1875 Second Empire Home​

The dark histories behind these architectural gems are as spooky as they are beautiful… Take a tour with me as I explore stunning structures and spooky locations to discover why visitors to these haunts never want to leave – even after death.

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Southern U.S Folklore and the Bell Witch Haunting

 

The Bell Witch or Bell Witch Haunting is a legend from Southern United States folklore, centered on the 19th-century Bell family of northwest Robertson County, Tennessee. John Bell Sr., who made his living as a farmer, resided with his family along the Red River in an area currently near the town of Adams. According to legend, from 1817-1821, his family and the local area came under attack by a mostly invisible entity that was able to speak, affect the physical environment, and shapeshift. Some accounts record the spirit also to have been clairvoyant and capable of crossing long distances with superhuman speed (and/or of being in more than one place at a time).

In 1894, newspaper editor Martin V. Ingram published his Authenticated History of the Bell Witch. The book is widely regarded as the first full-length record of the legend and a primary source for subsequent treatments. The individuals recorded in the work were known historical personalities. In modern times, some skeptics have regarded Ingram’s efforts as a work of historical fiction or fraud. Other researchers consider Ingram’s work a nascent folklore study and an accurate reflection of belief in the region during the 19th century.

While not a fundamental element of the original recorded legend, the Bell Witch Cave in the 20th century became a source of continuing interest, belief, and generation of lore. Contemporary artistic interpretations such as in film and music have expanded the reach of the legend beyond the regional confines of the Southern United States.

An artist’s sketching of the Bell home, originally published in 1894 (shown below). In his book An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, author Martin Van Buren Ingram published that the poltergeist’s name was Kate, after the entity claimed at one point to be “Old Kate Batts’ witch,” and continued to respond favorably to the name. The physical activity centered on the Bells’ youngest daughter, Betsy, and her father, and ‘Kate’ expressed particular displeasure when Betsy became engaged to a local named Joshua Gardner.

The haunting began sometime in 1817 when John Bell witnessed the apparition of a strange creature resembling a dog. Bell fired at the animal but it disappeared. John’s son Drew Bell approached an unknown bird perched on a fence that flew off and was of “extraordinary size.” The daughter Betsy observed a girl in green dress swinging from the limb of an oak tree. Dean, a slave of the Bell family, reported being followed by a large black dog on evenings he visited his wife. Activity moved to the Bell household with knocking heard along the door and walls. The family heard sounds of gnawing on the beds, invisible dogs fighting, and chains along the floor. About this time John Bell began experiencing paralysis in his mouth. The phenomena grew in intensity as sheets were pulled from beds when the children slept. Soon the entity pulled hair and scratched the children with particular emphasis on Betsy who was slapped, pinched and stuck with pins.

The Bells turned to a family friend James Johnston for help. After retiring for the evening at the Bell home, Johnston was awakened that night by the same phenomena. That morning he told John Bell it was a “spirit, just like in the Bible.” Soon word of the haunting spread with some traveling great distances to see the witch. The apparition began to speak out loud and was asked, “Who are you and what do you want?” and the voice answered feebly, “I am a spirit; I was once very happy but have been disturbed.” The spirit offered diverse explanations of why it had appeared, tying its origin to the disturbance of a Native American burial mound located on the property, and sent Drew Bell and Bennett Porter on an unproductive search for buried treasure. With the emergence of full conversations, the spirit repeated word for word two sermons given 13 miles apart at the same time. The entity was well acquainted with Biblical text and appeared to enjoy religious arguments. As another amusement, the witch shared gossip about activities in other households, and at times appeared to leave for brief moments to visit homes after an inquiry.

John Johnston, a son of James, devised a test for the witch, something no one outside his family would know, asking the entity what his Dutch step-grandmother in North Carolina would say to the slaves if she thought they did something wrong. The witch replied with his grandmother’s accent, “Hut tut, what has happened now?” In another account, an Englishman stopped to visit and offered to investigate. On remarking on his family overseas, the witch suddenly began to mimic his English parents. Again at early morning, the witch woke him to voices of his parents worried as they had heard his voice as well. The Englishman quickly left that morning and later wrote to the Bell family that the entity had visited his family in England. He apologized for his skepticism.

