Monday, December 19, 2011

The Family Witch

Grandmother Scheufele in her "church room"
Years ago, I interviewed my grandmother for an Anthropology project.  The topic was my great-great-grandmother who was reputed with being a psychic-medium.  Grandmother Scheufele had a room in her home that was called her "church room".  Here she would conduct services.  My grandmother Pauline remembered attending one or two of these services where she witnessed Grandmother Scheufele going into a trance and speaking in a voice that was not her own.  Mt grandmother claimed these "services" were actually seances.  Later in my grandmother's life, when she was married, she was having some health issues.  Her mother took her to the doctor, but nothing seemed to be helping.  Finally, they went to talk to Grandmother Scheufele. It was suggested (by Grandmother Scheufele) that someone (my grandmother's mother-in-law) had placed a curse on her.  She told my great-grandmother to cut open my grandmother's pillow and there she would find a hard lump of feathers.  They were instructed to burn the lump of feathers in an outdoor fire while saying an incantation.  Unfortunately, my grandmother was unable to remember what the specific incantation was, but did say that it was to take place during a specific time of day and month.  After burning the feathers as instructed, my grandmother began to heal. 

Another story involving Grandmother Scheufele had to do with my grandmother's cousin Will.  Will lived with his grandparents because of his stepmother (who, according to my grandmother, did not like Will and was not very nice to him).  Will was described as something of a daredevil.  He like to torment the bull at the nearby farm and generally wasn't afraid of anything.  One night while he was downstairs at Grandmother Scheufele's house, he saw a face looking in the window at him.  He screamed and threw the closest weapon he had- a hammer- right through the window.  Grandmother Scheufele came to see what the problem was, and after Will told her what happened, she told Will that his stepmother had sent the devil after him.

The paper I wrote for my class was titled "The Family Witch" though my grandmother took offense to that reference.  She would get downright angry if she heard me refer to Grandmother Scheufele as being a witch.  Not that it is meant in any derogatory way.  However, recently I discovered that Grandmother Scheufele had a book (or possibly more than one) that was written in German (she came from Germany) that contained recipes for potions.  She also had a crystal ball.

It's unfortunate that I was never able to meet this fascinating woman.  Though I am thankful that was able to record some of the stories about her before my grandmother's passing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ghost Ships: The Titan

 On April 14, 1912, the huge "unsinkable" ship the Titanic was steaming across the Atlantic towards New York.  This was the Titanic's maiden voyage, and her captain was encouraged to break the record for speed while making the voyage. As most people know, after striking an iceberg, the unsinkable ship went down in only a matter of hours.  Out of the 2,201 passengers, only 711 were saved.   Since then, there have been many books and movies about the Titanic.  

    There was one fictional story written by a merchant seaman by the name of Morgan Robertson.  Robertson's book was about an unsinkable passenger liner that sank while carrying the elite people of the time.  The ship in Robertson's story was called the Titan and the book was titled The Wreck of the Titan.  Even though the book is fictitious, the events in the story parallel the events of the Titanic.  Both ships were built to be unsinkable.  Both ships sank after striking an iceberg.  Both ships were on their maiden voyage.  The most well to do famous people were on the Titan and Titanic.  Only one third of the passengers on each ship survived.  Both ships had an inadequate number of lifeboats.  Both ships were encouraged to break speed records during their voyage. 
    Robertson's book The Wreck of the Titan was never published.  Each time it was rejected by editor's, they told him the same thing.  The story was unbelievable.  Surely the events he wrote of could not possibly happen to an unsinkable ship.
The book The Wreck of the Titan was written in 1898,

fourteen years before the Titanic hit an iceberg and settled on the bottom of the northern Atlantic.

Monday, October 31, 2011

History of Halloween...

Halloween dates back to the time of the ancient Celts who celebrated their new year on November 1.  The new year signified the coming of the darker colder months of winter- a time when many fell ill and died.  The Celts believed that on the eve of their New Year (October 31), the physical world and the supernatural world were closest and allowed the spirits of the dead to roam the earth.  These ghosts were said to destroy crops and cause trouble, but it was also believed that their presence helped the Druids (Celtic priests) make predictions for the coming year. These predictions offered comfort during the hard winters, and so to commemorate the event, large bonfires were built.  The Celts often wore costumes, mainly animals skins and heads.  At the end of the celebration, the Celts would carry embers from the bonfire in a hallowed out turnip or rutabaga to their homes to light their hearth.  This "holiday" celebrated on October 31st is called Samhain (pronounced sow-in and derived from Old Irish Samuin meaning summer's end).

