Investigating the haunted sanitarium at Waverly Hills

Waverly Hills by Chelsea Copeland

Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the abandoned sanitarium known as Waverly Hills is considered to be one of the most haunted places on earth.

The building was designed to accommodate 40-50 tuberculosis patients starting in 1910, many of whom died from the disease. It’s believed around 9,000 people died in Waverly Hills.

I was able to sit down with Chelsea, a 25-year-old college student from Tulsa who was brave enough to spend the night at Waverly Hills with a ghost-hunting team in May 2010. Be sure to check back next Tuesday for the rest of my interview with Chelsea, where we delve deeper into the supernatural realm and discuss what it’s like to be a real ghost hunter in a profession where imposters are celebrated (and often become famous).

Chelsea: “When my ghost-hunting team, the now disbanded Ghost Scene Investigations of Tulsa, went to Waverly Hills, we had the place to ourselves with minimal staff elsewhere on the grounds, and not in the main building where we were.

Ghost Scene Investigations at Waverly Hills. Chelsea is the one holding the sunflowers.

Ghost Scene Investigations at Waverly Hills. Chelsea is the one holding the sunflowers.

The spooky shenanigans started on our public tour. We were in the main building on the floor that is well known for shadow* activity. Our tour guide was going on and on about how he had been assaulted by a ghost on that floor, really laying it on thick, while a shadow person was behind him. We tried to get his attention, but he was so focused on his spiel that he didn’t hear us. I could feel the exasperation of the shadow person: ‘Hi, I’m over here. I’m what you want to see–hello? Pay attention to me.’

I had been ghost hunting for six months before Waverly and had never had a problem with getting too scared to do my job. Waverly Hills had a new level of darkness that I had never experienced. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone a ghost creeping up on me.

corridor at Waverly Hills by Chelsea Copeland

My team and I would be going to, of all places, the body chute. The body chute is an uncomfortable place, atmospherically, completely aside from what had taken place in that area decades ago. It’s muggy, wet, and the floors are at an incline so you never truly feel balanced. On one side is the stairs and the other is the flat plane that was used to slide the bodies down to the bottom. I thought that since it was a fairly precarious spot and known to be active, we would be cautious. Nope. My team leader wanted to be as daring, or stupid in my mind, as he could be. He went all the way to the bottom, which meant we had to as well. You never go anywhere alone while on an investigation and you stay as close as possible for safety reasons and so there is another witness if something paranormal should happen.

He ordered our flashlights off and I thought he was nuts, but went along with it. Since the body chute didn’t have power, we went in with minimal equipment, just a PX spirit box (a spirit box is a tool for communicating with paranormal entities. It uses radio frequency sweeps to generate white noise, which theories suggest give some entities the energy they need to be heard) and our recorders. We started our session and we were getting intelligent responses from the PX right off the bat. It was to the point we were practically having a conversation with the spirit.

Then it changed. The PX said, ‘beware’ and that was my cue to get out of dodge. I kept trying to get my team to end our session and leave but we were still getting responses which were no longer as friendly. Then, all of a sudden, we heard a click. Our PX had shut off on its own. The PX had a stiff toggle switch to turn it on and it was placed far from everyone else. If someone had made a move for it, you would have heard the person get up and walk over to it. Thankfully, that was when we all stampeded out of there.

Morgue at Waverly Hills

Morgue at Waverly Hills

Sometime during the night, another ghost hunter from Missouri went in the body chute by himself and he came out completely changed. He left the team and we haven’t really heard from him; he wouldn’t tell us what happened. All we have from his session was an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon). It’s all garbled and staticy and it just doesn’t sound right.It’s creaky and poppy and moany and groany. It sounds like the gates of Hell opening and it makes your eyes water just listening to it. You can’t listen to it more than once. We only had access to the file (as it’s standard procedure to wipe all recordings from our equipment once they’re on a computer) for a short time before it just disappeared.

