Anna Byrne: Chapter 02 – The Burden of a Witch’s Son

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Urban Legends: The Curse of Lafayette

I looked up at the loft in my father’s study, my eyes burned from a lack of sleep, but if I was ever going to get broken in to some of the insane notions that my father spoke about the night before this was how I should do it. I felt his hand grasp my shoulder and the kiss he gave me on the back of my head, as he encouraged me to do the deed.

“Oh Anna, it’s not that bad,” he chuckled as he watched me climb the wooden loft steps.

“JESUS CHRI—”

“You watch your mouth young lady!” I heard him snap, as he stood in his office below.

“What is all of this stuff, Da’?” He couldn’t really blame me for my initial reaction, his loft seemed to extend the length of the entire house and not just over his own study. It was also filled with boxes, filing cabinets, and the odd armoire—speaking of which, how the hell did he even get that up there?

“Oh, don’ ye touch the armoire!” I heard him shout as he had read my mind when he settled back in front of his computer, “that’s a story fer another day!”

“You don’t expect me to get through all of this today do you?” the incredulous tone in my voice came out without my permission, but dad already knew the kind of sass that I brought to the table.

“Nah, jus’ find Oregon, seein’ ye already met Rue.” I heard him chuckle to himself, as if he had just remembered a funny joke and I could almost feel my eyes roll into the back of my head.

Oregon, Oregon—my eyes scanned the boxes, he told me he wasn’t going to help me go through anything, but that I had to go through it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go through a few notes he’d collected on the subject. This, however, was far and away beyond a few notes that he had alluded to. Finally, I found a box against the wall that was labeled Oregon, it was sitting on a stack of boxes—also labeled Oregon—shit, I knew it, I was going to be here all night. I grabbed the top box and wrestled it over to the desk that sat in front of the octagonal loft window, where radiant light filtered through.

“Well, here goes nothing,” a sigh escaped my chest and I threw back the dusty lid of the first box of many that I was charged with reading through and memorizing. I quickly scanned the file names for the Heceta Head Lighthouse, but was disappointed to find there was nothing about it in this particular box. Another file name caught my eye though, LAFAYETTE, OR – WITCH’S CURSE, father’s handwriting neatly headed the label. My curiosity was piqued now, I had to read this one first.


The year was 1885 and the Willamette Queen had just pulled into the dock of Lafayette, Oregon. Despite the early hour, the skies were gloomy, overcast, and the clouds threatened to batter all that which laid below. Locals disembarked with a spring in their step to meet their families who had gathered to welcome them home, while others shuffled off in a daze as they attempted to gather themselves. One such family, a man as well as his wife and mother stepped off to the side; they looked around for a moment and after a brief conversation with a local street vendor, set off down one of the muddy dirt roads that led into downtown.

Sheriff Harris, propped up on his horse, eyed the newcomers into his town and noted all of the people with which he would become acquainted in the days to come. He was a relic of older times and practices; his hat, brown duster coat, and boots proved as much, the splatters of dried mud gave away his hands-on approach to his livelihood.


The Marple family had recently become settled in a home on the outskirts of town, the matron of the family, Anna Marple had already become a name on the lips of the townspeople. As a widow, it was not unusual for her to live with her son and his wife, but she never seemed to act her part. The other women of the town shunned her, gossip telephoned from one ear to the next, and there always seemed to be some small scandal or another lingering around her. This didn’t seem to matter to one David Corker, a lonely widowed shop owner; she had caught his eye nearly the first day she and her family disembarked from the Willamette Queen that dreary fall day in 1885. Anna had gained a reputation of being a very unchristian woman, her traditional black widow’s clothing turned heads, children ran when she came walking into town, and there always seemed to be a raggedy black cat that trailed behind her wherever she went.
Folks in those parts believed the widow Marple to be a witch, but the topic was never broached in proper company.

I am beginning to suspect my husband’s mother is making sinister plans for me; I fear that my mouth has become too much for her to stand to provide food for. I have no money to my name and my only contribution is that I keep a tidy home. I am quite proud of that fact, if I am to be frank, I was raised to be a homemaker after all. That of course seems to be of no consequence to my husband’s mother.

Julie Marple – May, 1886

Seasons had passed in the town of Lafayette, the summer had been a prolific one for the townspeople and consequently the burglaries had been numerous. The widow Marple had effortlessly acquired the company of the widower Corker, who had earlier that year begun the process of courting the target of his affections. This of course spawned more gossip and rumors, of the widow having Mr. Corker under some type of spell. The sheriff of course had more important things to worry about, mostly the burglaries that had been occurring in the middle of the night—and at present he only had a single suspect. It of course didn’t help that the description of the perpetrator had matched quite exactly with the lanky, sallow Mr. Marple with his dark and greasy long hair.

