Balloons in the Night!

We spend a lot of time wandering back roads, out of the way places and remote locations just to see what we can see. Sometimes, it happens that we stumble across something that makes us think “Wow, that is weird!” or “Boy, I wonder what that is all about?” or “Geez, that is kind of creepy!”. Well, this weekend, we ran into something in the woods that caused all three thoughts to surface at once.

So picture this, driving a lonely dirt road far from towns, homes or even lights. It is dark-the kind of dark that headlights struggle to pierce. Music is playing as the group talks and laughs. Then something catches your eye floating over the road ahead. As you get closer, the image emerges from the dark and you realize the pail ghostly orbs are, in fact, balloons tied to a tree overhanging the road obviously design to attract attention from passersby.  The closest thing is a public area along the river with a reputation for drugs, unsolved murders and general mayhem.

I confess I was hesitant to stop the first time we passed them because it seemed like something a nefarious person may do to get people to stop along a deserted road. However, once we drove for a while and turned around, curiosity got the better of us and we had to at least take a look.

The balloons were tied to a branch at least 8’ high that hung out over the edge of the road. While stopped taking pictures, someone was on watch for rampaging clowns or a disgruntled circus performer. Well, and a machete wielding hockey enthusiast!

I am happy to report that we took our photos and continued with our adventure without incident. Now, I am aware that there may be any number of logical, reasonable explanation for the balloons. A party, a signal to aliens, bored locals or candid camera are all possible answers, but was it unexpected? Certainly! Was it creepy? A bit. Was it the makings of a good story? Absolutely! The whole way home, we wondered if they were an invitation to Jason Voorhees Birthday Bash or Uncle Billy Bob’s Redneck Clown Extravaganza. Either way, we all got a good laugh, cool photos and a little creepy video.

Here are the photos and video so we can share the experience with you!

 

The Kingsley Plantation Ghost, Part II

In 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley moved to Fort George Island and what is known today as the Kingsley Plantation. He brought his wife and three children (a fourth would be born at Fort George). Drawing of the Kingsley mansion at the Kingsley PlantationAs you may recall from our previous post, his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was from Senegal, West Africa, and was purchased by Kingsley as a slave. She actively participated in plantation management, acquiring her own land and slaves when freed by Kingsley in 1811.


The plantation on Fort George Island produced Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, and corn. The Kingsley’s had an enslaved workforce of approximately 60 sixty people, whose labor was a deciding factor in the success of the plantation. Kingsley continued to acquire property in north Florida and eventually possessed more than 32,000 acres, including four major plantation complexes and more than 200 slaves.

Kitchen house at Kingsley Plantation - Jacksonville, Florida For a time, Anna moved in between Fernandina and Fort George Island, taking over managing the plantation while Kingsley was away on business. At some point in the 1820s, they built a separate kitchen connected to the main house by a covered walkway. Sometimes called the John “Don Juan” McQueen house, after the person who first built Kingsley Plantation, it had a room above it where Anna lived with her children. As odd as it may seem, this followed the common West African custom of wives’ living separately from their husbands, particularly in polygamous marriages. Kingsley took three other wives, all slaves, while at Fort George Island. Two of them gave him children.

On the island, the slaves were quartered a fifth of a mile from the plantation home in tabby cabins. Arranged in a semicircle, there were originally 32 cabins, 16 on either side of the road. This area was the heart of the slave community–the homes of the men, women, and children who lived and worked on Kingsley Plantation more than 150 years ago.

Drawing of tabby houses at the Kingsley Plantation

The enslaved people were barred from both reading and writing; without written sources recounting their experiences, a true understanding of their lives proves difficult. Archaeology, oral histories, accounts authored by Zephaniah Kingsley, official documents and photographic evidence help to provide clues, though.

In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821. It’s important to note that Spanish society had relatively liberal policies with regard to race, but the new American territorial laws brought many changes. Conditions for Florida’s black population, free and enslaved, deteriorated rapidly and Kingsley, who was against the restrictive laws, found himself arguing that more humane treatment would ensure peace and the perpetuation of slavery. In 1828, he published these opinions in “A Treatise on The Patriarchal, or Co-operative System of Society As It Exists in Some Governments . . . Under the Name of Slavery.”

When they felt that the political climate was irreversible, Kingsley, Anna Jai and their sons moved to Haiti in 1837. Kingsley reported that this was to escape a “spirit of intolerant prejudice.” Kingsley established a colony for his family and some of his former slaves. In 1839, Fort George Island was sold to his nephew Kingsley Beatty Gibbs. Zephaniah Kingsley died in New York City in 1843.


Stay tuned for our next post, when we start to really examine the tale of Old Red Eyes!

Tracking the Kingsley Plantation Ghost

A Tree found on the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, FloridaOld Red Eyes

Local legends tell a harrowing tale of a ghostly spirit known to haunt the historic Kingsley Plantation. What revenant wanders the pastoral landscape and crumbling tabby walls of the slave quarters? If you believe the lore, it is the spirit of Old Red Eyes. Weird Florida shares the story on their website:

“Old Red Eyes is the wicked spirit of a slave that raped, brutalized, and killed, several of the plantation’s female slaves. He was caught by the other slaves and hanged from an oak tree near the entrance to the plantation. Although there are no historical records that document these events.”

The disclaimer they’ve appended to the end is found with nearly every description of Old Red Eyes. This, of course, leaves quite a bit of room for folkloric embellishment, which left us curious with regard to the life and times of those purportedly involved in this frightening tale.

If you’re a long-time fan of The GRIM Society, you probably already know what it means when our curiosity is peaked; if you’re a new visitor to our site, we hope you’re prepared to learn to love learning! We’re breaking this story up into a few posts, since there is a lot of history to cover and we have some really wonderful photographs to share with you.

