Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts

27 October 2019

Nice Body You Got There



Sorry, but this article has nothing to do with 6-pack abs, working out regularly, nor plastic surgeons, although it does involve doctors. So, in the spirit of Halloween, ghouls, skeletons and the walking dead (well, these corpses do get around, even if it's not under their own power), here's the not so distant past.

At the beginning of the 19th Century (that's the early 1800's for those of you who like to convert), there was a high demand by surgeons for cadavers to dissect in order to figure out what the heck was really inside the human body and how all those systems were connected. Most of these fresh cadavers came from murderers who had been hanged.

Unfortunately, at the period of time we are concerned with, only 55 murderers took the trip to the scaffold, whereas 500 cadavers were needed to teach new surgeons how to best operate. Since good money was being paid for fresh corpses, local entrepreneurs, known as resurrectionists, soon stepped forward to fill the gap. Fresh holes began to pop up in cemeteries where the recently deceased had been buried. More on this in a minute.

SIDE NOTE: While most resurrectionists plied their trade in the church graveyard, there was one grim pair of partners who took the occupation to a new level. In Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke and William Hare became best known for their innovation of creating their own fresh corpses via the lure and murder method. Their system for increasing inventory was quickly adopted by a group later known as the London Burkers. Poor Mister Hare, even though equally as infamous as was Mister Burke, did not get equal billing with the London Burkers. I guess that the London Burkers as a name had a better sound bite in the media than the London Hares would have had. In any case, Burke was hanged for his crimes, subsequently dissected (nice of him to have provided one last fresh cadaver on his way out), and his skeleton preserved in the Anatomical Museum at the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare, who had turned Queen's evidence, got a walk. After testifying in Burke's trial, Hare left town under duress (sticks, stones and several different angry mobs). He then disappeared into the world at large. Unless of course, a more surreptitious mob found him walking on the road to England.

Mort safes in a Scottish cemetery
We now return to the problem of fresh cadavers who couldn't seem to remain in their graves. The solution for the more affluent relatives and loved ones of the recently deceased was to have some way to guard the body from body-snatchers. This led to hired watchmen, mort safes and mort houses.

A mort safe was a contraption of various designs built over the grave to deter anyone from digging up and removing the coffin. The so-called safe was usually constructed from thick interlocking metal rods or bands in an accumulative weight so heavy as to make it too difficult  for a grave robber to get at the coffin while trying to work in quiet secrecy during the dead of night. Several examples of these mort safes still exist in some Scottish graveyards.

Udny Mort House
One example of a mort house can be found in the old kirkyard at Udny Green, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. This house was built in 1832. Its construction costs were intended to be paid for by subscription, however, not enough people signed up, as a result of which the services of the mort house could then be purchased on a body by body basis. The house itself was a circular building with a conical roof covered with slate. The outside door was made of heavy oak and the inside door was iron. Inside the building, and using the same general concept of a lazy-Susan, was a revolving, wooden floor about three feet above the ground. When someone died, their coffin constructed of 7/8ths inch fir boards would be placed on the revolving wood floor, along with any other coffins in the mort house, to set for approximately 90 days each. At the end of this time, the body was considered to have decomposed sufficiently to be safe from body-snatchers. The floor was then rotated, the proper coffin removed and the remains were interred in the appropriate church graveyard. As security for the mort house, four of the initial subscribers were designated as holders for the door keys. All four key holders were required to be present any time the doors were to be unlocked and opened.

The use of mort safes and mort houses gradually fell into disuse a few years after The Anatomy Act of 1832 when other methods of obtaining fresh cadavers, other than grave robbing or executed murderers, became legal. The Udny Mort House itself ceased business in 1836 after its last meeting of the board.

Since grave robbing as an occupation these days has taken a great decline, you can probably now rest in peace, assured that your remains are not likely to be sold at a back alley door to some cutup in the dark of night.

So, sleep well and pleasant dreams this Halloween.

Although, you might want to lock all the doors and turn on the security cameras just to be sure.

25 October 2019

Spooky Writers, Forgotten Graves, and Vengeance from Beyond the Tomb




It's that time of year, when Pumpkin Spice becomes a thing, and sketchy Halloween costume shops take over even sketchier strip malls.  As the fall chill settles, one starts to wonder: Are those spookiest of writers, Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Biercetruly in their final resting places? Like, tucked away, with at least six feet of hallowed earth separating them (the dead) from us (the living)?





I can offer you no such surcease of sorrow.

In this corner, the friendly,
modern-day
Jack O'Lantern...
...and in this corner, a
Samhain-era Jack O'Lantern.
It's made from a turnip, and it
will swallow your soul.
Halloween, based on the Celtic Samhain (which itself is comes from Chthulu-era pagan rituals), is the night when the dead come knocking. Some for treats, some for tricks, and some for righteous beyond-the-tomb payback.








Edgar Allan Poe. I dare you to photo shop
a straw hat onto this.
Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce specialized in tales where death wasn't always a sure bet. Both left this mortal coil with scores to settle. And there is grave uncertainty as to where either is interred.  These are three good motives for any unrestful spirit to don a hockey mask (or William Shatner mask, or fedora and sweater combo or, ok, there are a lot of costume options), grab a machete (again, options), and come calling this Halloween. One would hope that enough post-mortem praise has been heaped on Poe and Bierce to put contented smiles on their rotting faces; to sway them to let bygones be bygones.

Don't count on it.

If there's anyone who'd warrant vengeance from beyond the grave, its Edgar Allan Poe. The means are questionable, but the motives are as clear as a gold bug on a black cat.

