Giant redwood trees, which can grow to more than 300 feet tall, get 40% of their moisture from fog at the top of their branches. (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Eye-Popping Oddities)
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!
File under “Crazy Rich Asians”: Gan Lin, the wife of a wealthy businessman from Chongqing, China, rented an entire mountain at a cost of more than $5000 a month just so that her daughter Yin could learn about nature. Now that’s a dedicated homeschool mom! (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Eye-Popping Oddities)
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.)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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 to the first episode in the Gettysburg series! Sachs Bridge is a gorgeous little covered bridge just outside Gettysburg. In 1863, three Confederate soldiers were hanged from the bridge after being discovered hiding amongst Union troops. Do they still linger on the bridge? https://youtu.be/8iYOjeW6y3Y
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.)
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.
I know, I know, it’s kind of weird to be doing an “extra” Lights Out episode, when Episode 100 is in view. But I had … a request? Sort of? Just listen to the episode. You’ll see what I mean. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas. https://youtu.be/tcFUsqrKSUI
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!
Advances in military technology during the Civil War led, naturally, to advances in medicine and surgery. Military units couldn’t travel with entire hospitals, so surgeons went to the battlefields, and set up field hospitals for the care of the wounded. The surgeons did the best they could for the men under their care, and these makeshift camps were better than nothing.
Deering J. Roberts, a Confederate surgeon, was charged with setting up a temporary hospital after the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. When he arrived with his hospital steward, he went to work finding suitable buildings to set up as hospitals. One such building was an old wagon shop, two stories high, with plenty of windows for good lighting. Roberts set his team to preparing this building and two others to house wounded soldiers.
The Battle of Franklin turned out to be one of the bloodiest engagements of the war. It lasted only five hours, but the Confederate assault was bigger than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The Confederates lost 1,750 men that day, and 3,800 were wounded.
Roberts was a talented, caring surgeon who did his best for the men entrusted to him. His policy was not to amputate a limb without the patient’s consent.
One soldier, wounded in the battle, adamantly refused amputation, even though the bones of his arm had been shattered by a Minie ball, and the wound was already badly infected. Roberts took pity on the terrified soldier, and accepted his decision not to amputate, although privately he described wounds left by Minie balls as “both remarkable and frightening.” Roberts later wrote in his journal that the soldier suffered not only from his grievously wounded arm, but also “nostalgia and despondency.” The man had but one wish: to walk home in time for Christmas.
Unfortunately, the soldier didn’t achieve his goal. He died at the hospital December 23, 1864.
Apparently, though, he hasn’t given up on getting home for Christmas. Travelers on the highway outside of Franklin have reported appearances of the hitchhiking ghost of a Confederate soldier. Maybe one of these years he’ll make it home.
We’re creeping up on Christmas … let’s go see what the Weird Darkness Weirdos are up to! http://www.weirddarkness.com
Henry Dealman was the professor of music and art at Mount St. Mary’s University in the late 19th century. Every Christmas Eve he would give an organ concert in the church on campus, playing for hours. People came from miles around to hear the glorious music.
Henry’s son, Larry, had learned to play the flute at a very young age, and was as accomplished a musician as his father. For several years, father and son played together on Christmas Eve to delight their audience. But one year, the two had a vicious argument, and come Christmas, Larry refused to play with his father. (Apparently, the feeling was mutual.)
In 1882, several years after their last performance together, Henry passed away. Any chance the men had to reconcile was lost. Larry was wracked by guilt over his selfish behavior of the past few years, realizing he’d missed the opportunity to make music with his father. Larry began to play at the Christmas Eve concerts once more, now with his father’s successor at the college. After the concert ended, Larry would climb the mountain to the college cemetery. Standing at his father’s grave, he would play Christmas songs, sharing them once again with his father. He continued this tradition every year until he himself passed away.
The Christmas after Larry’s death, people swore they heard flute music drifting down from the cemetery just before Midnight Mass. People began coming to the college on Christmas Eve from as far away as Baltimore to enjoy the ghostly tunes. Now every Christmas Eve, around midnight, the sweet lilting sounds of a flute still echo on campus, wafting down from the graveyard.