Of course, I don’t learn and came back to Waverly Hills years later, this time with my teenage nephew in tow. We only went on the public tour because we were just passing through. He wasn’t as scared as I was, but I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable at times. Being the protective auntie, I took him aside and said, ‘It’s not a sad place. They were happy when they were alive. They were comfortable here, had friends here. They wanted to hang around a little longer.’ He cheered right up and it was very special moment for me to be able to pass that on to him. Of course, we had experiences then as well. We heard an old swing set creak, even though it is no longer in use, and we had several encounters with shadow people.”

The swing Chelsea and her nephew heard move

The swing Chelsea and her nephew heard move

*Shadows, or shadow people, are a type of ghost. Ghosts can either appear as shadows or your classic ghost (how they looked in life).

Would you be brave enough to stay in a haunted place overnight? Have you heard of or visited Waverly Hills? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on a ghost-hunting team?

Next week, Chelsea will return with more stories about being a ghost hunter!

All photos by Chelsea Copeland

Haunted Travel: The Rainbow Valley

Everest dead

The Rainbow Valley sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? A place where one could expect to find leprechauns frolicking.

Think again.

The Rainbow Valley isn’t actually a valley at all, but an area just below the summit of Everest’s Northeast Ridge, where dozens of unlucky mountaineers remain frozen in time. Their brightly colored climbing gear is how the “valley” got its name.

You read that right–it’s a “rainbow” of corpses.

Removing a body from the slopes of the world’s tallest mountain is an expensive and risky business, so if you expire in your quest to reach the summit (or, more likely–to get back down), chances are you’ll become part of Everest’s infamous open graveyard. While recent efforts to remove or cover bodies have restored some of the deceased’s dignity, it’s still impossible to climb Mount Everest without seeing human remains. Or having to step over them.

And that’s not the most disturbing part about scaling this mountain: those who do it often face a huge moral dilemma–when confronted by a dying climber, would you abandon your quest to reach the summit (a privilege people pay over $65,000 for)? Or would you leave the stricken behind?

David Sharp

David Sharp

Over 40 climbers passed British mountaineer David Sharp as he was dying in a cave below the summit in 2006. Since getting around Sharp required climbers to unclip from the fixed rope, it’s unlikely he was missed, though many believed he was already dead. By the time Lebanese climber Maxime Chaya saw him and tried to help, it was too late. A Sherpa did what he could as well, putting an oxygen mask on Sharp, who revived enough to tell the Sherpa his name. (Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find the name of this kind Sherpa–if anyone knows, please leave it in the comments.)

Sir Edmund Hillary, who became famous in 1953 when he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first confirmed climbers to summit Everest, was appalled by Sharp’s death. Hillary was openly critical of the “commercialization of Everest,” which has resulted in hundreds of inexperienced climbers scaling the mountain, leaving tons of garbage and waste behind.

“I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die,” he said.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Not all who are left to die go quietly, however. In 1996, disaster struck the mountain when twelve people died in a storm. (It was the most deadly day in Everest’s history until an ice avalanche in 2014 killed sixteen Nepalese guides.) Beck Weathers, a Texan pathologist and amateur mountaineer, was with a group who got lost in the storm. Weathers, who had recently had radial keratotomy surgery on his eyes, went blind in the high altitude.

Neal Beidleman, a guide with another expedition, left the group to get help. He was successful, but Weathers and a fellow climber, a Japanese woman named Yasuko Namba, were considered too far gone to make it down the mountain alive. Their team agreed to leave them for dead.

After spending an entire night on Everest with no protection from the elements, with the windchill plummeting to an insane 100 degrees below zero, Weathers woke up. With the image of his wife and two children in mind, he staggered to his feet and began to walk blindly in a grid pattern, determined to reach Camp Four. A misstep would have sent him plummeting over the side of the mountain, but Fortune smiled on Weathers that day. When he reached the camp, none of his fellow climbers could believe their eyes. Weathers’ face was black with frostbite, one of his arms was frozen in a salute position, and his hands were as white and hard as porcelain. One of the climbers described him as looking like a “mummy in a low-budget horror film.”