The Marple residence had been frequented by Sheriff Harris on many occasions, mostly due to complaints by other townspeople, but recently it had more to do with the fact that before their arrival the theft of property had been a rarity in his town. There was just nothing else that could be said on the matter, in fact, the only thing Harris could do was charge him with a crime—but the evidence supporting his theory was severely lacking. It would just have to wait.

The fall of 1886 came quickly, like the changing of the leaves, it was there before anyone could realize it was even happening. Sheriff Harris continued to get more reports of burglaries in the area and he knew he would have to do something about it soon, or risk his own unemployment. Luckily for Harris, what happened on November 1, 1886 was exactly what he needed to solidify a case that would take Marple off of his streets for good.

Let me start by saying I did it, of course, I did it. Who else could have? Who else would have? We haven’t been living in Lafayette for very long, but it feels like forever when no one will give you and job and let you keep it. That is to say—me—they won’t give me a job and let me keep it.

Richard Marple – November 1, 1886

The widow Marple had not been seen in town for a few weeks now, but her beau David Corker couldn’t leave his shop unattended. So it was to much of the surprise of his regular customers when, unlike his normal routine, Corker didn’t open the shop exactly at nine on the second morning of November. This was so odd to one of his patrons that they immediately went over to the house of the widower to see why he couldn’t purchase the much needed laudanum for his wife’s debilitating headaches. When the patron found the door to widower Corker’s home ajar, he stepped inside and realized why the store had not been opened on time that morning.

Suffice it to say, Sheriff Harris was called immediately; upon the discovery of a bloody, mutilated, and hacked Mr. Corker alongside a house that looked as if a herd of stampeding cattle had been driven through, he knew exactly who must have done it.


Sheriff Harris pounded heavily on the door of the Marple residence, the haunted silence and blackness of the night otherwise unsettled him. “Richard Marple!” He hollered into the thick wooden door before him, “This is Sheriff Harris, open up!” The plain and mousy Julie Marple opened the door in her pink floral night-coat. She held a chamberstick aloft in her hand and drew up the light to her pale and sunken expression to get a look at the Sheriff. The look on her face was one of bewilderment and exhaustion.

“What can I help you with Sheriff?” Julie’s voice was a small, melodic sound, but her confusion was thorough.

“My apologies Mrs. Marple for the late hour, but I was hoping you could tell me if your husband was in your company two nights ago?”

“I—uh—that is to say, he left early in the evening, he said that he had business to attend to in town, why is it that you ask?”

The Sheriff shook his head then further explained that he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the details of his visit, but that it was an urgent matter that required her husband’s attention. Within a moment she disappeared and the door closed with a solid thud in the sheriff’s face. When Julie’s husband appeared at the door, his expression was as sullen and bleak as could be expected—he knew what the sheriff was now at his doorstep, but his poor acting might have a fool believe that he was surprised.

“How can I help you Sheriff Harris?” Richard Marple feigned a look of foolish innocence, the lines on his pallid face were strikingly deep when the dim light of a half-moon fell upon them.

“Mr. Marple, I’m going to need you to come down to the jail with me, I’ve got several questions for you.”

“Oh, alright—let me just get my coat,” Richard of course could have used that time to establish an alibi with his mother and wife, so Harris couldn’t risk any more time spent allowing Richard the opportunity.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Mr. Marple.” The sheriff reached out and shackled his suspect, “let’s go.”


Julie watched as her mother-in-law deteriorated over the winter—there was no one left to financially support either of them and Julie wished that she had gotten out of that wretched household already. She swore to herself that the only reason she stayed in Lafayette was because she was needed for her testimony of the night in question. Otherwise she would have already hopped back on the Willamette Queen and taken it back to Corvallis to stay with her parents until she could find a way to make her own way in the world.

Her mother-in-law seemed to get smaller and smaller the longer Richard was in jail, but without his overbearing presence, Julie felt like she was thriving. She had taken the opportunity that was presented with his absence to take up a small side-business sewing and darning clothing for people in need; when the sheriff had searched her home and found the blood-soaked shirt, piece of paper, and tools of her husband’s thieving trade, however, she found she no longer had any customers. Her husband’s assumed guilt was apparently her own as well.

I must admit that I never loved David Corker—nor did I ever much enjoy his company. He was a sad older widower and a dullard at that. I sometimes suspect that his late wife passed simply to be rid of his intolerable presence. It soon became clear to me, however, when my son Richard could not find steady means of employment that it would fall to me to secure this family’s financial future. What better way than to lure in a lonely shopkeeper with my feminine gifts? Now you may be thinking that I am some sort of working lady, but I find those sorts of ladies to be utterly deplorable. I was a well-respected woman in my time, especially whilst my dear departed husband was still alive.