On the day after Christmas, movie stars Cary Grant and Clark Gable would get together to swap monogrammed gifts they didn’t want.
You’ll want to visit http://www.weirddarkness.com. (You know you do. Go on, admit it.)
I love celebrating the Winter Solstice, which usually falls on December 21. That’s tomorrow, so put your 2020-acquired baking skills to good use and whip up a batch of this gorgeous sunny bread. Note: the first two 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.
It will look really cool when you’re done, I promise. Here’s the one I made today:
The 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!
I made this one for a holiday get-together. This one had the Nutella in it, and it was magnificent. I can’t wait to make one for Solstice with apricot filling. If you’re lucky, I’ll even share!
I’ve got another present for you today! Nick Sarlo, of Shadow Hunters, is doing a storytime over on YouTube. Visit him at https://www.youtube.com/c/ShadowHuntersYouTubeSeries to find out which stories he’ll share from Spirits of Christmas.
And you should definitely head on over to http://www.weirddarkness.com, just to poke around over there and see what the Weird Darkness weirdos are up to today.
I’ll be the first to admit that dolls, especially antique dolls, can be really unnerving. But there is a certain Victorian-era doll that has a backstory that takes creepiness to the next level.
These dolls were made from one piece of unglazed porcelain, rather than the usual bisque limbs and cloth bodies of fancy dolls of that era. They were pure white, with only a tiny bit of color in their eyes, lips, cheeks, and hair. They were originally made in Germany in 1850. Since they were made of porcelain, without any cloth parts or stuffing, they were first marketed as children’s bath toys. But their minimal coloring and immovable limbs soon inspired another interpretation.
In 1843, the poet Seba Smith wrote a poem titled “Young Charlotte”. It was first published in the Rover, a Maine newspaper, on December 28, 1843, with the gruesome title “A Corpse Going To A Ball”. The ballad was based on the true story of a young woman who had frozen to death while riding with her boyfriend one New Year’s Eve, an incident reported in the New York Observer in 1840.
The poem was a cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity. Charlotte was a fashion-conscious, flighty young thing. She lived with her family in the mountains, with no close neighbors, so she didn’t have much opportunity to socialize. So when she was invited to a New Year’s Eve party with her sweetheart, she jumped at the chance to show off her new silk gown, made to the latest fashion, a low-cut number which displayed her bare shoulders.
She climbed into the open sleigh and settled herself for the ride to the party. Her mother tried to talk Charlotte into putting on a cloak, but the young lady refused. After all, no one would be able to admire her lovely, fashionable gown if she was covered up with a cloak.
The fifteen-mile ride to the party was a cold, bitter journey. The night was frigid, and the wind whipped around the seats of the open sleigh. Several times, Charlotte’s beau offered her the use of the warm bearskin robe he kept in the back of the sleigh. Each time, Charlotte refused … as her voice grew fainter.
As they neared the party, the boyfriend slowed the horse. He was concerned, as he hadn’t heard a sound from Charlotte for the past half hour. At last they reached the house where the party was being held. The boyfriend brought the sleigh to a stop, and reached for Charlotte’s hand to help her down.
Her hand was icy cold. During the ride to the party, she had frozen solid.
The small porcelain dolls, with their immovable white limbs, soon became known as Frozen Charlottes. The dolls cost one penny, and they were ridiculously popular. Many were even sold with their own miniature coffin and shroud. That’s something you’re not likely to find in Barbie’s townhouse.
I wonder what’s going on with Weird Darkness today? I’ll bet Darren Marlar has something wonderfully gruesome cooked up for you guys today. Let’s go and see. http://www.weirddarkness.com
Welcome to the Dead of Winter! Today we’re going to revisit a couple of Lights Out episodes from years past. Curl up by the Christmas tree, turn on the tree lights, have a cup of something warm and lovely handy, and let’s go … Lights Out.
