Posts Tagged ‘Paris catacombs’

I’ve mentioned time and time again how I want to visit haunted locations. In the past, I managed to visit the Paris catacombs, where I saw plenty of skulls but no paranormal phenomena, and last year I visited The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, where I caught my first paranormal evidence on video. And over this weekend, I had the opportunity to visit another one, one that’s in my home state of Ohio that I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time: The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. And wouldn’t you know it? I saw plenty of stuff that can be considered out of the ordinary (besides me, I mean).

Some context first: for a while now, my dad’s side of the family have been planning an “Ungarfest,” where the whole family gets together and hangs out. It’s a chance for all three of the families–my dad and his family, his brother and his family, and his sister and her family–to see each other now that most of the next generation are grown and there’s a chance our lives will take us all over the place. Currently all three families still live in Ohio and Michigan, so the majority of us were able to come together and see each other. And guess where the family ended up spending the afternoon after spending the morning at a nature garden in the morning? You guessed it, the Ohio State Reformatory.

Now some of you may know the reformatory, or OSR for short, as the place where The Shawshank Redemption, among other famous films and a few TV shows, were filmed. However, the OSR is also famous for being something of a paranormal hotspot. Plenty of deaths have occurred there over the years, and of course stories of hauntings have popped up over the years. With that in mind, I bought my own pair of dowsing rods so I could speak to the spirits there (the ones at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast worked so well for me).

Me protesting my guilt with a cell-door on the lawn.

Me pretending to shank my stepsister for some reason.

So once we got there, we went in (two of my sisters decided not to go in because they found the whole thing too freaky), and met JD, our tour guide, who was honestly just the best tour guide we could ask for have (I’ll get into why in a bit, but for now, just know that if you get to come here for a tour, you can’t go wrong by asking for JD). He took us around for the first half of the tour, talking to us about the history of the prison and what it was like for a prisoner during the prison’s heyday.

How can one describe the prison accurately? Well, it’s big, I can say that. Metal and drywall and brick and stone are everywhere. The paint on the walls and every other surface is peeling all over the place, and you can smell the building’s age and paint everywhere. In various rooms, you’ll see original artifacts from when it was an active prison, such as the original electric chair that was used there, products made in the shops the prison ran, and much, much more.

You also got to see a lot of the locations where The Shawshank Redemption and other films used as sets. Warden Norton’s office is perfectly preserved for the most part, as well as the door that the guard broke the window in that one scene of the movie. And apparently Brooks and Red’s apartment was filmed in the prison too. It was cool to see that piece of film history on display there.

JD (left) and his fellow tour guide Michael (right) talking to us in the room where a scene from Air Force One was filmed.

Me at the foot of the stairs where Andy Dufresne and Warden Norton talked about budget issues in getting a library.

I’m at Warden Norton’s desk. There’s a bit of “blood” still on the window.

Me doing my imitation of that guard from the movie. Also, this is my new author pic.

And so was Rami

But definitely one of the best parts of the tour was JD. He was friendly, funny, and a really cool dude with a voice that reminded me of musicians I’ve seen in movies and TV (and that description is how you know I’ve been writing for a long while). I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he was a musician, he seems like the kind of guy who would enjoy playing some guitar on the weekends. But he was also very inspiring. You see, JD was an inmate for a short time at OSR back in the 1980s. During the tour, he took us by the cell in the west block where he stayed while there, and how his experience at OSR helped him turn his life around. It was really inspiring to hear. A lot of people think of people who have gone to jail, and it isn’t usually a positive image. But JD was able to give us this personal story of how his stay affected him. Combined with his friendly and very humble personality, it really made his story all the more powerful. You couldn’t help but like him, not just as a tour guide but as a person. And on top of his personal knowledge of what it was like to be a prisoner at the Ohio State Reformatory, it just made for an excellent tour.

JD in front of his old cell, telling us how being at OSR changed his life.

