Author Archives: obiwan

Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

BY TONY HARRINGTON

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland as a child who was interested in history was an awesome experience.  The city was brimming with historical landmarks that were rich with stories of our nations past.  From Edgar Alan Poe’s home and burial spot, to the history of Johns-Hopkins Hospital, from the final docking spot of the U.S.S. Constellation to the historic Fort McHenry there was plenty of stories to go around.

Hiding behind the stories told by tour guides during the day at some of the locations were darker stories that were whispered from the lips of employees and visitors that told of strange goings-on in these incredible institutions.

Among the many sites rumored to be haunted in Baltimore, perhaps the most famous is Fort McHenry.

Construction on the fort as we know it today was completed in 1798 by French architect Jean Foncin. The fort was named after the Secretary of War serving under President George Washington, James McHenry. Fort McHenry was completed after America won its independence from Britain and was designed to secure the port of Baltimore from attack.

The Fort stands on the Locust Point peninsula that sticks out into the harbor. The design is a classic 5-star shape surrounded by a dry moat.

Shortly after completion the War of 1812 came to the Port of Baltimore as British ships tried to enter the harbor. The battle raged for 25 hours beginning on September 13, 1814 at six a.m. and ending on the morning of September 14, 1814.

During the bombardment on the Fort a young lawyer who had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of a political prisoner of war was so moved by the attack and the sight of a flag sewn by a local seamstress Mary Pickersgill which remained standing during the attack that he penned a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.”  That lawyer was Francis Scott Key and the poem he penned would later become the National Anthem of the United States and re-titled “The Star Spangled Banner”.

During the attack on the fort 4 people lost their lives including a black soldier and an unfortunate woman who was cleaved in half by a bomb as she carried supplies to the soldiers on the battle front. Additionally 24 soldiers were wounded during the attack.

During the Civil-War the fort served as a prison for confederate prisoners as well as a myriad of public political figures who were accused of being confederate sympathizers. There were deaths reported during this phase.

Fort McHenry went on to serve as an enormous hospital for troops returning from the battlefront of World War I. Several lives were lost at the fort during this time.

The history of the fort coupled with the tragic loss of life witnessed within its walls and within the harbor just beyond have led to rumors that there is something not at rest on the grounds. Visitors report a sense of dread, the feeling of being watched, and the sensation of movement around them when no one else is nearby.

Docents who work at the fort recounting history to tour groups remain tight-lipped about their experiences during the day, but secretly admit to experiencing paranormal phenomenon that defies logical explanation. One worker who tells stories from the prison cells to passers-by during the well it hours of day recalls a time when someone prevented his evening departure when the last of the tour groups had made their way through.

This particular worker had always felt as if he was not alone in the prison cell that he occupied during the day. In order to humor himself and provide some comfort he took to calling his invisible friend “George”, assuming it was the ghost of former Baltimore Mayor George William Brown who was a political prisoner at the fort during the civil war era. Each night before the worker would leave his post and head for home he would wish George a goodnight. One particular evening the worker failed to bid his ghostly friend adieu and the worker claims that as he pulled the cell door open to exit it felt as if someone had slammed the door closed.

He tried once again to make an exit and once more the door was ripped from his grasp and slammed closed forcefully. It was then that the docent felt someone push him away from the exit and further back into the cell. The employee was terrified, but realizing his departure from his standard parting salutation he cried out, “Goodnight George!”

The cell door creaked open slowly and the worker was permitted to leave the cell without further incident.

Many visitors to Fort McHenry report seeing the figure of a black male with a rifle resting on his shoulder as he paces back on forth seemingly on patrol. Many believe it is the spirit of the only black man to lose his life in the bombardment on the fort during the War of 1812.

Workers and visitors alike have also reported shadow figures, the smell of gunpowder, the sound of crying, and drums being played in the distance.  Allegedly, a malevolent energy haunts the interior halls of the fort that has attacked and/or frightened workers at the fort.

Regardless of the paranormal activity, Fort McHenry is an incredible place to visit where one can reflect on the birth of a nation, the origin of the Star Spangled Banner, or simply enjoy a picnic lunch on the very grounds where once a battle raged between the British and the Americans for the Port of Baltimore.

