S1 Ep. 15 Knockin’ on Tudors

This week, Haunt Heads Mimi and Janine discuss the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the Dare Stones and Hampton Court Palace in London, England. This episode features a skeletal doorman, a finnicky royal, discussions about dead things, and a little family history lesson. Lean in and listen to this one!

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Spring-Heeled Jack: Victorian Boogeyman

In Victorian England, no mythical creature was more frightening to people or more sensationalized than Spring-Heeled Jack. Some claimed he was a devil, a creature who could jump unnaturally high and was abnormally agile, while others believed he was a human being hiding beneath a mask and a cloak.

Jack mainly attacked women, ringing the doorbell and tearing their clothing to shreds once they answered. The only injuries reported during this time are scratches and cuts from the creature’s claws, described by many as long, sharp talons. John Cowan, Lord Mayor of London at the time, made a statement to the public asserting that he believed the attacks were perpetrated by a gang of wealthy thugs and dismissed any supernatural elements that most of the reports contained. Cowan’s written statement was also published in The Times.

It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the highest ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises — a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and moreover, that he will not enter a gentleman’s gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families.

At one house the man rang the bell, and on the servant coming to open the door, this worse than brute stood in no less dreadful figure than a specter clad most perfectly. The consequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses.

The affair has now been going on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger-ends but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent.

Cowan’s appeal fell on deaf ears and the papers of London continued to report grandiose tales of Jack’s exploits and Penny Dreadful’s were printed telling of England’s newest boogeyman. Jack was used as a tool to scare children into behaving for their parents and Catholics told tales of Jack to curb their parishioner’s enthusiasm for spirits.

Sightings

Spring-Heeled Jack was first seen in 1837 in the Black Country, an area in the West Midlands. It is said that a woman was attacked by Spring-Heeled Jack and that her blouse was torn off and her stomach was scratched violently. The individual, creature, entity, demon, or whatever it may be, then leapt away. Police asked the woman what the individual looked like and she claimed it was a man wearing a cloak with long, razor-like fingernails. When the papers began to publicize the attack, many more people came forward claiming to be victims of this supposed crazy man. It wasn’t until this first publicized attack that people told of their experiences because they were afraid people would question their sanity. The newspapers sensationalized the story, creating mass hysteria. Armed vigilante groups patrolled the streets at night and even encountered what they believed to be Spring-Heeled Jack on more than one occasion during their excursions. Individuals pretending to be Spring-Heeled Jack became commonplace. Many took to the streets in an effort to gain attention for themselves or to scare friends and family. However, they could never catch him as, as soon as they would come upon him, he would leap onto a rooftop or over a fence and be out of sight in a blink.

A year later, a young woman was attacked by an individual who breathed blue flames at her, likely making this one of the worst cases of acid reflux in history. Many more people came forward claiming they had also seen a creature that breathed blue flames and could jump extremely high. Descriptions of the individual were so varied that it was impossible to obtain an accurate description of a suspect. In some cases, Jack looked like a devil with short horns and a pointed beard. In others, he resembled something closer to human. The only common threads were the long talons and the ability to jump to great heights.

Likely the most famous encounter with Spring-Heeled Jack happened to a woman named Jane. One night, Jane heard a knocking at her door. When she asked who was calling at such a late hour, a voice from the other side of the door claimed to be a police officer and demanded a light. The voice told Jane that she should hurry because they had caught Spring-Heeled Jack. Jane ran to get a candle and opened the door, but the figure that stood on the doorstep was not that of a police officer. The figure was that of a tall man with glowing red eyes. Before Jane could speak, he spat blue flames at her. The man attacked her, but Jane’s sister, hearing the struggle from another room, rushed in and scared the man away.

