“THE HORRORS OF ROUTE 66” and More True Paranormal And Unbelievable Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Harry Houdini may have been one of the world’s greatest magicians – but he was also the biggest debunker of magic when it came to the supernatural. (Houdini vs. Spiritualism) *** There are strong women. There are formidable ladies. There are tough cookies. There are female baddies. And then there is “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, who was surely in a class all her own. (The Ballad of Stagecoach Mary) *** Dozens of creepy stories and urban legends have sprouted up along America’s most legendary highway. We look at some of the horrifying things people have experienced on Route 66. (Terrors of Route 66) *** It was one of the wildest and wickedest of all Wild West towns… and now it’s one of the most haunted. Jerome, Arizona is considered the most haunted town in the state – possibly in all of the United States. (The Haunting of Jerome, Arizona) *** Their seances with the departed launched a mass religious movement—and then one of them confessed that “it was common delusion”. We’ll look at the rise of Spiritualism – and the two sisters that started it all. (The Fox Sisters)
MENTIONED LINKS IN THE EPISODE…
Video interview on “Rockford Buzz” Facebook page: https://tinyurl.com/r59pqnr
“Pujol the Farting Artist” (bonus audio for patrons): https://www.patreon.com/posts/33742339
“Terrifying True Stories of Graveyard Workers” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/5430
“A Summer of Werewolves” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/5391
“The True Story Of Natalia Grace: How The Film ‘Orphan’…” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/5565
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Note: Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Fox Sisters” by Karen Abbott for Smithsonian Magazine: https://tinyurl.com/ycexng3f
“Houdini Vs. Spiritualism” by Maggie Clancy for Graveyard Shift: https://tinyurl.com/tqqb7et
“Stagecoach Mary” from Strange Company: https://tinyurl.com/sejae2n
“Horrors of Route 66” by Jacoby Bancroft for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/qt9kz53
“The Haunting of Jerome, Arizona” by Patrick Thornton for Graveyard Shift: https://tinyurl.com/szaksnf
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
THE FOX SISTERS
One of the greatest religious movements of the 19th century began in the bedroom of two young girls living in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York. On a late March day in 1848, Margaretta “Maggie” Fox, 14, and Kate, her 11-year-old sister, waylaid a neighbor, eager to share an odd and frightening phenomenon. Every night around bedtime, they said, they heard a series of raps on the walls and furniture—raps that seemed to manifest with a peculiar, otherworldly intelligence. The neighbor, skeptical, came to see for herself, joining the girls in the small chamber they shared with their parents. While Maggie and Kate huddled together on their bed, their mother, Margaret, began the demonstration.
“Now count five,” she ordered, and the room shook with the sound of five heavy thuds.
“Count fifteen,” she commanded, and the mysterious presence obeyed. Next, she asked it to tell the neighbor’s age; thirty-three distinct raps followed.
“If you are an injured spirit,” she continued, “manifest it by three raps.”
And it did.
Margaret Fox did not seem to consider the date, March 31—April Fool’s Eve—and the possibility that her daughters were frightened not by an unseen presence but by the expected success of their prank.
The Fox family deserted the house and sent Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester. The story might have died there were it not for the fact that Rochester was a hotbed for reform and religious activity; the same vicinity, the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gave birth to both Mormonism and Millerism, the precursor to Seventh Day Adventism. Community leaders Isaac and Amy Post were intrigued by the Fox sisters’ story, and by the subsequent rumor that the spirit likely belonged to a peddler who had been murdered in the farmhouse five years beforehand. A group of Rochester residents examined the cellar of the Fox’s home, uncovering strands of hair and what appeared to be bone fragments.
The Posts invited the girls to a gathering at their home, anxious to see if they could communicate with spirits in another locale. “I suppose I went with as much unbelief as Thomas felt when he was introduced to Jesus after he had ascended,” Isaac Post wrote, but he was swayed by “very distinct thumps under the floor… and several apparent answers.” He was further convinced when Leah Fox also proved to be a medium, communicating with the Posts’ recently deceased daughter. The Posts rented the largest hall in Rochester, and four hundred people came to hear the mysterious noises. Afterward Amy Post accompanied the sisters to a private chamber, where they disrobed and were examined by a committee of skeptics, who found no evidence of a hoax.
The idea that one could communicate with spirits was hardly new—the Bible contains hundreds of references to angels administering to man—but the movement known as Modern Spiritualism sprang from several distinct revolutionary philosophies and characters. The ideas and practices of Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century Australian healer, had spread to the United States and by the 1840s held the country in thrall. Mesmer proposed that everything in the universe, including the human body, was governed by a “magnetic fluid” that could become imbalanced, causing illness. By waving his hands over a patient’s body, he induced a “mesmerized” hypnotic state that allowed him to manipulate the magnetic force and restore health. Amateur mesmerists became a popular attraction at parties and in parlors, a few proving skillful enough to attract paying customers. Some who awakened from a mesmeric trance claimed to have experienced visions of spirits from another dimension.
At the same time the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th-century Swedish philosopher and mystic, also surged in popularity. Swedenborg described an afterlife consisting of three heavens, three hells and an interim destination—the world of the spirits—where everyone went immediately upon dying, and which was more or less similar to what they were accustomed to on earth. Self love drove one toward the varying degrees of hell; love for others elevated one to the heavens. “The Lord casts no one into hell,” he wrote, “but those who are there have deliberately cast themselves into it, and keep themselves there.” He claimed to have seen and talked with spirits on all of the planes.
