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

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/28/newsid_2500000/2500975.stm

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.

Meltdown

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. 😉 https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3r9hwn

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,

Janine

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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.”

l'inconnue_de_la_seine_(masque_mortuaire)

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.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Inconnue_de_la_Seine

 

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,

Janine

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New Episode Available!

S3 Ep. 2: Any Dead’ll Do!

Haunt Heads returns for another creepy episode! This week, Janine takes us on a tour of the Paris Morgue of the 1800s and makes a connection to the modern day that might make your head spin when she talks about the “most kissed face in the world.” Katie tackles an unsolved murder in Elk Lake, WI, and introduces us to the spirit of 25-year-old Mary Schlais whose body was discovered in a snowy ditch near the shores of the Lake.

This episode contains a dollop of true crime and a murder most foul, shadow people, and a death mask from the 1800s put to use in the modern day.

Thanks to Fox and Branch for the use of their song St. James Infirmary for our intro/outro. Find more of their hot jams at foxandbranch.com.

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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

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S2 Ep 14: Eighteen Wheels and A Waste Place

hauntheads.podbean.com

 This episode contains a ghostly carriage, shitty gardening chats, spider dog, and a life-changing surgery. #haunted #creepy #fact or #fiction #TrueStory #podernfamily #trypod
DONT FORGET TO LEAVE US A 5* REVIEW ON ITUNES!
See you in the fall. =)

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.

desktop-1436370293

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.

twofacedcat_AP1109280145823

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

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Haunted History of Signal Hill, Newfoundland

The spray from the Atlantic causes your face to itch as you ascend the rocky cliff surrounding the French fort that resembles a medieval castle, its walls now bathed in the mottled pink and red of the rising sun. The way has been blocked at every instance and climbing is the only option. Your arms ache. Below you, the warship you arrived on is nothing more than a dark shape on the water. You take a deep breath and try not to look down. Your orders are simple. Col. Amherst has directed you to take the fort back into British command and, as a soldier under his order, you have no choice but to oblige. You can hear the disembodied screams of the wounded coming from the fort above. This is your destination. Your fellow men at arms are climbing beside you, dodging gunfire from French troops and fighting to hold their footing on the jagged face of the cliff. You have never seen war, have never watched the life drain from another’s eyes, but you are headstrong and willing to do as you are told. As a soldier in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you know that the honor of dying for the crown will be far more glorious than falling to your death upon the jagged rocks below. So, you climb. This date will forever live in infamy whether you survive this conflict or not. Despite the uneven surface and the weight of all you carry, you finally reach the summit and feel your stomach drop as a bullet strikes you in the chest. You fall to your knees and watch for a moment as your comrades fight their way forward and then, everything fades to black.

“At dawn on September 15, 1762, Royal Navy warships anchored behind the steep hill, with masts out of view of the French. British troops then scaled the cliff side onto the hill itself. The surprise was total, and the engagement was brief but fatal. The commander of the French detachment, Guillaume de Bellecombe, was seriously wounded. On the British side, a bullet shattered the legs of one of Amherst’s officers, MacDonell. The French withdrew to the fort. The British began painstakingly bringing artillery pieces up the cliff and constructed small batteries which they proceeded to use to bombard the fort, until the French capitulated. At the close of the battle, Signal Hill was in the hands of the British. Strengthened by this advantageous situation, three days later they obtained the capitulation of the French garrison of St. John’s, which consisted of just over 1,500 French regulars.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Signal_Hill

signal-hill-flag

The signal flag arrangement for a Baird & Co. steamer coming from the south. (Submitted by Richard Klaas) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/replica-flags-signal-hill-1.4202910

My father is a security guard and, for several years, he was charged with protecting one of the most historic locations in Newfoundland. He’d worked his way up from night shifts patrolling the docks, risking his life boarding foreign ships in the dark (you could always miss a step on the gangway and plummet into the Atlantic and be crushed between the boat and the pier) and dodging particularly nasty rats, to securing the local airport (there’s only one.) When the position at Signal Hill became available, my father jumped at the chance for a change. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his position, it was just that the tourist site was easy enough to look after at night and there weren’t a lot of people who went up to the tower after dark. Sure, it was a popular place for teens to make out, but he could handle that. He was assigned the night shift, meaning it was just him wandering the areas surrounding Cabot Tower and the gift shop (only in operation during daylight hours.)

