Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cemetery of Shadows and Light

Cemeteries have long fascinated us and have often been a source of fear for the living. Since before recorded history mankind has always buried their dead, or given some sort of funeral rights to honor or make the deceased’s journey into the afterlife a pleasant one. The Victorians designed their cemeteries as parks for picnics and strolls with loved ones among the picturesque ponds, weeping willows, headstones, and mausoleums. But for criminals, undesirables, the insane, and suicides their burials were treated with less respect. They were often buried in a field far away from the main interments and in unmarked graves or with a small headstone with just a number as the only means of identification.  

One Midwest cemetery that has been a source of countless ghost stories is Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, Illinois. The cemetery was officially incorporated in 1857 but burials go much further back. Through the years the cemetery has been neglected, from over grown grass and weeds to the inferior construction of the mausoleum that continually leaked. Grave robbing was also a constant problem. Years ago, flooding from the nearby river had washed away part of the cemetery and several coffins were swept away in the turbulent waters. Some of the bodies were recovered but identification was impossible, so the bodies were buried in a mass grave. Dark misty figures and ghost lights can be seen floating in the area where the coffins originally resided.

The mausoleum has been a source for much of the strange activity. Anguished screams were heard coming from the structure and ghost lights have been seen dancing around the mausoleum during the time it was still standing. The building was finally torn down in the late '60s. The area is still known for its sounds of faint screams and sightings of strange lights with no explainable source.
Two notorious legends of the cemetery have frightened many visitors over the years. One is concerning the Greenwood Bride that has been sighted as a white figure wondering among the headstones looking for her fiancĂ© who was murdered before they were to be married. The grief-stricken woman’s identity remains a mystery but it's thought she drowned herself after finding out he was murdered from a shady business deal that went horribly wrong.

The other legend--and the most horrific--takes place during the height of the Civil War when the Union Army was advancing into the south. Captured Confederate soldiers were transported by train to POW camps. One train carrying dying Confederate prisoners stricken with yellow fever passed close to the cemetery. The dead prisoners were unloaded and buried in a hastily dug mass grave. Some of the prisoners are believed to have been still alive when they were covered over with soil. Strange uneasy feelings have been felt in the area of the cemetery dedicated to those who fought in the bloody Civil War. Apparitions of Confederate prisoners have been seen and appeared as a living person that seems disoriented and confused to where they are and how to get home.

The reason why cemeteries become haunted remains elusive but some of those that investigate paranormal activity feel that maybe the soul or spirit still retains a strong attachment to its body refusing to pass on, or is confused and upset with how its remains have been treated.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The mysterious James John Eldred House

Death to the Victorians in the 1800s was a very natural and common part of life. Children often died due to disease or infection. Medicine, surgery and the basic understanding of germs was in its infancy. Many diseases that we take for granted today caused considerable suffering and death to those during that time. Entire families could be wiped out within a year from measles, smallpox, tuberculosis to even a simple cut getting infected. The mortality rate was high and the Victorians took such a tragic event to celebrate those who had passed with elaborate showings, funerals, jewelry made from a dead loved one’s hair, and family photographs with the deceased were a very common and natural practice.     

One Illinois family that had seen such tragedy was that of James John Eldred. The house he built and lived in rests among the trees and tall grass of western Illinois north of St. Louis. Built in 1861 for his wife and four children, Eldred built the limestone house in the Greek Revival style with touches of the Italianate style. Eldred made his money farming his land and raising livestock, and was well known for the social parties he often hosted in his elegant home.

The years the Eldred family spent at the house were often filled with hardship and tragedy. The agricultural life was unpredictable, difficult, and constantly left his finances strained. The onset of the Civil War made things even worse for the family. Their three daughters started to get ill from tuberculosis and eventually died; Alma died at age 4 in 1861, Alice died at 17 of in 1870, and Eva died at 17 in 1876. Eldred’s son Ward survived and continued to help with the farm. James J. Eldred and his wife stayed in the home till his death in 1911.
Over the years the house changed ownership and was eventually purchased by a local famer and used for storage.  The house currently is owned by the Illinois Valley Cultural Heritage Association and is used for living history events and ghost hunts. The profits are used to help restore the house.

