Ghosts of Chernobyl

Ghosts of Chernobyl

How a failed reactor design and human error led to one of the worst nuclear disasters in history and a score of countless tales about creepy happenings and paranormal events.

I’m aware that many of our listeners/my readers might not know what I’m talking about so in an effort to bring as much enlightenment as possible, I found this article about the disaster. It was truly horrifying and many lives were lost/affected by the Chernobyl meltdown. I was only 5 when it happened, but I remember sitting in front of the television and watching the story about the disaster unfold.

Chernobyl in the news

1986: Soviets admit nuclear accident

The Soviet Union has acknowledged there has been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The report, from the official news agency, Tass, said there had been casualties but gave no details of numbers. It said aid was being sent to the injured.

The report said that one of the reactors had been damaged in the accident, but gave no further details beyond saying that measures were being taken to “eliminate the consequences of the accident”. It also claimed the accident was the first at a Soviet power station.

The report was the first confirmation of a major nuclear catastrophe since monitoring stations in Sweden, Finland and Norway began reporting sudden high discharges of radioactivity in the atmosphere two days ago.


The accident is believed to be the most serious in the history of nuclear power, worse even than that at the Three-Mile Island power station in the United States in 1979 when there was some release of radioactivity but nobody was injured.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just north of Kiev, consists of four nuclear reactors, known as light-water-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors – a type hardly used outside the Soviet Union.

Nuclear experts say the levels of radioactivity recorded indicate that the nuclear core of the damaged reactor may have melted down.

Full-scale alert

The number of casualties, both immediately and in the future, from radiation sickness, is expected to be high, although the exact number may never be known. It is not believed, however, that there is any risk to the health of anyone outside the Soviet Union.

The discharge of radioactivity was so great that by the time the fallout reached Sweden, 1,000 miles away, it was still powerful enough to register twice the natural level of radioactivity in the atmosphere.

The sudden jump in radioactivity levels was enough to prompt a full-scale alert in Sweden, which initially believed the accident had happened at its own nuclear power station, on the Baltic coast. The evacuation of 600 workers had been ordered before experts realized that the source of the radioactivity must have been within the Soviet Union.

The Facts

  • Chernobyl remains the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster.
  • It emerged that design flaws had led to a power surge, causing massive explosions which blew the top off the reactor.
  • Estimates of the numbers affected vary tremendously. A report in 2005 by the Chernobyl Forum, set up by a number of bodies including the World Health Organisation, the UN and governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, concluded that fewer than 50 people, most of them workers at the plant, died as a result of exposure to radiation. Most of them died immediately after the disaster, but some survived until as late as 2004.
  • The forum estimates up to 9,000 people could eventually die from radiation exposure – although Greenpeace claims the figure could be much higher, up to 93,000.
  • The contamination spread across neighboring Belarus, and into Europe. In north Wales, sheep on some 350 farms still have to be tested for radiation before their meat can be eaten.
  • A concrete sarcophagus was hastily built to cover the damaged reactor, but it is weakening over time. It is due to be replaced in 2007.
  • Chernobyl continued to produce electricity for another 14 years until international pressure forced its closure in 2000.
  • An official exclusion zone around the plant remains in place, extending for 30 kilometers (18 miles). It is one of the most radioactive spots on Earth.

The village of Pripyat in Ukraine is now a ghost town, flooded with varying degrees of toxic radiation, but it was founded in February of 1970 as a nuclear city (a type of closed city and the ninth of its kind) for workers who were employed at the Chernobyl power plant. It was officially proclaimed a city in 1979 and the population was estimated to be almost 50,000.

In April of 1986, the residents of Pripyat were told to board buses leaving the affected area around the plant but were not told when or if they would be returning. Residents were told to leave all non-essential items and to board quickly. As the buses filled, musical and acting troupes performed to distract the residents from what was actually happening. The military presence instructed the performers that they were not to speak to anyone at all. Only to entertain. They danced and sang. One musician who was present reported that a ballerina twirling for onlookers slowly lost her hair and blood began to run from her ears and nose. Children ran to her, bringing flowers and were missing all of their hair and their teeth. A generator stalled and, for just a moment, the musician could see the forms of the children and the flowers they offered glowing in the dark. By the time government authorities and officials publicly recognized what had happened, most residents of Pripyat had been exposed for 36 hours or more.

The residents of Pripyat would never return to their homes. As a result, Pripyat retains an otherworldly feeling that you are not alone. Books are left open on school desks, dolls are arranged for tea parties never to be continued, dishes remain in the cupboards, and television sets sit silent and unobserved in fully arranged living rooms. Of course, Pripyat is not a place for the living. It’s no wonder that so many ghostly tales permeate this part of the world.

Ghosts of Chernobyl

Many stories have circulated about the villages surrounding the now-shuttered power plant. It’s no surprise to me that ghost stories have risen from the ashes of the Chernobyl disaster.

Andrei Kharsukov, a nuclear physicist from New York, said he went to the power station at Chernobyl in 1997 at around 7:30 in the morning. He went to reactor 4, the location where the explosion occurred in 1986. He was taking radiation readings of the site with a Geiger counter when he heard someone screaming from inside reactor 4. They said there was a fire and they needed someone to help them. Kharsukov stated, “I ran upstairs to tell someone, but they said that when I entered the reactor control room, I was the first person to open that door in three years, and the only way to get inside the old reactor is through the doors I came in through. If someone had gone inside the reactor when I was not looking, they would have tripped an alarm that goes off when the reactor door is opened mechanically.

