Just a short ride to the southwest of Berlin is supposedly one of the most haunted places in Germany. Beelitz Heilstätten, an abandoned Sanatorium from the beginning of 1900 has become a paranormal hotspot. Although the many buildings in red and yellow bricks and seemingly endless rows of trees, hedges, and roads give it an eery feeling, it’s not haunted. It’s still a striking scenery with a fascinating history.
How to get to Beelitz Heilstätten.
Some 30 miles southwest of Berlin, Germany, lies a small town called Beelitz, sometimes called “home of the white asparagus” because of its abundance of the delicious vegetable. Other than that, there isn’t very much to say about this place. A much more interesting destination is just a few miles drive to the northwest.
Follow the Strasse nach Fichtenwalde and after a minute or two, a huge complex of reddish and yellowish Art Nouveau buildings between old dark green beeches and alders will fill the windscreen. 500 acres of spooky trees dotted by 60 dark and desolate edifices.
This is the Beelitz Heilstätten Pulmonary Sanatorium… Supposedly one of the most haunted spots in Germany.
Beelitz Heilstätten Sanatorium – A short background.
The hospital was built in three faces, 1898 – 1902, 1908 – 1910, and 1926 –1930. These were wartimes in Europe as well as a period of big changes in the German political, and economic framework. During the first world war, some of the structures were used as a war hospital.
Adolf Hitler was treated here from October 9 to December 4, 1916, for a shrapnel wound after the battle of Somme.
… And of course, the same use was applied during WW2.
After the war, the occupying Sovjet Red Army continued to use Beelitz Heilstätten as a military hospital all the way until 1994, five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In late 1990 the General Secretary of the Communist Party of East Germany, Erich Honecker was treated here for Liver Cancer before he was abruptly flown to Moscow in 1991.
There are also rumors that the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, was a patient in the late 1980s. That fact can not be confirmed.
A few buildings were refurbished and now have clinical use. For example, there’s a recognized Parkinson’s Specialist clinic as well as a few other specialist wards.
From 2001 to 2015 many of the buildings were left to decay and vandalism due to a lack of funds.
Since 2015 the parks and the buildings have had separate owners, and plans for the whole area include health and welfare activity as well as residential areas. For now, the future of Beelitz Heilstätten isn’t 100% confirmed, but work is ongoing to restore and secure the premises.
Many of the scariest and ghostliest photos you see online are from the abandoned years when anyone could just step in and walk around inside the crumbling buildings. That is not possible anymore.
about the hauntings?
Well… There are numerous stories, legends, anecdotes, and video footage of strange sounds, voices, touchings, and opening and closing doors, windows, and hatches. All the normal stuff, as you will see.
More precisely the following have been witnessed:
Apparitions of former patients who have been seen roaming the corridors.
Visitors have claimed to have been approached by shadowy figures. Shadows have been seen sliding along the walls, as well as other light anomalies.
Voices, phantom footsteps, screams, and other unexplained sounds have been heard and sometimes registered
Some spots are much colder (or hotter) than the surrounding areas.
Shapes moving quickly past empty windows.
Feelings of being watched, being followed, not being alone. Some subjects can confirm feelings of strong hostility in certain locations.
These affirmations mostly come from websites, podcasts, and in a particular mode, youtube videos. A reasonably serious paranormal investigation (… and I would even accept any of the bigger Ghosthunting Tv series) has never been done. The best we have are videos like this:
Can you draw a conclusion already at this stage?
Yes, I think you can, but let’s look at some documented real creepy activity from the last decades.
Crimes and incidents in the neighborhood.
Between 1989 and 1991 a serial killer, known as the Beast of Beelitz or the Pink Giant, stalked Beelitz. Former police officer Wolfgang Schmidt murdered six people and tried to kill three more in and around the small town. Two victims were the wife of a Russian doctor and their newborn child. They were assassinated in the neighborhood of Beelitz Heilstätten, and the circumstances of the killings were gruesome.
In 2008 an amateur photographer killed his model inside the premises. He used to do erotic photo sessions within the ghostly environment. The murder was inspired by the 1991 murder.
In 2010 a young man fell from a window on the fourth floor. He died from his injuries.
Also in 2010, a man fell four meters into a hole, while unlawfully spending the night together with three friends inside the hospital. He survived.
In 2011 a homeless person who had lived for many years on the site hung himself in one of the buildings.