A short time later, a woman named Lucy Scales was out walking with her sister at night. She reported that a man jumped out of the shadows and spat blue flame into her face. Scales’ sister claimed the act caused Lucy to have some sort of seizure and fall to the ground. Both ladies reported that the man was tall, lean, and was wearing some sort of tight fitting white outfit. On his head he wore a strange helmet and his eyes were two balls of flame. Scales’ encounter helped to shape the image of Jack as a gentlemanly devil. After this encounter, Spring-Heeled Jack again disappeared.

In the 1870’s, people in the English countryside began seeing Spring-Heeled Jack and became victims of attacks. Village people set up traps and patrolled at night, desperately trying to catch whomever was attacking the locals, but their efforts were in vain. Again, Jack disappeared. Shortly after these attacks, people began seeing a similar creature/individual in Kentucky and it is believed that Jack had made his way to America. The description of Jack by those who had seen him were similar to those of the reports in England, but people in America reported that Jack shot flames out of his chest not his mouth. It is at this point that tales of Spring-Heeled Jack disappeared for some time. There were no further attacks in Kentucky and reports of sightings dwindled and disappeared altogether.

In 1939, people in Cape Cod began to report strange sightings. The creature’s ability to disappear and reappear at random, leap to great heights, and move very quickly really freaked people out. This particular creature was known by locals as the Black Flash and was believed to be the devil incarnate. The creature would attack at random, brandishing long iron claws and, as quickly as it appeared, sightings of the creature ceased. Black Flash was also seen in Provincetown, MA, around the late 1930’s. Two men were attacked by this individual and witnessed the Black Flash leaping over 8′ fences. The last known sighting of the Black Flash was in December of 1945.

In 1973, a Canadian family was visited by Spring-Heeled Jack. They claimed that the visitor arrived on their doorstep one night and, when they answered the door, they were greeted by a pair of glowing red eyes and a tall, gangly stranger dressed in all black. He had fingers topped with long, sharp claws. As quickly as he appeared, he leapt away. The family explained that the visitor had reached heights of 50-60 feet in the air!

In 1996, a police officer pursued a suspect who was seen jumping tall hedges in a residential neighborhood. The officer managed to catch up with the individual but, before he could utter a word, he was punched in the face and knocked out cold. When the officer came around, he was told that he’d been punched by Spring-Heeled Jack. Apparently attacks like those were common in England in the 19th century.

Who is Spring-Heeled Jack? Was Cowan right to believe that the “creatures” people saw were simply well-to-do jerk-wads out to scare innocent people for fun? Reports of Jack are now few and far between, but some believe that reports of creatures like Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV, are actually sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack. Are they one and the same?

Until next time, stay spooky!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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S1 Ep. 14 A HAUNTING OF HAMILTON PROPORTIONS

Another week, another episode! This week, Mimi shares the story of a haunted Manhattan hotel, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and Janine fans the flames of speculation surrounding spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC.) This episode features a “shrunken” head, an elderly ghost, an expression of love for musicals (from Mimi,) and some Googling (it sounds dirtier than it is…)
Thanks to http://anomalyinfo.com for all of the awesome info regarding Spontaneous Human Combustion. If anyone is interested in learning more about SHC, check out this website. It’s full of interesting information and a chronological list of SHC cases throughout history.
http://anomalyinfo.com/Topics/spontaneous-human-combustion-reports-chronological-order

The Mystery of Roanoke

The Croatan are a small Native American group residing in the coastal areas of what is now North Carolina. Croatan Island (sometimes called Croatoan Island and now known as Hatteras Island) is located on the banks of the Staunton (pronounced Stanton) River and, in 1587, the Croatan got some new neighbors. They were English settlers, numbering somewhere between 115-120, led by Gov. John White.

White was to be the guiding hand and to aid in the development of a new colony. Sir Walter Raleigh had intended for the colony to be established in the Chesapeake Bay area, but the Captain of the ship they sailed upon dropped them on Roanoke Island instead, a site that had hosted a colony of settlers previously. The previous attempt had been a glorious failure.