First, Poe's death is shrouded in mystery. I don't believe he ended up in that Baltimore gutter wearing someone else's clothes just because he was at the tell-tail end of a bender. I like the cooping theory. In those days of rampant voter fraud (not to diminish our own era of Russian meddling), travelers were kidnapped, cooped up in rooms (hence "cooping"), and force-fed booze and drugs. A pretty sweet deal for some, but deadly for others. The blitzed-out saps were coerced into voting repeatedly at different polling stations. Their clothes were switched so they wouldn't be recognized.

Poe was found near a polling station, out of his head. He was wearing farmer's clothes, including a straw hat. There's no way that The Godfather of Goth cavorted amongst the literati of Virginia and New York in a straw hat like some Leatherstocking Tales reject. This man was cooped.

Rufus Griswold wrote a scathing
review of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
(pictured here). Whitman mockingly included
the review in later editions.
Second, Poe's reputation was sunk by Rufus (rhymes with doofus) Griswold, a third-rate literary rival. In popular culture Poe is often seen as a drug addicted outsider who mirrored the creepiness he wrote. Actually, Poe was a respected writer and editor, a literary celebrity who made a lot of his money in live appearances. He is probably the first American writer to live solely off his writing. Rufus Griswold was a hacky "anthologist" and the target of one of Poe's biting you'll-never-live-this-down criticisms. When Poe kicked off, punk Griswold saw his chance for cowardly payback.

Griswold wrote a scathing obit of Poe for the NewYork Tribune that was widely reprinted. Next, Griswold conned his way into being Poe's literary executor. He wrote a fake biography of Poe that appeared in Poe's anthologies.  It portrayed Poe as an addict, gambler and army deserter. This false image of Poe as an evil, pathetic genius stuck.

Edgar Allan Poe's grave marker.
It's likely that Poe is nearby.
Lastly, in 1849, Poe was dumped into an unmarked grave in the Westminster Burial Ground in Baltimore. It wasn't until decades later when a succession of grand headstones attempted to mark the great man's final resting place. In a scene reminiscent of Poe's fiction, the city of Baltimore repatriated Poe's corpse to a more scenic view. The sloppy handling of Poe's remains gave rise to conspiracy theories.

In 1978, the Maryland Historical Magazine published Charles Scarlett, Jr's "A Tale of Ratiocination: The Death and Burial of Edgar Allan Poe." Scarlett proposes that through a series of grave-marker mix-ups, Baltimore botched Poe's reburial. Instead of digging up Poe, Baltimore disinterred the remains of Phillip Mosher, a young fallen soldier from the War of 1812.  Scarlett presents a pretty interesting theory.

George W. Spence, a sexton who oversaw the first exhumation of Poe, said that he lifted up Poe's skull, and "his brain rattled around inside just like a lump of mud." Brains rot pretty quickly. Bullets don't. If Phillip Mosher was killed in the War of 1812 by a shot to the head, the hunt for Poe's corpse continues.

Ambrose Bierce and skull.
Around the time when the search for Poe's grave began, a young soldier and Poe fan was facing real-life horrors that rivaled those that Poe wrote about.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez
put their own twist on the Ambrose Bierce
legend. Edited by yours truly.
I'm a film and TV editor, and I cut a horror flick that stars Michael Parks (lead on the ultra-cool TV series Then Came Bronson) as cantankerous author Ambrose Bierce. In it, Bierce falls in with outlaws, battles vampires, and eventually joins the ranks of the undead. That's one way to explain Bierce's mysterious disappearance.

Bierce, most famous for The Devil's Dictionary and his short story "An Occurence at Owl's Creek Bridge," was a Civil War vet who saw the bloody horrors of war up close. Bierce hilariously said war was "God's way of teaching American's geography," but he found little humor on the battlefield. He fought on the Union side in hellish battles at Shiloh and Kennesaw Mountain. His writing is imbued with those experiences.  Bierce suffered a head wound at Kennesaw Mountain, which some claim was the cause of his bouts of booziness and unmatched orneriness.

Bierce's most famous story collection, which
includes "An Occurrence at Owl's Creek Bridge."
In his lifetime Bierce was known as a San Francisco journalist, but his lit legend is based on his short horror stories with surprise endings. "An Occurrence at Owl's Creek Bridge" is one of those works of fiction that has been repeated so often, and in so many mediums, that many are unaware of it as the source. It's the story of a Civil War Southerner about to be hung from a bridge. He is dropped off the side, but the rope breaks. The Southerner escapes to his home. As he's running into the arms of his wife he's stopped by a heavy blow to his neck. In the most famous of Bierce's twist endings, we learn the man imagined the escape during the time between his fall from the bridge and the rope breaking his neck.

Pancho Villa: General, Mexican revolutionary,
and maybe one of the last people to see
Ambrose Bierce alive.
In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce travelled by horseback, first to visit Civil War battle sites, then to Mexico. His stated aim was to report on Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution. Many claim Bierce was running away from old age, seeking a one-way ticket to an adventure that would carry on into the after life. His last postcard was mailed from Chihuahua City, Mexico. Bierce was intending to ride out with Pancho Villa. What happened next is shrouded in mystery, but according to numerous eyewitnesses, Bierce died many deaths.

Bierce was killed at the Battle of Ojinaga, fighting the Federales alongside Villa.

Bierce was only wounded at Ojinaga, but eventually succumbed to his injuries at the Marfa refugee camp.

Bierce was executed by a Federale firing squad at the desert village of Icamole.

Bierce was executed by a Federale firing squad at the desert village of Sierra Mojada.

