Welcome to Pennhurst: Asylum of Horrors

Hello dear reader and welcome to the back end of Season 2! Mimi and I have had a nice rest, enjoyed the sunny days of Summer and are ready to jump back in with both feet. I bet you missed us! You missed us…right? Only a few episodes remain for Season 2 and we’re excited to bring you the creepy content you crave!

I’m once again on an asylum kick (I’m still not sure why they called them that) and I’ve been really digging into the history of Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, Pennsylvania. Once called the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, the original structure sat on 112 acres of land and was built in the Jacobean Revival style (Jacobethan.)

“In architecture, the style’s main characteristics are flattened, cusped “Tudor” arches, lighter stone trims around windows and doors, carved brick detailing, steep roof gables, often terracotta brickwork, balustrades and parapets, pillars supporting porches and high chimneys as in the Elizabethan style.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacobethan)

Without getting into too much detail about the history of Jacobethan (hinging on Elizabethan) architecture, let me just cut to the chase and tell you that the building itself is beautiful.

Admin-current-pennhurst

Pennhurst

With that said, let me also point out that Pennhurst was a dumping ground for all manner of afflicted individuals. Patients were separated according to sex but were also categorized by whether or not they were epileptic and whether or not they’d had dental care. There were many adult patients, but they were all called “children” regardless of that fact. Patients were also separated according to race because Eugenics. Segregation and sterilization was their bag.

“In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic and a commission was organized to take into consideration the number and status of the feeble-minded and epileptic persons in the state and determine a placement for construction to care for these residents. This commission discovered 1,146 feeble-minded persons in insane hospitals and 2,627 in almshouses, county-care hospitals, reformatories, and prisons, who were in immediate need of specialized institutional care.

The legislation stated that the buildings would be in two groups, one for the educational and industrial department, and one for the custodial or asylum department. The institution was required to accommodate no fewer than five hundred inmates or patients, with room for additions.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennhurst_State_School_and_Hospital)

The asylum accepted its first patient on November 23, 1908, and, in short order, became overcrowded less than four years later. Conditions within the asylum quickly declined due to the huge influx of patients and the administration was under pressure to accept immigrants, orphans, and even criminals through its doors. Children aged between six months and five years were housed in one ward. Many of these children were never taught to walk or care for themselves because they lived in “cages,” cribs that kept the individual penned in. It was basically a recipe for not only disaster but also a great way to create a future haunted location. Pain, suffering, lonliness…that was Pennhurst.

Upon opening and admitting “Patient Number 1,” as listed on the original paperwork, the hospital was a gleaming jewel in the crown of administrators who hoped that Pennhurst would house and serve the needs of a vulnerable population. The long tables in the dining hall were covered in white linen tablecloths and the rooms made bright with fresh paint and large windows. Day rooms offered comfortable chairs, opportunities to play piano and relax. Within a very short time, through overcrowding and cuts to funding, Pennhurst became a horror rather than a refuge to its children.

 

In a 4 part docu-series on Pennhurst, shown on NBC in 1968 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au0tBIlHIhQ), Bill Baldini went inside Pennhurst to expose the living conditions and operational problems within. In an interview with a doctor at Pennhurst, Baldini finds out that problem patients are consistently drugged so that they can be handled more easily and children of delinquent parents and low educational background who are brought to the asylum by authorities or officials are being classified as mentally disabled. There is no real level of care at Pennhurst at this point in time. Residents are strapped to their beds for large portions of the day without the opportunity to move around and are often left to fend for themselves for long periods of time.  They are forced to sit in their own excrement and have no ability to get food or water if they are in need. They are sometimes even beaten by staff members. At this time, Pennhurst employs nine medical doctors and two psychiatrists who are expected to care for 2800 people. Pennhurst only allows .75 cents to care for its residents per day. The actual allotment is a little more than $5, but administrative fees are also expected to come out of that “budget.” Only 7% of residents are enrolled in rehabilitative programs due to lack of funding. Animals at the zoo are more cared for. The “hospital” is a relic at this point, lead paint peeling from the walls and leaking, rusty pipes jutting from holes in the walls like open wounds. Baldini spent hours compiling evidence that would eventually aid in the shutting down of Pennhurst 20 years later and actually only slept for between three to four hours per night at the station. He lost his voice and was so exhausted he almost collapsed. His final report (part 4) had to be read on air for him. The evidence Baldini uncovered was chilling and sounds very much like Geraldo Rivera’s expose on Willowbrook, another asylum plagued by budget cuts and accused of ill-treatment of its patients on Staten Island, New York. Find that story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcjRIZFQcUY

This place would give anyone the chills…

The halls were once filled with the sounds of patients yelling, howling, furiously kicking their bedframes while their feet remained strapped down. Some of the residents of Pennhurst, those who spent the majority of their lives on these wards, died here, their energy returned to this place for some reason, remain. They call out, touch those brave enough to wander the halls, and likely wonder why they were left to rot in this place, 25 miles outside of town where they could be forgotten like so much human garbage. Below is a breakdown of particularly haunted locations at Pennhurst.

  1. Limerick

In this building, you might experience full-bodied apparitions, get some ultra-clear EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomena), experience EMF (Electro Magnetic Field) surges, and actual, physical contact with spirits.

2. Philadelphia

Again, EVP’s and EMF surges are reported. You might see orbs, full-bodied apparitions or shadow people. Visitors have also reported being hit by thrown items.

3. Quaker

Hot and cold spots can be felt throughout Quaker Hall coupled with a strong sense of being watched. EMF surges are common, but Quaker is said to be the spot to get “Class A” EVP’s. Ghost hunters have captured images of a little girl roaming the halls and one investigator was scratched while inside.

4. Mayflower

The Mayflower building seems to also be quite the paranormal hot spot. The ghost of a little girl can be seen darting in and out of the corners of each floor. It seems like she follows those keen to investigate. The ghost of a man is seen sitting in the common room. There are also whisperings of a nurse who gives “invisible shots.” Guests report feeling a pinching sensation as they explore.

Pennhurst is an experience and not one that you will soon forget.

Haunted Haunt

In 2010, the main building was reopened as the Pennhurst Asylum Haunted House though this has been a controversial development to both locals and those who were previously employed as caregivers.

It’s $99.00 for paranormal investigators to thoroughly explore the admin building and a few of the tunnels underneath connecting to other buildings. The ghost hunter in me wants to lock and load, get into those buildings and see what’s up, but there’s a little voice inside my head telling me that Pennhurst isn’t just some spooky, haunted attraction. It’s a place where people lived and died. The average stay for “children” at Pennhurst was 21 years and some of those people never left. Some of them didn’t even remember what life was like before Pennhurst because they were sent there as infants and toddlers. They could request to be released, but more often than not the court would deny that request and insist that they remain there. It was a horrible place filled with suffering. Should we really be dressing up in costumes and scaring people in a place that was a pit of despair for so many people? For $20, you can choose one of the haunts to explore, the ticket prices go up from there, but what’s the real cost of turning this place into a haunted attraction? I guess that’s the question I’m asking myself.

Have you visited Pennhurst? I’m curious to know your thoughts.

Until next time STAY SPOOKY!

Your fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

Find the Haunt Heads Podcast at hauntheads.podbean.com or wherever you binge podcasts!

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The Mordrake/Ping Connection?

Edward Mordrake was said to have been a member of one of the noblest families in England and was due to inherit quite a large sum of money. He was mild and genteel, a quiet sort with a sensible disposition, a scholar, and a musician and was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front. However, when Mordrake turned his head, spectators would look upon a most upsetting visage. You see, on the back of Mordrake’s head was another face. From thehumanmarvels.com: “Often it was said that it possessed its own intelligence and was quite malignant in its intentions. It has been said that the eyes would follow spectators and its lips would ‘gibber’ relentlessly and silently. According to legend it would smile and sneer as Edward wept over his condition. While no voice was ever audible, Edward swore that often he would be kept awake by the hateful whispers of his ‘evil twin’. It is said that Edward begged many doctors to remove this “demon head” from his skull. It has also been said that Edward lived completely isolated from everyone else.  He thought the best way to carry on his life was to stay away from everyone.  This isolation even included his own family members.”

