Sunday, October 26, 2014

10 Halloween Superstitions

Superstitions flourish in all countries and all cultures.  Some of the origins are so obscured by time that no one knows when, how or why they came into being.  Friday the 13th always brings out superstitions and the rituals used to thwart them.

And then there's Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

Here's a list of ten superstitions that seem to apply specifically to Halloween.

1)  If a candle goes out on its own on Halloween, it is thought a ghost has come to call.

2)  A burning candle inside of a Jack-o-lantern on Halloween keeps evil spirits at bay.

3)  You invite bad luck into your home if you allow a fire to burn out on Halloween.

4)  A person born on Halloween can both see and talk to spirits.

5)  Seeing a spider on Halloween could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.

6)  If you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween, don't look back because it could be the dead following.

7)  Don't look at your shadow in moonlight on Halloween night.  Otherwise, you will die within a short period of time.

8)  If a bat flies around a house three times, it is a death omen.

9)  Ringing a bell on Halloween will scare evil spirits away.

10)  A bat that enters a home may have been let in by a ghost.

Do you have any superstitions that apply to Halloween?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Most Haunted Cities in America

With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to occasionally dwell on ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.  For the third of this year's four Halloween blogs, I'm talking about America's most haunted cities.

There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order.  Here's one list of 10 cities that recently came to my attention.

10)    Portland, Oregon:  Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest.  It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the participants refuse to leave.  One of the most famous…or more accurately, infamous…historical haunts are the Shanghai Tunnels.  We've all heard the expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning to be abducted.  This is where it originated.  In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members.  Local middlemen drugged pub goers, dropped the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held captive until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each.  These ships were quite often headed for China, thus the term being Shanghaied.  Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels.  Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.

9)      San Francisco, California:  A city of many haunted locations and happenings.  One of the most interesting is Alcatraz.  The island was a military prison during the Civil War.  It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good.  Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways.  Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz.  Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.

8)      Chicago, Illinois:  Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.  Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground.  There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity.  Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery.  She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.

7)      Charleston, South Carolina:  The downtown area known as The Battery was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War.  The area is known for its ghost stories.  The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings.  The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso.  The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for reasons unknown, jumped off the roof and killed himself.  The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War.  There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.

6)      St. Augustine, Florida:  The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement on our shores, dating back to its founding in 1565.  Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon.  The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build.  Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported.  It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.

5)      San Antonio, Texas:  The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas.  Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793.  It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years.  On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission.  The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation.  Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.

4)      New Orleans, Louisiana:  With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city.  Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country.  New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings.  Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still in service cemetery has been the setting for many Haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome.  But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.

3)      Salem, Massachusetts:  This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities.  Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there.  It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.

2)      Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:  The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted in fifty-one thousand casualties.  It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity.  Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee.  In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.

1)      Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology.  The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground and also the site of the Civil War capture of General Sherman.  Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that all of these cities offer ghost tours.  Have any of you ever had any first hand experience with hauntings?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

9 Lessons Learned From Horror Movies

My blog last week was about classic horror movies for the Halloween season. This week I'm talking about the lessons we can learn from those movies.

In addition to fun and entertainment, all sorts of valuable tidbits of information can be garnered from horror movies—especially important lessons about ghosts, monsters, and evil things lurking in the shadows. Those mysterious things that go bump in the night.

Here are 9 important lessons Halloween movies have taught us.

9)  When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.

8)  If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination with blood, glowing eyes, or increasing hairiness, get away from them as fast as possible.

7)  Do not search the basement, especially if the power has just gone out (even if it seems to have been knocked out as the result of a storm).

6)  If appliances start operating by themselves, move out.

5)  Stay away from certain geographic locations such as: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog, the Bermuda Triangle…or any small town in Maine.

4)  If your children speak to you in a language they should not know or if they speak to you using a voice not their own, be afraid…be very afraid.

3)  When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER pair off or worse yet go it alone when searching the spooky old mansion for the source of the strange noises.

2)  As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to hell.

And last, but not least…

1)  If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it.  Take the hint and stay away!
And have a Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Classic Horror Movies For The Halloween Season

A thought struck me the other day.  It was not anything earth shattering nor a profound realization, but a thought none-the-less.  I haven't seen much in the way of promo on television for the October theatrical horror movie releases typical of the Halloween season.  Did Hollywood run out of ideas for this year's tribute to the spooky, macabre, and gruesome?

And, as if I just spoke/wrote too soon about the lack of new horror-type movies this Halloween, there's a movie trailer on television right now for a new film opening this Friday titled Dracula Untold, complete with big time special effects.

What happened to the scary horror movies from the past that traded on the atmosphere of fear rather than the visual of spurting blood and flying body parts?  The tingling sensation that made the hair stand on the back of our necks and gives us goose bumps on our arms as our imaginations ran amuck.  The spooky ground fog that slithers over and around the tombstones, cloaking the cemetery in an eerie silence.

I'm talking about the traditional horror classics like Frankenstein from 1931 with Boris Karloff's brilliant performance as the monster.  Also from 1931, Dracula with Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the vampire as both elegant and mesmerizing which properly left the horror to the imagination of the viewer.  In 1932, Boris Karloff gave us another classic monster character with The Mummy.  Then came 1941's The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., as the stricken Larry Talbot.

True to Hollywood tradition, these classic horror movies spawned numerous sequels—Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter.  And as long as Hollywood was on a roll, they added to the profit factor by capitalizing on the popularity of the characters by having them co-star in such movies as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  Then there were the myriad remakes that came over the ensuing years, some serious attempts and others totally ludicrous.  Each one pushed the envelope in its own way in order to hopefully make it better (as in more box office dollars) than its predecessor.

With all four of these original movies, the remakes never really captured the essence of the originals…in my humble opinion.  Of course, the remakes from the last approximately 20 years (and most certainly those much newer) had super special effects, but the original fear factor was missing…that internal emotional quality that can't be conveyed by special effects.

The award for the most remakes, versions, and variations over the years goes to Dracula.  Some were serious films and others were more on the ridiculous side with titles such as Dracula's Dog.  Even Sesame Street has adapted the character in Muppet form with The Count, and General Mills manufacturers Count Chocula breakfast cereal (along with Franken Berry).

Each October Turner Classic Movies cable channel airs a selection of movies featuring horror, monsters, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other creatures that go bump in the night to celebrate Halloween.  October 2014 is Thursday Night Ghosts featuring a classic array of phantoms, apparitions, spooks and specters.  They've broken them down into 5 categories—Unfinished Business, Supernatural Romance, Ghost Comedies, Gothic Ghosts, and Haunted Houses.

And in addition to the Halloween fare sprinkled throughout the month of October, this year their 24 hours of horror for Halloween starts at 6:00AM (Eastern time) on Friday, October 31st, and includes:  London After Dark (1927), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), The Devil Doll (1936), I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Cat People (1942), The Tingler (1959), Spine Tingle! The William Castle Story (2007), Dementia 13 (1963), Carnival Of Souls (1962), Repulsion (1965), Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Curse Of The Demon (1958), House Of Wax (1953), Poltergeist (1982), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Eyes Without A Face (1959).

And that should be enough to satisfy anyone's need for a horror fix until the next time we come up against a dark and stormy night…