Anna Marple – January 7, 1887

From where Richard sat rotting in the cell at the Lafayette jail, he saw winter turn back into spring, the light slowly made its way through his barred window and he got a new cellmate often enough to keep the company fresh. Aside from not having bar-girls, tobacco, and drink, it was almost as if he wasn’t missing much of the outside world at all.

We moved here from Corvallis and you might now be imagining something awful that I must have done to drive us away from such a place. Well, I must confess that sleeping with the local tavern owner’s wife was not exactly an innocent affair, it was surely not as seedy as might be otherwise imagined. I may also, on more than one occasion, have liberated the random shop or home of certain valuables that need not have been immediately noticed. Regardless, nothing that I did in Corvallis was as terrible as what I am now suspected of.

Richard Marple – January 20, 1887

It wasn’t until early spring of 1887 that Sheriff Harris finally had enough to convict Richard Marple of the murder of shop owner David Corker—although with two witness who couldn’t corroborate his whereabouts, evidence stained with Corker’s blood, and the tools with which he broke into the home it would have seemed like an open-and-shut case. Richard, however, maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested; until he unwittingly divulged the facts of his own guilt to a cellmate, who was more than happy to give testimony in return for a reduced sentence of his own.

I wish I could tell you that I married well, that I married for love, and that I could, beyond a shadow of a doubt, trust my husband. There is a reason we moved away from Corvallis in 1885, though, and it was not a good one. My mother and father did not know Richard well enough when they gave me away, however, I trust that if they had understood the character of the man that they would have vehemently objected. My story may not be remembered but I have a strong suspicion that my husband and his mother will live on in history. After all, murderers usually do.

Julie Marple – April 10, 1887

The conviction of Richard Marple was unopposed after that final piece of the puzzle was fit roughly into the picture—a confession, even second-hand was enough to convince the jury of his peers. Even with the general disdain of the town for him and his family, they had otherwise been unwilling to suspect that one of their own was capable of committing such a crime. Corker had been a beloved member of their community though and his absence continued to be felt on a daily basis; the only recompense was someone would hang for the crime. Eventually the realization of the one they should hang became self-evident and he was sentenced to swing by the neck on November of that year.


The Gallows
The Gallows

The burly Sheriff Harris stepped up to Richard at the gallows, papers in his hand as he read off the convictions for which the man was to be executed. “For the robbery and most heinous murder of our own David Corker, Richard Marple shall now be executed by hanging!” This announcement was met by unwavering applause from the thirty or more men, women, and children that made up the crowd that stood before them.

Richard stood hunched next to the confident authority of the Sheriff, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat as the noose hung heavily around his neck. His beetle black eyes scanned the crowd which continued clapped heartily to watch him meet his demise. Several men shouted from the crowd, but Richard could only make out one man in particular, who told shouted to let “the murderer burn in hell!”

“Put the hood over the prisoner’s head,” Sheriff Harris ordered the executioner immediately, he was in no mood to let a murderer have his last words, but before the hood could be shoved over his head, Richard pulled roughly away.

“MURDER!” He shouted desperately into the crowd below him—his dehydrated lips cracked with his efforts, “May God judge you all!” Anything else that Richard may have said was muffled as his head was stuffed forcibly into the hood. The executioner stepped back to the lever of the trapdoor and on the Sheriff’s signal pulled forcefully to release it. “ACK!” The sound that escaped Richard’s throat was inhuman, as his feet fell out from beneath him and the rope snapped taut. His eyes bulged out of his face, the knot lodged directly under his throat, which prevented his neck from breaking and him from meeting a quick end.

Richard’s mother emerged from within the center of the crowd, her hair was wild and unkempt—her eyes were red with a year’s worth of tears. Her dress billowed around her as she fell to her knees, the people that surrounded her moved suddenly to give her a wider berth.

“Murderers! All of you! Murderers!” She bellowed, her grief-stricken voice cracked with a hoarse pain. “You shall all feel the pain of those you have wronged! Your town shall never prosper! I curse you and all of your children’s children to feel the fiery hell of my fury as your town burns around you time and time again!” Her head fell limp into the hands that now rested on her lap, her sobs shook her body viciously as Richard’s body twitched and seized. His wife, Julie, came behind his mother to comfort her, her own face streaked with tears, but Anna pulled away wailing for the loss of her only son.

Witch Burning a Village
Witch Burning a Village

“Hot damn,” I heard the words come out of my mouth after having reviewed the file at length. I folded up the file, but several news clippings fell out into my lap when I went to replace the file into the box. There was a clipping of every single fire that had occurred in Lafayette since the widow Marple had placed her verbal curse upon the town and its people. In fact not a decade had gone by since, that the town had not experienced some type of devastating fire—and there had been, I saw, on two separate occasions, fires so intense that they had leveled the entire town. “That was one pissed-off witch.”

