Today I Learned …

Octopuses are scary-smart, and they love exploring and manipulating things. In captivity, octopuses enjoy playing with toys, like Mr. Potato Head and Legos. If given a lidded jar with a crab inside it, they’ll unscrew the jar to get at the treat — then screw the lid back on, because they enjoy manipulating objects so much.


Fractured Souls

Hi there! Hey, you look great! Did you do something new with your hair?

. . .

So guess what? The wait for the new asylum book is (nearly) over! I’m jazzed to be able to tell you that the ebook version of Fractured Souls is now available, and now … drum roll please … I can show you this magnificent cover, courtesy of Christina Morris and volunteers at the Pollak Hospital. The building in the background of the photo, by the way, is not the Pollak — it’s one of the B Row cottages, the building that will become the new and permanent home of the Peoria State Hospital Museum.

“Sylvia, how do I get the ebook?” I hear you cry. Fractured Souls is available in Kindle , mobi, and epub formats. The Kindle version is up on Amazon right freakin’ now, and here’s the link:

As it’s a new book, it’s priced at $4.99. For the price of a Starbucks iced latte (which, admittedly, is really quite appealing this time of year), you can immerse yourself in the history and hauntings of the Peoria State Hospital. And unlike the iced latte, you can enjoy the book more than once! (Unless it turns out that you’re deathly allergic to coffee, and it comes back up, and … okay, you can still only enjoy the latte once, my bad.)

And to those who preordered the print version: you guys rock. Seriously. That means a whole lot — it lets the publisher know that people out there are eager to read the book, even plunking down cash (or PayPal) on the table for a book that doesn’t even have turnable pages yet. And it gives me a huge confidence boost too — thank you so much for placing your trust in me, to give you a good read. It’s coming. I promise. And when it does come out, I’ll announce it here, so you can get a heads-up that your copy will soon be in your mailbox. Thank you all for your patience.

(PS, you guys can see the cover too! Here it is:)



Lights Out: St. Louis Canyon

Here’s another episode of Lights Out, for your listening pleasure! The area around Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is breathtakingly gorgeous. But the park itself has a dark history. Join us as we visit St. Louis Canyon, where three women were brutally murdered in March 1960. We’ll also visit Moon Point Cemetery outside Streator in search of the Hatchet Lady.


Oh Say Can You Hear …

I’ve got some very cool news to share! First of all, I found out from my good friend and colleague Ron Hood that his show, Ron’s Amazing Stories (which includes the monthly installment of Ghost Stories With Sylvia) is now sponsored by Audible. That’s really great news, because now, when you listen to Ron’s show and click on the Audible link to get a free trial, the show gets a bit of coin, and you get to keep listening to this fabulous show for FREE. (You can listen to this podcast on Thursdays 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? They are heard every Sunday Night at 8:00 PM (PST) on AMFM247.COM.)

And the second part of the very cool news is that one of my books, 44 Years in Darkness, is now available on … Audible! So if you wanted to do the whole “two birds, one stone” thing, you could listen to Ron’s show, get yourself a free trial, and — ta-dah! — listen to the incredible story of Rhoda Derry, one of the patients at the Peoria State Hospital. (The publisher told me that the narrator was in tears several times as she was reading it. It’s that good.)

So go! Check out Ron’s show — the next Ghost Stories With Sylvia will air on July 4, BTW — and while you’re there, support the show by giving Audible a try. And while you’re at Audible, check out 44 Years in Darkness. See? Circle of life, baby.

And Ron says that since he’s such a stand-up guy, he’s giving you guys a free link! Here it is:

Book Review: The Murderer’s Maid, by Erika Mailman

Four and a half stars. I’m a sucker for anything related to Lizzie Borden, just because her case is SO strange and the family relationships SO dysfunctional. Mailman does an amazing job of describing the atmosphere leading up to the Borden murders, casting LOADS of suspicion on Lizzie while never quite coming out and saying she’s the one whodunnit. (And I could tell Mailman had done her research. I’ve been to the Borden home, and I was able to mentally follow the characters through the house — it was almost as fun as going back for a return visit!)

The modern story was well-done too, and had me guessing up ’til the end. There were parts of the modern story I did NOT see coming, which is always super fun.

Mailman took a certain liberty with Lizzie’s story, in order to link it to the present day, but I’ll allow that for the sake of the storytelling. 🙂 All in all, I would recommend this to anyone interested in Lizzie Borden’s story. Well done!

The Murderer's Maid by Erika Mailman

Today I Learned …

In World War II, US heavy bomber pilots would make ice cream by strapping buckets of ice cream mix to their planes before missions. The cold and turbulence of the flight would churn the mix into ice cream, and by the time they landed, it would be done.

Here’s the rest of the story. During World War II on the island of Peleliu, a Marine squadron was getting really, really bored waiting for the Japanese to come out and fight. So what do you do when you’re bored and there’s no enemy action? You make chocolate ice cream. Naturally. According to Air and Space Magazine, “(Squadron commander) Reinburg, determined to raise morale on a humid tropical island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, had a plan. His maintenance crew cut the ends off an old belly-mounted drop tank, strung wire at both ends, and mounted an access panel to the side. Into this panel, secured by the wires, went a waterproof can that ordinarily stored .50-caliber bullets. And into that, the mess sergeant poured a mixture of canned milk and cocoa powder. Reinburg planned to ascend to high altitudes, where temperatures are well below freezing, and return with a gift for his men: five gallons of homemade chocolate ice cream.”

