This is the next of my series of rescued Firefox News articles.
Not these teens.
Imagine going for a walk and finding a mystery that would endure for over two centuries. According to legend, this is what happened to teenager Daniel McGinnis in 1795. What would follow would be a 200 year long odyssey for buried treasure that would make The Goonies look sophisticated.
Along the way, the Money Pit would earn its name as investors (including Franklin Roosevelt) sank dollar after dollar into the deepening hole that constituted the search that would claim six lives.
But long before all that, there was only Oak Island, fear of unexplained spook lights and the whispers of pirate gold.
Oak Island is a 140 acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia in Mahone Bay. The island itself is one of hundreds that lace the bay. And while in the eighteenth century most of them were sparsely vegetated with seagrass, oats and wildflowers, Oak Island was different. The island was studded with live oaks, trees more common to the humid delta regions of the Southern United States than to the colder climate of Nova Scotia.
At the time of Daniel McGinnis’ walk, it was taken for granted that the island had been favored by Captain William Kidd because of its well protected bay and the natural harbor on the ocean side, which allowed his ship to come and go completely undetected from the mainland.
It was said that Kidd and his crew had chosen Oak Island becasue of its distinctive vegetation. And since it was further north than his usual haunts, Kidd was relatively safe from pursuit there. Legend held that in 1720, large bonfires were spotted on Oak Island. Several fishermen who rowed over to investigate vanished without a trace. For decades afterward, locals stayed away from Oak Island, fearing the spook lights that had caused the fishermen to vanish.
All this was on Daniel McGinnis’s mind on the April day when he rowed out to Oak Island in search of pirate souvenirs. His hope was to find a knife or maybe a gold coin or two. Something he could sell for a little pocket change. He soon found evidence that the island had been inhabited, although not recently. His findings pushed him to look inland. Before long, Daniel found an old oak tree with a block and tackle hanging by a piece of rotting rope from the lowest branch. The pulley system hung over a circular depression that was filled with loose soil, as if something had been buried there.
McGinnis returned the next day with two friends: John Smith and Anthony Vaughn. The three boys explored the island. On the southern shore they found a boulder with an iron ring embedded into it that would have been the perfect place to anchor a ship. As they further explored, they found an overgrown road that ran the length of the island and led to the clearing with the strange depression.
Once there, they further explored the tree. It looked as if something heavy had been hoisted from the tree into the depression. The wood where the pulley hung was deeply scarred.
Encouraged, the boys began to excavate the depression, reasoning that they would find a pirate’s treasure and be home by nightfall
The first try.
However, they quickly found that their plans were not meant to be. Two feet down they came across a layer of flagstones that covered the Pit. They pried these up, and continued the excavation.
At ten feet down they came to a layer of oak logs that spanned the Pit. The logs were rotten, and had been caulked with ship’s putty. Subsequent carbon dating would place the logs to 1575, the era of Spanish Conquest.
The boys pried these up and continued to dig. At both twenty and thirty feet down they found more layers of logs. By now, they had spent several days excavating the shaft. At this point, the boys were unable to continue. They went home with the intention of someday returning to continue their excavation.
I bet this is what they were hoping for.
It took them nearly eight years, but the boys, now men decided to let a wealthy friend in on their story. The friend, Simeon Lynds, formed a company for the purpose of digging up the treasure. He called it the Onslow company, found a few investors and raised the capitol for another excavation. In 1803 workman once again began to dig down the shaft.
The second try.
At the thirty five foot mark, workmen uncovered a layer of coconut fiber, presumably transported from the west Indies, some two thousand miles away.
The workmen again uncovered a platform of logs every ten feet until they reached the ninety foot mark. Each level was sealed with something different. Some layers with coconut fiber, some with ships putty, some with coal.
At ninety feet, they broke through a layer of brick-hard putty and encountered an inscribed stone. The inscriptions were in a type of hieroglyphics that no one had ever seen, on a stone unlike anything that existed in Nova Scotia.
Unsure what it meant, John Smith took the stone home and built it into his fireplace. He was careful to face it outward so that the inscription could be seen – on the off chance that someone might decipher it someday.
At ninety eight feet, the workmen heard the sound of a large, hollow vault. Encouraged that they were near the end, the workmen decided to knock off for the night. It was late on a Saturday, and since no one would work on the Sabbath, it would be Monday before anyone returned to the excavation.
But the treasure was not meant to be. On Monday the workmen returned to the shaft – only to discover that the Pit had filled with water back up to the level of 30 feet. Workmen tried to bail the shaft – first with buckets and then with a pump. But the water level remained the same. In defeat, they halted the excavation.
Two years later, in 1805, McGinnis, Smith and Lynds tried again. They dug a Pit running parallel, but ten feet deeper. The hope was that if the Money Pit had struck a natural spring, thaen they would bypass it and dig up underneath the treasure to retrieve it.
Unfortunately, the workmen made a fatal error and dug the second shaft too close to the first one. When the group tried to tunnel over to the first shaft, the pressure of the water collapsed the wall between the two. Three men were drowned and the new shaft filled with water to the same level as the Money Pit. By now the treasure seemed further away than ever. In disgust, the group gave up.
