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THE BOOK OF THE BIZARRE
FREAKY FACTS & STRANGE STORIES
By VARLA VENTURA
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2008 Weiser Books
All rights reserved.
THE MAGICAL SKULL OF DOOM
Very few objects have engendered as much controversy or imaginative conjecture as the Magical Skull of Doom, a crystal skull life size in its circumference and likeness to the human head. Shrouded in mysterious and unknown origins, there are countless tales of strange phenomena associated with it. Some believe it is haunted, others believe it is cursed, and still others believe it is of extraterrestrial origin.
As legend has it, the skull first turned up in the 1920s under an altar in the archaeological dig of the ruins of Lubaantun, the great Mayan city in what is now known as Belize. Some of the greatest arguments occur over whether or not the Magical Skull of Doom is pre-Columbian. While other crystal skulls have been discovered in Central American ruins, none can match the Skull of Doom for its perfection of craftsmanship and likeness to a real skull. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is that the crystal from which the skull was carved appears to be derived only from California, not the Mayan territory.
Frederick Mitchell Hedges, one of the archaeologists who was present at the discovery, is rumored to have planted it on the occasion of his adopted daughter Ann's birthday, the day of the skull's discovery. It has also been suggested that the skull was never in Lubaantun. Nevertheless, Hedges proclaimed that the skull was "used by the high priest of the Maya to concentrate on and will death," that it was "the embodiment of all evil," or that people who scoffed at the skull have died or "have been stricken and become seriously ill." Hedges also attributed to the large hunk of crystal the moniker of "the Skull of Doom" and greatly aided in the swirl of rumors, mist, and myth that has continued to enshroud it.
Frank Dortland, a highly reputable art restorer and one of the later owners of the skull, kept and studied the Magical Skull of Doom. Dortland swore that the skull gave off an "elusive perfume," that it seemed to emanate a sound similar to bells chiming, and that it could change color at will. He also claimed that it sometimes was filled with ever-changing, cloudy images and at other times it contained crystal-clear images of temples, mountains, and myriad other striking scenes. Other folks who observed the skull when it was under Dortland's watch said a hazy aura would occasionally enshroud it. Still stranger are the reports of physiological phenomena, such as a quickening of the pulse, muscle spasms in the legs and arms, and even eye twitching, affecting people who were near the skull.
Maybe people are fascinated with the Magical Skull of Doom because it is simple in its inherent magnificence. It looks like it was formed whole, and it bears nearly no sign of tool marks. The artist who created this skull was a master of the highest order—the handiwork is nothing short of spectacular. Just polishing the skull would have been a labor of some years. The proverbial icing on the cake is especially fascinating: the skull is crafted in such a way that light collects and refracts in the eye sockets, causing them to emit an eerie glow.
THE TRANSYLVANIAN TABLETS
In 1961 archaeologists digging into a prehistoric mound in the Transylvanian village of Tartaria made a startling discovery—several small clay tablets with bizarre inscriptions on them. Some believed the inscriptions to be sigils or magical signs, and others believed that they were important documents left behind for the singular purpose of being found—time capsules, perhaps. Using the modern method of carbon dating, the objects' origin was placed at around 4000 B.C. The writing was believed to be of Mesopotamian origin, specifically Sumerian, the first written language. Could this discovery mean the origins of writing began in the wild backwoods of Transylvania?
The three tablets were found in the lowest layer of the dig. They were in a sacrificial pit within a burial mound, and the pit also contained some scattered human bones. The bones bore symbols quite similar to the inscriptions on the tablets; the symbols were both from Sumer and from the highly advanced Minoan civilizations of Crete. But if the carbon dating is accurate, the tablets were made by a primitive Stone Age agricultural tribe known as the Vinca. The Vinca predated Sumerian writing by one millennium and the Minoan writing by two thousand years. Most scholars believe that the inscriptions were magical ciphers—spells and secret codes of this ancient farming tribe. The hash marks, swirls, x's, and shapes on the three tablets cast a spell over mystery lovers, too.
Built over four thousand years ago, Stonehenge, the massive stone monument that sits on the Salisbury Plain of England, is shrouded in mystery and legend. Was it constructed as an ancient calendar and used to predict astrological events or seasonal changes? Or was it a place of worship, a spiritual temple built to honor the deities of its makers?
The purpose of this spectacular man-made rock formation has been studied and debated for centuries. Just as bewildering is the question of how Stonehenge was created. Some of the stones used are believed to have come from hundreds of miles away. How were these rocks, some weighing up to four tons, transported such a distance in an era before the invention of the wheel? No one knows for sure.
