A Crying Boy and a Curse

My grandmother had three of them, located in various parts of her home. The boy in the kitchen wept while holding a puppy, one side of his blue overalls unhitched, the buckle trailing on the ground. The painting in the bathroom was of a little boy hiding his hands behind his back. He wore a dark suit with a small red bowtie. He, too, wept. The third and final of the three was hung in my childhood bedroom. In this painting, the boy is staring directly at you, his shoulders slumped, his eyes clouded and dripping with sadness. His clothing is drab, a beige or offwhite shirt and his hair is a tousled, mousy brown. I don’t think I ever slept well in that bedroom…

Often duplicated, the Crying Boy painting that hung in my bedroom was likely an original. The others were simply imitations of artist Giovanni Bragolin’s work. They were widely available in the 1950’s and my grandmother was likely attracted to them because they were so expressive. She wasn’t an art collector or aficionado by any means, but she knew what she liked. Unfortunately, that usually meant that everyone else had to suffer for her love of art. I digress.

From Wikipedia:

Bruno Amadio (15 January 1911 – 22 September 1981), popularly known as Bragolin, and also known as Franchot SevilleAngelo Bragolin, and Giovanni Bragolin, was the creator of the group of paintings known as Crying Boys. The paintings feature a variety of tearful children looking morosely straight ahead. They are sometimes called “Gypsy boys” although there is nothing specifically linking them to the Romani people.

Bragolin

He was an academically trained painter, working in post-war Venice as painter and restorer, producing the Crying Boy pictures for tourists. At least 65 such paintings were made under the name Bragolin, reproductions of which were sold worldwide. He was not always paid royalties for the reproductions. In the 1970s he was found to be alive and well-to-do and still painting in Padua. Claims that he fled to Spain after the war, painting children from a local orphanage which subsequently burned down, appear to be an unconfirmed urban legend.

 

Urban Legend?

Okay…so it’s just a painting, right? I mean, it’s definitely creepy, but it won’t actually cause you any harm. It might, however, burn your house down.

According to Tina Booth, owner of a Crying Boy painting, the work of art actually caused two fires in her home. She eventually brought it to Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures so that he could house it in his occult museum, fearing that the painting would one day cause a member of her family to come to harm. The painting is featured in season 1, episode 5 of Deadly Possessions. Booth traveled from Clevedon, England, to Las Vegas, NV, to give the painting to Bagans and was glad to have it leave her hands. Booth was well aware of the legend surrounding the painting, but when she went antiquing for her resale business and found an original, she had to have it. I’m not sure why you’d want to risk selling such an item, but okay…

Art expert Brett Maly states in the episode that the painting is of a supposed street urchin who had lost his family in a fire. The legend goes that, after the boy had escaped the fire, he had the ability to start fires of his own without the use of matches or kindling. Think Drew Barrymore in Firestarter.

When Bragolin painted his picture and made prints to sell, it is said that the boy’s curse was also attached to these images. In “fact,” shortly after Bragolin finished capturing the image, his studio burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. In every instance of fire involving a Crying Boy painting, the painting itself remains unharmed. Everything else is destroyed, but the image is usually found facedown in the rubble, completely unscathed. In 1985, following a house fire in England, firefighters found a Crying Boy painting in the rubble. They commented to local newspapers that they were fascinated by the condition of it, given that everything else in the home had been burned beyond recognition. I’m not sure if it was a slow news day, but the story became front-page fodder immediately.

sun3sept85

 

Real Talk

Dr. David Clarke, a Research Fellow in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, disputes the claims that the Crying Boy has ever been the cause of any sort of fiery catastrophe. Clarke states on his blog that there are over four million results on Google for “Crying Boy Curse” and that the story is one of the most popular pages on his blog. From the blog(https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/2018/01/02/tears-for-fears-the-curse-of-the-crying-boy/):

“Mass produced prints of weeping toddlers painted by a mysterious Italian artist, ‘Bragolin’ and others, sold in tens of thousands during the 1960s-70s.

The Crying Boy (TCB) acquired its supernatural ‘curse’ in September 1985 after a local evening newspaper in the mining town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, published a story about a house blaze in which a copy of the print survived unscathed.

In his piece, reporter John Murphy from the Rotherham Star referred to a ‘family hit by a curse’ after fire fighters revealed this was the latest in a series of fires in which prints, all featuring similar images of TCB, had been found undamaged. The earliest blaze on record was in 1973.