Anna Kingsley: Senegalese Princess

Forget what you were taught about slavery. Rid yourself of preconceived notions of slave traders, plantation owners, and even of the life led by those held in captivity. Now imagine a young slave trader who, thanks to his growing wealth, is able to purchase a young black woman from the slave markets in Cuba.

Her name was Anta and she was West African, captured in present day Senegal. Her home country was ripped apart by warring factions and slave raids were frequent. There are rumors that Anna was born into the royal family, but these have yet to be substantiated. It is believed that Anna was 13 years old when she was purchased from the salve market in the fall of 1806.

Anna now belonged to a man who was both slave trader and plantation owner: Zephaniah Kingsley. Later, Zephaniah wrote that he and Anta,  were married in a traditional African ceremony “in a foreign land” (likely Cuba) and that her name had been changed to Anna. By the time she arrived at Kingsley’s plantation in Laurel Grove, she was pregnant.

The Kingsley’s Plantations: Slavery in Spanish Florida

The slaves at Laurel Grove worked under a task system. They were given a daily quota for whichever job they were assigned; once they reached this quota, they were free to pursue personal tasks. Many of the slaves had personal gardens, some were even craftsmen who sold their finished goods to neighboring plantations and kept the profits for themselves.

In 1811, Kingsley granted Anna legal emancipation. Kingsley also granted their three children emancipation at the same time. He later wrote of Anna, describing her as “a fine, tall figure, black as jet, but very handsome. She was very capable, and could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself. She was affectionate and faithful, and I could trust her.”

In 1813, now a free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land and was awarded 5 acres across the river from Laurel Grove. To get the farm going, Anna purchased goods, livestock, and 12 slaves.

A New Start

Zephaniah Kingsley was kidnapped in 1813. His captors wanted him to endorse the Patriot Rebellion, an attempt by Americans to annex Florida to the United States. Americans and the allied Creek Indians raided towns and plantations in north Florida; any person of color who was captured was sent into slavery, regardless of their legal status. These Patriots seized Laurel Grove and 41 of its slaves. They used the facilities as a headquarters while carrying out additional raids.

Anna approached the Spanish and negotiated for her escape, bringing along her children and a dozen slaves. Then she did something so brazen it still rings with defiance: she burned Kingsley’s plantation to the ground while the Spanish watched, then asked the Spanish to escort her to her own homestead, which she also set ablaze, preventing its use by the Patriots.

After the war the Spanish government granted Anna 350 acres thanks to her actions.

We’re going to leave off here today. Next up, the founding of the Fort George Island plantation and Anna’s House. Don’t miss it!

 

Believers and Skeptics: a large-scale test

I was recently browsing Google Scholar and came across an interesting publication. Titled Paranormal psychic believers and skeptics: a large-scale test of the cognitive differences hypothesis, the article was written by Stephen J. Gray and David A. Gallo, both affiliated with Department of Psychology, University of Chicago.
The essence of the article is this (taken from the abstract):

Why do some people believe, while others are skeptical? According to the cognitive differences hypothesis, individual differences in the way people process information about the world can contribute to the creation of psychic beliefs, such as differences in memory accuracy (e.g., selectively remembering a fortune teller’s correct predictions) or analytical thinking (e.g., relying on intuition rather than scrutinizing evidence). While this hypothesis is prevalent in the literature, few have attempted to empirically test it. Here, we provided the most comprehensive test of the cognitive differences hypothesis to date.

The Brain from a Paranormal PerspectiveI was intrigued, so I pulled up the full article and read more. The primary goal of the study was to conduct a comprehensive test of the memory distortion hypothesis; they achieved this by testing the prediction that there would be individual differences in memory accuracy and distortion between those who believed in paranormal/psychic phenomenon and those who did not. The researchers also looked for potential links between psychic beliefs and measures of analytical thinking and personality characteristics.

The test was done through a combination of laboratory and online tasks and through multiple memory measures. They included both episodic memory and autobiographical memory tasks. Working memory was also tested, as it’s been linked to the belief/disbelief in other studies.

Rather than drone on and on about the testing process, etc, I’ll simply link you to the article (pdf here) and give you their summary of results (emphasis mine):

Our cognitive testing showed that there were no consistent group differences on tasks of episodic memory distortion, autobiographical memory distortion, or working memory capacity, but skeptics consistently outperformed believers on several tasks tapping analytical or logical thinking as well as vocabulary.

These findings demonstrate cognitive similarities and differences between these groups and suggest that differences in analytical thinking and conceptual knowledge might contribute to the development of psychic beliefs. We also found that psychic belief was associated with greater life satisfaction, demonstrating benefits associated with psychic beliefs and highlighting the role of both cognitive and noncognitive factors in understanding these individual differences.

Rather interesting results. I hope to see a continuation of their research; perhaps examining those who score equally on these tasks on a believer/nonbeliever basis to see if there are any other differences between the two groups.

What do you think?

The Governor’s House

We would like to thank Curtis Boyd for providing access to The Governor’s House (also known as the McCarty House). He granted us the unrestricted opportunity to investigate and research, which we took advantage of on multiple occasions. Without his support and patience, we would not have been able to conduct such an extensive and complete investigation. Hopefully, the documentation captured there will help to further the field of Paranormal Research.

The Governor's House

The Governor’s House (McCarty House), Fort Pierce, Florida

Having grown up in Fort Pierce, I had driven past the old Governor’s House countless times. It stood on the hill over looking the Indian River Lagoon and it made one wonder about the good times and the bad it had seen. Unfortunately, time began to take a toll on the house. The back to back hurricanes (Francis and Jean) in 2004 dealt a severe blow and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was in “reality” the coup de gras. As the years past, the house began to take on the ominous look of a haunted house from a classic horror film.

Our interest in the house began to develop in 2007, when while conducting research on another nearby building we were given our first hint there might be something to investigate in this building too. This is from a post on our website in October of 2007:

The other night we were at our current extended-investigation location, taking pictures of the outside of the home when I was surprised to hear someone (female) say something that sounded like “Help Me” from the McCarty house next door. Let me set the scene….this is the McCarty House, built in 1905 and currently slated for demolition.