The tale of poor Edward Mordrake comes to an end when he chooses to take his own life. In some versions, Mordrake chooses poison to end his torture. In others, a bullet between the eyes of the demon face does him in. There is no date of birth nor is there a date of death for Mordrake, but the tale tells of him leaving a letter asking for the destruction of the demon face prior to his burial so that it would not continue to torture him in death.

Though the story of Edward Mordrake has been retold many times and has even been featured in the 1896 text “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,” many think the tale is too fantastical to be believed. Medically, many parts of the story don’t make sense or are impossible. For example, in some cases, it is said that the demon face was female, an impossibility as all parasitic twins are the same sex.

Im\Possibility?

Left: Edward Mordrake (https://www.thehumanmarvels.com/from-the-archives-edward-mordake-poor-edward/)  Note: The photo is actually that of a wax interpretation of Mordrake’s deformity and not an actual image of the man himself.
 Right: Chang Tzu Ping (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfFDPC8rFR0)

Chang Tzu Ping, a man from a rural village in China, was born with two faces. More specifically, Ping suffered from fetus in fetu, a condition that caused a parasitic twin to grow inside his face. Ping was actually supposed to be a twin, but instead, his twin developed inside him within the womb. The end result was a partial mouth and tongue on the side of his face with several teeth. A black mass almost in the center of his right cheek was found to be the location of the second twin’s would-be brain. Ping also had a hump on his back, likely more remnants of the parasitic twin. Amazingly enough, Ping lived with the condition for many years, losing a potential wife in an arranged marriage when she saw him on their wedding night and isolating himself in the fields of his small village out of shame for his condition. Ping was eventually discovered by a renowned surgeon and, upon meeting with Ping and his family, took on his case. Ping’s right ear was permanently disfigured from the removal surgery, but overall his condition is greatly improved.

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Ping post surgery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfFDPC8rFR0

Although Ping’s parasitic twin was not on the back of his head as is the case with Mordrake, it is possible to be born with such a deformity. I mean, given that this case was so widely publicized and was featured on television (an episode of That’s Incredible, 1982) including parts of the actual removal surgery, I can’t imagine that Ping’s condition was a farce. In fact, Ping isn’t the only example of a condition called Diprosopus.

From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diprosopus):

“Lali Singh was born March 10, 2008 to Sushma and Vinod Singh in Saini, Sunpura Sohanpur village, near Delhi; the birth was delayed by dystocia caused by her large head, and her birth in a hospital was facilitated by her mother’s receiving an episiotomy. She was one of the very few infants with diprosopus to survive well past birth. She might have been the only known living individual with complete facial duplication. Her facial features included two pairs of eyes, two noses, and two mouths (but only one pair of ears). She was seen as the reincarnation of the goddess Durga, who is sometimes depicted with many limbs and eyes.

Sushma and Vinod Singh declined an offer from local doctors to evaluate their daughter through CT or MRI scanning. Without diagnostic imaging, it was not possible to know the full extent to which the child’s condition might have affected her brain and other vital structures in her head and neck. Thus, any estimation of her ability to thrive or even survive could be only speculative, though Lali’s family described her as functioning normally. It is also unknown whether neurosurgeons or craniofacial surgeons, if consulted, would have had feasible solutions to offer with respect to corrective surgery. A local doctor told reporters that the baby should be considered a healthy child who currently was living a normal life, a previously unknown occurrence among sufferers of the disorder.

Lali’s two middle eyes suffered from corneal opacity due to abnormal anatomy of the facial muscles, which prevented her from properly closing those eyes. (Before, it was wrongly blamed on camera flashes.)

