Gettysburg, PA: The Devil’s Den

Devils Den, Gettysburg, PA (c1909)

Devils Den, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (c1909) – Location of intensive fighting on Day 2 (July 2, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives.

I’ve been to the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania twice (so far) in my lifetime. Once in 1999 with my family and again in 2005 with my old, college roommates at my insistence. Both times, I’ve really enjoyed myself there. The historical significance of the Gettysburg Battlefield alone is really inspiring. And, of course, the ample graveyards and ghost stories really made me feel at home.

You have to spend at least a day in Gettysburg. The battlefield is so extensive it takes a whole day to do a self guided car tour– if you see everything from Iverson’s Pits, the Roundtops, the Devil’s Den, the Triangular Field, and Culp’s Hill (among other places). The visitor centers, cemeteries, and museums are really engaging too. Probably the most notable thing about this battlefield is the documentation of the battle and the National Park’s efforts to restore the battlefield to how it looked those three fateful days in 1863. In the years since I’ve been to Gettysburg, they’ve removed trees where there were none and planted trees and orchards where they once stood. Something about the atmosphere and the terrible amounts of men who met their untimely demise on the field of battle in Gettysburg calls to the dead– though the official park stance on the paranormal is that they have no stance on the paranormal.
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150th Annviersary of the Battle of Gettysburg

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Gettysburg Battlefield

51,000 men. That’s the number of American soldiers who were missing, wounded, and those met their demise on the battlefield in Gettysburg, PA on July 1-3, 1863. By today’s standards, these losses are the equivalent of 6 million men in three days. Confederate General Robert E. Lee lost one-third of his army during this battle. It was a grueling and iconic battle of the American Civil War for it marked the turning of the war in favor of the Union armies. It was also one of the bloodiest battles of the war, and probably the most hallowed and, dare I say, haunted ground in the country.

Today marks the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. What better way to honor the brave men who fought at Gettysburg than sharing stories from the battle?

The first day of the battle did not go well for the Union troops. A minor skirmish started in the northwest of Gettysburg around 10 am. Major General John F. Reynolds and his troops attempted to hold the Confederates at bay, but Reynolds was struck and killed. (Read “Star-Crossed Loves of Gettysburg” for more of Reynolds’ tragic story.) By 4 pm, the Federal troops were retreating through Gettysburg towards Cemetery Hill. Several troops were cut off from their units and killed in the retreat. One of those soldiers was the source of a battlefield mystery of a Union soldier who died during the retreat.
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Fort Mifflin

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I’m one of the people who fall into the category of People/Ghosts Haunt the Place of Their Death or A Place Important in Their Lives. Therefore, I do not believe cemeteries are haunted.  If people/ghosts haunt places of death, it stands to reason that a battlefield or other military installation would be high on the list of ‘most haunted’ places on Earth by sheer volume of potential individual entities lingering. So much pain and suffering, not only by those whose lives were abruptly ended in the name of something greater, but also those left behind.
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Haunted Ireland: Dublin’s Haunted History Tour

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Dublin Street at Night

Dublin Street at Night

I am happy to report that I visited Ireland for the first time in November 2012.  I took a very short, action packed trip to Dublin, and of course, I had to hit up the local ghost tour.  Hidden Dublin Walks is the company that I patronized for my tour.  Their company offers a smorgasborg of historical and paranormal tours.  I was hoping to get two under my belt while I was there, but sadly only got to enjoy one.  Let me tell you a little about a couple of the tours that I missed before I highlight the tour that I did take, the Haunted History Tour.

Hidden Dublin is the only tour group that takes tour groups to the site of Dublin’s Hellfire Club annex.  In the 1700’s the Hellfire Club used to meet in a hunting lodge located a short jaunt out of Dublin in the Dublin Mountains.  (As mountains go, I don’t think they actually qualify, but they are still lovely.) As is common in the Hellfire Clubs that were once located throughout the UK, this branch is said to have participated in orgies, rapes, animal sacrifice and satanic rituals to name but a few of their “entertainments”. The building was mysteriously destroyed by fire whist the Hellfire Club still leased it.  Since then there have been all manners of disturbing paranormal occurrences that have taken place there.  I would tell you about them, but alas, the tour seems only to be offered on Thursdays and I was not in Ireland on a Thursday.  Otherwise I would have been “in like Flynn”, because of all the tours that Hidden Dublin offers, THIS one was the one I wanted to go on the most!