My husband, who was standing next to me at the time, did not hear a thing, which was interesting, but the oddest thing was that the sound came from the top of a tree in the back yard of the home. The tree is near a 2nd floor window, which is boarded up. We searched the area for about 20 minutes, but couldn’t find anything that would account for the noise. We finished up the pictures of the outside of the house we’re investigating and headed home.

The next morning a friend messaged me to tell me she had just had the chance to read our recently posted research. She also commented that she wished she were at work (as a 911 dispatcher), as they get a lot of calls from the area. I inquired about the calls and here is what she said:

We get “ladies of the evening” calling up that there are screams coming from that area but they never say its from that house you’re researching. They are about the house next door.

I of course ask if it is the McCarty house. She responds:

AH yes! That sounds right. they call to report a woman asking for help. they always say someone is calling from UP…..and we always get calls, can’t remember what time of the night or what nights are the “norm” but i do remember getting calls, and they are always drunk chicks and ‘ladies of the night’, always female now that i think about it and they always say it sounds like a female voice yelling for help. of course when the cops get out there the person calling it in is long gone and there’s never anyone screaming

There is one officer that you cant PAY to go to that location- she REFUSES to respond to either house, flat out, unless someone is getting shot at she ain’t going

Now we’re really interested. The house has no history of paranormal activity that we can find, other than these people reporting the woman screaming. Well, last night we went back to our investigation house but also spent a bit of time investigating the McCarty house. While we were there, we couldn’t find anything that would account for the ‘screaming woman’.

Then we came home and started reviewing our evidence. Here is what we found:

mccarty

Note the two feral cats in the bottom left of the image. You can’t see them when you’re there in person, but we’d be willing to bet $100 that one was in the tree the other night. In case you haven’t heard a feral cat cry, they can sound just like a woman.

At that point, we had relegated the McCarty House “haunting” to wild cats, but the reports kept coming. Some of them were just the sound of screaming, though one report was of a person in the building banging on the window as people were walking by outside. Our interest was cemented and we began to conduct in depth research into the history of the location and of those who lived there.

In March of 2010, one of our team was given permission to photo document the house before it was demolished. During the photo session, the gentleman working to salvage fixtures from the house, Dean Thomason,  shared with our group that he frequently heard footsteps, doors opening and closing, light switches being turned and the sounds of talking on other floors when he was the only one inside the building.

What will follow in the next few weeks is our research into the history, our investigations and finally, what we found during our many visits the McCarty House.

That’s Not Paranormal Evidence—Its Your Mind Playing Tricks On You!

Investigating Our Perceptions of the Paranormal

If you’ve ever spent time researching the paranormal, you’ve probably noticed that much of the discussion surrounding the topic can be summarized as nothing more than opinions being debated among believers and non-believers alike. While this statement might not sit well with those of us who dedicate our time to the field of paranormal research, the truth we must admit to ourselves is that nearly every premise we operate under is unproven; they are merely surmises generated by a collective of individual perception and personal belief.

For those who have never been involved in a lively debate on, for example, the types of paranormal activity, this concept might not make sense at first glance, but you’ve probably seen at least one television show peppered with the term ‘personal experience’. This term is the key to the entire field of paranormal research. Everything we do is affected by our personal experiences, and those experiences are all based on our individual perception of the world around us. This long-standing situation has allowed those outside the field to target our research as pseudoscience.

All of this begs the question: Should the ‘data’ collected through paranormal research—photographs of orbs, video of strange shadows, audio recordings of what most interpret as a voice—which relies on individual perceptions be considered evidence? Its a difficult question to answer. The collection of data might seem to be science-based as it makes use of technology, yet even with modern recording devices, it all begins in the mind.

What Do You Hear?

The easiest way to understand just how much perception affects our evidenceis to test your own skills. Listen to the audio clip below, then challenge your friends to listen to it. Compare what you each think you’ve heard.

http://soundcloud.com/thegrimsociety/sonyaudio-2805

Just a tip: clicking on the link above will navigate your browser to SoundCloud.com. If you’d like to open the sound file in a new window, right click on it and choose to do so; if not, just hit your browser’s back button to return to the article once you’re done listening to the file.

Evidence: What It Is and What It Isn’t

While it might seem natural to begin by digging further into the actual data itself, the first item of issue that must be addressed is the definition and concept of evidence. Ask anyone on the street if they know what evidence is and you’re certain to hear a resounding yes. Then ask them to give you the definition. You might just be amazed at the variety of responses you receive. I recently surveyed a group of family and friends, asking them this question: Without looking it up, can you define evidence? Here are two of their responses:

“I would say, ‘that which supports a claim’. I’m certain that there is some Latin involved which would explain the exact word.”

“Physical props that confirm a theory?”

Who has the right answer? Do you know? Here’s the Dictionary.com definition for the word:

1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.

3. Law. data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.

Instead of helping to clarify the point, the alternative definitions for the word merely confuse the issue—and that is before we have even added in modern philosophical debate to the mix. There are two well-known quotes on the topic of philosophy and evidence which sum up the problem quite well. The first is from the book Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, written by A.J. Ayer, who observed,“For my own part, I think that if one were looking for a single phrase to capture the stage to which philosophy has progressed, ‘the study of evidence’ would be a better choice than ‘the study of language’.” This concept is further expounded upon by R.G. Collingwood in The Idea of History, where he wrote,“And when we try to define ‘evidence’ … we find it very difficult.” Difficult indeed!

This philosophical mire is exactly what the paranormal investigator wades into each time he or she uses the term evidence. Do they define that evidence as something which they believe proves or disproves the existence of ghosts, or is it ‘hard evidence,’ like that we’d find in a courtroom? And if they do indeed speak of that ‘hard evidence’ variety, does it not follow that it should be physical evidence or material facts that can not be debated or disproved?

