Friday, July 31, 2020

Fae on Film: The Cottingley Fairies.

The Fae are a big part of our folklore, having seemingly existed for as long as we have written records.  For creatures that may or may not exist, they are important to us, continuing to be a big part of our culture and some religions to this day. They also have a fascinating duality to them; the dark creatures of our folklore and the glittering nymphs of our fairytales. And it's those saccharine sweet Fairytale Fairies that we'll be looking at today. The darker Folks will get a blog post of their own another day.
The Victorians (or at least those who could afford to be) were a desperately romantic bunch, clinging to magic and mystery in a world that was rapidly becoming swamped by industry and science. Spiritualism was still finding its feet in the world, all that was mystical or paranormal was being sought out. So, when in 1917, photos came to light of two young girls posing with seemingly real fairies, people were delighted. These photos are iconic. Chances are you've seen them before and, even if you weren't aware of where they came from, you were most likely charmed by them. It's hard not to be. Like something from a fairytale, innocent-looking girls surrounded by crowds of delicate, dancing Fairies. Although, by modern standards (either photoshop, CGI or a man in a Bigfoot costume) they're clearly fake, in the 1900's photography was still an ever evolving art. 

By Elsie Wright (1901–1988) - Scan of photographs, PD-US

Francis Griffith (10 years old) had travelled to England from South Africa, to stay with her Aunt,
Uncle and 13-year-old cousin, Elsie Wright. The two soon became best friends, inseparable. So, how are these children responsible for one of the worlds most famous hoaxes? The same way many hoaxes start. It was a prank. With a beautiful garden to play in and only a sparkling brook separating it from the local woods, they could let their imaginations run wild. So it's somewhat unsurprising that when they were told off for continuously coming home with torn pinafores and muddy shoes, they chose to blame the whole mess on the fairies they claimed lived at the bottom of the garden. No matter how many times they were scolded, the girls insisted it was because they'd been playing with the fairies and told their parents that they could prove it, if Elsie's father would just lend them his camera. After a quick lesson on how to use it, the girls trotted off with the camera, only to return an hour later. And, when the glass plates from the camera were developed, they showed the girls interacting with what appeared to be Fairies. Elsie's father immediately called the girls out on it, correctly guessing that the Fairies were paper cut-outs, even going as far as to search their rooms and the garden for evidence when they insisted the little people in the photos were real. Unable to find anything, he confiscated the camera. Elsie's mother, while shocked, believed the photos were real. Nothing her husband could say could convince her otherwise, but she still wanted to get proof and took the photos to Bradford with her, where she attended a meeting held by the Theosophical Society, who were dedicated to investigating the paranormal. When the lectures had finished, she pulled the speaker aside and explained the whole situation to him. Taking a look at the photos, he was so convinced of their authenticity, that he took them to their annual conference and put them on display for all attending to see. One of the many people attending that conference was a Mr Edward Gardner.
Edward Gardner
Gardner was fascinated but, like Elsie's Father, also a little sceptical. He was the first person to take the photos to an independent expert to be examined, although the expert became convinced that the photos were real after finding no evidence that the glass plate had been tampered with. And it's here that the innocent prank turns into a full-on hoax, as word of the photos and Gardner's testing of them reaches the ears of Sir Conan Arthur Doyle; creator of Sherlock Holmes and enthusiastic seeker of the paranormal. As convinced as everyone else that the girls had produced evidence of the existence of Fairies, he wanted to bring the photos to an even wider audience. As a contributor to The Strand Magazine, he contacted the Wights to ask for their permission to publish the photos and an article about them. And when he gained permission from the surprised family, he contacted Gardner. Working together, Gardner and Doyle would go on to get the photos checked out by more photography experts. Only one of these was convinced the whole thing was faked, so they disregarded his opinion, choosing to go with the majority. 
1920 bought more fairy photos. Doyle was busy and asked Gardner to visit the girls, investigate their story further and secure more evidence. The trip was a success. The girls agreed to take more photos, but on the understanding that they would be allowed to do so alone. The fairies, they explained to Gardner, would only appear to children and only then when there were no adults present. This allowed them to set up some hastily made paper models and shoot a few photos. One can assume that it also gave them some time to panic in private and discuss what on earth they were going to do, because the prank had
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
gone too far. They weren't just fooling their parents anymore, there were serious intellectuals involved and they thought the photos were real. Three photos were taken and these would be the last ones the girls ever produced. Even when Gardner visited them again in 1921 with a medium in tow, the girls told him there were no fairies present at that time. This didn't matter to Doyle, however. He proceeded to publish a second article on the subject, and even used the photos to write a book, The Coming of the Fairies, which was published in 1922. Both the article and the book were met with mixed reactions, the Cottingley Fairies fame had started to wane with that of the supernatural. Some people were still convinced, but others were sure they were faked, even calling into question the Fairies "fashionable" hairstyles as evidence of this. Even though people had lost interest, the story didn't end there, not for Elsie and Francis. For decades after they would have to put up with people wanting to speak to them about the fairies, but these people only wanted to know if the photos were fake and how they'd done it. I've got to give them credit, they were as brave as they were clever, admitting nothing. Even when James Randi got involved in the 1970s, pointing out that the Fae in the photos were identical to those published in a book from the 1900s, a book the girls were most likely to have owned, they said nothing. It wasn't until 1983 that the photos were officially debunked, with Elsie admitting they were faked. Her father had been right when he'd said they were paper cutouts and Randi was right when he'd spoken about the book. The girls had traced the books illustrations, colouring them in and mounting them on hairpins. This allowed them to stand the Fairies up without fear of them falling mid-photograph. They maintained the hoax out of pure embarrassment, Elsie reported. After fooling Gardner and Doyle, the articles and the book, it was easier to keep up the ruse than admit that it was false. And Francis? Francis swore the photos were genuine to the very end.