A cleft palate caused difficulty feeding her under village conditions. A poor diet of bottle-fed sugar solution and diluted milk, allowed to drip down her throat as she could not suck properly because of the cleft palate, weakened her condition, and vomiting and infection started. Admission to hospital was delayed by discussion (including taking her back home from hospital) among her extended family and her village’s headman. Finally, her parents, alarmed at her illness and dehydration, defied her other relatives and took her back to hospital, where under proper medical treatment including antibiotic and a saline drip she started to improve, stopped vomiting, started drinking milk and defecating normally; but 6 hours later, at two months old to the day, she died of a heart attack. She was buried in her village, as is usual in Hinduism with children who die very young. Later a temple was built at the village in her memory.

Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie (May 8, 2014 – May 27, 2014) were born in Sydney, Australia, to parents Simon Howie and Renee Young. Faith and Hope shared one body and skull, but had complete duplication of the facial features, as well as duplication of the brain; both brains joined to one brain stem. Young and Howie had learned at 19 weeks gestation of their children’s condition, but opted not to terminate the pregnancy. The children were born 6 weeks prematurely and appeared to be doing well, able to breathe unaided several days after their birth and they were observed to sleep and cry at different times. They died 19 days following their birth due to unknown causes, although some sources indicated that the girls died following an operation for unknown reasons.

 

Few two-faced animals have survived due to associated internal organ abnormalities and brain abnormalities. One of the most famous was Ditto, a pig. Ditto was raised to adulthood, but died of pneumonia caused by food inhalation when breathing through one muzzle while eating with the other.

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Cats with the condition are known as ‘Janus cats’, after the Roman god. In July 2006, a 6-year-old male Janus cat called “Frank and Louie” from Millbury, Massachusetts, USA, received publicity. In their case, only one esophagus (and possibly only one trachea) was functional and aided survival. In September 2011, when Frank and Louie were 12 years old, it was announced that they will appear in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-surviving Janus cat on record. In 2014, Frank and Louie died at the age of 15.”

 

 

More on Mordrake?

I’ve searched the internet for information on Mordrake, hoping to find a date of birth, the location of his childhood home, or a connection to the English family to which he was an heir. The information just doesn’t exist. What does exist is a massive Google list of results on Mordrake and urban legends. It does make me wonder how much of the Edward Mordrake story is true. After all, the medical anomaly (though rare) does exist. How unrealistic is it that a man like Mordrake could survive with such a deformity to the ripe old age of 23? The fact that this placement of the “demon face” is impossible doesn’t really lead me to believe that someone like Mordrake has never existed. More likely, someone was born with a deformity and an urban legend was created. It’s indeed creepy to think that Mordrake’s “demon face” muttered dark thoughts constantly and would often give an evil smile independent of Mordrake’s face.

Is Edward Mordrake’s urban legend simply a sensationalized version of the very true story of Chang Tzu Ping or some other similarly afflicted individual? Is there a kernel of truth to Mordrake’s suffering and condition? We often fear that which we don’t understand. Perhaps we’ll never know, but I’m sure that this tale will survive for many years to come.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/hauntheadspodcast

Binge our podcast at hauntheads.podbean.com, on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts!

 

The Black Death: Folklore and the Plague

It killed more than 20 million Europeans, almost one-third of the continent’s population, but arrived silently aboard 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina in 1347. Onlookers who had come to welcome the ships were met with a terrible sight: many of the sailors had died at sea and the remaining crew on board these ships were severely ill. With the pain of illness, many of the sailors had become insane and were covered in oozing black boils. By the time any action was taken to make the ships leave, the affliction that had struck down the sailors had already jumped ship. By the time the sickness had run its course, it had cut down 75 million people, though this is only an estimate, worldwide. I’m speaking, of course, of The Black Plague.

Plague may take three forms (www.medicinenet.com):

1. Bubonic plague

In this form of the infection, bacteria infiltrate the lymph nodes, causing enlarged, painful, tender lymph nodes called buboes. Accompanying symptoms are fever, chills, headaches, and weakness. If not treated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. This is the most common form seen in the few U.S. infections.