Interview with Horror Author Gavin Gardiner

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing.

The truth is, I took to the writing game quite late. Although a life-long lover of horror, the idea to try my hand at writing my own novel didn’t come until I hit 30, and was the result of endless evenings dissecting the genre with my friend and horror analyst Ewan Rayner. Our conversations eventually led me to wondering whether the expanded understanding I’d developed from these challenging chats could translate into my own story. 

In the three years it took to complete For Rye and find a publisher, I also wrote a novella, several short stories, and a bunch of non-fiction pieces, all of which have also been published in print and online. It’s funny how such an impulsive undertaking, born mostly of curiosity, can end up taking your life in a whole new direction. Guess I’ve got Ewan to thank (or blame) for that. 

Horror Author Gavin Gardiner


The story is set in a town called Millbury Peak. Can you tell me a bit about the town you created?  

Millbury Peak is indeed my own invention. The most interesting kind of horror to me is that which festers behind closed doors, kept unseen behind a façade of normality. My mum summed up this kind of horror perfectly with two words: seems normal. I believe this brand of suspense resonates with us because there is an unspoken demand that we all go about our daily lives as functioning members of society, and to varying degrees bury our own writhing horrors within us. We must all seem normal

Anyway, I had the feeling that a small country town would be the perfect setting for this high-standing, respected family whose lives are, in actuality, a living hell behind closed doors. The husband and father of the family, Thomas Wakefield, is the adored town vicar. He also happens to be the cause of the hell his family must endure. 

Geographically, Millbury Peak effectively ‘replaces’ the town of Newark-on-Trent in the East Midlands, with the River Trent being overwritten by my fictional River Crove. The story opens in the city of Stonemount (again, made up) which replaces Nottingham, and I also created an island in the Outer Hebrides called Neo-Thorrach which features in the story. As you can see, I’m somewhat carving out my own fictional world within our own world. I’m afraid the reason for this is, at this time, strictly confidential. 

The book sounds like a crossover between murder, psychological horror, and maybe the supernatural. Can you expand on that and give us some background on where that came from? 

A crossover between murder and psychological horror is a great description! There are two mission statements about my work that I plan on sticking to for all my fiction. One of those is that my work will never be supernatural, and the other…well, that will be revealed in my next book. 

Regarding my avoiding the supernatural: I want to make it clear that I have a deep love for supernatural horror. The Blair Witch Project is my all-time favourite horror (and perhaps film) and so it’s not that I lack an appreciation for it. 

The decision to base everything I write in our own reality – on stuff that could happen – originates from my fascination with the human mind. Although the supernatural opens up exciting possibilities for a writer, where there are no limits to the things you can conjure up, I believe that no monster can be as terrifying as a monstrous human mind. This is probably why true crime has had such a resurgence and is so overwhelmingly popular at the moment: people are most disturbed by that which could be living next door, or the thought that even their own loved ones could become something truly horrifying. 

Taking my work in this direction also compliments another interest of mine, which is moral complexity. This is something I feel had been lacking in horror for some years, and is somewhat becoming more prevalent, but not to the degree I want to explore it. When you read one of my books, there’s every chance the ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’, in the traditional sense, will flip by the end of the story. I’ve thought a lot about our designations of good and evil – our insistence on drawing a line between us and them; our denial that the most despicable humans are not a different species, but in fact just a series of arbitrary conditions away from being you, me, or any of the cherished faces smiling warmly over the Christmas dinner table – and I have great interest in my work exploring not only what it takes to make a human monster, but also how slippery the spectrum of good and evil really is. Dealing solely with people, not ghosts or goblins, will allow me dig perversely deep into this theme. 

We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Full disclosure: I’m a new writer! I only started my novel three years ago, but have worked my butt off in that time. I’ve remained mindful every step of the way as to what lessons I’ve had to learn, and have plans to start a YouTube series detailing these very lessons. 

The list is endless, but if I could go back and give myself any advice, it would be that self-doubt is not only normal, but necessary. I really had a hard time with this, constantly doubting whether all my work was worth it, or whether the story was a waste of time. I still harbour massive doubts about every new writing project I take on, big or small, but I’ve come to the realisation that it’s that very same doubt that drives me to push my work as far as I can take it.  

I was recently asked in another interview which part of the writing process I find the hardest. I answered (rather awkwardly) that they should all be as hard as each other. If any part of writing a book feels ‘easy’, or is a bit of a ‘break’ from the rest of the process, then you’re not working hard enough. It goes without saying that everyone is allowed to create something just for the fun of it and put that creation out there, but I always advise new writers to remain mindful of their objective. If that objective is to create something that’s going to truly grab a reader by the lapels and shake them, stay with them, and not let go, then they have to take a long, honest look at the effort they’re putting in and evaluate whether it’s enough to meet that objective. 