By Frances Griffiths (died 1986) - Scan of photograph, PD-US

I can only wonder how that felt for Elsie and Francis, to live their whole lives haunted by what started as a harmless bit of fun, to live with the knowledge that if they told the truth then it wouldn't be a few people laughing about it but hundreds of them, mocking and jeering. The dread of knowing that they'd go down in history not as the Boy Who Cried Wolf but as the Girls Who Cried Fairy. In Victorian times, a persons reputation was everything and once that reputation was damaged, they would either become a joke to their peers or be shunned completely. And, of course, they would have known that it wasn't just their reputations at risk, but Gardner and Doyle's too.
I don't know about you, but I'm fond of the Cottingley Fairy photos. The images speak of a more innocent time, something a lot of us left behind in our own childhoods. They must have had so much fun taking those first photos, before it all spiralled out of control. At the same time, there's something sad about them and I think that feeling stems from knowing the story behind them and what the girls went through for their entire lives.

What do you guys think? Sympathetic, or serves them right? Harmless prank turned hoax to save their reputations, or malicious prank stemming from a string of lies? Let me know in the comments below or tag me in a Tweet, you guys know I love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Scaredy Cat: Phantom Felines and Cursed Cats

With so many types of ghosts out there, would it surprise you if I told you that some of them were animals? Not all places are haunted by spectral monks and sad ladies in white flowing gowns. Over the years there have been many reports of ghostly animals; I've covered the Black Shuck before and even touched on the Tower of Londons resident Bear, but other than that I haven't really covered any other creepy critters. So let's remedy that situation with some Phantom Felines.   

Photo by OliBac, CC BY 2.0

Killakee House, Dublin, Ireland.
Probably the most well-known ghost cat on this list. The Black Cat of Killakee House is incredibly angry and has every reason to be so, as it may have been a victim of the infamous Hellfire Club, who were active in the area during the 1700s and were responsible for the ritualistic death of a black cat. But the cat's story doesn't really start until 1968, when a young couple bought the house. It was a bit of a fixer-upper, but they had big plans for their new home and put the initial strange happening down to it being an old building in need of a lot of work. Then, in the 1970s, they bought in builders and things turned a little sinister. Eerie noises, doors opening on their own and temperature drops were only the start of it. The spooked builders found themselves stalked by a massive, terrifying black cat with red glowing eyes. They had had enough. They fled the house and refused to return. And although the family had originally believed the men were just being superstitious, they soon started to encounter the aggravated beast themselves and, in the end, had to call a priest to perform an exorcism on the property.
While this seemed to work at the time, it was only a temporary fix. A group visiting the house decided to hold a seance for fun and this started up the hauntings again. 

Short Street, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.
Short Street is a narrow, cobbled street that runs along the back of a derelict pottery works and is home to a small collection of traditional workers cottages. These cottages are the haunt of one very shy little ghost. Often spotted sitting on the doorstep of one of the cottages, this friendly seeming puss is fond of disappearing into thin air when approached. Many people have been surprised by this and the ghost has been witnessed by multiple people at a time. Why it haunts the cottages is unknown, maybe it was just happy there in life and is unwilling to leave.

King John's Hunting Lodge, Axbridge, Somerset.
Built in the 1400s as a wool merchants house, King John's Hunting Lodge is now a museum and is home to more than one ghost. The one seen most often, by staff and visitors alike, is that of a friendly tabby cat. This benign little soul is often found hanging around in a wood-panelled room on the first floor and people have often fully interacted with it, talking and petting it, before having it pull a ghostly vanishing act on them. You're more likely to come across this spirit if you don't actively look for it, so enjoy the exhibits the museum has to offer and maybe you'll make a spooky new friend.