Others believe Bierce offed himself somewhere in the Grand Canyon, one of his favorite hangouts. There are no eyewitnesses, reliable or otherwise, to support this claim.

At least Poe got a coffin and a handful of mourners. If Bierce died in battle, he was likely dumped in a mass grave and burned. Death by firing squad meant he got his own hole in the ground but none of the other trimmings. There's a small monument for him at Sierra Mojada, but the remains of Bierce are nowhere to be found.

I'd say the best way to placate Poe and Bierce this Halloween is to read their works. You don't even have to read the scary stuff. Poe's tales of ratiocination starring amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin are a must for any fan of crime fiction. Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary holds up as a manual of biting-though-meaningful sarcasm.

You may want to read some Shakespeare, too. In 2016, archaeologists examined Shakespeare's grave using GPR scanning. The study showed that the grave was disturbed after Shakespeare was buried. GPR images also revealed that Shakespeare's skull is missing.


Happy Halloween!

I'm Lawrence Maddox. My latest novel Fast Bang Booze is available from Down and Out Books (downandoutbooks.com). You can contact me at Madxbooks@gmail.com.

31 October 2018

My Spooky Moment


by Robert Lopresti

Happy Halloween!  May you be visited by enough costumed children to entertain you and not so many that they get  all the good candy and leave you with the healthy stuff.

I have been pondering what to write about today and decided to tell about my one-and-only brush with the supernatural.

Now, I need to explain that I am not a fan of such stuff.  I have no belief in ghosts, an afterlife, or monsters.  Things that go bump in the night are, in my experience, usually restless cats.

But there was this one time...

It happened in late August, about twenty years ago.  I was bicycling home from work, my usual form of commute, and I was thinking about a couple of songs I had been invited to perform at a friend's birthday party that night.  I turned the corner onto one of the busiest streets on my city and--

After that everything fades away.  I am sure you are familiar with pointilism, those paintings made up of individual dots?  Well, that is how my memory of that moment feels.  I can see the city scene and then it shifts into individual dots and disappears to black.

As I found out later, I had fallen off my bicycle and sustained a concussion.

The next thing I remember I was in a long black tunnel.  There was a bright but fuzzy light at the end of it and I sensed that I was being drawn farther away from that light.  I heard someone call my name.

Some of you may recognize that this event contains many elements common to what are called near-death-experiences.  People who have had such events often report that their whole view of the world has been changed by them.

And indeed, if I had blacked out at that moment I imagine my philosophy might be quite different than it is now.

But I didn't lose consciousness again.  And I slowly realized that the dark tunnel was actually the inside of an ambulance.  The light at the end of the tunnel was the sunny afternoon outside.  It was fuzzy because my glasses were broken.  The sensation of being drawn away from the light was caused by my being strapped onto a gurney which was being pushed deeper into the ambulance.  And the voice calling my name?  A paramedic calling the hospital to tell them who was coming.

Disappointing, I know.  There went my one chance to write a bestselling memoir of my visit to the afterlife.

So, on the whole, not as spooky a story as you might have hoped for.  But there are pleasures to be found in the real world too.  Snag yourself a candy bar before the goblins grab 'em all.

Oh, and one last trick or treat.  What do these two book covers have to do with Halloween?  Answer will be in the comments.

22 October 2018

B~L~O~O~D !   part 2


Erythrocyte (red blood cell)
by Leigh Lundin

We return to the spell-binding basics of blood for mystery writers and readers.The previous article carried a simplistic table for matching blood donors:

Simplified Blood Type Transfusions by Phenotype
❤︎ blood r e c i p i e n t
blood type O A B AB
d
o
n
o
r
O
A

B

AB



That’s mostly accurate except the Rhesus factor isn’t taken into consideration. No donor with Rhesus positive blood can donate to an Rh negative recipient. This accounts for the gap in the upper right quadrant of the expanded table below:

Actual Blood Type Transfusions by Rh Factor
❤︎ blood r e c i p i e n t
blood type O+ A+ B+ AB+ O- A- B- AB-
d
o
n
o
r
O+



A+





B+





AB+






O-
A-



B-



AB-






Erythrocyte (red blood cell)
The Story of O

O represents the German ohne, meaning omitted or zero antigens. Some regions and countries code the O as a 0 (zero) or ∅ (null). Students familiar with binary recognize this as a 2-bit situation with four values. Russia and a few other countries label O, A, B, AB blood types as I, II, III, IIII.

Type O negative has been called the universal donor, although the reality is a bit more intricate. Type AB positive people might be considered universal recipients.

Scientists have worked out a method of stripping A and B antigens from other blood types to create an artificial type O. The Rhesus factor still remains, so Rh- donations are sought allowing transfusions to any blood type.

But what, exactly, is the Rhesus factor? And what happens when man meets woman?

Rhesus Thesis– The Dark Side of Blood

The Rh blood group system (including the Rh factor) is one of thirty-five current human blood typing systems, the most important blood group system after ABO. At present, the Rh system defines fifty blood-group antigens, among which the five antigens C, c, E, e, and especially D are considered the most significant. Commonly used terms Rh factor, Rh-positive and Rh-negative refer solely to the D antigen. In summarizing the Rh factor,
  • Rh+ means the Rh D antigen is present.
  • Rh− means the Rh D antigen is absent.
Besides its role in blood transfusion, a prenatal blood test can determine blood type of a fetus. As a result, Rh blood grouping determines the risk of hemolytic disease of newborns (erythroblastosis fetalis), emphasizing prevention where possible.

babies Rh±
When the mother is Rh-negative and the father is Rh-positive, the fetus can inherit the Rh factor from the father, making the fetus Rh+ too. Problems can arise when the fetus’s blood has the Rh+ factor and the mother’s blood does not.

