Monday, November 14, 2011

Building Momentum (and Foundations)...

It's been another long gap between posts for me. Part of that has been the usual busy autumn I've grown accustomed to (which usually means Halloween falls by the wayside and isn't the fun experience it once was), but added to that has been a heavy bout of depression accompanied by apathy. I guess this difficult year caught up with me finally and hit me harder than I had anticipated. All this led to a very unproductive period. I've been doing loads of historical research, but writing or any other productive behavior has escaped me.

Even so, it wasn't until today that I started gathering together the general thoughts, questions, and ponderings of the past few months and realized that overall, it hasn't been entirely in vain. It's been something far more than just feeling melancholy and unmotivated. There has been a shift from deep inside me, and the whole picture is finally coalescing into something approaching a definitive result. I still have some wrestling to do, sorting out the little details that conflict with one another, but it's reaching toward... something.

A lot of this has come about from asking myself a few simple questions: What do I believe? What do I enjoy? What's right (but mostly what's wrong) with the status quo of paranormal investigation? Of course, after finding out all my answers, it takes quite a while to tally up results and figure out what pieces can be fit together into something resembling a final product. Believe me, some of my answers mix together about as well as air and sand. Nevertheless, I do believe that some cohesion can be found in the building blocks of each of my convictions.

One thing is certain: I'm full of complexities, opposing forces, and attitudes/viewpoints that contradict what most people might expect in someone who considers himself a paranormal researcher and/or investigator. But I don't see that as a handicap; too many people fail to look at things from other perspectives and completely miss blinding faults because they follow along with mainstream ideology. I think in this sense writing for Who Forted? has helped me tremendously in just being myself. Surprisingly, I feel a lot more at home there than in most paranormal circles. At least I know that if I bring up something rational, logical, or sensible that thought won't be met with an icy glare or immediate blacklisting as a "difficult" person.

Does this all mean that this blog will suddenly stop being relevant? Does it mean that I'll never tackle writing about the paranormal ever again? Absolutely not! I enjoy playing a minor role as a modern Charles Fort gathering the strange, bizarre, unexplained things from history. I still find visiting reputedly haunted places for entertainment. And I think there's still a lot to learn about unexplained phenomena. There is also a lot to be learned from previous researchers (both in the paranormal and scientific fields) which sorely needs to be addressed by more people. I'm sure some of my thoughts might be met with hisses and boos from plenty of people, but I'm quite used to going against the grain. In the process of all this, I'll probably continue neglecting this blog, avoiding social media, and falling behind in a lot of other things, but hopefully the end result will be worth it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spooky Stays in Port Clinton...

I was talking with one of Ohio's many ghost hunters earlier this week, and he mentioned to me some paranormal activity he had experienced firsthand near Port Clinton, Ohio. He had been an employee at Sleep Inn & Suites, just off State Road about four miles east of Port Clinton, between 2005 and 2007 where some unusual phenomena was reported: the sound of doors opening and/or closing, strange banging sounds in vacant rooms, footsteps, shadows, the elevator moving on its own accord, and other "phantom sounds." The majority of activity seemed centered around the third floor. It's not an old building (being built in 1999), but age isn't always a factor in allegedly haunted locations.

Because of all the activity and some of his own experiences with it (including hearing a child near the pool), he believed the hotel may have been "built over a cemetary [sic] or some type of weird place because that place is a portal for spirits..." I'm not sure about portals or vortices (not "vortexes") or any of those "gateways to another world" people often insist places with many supposed ghosts must have, but most places—even in the most remote areas—have an interesting story to tell. Sleep Inn is near a freeway and smack dab in the middle of unassuming rural Ohio. At first glace, it would be the last place you might expect to find anything of historical significance. I can safely say it wasn't built on top of a cemetery, but the land has some connection with the earliest days of Cedar Point Amusement Park and the rather sad story of Benjamin Dwelle.

Although the history of Cedar Point (so named for the cedar trees once covering the area) goes back much further, Cedar Point Resort started its first season in 1870. It consisted of a bathhouse, beer garden, and dance platform with a few refreshment stands, seesaws, and swings scattered around for the enjoyment of visitors. It was the handywork of German immigrant Louis Zistel who transported locals to Cedar Point on two boats he has built during the Civil War to transport Confederate prisoners to the prison at nearby Johnson's Island. The property was leased in 1882 to Captain William Shackleford and Benjamin F. Dwelle who added picnic tables, new boat docks, a dance hall, more bathhouses, and wooden boardwalks along the beach. The first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, didn't open until 1892.