For more information of Fort McHenry, please visit the official website of National Parks Services.

“Old Hag” aka Sleep Paralysis

“Old Hag” is a natural, although quite disturbing, phenomenon in which a waking individual is caught in a sort of half sleep-half waking state.  While in this state, the person is able to consciously think, but since the body has not yet received the signal from the brain that you are awake, you are physically nonfunctional or barely functional.  Symptoms of Old Hag include hearing footsteps, seeing a presence (in the past, because of people’s fear of “witches”, this was often an old woman, from which the name derives), and a feeling of not being able to breathe or move.

From the alt.dreams FAQ, maintained by Olaf Titz (olaf@bigred.ka. sub.org):

“3.1. What causes sleep paralysis?
“A. Conventional wisdom: REM atonia is a normal function of the body. The muscles that move the body are “turned off” during REM sleep, which prevents you from acting out dreamed actions in reality. Non-REM sleep paralysis after waking up (“old hag”) is caused by a failure to re-activate the muscles immediately. Normally this condition lasts only a few seconds, but sometimes it can go for a minute, which causes a very scary feeling. You are damn sure you’re awake now but you can’t move. This is extremely unpleasant but at least not dangerous.”

Here is a typical Old Hag experience. This was posted on the USENET newsgroup alt.folklore.ghost-stories in the 1990s.

From: bwallace@epix.net (Penny)

“… I turned out the light and settled down to go to sleep. As I was lying in bed thinking, I became aware of a rustling sound emanating from the turret. I focused on the sound, trying to determine its origins. A breeze over papers? A mouse? As soon as I dismissed these possibilities the rustling sound stopped and was replaced by the sound of stealthy, shuffling footsteps that were headed in my direction. The sense of a presence was suddenly so strong that it filled the room. I was terrified. The critical detail here is that I clearly remember pulling the blanket over my head (I was lying on my back.) The next thing I knew I was paralyzed–I couldn’t move a finger. The footsteps continued their approach and the next thing I knew, a tremendous weight settled on my chest, forcing me into the mattress. I felt that there was a menacing presence. […] It was nasty! The intense, dreadful weight continued to press down on me, almost like a large animal settling itself on my body. I thought I would go through the mattress. I knew that I was awake, I was not dreaming, and that something evil was in the room with me. Somehow, my childhood years of Sunday School paid off and I prayed to be released. In that instant, it was over.”

Next time you read a book of true ghostly accounts, keep the old hag phenomenon in mind. Most likely you will find a few classic old hag experiences (especially by authors who are unaware of the phenomenon) which the victim assumed were paranormal.

An amusing incident from a reader:

Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999 14:58:04 +0000
From: “Mr. Lamb” (brlamb@zeus.kern.org)
To: obiwan@ghosts.org
Subject: “old hag” theory

I have been reading the stories at your site for a few weeks now and I will be posting my own very true very scary tale soon. But first I’d like to ad my own theory or explanation of “old hag”.

A female neighbor of mine would often complain to her husband that several nights a week she would awake with the sensation of being smothered. She claimed that it felt like someone laying across her body, at once pinning her down and forcing the air from her lungs. She said during these episodes she felt panicked and paralized. She was convinced that their bedroom was “haunted” Her husband finally grew tired of listening to her complaints and forced her to get a complete physical and mental check-up. Long story short…she actually suffered from Sleep Apnea. Her “old hag” was actually caused by her inability to breathe!

Her husband still thinks this is hilarious and anytime she says something that may be false he grumbles “ghost my ass, i bet it’s your damn deviated septum again”

The Old Hag phenomenon as astral projection:

From: “Bryan Chandler” (Tokabowla@worldnet.att.net)
To: obiwan@ghosts.org
Subject: Regarding your “Old Hag” FAQ…
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 18:09:12 -0500

Hey great page! This is regarding your “Old Hag” thing on your FAQ pages. I have an alternate explanation that while still classifies itself as “paranormal”, but actually has nothing to do with ghosts.