And the verdict is…
We have only anecdotal evidence, nothing else. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t have to mean that we don’t have any evidence at all. What people say, and what can be derived from statements can be very informative. We use testimonies in court all the time. Still, small talk and chit-chat should be treated with suspicion. So, to debunk the stories we have quite a few arguments on the skeptical side:
The fact that there is no hard evidence at all is damaging to the proposal of paranormal activity. Not even a half-credible footage or mumbling EVP-audio of some sort.
Now, if we try to come up with motives for faking the videos or inventing the stories, there are mountains of those.
The environment is perfect as a background for ghost stories. It’s vast, 200 acres with 60 different buildings to explore.
The premises were unguarded and open to anybody for 15 years. No barbed wire, no CCTV, no guards, and most importantly, no guard dogs. You could practically just bring a cell phone and make your own Ghost video in a few hours.
The historical background is almost as perfect as it could possibly be. The German and Soviet armies, Erich Honecker, and even Adolf Hitler himself are in the logbook. That’s impressive.
The medical/hospital environment creates a special atmosphere. There’s nothing as intriguing as a sign with a psychological ward on it, or old rusty hospital equipment.
Some hauntings include ghosts and phantoms from the deceased by the terrible experiments conducted on Romani and Sinti prisoners, political adversaries to the NSDAP, disabled, POWs but with greater determination on Jews by the Nazis. These experiments were carried out in Concentration Camps such as Auschwitz and Mauthausen. In Beelitz Heilstätten there were never any prisoners and during both world wars, the whole structure was a military hospital. The stories about human experiments and euthanasia are simply false.
It is situated no more than a 45 minutes train ride from Berlin, the biggest city in the whole European Union (after the UK left).
During the abandoned years, vandalism and theft were huge problems. Every day the inhabitants of the small community had to cope with hoards of roaming youths, disturbing the tranquil little neighborhood. Other than just partying and exploring, metal scraps were also stolen from every part of the hospital. Even roof piles in copper and zink were taken down to be sold.
In that context, locals tried to defend what they looked upon as their inheritance. In doing so they created ghosts, they manufactured them themselves to try to scare away the intruders. There are stories about people hiding inside the buildings, moving objects and whispering words from ventilation shafts, etc. Some of these stories can be confirmed, but even if they’re not, they still provide a good explanation for how ghostly activity possibly could be explained.
Almost all documentation of paranormal activity is from the period 2001 – 2015.
The Movie… Yes, Beelitz Heilstätten has its own Movie too.
It is simply called Heilstätten.
The German production from 2018 was directed by Michael David Pate and starred Nilam Farooq, Emilio Sakraya, Timmi Trinks, Sonja Gerhardt, and Tim Oliver Schultz.
The story tells of four friends and Youtubers who engage in a 24-hour challenge to stay within the haunted hospital in hope of making a truly viral video. They all start out much like many of the Youtube videos you can find if you search for Beelitz Heilstätten… Young and slightly overconfident entrepreneurs in search of a good story. But after some cool initial footage of the four participants, the friendly enterprise very soon turns into a much more sinister and dangerous affair, although not actually including any paranormal entities.
… Oops, was that a plot spoiler?
If you like scary movies of the handheld flickering camera type, this one could be a winner.
A particular fact is that the new owners of Beelitz Heilstätten didn’t authorize the film team to shoot inside the premises. The movie contains some footage from the outside of the hospital but all inside footage is actually from Grabowsee Sanatorium about 40 miles to the north.
It seems the Beelitz Sanatorium has become a paranormal hotspot mostly because it was abandoned for 15 years. That made it a perfect spot to shoot videos and invent legends. The obvious accessibility of the premises turned it into a cheap and easy target for Youtube wannabes
No. there are no ghosts at Beelitz Heilstätten. Not even a small, friendly one.
Mansfield Reformatory, aka Ohio State Reformatory, is said to have been a particularly inhumane environment for the prisoners. That resulted in Mansfield Reformatory today being one of the most haunted places in the US…
Correction facilities all over the world are filled with suppressed anger, unspoken despair, and insufferable anguish. Through the centuries they have gathered long lists of sad stories and tragic characters. Death was always a loyal companion to most in these godforsaken environments… And still is today. Life in prison is hard.
It is not difficult to see a connection between the nature of the activity in a prison and paranormal activity. Many stories about ghosts and hauntings originate in violent and unjust deaths, and nowhere are those more common than in prisons. As a result, many of the world’s most haunted places are those where people have been incarcerated… In older times castles and strongholds, in the last few hundred years in state prisons and reformatories.
