Lights Out: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, Wisconsin Dells

It’s time for another episode of Lights Out! Gather ’round the virtual campfire, break out your marshmallow stick, and snuggle in for some wonderful spooky tales. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in Wisconsin Dells is a treasure trove of the delightfully bizarre. With all the oddities contained in the museum’s collection — a sculpture of a python made of fingernails, a West African “hate doll”, a picture made of toaster crumbs — it’s no surprise that the museum is, in fact, haunted. Come along with me as we explore the treasures within this fascinating place.

Marigold Festival News

So for those of my fans in the Peoria area, you guys know how much I really enjoy chatting with people at my booth at the Marigold Festival (held the weekend after Labor Day in Pekin). I’m very sorry to tell you that — to the surprise of absolutely no one — this year’s Marigold Festival has indeed been cancelled.

I’m disappointed too, because it’s such a joy to talk with the people that stop by the booth to say hello. But! I will be back in 2021, and by that time, I will most definitely have a new book out. And, I have a haunted outing planned for that weekend, which will of course show up as a Lights Out episode. We’re going back to Malvern Manor — in the dark this time — and I’m going to spend the night, just so I can share the experience with you all. Stay tuned, and stay spooky!

Today I Learned …

It wasn’t always easy being Shakespeare. The playwright had to deal with unauthorized reproduction of his plays — pirating in the Elizabethan Age. Stenographers would attend his plays, writing down the lines at a feverish pace. Then they would copy the copy, and sell manuscripts of the plays loaded with copying errors. This glut on the market drove the price of Shakespeare’s plays down to a penny. This rock-bottom price kept the plays popular — and accessible to all — and probably helped make Shakespeare the best known playwright of all time. (From Chuck Palahniuk, Consider This)

Helpful Bees!

I’m always happy to see bees working my flowers, even if they aren’t honeybees. Here’s a couple of native pollinators enjoying the gifts of the sunflower right outside my back door. One is gathering pollen the traditional way, and the other is cheating a bit by getting the stuff that has fallen on the leaf below the bloom. Go bees go!

Today I Learned …

Obsession, the cologne by Calvin Klein, doesn’t only draw the interest of humans. It also works its magic on big cats — in fact, the BBC reports that Banham Zoo in the UK is requesting that people send them old bottles of the cologne as a treat for the lions, tigers, and leopards at the zoo.

According to Mental Floss, “Like many perfumes, the key ingredient in Calvin Klein’s Obsession is animal musk. The musk used in Obsession is civetone, a pheromone secreted by small cat-like mammals called civets. When big cats like tigers and lions get a whiff of the scent, they go nuts for it and rub themselves all over the source. Experts suspect that cats interpret civetone as a kind of territorial marker and roll around in it as a way to mark the area with their own scent.”

Today I Learned …

Researchers in Rocky Mountain National Park have discovered an efficiency hack. Black bear scat contains lots of seeds, including those from Oregon grape and chokecherry. Researchers have realized that it’s far easier to collect one pile of poop than to collect seeds from all the different native plants the bears eat. Also, some seeds have tough coatings, and a trip through the bear’s digestive system softens the seed coats. The scientists simply scoop the poop, tease out the seeds, start the seeds in a greenhouse, then transplant the seedlings throughout the park.

Lights Out: Pioneer Zephyr

Stuck at home? Let’s go for a train trip! The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is home to several spirits. One of their lightly haunted exhibits is the Art Deco-inspired Pioneer Zephyr, one of the very first high-speed trains to serve the travelers of the Midwest in the 1930s. Join us for tales of the rails.


Dandelion Fizz

So you’re stuck at home. It’s the perfect time to learn something new, wouldn’t you say? How about home-made soda? Okay, so it’s not Dr Pepper, but it’s yours, made with your own two hands. How cool is that?

Today we’re making Dandelion Fizz. First, go out in your yard and pick some dandelions.

Dand1The recipe calls for two cups of blooms, and you’re going to want to clean the green off of the flowers. Trust me, you do not want ANY green; it will make the soda bitter and undrinkable.

The best way to do this is to take the bloom between your fingers, use your thumbnail to snap the green base of the bloom in half, then use the nail on your other thumb to cut the yellow away from the green.

After a while, you’ll have a bowl full of lovely yellow petals. (Since dandelions fade so quickly after picking, you may want to pick half at a time, clean them, then go back for the rest. The blooms get harder to clean the longer they sit.)


When you’ve got the flowers all cleaned, bring the water to a boil, then pour the boiling water over the flowers in a primary fermenter (a big food-safe plastic container, or a stainless-steel pot).


Let this stand twelve hours (overnight is good). Strain, then add sugar and sliced lemon. Heat just until sugar dissolves — it doesn’t need to boil. Bottle and let cool.


I like to use a plastic bottle for this — not because it’s plastic, but because when the sides of the bottle get rigid, to where you can’t squeeze the bottle, that means the soda’s fizzy and ready to drink. Are you ready to try this? Here’s the recipe!

Dandelion Fizz. 5 cups dandelion flowers, cleaned, 4 1/2 quarts water, 4 cups sugar, 2 lemons, sliced with peel. Bring water to the boil. Pour over flowers in primary fermenter (I just boil the water in a 2 gallon stainless steel canning pot, then put the flowers in. Same diff.) Let stand twelve hours. Strain, then heat dandelion water gently with sugar and lemon. Heat just until sugar dissolves — do not boil. Bottle and let cool. Cap and store in a cool dry place three to four weeks. Then the fizz will be ready to drink, and should be stored in the fridge. Keeps three to four months.

Thank You!

I just wanted to give a big shout of thanks to everyone who listens to Lights Out. To everyone who watches it on YouTube (which is where the links I post take you), thanks very much. And for those who prefer the podcast experience, I really appreciate your listening as well. It may interest you to know that you guys broke a record last month! Yes, the highest month I had stats for had been January, when 232 people listened in. But yesterday, I saw that 236 people had tuned in to the podcast during the month of April — thank you guys so much! I appreciate every one of you, and I promise to keep bringing you guys awesome fun ghost stories. You all rock! (And if you weren’t aware, Lights Out is available on Spotify, iTunes, iHeart Radio, and everywhere you find quality podcasts.)


Lights Out: The Dana House

Time for another episode of Lights Out! The Dana House in Springfield, Illinois, is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces. It’s haunted by the melancholy spirit of Susie Laurence Dana, the woman who commissioned it. Join me for a peek inside, and listen to a few of the encounters people have had in this gracious home.

Today I Learned …

So … we talk about someone “Hulking out”, but there’s actually a frog that does a pretty good Wolverine impression. The hairy frog, a species found in central Africa, has a bad-ass defense mechanism — when it’s attacked, it breaks its own toe bones and pushes them out through its skin to form sharp claws. Researchers aren’t completely sure, but they think that the bones slide back under the skin when the threat passes and the frog’s muscles relax. (Researchers DO agree that this frog is one of the coolest EVER.)