Throughout the 1880s, the park continued to expand and improve, making it a popular tourist attraction. The original lease ended in 1887; Shackleford was too sick to keep up with the business, so Dwelle joined forces with the other land owners (Louis Adolph, Adam Stoll, Jacob Kuebeler, and Charles Baetz) on the peninsula to form Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company. In 1897, the park was acquired by the newly-formed Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company of Indiana headed by George Arthur Boeckling who helped turned the park into the successful venture we know today.

You might think this would secure all of these men financially for the rest of their lives, but that wasn't the case. Although Benjamin Dwelle was one of the founders of the resort at Cedar Point, he has largely been forgotten. Perhaps it was his financial trouble which had a hand in that. Part of the reason for the 1897 change of ownership was that Dwelle defaulted on his portion of the loan payment. In May of that year, Dwelle was taken to Erie Circuit Court by several of his creditors. The ruling ruined him; Dwelle lost his land in both Ottawa and Sandusky Counties, much of his personal property, and all financial interest in the company at Cedar Point. He died just a few years later in 1903. His body was laid to rest at the family cemetery on part of the land lost just six years before.

If you look to the southeast across State Road from the windows of the upper floor at Sleep Inn & Suites, you might be able to catch a glimpse of a pond. On its northern shore are the gravestones of Dwelle Cemetery. The farm to the east was once Dwelle's farm; in fact, the land on which the hotel stands (along with the land on the opposite side of SE Catawba Road) was also Dwelle's property until it was taken by the Second National Bank of Sandusky shortly before his death.

If Sleep Inn & Suites is, in fact, haunted by someone from the past, who is responsible? Could it be Benjamin Dwelle and his family reclaiming their lost land? Or perhaps there are other secrets from this part of Ohio still undiscovered? This place isn't far from where the War of 1812 began with the Battle of Lake Erie. Apparently, a construction worker did fall to his death while the hotel was being built, which could account for some of the noises. Be it from the distant history or recent past of the Port Clinton region, we can only hope that someone finds the key to unlocking the strange incidents at this Lake Erie hotel.

1874 Map of Ottawa County (click to enlarge)
(Dwelle's land is in red with the cemetery in blue. The red "X" marks the present site of Sleep Inn & Suites.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Recipe for Autumn...

I absolutely love cider; nothing says fall like it. I also happen to enjoy baking and tinkering around with recipes any time I get the chance. Just last week, I had a creative spark and made something that turned out very good. Of course, I don't always measure things exactly, so it can be tricky to make something exactly the same way all the time. But still, I figured I'd change things up and share this recipe with all of you. Here's something unique to make for breakfast on those cool autumn mornings.

Mulled Cider Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

1. Heat a large skillet brushed lightly with oil or butter over medium heat.
2. In medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and blend with a wire whisk just until thoroughly mixed. (For a thicker batter, add an additional 3 tablespoons of flour.)
3. Pour approximately 1/3 cup of batter at a time onto hot skillet. Turn pancakes over when large bubbles begin to burst at the surface (1-2 minutes) and pancake is nicely browned. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the opposite side. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup.

Yield: 6 medium-sized pancakes

(If you don't have apple butter, you can try substituting with 1 Tbsp. applesauce and 2 drops lemon extract.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spirited Spirits...

If there's one bad habit I refuse to get rid of, it's enjoying a cocktail or glass of beer/wine from time to time. Now that doesn't mean I down gallon after gallon of it. (Maybe a few times back in my early college days.) But it's a nice way to unwind. Believe it or not, paranormal-themed spirits have been slowly making their way into stores across the nation. Here are a couple of them, just in time for Halloween.

