S2 Ep. 11: Just Bury It and Walk Away



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

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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.


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.”


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.


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.

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.


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.


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


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.

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.”


“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,



Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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

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.”


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.


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,


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,



Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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


S2 Ep. 3: Halloween Episode (Sort Of)

S2 Ep. 3: Halloween Episode (Sort Of)


This week, Mimi returns with the tale of Poveglia Island in Venice, Italy, and Janine mesmerizes us with the story of Franz Freidrich Anton Mesmer, the father of Mesmerism.

This episode contains memories from Halloween past, talk of witches and The Craft, being recognized, and shitty people.
*Note: If you’re not a fan of chit chat, we’d suggest you begin listening at about 20 minutes in.

Chillingham Castle: Most Haunted?

Chillingham Castle has been featured on many ghost hunting shows. Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Hunters International, and Holiday Showdown, to name a few, have all taken a turn on the crazy whirligig of fun that is Chillingham. Safe to say, it’s the least chill place on earth.

Chillingham Castle has been featured on many ghost hunting shows. Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Hunters International, and Holiday Showdown, to name a few, have all taken a turn on the crazy whirligig of fun that is Chillingham. Safe to say, it’s the least chill place on earth.


Brief History

Located in Chillingham, Northumberland, the castle was the first line of defense preventing Scots from getting over the border to invade England. Originally a monastery in the late 12th century, the structure became a fully fortified castle in 1344 and was the seat of the Grey and Bennet families from the 15th century right up to the 1980’s. If you’ve heard of the Grey monument in Newcastle upon Tyne or savored a mug of Earl Grey tea, you should know that the Grey family has greatly influenced the course of history.

In the 1300’s, The War of the Roses had torn the Grey family apart, their support split between  Yorkists (Edward IV) and Lancastrians (Henry IV). The Lancastrians were the victors and the “winning side” of the family ordered 8 total executions of family members for high treason. They were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Sir Ralph Grey ordered his own son be put to death. The boy was hanged by the neck, cut down while still alive, his intestines were pulled from his abdomen, and he was quartered. His head was put on display at the gate as a warning.

In 1695, the Grey’s acquired the title of Earl of Tankerville, but had no son to to inherit it. (Perhaps if they’d refrained from killing the one they had..?) Lady Mary Grey married Charles Bennet who then inherited the title and brought the Bennet and Grey families together.

The following text read very much like an episode of Downton Abbey, Dowager Countess and all, so I’ll save you that frustration. I’m not saying it’s not valuable information. I’m saying I’d be here all day. Let’s skip ahead…

Structural Renovations

in 1344, King Edward III authorized battlements to be established at Chillingham in order to upgrade the structure into a stronghold and in 1617, after a visit from King James I (first king of England and Scotland), the moat was filled and the battlements were converted into residences. A banquet hall and a library were constructed.

During World War II, Chillingham housed soldiers and became a stronghold once again. Soldiers stripped much of the woodwork from the castle to burn for heat and pieces of a lead roof were removed, causing severe interior damage.

When the property was purchased in 1982 by Sir Humphry Wakefield, Second Baronet, whose wife was descended from the Grey’s of Chillingham, he set about restoring the structure to its former glory and opened sections of the castle to the public for tours.


The current owners of Chillingham market the castle as one of the most haunted places on earth. The structure has been investigated by paranormal investigators and has been featured on numerous television programs.

The most famous ghost, the Blue or, as he’s sometimes called, Radiant Boy is said to haunt the Pink Room. Guests claim a blue halo forms around the head of their bed and loud wailing can be heard. They then see the ghost of the  boy at the foot of the bed. During some of the castles many renovations, the body of a small boy and some scraps of blue fabric were found within a wall that was roughly 10′ thick. Those who found the remains reported that the bones of the fingers had been completely worn down, suggesting that the boy had been walled up alive and had tried to scratch his way out. Visitors to the castle still claim to see the blue light above the bed, but chalk it up to faulty wiring. The owners of the castle assert that there is no wiring in that wall.


The spirit of Lady Berkeley, the wife of Lord Grey, was reportedly left alone with her daughter at Chillingham after Grey ran off with her sister. The rustle of her dress can sometimes be heard in the corridors as she wanders aimlessly awaiting her husband’s return. Guests also report a chill in the air and the sensation of being touched.