The booby (trap) prize.
As it turned out, the Onslow Company had triggered a sophisticated booby trap laid out by the Pit’s original designers. As they excavated the shaft, they inadvertently unplugged a 500 foot waterway that had been dug from the Pit to nearby Smith’s cove by the shaft’s designers. Part of the reason that the pumps would not pump the water out was that as quickly as the water was removed, it was refilled by the sea.
Eventually excavators would discover a very complex system of channels created by the Pit’s designers to keep diggers away from the secret of the shaft. But none of this was known to the treasure hunters in 1805.
The third try.
A half-century later, a new group of treasure hunters made a try at the Money Pit. Calling themselves the Truro company, the group was formed by Dr. David Lynds, a relative of Simeon Lynds, and Anthony Vaughn, the youngest of the original three teens who had started the search for the Money Pit. By now, McGinnis had died and Smith chose not to be part of the new venture.
By now both shafts had collapsed, and the company had to start again. They dug a new shaft in the spot where the original shaft had been. At a depth of eighty six feet, things appeared dry, and the group was convinced that they had avoided their predecessors’ misfortunes.
As had happened before, on Sunday the group stopped working to attend church. By two o’clock that afternoon, when workmen returned to the shaft, they found it filled with water to a depth of thirty feet. Once again, attempts to bail out the Pit proved futile.
However they were undaunted. Since they were unable to dig their way to the treasure, they decided that they would drill down and find out if there was actually something there.
The results of the core sample were as follows: At 98 feet the drill went through a spruce platform. The it encountered four inches of oak and then 22 inches of “metal in pieces.” Next 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal, four inches of oak and another later of spruce.
The Truro company concluded that the oak/metal/oak sample was from two treasure casks filled with coins. When they brought the core sample up, there were three links from what looked to be a fine gold watch chain in the sample.
This was all the proof the Truro company needed to continue their search. The following spring they attempted to sink a parallel shaft into the earth just as the Onslow company had. Predictably, this shaft also flooded. At this point, the workmen noticed that the water filling the shaft was sea water, which rose and fell with the tides. In a belated moment in which all persons involved were probably smacking their foreheads into the palms of their hands, most everyone realized that the shafts of the Money Pit always flooded to a depth of thirty feet: Sea level.
Around the same time, the workmen also noticed that at low tide, there was water flowing out of the beach. Which led to a shocking discovery: The beach was artificial.
The shocking discovery.
If a pirate did hide something here, his ghost is probably going HAHAHAHA!
What the Truro company discovered was a diabolically clever plan worthy of One-Eyed Willie.
Whomever had created the Money Pit had also devised a way to forever safeguard the treasure. A drainage system, consisting of five channels that spread like the fingers of a hand from the Money Pit to the sea. Each channel was filled with a filtering system of coconut fiber, rocks and eel grass to keep silt and salt out while still allowing water to flow into the Pit.
Armed with this information, the Truro company reasoned that the answer was simple: block off the sea, pump out the Pit and dig down to the treasure.
To do this, the company planned to build a dam around the beach at Smith’s cove.
Amazingly, when workers began construction, they found the remains of an older dam. One that possibly had been built to hold out the sea water while the channels were being built in the island.
Construction on the dam was nearly complete when a storm knocked it down.
Plan B was to block off the channels. However the company failed to find them after sinking numerous shafts inland. Discouraged and disheartened, the company gave up.
The bottom drops out.
The next attempt to retrieve the treasure was made by the Oak Island association in 1861. First they cleared the Money Pit down to a depth of 88 feet. Then they sank a second shaft to the east of the Pit in the hopes of intercepting the channel that filled the Pit with sea water. The new shaft was dug to a depth of 120 feet without encountering the channel and then abandoned. A third shaft was dug to the west of the Money Pit down to a depth of 188 feet. Then they attempted to dig over to the Money Pit.
Again, water began to flow in – both to the west Pit, and the Money Pit. Attempts at bailing out the water seemed to be working – when suddenly water rushed into the shafts and the bottom of the Money Pit dropped by fifteen feet. The Oak Island Association was left scratching their heads and wondering why.
One theory put forth was that there was a chamber below the Money Pit. Years of drilling, floods, excavation and more floods weakened the chamber leading to it’s eventual collapse. Another theory was that the Money Pit collapsed into the western shaft – scattering the goodies at the bottom of the Pit into both shafts.
Over the next few years, various groups tried unsuccessfully to excavate the Money Pit. One man was killed when a steam pump exploded from the strain of pumping water from the shaft. By this point, approximately 37 holes had been dug into the area surrounding the Money Pit. Since few – if any – records were kept by the various treasure hunters excavating the Pit, many treasure hunters were left combing over previously hunted ground.
In 1866 the place where the channel met the Money Pit shaft was discovered – but by then it was too late to plug the hole. So many boreholes and shafts had been dug around the Pit that the water would divert into the honeycombed area and seep into the Pit through a dozen different directions. At one point dynamite had been used in an attempt to close the channel.