2. Septicemic plague

This form of plague is a result of plague bacteria entering the bloodstream. It can occur on its own or it may develop from bubonic plague. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, abdominal pain, and shock. There can be bleeding and tissue death, especially of the fingers and toes. These dying tissues may appear black, hence the name Black Death.

3. Pneumonic plague

In the pneumonic form of the illness, symptoms of other types of plague can be present, but the characteristic clinical picture of pneumonia is present. The plague bacteria spread to the lungs or infect the lungs directly when infected droplets in the air are inhaled. This is the only form of plague that can be transmitted from person to person. Shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, and cough with watery or bloody mucus production are symptoms of pneumonic plague.

https://www.medicinenet.com/plague_facts/article.htm#what_is_the_contagious_period_for_pneumonic_plague

According to History.com, many early Europeans believed the plague was a punishment from God itself.

“Because they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment–retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication, and worldliness. By this logic, the only way to overcome the plague was to win God’s forgiveness. Some people believed that the way to do this was to purge their communities of heretics and other troublemakers–so, for example, many thousands of Jews were massacred in 1348 and 1349. (Thousands more fled to the sparsely populated regions of Eastern Europe, where they could be relatively safe from the rampaging mobs in the cities.)

Some people coped with the terror and uncertainty of the Black Death epidemic by lashing out at their neighbors; others coped by turning inward and fretting about the condition of their own souls. Some upper-class men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on.”

https://www.history.com/topics/black-death

I think it’s safe to say that everyone went a little mad. Their friends, neighbors and family members were dying all around them and it seemed as if the world they knew was disintegrating before their eyes. Their livestock died, the loss of so many sheep actually led to a wool shortage across Europe. It was a culture of insanity. I guess that’s why many people in Norway, both those suffering from plague symptoms and those looking on, believed that their afflictions had something to do with a creature from Norwegian folklore: Pesta.

 

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Pesta, the Plague Hag https://www.pinterest.com/pin/720224165378447316/?lp=true

 

In Norwegian folk legend, Pesta is an old woman who carries both a rake and a broom.  It is also said that Pesta, the plague hag, carries pestilence with her. If Pesta brings her rake, some may survive the plague and pass through the teeth, but if she’s carrying her broom, there will be no survivors.

SIDE NOTE:
It’s no small wonder that the name Pesta is located on a list of popular baby names at number 71,580. If you hate your kid, name them Pesta.
As I was searching Google, I happened upon a list of baby names. Pesta sits around the 71k mark (predictable.) I scroll down and see there is no “meaning” for this particular baby name. There is, however, a little button you can push to suggest one. Guess what I wrote?

Plague Hag.

I’m sure that whoever checks that email will be stupefied.

ANYWAY!

The WordPress site Myths and Microbes states that Pesta arrives by a ghost ship filled with rats (I’ll tackle that in a little bit). The personification of an unseen force is a common theme in many folklore tales. For example, The Hag (of Newfoundland folklore) is a four-legged creature that sits upon your chest and freezes you to the spot. You’re unable to move or scream as it stares down at you with black eyes, its long, stringy hair brushing your face. Today, we know that this strange feeling some of us experience between sleep and wakefulness is actually something called sleep paralysis, but before there was a clinical diagnosis available to explain away fears there were a lot of people who slept with boards with nails in them (supposedly the Hag would get stabbed by the nails and run away, proof that folklore in no way has to be logical) across their chests at night.

 

According to Myths and Microbes, “This type of personification of death and disease is common during the late medieval period. It represents an attempt to explain a horrifying experience. The folklore of the black plague developed through observation of events that must have seemed inexplicable to the people living through them. We can, however, learn something about how the events unfolded through a careful examination of the folklore of Pesta. Folklorists argue that folklore can be true and can be the results of individuals “rationally perceiving a real situation.”  Through the story of Pesta and her path across Norway, we see an attempt to explain the spread of a disease based on actual observations. While the entity of Pesta is not a literal being, we can imagine her as a representation of the microbe that we know today.”

