Friday, September 20, 2013

The History of the Ghost Story (and Why We Love Them)

Hidden Full Moon
Ghost on Stairs
Autumn is the season for falling leaves, cozy fires, candied apples, and ghostly tales. No other season lends itself with such atmosphere to those stories of lost souls, unseen beings and mysterious beasts traveling just beyond the perimeter of our world.

And we love to hear them, to be scared by them. Just look at the number of urban legends, ghost stories and horrifying tales that are on the internet. Not to mention the recent incursion of paranormal shows on television and radio.

Old Man

Pliny the Younger
Fact is, mankind has told ghost stories since ancient times. The concept of a ghost story began over two thousand years ago when Roman statesman and author Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61 – 115) told such tales in his letters. His accounts were of an old man in chains with a beckoning finger whose restless spirit haunted Pliny’s house. Pliny’s tales were so vivid, he was sought out to tell and retell the story.

Soul Departing Body
Pirate Ghost
Most cultures, then as now, believe that a person’s soul or spirit exists independently of his or her body, and continues to be present after death. It is thought that phantoms appear because they have unfinished business on earth, or because they are apprehensive about how, or if, they were buried properly. Most places that are haunted are associated with the ghost through emotions or something that happened there.

Specters have been seen all over the world. In 856 A.D. a poltergeist (German for noisy ghost) was reported to be tormenting a family in Germany.

Ann Boleyn's Ghost
In England, the ghost of Anne Boleyn has been seen in the Tower of London many times since her execution there in 1536.

Haunted U.S.
The U.S. is a country that has always been full of ghostly lore. And according to a new Gallup poll conducted this year, 37% of Americans believe in ghosts.

Native Americans would tell spirit stories around campfires as a way to instill values, strengthen their history, and help preserve their culture. Most of these stories involved morals aimed at making the younger members of the community think about their actions and decisions.

From Lithobolia
New Hampshire
The first settlers ghost story is said to have taken place in a tiny town in New Hampshire. In the spring of 1682, the home and tavern of George and Alice Walton suddenly became plagued by falling rocks, inside and out. The rocks fell for three months. No matter where the family went to try and escape, the phenomena followed them and the rocks would continue to pound whatever building they were in. But suddenly, as abruptly as the event began, it stopped. No explanation was ever found for why it had occurred although the secretary of the colony of New Hampshire, Richard Chamberlain, wrote a pamphlet about it, but the incidents remains a mystery to this day.

George Washington
Union Troops
Several of our presidents and founding fathers have been encountered as ghosts roaming their former haunts.
President George Washington’s ghost appeared to Union soldiers outside of Gettysburg during the bloody battle. Washington appeared on a white stallion, raised up his sword and issued the command, “Fix bayonets. Charge!” The Union soldiers, following his order, charged down the hill and forced the Confederates into a full retreat. It is said that Washington can still be seen each summer, galloping across the battlefield of Gettysburg.

Benjamin Franklin
Franklin's Statue
Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, inventor, writer, scientist and philosopher during his long life. But it appears that Franklin had a special fondness for Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society. He has been seen near the society’s library from time to time, and some report that he has inhabited his statue, located nearby and gone out dancing in the streets.

Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln's Ghost
President Abraham Lincoln’s life ended by an assassin’s bullet and his spirit has never rested easy. His ghost haunts the hallways of the White House, and his silhouette can be seen standing in the Oval office window as he continues to await word on the progression of the war. Lincoln’s spirit has also been seen in Springfield, Illinois his former home, where he wanders the old Capitol Building and the city streets late into the night.

M.R. James
The classic ghost story came about during the Victorian Age, from 1840 to 1920. These stories contained the fundamentals of folklore touched with psychology.  Author M.R. James, known for his ghost stories at the turn of the century, remarked that the essential elements of a ghost story are “the stoney grin of unearthly malice, “malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, and “long distant screams.”

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
The Turn of the Screw
Some of our best-loved ghost stories are from this period and include A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Canterville Ghost.

Today, we can sit in the comfort of our living rooms and be scared silly watching such television shows as Ghost Mine, Ghost Hunters, Stalked by a Ghost, and Notorious Hauntings. And since the 1970s, movies about ghosts have been an extremely popular genre.

Urban legends are our modern versions of folklore; they change as our world changes but they still echo our fears and provide us with an ethical message couched in a cautionary tale, warning us about what could happen if we take something too far.