The most frustrating factor of this confusion over the actual meaning of evidence is that it is only one facet of the larger debate surrounding paranormal research. If we accept that evidence is a reference only to a data set that is convincing to those who do not currently believe in the existence of paranormal activity, we’re excluding scientific research from the field on a wholesale level. If we instead choose to embrace the ideal of evidence as data which offers proof of fact, we bring the data itself into question, which in turn leads us back to our question of perception.

Data and Perception: Interpretation of Stimuli

At this point, you’re probably wondering exactly what perception has to do with a photograph or video. The answer is surprisingly simple: not everyone’s brain will interpret stimuli in the same manner. therefore, many ‘paranormal’ experiences are actually just normal experiences interpreted differently. This concept applies to everything from a ghostly encounter to a digital photograph.

These altered perceptions are often described by professionals as mistaken or illusive. Examples of this type of alteration abound, such as a situation when a coat rack is mistaken for a man due to low lighting and indistinguishable shadows. Altered perception can also be explained as plain imagining, such as when the shadows appear to be something they aren’t, taking on a shape and substance of their own. As an example, let’s revisit the picture below, which we discussed in our blog post Psychology of the Paranormal Pt. 1:

optical illusion

It’s all in the perception. It is for this reason that all data collected through a paranormal investigation not issuing from a scientific implement is suspect, even those seemingly-irrefutable videos and photographs. In fact, even when dealing with exact measurements such as time, temperature, pressure, etc, your collected data can be refuted if you’ve used the equipment improperly or failed to be exacting in your documentation. Yet those numbers are still removed from interpretation by an individual, whereas photographs and audio or video recordings are still external stimuli that our brain has to interpret.

As a community, paranormal investigation teams need to accept that no individuals perception of experiences will ever be credited as being scientific proof for an encounter with the paranormal. Science is much more likely to accept that those shadowy ghosts or that whispered response you’re perceiving are merely a trick of the mind is known as pareidolia. Pareidolia is, “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features.”

To learn more about how our mind works to interpret the stimuli around us, you can research both pareidolia and the fusiform face area, a region of our brain where we process faces and possibly other stimuli that we are extremely familiar with.

At The Threshold of Personal Belief

All of this information leads one to wonder if perhaps our inability to understand paranormal experiences is due to a lack of ‘belief’ in the experiences, or a deeper inability to understand the workings of our own minds. If we are unable to develop a research methodology that is removed from the acts of perception, how will we ever be able to scientifically quantify what occurs during a paranormal event—or if those events even happen to begin with? With the understanding that our mental processes are affecting each piece of data we collect, how do we, as investigators, separate the personal experiences from the evidence? At this point, there are no obvious answers, but we are certain that, through the dedicated efforts of research teams across the country, the puzzle of these investigation methods will be solved.

Einstein once said,”Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Though unintended, this statement sums up the current situation in field of paranormal research. The most effient way of achieving our end goal of understanding is to find a common ground between accepted science and paranormal research. Without scientists to help guide our research, the field investigations that paranormal teams conduct will never offer real evidence; without teams to carry out the field research, scientists will continue to miss out on opportunities to find an explanation for phenomena that are reported across the globe. Until we truly accept one another and embrace a new partnership, we continue to simply debate our personal beliefs.

Public Tours vs Private Property

I was just reading this article about a ghost tour group that had to shut down because one of the major locations they visit has been declared off limits by the owners.

When I read the headline, I assumed it was some narrow minded zealot that had over reacted, but after reading the whole story I can see both sides to this.

The church is completely within their rights to ask the tour group not to come onto the property. The church is responsible for maintaining the property and the safety of the graves there. I can also understand the church asking for liability insurance from the tour company. Let’s face it, when someone trips and falls in the dark, they will sue the deepest pockets. It’s just the way it is these days. That being said, it would have been nice if they would have given a little more notice.

The ghost tour company is trying to make a living. Most of the ghost tours rely on public access to places of interest. Rarely, do they actually own the property they guide people through. While most ghost tour operators are very conscious of being respectful of the neighboring houses and businesses, it is nearly impossible to guarantee the behavior of every person on every tour. People will be people.

Take a read of this article, I’d love to know your opinion.

-Jim

Morpeth church bans ghost tours!

Have Scientists Isolated Evidence of Psychic Phenomena?

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that in her land, “memory works both ways.” Not only can the Queen remember things from the past, but she also remembers “things that happened the week after next.” Alice attempts to argue with the Queen, stating “I’m sure mine only works one way…I can’t remember things before they happen.” The Queen replies, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

Oh Alice, How Does Your Memory Grow

This is the opening paragraph from a really interesting article published over at the Psychology Today blog The Social Thinker, written by Melissa Burkley, Ph.D.  The idea invokes an interesting discussion of what memory is, what precognition might be and how the two are related.  Imagine, just for a moment, being able to ‘remember’ the future.  Consider the idea of being able to improve your mid-term final grade, business dinner or even that conversation with your mother-in-law simply by thinking about them and perfecting them in your own mind after they happen.

The implications of this possible evidence within the paranormal community could be far reaching; it introduces almost as many questions as it provides answers for.  Here is a bit more information on the research:

Dr. Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, conducted a series of studies that will soon be published in one of the most prestigious psychology journals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). Across nine experiments, Bem examined the idea that our brain has the ability to not only reflect on past experiences, but also anticipate future experiences. This ability for the brain to “see into the future” is often referred to as psi phenomena.

I would love to hear everyone else’s opinion on this study.  How do you think it will affect the paranormal field? Do you believe the findings (based on the original article) are valid proof that we are (or can be) psychic?

Remote Reading

The GRIM Society is looking for a psychic or a medium who can do readings based on images and who would be willing to spend a few minutes looking at something for us. We have a couple photographs that we’d like to have read, as they seem to be generating an odd response.

If you’re interested in taking a look, email me at thegrimsociety at gmail.com and I’ll forward you the pictures.

