Today I Learned …

“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Why do people have to raise their right hands when saying this in court (even if they’re southpaws)? In colonial America, a common punishment for committing a crime was to be branded on the right thumb. By having someone about to appear in court raise their right hand, a judge could tell immediately if the person was an ex-convict.


News News News!

So I’ve got quite a few projects going on this year, and it occurs to me that I ought to share some of them with you guys!

Here’s one that is very special to me. I’ve been a guest on the podcast Ron’s Amazing Stories for some time now — for the past five Octobers, Ron Hood has invited me to be a part of Ron’s Month of Spooky, which I’m always happy to do.

Well, late last year, Ron gave me a magnificent Christmas gift — he asked me to be a recurring guest on his show with even more regularity! Now, instead of just appearing once a year in October, I am proud to be a monthly guest on Ron’s show, as part of the feature Ghost Stories With Sylvia.

I’m still pinching myself that this has happened — that it IS happening! I collect so many fun ghost stories, and some of them, well, they just don’t fit in any of the books that are currently in the pipeline. But nevertheless, they do deserve to be shared. I am intensely grateful to Ron for giving me a platform on which to share these wonderful tales. And I’m grateful to YOU, too, for tuning in to hear them. The segment is loads of fun — I tell a few true ghost stories, and then we chat a bit about what’s going on here on the blog, and about what’s in store on Lights Out.

Ron’s Amazing Stories can be found on all kinds of stations, including the actual radio, if you want to go old-school. You can listen to this podcast on Thursday at Ron’s Amazing Stories, download it from iTunes, stream it on Stitcher Radio or on the mobile version of Spotify. Do you prefer the radio? We are heard every Sunday Night at 8:00 PM (PST) on AMFM247.COM. Here’s a link to this month’s show:

Today I Learned …

Ever wonder why the South is known as Dixie? It’s all about the money, honey. In the mid-1850s, French was the most commonly spoken language in Louisiana. One of the Louisiana banks issued a $10 bill, stamped with DIX on the front and back — “dix” being the French word for “ten”. The bill soon became known as a Dixie.

Food For Thought

So I’ve been doing paranormal investigation for a while now. I’m always interested in refining my techniques past the Scooby-Doo stage. And I’m also interested in cross-training … adapting things from other areas for use in investigation.

The other day, I was working on a batch of bread. I’ve been baking for decades — I don’t think we ever bought a loaf of bread while I was growing up, it was always homemade. My parents taught me how to bake starting when I was, oh, eight years old or thereabouts. I made mistakes when starting out, like we all do. Heck, I’ve made bad bread as an adult. I’ve killed yeast, I’ve not put enough flour in … I’ve done all sorts of things to make a batch of bread turn out badly.

But I also know when a batch is going to turn out well. I can put my hands on a bowl of dough, and feel that it’s going to rise into a beautiful loaf. Also, I can put my hands on dough and tell that nope, this is a lost cause, it’s not going to rise worth a darn.

The batch I made the other day was great. I pulled the dough out of the bowl after the first rise, gave it a few kneads, and started to shape it into loaves. I could feel the vitality and energy of the yeast under my hands, yeast eager to help the bread rise into round, gorgeous loaves.

Then it hit me. Is this a variation of what mediums or other sensitives must feel when they go into a haunted place and sense that spirit energy? And could I learn to sense that energy too, the way I can sense energy in a good batch of bread dough?

Laugh at my simplicity if you want to, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. If you’re a sensitive, do you have any hints on how I could develop my gift, spare as it is? Do you think this idea has any validity, the idea that life energy is all around us, even down to the yeast in the bread we eat? Comment away!


Today I Learned …

When archaeologists were restoring colonial Williamsburg, they were puzzled to find that a part of the site was packed with thousands upon thousands of chicken bones. After some research, they realized that in the 1700s, the midden, or garbage pit, had been the local hanging spot. The chicken bones were the remains of countless picnics enjoyed by audiences at the public executions.

