“CAN ALEXA COMMUNICATE WITH THE DEAD?” and 3 More True and Disturbing Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS ARCHIVE EPISODE, ORIGINALLY AIRED JANUARY 13, 2020: “I’ve seen some mighty pretty puppies, and I want one.” Those were the last words the mother of eight-year-old Kenneth Beasley would hear from her son. What followed was a disappearance, suspected kidnapping and murder trial that made national news in 1905. (Where is Kenneth Beasley?) *** “Assaulting Ghost. Residents of East Jefferson Street Disturbed. A Thrilling Story of the Strange Persecution of an Old Mexican Woman.” That’s what the Arizona Republic newspaper headline read on September 23, 1899. And I have the story. (The Burning Stones) *** No one knew what the phone number was supposed to be for. No one knew the meaning of the bizarre recording they heard when calling the number. No one knew who owned the phone number, or what they had done with it, or why. It’s the strange history behind a seemingly innocent 1-800 number that still has people baffled… especially those looking for improvement on their golf game. (Canada’s Weirdest Toll-Free Phone Number) *** People have used a wide assortment of devices to try and communicate with the dead. Ouija boards, automatic writing, seances, ghost boxes… but it appears we might now be able to add Amazon’s Alexa to that list. (Can Alexa Speak With The Dead?)
STORY SOURCES AND MUSIC CREDITS…
(Over time links may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in the show notes immediately.)
“Can Alexa Speak With The Dead?” by Rob Schwartz for Stranger Dimensions: https://tinyurl.com/vb94mcl
“Where Is Kenneth Beasley” posted at Strange Company: https://tinyurl.com/ttnr28o
“The Burning Stones” posted at The Fortean: https://tinyurl.com/rbrlr8t
“Canada’s Weirdest Toll-Free Phone Number” posted at The Ghost In My Machine: https://tinyurl.com/uqo8lyx
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music, varying by episode, provided by Alibi Music, EpidemicSound and/or AudioBlocks with paid license. Music from Shadows Symphony (https://tinyurl.com/yyrv987t), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), Kevin MacLeod (https://tinyurl.com/y2v7fgbu), Tony Longworth (https://tinyurl.com/y2nhnbt7), and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://tinyurl.com/lnqpfs8) is used with permission.
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained. If you’re new here, welcome to the podcast – and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes! If you’re already a Weirdo, please share the podcast with others – doing so helps make it possible for me to keep doing the podcast! While listening, be sure to check out the Weird Darkness website so you can find me on social media and drop me an email.
Quick warning, if you happen to have an Amazon A-L-E-X-A device, you might want to turn her off while listening for the next hour or so – and you should probably know why after seeing the title of this episode!
I’ve been with my bride most of today as she went in for some minor surgery, so I’ve not been able to spend time in the studio. But I don’t want to leave you hanging, so… coming up in this ARCHIVE episode…
“I’ve seen some mighty pretty puppies, and I want one.” Those were the last words the mother of eight-year-old Kenneth Beasley would hear from her son. What followed was a disappearance, suspected kidnapping and murder trial that made national news in 1905. (Where is Kenneth Beasley?)
“Assaulting Ghost. Residents of East Jefferson Street Disturbed. A Thrilling Story of the Strange Persecution of an Old Mexican Woman.” That’s what the Arizona Republic newspaper headline read on September 23, 1899. And I have the story. (The Burning Stones)
No one knew what the phone number was supposed to be for. No one knew the meaning of the bizarre recording they heard when calling the number. No one knew who owned the phone number, or what they had done with it, or why. It’s the strange history behind a seemingly innocent 1-800 number that still has people baffled… especially those looking for improvement on their golf game. (Canada’s Weirdest Toll-Free Phone Number)
People have used a wide assortment of devices to try and communicate with the dead. Ouija boards, automatic writing, seances, ghost boxes… but it appears we might now be able to add Amazon’s Alexa to that list. (Can Alexa Speak With The Dead?)
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
CAN ALEXA SPEAK WITH THE DEAD?
Throughout the history of spirit communication, people have used a variety of unique tools and methods to contact the deceased.
From automatic writing using planchettes, to mediums channeling the other side during late night seances, we’ve managed to develop quite the number of alleged ways to speak to the dead. The Ouija board, too, is an immensely popular form of attempted communication. In modern times, paranormal investigators have turned to radios and recording devices, like so-called Ghost Boxes, to capture electronic voice phenomena.
Perhaps there’s something else we can add to that list of tools in our supernatural toolbox: Alexa.
Amazon’s plucky virtual assistant inhabits nearly everything they make. Their Echo smart speakers, their TV sticks, their Fire tablets. Personally, I’ve never used Alexa, but apparently Amazon has sold over 100 million of these devices as of January 2019. That means Alexa can be found in many, many households, fielding many, many spoken commands.
But here’s a question: Can ghosts also speak to Alexa?
If we are to believe that they can speak through recording devices and radios, as they allegedly did with Konstantīns Raudive in the 1960s, there’s no particular reason ghosts can’t also speak through modern smart speakers. I’d imagine any spectral transmitting stations are already well-equipped to handle such technologies, wouldn’t you?
After all, Alexa’s no stranger to strange things. For example, in 2018, there were several reports of Alexa spontaneously laughing, which Amazon dubbed a simple “malfunction,” though a creepy one.
That said, can everything be explained away as simply a glitch or a misheard command?
