Today I Learned …

Hummingbirds shut down their kidneys at night. Because of their small size and incredibly fast metabolism, hummingbirds have to keep just the right amount of water in their bodies. During the day, the birds take in water from nectar, and excrete it. But at night, they have to retain enough water to keep their bodies functioning. Slowing their kidneys down prevents water being lost.

Today I Learned …

A woman in Mauretania was granted a court injunction to make her husband, who was a farmer, stop using her instead of his cow to pull a plough through the fields. The husband explained that he was reluctant to use the cow because he believed his late mother was reincarnated in it. In Singapore, a young bride had to go to court to force her husband to stop letting his mother sleep under their bed. And in Chicago one Allen C. Farber brought a suit against his former in-laws, claiming that his ex-wife had been cautioned by her mother not to bear Farber any children because they might look like him. (From Bizarre World, by Bill Bryson)

Today I Learned …

Alexey Bykov from Omsk, Russia, faked his own death so that he could propose to his girlfriend. He hired a movie director, stuntmen, make-up artists and a scriptwriter to stage a bogus car crash. The ruse was so convincing that when Irina Kolokov arrived at the scene and was told that Alexey was dead, she broke down in tears, convinced she really had lost him. Alexey jumped to his feet and proposed, still covered in fake blood. She said yes! So what did YOU do for Valentine’s Day this year? (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Eye-Popping Oddities)

Lights Out #95: Old Orphanage, Jennie Wade House

You’ll get a double dose of spooky with this episode of Lights Out! The people of Gettysburg didn’t go looking for a battle; the battle came to them. In this episode, we’ll visit not one, but two haunted places touched by the war. The Old Orphanage was a sanctuary for war orphans … until things went horribly wrong. And just across the street is the house where Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed in the battle, lost her life. https://youtu.be/K5WcjBK0w0s

I’m very excited about this episode. Not only are we getting closer to Episode 100, but I’m getting better at the new video rendering program I’m using now. This means that you’ll be treated to an hour-long episode where the pictures match up to the sound much better than in past episodes. Enjoy, and thanks so much for watching!

Lights Out News!

There’s amazing news in the world of the Lights Out podcast! The podcast hosting service I use has just partnered with Amazon/Audible. What does this mean? Well, for starters, it means you can listen to Lights Out through Audible. I just posted Episode #95, about the Old Orphanage and the Jennie Wade House in Gettysburg. This is part of the Gettysburg Experience leading up to Episode #100. It also means that you can join over 55 million people who love podcasts, including Lights Out! I’m stoked! (And the YouTube version of the latest episode is coming soon.)

Getting bigger and better all the time!

Today I Learned …

Stretching nearly 25 feet, the Onion Ditch Bridge in West Liberty, Ohio, is made from 120,000 pounds of recycled plastic, including old detergent bottles and car dashboards. Although it cost $250,000 to build, its projected 150-year life span is more than three times longer than conventional materials such as concrete or steel. (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Eye-Popping Oddities)

Book Review — Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington, by Ted Widmer

I started this book January 21, 2021, the day after Biden’s inauguration, and finished it the next day. This is a rollicking read that gives the feeling of being on Lincoln’s train careening towards destiny. Widmer is a crackerjack writer — his is one of those nonfiction books that reads like a novel. He throws in the most amazing “oh by the way” facts, too, pointing out things like which future presidents saw Lincoln’s train roaring past (Taft was four years old, and apparently already a chonk). I enjoyed the fact that at the end, Widmer writes about the return trip to Springfield, when the train carried the assassinated president’s body home for burial.
I do have to say that it was deeply surreal reading this just two weeks after the Capitol riots. Why is that, you ask? Because the SAME DANG THING happened in 1861! Congressmen were arguing over the vote count. Some were hoping to prove Lincoln’s presidency invalid and replace him with someone else. Thugs and hoodlums were milling around, disaffected, outside the Capitol building. (They didn’t storm the place that time, though.) The vice president, Breckenridge, was afraid he’d get waylaid as he was carrying the boxes with the votes in them, the boxes he was charged with protecting until the votes could be counted. The nation, and the Lincoln party traveling to Washington, were on tenterhooks all day until the votes were verified and Lincoln was confirmed as President-elect. Any of this sound the least bit familiar? This book is amazing by itself. As an example of “history repeating itself”, it’s unparalleled.