Ghost Stories versus Historical Research

I love a ghost story. Any ghost story. My book shelf is loaded with books on Florida ghosts, Irish Ghosts, New England ghosts, lighthouse ghosts, battlefield ghosts; basically, I have a lot of books with ghost stories in them.

Likewise, I find myself often watching T.V. shows about ghosts. I enjoy the stories for what they are – entertainment. The problem comes when you start looking into the actual facts of these stories. Often, the tales are impossible to research because they fail to give important details such as names and dates.  Do stories that are unsubstantiated have less value than those with verifiable facts? I suppose it depends on your outlook.  If all you’re looking for is entertainment, then no.  But if you’re looking for something more, something deeper, you have to be able to weed out the urban legends and get down to the bones of a story.  That is where historical research comes in.

I know we don’t update the website very often, but that isn’t because we’re not active.  While you won’t find us posting endless hours of EVPs or countless orb photographs, that doesn’t mean we’re not hard at work.  We’re usually plodding away in search of a stray fact, some dusty truth hidden below the fantastic tales told by so many websites and books.  Here is where we conduct most of our paranormal investigations:

P1080871

Yep- we do most of our investigating at the local library.  You’d be amazed what you can find in there! The items in that image are the tools of the trade that often get overlooked when you drop by a ghost hunting website and check out their recommended equipment. A pen, some paper, old newspapers on film and a microfiche reader. They pair nicely with HeritageQuest, NewsBank and Ancestry.com. In fact, it doesn’t need to get much more high-tech than that to debunk most ghost stories we come across.  Fact checking the tales is tireless, often unrewarding work.  Often, we discover some tidbit of information in an old newspaper article or locate a headstone that proves without a shadow of a doubt that the tale we’ve been investigating is, well, complete make believe.  It can be quite a let-down, and being the voice of reason when everyone else wants to hear a good story can be daunting at times.  It’s a bit like being a detective, a genealogist, a historian and a lawyer arguing an unpopular case all rolled into one.

Despite all that, there is sometimes a reward; a pot of gold at the end of the research rainbow.  A good example of this can be found in the Boston House.  We’ve been researching the claims attached to the building for years.  Many of them have proven to be nothing more than a really great story to tell around a campfire.  Yet as we debunked those tales, a different picture emerged.  The Boston House has been dubbed haunted for many, many years- something well documented in the local papers.  Those reported paranormal encounters pre-date the currently popular explanation for the hauntings.  Even more interesting is the fact that the home played host to a number of tragedies, any of which could have resulted in paranormal activity.  Finally, as if it were icing on the cake, many credible witnesses have come forward over the years to share their experiences.  These experiences create the perfect situation for furthering the investigation; specific claims that can be investigated on site.

I often wonder how other groups work through their cases.  I find it hard to believe we’re alone in the stacks, the odd group out as we sift through the sensational stories to find the gems that call for further investigation.   I can only hope there are, and that groups with this methodology prevail in finding out the truth behind all the ghost stories we love to tell.

Psychology of the Paranormal Pt. 1

Have you ever heard a voice in your head? Seen something that you can only describe as visualized, or perhaps seen with the Mind’s eye? Many paranormal encounters are described with terms such as these- and just as many scientists discredit them as being instances of Mental Imagery.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy, Mental Imagery is quasi-perceptual experience. This means that it resembles a perceptual experience, but occurs without the appropriate triggers- scent without a source, piano music without a piano, etc.

The argument from a scientific standpoint, as it appears to me at least, rests on the heels of perception. Not everyone’s brain will interpret stimuli in the same manner; therefore, many ‘paranormal’ experiences are merely normal experiences interpreted differently.

This altered perception is often described as mistaken or illusive perceptions (such as seeing a small bush some distance away and, because it is dark and indistinguishable, perceiving it to be a bear) or as plain imagining- like seeing a shape in a cloud. As an example, check out the picture below:

optical illusion

Did you see a duck? Or was it a rabbit? Both?  It’s all in the perception, and that is why no individuals ‘mental imagery’ experiences can be credited as being scientific proof for an encounter with the paranormal.

The thing I find most interesting about this out-of-hand dismissal of so-called mental imagery can be found in the fact that scientists themselves can’t really figure out what mental imagery is; they’re not sure what causes it, they don’t know if it has a singular purpose or if it is simply a part of the ‘way we work’. There are several active theories that attempt to explain mental imagery, but each one is highly contested by other theories.

Which leads me to wonder if perhaps our inability to understand and quantify paranormal experiences is due to a lack of ‘belief’ in the experiences, or a deeper inability to understand the workings of our own minds.

 

 

The Historic Boston House

Cresthaven

William Turpin Jones was born in Carnesville, Franklin County, Georgia on August 31, 1868. He came to Florida in 1892 to work as a machinist helper for the Saint Augustine railroad shops. His career in the FEC was quite successful and in 1900 he was promoted to engineer and relocated by the company to Fort Pierce. As an engineer he operated the trains between Jacksonville and Key West.

During his career he survived two train accidents. The first took place when workmen left dynamite on the tracks and the train hit it; Mr. Jones was seriously injured in the incident and given a settlement by the FEC. The money he received was used to pay the $6,000 needed to build his new home, Cresthaven, which was located at 239 Boston Ave, Fort Pierce. The home was built in 1909 and was a marvel, with most of the materials being brought in by railway from Georgia and other points throughout the US. The second accident took place on a rainy afternoon when the station master sent Jones a note written in red pencil, warning him of an oncoming train and instructing him to switch to a separate track. Unfortunately the rain smeared the note and the train remained on course, meeting up with the oncoming train at a curve in the tracks, where they collided head on. Both engineers and firemen jumped into the watery canals running alongside the tracks and survived the incident.