Seventy-five years later, the 19th-century American seer Andrew Jackson Davis, who would become known as the “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism,” combined these two ideologies, claiming that Swedenborg’s spirit spoke to him during a series of mesmeric trances. Davis recorded the content of these messages and in 1847 published them in a voluminous tome titled The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind. “It is a truth,” he asserted, predicting the rise of Spiritualism, “that spirits commune with one another while one is in the body and the other in the higher spheres…all the world will hail with delight the ushering in of that era when the interiors of men will be opened, and the spiritual communication will be established.” Davis believed his prediction materialized a year later, on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits in their bedroom. “About daylight this morning,” he confided to his diary, “a warm breathing passed over my face and I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying ‘Brother, the good work has begun—behold, a living demonstration is born.’”
Upon hearing of the Rochester incident, Davis invited the Fox sisters to his home in New York City to witness their medium capabilities for himself. Joining his cause with the sisters’ ghostly manifestations elevated his stature from obscure prophet to recognized leader of a mass movement, one that appealed to increasing numbers of Americans inclined to reject the gloomy Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and embrace the reform-minded optimism of the mid-19th century. Unlike their Christian contemporaries, Americans who adopted Spiritualism believed they had a hand in their own salvation, and direct communication with those who had passed offered insight into the ultimate fate of their own souls.
Maggie, Kate, and Leah Fox embarked on a professional tour to spread word of the spirits, booking a suite, fittingly, at Barnum’s Hotel on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, an establishment owned by a cousin of the famed showman. An editorial in the Scientific American scoffed at their arrival, calling the girls the “Spiritual Knockers from Rochester.” They conducted their sessions in the hotel’s parlor, inviting as many as thirty attendees to gather around a large table at the hours of 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., taking an occasional private meeting in between. Admission was one dollar, and visitors included preeminent members of New York Society: Horace Greeley, the iconoclastic and influential editor of the New York Tribune; James Fenimore Cooper; editor and poet William Cullen Bryant, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who witnessed a session in which the spirits rapped in time to a popular song and spelled out a message: “Spiritualism will work miracles in the cause of reform.”
Leah stayed in New York, entertaining callers in a séance room, while Kate and Maggie took the show to other cities, among them Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, where one visitor, explorer Elisha Kent Kane, succumbed to Maggie’s charms even as he deemed her a fraud—although he couldn’t prove how the sounds were made. “After a whole month’s trial I could make nothing of them,” he confessed. “Therefore they are a great mystery.” He courted Maggie, thirteen years his junior, and encouraged her to give up her “life of dreary sameness and suspected deceit.” She acquiesced, retiring to attend school at Kane’s behest and expense, and married him shortly before his untimely death in 1857. To honor his memory she converted to Catholicism, as Kane—a Presbyterian—had always encouraged. (He seemed to think the faith’s ornate iconography and sense of mystery would appeal to her.) In mourning, she began drinking heavily and vowed to keep her promise to Kane to “wholly and forever abandon Spiritualism.”
Kate, meanwhile, married a devout Spiritualist and continued to develop her medium powers, translating spirit messages in astonishing and unprecedented ways: communicating two messages simultaneously, writing one while speaking the other; transcribing messages in reverse script; utilizing blank cards upon which words seemed to spontaneously appear. During sessions with a wealthy banker, Charles Livermore, she summoned both the man’s deceased wife and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, who announced his identity by writing his name on a card. Her business boomed during and after the Civil War, as increasing numbers of the bereaved found solace in Spiritualism. Prominent Spiritualist Emma Hardinge wrote that the war added two million new believers to the movement, and by the 1880s there were an estimated eight million Spiritualists in the United States and Europe. These new practitioners, seduced by the flamboyance of the Gilded Age, expected miracles—like Kate’s summoning of full-fledged apparitions—at every séance. It was wearying, both to the movement and to Kate herself, and she, too, began to drink.
On October 21, 1888, the New York World published an interview with Maggie Fox in anticipation of her appearance that evening at the New York Academy of Music, where she would publicly denounce Spiritualism. She was paid $1,500 for the exclusive. Her main motivation, however, was rage at her sister Leah and other leading Spiritualists, who had publicly chastised Kate for her drinking and accused her of being unable to care for her two young children. Kate planned to be in the audience when Maggie gave her speech, lending her tacit support.
“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” Maggie said. “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.” The sisters graduated from apple dropping to manipulating their knuckles, joints and toes to make rapping sounds. “A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” she explained. “It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: ‘I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.’ Of course that was pure imagination.”
She offered a demonstration, removing her shoe and placing her right foot upon a wooden stool. The room fell silent and still, and was rewarded with a number of short little raps. “There stood a black-robed, sharp-faced widow,” the New York Herald reported, “working her big toe and solemnly declaring that it was in this way she created the excitement that has driven so many persons to suicide or insanity. One moment it was ludicrous, the next it was weird.” Maggie insisted that her sister Leah knew that the rappings were fake all along and greedily exploited her younger sisters. Before exiting the stage she thanked God that she was able to expose Spiritualism.
The mainstream press called the incident “a death blow” to the movement, and Spiritualists quickly took sides. Shortly after Maggie’s confession the spirit of Samuel B. Brittan, former publisher of the Spiritual Telegraph, appeared during a séance to offer a sympathetic opinion. Although Maggie was an authentic medium, he acknowledged, “the band of spirits attending during the early part of her career” had been usurped by “other unseen intelligences, who are not scrupulous in their dealings with humanity.” Other (living) Spiritualists charged that Maggie’s change of heart was wholly mercenary; since she had failed to make a living as a medium, she sought to profit by becoming one of Spiritualism’s fiercest critics.