The Northside Ghost Walk takes you on a tour north of the River Liffey in the oldest part of Dublin, which was built on the site of the former Viking settlement. This tour seems to be pretty incredible. It tells you the tale of St. Michan’s church and its crypts filled with mummified corpses…now on display for the macabre-minded tourists.  (Funny side note here…when I was in Dublin, I was heading to the Jameson Distillery and St. Michan’s is a literal stone’s throw away from the Distillery.  I was very excited to get the chance to tour the famous crypts, but sadly the site was closed when we arrived. The mysteriously vague sign posted on the gate said “Closed due to unforeseen circumstances”…which of course had me envisioning the mummified corpses all rising up from their coffins to protest their post-mortem careers as tourist fodder.) During the Northside tour you also visit Croppie’s acre, the site of a mass grave filled with the bodies of hundreds of rebels who were put to death after trying unsuccessfully to fight for Irish independence during the 1798 Rebellion. Hanging judges, haunted hospitals, tales of murders and murderers all round out this walking tour, which is said to be the scariest tour in Dublin.  I still plan on taking this tour (and the Hellfire tour) when I go back to Dublin again!

The tour that I did take was the Haunted History tour, and it began just around the corner from Dublin Castle, which was the seat ofDublin Castle English rule in Ireland for almost eight hundred years.  As Americans, we recognize the name ‘Lord Cornwallis’ as the English General who surrendered to our General Washington in Yorktown, VA.  But some time after the American Revolution he was made Viceroy of Ireland, where he was King George’s regent during the aforementioned 1798 Rebellion.  Cornwallis had no sympathies with the rebels and oversaw the execution of so many of them, it is reported that the first floor windows of Dublin Castle had the light blocked out of them by the piles of corpses in the Castle’s courtyard. The amount of history in Dublin Castle is phenomenal…it was built upon the even older site of a Viking fortification, the remains of which can still be viewed in the lower regions of the Castle.  The Presidency of the Council of the European Union is held by Ireland at the moment, as of January 2013 and Dublin Castle continues to be used for official state affairs, adding to its already extensive historical dossier.

The tour guide wove us through the winding streets and alleys of Dublin, sharing tales of the Hellfire Club (which used to meet in town before they got wise and moved to the privacy of their mountainside hunting lodge), Jonathan Swift who, in addition to being a famous author, was the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the infamous fish monger Molly Malone who sold seafood by day…and perhaps something else by night.

I can’t retell all of the stories here, but I will light on two of my favorites. The first one had to do with a cryptkeeper of Christchurch Cathedral who was not so enamored of his job; he felt he didn’t make enough of a salary. During that time, Dublin had strict drinking laws, the pubs had to close around midnight and apparently there were a fair amount of Dubliners who wanted to keep carousing after the Witching Hour had passed. So the cryptkeeper got the ingenious idea to open a drinking club in the crypt. It worked great all summer….the authorities never suspected a thing and the subterranean club stayed nice and cool.  The inhabitants of the crypt didn’t complain about the after hours visitors and everyone was happy.  When the weather got colder though, the crypt wasn’t an enjoyable place to throw back a brew or two, and business was dead (pun intended).  The next year, the cryptkeeper got smart; he operated the afterhours bar all summer and closed up shop once the autumn started turning towards winter.  The last night of operations for the year he locked everything up nice and tight and left the crypt until the following spring (not a very attentive cryptkeeper, but as I said, he didn’t like his job very much). Come the spring, he opened the crypt to get place spruced back up for business and he was horrified to find a skeleton lying against the door.  Around the skeleton were the smaller skeletons of dozens of rats. The remains of a soldier’s uniform, lay chewed into bits among the man’s bones.  Apparently, the man had been a soldier at nearby Dublin Castle and had abandoned his post the last night of the bar’s operations the previous autumn to go tie one on amongst the coffins. He must have gotten dead drunk and passed out in the recesses of the crypt and didn’t hear the last call, or the bar being emptied for the season.  When he came to, he was in the pitch black, locked in with no way out.  His regiment at the Castle put out a warrant for his arrest, as he was considered AWOL, but he never turned up…until the next spring.  He had died during the winter either due to exposure or starvation and his corpse had been consumed by the hungry rats, thus leaving only the skeleton to greet the cryptkeeper at his return. The rats had in turn died from cold or starvation. To this day, there are reports of passerbys hearing desperate pounding and muffled calls coming from the crypt’s entrance in the wee hours of the morning. Poor man…in a roundabout way, he drank himself to death.