Two days later, on 4 September 1985, national tabloid The Sun published on page 13 its own hyperbolic version headlined “BLAZING CURSE OF THE CRYING BOY – picture is a fire jinx’.

Editor Kelvin McKenzie knew the story ‘had legs’ and, for a number of months promoted a tabloid TCB campaign – inviting readers who were troubled by the curse to send their prints to The Sun for destruction. The paper was inundated with copies of the print, attributed to a number of artists. Readers came forward with their own stories of bad luck, accidents and hauntings they associated with the ‘curse’.”

Dr. Clarke continues, “Since that time the legend has completed its transformation from media ‘silly season‘ story into an international online urban legend. Along the way it has acquired a complex narrative that explains who the ‘crying boy’ (sometimes a ‘gypsy boy’) actually is and why ownership of the prints can bring ill-luck.

Today copies regularly appear for sale online via Gumtree and Ebay with references to its backstory, despite restrictions on the use of supernatural claims in advertising. Since the 1990s, my research has collected versions from the USA, Brazil and Australia. My web-page on TCB is easily the most popular section of my blog. It has received more than 73,000 visits since 2012 and readers have used it to express their own personal stories and beliefs about it, for example:

“My mum has this picture but they said they heard about the curse and they hang it in a cupboard facing the wall so no one looks at it,” posted one woman.

“They believe if they try and get rid of it something bad will happen.”

My grandmother never told me any stories about Firestarter-like children who were going to burn our house to the ground, but perhaps she was only attracted to the art because of the subject matter. Perhaps she’d also heard stories about the paintings being of homeless orphans and latched on in hopes of giving those children a place in the world. I don’t think she’s ever gotten rid of them. Who knows… Regardless, if you’re keen, you can grab your own Crying Boy painting on eBay for between $2,200-3,000.00.  Just make sure your insurance policy covers fire before you bid.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

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S2 Ep 10: Cagey Horror

NEW EPISODE! S2 Ep. 10: Cagey Horror hauntheads.podbean.com or wherever you binge your podcasts!

Mimi’s got a few more ghostly goings-on to report regarding cemetery #1 in New Orleans, La. and Janine takes us inside the Amityville Horror House in Amityville, NY.

This episode contains a dangling shepherd, Nick Cage and his pyramid digs, a flying demonic cat/pig, a supposed haunted house, and some stolen paperwork.

Leave us a review on iTunes and don’t forget to hit SUBSCRIBE!! =)

High Hopes and Horror

“You got to help me! I think my mother and father are shot!”

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

Around 6:30 PM on Wednesday, November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo entered Henry’s Bar in Amityville, Long Island, New York and [delivered the above statement to its patrons]. DeFeo and a small group of people went to 112 Ocean Avenue, which was located near the bar, and found that DeFeo’s parents were indeed dead.

Upon realizing the situation, DeFeo’s friend, Joe Yeswit, contacted Suffolk County police and had the following exchange with a dispatcher. (http://truelegends.info/amityville/call.htm)