In the US there are haunted prisons in every state… From Alcatraz in San Fransisco to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, from Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie to the Old City Jail in Charleston.
But maybe the most terrifying of them all is the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio
A short history.
The beginning of the Mansfield Reformatory can be dated as far back as the 1860s when 30 acres of land were purchased for the new institution. Ohio already had two facilities, the Ohio State Penitentiary, in Columbus which functioned as a high-security prison, and the Ohio Reform School outside Lancaster for boys between 8 and 18 years of age. But the state needed something in between. So in 1886, the construction of the Mansfield Reformatory started. It was intended as a Reformatory halfway between a prison and the Boys’ Industrial School. The inmates were supposed to be prepared, educated, and reformed to be able to retake their positions in society. They were supposed to be first-time offenders only, and the age of the inmates should be between 18 and 30.
Construction works didn’t finish until 1910 because of problems with funding. But already in September 1896, the first 150 men were transferred. These, together with other prisoners for the fifteen years to follow, helped with the completion of the building.
The architecture, by the Cleveland architect Levi Tucker Scofield, was a result of the ideas of the time. Just by being in a morally uplifting environment, the prisoners were supposed to better themselves. Especially since the inmates were young and adaptable.
From a model prison to Hell’s forecourt.
The Reformatory character changed after a few decades though. Although the intention always was to take on younger prisoners, not to have inmates that were convicted for the worst felonies, and to continue reformation programs to at least some extent, by 1930 the Mansfield Reformatory had become a real high-security prison, although for younger male interns.
Between 1920 and 1930, the average population in federal prisons tripled nationwide and between 1930 and 1940, it nearly doubled again. And after the devastating fire in the Ohio Penitentiary in April 1930, where 322 inmates were burned to death, the Mansfield Reformatory came under even more pressure.
By then cells that were built for one prisoner housed two, and cells for two housed three or more. The sanitary problems were evident, and that definitely didn’t help when trying to keep interns and staff safe.
From the early sixties, Mansfield Reformatory was classified as a maximum-security prison.
Two prison guards were killed in the line of duty on prison grounds, Urban Wilford in 1926 and Philip Orleck in 1932. In 1948, two paroled inmates, Robert Daniels and John West, killed the prison farm superintendent John Niebel together with his wife Nolanda, and daughter, Phyllis. Before that, they had killed four more and injured several.
But the inmates themselves took the hardest blow. In the hundred years of activity, over 200 interns died in the Mansfield Reformatory. Some of them by suicide but most were assassinated by fellow convicted. Diseases also flourished in the cramped cell blocks.
One of the worst penalties was the so-called hole. These were Solitary Confinement cells, with only a toilet and a sink, but no bunk. The convict was fed only bread and water and had to sleep on the floor, sometimes naked.
– There were so many cockroaches that you had to put toilet paper in your ears and nose to keep them out, said one inmate. The ones that got into your mouth just counted as an additional protein supplement.
Once, two inmates were put in the same isolation cell, dimensioned only for one person, After three days only one of them came out. The other was dead, killed by his cellmate.
The end and closure.
In 1978, the Counsel for Human Dignity filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the inmates. At that time there were around 2500 interns on-site, while the official capacity was 1900. The lawsuit claimed that prisoners had to live in “brutalizing and inhumane conditions.”, and thus their constitutional rights were being violated.
It took the court five years to agree upon a consent decree. The officials were to improve conditions while preparing for the closure of the Manfield Reformatory by 1986. The closing date was then extended and the prison was finally closed in 1990.
While still officially a first-offender prison with convicts between 18 and 30, many exceptions from this rule were made continuously.
Gary Mohr, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, reformed the whole organization in the last second half of the 80s. A Decentralized Management system was implemented, and not only in the Mansfield Reformatory but in all the state. It supposedly diminished problems in the prison and created a safer and calmer environment.
Many inmates from that time, do not always agree, though. They generally had to arm themselves at all times with razor blades, pens, and other self-made weapons for defense. Mansfield Reformatory was a very violent and unsafe place. Injures like cut wounds, and traumas to the head, arms, and legs after disputes were common. Murders occasionally happened within the prison, and they continued even after the reformed management was in place.
The many possible ghosts of Mansfield Reformatory.
So, finally to the ghosts.