The new settlers began setting up shop, building structures, and working toward creating some sense of home in their new surroundings, picture an even shittier version of Oregon Trail, but it wasn’t long before the group began to run out of supplies. White set sail for England to procure more stores for his settlers on August 27, 1587 and arrived in November of that year, just as England was about to go to war with Spain. Queen Elizabeth I ordered that all available ships to confront the Spanish Armada, preventing White from returning to Roanoke for a period of three years.

When White did return, he found the colony abandoned and all of the settlers missing. Although he searched endlessly for them, he found no clue as to there whereabouts nor did he find any human remains to indicate they had been killed. His daughter, Ellinor White Dare, son in law, Ananias Dare, and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, had vanished. A single word was carved into a wooden post, the only clue as to where the settlers may have gone or what had happened at Roanoke. That word was Croatoan.

What happened to the settlers of the lost colony of Roanoke? Were they captured by local native tribes? Were they murdered by an aggressive tribe? Were they assimilated into a friendly native tribe? Were they taken as slaves to work in copper mines? (It was speculated in Return to Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony (History Channel, 2015) that this was the colonist’s fate.) Were they murdered by Spaniards marching up from Florida or were they abducted?

White was left to wonder and failed to find any settler, alive or dead.

Virginia and The Dare Stones

Virginia Dare was the first child of English heritage to be born in the Americas and was named Virginia because she was the first born there. Her father was Ananias Dare, her mother was Ellinor White Dare (daughter of Gov. John White.) Illustrated depictions of young Virginia’s baptism into the Catholic faith at the Jonestown Exhibition in 1907 can be found online, but the child vanished soon after without a trace. Her life is a mystery and remains so to this day.

In 1937, a California man driving through the coastal Carolina region found a 21 pound rock, roughly 80 miles from Roanoke Island, engraved with strange markings. He delivered his find to the History Department at Emory University. When university officials declined to pay for testing of the stone, Haywood Pearce brought it to Brenau University and began tracing its origins and transcribing the writing on the stone. He put out a call for other stones, offering a reward, but was essentially buried in potentials, further muddying the mystery. There are a total of 48 stones supposedly describing the last days of the colony at Roanoke.

According to The Native Heritage Project (https://nativeheritageproject.com/2013/12/08/the-dare-stones-1-through-48/), the original stone reads as follows.

The writing on the stone appears to be a message from Ellinor White Dare to her father describing murders by “sa(l)vages” (save 7 colonists) and the locations of grave sites along with where the group of surviving colonists might be found. Some scientists have speculated, upon close examination, that some of the stones appear to have been recently carved, one even looks as if it may have been done with a drill press.

 

A team of historians commissioned by the Smithsonian did assign some validity to the original stone. The team was led by Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University. A preliminary report was released stating that the stone appeared to be valid and the stones officially became known as the Dare Stones.

In 1941, the Saturday Evening Post all but reported that Pearce Jr. had crafted the stones himself. There was talk of libel action against The Post, but WWII pretty much put the kaibash on that. The stones disappeared from view on campus.

In 1977, Leonard Nimoy narrated an episode of In Search of… on which a Brenau professor, Dr. Southerland, stated that he believed only the first stone was authentic. Ten years later, he amended his statement, asserting that even the original stone may have only a 50% chance of being real.

Interest in the stones was once again revived as Jamestown, VA, celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first English colony to gain purchase on American soil. An internet scavenger hunt (among other scheduled events) caused Brenau officials to receive dozens of phone calls. One of the items on the scavenger hunt list was a rubbing of one of the Dare Stones.

Location of the Stones

It has been speculated that the stones are housed in an 18th century mausoleum on campus, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dare Stones are actually housed in a boiler room beneath the university amphitheater and range in size from 20-40 pounds each. One stone is on view at the Northeast Georgia History Center adjacent to campus. Two (including the original stone) are housed in the special collections section of the Trustee Library.