Many as I do believe that the experience of sleep paralyses is actually due to an Out Of Body Experience. Ever lay in your bed, on the edge of sleep, not thinking of anything, and suddenly have the sensation your falling, as if through your bed?! Realizing this you suddenly “catch” yourself, and jump up in your bed. I’ve had this feeling many times throughout my life.

There are those (myself included) who believe that this is the sensation of your soul or “astral body” leaving your physical body. At some point while on the edge of sleep, it’s believed that your physical body infact does fall asleep, however your consciousness or “astral body” actually doesn’t join you in sleep, but rather becomes disconnected from your physical body. There are those who claim to do this regularly, and can travel anywhere there hearts may desire, and that there is no actual “time” experience in this state. Many claim of being able to go to friends houses who live hundreds, possibly thousands of miles away and listening in on conversations that their friends may have with others, and later being able to describe these conversations to their friends that they could not possibly of heard! Other things similar to this are apparently possible.

Strange buzzing or “frying” sounds, and the feeling of a heavy weight upon the body are also associated with the entering of the OBE state, along with the feeling of being “pushed into and through the bed”. These strange sounds and feelings may explain the “Old Hag” experience.

As far as I know there is no danger of death, or not being able to return to your sleeping body. Infact it is said that you can return at any time you wish. If you experience this phenomenon, and are able to not “catch yourself”, you just might be able to experience an OBE. I however have never personally been able to keep from “catching” myself from the falling sensation. I suppose when your on the edge of sleep, your instincts act before your consciousness can interject.

Bryan C.

SEE ALSO MORE OLD HAG STORIES

How things appear to roll “uphill”

There are some places where the land is shaped in such a way that it can sometimes appear that things are going uphill when they are really going down. Some people attribute this type of activity to paranormal causes.

Jason Hoffman (Jason.Hoffman@nopc.jaxx.com) explains it this way:

“This was explained very simply on a TV show several years back. There is a place known as “Gravity Hill” where the road is on a slight decline. But the trees on the side of the road, instead of being vertical, lean down the hill. So that if you are standing sideways on the road, with the down side to your left, the trees `should’ appear to lean to the right, but actually lean to the left. This makes the downward side of the hill seem to be the up side of the hill. The grade is so slight that it throws off your balance, so you become confused.

“This has been illustrated in fun houses at amusement parks…’The Leaning Room’. After being in the room for a minute, your natural sense of balance tries to correct itself. Then, you try to roll a ball down some parallel bars, but the ball rolls up instead.”

Here is another explanation by Paul Johnson (paj@gec-mrc.co.uk):

“The brain uses a collection of techniques for deciding which way is up. The balancing organs in the inner ears only work when you stand still, so for most purposes the brain uses visual rules-of-thumb.

“Amongst these are:

1. The ground is, on average, horizontal.
2. Walls are vertical.

“So these mystery spots are usually on broad, empty plains with a slight slope. The slope isn’t noticable, and rule 1 is applied by the brain to get a wrong answer for the horizontal. Hence any slight lessening of the slope looks like a slight upward rise on a flat plain, even though it is actually still downhill. So things rolling down the slope look like they are rolling uphill.

“Sometimes locals exploit rule 2 by putting up buildings that conform to the visual horizontal instead of the actual one. This reinforces the illusion quite strongly.

“If you are ever shown one of these spots, check a map with contour lines drawn on to find out how flat it really is.”

The following is an excerpt from the Physics FAQ, copyright PEG.  I am reproducing it here for preservation’s sake, as the original is quite old and may disappear in time from the web.  You can find the original here: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/roll-uphill.html

Updated May 1998 by PEG.
Original by Philip Gibbs 1996.

I know a place where things seem to roll uphill.  How does it work?

Sometimes you may find or hear of a mysterious place where objects can apparently roll uphill.  This is a remarkably common illusion that is found in numerous locations around the world.  Usually it is a stretch of road in a hilly area where the level horizon is obscured.  Objects such as trees and walls that normally provide visual clues to the true vertical, may be leaning slightly.  This creates an optical illusion making a slight downhill look like an uphill slope.  Objects may appear to roll uphill.  Sometimes rivers even seem to flow against gravity.