Operator: This is Suffolk County Police. May I help you?”
Man: “We have a shooting here. Uh, DeFeo.”
Operator: “Sir, what is your name?”
Man: “Joey Yeswit.”
Operator: “Can you spell that?”
Man: “Yeah. Y-E-S W I T.”
Operator: “Y-E-S . .
Man: “Y-E-S-W-I-T.”
Operator: “. . . W-I-T. Your phone number?”
Man: “I don’t even know if it’s here. There’s, uh, I don’t have a phone number here.”
Operator: “Okay, where you calling from?”
Man: “It’s in Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police, and it’s right off, uh . . .Ocean Avenue in Amityville.”
Operator: “Austin?”
Man: “Ocean Avenue. What the … ?”
Operator: “Ocean … Avenue? Offa where?”
Man: “It’s right off Merrick Road. Ocean Avenue.”
Operator: “Merrick Road. What’s … what’s the problem, Sir?”
Man: “It’s a shooting!”
Operator: “There’s a shooting. Anybody hurt?”
Man: “Hah?”
Operator: “Anybody hurt?”
Man: “Yeah, it’s uh, uh — everybody’s dead.”
Operator: “Whattaya mean, everybody’s dead?”
Man: “I don’t know what happened. Kid come running in the bar. He says everybody in the family was killed, and we came down here.”
Operator: “Hold on a second, Sir.” 
(Police Officer now takes over call)
Police Officer: “Hello.”
Man: “Hello.”
Police Officer: “What’s your name?”
Man: “My name is Joe Yeswit.”
Police Officer: “George Edwards?”
Man: “Joe Yeswit.”
Police Officer: “How do you spell it?”
Man: “What? I just … How many times do I have to tell you? Y-E-S-W-I-T.”
Police Officer: “Where’re you at?”
Man: “I’m on Ocean Avenue.
Police Officer: “What number?”
Man: “I don’t have a number here. There’s no number on the phone. “
Police Officer: “What number on the house?”
Man: “I don’t even know that.”
Police Officer: “Where’re you at? Ocean Avenue and what?”
Man: “In Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police and have someone come down here. They know the family.”
Police Officer: “Amityville.”
Man: “Yeah, Amityville.”
Police Officer: “Okay. Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
Man: “I don’t know. Guy come running in the bar. Guy come running in the bar and said there — his mother and father are shot. We ran down to his house and everybody in the house is shot. I don’t know how long, you know. So, uh . . .”
Police Officer: “Uh, what’s the add … what’s the address of the house?”
Man: “Uh, hold on. Let me go look up the number. All right. Hold on. One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville.”
Police Officer: “Is that Amityville or North Amityville?”
Man: “Amityville. Right on … south of Merrick Road.”
Police Officer: “Is it right in the village limits?”
Man: “It’s in the village limits, yeah.”
Police Officer: “Eh, okay, what’s your phone number?”
Man: “I don’t even have one. There’s no number on the phone. “
Police Officer: “All right, where’re you calling from? Public phone?”
Man: “No, I’m calling right from the house, because I don’t see a number on the phone.”
Police Officer: “You’re at the house itself?”
Man: “Yeah.”
Police Officer: “How many bodies are there?”
Man: “I think, uh, I don’t know — uh, I think they said four.”
Police Officer: “There’s four?”
Man: “Yeah.”
Police Officer: “All right, you stay right there at the house, and I’ll call the Amityville Village P.D., and they’ll come down.”

High Hopes

The sign that hung outside 112 Ocean Avenue (now 108 Ocean Avenue) read “High Hopes.” Undoubtedly, those who entered the residence were dreaming of making this house a home. For the DeFeo family, this was not to be. Ronald DeFeo Jr., then only 23, methodically murdered his entire family within the walls of what would become known as the Amityville Horror House. DeFeo systematically moved from bedroom to bedroom, shooting his parents, Ronald DeFeo Sr., 43, and Louise, 42; his sisters, Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13; and his brothers Mark, 11, and John, 9, with a shotgun blast from a .35 caliber Marlin rifle to the head. DeFeo first told police that he had arrived home to find his family murdered, then ran to a local bar for help. Later, he would amend his original statement, claiming that voices in the home told him to commit the murders.

“DeFeo’s trial began on October 14, 1975. He and his defense lawyer, William Weber, mounted an affirmative defense of insanity, with DeFeo claiming that he killed his family in self-defense because he heard their voices plotting against him. The insanity plea was supported by the psychiatrist for the defense, Dr. Daniel Schwartz. The psychiatrist for the prosecution, Dr. Harold Zolan, maintained that although DeFeo was an abuser of heroin and LSD, he had antisocial personality disorder and was aware of his actions at the time of the crime.

On November 21, 1975, DeFeo was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder. On December 4, 1975, Judge Thomas Stark sentenced DeFeo to six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.

Ronald_defeo

By Suffolk County Police Department – Suffolk County Police Department photographic records., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46207341

DeFeo is currently held at a correctional facility in the town of Fallsburg, New York, and all of his appeals and requests to the parole board to date have been denied.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_DeFeo_Jr.

DeFeo still resides at Sullivan and is 66 years of age. Since his conviction, he has changed his story many times, even claiming that he committed the murders with two friends. Joe Nickell, a writer for Skeptical Inquirer (https://www.csicop.org/si/show/amityville_the_horror_of_it_all) has stated that the story has changed so much from interview to interview that DeFeo’s explanations should be taken “with caution.”

There has been speculation that Dawn DeFeo had a hand in the killings because gunpowder was found on her nightgown. Dawn, too, was murdered by Ronald DeFeo in the same way as her parents and siblings, but there has been speculation that Ronald and Dawn were intimately involved. Neither theory has been positively verified.