Visitors to the house often report bizarre experiences, from the sounds of mysterious footsteps to strange rappings on the doors to faint conversations between a man and a woman when the house seems quiet; also poltergeist activity of rocks being tossed within the house has been experienced. Dark shadows have been seen darting throughout the house, giggles of a little girl have been heard and apparitions have been spotted in and on the grounds of the old house. Visitors have even been touched by ghostly hands, leaving a cold clammy feeling at the place of contact. The sighting of a ghost of a traveling salesmen that died on the property as been seen, but finding verification of the death has been elusive. Excavations around the house revealed bones from the grave of a Native American that was buried long before the house was built. Once the burial ground was disturbed a phantom of a Native American has been seen wandering among the trees of the property.   

With the expansion of America towards the west, migrating settlers often infringed on the ancient lands of the natives that have been occupying those places for centuries. The natives lived, worked and died in those lands and the oral history that they shared with each other was the only record of the places where their ancestors where buried. It’s not surprising when these lost graves are disturbed, that those who were buried there become restless and demonstrate to the living their loathing of the careless infringement. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Vengeful Pirate of Ham House

The mighty Mississippi River has been of major importance to the settlement of the Midwest by transporting food, goods, livestock and materials from Louisiana in the south to Minnesota in the north; thereby, playing a major role in the expansion of the American frontier. Fortunes where made using these major rivers, but many criminals also found ways to exploit these early settlements, which lacked proper protection of civil authorities and institutions. River pirates terrorized the two major rivers in the Midwest; the Mississippi and the Ohio. During the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century river pirates, often robbed, captured or murdered river travelers to gain access to cargo, slaves and or livestock, to be later sold down river. Many river pirates where known to enter homes along rivers to steal food, weapons and valuables.
Mansions built along these rivers often incorporated a belvedere as a look out for marauding pirates. Home owners in smaller communities often needed to be armed to keep their family and valuables safe since these early establishments lacked proper law enforcement.
One legend from this dangerous time is of Ham House, a large stone mansion that sits on top of a bluff overlooking the turbulent waters of the Mississippi River in Northern Iowa. The mansion became the setting for love, loss, death, revenge, murder and where phantoms of the past refuse to remain as history. Built by one of the earliest settlers of the area, Mathias Ham used his fortune from lead mining, lumber, agriculture and his shipping fleet to build his house in 1856 for his wife Margaret and their six children. Ham became one of the most socially prominent families in Dubuque at the time. The house was designed by architect John F. Rague who also designed other well-known buildings in the Midwest from the original state capitol buildings in Springfield, Illinois to the old state capital building in Iowa City, Iowa.
Ham adored his three-story home and decorated it in the most opulent way; from plaster rosettes and moldings, to ornate walnut staircases. He furnished his home with Victorian furniture. Ham would often watch boat traffic move along the Mississippi river from the belvedere perched at the top of the house. However, one seemly normal day of river watching would change the course of his family and leave their souls to haunt the beloved home forever.
Ham spotted river pirates harassing his cargo ships. He quickly contacted the authorities and the pirates were arrested. The pirates knew Ham was reasonable for their capture and vowed to take revenge on him and his family.
That event seemed to be a turning point for the family. During the next few years, Mathias Ham began to lose his fortune in several bad real estate deals and from the financial crash of 1857. Mathias and Margaret died within a few years of each another. By the 1890’s, most of the family died off; leaving his last surviving daughter, Sarah, to inherit the house and what was left of the remaining fortune.  
Living alone in the empty mansion, Sarah began to have problems with prowlers late at night. Speaking to her neighbors about this, they suggested she put a light in her window to signal to them if she needed help. A few nights later, Sarah was reading in her bedroom on the third floor when she heard an intruder inside the house. Sarah locked her bedroom door, put the lit lantern in the window, and grabbed a gun. As Sarah waited in silence, straining to notice the slightest sound, she faintly began to hear footsteps slowly creeping up the staircase and moving slowly along the creaking floor. Footsteps shuffled in front of her bedroom door. Sarah nervously called out to ask who was there, silence. She raised her gun and shot twice at the door. Hearing the gunshots, the neighbors peered out toward Sarah’s house to see the lantern glowing in the window. They rushed over to the house and up the stairs to find her bedroom full of smoke, the scent of gunpowder hung heavy in the air and Sarah still holding the gun and upset from the event tried to explain what had happened. As they began to investigate what had happened, Sarah and her neighbors saw among the splinters of wood that lay scattered on the floor in front of the damaged bedroom door, a trail of blood was leading down the stairs, out the front door, towards to the banks of the Mississippi. At the end of the blood trail and  laying in the thick mud of the river's edge was the lifeless body of a river pirate, who had recently been released from prison and returned to seek his revenge on Ham.
As the years went on, Sarah found it more difficult to maintain her home financially and was forced to sell the mansion in 1912 to the city of Dubuque. Sarah died in 1921. The Dubuque County Historical Society converted the mansion into a museum in 1964.
Over the years, the mansion has developed a reputation for being haunted. Victors as well as employees at the museum have seen several phantoms throughout the house and have experienced several unsettling events that have been difficult to explain. The ghost of the vengeful pirate is said to haunt the main staircase and third floor where he is still trying to seek his revenge. From the belvedere, Mathias Ham can still be seen watching the boats move along river. Hushed sounds of footsteps, whispered voices, crying and faint screams have been heard throughout the house. Locked doors and windows have been found wide open for no reason. Doors will open and close by themselves. Lights flicker on and off and the nonfunctioning organ has been heard playing on its own at night prompting workers to leave the house as soon as possible when tour hours are over. Unusual cold spots have been felt. Objects have been known to vanish and later reappear in a different location. Ghost lights have been seen to drift throughout the house and have even been spotted floating outside at night. Many museum workers and visitors have had uncomfortable feelings of being watched.
As for the reason why the spirits of the dead choose to remain at certain places and not others are not fully known. Many investigators in the field of the paranormal often think when someone has a deep love for a place or has experienced a traumatic event that has led to their death, a spirit may remain earthbound; not realizing they have died or has unfinished business. Those spirits can’t pass over till they come to terms of its previous actions or their mortality. I find it ironic that the only true way to know how the spirit realm works is when we pass through the thin vail of death and into the spirit world, by then it’s often too late.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Illinois' Haunted Insane Asylum