The Hammersmith Ghost
Ghost stories offer us a way to be frightened but still maintain control over our lives. They help us to bond with others, sharing stories and fears that will end when the story is finished. Ghost stories are an escape into another realm that delivers more fear than our current situation. When you’re worrying about monsters and ghosts and demons, you’re not worrying about what you have to do tomorrow. And when the tale is done, suddenly, tomorrow doesn’t seem so bad…

~ Joy

*Thanks to Leonard Bruce Olin for the suggestion of this post!
Have a post suggestion? Let me know!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Today Marks the Anniversary of the First Auto Death in the US

Although we take them for granted, autos have only played a part in our transportation for the past 125 years. And, as with anything new, there were plenty of “firsts” where the motorized wagon was concerned.

In fact, it was 114 years ago today that the first known person was killed in a motorized vehicle accident in North America.  

Henry H. Bliss
San Remo Hotel
 It was around 9 p.m. on September 13, 1899, when 62-year-old Henry Hale Bliss, a Manhattan real estate dealer, stepped from a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York, to stand in front of the San Remo Hotel.  Bliss turned to offer his assistance to a female passenger, a Miss Lee, who was also getting off the streetcar, when an electric-powered taxicab struck him.

Bliss Death Certificate
Roosevelt Surgery
According to reports, Bliss was knocked to the ground by the impact and the taxi ran over his head and chest. Roosevelt Hospital surgeon, Dr. Marney, told officials that Bliss had been injured so badly he could not be expected to live. Bliss died of his injuries at Roosevelt Hospital the next morning around 6:25.

The driver of the oncoming cab, Arthur Smith was arrested and charged with
NYC Electric Cabs in 1899
manslaughter. Smith said that a large truck was blocking the right lane, “making it necessary for him to run his vehicle close to the car.
” Smith was later acquitted on grounds that the accident was not intentional.

The passenger in Smith’s cab at the time of the accident was Dr. David Orr Edison, son of former New York City Mayor Franklin Edison. Edison was returning from a call on a patient in Harlem at the time of the accident. He immediately sent for an ambulance after examining Bliss and proceeded to do what he could to keep him alive until help arrived.

Bliss Accident Scene

New York City Pedestrians
Cabbies and motormen referred to the area where Bliss was killed as the “dangerous stretch” because so many accidents had occurred there during the preceding summer.

Bliss's Grave Site
Henry Hale Bliss was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Flushing, New York. There is no stone to mark his grave today.

One hundred years later, on September 13, 1999, a plaque to commemorate the event was placed at the original scene of the accident. The plaque reads:

Commemorative Plaque
Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.

Mary Ward
There were actually two other vehicle deaths recorded in the world before Bliss. On August 31, 1869, 42-year-old Irish scientist Mary Ward was thrown from an experimental steam-powered car on a bend in the road in County Down in Ireland. Ward was thrown under the wheels of the car and run over. She died almost instantly from a broken neck. Ward is the first known person to have been killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Bridget Driscoll (Circled) and Family

In England on August 17, 1896, 44-year-old Bridget Driscoll was the first known U.K. pedestrian killed by an auto. Driscoll was crossing the grounds of the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill when she was struck by a motorized vehicle that was giving demonstration rides.

Crystal Palace Grounds
The driver of the car, Arthur Edsall claimed to be going 4 mph when the accident occurred, although some versions of the car could go up to 8 mph. The jury found the death to be accidental.

The accident occurred just a few weeks after Parliament had enacted a new speed limit allowing vehicles to travel up to 14 mph – an daring increase from the past limits of 2 mph in towns and 4 mph in the country.

At the close of 1900, there were close to 14,000 motorized vehicles on the roads in the U.S. and 36 people had died as the result of an auto accident. As of 2010, there were almost 240,000,000 vehicles on the road in America and there were over 25,500 vehicle deaths that year.

Morale of the story: Drive (and walk) safely!

~ Joy

Friday, September 6, 2013

125 Years Later - A Look Back at The Ripper’s Second Victim, Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman
She was known as “Dark Annie” because of her dark brown hair, but Annie Chapman was just another of Whitechapel’s “fallen women,” until the autumn of 1888 when that could end up costing you your life.

Annie Chapman was born in Paddington, England in September 1841 to George Smith and Ruth Chapman. (Her parents married six months later.)  Annie married a relative of her mother’s, John Chapman, on May 1st, 1869 in Knightsbridge.

Annie and John Chapman
John worked as a domestic coachman in order to support Annie and their two girls. By 1881, he was working as a farm bailiff, a type of supervisor who oversaw several tenant farms, collecting rents and making sure the farms were taken care of for the actual landowner. It was during this time that the Chapman’s had their only son, who was a cripple.