Spots where the illusion is especially powerful often become tourist attractions.  Tour guides may like to claim that the effect is a mystery or that it is due to magnetic or gravitational anomalies or even that it is a paranormal phenomenon that science cannot explain.  This is not true of course.  Natural anomalies can only be detected with sensitive equipment and cannot account for these places but science can easily explain them as optical illusions.

There are several things that enable us to sense which way is up.  The balance mechanism in our inner ears is one system we have, but visual clues are also important and can be overriding.  If the horizon cannot be seen or is not level, then we may be fooled by objects that we expect to be vertical but that really are not.  False perspective might also play a role.  If a line of trees get larger or smaller with distance away, our sense of perspective is thrown off.  Objects far away may seem smaller or larger than they really are.

People often overestimate the angle of a slope.  If you are standing on a slope of 1 degrees it will seem like a slope of 5 degrees and if you stand on a slope of 5 degrees it may seem like you are on a slope of 30 degrees.  Because of this effect the anti-gravity illusion can seem stronger than it should be even when you know the cause.

Even when the true cause is understood it can be difficult to believe.  In some cases the sea horizon is partly visible and it seems incredible that the effect can be an illusion.  If you think there is a magnetic anomaly just use two plumb lines, one made of iron and one of stone.  They would hang at different angles if a strong magnetic field was acting horizontally.  In fact magnetic anomalies are never that strong and are never the cause as is easily shown.

However, it is not always easy to demonstrate that a slope that appears to go uphill is really going downhill.  Plumb lines and spirit levels cannot be relied on if you think there is a gravitational anomaly.  If the slope runs parallel to a seaview it would be possible to compare a plumb line with the horizon.  Otherwise the only reliable way of determining the true horizontal is by careful surveying.  If a good topographical map of the area is available it may be sufficient to show which way the land is really sloping.  The results will confirm the illusion.  Gravitational anomalies are always very small.  In any case, if there was a gravitational anomaly you should wonder how you would notice it.  There would be an equal effect on your sense of balance as there is on any object.  The anomaly would not be apparent unless there was a clear view of the sea behind the slope, which there never is.

A search on the web turned up a surprising number of examples of this illusion.  Most are natural while others have been constructed in theme parks.  Below is an incomplete list of the natural ones for those who want to visit.  Many thanks to those who have sent more site details for this list.  Do check locations are correct before making a long journey and remember that it may be dangerous or illegal to stop or reverse your car on slip roads and bends!

  • Mystery Spot Road, off Branciforte Dr.  Santa Cruz, CA, USA. A spot 50m in diameter in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Mystery Spot, Putney Road, Benzie County, Michigan, USA.
  • Gravity Hill, Northwest Baltimore County, USA. along a public road that ran through the Soldier’s Delight environmental area.
  • Gravity Hill, Mooresville, Southwest Indianapolis, USA. Located off SR 42 on the South side of Mooresville.
  • Gravity Road, Ewing Road exit ramp off Route 208, Franklin Lakes, USA.
  • Mystery Hill, Blowing Rock, hwy 321, Carolina, USA.
  • Confusion Hill, Idelwild Park, Ligonier, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Gravity Hill, off of State Route 96 just south of New Paris, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Gravity Hill (near White’s Hill) , just South of Rennick Road, on County Truck U, South of Shullsburg, in LaFayette County, Wisconsin, USA
  • Oregon Vortex, near Gold-Hill, Grants Pass, Oregon, USA.
  • Spook Hill, North Wales Drive, North Avenue, Lake Wales, Florida, USA.
  • Spook Hill, Gapland Road just outside Burkittsville, Gapland (Frederick County), Maryland, USA.
  • Magnetic Hill, Near Neepawa in Manitoba, Canada.
  • Magnetic Hill, just off the Trans Canada highway, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
  • Gravity Hill, on McKee Rd. just before Ledgeview Golf Course in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Electric Brae, on the A719, Near Croy Bay, South of Ayr, Ayeshire, Scotland.
  • Anti-Gravity Hill, Straws Lane Road, Wood-End, Near hanging rock, Victoria, Australia
  • Morgan Lewis Hill, St Andrew, Barbados.
  • Hill South of Rome, in Colli Albani, near Frascati, Italy.
  • Malveira da Serra, on N247 coast road West of Lisbon, Portugal
  • Mount Penteli, on a road to Mount Penteli, Athens, Greece
  • Mount Halla, on the 1.100 highway a few miles south of the airport, near Mount Halla, on the island of Cheju Do, South Korea

References:

“Skeptical Inquirer”, Vol 16, No. 1, 1991; an article about the illusion at Spook Hill.