Lights Out #66: Christmas 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvAANf27Eb4&t=4s
Lights Out #52: Christmas 2017 — The Roving Skeleton of Boston Bay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1o74O6A-aw&t=27s
Lights Out #51: Plymouth Courthouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZY-ntKexJk
Lights Out #32: Christmas 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Alg6AOjuQvE&t=6s
Ah, young love. How often it can go awry … Magdalena was a beautiful girl of fifteen or sixteen years. A parishioner of San Juan Capistrano, she fell in love with a young man named Teofilo. He was a talented artist who painted the wall frescoes, decorating the newly completed Great Stone Church at the mission.
Magdalena’s father forbade her to see Teofilo, as he was not of the same social standing. But love finds a way, and the girl regularly slipped out to see her beloved. One day, though, her father caught the young couple together.
Magdalena’s father made her confess to the priest at the mission. As part of her punishment, she was required to walk to the front of the congregation holding a lit candle of penitence, so everyone would know her shame. The day set for her public penance was December 8, 1812 … but God had other plans that day.
That was the day a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck southern California. Magdalena came to the Great Stone Church for early morning Mass. Chastened by the friars, Magdalena dutifully held her lit candle as she walked up the aisle. She lost her footing as the earth shook underneath her, but still she kept the candle in her trembling hands. The bell tower swayed for a heart-stopping moment, then crashed onto the church. In a few horrible seconds, forty people were buried alive. It took months to clear away the rubble and find the bodies. Among the dead was Magdalena, still clutching a candle in her cold hand.
According to local lore, Magdalena can be seen looking out a window in the Great Stone Church, on nights when a half-moon lights the sky.
You can find more creepy content over at http://www.weirddarkness.com. It’s there! Go find it!
Saturnalia was one of the best parties of ancient Rome. Starting on December 17 and going through December 23, slaves would be waited on by their masters, people would give gifts, public banquets made everybody happy, and it was generally a non-stop party for those days. It was seen as a time when everyone was free — slaves, freedmen, plebians, and nobility alike. People gave gag gifts, or small pottery or wax figurines called sigillaria. And did I mention the feasting?
Since Saturnalia starts tomorrow, I’d suggest you get out your best plates and goblets, and have yourself a Roman feast. Candied or dried fruit would be appropriate as appetizers, along with nuts, cheese, olives, and sausage rolls. Roast pork or chicken would make a great Roman main course. Gild the lily with a fruit-based sauce for the meat. Don’t forget the bread — the Romans loved their bread (you could use pita). And the best part of a Saturnalia feast? Dessert, of course! Gingersnaps, pfeffernusse, any spiced cookie would be a perfect ending to your Saturnalia spread. And for Jupiter’s sake, drink wine with the meal!
If you’re feeling squirrely, you could whip up this gorgeous pear pudding, from a recipe by Apicius:
Pear Pudding (Patina di Piris)
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t ground cumin
2 t honey
1 T sweet sherry (to replicate the Roman sweet wine called passum)
2 t fish sauce (I know, gross, but this is the Roman garum, and they put it in EVERYTHING. It really just adds a kick of savory to the dish.)
1 t oil
Peel, quarter, and core pears. Place in saucepan, cover with water, and simmer until tender, about ten minutes.
Puree two pears until smooth and return to saucepan. Chop remaining pear coarsely and add to pureed pears. Add pepper, cumin, honey, sherry, fish sauce and oil to pears. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until warm.
Beat egg and add 3 t of hot pear mixture, whisking between additions, to temper. Then stir egg mixture into pear puree and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Makes two servings.
Scoot on over to http://www.weirddarkness.com for more spooky tales of Christmas.
Nero is one of the Roman emperors that even non-Classics nerds recognize. He’s best known for denying he set the fire that burned for six days in 64 AD and destroyed two-thirds of Rome. (He blamed the Christians.) Four years later, while facing his execution, Nero committed suicide.
He wasn’t buried in Augustus’ mausoleum, the resting place of other members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Instead, he was buried in the family tomb of his ancestors, the Ahenobarbi, on the Pincian Hill. Legend has it that a massive walnut tree grew near his grave, and flocks of ravens came to roost in it.