On the first flight, the ice cream didn’t freeze properly, as it was too close to the hot engine of the Corsair. For the second flight, they mounted two cans in a different place (which also, happily, doubled the amount of ice cream to ten gallons). This ice cream froze nicely, but it just wasn’t as smooth as the commander would have liked. (The men ate it anyway.)

On the third flight, the maintenance crew stuck a propeller in each of the ammo cans, to churn the ice cream. This time, it came out perfectly. Many B-17s used this setup on combat missions, and P-47s were also used in various theaters.

Base Commander Colonel Caleb Bailey called the squadron and told them he knew exactly what they were up to. “Listen, goddamnit, you guys aren’t fooling me. I’ve got spies. You tell [Reinburg] I’m coming over there tomorrow and get my ration.”

Today I Learned …

And you thought your cat was lazy … desert snails can sleep for literally years. A staff member at the British Museum glued an Egyptian desert snail to an identification card, assuming (naturally) that the specimen was, you know, dead. Four years later, someone noticed a bit of slime on the card. When the staff pried the shell off of the card, the snail crawled out.

Today I Learned …

In the Middle Ages, the scions of old families wanted a way to keep their family histories straight. Prominent families hired artists to create visual propaganda of these unbroken lines of hereditary descent. The artists decided that the easiest way to depict a family’s history would be to paint a simple tree. They put the founder of a lineage at the base of the tree, and painted his descendants on the branches. The French gave these pictures a name that reflected their forking shape: pe de grue, or “crane’s foot”. In English, the word became pedigree.

Today I Learned …

The Egyptians loved cats, but they always referred to them as “miu” (the Egyptian word for “cat”). Dog’s names were recorded in tomb inscriptions, but not those of cats … until one cat owner decided to give his cat a name and inscribe it for posterity. The lucky kitty was called Nadjem, which means “pleasant one”.

The Boy in the Basement, Part 2

It’s time for another episode of Lights Out! Return to the basement of the Pollak Hospital with me and my psychic medium friend, Diane Lash Lockhart, as we have another conversation with Chris, the young spirit there. Learn how Chris and his family celebrated the Fourth of July before the turn of the century, and enjoy the mental image of me stumbling through the steps of a ragtime dance.

Today I Learned …

The lighter was invented before the match. In 1823, a German chemist created the world’s first lighter, Dobereiner’s lamp, which was used in industrial settings. It wasn’t until three years later that an English chemist made the first friction match. (From Reader’s Digest, February 2019, “Strange But Impossibly True”)

It’s Not Nice to Mess With Mother Nature

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted any stories about the shenanigans perpetrated by my neighbors, Belinda and Clothilde. But the shenanigans do continue. Oh my, do they ever.

As an example, let’s take a look at my garden path,in my back yard. The fence denotes Belinda’s back yard. The path, at this time of year, is usually green and verdant, as is the rest of the garden. But!

The first picture is what it looked like two weeks ago. The second picture was taken just four days later.

Grass should not be brown and sere in mid-May in Illinois, is what I’m saying. Not with the rain we’ve been having.

So I took pictures, and I wrote a letter. And yesterday, a very nice, attentive, concerned gentleman from the Agriculture Department came out and took soil samples and photographs, and his lab will be testing for illegal pesticide use. I’m figuring Belinda took things just a wee bit too far and sprayed RoundUp over her fence onto my garden.

My garden. Where I grow things to feed myself and my family.

Not cool, Belinda. Not cool.

Today I Learned …

One species of beaded lacewing (an insect whose larvae prey on termites) has a particularly ingenious way of stunning and killing its prey: it farts on them. The larva raises its tail toward the termite’s head and releases a chemical which paralyses the termite and kills it. This chemical does not affect any other species of insect, including the lacewing itself, so this species of lacewing has evolved to produce a very specific chemical fart perfectly designed for its larval life inside the nest of its prey, one of the very few fatal farts known to science. (From Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence, by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti)

Today I Learned …

The piggy bank is an important fixture of any child’s room — and in some grown-up’s rooms too. Why choose a pig to keep your stash safe? In the 13th to 15th centuries, one of the most common places for people to store their money was in jars of orange-colored clay called “pygg”. This eventually evolved into “pig” or “piggy”. Around the 19th century, manufacturers began molding banks into the shape of pigs.

Today I Learned …

In 2010, beekeepers in Brooklyn opened their hives and discovered them to be filled with honey that looked … a little odd: it was bright red. And it tasted like sickly-sweet cough syrup. Much later, the mystery was solved. It turned out that the bees in that hive had been ignoring the flowers on their route, preferring to visit a local maraschino cherry factory instead. Cheaters.

Today I Learned …

Donnie Dunagan joined the Marines when he was 18, did three tours of duty in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, and finally returned as a major. Yet in his 20-plus year military career, he never told anyone about his connection to one of Hollywood’s quintessential tearjerkers. When he was six years old, Dunagan was the voice of Disney’s young Bambi. (from

Big News!

So you know how I’ve been teasing you guys for the past several weeks with pictures of word counts-in-progress? Well, I’m happy to say there’s a reason for that.

Fractured Souls: More Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, is finished! And it’s great! Just like Fractured Spirits, it will have links to fun audio and video evidence. And there’s more: Fractured Souls includes a tour of the hilltop, so you can drive around (or walk, it’s small enough) and see where these haunted buildings are, or where they used to be back in the day.

I don’t yet have a release date, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you all know. And no, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke, I promise! There’s another book about the spirits of the Peoria State Hospital, coming soon!