Sunday, December 26, 2010

Whisper down the lane: dismantling a legend

In his seminal work Wild Talents (1932), pioneering anomalist Charles Fort tells the story of how "a man and his wife, named Kring, had been butchered, and their bodies had been burned." Thereafter, he gives account of no less than two unidentifed bodies found nearby, one of them a "well-dressed man," near Johnstown (Cambria County).

That's not quite the way the story happened. I can't really fault Fort for misunderstanding - he was relying on an account from a Philadelphia newspaper, one that was likely a second- or third-hand account. And anyone in any sort of paranormal/unexplained field knows how accounts get changed and altered over time. Moreover, Fort's story was likely based on one written before anybody knew the full story.

As it turns out, as I was searching for more information and references to the case, I came across a report on a Johnstown-area paranormal site - it was then I realized that the story has changed yet more in the modern day, that the well-known Johnstown-area urban legend of Becky's Grave is also based on the same event. Supposedly, the grave of a woman named Becky Kring is supposed to visit the Snavely Cemetery in Elton. Becky was a young girl, killed when only 18 for supposedly being a witch.

However, as it turns out, no Rebecca Kring is buried in Snavely. She is actually buried (with her husband) in Dunmire Cemetery, a burial ground several miles away. And far from a teenaged witch, Rebecca Kring was 83, her husband 79.

To chart the metamorphosis of this story, we'll examine a few contemporary news reports.

The first article, reproduced on the aforementioned paranormal website, appeared in a Johnstown newspaper (the clipping didn't specify which one) and is merely a description of the fire and of rescue attempts.
About half-past 10 o’clock Wednesday night the village of Elton, containing between one hundred and two hundred people, seven miles south east of this city, in Adams Township, Cambria County, was thrown into a state of great excitement by the breaking out of a fire. Most villagers had retired for the night, and it was the men about Ickes’ Hotel who, being still astir, first discovered the flames.

The fire was discovered to be in the rear part of the residence of Samuel Kring. Flames were shooting through the windows. In front some of the men broke open the door and windows, but a tremendous volume of flame and black smoke burst through the openings thus made, but prevented entrance to the building. Several desperate attempts were made by persons to force their way into the house, and water was freely applied from a hole cut through the ice in a dam near by, in the hope of rescuing Mr. and Mrs. Kring, who slept in a room on the first floor, but every such attempt proved futile, the heat and suffocating smoke being more than anyone could endure, and the poor old couple were of necessity, abandoned to their fate.

The flames made rapid headway, and not only quickly consumed the building in which they originated but communicated with one adjoining and destroyed it. The former was a two story plank, occupied and used as a kind of warehouse. Both belonged to Mr. Kring.

As soon as the flames had spent their fury, water was thrown in considerable quantities upon the charred timbers at the corner of the house in which the room was located where the aged couple slept, in the hope of finding whatever of the bodies the fire had not consumed. The search soon resulted in the uncovering of the blackened and roasted remains of both Mr. and Mrs. Kring.

Nothing but the trunks was left. Mrs. Kring’s was found in one corner of the room where the bed had stood, and Mr. Kring’s in another corner where there had been a lounge, indicating that she had been sleeping in the bed and he on the lounge. The remains were not disturbed at the time, some of the people thinking that an inquest should be held, and that the remains should not be interfered with until viewed by a jury.
Word was accordingly sent to Squire Henry Fye, and he arrived yesterday morning. After an investigation he decided that an inquest was not necessary. The remains were thereupon taken from the ruins and placed in a house near by.

As to the origin of the fire, nothing has been definitely learned. There was a stove in an out-kitchen adjoining the rear of the house, and there was also one in the sleeping room. It is thought that in someway the building caught from on of these, probably from the one in the bed chamber, the resulting smoke quickly stupefying the old couple, and rendering them helpless victims of the flames.

Their extreme age too, was against them, Mr. Kring having attained his seventy-ninth year and Mrs. Kring her eighty-third. She was quite feeble, but managed to do her own work unaided, and there was nobody at the house but herself and her venerable partner.
Pay attention to the italicized quotes; I believe they may account for the next permutation of the story. It seems that there may have been some suspicion of foul play, as in a story in the Bradford Era (February 3, 1892). Building on the reports of the condition of the bodies, it remarks on a series of murders in Cambria County (which may or may not have actually been murders). The first body was found on December 4, in the woods near Gallitzin. It was believed, but not proven, to be a suicide. Another body was found near Frugality (Fort's first "well-dressed [corpse that] could not be identified") but it was determined to be that of George Myers, who had been robbed of $800. Another body was discovered only a few days before the Kring tragedy, near Bethel. That one, however, was badly decomposed (but male) and nobody could accurately say when his fate befell him, or even what fate it was. This body was evidently Fort's second "well-dressed man, who bore no means of identification". Both of Fort's other bodies, it can be seen, precede the Kring tragedy. The article goes on to note that the same killer was responsible for the "horrible butchery of old man Kring and his wife and the cremation of their bodies", but I can determine no reason for supposing this. I think it's pretty likely that Fort's clipping from the Philadelphia Public Ledger was based on this article.

