Johnny Carson signs off, Samuel Morse signs on, and 3 little pigs make history
Let’s face it, most of history kind of sucks. Wars, death, politics. Sometimes there are brighter moments to be had. If we’re going to look back over our shoulders, let’s at least look at something worth smiling at, yes? These are those things.
May 22nd, 1992— Johnny Carson gave his final bow on the Tonight Show. The episode brought in over fifty million viewers, a worthy end to three decades at the desk. He was replaced by Jay Leno and his chin.
May 23rd, 1980 — “The Shining”, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and some kid on a tricycle made it’s debut. The film went on to inspire many light-hearted tributes in other movies and shows such as “Toy Story” and “The Simpsons”. Not so light-hearted was director Stanley Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall.
May 24th, 1844 — Samuel Morse transmitted the world’s first telegraph message. It was a simple one: “What hath God wrought.” Thus long-distance texting was born. Well over a billion telegraphs were sent in the techonlogy’s 150+ year history.
May 25th, 1977 — The original “Star Wars” premiered. Later redubbed “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”, it was the flint that ignited an ever-widening glut of Star Wars movies, shows, video games, breakfast cereals, torture devices, weapons of mass destruction, underwear, and Happy Meal toys. At the end of the world, there will be cockroaches, Cher, and “Star Wars” properties that nobody cares about.
May 27th, 1933 — Walt Disney’s “3 Little Pigs” was released. It would go on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Film the following year. Since this is 2023, I can tell you that it currently holds a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can stream it now on Disney+. What would dear old Uncle Walt ever make of any of this?
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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…