Through the centuries, Roman festivals were incorporated into the Celtic traditions.  One in particular, a day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees, is possibly the origin of the tradition of bobbing for apples.  Eventually, the Catholic church created All Saint's Day on November 1st and then All Soul's Day on November 2nd in an attempt to replace the Celtic holiday with one sanctioned by the church. On All Soul's Day, people celebrated by having big bonfires, parades and dressing in costume.  The name Halloween is derived from Middle English  Alholowmesse which means All Saint's Day.  The day before was termed All-hallows Eve and eventually became Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween was limited in colonial New England because of the strict views of the Puritans.  Halloween was most popular in Maryland and the southern colonies where different European ethnic groups and Native Americans meshed their beliefs.  Public events were held to celebrate the harvest and people gathered to to share stories of the dead, tell each others' fortunes and dance and sing.  When the millions of immigrants fleeing the potato famine of Ireland began hitting the shores, the celebration of Halloween began to become more popular.  People dressed in costume and went door to door begging for food or money which later became "trick-or-treating". 

In the late 1800's, people were encouraged to do away with the scarier aspect of the celebrations.  It was then that the holiday lost most of its religious and superstitious meaning.  In the 1900's, celebration moved more towards community events such as parades and parties.  By the mid 1900's, the tradition of trick-or-treating was revived as it was an inexpensive way for the community to share in the holiday (and perhaps prevent any mischief).  During this time, Halloween became more of a young person's holiday.

And where do Jack o' lanterns fit in?  There's an old Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the devil.   Because of this he was not allowed into heaven, nor would the devil allow him into hell.  So Jack's soul was forced to wander the earth with only an ember in a hallowed out turnip to light his way.  So people began making hallowed out turnips lit with a candle to keep Jack and other evil spirits away.  Because of their size and abundance, Americans began using pumpkins. There is also a correlation between the Celts' use of the turnip to carry embers from the sacred bonfire to their homes.

So go out, have a bonfire, carve a pumpkin, remember your dreams and eat a lot of candy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ghost Ships: The Mary Celeste

Launched in 1860 under the name Amazon, the Mary Celeste started her ill fated life.  In the 10 years before she was to become the Mary Celeste, the ship was involved in several accidents and went through several owners.  She was sent to the New York salvage auction where she was purchased for $3,000.  After extensive repairs, she was christened Mary Celeste.
Painting of the Amazon, later christened Mary Celeste
 The new captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, and young daughter, along with 8 crew members departed New York on November 7, 1872 bound for Genoa, Italy.  The cargo consisted of 1700 barrels of raw American alcohol. 
Captain of ill-fated Mary Celeste
 On December 5, 1872, the ship Dei Gratia came upon the Mary Celeste floundering on the sea.  The captain of the Dei Gratia knew Captain Briggs and was surprised to see the ship derelict as Briggs had a reputation as an excellent captain.  Men from the Dei Gratia boarded the abandoned Mary Celeste to determine what was going on.
The ship was found in good seaworthy condition.  It appeared as though the crew had left in a great hurry.  They discovered that the chronometer and sextant were missing.  There was water between the decks and the Galley was in bad shape.  The stove was knocked out of place and cooking utensils were strewn about.  There were no lifeboats aboard the ship and everything was soaked.  A rope was found hanging over the side of the ship trailing in the water.
The crew from the Dei Gratia managed to get the Mary Celeste into port.  When the cargo was unloaded, they found 9 of the barrels of alcohol empty.
What happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste?  Some feel that the cargo became unstable and that the captain decided to trail behind the ship in the lifeboat until such time that it was safe to board.  However, for some reason, the ship outdistanced the lifeboat leaving the crew helpless on the sea. 
Another theory involves foul play.  However, no evidence was ever found to prove that.  Still others think that the ship was caught in the middle of a seaquake.  And still others claim the crew was eaten by sharks during a swim.
Whatever the reason, the story of the Mary Celeste stills fascinates people.  Something about the image of a ship sailing alone, the crew and captain missing..... without a trace.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weather and the Paranormal

Weather comes in two varieties when discussing the paranormal: meteorological and solar.  Meteorological refers to the weather in the Earth's atmosphere.  Weather conditions can affect paranormal investigations in many ways.  The obvious way is that certain conditions can create false positive photos- especially when investigating outdoors.  Orb photos have become extremely controversial among leading paranormal investigators.  This is in part to taking photos in less than ideal conditions.  Both snow and rain can be photographed to mimic the orb phenomena.  Pollen, like dust, can also produce orbs in photos.  While not really a weather event, pollen counts are often recorded on the popular website. 

Wind speed is also an important factor during investigations.  Higher wind speeds can create issues with recordings and also blow small particles around.  They can create drafts in houses and produce strange and eerie noises.  I recently witnessed an " investigator" on the battlefield who was convinced that the spirits were moving plastic caution tape on command.  By simply licking my finger and holding it in the air, I was able to determine that there was a slight breeze.  The breeze was blowing directly against the area of caution tape with the widest area exposed to the wind.  This made the tape move each time there was even a slight breeze.  The other areas of tape had the thin end exposed which allowed the breeze to go by without any movement at all. 