The reactor door requires a password and a handprint, yet someone, or something, was inside. Later that evening, as we were eating dinner outside the building by the river next to the plant, a flood light turned on in the room of the installation. There was no way anyone could be inside. As we ate, we figured there was a power surge or something. Then just as my colleague said that the light turned off.”


Some survivors of the Chernobyl disaster recalled seeing a large, winged creature with glowing red eyes in early April, shortly before the meltdown. It was known as the Black Bird of Chernobyl. Apparently, the creature has been compared to America’s Mothman. You might have heard stories about a huge winged creature with glowing eyes being seen in Point Pleasant, WV shortly before the Silver Bridge collapsed. 46 people died and witnesses reported seeing a large black winged figure just prior to the bridge fail. Survivors of Chernobyl said they saw the creature flying away from reactor 4 and that reports of the bird ceased after the meltdown. Some claimed that the creature people were seeing was not a creature at all but an alien spacecraft whose inhabitants had helped to limit the scope of the disaster. It is believed by many that the creature is a harbinger of death and destruction while others say it was just a black stork.


In Kopachi, a small village roughly 4.5 miles southwest of the plant, there is only one building standing: the elementary school. Kopachi is a popular spot for photographers and explorers who wander the old elementary school looking for the perfect shot or a paranormal happening. Many explorers have reported seeing small children ducking around corners in their periphery. When they turn to see, the shadows are gone. Obviously, a place like an abandoned elementary school is going to be creepy particularly one that was evacuated due to a nuclear meltdown, but there is a sense of unease and sadness in this place. Children’s voices have been heard calling down the dark corridors and objects sometimes move on their own.


There have also been tales of flesh-eating zombies roaming the abandoned woodlands and buildings, eating any tourists or researchers who happen to wander into the exclusion zone. A grainy video is “evidence” of a zombie tearing a man limb from limb, but it’s actually from a video game released in 2000 called S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. The video was uploaded to YouTube as “proof” of the existence of zombie-like creatures ravenous for flesh due to the meltdown of reactor 4, but it’s absolutely not real.


There’s a great segment on a show called Destination Truth where they go into Pripyat and stay the night in order to investigate reports of ghostly figures roaming the area. Reportedly, these figures resemble people who have passed away due to the disaster at Chernobyl. Host Josh Gates interviews a couple of people who have had experiences in the long-abandoned Pripyat, one a woman who was a fourth grader at the time of the disaster. She says the ghosts she has seen on her many trips to Pripyat over the years are unformed and simply resemble faceless balls of energy. The second witness claimed to have seen something similar in an abandoned hospital. During their investigation, Josh and his team experienced their thermal imaging equipment shutting down inexplicably and witness a thermal signature that resembles a human figure. It’s possible that the images caught were just reflections or other explorers wandering the ruins, but it’s hard to say. Have a watch and see what you make of what they’re seeing. I don’t want to give too much away. 😉

Is Pripyat a ghost town filled with actual ghosts? We might never know for sure, but there’s definitely been a lot of evidence captured that supports this idea.

Now, I don’t want you to think that every village surrounding Chernobyl is a ghost town. In fact, the town of Chernobyl, which is just over 10km from the reactor, has residents that cycle in and out at regular intervals. Nearly 5 million people live in areas that are still considered contaminated. Additionally, 180 elderly individuals have returned to their homes in the exclusion zone and refuse to leave. If you’d like more information about them, there’s an awesome documentary called The Babushka of Chernobyl. It could take another 100 years for the areas affected by the meltdown to be inhabitable, but there’s nothing to compare the Chernobyl disaster to. Nothing of this magnitude had ever happened prior to Chernobyl. It could take thousands of years for the area around the reactors to be inhabitable again. We have no way of knowing.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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New Episode Available!

S3 Ep. 6: Bathtub Gin

This week, Janine takes us back to 1986 and one of the most terrible nuclear disasters in history, the Chernobyl meltdown of Reactor 4, and (along with a little history) tells of the ghosts who supposedly still reside in the exclusion zone. Katie takes to the attic in the house of Mrs. Walberga Oesterreich and reveals what secrets are hidden there. From Wisconsin to California and a murder most foul.

This episode contains some glowing sandwiches, stellar bathtub gin, a very Bert-like baby, and a hidden attic.

Warning: This episode contains mature content. Listener discretion is advised. From 24 minutes–24:32, Janine discusses the effects of radiation exposure. If you’re not keen to hear about it, fast forward 30 secs or so. We understand. =)

Links: The Oestterreich fiasco and hidden attic plans.

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The Green Man: Myth and Legend

On a quiet, bright August day in 1919, 9-year-old Ray Robinson, his sister, and a group of friends were walking along the roadside in New Castle, Pennsylvania in search of excitement or simply something to pass the time. The group walked until something caught their eye: a bird’s nest, perched high in a tree next to an old trolley trestle. Ray, the adventurous type, decided to climb the trestle to get a closer look, but in his effort to scale the tree and avoid falling, he reached for a wire that once powered the trolley. Sadly, the wire was still active and Ray was electrocuted. In the recent past, about a year prior, another boy had died from touching the wire after two weeks in hospital. Ray survived the incident, though he was severely electrocuted. His face was terribly disfigured, his nose and eyes were destroyed, his arms were maimed, and he lost one hand completely. He endured tremendous suffering and was considered a medical marvel by the doctors and nurses who worked to keep him comfortable during his recovery.