So embrace the self-doubt, make it work for you, and never forget to push yourself and your work to the limits of your creativity and endurance. Greatness isn’t born out of nothing. Bleed for your work. 


What/who are some of your major influences? 

In terms of literature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shattered my perceptions of what a novel could achieve. Also, I doubt I’d ever have written a book had Jeff Long’s criminally underrated and not-spoken-about-enough The Descent (nothing to do with the brilliant film) didn’t exist. 

I was deep into movies before literature, and my list of cinematic influences is wildly expansive. I think it’s important for a writer to seek inspiration from as many mediums as possible, and I’ve found films to be a useful way of expanding my storytelling palette. Absorb enough films, and you need only close your eyes during the writing of a difficult scene to see how a cinematographer or director or lighting technician might handle its execution. 

We live in a fortunate time when we have a positively bloating wealth of cinema and literature to look back on, and I’d urge writers of every genre to gorge on it all, and find ways to channel it into their own work. 

Where can we get this book after release?  

My debut horror novel, For Rye, will be available from April 9th through most major outlets such as Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and Foyles, and you can also pre-order it now. Visit my website to whet your palate and see if you’re up to the horrors to come: 

What are you working on next?  

I’m currently knee-deep in the planning of my next novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge, a folk horror set up a mountain full of caves, cults, and cannibals. As for how the ‘witchcraft’ element ties into my previously-detailed mission statement of ‘no supernatural stuff’, you’ll just have to wait and see… 

For Rye Horror Book cover

Want to dig in? Read the first 3 chapters for free

Website: www.gavingardinerhorror.com 
Linktree: https://linktr.ee/GGardinerHorror

The Gothic Literary Pioneer: Edgar Allan Poe

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Featured Horror Books

Without question, one of the most important and influential American writers of the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe was the first author to attempt to make a real professional living out of writing. Most of Poe’s work was inspired by the events that happened around him and to him throughout his life. During his career, he was a pioneer of the science fiction genre due to his fascination with the sciences available during his time and it can be seen that he often wrote stories that spoke about new inventions. With stories such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Poe has also been credited with inventing the modern detective story, using concepts such as deductive reasoning–this inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes.

Despite all of his talents within different genres of writing and the fact that his modern reputation is based primarily on his horror stories and lyrical poetry, he made his living as a literary critic and theoretician–one of America’s greatest.

Short Stories

Poe can be considered the master of the macabre, as he famously transformed the genre of the short horror story with his psychologically deep and insightful tales that the genre had never seen before. His classic stories helped to re-imagine the genre, where The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Black Cat, and The Masque of the Red Death which revealed the depths of his masterful story-weaving talents. While The Black Cat isn’t Poe’s most popular short story, it definitely reveals in a shorter form the dark and psychological terrors of Poe’s mind–the words that poured out of this author’s soul spoke of deep pain and misery that one can only credit to the gothic form.

The Black Cat (1845)

The Black Cat

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not–and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified — have tortured — have destroyed me. [Read More…]

Other Notable Short Stories

Poetry

Even if Poe had never written a single story, his poetry would have been enough to secure his legacy in literary history, as nearly every single one of them is considered a poetic masterpiece. A brief introduction to some of his works of poetry would most notably include The Raven, Annabel Lee, To Helen, and Ulalume. Below we have included one of our favorite poems by this famous dead author, which can be considered one of the all-time favorites and most notable of all of his poems, The Raven.

The Raven (1849)

The Raven Illustration

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore–
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door–
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door–
Only this and nothing more.”
[Read More…]

Other Notable Poetry

Why Should You Read Edgar Allan Poe?

To be clear, this selection of the work of Edgar Allan Poe is woefully lacking, but these are a great selection out of his incredibly large body of work. We urge you to read as much of it as possible and if you’re already a studied fan of Poe, let us know what your favorite story or poem is below!

The Gruesome History of the State Hospital in Salem, OR

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Built in the 1800s, the Oregon State Hospital has a reportedly insidious past that went on for years. Once an insane asylum, it is said that terrible malpractice occurred within its walls and that it had a secret tunnel that connected the buildings which shrouded these terrible experiments that were rumored to have been conducted on its patients. Today, part of the hospital has been preserved as a museum, and even now visitors to the hospital claim to have experienced paranormal activity, where they feel as if they are being watched, while on the premises.