The third article appeared a week later, presumably after the inquest mentioned in the first, in the Indiana Progress (February 10, 1892). It returns to the idea of merely a fire; "the fire originated from an over-heated stove in the bedroom." Gold, which would have survived the fire, was still present, but all the Krings' other money was presumed destroyed in the fire.

How exactly the story of this tragedy became associated with a legend of witchcraft, I don't know; my only thought would be possibly someone heard about the fire, and presumed a burning at the stake?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Murder at the Fairgrounds

The York Fair, first held in 1765, has played host to concerts, funnel cakes and, if some folks are to be believed, ghosts. For all the historical events surrounding the Fair which would potentially give rise to paranormal happenings - the original location of the fair in what is now Penn's Park was a potter's field burial ground and the fairgrounds themselves were used as a camp by soldiers during the War of 1812 - the ghost story most often told didn't get its start until the 1920s, after the Fair had moved to its current grounds on Carlisle Road.

In 1924, the road going by the Fairgrounds was still known as Dover Road. Around that time, a New Jersey woman named Alice M. Abbott spurned her quiet mother-and-housewife role, ran off with a judge, went to Pennsylvania (settling in Ye Olde Author's own hometown of Columbia) and changed her name to Peggy Larue. She became a devoted drinker and was most likely inebriated already that August night in 1924 when she was picked up by a man named Dorwart. Larue and Dorwart met up with Fred McLean and Lenora O'Bryan at a restaurant on George Street in York. Eventually they made their way to the fairgrounds, Larue "full of dope and whisky" and "dead to the world". In other words, well and truly sauced.

It seems that Ms. O'Bryan stole McLean's gun while he was passed out drunk. He retrieved it from her later, shooting her in the cheek; then, rather unnecessarily, he shot Larue, who was still lying drunk in the grass. Finally, to make it 3 for 3, he shot Dorwart in the hand as he ran away. McLean was arrested, and though he felt remorse for killing Larue, he didn't feel bad at all for shooting O'Bryan.

In February, 1925, an article appeared in the York Dispatch describing encounters with phantom forms at the fairgrounds. One man heard a woman's screams coming from the grounds, with others hearing the screams and, in one case, a woman yelling "For God's sake, don't shoot!" Yet another man later claimed that he had seen a woman that January dressed in white, who he took to be a nurse, looking mournful. She disappeared near a snowbank.

It should also be noted that this man was illiterate - as most backwoods farmers were in those days - and so wouldn't have read the newspaper articles which said that Larue (or Abbott) was a nurse.

In most of these cases, there were environmental factors possibly contributing to the experiences. The man who first heard the screams noted the howling winter winds; the second man's sighting of the woman in white took place just after a snowstorm.

The fields where Larue and her companions were shot was to the north of the Fairgrounds; the same fields, today, are part of the Fair itself. I'm not aware of any modern-day reports of the phantom.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Imp of Clark Alley

January of 1880 saw the appearance of one of the most bizarre phantoms I know of in West Clark Alley in York, on the block between Beaver and George Streets.

Sometimes he comes in the form of a man and puts on the airs of a horse-thief; then, again, he struts along in the shape of a huge demijohn on two legs, and not infrequently like a rolling beer barrel, tapped at both ends. The horse-thief shape is never interfered with but the other two forms are chased up and down the alley, but, like the will-o-the-wisp, are never captured.

A few days later, a search party comprised of what were apparently Victorian ghost hunters sought the apparition, which had this time appeared as a young boy selling newspapers. It promptly vanished in a puff of smoke, or perhaps in a puff of logic like God confronted by the existence of the Babelfish, but left behind a scrap of paper covered in unintelligible characters.

Sometime later the pooka of York appeared to a woman on King Street in the shape of a tall woman dressed in black (the appearance of such black and white female spirits is certainly a favored appearance for ghosts).

Another haunting on South Court Alley was also attributed to the mutable spirit. In this case, however, the haunt was purely auditory. And possibly none too mysterious, either, as a stable was plagued by the sound of some demonic entity throwing hay around! Oh, the horror!