His first few shifts there went well enough. It took him a little while to get a feel for the inspection/patrol schedule and to figure out the keys he’d been given, but overall it seemed simple. He was to make sure all entryways and exits were secure and ensure the buildings were empty of tourists at the close of the business day. It wasn’t until after roughly a month of patrols that things started to get weird.

He’d see lights on in the tower at night. Random lights, not like a bulb controlled by a switch. The lights seemed to dance in the windows, first toward the top of the tower and then toward the bottom. It was almost as if someone inside were wandering about with a candle or a lantern, securing the fort for the night or conducting their own patrol. He’d go to check it out, that was his job after all, but he’d find nothing and have no explanation for the lights he’d seen. In addition to this activity, the gift shop/visitors center began to creep him out. He’d lay down a set of keys, go to the restroom, and return to find the keys on the opposite side of the desk from where he’d put them. There are mannequins dressed in soldier’s garb set in scenes behind glass in the visitor’s center and he swore that those figures would move when he wasn’t looking or that their eyes would follow him as he passed. The uniforms displayed on the mannequins had been worn by members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (1812/1817) and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band (1795) so I suppose it’s no surprise that the spirits of those who wore the uniforms previously might make an appearance during my father’s nightly rounds.

In addition to securing the tower and the visitor’s center, he also had to walk the path from the center to the tower several times each night. There are no lights on the road and the way is very dark. The Atlantic Ocean is to your right and a swath of sprawling, boggy land lies to your left. If anything had happened to him during these walks, he would have been stuck until the sun came up and someone came to relieve him. Scary stuff.

One night, he was walking along the road toward the tower and noticed movement near a pond to his left. It’s called Dead Man’s Pond because apparently, it’s fed by the ocean and divers have never been able to reach the bottom. It’s also earned this title because people have drowned in the pond and the pond was used to dispose of the bodies of those hanged on Gibbett Hill, the location of a rather active gallows way back when. In 1869, two little girls were skating on the pond and fell through the ice. A local man named Frederick Carter Jr. attempted to save the girls, but he too lost his life. My father witnessed two small figures seemingly floating along the surface of the pond. It was dark, but it seemed as if these two figures had an internal light source. They moved about, oblivious to my father’s presence, then faded away into the darkness.

Many have reported ghostly apparitions on and around Signal Hill. A friend of mine returned from relieving himself with a look of sheer horror on his face. My friends and I would often go to Signal Hill after dark, share a flask, and try to scare one another. This friend, in particular, was a prankster and had scared me numerous times. He was, in essence, the boy who cried wolf in this particular instance. Nobody believed him. He said he was taking a piss by the edge of the wall close to the ledge overlooking Dead Man’s Pond and had seen bodies swinging by their necks on the gallows on Gibbett Hill. We scoffed at him. There WAS no gallows on Gibbet Hill. It was long gone.

 

Worst. Windchime. EVER.

“Dissection and gibbeting were punishments that had long been established in England and her colonies for crimes of traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers.  The intention was that the body of Peter Downing (Downing was convicted in early April, 1834, for the brutal murders of a school teacher (Mr. Bray), his infant son and a servant girl. For his crimes Downing was sentenced to be hanged, dissected and gibbetted) would be left as a grim reminder and would stay on the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds.  Gibbeting was formally legalised in Britain by the Murder Act of 1752.

Gibbeting was not generally accepted by the people in Newfoundland.  Many were offended by the sight and odor of a decaying body, others believed that the decaying bodies spread disease, others felt that being hung by the neck till dead was enough, even a criminal should meet his Creator in his full body.

In Harbour Grace, Dr. Sterling heeded the content of the note from the angry citizens. The decayed body of Peter Downing was buried immediately at the Court House, and no attempts were made to have the incident investigated or the body gibbeted again.

In Newfoundland “gibbetting” is well documented. In St John’s, Gibbet Hill, a small peak close to Signal Hill, takes its name from the practice.   The location was very intentional.  Anyone looking towards Signal Hill would see the ‘gibbeted bodies.”  A reminder to heed the laws of the colony!