Back in early spring, I had the pleasure to enjoy some of Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka. It boasts a few different things, like being made with pure glacier water, quadruple distilled, and filtered through Herkimer diamonds (to give it some added boost of psychic energy). It comes in its own glass skull decanter which is actually quite nice and useful long after the vodka ceases to exist. And as far as the alcohol goes, it's not bad at all. And if you're all for things without any additives, this is your vodka. The price tag is a bit steep, but it's a neat conversation piece... if it lasts that long. You can hear the whole story from Dan--including the tale of the crystal skulls--in this video:

But there's another booze on the market, and this one supposedly has some haunted history to it. According to the website for Frozen Ghost Vodka, the spring in Western Canada where the water used in the production of this vodka comes from was the scene of a murder. Tobias, the victim, was buried in the ice at the site by a neighbor; the man confessed after being haunted by the ghost of Tobias. Rumor is that Tobias still keeps watch over his spring. Of course, we can only take their word for it. They don't reveal the exact location.

Even so, this booze boasts a spooky bottle to go with its watery contents from a haunted site. And at half the price of Crystal Skull, it's a bit more in reach of anyone who doesn't mind paying for premium vodka. And there's also Kraken Spiced Rum. While it's not "ghostly," it does involve a cryptid creature from myths. And it's actually rather good too. I'm sure there are whiskeys, rums, and other liquors out there with a supernatural twist, so keep your eye out as autumn gets into full swing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Night Jimmy Fallon Dissed Me...

It's been an interesting year. Overall, I wouldn't rank it in my top ten best years ever, but there've been a few shining moments and amusing times to keep it from being a complete disaster. The important thing in life is not to lose your sense of humor, because really, life is funny and absurd. But no matter what, the best source of humor is always yourself. If you can't laugh at yourself, I don't think you should feel that good about laughing at other people.

So imagine my surprise this week when I was on Amazon and happened to see a Listmania! book list with my book Queer Hauntings staring back at me under the title "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Now, I watch about as much television as a blind man, but I thought something had to be wrong. There's no way... right? So, I did a little searching and discovered Fallon's ongoing segment of his "Do Not Read List" of funny, weird, and downright strange books. And there it was: on August 29th, Jimmy held up my book.

Now, I know some people might be outraged; nasty emails must be flying around from enraged writers horrified to hear that someone made fun of their work. And there are other books, like this one, that probably could've used just as much (if not more) razzing. For me, it was basically shock... followed by a bit of chuckling as I watched. Why? Because he basically said all the things I've heard, all the jokes passed around, since I wrote the book! Even I had to admit that while writing it, there's a certain level of absurdity that comes along with writing something as bizarre and unexpected as a book about gay ghosts. In fact, I tried as much as I could not to write something too serious. After all, the topic just can't be taken that seriously!

It did help things fall into place for me, though. About a week ago, I was on Amazon and by book sales had suddenly skyrocketed. I just assumed it was with Halloween coming up. Now, I have a better idea. Although really, I didn't think that many people tuned in to Jimmy Fallon or any other late night shows. Let's face it: SNL was his peak. Still, his ratings have rebounded on Late Night... he even earned an Emmy nomination for it.

As they say, "all press is good press." Things like controversy, humor, and absurdity sell. How else could people like Sarah Palin sell any copies at all? And it wasn't even bad press. He never actually attacked the book; he just had a good laugh at the basic idea of it. So, I don't hate you, Jimmy Fallon. You might be on par with Conan O'Brien in the comedy department, but I don't hate you. I'm happy I could provide you with some good joke material just this one time. And in return, in those two short minutes, you probably provided the most publicity my book has received in the past two years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mainstream Horror Goes a Little Gay...

Just in time for the Halloween season, there's a new film debuting this month. Well, technically, it's four films, each from the mind of a notable director of twisted scary movies. Dubbed Chillerama, it's most certainly not for the faint of heart or anyone with a distaste for the somewhat perverse. But if you're fine with porn stars, killer sperm, Hitler, and zombie spoofs, then it just might be up your alley. And the first film happens to be more than just a little gay-friendly.

Somewhere between the fictional worlds of Grease and Twilight, I Was a Teenage Werebear fits in quite neatly. In this musical comedy takes lycanthropy in a whole different direction. Set in the 1960s, it's the story of closeted teenager Ricky (Sean Paul Lockhart, a.k.a. Brent Corrigan) who runs into a rebellious gang who turn into a leather daddy "werebears" (one played by Ron Jeremy) when turned on by other guys. I'm serious. I kid you not. Don't believe me? Check out the trailer:

Now I have to give kudos to Sean for being one of the first porn stars to successfully make a leap from adult films to regular cinema. (Some of you might remember him as the merman from Another Gay Sequel.) While the other films sound just as weirdly amusing, I'll confess I'm slightly disappointed in one of them. And that would be The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. It's not because of the storyline (a comedic version of Hitler trying to create the perfect human killing machine); it's because when I first heard about it, I thought it was a different Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Unlike the one in Chillerama, the off-Broadway play of the same name seems a lot more hilarious. I just wish I had seen it when it was playing, but at least there's the video interview for Under the Pink Carpet:

That would've made this a truly must-see movie in my eyes! Still, I'm sure this film won't disappoint. You can catch the world premiere this coming week on Thursday, September 15th, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Other dates are being added to the official website as they are arranged. I'm sure such a risque film might not necessarily make it to a theater near you, but you can always wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it later.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Experimenting with Ghost Humor...

Sometimes, life can get a little overwhelming. Even the paranormal can get that way. I've been taking a bit of a break this week from things; getting off social networking sites as much as possible, stepping back from research, and watching some movies (which I haven't taken the time to do in many months). But I do have some interesting things to write about, even if it might be another week or so before I get to it.

In the mean time, I thought it was time for a little humor. That's something that's been sorely lacking these past few months. So without too much blabbering, here's a little blast from the past. What would the Muppets have to say about ghost hunting? Well, here's your answer:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Divide and Conquer...

For those of you who haven't heard the news, I'm now a regular contributor for Who Forted? Magazine (those people who brought you Ghost Hunters, Inc.). What does that mean about Spooked! and its future? Well, a little bit of changes. But nothing too worrying.

For a long time now, Spooked! has become a jumbled pot of thoughts, odd new stories, supernaturally queer stuff, and whatever else I felt like writing at the moment. This blog has undergone a lot of reincarnations over the years, so it's been tough trying to toss everything I find interesting into it and not make it a chaotic mess. If I had a separate blog for all my interests, I'd probably have over a dozen blogs running at any given time. One is more than enough work, thank you.

Still, writing for WF? is a good opportunity for me to explore true history behind hauntings and those weird news stories I neglect so much these days in a different arena. That leaves the gay-themed paranormal stories and oddities for this blog, along with any other interesting paranormal bits and whatever books I happen to be working on at the moment.I think that'll help me balance things out a bit. I already have one post brewing for here, so apparently this separation of topics might be beneficial.

And I know what some of you might be thinking: He's writing for Who Forted? Great... now he's one of those people! If you mean someone who finds humor in the paranormal... well, that's been me all along. I haven't really changed. I've always done my best to strike a balance between believer and skeptic. And when people say and do stupid things, I don't think pretending it didn't happen is the best attitude. There still are some people in the paranormal field I do admire: Loyd Auerbach, Jeff Belanger, Joshua Warren, and many others. What I don't get it the superstar status we give people who haven't done much other than appeared on television.

I've been called many things over the years. Some of the best mudslinging has come when I've been accused of being a "non-believer" (though I've been attacked by skeptics for having a laugh at some of them as well). If saying many photos are dust or lens flare and not taking psychic claims at face value makes me a horrible person, then I'll gladly claim the honor. I've admitted to my mistakes (like the great "orb color theory" idea of a decade ago), but I won't back down on saying that a lot of paranormal claims have dull, simple explanations. Even so, there are things without logical explanation that do need to be looked into more. I've experienced and witnessed a few things I can't dismiss as illusion, mistaken identity, or psychological fabrication. So, I'm an optimistic skeptic? A skeptical believer? Something like that.

Regardless, I love a good ghost story. And I love digging through history to find the keys to hauntings and legends. Say what you will about the existence of ghosts; I think ghost stories are an important part of our history, culture, and society. I love doing my part to preserve these tales for future generations. How people perceive our world is just as important as how the world works. A little mystery makes even the worst times a little more bearable.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Hunt for Humor Never Ends...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I miss Ghost Hunters, Inc. Say what you will, it was always entertaining to see the latest adventures of the gang--with plush Scooby Doo in tow--exploring the weird, forgotten, and mythical places around Pennsylvania and New York. Back when I first started out on AOL writing up local legends, browsing their site was a favorite pasttime. Even if they didn't find anything remotely paranormal, there was plenty to laugh about. Nick, Gow, Greg, and the rest of the gang were always entertaining. I'll admit I was jealous that my own paranormal group never came close to being that fun. Maybe that's why I let it die a slow, agonizing death.