28 Days Later

De. 18, 1975

Enter the Lutz family. George Lutz, his wife Kathleen (Kathy), and their five children move into 112 Ocean Avenue. The Lutz’s bought the house (the realtor threw in some of the DeFeo family’s furniture for $400) for a meager $80,000, a ridiculously low price given that the home has sold in recent years for upwards of $1.5 million, and was able to put a substantial amount down on their mortgage due to their recent marriage. George and Kathy each had houses to sell, this marriage not being their first rodeo, and George intended on moving a home office for his land surveying business into the basement.

Upon moving in, George and Kathy claimed that paranormal activity began almost immediately. Their German shepherd tried to hang itself by jumping over the back fence while it was chained in the yard. A priest who visited to bless the home was told to “get out” by a disembodied voice and was slapped across the face. In an interview, the priest stated, “I was blessing the sewing room. It was cold. It was really cold in there. I’m like, ‘Well, gee, this is peculiar,’ because it was a lovely day out, and it was winter, yes, but it didn’t account for that kind of coldness. I was also sprinkling holy water, and I heard a rather deep voice behind me saying, ‘Get out!’ It seemed so directed toward me that I was really quite startled. I felt a slap at one point on the face. I felt somebody slap me, and there was nobody there.”

According to George, these incidents happened within hours of their first occupation. The paranormal activity in the home continued to escalate. George and Kathy claimed to have heard a marching band parading through their living room. When the marching band wasn’t performing, they claimed there was a sound like a clock radio between stations emanating from the living room. When someone went into the living room, the noises would stop. The porcelain in all the toilets turned black, slime ran down the walls and out through the keyholes, a flying, George would awake every morning at 3:15AM (the time of the murders,) Kathy would have nightmares about DeFeo wandering the house and slaughtering his entire family, a demonic pig with glowing red eyes named Jodie (supposedly a “friend” of George’s youngest daughter, Missy,) was seen hovering outside a second story window… All of this and more were reported by the family, but how much of what George Lutz has claimed happened can be believed?

In the book, released in 1977, The Amityville Horror: A True Story, author Jay Anson crafted several scenarios that may or may not have happened while the Lutz family lived at 112 Ocean Ave. The experiences are as follows (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror):

  • George would wake up around 3:15 every morning and would go out to check the boathouse. Later he would learn that this was the estimated time of the DeFeo killings.
  • The house was plagued by swarms of flies despite the winter weather.
  • Kathy had vivid nightmares about the murders and discovered the order in which they occurred and the rooms where they took place. The Lutz children also began sleeping on their stomachs, in the same way that the dead bodies in the DeFeo murders had been found.
  • Kathy would feel a sensation as if “being embraced” in a loving manner, by an unseen force.
  • George discovered a small hidden room (around four feet by five feet) behind shelving in the basement. The walls were painted red and the room did not appear in the blueprints of the house. The room came to be known as “The Red Room.” This room had a profound effect on their dog Harry, who refused to go near it and cowered as if sensing something ominous.
  • There were cold spots and odors of perfume and excrement in areas of the house where no wind drafts or piping would explain the source.
  • While tending to the fire, George and Kathy saw the image of a demon with half his head blown out. It was burned into the soot in the back of the fireplace.
  • The Lutzes’ 5-year-old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named “Jodie,” a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
  • In the early morning hours of Christmas Day 1975, George looked up at the house after checking on the boathouse and saw Jodie standing behind Missy at her bedroom window. When he ran up to her room he found her fast asleep with her small rocking chair slowly rocking back and forth.
  • George would wake up to the sound of the front door slamming. He would race downstairs to find the dog sleeping soundly at the front door. Nobody else heard the sound although it was loud enough to wake the house.
  • George would hear what was described as a “marching band tuning up” or what sounded like a clock radio playing not quite on frequency. When he went downstairs the noise would cease.
  • George realized that he bore a strong resemblance to Ronald DeFeo, Jr. and began drinking at The Witches’ Brew, the bar where DeFeo was once a regular customer.
  • When closing Missy’s window, which Missy said Jodie climbed out of, Kathy saw red eyes glowing at her.
  • While in bed, Kathy received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet in the air.
  • Locks, doors and windows in the house were damaged by an unseen force.
  • Cloven hoof prints attributed to an enormous pig appeared in the snow outside the house January 1, 1976.
  • Green gelatin-like slime oozed from walls in the hall and also from the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
  • A 12-inch (30 cm) crucifix, hung in the living room by Kathy, revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
  • George tripped over a 4-foot-high (1.2 m) China lion ornament in the living room and found bite marks on one of his ankles. Later this lion would reappear in the living room after George had moved it back upstairs into the sewing room.
  • George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of 90: “the hair wild a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth.”
  • Missy would sing constantly while in her room. Whenever she left the room she would stop singing and upon returning she would resume singing where she left off.
  • On one occasion Kathy heard what sounded like a window being opened and closed through the sewing room door even though she was sure no one was in there.