If it’s not obvious, I highly recommend JD as a tour guide. On a scale of 1 to 5, a definite 5. If you get him as your tour guide, you won’t regret it.

Of course, you’re curious about the paranormal stuff I witnessed. First off, the dowsing rods had an excellent first time out. I got a lot of communication from spirits, some of which made it onto video and then onto YouTube. One of the first places we visited was solitary confinement, where the spirit of Frank Hanger, a security guard who was murdered by three inmates in that area, is said to hang out. Here’s the video of that particular encounter.

Something you should know: that question Jay threw out about the electric chair was a trick question to make sure we were actually talking to a spirit and it wasn’t random movements on the part of the rods. Turns out it wasn’t random movements: those three convicts committed suicide, so Officer Hanger’s “no” was a point for the I-was-communicating-with-spirits side.

The other major spirit I spoke to was that of James Lockhart, an inmate who killed himself by immolation. His cell is notoriously haunted. I got to speak with him as well, and learned some interesting things.

Sorry about the vertical filming. You can only do so much with your cell phone.

I also had a lot more communications, some of which I got on video. But these are the best quality, so I wanted to make sure people got to see them. You can draw your own conclusions on what happened while at OSR that day (just don’t leave vitriol-filled comments for me to read), but I like to think that I got some communication from the other side that day. And a lot of people who witnessed me using the rods, including this one family I kept seeing around the east cell block (they’re the ones asking me to ask Lockhart if he burned himself), probably believe me now (I think they took video footage of some of my communications. There may be footage of that floating around the Internet somewhere).

Oh, one more thing I want to mention. This isn’t so much explicitly paranormal as it is weird, but it’s worth a mention. You remember that photo of me at Warden Norton’s desk? Well, this may have just been an issue in the transition from my camera to Instagram, but it’s still weird and kind of freaky.

I have no idea what happened here. The photo of me at the foot of those stairs seems to have been overlaid with me at Warden Norton’s desk. Not sure how that happened, but it is pretty cool. Even if it isn’t exactly supernatural.

All in all, the Ohio State Reformatory was an amazing experience. It is a beautiful building, filled to the brim with history, pieces of culture, and a few spirits. I’m so glad I got to go, as well as to test out my dowsing rods in such a great venue. And now that I have my driver’s license, I may be able to go up again someday very soon and perhaps get some more proof of the paranormal. In fact, you should bet on that happening (Zak Bagans, call me). Until then, definitely consider making a trip to the Reformatory and seeing the history and hauntings yourself. Guaranteed you won’t regret it.

And thanks to JD and the folks at OSR for hosting my family this weekend. We enjoyed ourselves immensely while there. I hope you’ll see us (or maybe just me) again soon.

The Ungar clan, AKA 40% of the reason I’m as messed up as I am.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue. I’ll be seeing you all again very soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

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Last year I made a list of haunted places I wanted to visit before I died and became a ghost (and yes, I plan on becoming a ghost. If you don’t buy at least one of my books and leave a review, I WILL haunt you!). Since I made that list (and visited the location I most wanted to see), I’ve come across a few more haunted places I’d like to visit. So I did what any good horror writer with a blog who believes in ghosts would do: I wrote a list and now I’m transcribing it down here.

This list isn’t in any particular order, and they span all over the United States, Mexico and even parts of Europe (parts I’m nowhere near at the moment, unfortunately). I hope you enjoy it, and that if this list or the previous one influences your travel plans in any way, shape or form, it’s in a positive way.

BOO!

1. Island of the Dolls

Location: Xochimilico, Mexico

Located in Xochimilico’s extensive canal network is La Isla de la Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. According to the history of the place, a hermit named Julian Santana Barrera lived on one of the chinampas, or artificial islands, in the canals. One day, Barrera found the body of a girl who drowned in the canals, and was reportedly hit very hard by it (some locals believe a water spirit was responsible for the girl’s death). Not too long after that, Barrera started finding dolls around the island, and hanging them up all over the place, on tree branches and in his own hut. He said it was because the dead girl hung around, so he was giving her a whole playground of friends, and to keep evil spirits away as well (the water spirit, perhaps?). Over the years hundreds of dolls were hung up, leading to the island’s nickname. Even after Barrera died in 2001, the dolls still hang about, some of which are purported to talk or walk around on their own. The place has been investigated by ghost hunters with some interesting results.