Sadly, even after Weathers survived enormous odds, his fellow climbers still assumed he would die, so they abandoned him in a tent that night. Another storm hit the mountain, collapsing Weathers’ tent, which nearly suffocated him. The 70-mile/hr winds blew off his sleeping bags, leaving him exposed and helpless. If journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer hadn’t checked on Weathers before leaving for Camp Four the next morning, the poor man would have been left for dead again.

Weathers’ wife Margaret “Peach” Olson Weathers said, “Where was their basic human compassion? Being in the tent with Beck certainly would not have endangered anyone. If they figured he was going to die, then being there to hear his final words, and perhaps pass them on to those he left behind, would have been a tremendous comfort to us.”

Seaborne Beck Weathers and his wife Margaret "Peach" Weathers soon after his rescue.

Seaborne Beck Weathers and his wife Margaret “Peach” Weathers after his return from Everest.

Incredibly, the Texan physician survived, though he lost a hand, all of his fingers, and his nose (a new nose was reconstructed from other tissue and grown on his forehead until it could be sewn into place).

In the climbers’ defence, probably all or most of them were suffering from hypoxia, which occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Hypoxia greatly inhibits decision-making, causing confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, and light-headedness.

Hypoxia is one of the reasons Everest’s Rainbow Valley will continue to glow with coats of many colors. To date, it’s estimated that over 240 people have died on the mountain.

Have you ever wanted to climb Everest? Do the statistics deter you? What’s the most extreme challenge you’ve ever undertaken?

Thanks to Jon Krakauer’s memoir Into Thin AirBeck Weathers’ memoir Left For Dead, and about a thousand documentaries and websites. I highly recommend the documentary Sherpa, which is a chilling look at the dangers the brave Nepalese climbers undertake to ensure Westerners achieve their Everest dreams.

**Dedicated to the memory of David Sharp and the hundreds who have died on Everest.**

Haunted Travel: Jonestown

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Aside from wars and natural disasters, it was the greatest loss of life in modern times.

This month marks the 37th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, when over 900 men, women and children swallowed cyanide-laced juice at the behest of their deranged leader, Jim Jones.

A terrible death wasn’t what those poor people expected when they left everything behind for a life in the South American jungles of Guyana. Jonestown was supposed to be their Garden of Eden–a place of beauty and peace where all their hard work would finally pay off.

Jim Jones

Instead it was a hot, humid, festering concentration camp where people spent their days doing hard labor in snake-infested fields for no pay and very little food, while their now-insane leader ranted and raved at them over a loud speaker. They were tortured for the most minor infractions, which included admitting they were homesick, and sexually abused whenever Jones saw fit.

But by the time the people realized their Garden of Eden was actually hell, it was too late. Jones had their passports, and even if they could have escaped, there was no where to go. Jonestown is only accessible by plane or boat, and running away meant a slow death in the impenetrable jungle. Even so, some people felt it was worth getting away from this place of torture and madness.

There were signs that there was something wrong with Jones from the time he was a child, when he reportedly murdered his friends’ pets so he could charge them for his animal burial “services.” While he claimed Jonestown would be a place where all races would live in harmony, he was more interested in acquiring his followers’ money in a quest for absolute power and control. In the end, I personally believe he ordered the murders of his followers not because he truly believed Armageddon was coming, but because he couldn’t stand to watch the collapse of his empire. He cracked when sixteen followers tried to leave him, realizing there would be many more to follow. The massacre was the last test of his terrible power.

The tragedy of Jonestown

The tragedy of Jonestown

For years, the Guyanese attempted to distance themselves from Jones and the horrible evil he perpetrated in their country, and rightly so. They had no idea what he was planning–they let him in because the price was right. However, now they have decided to acknowledge Jonestown with signs and promote it as a “dark” tourist destination.