An Rh- mother may develop antibodies to her Rh+ baby, not uncommon if dribbles of the baby’s blood mixes with the mother's. The mother's body may respond as if it were allergic to the baby. The mother's body may make antibodies to the Rh antigens in the baby’s blood. This means the mother becomes sensitized. At that point, her antibodies may cross the placenta and impact the baby. Such an attack breaks down the fetus’ red blood cells, creating hemolytic anemia, a low red blood cell count. Severe cases cause illness, brain damage, or even death in a fetus or newborn. Allergen sensitization may occur any time fetus blood combines with the mother’s. Usually an Rh- mother miscarries an Rh+ fetus.
Most of us have offspring without thinking about such a subject, but problems do occur. When I was ten, a classmate’s family had struggled to have another child. They were devastated when attempts ended in perinatal deaths. We kids were saddened for our classmate, a boy we’d never before seen cry. At the time, we were told the problem was one of blood incompatibility. While we children weren’t privy to the particulars, something like the following probably occurred.
When an Rh- mother becomes pregnant with a Rh+ child, the mother’s immune system produces antibodies that attack the fetus’ red blood cells. A first child usually survives because the antibodies don’t appear until late in the pregnancy. However, in subsequent Rh+ pregnancies, antibodies are already in place. Even with extreme intervention, these children can die.

Blood Will Tell

Perhaps you’re writing a Halloween tale or a ghoulish Southern gothic involving a convoluted blood line. If you’re beset how a couple begets, check this handy table.

Blood Type Inheritance by Phenotype
❤︎ blood m o t h e r
blood type O A B AB
f
a
t
h
e
r
O O
    
O  A
    
O
B   
   A
B   
A O  A
    
O  A
    
O  A
B AB
   A
B AB
B O   
B   
O  A
B AB
O   
B   
   A
B AB
AB    A
B   
   A
B AB
   A
B AB
   A
B AB

For example, if Colonel D’Arcy is type A and Miss Annabelle Lee is type O and Baby Willie turns out type B… uh-oh. Oo-la-la as they say in N’Orleans, the colonel’s not the father he thought he was. A new tale is born.

——— Factoids ———

Bloodline Timeline

The type O bloodline was the original, dating back at least 200 000 years and likely two-million or more in ancestral primate lines. One theory suggest other blood types began to diverge as diet changed. Type AB arrived quite recently, only ten centuries ago, although a few researchers suggest an approximate AB date of 1000bc instead of 1000ad.
  • 1000,000 years ago, type O had long been the only type.
  • 100,000 years ago, type A appeared in Western Europe.
  • 10,000 years ago, type B appeared in Eastern Asia.
  • 1,000 years ago, type AB emerged as blood lines mixed.



Two blood cells met and fell in love…

Alas, it was all in vein.

I went trick or treating this year with friends. Good thing I dressed as a zombie… no one could tell it was their blood. My husband died when I couldn’t remember his blood type. I’d jotted A-positive on his donor card, but he kept whispering “Typo.”

My husband died when I couldn’t remember his blood type. As he gasped his last breath, he kept insisting for me to “be positive,” but it’s hard without him. My ex got into a bad accident recently. I told the doctors the wrong blood type. Now he’ll really know what rejection feels like.

Have a safe Halloween!

21 October 2018

B~L~O~O~D !   part 1


Erythrocyte (red blood cell)
Erythrocyte, Red Blood Cell with Type A+B Antigens
by Leigh Lundin

In the spirits of Halloween, SleuthSayers brings you a bloody fine tutorial, the basics of what an author needs to know about blood.

As crime writers, we often deal with blood, splatter, DNA and alleles in fiction and non-fiction. Today, we investigate a bleedin’ serious topic.

A+B antibodies
A+B Antibodies Schematic (Type O blood)
Bloody Detail

Erythrocyte is the technical name for a red blood cell. Scientists describe the shape as a biconcave disc or a toroid without a nucleus, meaning they’re vaguely shaped like a plastic kiddie pool or a fresh out-of-the-pack condom.

The cells contain the pigment hemoglobin that makes erythrocytes appear red. A cell’s primary duty is to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body and transport carbon dioxide back to the lungs where the breathing process of ‘gas exchange’ takes place.
antigen
An antigen induces an immune response stimulating the production of antibodies. Blood antigens comprise types A and B. Either one, both or neither may appear as part of our blood cells.

epitope
The specific surface features of an antigen type are called epitopes. It’s debatable which is the key and which the lock, so it may be convenient to think of matching antigens and antibodies as jigsaw puzzle tabs. For convenience, our schema employs shapes of letters A and B to represent type A and B antigens.

antibody
Triggered by an immune response, antibodies individually key to epitopes. A particular antibody locks onto the shape of an antigen (A and/or B). Antibodies explain why care is exercised when matching blood donors.
They combine like this.

Blood Type Components and Characteristics
❤︎ ABO ABO blood constituents
blood type O A B AB
Erythrocytes (Red Blood Cells)
Red Blood Cell Antigens
Plasma Antibodies
blood type O A B AB
Blood Type Results Erythrocytes with neither antigen but plasma containing both type antibodies. Erythrocytes with type A surface antigens and plasma with type B antibodies. Erythrocytes with type B surface antigens and plasma with type A antibodies. Erythrocytes with both surface antigens but plasma without either antibody.

M-Mmm, Tasty

If you vampires think your honey’s blood is sweet, you have a point– the ‘A’s and ‘B’s in blood types are sugars. Moreover, under an SEM (scanning electron microscope), antigens lend red blood cells a sugary gumdrop look, quite unlike the glossy renderings we usually see.