The many stories about hauntings were told between inmates and guards already long before the prison closed. Footsteps, whispers, thuds, and other strange, unexplainable noises could be heard from time to time. The many deaths within the premises make it difficult to determine who this ghost really is. Or even if it’s a single, definable entity, many entities, or just the building itself.
There are locations though, that are more probable than others to produce paranormal phenomena.
One such place is the so-called called “Jesus Room” in the west wing, accessible via a staircase off of the west cell block. It’s named so after a big Jesus painting present in the room.
Another spot is the West Attic where supposedly banging and scraping can be heard even in broad daylight.
There is a room with a chair on the third floor of the entrance building. This is a blind room with no windows, and with just one piece of furniture, namely the wooden chair. It is said that if you close the door and turn off the light, the chair will have moved when you come back.
The hole, the solitary confinement cells.
The old hole under the barber at the east diagonal. This part is closed to the public, but people who have set foot there say that it’s the creepiest part of the whole prison.
The strange death of Helen Glattke.
Arthur Glattke was the warden of the Mansfield Reformatory from 1935 to 1959. He was much liked and respected by both the inmates and his staff. His wife Helen, born Bauer, was a beautiful woman and they and their two sons lived on the premises together with a few other families in managerial positions.
Around 10:15 Sunday morning, November 5, 1950, Helen Glattke was getting ready for church. She reached up to her closet shelf for her jewelry but for some reason, she put her hand on a hidden .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun. The weapon fell to the floor but by doing so it accidentally fired a bullet into her left lung.
She died at Mansfield General Hospital two days later.
Strangely, no outside investigation was carried out, and the death was labeled an accident. A number of gun experts stated that it is “very unlikely that a 32 -caliber semi-automatic pistol could have discharged in the manner stated in the official account”. And the odd facts surrounding the case made rumors spread like wildfire inside the prison.
“Helen could have found her husband with another woman, and Arthur had killed her to avoid a career-damaging divorce.” Arthur died nine years after in a heart attack at the age of 57.
Soon after the death of Helen, many inmates, as well as guards, reported seeing the Ghost of Helen. The distinctive odor of her rose-scented perfume can be felt in her former quarters in the Entrance building.
What do the YouTube experts say?
If you search Ohio State Reformatory or Mansfield Reformatory on YouTube, you’ll find a long list of videos. From self-proclaimed ghost hunters with just a cell phone to professional TV teams with all kinds of electrical gadgets and EMF toys. They are more or less all made in the same manner. And that’s the manner in which all the other ghost-hunting videos from all over the world are made as well.
Darkness, flickering lights from flashlights, scared faces, night-vision cameras, and the pulsating EVPs that every now and then says… “scratch”, which is interpreted as “Mike” or “Death”… And all the ghost hunters confirm in a low voice that:
– This is a haunted place… I feel uncomfortable here… There definitely is someone here with us…
But from the YouTube clips, there’s really not much certainty at all. We have many, actually loads of testimonies, audio recordings of voices, and videos of almost undetectable shadows moving around. But many uncertain, unconvincing testimonies do not add up to one true, convincing testimony. That’s just the way it is.
The Special Bias problems with the Mansfield Reformatory.
The Mansfield Reformatory is a very popular ghost hunting site. And the reasons are two:
The structure itself. Even though the wall around it is gone, and so are all of the adjacent structures, the main building is awesome. The Romanesque- and Gothic style was inspired by European castles. Today, the totally grey facade, with its black, huge windows, gives it an eerie, uncanny atmosphere. It’s not strange that another popular name for the Ohio State Reformatory was Dracula’s Castle. And inside, with its cramped prison cells, long corridors, old, molded walls, and rusty steel bars, it’s even worse. It’s a scary place.
The management focuses quite a bit on ghost hunts and other paranormal events. They take part in national and international events with various spooky themes, and they actively try to profile the Mansfield Reformatory as a haunted location.
The new fashion of having old prisons being converted into haunted amusement parks has met criticism. Some social workers, scientists, and historians call it a distraction from the grim realities of the criminal justice system. We turn a violent and tragic past into a tourist attraction.
This kind of activity makes it even more difficult to find the real deal under all the fluff. Every Youtuber wants substance to get visitors and likes, and if the big channels are ready to fake footage and recordings to make a good show, what should prevent the less resource-full small YouTube channels to do so as well? We need to try to penetrate the obvious fakes to see if we can find something true underneath.
Paranormal investigations of Mansfield Reformatory.