Located west of Peoria in the small town of Bartonville, the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane was originally built in 1897 in the style of a medieval castle, but was never used. Legend says the building was constructed on top of an abandoned coal mine that compromised the integrity of the building. The official explanation that was given was that having a castle like structure didn't fit the modern sensibilities of treating the "insane," and they wanted to use a cottage like design instead of having one large building. The building was demolished and rebuilt, and by 1902, the Asylum reopened and began treatment of the "incurably insane" under the direction of Dr. George Zeller.
Well respected, Dr. Zeller treated his patients using therapeutic methods for "curing the insane," instead of more experimental treatments that were popular at the time, like electro-shock therapy, lobotomies and hydro-shock therapy. He also used newspapers to educate the public about mental illness and offered training programs to nursing students. In the 1920s, Dr. Zeller published a book Befriending the Bereft, The Autobiography of George Zeller, which chronicled his daily experiences at the asylum, many of them strange and mysterious.
One such popular story took place in the asylum's nearby cemetery. Funerals were held for those whose bodies were never claimed by the family. The staff didn't know most of the patients, but out of respect, they would gather around as the coffin was lowered into a grave that was marked only by a numbered headstone. A gravedigger named Manuel A. Bookbinder often stood next to a large elm tree as the service took place. Sobbing and moaning loudly with his hat removed, Bookbinder attended every service and always displayed his mournful cries even though he never knew most of those who were being buried.
When Bookbinder finally passed, a service was held, and as his coffin was being lowered into his grave, sobbing and moaning was allegedly heard by the staff coming from the elm where he always stood. As they turned to see where the noise was coming from, they allegedly saw Bookbinder standing there, sobbing and moaning loudly as he always did. Shocked by the experience, many of the staff ran from the site; Dr. Zeller ordered his men to remove the lid of the coffin to see if it was empty, but when they did, Bookbinder's body was still in his coffin. When they turned back towards the elm, the figure reportedly vanished.
Within a few days, the elm tree that Bookbinder stood next to began to wither. Attempts were made to save the tree, but as it finally died, Dr. Zeller ordered the elm to be removed. As the ax man swung into the tree, sobbing and moaning could reportedly be heard. Unnerved by the experience, the ax man left and when another attempt was made to remove the tree, this time by fire. Once again, as a fire was started at the base of the tree, sobbing and moaning was reportedly heard. All attempts to remove the tree where halted from then on. 
By the 1950s the asylum reached its peak with a population of 2,800. Then, over the course twenty years, the asylum's population began to decline, and eventually closed its doors for good in 1972. Many of the thirty three buildings were abandoned, and most were demolished; only the hospital buildings remain, and attempts to renovate those structures has been difficult.
Paranormal investigators over the years have reported seeing apparitions, shadow people, disembodied voices and doors that open and close by themselves. It's uncertain who would haunt the building -- maybe the patients, the staff or even Bookbinder himself? Maybe the patients have never left because the time they stayed there were of good memories.
When I visited the asylum one humid summer day, I definitely felt intimidated by the size of the structure. Under a gloomy sky the gray imposing building stood out from the surrounding neighborhood, void of any trees; it felt like nature itself was keeping it distance. The black windows stared down on me as I walked around taking my pictures trying to gain my courage to get closer to the building, to maybe find a window low enough to see inside. Unfortunately, at the time I was unable to see inside, but I'm hopeful I will soon return and contact the owner to get a chance to explore the inside of such a historic and legendary building.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Sentence Chills