Types A, B, and AB feature antigens on the surfaces of their cells. Notice how antibodies are ‘keyed’ to lock onto a particular type of antigen, kind of a socket. Antibodies in plasma can attack the wrong type antigens introduced into the blood stream.

Mayhap you feel it’s better to giveth than to receive. Not to be sanguine about these matters, we practice safe blood-letting. To help take the ‘ick’ out of ichor, following is a convenient Béla Lugosi table of tasty platelets for those special moments.

Simplified Blood Type Transfusions by Phenotype
❤︎ blood r e c i p i e n t
blood type O A B AB
d
o
n
o
r
O
A

B

AB



This explains why blood donations are carefully matched. A person with, say, type B antibodies in the plasma can’t mix blood with type B antigens (blood type B or AB): Only type A or O will serve. For practical purposes, a type O donor can give blood to everyone.

Contrarily, an AB- patient can receive from nearly anyone. Because of AB antigens, an AB donor can give blood only to another AB recipient.

——— Factoids ———

Bleeding Blue

Famously, Mr. Spock exhibited faintly green skin, purportedly because Vulcan blood flowed with copper-based hemocyanin rather than iron-based hemoglobin. Beyond Star Trek, other blood colors can be found. In fact, you’ve likely eaten some of them.

Creature copper carriers include shrimp, lobsters, certain crabs, some snails, crayfish, and squid. Octopuses are known for their copper-protein blood, albeit blue rather than green.

The New Guinea skink bleeds green, not because of copper, but because of staggering levels of biliverdin and bilirubin. The ocellated icefish, with neither iron or copper, carries clear blood in its veins.

Blue Bloods… and Green

Mention ‘blue bloods’ today and people think police. In centuries past, the term connoted nobility. Initially, ’sangre azul’ referred to Spanish royalty, whereupon the phrase spread throughout Europe. But why blue?

Serfs, slaves, and commoners typically labored outdoors in fields and forests, accumulating muscles, thicker skin, and tanned flesh. Such ‘rednecks’ looked markedly different from the aristocracy, usually known for their pale, sunless skin revealing blue veins.

Two other hypotheses about royal blue bloods prove difficult to verify. One suggestion premised that royalty often suffered from hæmophilia, rendering the skin and veins even paler. A somewhat more intriguing idea set forth the notion that a lifetime of exposure to silver serving dishes, wine cups, and table utensils, may have given the skin a pale blue cast.

green Leigh
[On a personal note, during school breaks in my teens, I experienced considerable exposure to copper. During those summers, I literally sweated green. Notice the pointy ears? The Frankenstein flair?]



Tomorrow, grab that sphygmomanometer. We’re bringing you more bloody information.

31 October 2017

Ghostbusters in La La Land


by Paul D. Marks

Do you believe in ghosts?

It’s Halloween, so I was trying to think of an appropriate post for such an auspicious day. And I think I finally hit on something. But first, I thought about doing Halloween movies, you know like Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, Halloween 2077. Or The Exorcist. Or _________, well you fill in the blank. But it just didn’t hit me. What did hit me was a brief Magical Mystery Tour of a few of LA’s haunted places. As writers, we might sometimes use the supernatural in our stories, but do we really believe? Maybe, maybe not. So let’s check out some “real life” ghost sightings.

But before we really get started on the tour, how ’bout a little mood music, Sleeping With a Vampyre, from Brigitte Handley and the Dark Shadows:



So now, as Jackie Gleason (I’m sure he’s haunting someone, somewhere) used to say, “And away we go”:


~The Biltmore Hotel (506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles) is the epitome of elegance. On the
outside it’s a mash of styles, but inside it looks like some minor principality’s grand palace, filled with marble fountains, frescos and other lavish appointments. Oh, and maybe a ghost or two.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention that nominated the alphabet team of JFK and LBJ was held there. Many of the early Oscar ceremonies were also held there. And there’s been sightings of various ghosts. The most famous is probably Elizabeth Short, though you might know her better as the Black Dahlia. Some people claim that the last place she was seen alive was at the Biltmore and that her ghost returns often to the lobby. Boo!

Millennium Biltmore Hotel-10371203123
The Biltmore Hotel lobby
photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons
In my story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill (Ellery Queen, Dec., 2016), I talk a little about the Biltmore:

I felt Bandini at my side as I stared across at the Biltmore Hotel. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not saying I saw a ghost. Just a feeling. Then, something flitted by on the edge of my peripheral vision. Across the street in the Biltmore: JFK sipping champagne cocktails at his inauguration party. Swells drinking bathtub gin in the Gold Room, a sort of speakeasy for the upper crust during Prohibition, hidden in the depths of the Biltmore. Oscar ceremonies and celebs. Mae West and Carmen Miranda partying. Ghosts of the past. Now I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.


~The Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA) on the Sunset Strip used to be Ciro’s nightclub. The famous, or infamous, Strip is in an unincorporated area of LA County. Because of that it’s patrolled by the Sheriffs, not the LAPD. And because of that enforcement of certain laws there, like gambling and prostitution, wasn’t quite what should have been, shall we say, at least in the past. That, of course, brought in a “certain element,” the head honcho of which was Mickey Cohen, LA’s mob boss, along with his pal Bugsy Siegel.
Ciro's Nightclub

Ciro’s was a hip place in the 40s and 50s, affiliated with the mob and even more pointedly a mob hang. There were peepholes in the walls of the main rooms so mobsters could watch the comings and goings. And the basement was more like a medieval dungeon—like they say in LA Confidential of the Victory Motel, lots of bad things happened in the basement at Ciro’s. Killings. A torture room. So you better have paid your gambling debts and not bothered the show girls.