Every Good Mystery Has a Twist…

In an interesting twist, part of the Ellinor Dare legend is that she gave birth to a child named Agnes who was fathered by an American Indian “king” from North Carolina or Georgia. Tribes in that area believed that the souls of the deceased were transferred into sacred stones.

Kathy Amos, the university’s Tradition Keeper states that Brenau’s resident ghost showed up around the same time the stones did. Supposedly, the ghost’s name is Agnes.

Stories exist about the ghost of Agnes committing suicide by hanging herself in the theater. It’s generally a story of unrequited love. Agnes is also said to have been a pledge for Zeta Tau Alpha who died in an initiation gone wrong. It has also been said that she killed herself after being ousted from the sorority. Some claim that Agnes appeared in the 1930’s while others say she’s been around since 1960. She’s said to haunt the theater, the dorms, the library… It seems as if it depends completely who you talk to on campus as Agnes stories abound.

Have you ever seen the Dare Stones first hand? What’s the story with Agnes? Is she the deceased daughter of Ellinor or another spirit entirely? Let us know in the comments below!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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S1 Ep. 13 So Many Knights (Nights)

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/chdz8-6d0b70?from=yiiadmin

Mimi continues her voyage to the dark side this week with the tale of Giles DeRey, compatriot to Joan of Ark, child murderer, and necrophiliac. Janine explores vampire folklore and legend in a little piece she likes to call Bird of Death.
Disclaimer: Mimi’s piece is a little creep-tastic this week. If you’re faint of heart or just don’t enjoy graphic descriptions of violence, skip to the 20 minute mark.
Have a folklore story from your neck of the woods that you’d like to share? Experience some ghostly or otherwise unexplainable phenomena? Drop us a line! We’d love to read about your experiences and share them on an upcoming minisode! hauntheadscast@gmail.com is your friend. =)

Please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes. We’d very much appreciate your feedback!

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Fanning the Flames

Spontaneous Human Combustion has both confounded and delighted individuals for a very long time. The anomaly has been featured in skeptic magazines and invaded the internet, but how much of what we read about SHC can be believed and have we simply accepted this queer idea as fact just because reports of people going up in flames actually exist? You’ll find that photos are absent from this article. If you would like to see photos of SHC, Google is your friend. Now, onto the show.

Twain, Melville, Dickens, Irving…

All of these literary greats have touched on the subject within their work, Dickens’ publisher actually chastised the author for including SHC in Bleak House, accusing him of fueling an idea based purely on speculation, but when the strange and unusual begins to make an appearance in everyday life, we are often taken aback. We are stunned and shocked, but more than anything we want to know why. Human animals are an inquisitive sort after all.

OMG. SHC.

In the late 1400’s, an Italian knight named Polonus Vorstius vomited flame after ingesting “several ladels” of particularly potent wine. To say the substance disagreed with him would be a drastic misrepresentation because Vorstius burst quite quickly into a ball of flame. There were no other casualties, many others had drunk of the wine, and the onlookers were baffled.

The first known, “confirmed,” account of SHC occurred in 1663. Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin describes the burning death of a Parisian woman who was inexplicably and suddenly engulfed in flames. She “went up in ashes and smoke” while sleeping on a straw mattress. The mattress was unharmed as were the other objects in the room.

In the 1700’s, SHC claimed the life of a noblewoman, Countess Cornelia diBandi. She was found halfway between her bed and a window one morning, her torso, head, and arms burned to ash. Only three fingers and her lower legs remained intact. It was speculated by those who came upon the scene that she rose to open the window late in the night and spontaneously burst into flames. Near her bed, two candles sat unlit. The tallow of the candles had melted from the heat of the fire, but the wicks were untouched. Soot covered the room, but everything else near the Countess’ body, including a bedside table, draperies, and a plate of bread, remained unharmed though the surfaces were covered in soot.