“Seeing Is Believing?  Haunted Shacks, Mystery Spots, and Other Delightful Phenomena” by Chris Banta

Natural Explanations for Supernatural Phenomena

Natural oddities such as ball lightning and “will o’ the wisp,” imagination, and simple misinterpretation are often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. Here is an interesting bit sent in by a reader:

From: “Hilli” (iridium@tegmentum.net)
To: obiwan@ghosts.org
Subject:
Date: Monday, February 11, 2002 6:29 AM

Dear Obiwan,

My name is Hilli and I recently graduated from UCLA with a bachelor degree in neuroscience. I have been reading some of the stories that people have submitted to your page. Having been a scientifically-minded person all my life, I couldn’t help reacting to some of the situations that the writers have described by asking myself how such things have happened. For example, some writers have described smelling strange scents when supposed apparitions were about; I am familiar with the mechanism by which the brain interprets scent–molecules diffuse into the tectorial membane in the nasal cavity and activate connections in the brain which are interpreted as scents. So in order for the writer to have experienced a scent, this neural pathway in the brain would have to be activated by something.

Certain relatively-common neural disordes are characterized by such connections becoming activated in the brain without external sensory stimuli, and are expressed in the patient in the form of images, scents, sounds, and so on. Often these sensory experiences are aided by the patient’s memories–for example, a memory of a relative will influence visual stimuli, and the patient will report having seen the relative. These sensations are very real and not mere illusions–they are as real to the patient as images of objects that are in the patient’s actual visual field.

I can’t help wondering whether a lot of the experiences that people discuss in the stories they submit to your webpage are manifestations of such neural mechanisms. I have worked with patients, myself, who have experienced such sensory experiences as part of the symptoms of their condition. I think this information is worthwhile to mention on your website for those who are not familiar with neuroscience and neuropathology.

Oldest Recorded Ghost Sightings

According to the excellent book Ghost Sightings by Brian Innes, the oldest written report of a ghost comes from the Bible, in the first book of Samuel. Saul goes to a medium (“a woman that hath a familiar spirit”) and asks her to conjure up the deceased Samuel, which she does. Samuel appears in the form of “an old man covered with a mantle.”

Another very old ghost sighting comes from Ancient Greece. A Greek writer named Pausanius wrote around 150 AD about a haunting at the site of the battle of Marathon (490 BC). In the words of Pausanius:

“At this place you can hear all night horses whinnying and men fighting. No one who stays there just to have this experience gets any good out of it, but the ghosts do not get angry with anyone who happens to be there against his will.”

Notes: The description of Samuel in his undead state, covered with his mantle, seems to set a precedent for the sheet-covered ghost so favored in Western culture. Although Samuel was conjured and perhaps not a “true” ghost, Pausanius’ account is clearly that of an already established haunting which must have been well known at the time.

Theories on the Existence of Ghosts

There are many theories of what ghosts (if they indeed exist) are. Some people believe that ghosts are the residual energy left behind by an emotionally strong person or event. This theory holds that more energy/electrical impulses are expended during periods of high stress or excitement, and that the energy lingers for a long time.

Freud thought that ghosts are actually the visions of people who are afraid of death. In this sense, ghosts would not be real at all but rather a projection of our subconscious mind.

A somewhat plausible theory is that ghosts are telepathic images. That is, a sensitive person would pick up past vibrations from the area they were in and witness an event or person as it appeared many years ago. This would also explain instances where a person sees a loved one at or near the moment of the the loved one’s death, since the loved one could be unconsciously projecting their thoughts to the receptive person.

Ghosts might also be the result of time slips, if time is nonlinear. An event that happened in the past might be seen briefly in our time because of a fluctuation in time/space.