The History of the Oregon State Hospital

Located in Salem, Oregon many of the original parts of the State Hospital still remain in use, while other parts are closed off due to severe disrepair. A new wing was constructed in 2011 where most of the patient care takes place now—the grounds look fairly inviting from the outside, there is unfortunately very little indication of the kind of horrors that took place within. When the facility was originally built, it was intended to serve all patients, but it soon became overcrowded and due to this, it became a more specialized facility that served the criminally insane and the mentally handicapped. Visitors are free to tour the campus as well as the interior of the hospital, where they learn that an estimated two-thirds of the population was found to be both mentally insane and found guilty of a crime.

Although these days, the original hospital and asylum are no longer taking patients, the Oregon State Hospital is still in business—but now mostly as a museum, perhaps as a monument to the way we used to treat those who had mental turmoil or abnormal conditions. Taking a tour of the hospital provides those interested with a fairly accurate perspective at the people who were once housed there, as well as the insanity that they actually endured at the hands of doctors who did not have their patients’ best interests at heart. The hospital was built in 1883 and for only having existed for almost a century and a half, the building has a lot of stories to tell. Like any old-fashioned asylum, patients fell victim to things that would never be acceptable by today’s medical practice standards. Over the years that these terrible experiments, abuse, and torture felt at the hands of both staff and fellow patients, it’s estimated that hundreds if not thousands of patients died within the asylum—it’s not incredibly surprising that it has the reputation of housing so many tortured souls.

If you take a tour of the facilities, you’ll find the museum is certain to educate people on the terrifying experiences that patients lived through in their time within the hospital. Exhibits fill the halls that were once filled with patients and the location was made popular when it was used as the filming location for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Surprisingly it functions still as the state’s sole psychiatric hospital. Within the exhibits, visitors can see the entire overview of how procedures for treating mentally ill patients has changed over the years, from its opening in the late 1800s to the present day. Even though the rooms were all remodeled, there lingers an intensely creepy presence throughout the museum.

The Unfortunate Incident of 1942

Can of Cremated Patient Remains
David Maisel, Library of Dust 103-566

One of the more ghastly stories that haunt the walls of this old facility happened in 1942, when forty-seven people were killed and hundreds more were struck incredibly ill after they were served their daily breakfast.

The Real Story…

Nearly eighty years ago now, on November 18, 1942, a terrifying scene unfolded at the Oregon State Hospital; what began like any other day ended in tragedy and confusion. After being served an enticing breakfast of scrambled eggs, patients began to die left and right—they presented with illness by vomiting blood and writhing on the floor in agony. Some patients died in minutes, others succumbed to this mysterious terror hours later, the death toll ended at forty-seven lives having been lost. In the official report, 263 patients fell ill, but the newspapers that ran the story reported that over four hundred patients had contracted this unknown illness.

At first, there was a fear of sabotage—Governor Charles A. Sprague called it a mass murder, where today it would be called a terrorist attack during a time where the country was already in the midst of World War II. With the fear of sabotage on the West Coast, there was a suspicion that the food supply had been compromised, as it was considered a vulnerable target. The eggs that had been served at the state hospital came from the federal surplus commodities that were distributed by the U.S. government and were part of a shipment that had been divided between the state institutions, schools, as well as other programs in Oregon. Governor Sprague immediately ordered that all institutions stop using the eggs which had come packed frozen in 30 lb. tin cans—the federal government followed suit and issued a similar order.

An investigation was immediately launched and officials from the Army, American Medical Association, and Food and Drug Administration were quickly dispatched to the state hospital campus in Salem. Considering the patient occupancy of the hospital was estimated to have been around 2,700 at the time—which is more than five times the amount that it treats today—it was exactly the reaction that we would hope to see. First-hand accounts remain what can be found in newspaper archives and a report submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association from two of the doctors who worked at the state hospital, and one who worked at the Oregon State Police crime lab in Portland.

One of the doctors to first respond was Dr. William L. Lidbeck, a pathologist who lived in one of the cottages on-site. What he found was a horror show—patients were experiencing abdominal cramping, and severe nausea, which turned into them vomiting blood, having seizures, struggling to breathe, and even some experiencing paralysis. Lidbeck had deduced that they had ingested a virulent poison and believed those who died the quickest had eaten the most of the poisoned eggs, whereas others would have had their death prolonged for hours. The night ended with a full morgue, chapel, and a hallway lined with bodies.

It is said that the death toll would have been worse if not for one heroic staff member, Nurse Allie Wassel, who took one bite of the eggs after the trays were brought to her ward. She immediately noticed the taste wasn’t right, so she refused to serve them to any of her patients. She became ill, but survived and was credited with saving many lives. Those who weren’t lucky enough to be in her ward put their spoons down after complaining that the eggs tasted too salty, or soapy and they began to immediately experience symptoms.