One Echo user experienced a number of odd activities surrounding their device. On one day in particular, after the passing of their grandmother, they truly began to wonder if spirits beyond were conversing with Alexa:
***”My grandma passed away around that time. A couple of days after her passing, the Echo turned on (when I was alone) and started playing ‘Mandy,’ by Boston. I had never heard that song before and had never played it on the Echo. My grandma was the only one who called me Mandy.”***
Is it possible that ghosts might be giving Alexa commands? In another case, a user’s recently deceased grandfather may have asked Alexa to play a song:
*****“My grandpa passed away a few months back, leaving my grandma to live by herself. She has an Amazon echo. One night when she was alone getting ready for bed, she heard a song start playing in the living room, in a house that was completely silent. Alexa was playing the song Lucille by Kenny Rogers (a song she shares a name with). The song was my grandparents’ favorite song to dance to together.”*****
Perhaps it’s an odd coincidence, but I stumbled across multiple instances, including the above, of Echo users hearing very specific songs playing after the passing of a loved one, almost as if their ghosts were trying to send messages through these devices.
One Redditor shared an account of an Amazon Dot randomly playing a song that had helped them deal with the loss of their father. Another report of paranormal activity after a recent death also involved Alexa playing a specific song over and over again.
Is there anything to the idea that ghosts are reaching out to certain individuals through Alexa and other smart devices? In one final example, an Alexa command seemed a bit more specific:
*****“Today my mom was on her house phone with my grandmother (my mom left her cellphone at work, an hour away) . While she was talking, her Alexa came on, lit up green, and said “Dad wants to talk. Dad wants to talk” and she repeated it again two more times. My grandfather/moms father, passed away last Christmas.”*****
Of course, none of this proves anything supernatural. These are, after all, just anecdotes, and sometimes weird things just happen.
But consider this: Amazon reportedly employs thousands of people who sift through thousands of Alexa conversations every day to improve its voice recognition. That’s a lot of data. Now, if otherworldly entities CAN communicate through recording devices, including Alexa, just how many of those conversations may have been with ghosts? Is it possible that some Amazon employees have actually listened to EVPs captured by these devices?
They’d probably never even notice.
How about you? Has your smart device, if you have one, ever done anything you’d consider unnatural?
When Weird Darkness returns…
“I’ve seen some mighty pretty puppies, and I want one.” Those were the last words the mother of eight-year-old Kenneth Beasley would hear from her son. What followed was a disappearance, suspected kidnapping and murder trial that made national news in 1905.
“Assaulting Ghost. Residents of East Jefferson Street Disturbed. A Thrilling Story of the Strange Persecution of an Old Mexican Woman.” That’s what the Arizona Republic newspaper headline read on September 23, 1899. And I have the story.
These stories and more are coming up.
WHERE IS KENNETH BEASLEY?
In 1905, a family named Beasley lived on a beautiful and prosperous farm just outside the small town of Poplar Branch, Currituck County, South Carolina. They were what used to be called “people of solid worth.” The head of the household, Samuel Beasley, was a state senator, and many believed he was destined for higher offices. His wife Carrie was admired as a kindly and accomplished woman. The couple had three children: seventeen-year-old Moran, eight-year-old Kenneth, and Ethel, who was four. Kenneth was a handsome, gentle boy who did well at school. Other children liked him, and adults loved him.
Although the Beasleys were admired and respected in their community, there was one glaring exception to their popularity: if you were to ask Joshua Harrison what he thought of Samuel Beasley, the answer would likely be completely unprintable. Harrison was a tall man in his fifties, with a formidable beard and a temper to match. He was such a hothead that in his younger days he had twice stood trial for murder, but in both instances he won an acquittal.
Harrison supplemented his farming income by selling homemade wine out of his barn. It was said to be very good wine, and, judging by the frequent rowdiness emanating from his unofficial tavern, very potent as well. Many of the locals disapproved of his enterprise, and foremost among them was the upright, sober, and politically powerful Samuel Beasley. In 1903, he got a bill passed through the state legislature outlawing the sale of wine in Currituck County.
Harrison, unsurprisingly, was not pleased. The following year, he happened to run into Beasley on the road between their farms, and made his wrath known in no uncertain terms.
“I hear that 1903 legislation was for me,” he scowled.
“If you heard that,” Beasley replied calmly, “you heard right; for you are the only person in Currituck creating a disturbance, and the people petitioned the legislature on the subject.”
“I’ll be damned if I don’t sell it in spite of ‘em,” Harrison retorted. “If I can’t sell it in gallons I’ll sell it in barrels, and the people can come and get it. When they stop me from selling it they’ll be God damned sorry for it.”
After this exchange, the two men avoided each other.
Life appeared to return to normal. On the morning of February 13, 1905, young Kenneth Beasley dressed, had breakfast, and began his walk to school. On his way out the door, he told his mother, “I’ve seen some mighty pretty puppies, and I want one.”
Little did she know those were the last words she would ever hear him say.
Kenneth’s day at school progressed in its usual uneventful fashion. By the time of the noon recess, the temperature had warmed enough for him to not bother donning his overcoat and gloves before going outside to play. At 1 pm, the school bell rang summoning students for the afternoon session. All the children returned to the classroom…except Kenneth.
Young Beasley’s cousin, Benny Walker, told the teacher that he had been playing with Kenneth when the bell rang. Instead of heading back to school, Kenneth had turned toward the woods behind them, saying, “I’m going back farther.” Benny did not see him after that.
The truancy of this normally well-behaved boy was deeply puzzling–even more so when the teacher saw that Kenneth’s coat and gloves were still in the cloakroom. If he had planned to run away, surely he would have taken them with him?
The schoolmaster sent another boy, Everett Wright, to go look for Kenneth. He returned with the news that Beasley was nowhere to be found. Then Benny Walker was dispatched to make a more thorough search. Walker scoured the woods, then made his way to a nearby store and asked the proprietor, a Mr. Woodhouse, if he had seen anything of the missing boy.