Mr. Jones was married to a woman named Margaret and together they had five children:

  • Fred, born about 1896
  • Louis, born about 1898
  • William L., born about 1901
  • Margaret, born about 1905
  • Clifford, born about 1909

Jones’ career with the FEC came to a stop in 1913, when he retired and began to raise oranges and pineapple and sell real estate. It was in this same year that Jones’ son Fred A. Jones was involved in a motorcycle accident that took a life. Fred, who was 17 years old and engaged to young Ada Daniels. On Friday, May 16th, a party was held at Cresthaven and Fred decided to take Ada for a moonlight ride on his motorcycle. They were joined by Fred’s best friend Raymond Saunders, who was driving a second motorcycle with Ada’s sister, Nola on the back. Shortly after leaving Cresthaven, something went terribly wrong and the two motorcycles collided. Fred, Ada and Raymond were seriously injured; Nola was pronounced dead on the scene. Fred would later recover from the accident, but walked with a limp and never married Ada Daniels.

After the accident, life continued fairly quietly for the Jones family until 1915, when a fateful incident in downtown Fort Pierce (which we will report on later), ended with Jones being appointed Sheriff of Saint Lucie County around June 4, 1915. He ran for reelection in June of 1916, and continued to serve in the office of Sheriff.

On Friday, September 6, 1918, Mr. Jones’ son Clifford was involved in a fatal shooting. Clifford, age ten and his nine year old playmate William M. Fee were in the living room of Cresthaven when Clifford reached to take the cartridge out of his fathers gun. The gun fired, shooting William Fee in the abdomen. William was taken by train to the hospital in Miami, where he died shortly after 11:30 p.m. that night.

During that same year, Sheriff Jones made national headlines in the case of E.D. Griswold and David P. Valley; the former having perpetrated a scam that cost Mr. Valley over $11,000. Jones was made famous for refusing to accept a bribe from Griswold, instead choosing to prosecute a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jones continued to serve as Sheriff until May of 1920, when he resigned the position due to the financial loss it was causing him. As a side note, he was replaced by Sheriff William R. Monroe, who was killed on March 25, 1921 while piloting a confiscated rum running boat. The boat, loaded with 200 cases of rum from the Bahamas, exploded in the Indian River Lagoon across from the Oslo area.

Rather than returning to work as a Sheriff after the death of Monroe, Jones went back to work for the FEC. He was beginning to feel the strain of the Depression and was having trouble covering his investments. In order to save his orange groves, he negotiated with a friend, Irving C. Whitney, who loaned him a sum of money and Cresthaven was used as the collateral. Sadly, Mr. Whitney soon passed away and the note went to his sister and heir, Rose P. Whitney, who was a retired school teacher hailing from Massachusetts. At the time of Mr. Whitney’s death, Rose was 62 years old and living in a modest house on S. 12th Street with her sister who was 74. Rose Whitney inherited the note on Cresthaven and on September 3, 1932 she forced the immediate sale of the home to her. Both spinster sisters moved into the house.

While the Jones family’s involvement with Cresthaven ends here, their story is an interesting one and we thought you’d like to follow it all the way through. They were dispersed throughout the area. Mr. Jones and his wife moved to a small one story home north of Fort Pierce, overlooking US 1 and his beloved FEC Railway tracks. They had 40 acres of grove and hammock that later became Vero Shores. When trains would pass by the home, the engineers would sound the whistles and the Jones family would come out to wave to them. The sons opened the Jones Brothers Garage, which was located at 618 N. 4th Street.

In 1938, the 3rd son, William L. Jones, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. He was taken by rail to Philadelphia, but died after surgery; he was only 36. Two years later, William Senior became very ill. He was taken by railway to the FEC hospital in Saint Augustine, where he died December 7, 1939. His wife passed away on January 10, 1944. In 1948, their daughter Margaret, who was in perfect health and working as a clerk at Canaday’s Pharmacy, suffered a heart attack and also died. On October 2, 1957, Fred Jones, the eldest son, took his own life, shooting himself in the bedroom of his family’s home at 135 N. 10th Street, Fort Pierce.

Returning to the story of Cresthaven, we find that the home has been renamed to the Boston House and that both Rose Whitney and her elder sister died in the home. Rose suffered a drawn out illness before her death on April 5, 1954.

Her will, which was read into record on April 21, 1954, included a dispersement of nearly $150,000.

After her death, the executors of her estate held an auction, selling off the contents of the home. An advertisement was placed in the local paper, dated Sunday, December 19, 1954, and they also attempted to sell the Boston House.

Because the home did not sell, the executors petitioned the city for a change in zoning. On May 31st, 1955, the notice was printed in the local paper that a public hearing would be held on June 20th at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall to determine if the home could be rezoned to a commercial property; the zoning change was granted.

It is interesting to note that, according to the local historical society, Cresthaven was sold to John McCarty in 1949, but that he never resided there. According to the records, this is not possible, as there is a clear line of possession that does not include a sale to any of the McCarty family.

The home was sold in 1957 to Wood, Beard & Assoc., an Engineering Firm. They in turn sold the home to Diane & Leanord Cottem in 1976. Mr. Cottem began holding séances in the attic. This time period is the birthplace for the numerous ghost stories which surround this historic home.

The ghost stories include reports of Indians sitting on the front lawn, maniacal laughter sounding throughout the building, moving objects, and perhaps the most well-known haunting tale in Fort Pierce, the story of the Perkins family. The legend (as shown below in an article from The Fort Pierce Tribune, December 28, 1995) is reprinted nearly every year at Halloween.

“According to legend, the Perkins family was vacationing at the Boston House, which at the time was an inn. Young Tim and his father went fishing and drowned when their boat sank in a storm. The father’s body washed ashore, but Tim’s corpse never was found. According to local lore, the ghost of wife and mother Aleacon Perkins has been spotted at a third-floor window still awaiting the return of her lost family.”