The investigation into the incident was of the utmost importance was conducted swiftly—autopsies were done on six patients, and samples of the poisoned eggs were taken from their stomach contents as well as the patients’ plates. These samples were fed to rats who succumbed within minutes and within twenty-two hours it the poison was identified as sodium fluoride, but it was also only found in the eggs cooked at the Oregon State Hospital. Commonly used as an insecticide for rats and cockroaches, it is a white substance that acts quickly, but could be easily mistaken for flour, baking powder, or powdered milk—even ingesting a small amount could be fatal. The thing they didn’t know, was whether it was intentionally fed to the patients, or if it had been a horrible accident.

According to the reports, the hospital’s assistant cook confessed and told the officials that he had sent a patient to the basement storeroom for powdered milk and the patient mistakenly brought back roach poison and it had been mixed in with the scrambled eggs. Patients in asylums were regularly used to help in the kitchen and around the hospital, as a part of a work-experience opportunity to help them with self-esteem, feeling productive, as well as earning a small wage. Procedures now have changed so vastly that an incident like the one that occurred at the Oregon State Hospital could no longer happen.

The patient who had retrieved the poison instead of the powdered milk? Twenty-seven-year-old George Nosen, who had admitted himself to the hospital as a paranoid schizophrenic. Nosen had been assigned to kitchen detail—washing dishes, cleaning floors, preparing for lines of other patients—and the kitchen was seriously understaffed. That mealtime had been incredibly busy, so Abraham McKillop the assistant cook had sent Nosen to fetch the powdered milk—a violation of the rules established at the hospital in 1908—and Nosen apparently wandered into the wrong storeroom, which tragically opened with the same key he had been given for the food storeroom. The storeroom with the poisons and the storeroom with the food were only eleven feet apart—and it was ruled to have been a tragic accident. While terrible, it did bring about some necessary changes to the way the hospital conducted its safety practices, as well as the labeling, is done by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Tortured Souls That Haunt the Ground

What remains within the walls of the Oregon State Hospital, including the intimidating and creepy underground tunnels, has created an environment where those who have investigated have felt an overwhelming sense of evil. The brave souls who willingly explore the tunnels and other areas of this haunted asylum are undeterred by the stories about patients allegedly being transported in the tunnels below the facility, or the evidence that suggests they were used for immoral, unethical, and barbaric medical experiments; this all took place so deep underground that their screams could not be heard. Phantom footsteps, doors opening and closing on their own, screams, and cries from former patients can all be experienced at the Oregon State Hospital.

A lot of the unrest that can be found here can also probably be attributed to the controversy of the hospital staff having lost over 1,500 cans of patients’ cremated remains.

The True Abilities of a Poltergeist

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

The Mysterious History of the Poltergeist

Poltergeist reaching for the clown doll
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

Poltergeists are often connected with ghosts, and while it’s true that ghosts can be poltergeists, poltergeists are not always ghosts. Categorized by their noisy nature, their ability to move objects, as well as various other physical disturbances. The term poltergeist comes from the German language, poltern, “to knock,” and geist, “spirit,” and in England the poltergeist is often synonymous with the boggart. These mischievous and often malevolent spirits date back to ancient Rome, as well as medieval Germany, China, Wales, and they continue to be reported from elsewhere in the world to this day. These impish spirits have not changed much over the year in how they present, except for taking into account the evolution of technology. In ancient reports, the reports showed that would throw rocks, dirt, and other objects, cause loud noises, knocking, strange lights, and unexplainable shrieks, as well as physical and sexual assaults that would leave their victims shaken. Modern reports have included lightbulbs spinning in their sockets and telephones repeatedly dialing the same number.

Physical assaults—scratching, spitting, biting, pinching, punching and sexual molestation—usually only appear in a small number of cases, but they are still consistently prevalent among cases over the years. Overall, the activity doesn’t just peter out, it stops as suddenly as it starts, but the length of time the victims are affected varies so widely that the end is never predictable. Whether the victim ends up suffering for a few hours, a few months, or a few years, it is never a permanent affliction. One intriguing aspect of poltergeist infestations is the fact that the activity is usually centralized around a single individual, or “agent”.

Researching the Poltergeist Phenomenon

The phenomenon of poltergeists has been researched in-depth at a scientific level since the late 1970s by parapsychologists and they have come up with several theories as possible explanations. Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, English researchers of the time collected the data from 500 separate instances of poltergeists dating back from the 1800s. Among the characteristics that these cases had in common, about two-thirds of all cases included small objects moving from their original location.  Over half of the cases showed that the poltergeists were most active at night, and many individual incidents lasted longer than a year. Some other disturbing coincidences were that quite a few cases were focused around females under the age of twenty.