Today, the basement is said to have a very oppressive atmosphere—I guess it’s all those tortured souls trying to escape and find some peace. Some employees refuse to go there, especially after one saw an evil being. Some people think it was a malevolent ghost, but it might just have been Harvey Weinstein.

Comedy Club employees also claim to hear voices and cries of anguish coming from the basement. Some claim to have seen Mickey’s enforcer, Gus, watching the crowds during performances, so you better damn well be funny.


~Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA), the cemetery to the stars. If you ever wanted to attend an A List party, check this place out. Everyone’s here, from Valentino (he who needs no first name) to Tyrone Power, Hattie McDaniel and Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone (well, one of them in spirit only, there’s a statue of Johnny but his wife kept his ashes). And let’s not forget that Bugsy guy—he’s here. As is Ann Savage, star of the great B noir Detour. I’m not sure who’s more savage him or her, at least her character in that flick.
Dee Dee Ramone's grave

People have reportedly seen Valentino’s ghost strolling along the paths. But there was definitely a ghostly woman who dressed all in black—the Lady in Black—who brought flowers to his resting place for years and years on the anniversary of his death because he had told her at one time that he didn’t want to be alone.

And Clifton Webb, who when I think about it would indeed make a good ghost, is also said to haunt the place. He played Mr. Belvedere. Also Waldo Lydecker in Laura and Hardy Cathcart in The Dark Corner, so his noir bona fides are in place (Belvedere notwithstanding). It’s said that his spirit haunts the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum with drafts of cold air, scents of his cologne and whispered voices from people who aren’t there. It’s especially spooky if you can’t stand the scent of his cologne.

Virginia Rappe, the young woman that Fatty Arbuckle is supposed to have raped at a wild party, and who died shortly after, is also resting here. Well, maybe not quite resting. An icy coldness is said to surround her grave, even on hot days. The sound of crying can also be heard.

With all the well-known people here, I’m sure these aren’t the only folks haunting this place.
And it just so happens I wrote about Hollywood Forever in my story Continental Tilt (Murder in La La Land anthology):

In the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, a vampire movie played on a humongous silver screen. This wasn’t your usual movie venue, but the crowd of seven hundred loved it. Spread out on beach chairs and blankets, with bottles of wine and beer, Boba tea, doing wheatgrass shooters and eating catered Mexasian sushi, fusion food for the Millennial-iPod generation.


Did I forget to mention that the movie theatre was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the heart of Hollyweird? That over the summer they show movies on the mausoleum wall, while people sit on their beach chairs and blankets—Beach Blanket Bloodshed—and munch their munchies amongst the graves of movie stars, rock stars and even mere mortals? The back wall of the cemetery, clearly visible from the field of graves the watchers watched the movies from, was appropriately the back wall of Paramount Studios.

Ghosts of a million stars haunted this place, from Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino to Fay Wray and Bugsy Siegel—a star in his own right. From Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone to Hattie McDaniel and Iron Eyes Cody to Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices—Bugs and Porky, Daffy and Tweety and 996 more—whose tombstone simply read “That’s all folks!”





~The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA) is a famous haunt, excuse the expression, of the rich and famous. The Roosevelt debuted in 1927, right on Hollywood Boulevard, sometime after the No Dogs, No Actors people moved out of the area, no doubt. The Roosevelt held the very first Oscars, well before the TV era, so they were actually about a nod to movies and the people who made them, instead of one gigantic commercial. And, as such, the hotel was home to many stars.
The Roosevelt Hotel
by Bohao Zhao via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the most famous ghosts are Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe, you might have heard of her. Maybe him too.

People say Marilyn haunts room 1200, her old room. They see her in the mirror. They see her in the halls and the lobby. People claimed to see her in the room’s mirror long after her passing. So the mirror was moved to the lobby—but people persisted in claiming to see her. Eventually it was moved to storage, but her ghost still haunts the hotel.

And Clift is said to haunt room 928, patting guests on the shoulders (hmm, I wonder if Harvey Weinstein stayed in this room too. Sorry.) Carole Lombard, one of my faves, floats around the upper floors. I wonder what she’s looking for. Maybe I should head over there and ask her.

There’s also been some non-famous ghosts seen hanging around, but who wants to hang with them?


~The Cecil Hotel (640 S. Main Street, Los Angeles). Saving the best for last, or maybe the worst. This one’s so bad there’s a whole TV series devoted to it now.
The Cecil Hotel
By ZhengZhou (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The Cecil—I’ve always wondered who exactly Cecil was—was born in 1927, clearly a good year to start a hotel. With its opulent art deco lobby it was a place for business people to stop when in L.A. But the Depression did the hotel in and it never fully recovered. After that its 700 rooms became more of a place for transients and worse. And I do mean worse.

The Cecil’s best known resident is a chap named Richard Ramirez. You might know him better as the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized the LA/SoCal area in the 1980s. His weapons of choice included everything from guns and knives, to hammers, a tire iron and a machete. A Satanist, he never showed any remorse for his crimes.

Richie made room 1402 his home, where he slept by day, so he could do his thing at night. People said they’d see him coming through the lobby of the Cecil in bloody clothes, which he’d dispose of in their dumpsters. But nobody thought much of it at the time… That’s the kind of laid-back place the Cecil was.