Today I Learned …

There are two skulls in the tomb of Austrian composer Josef Haydn (1732-1809). After his death, his head was stolen by phrenologists (“scientists” who study the shapes of heads — it used to be a thing), and a replacement skull was put into the tomb. Then in 1954, the real skull was returned, but no one took the substitute head out. (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: A Century of Strange)

Today I Learned …

Dinosaurs laid eggs in a fabulous variety of shapes and colors. According to research on the fossilized pigments from ancient eggs, dinosaurs laid eggs with shells in a rainbow of hues more than 145 millions years ago. Adding blues and greens and speckles to eggs was a way of making them less visible to predators. That’s because calcite, the white mineral that makes up hard eggshells, would glow vivid pink to a dinosaur’s eyes. (From National Geographic)

Today I Learned …

An expert at wreaking long-term revenge was Anton Grellier of Belgium, who never forgave his parents for calling him stupid as a boy. After leaving home, Grellier became a wealthy, successful businessman. He would amuse himself by regularly sending his parents generous checks on which he intentionally made stupid errors so that his parents couldn’t cash them. (From Bizarre World, by Bill Bryson)

Welcome 2021! (Behave Yourself!)

Whew — 2020 is over. Finally. I hope.

So let’s look forward to what’s coming in 2021! Guess what? It’s a new book! And here is a sneak preview of what’s in store for those of you who love ghost stories.

January 1 – The Santika Nightclub Fire, Bangkok, Thailand (2009)

New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, the hard-partying capital of Thailand. All of the city’s nightclubs were open for business, but over a thousand guests and employees packed the Santika. It was a special night – the theme of the party was “Santika’s Last Night” or “Bye Bye Santika”, as the club was scheduled to move to a new location. The Thai band Burn took the stage, lights flashing, music pounding, urging the dancers into a frenzy of celebration for the new year. True to their name, Burn’s stage show featured the bright, colorful lights of sparklers and fireworks.

Minutes after the New Year’s countdown, a fire broke out in the crowded nightclub. The tar paper and plastic sheeting used to keep the tropical rains out of the building caught fire and added to the blaze. The building’s one fire extinguisher was pitifully inadequate against the inferno. Emergency teams raced to the scene, and paramedics tried desperately to reach people trapped on a staircase, but failed. The electrical system of the building shorted out in the intense heat. The exit signs dimmed, then went out, leaving the partiers trapped in the glowing hellscape, unable to find a way out.

No official cause was ever determined for the blaze that killed 66 people and injured 222, but it was generally accepted that the fireworks and sparklers of Burn’s stage show were to blame. What had begun as a night of celebration turned to tragedy, as the revelers suffered burns, or smoke inhalation, or were crushed in the frantic stampede for the elusive exits.

Three days after the fire, some teenagers broke into the roped-off scene to take pictures with their cell phones. Thais believe that ghosts return to the scene of their deaths after three days, so these kids were there to ghost-hunt. No mention was made of them finding any ghosts on that visit, but they had the right idea.

The ravaged skeleton of the building has been torn down, but the ghost stories continue. Residents in the apartment complex across the street from the site report strange noises. At night, they’ll hear the sounds of a huge party coming from the empty lot. The party noises are soon replaced with the sounds of people screaming.

Noel Boyd, the host of Ghost Files Singapore, visited the site of the Santika nightclub in 2015. He went to the site without his team, accompanied only by an employee of the hotel he was staying at in Bangkok. (He brought someone with him so he wouldn’t be completely alone, which is always wise.) As he investigated the empty site, he became aware of negative energy surrounding him. Soon Noel felt very drained, and said that he saw black shadows rushing towards him.

Noel cut the investigation short – he was so powerfully affected by the site’s energy, he just couldn’t handle two hours there. He spoke with the ghosts, pointing out that he was visiting on “Buddha Day”, when spirits are at their strongest. He promised to go to a temple the next day and pray for the souls of the 66 people who lost their lives in the fire. (To watch Noel Boyd’s investigation, please look up “Santika nightclub ghost hunt” on YouTube.)