If I ever get to Mexico, I’m heading there. Ghosts and spirits and creepy dolls? Sounds like fun.

2. The Villisca Ax Murder House

Location: Villisca, Iowa

Properly known as the Josiah B. and Sara Moore House, this charming little house was the spot of a brutal ax murder in 1912 on eight people, the Moores, their four children, and two young friends of the children. Several suspects were considered for the murder, and one was even tried and let off twice, but so far the murders remain unsolved. Since then, there have been several reported hauntings of the place, including seeing shadows of a man wielding an ax, children crying, and other freaky stuff. One family reportedly left the house screaming one night and never returned. Since 1994, the house has been a museum dedicated to its dark history, and several ghost-hunting crews, including the Ghost Adventures Crew, have investigated the house, finding some very interesting evidence. This is definitely a place I’d like to visit.

Villisca also happens to be the town where my friend and colleague Joleene Naylor lives. So Joleene, if I ever make it out to Villisca, I hope you wouldn’t mind showing me around for a day. It’ll be a spooktacular good time.

3. Sedlec Ossuary

Location: Sedlec, Czech Republic

What looks like the Paris catacombs but is above ground and is part of a working church? The Sedlec Ossuary, located beneath the titular town’s Cemetary Church of All Saints. In the 13th century the abbot of the local monastery visited the Holy Land and brought back with him some dirt he’d picked up while over there and sprinkled it around the abbey cemetery. This made it a premiere spot to get buried and, along with the number of people dying of the Black Plague, caused the cemetery to be expanded several times. Of course, there was no way to keep up with that many bodies, and in the 16th century bodies were exhumed and their bones stacked inside the cathedral that had grown up around the spot. In the 19th century a woodcarver was hired to take the bones, roughly 40,000 to 70,000 bones’ worth of skeletons, in order, which he did, creating several macabre furnishings, decorations, and religious objects out of human remains. As you can imagine, this place has become quite the tourist destination, and ghost sightings or photos are not unheard of.

Sounds like my kind of furniture-shopping destination.

4. Leap Castle, Massy Woods, Montpelier Hill, The Stewards House, and Loftus Hall

Location: All over Ireland

I couldn’t leave these off the list, and they’re all in Ireland, so I figured, why not just group them as one big entry/tour of the nation? Leap Castle has a history of dark and mysterious deaths, almost like something out of a Shakespeare tragedy, and is also reportedly the home of an elemental spirit that hides in a pit deep in the castle. Montpelier Hill is the home of the Irish counterpart of the Hellfire Club, which supposedly did some very strange rituals, possibly Satanic ones. There’s even a story of the devil actually visiting the premises one evening.

Down the road from the Hellfire Club Lodge is the Massy Woods, which supposedly have several different kinds of spirits within, including a banshee, and the Steward’s House, which is said to be frequented by a demonic cat. If you look at a painting of the cat the wrong way, or if you hang it up wrong, you might bring something malevolent upon yourself.

And Loftus Hall is supposedly the most haunted house in all of Ireland. As the story goes, in the 18th century the Loftus family went on vacation, and the Tottenham family, consisting of a father, a mother, and a daughter, came to take care of the place. During their stay a ship broke on the coast nearby and a man from the ship came to stay at the mansion. During this time the man and the Tottenham daughter Anne became quite close. One night, during a game of cards in the aptly named Card Room, Anne dropped a card under the table. When she went to retrieve it, she discovered their guest had a cloven hoof. When she pointed this out in alarm, the man supposedly flew through the ceiling, leaving a nasty hole where he went, and was never seen from again. To this day people claim that the devil stayed at Loftus Hall, and that the hole he left through has never properly been repaired, that part of the ceiling is different from the rest.