But don’t fret for Richie. Once caught and incarcerated, he had plenty of fans writing him letters, even love letters. Seventy-five letters from Doreen Lioy must have made his heart warm ’cause he proposed and they were married in San Quentin Prison in 1996. (I hope he’s haunting her now.)
A few years after Ramirez was disposed of (he died of cancer in jail), another young man checked into room 1402. Jack Unterweger was an Austrian journalist, who did ride-alongs with the LAPD. That was as good a way as any to scope out his potential targets—he, too, was a serial killer. He wanted to emulate his hero, Richie, which is why he specifically asked for room 1402. Jackie was eventually caught and imprisoned. He hanged himself while in prison. I hope he’s enjoying being united with Ramirez. And I hope both are a little hot these days. John Malkovich portrayed him in stage show called Seduction and Despair. I haven’t seen it, but I’m not despairing about that.

More recently a young tourist from Canada, Elisa Lam, came to LA for a jaunt. She decided to stay at the Cecil, though I can’t fathom why. And soon went missing. Nobody knew what happened to her until one day some other tourists found brown, foul tasting water coming from their sink. To make a long story short, Elisa’s body was found in water tanks on the hotel’s roof and, though her death was ruled an accidental death due to drowning, there’s plenty of people who dispute that. And I’m sure the walls running with blood in The Shining have nothing on the black, foul-smelling bloody water in the infamous Cecil. And that’s for real, not a movie.

These are probably the most well-known people and things that went on there, but the hotel’s history is filled with grisly incidents and stories of ghosts haunting every floor and every room. Today the hotel has been remodeled and rebranded as Stay on Main, a sort of boutique-y hotel, so go ahead and stay there. Ask for room 1402 and enjoy your visit. If you’re lucky you’ll get to go home.
Amazingly enough, I happened to write about the Cecil in my novella, Vortex:

In the bright light of the full moon, the Cecil Hotel cast a sharp shadow across Main Street in downtown L.A., slicing the sidewalk like a double-edged knife. I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, this was not a good one. Some people say the Cecil is haunted, prowled by ghosts. It started life as a way station for business travelers in 1927. Since then it’s been through many changes, from budget hotel to SRO and the residence of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker. A paramedic was stabbed inside the hotel a couple of years ago and a young Canadian woman staying there went missing. When the water started tasting bad and dribbling, instead of flowing, out of the faucets, someone decided to see what was wrong. They found her body in a water tank on the roof of the building. Yeah, the Cecil was a class act.

The Cecil was the end-of-the-line hotel—suicide central, with people jumping off its upper floors every other day, or so it seemed at one time. Since it was the end-of-the-line hotel of last resort somehow it seemed to be the perfect place for what I was sure was coming.



~I was also going to talk about the Sharon Tate/Roman Polański house on Cielo (10050 Cielo Drive), where members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered several people, but Fran Rizer (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/10/not-named.html) beat me to it a week or two ago. So briefly, I used to take people there to see it before it was torn down. For some reason everybody wanted to see that place. I went there many times and never saw a ghost, but who knows…


Marilyn Monroe
Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-
photo from Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
~And last but not least, places haunted by Marilyn Monroe. From what I can tell, she’s just about
everywhere in L.A. Her best-known haunt is probably the Roosevelt (see above), but she’s also known to haunt several other places. There’s been tons of sightings of Norma Jeane at the Roosevelt, everywhere from her former room, to the lobby and even in the Cinegrill restaurant. But the Roosevelt isn’t the only hotel that Marilyn’s ghost hangs out. The Knickerbocker Hotel (1714 Ivar Ave., Hollywood) is another place Marilyn used to hang. She and husband Joltin’ Joe liked to hang at the hotel bar. Her spirit is often seen staring at herself in the vanity of the powder room. And magician Harry Houdini’s widow held séances there for several years, hoping to hear from her departed husband.  William Frawley of I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and many, many movies, fame lived there for many years. Might be a good place to go for a swell scare.

Marilyn Monroe's crypt
photo by Arthur Dark (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons



~Marilyn’s home (12305 5th Helena Drive, Brentwood, CA) is where her body was discovered after she took an overdose of pills. The house is still there and her ghost has been spotted many times over the years. And her grave, not too far from there, at Westwood Memorial Park (1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, CA) is also where many sightings of her spirit have “materialized.” The Beverly Hilton Hotel (9876 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA) just east of Westwood (I like saying that: ‘east of Westwood’) is supposedly where Marilyn and Bobby Kennedy were thought to have been seen the very night of her suicide. And her ghost is supposedly haunting the suites there to this day. Boy, that’s one ghost that gets around.