Woodhouse immediately realized something very strange was going on. He locked up his store and accompanied Walker back to the school, where he advised that school should be dismissed and a more comprehensive inspection made. The older boys were organized into search parties while Woodhouse went to gather neighbors. By four pm, one hundred and fifty people, all of them hunters familiar with the swampy timberland, were exploring the area. The search spread for miles, without one trace of Kenneth being found. The following morning, a telegram was sent to Samuel Beasley, who was attending the legislative session in Raleigh. He left for home at once.
By the next day, the search party had doubled in size. Hunting dogs were brought in, but the heavy rain and snow prevented them from picking up a trail. That night, a rumor emerged that a child had been heard crying for help from a lumberman’s cabin deep in the woods. This cabin was said to be inhabited by a mysterious recluse. However, when searchers arrived at the cabin, there was no sign of the hermit–or Kenneth.
On February 24, the “Raleigh News and Observer” printed a letter dealing with Kenneth’s disappearance. Neither the writer or the recipient of this letter were ever identified. It claimed the boy had been kidnapped. “There was a strange man seen up about Barco postoffice and two more places by three different men. He was in a buggy drawn by a black mule and had the boy down between his knees, but the people saw him before they heard the boy was missing. These men say that saw him that the boy was crying and seemed dissatisfied, but the man was talking to him rough.” The writer pointedly added, “Mr. Joshua Harrison went on Tuesday morning and never got back until Sunday. He claimed he had been to Pasquotank.”
By February 26, the search had been abandoned. It was universally believed that Kenneth had been abducted, and the smart money had one chief suspect in mind.
That same day, Joshua Harrison paid a call at the Beasley home. It was the first time he and Samuel Beasley had spoken since their altercation over wine.
Harrison was irate over the “News and Observer” article. “It’s a batch of lies,” he told Beasley. “I want you to write to the paper and say it was a lie. If your son was kidnapped some of the neighbors did it.”
Beasley coolly replied that, despite what Harrison was clearly implying, he had not written that letter, and would not bother the newspaper’s editors.
Harrison left, vowing that he could prove where he was when Kenneth disappeared.
The Beasley family continued their sad search for the boy. Samuel and his son Moran spent days fruitlessly combing the woods. No clues emerged pointing to Kenneth’s possible whereabouts until March, when the family received a visit from a Shiloh resident named J.J. Pierce. Pierce had seen Kenneth once, three years earlier. And just recently, on March 5, he thought he saw him again, on a Norfolk street car. The child was with two young men who both appeared to be drunk. Pierce said he addressed the boy, but he did not answer.
Norfolk. Joshua Harrison’s daughter, Anna Gallop, kept a boarding house in Norfolk. Hmmm. Samuel went to Norfolk and asked around, but no one claimed to have seen any boy resembling Kenneth. Other rumors and tips came in now and then, and Samuel doggedly investigated them all, with equally empty results.
In September 1906, Beasley attended the opening session of Currituck Courthouse’s fall term. There, he was accosted by T.C. Woodhouse, brother of the shopkeeper. This man had quite an interesting tale to tell.
Woodhouse stated that on September 2, Joshua Harrison had met him on the road, asking for a “heart to heart talk.” Harrison said, “Sam Beasley has never offered enough reward. When he does, the boy will show up in as good condition as he ever was.” He added, “It was damned expensive to keep the boy in the way he is being kept.”
Beasley was stunned. He frantically told Woodhouse to tell Harrison that he would pay any amount of money for Kenneth’s return, promising that no questions would be asked and he would not prosecute. A day or two later, Woodhouse told Beasley that Harrison denied having made his earlier remarks, and refused to discuss the matter further.
Then, an A.B. Parker came forward. He told Beasley that a few days after Kenneth’s disappearance, he overheard Harrison say that “The boy wasn’t lost; that he could put his hand on him any time he wanted him.” Parker was asked the obvious question: why had he kept this fascinating news to himself?
“It was none of my business,” he replied.
The oddly long-delayed revelations kept coming. A storekeeper named J.L. Turner now said that on the day Kenneth vanished, he had seen Harrison driving a buggy pulled by a black mule, containing a boy with his head covered by a tarpaulin. One Millard Morrisette claimed to have seen this same buggy, although he could not say he recognized either the man or the boy. A W.E. Ansell spoke of seeing the mule-drawn buggy with the tarpaulin-covered boy. He could hear the child saying some complaining words and the man speaking to him reassuringly. He was certain the man’s voice was that of Joshua Harrison.
All these men promised Beasley that they were willing to tell their stories in court, under oath. Beasley promptly got a warrant charging Harrison with kidnapping.
When he was arrested, Harrison vehemently denied the charge. More productively, he hired a team of excellent lawyers. His counsel wisely obtained a change in venue–clearly Harrison’s hometown had no great love for him–and the trial was set to begin on March 14, in Pasquotank County.
The trial lasted six days. The previously-mentioned witnesses gave their stories. Still more witnesses corroborated their accounts. During the cross-examinations, the defense brought out a vital point: the road in front of the schoolhouse, was completely open, lined with houses on one side and the sound on the other. It was a busy road, and at the time Kenneth disappeared, the sound was full of fishing boats. Yet nobody in the vicinity claimed to have seen the buggy, the black mule, Joshua Harrison with his distinctive gray beard. How could Harrison have kidnapped the boy in such a public area without anyone noticing?
The defense also offered testimony from Harrison’s family and neighbors that at the time Kenneth disappeared, the defendant was at his home all day, working in his stable yard. Anna Gallop testified that contrary to rumor, Kenneth had never been brought to her boarding house. The prosecution countered this with two witnesses who stated that they had seen Harrison in Norfolk late on the night of February 13.
Faced with all this contradictory witness testimony, the trial essentially hinged on which side was most successful at cross-examination. The jury decided it was the prosecution. On March 19, they returned a guilty verdict.