A second find in 1866 further fueled the spirit of discovery. A language professor in Halifax translated the inscription stone that sat in John Smith’s fireplace. According to him, the inscription read: Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.
What lies beneath.
In 1893, Frederick Blair formed a new search party, the Oak Island Treasure Company. The group was able to dig down to 111 feet – where they briefly found the mouth of the channel — temporarily blocked with Rocks. The water eventually worked its way through the rocks, but not before Blair’s company was able to take another core sample.
At 126 feet, wood was struck and then iron. This was probably part of the material that fell during the crash of the Pit. On previous drillings, the wood was encountered at 122 feet and the iron was missed completely, Which may have indicated that the material was lying in a haphazard way due to the previous collapse
At 130 and then again at 160 feet, more layers of the putty were found similar to those discovered by McGinnis, Smith and Vaughn.
In the gap between these layers, a cement vault was discovered. The vault itself is 7 feet high with 7 inch thick walls. Inside the vault, the drill first struck wood, then a void several inches high and an unknown substance. Next a layer of soft metal was reached, then almost three feet of metal pieces, then more soft metal.
When the drill was brought back up, a piece of velum was stuck to the auger. The fragment had a set of letters written on it in India Ink. The letters spell out either “vi,” “ui” or “wi.”
A second tunnel.
Blair became more convinced than ever that treasure was within his grasp. The Oak Island Treasure Company began sinking more shafts around the Money Pit. However all of them were unsuccessful due to flooding. Suspicious that there might be a second flood tunnel, the workmen dropped red dye into the Pit. Then watched the beach to see where it would come out. To their amazement, the dye came out on both sides of the island. There was indeed a second tunnel.
By the turn of the century, the Pit had yet to yield up its treasure. The original site was a quagmire, and the oak tree that had once pointed the way was long gone. Five men had lost their lives in pursuit of the treasure. But this did nothing to stop the interest in Oak Island and the Money Pit.
A link to Kidd? Maybe.
In 1936 a retired wealthy businessman named Gilbert Heddon was the next to make a serious attempt at the treasure. Heddon thought that if the second tunnel was blocked off, the quagmire would eventually dry out and the island would be safe to excavate again.
Heddon researched pirate lore to try and find the floodgate. During this attempt, he stumbled over a pirate map that he believed to belong to Captain Kidd. The map, he believed, pointed to the Money Pit as the location of a cache of Kidd’s gold. But ultimately, the map turned out to be a fake.
Tragedy strikes. Again.
In 1959, Robert Restall , a former circus performer, moved to Oak Island with his wife, Mildred and their two sons, Bobby and Rich. This was to prove a fatal choice on their part. In 1965 Restall was working in a twenty seven foot shaft, when he passed out from inhaling carbon monoxide that had collected there.
Seeing his father fall, Bobby rushed to his aid. He too, succumbed to the gas. Two other workman also failed to realize what was happening and met their untimely demise in the shaft.
Soon after the Restall tragedy, Bob Dunfield brought in heavy machinery to deal with the island. He first tried heavy bulldozers and cranes to block the inflow of water from the north channel. Then he attempted to do the same with the south. Although he failed to find the southern channel, he did discover an additional channel. One that seemingly went nowhere.
Dunfield theorized that the island contained a large, natural underground cavern.
After 1970, the rights to search the Money Pit have were held by Daniel Blankenship and Triton Alliance. Following up on Dunfield’s theory that there was a natural cavern under the island, Triton made several boreholes in search for the underground cavern.
In one attempt, now known as borehole 10X, a probable underground cavern was found. An underwater camera was lowered into the hole. The camera photographed what may be chests filled with treasure, as well as human remains.
An attempt was made to send divers into the underground cavern, but poor visibility and strong current made the attempt impossible. Since that time the hole had closed up and the Triton partnership has collapsed.
Despite this, Blankenship and the group who now owned the other half of the interests to Oak Island Tours received the proper legal documents to once again search for the treasure. New excavations have begun in 2008.
Skeptics who doubt the existence of the treasure have pointed out that all of the information listed above is merely the popular legend. In the way of facts, much of it is unverifiable due to a lack of physical evidence, contemporary accounts or primary sources.
Many elements of the story, they point out, are drawn from romanticized stories of pirate gold: from the cypher stone, to the tantalizing but inconclusive clues. Further, new elements seem to be added to the story any time there is a renewed interest in buried treasure. Many of them designed to draw in investors.
In 1995, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute undertook a two week survey of the island. Their findings indicated that the drainage system that exists on the island is natural, not man made. They viewed the footage taken in borehole 10X and found it to be inconclusive.
Despite this, there is no end to the belief in the buried treasure, or the theories as to what might be hidden at the bottom of the money pit.
Theories have ranged from the pirate hordes of Captain Kidd and Blackbeard to the missing crown jewels of France, to the Holy Grail, to the treasure of Rome brought to these shores by the Visgoths, to the secret treasures of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. Only slightly more credible is the theory that the treasure is the missing back pay for British soldiers, hidden from American Revolutionaries in Nova Scotia.
Today, the island hosts tourism events, even as Oak Island Tours continue searching for the treasure. However, it’s doubtful that any gold found would ever equal the vast amount of money and resources that have been thrown into the Money Pit.