Ruled a “visitation from God,” in 1725, Nicole Millet, the wife of an innkeeper, was found burned to death in the kitchen when her husband smelled smoke. Her body was almost completely reduced to ash. Wooden implements nearby were still intact, though damaged by smoke and soot. Some accounts state that Millet was found on a straw mattress with the straw being only slightly damaged by the flames. Her husband was tried for murder, but was exonerated when he used SHC as a defense. At that time, studies were being done on the anomaly and the courts could not rule out SHC as a possible cause.

In 1967, a passenger on a bus in London, England, saw a flash of blue light in a window while passing an apartment complex. She called the authorities, believing it may be a gas jet, but when the authorities arrived they found something far different. The fire brigade found the body of Robert Bailey. One fireman reported that the fire had emanated from a large slit in the mans abdomen.

In 1970, in Paris, France, Ginette Kazmierczak contacted the authorities stating that her husband had gone missing. Police searched for the man, but found nothing. A few days later, after the woman’s son had left to play with friends, neighbors smelled smoke. They found Ginette’s body still smoldering. Her legs were intact, but the rest of her remains were ash. The area around her body was undisturbed.

In 2010, the spontaneous combustion of an Irish man was reported, making it the first case in Ireland. The burned body of Michael Flaherty, an elderly man was found lying on the floor of his flat with his head near the hearth. Coroners determined that the hearth had not ignited the blaze and there were no signs of foul play. There was no evidence of accelerant and there was no other damage to objects in the room. The only signs of fire were scorch marks beneath the body and smoke/fire damage to the ceiling.  In 2011, the coroner officially stated that Flaherty’s death was unexplained.

We just don’t know WHY.

Cases of SHC are so peculiar because the spontaneous lighting of a human being, while still alive and conscious, is just fucking weird. It makes no sense that a body could burn so hot as to reduce remains to ash in a way (normally) only achieved by the process cremation. In rare cases, bodies have been found with their internal organs completely intact while the remainder of the torso was reduced to a smoldering pile. Witnesses (mostly “witnesses”) to this spontaneous burning report a sweet, smoky smell and a greasy residue that covers the surfaces surrounding the remains.

Another interesting anomaly is that people have actually experienced the sensation of burning, but have lived to tell the tale. Not everyone just bursts into flames. Some develop strange burns with no obvious cause while others emanate smoke from their body with no fire present.

As recently as 2013, a man from Vermont, Frank Baker, reported bursting into flames on his sofa. He and a friend were resting after loading their vehicles for a fishing trip when, very suddenly, Baker, a decorated war veteran who served in Vietnam, caught fire. Baker was not smoking at the time (well, except from the fire), nor was his friend who leapt to his feet to try and put out the flames. Baker suffered some burns, but was largely unharmed. Baker’s doctor reported that the fire had started burning “from the inside out,” and had no explanation for the occurrence. Baker is the only known survivor of SHC.

Let’s talk temps and criteria.

As stated before, high temperatures are required to reduce a body to ashes. In the 1600’s, people knew this to be fact. In order to burn a martyr or supposed witch, you needed several cartloads of wood in order for the body to break down to that point. In cremation, a fire in excess of 2500 degrees is necessary to achieve this outcome.

In 1667, Johann Becher offered a possible cause for SHC. Becher believed that the human body contained an element called Phlogiston that was expelled upon breathing by most people. However, there were people who were incapable, they had a medical condition to put it simply, of ridding their bodies of Phlogiston. Those people could be prone to SHC.

In 1717, John Cohausen proposed that what we ingest might be the cause. For example, those who chose to imbibe in spirits to excessive amount might spontaneously combust due to the excess of alcohol in their system. Cohausen (no doubt to cover all of his bases) also stated that there were people who were just more inclined to combust than others. Essentially, shit happens.

In 1731, when the Countess diBandi burned, Reverend Joseph Bianchini suggested it was caused by lightning that had shot straight down the chimney or had come in through a crack in the window pane. I guess that’s as good an explanation as any.