Harrison’s lawyers appealed to the State Supreme Court, emphasizing the impossibility of their client having abducted the boy without anyone seeing him. They also pointed out the local prejudice against Harrison. The court denied the appeal, and ordered that Harrison be arrested.
That same day, as Harrison sat alone in a room of Norfolk’s Gladstone Hotel, a city detective entered the lobby. He instructed the bellboy to summon Harrison.
Harrison slammed the door in the bellboy’s face. A moment later, a gunshot was heard from inside his room. When the bellboy and the detective broke into the room, they found Harrison lying on the floor, quite dead. Next to him was a note he had written, proclaiming his complete innocence.
The case was over, if far from resolved. Over the years, Currituck County never really stopped wondering just what had happened to Kenneth Beasley. Among these armchair detectives was a solicitor named Hallet Ward. He was good friends with one of Harrison’s lawyers, W.M. Bond, and the two often discussed the mystery. The two agreed that the case against Harrison had been extremely weak. Also, the people closest to Harrison had argued that while he may have been a hotheaded and even vengeful man, he would never have been so depraved as to take out his wrath on an innocent child.
In 1934, Ward and his family happened to pass through Currituck County. They drove along the sound, stopping for a picnic lunch in front of the building where Kenneth Beasley had once attended school. As they ate, two elderly men walked along the road in front of them. Ward stopped them and introduced himself. He asked if they remembered Harrison’s trial. They most certainly did. As they talked, Ward mentioned the recluse in the cabin, and lamented the fact that law enforcement had never been able to find the man. The two men commented that the hermit had contact only with Joshua Harrison, from whom he bought wine. He also had kept dogs.
Ward suddenly remembered Kenneth’s last words to his mother: “I’ve seen some mighty pretty puppies.”
He and the two men walked along the road where Benny Walker had last seen the boy. As they went deeper into the woods, Ward saw an old rail fence. One of the elderly men pointed to a path on the other side of the fence. That path, he said, led to the hermit’s cabin.
Ward contemplated this new information. So, a path led to the cabin, well out of sight of the main road. He formed a theory: “Kenneth,” he said, “went up that path to that house to see those puppies. Harrison entered the gate in front of the house from the connecting road and picked the boy up at that house and drove on by the back road to the back gate and through it to the Sound Road and on to Norfolk.” Kenneth had no overcoat, and it was a bitterly cold day. That night, he contracted pneumonia and soon died in whatever hideaway Harrison had arranged for him.
Was Ward’s scenario correct? Or–as seems more likely to me–did the anonymous hermit himself use the promise of a puppy to lure Kenneth to his cabin, only to do something unspeakable to the boy? Did he then bury the body somewhere in those woods and flee? Or, on a more hopeful note, could those Carrituck County folk who believed that Kenneth Beasley survived, to be raised in another place, under another name, possibly be correct?
We’ll probably never know.
THE BURNING STONES
The following story, which appeared in the Arizona Republic of 23 September 1899, contains many of the same elements found throughout the poltergeist literature. The suggestion that the outbreak was a kind of ‘psychic revenge’, the claim that one person was the clear focus of the stones plus the observation that some of the stones were hot while others were ice-cold are all common themes.
Here is the story exactly as it was printed: “‘Assaulting Ghost. Residents of East Jefferson Street Disturbed. A Thrilling Story of the Strange Persecution of an Old Mexican Woman.” – This is a weird ghost story. But all ghost stories are weird. This one is well authenticated in that, though there have been scores of Phoenix witnesses, the hoax has not been discovered, If there be a hoax. About two weeks ago a Mexican woman named Josefa Nunes, who now lives at Seventh street opposite the residence of Mr. Henry E. Kemp, applied to the county authorities for protection against persons who were throwing stones at her. She was not clearly understood, and while an officer visited her house now and then he supposed that he was looking for an earthly stone thrower whom he could see. But this is the story: until nearly a month ago Señora Nunez lived near the eastern end of the street car line. Another Mexican named Urquides, a member of a Protestant church who had lived at her house for some time, was seized with a sickness of which he died. Wholly before death he begged for food and water, which his hostess for some reason did not give him. A night or two after his death the stone throwing commenced. Small stones hurled from an invisible source broke the windows of the house or rattled against the outer wall. Now and then one struck Señora Nunez. Though they landed sharply they brought no other pain than a scorching sensation. She picked the stones from the ground and found some warm and others almost ice cold. She thought she might avoid this ghostly persecution by changing her residence, so she moved to the place where she now lives. The change brought her no relief and then she applied to the authorities, who did not understand her. The neighbors heard of these strange visitations a week ago, but took no Interest in the story until within the last two days. Yesterday the interest grew so intense that until 9 o’clock last night (the hour when the stone throwing ceases) more than 200 people visited Señora Nunez’ home. Some of them saw the flying stones, heard them crash through windows or bang against the side of the house and fall to the ground. Many were picked up and carried off. So at least the stones have substance, though the thrower Is disembodied. About 5 o’clock last night the old woman was sitting in her house surrounded by not fewer than forty visitors, American and Mexicans. A scarf or shawl was thrown over her head and she was trembling mid-telling of the annoyances which were wearing her life out. Suddenly she put her hand to her jaw and despairingly screamed “Adios”. Among those who were sitting near her were Officer George McClarty, and C. S. Scott, of the Herald. Officer McClarty saw a stone dropping on the old woman’s shoulder and fall thence to the ground. He picked it up and it was warm. He gave it to Mr. Scott, who testified to its temperature. Señora Nunez owns a small ranch some distance in the country. She visited it yesterday and she said that on her way home she was struck by one of these burning stones. Another story is told, though this is not authenticated, that a priest visited her home at her request. When he stopped in front of the house, still sitting in his buggy, he was struck by a stone, producing a burning sensation. It rebounded and hit his horse, which sprang forward In terror.” (End of printed story.)