My second favorite story is not my favorite because of the tale.  Indeed, the tale is pretty gruesome and lacking the element of dark humor present in the cryptkeeper’s tale.  The story is about “Darky Kelly”, a beautiful prostitute turned madam who ran a highly successful bordello just a block or two up from the river.  The madam, who was after all the boss, didn’t need to turn tricks anymore, but she did have one regular client who was the sheriff, or at least some type of respected official.  She became pregnant with his child and he began to fear what would happen to his reputation and his career if it was discovered that he had a lovechild with a common prostitute.  So he started a rumor that Kelly was a witch, and that was how she was getting the good men of Dublin to leave their wives and patronize her scandalous bordello.  The rumor was spread with such virulence and hatred that it ultimately inflamed a group of church going women to raid the bordello, grab Kelly by her hair and drag her down the street to St. Audoen’s where they had an impromptu trial there in the churchyard.   Unsurprisingly, they found her guilty and burned her alive right there and then.  This is really a very tragic story and is only one of my favorites because as the guide was telling us the tale, I took a photograph from up on the churchyard steps, looking down towards the entrance gate through which they had dragged Darky Kelly.  There was an orb in the right corner next to the gate.  Not being a big believer in orbs, I disregarded it for the moment.  Very shortly after I took the picture, the tour guide went on to say that the apparition of Kelly was often spotted just inside the gate. One of the other participants of the tour remarked to the tour guide that he kept looking towards the corner on the right side of the gate, expecting to see someone there and the tour guide revealed that it was that specific corner to which the apparition was often seen retreating. Sooo, the orb picture has a little more meaning for me now.  I’m not saying that the orb I caught was poor Darky Kelly…but it sure is one of the coolest souvenirs I brought back from Ireland.Orb at St. Audoen's

Ireland is a land that is dripping with the paranormal.  My ancestry is there, so I love the country no matter what…but with all of its banshees, little people, faeries, elementals, ghosts and other spirit beings, I would love the country even if there wasn’t a drop of green blood running through my veins.  If you’re ever planning a trip to Dublin, check out the Hidden Dublin website and choose the tour that would most interest you!

Haunted Objects: Robert the Doll

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I grew up with them. Probably most of you who read this blog grew up with them, or at least played with them for a brief period in your formative years. Whether you’re a girl or boy, dolls play a prominent role in anyone’s childhood. It can be a bit… unsettling… when you read a story about an innocent child’s toy which is more sinister than innocent.

This is one such story. The story of Robert the Doll

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American Murder Houses: The Gardette-Laprete* House

At the corner of Orleans Street and Dauphine Street in the heart of the French Quarter sits a rather unassuming four story Greek Revival house  of an indistinct shade of pale pink. Black wrought iron elegantly compliments the simplicity of the pale wall colouring. Walking past it, no one would guess that it was once the site of a pretty gruesome murder that happened in the 19th century. Local paranormal enthusiasts probably know the house better as The Sultan’s Palace, so if you’re ever in town and want to have a gander, ask for that rather than The Gardette-Laprete House.
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American Murder House: General Wayne Inn – Merion Station, PA

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Historic photo of the General Wayne Inn.

The General Wayne Inn was opened in 1704 and operated under various names, such as the William Penn Inn, the Wayside Inn and Streepers Tavern, before being renamed in 1793 in honor of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a local Revolutionary War and Indian War hero. Mad Anthony wasn’t the only Revolutionary War celebrity who had stayed or dined in the Inn.  George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette also supped there during the war. But the General Wayne Inn wasn’t just a restaurant and inn, it also served as a post office, a general store and a coach stop for many, many years. Continue reading