The Jonestown of today is eerie. The jungle has mostly taken over, except for a clearing full of daisies where hundreds of bodies once lay. Most of the original structures are gone, trashed by fire and looting, but the curious can still see evidence of what happened there–including a 15-foot pit where “misbehaving” people were often left for days.

Beyond the darkness of Jonestown, Guyana is a startlingly beautiful place with gorgeous beaches and warm, welcoming people.

The Garden of Eden Jones promised his followers is there after all, lying just outside the gates.

guyana

Do you think physical places are forever altered after horrific tragedies like the Jonestown massacre? Do you think what happened in 1978 could happen again? Are “dark tourist” attractions ethical? Would you ever visit Jonestown?

PS: For more creepy tourist destinations, see this post about Japan’s suicide forest or this one about the Kabayan mummies.

London’s Haunted Underground

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I first was introduced to horror author Catherine Cavendish when I read her book The Pendle Curse. I’m not a fan of witch stories, but Catherine had been so nice to me during my launch that I decided to give it a read, and I’m so glad I did! It’s an awesome book. Enjoy this personal tour of one of Cat’s favourite haunted spots, and keep reading for a sneak peek of her latest book at the end.

*  *  *

London has the distinction of playing host to the world’s oldest underground rail network. It’s now over 150 years old and, when it was being constructed, workers unearthed thousands of bodies, buried in plague pits and individually in long forgotten graveyards.

During and since its construction, there have been many more deaths as a result of wartime bombing, construction accidents, terrorism and hundreds of suicides along its 250 miles of track. Not surprising then that there have been many reported sightings of people who simply shouldn’t – or couldn’t – be there.

Take the well-documented story of the wartime victims that don’t seem able to leave the place of their death – Bethnal Green station. Members of the public and staff have separately reported hearing the sound of crying and screaming women and children. During World War II, hordes of people rushed into the station upon hearing air raid sirens. One of them tripped on the stairs, causing others to fall, and became trapped in a crush that killed 173 of them (including 126 women and children). Evidently they are still trying to escape.

The Bethnal Green Station Shelter during World War II

The Bethnal Green Station Shelter during World War II

 

Meanwhile, at King’s Cross station, a more modern tragedy has led to sightings of a young woman with long dark hair, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She has been seen and heard screaming, crying and holding out her hands as if pleading for help. In 1998, a man approached her to try and comfort her but as he did so, she disappeared. Maybe she was the victim of a devastating fire there in 1987 that killed 31 people.

On the site where Farringdon Station is now situated, a thirteen-year-old girl called Anne Naylor was murdered in 1758. People have reported hearing piteous screams which have now been attributed to her. She is also referred to as ‘The Screaming Spectre.’

At Aldgate Station, a ghostly old woman was seen by an engineer. She stroked his friend’s hair and shortly afterwards, the man touched a live wire that sent 20,000 volts through his body. Miraculously he survived, but since then, phantom footsteps have been heard coming from the tunnel. They stop as suddenly as they have begun.

Then at Elephant and Castle, rapping noises and footsteps have often been heard after the station is closed. Staff have gone to investigate, but no reason for these manifestations has ever been found. It is also believed that the last train of the night is haunted by a girl who walks through all the carriages, vanishing just as she reaches the engine.

There are so many more reports of strange phenomena, it would seem that barely a station escapes but, for now, I’ll finish with one that saw the apparition caught on camera.

For this, we need to travel to Liverpool Street Station, which was built on the site of a mass burial ground. During construction, around eight bodies per cubic metre were discovered. In 2000, two members of staff spotted a man on CCTV. He was dressed in white overalls and standing on a platform as if waiting for a train. Not unusual you might think – except the station was closed for the night. One staff member went down to the platform to investigate while his co-worker watched the CCTV. Sure enough the member of staff appeared on screen as he emerged from the stairs onto the platform. On CCTV, standing right next to him, was the man in white overalls but, when the station worker returned to the office, he reported he had seen no one. The two co-workers were in danger of having a real argument, so the staff member returned to the platform. Again he saw no one, but, as he turned to go back upstairs, he saw a pair of white paper overalls on a bench. The owner of these has never been traced.