 

However, it seems as if Amityville’s Horror House is not all hogwash. According to historyvshollywood.com, there was one piece of controversial evidence captured during a paranormal investigation that could verify an otherworldly presence within the house.

“The debate over the alleged Amityville ghost image […] has been going on ever since George Lutz first revealed it during an interview on the Merv Griffin show in 1979. It had been taken three years earlier in 1976 by Ed and Lorraine Warren’s team of paranormal investigators, namely a professional photographer by the name of Gene Campbell.

Campbell had set up a camera equipped with black and white infrared film to shoot automatically during the night. Numerous rolls of film were used, with only one suspicious image being captured. The Amityville ghost image shows a figure with white eyes peering out of a doorway. Some believe that it is a demon or possibly the ghost of the murdered DeFeo boy, John. Others have concluded that it is likely one of the investigators, in particular, a man named Paul Bartz. They cite that his white eyes were possibly due to the infrared camera film.”

As of 2013, no other owners of the home have experienced any paranormal phenomena.

In 2006, George Lutz passed away suddenly. One of the last interviews he ever gave can be found at http://www.ghostvillage.com/legends/2005/legends36_04122005.shtml. In many ways, the Lutz’s purchase of the home was very straightforward. They saw the house, heard about the history, discussed numbers and commute times…basically the kind of shit you talk about with your significant other when considering a big purchase. I suppose we’ll never know what actually did or did not take place inside the Amityville Horror House, but we can be sure that the legend of the DeFeo murders and the Lutz family ordeal will survive for generations to come.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Listen to episodes of our podcast at hauntheads.podbean.com, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you binge your podcasts!

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S2 Ep. 9: Plague Hag is A Shitty Name

This week, the ladies experience Ground Hog Day and smell burning toast… Second time’s the charm.

HAUNTHEADS.PODBEAN.COM or wherever you listen to podcasts!

Mimi takes us back to New Orleans with the tale of Marie Laveau and the ghosts of St. Louis Cemetery #1 and Janine talks plague and folklore by introducing us to Pesta, the Norwegian personification of the plague.

This episode contains a voodoo queen, a walk through a New Orleans cemetery, a discussion of folklore and fear, and some seriously swollen buboes.

Thanks to Fox and Branch for our intro/outro music! http://www.foxandbranch.com

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.

 

f1a9c95c70ae2232e5ea75e4a4a80014

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.”

 

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“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!

S2 Ep 8: Yo Ho Ho & a Dead Man’s Toe

Janine regales us with the classic folk legend of The Maniac in the Back Seat and Mimi takes us to Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery (also known as Bantley’s Rest) in Canton, WI, a place with a rather sordid past (supposedly.) 😉

This episode contains the bones of a child, a bleeding headstone, a maniac killer, and a peek into the facts surrounding a popular urban legend.

Thanks to Fox & Branch for our intro/outro music! foxandbranch.com

Don’t forget to review us on iTunes, subscribe to be alerted of new episodes available for download, and find us on Twitter @hauntheadscast.

STAY SPOOKY!

Find our podcast at hauntheads.podbean.com or wherever you listen to podcasts!

 

NEW BLOG POST WILL BE AVAILABLE ON 3/19!

Ring My Bell: Safety Coffins and Death in the Victorian Era

I think it’s safe to say that those who lived during the Victorian era had an obsession with death. They crafted small portraits made from the hair of deceased family members that could be placed in brooches and worn, wore lachrymatory bottles (often mistaken for perfume bottles) on chains around their necks in order to catch the tears they wept for a departed loved one, and erected lavish monuments at grave sites. They even purchased new sets of mourning clothes each time someone passed on because keeping such clothing afterward and reusing it was considered bad luck. In fact, stores existed that catered only to those in mourning and sold every item an individual might need to properly mourn a loss. Mourning times ranged from four weeks (first cousins) to two whole years (for a spouse.) We wear black (or dark) clothing to funerals now, so that’s not too terribly odd, but we’ve since moved away from the regular practice of purchasing a special coffin for grandma, fully equipped with a bell, feeding/breathing tube, and spare set of crypt keys, just in case she was mistaken for dead.