Lights Out: Mount Carmel Cemetery

Hey hey hey, it’s time for another episode of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. Let’s take a trip to Chicago and drop in on Al Capone! Come with me for a visit to beautiful Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, outside Chicago. This is the resting place of many well-known Chicago gangsters, including Al Capone. It also has the grave of Julia Buccola Petta, The Italian Bride. When her body was exhumed six years after her death in childbirth (1921), it was found to be perfectly preserved. For more about Julia Petta, I encourage you to visit , for a blog post by Adam Selzer, Chicago historian and ghost hunter.

Today I Learned …

How do you make a proper cup of tea with milk? Do you brew the tea first, then add the milk, or do you put a bit of milk in the cup and then pour in the tea? The Queen of England prefers to fill the cup with tea, then add milk to the preferred amount. (For the record, so do I.) But it turns out there’s a reason she does it in this order. According the the British news site Express, “In the 18th century, English potter Josiah Spode decided china tea cups should be made using animal bone to ensure they didn’t crack under intense heat. From then on, Royals and the elite would pour the tea in first to celebrate their expensive china and demonstrate status, whilst people of lower classes would have to keep putting milk in first to stop their cheaper crockery from cracking.”

Lights Out: Bonnie Springs Ranch

Outside the bustle of Las Vegas is rustic, charming Bonnie Springs Ranch. There are ducks and peacocks roaming the grounds, a petting zoo, trail rides, a great restaurant — and there are ghosts. There are enough spirits there that Ghost Adventures came for a look. And so did I! Enjoy this visit to haunted Bonnie Springs Ranch.


Today I Learned …

The English-speaking world didn’t have a word for “shark” until just 500 years ago. The word shark derives from the Mayan word xoc, and first appeared in the 16th century. For one hundred years prior to that, English speakers used the Spanish word tiburon, which in turn was borrowed from the Carib Indians. The reason is thought to be because, whereas large sharks were known to the seafaring Greeks and Romans, medieval Europeans rarely, if ever, encountered the beasts. They only fished close to shore, or in rivers and streams. It was only when European explorers reached the American tropics that sharks, and the fear of them, entered the European psyche. (From Fish That Fake Orgasms and Other Zoological Curiosities, by Matt Walker.)

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 12: Christmas Eve! Today I Learned …

On Christmas Eve, Norwegians hide all the brooms in the house to prevent witches and mischievous spirits from stealing them and going for a joyride.

A reindeer’s eyes change color according to the seasons. They’re gold during the summer, and blue in winter.

More than three-quarters of Americans eat their candy canes from the straight end first.

On Christmas Eve, at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland, all of the dead kings of Poland gather in the crypts underneath the cathedral, to celebrate the holy day together. Eerie music drifts from the burial vaults, and shadows dart among the tombs. At Wawel Cathedral, even the dead celebrate Christmas.

And the song Silent Night is 200 years old today. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf in Austria.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Go on over to Weird Darkness ( and wish Darren Marlar a merry Christmas too!


The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 11: Lights Out, Christmas 2018


It’s time, it’s time! Here comes another brand-new edition of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. Enjoy stories of haunted Clet Hall in New York, the story of a poltergeist from 1867, and the eerie tale of the Veiled Ghost of Highgate in 18th century London.

What’s going on today over at Weird Darkness? Why don’t you pop on over to and find out?


The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 10: Ghost Stories!

Here is a wonderful link to an article on Smithsonian Magazine’s website, that encourages us all to share ghost stories at Christmas, not just save them for Halloween.