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat CavendishCatherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows.  Her novels, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine are also published by Samhain. Her latest novella – Dark Avenging Angel – will be followed by her next novel – The Devil’s Serenade – in April 2016.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish Facebook Twitter Goodreads Tsu

DAA (1)Don’t hurt Jane. You may live to regret it.

Bullied by her abusive father, Jane always felt different. Then the lonely child found a friend in a mysterious dark lady who offers her protection—a lady she calls her “angel.” But that protection carries a terrible price, one to be paid with the souls of those Jane chooses to suffer a hideous and eternal fate.

When Jane refuses to name another victim, the angel reveals her most terrifying side. Payment must be made in full—one way or the other.

Samhain Publishing Amazon
Barnes and Noble Kobo Omnilit

The Cursed Island

Palmyra_Atoll_NWR_aerial_FWS

In our search for a quiet tropical island, we stumbled across one that is more quiet than most.

The Palmyra Atoll has between four and twenty people living on it at any one time, all of whom are U.S. government scientists.

I found this intriguing bit of info on Wikipedia :

The issue of the governing of Palmyra is generally a moot point, since there is no permanent population remaining there, nor any reason to think that there will be in the future.

The reason why is something Wikipedia won’t tell you. Since the time of its discovery, Palmyra has been the site of murders, unexplained disappearances, shark attacks, ship wrecks, and other nastiness.

Even its name comes from an unfortunate ship that was dashed upon the island’s reefs.

Sometimes surviving a shipwreck on the island is a fate worse than death. After an American ship crashed there in 1870, a group of survivors made it to shore, but they weren’t survivors for long. The crew of another ship found their murdered bodies strewn about the island. Since the island was uninhabited, who had killed them? The cause of their deaths was never determined.

When people do manage to make it to the island and stay awhile, they become increasingly paranoid and aggressive. Many have reported feeling a sense of foreboding, or the fear that someone was watching them.

During the second world war, a patrol plane went down over the island. When a rescue team made its way to where the plane was estimated to have gone down, they found nothing. A thorough search of the island turned up no trace of the missing plane or its crew, not even so much as a scrap of metal or a bolt.

In the late seventies, a group came to the island for a short stay and was chased off by a bizarre cult who threatened them with violence. No one could ever find evidence of this cult or anyone else living on the island.

One of the weirdest cases was the murder of Mac Graham and his wife Eleanor in 1974. The couple had planned to sail around the world, and Mac was eager to live on Palmyra for two years. Understandably, his wife thought this was a really stupid idea, and tried to talk him out of it. She was terrified by the atoll’s dark history, and had premonitions that she wouldn’t survive the visit.

Mac and Eleanor Graham

Mac and Eleanor Graham

 

In the tradition of husbands everywhere, Mac didn’t listen to her.

When the Grahams arrived on Palmyra, they were surprised to discover that it wasn’t the lonely island they’d expected. There were already a few people staying there, including felon Buck Walker and his girlfriend Stephanie Stearns.

Whether it was the island’s influence or not is unknown, but Mac and Buck had a hate-on for each other from the start. Their confrontations kept getting uglier and uglier, and Eleanor begged her husband to cut their visit short. She was terrified of Buck. Once again, Mac refused to listen.

The Grahams never got to finish their worldwide sailing trip. They went missing on Palmyra, and no one ever saw them alive again. Buck was eventually found with the Grahams’ boat and was charged with stealing it, but no other trace of the Grahams was found until 1981, when a South African sailor found Eleanor’s mutilated body in a chest that had recently washed ashore. Buck and his girlfriend were charged with Eleanor’s murder, but only Buck was convicted.

The body of Mac Graham has never been found. He is still listed as a missing person.