Whatever her motive, Maggie recanted her confession one year later, insisting that her spirit guides had beseeched her to do so. Her reversal prompted more disgust from devoted Spiritualists, many of whom failed to recognize her at a subsequent debate at the Manhattan Liberal Club. There, under the pseudonym Mrs. Spencer, Maggie revealed several tricks of the profession, including the way mediums wrote messages on blank slates by using their teeth or feet. She never reconciled with sister Leah, who died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking spree. Maggie passed away eight months later, in March 1893. That year Spiritualists formed the National Spiritualist Association, which today is known as the National Spiritualist Association of Churches.
In 1904, schoolchildren playing in the sisters’ childhood home in Hydesville—known locally as “the spook house”—discovered the majority of a skeleton between the earth and crumbling cedar walls. A doctor was consulted, who estimated that the bones were about fifty years old, giving credence to the sisters’ tale of spiritual messages from a murdered peddler. But not everyone was convinced. The New York Times reported that the bones had created “a stir amusingly disproportioned to any necessary significance of the discovery,” and suggested that the sisters had merely been clever enough to exploit a local mystery. Even if the bones were that of the murdered peddler, the Times concluded, “there will still remain that dreadful confession about the clicking joints, which reduces the whole case to a farce.”
Five years later, another doctor examined the skeleton and determined that it was made up of “only a few ribs with odds and ends of bones and among them a superabundance of some and a deficiency of others. Among them also were some chicken bones.” He also reported a rumor that a man living near the spook house had planted the bones as a practical joke, but was much too ashamed to come clean.
HOUDINI VS SPIRITUALISM
Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest escape artist, may have been known for his unbelievable escapes from cages and underwater tanks, but these aren’t his only claim to fame. The illusionist, a skilled and perceptive individual, was hellbent on exposing the fraudulent mediums and psychics that gained popularity during the surge of spiritualism in the 1920s. Houdini did whatever it took to prove that people were being conned by these alleged mediums, going as far as to tarnish his friendship with acclaimed author and spiritualist enthusiast Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Houdini outed Margery Crandon, Nino Pecoraro, and hundreds of other self-proclaimed psychics who were simply great sleight-of-hand performers.
Houdini was skeptical of the growing spiritualist movement, but tragedy allegedly made him take a second look at the validity of seances and mediums. On July 17, 1913, Houdini’s mother, Cecilia Steiner Weiss, passed after suffering a stroke. Houdini was close to his mother and was even quoted as writing, “If God in his greatness ever sent an angel on earth in human form, it was my mother.” Houdini struggled for months after his mother’s passing, writing to his brother Theo: “I can write alright when I keep away from that heart rendering subject so will try and avoid it, if possible. But I have to write to my brother once in a while about HER whom we miss and for HER with whom I feel as if my heart of hearts went with HER.”
Many believe his intense heartache is the reason he started dabbling in spiritualism (and eventually started to debunk it out of frustration), but Houdini historians often note the illusionist actually attended his first seance as a child, when he tried to contact his recently deceased half-brother, Herman. Even at an early age, Houdini suspected that seances and mediums were hogwash.
From January 1918 to December 1920, the H1N1 virus, known then as the Spanish Flu, ravaged the world. Nearly a third of the world population – or 500 million people – contracted the virus, and 3-5% of the world’s population perished.
Combined with the casualties of conflict, many people were searching for answers as to what happened to their loved ones after they left the mortal coil. Spiritualism was everywhere, from a neighbor’s living room to the cinema. The popularity of the movement clashed with empirical science, which was also experiencing a resurgence.
Houdini was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes. Like Houdini, Conan Doyle also had an interest in spiritualism, but it wasn’t one of contempt like the illusionist’s. After Conan Doyle’s son Kingsley perished from the flu pandemic, the author became a fervent supporter of the movement.
He had already fostered a growing interest in the subject before his son’s demise, studying ghosts, fairies, and other supernatural entities for decades. Kingsley’s passing acted as a catalyst, and Conan Doyle continued studying the occult with zeal, and even Conan Doyle’s second wife, Jean, claimed to be an automatic writer and medium of sorts. They claimed to communicate with an entity named Phineas, who would regularly warn them of impending disaster.
Houdini’s ability to escape bound chains and make things as large as an elephant disappear won him fans, with some, like Conan Doyle, believing that the illusionist had innate psychic abilities – which Houdini always refuted. Houdini knew how to perform sleight of hand and create realistic illusions, which is how he easily debunked many mediums, who often cited shaking tables and wobbling chairs as empirical evidence of the afterlife.
Houdini told a reporter, “Whenever any of these alleged spiritual mediums tell you that they have supernatural aid, you may safely set them down as frauds.”
In order to thwart the pseudo-psychics and mediums, Houdini employed a number of “secret” employees. By the time spiritualism hit its heyday in the 1920s, Houdini had been to hundreds of seances, and he couldn’t cover all the ground. He hired a few people he deemed his “own secret service” to unveil the con artists he believed were taking advantage of desperate people. One member of his secret service, Rose Mackenberg, a private investigator in Houdini’s employment, said she attended over 300 seances in the two years she worked for the magician.
In one instance, an alleged psychic tried to charge Mackenberg $25 for his services; he also claimed that taking off her clothes would help her communicate with the other side better. She declined, and after she told Houdini, he humiliated the man at one of his own shows.
A devout spiritualist who also emulated all that was rational with his character Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle proposed a contest to detect whether or not mediums were the real deal. The magazine Scientific American ran a contest that offered a hefty $2500 prize to any psychic or medium who could empirically prove they possessed the supernatural gift.