The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
The Nutshell is a beautiful little pub, dating back to the 1800s, known as Britain's Smallest Pub. And while it's decorated by many interesting objects, what I'll be writing about is hanging above the bar; the resident mummified cat.
Hiding a dead cat in the walls of your house for good luck was a gruesome tradition that was common back in the 15th to 18th centuries, when people believed that it would protect the home from bad luck and evil spirits. And it would appear that this cat is happy to do so, providing you don't touch it. Invading this cat's personal space gets you cursed with some incredibly bad luck. A landlady once attempted to clean the cat, accidentally snapping off part of its tail. Soon after she lost her job. Following this, the cat was kidnapped (catnapped?) by a group of mischievous servicemen from nearby RAF Honington. Their amusement soon turned to horror, as they found themselves experiencing an unusual steak of accidents and fires, and they quickly returned the cat. 
So buy yourself a pint and have fun, but stick to admiring this cat from a safe distance.

The Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire.
The Ancient Ram Inn is home to so many spirits, both good and bad, that it's worthy of a blog post of its very own. And with so many ghosts haunting one place, does it surprise you that a cat is lurking among them? It's said that, in the 16th century, a woman who was sentenced to be burnt at the stake managed to flee and took shelter in one of the rooms at the inn. She, like many innocent people during those times, had been accused of witchcraft. Despite her bid for freedom, the poor thing was recaptured and burnt at the stake with her familiar, a cat. This cat now haunts the inn, roaming the bedrooms and has a nasty habit of peeing on the beds. Charming.
As for the Ancient Ram Inn's other ghostly inhabitants? That's a blog post for another day.

So, those are our five paranormal felines. Have you ever visited any of these locations and experienced anything? Have you seen or heard about a phantom feline anywhere else? I'd love to hear your story. Let me know in the comments below or tag me in a post on Twitter.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Droving; a Festival of Fear

The Droving

It's not a secret, I love Folk Horror with all my macabre little heart. Folklore itself is considered by some to just be a pretty collection of fairy tales and superstition, but when you really start to look into it, it will show you it's beautiful dark side. And I'm not alone in enjoying Folk Horror. Recent years have bought us a plethora of excellent books and films that delve into the darker side of older beliefs and stories.
Released on Amazon Prime this April, The Droving is a beautiful example of one of these films. It's bought to us by Rubicon Films, the same production company that bought us 2017's Hex, and is well worth a watch.

After returning home from a stint in the military, Martin is in search of his little sister, Megan, who has mysteriously gone missing. Looking for clues, he meets with a friend of his sisters, Tess. Through her he discovers that she and Megan were meant to meet up at a local festival, The Droving, but it was likely here that his sister went missing. Tess also tells him about a group of suspicious outsiders who have been visiting the festival and taking it a little too seriously. With not much else to go on, Martin heads out to find them and through them, finds out that a sinister ritual is going to be taking place. But what does this ritual have to do with Megan, what happened to her and, more importantly, what will become of Martin?

About the Film

A visually beautiful film, the shots of the vast Lake District countryside reveal its stark beauty, giving it a perfect lonely and isolated vibe. The soundtrack is haunting, but the movie doesn't rely on it for the whole runtime, instead relying on everyday background noises, silence and the actors themselves to slowly build up the tension to the point where you could cut it with a knife.
Speaking of the actors, a strong performance all round from all. The main character, Daniel Oldroyd as Martin, is pleasant and likeable, but with a cold edge to him. As an ex-soldier and interrogator for the British army, he's unafraid to take risks and go to great lengths to get the information he needs. He acts as our guide into this world of Folk Horror and we uncover the mystery alongside him, like an invisible side-kick. And we want Martin to succeed in avenging his sister, although an eye for an eye probably isn't something kind-hearted Meg would have approved of. His fellow actors play characters who are well rounded and individual, making them feel like real people. And none of them are quite what they seem.
The festival itself, The Droving, is glowing, full of light and warmth which belies it's more sinister side. It very much reminds me of the real-life traditional and pagan celebrations that we see throughout the year here in the UK, including Penrith's Winter Droving festival, which is where I assume it was filmed and takes some inspiration from.
All in all, The Droving is a treasure of a film, and a breath of fresh air when some movies have a nasty habit of taking a little too much inspiration from The Wicker Man. I heartily recommend it to all lovers of folklore and horror, but also to those new to the genre.

Viewable at: Amazon Prime

Director: George Popov
Writers: George Popov,  Johnathan Russell
Starring: Daniel Oldroyd, Suzie Fances Garton, Amy Tyger
Supporting Cast: Bobby Robertson, John Lawrence Risdon, John Love, Alexander King
Runtime: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Subtitles: English
Official Site

Have you already seen The Droving? Let me know what you think in the comments section below or by tagging me in a post on Twitter. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then don't forget you can view it on Amazon, and it's well worth a watch. So grab yourself a nice drink and some popcorn, and snuggle down for a movie night!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Horror in Isolation.

As the lockdown continues, so too does the risk of boredom. And at The Strangeways HQ we are completely against boredom. So, in the hopes of introducing you to something you've never seen before, I present to you a list of films and series to check out while you're in lockdown. 