Unfortunately, in the 1900’s, it was customary to hide the “shame” of a disfigured child, so Ray left the hospital and wound up isolated in a room in his family home. Many Victorian homes during that time featured rooms that had drains and plumbing in them, so it was easy enough to keep Ray away from the public eye. He wasn’t mistreated, but his family would eat separately from him and he was hidden away from the world. Ray tried to make the best of his situation, listening to baseball games on his radio and learning braille. He also learned to make wallets, belts, and doormats out of old tires. As a young adult, Ray moved from the main house into a small apartment that his family had created for him in the garage and it wasn’t long before he began to crave freedom. It was about that time that Ray began walking the highways alone at night and an urban legend was born. On many a quiet night on a stretch of State Route 351 in Koppel, Pennsylvania, Ray Robinson could be found tapping along the roadside with his cane. Locals would even make a point to drive the road he was mostly seen on in order to catch a glimpse of the walking urban legend. For the most part, Ray hid from his neighbors and those looking to gawk, but he would sometimes exchange a conversation or a photograph for beer or cigarettes. Ray met many people on the road, some simply curious and others heartlessly cruel, be he was undeterred. He was even struck by cars on more than one occasion, but Ray would take his nightly walks until he retired to Beaver County Geriatric Center. He died there in 1985 at the age of 74.

So…Ray Robinson was a man who lived and died in Pennsylvania who was the victim of a terrible accident and set of circumstances that forever changed his life. He was NOT a glowing mutant… Stay with me here. It’s quite fascinating to think that Ray is the reason this urban legend exists, but nevertheless, it does. On the outskirts of Pittsburgh, there sits a derelict railroad tunnel. It’s covered in graffiti and filled with road salt, but this is where visitors claim to see the Green Man. It’s called the Green Man Tunnel and it’s said that teens who drive their cars into the tunnel, turn off their lights, and call out to the Green Man will be rewarded with a visit from this creature. Supposedly, his skin is tinged green from an electrical accident and, if he comes close enough to touch your car, his electrical charge will either stall the engine or make the car difficult to restart.

The Green Man is also sighted in Youngstown, Ohio, in a rural spot called Zombie Land. There, the horribly disfigured Green Man said to have been electrocuted by a lightning strike (or in an electrical accident, or turned radioactive while working at the power plant, depending on who you ask,) wanders the roads at night with his glowing green skin. He chases anyone he comes across and teenagers still drive out to the area at night hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature.

These accounts should be taken with a grain of salt and I have no idea where the glowing green skin came from. Perhaps Ray’s affinity for a particular green plaid shirt or other green clothing reflected off his skin as motorists cast their lights at him? He was apparently quite pale due to a lack of being outside during daylight hours. It’s also been said that Ray’s nose, or what was left of it, would often become infected and turn green. Perhaps that’s where the name came from.

Green Man’s Legend Continues to Glow

October 1998

“Pat Temple, now 58 and a printer who works the overnight shift at the Post-Gazette, says the Green Man made such an indelible impression on him that he’s written a story to keep it alive for his grandkids. His tale goes back to 1956 when he and Ray Griffin were 16-year-old Lawrenceville pals.

“One evening in June,” he writes, “Ray and I were hanging out with two other friends — Guy Muto and Jim Walsh — and as we had nothing better to do, Ray suggested that we go up to see the Green Man. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

They piled into Temple’s ’51 Ford and headed north for the Turnpike, which they took to Route 18, then followed that to the light in Koppel, turning left on Route 351.

“As soon as we started up the road,” his story continues, “Ray announced that is the road the Green Man always walked on. There was a long silence and I could feel the goosebumps and when we finally did say something, we seemed to be whispering.”

Perhaps inevitably, Temple recalls that “it was a bit foggy and the visibility was not real good at times.” As they came around a bend, “Ray yelled, ‘There he is!’ and the car lights shined directly on the Green Man.”

Temple, who was driving, describes nervously hitting the brakes, then the gas, then the brakes, while chattering with his similarly freaking friends.

They turned around and passed the Green Man once more, but were too terrified to stop.

Still, their exploit was impressive enough that older boys actually spoke to them about it. “We were still the same jerks that we were before … but now we were minor celebrities.”

That summer, Temple returned many times — sometimes with those buddies, sometimes with others. In fact, he recalls traffic jams caused by cruisers who actually stopped to talk with the Green Man. The first time Temple did that, he got a parking ticket (he came to believe that “the local police used the Green Man to make the township a few extra dollars”).

Later, after asking the Green Man if he could, Temple snapped some color photographs of him.”

Basically, if you grew up in Western Pennsylvania in the 1950’s, you knew the legend of the Green Man. You also might have met him along the road, had a smoke and a beer with him, and learned that he was one of the nicest people in the world. Apparently, he was a pretty cool dude.


Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Where does Mel Gibson fit into all of this?!”

Well, I’ll tell you.

Around 2000, a chain letter began circulating about a particularly famous individual who had been severely beaten, his face disfigured like Ray Robinson’s, and had rocketed to stardom. As chain letters go, it was pretty well written and a lot of people fell for the content. It had supposedly been written by Paul Harvey, a radio commentator, but nothing could have been further from the truth…except for this story/chain letter from I didn’t edit it because I wanted the true terribleness and unbelievability of this to really shine.