Scientific American enlisted a crew of highly revered minds in the scientific community, including an engineer/physicist from MIT, two researchers who dedicated their lives to studying the paranormal, and the one and only Houdini. The magazine counted on these experts to deduce whether or not psychics possessed a sort of undiscovered force that granted them powers.
Naturally, many so-called psychics and mediums were eager to prove to Scientific American that they were legitimate – and collect the reward for being so. But Houdini and the rest of the panel were able to easily discredit any supposed medium, largely in thanks to Houdini’s experience as an illusionist. The magician told the Los Angeles Times, “It takes a flimflammer to catch a flimflammer,” and he caught a slew of flimflammers.
He proved that 19-year-old Joaquin Maria Argamasilla, who claimed he could see through metals like gold and silver, was a fraud – in a very public manner. He called the “Spaniard with X-Ray Vision” out and promised to replicate his so-called “power” at the Pennsylvania Hotel. Houdini proved that all Argamasilla was doing was taking a peek in the box and then saying what was in it, but was doing so in a manner so discreet that many audiences could not tell. Houdini continued to out would-be mediums, like Nino Pecoraro, a boy medium who had fooled the rest of the panel twice before. On the third time, when Houdini was present, he was unable to replicate his psychic abilities.
Houdini, along with the help of the rest of the committee from Scientific American, were able to discredit most psychics or mediums with relative ease. That all changed around 1924, when Mina Crandon, AKA Margery the Medium, took the spiritualist world by storm. The medium was the first to produce “conclusive psychic manifestations” to prove her psychic prowess, like ectoplasm. She also often sported semi-transparent clothes to prove she wasn’t hiding anything or performing trickeries – although the outfits might have distracted her male judges enough to make them believe her.
Houdini and the other judges attended two seances of hers in Boston in July 1924. He claimed that he saw her escape constraints and ring a bell – meant for a spiritual entity to use to signify its presence – with her foot. Everyone except Houdini remained convinced.
Margery the Medium continued to gain massive popularity, much to Houdini’s chagrin. In order to definitely prove that she wasn’t an actual medium, Houdini resorted to bizarre, and, at times, reputation-ruining tactics. In order to prevent Margery from using her legs in any way during the seance, Houdini placed her in a boxed contraptionduring the event. The bell still rang even though she was boxed in, but it appeared that the lid of the box had been forced open. Houdini knew Margery forced her way through, but the other judges weren’t so convinced.
He also wrote “‘Margery’ The Medium Exposed,” even though his Scientific American colleagues weren’t on board with his claims. He called out one of the magazine’s writers for even entertaining the idea of awarding Margery the prize money. He even went as far as to say he would give up $1000 if he wasn’t able to prove that she was a fraud: “If you give this award to a medium without the strictest examination every fraudulent medium in the world will take advantage of it. I will forfeit a thousand dollars if I do not detect her if she resorts to trickery. Of course if she is genuine there is nothing to expose, but if the Scientific American by any accident should declare her genuine and she was eventually detected in fraud we would be the laughing stock of the world, and in the meantime hundreds of fraudulent mediums would have taken advantage of the error.”
Houdini had proved his point, and Margery was revealed to be yet another fraud.
Once Houdini had outed Margery as another trickster, it had a profound impact on his friendship with Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle had proudly touted Margery as the real deal, and after Houdini’s tirade against her, they had a rather public falling-out. Conan Doyle wrote a piece for the January 26, 1925, issue of the Boston Herald: “It is that of Houdini, the eminent conjuror. Houdini was first present at two sittings… a long series of phenomena occurred… Houdini passed them at the time, raised no objection, and signed the accounts as being correct. None the less, though, he could say nothing before the Crandons, he wrote the people at a distance who had no means of checking his statement to say the program was fraudulent.”
The Sherlock Holmes author was upset that Houdini didn’t suggest that Margery was a fraud during the seances, but rather later from afar. Their relationship never quite recovered.
As a final test to see whether or not spiritualism was real, Houdini gave his wife, Bess, a “secret code” if he were to perish before her. The idea was that Houdini would use the secret code to contact Bess, proving that an afterlife did exist and there was a way to communicate with those in it. He passed 20 years before his wife on October 31, 1926.
The code was allegedly supposed to translate into “Rosabelle, believe,” but Bess never heard it – even though others claimed they did. She allegedly burned a candle for her late husband for 10 years before she gave up, saying, “Ten years [was] long enough to wait for any man.”
Modern-day illusionists, such as Penn and Teller, often cite Houdini as an inspiration, especially when it comes to debunking supernatural claims. The famous duo had a series called Bullsh*t! on Showtime from 2003 until 2010, which followed the duo as they discredited so-called psychics and mediums across the globe.
Late sleight-of-hand performer Ricky Jay also exposed fraud and trickery, like that of carnival tricks. He was called one of the best sleight-of-hand performers, and like Houdini, his expertise in illusion also made him very capable of sniffing out other forms of trickery.
THE BALLAD OF STAGECOACH MARY
There are strong women. There are formidable ladies. There are tough cookies. There are female badasses.
And then there is “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, who was surely in a class all her own.
As is the case with so many larger-than-life figures, much of Fields’ life history is murky and a good part of the rest shrouded in the fog of mythology, but there is enough reliable information to guarantee her an honored place in the hallowed pages of Strange Company.