Real, true, skeptical investigations are always hard to find. Here’s a list of the famous TV channels that have had their ghost hunting program series covering Mansfield Reformatory on various occasions:
Ghost Hunter (Sci-Fi channel) was there in 2005
Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel) was there in 2009
Ghost Hunters Academy (SyFy) was there in 2009
Inside Secret America (National Geographic) was there in 2013
Ghost Asylum (Destination America) was there in 2015
BuzzFeed Unsolved (BuzzFeed) was there in 2018
Portals to Hell (Travel Channel) was there in 2020
As you see it’s been quite a flow at the Mansfield Reformatory. But not much solid and useful has come out of it. It’s an endless row of flickering footage, mumbling voices, and the ever-present pulsating EVPs.
No, sorry but no serious investigation has ever been made in the Mansfield Reformatory. As long as you don’t count the many TV shows that have documented the prison. We just don’t have the facts.
And the main difficulties when it comes to determining if there actually are ghosts roaming the property, are as follows:
The site is highly commercialized. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society which is the present owner does an incredible job in preserving the property. But they don’t stop there. The goal is to be able to restore all of the interior as well as the exterior of the buildings. So far they’ve completed the restoration of the first floor, but they’d need funding for the continuing efforts. And that’s where the guided tours come in… Guided tours that cover everything from normal tourists visiting, to nightly ghost tours and Shawshank Redemption tours. All of which profit from the rumors the Mansfield Reformatory has of being one of the most haunted places in the US. We just can’t tell if the many stories are legit or if it’s just PR.
The Mansfield reformatory is a very scary place by itself. Its atmosphere is that of an old haunted castle. And we know that the human brain is easily manipulated. I would say it’s much easier to imagine sounds, shadows, and touching in a vast correctional facility than elsewhere. Especially after dark. And all of the ghost hauntings are carried out after dark.
Janice Urban of the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society:
– I’m never afraid in this building. I can walk in here at any time and I’m never uncomfortable at all.
And I would actually agree with her. I do not feel any special hauntings or any sort of negative energy inside the Mansfield Reformatory. It’s just a fascinating building with a fascinating history… Very sad and disturbing but fascinating. There is no need to add Ghosts and Phantoms to it. It is quite enough just by itself.
The Mansfield Reformatory has its own merits, its own memories, and most of all, its own many real-life stories. We should respect that, and remember her hundred years of history and maybe we can learn something from it.
… I’ve traveled the country seeking out the weird and fantastic. I’ve been to supposed haunted houses and asylums. I’ve searched the skies for UFOs and hunted the woods for cryptids.
Never have I seen anything that made me truly question what I know. And I want to see something. I do. It’d just never happened.
… That is, until I visited The Ohio State Reformatory.
And check out this video. Are the claims credible?
The east cell block in The Mansfield Reformatory is the biggest free-standing steel cell block in the world.
Many TV shows and movies have used the intriguing interior of the Ohio State Reformatory for shooting prison scenes. The most famous being The Shawshank Redemption from 1994 (who actually used it for most of the scenography of the film), and Air Force One from 1997. Tango & Cash from 1989 shot various prison scenes inside while the prison was still in use.
The ground where the prison stands were previously used as a training camp for soldiers in the civil war. It’s been suggested that some of the ghosts derive from that time.
Warden Arthur Glattke was a creative person. In line with the ideas of the time, he installed loudspeakers and played music in the cellblocks. It was supposed to have a calming effect on the inmates.
You could say that the film The Shawshank Redemption saved The Ohio State Reformatory. It was planned to be demolished. Then Castle Rock Entertainment needed the location for its film project and the demolition had to wait. After filming had ended, a local group of enthusiasts called The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society bought the estate for a symbolic $1. For that price, they are compelled to restore and maintain the buildings.
Today The Mansfield Reformatory generates $16 million annually.
Sometime in the early 1970s, a young couple was driving up the slopes of the Inunaki ridge. They were heading for Hisayama on the other side of the mountain, and to get there from Miyawaka they had to pass a narrow road up the hill. Just before the Inunaki tunnel, a clunking sound was heard from the car. As they came out on the far side, the engine died, and they found themselves stranded. They noticed a passage on the right side of the road. So they left their car and headed up the forest to seek help. After a short while, they came across a handwritten sign reading “The constitution of Japan does not apply beyond this point.”. The trail was getting more difficult, and overgrown as they continued, but a few hundred meters further in they suddenly entered a small village.