At times, the spirit displayed a form of kindness, especially towards Lucy, John Bell’s wife, “the most perfect woman to walk to earth.” The witch would give Lucy fresh fruit and sing hymns to her, and showed John Bell Jr. a measure of respect.

Referring to John Bell Sr. as “Old Jack,” the witch claimed she intended to kill him and signaled this intention through curses, threats and afflictions. The story climaxes with the Bell patriarch being poisoned by the witch. Afterward the entity interrupted the mourners by singing drinking songs. In 1821, as a result of the witch’s entreatment, Betsy Bell called off her engagement to Joshua Gardner. Subsequently, the entity told the family it was going to leave, but return in seven years in 1828. The witch returned on time to Lucy and her sons Richard and Joel with similar activities as before, but they chose not to encourage it, and the witch appeared to leave again.

Several accounts say that during his military career, Andrew Jackson was intrigued with the story and his men were frightened away after traveling to investigate. In an independent oral tradition recorded in the vicinity of Panola County, Mississippi, the witch was the ghost of an unpleasant overseer John Bell murdered in North Carolina. In this tradition, the spirit falls in love with the central character ‘Mary’, leading to her death.

In the manuscript attributed to Richard Williams Bell, he wrote that the spirit remained a mystery.

“Whether it was witchery, such as afflicted people in past centuries and the darker ages, whether some gifted fiend of hellish nature, practicing sorcery for selfish enjoyment, or some more modern science akin to that of mesmerism, or some hobgoblin native to the wilds of the country, or a disembodied soul shut out from heaven, or an evil spirit like those Paul drove out of the man into the swine, setting them mad; or a demon let loose from hell, I am unable to decide; nor has any one yet divined its nature or cause for appearing, and I trust this description of the monster in all forms and shapes, and of many tongues, will lead experts who may come with a wiser generation, to a correct conclusion and satisfactory explanation.”

— Williams Bell, An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch




Lingering and Sentimental Spirits in The Merchant House

A house preserved from the 19th century, ghosts included.

 

The Merchant House, a historic row house turned museum, stands at 29 East 4th Street and today is considered one of the best preserved federal buildings in New York City. But long before tourists walked through its Greek Revival style halls, the house was occupied by the Tredwells, a wealthy Manhattan family. The five-story brick structure was purchased by Seabury Tredwell for $18,000 in 1835. During the late 1830’s, Mr. Tredwell moved his wife and children into the Merchant House and prepared for the birth of their eighth child, the only one to be born at their new home – and the only one to never leave.

As the legend goes, the youngest Tredwell, Gertrude, grew up surrounded by all the modern luxuries, ornate décor and beautiful, lavish furnishings money could buy, many still on display at the Museum. In her twenties, Gertrude fell madly in love with a Catholic doctor named Lewis Walton. However, the Tredwells were strict, God-fearing Protestants and Seabury immediately quashed the affair, separating the couple forever and breaking poor Gertrude’s heart. While her parents died shortly thereafter, Gertrude promised to never disobey her father’s wishes, and remained unwed to any mortal soul.

In 1909, at sixty-nine years old, Gertrude was the last remaining Tredwell and the House’s only occupant. She was largely considered a recluse and a spinster, wholly and faithfully committed to keeping her home in the same exact manner as it was kept during her childhood. She proceeded through life alone, barren of friends, family or romance, the house her only partner. When she finally died in 1933, Gertrude left the Merchant House in pristine period condition, making the project a quick transition from living quarters to public museum.

According to The Big Book of New York Ghost Stories, Gertrude’s spirit has been glimpsed many times lingering about the old mansion. There are countless reports of a Gertrude’s ghastly figure gliding up the stairs and through the halls, refusing to abandon her perfect home even years after her demise. Clear notes coming from the House’s broken piano have allegedly been heard streaming from the parlor window and onto the street for passersby to enjoy, even when the museum was locked and empty. Teacups have been known to uproot themselves from the shelves and scatter about the kitchen and dining room. And a cool breeze emanates throughout the upstairs room where Gertrude last laid her head.