Fields was born into slavery, possibly in Tennessee, sometime around 1832. She first appears in the historical record as a slave in the West Virginia household of a family named Warner. When she was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, she made one vow: that no one would dominate her again. As she was over six feet tall, weighed around two hundred pounds, and could “pick up a quarter of beef like a potato,” the wise were happy to oblige her.
The newly-freed Fields took to the road. She traveled up the Mississippi River, working on the riverboats and acting as a servant for families who lived along the river. By 1870, she was again working for the Warners, this time as a paid domestic servant. When one of the Warner daughters became a nun, Fields accompanied her to the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart in Toledo, Ohio. Mary became the convent’s groundskeeper.
It made for an odd mix. It is said that when one of the nuns asked if she had had a good journey, Fields replied, “I’m ready for a good cigar and a drink.” Mary’s proud nature, fiery temper and “difficult” personality brought an unaccustomed volatility to the hitherto peaceful convent.
Especially when you messed with her gardens. Mary was a passionate and skilled gardener, and when anyone interfered with her landscaping, prayers were needed. “God help anyone who walked on the lawn after Mary had cut it,” one nun later recollected.
In 1884, the convent’s head, Mother Amadeus, was sent to St. Peter’s Mission in Montana Territory, in order to establish a school for Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus came down with pneumonia a short time later, Fields, along with several nuns, went to St. Peter’s to help keep the mission going. After Mother Amadeus’ recovery, Fields decided that the wild, wild west was much more her style than the staid atmosphere of Toledo. She stayed on at the mission as a general caretaker: raising vegetables, tending chickens, hunting game birds, doing laundry, and repairing buildings. She had free room and board at the mission, but refused to accept a salary. Fields wanted to have her independence, and remaining a non-contracted worker enabled her to come and go as she pleased. In the words of Fields’ biographer Dee Garceau-Hagen, the former slave relished “the pungency of freedom.”
The locals didn’t know what to make of Fields. An Amazon-sized black woman who drank, smoked, swore, was as strong as any male, hauled freight, and readily raised hell with anyone who crossed her was a whole new experience for them. The Native Americans dubbed her “White Crow” as she was someone who “acts like a white woman but has black skin.” A white schoolgirl wrote an essay about Fields noting, more bluntly, “She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
One day in 1892, she had a row with John Mosney, one of the mission’s male hired hands. (It is surmised that he objected to taking orders from a black woman. Or maybe he walked on her lawn.) The quarrel culminated with the pair pointing rifles at each other. After that episode, the bishop decided Fields was too, well, vivid a personality for their cloistered society, and he ordered that she be banned from the mission.. He probably felt she was just too much for God. As “overbearing and troublesome” as Fields could be, the nuns at St. Peter’s had become attached to her, and felt that the eviction was horribly unfair. Fields, too, had hoped to stay at the mission for the rest of her days. However, orders from up top were orders from up top, leaving them with no choice but to obey. Fields moved to the nearby town of Cascade, where, with the help of Mother Amadeus, she opened a small restaurant.
As cantankerous as she could be, Fields was also open-handed, generous, and unconcerned about money, which guaranteed her failure as a businesswoman. She readily served meals to everyone who dropped in, blissfully unconcerned about whether or not they could pay for the food. You will not be surprised that the eatery folded in less than a year. She went on to do a series of odd jobs, becoming locally famous for her fondness for whisky and her irascibility. The town’s newspaper claimed–with a distinct air of pride–that Fields had “broken more noses than any other person in Montana.” When one man was crude–not to say suicidal–enough to hurl a racial slur in her direction, Mary sent him to the hospital with a broken head.
In 1896, she applied for a job as a mail carrier. Local postal employees were dubious about hiring a woman in her sixties until, much to their astonishment, they saw that she could hitch a team of horses faster than any man. She was only the second woman, and the first black woman, to work for the Postal Service.
In 19th century Montana, delivering the mail was not a job for the weak and timid. On her route, Fields had to face primitive (or nonexistent) roads, often harsh weather, and the occasional highwayman.
None of this fazed Fields in the least. If her stagecoach broke down, she fixed it. If the winter snows grew too heavy for the horses, she would put on snowshoes, toss the sacks of mail over her mighty shoulders, and deliver them on foot. If anyone tried to rob her, she shot them. According to one story, she once took on a pack of wolves–and won. She never missed a day. Before long, her stellar record earned her the affectionate nickname of “Stagecoach Mary.”
Our intrepid heroine–Cascade’s only black resident–became a near-folkloric figure in the area. Despite the inevitable racial prejudice she often encountered, to many people she was a source of local pride, or in the words of the town newspaper, “a sort of landmark.”
Another thing that set Fields apart is that after leaving St. Peter’s, she no longer sought the company of women, white or black. She ignored the black community institutions being formed in Montana, and there is no evidence she participated in any white churches or civic groups. Instead, her main socializing was with white men in their standard pursuits: sports events, billiard halls, and saloons. Her anomalous role in Cascade’s society only intensified her already colorful reputation, giving her a curious license enjoyed by neither black men or white women.
Fields retired from her route in 1903, at the age of approximately 71. She occupied herself with babysitting, operating a laundry service, gardening, watching baseball games (she loved the sport,) and, of course, whisky. Mary stayed Mary to the end. According to one report, when a customer failed to pay his laundry bill, she broke his nose. She would give flowers from her garden to the home baseball team and give the umpire hell when he called against them.
Stagecoach Mary died of heart disease in 1914. Her funeral–held, appropriately enough, at the town theater–was one of the largest the area had ever seen.