Another Firefox News article. This hotel was the basis for the hotel I used in Bride of Tranquility.
There are a lot of places that claim to be the most haunted in America, but only the Crescent hotel has the pedigree to back up that claim. The building has been a Victorian-era resort, a private school, a sanatorium straight out of a horror movie, a women’s college and more recently, a movie star thanks to numerous documentaries including an episode of Ghost Hunters.
In the early 1880’s when the hotel was constructed, the Ozark Mountains were experiencing a tourist boom. At the time, it was believed that the spring waters, so abundant to the region, had curative powers. The legacy of that belief still exists in the names of towns like Eureka Springs and Siloam Springs.
The hotel earned its first ghost during construction, when Michael, an Irish stonemason working on the hotel, fell from the roof and landed in the second floor area. The place where he landed, now room 218, is said to be the most haunted room in the building.
The hotel was an instant success from the time that it opened, drawing tourists from across the nation to enjoy the beauty of the Ozarks and imbibe the supposedly healing properties of the spring waters. However, interest in the area as a vacation destination died off once people realized that the waters had no curative properties.
Over the next few years the hotel began a gradual slide into disrepair before being turned into a a girls school and then a women’s college. It was during this time that rumors of hauntings multiplied. Usually the ghosts were attached to stories of wayward girls and lovelorn young women who had either hung themselves or thrown themselves from the balconies in a fit of depression.
But the real horror was yet to come.
In 1937, Norman Baker leased the building with the intention of turning it into a health resort. Baker was a charismatic man who thought of himself as a medical expert. Through a nationally-broadcast radio show, Baker claimed to have discovered the cure for a laundry list of ailments, including cancer.
This would be the second health resort that Baker ran. The first, in Muscatine, Iowa, was closed down by the authorities. Undaunted, Baker moved his patients to his new resort in Eureka Springs and advertised his resort with the claim that he had saved patients lives without using X-rays or operations.
The patients who went to Baker for help found only disappointment and death.
Eventually, Baker was arrested on charges of mail fraud. And while authorities believe he was nothing more than a quack and a con man, locals tell a different story.
Baker, they say, liked to experiment on his patients – both living and dead. One of his more gruesome treatments – according to rumor – was to peel back the patient’s scalp and pour his curative directly into the patient’s brain. According to legend, dozens of patients died from this treatment.
Supposedly, when the hotel was later renovated, workmen found skeletons hidden within the walls. To this day, local legends say that there are preserved body parts – hidden so well that even the hotel’s current owners haven’t been able to find them.
After renovations, when the hotel was opened to tourists, thestaff received frequent reports of ghostly activity.. Hotel guests, particularly guests in room 218, report being shaken awake at night. Others have seen a silent man, dressed in Victorian clothing, sitting forlornly in the bar area.
The hotel once had an antique switchboard in the basement, but it was disconnected after it had been left off the hook by an unknown prankster one too many times. Locking the basement doors didn’t seem to help. Although the staff thought they had fooled a human jokester, the switchboard continued to signal to the front desk that it had been left off the hook.
Even more troublesome, the staff members who went to reset the switchboard reported feeling that they were not alone in the basement. Some refused to go down to reset the switchboard again.Eventually the hotel simply removed it.
Other ghosts frequently seen by guests include Dr. Baker, who has been seen in the first floor stairway and one of his nurses who wanders the third floor hallway pushing a gurney. Some guests report being shaken awake at night, or hearing the sounds of unseen children.
In room 419, guests and housekeepers alike have reported seeing a woman who introduces herself as a cancer patient before vanishing.
What makes the hotel such a hotbed of spectral activity? Some say that the high energy contained in the mineral waters of the underground spring that runs beneath the hotel attracts the ghosts. Others say that the stories were cooked up to draw in tourists and revive interest in the old hotel.
Whichever you believe, the ghosts have put the hotel on the national radar, thanks to documentaries and shows like Ghost Hunters.
The hotel offers ghost tours nightly, seven days a week. And hotel guests and visitors are welcome to wander the halls and decide for themselves
Cover art for my short story, drawn by Cesar Valtierra
My short story, The Hobos, The Devil and James Dean’s Car has been published in the pulp magazine Crimson Streets. You can read it here. I got the idea for the story after I wrote an article about James Dean’s cursed car, (which you can read here).
In other news, I’ll be at Soonercon on Friday and Sunday (but sadly, not Saturday), Celebrating Yard Dog Press’s 20th anniversary.
My schedule is as follows:
Getting into comics (where to jump in as a new reader) – 2:00 pm
Worst book ever – 3:00 p.m.
Yard Dog Roadshow 8:00 p.m.
Koffee Klatch – 10:00 a.m.
Autographs – noon
Reading – 2:00 p.m.
The future of the force 3:00 p.m.
That Dress Is To Die For!
During the Industrial Revolution, nearly everything could kill you. You could catch the flu from your big, drafty manor house, catch illness from your unpasteurized milk, or poison yourself wearing an arsenic green silk dress.