I haven't ever heard of a phantom appearing as a dancing bottle of liquor or as a beer barrel!

Return of the masks (oh my God!); and some words on Springheeled Jack

Apologies to Mark Morrison, wherever you are, for referencing your late 90s R&B hit 'Return of the Mack' in the title of this post. Seriously, try singing the post title in that song in place of the chorus. Well, it sounds OK in my head, anyway.

Anyway, I'm back. I know, I've said that before but I think I mean it this time. As you can see, I've changed the look and layout of the blog to reflect a change in direction. I'm going to try to relay those supernatural goodies here in Pennsylvania that aren't cryptozoological or monster-ish and aren't going to make it into my book. But which are nevertheless nifty. I might also mention the stuff from surrounding states that is once again not monster-ish.

Also, I had received word from noted Springheeled Jack researcher Theo Paijmans that there aren't really any primary sources on the 1905 attack on Julia McGlone in Philadelphia attributed to a Jack-type apparition. I'll be altering my write-up for the book accordingly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Extraordinary evidence

Over the past few years I've been almost pessimistic about some phenomena - let me explain, before I'm dismissed out-of-hand as a "scofftic" or something. I've begun to ask myself what sort of evidence would really be necessary to prove things. For example, take the UFO mystery - or actually, say something less nebulous, like the identity of Jack The Ripper. Say through some discussion or discovery of long-lost files or something, you find out, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who Jack was. What would it take to convince others? We could come out with proof, explain succinctly the identity and provide the original files, maybe, to back us up. But look at it from someone else's point of view: no matter your evidence, there's a certain number of folk in whatever mystery field that will always view it as nothing more than yet another theory. Even if indisputable evidence were provided, people would say that you hoaxed it, or misinterpreted something... regardless of what happens, there's a subset of the populace who want it to stay a mystery forever. Although I used the Jack example, obviously this same logic follows through for Bigfoot, UFOs, eastern pumas, the Loch Ness Monster, ESP, the Great Siberian Explosion, or what have you.

Really Mysterious Pennsylvania by Stan Gordon

Pennsylvania-based UFO, cryptozoology and general Fortean researcher Stan Gordon is releasing a book, Really Mysterious Pennsylvania, today. Stan has done some extensive work on the possible UFO crash at Kecksburg and was one of the main chroniclers of the horribly strange Bigfoot encounters in the state back in the summer and autumn of 1973.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Return of the bullbeggar

A few months back, I had mentioned Virginia's traditions of the English goblin known as a bullbeggar and the presence of Bullbeggar Creek in the northernmost part of Virginia's eastern peninsula.

Now there come reports of what may be cougar on the eastern peninsula. Could these actually be the bullbeggars reported further north? Melfa isn't that far south of Bullbeggar Creek and besides, I can't see any reports where the witnesses actually claim beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they saw was a cougar. It's "a big cat-like thing".

It's interesting that Melfa, again, is right up the road from the town of Painter, 'painter' being a colloquial term for what would otherwise be called a panther. Also in a bizarre bit of synchronicity, the town of Exmore (which conjures up parallels with a certain English big cat) is nearby also.

Chad Arment's The Historical Bigfoot contains an account of the 'Bogey of Craddock Marsh', which seems to be likely situated about 7 miles west of Painter along Craddock Neck Road. However, as written the account is apparently of cries of 'yahoo' heard in the marsh and no description of the actual beast. Could it have been a 'cougar' as well?

The name Painter seems to suggest a previous knowledge of cat-like beasts. It should also be noted that some of the more southerly sightings are from just outside a sizable wildlife refuge.

I'm Back

I've decided on the direction of the blog. I'll be reporting things that occur on the East Coast, though I'll try to avoid Pennsylvania things for now, unless it's too late for their inclusion in the book, although (for now) Maryland is still fair game. The book, by the way, I think I'll title (at least for now) The Hills Rise Wild (provided Arkham House is cool with that), although as always anyone's free to suggest other titles. I dig that one, though I suppose it could give someone the idea that it's focused on New England. The following's a preliminary list (though in no order) of what's to be included in the book:

A. Deep in the Bowels of... Berks County: Lock 49 and Others
B. Sightings of the Jersey Devil in Pennsylvania
C. Sasquatch in Pennsylvania
D. Supernatural Sasquatch (the weird UFO, bulletproof, phasing, etc. encounters)
E. Thunderbirds of Northern Pennsylvania
F. Big Cat Sightings
G. Phantom Hounds, Black Dogs and Werewolves
H. Other Animal Ghosts
I. A section on things from my neck of the woods in Lancaster County
J. The Rest of the Weird (all the guys that don't fit anywhere else)