There was, of course, their movie The Graveyard Shift before things sort of fell apart. Still, some of the people involved lingered on. Jason Gowin had Extreme Paranormal for a little while. Greg, Dana, Nick, and a few more people took a dive into the skeptical humorous side (more than was normal for GHI) and created Who Forted? to keep the funniness going. As glad as I am that some of the core people are still out there doing what they do best, I can't help but get a little nostalgic. Long before bland paranormal television, we had the most entertaining bunch in Ghost Hunters, Inc. And they really didn't even find ghosts. Ever. Well... there were those few questionable times...

When I had the chance to watch and review the new(ish) documentary film done by the old gang, I had to jump at it. The Bigfoot Hunter: Still Searching takes part of an unfinished older project from 2006 (GHI vs. Bigfoot) and expands upon it. It features bigfoot hunter (and all-around paranormal enthusiast) Tim Holmes from Elmira, New York, and his gal pal Becky Sawyer on two journeys into the remote wilderness in search of Sasquatch. The one-hour film, produced by Fight or Flight Productions, is planned to be unveiled at a theater in Toronto this fall. If you have the chance to be there for it, I highly recommend it.

I really don't want to give away too much, but here's the trailer to give you a taste:

Honestly, you can't go wrong with a "former Merchant Marine" going on and on about Bigfoot, "fake footage", and a never-ending stream of weirdness and random thoughts. I'm not sure what's scarier: being out in the woods in the middle of nowhere with Tim or Nick Foust being that heavily armed (and, apparently, very excited about it). You have to love GHI for their bravery; not many people would choose to venture out far from civilization with someone quite like Holmes. The action may be minimal, but the comedy lasts throughout. The "recreation" of a bigfoot encounter is priceless... as are the short clips of Nick and Gow dressed and ready for ladies night.

Overall, it was a very well-crafted documentary. For those snobbish people who dislike anything that isn't shot in high-quality, professional grade video, you'll be disappointed by this one. But if you're not hung up on petty things like that and love watching crazy people doing and saying crazy things while turning something as mundane as wandering the woods looking for a hairy inhuman beast into an amusing look at the people and experiences in question, this is right up your alley. As a fan of documentaries, I'd be glad to add this to my DVD collection. Let's hope they decide to release it at some point.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pardon My l'Histoire...

Whenever history is being told, remember there is almost always a bias on behalf of the person(s) telling it. Often, parts are left out, justified by one party involved, or even told inaccurately; it takes a lot of research and work to uncover the complete history of anything. I was talking with someone yesterday about California; they made the offhand comment that the city of Hollywood doesn't have a long history. This is both true and false. As a populated city, it's just over 140 years old. When you ask any American about the history of a place, it rarely goes back any further than the earliest settlers from Europe. After the founding of the 13 original colonies, of course.

So who really counts as the first people in an area? What makes for historic events? How old is civilization in a location? Generally, these are more opinions than concrete ideas. Most of us know there were Native Americans living across the United States long before Europe even knew this land existed. But even beyond that, there are chunks of missing history left out of teachings about whole states. Even my own home state of Ohio has a far more interesting past than many of us know about.

Ohio was one of the first states beyond the original colonies to be carved out of the land back two hundred years ago. But what was it before then? You might be surprised by the answer. And had history gone very differently, we might be speaking an entirely different language.

If we go back a hundred years before the the Constitution existed, Europeans were already settling and conquering and claiming land across North America as their own. What would eventually become Ohio was part of the French colony of Louisiana (also called "New France" at certain times). Aside from the British colonies and Spanish Florida on the east (and New Mexico to the west), the rest of the land was claimed by France. This French part of Ohio history is completely ignored, but it doesn't end there. In the 18th century, Ohio was someone else's land as well.

In the decades before the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (which almost made eastern Ohio into a state called Washington), the land owned by the French changed drastically. Spain acquired much of the western states and France split the land owned by England in half. Today, part of the section of New France stretching through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean still holds on to its heritage and early name: Quebec. Shortly before the British took possession of much of this land in 1763 through the Treaty of Paris, Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania and New York were part of Quebec. Forgotten by today's residents, a few clues remain behind. The city of Erie, Pennsylvania, still sits near Presque Isle (or presqu'île, the French word for peninsula); Ohio has towns named La Croft, Bellevue ("beautiful view"), Bellefontaine ("beautiful fountain"), Marseilles, and even Marietta (named for Marie Antoinette).