“Here is a true story by Paul Harvey. Pass it to anyone who you think would find it interesting and inspiring. You will be surprised who this young man turned out to be. (Do not look at the bottom if this letter until you have read it fully.)

Years ago a hardworking man took his family from New York State to Australia to take advantage of a work opportunity there. Part of this man’s family was a handsome young son who had aspirations of joining the circus as a trapeze artist or an actor. This young fellow, biding his time until a circus job or even one as a stagehand came along, worked at the local shipyards which bordered on the worst section of town. Walking home from work one evening this young man was attacked by five thugs who wanted to rob him. Instead of just giving up his money the young fellow resisted. However they bested him easily and proceeded to beat him to a pulp. They mashed his face with their boots, and kicked and beat his body brutally with clubs, leaving him for dead. When the police happened to find him lying in the road they assumed he was dead and called for the Morgue Wagon.

On the way to the morgue a policeman heard him gasp for air, and they immediately took him to the emergency unit at the hospital. When he was placed on a gurney a nurse remarked to her horror, that his young man no longer had a face. Each eye socket was smashed, his skull, legs, and arms fractured, his nose literally hanging from his face, all is teeth were gone, and his jaw was almost completely torn from his skull. Although his life was spared he spent over year in the hospital. When he finally left his body may have healed but his face was disgusting to look at. He was no longer the handsome youth that everyone admired.

When the young man started to look for work again he was turned down by everyone just on account of the way he looked. One potential employer suggested to him that he join the freak show at the circus as The Man Who Had No Face. And he did this for a while. He was still rejected by everyone and no one wanted to be seen in his company. He had thoughts of suicide. This went on for five years.

One day he passed a church and sought some solace there. Entering the church he encountered a priest who had saw him sobbing while kneeling in a pew. The priest took pity on him and took him to the rectory where they talked at length. The priest was impressed with him to such a degree that he said that he would do everything possible for him that could be done to restore his dignity and life, if the young man would promise to be the best Catholic he could be, and trust in God’s mercy to free him from his torturous life. The young man went to Mass and communion every day, and after thanking God for saving his life, asked God to only give him peace of mind and the grace to be the best man he could ever be in His eyes.

The priest, through his personal contacts was able to secure the services of the best plastic surgeon in Australia. They would be no cost to the young man, as the doctor was the priest’s best friend. The doctor too was so impressed by the young man, whose outlook now on life, even though he had experienced the worse was filled with good humor and love.

The surgery was a miraculous success. All the best dental work was also done for him. The young man became everything he promised God he would be. He was also blessed with a wonderful, beautiful wife, and many children, and success in an industry which would have been the furthest thing from his mind as a career if not for the goodness of God and the love of the people who cared for him. This he acknowledges publicly.

The young man . . .

Mel Gibson.

His life was the inspiration for his production of the movie “The Man Without A Face.” He is to be admired by all of us as a God fearing man, a political conservative, and an example to all as a true man of courage.”

A thousand miles of NOPE.

The young man was absolutely NOT Mel Gibson. Not even close. Gibson’s father did move the family from New York to Sydney, Australia, when Mel was only 12 years old, but the similarities end there. Just another interesting twist on the Green Man/Charlie No-Face/Ray Robinson legend. I’ve even seen photos of Ray used to accompany this chain letter to add a touch of credibility. Just ridiculous.

Have you ever met Ray Robinson? Do you or your family members have stories about him or tales from your part of the country about the Green Man or Charlie No-Face? We want to hear about it!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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Urban legend of green man.

The Angelic Organ

The year is 1772, a year of firsts and new ideas. On the first of the year, the first traveler’s checks go on sale in London and can be used in 90 European cities. On May 11th, the Amsterdam Theater is destroyed by fire killing 18 people. On June 22nd, the court case of Somerset v. Stewart finds slavery unsupported by English common law, encouraging the abolitionist movement. In August, an explosive eruption kills 3,000 people in Indonesia. On September 26, New Jersey passes a bill requiring a license to practice medicine. On October 30th, Captain James Cook arrives on the ship Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa.

And while all of these firsts and new ideas were occurring, Benjamin Franklin was entertaining at dinner parties, playing wine glasses filled with water to the glee of his guests. Yes, THAT Benjamin Franklin. I mean, he did other shit besides playing the wine glasses, he was Ben Franklin for Christ sakes… The end result of this impromptu performance was the creation of a very unique, and certainly very odd, musical instrument called the armonica. No, I didn’t just drop the H as is sometimes custom in my culture. No. The harmonica is played with the mouth by forcing air through it. The armonica is played with the fingertips (dampened in a bowl of water kept handy) as they slide along the edges of glass bowls rotating on a spindle set lengthwise. It was also called the glass spindle, the glass harp, and the angelic organ. Seriously. The instrument allowed the musician to play up to ten notes simultaneously, making for very interesting sound quality, practically ghostly. Wikipedia describes the armonica as “an instrument consisting of variously sized and tuned glass bowls that rotate on a common shaft, played by touching the spinning glass with wet fingers” I think whoever wrote that Wiki really needs to get laid.  Franklin’s armonica, which he didn’t patent by the way because he believed the instrument should be available to as many people as possible and he didn’t care about the revenue, was played by famous people. Beethoven wrote music for the armonica and even French Queen Marie Antoinette lost her head over her armonica lessons. Before, you know, she actually lost her head. Thousands of the instruments were built and sold by various dealers and the popularity skyrocketed. However, the armonica’s melodies led to some confusing side effects and it wasn’t long before it began to serve an altogether different purpose.