Anne herself later went mad and was confined in the Tapestry room, where she died some time later. Years later a child’s skeleton was found in a hole in the Tapestry Room, leading to speculation that Anne had a baby while in confinement and that it was killed because it was a bastard and the possibly the devil’s spawn. Since these strange events, the house has been the site of poltergeist activity and visions of Anne walking down hallways looking for her lover. There have been several exorcisms performed on site over the years, which have only done so much to quell the spirits in this haunted place.

In any case, I’d like to make a trip to see these places!

5. Grand Canyon Caverns

Location: Peach Springs, Arizona

In the 1920’s, Walter Peck (not the actor) discovered a deep hole that went underground for quite a distance, in both depth and length, and discovered some skeletons down there while he was at it. He quickly turned the cavern into a tourist attraction, saying the bones he’d found there (and which were removed for scientific study) were of cavemen. Turns out they were Native American, but that never stopped the tourism industry.

Today, the caverns are a popular tourist spot with a restaurant, hotel, and museum. You can even tour the caverns and even stay overnight down there in an equipped hotel suite if you wish. Just be aware that you might be sharing the caverns with some Native American spirits who are upset about having their burial grounds disturbed by tourists. They may throw rocks at you.

When can I make my reservation?

6. The Bell Witch Cave

Location: Adams, Tennessee

This is one of those locations where people, even ghost hunters, are on the fence about the veracity of the reported hauntings. According to the legends, the Bell family lived in the area in the early 19th century and came under attack by a witch (though the events described sound more like a poltergeist or a malevolent spirit). Supposedly the witch did everything from tapping on walls, pinching people and other harmless stuff to full-on assaulting family members and even appearing as a creature that was half-dog, half-rabbit and all black. She makes a certain cave her home and will attack anyone who takes rocks or shows disrespect in her cave, hence the name “Bell Witch Cave.”

The thing about this legend is that all sources about the witch come several years after the Bells are supposed to have lived in the area. Even secondhand witnesses would’ve died out by the time the earliest known sources of the legend were published. Regardless, there have been reports of people being attacked by spirits after visiting and occasionally taking rocks from the cave, and there are rumors that the cave may have held some spiritual significance to local Native Americans. And a few paranomrla groups have investigated the cave with interesting results.

Whatever the case may be, this is definitely a place where I would like to visit and maybe see for myself if there’s any truth to the stories. Just as long as it doesn’t come home with me, I don’t think the witch would like Ohio winters.

7. Bannack Ghost Town

Location: Bannack, Montana

Ghost towns. There’s something about a town that’s totally been abandoned, something so…enchanting. So is the case with Bannack, which was founded in the 1860’s during a gold rush, but died out in the 1970’s. Today, the town is mostly a tourist attraction, once a year being revitalized for a festival called Bannack Days that recalls the time when it was a boom town and the seat of the county.

The rest of the year though, the town is populated by spirits. Some say that the sheriff ran a gang that killed anyone who looked at them the wrong way, making for a rather lawless town and for the events that would cause several hauntings. There is also reports of the ghost of a drowned girl being sighted, and even following people home.

Sounds like a good excuse to visit Montana, if you ask me. It even inspired a scary story I’d like to write someday. Better get some firsthand experience, right?

8. Linda Vista Hospital

Location: Los Angeles, California

Originally a hospital for railroad workers, the hospital saw a definite decline as the railroad industry and the neighborhood changed. The number of deaths increased, mainly ones associated with gang violence. With most of their patients being uninsured or under-insured, the hospital was forced to close its doors in 1991. Today, part of the hospital has been renovated into an assisted living facility, while the rest is a frequent set for movies and TV shows and a historic landmark.

However, some patients are said to have never left the building, and there have been multiple investigations into the hospital’s paranormal residents. To which I say, “Nurse, I’ve got a bad case of ghost obsession! Can I stay overnight for monitoring?”