One thing is certain; the French had a better rapport with the native Indians than their British counterparts. Centers of trade and forts sprang up throughout Ohio. One French trading post was just down the road from where I live, where the Cuyahoga River meets Tinkers Creek. Another was to the south in Boston, Ohio, where early settlers found apple trees planted by the French in the 1600s. And when the British tried to take over land, the Indians tended to side with the French. After the US became independent, they sided with British Canada. This is part of the reason there was such animosity between early settlers and the natives. Indians allied themselves with the wrong side regularly. Their punishment would eventually be to live on tiny reservations, stricken with poverty and alcoholism.

While there's a lot of history we'd rather forget, there's no valid reason to deny the French past for Ohio and many other states. We seem so keen to remember the British and American portions of US history yet ignore all the rest. But this is why I love history; it's a fascinating, unending discovery full of myths and mysteries. There's always something new to learn, even about your native town.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dead Women Tell No Tales... Or Do They?

It's been 13 years since one of Columbus' oldest landmarks met the wrecking ball in the name of progress. Built in 1834, the Ohio Penitentiary saw thousands of criminals pass through its doors. From Morgan's Raiders to the author O. Henry, many well-known people spent some time behind bars on Spring Street at this prison in its 150 years of operation. Today, it's the site of Nationwide Arena, a few random modern buildings, and plenty of parking spaces. But there might be a few leftover dead people lingering around.

People believed the old Ohio Penitentiary was haunted before it was demolished. Stories say that some of the 332 people who died during an arson blaze on April 21, 1930, still roamed the halls. Ghosts of many executed prisoners who breathed their final breaths inside the high stone walls were said to roam their old cell blocks and wander through the execution chamber. Though the building is gone, paranormal activity has still been reported at the site. If these prisoners really did stick around, perhaps one of them is the ghost of Ohio's first black woman to be executed. And it's quite likely she was a lesbian.

In the 1950s, sexuality was still a very taboo subject. Even newspapers, when faced with the task of telling tales of murder, often avoided the subject or (in certain cases) changing around the facts to make things sound, well, . . . less gay. That was certainly the case for Betty Butler.

By all accounts, Betty hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, where she had lived with her husband Harry, a strict Methodist, and two children. The exact reason why they couple separated is unclear, although court records indicate that Betty "associated with lesbians" in northeast Ohio. For one reason or another, Betty found herself in Cincinnati. She befriended a woman six years her senior by the name of Evelyn Clark. Some say they were lovers, while others say Betty was a woman caught up in poverty who had sex with Evelyn in exchange for money and shelter. Either way, their relationship was quite rocky. Arguments were frequent, and violence was not uncommon.

On September 6, 1952, the women were in a rowboat, joined by 42-year-old Deezie Ivory, enjoying the lake at Sharon Woods Park. A quarrel erupted between Betty and Evelyn; to escape the fight, Deezie quickly rowed to shore. There around 5:00 PM, the argument reached its peak. Betty strangled Evelyn, rendering her unconscious but still alive. In full view of the crowded park, Betty grabbed Evelyn by the ankles and held her head beneath the lake waters. "If I can't strangle her," she cried, "I'll drown her!" Leaving Evelyn partially submerged in the water, Betty nonchalantly said, "My work here is done," and walked away. She was stopped by park rangers before leaving the park; attempts to resuscitate Evelyn were unsuccessful.

Newspaper accounts varied when reporting the details. Some claimed the women argued over a man and it was a crime between "love rivals" while the Plain Dealer claimed it was a "sex revenge" murder. Jet Magazine made full mention of the "abnormal relationship", but seemed to waffle between Betty willingly becoming Evelyn's girlfriend and her being taken advantage of by a lesbian. In any case, it seemed the press was uncomfortable addressing the possibility that this was a legitimate same-sex relationship. They avoided the exact details of the crime as much as humanly possible.

Betty Butler was charged with first-degree murder and taken to jail. Her trial was swift; though Betty claimed it was self-defense "to escape [Evelyn's] perverted intentions" of keeping Betty as a "sex slave", she was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was sent to the reformatory in Marysville, Ohio, to await her execution. While in prison, Betty took up charcoal drawing and found she had a knack for art. "It's one of those things I didn't know I could do until too late," she said.