Think back to the past episode of Haunt Heads where I talked about Mesmerism. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, a German doctor with an interest in astronomy, theorized that there was an energy transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects. He called this animal magnetism, later referred to as mesmerism. Mesmer himself would use the armonica to channel the energies he referred to as animal magnetism.  I believe it was Season 2, Episode 3. If you haven’t had a listen, Mesmer essentially created all manner of wonky devices to channel this natural energy and marketed it as a kind of cure-all to his patients. The armonica also became a cure-all, but not because Franklin marketed the instrument as such. Rather, those listening decided that they felt better after the show was over.

Mel Spencer of the Royal Opera House writes, “Princess Izabella Czartoryska of Poland, who met Franklin and his armonica in 1772, wrote an account: ‘I was ill, in a state of melancholia, and writing my testament and farewell letters… [Franklin] opened an armonica, sat down and played long. The music made a strong impression on me and tears began flowing from my eyes. Then Franklin sat by my side and looking with compassion said, “Madam, you are cured.” Indeed at that moment, I was cured of my melancholia.’”

Franklin playing his armonica.

Here’s what Izabella heard.–g

In 1762, Franklin premiered a new version of his angelic organ (insert eye roll here.) The new model featured a color-coding system to tell the musician which note they were actually playing (insanely useful) and eliminated the trough of water that the glasses would rotate through. This version of the AO was played by Marianne Davies to tremendous applause.

On January 12th of that year, the Bristol Journal advertised the event as:

“The celebrated glassy-chord, invented by Mr. Franklin of Philadelphia: who has greatly improved the musical glasses, and formed them into a compleat instrument to accompany the voice; capable of a thorough bass, and never out of tune. Miss Davies from London, was to perform in the month of January, several favourite airs, English, Scotch and Italian, on the Glassychord (being the only one of the Kind that has yet been produced) accompanied occasionally with the voice and the German Flute.”


Of course, as is the case with many a strange and unusual elixir, regular players began reporting that their tinnitus was cured (likely because the armonica sounds like the Hunchback of Notre Dame is having a stroke while swinging from the bell ropes in the tower.) Other musicians said they felt disoriented and more still said that they were struck by bouts of madness with regularity upon playing the instrument. Once the public heard about these afflictions, ignoring the one dude who was cured of tinnitus, the armonica was credited with being a menace. Health warnings read “If you are suffering from any kind of nervous disorder, you should not play it; if you are not yet ill you should not play it; if you are feeling melancholy you should not play it.” Thank you, German musicologist, Friedrich Rochlitz.

It was likely Davis’ poor health that earned the armonica its reputation. In 1783, she wrote to Benjamin Franklin regarding her illness stating that she’d had a “violent return of nervous complaints which brought me so low that there were little hopes of my recovery. I was near a twelvemonth confin’d to my Room, and most part of the time to my Bed.” Davis never attributed her illness to playing the armonica, she and her sister had made a business of touring with the instrument and playing to large crowds, but there were some who linked her playing to her eventual death in a mental institution.

Even though the reports of insanity and hysteria were widespread and those who experienced the armonica’s beguiling tune were indecisive as to whether or not the thing might cause you to throw yourself from a bell tower, the instrument found a home at the Opera. You see, Opera was mad in itself and, although it was difficult to find someone who could actually play the instrument (on occasion, a flute might be substituted,) the multiple “mad scenes” and general fanciful quality of operatic performance made it a perfect fit.

Still, people were going wiggy over the armonica and not in a good way. They feared it would induce madness and hysteria in anyone who listened to a performance and rumors of people dying during concerts eventually led to certain German cities banning the instrument altogether. It scared animals and caused babies to be born prematurely…it was clearly a menace that had to be stopped. Many also worried about the armonica’s ability to raise the spirits of the dead because, even though the 18th century was one of scientific enlightenment, there were many people who relied on superstition and rumor to get through their day. Never use the armonica after midnight and, for the love of Christ, stay away from graveyards!

This is not to say that the armonica didn’t have its fans. Mozart, Jefferson, Paganini…all used the armonica and swore by its tonality and the ethereal quality it added to their work. Of course, there were also “legitimate critics.” J.M. Rogers stated in his “Treatise on the Effects of Music on the Human Body” wrote in 1803, “Its melancholy tone plunges you into dejection…to a point, the strongest man could not hear it for an hour without fainting.” Even Thomas Bloch, a musician who played the armonica regularly said that the sounds created, “…are of a nearly celestial softness…but can cause spasms.” As someone who has listened to several musical interludes, I can say that hearing the strange sound of the armonica does cause me to feel a little light headed and it did scare the shit out of the cat. I think it’s also important to note that (as Bloch later points out) there was on average a 40% lead content in some glass of the time period (though absorption of lead through the skin is limited, less than 1%.) Since Franklin updated his design, perhaps a bowl of water just wasn’t handy and the musician licked his/her fingers between each note? Apparently, you can’t generate enough saliva to lubricate that many glasses spinning at once and the glasses were painted on the inside to avoid the paint wearing off (yes, the paint likely contained lead), but absorption or ingestion isn’t an outlandish thought. For example, women in the 17th and 18th centuries were poisoning themselves with lead-based makeup. Maria Gunning who died at the age of 27 was regularly exposed to lead-based cosmetics.