And no one knows for sure who built Stonehenge. There are many supernatural and mystical theories, though none have ever been proven. Some believe Stonehenge was the creation of aliens, while others claim that the sorcerer Merlin used his magical powers to move the stones across the land and sea. One legend even tells of the devil creating Stonehenge as part of a bizarre riddle he concocted to toy with local villagers.
STONE'S PUBLIC HOUSE
Numerous stories of ghostly encounters surround Stone's Public House in Ashland, Massachusetts. The inn and pub was built in 1834 by John Stone and still serves as a restaurant and pub today.
The assistant manager of Stone's tells a tale of being alone in the pub one night, finishing up the day's duties, and having a sudden feeling of terror. Then a handful of birdseed fell through holes in the ceiling, rattling to his newly mopped floor. Other staffers report water faucets turning on by themselves, and numerous patrons say they have felt someone tapping on their shoulder only to find no one behind them when they turn around.
A noted hypnotist and parapsychologist, Ralph Bibbo, visited the inn numerous times and says that there are at least six, possibly seven, different ghosts that dwell there. Bibbo says that Stone himself accidentally killed a boarder in 1845 and tried to cover up the murder. The other spirits were accomplices or witnesses to Stone's crime. Having sworn to keep Stone's crime a secret while they were alive, they are still bound to the pub in death.
THE TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower of London is perhaps the most infamous haunted dwelling in history. Built over a two-hundred-year period beginning in the early eleventh century, the complex is seen as an architectural wonder, having over twenty towers and occupying over eighteen acres of land.
The Tower of London was used as by English monarchs as a prison, and it has housed some of Britain's most notorious of criminals. Murderers and traitors to the crown were locked up in one of its many towers to await execution, and those prisoners who were sentenced to death were beheaded within the Tower's very walls. Many of those who were beheaded are said to haunt the Tower to this day. Lady Jane Grey, who held the throne for only nine days in 1554 before being executed in the Tower, is said to appear every year on the day of her death, holding her own head beneath her arm.
Two other murdered queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, both wives of Henry the VIII, also are said to appear within the Tower as two headless figures surrounded by a supernatural glow. Katherine has even be seen and heard wandering the halls and begging for mercy as she did on the day of her execution.
One of the Tower's most gruesome murders was of the Countess of Salisbury. As her head was placed on the executioner's block, she panicked and tried to run. The executioner chased her down and hacked her to death with his axe. It is said that the spirits of the countess and her executioner appear and reenact her brutal murder.
Of all the ghostly sightings in the Tower of London, the most disturbing are the apparitions of two small boys walking along the hallways hand in hand. These boys are believed to be the sons and heirs of King Edward V. Edward's brother Richard, the duke of Gloucester, placed his nephews in the Tower after King Edward's death. He later smothered the two princes in their sleep, so that he could claim the king's throne for himself.
"It's fascinating to think that all around us there's an invisible world we can't even see. I'm speaking, of course, of the World of the Invisible Scary Skeletons." —JACK HANDY
A GHOST TO BE
What manner of death creates a ghost? While many ghosts may stay on after their passing because they are fond of a place (or person), most hauntings are attributed to some kind of disruptive death. Leslie Rule describes these as "ghost makers" in her book Coast to Coast Ghosts:
1. Murder. Unsolved killings especially. Ghost often moves on once the murder is solved.
2. Suicide. Torment equals a soul bound to earth.
3. Accidents. Sudden deaths have more hauntings attached to them than deaths of natural causes.
4. Broken hearts. Those who die mourning are often the source of ghostly activity.
5. Greed. A preoccupation with land or money in life can be carried into the beyond.
6. Lack of proper burial or desecration of grave site.
KING'S TAVERN, NATCHEZ, MISSISSIPPI
The story of the ghosts at King's Tavern in Natchez, Mississippi, dates back to the late 1700s, when a woman named Madeline, the mistress of Richard King, was murdered by King's jealous wife. For more than 200 years, the tavern's patrons have reported hauntings, including the ghost of a woman standing in front of them, angrily poised with hands on her hips.
In the 1930s, the skeleton of a woman was discovered sealed in a brick fireplace, a dagger in her chest.
SILAS OF KENNEBUNK
The Kennebunk Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine is reputed to be haunted by a friendly ghost named Silas. Among Silas's tricks are levitating glasses and throwing beer mugs.
REBECCA DORRINGTON'S FATAL FALL
In the High Sierra of California, among the pines and fresh mountain air, the little town of Dorrington is home to the Dorrington Hotel. The town is named after Rebecca Dorrington, who died in a fatal fall down a flight of stairs in the hotel in 1870. Today's hotel guests report banging doors, flashing lights, and furniture shifting. Some have even claimed to witness a phantom re-creation of Rebecca's fatal fall.