Welcome to the wonderous (and often crazy) world of safety coffins.

Taphophobia, the fear of being buried alive, was quite common in the Victorian era, mainly because it was often difficult for doctors at the time to say for sure whether or not someone was sincerely dead. I’m currently flashing back to the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Munchkin Coroner proclaims the Wicked Witch, “Most sincerely dead.”

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On a completely unrelated note, I visited the National Musem of Funeral History in Houston, TX in March of last year and saw the costume worn by Meinhardt Raabe in the film. Anyway, I digress…

Stop Blowing Smoke…

Bodies would often be kept in Waiting Mortuaries or “Apparent Dead Houses” (as they were called in the Netherlands) for a period of time prior to being buried. The bodies in these mortuaries were cared for by a staff of nurses and were not buried until they showed signs of putrification. Flowers were placed by each bedside (to mask the odor or decay) and mirrors or feathers were held under the nose or by the mouths of the deceased in order to check for breath. In Europe, tobacco smoke enemas were often employed. Administered using a bellows, (they were originally done using a pipette and the smoke was blown into the rectum from the mouth of whoever was doing the check) the sensation of the smoke supposedly would wake those falsely proclaimed deceased. There were cases in which people did actually wake up. Of course, these cases then served as proof that the practice was viable. Of course, probes and needles were also used to poke and prod the body. Likely to give the poor bastard stuck with the smoke-blowing job a break. That’s a shitty end to the practice of drawing straws…excuse the pun.

Saved By the Bell

The first safety coffin was designed by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick around 1790. His model included an air/feeding tube, a window to allow light, and a spare set of keys for the coffin itself and the tomb in which it was housed. By the 19th century, the Germans had created a whole line of safety coffins (around thirty or so) that included elaborate bell and pulley systems. Unfortunately, the human body tends to bloat when decomposing, causing the corpse to shift. Using a bell to detect accidental death is about as realistic as Dustin Diamond resurrecting his career at this point, but many mortuaries and cemeteries employed the bell as a tool to detect mistaken burial.

A Peek At the Afterlife

If you’ve ever gone wandering through Evergreen Cemetery in Vermont, you might have come across the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith whose “window to the world,” is likely the creepiest physical manifestation of Taphophobia. The “window” is actually more of a tube that has a cap on both ends, allowing visitors to look down the tube and into the face of the sleeping Dr. Smith. At least it used to.

http://www.cultofweird.com/death/timothy-clark-smith-grave/

I’m pretty sure all anyone can see at this point is condensation and darkness, but people claimed to have been able to see Smith’s rotting corpse staring up at them, a hammer and chisel nearby to aid his escape. Of course, when Smith died, he was most definitely dead. Others weren’t so lucky.

In a report that dates back to the fourteenth century, whether entirely truthful or not, it is said that the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was buried alive. Upon exhumation, Scotus was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands and fingertips torn and bloody.

In Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, author Jan Bondeson writes,

pic

According to Wikipedia,

Newspapers have reported cases of exhumed corpses which appear to have been accidentally buried alive. On February 21, 1885, The New York Times gave a disturbing account of such a case. The victim was a man from Buncombe County whose name was given as “Jenkins.” His body was found turned over onto its front inside the coffin, with much of his hair pulled out. Scratch marks were also visible on all sides of the coffin’s interior. His family was reportedly “distressed beyond measure at the criminal carelessness” associated with the case. Another similar story was reported in The Times on January 18, 1886, the victim of this case is described simply as a “girl” named “Collins” from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Her body was described as being found with the knees tucked up under the body, and her burial shroud “torn into shreds.””

Live burial may seem like a thing of the past, but even the best doctors can make mistakes. The article continues,

“In 2005, a body bag was delivered to the Matarese Funeral home in Ashland, Massachusetts with a live occupant. Funeral director John Matarese discovered this, called paramedics, and avoided live embalming or premature burial.

In 2014 in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, the police discovered that a 45-year-old woman was buried alive and died of asphyxia after being declared clinically dead by a private hospital; she was discovered just shortly after being buried by children playing near the cemetery who heard screams from inside the earth and afterwards her family was reported as considering suing the private hospital.  In 2015 it was reported that in 2014 again in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, police investigation concluded that a 49-year-old woman was buried alive after being declared dead due to cancer; her family reported that they could hear her scream from inside the earth at the cemetery shortly after burial and the investigation revealed that she died of heart failure inside the coffin and found out that it was the medicines given to her by her doctors for her cancer that caused her to be declared clinically dead and buried alive.”