According to “She continued to utilize heavy makeup, simply because it was stylish. Had she paid heed to her husband’s actions against her wearing lead-based makeup in Paris for the rest of her days, her death eight years later (at the age of 27) may not have been so untimely. However, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, it was fashionable for ladies to have pale white skins and red rouged cheeks and use lead as a basis for their makeup. It was the noxious effects of the lead which caused skin eruptions (which also encouraged ladies to powder their skins more vigorously to mask their blemishes) and eventually blood-poisoning which killed Maria on September 30, 1760. Originally known simply as a beautiful but vain woman, she eventually became known in society circles as a “victim of cosmetics.”

It also wasn’t customary to bathe on the regular and many wealthy people only bathed once a month. Washing your hands also wasn’t in fashion. “Keep lead on your skin for 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, year after year, along with the lead powder that would constantly be falling off of your face to be inhaled and ingested, and you have a sure-fire recipe for lead poisoning.”

The website goes on to list a number of ways people in the 17th century might have poisoned themselves.

Despite all of the above information, it’s doubtful that armonica players died from playing the armonica. It’s more likely that they died from the same illnesses as everyone else. Or, you know, from the dust shed by their arsenic-laced wallpaper or bread dough made whitey mcwhite white by plaster of Paris. Who can say!

The Glass Armonica.

Of course, for everything, there is a season and the armonica quickly fell out of favor. It was popular in America and England for about a hundred or so years, but I guess it just wasn’t fashionable to talk to the dead any longer. Plus, superstition. “Dammit, Jimmy! I thought I told you to keep that bloody armonica out of the graveyard! Just wait ‘till your father gets home!” The bottom line is, armonicas were a pain in the arse to ship. They were basically entirely made of glass and incredibly fragile and even water quality would negatively affect the quality of the notes it produced. It was also quite difficult to play. The instrument didn’t do well in a symphony orchestra because there was no amplification at the time so it just got lost amongst all the other instruments. Interestingly enough, there are still a handful of people today who still play due to a gentleman from Massachusetts by the name of Finkenbeiner, a glass blower, who began making them again.

Is anyone else looking to purchase one of these things?? Not gonna lie, I’ve been Googling, but it looks like Finkenbeiner isn’t as Franklin-like in ensuring the continuation of the playing and enjoyment of armonicas. His start at right around $7800.00 and each bowl is made of pulverized quartz. Apparently, the smaller models are about 35 pounds while the larger models can top 50. He also creates anatomical models of various parts of the human body in glass…if you’re in need of that sort of thing.

Have you ever witnessed a live performance of glass armonica tomfoolery and gone wacky in your head box? We wanna hear about it!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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New Episode! It’s not what you think…

S3 Ep. 4: Circus Penis

We’re back!

This week, Janine presents a most unusual musical instrument known as the armonica (or glass organ) and Katie tells the tale of the Ridgeway Ghost of route 151 that runs from Dodgeville to Blue Mounds, WI.

This episode contains a shapeshifting ghost, an old WI legend (from the 1900’s,) a spinning glass organ, and a haunted bath mat.

Our intro/outro provided by Fox and Branch. Find more of their music at

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New Podcast Episode/The Haunting of Catherine Snow

A new episode of Haunt Heads is now available for download!

S3 Ep. 3: Just Pan Bein’ Pan, Yo!

This week, Katie takes us to Athens, Greece and we explore the myths, hauntings, and legends surrounding Davelis Cave. Janine goes back to her roots and shares the tale of Catherine Mandeville Snow, the last woman to be hanged in Newfoundland, Canada.

This episode contains ghostly footprints leading nowhere, Pan the original bar creeper, a haunted courthouse, and a murder mystery.

Intro/outro provided by Fox and Branch (


The Haunting of Catherine Snow

Neighbors said their relationship was strained and their marriage when they finally took that next step, was even worse, prone to terrible fights and noise, so they were puzzled when the racket finally ceased. Then, they wondered what had happened to Catherine’s husband, John Snow, and their minds instantly settled on murder.

Catherine Mandeville Snow was born in Harbour Grace around 1793 and married John Snow in 1828 and lived with him in Salmon Cove near Port de Grave. Snow was originally from Bareneed and was a planter and fisherman by trade. Catherine and John quickly grew their family from two to nine and lived together in a modest home in Salmon Cove. On the night of August 31, 1833, after another of their knockdown, drag-out brawls, Snow disappeared without a trace

Police investigated Snow’s disappearance, finding nothing but a patch of dried blood on Snow’s wharf (fishing stage.) The police, instantly convinced they were dealing with a murder, quickly arrested Tobias Manderville (first cousin of Catherine Snow) whom they believed Snow’s wife was carrying on an affair with, and Arthur Spring, a household servant. Catherine went into hiding, running into the woods to evade capture, but she eventually turned herself in to the authorities in Harbour Grace. She likely thought that the police would simply question her and let her go given they had no evidence with which to hold or convict her.