Before the 19th century, poltergeist activity was blamed primarily on the paranormal—spirits, witches, demons, and most often the Devil. At the turn of the century, however, a large spiritualism movement began, where mediums would routinely allow themselves to become temporarily possessed as a conduit to those who have passed. There were several researchers who began to investigate the idea of unconscious psychokinesis, alluding to the idea that the individual that the activity centralized around, was, in fact, the cause of it all. This isn’t to say that they were being accused of faking the activity, but more likely causing it without their own knowledge and although this theory began to be explored in the 1930s, it is still considered fairly controversial in nature. It’s important to take into consideration that the majority of these reports were recorded between 1840 and 1920 before the phenomenon came under the scrutiny of modern scientific research.

Poltergeists in History and Modern Culture

The Amityville Haunting

Ron DeFeo Jr., the infamous murderer of Amityville still lives and he continues to serve his six 25-year life sentences in the New York Correctional Facility; his initial story consisted of him claiming to hear voices that were convincing him to kill his entire family, but then his story changed, multiple times since. While DeFeo now claims that he didn’t murder his entire family, the details have gotten so fuzzy over the years that it’s still incredibly difficult to tell if this was an actual case of possession—which later resulted in poltergeist activity for the Lutz family—or if the entire thing was a hoax propagated by the Lutz family. It’s widely theorized by skeptics that the Lutz family intended to cash-in on the mass murder committed by DeFeo, due to a problematic financial and legal condition so they could take advantage of the publicity. It makes sense to take the view of the skeptic, it’s never a good idea to accept anything on blind faith, but much of the evidence and first-hand accounts disagree with the skeptic’s point of view.

Why do we believe them? Well, even though it’s been proven that lie detector tests are not infallible, George and Kathy Lutz weren’t trained to pass them, yet they did so to prove their innocence and ended up passing. There are also claims that George Lutz had a history of dabbling in the occult, we’re not so sure where we fall on this matter—this could mean that either Lutz was incredibly familiar with the symptoms of a poltergeist haunting, or it means that he was more open psychologically to the idea and the poltergeist took hold. The entire family apparently experienced foreign odors, cold spots in certain areas of the house, and reported a slime that would randomly ooze out of the walls and keyholes. One tidbit that could be an embellishment, was the allegation that George Lutz would wake up at 3:15 AM every morning, which was when Ron DeFeo Jr. was said to have committed the murders.

Aside from observers from outside of the Lutz family, there was the priest that was called in to bless the home, who reported having heard a voice scream to, “get out!” Due to his own personal experience, he advised the family to never sleep in that room again. The paranormal activity within the house only increased from there, with a garage door opening and closing, as well as a knife being knocked down in the kitchen by invisible forces. This all escalated even further to every member of the family except for George, who observed the phenomenon, levitating off of their respective beds. Daniel Lutz, one of the sons continues to have nightmares about this house even to this day.

The Truth Behind Amityville?

The following video addresses both skeptics and believers when it comes to the Amityville haunting, so why not hear both sides?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvXU11Kyj5E
Amityville Horror The True Story

The Ash Manor Haunting

Poltergeist as an apparition on the bed
Photography by Jrwooley6

Investigated in 1936, Dr. Nandor Fodor became incredibly popular for his controversial poltergeist theory about the Ash Manor Ghost. The actual case reports that shortly after moving into the old house, the owner, Mr. Keel and his wife began to encounter a strange apparition dressed in an Elizabethan era smock—as well as hear strange loud knocking—upon trying to confront this intruder, Mr. and Mrs. Keel found that trying to touch the apparition that their hands would go right through it. Fearing the worst for his family, Keel hired a medium, as well as various psychic investigators. This resulted in the medium suggesting that all of these happenings were the result of strained family life, a tell-tale sign of poltergeist activity. The final result of Dr. Fodor was that people, “who put themselves in an unguarded psychological position,” are likely to be more vulnerable to hauntings and poltergeist attacks.

The Enfield Haunting

In the book, This House is Haunted (2011), the account of the Enfield Haunting is given in full, which also inspired The Conjuring 2 (2016), part of the great paranormal franchise that follows the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren throughout the years. The Enfield case is possibly one of the most famous poltergeist hauntings ever recorded. Originating late August of 1977, in the suburb of North London, the house in Enfield was inhabited by a single mother and her four children; the initial report was of the two middle children experiencing their beds shaking violently, and shuffling sounds when the children were in their shared room. At that point, the mother Peggy, was not entirely convinced that it was actually happening.

Peggy and her two middle children were all witness to when sudden furniture movements and loud knocking with no origin began, at which time Peggy sought the help of her neighbors. Once her neighbors witnessed the knocking but had no explanation for it, the police were called in. The police were even hard-pressed to find an explanation behind the knocking and furniture movement that they ended up witnessing upon responding to the call. The Enfield case eventually subsided for a time, before being reignited a short while later lasting for a few years in total.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHPYriXhNW8
The Enfield Haunting – A Real Life Haunting (2016)

Films that feature poltergeists