In 1984 the Cottem family sold the Boston House to the current owners. During the renovations, old bottles from bootleg rum were found hidden in the walls behind the plaster. It was also discovered that Louis Jones, the 2nd son, had carved his name into a 2nd story window of the home with the engagement ring he was preparing to give to his girlfriend. The renovations by the newest owners caused quite a stir, yet again. Here is another quote from the Tribune:

“The law firm’s employees often are greeted by a whiff of perfume or the smell of coffee when opening the office in the morning. And sometimes office doors that were locked tight at closing time are found standing open the next morning. “We weren’t aware of the history of the building until after we bought it,” Phillips said. “After we bought it we talked to the former owner and he had experiences in the Boston House. The owners before him said odd things happened to them and some of their employees wouldn’t work on the third floor after dark.”

Phillips said he realizes that stories sometimes get exaggerated over the years, but the things that have happened to him and other in his office are not tall tales. “What has happened here has happened here,” he said. “There has not been any embellishment. There are certainly some oddities going on here.” The stories has led author Chaz Mikell to list the building in his book of haunts, “Florida Ghost House Directory.””

In addition to the Florida Ghost House Directory, Cresthaven’s ghost tales are retold in “Stories from the Haunted South” (page 62), as well as other books on hauntings in the area. As you can see from the research posted above, Cresthaven was never run as a boarding house or inn. Additionally, there are no records of a Perkins family in the area at the time frame in question. Searches of historical records (which have been corroborated by two independent researchers) show that there was no Perkins family in the area at that time; there also were no deaths of anyone with the last name of Perkins in Saint Lucie County at that time.

While researching the history of this home, we took the time to visit Riverview Memorial Gardens, the cemetery where the Jones and Fee families are interred. We were startled to find that the Fee family crypt contained not only nine year old William Fee, victim of the shooting at the Boston House, but also his mother, Emma Morgan and father, Fred. Fred was buried in the same grave as William Mixon Fee, grandson of Emma Morgan and Fred, who is listed as having passed away at the same time as Fred in 1939. Could this be the source of the tale of two lives lost by drowning on a fishing excursion? We can’t say for sure at this time, but we will continue to research the topic.

Cresthaven was added to the National Register of Historic Places is 1985.

Resources:

  • The Palm Beach Post
  • The Fort Pierce News Tribune
  • The Saint Lucie County Tribune
  • Census Records dating from 1910-1930
  • Saint Lucie County Historical Museum
  • Downtown Main Street Association
  • Clerk of the Court, Saint Lucie County
  • FRF B Jones, William T, The Building of Cresthaven by William Paul Rogers, Jr., Grandson of William T Jones. Available at the Saint Lucie County Library, Fort Pierce.
  • The Florida State Archive
  • The Florida Photographic Archive

Examining An Urban Legend

Over the past few days we have continued to research the Devil’s Tree and the legends surrounding it. We’ve come up with some very interesting information that we wanted to share. In order to explain the information to the fullest, we’ll break it down into sections.

oakhammock_treesOak Hammock Park is a local hangout for fishermen and boaters along the C-24 Canal. On January 8th, 1973, long before the park was built, the deranged serial killer beat, raped, hung, then buried 2 girls beneath the “Devil Tree”.

A bit of research into this has shown us that this part of legend is actually untrue. Let’s start with the date. According to the legend, the murders took place on January 8th. The truth is that the victims, 19-year-old Iowa residents Collette Goodenough and Barbara Ann Wilcox, left Biloxi, Mississippi and began hitchhiking to Florida around that time; however, an exact date of their death was never established. We can confirm that they disappeared between January 8th and January 15, 1973- when serial killer Gerard Schaefer was jailed for assaulting two other hitchhikers, Pamela Sue Wells and Nancy Ellen Trotter.

Wells and Trotter managed to exact a narrow escape from Schaefer, who left them handcuffed and gagged, “balanced on tree roots with nooses around their necks, at risk of hanging if they slipped and fell.” Schaefer left the area and the two escaped, leading to the capture of Schaefer. You might find yourself wondering how we know he is tied to the remains of Goodenough and Wilcox. The answer was found in Schaefer’s mother’s home during a search- a passport, diary and book of poetry owned by Collette Goodenough and the drivers license of Barbara Wilcox. Because of this, we can reasonably assume that Schaefer murdered Goodenough and Wilcox, but the date of the murders would fall between January 8th and January 15th, most likely somewhere after the 8th as they would have had to hitched all the way to the Treasure Coast prior to him discovering them.

The next point that is made in this first section of the legend is that the women were hung from the Devil’s Tree and then buried beneath it. Both of these points are actually incorrect. According to newspaper articles discovered during our research, the remains were actually scattered in a palmetto thicket several hundred feet from the tree; additionally, there is this statement, taken from the same article:

“Former St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Detective Rick McIlwain, now an investigator for the State Attorney’s Office, said he found several pieces of the Iowa girls’ dismembered bodies at the base of a small tree off Leafy Road, about 300 feet from the oak.”

In January 1977, almost 4 years to the day that the murders were committed, two fishermen discovered the skeletal remains of the two bodies, and the hanging ropes were also found.

Yet again we can turn to eyewitness reports to debunk this portion of the legend. An article run by the Palm Beach Post in the 1990s, which focused on the history and fate of the Devil’s Tree, tells us:

“West Palm Beach resident XXXXXX, who found the Iowa girls’ bones when he was having a barbecue with friends off Leafy Road 16 years ago, was happy to hear the mighty oak will be spared and called it “one of the finest live oak specimens around.”

“Investigators believe Schaefer hanged his victims up with telephone wire in the smaller tree by kicking out an orange crate from beneath their feet. Wire and a crate were found near the small tree, which also may have been an oak, McIlwain said. Authorities removed a branch believed used in the murders and still have it in an evidence locker, sources said.”

As you can see, this pretty much decimates that section of the legend. However, the same article reveals something previously unknown about the Devil’s Tree:

“One of the inverted crosses was drawn by a friend with marital problems who committed suicide under the tree in 1983″

Over the years people have reported hearing screaming, and seeing hooded figures walking around the woods. In 1993 an exorcism was held, and a cross was erected, after two boys claimed to have seen a Satanic ritual taking place near the tree, and being chased away by the Satanists who yelled that they wanted their blood.