HAUNTED? A CHECKLIST
Here are six telltale signs that your house may be haunted, especially if any of the signs occur repeatedly:
1. Pets react with seemingly out-of-place growls, barks, or hisses to things no one else can see.
2. Household members have repeated nightmares.
3. Objects disappear, often to reappear somewhere else after some time. For example, a young woman living in an old railroad flat in Santa Fe has come home to find her ghost had moved or turned over her sugar bowl on numerous occasions.
4. Electrical appliances turn on or off by themselves. Faucets or toilets run or flush themselves.
5. The building has inexplicable cold drafts or cold spots.
6. Inhabitants hear footsteps, taps on walls or windows, and voices that cannot be attributed to other living people or sources in the house.
NEW ENGLAND GHOST
AS TOLD BY RAYMOND BUCKLAND
I first came to the United States in 1962. I lived on Long Island, New York, and then, about ten years later, moved up to live on the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire. My wife and I purchased a house there, at Weirs Beach.
The house was built circa 1825. It was a beautiful two-story with an attached ell barn, stable, and outbuildings, set on a couple of acres. Right from the start we felt very comfortable and very welcomed in the house. It had a very large living room with a wonderful beamed ceiling. The room ran the length of the house on the west side. A staircase went up the center of the house; the front door was at its base, and there were four bedrooms above. On the east side of the house was the kitchen and my study. My study had two windows looking out to the front and one looking to the side. A later addition was a screened-in porch that ran across the full front of the house. The door at the east end of this porch opened onto a paved path leading to the garage and the driveway.
We quickly came to realize that the house was haunted. While we sat downstairs in the living room, we frequently heard footsteps walking about in the bedrooms. I particularly remember one time when the footsteps walked across the room above (my elder son's front bedroom) and then started down the stairs. My wife and I were sitting in the living room, and we both turned to see who had come down, since neither of my sons was home; we expected the person to come around the corner from the foot of the stairs into the living room. But no one came. The footsteps had stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I got up out of my chair and went to look. There was no one there; the staircase was empty.
On another occasion my wife's grandmother was staying with us, sleeping in my elder son's bedroom. One morning she came down to breakfast and reported a nighttime visitor. She said that she had awakened in the middle of the night to find a woman standing at the foot of her bed. There was a night-light in the room, and she could see that the woman was wearing a long blue dress. The figure studied her for a few moments and then turned and simply disappeared, fading away to nothing.
I saw a figure myself, once. I was in my study when I heard the screen door bang and looked up to glimpse a man crossing the porch to go to the front door. As I got up from my desk, I expected to hear the front doorbell ring, but it didn't. I went and opened the door and looked out. There was no one there. The porch was empty. There was no one outside or anywhere in the driveway. The screen door invariably squeaked when opened, but I didn't hear it squeak on this occasion.
We lived in the house for almost five years and became accustomed to our ghosts. They were in no way malevolent. We were sorry to say good-bye to them when we eventually sold the house and moved away.
"Nothing beats a haunted moonlit night on All Hallows Eve ... And on this fatal night, at this witching time, the starless sky laments black and unmoving. The somber hues of an ominous, dark forest are suddenly illuminated under the emerging face of the full moon." —KIM ELIZABETH
NOT ALL HAUNTS ARE OLD
Brad Steiger's Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places is chock full of fantastically frightening true tales of terror. Among them is the story of a woman and her husband who moved into a house in 1992, when the house was just eleven years old. Not long after moving in, the woman began to hear someone walking in her upstairs hallway. Convinced it was her son sneaking out, she would go upstairs to check on him and find him sleeping soundly in bed. At first, she did not speak of the footsteps, not even to her husband and son. Then the footsteps increased in frequency and changed location, including coming into her bedroom. It didn't take her long to learn from her husband that he, too, was hearing many strange noises, particularly when he was home alone during the brightness of day. In the first month of living there, she told author Steiger that they went through at least one hundred lightbulbs; lights were constantly blowing out all throughout the house.
The woman said the noises had begun just after the family had moved in—when she'd hung an old lead mirror, left behind by the previous owners, in the hallway opposite her son's room. Only when she got rid of the mirror did the noises stop.
Not only do animals sense ghosts, but animals also can be ghosts. For example:
* Actor Rudolph Valentino's Great Dane, Kabar, is reported to haunt his former owner's gravesite.
* In Port Tabacco, Maryland, there is a bloodstained rock known to locals as Peddler's Rock. It is said to be home to the Blue Dog, who guards his dead master's buried treasure.
* In Casper, Wyoming, ranchers have long reported the image of a white steed galloping across the area known as Rattlesnake Range. This horse was known as White Devil when he was alive, due to his reputation for fiercely defending himself and other horses against the mighty lasso.
Excerpted from THE BOOK OF THE BIZARRE by VARLA VENTURA. Copyright © 2008 Weiser Books. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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