In 1745, Mr. Paul Rolli presented 3 cases of unusual death by burning in his paper entitled “Philosophical Transactions.” Those cases were that of John Hitchell (1613), Countess diBandi (1731), and Grace Pett (1744). Rolli considered these cases to fit his criteria and to be fires of unexplained origin.  His criteria were as follows.

  1. Flame from a candle or lamp cannot consume someone and reduce them to ash.
  2. Objects found around victims largely unharmed.
  3. Torso destroyed, but limbs often untouched. In a normal fire, limbs would be destroyed.
  4. Fire appears to run out of fuel by the time it reaches the extremities.
  5. Fire spreads extremely fast. Victim appears not to resist or try to stop it.

Rolli theorized that “gasses and waste” or effluvia combined with vapor from various consumed spirits actually caused the victim to catch fire and the torso burned primarily because of a concentration of fat in that area. Rolli claimed the Countess had been in a deep sleep when she caught fire and rose from her bed, only to fall to the floor and become engulfed. Grace Pett was an alcoholic and so, according to Rolli’s criteria, was definitely a victim of SHC. Although Hitchell did not fit the criteria, his case was lumped in and largely glossed over. Learned men of the time began to work with Rolli in an effort to identify these unexplained burning deaths, but many instances of death by burning were included in this collection of information, some that could be easily explained by an unattended candle or lamp. Over the next 50 years, Rolli and his associates investigated hundreds of instances of death in this manner.

In the 1800’s, Pierre-aimi Lair published a study of strange fire deaths entitled “On the combustion of the human body, produced by the long and immoderate use of spiritous liquors.” Lair was convinced that the deaths were caused by alcohol and he published his work in an effort to curb the enthusiasm for excessive drinking. Lair evaluated roughly 15 cases and presented his criteria.

  1. All victims excessive drinkers.
  2. Women are the only victims.
  3. All victims older.
  4. All lit by fire from internal source.
  5. Extremities left behind, largely unharmed.
  6. Water sometimes an accelerant. Water vaporized to steam instantly (as is the case with a grease fire.)
  7. Damage confined to victim.
  8. Body reduced to ash and soot.

Lair’s criteria applied to most of the cases he presented, but not all. As was the case with Rolli, information that didn’t fit the mold was largely ignored. Why even have criteria in the first place if it doesn’t serve to define what you’ve presented…? Who knows.

Over the next 100 years, the existence of SHC was hotly debated. The wick method was presented, stating that the human body could be burned using its own fat stores. Like a candle is fed by wax that is melted and vaporized, feeding the wick and, when combined with oxygen, maintains the flame, it was theorized that the human body could feed itself in the same way. However, this method was filed away with previous possible causes.

In the 19th century, there was a rise in spiritualism and publications that featured stories about ghosts and hauntings were widely popular. In many cases, SHC took over the front pages of these publications, delighting and intriguing readers. However, by the 20th century, these publications had begun to die out and gained only fading interest.

By this time, SHC as cause of death was largely ignored by the medical community. Most doctors feared ridicule from their peers if they admitted it was plausible. Medical professionals assumed there was an explanation far more mundane than some of the previous ideas presented and that the fires were started from external sources. This rejection of SHC as fact fueled the fire (excuse the pun) of those who believed it to be a real occurrence, causing them to believe that there was some sort of conspiracy within the medical community to sweep the information under the rug. Others believed SHC was supernatural in origin, explaining why the medical community had nothing to say on the topic. They just didn’t know.

Then…

In 1951, Mary Reeser’s death re-ignited the passion for investigation into SHC. Reeser’s body was found burned to ash, save one of her legs that had been untouched. The chair she sat in was reduced to a mass of smoldering fabric and springs, but the remaining furniture nearby was intact. The particularly unusual part of this story is that Reeser’s head was supposedly shrunk by the fire. It was more likely a knot of muscle that had not been entirely consumed by the flames, but many still believe the shrunken head story. It is more likely that her head would have expanded or exploded, but not shrunk. Reeser’s story was widely reported by the news media at the time because she had moved from Florida (roughly 4 years prior) to Pennsylvania and had many friends and acquaintances in both places. It wasn’t long before her story became national news. Authorities rules the Reeser case to be accidental death, but many figures at the time, including the coroner and the fire chief, were unable to explain it away. Reeser was buried and no tests were run on her remains.