Newfoundland for a number of years held the dubious distinction of being the last place in the British Empire to proceed with gibbetting.” http://archivalmoments.ca/tag/gibbet-hill/

For those of you who may not know what gibbeting entails…

“A gibbet is any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold), but gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation. The term gibbet may also be used to refer to the practice of placing a criminal on display within a gibbet. This practice is also called “hanging in chains.””  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbeting

To this day, I don’t know if my friend was telling the truth. He always insisted that he’d seen the bodies swaying in the wind and his face was the palest I’d ever seen it. After he told us what he’d seen, he’d promptly thrown up, but that could have just as easily been due to the liquor he’d been consuming.

More Ghostly Tales

Visitors to St. John’s have reported hearing a woman wailing in or around Cabot Tower. There is an old story that tells of a woman who was struggling to keep warm by the fire. She was cradling her baby close to her. The fire had no means of venting, so she’d sometimes have to open the window to let the smoke out. Then the room would become cold and she’d have to close the window again. She did this several times but fell asleep at some point. When she awoke, coughing from the smoke, the realized that her baby had died from smoke inhalation. It is said that her ghost returned to the place of that terrible accident and cries out for her lost baby.

Hikers have claimed to see ghostly apparitions hoisting flags at the top of Cabot Tower. From around 1811-1958, flags were flown at the top of the structure to mark the approach of certain merchant vessels. The flags would alert those on the harbor front that particular vessels were coming in to dock and would allow time to find space to offload cargo.

“Red, white and blue designs represented the firms and trading companies of the day, including Baine Johnston & Co., Ayre & Sons, Bowring Bros & Co., and R. Templeton.

Each flag had a marker, such as an anchor, star, cross or other symbol that would identify the firm, and in turn ships would fly the flag of the merchant whose goods they were carrying.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/replica-flags-signal-hill-1.4202910

signal-flags

Painting of the signal flags, also called house flags, from the Maritime History Archive at Memorial University of Newfoundland. (MUN Maritime History Archive/Submitted)

In addition, figures have been seen tossing remains into Dead Man’s Pond. A friend of my fathers claimed that, on one of his walkabouts late in the evening, he came upon two men who were dressed in period clothing, throwing remains into the pond from a pile to their left. Obviously distressed by what he was seeing, he called out to the two men and told them to stop what they were doing. The two men did stop, looked at him, then faded away. When my father’s friend went to the spot they were standing, he could see no evidence of their being there even though it had rained the night before and the spot was quite soggy.

There is no end to the ghost stories told in and around St. John’s. There are even historical tours that highlight this part of Newfoundland history. If you’re ever in Newfoundland, go on the Haunted Hike walking tour. It’s AMAZING. The tour guide will take you to all the creepy/haunted spots in St. John’s for just $10 a person. I believe the tour is around 2 hours long, so that’s a great bargain. It also runs rain or shine!

St. John’s is a city steeped in history, both good and bad, and I’m proud to call it my first home. I hope you all take a moment to learn a little more about it and maybe even visit someday. It’s well worth the trip.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

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S2 Ep. 12: Tanked: The Stange Case of Elisa Lam

Mimi’s shrinky dink hubby joins the Haunt Heads team for an in-depth discussion regarding the unexplained death of Elisa Lam, the Canadian college student whose body was discovered floating in a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Bill Stephen is, a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor, weighs in on Lam’s mental state, the drugs she was prescribed, and gives his two cents on some of the conspiracy theories surrounding her death.
 
This episode contains The Elevator Game, an unidentified murderer, much alcoholic beverage, and an assortment of Crudités.
Thanks to Fox and Branch for our intro/outro! Foxandbranch.com
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and to share your love of Haunt Heads with your friends! =)
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Real Life Dark Water

Hello creepy friends,

This week, Mimi and I are working on a special podcast episode so there won’t be a blog post. Stay tuned! I think you’ll really enjoy next week’s episode. ☺️

-Janine

S2 Ep. 11: Just Bury It and Walk Away

NEW EPISODE AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD!

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Haunted items invade the Haunt Heads Podcast! Mimi discusses four spooky items that have caused the death of anyone to come into contact with them and Janine tells the tale of The Crying Boy.

This episode contains a weeping youngster, a cop who may have suffered head trauma from a “flying” vase, and many, many instances of untimely demise.

Thanks to Fox and Branch for our intro/outro music! Foxandbranch.com

Binge old episodes of Haunt Heads at hauntheads.podbean.com