Superstitious Romans claimed that Nero’s soul was trapped on earth, pinned by the tree and guarded by the spooky ravens. They also claimed that Nero’s evil soul had attracted a bunch of demons who infested the area. Apparently, Nero was still partying in the afterlife — only now his dinner companions were demons. Over the centuries, people living in the area reported feelings of terror, mysterious injuries, possessions, and inexplicable killings. In 1099, the Christian population asked the Pope to do something about the creepy tree, the demons, and Nero’s ghost.
Pope Pascal II retreated for three days of fasting and prayer. It’s said he was visited by the Virgin Mary, who told him how to settle the situation. The Pope ordered the tree cut down, and Nero’s tomb destroyed. The human remains found in the tomb were burned and thrown into the Tiber River. To consecrate the ground, a church was built on the site and dedicated to Mary. In 1472, Pope Sixtus V rebuilt the church and named it Santa Maria del Popolo (from the Latin populus, people, because it was the people who had demanded the demons be removed).
It’s said Nero’s ghost still wanders the Piazza del Popolo at night, scaring unwary tourists. The emperor had his own run-ins with ghosts during his life. He tried really hard to kill his mother, Agrippina. He tried drowning her in a collapsible boat, but she swam to safety. He had her bedroom ceiling rigged to collapse on top of her, but that failed to kill her. Finally, he stopped messing around and had one of his guards just stab her. After Agrippina’s death, her ghost came back to haunt him. Nero tried to conjure her spirit with the help of necromancers and magicians, to beg her to leave him alone, but no — she haunted him for the rest of his life.
Hmm … I wonder what’s going on over at http://www.weirddarkness today? You should go see. (I hear they’ve got cookies.)
Twin sisters Lorraine and Levinia Christmas decided on the spur of the moment to deliver presents to one another’s houses on Christmas Eve 1994. The country road between their villages in Norfolk, England was treacherously icy and the 31-year-old sisters were involved in a head-on crash — with each other. (From Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: Eye-popping Oddities)
What’s going on over at Weird Darkness today? Go check it out! You! Yes, you! Go on! Shoo!
Boy, 2020 has been a year, hasn’t it? Monsters would feel right at home here, I think. Let’s meet one of them.
Okay, here’s a weird one for you.
What do you get when you cross a horse’s skull, a bedsheet, and a book of Dr. Seuss?
Well, the Welsh get Mari Lwyd.
Mari Lwyd is definitely what you’d call a party animal. The “Gray Mare” is a bedazzled horse’s skull that’s carried around on a pole, the bearer being hidden under a white sheet. Mari Lwyd and her entourage go from house to house (or from pub to pub, because booze) singing Christmas carols and being generally rowdy. When Mari Lwyd shows up at the door, her posse and the folks inside have an insult contest in rhyme — a “yo mamma” fight brought to you by Dr. Seuss. No matter who wins, Mari Lwyd is invited into the house (or the pub, because BOOZE). The theory is that she is so disturbing that evil spirits are freaked out just by looking at her, and vacate the premises.
In Celtic Britain, the horse was a symbol of power and fertility. White or gray horses were thought to have the power to cross between this world and the next. So the Gray Mare, dressed in white with ribbons and spangles decorating her skull, returns from the Underworld at the turning of the year. She brings luck to any place she enters, in keeping with the Christmas spirit.
And the monstrous fun coninues! Ask a Mortician is here to school you on some of my favorite monsters of Christmas. Yay! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdX3BqF1s9Y&t=8s
For more Christmas monsters, check out Spirits of Christmas, available online at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon, and at http://www.bookshop.org. When you order from Bookshop, you’re supporting independent bookstores — Bookshop puts all the profit into a kitty, and divvies it up at the end of the month between small bookstores. So they all benefit when you buy there.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas is being brought to you with the help of Weird Darkness, your home for, well, weirdness! Go check out the podcast at http://www.weirddarkness.com. And tell Darren Marlar I said hey.