After this article the case went pretty quiet, but there was an interesting follow-up in the Republic nine months later on 9 June, 1899, reading, quote:
“Mysterious Stone Throwing Recalled” – The case of the mysterious stone throwing, of which an old Mexican woman was the victim, filled the local newspapers last summer. She lived In a house on East Jefferson Street. The windows of the house were broken by stones hurled by unknown hands and in the presence of many incredulous visitors rocks fell from the celling and the air upon the old woman. It was a puzzling case, and though everybody who witnessed the manifestations believed there was a trick, it was never exposed. The old woman and her family moved to a hut in the neighborhood of the park and the matter was almost forgotten. It has recently come to the notice of the authorities that they are still living there in a ghostly sort of a way and in an apparently destitute condition. They were visited by District Attorney Flannigan and Constable Joe Balsz yesterday and it is probable that some action will be taken about them.’
When Weird Darkness returns…
No one knew what the phone number was supposed to be for. No one knew the meaning of the bizarre recording they heard when calling the number. No one knew who owned the phone number, or what they had done with it, or why. It’s the strange history behind a seemingly innocent 1-800 number that still has people baffled… especially those looking for improvement on their golf game. That story is up next!
CANADA’S WEIRDEST TOLL-FREE PHONE NUMBER
If you happened to live in Canada in the 1990s, you may have heard about — or maybe even called — an… unusual phone number. It wasn’t unusual just for one reason, though; it was unusual for a whole bunch of reasons. For one thing, the phone number, which was officially 1-800-465-3847, had a memorable vanity title: 1-800-GOLF-TIP. For another, it was advertised via billboard in at least one city in Ontario — a large, brightly colored sign featuring a gold ball, a golf club, grass, sky, and huge, yellow writing spelling out 1-800-GOLF-TIP. But, strangest of all was what happened when you actually called the number. You didn’t reach a hotline for golfing instruction, as you might have expected; instead you encountered rather an odd recording: You’d hear a male-sounding voice counting from one to 10 — in English, but with an accent of some sort — over and over again, always pausing for a breath between two of the numbers. Exactly which numbers the pause occurred between depends on who you talk to, though; some people remember it being between the five and the six, others between the six and the seven, and still others between the seven and the eight. The recording seemed to be on some sort of loop — but if you let it play long enough, eventually you’d hear a loud, screaming tone replace the counting.
No one knew what 1-800-GOLF-TIP was supposed to be.
No one knew the meaning of the recording.
No one knew who owned the phone number, or what they had done with it, or why.
Heck, for a long time after the number ceased being available for Canadians to call, no one could even say for sure whether the whole thing actually existed in the first place. It’s spoken of on forums and message boards in the kind of tone we reserve for things we’re not certain we’re remembering, or maybe dreaming: “Does anyone remember…?” “Did I just make this up…?” “What the heck was that, anyway…?”
As it turns out, 1-800-GOLF-TIP does have quite the history behind it — a history as strange as the recollections of those who called it way back in the day. There are, as far as I’ve been able to determine, three parts to the story — but although these three parts were hard enough to tease on their own, even more difficult was figuring out the order in which the parts actually go.
I’m fairly certain I’ve sorted it out, though. So: Here’s the deal with 1-800-GOLF-TIP… I think, at least. Buckle up; the ride ended up being a lot wilder than I expected it to be.
The Canadian years of 1-800-GOLF-TIP are the most mysterious, in part because there’s very little documentation of this period, and in part because most of what we do know about it is based on people’s memories of it — and human memory is, after all, often imperfect. But we can still gain some valuable information about the phone number based on these memories, and even confirm some parts of these recollections, including both its location and its time frame.
According to most people’s memories as recorded on various message boards and other forums across the web, it was common practice among kids and teens to call 1-800-GOLF-TIP in order to experience the number’s strange recording in three specific cities: St. Catharines, Toronto, and Ottawa. Notably, these three cities are located not too far away from each other, and all within the same Canadian province — Ontario.
The city that seems to factor most prominently in the history of 1-800-GOLF-TIP is St. Catharines, the largest city in the Niagara area of Ontario. (It has a population of about 133,113 — roughly a third of Niagara’s residents.) I say St. Catharines is at the center of the whole thing because that’s where the billboard advertising 1-800-GOLF-TIP was located in the early 1990s.
The question, though, is about precisely where in St. Catharines the billboard was.
According to a 4chan thread from 2017, it was across from “the old Bijou Theater.” However, u/Ohigetjokes — a Redditor who grew up in St. Catharines and has been on the 1-800-GOLF-TIP case for some time — described the billboard recently to YouTuber Barely Sociable as across from “the Lincoln Theater that had a Bijou Arcade in the ground floor.” u/Ohigejokes also noted that the building was demolished “some time ago,” with a Wendy’s/Tim Hortons hybrid having gone up its place. But then we’ve got this “You Know You’re From St. Catharines When” listicle, too, which includes the item, “You remember the Bijou Arcade in Lincoln Mall” — mall, not theater. So: Where was it? The Bijou Theater? The Lincoln Theater? The Lincoln Mall?
What complicates the situation is the fact that St. Catharines did once have both a Lincoln Theater and a Bijou Theater — just not located where Lincoln Mall is. (Also, by “theater,” we mean “cinema” in all cases here; we’re talking about movie theaters, not live performance venues — just, y’know, for clarity’s sake.) The Lincoln Theater, which was operated Famous Players, was located at 386 St. Paul Street East, according to Cinema Treasures. Originally opened on May 16, 1939, it closed in 1980. Its current occupant is an upscale office space called the Lincoln; however, the Google Street View image history of the address, which dates back to 2007, tells quite a story.