HORRORS OF ROUTE 66
Spanning a massive 2,451 miles across the United States, it’s not surprising that dozens of creepy stories and urban legends have sprouted up along America’s most legendary highway. Some are disgusting, some are creepy, and some you don’t want to think about again while you’re alone in your room. There are numerous creepy stories and legends based around Route 66.
Route 66 is a long stretch of highway, meaning you can’t drive it all without making a few stops. But if you must stop, avoid the Hotel Monte Vista. According to Haunted Route 66: Ghosts of America’s Legendary Highway, reports from that hotel indicate restless spirits like to roam the halls. Especially avoid the second floor, which is supposedly haunted by so many spirits, hotel management can’t put pets on that floor or they freak out. The scariest place might be the basement, where reports of a baby crying over and over again have been made quite a few times.
In Missouri, there’s a stretch of road that’s officially called Lawler Ford Road, but people around that area have just come to call it Zombie Road. The road was paved at some point, but now has become almost impossible to pass using an automobile. A lot of stories have come from Zombie Road, whether it be the ghost of a man hit by a train in the 1970s, or the mysterious old woman who screams at people from a house at the end of the road, but what built up Zombie Road the most was the death of Della Hamilton McCullough way back in 1876, when she was hit by a railroad car. Reports of phantom glows with bluish-white light and a translucent figure wandering around have been said to be McCullough, still haunting the place where she died.
Route 666 (no surprise) is the sixth branch of Route 66 and its long stretch of road has been responsible for countless ghost stories and encounters. The scariest might come Linda Dunning, who wrote about an incident with her husband. Apparently the man was driving down Route 666 late at night and in the distance saw a burning truck flying toward him with no signs of stopping. He pulled off quickly to the side of the road and walked into the desert about 20 feet from his car in order to let the flaming truck pass. After it raced by him, he got back in his car and continued on like a smart person.
One of the many tourist attractions along Route 66, the Meramec Caverns get close to 150,000 visitors a year, not counting all the ghosts. Some of the more frequent sightings include a Native American woman who likes to stand in a distant pool of water, a woman in a formal dress most likely from one of the many galas older generations threw in the caverns, and a mysterious Man in Black, who many speculate might be the infamous Jesse James himself.
At the Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin, Missouri, an unmarked grave apart from everyone else holds the remains of one of the most notorious spree killers of the 1950s. Billy Cook, Jr. had a rough childhood. Abused by the system, one day he snapped and went on a desperate run to Oklahoma City, killing seven people before getting arrested and executed. His body was transported back to his hometown, but the cemetery only agreed to bury him if it was in an unmarked grave. Reports tells of strange lantern lights around his grave and sometimes, if you’re unlucky enough, you might see Billy standing at the tree line, eyes filled with hate.
It’s always a good choice to honor your dead. In the Oak Hill Cemetery in Kansas (a state Route 66 passes through for only 13 miles),a man did not give his wife a proper funeral, burying her in the cheapest coffin possible and not spending anything for the service. A few days after she was buried, the gravestone cracked. The widower replaced the gravestone, but it cracked again. He replaced it a few more times, each time ending with a cracked gravestone. It forced the man to move away from the town – now there was his first good idea.
The Coleman Theater in Miami, Oklahoma, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Once a thriving place for people to watch movies, now people can arrange tours of the restored old theater, but they might get a little more than they bargained for. According to local legend, the theater was built on a mortuary and underneath the main seating area is a crematorium. Visitors have reported extreme heat coming from that room, accompanied by unknown whistling sounds.
James Phillips was a prisoner in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when he died an unexpected death. He was sentenced to hanging, but the prison hadn’t hanged someone in quite some time, so a whole scaffold had to be built. Unfortunately, it took some time and Phillips could see it being built from his cell. Soon after, guards found him dead of heart failure, citing the stress of watching his own execution come together. To this day, guards can still hear footsteps and a face looking out the window to where the scaffold was being built.
In Denton, The Old Alton, aka the Argyle Bridge, was built in 1884. Today, most locals refer to it as Goatman’s Bridge. As the legend goes, a horned man-goat can sometimes be seen on or around the bridge, usually right before a disaster is reported. The creature supposedly lives in the woods nearby, waiting for unsuspecting people to pounce upon and eat. So if you’re traveling there, it might be best to avoid the bridge altogether.
At the Catfish Plantation in Waxahachie, Texas, multiple spirits are said to haunt the grounds. None are more tragic than the ghost of Elizabeth Anderson. If the stories are true, it is said that in the early 1900’s, a jealous ex-boyfriend burst into the house and killed Anderson on her wedding day. She was still wearing her white wedding dress. Now she can either be seen in the dining room or looking out a bay window in the front room where she was killed.
Further into the town of Waxahachie is Becky Road, which according to legend, is where the last Confederate soldier of the Civil War was hanged. His name was Private John Henerich, and he was hanged from a tree. Years after his execution, people still talk about seeing a young man standing on the side of the road in a Confederate uniform, while some claim they can still see him hanging from the tree where he died.
In Arlington, there’s a local legend regarding River Legacy Park. It states how a group of Confederate soldiers used to capture Union soldiers and hang them on big trees looking toward a giant gate. Because of the ordeal, the gate soon became known as Hell’s Gate, as it was usually the last thing the Union soldiers saw. It’s rumored that over one hundred soldiers were killed there, and their sobs and cries can still be heard.
In 1897, a massive fire broke out in the Buckner Orphans’ Home in Dallas. Being made almost entirely of wood, the building went up quickly, taking the lives of fifteen male orphans who were unlucky enough to be trapped inside. They were all buried in the cemetery behind the orphanage, but reports say crying can be heard along with an unexplained burning smell.