Old World Charm and Ghosts in the Schenck Mansion, Indiana

One of Indiana’s most outstanding examples of the Second Empire style, the Schenck Mansion is individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “The house on the hill” is located in the beautiful Ohio River town of Vevay. Built by Benjamin Franklin Schenck, son of a fabulously wealthy “hay king” of the steamboat era, this palatial mansion was the marvel of its time with its four storied tower, thirty-five rooms from basement to attic and five baths. This house was built in 1874 at a total cost of $67,000. Its towers, bay windows, high ceilings and spacious rooms are characteristic of the architecture of the time. The architect of record was George P. Humphries of Cincinnati. Amazingly, the original architect’s plans have remained with the mansion.

In November 1874, on account of failing health, he and his family spent the winter and spring in Florida. He was able to spend the next two summers in his newly finished mansion in Vevay, but returned to Jacksonville, Florida where he died in April of 1877 at the age of 42. Mr. Schenck died before his palatial home was finished. Mrs. Celestine Schenck lived in the mansion intermittently until her death in December 1885.

A ghostly lady in white Victorian dress haunts the second floor. She is said to walk the hallways, taking no notice of anyone around her. Guests also have reported hearing voices, footsteps, and something moving in their rooms at night.

It’s Time to Learn Out Loud

For the past year, I have been working on professional development with a mentor and on my own. Every two weeks, we had a scheduled phone call. Alongside that, I read books – Getting Things Done and Essentialism being the two standouts – read blogs, watched YouTube videos, and listened to podcasts.

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Hollywood Hauntings at the Bern Harlow House In Beverly Hills

The chilling deaths of two of Hollywood’s power couples connected by one house...

Howard Hughes helped the young starlet Jean Harlow shoot to fame in Hollywood in the 1930s. He hired her to be the star of Hell’s Angels that was being converted to a talking picture. 

Harlow quickly became Hollywood’s original “Blonde Bombshell.” On film, she eluded a smooth, sexy attitude.

Jean, who never dated her fellow actors, shocked the Hollywood community when she became romantically involved with Paul Bern, an MGM executive. Bern was short, slight of build and 22 years her senior.

Paul Bern and Jean Harlow, in several accounts of their courtship it is stated that Harlow pursued Bern and not the other way around.

The couple married in 1932. Rumors began to spread that their relationship was a tumultuous one.

Just four months after their marriage, Bern alone at the house that he had given to Harlow as a wedding present, was found dead by the butler. Jean had stayed overnight at her mother’s house.

Bern’s body was found nude and lying on the floor dead from a bullet wound. He had bled all over Jean’s white bedroom. His body was drenched in Harlow’s favorite perfume.

A suicide note was found in the bedroom. Later one employee, Davis the gardener stated it was not Bern’s handwriting. Bern’s secretary, Mrs. Harrison, said she felt it was a murder.

There was also a female bathing suit and two wine glasses left with a blood spot at the edge of the swimming pool–so it appeared Bern had entertained someone at the home after he had sent Jean to stay with her mother a second time in just two days.

Curiously, Harlow was not called to testify at the inquest into Bern’s death. Right after the murder, the police were told she was “too hysterical” to undergo questioning.

Several accounts state Harlow supposedly tried to commit suicide after she heard the news.

The butler after discovering the body actually called MGM before the police, so the studio execs Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg arrived first to the scene.

At one point Mayer even took the suicide note–in an attempt to protect Harlow, but the man in charge of the studio’s public relations, Howard Strickling convinced him to turn it over to the police.

Quickly, rumors spread that Bern had not committed suicide but had actually been murdered by his unstable ex-girlfriend, Dorothy Millette, who he still supported financially. She committed suicide after his death.

Was it a suicide, or was it murder? This remains a mystery.