In 2007, the space looked vacant, although the theater’s old marquee bore a message about a soon-to-open vintage store. The store, however, seems never to have materialized; by 2009, it was vacant again, with a “FOR RENT” sign in one of the windows. By 2014, the windows had been boarded up; by 2015, a strange message regarding three judges and a court filing had been posted on the marquee; and by 2018, work on the new Lincoln had begun. The current Street View image, which was captured in July of 2019, shows the completed space. There’s also currently a chi-chi-looking restaurant called Dispatch in the building.
Meanwhile, I discovered courtesy of a paper published in 2010 on early movie-going in Niagara by Paul S. Moore of Ryerson University that the very first “picture theater” ever to arrive in St. Catharines was called the Bijou. Moore cites a 1976 article in the St. Catharine’s area newspaper the Standard by journalist Henry P. Nicholson detailing his early memories of the theater—which, according to Nicholson via Moore, was across the street from the Standard’s offices on Queen Street. It’s not there anymore (as Moore puts it, “There is no trace of the Bijou except Nicholson’s memories”), but the information available allows us to take a guess about its former address: The Standard’s offices have been located at 17 Queen Street since 1898 — so if the Bijou was across the street, it likely occupied the space currently labeled on Google Maps as 14-18 Queen Street. I’ve been unable to dig up much about the property’s history other than the fact that it’s zoned for retail (but vacant) right now, but it does look like the sort of space that might once have played host to an old-time cinema.
But I actually think these two former theaters are red herrings. You see, there was once a cinema at the Lincoln Mall: Per Big Screen, it was called the Famous Players Lincoln Mall (which I assume means it was operated by the same company that ran the Lincoln Theater on St. Paul Street), and its official address was 525 Welland Avenue. If you plug “Lincoln Mall, St. Catharines, Ontario” into Google Maps, it brings you to the Lincoln Value Centre, which is, in fact, a shopping plaza. And if you plug 525 Welland Avenue specifically, it takes you to… a Wendy’s/Tim Horton hybrid. There are even a few billboards visible from that Wendy’s/Tim Hortons location today, which isn’t the case for either the old Lincoln Theater or the spot where the Bijou Theater once stood.
As such, I’m fairly confident this is where the 1-800-GOLF-TIP billboard in St. Catharines was located. Despite the discrepancies between recollections, there are enough common threads between them all to support the idea: Lincoln, Bijou, a cinema, an arcade. It all comes together at 525 Welland Avenue.
Of course, what we don’t know is who put the billboard up, or why. We’ll talk about that more in a bit, but for now, let’s stick with what else we know.
Beyond St. Cathrines, knowledge of 1-800-GOLF-TIP has also been placed in Toronto. I’ve found considerably less concrete information about this possible connection, but a tenuous link does exist: It’s mentioned in the 4chan thread; I managed to dig up a post from a Redditor who vaguely remembered hearing about it in Toronto; and, somewhat hilariously, it’s currently listed as the phone number for a possibly defunct punk band based in Toronto on their Facebook page. The band’s Facebook page updated their number to 1-800-465-3847 only recently, though — September of 2019 — so whether it was meant as a nod to the Canadian 1-800-GOLF-TIP oddity remains to be seen. (The reason I wonder whether the band is still active, by the way, is due to the fact that their last Facebook post prior to September phone number change, went up in March of 2018 — nearly two years ago. Do with that what you will.)
But as tenuous as these links may be, one of them gives us a bit more information about the timeline: Several Redditors in the thread placing the number in Toronto remembered calling it in the late 1980s. So, we’re not just looking at a number that was available in the 1990s; it was available in both the late ‘80s and at least the early ‘90s.
But the most significant part of this leg of the story is the part that situates it in Ottawa. The July 29, 1993 edition of the Charlatan — the student newspaper of Carleton University, which is located in Ottawa — included a small box on page 11 listing “Six things we like, three things we hate, and one thing we just don’t care about.” Number one on the list — presumably making it one of the six things the students of Carleton liked — was 1-800-GOLF-TIP. ( No other context was given for the number, but it’s likely that the reason it was included in the list is because it was just so weird that one couldn’t help but love it.
This piece of evidence, by the way, is the thing that I think points most clearly to the Canadian mystery portion of 1-800-GOLF-TIP’s history having occurred first in the timeline: It’s the one primary document firmly dating the number’s existence that both lines up with what Canadians who called it remember about precisely when it was a thing, and fits in with everything that came afterwards.
Here’s the funny thing: Following these early Canadian years, 1-800-GOLF-TIP actually was a golf hotline for a brief period of time. It was based in the United States, rather than Canada; however, since both the U.S. and Canada are part of the North American Numbering Plan for phone numbers and share the same 800 number dataset, we don’t really need to solve the problem of how it jumped from one country to another. All we need to know is that, at some point, the number changed hands — and when it did so, it went from a Canadian owner to a U.S.-based one.
And that’s when it became the USA Today/PGA of America golf tip hotline for at least one year.
On Dec. 1, 1994, USA Today ran an article addressing a fact that probably seemed novel at the time, but which is kind of a “well, duh” situation now: Sometimes, people widely regarded as experts in a given field still seek out teachers from whom to learn even more about that field. In the case of the USA Today article, it was professional golfers with loads of titles and championships under their belts; it turns out that, yes, sometimes, even these champs call up other golfers, coaches, and trainers to get a few pointers on their game. The article was accompanied by a plug for a hotline that would allow readers to “get answers from the experts” — a hotline referred to in the dek as the “USA TODAY/PGA OF AMERICA HOT LINE”:
“Iron shots too often go astray? Need to get a grip on your grip? Spraying the ball off the tee? Three-putting far too often? 1-800-GOLF-TIP (1-800-465-3847) TODAY: 9am – 9pm ET, TTY line 1-800-331-1706.”
