sheriff, and step back in time to the Old West. Just mind the horsepucky…

Good old Butch Cassidy got me thinking on the Old West. He got me thinking that would make a mighty fine subject for Diversions. Tombstone would be a right perfect choice, I reckoned. So I decided to giddy up and rope me a story!

I told you to mind the horsepucky…

Anyways, when most people think of the Old West, the Wild West, or variations thereof, Tombstone is usually what their minds are drawn to. This small town was host to some of the most notable (and surprisingly rare) gunfights in Wild West history, and home to the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The town’s Boot Hill cemetery is one of the most famous of its kind, and even reportedly haunted.

Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.
Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.

The town started as a silver mining claim made by Ed Schieffelin in 1877. Native Americans had been known to kill miners nearby where Schieffelin had been searching for silver and had been warned “The only rock you will find out there will be your tombstone.” I’m sure you can guess what he called his claim.

The town, named for Schieffelin’s claim, was formally established in March of 1879. It consisted mostly of tents and a handful of wooden shacks. Tombstone’s initial population was a whopping 100 souls.

Business was booming by 1880. The Grand Hotel opened, introducing fine amenities such as toilet stands and hot and cold running water(aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?) At the height of the silver boom, Tombstone was host to 10,000 residents. But with riches and beer comes bitches and tears.

Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache
Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache

Smuggling of items across the US/Mexico border thirty miles away led to Tombstone being somewhat of a haven to outlaws. These unfavorables, laden with ill-gotten gains, made it a habit of getting smashed and then smashing each other. Shootings and stabbings became common occurrences.

In March of 1881, three cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach carrying a large quantity of silver bullion. Both men manning the stagecoach were killed. US Marshall Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp began searching for the men responsible.

The culmination of that manhunt is the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Coral. The thirty-second altercation saw the McLaury and Clanton brothers along with Billy Claiborne square off against the brothers Earp and temporary Marshal Doc Holliday. Virgil and Morgan Earp ended the fight wounded. Billy Clanton and both McLaurys wound up in the ground. Claiborne and Ike Clanton straight up ran away.

A fire in 1886 damaged an important mining operation enough to practically bring mining to a halt. The population dwindled to less than 700 by 1900. Nowadays tourism has become the life blood of Tombstone. Nearly a half-million tourists filter through the small, dusty town each year. Tombstone would likely have become a ghost town by now if not for this and other lucky breaks throughout it’s long and troubled history.

Diversions: The Incredible Disappearing Town

Damn potholes
Damn potholes

Welcome to Centralia, Pennsylvania, Population: 7. Mind the roads. They haven’t been cared for in a little while. None of the town has been cared for in some time, really. In fact you’ll find most of the town is missing, having been reduced to rubble and reclaimed by nature.

Incorporated in 1866, the Pennsylvania borough was born out of what would eventually be the cause of its demise: coal mining. Significant coal deposits were found beneath the land where the town would soon be built. Five separate mines were open and operating by the time the town gained official status.

Centralia hit its peak in 1890 with a population of 2,761. Things took a change for the worse with the stock market crash of 1929. Five major coal mines closed down. Those series of events heralded the start of the towns decline. Most of the remaining coal mines closed down by the early 1960’s. It was specifically an event in 1962 that sounded the death knell for the tiny community.

The town hired five volunteer firefighters to clean up the town landfill that May. They finished by setting the site on fire to burn off remaining trash. The fire was not fully extinguished at the end of the burn, as it should have been. This allowed the fire to unknowingly breach the seal on an abandoned mine and enter the mine system.

Did I mention that they put a burn pit right next to an abandoned coal mine? Because they totally put a burn pit right next to the an abandoned coal mine.

Many fingers have been pointed and alternative explanations (and expletives) bandied about over the years. However events unfolded, the end result was a fire that steadily grew out of control deep beneath the town of Centralia. The scope of the problem first came to public attention in 1979 when the temperature of the gasoline tank at the local gas station was measured at 172 degrees f.

Concerns heightened considerably two years later when a twelve year old boy fell into a sinkhole that had opened up in his backyard. His cousin was able to pull him out before he fell the rest of the way in. The hole measured 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep, and was releasing toxic gas. I will not make a joke about this(the boy was okay, though.)