Also influenced an idea for a story I had a while back. Hope I get to write that too.

9. Targoviste and Hundeora Castles

Location: Romania

These were the castles where Dracula lived. The former is where he impaled over two-thousand of his enemies, while the latter was where he was imprisoned for seven years of his life. It’s said at one of these that some Satanists did a ritual and ever since weird stuff has happened. Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s Dracula, so I have to check it out.

And then I will have some blood! Mwa ha ha!

10. Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Location: Paris, France

I did not know about this cemetery when I visited Paris last year, or I would have made an effort to visit it. One of Paris’s most famous cemeteries, it has flowers, graves and mausoleums that look like little houses or very interesting sculptures, and its fair share of famous folk, from Oscar Wilde to Jim Morrison. There’s actually a waiting list to be buried there, and if your family doesn’t renew the lease on your burial plot every thirty years or so, they dig you up and put someone else in your place.

Over the years, plenty of ghosts have been reported around the graveyard, including famous folks, Morrison himself, and even a few wandering lovers. As someone who visited the Paris catacombs and loved it, this seems like my sort of place. Vive le cemeteries francais!

Have you been to any of these places? What were your experiences like?

Be very afraid.

AAAAAH! That was the reaction of several people in the audience at various points during the movie. Ever since I heard of As Above, So Below, I’ve been dying to see it, and that desire only increased after visiting the Paris catacombs themselves. So when my friend Ramsey, who went on the study abroad trip with me back in May, suggested we go see a movie this weekend, I had just the movie in mind.

Written and directed by Drew and John Erick Dowdle and starring Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman, As Above, So Below follows urban archaeologist who finds a clue to an old mystery during a covert trip to Iran. Heading then to Paris with a documentary student and teaming up with an old flame of hers, she ends up realizing that what she is looking for may be more than just a legend, and goes into the Paris catacombs themselves to find t. But in the process, she finds so, so much more and in her search for the truth, she may just find her death.

Apparently taking a lot of work to film and bring together, the Dowdle brothers can be assured their hard work was worth it. The film’s slow build up of suspense, couple with the claustrophobic feelings of being in dark, underground tunnels (and watching it in a dark movie theater), lends to a creepy atmosphere that only gets heightened in the last act of the film, where monstrous visions and creatures appear one after another, eliciting those screams from the audience that I mentioned. The brother also know how to insert a twist into their script, by taking the last couple minutes of the movie in a direction that other directors might not have gone down, and completely subverting the rules of found footage films (for more on those rules, check out my article on them). And Weeks and Feldman as the film’s leads manage to portray a romance that doesn’t seem contrived or sappy at all.

My one criticism of the film is that at times, things move a little too slowly so that the terror and suspense dies down a little. Luckily at the drop of a hat it can be ramped up again, but I think terror throughout would’ve done more for the film. Still, it was a good horror film, and later over drinks Ramsey, two friends of his that he’d brought along, and I enjoyed a good hour or so of dissecting the film and looking at all the aspects of it, whether symbolical, plot-wise, or what terrified us in our seats.

Grading this film was hard, and I’m still not sure I was able to give it a good grade. Nevertheless, a grade must be given, so I’m going to go with a 4.4 out of 5. Great film, plenty of scares, and no bad sequel. If you like scares, you shouldn’t be disappointed with As Above, So Below. I know I wasn’t.

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

 

Oh, I’m so excited to tell everyone about my trip down into the catacombs! As you may well know, the catacombs occupy the prime spot on my list of haunted places to visit before I become a ghost myself. And I got in this morning! It’ll make a great beginning to a new sub-category of posts, “Tales from Abroad” (I figure with all the stories I have to tell, a category was needed for it).