In this, my latest attempt at podcasting, I discuss the dangers of living during the industrial revolution and how even Napoleon might have been killed by the poison lurking in his very walls.
It’s less than 7 minutes long. Give it a try!
My research for this Podcast:
Another oldie from Firefox News. I’m not sure how relevant this one is anymore. But it was fun to write.
The cheeriest entrance to hell on the planet.
Let’s say for the sake of argument, Satan got married. (Personally, I always thought of Old Scratch as a harem-type of guy, but I suppose it could happen.)
And let’s also say that The Darkness family (as in Prince Of) had a child. But unlike his more famous half-brother, The Jersey Devil, little Lucifer Jr. and mom didn’t survive the delivery.
The question is, where would The Devil bury his family? (Assuming he cared.) According to several generations of Kansas University college students, that place would be Stull cemetery.
There aren’t many places on the planet as controversial as Stull Cemetery. To local residents, it has always been a quiet local graveyard, where several generations of Stull residents rest in peace. But to area college students, the legends tell a different story.
The story starts either 100 years ago, or in the mid-70’s depending on who you ask.
In November of 1974, an article appeared in the University of Kansas student newspaper describing the strange events that supposedly occurred in the now-notorious cemetery. According to the story, the cemetery in Stull Kansas was one of the seven gateways to hell. (The other six were located in Oklahoma. Go figure.) And that twice a year, on Halloween and the Spring Equinox, the Devil comes to visit the cemetery (along with some place in India).
Though the article didn’t list any definitive source, it said that the story “went back at least 100 years,” and that local students “knew of the story from their grandparents.” The article went on to say that students who visited the cemetery experienced memory loss, missing time, were grabbed by unseen hands, or had been menaced by a werewolf (Satan’s little ankle-biter in the literal sense).
Residents of Stull were quick to denounce the story (you would be too, if someone told you your dearly-departed granny was a Devil-worshiper). But the tale took on a life of its own. Over the years, the graveyard has received as many as 500 visitors at a time. Like the Devil’s paparazzi, they wrecked havoc on the old cemetery.
Over the years, some of the stories attached to the cemetery have included:
The original name of the town was Skull. It was later changed to Stull to hide its black magic roots.
(In actuality, the town’s original name was Deer Creek Community. It was changed in 1899 by the town’s postmaster, Sylvester Stull. )
The town became cursed when in 1850, a stable hand murdered the town’s mayor in an old stone barn located in the cemetery. (Deer Creek was a mayor-less community in 1850 )
A stairway to hell was located in the old stone church inside the cemetery. Despite the fact that the roof had long since fallen-in, no rain would fall inside the church. A cross hanging on one wall would turn upside down anytime someone looked inside. (all untrue.)
On a visit to Colorado, Pope John Paul II ordered his plane to fly around eastern Kansas so that he wouldn’t fly over the “unholy ground” of Stull. (also untrue).
Stull was the reason that the rock band The Cure would not play in Kansas City.
Hangnails? Blame Stull.
Rumor has it that in Stull, Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck beat the devil up and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn’t stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.
Over the years, much has been done to discourage unholy rubberneckers. A fence has been installed around the property with prominent no tresspassing signs, and the slowly-collapsing church has been demolished.
Almost in response to this, a new story has cropped up. Legends now say, that it’s not that Stull cemetery that the devil visits. All along it’s been the other Stull cemetery.
The one question no one seems to be asking in all of this is why? Assuming (as we already have) that the Devil comes to Stull twice a year to visit the graves of his wife and child. Presumably, Mrs. Lucifer and little Luci Jr. would go to hell upon death, where the Prince of Darkness reigns supreme. So if they’re in hell with him, why visit their graves at all?
Maybe he just wants a vacation.
Since writing this post, I’ve learned that the Marquis De Lafayette hunted La Bette as a boy. Talk about your weird coincidences.
No one is sure what the beast was, but it probably wasn’t a furry.
It sounds like the premise of a bad Fox Network Special: A large creature springs out of the woods, attacking local farmers before melting back into the underbrush, disappearing until its next attack.
Questions surrounding the beast still persist today: Was it real? And if so, what was it? And why did the attacks grab the public’s attention so?
The first recorded incident that can be linked to the beast occurred on June 1, 1764. A young woman was tending to her cattle when a large beast emerged from the nearby woods, and charged directly for her. The woman later said that the dogs that were with her fled from the beast. However the bulls in the pasture charged it and drove it away with their horns.
She claimed she saw a large wolf-like animal, about the size of a cow.
The woman would prove to be the first, most fortunate survivor in an encounter with the beast. No doubt her story was remembered as the summer progressed into autumn and the partially-devoured corpses of men, women and children began turning up all over area.
The beast was most often described as a wolf, or wolf-like creature, but experts of the time (and now) were baffled as to what the beast actually was. For one thing, its description didn’t fit with any known predator. While descriptions varied widely, the beast was consistently described as being wolf-like, approximately the size of a cow, with protruding fangs, red fur, a tail like a lion and a head like a greyhound.
For another, it behaved unlike any creature they had ever seen.