On his show -Mysterious World-, Arthur C. Clarke has speculated that our minds might play images to our eyes (the same way our eyes relay messages to our brain, but in reverse), almost like a movie screen. In this way ghosts would be bits of our imagination come to life.

Types of Hauntings — Misc.

Ghostly visitations fall into several distinct categories. Here are a few of the most common.

* Crisis Apparitions — These ghosts appear most often to their loved ones at a moment of great crisis or death. Typically, the ghosts appear only once to a special loved one who may be many miles away at the time of the accident.
* Doppelgangers — Doppelgangers are ghostly doubles of living people. Often the doppelganger is not visible to the person himself, and will simply follow the person around. In some cases a person will come upon his own doppelganger who is typically engaged in some future activity. Doppelgangers are traditionally considered omens of bad luck or even death.
* Repeated Actions — Many apparitions are always viewed repeating the same motions or scenes. Many classic hauntings fall into this category. An example of this type of haunting is The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, who was always seen moving down a hallway with a lantern in her hand. Usually these ghosts pay little or no attention to the observer.
* Ghostly Sounds and Lights — Sometimes a haunting will consist entirely of the sound of footsteps or ghostly music. There are also many legends of ghost lights, which are often said to be caused by someone’s ghostly lantern or by a spectral motorcycle or train.
* Possessed Objects — Sometimes inanimate objects are said to be cursed or possessed. A very famous example of a supposed cursed object is the Hope Diamond. Sometimes a particular piece of furniture will refuse to stay in place, even moving in front of the owner’s eyes.

Heather O’Rourke

I am sometimes asked, “How did that girl in Poltergeist die?”  Heather O’Rourke’s death is often associated with the “Poltergeist curse,” a run of bad luck that plagued those involved with the original film for years afterwards.  However, her unfortunate death at a young age was quite earthly in nature.

Contributed by Christine White (christin@meaddata.com):

According to People Magazine February 15, 1988:

“It happened so fast. At 9:25 am, Monday Feb. 1, only hours after developing what appeared to be flu symptoms, Heather O’Rourke, child star of the Poltergeist horror films, was rushed from her home in Lakeside, Calif., to the hospital; she was in septic shock and cardiac arrest. An hour later she arrived by airlift, alive but in critical condition, at Children’s Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.

There she was operated on for intestinal stenosis, an acute bowel obstruction, a congenital condition neither her mother nor stepfather had suspected. At 2:43 pm, Heather died on the operating table. She was 12 years old.”

Subsequent issues of People tell how doctors first diagnosed and treated her for Crohn’s disease. The parents sued the doctors for wrongful treatment, but I don’t know what happened to the suit.

Ed and Lorraine Warren

Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-described as a demonologist and a trance medium, respectively, were a husband and wife team who investigated paranormal activity.  They were born in the 1920s, married young, and in 1952 they founded the New England Center for Psychic Research.  They were involved in a number of high profile cases, most notably as early participants in the alleged “Amityville Horror” haunting.  The Warrens were deeply religious and most of their methods of dealing with strange phenomena were predicated upon their belief in demons.  Over the course of their career they published a number of books, traveled the lecture circuit, and participated in countless interviews, television shows, etc.  Ed Warren died in 2006 at the age of 80.  Lorraine still lives and continues her work in the paranormal field.

Sources:

http://www.warrens.net/Warrens-Bio.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_and_Lorraine_Warren
http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/lorraine-warren-speaks-to-the-true-story-behind-this-summers-the-conjuring

The Fox Sisters

The Fox sisters (Margaretta and Kate/Cathie) caused a sensation in the late 1840s, when the news broke that they could communicate with a spirit in their home in Hydesville, New York. The “spirit” communicated through rapping sounds (e.g., two raps for yes). The sisters went on to become professional mediums, and were instrumental in founding the spiritualist movement that lasted through the Victorian era and into the 1920s. Later in their lives the sisters admitted to faking the spirit raps (many researchers had been insisting all along that the noises were faked), but at least one of them took back the confession before she died. Despite this, the Fox sisters are generally considered frauds.  Their fame nonetheless paved the way for others to make a living in the field of the paranormal.