The government acted to relocate residents to other communities starting back in 1984. A small contingent of townspeople refused to acknowledge the danger and refused to relocate. The government of Pennsylvania invoked eminent domain on the borough in 1992 in an effort to force the remaining townspeople to move.

As is the american way, the people of Centralia brought their own lawsuit to allow them to continue living in the town. The suit was settled in 2013, and the remaining 7 residents are free to remain for the rest of their lives. The fires continue to burn below them.

The remains of the town have become somewhat of a tourist mecca in recent years, much to the chagrin of remaining residents and local law enforcement. Various spots in town continue to belch out gas and radiate heat. Various houses not razed by the government have been swallowed by the ground.

“Visitors” have become far more belligerent in recent years, spreading graffiti and trespassing on private property. The state government has warned off people wishing to visit the borough, as have the angry residents. There are plenty of pictures and webpages dedicated to the town, however. Wikipedia is a great place to start looking.

Diversions: Walking in a Nuclear Wonderland

Fun for the whole family!
Fun for the whole family!

Fans of the Fallout series of video games will be familiar with the premise: The land has been devastated by nuclear Armageddon,  leaving an empty wasteland where few human beings may be found. Nature grows up to reclaim what was left behind as the old signs of civilization slowly crumble away. Oh, and radiation… lots of radiation.

Oops...
Oops…

This isn’t a video game, though. This is Chernobyl. You see, Russia started screwing with Ukraine a long time ago. That’s because Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union, and that’s where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place.

The disaster is the worst nuclear disaster in history, pegging as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale(fun reading.) On April 26, 1986 the #4 reactor at the nuclear power plant went critical. The resulting steam explosions released at least 5% of the reactor’s radioactive core into the surrounding atmosphere.

The result: Complete melt down of the core. Immediate radiation levels at the core registered at 30,000 RPH. 400 RPH is fatal after one hour of exposure. The heat from the radiation was such that it created a kind of radioactive lava underneath the reactor. The incident resulted in 31 deaths directly attributed to radiation exposure. Evacuation of nearby Pripyat did not begin until more than a day after the event.

That's... that's not normal.
That’s… that’s not normal.

It has been long enough since the event for radiation levels in Chernobyl and Pripyat to drop considerably. It will likely be quite a few more years before either area is safely inhabitable. Pripyat is relatively safe to visit now, but precautions have to be taken. Average exposure to radiation is equivalent to receiving a CT scan. That said, you want to keep your visit short and your eyes open. Certain areas and objects have shown radiation levels three times the annual allowed dose for radiation workers every five years.

So what I’m saying is, maybe you should just stick to exploring Fallout’s wasteland. You’ll probably live longer.

Diversions: The Mütter Museum

The line to get in can get pretty long...
The line to get in can get pretty long…

Writing blurbs about the largest/biggest/tallest/oldest/etc-est is all fun and whatnot, but I think it’s time to branch out a wee bit. So I came up with the idea of Diversions. Essentially Diversions will consist of a random topic of interest. Come read about it here, then go off and explore on your own(just make sure to come back after!) Nothing’s more refreshing than some good-old exploration. 🙂

Face-off!
Face-off!

What better place to start than the Mütter Museum? Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Mütter was originally a collection donated by one Dr. Thomas Mütter in 1858. He freely donated the collection with the stipulation that The College of Physicians add to it and maintain it as a museum.

Besides being popularly known for just being all around “gross” and “icky”, the museum boasts an impressive collection of human skulls. There are also a number of human skeletons (including the tallest currently on display in the US) and “fetal anomalies”.

I win!
I win!

The museum is perhaps best known to the general public for a handful of side-showesque displays that are prominently featured. In fact, the subjects of one display used to be side-show all-stars. The conjoined liver and death cast of the famous conjoined “Siamese” twins Chang and Eng Bunker are on display.

Other oddities include slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, Grover Cleveland’s mouth tumor and tissue removed from assassin John Wilkes Booth. There are plenty of other less famous anomalies to be found, such as the “soap lady” and a rather gigantic colon that’s even spawned its own cute plush doppelganger.

So what I’m saying is, you know, fun for the whole family. Make sure you check it out!