As the Payphone Project found, an article in the Florida newspaper the Tampa Tribune dated Dec. 3 — a few days later — further elaborated on the hotline’s origins and purpose:
***“Golfers nationwide can receive golf tips today and Sunday via a toll-free instruction hot line [sic] presented by the PGA of America and USA Today. The hot line featuring nearly 100 PGA members, is being offered in conjunction for the Tommy Armour PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit in New Orleans. Call (800) GOLF-TIP.”***
And wouldn’t you know it? A bit more digging reveals that USA Today and the PGA — the Professional Golfer’s Association of America — have collaborated on this golf tips hotline on and off since 1992. But, interestingly, the number associated with the hotline hasn’t remained the same that whole time.
According to an archived press release from the PGA published in 2011, that year’s hotline marked “the 10th in a series that dates back to the 1992 PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit.” Monte Lorell, then the managing editor for USA Today’s Sports section, said according to the press release, “USA Today and the PGA of America have worked together since 1992 on the golf tips hotline, and the collaboration has provided wonderful information for our audience and for golf fans everywhere.” Continued Lorell, “Through the hotline, PGA Professionals have helped USA Today readers of all skill levels and answered all kinds of questions, from swing mechanics to set-up to equipment issues to the mental game.” Per USA Today, the phone number that year wasn’t 1-800-GOLF-TIP, but rather 1-888-PGA-PLAY (1-888-742-7529).
2011 was also notable for expanding the scope of the hotline beyond just the telephone. In that same press release, then-president of PGA of America Allen Wronowski called that year’s edition “the PGA/USA Today Gold Tips Hotline 2.0.” In addition to the phone number, folks could, for the first time, use email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype to get in touch with the pros offering their advice, thereby bumping the hotline up to the next level. By 2013 — the most recent revival of the hotline I could find — the program had moved entirely online, removing the phone number completely and instead encouraging people to “send an email, post a question on our Facebook page, or send us a message via Twitter.”
The way the hotline worked was simple: Anyone who wanted to get some advice on golf from a bunch of people who really, really know what they’re talking about could call up the number — or, in later years, get in touch via email or social media — ask a question, and get a response from a pro. It generally only operated for a day or two each time it resurfaced; in 1994, for example, it seems to have been a weekend thing, while in 2011, the hotline ran for only one day, Jan. 27. In 2013, the day the experts were actually on call answering questions was Jan. 24; however, those who wanted to ask something could also send their message in advance via the previously noted online channels.
For what it’s worth, I did reach out to the PGA of America for confirmation on all of these specifics, as well as to inquire about any additional information available about the hotline program; alas, I did not receive a response prior to publication.
But of course, the lack of confirmation here leads directly the question of what exactly happened to the 1-800-GOLF-TIP number after its use in the 1994 USA Today/PGA of America hotline program. Clearly USA Today and the PGA of America relinquished the number later on, as evinced by the fact that the golf hotline number was different by 2011, thus leaving 1-800-GOLF-TIP free for someone else to snap up.
And that “someone” ended up being a company called Mayfair Communications — or, possibly, PrimeTel Communications.
When you call 1-800-GOLF-TIP now, you don’t get the counting recording. Nor do you reach the USA Today/PGA of America hotline. Instead, you reach an adult hotline — which, of course, yields the following question: Who sets up an adult hotline reached by dialing a number that spells out 1-800-GOLF-TIP? It seems like an… unexpected choice. (I did call it, by the way; here’s a recording of what you hear when your call connects.)
As YouTuber Barely Sociable found in his recent exploration of 1-800-GOLF-TIP, the number — which, as a reminder, is actually 1-800-465-3847 — has been owned by the Philadelphia-based company Mayfair Communications since 1998. Like Barely Sociable, I followed the trail of 1-800-GOLF-TIP to Mayfair Communications, and then from Mayfair Communications to another company called PrimeTel Communications. It’s tricky to connect the two companies at first; neither has their own website (although it appears that Mayfair Communications did once — it’s just not operational anymore), and information about both of them is scarce. They are, however, both based in Philadelphia — and, more notably, both pop up in tandem with some degree of frequency in user posts on various forums dedicated to documenting robo-calls, toll-free numbers, and phone scams.
And here is where things started to get really interesting. You see, Mayfair Communications wasn’t bought by PrimeTel Communications; it is PrimeTel Communications — or part of it, at least. And the person who owns both of these companies owns a lot more than just a couple of 800-number service providers.
PrimeTel Communications is one of several hundred RespOrgs, or “responsible organizations,” operating in the United States and Canada. RespOrgs are kind of like the 800 number version of internet domain registrars: They maintain the registrations for toll-free numbers listed in the SMS/800 database—the database of all 800 numbers in North America and their current status. A RespOrg can be“a long distance company, reseller, end user, or an independent that offers an outsourced service,” according to the FCC.
However, it seems to be a little difficult to actually get a number from PrimeTel; as this blog post on 800 number availability notes, the company “[doesn’t] ever give them up” — meaning the company operates as the end user. Indeed, as Barely Sociable noted, PrimeTel is mostly known these days for amassing tons of toll-free numbers and redirecting them to adult hotlines. These activities actually became quite the news story in 2011, with reports about the whole to-do appearing in a wide range of newspapers and other reputable media outlets. At the time of the reports, PrimeTel had seemingly been at it for around 13 years, according to records acquired by the Associated Press — that is, the activity dated back to 1998. (Sound familiar?)
But the adult hotlines the 800 numbers acquired by PrimeTel led to weren’t just any adult hotlines.
They were adult hotlines connected with one of PrimeTel’s founders.