Are you brave enough to stay a few nights in Palmyra? Based on my experiences in Romania’s haunted forest, I think I’ll give it a miss.

(Coincidentally, the cursed atoll has the same name as the capital of Syria, which is experiencing a very sad fate of its own right now.)

Please see Cursed Paradise of Palmyra Atoll for more creepy stories about this little-known area of the world.

Horror Writer’s Workshop Day Seven: Braving the World’s Most Haunted Forest

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Some of the trees grow in an arch like this. I saw quite a few of them.

 

If I believed in omens, I would have been running for the hills.

The morning I was to visit Hoia Baciu in Cluj-Napoca, everything that could go wrong did. I had a dispute with my hotel’s receptionist. Then I discovered that I’d misplaced my credit cards. While I was searching for them, breaking into a sweat because Alex, my guide, was already waiting, I got sick. Violently sick.

 

Alex from the Hoia Baciu Project

Alex from the Hoia Baciu Project

 

By the time I finally found my cards, we were thirty minutes behind schedule. We rushed out to meet our driver, who was named Vlad, fittingly enough.

Alex, a purported “paranormal” researcher, came armed with a small electro-magnetic field reader and not much else. To my surprise, my guide was a skeptic with a rational explanation for almost everything that happens in the forest.

Almost.

After an epic hike up a steep hill, we plunged into the forest.

The first thing I noticed about Hoia Baciu is that it’s cool–much cooler than I expected. The sun’s rays just don’t seem to penetrate.

The second thing I noticed were the trees.

I’ve never seen so many misshapen, malformed trees, and snapped photos of them to send to my botanist friend.

And then I got sick again.

The whole time I was in Hoia Baciu, I felt a tightness in my chest, like I couldn’t catch my breath. My stomach was still unhappy, and I began to feel stabbing pains in my head. I’d read that many people feel sick while in this forest–that’s the reason for a lot of its mystique. I couldn’t figure out why, so I decided I would probably have felt like this whether I was in the forest or not.

Thinking it might be altitude sickness, I asked Alex if we were far above sea level.

“No, only around 200 feet,” he said.

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I didn’t feel like anyone was watching me, and I didn’t feel anxious, but I have to say I was never comfortable in Hoia Baciu. It was a beautiful, strange forest, and I tried to think of it that way. I enjoyed seeing all the frogs, the epic snail, the monster mushrooms. But the truth is, I was happy when the tour was over.

My headache vanished as soon as I left the forest. By the time I caught my next flight, all of my other symptoms were gone too, although I did take some heavy doses of Pepto Bismal, so that might explain it.

Is Hoia Baciu haunted? I couldn’t say–I didn’t see balls of light or an apparition, as many people have. What I do know is that this place isn’t good for people. I felt awful there, and I could completely understand people panicking and feeling desperate. In that state, it’s easy for the mind to play tricks and make us believe we’re seeing things that just aren’t there.

did see a strange mist hovering by a few trees. I’d never before seen a fog so confined to one area. Alex thought it might be the humidity in the air.

Perhaps.

All I know is that I was eager to get the hell out of that place.

PS – For scary stories about Hoia Baciu and why it’s believed to be the world’s most haunted forest, check out this post.

Horror Writer’s Workshop Day Six: Visiting Vlad’s Pad

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At long last, the day we’d been waiting for arrived. We were finally going to visit the childhood home of Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as The Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula (which is Romanian for son of the devil).

After an epic bus ride, we stumbled onto the streets of Sighisoara, a small medieval town that resembled nothing more than a fairytale village.

But if this was a fairytale, the Brothers Grimm wrote it, as Sighisoara was once home to one of the blood-thirstiest rulers of all time.

You might expect that a town which can lay claim to the birthplace of Tepes, who is famous for inspiring Bram Stoker’s Dracula, would play it up for the tourists.

And you’d be right.