The dungeon at Chillingham was a literal hell on earth. Prisoners would have their legs broken and their limp bodies would be thrown 20′ down into a pit. Many Scottish prisoners were kept in the dungeon and marked their time by scratching it onto the walls. These marks still remain. Prisoners were starved and often had to resort to cannibalism of their fellow prisoners or, if they were truly desperate, began to eat pieces of themselves.


The torture chamber was controlled by John Sage, one of King Edwards best men in battle. Sage was equipped with every kind of torture device imaginable and used each with pleasure. It is said that Sage tortured men, women, and children at the rate of 50 people per week for over three years.

When the war ended, Sage realized he had amassed a large number of prisoners and, in order to be rid of them, he had them all brought to the Edward Room. Men and women were separated from children and brought to the courtyard where they were burned alive. The children, locked in the Edward room and awaiting their own fate, watched with horror. Once Sage finished with the adults, he took an ax and butchered the children. Guests who stay in the Edward Room report a strong smell of blood and the ax used in the massacre is on display in one of Chillingham’s stairwells.


Eventually, Sage got what was coming to him. A tribal leader had Sage tortured because he had supposedly killed the man’s daughter. Sage was strung up by his neck and his body was mutilated. His nose, testicles, and toes were cut off and he was left to die of his injuries. Locals who witnessed the event took pieces of Sage as souvenirs.

Over the years, many skeletal remains have been found inside the walls, in hidden rooms, in crawlspaces, and in sections of the castle that have been walled up for decades. Two bodies, a man and a boy,  have even been found within an old stone vault that had been walled up. There is no identification for these remains.

With all the dark history surrounding Chillingham, it is no wonder that the place is so active. Visitors report a feeling of overwhelming sadness hanging over the entire location and it is a rare occurrence to leave Chillingham unchanged by the experience. Visitors report their hair being pulled, being scratched and bitten by the unseen, and being touched by disembodied hands. Cold spots are often felt and orbs are often seen.

Hundreds of recordings and photographs stand as a testament to the activity at Chillingham Castle. It seems as if it will never outlive its past and is doomed to forever be a gateway for the horrors of the past.

Have you ever visited Chillingham Castle? Leave us a note in the comments.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,



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Poveglia: An Island Hell

Poveglia is an island located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian Lagoon and divided by a canal. Supposedly, the island is a paranormal hot spot and has been visited by many ghost hunters and, given the location’s history, the stories of paranormal activity might not be so far fetched.


In 1348, the Black Plague hit Italy. Believed to have been spread by rats transported by merchant ships (later, it was discovered that gerbils may have been to blame), major ports shut down. In an effort to contain the spread of the disease, it was decided that the afflicted of northern Italy would be transported via gondola to the island of Poveglia. Doctors and nurses tried to help those who had contracted the plague, but their efforts were for naught. As a result, over 160,000 people perished and were buried on the island in mass graves. Their remains were disposed of quickly. To this day, the topsoil contains nearly 50% human ash left over from the mass burial pits. The Black Plague would devour Europe, killing 30-60% of the population.


The late 1920’s’s brought more pain and torment when the island was again used to isolate  those who were a danger to others. This time, it was used as an asylum to house the mentally ill. Here, highly disturbed individuals could be “treated” and contained. Rumors about the head doctor, a man who performed deranged experiments on his patients, have permeated the history of the island. By the 1930’s, it is said that the doctor, tormented by the spirits of those he had killed, threw himself from the hospital’s bell tower. The tower still stands today and, even though there is no bell in the tower, visitors to the island can still hear it tolling late at night.

By 1970, nature had largely reclaimed Poveglia and its remaining structures. Although thrill seekers request passage to the island from local boat owners, those who reside on the mainland refuse to transport them, believing the island is cursed. Many will not even venture close.

Paranormal experiences on the island include an overwhelming feeling of being watched, scratched, pushed, and chased by spirits. Those who have experienced being pursued by unseen forces report that it is impossible to tell where the pursuer might be. It seems to them that the danger is all around them and sounds of screams and moaning can be heard all across the island.


In 2014, the island was sold to a developer named Luigi Brugnaro. Many wonder if Brugnaro will convert the island into some sort of luxury resort, but many more wonder if the spirits of Poveglia will allow it. Given the dark history and the unsettled spirits residing on the island, I think the answer is a resounding no.

What are your thoughts about the island of Poveglia? Would you spend the night there? Share in the comments!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,



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