Pesta: The Personification of the Black Plague in Norway

The plague, known also by its Latin name Yersinia Pestis (pestilence), traveled from port to port by ship so it is no wonder that Pesta (personification of the plague itself) also used that mode of transportation. The folk legend states that Pesta traveled on a ghost ship filled with rats. But not only was Pesta the harbinger of grotesque suffering, those sailors that traveled by that same means were carriers of the plague and victims of Pesta.

Rats were said to be carriers of the plague during the first outbreaks. The plague bacteria is actually transmitted by fleas on the animals, not the rats themselves, but people had no way of knowing this. They simply associated the rats with the illness and certain folk legends in certain parts of the world perpetuated this belief.

Early Forms of Treatment

From The History Learning Site (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval-england/cures-for-the-black-death/):

Vinegar and water treatment If a person gets the disease, they must be put to bed. They should be washed with vinegar and rose water

Lancing the buboes
The swellings associated with the Black Death should be cut open to allow the disease to leave the body. A mixture of tree resin, roots of white lilies and dried human excrement should be applied to the places where the body has been cut open.

Bleeding

The disease must be in the blood. The veins leading to the heart should be cut open. This will allow the disease to leave the body. An ointment made of clay and violets should be applied to the place where the cuts have been made.
Diet We should not eat food that goes off easily and smells badly such as meat, cheese and fish. Instead we should eat bread, fruit and vegetables

Sanitation

The streets should be cleaned of all human and animal waste. It should be taken by a cart to a field outside of the village and burnt. All bodies should be buried in deep pits outside of the village and their clothes should also be burnt.

Pestilence medicine

Roast the shells of newly laid eggs. Ground the roasted shells into a powder. Chop up the leaves and petals of  marigold flowers. Put the egg shells and marigolds into a pot of good ale. Add treacle and warm over a fire. The patient should drink this mixture every morning and night.

Witchcraft
Place a live hen next to the swelling to draw out the pestilence from the body. To aid recovery you should drink a glass of your own urine twice a day.

Face of the Plague

Plague doctors were often hired to treat entire communities and paid a salary by said communities. The dominant theory around the 17th century was that miasma (“bad air”) was to blame for the spread of plague. This is why, on their faces, doctors wore masks with long “beaks.” The beak would be packed full of sweet-smelling mixes of herbs and flowers and the eyes of the mask would be covered with glass, “sealing” in the “good air” and forcing out the bad. Wikipedia states, “Medical historians have attributed the invention of the “beak doctor” costume to Charles de Lorme, who adopted in 1619 the idea of a full head-to-toe protective garment, modeled after a soldier’s armor. This consisted of a bird-like mask with spectacles, and a long leather (Moroccan or Levantine) or waxed-canvas gown which went from the neck to the ankle. The over-clothing garment, as well as leggings, gloves, boots, and a hat, were made of waxed leather. The garment was impregnated with similar fragrant items as the beak mask.”

 

330px-Paul_Fürst,_Der_Doctor_Schnabel_von_Rom_(Holländer_version)

“Dr. Schnabel” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor

 

Many people believe that the beaked mask, large hat, and long waxed robe were worn during the original outbreaks of plague. This is not the case as the miasma theory didn’t come along until much later.

Doctors would travel from town to town, often held for quarantine themselves due to their proximity to the afflicted, and treated sufferers as best they could. They carried a long staff so that they would have as little contact with the patient as possible. They would use it to point to various parts of the body, keep a safe distance from people who insisted on walking too close to them, or to help a patient remove his clothing. Maintaining a safe distance and wearing a garb that was covered in a waxy substance actually helped the doctor avoid getting sick. The wax on the leather would not allow liquid to permeate the outfit and with all of those people coughing bloody sputum everywhere, it likely saved many doctor’s lives. As for the miasma, that was a bit of a miss medically speaking although I’m sure all of the rotting corpses being thrown into the street and picked up in wagons to be burned didn’t smell too appealing.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Listen to episodes of Haunt Heads at hauntheads.podbean.com or wherever you listen to podcasts!