It was a town like they had never seen before. It seemed abandoned, the houses were all dark and dilapidated, and nobody could be seen from where they stood at the entrance. Checking their mobile phones, they noticed that there was no coverage, nor could they hear any sounds of people or animals. It was dead silent.
The horrors of the Inunaki pass
They slowly ventured in on the main road passing the shadows of the hovels. No one was to be seen or heard. The atmosphere was eerie. When they figured their curious hearts had had enough, and they decided to walk back again, something moved inside one of the houses. And suddenly a man stood on the porch of a big grey building not more than 30 meters away.
– Howdy there… Welcome to Inunaki village, he shouted.
And with just a few steps, incredibly long and fast, he suddenly appeared right in front of them.
– We love visitors here, he said… We just don’t like when they leave us again.
And with a swift motion,he cut down the young boy from his neck straight down to the side of his belly with a sickle. The young man just looked at him astonished, before he collapsed tothe ground.
The girl tried to back away but the old man seized her in a firm grip. He seemed to have some internal force that made his hands and arms stronger than anything she had ever felt before. With an almost inaudible groan, he lifted her straight up with one hand, and threw her down on the graveled street with such brutality, that she felt her ribs break.
When the sickle came down on her she turned her head towards the closest house. With horror, she saw what they hadn’t noticed before… Behind and between the small buildings there were dead people, and decaying corpses all around. The reason for the silence and the darkness was that everybody was dead… Killed by the mad, old man with the sickle.
– He killed all of them, she thought as the curved knife extinguished her life force in one single motion. The crazy old man murdered them all…
Nobody heard from them again. The white sedan still waits there, now covered with rust, punctured tires, parked on the side of the road, right where the small pathway leads into the forest.
The Inunaki Village
The Inunaki Village is supposedly situated somewhere around the Inunaki ridge, Fukuoka Prefecture, some one hundred miles north of Nagasaki in Japan. It’s a fictional village, and it has its name from Inu-Dog and Naki-lamenting, crying. The meaning could be howling dog, which connects to yet another legend.
A man killed his dog because it wouldn’t stop barking. Shortly after that, the man and his whole family were killed. The dog had just been warning his master about the approaching danger.
Another legend still, has it that when the Inunaki dam was constructed, the unscrupulous agents from the local Energy company, simply barricaded the houses of people who didn’t want to sell, and didn’t want to move out. When the dam was ready, they were left to drown right there, in their own homes. And now their poor souls haunt the area.
This is one terrible legend, but there are many others…
The story about the young couple who was murdered in Inunaki village is just one of the many legends, but it’s one that is famous all over Japan.
The whole area around Miyawaka is regarded as a very haunted territory. Its incredibly dense forests and difficult terrain makes it an unforgiving area to venture into. The paths are narrow and can be tough to follow. The absence of houses and people gives the whole area a spooky character. And the many myths and stories about strange sightings and scary encounters within the dark woodland, attract all kinds of paranormal investigators, ambitious YouTubers, and teens just doing dare games.
The hauntings are concentrated around the Inunaki pass, and the tunnels passing under it…
Because there are two tunnels under the hill to connect the two sides of the mountain. One is old and short, less than a hundred meters. It’s tied to the surrounding valleys through a narrow road with a lot of hairpin curves. The other tunnel is newer, wider, straighter, and much longer.
The new tunnel, built in 1975, is heavily trafficked and doesn’t seem to be very disturbing. The ghosts are probably scared away by all the trucks and other heavy vehicles.
But the old tunnel is a different story.
It’s so scary, in fact, that in 2019, the Japanese horror-movie, Howling Village, with the tunnel as a main ingredient, scared the wits out of half of Japan, and a big part of the rest of the world.
Together with the film, a horror game called Inunaki Tunnel was released in November 2019.
Legends about the Inunaki tunnel:
We’ve already mentioned three urban legends about the tunnel and the village, but there are many, many more. The common feature is that they all originate from modern times. Here are a few:
While working on the Inunaki tunnel project, an accident made the tunnel-roof collapse killing more than a hundred workers.
At night time, you can hear screams and children crying from within the tunnel. Sometimes the voices call and implore you to follow them into the tunnel.
There are testimonies about finger- and handprints on the windshield after passing through the Inunaki tunnel.
The Inunaki Village came to be during the early Edo period. Persecuted and mistreated peasants choose to live in exile and cut all bonds with society.
The Village was ravaged by disease, and the authorities simply cut it off and prohibited anyone from entering or leaving the village, counting on everybody dying off in there before they could open it up again.