Her execution was delayed three times by appeals, but she met her fate on June 12, 1954 at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. After a last meal of scrambled eggs with cheese, toast, and apricots, Betty went to the electric chair dressed in a pink and black dress with white bobby socks and white Oxford shoes. At 8:00 PM, still clutching her rosary (Betty had turned Catholic while in prison), the switch was thrown. She was pronounced dead at 8:10 PM. She was the last woman executed by the State of Ohio.

Women were housed in a building at the southeast corner of the prison, not too far from the "Death House" where the electric chair sat. Today, this spot is covered by McFerson Commons, better known as Arch Park (so named because of the stone arch found here, the only remnant left of the 1897 Union Station which once faced High Street before being demolished in 1979) at the corner of Spring Street and Street. Perhaps if you take an evening stroll in Arch Park, you can still catch a glimpse of Betty, or maybe she finally found peace and has moved on to a better place.

For more information on Betty Butler's story, read The Penalty is Death: U.S. Newspaper Coverage of Women's Executions by Marlin Shipman.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name...

About a week ago, author Deonna Sayed brought up an interesting and very valid question:
What makes someone a paranormal investigator? Is it active field work (with or without a team)? Watching "the shows"? Going to a few conferences? Just knowing people in "the field"? At what point does someone earn the right to claim the title?

These days, there are people out there who watch a few episodes of Ghost Hunters and BAM! They're "paranormal investigators". It's a word thrown out to describe the thrill-seeker who pays fifty bucks to tramp around a haunted prison with a hundred other people in a black logoed t-shirt as well as the die-hard individuals who've spent decades tirelessly perfecting their methods just the same. And honestly, it's a self-denoted title; there's no college accredited degree for investigating ghosts, no ectoplasmic trophy differentiating the "amateur" from the "expert" in the field (although many people use the word expert to describe themselves).

But we can't just blame it on the explosion of paranormal television. In the past decade--yes, even before cable ghost busters--I have watched people join a group, go on one investigation, quit within a week, start their own "group" a day later, and suddenly say they're "experienced professional paranormal investigators". There might be something psychological at play here: the human need for superiority, recognition, praise, and/or approval. No one likes being low man on the totem pole. We live in a world of instant gratification. Why work toward something when you can jump right to the end goal?

So, let's take a closer look at Deonna's question and break it down. Does active field work make you an investigator? Yes and no. Just like you can't learn proper brain surgery from reading a book and watching a documentary, the best real way to earn the title of investigator is to, well, investigate. A lot of important things can be learned from reading books or observing others do some form or work, but real know-how is a hands-on experience. Not everything works as well as it seems on television, and some methods used by others may be completely unreliable. Trial and error rules out the bogus from the plausible. That's something you can't simply sit back and take notes to learn. Repeated effort (and failure) is a wonderful way to learn and one way true progress is actually made.

Does watching a show make you an investigator? That's a big fat "NO". I've watched building and construction documentaries and shows, but I'm not an architect not do I pretend to be. You can learn some things for television, but it's no substitute for real life. The same applies to online websites. And for the record, no; playing Farmville doesn't make you a farmer. So how about going to a conference? Again, it's the same thing. Does going to a book conference make you a writer? Maybe if you're a hipster...

So what about knowing people in "the field"? Again, that doesn't necessarily make you an investigator. It can, however, better educate you and help you learn skills, bounce ideas off someone more knowledgeable than yourself, or even give you role models who point you in the right direction. Of course, some people like to "collect" popular people as friends as if associating yourself with a para-celebrity will suddenly give you credibility. If you want to befriend someone in the field, ask yourself why you want to know them. If it's for sharing limelight or to show off that you know the "in crowd", it's for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, if it's someone you admire or find fascinating/interesting/good-natured on a human level and wouldn't care if they were a nobody, then I say go for it.

The reality is that there are several true categories of "paranormal investigators" all lumped under the same umbrella term: the beginner curious to find explanations for the unknown, the history buff tickled at the idea of discovering 'living history', the entertainment junkie looking for a good scare or creepy old building to wander around in, the scientific-minded seeker who wants to validate or disprove the phenomena, the writer looking for an interesting story, the social person looking for a different sort of group activity, and the seasoned "professional" archiving and collecting data to try to arrive at a hypothesis. Some people are a combination of these. Others fall somewhere between. We don't have specific terms for each type of ghost hunter; to many, they're all "investigators".