With cases as recent as 2013, the enthusiasm to solve the mystery of SHC is alive and well. Perhaps I’m just fanning the flames, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Facebook: Haunt Heads Podcast

Find our podcast at hauntheads.podbean.com or on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/haunt-heads-podcast/id1229525500?mt=2

 

I would like to thank http://anomalyinfo.com for all of the awesome info regarding Spontaneous Human Combustion. If anyone is interested in learning more about SHC, check out this website. It’s full of interesting information and a chronological list of SHC cases throughout history. You can find that here:
http://anomalyinfo.com/Topics/spontaneous-human-combustion-reports-chronological-order

S.K. Pierce and “Chair City”

When it comes to haunted, historical locations, there’s a line drawn in the sand by many paranormal investigators and enthusiasts. Either fix it up and live with the spirits, create a bed and breakfast and run historical tours, or turn it into something entirely else. That “else” can either be a welcome addition to the community surrounding the property or an unwelcome nuisance and, in this particular case, many in the field believe that line has been crossed. In the case of the S.K. Pierce Mansion, it’s been flipped into the “else” category. The mansion will offer stay-cations for those looking for a fright, but the basement will also serve as a haunted attraction during the month of October.

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S.K. Pierce Mansion by jasonbakerphotography81 via Flickr

Let’s rewind…

In 1875, Sylvester Knowlton Pierce, a wealthy furniture magnate and owner of S.K. Pierce & Sons Furniture Company, decided to build a structure befitting his stature. That structure became the S.K. Pierce Mansion in Gardner, Massachusetts. Pierce’s furniture empire earned Gardner the title of Chair City and his name became forever entwined with the place he called home.  The home took 1 1/2 years to complete, a project that enlisted the help of 100 men. The completed mansion (a total of 6,661 sq ft, though some claim it’s closer to 7,000) had 10 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Little did Pierce know, but the energy he invested into the property would be forever trapped there.

The Pierce family, Pierce himself, his wife Susan, and their son Edward moved into the house in 1877. Roughly 3 months later, Pierce’s wife succumbed to a bacterial infection. Pierce mourned the loss of his beloved wife for one year before finding a new bride, Ellen, who was far younger than himself. With Ellen, Pierce fathered two more children, both boys.

Upon Pierce’s passing (1888), the home was left to Ellen but, once Ellen passed away (1902), constant bickering about property rights drove a wedge between the brothers. Edward ultimately took ownership of the property (some accounts state that Ellen’s son Frank took ownership), being Pierce’s only son, and turned it into a boarding house. It wasn’t long before Edward’s business venture turned sour. The mansion, once host to great names like P.T. Barnum, Pres. Calvin Coolidge, and Norman Rockwell (among others,) shifted to gamblers, alcoholics, and prostitutes. The boarding house quickly turned into a brothel. When Edward passed, his half brother Frank stepped in, but lost the property in a card game (there have been accounts that state Edward lost the house.) Having lost what remained of the Pierce fortune, Frank (some accounts say nothing of a brother named Frank, rather Edward is the guilty party) was allowed to stay in the basement of the home because he had nowhere else to go. The home was purchased by a wealthy and eccentric artist who abandoned the property in the 1970’s, leaving it to sit for 30 years. It was then bought by a young couple, when the property was on the brink of demolition, Edwin Gonzales and Lillian Otero, but it wasn’t long before they were forced to sell the house. The level of paranormal activity had been so great, Gonzales and Otero felt they could no longer safely reside there. They placed the property on the market for a song, a mere $329,000.00.