What are your thoughts on safety coffins, the Victorian view of death and bereavement, and the practice of housing the dead in Waiting Mortuaries? I’d love to read your comments!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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

 

S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)geists!

New Episode of Haunt Heads!
S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)Geists
 
It’s a new year and a new episode of Haunt Heads! This week, Mimi and Janine bring you tales of ghosts and geists! Janine weaves the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist and Mimi takes us on a tour of the Lemp Mansion in Saint Louis, MO.
 
This episode contains a peeping tom ghost, a haunted bar, marbles and Lego’s learning to fly, and a spirit named Bill.
 
Music: Our intro/outro has been generously supplied by Fox and Branch. To hear more of their music, visit them at http://www.foxandbranch.com/.
 
If you haven’t already, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. =)
 
Find this new episode on hauntheads.podbean.com or wherever you listen to podcasts!

Winter Hiatus

Haunt Heads will return with a new podcast episode in January 2018 (either the 14th or the 15th.) New blog posts will be available on January 9.

We’ve got some great stuff coming in the new year. Stay tuned and STAY SPOOKY!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

That’s when the cannibalism started…

At one point in time, people believed that miasma, a poisonous gas let off by sewers or pits, was the cause of many diseases and that the four humors governed the ideas surrounding personal health and well being. There were also cure all’s composed of various familiar substances that might make a sufferer feel well again. In my neck of the woods, people carried small potatoes in their pockets to get rid of warts and put pebbles under their tongues that they’d found on the graves of pious men and women in hopes of curing rheumatism.  Goose fat and scorched linen was used to “cure” many afflictions of the skin ranging from generally dry and itchy to scaly and rough, and stitching bible verses into the linings of children’s coats prevented a wide range of afflictions and created an aura of protection. It sounds batshit crazy, but there are people who still believe that some of the old “cures” used in isolated communities still work and those people still use them. However, something tells me that we’re no longer using ground up mummies to cure anything. It was called corpse medicine and it was absolutely a thing in the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is Humorous

There are four humors: Blood/Sanguine, Phlegm, Yellow Bile, and Black Bile and these four humors (according to Hippocrates) governed a large majority of early “medical” practices. Let’s take a peek at each individually, shall we?

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The four humors and their qualities.

Blood: Blood is found in veins and arteries (seems pretty normal, right?) and can also be referred to as Sanguine (Latin for to deal with blood.) Hippocrates believed that the liver was exclusively in charge of the blood making process within the body and that the amount of blood within a single individual could influence their complexion as well as their personality. Production of blood was linked to spring and summer and, as the seasons got warmer, the increasing heat brought blood to the surface of the skin producing sweat in an effort to cool off (likely why the blood humor is linked to heat and moisture.) If you had an excess of blood, it meant you were Sanguine and your personality would be jovial or charismatic. It could also mean that you were big into day dreaming and sociable toward others. Sanguine personalities often had red complexions, further leading *”physicians” of the time to believe that their evaluation of Sanguine individuals was correct. Bleeding was the general cure for too much of this humor.

*Please note that I’ve put the term “physician” within quotation marks. During this time, anyone could be a physician on a whim. There were “good physicians,” but nobody really had a clue as to the inner workings of the human body. Anyone could wake up one morning and decide to start treating patients. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. Moving right along…

Phlegm: You’ve likely become familiar with this humor while hacking up a lung during cold and flu season. Way back when, phlegm was associated with winter and cold weather. Makes sense. While it was cold and damp outside, people had a tendency to get sick and, of course, the phlegm itself was considered the cause of the illness (not a byproduct.) The treatment would be to avoid cold foods and liquids. If you’re sick, you don’t really have that get up and go, which is likely why people who were categorized as Phlegmatic were quiet and sluggish. The brain and lungs were said to produce this humor.

Black Bile: It just doesn’t exist within the human body. It is likely that clotted blood was mistaken for black bile and was categorized as such. It was believed that Black Bile was produced by the gall bladder and diseases of “fear and despondency.” This was later called melancholia (melancholy,) meaning sad. Black bile is associated with the earth and the season of autumn.

Yellow Bile: If you’ve ever gone a while without eating to the point of being physically sick, you’ve likely met this humor. Yellow Bile was associated with aggression and the element of fire. That makes sense because vomiting stomach acid can be very uncomfortable.