And probably other stuff I'm forgetting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book updates and blog uncertainty, still

So I've begun work in earnest on the book, and I've begun gathering as much information as I can on cases (descriptions, etc.) and I'm going to try my hand at a bit of statistical work painting a better picture of what certain critters really look like. I've completed a good-sized chunk of the chapter on sightings of winged monsters in Pennsylvania, and I've also completed some work on a chapter on high strangeness Bigfoot reports. That one's kind of on hold as I've discovered some unexpected references embedded in the "weird" abilities. I have a potential publisher lined up as well.

More opinion time: should I put Maryland stuff into the book, or just concentrate on Pennsylvania and maybe do a Maryland follow-up? Or should I just wait and see how long the Pennsylvania section turns out being?

I still haven't decided what I'm doing with the blog, so bear with me and don't give up. It'll be back eventually in one form or another.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Readers, input! Questioning the future

I've begun to question what direction I should take Masks in. I've recently started more seriously tossing around the idea of writing a book or two on things and I don't really want to keep posting things on here as that would make a book sort of irrelevant. I'm mulling over whether I should switch focus to breaking news, or maybe to a more general worldwide focus rather than strictly regional.


Monday, January 11, 2010

The wild man of Morgantown

On September 20, 1874, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette ran an article about a hair-covered "wild man" which had been seen near Morgantown (Berks County), in a region enclosed by hills and ridges. It was nearly seven feet tall and uncommonly for a Bigfoot frequently walked on all fours. It was described as having "altogether a horrible appearance."

The Bigfoot creature was reputed to steal pigs and sheep from mountain farms, and to utter a "demonic laugh" as it did so. A group of hunters pursued the beast, but it yelled and leaped and vanished into a forest.

More Biscardi Bait

A video was posted on January 5, 2010 on YouTube. It was posted anonymously by someone using the name "bobywade517". The attached description says that sightings of a white Bigfoot had been taking place in this Pennsylvania town, though, oddly, it's not mentioned at all what town that is. It obviously, therefore, can't be confirmed that there even were Bigfoot sightings here, and the creature in question sounds like a guy breathing heavily in a mask and looks like someone in a store-bought costume. Chalk one up as fake.

The only white Bigfoot I'm aware of seen in Pennsylvania is a four-foot one seen in Carbondale this summer. Otherwise, I'm drawing a blank.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Seven Gates of Hell

The story of the "Seven Gates of Hell" in York County really has nothing to do with either the cryptozoological or zooform realms. In fact, it scarcely has anything to do with the paranormal realm. But it is a topic I'm semi-obsessed with, since we visited there a few years back, and writing about urban legend creatures in Maryland brought it back up to the surface.

It's a pretty famous urban legend in south-central Pennsylvania: a massive fire in an asylum on Toad Road, a bunch of dead inmates. Several inmates escaped and were killed in the woods surrounding the asylum by over-zealous locals. There was a path leading back to the asylum, and either the city of York or the original administrator of the facility - versions vary as to who it is - constructed seven gates along the path. Why the administrator would do this, I don't know. Story goes that the city did it to curb trespassers.

Supposedly, supernatural things happen as you pass each gate. The last gate is, variously, withing the asylum or right outside the asylum. A moot point, because nobody's ever made it past the fifth. So how they know there's seven is up in the air.

Some versions have it that the home of Nelson Rehmeyer (the tale of Rehmeyer's Hollow and the murder of Nelson in 1928 is one of the more famous tales of Pennsylvania's darker history, although the Hollow is, of course, changed in legend) was near the asylum.

A good story, but there's some problems. First of all, there is no Toad Road as mentioned in the tale, and never was. Second of all, the gate shown above is the only one. It's a plain red cattle gate off Trout Run Road. The stories will say that the gates are just invisible during the day, but then explain how I went out there at night and didn't see any other gates.

Some stories will tell you there's one of the dreaded phantom black SUVs that'll patrol the area. Well, having been there, I can vouch that there is an old man in a pick-up truck that tried to scare us off. I've later heard that the entire Seven Gates area is this old man's backyard - and there's a lot of modern houses in the woods, so he's not some creepy hermit-type.

To put a bit of a cryptozoological angle on it, there was a rumor that Bigfoot hunters at one time trampled through the woods here. Whether that's true or not, I don't know.