The Newfoundlander (

Thursday, September 12, 1833

A most atrocious and unnatural murder has lately been perpetrated at Port-de-Grave, in Conception Bay. Mr. JOHN SNOW, a respectable planter of that place, having suddenly and mysteriously disappeared inquiry was set on foot, and from certain suspicious circumstances, a servant of SNOW’S named ARTHUR SPRING, and another man of the name of (Tobias) MANDEVILLE, were arrested, but there not being sufficient evidence to criminate them, they were, we understand, released on bail. We learn, however, that on Saturday last, SPRING made a voluntary confession, in which he stated that his master had actually been murdered, at the instigation of his own wife, that he had been shot by MANDERVILLE in his (SPRING’S) presence; and that after the deed was accomplished, they had attached the body to a grapnel and thrown it into the sea. MANDEVILLE, we understand, on being arrested and examined, admitted part of SPRING’S evidence, but denied having been the actual perpetrator of the crime – alleging that SPRING was the principal. MANDEVILLE and SPRING were brought to this town and committed to Gaol on Sunday evening. The woman had previously quitted Port-de-Grave, but although an active search has been made for her, she had not, at the time of writing this article, been discovered. SNOW and his wife were the parents of a large family and had been married about 17 years. The two prisoners underwent a long examination yesterday – the particulars of which have not transpired; but we understand it to have been similar to the former examinations.

Shortly after his arrest, Arthur Spring told the sheriff that he, Tobias Manderville, and Mrs. Snow had shot and killed John snow and tossed his body into the Atlantic. The two men each tried to blame one another for the crime during interrogation, but Catherine maintained her innocence throughout hours of questioning. Both Manderville and Spring plead not guilty (despite their previous admission) to the murder and were brought to trial with Catherine Snow on January 10, 1834. After 12 hours of deliberation, it was decided that all three were guilty of murder (despite there being no evidence to support Catherine even being at the scene or having a hand in it.) The attorney general told the jury, I can’t prove which one fired the shot, both were present for the murder. As to Catherine Snow, there is no direct or positive evidence of her guilt. But I have a chain of circumstantial evidence to prove her guilty. Attorney James Simms told the jury that there was no “direct or positive evidence of her guilt,” but she was nonetheless found guilty of murder along with Mandeville and Spring by an all-male jury. The trio was sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. Within days of the conclusion of the trial, Mandeville and Spring would meet the hangman’s noose, but Catherine received a 6-month stay of execution. She was pregnant with her 8th child and public outcry demanded she be allowed to give birth and to nurse the child prior to execution. While his mother sat in prison, Catherine’s newborn son would be Christened at the Old Catholic Chapel on Henry Street. On July 21, 1834, a large crowd gathered in front of the courthouse on Duckworth Street to witness the public spectacle. Catherine’s last words were, “I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child.”

According to the Public Ledger, “The unhappy woman, after a few brief struggles, passed into another world.”

Following her execution, the Catholic Church rallied hard to have her sentence commuted, but all efforts to do so were fruitless. They were able to give her a Christian burial because they believed she was innocent of murder so she was laid to rest in the old Catholic cemetery in St. John’s.

But this isn’t the end to Catherine’s story. Within days of execution, her ghost was seen roaming the interior of the courthouse and was spotted outside where the hanging had taken place. Her apparition was also witnessed in the cemetery where she’d been buried and the local newspapers reported each sighting.

Everyone reported seeing Catherine’s ghost from blue collar workers to the upper crust of society. There was a buzz about the great injustice done and those who had seen her ghost believed that her spirit was unable to rest. It was apparent to that group of believers that Catherine snow, doomed to wander having been accused of a crime she didn’t commit, was innocent.

In 1846, the courthouse in which Catherine’s trial had been held, and in front of which she’d been murdered, burned to the ground. Her spirit was seen wandering after the fire and also during the building of the new courthouse. Once the new building opened to the public, sightings of her ghost began again. The new courthouse was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1892 (St. John’s apparently has shit luck when it comes to courthouses,) but when the building was restored once again and reopened in 1902, Catherine’s spirit was seen again.  Her presence is still felt and her apparition still seen in the building, climbing the stairs or in the hallways. The elevator moves from floor to floor without being called and ghostly footsteps can be heard, but no explanation can be found for these occurrences.

In 1893, the old Catholic Cemetery was sold and St. Andrews Presbyterian was built on the site, opening its doors in 1896. It’s said that the remains of Catherine Snow weren’t moved prior to St. Andrews being built and supposedly lay somewhere under the structure. Reports of a woman wandering the grounds began to surface.

But that’s not the end of Catherine’s story…

179 years later, a new trial and a different verdict (

Catherine Snow, who protested her innocence, was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland

CBC News ·  April 1, 2012

A modern-day jury has acquitted a Newfoundland woman who was hanged after being convicted for the murder of her husband in 1833.

The case, which depended largely on circumstantial evidence, almost led to riots and has troubled jurists ever since.

About 400 people turned out in St. John’s this week as a panel of experts tried to set the record straight.

The basics were the same: a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a jury  — the audience.

The only thing missing was a proxy for the accused, 41-year-old Catherine Snow.

Just before her hanging, Snow acknowledged that she was a “wretched woman” but said she was as innocent “as an unborn child” in relation to her husband’s death.

The long-ago trial saw a testimony about traces of blood, marital infidelities and a keen wish to have her husband dead.

The circumstantial evidence was enough to convict her.

“The evidence of the affair is so prejudicial, it’s impossible to extricate it from the statements … there’s no way she could have a fair trial,” modern-day defense attorney Rosellen Sullivan said.

Today’s jury voted to acquit Snow.

She was the last woman to be hanged in Newfoundland — and may also be one of the earliest recorded cases of wrongful conviction.