CIMG2795

Well, this morning I woke up early. I’d heard that the lines for the catacombs were insanely long, and I decided to get there early. So I got dressed, ate breakfast, and headed to the Metro. Right across from the exit from my stop, was the entrance to the catacombs, with a small line already forming. I rushed to it and got in before anyone else could. It was about fifty minutes before the catacombs opened at that point, and it was also the time when I made new friends: Andrew and Maria, an engineer and sketch artist from Florida whom I talked to while waiting in line. Subjects ranged from WWII history to our travels to the history of the catacombs themselves to our individual aspirations and dreams. During the tour I often saw them and we took photos of each other at various points along the tour.

When ten o’clock hit, the doors opened and we went in. By that point the line had snaked around the block and out of sight (average wait time is around two hours apparently. So remember kids, if you’re in Paris and plan to tour the catacombs, arrive as early as I did so you can get in quickly). The tour was self-guided (audio guides cost extra, and tour guides are only available to groups), so you basically walked down a circling staircase to a first room that dealt with the history of the catacombs (originally mines and underground quarries, later the home of six million of Paris’s dead as corpses were moved from cemeteries to underground for health reasons) and the geological history of the catacombs. Later you moved into the catacombs proper, a series of passageways and tunnels (only a section available to the public; anything else, you’d have to find a cataphile, a catacomb enthusiast who can access illegal entry points and go down to explore).

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

It was very interesting, being down there. You could see niches where rocks were carved out or where things could be stored, as well as metal gates blocking the way to passageways not open to the public. In two places there were these amazing sculptures of beautiful building that a worker from the original catacomb project in the 18th century had carved from memory, recreating his home in the Balkans. There was a deep well that went even deeper into the ground, and a series of archways and niches set along an incline, as if to let us now we were entering sacred ground.

Can you say new author bio pic?

Can you say new author bio pic?

And then came the best part of all. Over a doorway, written in French and carved with precision was the warning, “Beware, for you are about to enter the Kingdom of the Dead”. And what a kingdom it was! The walls were lined with the bones and skulls of so many dead. And even though we were told by signs not to use flash or touch the bones, many did anyway. I won’t say whether or not I did, but I will admit that I am aware of what bones feel like when you hold them (bones from 300 years ago feel like light, brittle rocks in your hands). Some of the bones were arranged in interesting shapes, such as representations of crosses, men, or churches. Others had been arranged to help support different structures, such as around this column. Or this well, which strangely made me think of a portal to Hell rather than a catch for water. And plenty of coffins, crypts, and tombstones.

The bones went on for ages and ages. Every moment I was in a sort of heaven (so to speak). As you can guess, I am quite the lover of the macabre, so this definitely got me excited. If you look at each of the photos carefully, you’ll see me with such glee and excitement on my face.

But sadly it had to end. And end it did, with the doorway to the land of the living coming all too soon. There were a few more sights to see, including some lovely vaulted ceilings, and then we had to resurface, taking another winding staircase up. All told, I spent about an hour and a half down in the catacombs, twice the normal amount estimated for a tour, and I covered two kilometers and over 200 steps going up and down. And I would do it again if given the opportunity, because it is just a wonderful place to be. At least, for me it is.

Afterwards, I went to the gift shop (yes, they have a gift shop) and got a couple of souvenirs to remember the trip below by (there’s only so much photos can do, and for obvious reasons I couldn’t take the bones with me, even if I was the kind of guy to try to take bones with me). I got a small booklet about the catacombs for easy reference in case of a story (of which I have one or two ideas for), a sticker for my laptop, and a skull ring, something I’ve always wanted for myself as a horror author.

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

I’m not sure if I actually witnessed any ghosts. I certainly don’t remember seeing anything out of the ordinary, except possibly some evidence of cataphiles in a restricted section. But I certainly had a great time down there, and I’ll definitely treasure those memories of that hour and a half for as long as my memory works (though I’m not sure sometimes that it does now). It certainly has become my favorite part of Paris.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to upload the rest of the photos of that night when I get the chance. In the meantime, I’ll send Andrew and Maria the photo I took of them as well as the link to this post. Have a good night, my Followers of Fear. I know I will.

BOO!