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The four temperaments as depicted in an 18th-century woodcut: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic.

When treatments for certain ailments failed to produce a desired result or a cure, new methods of treatment were explored. Here’s where shit gets weird.

Dear Mummy

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the four humors, let’s look a little closer at the practice of corpse medicine. Now, corpse medicine is not about providing medicinal aid to corpses (because that would be silly.) “Here, Uncle Bob, take this cough syrup and bundle up before you catch cold!” I wish I could say that it’s not what it sounds like, but it’s absolutely what it sounds like. This one quacks like a duck…

Just imagine going to see your chosen “physician” to get treated for a severe case of gout. It is likely that you’d be prescribed  a small tincture of powder. That powder would be the ground  up remains of an Egyptian mummy.

Seriously. A mummy. I’m not kidding.

You could mix the powder with water or in alcohol (if you could afford such a luxury) and drink it down or add just enough water to make a paste and rub it on the affected area. People might even bake it into bread or stir it into whatever they were eating.

Mummies were stolen from their tombs, Irish burial sites were raided and, in an effort to provide a “cure” for what ailed ‘ya, some people even created a powder on their own in order to make a fast buck. It was probably just ground up bones and a little dirt, but the placebo effect was good enough for most people.

Eventually, the world of corpse medicine began to expand to other human remains. Let’s be honest, there aren’t that many mummies in the world and there certainly wasn’t enough supply for the demand.  Grave diggers were employed by those willing to pay for corpses that had been recently buried. Now, when you went to see the “doc” for your gout treatment, you were likely prescribed fat from a human body. You’d be told to slather the fat onto the affected area and then wrap it. I wish I was making this up. Even the King himself (King Charles II) embraced corpse medicine as a way to treat what ailed him. Daily, he would take The King’s Drops, a small tincture that he carried on his person at all times consisting of ground human skull muddled into alcohol.

Perhaps the King could afford corpse medicine, but what about the lowly peasants? Basically, they had to fend for themselves. At public executions, the crowds would gather as close to the front as possible on the off chance that they might be hit with a spurt of blood at a beheading and dip handkerchiefs in the blood that pooled onto the scaffold. Just when you thought there was no possible way to make a beheading more gruesome. Some people paid a small amount for a cup of blood that they could then consume (apparently it was better/more effective warm.) For those who preferred to have their blood cooked, a recipe from a Franciscan apothecary in 1679 described how to make it into a marmalade.

Another reason why corpse medicine was so popular was because consuming the remains of another human being was said to be akin to absorbing that persons essence into yourself. If you consumed the blood of a robust young man or of a virginal young woman, that blood was said to have been especially potent.

According to Beth A. Conklin, a cultural and medical anthropologist  at Vanderbilt University who has studied and written about cannibalism in the Americas,

“Even at corpse medicine’s peak, two groups were demonized for related behaviors that were considered savage and cannibalistic. One was Catholics, whom Protestants condemned for their belief in transubstantiation, that is, that the bread and wine taken during Holy Communion were, through God’s power, changed into the body and blood of Christ. The other group was Native Americans; negative stereotypes about them were justified by the suggestion that these groups practiced cannibalism. “It looks like sheer hypocrisy,” says Conklin. People of the time knew that corpse medicine was made from human remains, but through some mental transubstantiation of their own, those consumers refused to see the cannibalistic implications of their own practices.

Conklin finds a distinct difference between European corpse medicine and the New World cannibalism she has studied. “The one thing that we know is that almost all non-Western cannibal practice is deeply social in the sense that the relationship between the eater and the one who is eaten matters. In the European process, this was largely erased and made irrelevant. Human beings were reduced to simple biological matter equivalent to any other kind of commodity medicine.” 

 

I know corpse medicine sounds crazy, but it actually kind of (stay with me here) made sense. In the 16th and 17th centuries, they weren’t even sure how blood was being circulated throughout the body, let alone what all of the organs inside the body were responsible for. Back then, this form of medicinal treatment made sense because the cure was applied to the afflicted body part. Have a headache? Maybe rub some of this on your head. Stomach upset? Drink a bottle of this. Have rough skin? Rub some of this on it. The cure and the affliction went hand in hand and, until we figured out a little more about the complicated machine that is the human body, that was all we had to go on.

According to Leonardo da Vinci, “We preserve our life with the death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life.”

Seems legit, Leo. Seems legit.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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