Not much can be said of the Phantom Killer of Texarkana because he was never caught. He showed up in a four-month period in 1946 and earned his name by only attacking at night. By the time he was through, at least seven people were killed, with maybe more never to be discovered. Although the Phantom Killer was never found, a few of his victims can still be seen haunting the places where they died.
As the story goes, in the late 1600s, Spanish soldier Juan Trevino met a beautiful girl who he fell madly in love with, even though she was already getting married to someone else. Desperate, Trevino turned to two witches for a love potion. They sold him one for a high price, but the woman still ended up marrying the other dude. Furious, Trevino confronted the witches for a refund and a fight broke out when they said no. It ended with the two witches decapitating poor Trevino and burying him away from his head. Now his spirit wanders, apparently searching for the witches who killed him.
In the Menaul Boulevard neighborhood, everyone apparently knows that the hills in the distance are haunted. Taking a walk among the foothills at night can lead to encounters with strange lights and odd noises, including laughing and gunshots. There’s also a cave in the hills from which people sometimes claim to see a bright light emanating, but when anyone has the courage to go check it out, it always vanishes.
In Devore, California, at the Treehouse Fun Ranch, a truck driver frequented the nudist colony there so often that he had his ashes delivered to the place once he died. His urn rested behind the counter for years, with everyone forgetting about them and ownership switching hands. Once the new owners renovated, they found the ashes and moved them. As soon as they did, ghostly events starting happening including a self-starting fire pit and severe electrical disturbances.
So if you plan to take a long road-trip vacation down Route 66, enjoy the history… but be ready for the hauntings.
THE HAUNTING OF JEROME, ARIZONA
The town of Jerome, AZ, sits between Flagstaff and Prescott in the Black Hills of Yavapai County, and its strange history draws visitors year after year. Founded in 1876, Jerome was a mining town that quickly flourished when copper, gold, and silver were all found in the area. The town boasted a number of successful restaurants, gambling halls, and saloons, as well as an active red light district. In its heyday, Jerome had 15,000 residents, but by the 1950s less than 200 people called Jerome home. Living residents, anyway.
Jerome is said to be the most haunted town in the state of Arizona, and perhaps even the United States. Things to do in Jerome include visiting a hospital turned hotel, where patients and staff still roam the halls. You can also visit the many saloons and bordellos that saw high levels of mischief and mayhem. There’s even a phantom cat who’s always happy to spend the night with visitors in its former home.
The history of Jerome, AZ, is complicated and a little murky, but these are some of the best known stories of hauntings and paranormal phenomena that the city has to offer.
Long before it became a paranormal tourist destination, the Jerome Grand Hotel was the United Verde Hospital. From 1927 to 1950, it’s estimated that nearly 9,000 people expired there, often during surgery. When the hotel opened its doors in 1996, guests immediately began to report paranormal activity, including disembodied voices and a phantom gurney in the hallway.
The hotel staff has embraced the intense hauntings and keeps a 300-page notebook in the lobby for guests to write their experiences in. They have to replace the notebook every year.
The third floor of the hotel is said to be the most haunted, since it’s where the old operating room was located. The most haunted room is thought to be No. 32, where two people took their lives. Guests often report seeing orbs and shadowy figures, and are encouraged to ride the original Otis elevator with the ghost of Claude Harvey – a maintenance man who met his end there in 1935.
Some guests report hearing a squeaky gurney on a linoleum floor outside their door, even though all the hallways are now carpeted. Staff have reported receiving phone calls at the front desk from unoccupied rooms as well.
One of the harsh realities of living in Jerome was the constant danger experienced by women. Sammie Dean was a Texan woman who grew up poor and worked in both a clothing factory and dry goods store at the turn of the 20th century. While records on Dean’s adult life are spotty, she eventually ended up working at one of the more upscale bordellos in Jerome. Dean did well for herself living in Jerome: She owned her own car, had an extravagant collection of jewelry, and was popular with clients in the red light district. She met a tragic demise in her own home on the evening of July 10, 1930, according to reports.
The scene looked like a robbery gone wrong, since both Dean’s sidearm and large stash of cash were missing, and the place had been ransacked. However, all of her expensive jewelry was left untouched. Rumors floated around Jerome that the mayor’s son was the culprit after Dean refused to marry him, but the case remains unsolved to this day.
Today, the ghost of Sammie Dean is said to roam the alleys of the old red light district, and some people think her spirit is still in search of the one who did her wrong.
The population of Jerome steadily grew throughout the late 1800s, and it was mostly composed of male miners. A common estimate is that the population of the town was 78% male. The gender discrepancy in Jerome led to the building of a number of saloons, gambling halls, and bordellos, which contributed to high levels of hostility and aggression. There was even a section of Jerome nicknamed “Husband’s Alley” containing a number of brothels and bordellos with varying levels of respectability.
While you could get rich from mining in Jerome, there was an increasingly high chance of also getting robbed or worse. Jerome’s unsavory reputation spread across the country, and in 1903, the New York Sun ran an article declaring Jerome, “The Wickedest City in the West.”
When Jerome saw three catastrophic fires in an 18-month period, some thought it was a sort of divine punishment for the “sinful” nature of the city, but Jerome rebuilt itself every time.
With its predominantly male population, bordellos were one of the main ways miners could “relax” after a day of hard labor in Jerome. The most successful bordello in town was Jennie’s Place, which was run by Jennie Bauters, a Belgian immigrant who, while not the first madame in Jerome, was definitely the most successful.