It seemed to posses a kind of cunning, predatory intelligence in that it avoided armed groups of men. Instead its prey of choice was women, children, and unarmed men traveling alone. Additionally, its favorite method of attack was a lightning strike to the head, as opposed to the legs or throat that most predatory animals favored.
The beast’s grisly string of murders would capture the morbid fascination of the general public in a way that no other string of murders had before, and would not again until 100 years later when Jack The Ripper would terrorize London.
As more and more people were killed, and even greater numbers saw the beast, it became clear that there was something very real in the woods of the Gévaudan area.
As the years rolled by, the beast took an impressive toll. Official records list almost 200 encounters, with 33 wounded and 88 dead. However, some sources put these numbers much higher.
Meanwhile, a sort of mass hysteria fell upon the people. After the creature survived numerous encounters with hunters, word got around that it was impervious to most weapons. Rumors began spreading that the creature was a werewolf, demon, or something conjured and controlled by a sorcerer.
Multiple sightings of beasts fueled fears that there were entire packs of the creatures hiding in the bogs and woods surrounding the region.
Entire villages would be abandoned, seemingly overnight, if the creature was spotted nearby. Local officials sent appeals for help to King Louis XV. The king responded by sending in the army. Specifically, capitaine-aide-major Duham
Since the beast hunted primarily women, the soldiers put on dresses to try and draw the beast out. Although they slaughtered hundreds of wolves, they proved unable to stop the attacks.
As the creature’s presence stirred up political and religious unrest in Southern France and made the country look weaker abroad, King Louis XV took a personal interest in getting rid of the beast.
Plan B involved replacing Duhamel with professional wolf-hunters Jean-Charles-Marc-Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son Jean-François. The men arrived in the region with eight bloodhounds, and spent the next several months exterminating even more wolves.
But when the attacks continued, King Louis went with his third back-up plan: his personal gun-bearer and lieutenant of the hunt, François Antoine de Beauterne.
Accounts conflict over what happened next. Some say that the king’s lieutenant killed the beast. Others say that he simply killed a large wolf. Still others claim that he killed several members of a pack of beasts.
At any rate, François Antoine de Beauterne killed something. Or several somethings which may or may not have been stuffed, mounted, skinned, or paraded around in front of the king and then buried when it began to rot.
And then, the killings began again.
Finally, in June of 1767 the Marquis d’Apcher assembled hundreds of hunters in the hopes of dispatching the problem once and for all. Under his direction, the hunters formed smaller parties and fanned out through the region searching for the monster.
The credit for the ultimate kill goes to a local hunter named Jean Chastel – although it is hotly debated whether what he killed was the beast, or it’s remaining offspring. According to popular tradition, Chastel assumed that the beast was a werewolf and took all the required precautions: carrying a gun blessed by a priest, loaded with silver bullets and praying all the proper prayers.
The legends say that Chastel was kneeling in prayer when the beast emerged from the woods to stare at him. Rather than take action, Chastel finished his devotions before standing and firing on the beast and killing it.
When the monster was subsequently gutted, human bones were found in its stomach.
Since the time of the monster’s rein of terror, a mountain of literature almost as tall as the creature itself has been written about it. Theories on what it was, as well as examinations of the impact it had on politics and religion in the region have been reexamined over the centuries. And over and over again, the same questions have been asked.
Was it real?
There is no doubt that there was really something terrorizing the Gévaudan region. The large number of eyewitness accounts, along with the very tangible evidence in the form of body count attests to that.
What was it?
In the two centuries since the attacks have ended, explanations for the beast have been wide ranging and increasingly creative. Early doomsday prophets claimed that she was sent by God to punish the wicked. Others claimed that the beast was part of an entirely new species. With the recognition of serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, the idea has been put forward that the beast was perhaps a serial killer taking advantage of the local wolf population to hide his grizzly activities.
The most widely accepted theory of the time was that she was a werewolf. Another was that it was a wolf/dog hybrid that was bred for hunting and then got out of hand. Or perhaps a lion, bear or hyena imported from Africa.
Speculation will always remain as to what exactly was killing the people in the Gévaudan region. Of the beast or beasts themselves, only the stories remain.
However, to quote the story “A Prowl With la Bête, or: When Twigs Crack Don’t Whistle”: The true tale of La Bête du Gévaudan is like a Shakespeare play, loving a plain woman or being a member of parliament – the more you put in the more there is to take away.
This is my favorite story from my time at Firefox News. For the people involved, I’m sure it’s not funny. But from the outside looking in, it’s morbidly hilarious. If you like pitch black comedy.
Not a mausoleum. Actually a pig iron smelter. Because? Less morbid.
This is a ghost story. Kind of. It’s also a cautionary tale: be careful who you argue with in life, because the results can come back to haunt you.
Our story starts in Ironton, Ohio, with a dead doctor, missing organs, a murder investigation, and a shifty undertaker.
During the turn of the century, Ironton, Ohio was to America what Silicon Valley is now: the heart of a thriving industry that supplied the world with needed goods. From 1850-1890, countries such as England, France and Russia bought iron ore from the busy iron foundries of the Hanging Rock region. This iron was shipped through the riverport town of Ironton.