By 1885 Annie had tired of married life and took to the streets in London, selling crochet work, matches, and flowers. John Chapman provided Annie with a small allowance to help her get by, but she began making up the difference with casual prostitution.

Charingham's Lodging
Annie moved in with Jack Sivvey, a sieve maker, in 1886 and called herself Mrs. Sivvey. The arrangement was short-lived and Annie was soon on her own again, this time without the assistance of her husband John, who had died on Christmas Day 1886.

Over the next couple of years, Annie lived in several lodging and workhouses, eventuallybecoming a regular at the Crossingham’s Lodging House.

It was on Saturday, September 1, 1888 that Annie fought with another lodger, Eliza Cooper over a bar of soap. It appeared that Annie got the raw end of the deal and was sporting bruises and complaining of feeling ill on Monday the 3rd.  On September 4th her friend, Amelia Palmer noticed that Annie had not been drinking because of her pain. Palmer told Annie to go to the casual ward and get treated for her injuries.

Amelia Palmer
Annie was back at Crossingham’s Lodging House on Friday, September 5th and spent the afternoon sitting in the kitchen because she felt unwell. She left later in the day and met with her sister who gave her some money. Annie then ran into Amelia Palmer, and again complained of feeling ill.

Later in the evening Annie went to the hospital for some medicine and stopped along the
way to spend her money on beer. She then returned to sit in the lodging house kitchen to eat a late supper. Around 2 a.m.  John Evans, the lodging house night watchman turned her out for not having money enough for a bed.

Dark Annie said that she would earn her bed money and return soon, but many thought she was deep in her cups when she headed towards Spitalfields.

The next four hours of Annie’s life remain a mystery, but at 5:50 a.m. her body was discovered in the fenced backyard at 29 Hanbury Street. Unfortunately, sometime during the night Annie had made the acquaintance of Jack the Ripper.

29 Hanbury Street
Backyard of No. 29
Annie’s body was discovered a little before 6 a.m. by John Davis, a carman who lived at Number 29. The body was lying parallel with the fence, the head turned toward the house and the clothing pulled up around her waist. The abdomen had been ripped open and the throat cut so severely the head was nearly decapitated.

Davis reported the murder to the Commercial Street Police Station. Inspector Joseph Chandler was quickly on site clearing the Hanbury Street yard of spectators and sightseers.

Dr. Phillips Examines Chapman's Body
Dr. George Philips, the divisional police surgeon arrived by 6:30 a.m. According to Phillips testimony at the inquest, "The left arm was placed across the left breast. The legs were drawn up, the feet resting on the ground, and the knees turned outwards. The face was swollen and turned on the right side. The tongue protruded between the front teeth, but not beyond the lips...

Annie Chapman
Annie Chapman's Death Certificate
“The throat was dissevered deeply; that the incisions through the skin were jagged and reached right round the neck...On the wooden paling between the yard in question and the next, smears of blood, corresponding to where the head of the deceased lay, were to be seen."

Phillips ordered Chapman’s body to be taken to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary for a post mortem examination. Workers at the morgue were told not to touch the body, but preceded to strip and wash it (just as they had Mary Ann Nichols) before a thorough examination could be performed.

Coroner Wynne Baxter
Chapman Inquest
On September 10th an inquest into the death of Annie Chapman was held at the WorkingLad’s Institute in Whitechapel.  Coroner Wynne E. Baxter conducted the inquest, just as he had for Polly Nichols (the first confirmed Ripper victim) ten days before.

Dr. Phillips reported during the inquest that Chapman was in poor health due an advanced case of tuberculosis, but he concluded that she had been sober for several hours before her death. Her swollen face and protruding tongue indicted strangulation, and he believed that she had died some time before 4:30 a.m.

Phillips told the inquest that the abdomen had been cut open and the intestines severed from the body and placed above the shoulder. The uterus and the upper portion of the vagina had been completely removed.

When asked about the surgical skill of the murderer Phillips said, 'the work was that of anexpert- or one, at least, who had such knowledge of anatomical or pathological examinations as to be enabled to secure the pelvic organs with one sweep of the knife'.

Conflicting reports and testimonies were given by several witnesses as to the type of man Annie was seen with, what was reportedly said, and what time she was last seen alive. In the end, a verdict of willful murder against a person or persons unknown was entered.

The Ripper had claimed his second victim.

Manor Park Cemetery
Annie Chapman was buried on Friday, September 14th at Manor Park Cemetery. Annie’s family met the hearse at the cemetery, thereby keeping the funeral secret until after her burial. Her name, date of death and age were inscribed upon her elm coffin.

Annie Chapman’s grave no longer exists. It has since been reused and buried over.

~ Joy