Ravenous (1999)

It's the 1800's and Lieutenant Boyd has been sent/banished to Fort Spencer, a remote garrison at the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range. Home to the militaries outcasts, this frozen place is where the army sends the people it would rather forget. Despite this, everything seems to be going fine for Boyd and his companion. That is until a snowstorm blows a mysterious stranger, Colqhoun, their way and everything rapidly spirals out of control.
An interesting take on the Wendigo legend, the best way to describe Ravenous is glorious, gleeful chaos; it's humour at it's darkest.
The most important thing about this movie it to double-check which one you're watching. If you watch the 2018 Ravenous instead of the 1999 Ravenous then you'll be stuck with zombies eating people instead of Robert Carlyle eating people, and nobody want that.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon
Subtitles: n/a

Noroi: the curse (2005)
After a fire at his home, which seemingly killed his wife, our protagonist Kobayashi has vanished without a trace and at this point it's unknown whether he was responsible or not. As a famous paranormal investigator and documentary maker, Kobayashi was in the middle of filming a new documentary, investigating a series of strange events that have been taking place just before the tragic incident took place. The tapes he took leading up to the disaster help us retrace his steps, as the seemingly random paranormal events he was documenting are revealed to be linked and are the sign of something much more sinister and, ultimately, unstoppable.
Most found footage movies try to play themselves off as true stories, but few manage as well as Noroi. This gem of a horror movie is atmospheric, disturbing and its complex and fascinating plot will leave your skin crawling.
Format: Movie
Available: Shudder
Subtitles: yes

Lake Mungo (2008)
Lake Mungo documentary-style movie that follows the family of Alice, after her untimely death by drowning. As friends and family are interviewed, we get to know Alice through their memories. Meanwhile, her brother has set up video cameras in an attempt to catch signs of her spirit, after she starts to appear in the documentary footage and photos, seemingly to help bring some closure to the family. As filming continues and strange events occur, we soon discover there's a bigger mystery afoot. Is the ghost of Alice everything it seems? And what really led to the teenagers death? The truth is more shocking than you'd expect.
I'm not big on documentary horror movies, since there's so many bad ones out there since the genre became popular, but I will always recommend Lake Mungo. It's spooky and a little sad, and so well acted that you could believe that it's a real documentary.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon
Subtitles: n/a

Marianne (2019)
Successful novelist Emma is forced to return to the hometown she left behind her at the behest of an old childhood friend, who's mother has become disturbingly obsessed with the horror novel Emma writes. To her utter dismay, she soon finds herself having to stay there due to the chaotic events that are unfolding in the small town, all of which are linked to Emma, her novels and the dark spirit that inspired them. As the lines between fact and fiction become blurred, the question is can the horror be stopped and, if it can, at what price?
Watching Marianne with my friends, I found myself doing something that I haven't done for a long time while watching a horror series. I was watching through my fingers. Even my friend M, usually distracted by his phone, couldn't tear himself away from the screen.
Format: Series
Available: Netflix
Subtitles: yes

As Above So Below (2014)
The film follows Archaeologist Scarlett and her cameraman as they descend into the darker areas of the Catacombs with a group of urban explorers. Their goal? Scarlett is frantically searching for the infamous philosophers stone. Her father spent his life in pursuit of the stone and, as a result of his obsession, was mocked and scorned by his fellow academics. His reputation ruined, he hung himself. Following her fathers notes, Scarlett has traced its hiding place to somewhere within the twisting depths of the ancient catacombs. Our heroine's mistake was believing that such a powerful object would be unguarded and easy to obtain. Her quest continues regardless and this mistake puts her life, and the lives of her companions, in danger.
Claustrophobic and incredibly creepy, As Above So Below is well-acted, with an engaging and original plot. It's also nice to see a film based in the Paris Catacombs, as there really aren't enough and it's an excellent location.
Format: Movie
Available: Netflix
Subtitles: some

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)
Atmospheric, eerie and, at the same time, oddly beautiful. This melancholy story follows two groups of characters as they deal with the lonely dead coming back to the land of the living via an increasingly popular website, the people around them vanishing into delicate clouds of ash and what this paranormal invasion means for mankind as a whole.
Since Hollywood went through a stage of churning out terrible reboots of Japanese horror movies, you may have heard of Pulse before. But you've probably heard of the remake, which was pretty awful, despite Wes Craven being involved. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke then don't fix it.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon prime
Subtitles: yes.