I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again.
The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

Growing up with cats and dogs, I got used to the sounds of scratching at my door while I slept. Now that I live alone, it is much more unsettling.

 In all of the time that I've lived alone in this house, I swear to God I've closed more doors than I've opened.

A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, so she got up and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said "I heard that, too."

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Lovely Legend of St. Valentine


Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine."

The flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome where it remains to this day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Favorite Halloween Movies

My standard movie watch list during The months of September and October.

1) House on Haunted Hill (1959)

2) Hell Night (1981)

3) Halloween (1978)

4) Sleepy Hollow (1999)

5) Black Sunday (1960)

6) Cat and the Canary (1927)

7) Young Frankenstein (1974)

8) American Werewolf in London (1981) 

9) Trick 'r Treat (2007)

10) The Haunting (1963)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Haunted Iowa: Part 3

The drive home today was much better then expected. The weather was cool and partly cloudy and traffic was fairly decent. During my ride home it gave me a chance to reflect over the past week. 

Yesterday I shot the last two locations for this small trip. Originally there was three but one didn't work out the way I hoped. Both where cemeteries and both where named Oak Hill Cemetery but in two different cities. Thankfully they weren't to far apart. 

During my shooting I realized the way I shoot is different from my days as a newspaper photographer. The way I shot  assignments was, I allowed the event to dictate how I photographed it. But with my project I have a general idea how it should look and I try to capture every angle I can that will fit that idea. With the way I photograph for my project I'm free to capture everything I feel and anything that catches my eye. It's a very free and relaxing way to do my job. 

By the afternoon most of my shooting was completed and this allowed me some down time to spend time with old friends and edit some photos. 

This trip has reinspired me and renewed my desire to shoot more often. I'm hoping in the next few months I plan on a few day trips to add more stories and photos to my archives. 

One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is if you want to make art they you must make the time for it. It's easy to say I want to write that novel but it won't get made till you stop making excuses and just sit down and do it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Haunted Iowa Road Trip: Part 2

Today I traveled to Des Moines to shoot photos of the stunning Terrace Hall. This house is gorgeous! The Second Empire architecture defiantly gives it a presence and what many may consider a classic haunted house look. 