Humidity levels should also be considered during an investigation.  High humidity can be photographed to appear like orbs or even mist.  It can also cause some issues indoors by swelling wood.  A possible implication could be a door that doesn't close properly- if it were to swing open it could be perceived as paranormal when in fact it isn't.  Humidity levels could also have a beneficial aspect for an investigation.  Because of water's ability to conduct electricity, a higher percentage of moisture in the air might give spirits more energy from which to draw from.

I've also found that electrical/lightning storms can increase the amount of activity in an area.  Again, the electricity of the storm offers ghosts another source of energy to pull from making it easier to manifest or interact.  On one investigation at Spangler's Spring on the Gettysburg Battlefield, I witnessed 4 shadow figures move to "block" the roadway.  There was little activity most of the night until a storm started moving in.  It was when the lightning came closer that I began seeing the figures. 

Also be aware of temperatures and how they can affect equipment.  Going from a warm house to cold temperature outside or warm temperature outside into an air conditioned house can cause fogging and condensation on lenses.  Battery power also drains quicker in colder temperatures.  When conducting an outdoor investigation in cooler temps, be aware of whether or not your breath is condensing into a fog.  Many people take photos of their breath in cold weather an believe they have captured something paranormal.

The other type of weather to consider during an investigation is solar weather.  Solar weather refers to weather involving the sun in space namely solar flares and geomagnetic fields.  The geomagnetic field is the magnetic field observed in and around the earth. Flares are sudden eruptions of energy on the solar disk lasting minutes to hours from which radiation and particles are emitted. Basically, an increase in activity concerning the geomagnetic field or solar flares means an increase in energy in the atmosphere.
How does this affect spirits? Spirits use energy to materialize, and they typically pull this energy from the basic sources around them, i.e., heat, batteries, power lines, etc. But during heightened solar activity, the energy level is increased, therefore, increasing the amount of usable energy for spirits. The increase in energy allows spirits to manifest easier and more often, which in turn increases the possibility of paranormal activity.

The phases of the moon also dictate paranormal activity. Everyone knows that a full moon brings out the crazies and werewolves. It also brings out the ghosts. Though many have heightened activity during full moon, I personally have seen an increase during new moon. The gravitational pull of the moon apparently moves more than tides, it also attracts spirits.

So the next time you go out for an investigation, make sure you record weather conditions!

Solar X-rays:

Geomagnetic Field:



Friday, September 16, 2011

Chessie: The Chesapeake Bay Monster

For over 200 years, a strange creature has been sighted in the Chesapeake Bay. This creature, affectionately known as Chessie, is said to be a dark snake-like animal, approximately 30 feet long, and capable of swimming up to 10 MPH. Chessie is known to be playful and is not feared by those who work and live on the Bay.
So what is Chessie? Some believe it is a prehistoric creature, however, this is unlikely. If it were a prehistoric reptilian creature, the Bay would not be an ideal habitat. The Chesapeake is very shallow and cold, in fact, in winter it can freeze over in places. A cold blooded prehistoric animal would not be able to survive.
Others have leaned towards the idea that Chessie isn't an unknown animal at all. In 1994, a manatee was captured and tagged in the Chesapeake Bay. It was taken back to its native Florida home and released. The following year the manatee swam into the Bay again. In fact, it swam clear up to Rhode Island before turning and heading south again. Year after year this same manatee makes his journey. Could it be Chessie the monster and Chessie the manatee (as it has been named) are one in the same? I find that scenario as unlikely as the prehistoric animal theory.

Chessie the Manatee.  Not very snake-like.
In 1982, someone by the name of Frew videotaped the creature. Mr. Frew and his wife were looking out at the bay when they noticed a large snake-like creature. The Frews grabbed their camera and started recording. That video tape was later analyzed by people at the Smithsonian. It was determined that the creature taped was a living animal, however, the type of animal could not be identified.

Still frame from Frew video
Chessie is still seen in the Bay. Most sightings occur in May through September most likely because that is when the Bay is overrun with boaters and swimmers. Chessie has been sighted most often at Love Point at Kent Island, the mouth of the Potomac, and the eastern Bay.

In 2008, while visiting the memorial for the U.S.S. Tulip in southern Maryland, we happened to spy a couple of strange aquatic "creatures" in the Potomac. What we saw was roughly 6-8 feet long and swam around for a few minutes before swimming off. It appeared that whatever the creatures were, they were in the middle of fishing/feeding.  One photo shows what appears to be knob-like objects along the spine.  This is similar to a fish known as an Atlantic Sturgeon.

Was this Chessie? Or was this simply a rare sighting of an Atlantic Sturgeon?
Either way it's a spectacular find.