So there you are—some of LA’s most famous haunted places. And this is just the tip of the haunted LA iceberg. C’mon to our fair town and get your haunt on. Maybe you’ll see Marilyn’s and JFK’s ghosts cavorting at the Biltmore or hear the howls of pain coming from the Comedy Store’s basement.
~~~~~

And for a little extra credit check out Janet Rudolph’s list of Halloween mysteries at:
http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/10/halloween-crime-fiction-halloween.html More Halloween mysteries than you can imagine.

And another bonus, the witch’s house in Beverly Hills:

The Spadena House aka "The Witch's House"
photo by Lori Branham



So, do you believe in ghosts now? And what ghosts haunt your fair city?

Mel Blanc's tombstone
Photo by Robert A. Estremo via Wikimedia Commons

That's All Folks!

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


29 October 2017

Plastic Fantastic Family Noir, Halloween edition


by Bette Noire

taxidermied Trigger
Taxidermied Trigger © Horse Nation
When I was a wee girl, my Grandfather Albert sat me on his knee and told me about singing cowboys. The famed Roy Rogers appeared in movies and television and restaurant chains. He owned a Jeep named Nelly Belle, a palomino named Trigger, a German shepherd named Bullet, and a wife named Dale. When his dog died, he had it stuffed by a taxidermist. When his horse Trigger died, he had it stuffed. When his wife died, I’m not sure if Roy had his woman taxidermied, but Grandfather would gaze fondly at Granny Crystal and say it made a beautifully sentimental story.

Then Granny Crystal died. She was a fine-looking woman with a trim figure and surprisingly perky C-cups. Grandfather started thinking about preserving his beloved. By then, technology had advanced. He considered Cryovac like the butcher uses for chickens in the market, but it was only a step up from Saran Wrap and subject to freezer burn even when double-wrapped.

About that time, Fox News ran a segment about Körperwelten, a German company that plasticizes human bodies for museums and exhibitions. Grandpa Albert got so excited, he took time out from Fox’s 134th definitive investigation into Vince Foster and asked me to google human plastination. He was disappointed to learn the cost to preserve Granny in plastic was €122 000 plus shipping and tax, even after saving $52 in freight costs by labeling her ‘non-GMO export product’.

Körperwelten Body Worlds
© Körperwelten Body Worlds

Then we found a Chinese company, Hoison Sun, which could fulfill his dream of keeping Granny forever for only $87. I expressed some skepticism about the low price, but he pointed out the vast difference between German engineering and Chinese sweatshop production.

“It’s guaranteed,” he said. “No cost of burial. No cost of cremation. Waste not, want not, I say. How could we go wrong?”

Revell Visible Woman
Visible Woman © Revell
He studied the photos and videos. About that time he remembered those Revell plastic models of ‘Visible Man’ and ‘Visible Woman’ and decided that was the way to go, a clear body– after all, her name was Crystal– where you could see the muscles and organs.

At a yard sale, we bought a huge styrofoam chest with a 7-Eleven logo on the side. We packed it with Granny and lots of dry ice. The UPS man grunted at the weight and asked with a wink if we were shipping dead bodies to China, ha-ha. I kind of tee-heed and said that would be crazy.

The German competitor required a year to plasticize bodies, so it came as a surprise a month later when our doorbell rang and the FedEx man struggled up the steps with a wooden crate from Guangzhou in the Guangdong province.

Grandfather pried off the sides with a claw hammer and then stared in awe. There stood granny in all her shimmering glory, naked right down to her muscles and bones.

Right away, we noticed one of the Chinese shortcuts. I never knew breast implants accounted for Granny’s perky boobies.

“I didn’t think they’d preserve those,” said Grandfather.

Her right rib was imprinted with the LG logo and the words “中国制造 ©李 隆丁, Tech Support call 800-867-5309.”

“Do you want to request a return RMA from tech support? She must be under warranty.”

He decided to think about it. The other problem was a sort of Tupperware-food-in-the-microwave smell, which grew more noticeable as the day warmed up. We learned the answer when Fox News reported a class action suit against the Chinese company for cutting preservation corners and a shortcoming in the curing process. Fox recommended turning the thermostat down to 58°. Grandfather decided he could live with that.

My next concern was my 12-year-old son, Bobby Jr. He invited his friends over and they stood around inspecting her perfect breasts and saying, “Wow, your great-grandmother is hot. Well, cool but hot, too.” That probably ruined the boys for life, thinking women grow implants like that.

I worry Bobby Jr may never have a love life at all. The lifelike glass eyeballs in Granny’s skull tend to rattle him.

He worked up a little bravery.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Uh… gall bladder, I guess. Come to think of it, your grandfather has a whole lot of gall.”

“And that?”

“That’s an ovary.”

“You mean where eggs come from?”

“Right.”

“And that?”

“That would be the womb and below that is where the cervix should be.”

Bridgitte and Ginger in Ginger Snaps
Brigitte and Ginger
Bobby turned pale. I never knew he had a queasy stomach. His goth sister Louise chain-watches Ginger Snaps and Scream, and drenches her ice cream in cherry-chocolate syrup to look like blood.

“So a baby’s supposed to… You mean a baby fits… How’s that possible?”

“It’s not. That’s why God makes spinal epidural blocks, anesthesia, and 1.5-litres of Southern Comfort.”

“You’re not planning to, uh, preserve Great-Grandfather Albert, are you?”

Grandpa's adage of waste-not, want-not, crossed my mind. By now, Bobby had turned greenish-grey.

“I’m not sure. He’s got ulcers, a softball-size prostate and his liver drips like a Toyota oil pan. Bobby… Bobby, are you okay?”

Thinking it would help illustrate, I dragged out the Revell Visible Man to present a male rôle model perspective, so to speak.

“See, there’s the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas and the prostate. Your great-grandfather’s is about fourteen times that size. Bobby? Bobby?”

He cracked his head against the table as he fainted. “Prostrate from the prostate,” said Grandfather unhelpfully. Fortunately surrounded by medical models, I was able to palpate his skull plates back in place and saved the expense of an ambulance to the emergency room.

Grandfather warmed Granny’s side of the bed with a hot pad and gently laid her on it. That struck me as a bit Norman Bates, but snuggling gives him comfort at night, especially under his blanket fort when he lights up her insides with a flashlight. He smells a little plasticky in the morning, so I turn the thermostat down to 58° and insist he tub soaks before coming down to breakfast.

I’m okay with Granny now. Tech support removed the silicone breast prostheses and applied extra body sealant. You can see straight through her perky boobs and from the side, they make an amazing magnifying glass. Grandfather uses them all the time when reading Sport Fisherman.

Bobby finds it extremely disturbing his friends play hacky-sack with the retired implants. Waste not, want not, I say.