This rather astounding information has proven to be true. Again, from the article:

“After two children reported being chased by youths in black hoods off Leafy Road last weekend, XXXXXX and a group of pastors blessed the tree at neighbors’ urging Thursday and made plans to chop it down.”

This leads us into the remainder of the legend, which tells us:

Before the park was built, they were going to cut down the tree, but their chainsaws kept malfunctioning in the area surrounding the tree. They tried to cut down the tree manually with a two-man saw, but the teeth of the saw broke off, so they left the tree where it was.psa

We can not confirm or deny this portion of the legend at this time, but we did find this, again in the newspaper:

“Pastors gathered at a 150-year-old oak in Port St. Lucie Thursday and chanted, ‘ Demons be gone,’ to drive away the evil they say resided in the tree. The tree won a reprieve Friday when the owner decided not to cut it down.”

Whether that decision was based on a desire to preserve the tree or because the tree wouldn’t ‘allow’ itself to be cut down, we can’t say at this time.

In Search of the Devil’s Tree

Most people we talk to have never heard of Deputy Sheriff Gerard Schaefer- we hadn’t, and we’ve been residents in the area since birth. It took a rumor overhead by a friend to tip us off to the strange history of Port Saint Luice; a little digging led to the truth and the story of Gerard Schaefer. This twisted individual was responsible for the deaths of possibly hundreds of women, with his victims remains having been found at both Blind Creek and in what is now Oak Hammock Park in Port Saint Lucie. For a full history of this man, visit Michael Newton’s article, “All About Gerard Schaefer“.

The murderous past of Oak Hammock Park was compounded in the years after Schaefer’s horrific crimes took place. Soon groups of Satanic worshipers moved in, claiming the tree Schaefer’s victims had been hung from as their own. They held rituals under what was fast becoming known as the Devil’s Tree, despite the attempts of others in the area to prevent their activity. Here are a few excerpts from the local papers over the past years:

“With Bibles in hand and a can of paint at their sides, a team of pastors set out to rid an oak tree of evil Thursday after reports that the tree has been the site of two murders and several satanic rituals. Chanting “demons be gone” and “this is holy property,” four pastors and two church members joined hands around a 150-year-old live oak on Southwest Leafy Road.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 5, 1993

“A 150-year-old oak tree slated for the chopping block because of folklore tying it to evil will not be razed, the tree’s owner said Friday. Instead, an 8-foot wooden cross will be erected near the tree to warn devil-worshipers they’re not welcome on Southwest Leafy Road, said Alan Weierman, administrator of the children’s shelter that owns the 30-acre tract in western Port St. Lucie.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 6, 1993

The land on which the Devil’s Tree grew eventually found its way into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department in Port Saint Lucie. As the story goes, the employees were instructed to cut the tree down in preparation for the land becoming a public park. Here is an excerpt from a standard “friend of a friend” accounting of what happened next:

“The city decided to remove the tree. They contracted the work out to a local tree removal service, who went in with their chainsaws and equipment to cut down the oak, however, their chainsaws wouldn’t fire up. Frustrated, but not ready to give up, they returned with some unused chainsaws, and were surprised to find they also wouldn’t start. All of the chainsaws worked properly later on.

The story got even odder because they came back again, planning to cut down the tree with an old fashioned two person pull saw, the kind made out of tempered steel. Oddly, the teeth broke off the saw.

At this point, the city felt they had run out of options and just decided to leave the tree. That is- until recently. I have heard rumor that perhaps the Devil’s Tree may have been cut down without anyone having been told. Since I haven’t been to Oak Hammock Park recently, I can’t confirm that though.”

In addition to the rumors of activity at The Devil’s Tree, it is said that the woman’s restroom at the park is also a spot with unexplained noises and other events. Today, we decided to take the chance and visit Oak Hammock Park in search of the infamous Devil’s Tree. We went off directions we’d found on another website, which pointed us towards the tree and explained that it was a very old, large oak with metal benches under its branches and a lot of Spanish moss hanging above. After following the directions to reach the tree, we came across one that seemed to fit the bill exactly. We took pictures and discussed the fact that none of us had an erie feeling from the tree, something everyone seemed to report. We continued on down the path, eager to explore the remainder of the park, which is an idyllic slice of ‘old Florida’.

It wasn’t long before we came upon the second tree. It was a very large, old oak. There were metal benches under the branches. The Spanish moss was there. All the signs, yet this was the second tree that fit the description. We thought it odd and, after taking pictures of this second tree, continued on down the path- where we found tree number three. There are five large, old oaks that fit the description of the Devil’s Tree along one path alone, making it nearly impossible to identify with the information we currently have.

Having said that, only one tree gave off an eerie feeling; only one tree seemed to be “creepy”. It also had a rather interesting branch, which you will be able to see in close up in the images below. We also took time to check out the women’s restroom, which didn’t seem like anything interesting during the day.

We’re not done exploring the Devil’s Tree- we are currently attempting to reach those who were involved in the original cases in an attempt to find someone who can verify which of these majestic oaks has the sordid past.

Scouting Spruce Bluff

This location is going to prove difficult for any small research team. There are two separate trails; one leading to the graveyard and one leading to the burial mounds. Both paths are littered with debris and overgrown with weeds. The path to the graveyard winds through the woods and will be nearly impossible to find in the dark without the use of night vision.

Additionally, Spruce Bluff has been surrounded by housing developments. Roads encircle it, creating the typical traffic issues of shadows and sounds. There are electric and telephone lines on the outside of the park grounds, but no improvements within the park are visible. There are no underground cable or line markers; however, with such a large amount of housing in the area, there very well might be unmarked lines.

For those interested, here are some images from the scouting expedition.