Grave Encounters (2011)
For those of you who love watching ghost hunting shows, but have always wondered what it would be like if one went terribly wrong, this is the ideal movie for you. Presented as a found-footage documentary, it aims to explain what happened to the crew of Grave Encounters, a Ghost Adventures style television program that had to be cancelled after the entire crew disappeared mysteriously while filming at an abandoned mental asylum. The footage they filmed there is recovered, soon the whole horrific story of what happened that night reveals itself to the viewer and all we can do is watch as what should have been a simple ghost hunt turns into something much more sinister.
The acting is good, the plot interesting and the ghosts? They'll haunt your nightmares. There's also a sequel, but it's nowhere as good as its predecessor and is nothing to write home about.
Format: Movie
Available: Shudder
Subtitles: n/a

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
While it has a nicely sized cast, The Autopsy of Jane Doe spends most of its screen time focusing on just three of the characters. Tommy is the local coroner in his small town and Austin, his bored of the job son, often helps him out at the family business. Austin is planning to go out on a date with his girlfriend, but all that goes out the window when the local sheriff arrives at the mortuary with the body of an unknown woman. This is Jane Doe, a common nickname given to an unnamed female corpse. Found at the scene of a multiple homicide, Jane doesn't appear to have been involved at all and her cause of death is a mystery. As a result, the Sherrif needs Tommy and Austin to work through the night to solve this mystery. The autopsy begins, but Jane's corpse defies all logic. The situation only gets worse as our baffled duo find themselves trapped in the building due to a storm and terrifying activity starts to occur around the mortuary.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe was yet another pleasant surprise for me and my friends, during our attempts to find a terrible horror movie we instead found this wonderful one. This movie will keep you glued to the screen and you'll find yourself playing detective, trying to decipher what is going on from the clues that the movie gives you.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: n/a

The Terror, (2018)
Based on the book of the same name, The Terror follows a semi-fictional account of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Tasked with finding the Northwest Passage, our heroes set sail for the Arctic in the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. However, they soon find themselves stuck in the ice with no thaw in sight, thanks to freak weather conditions and the hubris of expedition leader Sir John Franklin. After his untimely death, his second in command Captain Francis Crozier is reluctantly forced to take command and save his crew. But if the threat of frostbite and the fear of scurvy and starvation wasn't bad enough, there's something ancient and angry out on the ice and it wants them dead, picking the crew off one by one. And so what should have been a one year voyage turns into a terrifying cat and mouse battle for survival.
Part horror, part tragedy, The Terror will keep you glued to the screen, worried for the welfare of your favourite character. And trust me, you'll have a favourite character. The acting is top-notch, the special effects are excellent and the attention to historical detail is out of this world. This series didn't get enough attention when it first came out, but I highly recommend it. And if you enjoy it, then don't forget to check out season two.
Format: Series
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: some

Hellier (2019)
Make yourself comfortable, because you'll find yourself wanting to binge-watch this. Hellier is presented as a documentary, following a team of paranormal investigators as they receive and investigate an email from a man who claims to be under siege by mysterious creatures, at his home in rural Hellier, Kentucky. On arrival in Hellier, our characters discover that the man who emailed them doesn't seem to exist but something paranormal is going on. They soon find themselves sucked into a mystery that's even bigger than they could ever have imagined, unable to tear themselves away from it as they proceed to investigate, despite being in over their heads.
I discovered Hellier through Twitter and I was instantly hooked. Gentle but at the same time spine-chillingly creepy due to its realism, there's something about Hellier that gives me podcast vibes. Well paced, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want to know what happens next and will end up genuinely caring for the welfare of the characters.
Format: Series
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: n/a

I hope my little list has given you some ideas to keep you entertained while everything is in chaos. If you have any movie suggestions for me or have found a new favourite movie/series thanks to this list, then let me know over at Twitter or in the comments below. Until then, stay safe, dear readers.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Trouble in Paradise

Photo by Ronnie Robertson, CC BY-SA 2.0
Imagine an island paradise. Golden beaches, endless blue skies, a gentle breeze blowing through the wildflowers. Heaven. Or at least it looks like it. But at night this distant isle shows a different side; giant insects stalk the land, seeking to attack you, and the island itself has many secrets to discover. Even during the day, there's something eerie about this beautiful place. The music coming from your radio is a little creepy to say the least and you seem to be the only human here. Oh, and did I mention that within minutes of moving to the island you find yourself hopelessly in debt to a Tanuki in a Hawaiian shirt?
Yes, I'm talking about the latest Animal Crossing game, New Horizons. In these troubling times it has been the ultimate stress relief for a lot of people. A little bit of escapism that will, no doubt, lead to a whole new collection of creepy pastas written by it's fans. But as I toddled around my island, losing hours to the game and chasing down butterflies for the newly opened museum, a thought crossed my mind; what about real life haunted islands? There's so many of them! And that brings us to this blog post, where I'd like to introduce you to my top five haunted islands. So lets set sail on the good ship Strange Ways and take a cruise together, because these islands? These exist in real life.