Today I Learned …

The town of Vincennes, Indiana, rings in the New Year with its annual Watermelon Drop, where watermelons are placed in an 18 foot, 500 pound steel-and-foam artificial watermelon and hoisted 100 feet into the air. At the stroke of midnight, a trap door in the bottom of the giant watermelon opens and the fruit inside drops to the “splatform” below.

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas: Day Twelve — The Ghost and Mary Pepper

Every so often, we hear of ghosts helping the living. It’s rarer still when a living person has the chance to help a ghost.

Mary Pepper was an orphan living in Liverpool in the 1880s. At seven years old, she was on her own, living in the cellar of an abandoned building. Like many other street waifs of the Victorian era, Mary scavenged the streets for anything of value – lumps of coal that had fallen from carts, coins dropped from the pockets or purses of those more fortunate. She would beg for day-old bread from the Dow Street bakery. Sometimes she would hang around the door of the candy shop, hoping for a few hard candies or bits of toffee from Mr. Mallard, the owner. That was a real treat.

Even in her poverty, Mary found beauty on the rough streets. On Christmas Eve, 1887, she was following a robin as it hopped down Crosshall Street. The bird’s red breast was a cheerful spot of color against the snow. Mary’s reverie was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a ghost.

Mary knew the man was a spirit. For one thing, she’d seen ghosts all her life. For another, this man was completely devoid of color – he was stark white, from the top hat perched on his white hair to the tips of his polished boots. And for a third, she recognized him. It was Henry Silver, who had died in the 1860s.

The ghost stared at her with shocking-pink eyes, the only part of him with any color at all. It reached out for her with bony pale hands, groaning as if in distress. It staggered through the snow, leaving no footprints. Mary just sighed. He’d scared the robin away.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” the ghost demanded.

“No. You’re nothing – just a sad ghost,” Mary replied calmly.

“I’m not nothing!” Silver retorted. “I’m an evil spirit!”

Mary just wandered away, unimpressed. Perhaps she could spot the robin once more.

Silver followed Mary down Crosshall Street. Trying to scare her, he swooped through her several times. He followed her home to the dank cellar where she lived, and squeezed through a hole in the wall. Finally, seeing that Mary could not be spooked, he told his story.

During his life, Henry Silver had a curious, unpleasant hobby. He would plant fake love letters that led to quarrels between couples, often making them break up as a result. One of these pranks backfired terribly when a young woman, thinking she’d been deceived by her lover, threw herself into the Mersey River and drowned. She happened to be a Gypsy, and here’s when Silver’s penchant for mischief caught up with him. A relative of the girl came to see him and placed a Gypsy curse on him. Because of his cold-hearted tricks, the old woman cursed him to be cold forever. Despite his doctor’s best efforts, Silver soon died of hypothermia … in summer.

Silver cried out to Mary that he longed to feel warmth once more – the cozy fireside, the glow of love – as he wept for his loss. Mary snapped, “Then go into St. John’s Church and ask for forgiveness.”

“I can’t – I’m too proud!” Silver argued. Mary finally talked him into it, and led him to the church herself. Silver squared his shoulders, and walked into the church.

He was in there for quite some time. Mary waited for him patiently outside. She felt a bit responsible for the poor sad ghost. When he came out, Silver was a changed man … literally. His color had returned; now he sported a black top hat and a brown suit, and his cheeks were a healthy, rosy pink. He gave Mary a hug, and said, “Thank you, little one.” Then he disappeared.

The ghost’s gratitude wasn’t just lip service. Several years later, when she was fifteen, Mary was adopted, and later emigrated to America. There, she married a rich oil tycoon and, presumably, lived happily ever after.

And we’ve come to Christmas Eve — how about that! If you’ve enjoyed these ghost stories, and want more, tune in to Ron’s Amazing Stories (www.ronsamazingstories.com) for the monthly segment “Ghost Stories With Sylvia”, or seek out Days of the Dead, coming in 2021, at amazon.com or bookshop.org. While you’re browsing the Web, take a peek at http://www.weirddarkness.com. If Darren Marlar left any cookies and milk out for Santa, you have my permission to take a couple. (And if he left schnapps out for Krampus, you just bring that right back here to me.) Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fright!