But like all good urban legends, it's based on something. Though how many people know it, I don't know.

When this region of York County was originally settled and the roads laid out, the road that would later become Trout Run Road continued north along the banks of Codorus Creek and eventually emerged to intersect what is now known as Furnace Road, right by Codorus Furnace, an old iron furnace dating to the Revolution. And at the intersection stood a house. The extension leading up to Furnace Road has been inaccessible for years.

It's no longer there, but I recall seeing it when my grandmother and I made trips up to the furnace in my younger years. The house in question stood at the curve leading up to the furnace and was a ramshackle wooden affair, the kind of place which looks like a fire waiting to happen. Probably not a coincidence, then, that it was indeed a fire which destroyed the house totally. In front of the house was a row of trees growing along the road, and every tree had one or more 'No Trespassing' signs on it. Some variants of the tale had it that the administrator of the asylum was paranoid and had signs posted.

I talked to various people from York County, and was able to determine that the asylum version of the tale seems to have appeared in the late 1960s or 1970s. My grandfather, who's been in York County since the 1950s, reminded me about this house and told me that back at that time it was home to an old hermit who he said had claimed that he was a doctor. My mother mentioned that there was a road kids would drive back along.

Given that, I've been wondering whether the hermit was the basis of the tale, whether Toad Road was the old extension of Trout Run, and whether the asylum of the story may have been a simple wooden house that was, despite the stories, still standing until a decade ago. I also have come to wonder whether the original version was merely kids driving the road when the extension was still accessible hassling the guy; after the hermit died in the 1970s, the story was confused with that of Rehmeyer's Hollow (many of the elements of the Hollow story, or the urban legend thereof rather than the true one, feature in the Gates story - a portal to Hell, a number of murders, a fire). I have seen pictures of the Rehmeyer house in 1928 and it was a similar wood-frame affair to the 'Hermit House'. It's possible that the similarity in the appearance of these two houses contributed to the confusion.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weird creatures of Maryland

"A Field Guide to the Monsters and Mystery Animals of Maryland", a Strange Magazine article by Mark Chorvinsky and Mark Opsasnick, gives a listing of many strange creature, the majority of which were one-off sightings. Some of these are given below:

Another Odenton Humanoid: Odenton in Anne Arundel County was home to a famous sighting of the Patuxent Swamp Monster in 1968, but on May 27, 1989 two children playing at a home on Brietwert Avenue saw a creature in the clearing behind the home. It was 3-4 feet tall, with a white stripe on one leg of its dark brown furred body.

Boaman: The Prince George's County News (October 27, 1971) gave an account of this creature. The half-human, half-serpent was reportedly seen slithering around alongside the Lanham-Severn Road near the Lanham Inn. This area is south-west of Lanham-Seabrook. A legend was given that a young girl was "chewed up" by the Boaman. The area of the Lanham Inn is extremely urbanized and near a railroad track.

Buggerman: The boundaries of Charles County are patrolled by a creature known as the Buggerman. It is said that he prevents local children from crossing the boundaries of the county. He is variously described as a ghost, or more interestingly as a great hair-covered black man.

Catoctin Mountain Imps: A "troop of horned and cloven demons marked all over with spots like a leopard" were seen in this South Mountain ridge by a resident of Frederick in 1883. The rather stylish demons haven't been seen since.

Cabbage Head Man: Butch Dory claimed to have seen a humanoid entity emerge from a lake on 54th Street in College Park. Dory and his friends reportedly shot at the creature to no avail.

Cow People: A number of cow-folk have been reported over the years, the first being a Victorian-era tale from Dorchester County of a wildman who ate marsh grass and suckled from cows. A bipedal cow-creature was seen near Bel Air in February 1978, and a cow woman was reported from Charles County in the 1970s. this one, though, turned out to be a hunchbacked man.

Eggheads: These creatures were seen by Dan Long in October 1973 near Westover (Somerset County). Long was in the Pocomoke Forest with some friends when he claimed that he saw a number of glowing white humanoids with large egg-shaped heads near the Perdue Farms facility. However, the entire account must be called into serious doubt as Long admits he was drinking in the woods.

Goblin Damned: These ill-described "questionable shapes" were seen several times on the railroad bridge spanning Big Seneca Creek near Clopper (Montgomery County).

Jabberwok: Not to be confused with the Jabowak described below, this reptilian humanoid was seen across Frederick County from Creagerstown to Thurmont in the 1880s.

Jabowak: This tall and horrible-faced animal prowled McMurray Street in Frederick in 1870. At one point, a dog was shot and killed as the culprit.
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