Photo by Derek Simeone, CC BY 2.0
La Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
Probably one of the most well known locations on this list and one of my top places to visit in person one day, this is the infamous Isle of the Dolls. And I'd be the first person to admit that I find old dolls a bit creepy. Tucked away in the Xochimico canals, outside of Mexico city, this island is jam packed with dolls of all shapes and sizes. Carefully placed on the ground, slowly decaying into the earth, watching you from the trees with hollow eye sockets and swaying in the breeze like grotesque wind chimes. It looks like an abandoned horror movie set, but it's history is both equal parts terrifying and tragic.
This island wasn't always as it it now, once it was home to a man by the name of Don Julian Santana Barrera and one must assume he was happy living there. But that all changed when he made the discovery of a little girls body floating just off the shore of his home. How she got there and what lead her to her heart breaking fate is unknown, but what is known is that Don Julian blamed himself for it, for not being there to save her. When a doll was washed ashore not long after, he decided that it must have belonged to the girl and he hung it from a nearby tree as an offering to her spirit. Soon after this he began to hear whispering voices, footsteps and shrill screams in the night. Convinced this was the ghost of the little girl, he began to collect more and more dolls, getting them from anywhere he could and adorning the small island with them. This was a ritual he would carry out for nearly fifty years. He hoped it would sooth the child's tortured, wandering spirit and save him from a similar fate, something he felt was beckoning him. Sadly, in 2001, Don Julian was found in the canal. Face down and lifeless in the same location that he found the little girl. Of course, some people were quick enough to blame the child's spirit, but I think it was more likely the guilt her felt for not having saved her that lead to his death. His legacy lives on in the tourists and ghost hunters who visit the island, many of them bringing dolls of their own to leave as offerings. Many report hearing the same haunting cries and footsteps that the islands late keeper heard.

Photo by Christine Olson, CC BY-ND 2.0

Nevis, the Caribbean
Sun, sea, sand and spirits; beautiful Nevis has it all! It's also home to a lot of ruined plantations and the Eden Brown Estate might just be the most notorious of them all. Back in the 1800's it was owned by the Huggins Family and the daughter of the family, Julia, was to be married to Walter Maynard, son of another rich and prosperous plantation owner. Everything was going smoothly, until the night of the wedding when a fight broke out between Walter and his best man, Julia's brother John Huggins. It's unknown what the argument was about, some say it was about a mistress one of the men had and others say it was about the Huggins constant mistreatment of their slaves, but no matter what people say the end result is the same. The fight escalates, a drink is thrown, a challenge made; a duel. Despite the protests of those around them, it was a matter of honor and both men stormed from the house to the courtyard outside. But the duel itself ended as quickly as it began. Firing their pistols, both men managed to hit their mark and killed each other instantly. Julia was heartbroken, she stopped leaving the house and eventually died a spinster. Some say she went mad in her self imposed isolation. These days Julia can still be found at the crumbling ruins of her previous home, her spirit has been sighted roaming the grounds and weeping. When not seen or heard it's said that her spirit can be felt instead, watching over those exploring her home.

Photo by Jorbasa Fotografie, CC BY-ND 2.0
Jersey, UK
A little closer to home for me and a place where I've had a paranormal experience of my own; Jersey is a gorgeous place, with a rich and sometimes dark history. Home to places with names like Witches' Rock, Gorey Castle, The Well of Death and Ghost Hill, it's hard for the paranormal seeking traveler to know where to start. I could fill a whole blog post with the islands tales and, one day, I will. But for now I'll stick to telling you about Crack Ankle Lane. With a horrific story behind it and a name like that, how could I resist telling you about it?
Found not too far from St Peters is a picturesque sunken lane with a thick, over hanging canopy of trees. Even on a cloudy day it's pretty, but on a sunny day it looks like something from a fairytale. And, like all good fairy tales, this fantasy like setting has a monster. It's known only as the Vioge. A demonic spirit of unknown origins, it's said to resemble an emaciated scarecrow. The lane got it's name by the Vioge's habit of grabbing it's victims by their ankles and dragging them away to it lair, where it would proceed to butcher and devour them. There is no indication where this ghost story comes from, but with the islands history of smuggling, one has to wonder if the two may be linked. Nether the less, be careful if you visit this shady road, nobody want to be done in by a flesh eating Worzel Gummidge.

Photo by Ernie Murphy, CC BY 2.0

Oahu, Hawaii

For many, Hawaii is an idea holiday location for it's beauty, but others might find it interesting for other reasons too. It's long history, fascinating folklore and multitudes of haunted locations make it an ideal holiday location for those who are interested in the paranormal. The perfect place to work on your tan, check out some museums and do a little ghost hunting before a relaxing evening walk on the beach. But even in paradise there's danger, and it turns out there are some nights you might want to skip the romantic midnight strolls and stay in your hotel instead. Such as the night of the full or new moon. These nights are the ones when you're most likely to run afoul of the islands infamous Nightmarchers. Also known as the Huaka'i po, these are the spirits of a group of ancient Hawaiian warrior spirits. They aren't outright malevolent, they're just doing their job. In life they guarded the islands chiefs, in death they are said to continue this task well as roaming the night to protect sacred sites around the island. The real problem is their nasty habit of killing anyone who gazes upon them, although it's said that if you are a descendant of one of their number then they will leave you unharmed. Luckily their arrival is well announced, they march to the loud beat of drums and conch horns. This, combined with the distant glow of the torches they carry, is the only warning you'll get to run. If you see or hear these things then hightail it out of there as quick as you can, stay low, stay hidden and, most importantly, don't make eye contact with them. If they spot you it's said that your only way to survive is to show them the respect they deserve; bow your head and avert your eyes, and, if you have the time, strip naked and lay face down on the ground. Sure, it's uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it's a lot better than being killed and added to their number.