Have you ever visited the courthouse in St. John’s or wandered the grounds of St. Andrews and witnessed Catherine’s ghostly form? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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The Diamond Guide and the Unknown Woman

The Diamond Guide for the Stranger in Paris is 384 pages in length, but there is one entry that makes me wonder if there wasn’t anything to preoccupy people in Paris in the 1850s. The Paris Morgue (or Dead House) was a gristly attraction that brought in tourists and natives alike and, if the morgue had not shut down, it would likely still be a hub of activity for what we’ve come to know today as dark tourism.

The Paris Morgue was located behind Notre Dame Cathedral and facilitated a real need. Many bodies were being found in the river and could not be identified. The bodies were fished out and set upon slanted marble slabs so that the public might identify the remains. Often, the clothes of the deceased would be hung on pegs next to the body just in case it might make identification easier for onlookers. The spectacle was designed to bring an end to the many unknowns being fished out of the river daily, but unfortunately, the morgue quickly became an attraction. You see, visiting the morgue was free and many took advantage of this fact given that a lot of attractions in Paris were not. I often check out the free events happening in Milwaukee on the weekend and it’s likely that if I’d lived in Paris during the operation of the Death House, I would have made regular visits. So, the crowds would file into the Paris Morgue, a cold room containing bodies kept behind glass and kept cool with a constant, thin stream of water flowing from the ceiling. This was the only cooling system until 1882 when the morgue was refrigerated. The front of the building had 3 doors, the centermost door was always closed, and the two outer doors were opened to allow visitors to filter in, make the rounds, and filter out. Bodies would arrive both clothed and naked, with and without heads, with and without arms and legs, with and without feet. The practice of displaying bodies pulled from the river also extended to random unidentified persons found dead on the streets and in the alleys of gay old Paris. Nice to know the morgue didn’t discriminate.

In an issue of the Harvard Crimson, a Sophomore named Arthur Mark Cummings gave this apt description of morgue gawkers.

“Men are crowding and elbowing each other; old hags are pointing toward the glass, and croaking to one another; pretty women are gazing with white faces of pity, but with none the less thirsty greediness, upon some fascinating spectacle; little children are being held aloft in strong arms, that they too may see the dreadful thing, and they do see, and they toss their tiny, wavering arms aloft and crow right gleefully.”

Cummings goes on to write, “Brutal, gashed, and swollen faces; wide gaping mouths, which opened for the last time to utter the death-shriek, dead, sodden eyes, ghastly smiles, faces of men and faces of women, faces of the young and faces of the old; faces which Dante, groping among the damned, might have dragged from hideous, steaming depths of Lethean mud, and flung forth to front the unwilling eye of day– such is the sight which greets the visitor upon his entrance to the Paris Morgue. Some of the corpses had been in the water a day, some a week, some-nobody knew how long.”

In 1907, the Paris Morgue closed its doors for good, citing moral reasons as the cause. Newspapers at the time were quite disheartened to hear the news given that they could simply pop in and get a visual account of every grotesque happening for their columns.

One journalist complained, “The Morgue has been the first this year among theaters to announce its closing. As for the spectators, they have no right to say anything because they didn’t pay. There were no subscribers, only regulars because the show was always free. It was the first free theater for the people. And they tell us it’s being canceled. People, the hour of social justice has not yet arrived.”


Many unknown faces came through the morgue, both young and old, but there was none more memorable than L’Inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown Woman of the Seine.) She was identified as a young woman of around 16 years of age suspected of committing suicide due to the lack of physical injury or violence to her corpse. As the story goes (and I would take this with a grain of salt) the pathologist who first inspected L’Inconnue de la Seine was so taken by her visage that he made a mask of her face, a death mask that would forever capture and preserve her beauty for eternity. The mask became so popular that by the 1900s, copies had made their way into the homes of many Parisians.

“In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable morbid fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Albert Camus…” (a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism) “…and others compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, inviting numerous speculations as to what clues the eerily happy expression in her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.

The popularity of the figure is also of interest to the history of artistic media, relating to its widespread reproduction. The original cast had been photographed, and new casts were created from the film negatives. These new casts displayed details that are usually lost in bodies taken from the water, but the apparent preservation of these details in the visage of the cast seemed to only reinforce its authenticity.”


So Parisians hung her likeness upon her walls as a sort of morbid curiosity, but the story of L’Inconnue de la Seine doesn’t end there. In fact, her legacy continues. To this day, people gaze into the face of L’Inconnue de la Seine. In fact, an average of 12 million people per year. You see, the death mask of L’Inconnue de la Seine lives on as the face of Resusci Anne, also known as Rescue Anne, Resusci Annie, or CPR Annie. If you’ve ever taken a CPR course, you’ve worked to “revive” Annie. Isn’t it poetic that a young woman, a woman who supposedly took her own life, is still very much a part of the world of the living and that training with Annie can teach others how to save a life? I think so. It is also profoundly sad when you consider how many CPR students have shaken the likeness and asked, “Annie, Annie, are you okay?” And before you ask, yes the lyrics of Micheal Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” stems from American CPR training.

Skeptics believe that the face of a woman pulled from a river would be bloated and scarred beyond recognition depending on the amount of time she spent in the water and instead think that the popular mask from the 1900s was actually created on a living model. Others believe that the mask is indeed a likeness of the drowned woman, but that the mask was molded into a more aesthetically pleasing visage after it had been cast. Or perhaps the drowned woman posed for a sculptor in life and then drowned in the Seine. As Chief Brigadier Pascal Jacquin of the Paris river police told the BBC in 2013: “She looks like she’s just asleep and waiting for Prince Charming.” What do you think?

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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