And here’s a wonderful little tale I found, quite by accident, in the December 2018 issue of Reader’s Digest. “My stepfather, Marlin, bought a dancing Christmas tree in the mid-2000s as a gimmick decoration. Marlin passed away in 2014, and my sister, Stacy, took possession of the tree. Stacy got engaged to her longtime boyfriend on Thanksgiving night. The tree was unpacked, but it had no batteries. Later that evening, with all the ladies sitting around talking, the tree lit up and started to dance. The empty battery pack was in hand, and the only conclusion we could reach was that Marlin was sending his blessing and dancing a jig.” (Norman Powers, Sheffield, Alabama)

Speaking of Christmas ghost stories, tune in tomorrow for the Christmas 2018 edition of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. (And since you’re on the Interwebs anyway, why not swing over to and pay Darren Marlar a visit? He’s got loads of fun stuff going on for the holidays too.)



The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 9: Io Saturnalia!

It’s interesting that all of these wonderful festivals of light — Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia — happen in the darkest time of the year. It’s as if our ancestors realized that everyone needs a good pick-me-up when the days are short and the nights are long, and cold.

As for me, I’ve started celebrating the Winter Solstice, which this year, falls on December 21, which is today. I find it a good time to reflect in the year that’s just passed, and to make plans for the coming year. Plus I have an excuse to have a bonfire in the backyard in the middle of winter, so I’ve got that going for me.

I’ve already stopped at the Christmas tree stand in town and picked up a tree end for a Yule log. And I’ve started to plan the refreshments for my celebration. (It’s just going to be me out there, I’m sure, but hey, if you’re going to celebrate, I feel you should do it up right.)

One of the things I’m planning on is this lovely festive braided bread. Note: the pictures are from the recipe I got out of the newspaper, which called for Nutella as the filling. For Solstice, I’m going to use apricot jam for the filling, as that just reminds me of sunlight and warmth.)

You’ll need: 3 or 4 cans of crescent roll dough, at room temperature; 2/3 c Nutella (or apricot jam); 1 1/2 t cinnamon; 1/2 c mini chocolate chips; 1/4 c powdered sugar; 1 T milk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the Nutella and cinnamon (or just plop some apricot jam in a bowl and stir it to get it to spreadiness. You could also probably sprinkle some cinnamon into the apricot jam, because why not?).

Form each can of crescent roll dough into a ball. Place on a lightly-floured board and roll into a circle. (If dough shrinks up, let rest 15 minutes.)

Place one dough circle on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently spread one-third (or one-half, if using three dough circles) of the chocolate mixture over the dough, going up to 1/2 inch of the edge; sprinkle with one-third (or one-half) of the chocolate chips. Place another dough round on top, and repeat the process. End with a dough circle on top.

Now comes the fun part. Put a small glass in the middle, and make cuts all around the edges of the dough. It helps to make four cuts at east, west, north, and south, then cut each of those in half, and each of THOSE in half, until you have sixteen sections.



Remove the glass. Take two sections that are next to each other and twist away from each other two times, then pinch ends to seal. Repeat with remaining pairs of triangles.

Saturnalia3It will look really cool when you’re done, I promise. Here’s the one I made today:

Saturnalia1The directions say to bake for 40 minutes, but this was smelling and looking done at 30 minutes, so keep a good eye on it. When it’s done, make drizzle frosting with the powdered sugar and milk, and slather it on there so it looks pretty. And you’re done!

Saturnalia4I made this one for a holiday get-together. I can’t wait to make one for Solstice (or Saturnalia, because I’m a Classics dork from WAY back) with apricot filling. If you’re lucky, I’ll even share!

And here’s a little something extra: a link to the Christmas show I did with Jim Harold, host of Ghost Insight. Enjoy!


The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 7: Monsters of Christmas

You better watch out, you better not cry … because Ask a Mortician is here to school you on some of my favorite monsters of Christmas. Yay! 

And speaking of monsters, go check out what’s going on over at Weird Darkness! You! Yes, you! Go on! Shoo!24169441_554090224940630_1664839010_o

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 6: The Brian and Sherri Show

From my good friends Brian and Sherri: Hello everyone! Make sure to join us for our Season Finale Christmas Show 12/18 at 9pm EST (8 pm Central). Special guest Author Sylvia Shults. Show will be live from Disney’s All-Star Music Resort Don’t miss it!!! Here is the link for the show.