Jennie’s life was cut short by a client in 1905, and some say she never left her bordello again. Now called the Mile High Inn, the site is home to countless reports of paranormal phenomena of all types, including multiple sightings of Jennie herself.
The housekeeping staff seems to be Jennie’s prime target. Perhaps the former madame wants to make sure everything is done to her liking. When it’s not, the ghost has been known to throw objects across the room to get the staff’s attention.
The Mile High Inn hosts a number of spirits, including its former owner, and a male apparition who enjoys poking and pushing unsuspecting guests. Perhaps the strangest case of ghostly activity is the inn’s ghost cat, who is said to have belonged to the original owner, Jennie Bauters.
Guests have reported seeing paw prints and indentations on their beds even though there are no living animals in the building. One guest heard scratching at the door to their room but saw no cat when they opened the door.
This phantom cat is supposed to look so real that guests have even tried picking it up, only to have the cat shockingly vanish in their arms. Consider that your warning if you visit The Mile High Inn and see a cat who looks like it just wants a scritch.
Originally referred to as “Connor’s Corner,” The Connor Hotel opened as a luxury hotel in 1897, only to burn to the ground a year later. It would be rebuilt, then damaged two more times by fire – yet the alleged hauntings at The Connor seem unrelated to this unfortunate series of events.
While supernatural activity has been reported throughout the hotel, Room 1 is considered to be the most haunted, and it is rarely booked by guests. One man was kept awake most of the night by the disembodied sound of women’s laughter and whispering inside his seemingly empty room. Objects have been known to move on their own, and the doors of the room’s armoire will sometimes open and close, perhaps with the assistance of a phantom hand.
A woman in a red dress has been seen in the room, too, as well as the apparition of the hotel’s original owner, David Connor. Connor is usually spotted staring out the window, only to vanish before the witness’s eyes. If you miss him there, Connor is often seen at his other favorite spot, the hotel bar.
As if Jerome wasn’t bizarre enough with its above-ground hauntings, there are also 88 miles of sprawling tunnels that snake beneath the town where men mined for their fortunes. With so many men working deep below ground in hazardous conditions, it’s no surprise that restless spirits still wander the tunnels they labored in over a century ago.
The most infamous ghost story from the mines is that of “Headless Charlie,” whose head was apparently relieved of his body in a freak mining incident – and never found. Shortly after Charlie’s horrific passing, miners started finding large footprints similar to Charlie’s throughout the mines. There have also been multiple reports of screams and moaning coming from the abandoned mines.
The mines are closed to the public, but local lore has it that Charlie still walks the tunnels in an eternal search for his head. Fun fact: there was a Jerome-based band called Headless Charlie, named in homage to the phantom miner.
The now historic Jerome Valley Cemetery opened in March 1917 on 40 acres of rolling fields. While 40 acres seemed like more than enough room considering the town’s population, space quickly became tight during the influenza outbreak of 1918. Records show 51 people were buried in a single month during the height of the flu outbreak.
Burials declined after 1919, and the last grave was dug in 1975. There could be more than 700 people buried in Jerome Valley today, but grave markers have been stolen over the years, and most of the burial records were destroyed in the 1950s.
There have been many alleged sightings of spirits walking through the cemetery, ghost lights, and wraiths that make themselves known after the sun sets on Jerome.
The dangerous nature of mining work made the hospital in Jerome essential, but medical treatment and surgery were still coming out of the dark ages in post-Civil War America. Amputations were common practice for injured miners, and patients more often than not never left the hospital.
The influenza outbreak of 1918 also proved to be too much for the small hospital to manage, and staff were forced to burn unclaimed patients in the incinerator, according to local lore. It’s also been said that the smelters used by the mines also saw a burning or two.
Visitors to Jerome have reported apparitions staring out the windows of the now abandoned hospital, and it is a popular stop on local ghost tours.
Originally built as housing for local mine managers, Ghost City Inn has also served as a restaurant, spiritual retreat, private residence, and even a funeral home during its long history in Jerome.
A male and female spirit have both been seen by multiple guests in or near the Verde View and Cleopatra Hill rooms respectively, though their identities are unknown. There has also been reported poltergeist activity, such as disembodied voices heard in seemingly empty rooms, and doors slamming of their own accord. The current owners note on their website that the inn takes its name from Jerome’s own nickname of “Ghost City.”
As to whether Ghost City Inn is truly haunted, the owners say it “may be,” but it’s ultimately up to guests to decide for themselves if anything goes bump in the night.
While its official name is Lawrence Memorial Hall, Jerome’s community center is commonly referred to as “Spook Hall” by locals who embrace the abundance of paranormal activity in the town. While no one is known to have expired at Spook Hall, it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman in 19th century attire.
Bordello workers allegedly used the site now occupied by Spook Hall to entertain their customers. One such woman met a grisly fate, and her spirit is now bound to the land. Her ghost has been seen throughout Spook Hall over the years, and she has a reputation for knocking things over to make her presence known.
When the mines finally closed for good in the early 1950s, Jerome’s population dwindled to somewhere between 50 and 200 people. The residents left behind only stayed because they couldn’t afford to move anywhere else. There was even talk of razing the entire town because no one could figure out how to revive it. Yet Jerome has always proved to be remarkably resilient (it did burn down three times and bounce back, after all).
In 1967, the town became a National Historic Landmark, and by the 1970s, an active artist community had moved into the town and set up a historical society. Jerome began marketing itself as “Ghost City” and the original ghost town. Jerome has thrived ever since, and the number of living residents is now somewhere around 500.
Of course, we know there are still a countless number of not-so-alive residents lurking around…