Tepes’s house is now a restaurant and gift shop that serves such popular dishes as Dracula Crepes and Dracula Coffee, which has a touch of grenadine to give it that bloody look. For an extra five lei, you can venture upstairs to visit the room where the great warrior was born. Just like a pilgrimage for horror writers. I guess we should have brought an offering of some sort–perhaps a vial of blood or one of those tacky Dracula mugs.

I’m sure Tepe’s home didn’t have a coffin, red lighting, and spooky organ music playing during the Impaler’s time.

At first I was a little disappointed by how campy it was, but our group had a lot of fun taking photos and practicing our best “vampire face.” Things have changed a lot since Vlad walked those cobblestone streets, but Sighisoara is worth seeing all the same. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful city.

Don’t waste much time shopping, though. Bran is the place to find the perfect souvenir or memento. Most of the goods in Sighisoara brought to mind the Romanian version of a dollar store.

Horror Writer’s Workshop Day Five: The Most Haunted House in Romania

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Hasdeu Castle has a strange, sad history.

After his daughter Iulia (pronounced Julia) died of tuberculosis at the age of nineteen, Bogdan Hasdeu claimed to receive instructions from beyond the grave. For some reason, Iulia, a brilliant prodigy who had written several books and painted masterpieces during her young life, wanted nothing more than for her father to build a weird house that resembles a castle.

And so it was.

Weird stories have surrounded the castle for years. Two workmen who mocked the giant statue of Jesus in the centre of the home suddenly died, as did two boys who attempted to deface Iulia’s tomb. The boys had marks on their necks, as if they’d been strangled.

DSC_6681

Don’t mock the Jesus. Seriously.

 

One of the house’s rooms has a large hole in the wall that Bogdan used to listen to messages from the spirit world. This room was covered with murals of angels until the communists came into power and destroyed everything.

Everyone who works in the house has a tale to tell. Sometimes Iulia’s piano plays itself. Or the security cameras pick up weird, bouncing lights. All visitors are warned not to laugh at the Jesus statue, but I’m not sure why anyone would. It may not be anyone’s idea of understated decor, but I couldn’t see anything humorous about it.

Sadly, I didn’t see a glimmer of the supernatural at Iulia’s castle, or get any strange vibes. However, I was about the only one. Several people in our writing group felt a strong positive energy, as if Iulia herself was urging them to write. This feeling was so powerful that these people finished their stories about her within a day or two, and considering how packed our schedule was, that’s pretty damn impressive.

 

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Picnic with the dead

 

Maybe Iulia didn’t feel like speaking to me that day. I know I didn’t feel like writing, so I spent my time wandering around the castle instead. The cemetery where we ate lunch spoke to me more. It had an eerie feel, but was also hauntingly beautiful. I could have spent several hours there.

What’s the creepiest place you’ve ever been? What happened to you there?

HORROR WRITER’S WORKSHOP DAY 4: Stretching My Muscles

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Heading to Simon’s Haunted Forest on a horse-drawn cart.

 

This week in Romania has been stretching my muscles, literally and figuratively. At least three hours each day is spent in a writing workshop with author Richard Thomas.

Richard has been throwing us some curveballs. Just when you start to relax, he wants you to write the perfect opening line to a novel. And he wants you to do this three times. In fifteen minutes. No problem, right?

Or craft a scary story that builds tension using a number of different techniques in twenty minutes. And then offer it up to the rest of the class as a sacrificial offering.

At first my brain protested at the idea of this impromptu writing. “I can’t!” was always my first thought, until–surprisingly–I realized I can. When I read my opening line aloud, Richard put it to the class for debate:

“What works?” he asked.

“Everything,” Scott, one of my kind fellow classmates, replied. It was a good day, but you can never rest easy. You never know when your pathetic attempts to build tension will put your colleagues to sleep.

Mysterious unfinished settlement at Simon Forest in Bran, Romania. According to local legend, the settlers vanished without a trace.

Mysterious unfinished settlement at Simon Forest in Bran, Romania. According to local legend, the settlers vanished without a trace.