The isolated status of the town promoted inbreeding to a point where even simple human behavior and decency were abandoned.
The man with the sickle was a peasant who one day for no reason started attacking his fellow citizens. After having killed everybody in the village, he still waits for new arrivals.
Another legend tells about all the people of the village being prepared to kill anyone who enters their sanctuary. Tales about cannibalism are connected to this legend.
Inunaki Village once was a Leprosy colony.
The bridge just south of the dam is known as a suicide spot.
Anyone who goes into Inunaki Village never comes out alive.
… And there are others, as well as variants of these ones.
Just remember that none of these narratives are confirmed… They are all stories, told and spread in modern times.
So, are they true… The legends and the stories?
What do the locals say?
First of all, let’s check what the locals have to say about all this.
Lately, the locals have had quite a bit to say about the Inunaki tunnel. Since the film, Howling Village was released, the Inunaki tunnel has gained even stronger attraction to the public. Before the film, there were quite a lot of people coming to investigate the supposedly haunted spot. But in 2020, despite the Pandemic, the site has become something of an overcrowded throng.
The site is now full of litter, graffiti, and all kinds of leftovers from partying and drinking. Both outside and inside the tunnel. People living in the area have become scared to even approach the tunnel, not because of the hauntings and paranormal activity, but because there are gangs of youngsters, often drunk, driving the narrow roads, and gathering around the tunnel openings.
Or as one resident of the area said to the local newspaper…
– Every day, young people hang out in the woods, close to the tunnel. They are throwing away their trash where they stand, drinking, and making a nuisance, one man says to the Nishinippon Shimbun newspaper. We are scared to even go there as it stands.
From February, when the film Howling Village premiered, to May 2020 the police made 182 interventions… Compared to 0 the three months before that.
The whole area is thought of as a paranormal hot-spot, but not by the locals. They just want to be left in peace, with or without ghosts. The idea of haunted tunnels and villages does not come from them.
What do the experts say?
You can check for yourself. On YouTube, there are numerous videos of people who went there, filmed, heard some strange noises from inside the tunnel, and then with an apologetic expression explain why nothing special turned up in the footage.
In February 2020 the Fukuoka Broadcasting Corporation sent a small group of journalists, who with the authorization of the Miyawaka City council approached the Old Inunaki tunnel from the Miyawaka side. On that side, the northeast, the tunnel is sealed all the way to the tunnel roof and you cannot enter. Much like any other visitor, the group heard strange noises from the inside of the tunnel. They also registered a drop in the temperature from 12° centigrade to 9 when closing in on the tunnel opening. That would depend on the stable soil temperature. A difference in air temperature from outside a cave to inside is not extraordinary in any way. They didn’t really find anything.
Other than that, I’ve not been able to find any serious paranormal investigation. One reason is probably the closed-off area, with frequent police controls, CCTV cameras, fences, and gates, and a road that is in decay after years of negligence.
The incoherence in the stories.
The howling as in the word Naki, and the legend about the man who shot his dog. This tale has an infinite number of variations. The attackers are a black dragon, mercenaries, a snake, other dogs, a neighbor, etc. And so is it with all of the legends around the Inunaki tunnel and the Inunaki village. They vary quite a lot depending on who you hear them from. The car, the abandoned sedan, can be found before the tunnel, after the tunnel, or before you arrive at the village. The path to get there is sometimes a road, while other times it’s not even a pathway…
The true and confirmed facts about Inunaki village.
There once was a real Village called Inunaki at the Valley of Inunaki… Or really Inunaki Danimura or Inunakiya. It was established during the Edo Period, and it lived well from producing ceramic products and manufacturing steel. Later, coal mining was established and a Castle called Inunaki-gobekkan was founded in 1865, the ruin still stands today. The town was abandoned when the Inunaki dam was created in 1970, and the population moved to the neighboring Wakita area. This village has nothing to do with the ghost town described above.
The true and confirmed facts about Inunaki tunnel.
The old tunnel was built during and after WW2, possibly with POWs as a part of the labor force. It was completed in 1949 and then replaced with a new tunnel in 1975. This latter made driving from one side of the mountain to the other, much easier, and faster. As the old road wasn’t used anymore, and it soon became a very dangerous passage with all the curves, high mountain sides, and lack of maintenance, it was blocked with solid steel gates from both directions.