And don’t forget to wander on over to for your other daily dose of Christmas weird!


The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 5: Today I Learned …

The word “mistletoe” is an Anglo-Saxon word that means “poop on a twig”. As far as we can tell, the name comes from the fact that in ancient times, it was thought that life could arise spontaneously from dung. Follow the logic here: mistletoe grows on tree branches. Birds poop on tree branches. Therefore, that’s where the mistletoe came from: bird poop. The words “mistle”, meaning dung, and “tan”, meaning twig, were combined to form the word “mistletoe”. Happy smooching!

Please enjoy this blast from the past: Lights Out: Christmas 2016


The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 4: Not All Songs Are Jolly

This bizarre story comes to us courtesy of Karl P.N. Shuker, in his book The Unexplained. 

Some songs have strange tales to tell, but few of them are more unnerving than the history of the song “Gloomy Sunday”.

It was written in Paris one rainy Sunday in December 1932 by the Hungarian composer Reszo Seress, on the day after his girlfriend had ended their engagement. Intensely depressed, Seress was contemplating just how very gloomy this particular Sunday was when a hauntingly sad tune began to play in his mind. Shocked out of his despair by this unexpected event, Seress jotted down the tune and entitled it “Gloomy Sunday”. The words that he penned for it told the tragic story of a man whose lover had recently died and who was now considering suicide in order to be reunited with her again. (Editor’s note: She’s just not into you, man. Move on!)

The first publishers to whom Seress took “Gloomy Sunday” turned it down, claiming it to be too melancholy. Indeed, one of them felt that it might be better if people never heard it. This proved to be prophetic, for soon after the song was published its unrelentingly sad strains gained a notorious reputation for inciting people to commit suicide.

The first of these happened in spring of 1933, when a young man sitting in a Budapest cafe asked the house band to play “Gloomy Sunday”. After they had finished the request, the man promptly went outside and shot himself. The song’s victims included singers who had added the fatal song to their repertoires. In one of the most disturbing cases, people living next to an apartment in London broke in, because the mournful sounds of the song were playing incessantly inside. When the neighbors broke down the door, they found the young woman who had been living in the apartment lying dead on the floor from an overdose. A gramophone in the room was playing the song in an endless loop. In all, around 200 deaths in total were blamed on the song’s influence.

By the late 1930s, “Gloomy Sunday” had incited such a degree of public alarm that the Hungarian government discouraged public performances of it. The BBC in England considered banning it altogether, and some radio stations on America did refuse outright to play it. The English-language version of “Gloomy Sunday” was written by Sam Lewis and recorded in 1941 by Billie Holiday. By that time, world events had begun to capture more of the world’s attention, and the song’s notoriety began to fade somewhat.

Even so, the song continued to give people the collywobbles. The English pilot Gordon Beck recalled that one of his fellow pilots would become very upset if he heard Beck playing his record of “Gloomy Sunday” (the Artie Shaw Orchestra version, with a female singer). The pilot claimed that it made him feel suicidal. Beck thought little of this, until he listened to it before one of his own flights. To his alarm, he found that the song’s haunting melody got stuck in his mind, and he could hear the melancholy earworm even over the sound of the plane’s engines. He never played the song again.

According to the author of The Unexplained, “Perhaps the most poignant cases linked with ‘Gloomy Sunday’ are those of the two people who were responsible for its creation. its composer, Reszo Seress, committed suicide in 1968 by leaping off a building, after confessing that he had never been able to write another hit song. As for the girl who had jilted him all those years ago, she had already been found dead, alongside a sheet of paper on which she had written the words ‘Gloomy Sunday’.”

For more information, follow this link (if you really want to); As for me, I hope your Sunday isn’t gloomy at all. And to make up for today’s downer, tomorrow we’ll have another fun Christmas-themed Today I Learned, as well as a trip back in time to Christmas 2016. And don’t forget to visit Weird Darkness at, to see what Darren Marlar is up to today.