 

In the evening we went on a hike through a haunted forest in the Simon Village of Bran, Romania. The forest is cloaked in superstition and there are many eerie tales of early settlers and park wardens vanishing without a trace. Noted Romanian writer Igor Bergler rolled his eyes. “They tell the same stories about every forest here,” he said.

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Haunted Forest in Simon Village, Bran, Romania.

 

Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately, based on my freakout over the Bran Castle photo) we didn’t see any ghosts in the haunted forest, and we all made it back alive. The real challenge was to come later that night.

The Mama Cozonacilor Hotel has gigantic rolling hills behind it. For days, Richard had been saying he wanted to climb one, and I’m always up for a challenge. After a bonfire, Igor bet me 100 lei (almost $25 USD) that we couldn’t make it up the hill and back down in three hours. It was on.

Bolstered by two shots of palinka, I gamely attempted to keep pace with Richard, who at first tried to jog up the hill. That didn’t last long. The incline was so steep that he was afraid of sliding back or losing his footing. With my calves screaming for mercy, I pressed on, doing a weird crab-walk routine in order to keep from tumbling down the hill and breaking my neck.

It took us fifteen minutes to get to the top. I couldn’t believe we’d done it. We started out at dusk, but by the time we reached the summit, it was pitch black. I used my camera’s flash to signal to the others that we’d made it.

Getting down was a more treacherous proposition. We now couldn’t watch for obstacles, and even standing up on that incline made you feel like you would fall over. Finally, we decided to slid down on our butts. This resulted in epic wedgies, but we made it down Romania’s Everest with our dignity intact and our hearts pounding. The stinging nettles had their revenge, but they didn’t get the best of us.

Mission accomplished, along with another 100 lei to spend at the markets.

Horror Writer’s Workshop Day 3: Torture Chambers and Ghostly Photos

11709782_10152994445230754_9144367527169984952_n Transylvania Horror Writer’s Workshop, Day 3.

Here’s something I don’t say very often.

I’m scared.

And I don’t scare easily.

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This secret passage was once hidden by a fireplace.

Finally got inside Bran Castle, and it has it all–a secret passageway, a connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes (who was imprisoned there for two months), and a torture chamber–what more could one want?

In spite of the many items of cruelty (don’t worry; they’re all replicas) that are tucked away in a series of small rooms, the castle is a cheery place, with its bright white walls and sunshine pouring through a multitude of windows. I didn’t feel the slightest bit unnerved during our tour. There wasn’t even the mildest flutter of a bad vibe.

Until I looked at my pictures.

Once we were back on the bus, I quickly scanned through my photos until some movement caught my eye. Something had jumped between the two photos I’d taken of an old medieval door with a heart-shaped mesh window. Usually when I’ve seen a jumping effect like that, it was because I’d taken multiple photos of an animal or person that moved slightly between the frames. I’d definitely moved slightly in the seconds between taking the two photos, but in that case, the whole door should jump, not just the small mesh window. And it didn’t always jump as I scanned back and forth, only about half the time. It looked like something passed behind the window.

The pictures unsettled me, and I must have had a concerned look on my face, because Richard Thomas, the writer who is running the workshops for us, asked me what was wrong. I handed him my camera, and he too saw the mesh window move as he looked at the two photos.

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So many creative ways to torture people.

 

After dinner, I took out my camera, determined to discover what was causing the strange result. This time I zoomed in on the window, which made me nearly drop my camera. There was a face in the mesh window! And not a friendly face, either. It was still there in the second photo, but had moved slightly. Two women from the group were with me and saw it as well. To say we were all creeped out would be an understatement.

Close-up view of mesh window in both pictures. One in focus and one not.

Close-up view of mesh window in both pictures. One in focus and one not.

 

Now, there could be a rational explanation for this. I know humans are conditioned to see faces in everything, for instance. I’m hoping my photographer boyfriend will be able to figure this out.

In the meantime, though? I’m spooked.