According to a June 2011 report from the Philadelphia Inquirer, PrimeTel was created by Richard Cohen and Sandra Kessler working out of Philadelphia in 1995. At the time, Cohen was mostly known for running a huge number of adult businesses, largely under the company National A-1 Advertising Inc. — websites, phone lines, you name it. After PrimeTel came into being, the company began buying up 800 numbers and redirecting them to adult hotlines that were part of Cohen’s network. As of 2011, PrimeTel controlled 1.7 million numbers — about 25 percent of all 800 numbers in the United States and Canada.
(It’s perhaps worth noting that PrimeTel has been accused of violating the Code of Federal Regulations – Telecommunications for hoarding numbers and directing them to a single toll-free subscriber; but although a handful of complaints have been brought against them, they’ve all been thrown out. The FCC hasn’t brought action against them. According to the official quoted here, although what PrimeTel is doing might be annoying, it isn’t necessarily illegal.)
The plot thickens, though — or at least, it does regarding the ownership of 1-800-GOLF-TIP: According to a different, earlier report from the Philadelphia Inquirerpublished in October of 2010, PrimeTel actually had six RespOrgs under its belt at the time. They all tended to be group under the single name of PrimeTel, and the full list isn’t even to find… but from what I’ve been able to tell from various legal records involving PrimeTel and its owners (typically Kessler — she’s named most frequently), those six companies include PrimeTel itself, USA Broadband, Unilink Telcom, WireStar Communications, Yorkshire TeleCom… and Mayfair Communications.
And there we have it: Mayfair is PrimeTel. Both are run in part by Philadelphia’s biggest adult industry player. And 1-800-GOLF-TIP is currently part of that empire.
To sum everything up, here’s the timeline as I currently understand it for 1-800-GOLF-TIP: In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, at least one billboard advertising 1-800-GOLF-TIP existed in Ontario; when people called the number, they heard a recording of a man counting from one to 10; and the whole thing was weird enough for people to share the number, thus allowing it to spread, urban legend-like, throughout at least three cities in the province, and possibly throughout Canada more broadly.
By 1994, USA Today and the PGA of America had acquired 1-800-GOLF-TIP for use in their golf tips hotline. But because the hotline wasn’t an ongoing thing — or even an annual occurrence — they didn’t hold onto it (or continue to pay for it) for any extended length of time; instead, they relinquished it when they were done using it.
Then, in or around 1998, Mayfair Communications/PrimeTel acquired the number — not for any particular reason, but simply because it was available. They redirected it to an adult hotline. And there it has stayed ever since.
Although exactly what was going on with the number prior to 1994 is still a mystery, I’d argue that the context surrounding it allows us to take a reasonable guess about it. Here’s what I think: I think that the number either wasn’t owned by anyone at the time, or that it was owned by someone who intended to start a golf hotline and never quite got around to it. In both cases, I think it’s likely that the recording of the man counting was simply a placeholder or a test — something to fill the silence and make sure the number still worked. In support of the recording being a telecoms test, we have reports of other 800 numbers playing either the same or a similar recording around the same time most memories place it with 1-800-GOLF-TIP; meanwhile, in support of it having belonged to someone who lacked follow-through, we have the billboard: The owner of the number could very well have prematurely taken out a billboard advertisement for their planned hotline… and then failed to actually do anything with the number, leaving the billboard sitting there for years, advertising a hotline that didn’t exist.
But here’s something else worth pointing out: 800 numbers can be zoned such that they only reach specific businesses to callers from specific geographic areas. As phone services company UniTel Voice explains, there are a few different kinds of toll-free service providers, one of which rents “vanity” phone numbers — numbers like 1-800-GOLF-TIP, which are easy to remember and customizable — to people in specific geographic locations. “For example,” notes the company’s post on toll-free numbers, “a dental office in Houston could use and advertise 1-855-DENTIST and at the same time a dentist office in Chicago could use and advertise the same business number. Customers who call the phone number from a Houston area code will be routed to the Houston dentist. Customers who call the number from Chicago will be routed to the Chicago-based dentist.”
That means that it’s possible for 1-800-GOLF-TIP to lead to different businesses depending on where you’re calling from. In the United States — where I’m based — it leads to an adult hotline. In Canada, though, it might lead somewhere else. Heck, it might have led somewhere else in Canada while it was leading to, say, the USA Today/PGA of America hotline in the United States.
For what it’s worth, a 2005 message board post at Tribe Magazine (which is Toronto-centric, by the way) noted that, at that time, calling 1-800-GOLF-TIP from Canada yielded an automated message stating, “The number you have dialed cannot be reached from your calling area.” Given that PrimeTel/Mayfair had already already acquired the number by that point, it’s probably safe to say that they zoned it only in the United States.
But, I mean, hey. More than a few years have passed since then. If you’re Canadian and you want to give 1-800-GOLF-TIP a call (and you don’t mind incurring whatever fees might be associated with it), let us know what you get.
I think we’d all be interested to hear what you find.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
Thanks for listening. Feel free to drop me a note anytime with your questions or comments – you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find all of my social media on the CONTACT page of the website. If you want to help the podcast, be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already done so, and leave a review of the show in the podcast app you listen from! But more important than anything, please share the podcast; tell someone about it – someone who loves paranormal stories, true crime, monsters, or mysteries like you do! You can also vote for Weird Darkness in the HOT 50 countdown in Podcast Magazine every day I upload an episode! To vote, follow the link in the show notes, or click on “VOTE” at WeirdDarkness.com.
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All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Can Alexa Speak With The Dead?” by Rob Schwarz for Stranger Dimensions
“Where Is Kenneth Beasley” posted at Strange Company
“The Burning Stones” posted at The Fortean
“Canada’s Weirdest Toll-Free Phone Number” posted at The Ghost In My Machine
WeirdDarkness™ – is a production of Marlar House Productions. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2021.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Do everything without complaining or arguing…” – Philippians 2:14
And a final thought… “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” – Henry David Thoreau
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.
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