This house was my first stop but I was frustrated by the lack of clouds during that time of day and to may people moving around. After I got some images I went and shot my second house, looked through a large cemetery and then grabbed lunch. While looking for a place to eat I noticed the clouds began to move in so I decided  to return and shoot some more images. I'm glad I did because the images where much better and no people around.

The hardest part about doing this project is figuring out what the best time is to shoot these places. During season of operation or off season, morning or afternoon, spring, summer or fall. It can be very frustrating when you look forward  to shooting a place and to learn that it's under construction when you get there.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Haunted Iowa: Part 1

"Is the Heaven?" "No it's Iowa" what a thrill to be on the road again and shooting. It's been a long day and I just stopped for the first meal of the day. I have another two hour drive ahead of me to the hotel. 

I've been taking the back roads and have see some wonderful country. Iowa is hiller in the north east then was expecting. 

He are some images I've taken so far along my trip. These images are more work prints or experimental at best. When I get home and have time to edit I will post each place I've visited accompanied with the story. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

It’s wonderful to know in a few days I will be on my way to let my dark side run rampant and photograph some more haunted places. The state I chose was Iowa. It has some wonderful mansions and cemeteries and I’m also looking forward to catching up with some friends while I’m down there. I will be spending four days traveling to as many different locations as I can. The weather should be in my favor with high 70s-low 80s. Maybe a storm or two!

This will be the first major trip I’ve taken for this project in a few years. I’m looking forward to visiting these places with a renewed sense love and determination. Allowing very little distractions and leaving the stress behind me I want to concentrate on my subjects with the camera and allow myself to be immersed in the atmosphere of the place. Taking in the sights, sounds, feel and smell of each place.

During my journey which begins this Wednesday (July 24th) I will blog as often as I can posting photos and and info as I go. Thanks for the visit.

To be continued…

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Conquering Cancer and Life’s other Snares

Cameras Web
Needless to say the past two years have been a personal Hell for me. Last year I went through a divorce which left me depressed, near homeless, I lost a ton of weight, I lost my day job, I had to adjust to life as a single dad and I had a few financial issues as well. At the beginning of this year I was sick for about two months with a stubborn sinus infection and daily migraines. During treatment for that they discovered I have Kidney cancer and I went in for surgery for that about a month ago. After a seven hour surgery they got all the cancer and I’ve healed nicely and I’m ready to do what I love to do most which is explore.
At the end of this month I plan exploring some haunted mansions and cemeteries. This trip is much needed and I’m also looking forward to seeing some friends I haven’t seen in a very long time. This is the biggest trip I’ve taken in two years for my project. It feels so wonderful to plan and prepare for this trip. I have a few new ways of shooting I want to try. So, during my trip which will be between July 24th-28th. I plan on posting to my blog. The posts will also automatically appear on my Facebook page.
If anyone knows me I LOVE my iPhone and using the blogger app is perfect for what I want to do during my travels. I have various other Apps that I use and I’m looking forward to putting my photography, computer and navigation skills to work again.
I’ve felt so guilty for not posting more and shooting more places but you take what life gives you and you roll with the punches. A good friend of mine told me once that “you must always have something to look forward to” and that is so right. It feels great to look forward to this trip and I’m thankfully I’m still here to continue my work.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Winter’s Icy Grip

Gleson Church Exterior
For months I’ve been having a bad case of cabin fever. I’ve wanted desperately to get out and shoot some pictures. Since the winter weather has released its icy grip from my home allowing the snow to retreat to make way for the spring growth. I decided to shoot an abandoned building a friend of mine told me about.
I found the old church located at the end of a dead end road surrounded by trees. Water from the melting snow pooled in places along the front and sides of the structure. I was amazed how sturdy the church remained and years of neglect. From what I could see I loved how simple the architecture was and I wondered how it may have looked in its prime. It was truly wonderful to walk around photographing the old building, being in the moment with no distractions, taking in my surroundings.
I’ve been planning on doing a much more extended trip to a few haunted places this year but due to some medical issues I’ve had recently the date when I take my trip will be dependent on my recovery in the next few months. When I do make the trip I will defiantly blog about. Till then I hope you enjoy my recent photos.
Gleson Church Interior