Drive through Ironton today, and you can still see evidence of the city’s glorious past: a pipe organ donated by the Carnegies here, a stained glass Tiffany window there.
It’s slightly after this prosperous time that our story is set.
The spirit of the story is one Dr. Joseph W. Lowry, who is said to haunt the Briggs, Lawrence County public library. The library is built on the site of Lowery’s old home.
Is the library haunted? Hard to say. In 2000, I visited the library looking for Lowry’s ghost and came up empty. But the library staff say that Dr. Lowry keeps them all busy by rattling keys, closing doors and playing with the computerized card catalog.
Pretty tame stuff for a spirit. Particularly once you know Dr. Lowry’s story.
To hear the tale, Dr. Lowry was a well-respected physician who practiced in Ironton his entire life. However, this well-respected physician had a sticky reputation in the local courts system.
According to the Ironton Register, in June of 1896, Dr. Lowry sued the Ironton Board of Health for $500 (quite a tidy sum) for services rendered throughout the previous year as a city medical examiner. The city council refused to pay the bill, on grounds of its illegality.
Dr. Lowry was again in court in February of 1899. This time the doctor was being indicted for making false statements as a medical examiner.
But whatever Dr. Lowry’s character, the story actually begins in 1931, when Lowry’s wife died.
It’s said that the grief-stricken doctor ordered a custom-made casket for his petite wife.
That’s when the trouble started. When the casket arrived, Dr. Lowry was unhappy with it (or perhaps with the bill), and refused to have his wife buried in it, or even to pay for it. Instead he stuck the local undertaker with the bill for the costly casket.
Not a problem for our mortician. After all, he was the only game in town. Sooner or later, Lowry would need his services again. At that point, all bills would come home to roost.
As it turns out, the funeral director didn’t have long to wait. Barely two years later, Dr. Lowry passed away under suspicious circumstances. He was found in bed at home, in the middle of summer, with his heat turned on.
Suspicion fell on Dr. Lowry’s heirs, but the case was ultimately deemed a stroke and the doctor’s remains were turned over to the undertaker.
This was the moment our wily mortician waited for. Not only could he settle his old grudge with the good doctor, but in the process, he could also get back all that money that Dr. Lowry had cheated him out of two years prior. He would simply bury the doctor in the casket, and charge the bill to his estate.
If the doctor was too tall for the custom-made casket, well he wouldn’t exactly need his legs, would he? And if he was too fat for the lid to close, he wasn’t using those internal organs, anyway.
The undertaker would have gotten away with it too, if not for the growing suspicion that Dr. Lowry’s heirs had offed the old man for his money. An investigation soon followed. And when the authorities exhumed the body, our mortician had quite a few disturbing questions to answer. Like why Dr. Lowry’s legs were broken? And while we’re on the subject, where were his organs?
Unfortunately for Dr. Lowry, (or perhaps fortunately for his heirs), by the time the undertaker led the authorities to the place where he had hidden the doctors internal remains, they were so badly decomposed that they could not be tested for signs of poison.
These days, it’s said that Dr. Lowry roams about the halls of the library and Woodland Cemetery, searching for his missing organs and possibly regretting that he got on the wrong side of the one man who could get the last word in the argument.
A few years back I was a folklore blogger for Firefox news. Last month, the site’s owner finally decided to take everything down. Since there are a few articles from my time there that I’m proud of, I’m going to repost them here in the coming weeks.
The Heavener Runestone – probably not an ancient Viking billboard, but crazier things have happened.
These days you could say that Heavener Oklahoma is off the beaten path. The town, which sits nestled under the Poteau Mountain, is a little out of my cell phone range. So risking breakdown without the help of Triple A feels like an adventure. But if I feel a little lost in the wilds of Oklahoma, how much more lost would the Vikings have been if they had indeed settled here?
It sounds a little bit like the plot of a Hollywood movie starring Antonio Bandaras. But residents of Heavener maintain that around 900 A.D, Vikings paddled their longships down the Eastern Seaboard, around the tip of Florida, through the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers and then traveled overland into Eastern Oklahoma – where they put up a billboard.
Okay, they may have built settlements and planted crops, but none of those things have been found. What has been found is a large flat stone – twelve feet high, ten feet wide, sixteen inches thick, rectangular in shape and sitting in a mountaintop ravine – with six-inch high Norse runes carved deeply into it.
Translations of the runes vary. Some people maintain that they’re a date – November 11, 1012, while others say that they read “Glome’s Valley,” as either a land claim or a kind of early Viking graffiti.
Whether Vikings actually were in Oklahoma, they came and left long ago. And the evidence that they were here might have lived on in obscurity if not for a few key events.
Flash forward in time to 1838, when thousands of Native Americans were forcibly moved from Tennessee into Eastern Oklahoma. The new arrivals noticed the stone, which became known as Indian Rock by European settlers – even though the carvings were not recognized by anyone as either Native or Latin writing.
In the 1920’s a Heavener resident sent copies of the runes to the Smithsonian for identification. The Museum wrote back to say that the writing was Norse, but that it didn’t make sense for Norsemen to have made them. In all likelihood, museum officials reasoned, a Scandinavian settler must have made the carvings by working from a primary school grammar book from his homeland.