Photo by Kitmasterbloke, CC BY 2.0
Deadman's Island, Canada
Unlike the other islands on this list, you couldn't really consider Deadman's Island a paradise. As it's name suggests, this place has a very dark history to it. Hundreds of years ago it was the site of a terrible battle between native tribes, one which resulted in the massacre of 200 warriors. The tribe responsible for the massacre quickly abandoned the island the following day, horrified to discover that eerie, fiery flowers had sprung up where the bodies of their enemies had fallen. After this it was considered scared, but cursed, land. A island of the dead that was only to be used for burial. The Squamish people used it as such, performing tree burials until the 1800's, when the settlers barged in and took it for themselves. The settlers, rather than respecting the land, used it to quarantine and bury victims of smallpox, essentially dumping their sick people on the island to die. Not a place for the faint of heart, all of this death and misery seems to have built up and visitors to the island today have reported a lot of paranormal activity. The constant feeling of been closely watched, scuttling footsteps in the undergrowth, the rattle of chains and the heartbreaking sound of a woman sobbing. It is now a HMCS Discovery Naval Reserve, which affords it some protection and means it's the only island on this list that's off limits to the public.

So, I do hope you've enjoyed our little cruise together and, as always, if you've experienced anything at any of these locations then I'd love to hear about it! Drop a comment below or tag me on Twitter! And don't forget to follow me on Instagram for updates about what's going on at Strange Ways HQ, mini ghost stories and much, much more

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Love Undying


A Midsummer Night's Dream - Act 1, Scene 2.

Carl Tanzler
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
Normally, when a person has an odd dream, it's put down to an
experience you've had that day or something you've eaten. So if you had a dream where an (alleged) ancestor of yours turned up and revealed to you the face of your one true love, you'd be very unlikely to take it seriously. After all, it's just a weird dream. Shame nobody told Carl Tänzler that when, as a child, he dreamt that Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel came to him in a vision and showed him the face of the woman he was destined to one day marry. Tänzler was born in Germany, in the February of 1877. His parents would name him Georg Karl Tänzler, but this would eventually change when, in 1927, after emigrating to Florida, he got a job as a radiology technician at a U.S Marine Hospital in Key West, giving his new employers the name of Carl Von Cosel. With a good job, a wife and two daughters, he seemed to be living a very happy life, but the problem is that he'd never forgotten that dream. So when Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos (also known as just Elena) was bought to the hospital, Carl's happy marriage went straight out the window. He was convinced that the ailing girl was the one from his dream. It was fate, it was destiny, it was one-sided love at first sight. For Maria, acquiring a boyfriend old enough to be her father was the last thing on her mind and even if she hadn't been told by a doctor that she had tuberculosis, she still wouldn't have been interested. Carl had no intention of letting this stop him, he was determined to cure the woman of his dreams and spend the rest of his life with her. He introduced himself to Maria and her family as a renowned doctor and a Count, gaining their trust to the point where they eventually allowed him to take over the girls treatment. During this time he also showered her with gifts, in an attempt to win her heart.

The Nightmare Begins
Maria, sometimes known as Elena.
Floria Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
If this was a fairy tale then he would have succeeded, Maria would have got better and would have been charmed by this gentleman. Carl would have triumphantly swept her off her feet to live happily ever after, once his divorce had been finalised. However Maria had TB and despite the stories he had told her and her family, Carl wasn't a doctor, he wasn't a Count and he hadn't the foggiest idea what he was doing. X-ray equipment and other such gadgets soon filled the Hoyos' home, along with a variety of medicines as treatment began. Today we're lucky, TB isn't as common and can be treated, but in the 1920's? It was a death sentence. Even with treatment and experienced doctors, you didn't really stand much of a chance and the fatality rate was through the roof. In a lot of cases, all doctors could do was prolong the inevitable. Maria only had Carl to rely on. She didn't stand a chance and died on the 25th of October, 1931. It is also worth noting that during the time she was treated by Tänzler, she didn't return his romantic feelings once but Carl was oblivious to this.
Despite everything, the Hoyos Family was still charmed by the man, even accepting his offer to pay for Maria's funeral and a lavish above ground tomb. Carl would then visit this tomb every night and everyone thought this was very sweet and romantic. At this point in our morbid tale, we can now add two more things to our list of Things Carl Tänzler Was Not; a skilled taxidermist and an experienced grave robber. Carl had become convinced that Maria's spirit had been visiting him and had been begging him to free her from her tomb. His nightly visits were actually an excuse to see her, both in spirit and in the flesh, thanks to the spare key he had to her final resting place. He'd had been sneaking into the tomb at night to preserve Maria's corpse. This went on for some time until one night he took Maria home with him. Using a child's toy wagon. Once in the privacy of his own home, he set to work on rebuilding Maria's mouldering corpse to the best of his abilities. Like a budget Frankenstein. Long absent eyes were replaced with glass replicas, her chest and abdomen were filled to bursting with rags to rebuild her body, a dark haired wig replaced her lost hair and wire helped hold the bones together, allowing her to be posed much like a doll. As her skin decayed, Tänzler replaced it with wax dipped silk and plaster. He bought and dressed her in the best clothes he could, and doused her in perfume, preservatives and disinfectant in an attempt to hide the stench. It must have been horrific to witness, but Carl Tänzler was in love and oblivious to the horror of it. People had seen him buying women's clothing and toiletries, initially they thought he'd found himself a new lady friend to dote on and were happy for him.