Present Day

Rob and Allison Conti, owners of Dark Carnival, purchased the house in 2015 when a friend relayed them the MLS listing. Rob had been looking for a location he could turn into a freestanding haunted house for some time, but had been unable to procure a location in his home state of New Jersey. Since a fire at a freestanding haunted attraction killed 8 teens in the 1980’s, the rules surrounding the running of such attractions had become more strict within the state. When the Pierce Mansion came onto the market, a friend of the Conti’s noticed the listing and brought it to their attention. After some debate as to whether or not they could afford to purchase the home, they decided to place an offer and it was accepted. The Conti’s began the reconstruction and beautification of the home’s many bedrooms in an effort to bring it back to its former glory. As of June 25th of this year, the house is still undergoing extensive renovation.

Paranormal Phenomena

Reported activity at the mansion is listed below. Please be aware, the following information has not been confirmed as many of the statements/murders are not backed up by any proof (newspaper, obituary, etc.)

  1. While the Pierce Mansion was a brothel, it is said that a prostitute was murdered in an upstairs bedroom referred to as the “Red Room.” Although I searched extensively, I could find no report of this murder in any newspaper of the time. It is entirely possible that the murder was covered up or that the police had little time to hear of the murder of a woman of ill repute. It is also said that her murderer, known only as David, still haunts the home.
  2. A Finnish immigrant named Eino Saari burned to death in the master bedroom. It is said that, to this very day, the bedroom smells of smoke. Saari is believed to have died from smoke inhalation and often smoked in bed, but there are those who believe that Saari’s death was a case of spontaneous combustion. There were no burn marks on the surrounding walls or floor. Only the bed had been burned.
  3. A young boy drowned in the basement.
  4. The spirits of S.K. Pierce, his first wife Susan, and the Pierce’s nanny (Mattie Cornwell) are said to haunt the home.
  5. The ghosts of a young boy and a young girl have been seen on the staircase.
  6. Unnamed dark entities inhabit the basement of the home, though some say the spirit of Edward (potentially Frank depending on which account you’re reading) resides down there. EVP’s have been caught by various paranormal investigators and there seems to be a voice saying the name “Edward.”
  7. Many visitors to the property have captured EVP’s and photographs of spirits.

Guests have experienced:

  • Disembodied voices.
  • Chanting.
  • Full bodied apparitions.
  • moving furniture.
  • Screens flying off windows.
  • Slamming doors.
  • Temperature changes.
  • Footsteps.
  • Foul odors.
  • Shadow people.
  • A lion’s roar (said to be S.K. Pierce reaching out from beyond the grave and voicing his displeasure of the residents and visitors to his house.)
  • Guests have been pushed on the staircase (one guest has almost been pushed out a 3rd floor window.)

The property has been featured on many ghost hunting shows including Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and has been the subject of several books, but how much of the mansion’s history can be corroborated? Are the current owners of the home simply ramping up reports of paranormal activity in order to gain more business?

On their website, the Dark Carnival (Rob and Allison Conti) states that visitors to the property will need to sign a waiver prior to entry, absolving them of any physical or mental assaults from the spirits that dwell within. According to them, the spirits are “extremely advanced” and might “impose their will” on guests. The website also states that guests are not to antagonize the spirits as this may make the spirits angry and lash out.

Have you ever visited the S.K Pierce Mansion? Do you have a story to share? Tell us your feelings about the use of a historic property used as a haunted house in the comments section.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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NEW EPISODE!!

S1 Ep. 11 Places Of Confinement
This week, Janine shares the haunted history of the Alton State Hospital in Alton, IL, and Mimi relays the tale of Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, the New Orleans slave owner who took torture to a whole new level. This episode contains a critique of Wonder Woman, a mummified piglet, and a man named Fiffenberger.
Releasing this episode a little early in honor of Haunt Heads surpassing 1000 total downloads! Thank you to all of our regular listeners. We’re so glad you’re listening. =)

Article courtesy of The Alton Telegraph (1812) http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/alton_il/index.html