As settlers moved into the area, they found more and more of these engraved stones. However most of them were destroyed by treasure hunters. The same fate might have befallen the runestone, if not for the efforts of Gloria Farley, a local school teacher.
Farley researched and wrote extensively about the stone. Through her efforts, the name of the stone was changed from Indian Rock to The Heavener Runestone, and the Heavener Runestone State park was established. Eventually, she found four more examples of Viking Runes carved into the Oklahoma landscape. Some of these are now on display in the Heavner Runestone State park.
So did Vikings settle in rural Eastern Oklahoma? Authorities in history say no. What is known however is that Norsemen did establish settlements in Newfoundland and similar stones with Runic writing have been found in Minnesota.
More importantly, stranger things have happened. In 1939, two fishermen pulled a small Bull Shark out of the Mississippi river near in Alton, Illinois, about 1,750 freshwater miles outside of its natural habitat.
If a shark can be thousands of miles away from where it’s supposed to be, why not a Viking?
Back between my last big breakup and when I met Hubby, I watched this unlikely romance. (Kevin Kline as a scuzzy French thief with a pornstache? How is that romantic?) But something about the plot spoke to me and it became my favorite romantic comedy.
Meg Ryan is Kate, a woman engaged to Charlie the Doctor. Because she’s afraid to fly, hates the French and dosen’t want to mess up her application for Canadian citizenship, she refuses to go to France with Charlie. But before he goes, she confesses to him that she’s built up a nest egg big enough to buy a house with.
Charlie the Doctor gets scared that his whole life is now planned out and dumps neurotic Kate for Juliet the French goddesse (Dr. Charlie says it’s French for goddess).
Kate jumps a plane, meets Luc the thief, accidentally helps him smuggle diamonds and gets her luggage, money and papers stolen. As you do. This leads to her having her paperwork for Canadian citizenship rejected. Since the official at the American Embassy gets into a snit because Kate was trying to immigrate and won’t issue her a new passport, Kate is now without country.
In order to get close to Kate and get the diamonds back, Luc offers to help her win Doctor Charlie back. I’m sure you can guess the end.
I don’t typically love romantic comedies. But this one resonated with me. Probably because it was a right place, right time kind of thing. It’s about a girl who breaks up with the guy she thinks she’s supposed to be with and along the way finds the guy she’s really supposed to be with. There is great banter, Meg Ryan is quirky, Kevin Kline is gloriously sarcastic.
And there is this:
Luc: Why are you chasing after him after what he’s done to you?
Kate: Because I love him! And I’m afraid that if he doesn’t come back that I’ll… it’ll hurt so much that I’ll just shrivel up and I’ll never be able to love anyone ever again.
Luc: You say that now, but… after a time, you would forget. First, you would forget his chin, and then his nose, and after a while, you would struggle to remember the exact color of his eyes, and one day you wake up and, pfft, he’s gone: his voice, his smell, his face. He will have left you. And then you can begin again.
What can I say about what that meant to me in that time and place? The idea of being able to leave the past behind and begin again? The idea that someday it would get better?
And it did.
So if I have to choose a romantic comedy for Date Night that is not My Big Fat Greek Wedding (last month’s date night, that I forgot to blog a about) French Kiss is my favorite.
I planned to write about the food, but I guess my own introspection about the movie was more important.
Here are the recipes I used:
The James Bond date night was such a success, that Hubby ran to the gift box on February first to retrieve his gift. For February, I could have gone with a romantic date and not been out of line. There are a huge number of romantic comedies out there, and we have our favorites.
But why? Everyone else on the planet is doing romantic couple-y things in February. Instead, I opted for something different.
Now, there are a lot of holidays in February. So I had a lot of options:
Lincoln’s or Washington’s Birthday, President’s day – There are a ton of really good presidential themed movies, tv shows and documentaries that hubby and I love. The recent Lincoln movie, the less recent John Adams documentary, even the tv show Turn. Heck, for fun I could have chosen National Treasure. But I decided to have a whole lot of fun, and chose the other well-known holiday:
Hubby and I both love the Bill Murray movie. That movie is probably the reason many other people think fondly of the holiday, too.
In the movie, Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over again (estimates range from 10-30 years worth of days) until he experiences enough character growth that he has a truly perfect day, and breaks the cycle.
He spends part of many of those days in the local diner, pigging out on breakfast, because he no longer has to worry about calories or cholesterol.
So for our second dinner and a movie date, we had breakfast for dinner.
Again, Hubby wanted to tweak the menu. (It’s his gift, so sure.). Ever since we had banana pancakes with coconut syrup on our honeymoon, he’s loved them. To the point that I found a recipe to make the syrup myself. And he wanted to add blueberry muffins. Again a favorite.
And because I wanted something for myself, cinnamon rolls from a can.
So if you want a good coconut syrup recipe, I recommend this one here.
And this banana pancake recipe, which makes great regular pancakes if you leave out the banana.
Since dinner was so kid-friendly, we involved the kids in the food (but sent them to bed before the movie).