Maria's tomb, for which Carl held the only key.
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)

A Horrific Discovery
Soon macabre rumors began to circulate. A young boy living in the neighbourhood had witnessed Tänzler dancing with what looked like a life sized doll. Some people suspected it was just that; a large doll made by a broken hearted eccentric. Other people, however, jumped to the correct conclusion that it was Maria herself. These rumours spread fast, finally reaching the ears of Maria's sister, Florinda, in the October of 1940. Not wanting to believe what she'd heard, but wanting to know the truth before the rumours reached her parents, Florinda paid Carl a visit. She was welcomed into his home, but wasn't there for long before she discovered her sisters body, sitting in it's usual resting place. Carl's bed. Florinda did the most sensible thing anyone in that situation could do. She ran screaming from the house. The police were called immediately. Tänzler made no attempt to escape as he genuinely didn't believe he'd done anything wrong. While detained, he was examined by Psychiatrists who claimed he was mentally competent and able to stand trial, where he would be charged with "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." Despite being declared mentally competent, Carl was clearly anything but. He'd been living with Maria's crumbling body for seven years, keeping her together with DIY, like some budget Frankenstein's monster. His plan was to somehow take her up into earths stratosphere so that he could soak her with cosmic radiation. This, he believed, would bring her back from the dead. Ultimately the case was dropped because the statute of limitations for Carl's crimes had expired.
Carl's first act as a free man? To ask if he could have Maria's body back. Funnily enough, the answer was a resounding no.

The Aftermath.
Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyo,
after Tanzler's DIY taxidermy attempts.
You'd think that Maria's ordeal would be over by this point, that she could finally be laid to rest by her shocked and grieving family. But you'd be wrong. Maria's body was thoroughly examined by physicians, who wanted to know what Carl had been up to. When they had finished with her, they put her on display in the nearby Dean-Lopez Funeral Home instead of laying her to rest. Here she was gawped at by over 6000 curious people like she was a sideshow attraction, before finally being returned to her family, who re-buried her in the Key West Cemetery. This time, she was buried in an unmarked grave, for fear that Carl would come back with his little cart and try to steal her again.
And Carl? He moved to Pasco County, in the State of Florida. Despite his disturbing crimes, the public actually showed pity for him and some considered what he'd done to be romantic. Carl even wrote an autobiography, which was published in 1947, in a pulp magazine known as Fantastic Adventures. He died on the 3rd of July, 1952, at the age of 75. After his death it was discovered that he'd used a death mask he'd made of Maria to construct a second life sized doll of her. Official reports say that his body was discovered lying on the floor of his home, other less reliable reports claim he was discovered in his creations arms, after dying in his sleep. And this story didn't die with Carl, instead becoming one of the most well known tales of obsession and grave robbery in the world. There is even the conspiracy theory that the second doll Carl made was not a recreation at all, but Maria herself, either returned to him or stolen again.

And so ends The Strange Ways first ever morbid true crime post! I hope you enjoyed it. There was no way you'd ever find a normal Valentines Day blog here, although next year I may consider a spooky gift guide for the lovers of the macabre in your life. I've been wanting to write about Carl Tänzler for ages, and I was fascinated by the horror of his crimes and obsession, but hadn't been able to find a good time to do so. I've a fascination for bizarre true crime, so expect more in the future. In the mean time, if you have any comments then pop them into the comments section below, or tag me on Twitter.


Friday, January 31, 2020

A New Years Update: What's to Come.

It's been a quiet January here at Strange Ways HQ and, while a new Blog post hasn't been released, that doesn't mean I haven't been planning one. I've taken the month to start working on the Blog, to plan out posts for the coming year but to also decide where I'm going to take the Blog itself. For 2020, posts will be once monthly and, yes, eventually adverts will be coming to the blog. I will try my best to keep these from being too intrusive when that happens. As well as continuing to write about Folklore, hauntings and weird history, I'm hoping to visit more locations myself. The aim of this is to have more first hand experiences in the locations I write about and my goal is to be performing some actual paranormal investigations in 2021, which will be recorded on this Blog.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited for the coming year, for what it will bring and I hope you'll continue to walk the Strange Ways with me.