Over the years, I've referred to myself as an "investigator" less and less. It's not due to early retirement or somehow being a sudden complete skeptic. (I've always held a certain level of skepticism; I find it invaluable when dealing with strange occurrences and eye-witness testimonies.) The main reason is that in recent years, I've spent more time writing about locations and researching the historical background of legends and places that I haven't spent enough time actually investigating allegedly haunted places. Do I miss it? Of course I do. And my days of looking for the unexplained are far from over. But it's the history that drives me forward. Having a psychic tell me that a 12-year-old girl died in a hotel room is all fine and dandy, but finding a documented account of that event correlating to a legend of a ghostly girl brings me a level of excitement I can't even describe. More often than not, the real history is much more interesting than the rumor.

Some of us live to find that piece of concrete evidence to prove ghosts aren't all in the mind. Others just live to be scared out of their wits. Is everyone with a flashlight, camera, and EMF meter a "paranormal investigator"? Hardly. There are the inexperienced and experienced, the green and the seasoned, the serious and the carefree. Only you know where you fall on the spectrum; whether you choose to state the truth or bend it is your own choice. But if you're true to yourself, positive things can happen. Only by knowing where you stand can you find the path to where you want to be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let's Hear It for the Boy...

Generally, I don't watch any paranormal television shows. Sometimes I'll watch an old episode if it deals with a place I'm curious to find out a general synopsis about or (as in the case if Haunted Collector) if there happen to be antiques being discussed. I'd much rather be out exploring new locations than playing armchair observer. But it seems I might have to start tuning in later this year to a show I haven't watched in years. It's the perennial favorite SciFi Channel series Ghost Hunters.

I never watched a single episode of Ghost Hunters Academy nor did I ever submit an audition tape to any paranormal show (unless you count responding to an email from an agent of a well-known actor looking for possible cast members for a show that never made it off the ground). I do admire people who have been in front of a camera and while I haven't been on any major network I have found myself being filmed for television, so I know how much actually goes into a short piece. (And the fun of walking up the same hill three times to be filmed from different angles.) So of course, when I learned about the winner of the last season, I didn't think anything of it.

Yes. I'm so far out of the loop I couldn't tell you anything about ghost shows from the past year. Even worse, I doubt I'd recognize any of the names. But I guess I'm still used to the good ol' days of paranormal investigation when the people we looked up to were rarely on television and all we learned came from books, documentaries, and the occasional online discussion. I sort of miss those days.

Anyway, I was poking around through news articles the other day trying to find an old cold case I read about when I stumbled across some things about Adam Berry, the newest cast member of Ghost Hunters. And I was taken aback slightly. For the first time, someone openly acknowledged their sexuality before becoming a cast member on a hit paranormal show. That's right; we have ourselves an out gay man on television who happens to hunt ghosts. For anyone who lives under a log like myself and missed it, here's his audition tape for the show:

According to an interesting interview with AfterElton, Adam said he hadn't experienced any negative treatment on the basis of his sexuality, which is quite promising news. Author Deonna Sayed interviewed me a year back about being a gay ghost hunter and I mentioned some of my own past issues in the field. Of course, I'm in Ohio and not Provincetown, Massachusetts like Adam. As they say, it's all about location, location, location. Both Adam and his boyfriend founded Provincetown Paranormal Research Society (and I believe I ran across the name somewhere in my research, likely when I was in Salem shortly after my book came out), and he's spent about two years looking for spooks. Whether or not they've checked out some of the places I interviewed for my book and the others I've saved for a sequel I'm not sure. " I’d love to investigate something [gay] in Provincetown," Berry told AfterElton. Maybe one of these days I'll try to set up a brief interview and fill him in on some great spots in his neck of the woods.

I do hope the show goes well for him and the trend of tolerance continues. Of course, this means I might have to go back a few months and catch up on the past season that I missed entirely. Between college, writing, and editing, this year has been a bit of a blur for me. But at least now there's another source of televised amusement for the dull times. Yes, I know I'm terrible... suddenly watching a show with a gay cast member. But it's always good to see "family" on the air. And who knows; maybe one day, I'll be thought of as a freak more for wearing a bowler instead of being one of the rare few gay ghost hunters.