Tragically, Harlow died just 5 years after Bern’s death in 1937 at the age of 26 from uremic poisoning. Rumors after stated that Bern had beaten her and injured her kidney causing it to fail five years later.

Subsequent owners of the Bern-Harlow house all have felt the ghosts of both Bern and Harlow haunt the place.

In one well known sighting Sharon Tate saw what she believed to be the ghost of Paul Bern. A struggling actress at the time, Tate was dating a Hollywood hairdresser, Jay Sebring.

Sebring had bought the Bern Harlow house in the mid-1960s. He was the real-life character that Warren Beatty’s character was based upon in the film Shampoo.

Tate staying in Harlow’s old bedroom awoke to see the apparition of Paul Bern. He was not aware of her and instead wandered around the room apparently in search of something.

She quickly left the room. As she walked down the stairs, she stopped halfway down. She was shocked to see Sebrings’ apparition now tied to the stair rail. He was bleeding from several slashes to his throat and appeared to be struggling to stay alive.

After this, when Tate and Sebring were murdered by Charles Mansion’s followers in 1969, many stated that Tate’s sighting was a premonition–a warning of what was to come–because when the murdered Sebring was found he was tied to a stair rail.

The Bern Harlow house still stands. It is located at 9820 Eastern Drive in Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills.

 

The Dark and Mysterious Past of the L.A Cecil Hotel

Check in at your own risk at 604 Main St.

More cursed than haunted, downtown L.A.’s Hotel Cecil (604 Main St) got such a bad rap that it actually changed its name to Stay on Main. So many bad things have happened here—there’s literally an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to its violent history. The first recorded death by suicide is in 1931, followed by a long string of similar deaths in 1932, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1939, and 1940.

At some point in the ’30s, one man was pinned to the exterior wall by a truck. A woman murdered her newborn in the building in 1944, and the pattern of suicides continued into the ’60s. In 1962, a woman jumped from the ninth floor window and landed on a pedestrian, killing them both. It’s worth noting that two of the women who died by suicide apparently jumped while their husbands were asleep in the room.

In 1964, tenant Goldie Osgood was brutally murdered, a crime which has remained unsolved. Next, in the ’80s, the infamous serial kill Richard Ramirez (the “Night Stalker”) stayed at the hotel and in the 1990s, Austrian serial killer Jack Unterwege lived there. Other weird things kept happening but the weirdest is definitely the disappearance and death of 21-year-old traveler Elisa Lam.

A few weeks after Lam went missing, her body was discovered in the rooftop water tank after visitors and tenants complained about a funky taste. They later found odd footage of her in the elevator from the night of her disappearance. It’s difficult to make out what she’s doing; it looks like she’s either playing hide-and-seek with someone outside the elevator, or she’s frightened and attempting to hide from someone but the doors won’t seem to shut. Authorities ruled the death accidental drowning—but because you need a key to access the roof, many suspect foul play.

The 1987 U2 performance, with the hotel featured as a backdrop, was filmed and commercially released as a music video for the release of the band’s song “Where the Streets Have No Name”.

The hotel is also known as the inspiration for the Coen Brothers 1991 film, Barton Fink.

It was also the inspiration for American Horror Story season 5, “Hotel”.

It was the setting for the The NoSleep Podcast season 3 episode, “The Cecil Hotel”.

The hotel can be seen in the background of Blink 182’s video “The Rock Show”.

We’ve checked it out, and all survived.

ARCHITECTURALLY MACABRE

The dark histories behind these architectural gems are as spooky as they are beautiful… Take a tour with me as I explore stunning structures and spooky locations to discover why visitors to these haunts never want to leave – even after death.

Continue reading

Fault Lines: Homeless Art and Public People

Final two phases of 1925 sculpture and possessions of a homeless person

Like the earth, the bedrock of society is not as stable as we perceive it to be, and unforeseen events can lead to the raising of the structures we have built for ourselves, whether they are physical or social. There are fissures in our social system in the form of absent social services and safety nets.

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