On 6th December 1988, a criminal gang murdered the factory worker, Koichi Umeyama near the tunnel. The gang had asked Umeyama for his car. When he refused, they pulled him out of his car, dragged him to the tunnel, and killed him. They then set his body on fire. The cruelty and lack of even the basic sign of humanity shown by the murderers is well documented and was, at the time, told to a terrified, and appalled public. All perpetrators were arrested shortly after, and at the trial in 1991, they were all sent to lifeimprisonment.
The Old Inunaki tunnel is not long from one side to the other. It’s completely sealed off from the Miyawaka/northeast side. From the Hisayama/southwest side the entrance is closed only to a certain height, and it’s possible to slide over the concrete blocks and get in. You will still have to access the tunnel from the east side since both roads leading up to the Inunaki tunnel are closed.
So, if there’s not really anything spooky at all about the tunnel, where is all the fuss coming from?
It seems that the Inunaki Village story originated from an anonymous letter to Nippon TV in 1999. The writer of the letter tells about a small path, easy to overlook, in the neighborhood of the old Inunaki tunnel. He then goes on to describe the sign with the text “The Japanese constitution is not in effect past this point.”, the young couple that was murdered, and the violent villagers.
The Inunaki ridge and the tunnel first became famous for its paranormal activity after the tragic death of Koichi Umeyama in 1988.
The stories about ghosts, howling dogs, and lawless villages aren’t older than that. A little more than 30 years. Of course, hauntings do not necessarily increase with the passing of time. I suppose a place can become haunted in modern times too, even right now.
But the substance to claim this spot is more paranormal than any other is just too weak. At least, in this case, the proof, and documentation is practically nonexistent… Nothing, nada.
Or as one representative for the Miyawaka city expresses herself:
– Students from Kyushu University come here to do vegetation surveys every year. Boy Scouts are also frequent guests. All over Chikuho, nature lovers come to climb the mountain stream, and of course, to fish. The Yamame trout is abundant, as is natural wasabi in the river beds.
The Inunaki river and surrounding area are just another example of the beautiful countryside and remote naturalistic sceneries that still can be found in one of the most densely populated countries in the world… Japan.
The problem isn’t so much if you could get out again, as it is if you could ever find Inunaki Village… The fact is that it doesn’t exist. And there’s nothing scary about the tunnel either if you don’t count all the litter and the drunken teenagers that roam in the neighborhood.
The evidence of paranormal activity in Čachtice Castle is poor. The castle was once the home of Elizabeth Báthory, also known as the Blood Countess. Even so, there really isn’t much pointing to Čachtice Castle as being anything else than a very interesting ruin with a dark history.
Who was Elizabeth Bàthory?
She lived between 1560 and 1614 and is regarded as the most prolific female murderer ever. According to Guinness World Records, she has the absolute record in killings by a female assassin with more than 300 victims. Some claim as much as over 600 but that is probably an exaggeration. All these figures are uncertain, and the accurate number of victims can’t be determined.
In 1611 she was sentenced to imprisonment for having killed a tortured hundreds of young girls. The motive was none other than conceit, vanity, and a remarkable indifference to others’ sufferings.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula could partly have been inspired by Elizabeth Bàthory’s fate.
Elizabeth Bàthory‘s background.
Elizabeth Bathory was born on August 7, 1560, in Nyrbátor, Hungary.
She had a good education, she was intelligent and good-looking. And as she also was from the wealthy and powerful noble family Bathory, very soon a match was found for her. Already at the age of 10, she was engaged to be married to Count Ferenc Nadasdy, at the time, 15. They married in 1575 when she was 15 and he was 20. Čachtice Castle, or Castle of Csejte as it is also called, was her wedding gift.
Their marriage was functional; Ferenc was mostly away from home fighting the Turks, and Elizabeth was running the estates… Čachtice Castle, and many others over a vast territory. Being a Dutchess with that much responsibility required a steady hand, authority, and a great deal of knowledge about all kinds of things. She seems to have had all these attributes.
Together they had five children of whom three survived to adulthood.
A young widow.
However, in 1604 Ferenc Nadasdy died from a mysterious disease. And now Elizabeth Bathory was alone. Maybe the husband, a national hero, had in some way set up a calming barrier for his wife. And now that it was gone, the woman felt no boundaries, no restrain to the violence that boiled in her blood.
From 1604 she was also more vulnerable. The Turks still threatened her lands, and without her husband, she lost many of the allegiances among the surrounding noble houses, and the court, as well as a steady income…
Čachtice Castle – How the Blood ritesstarted.
It is said that it all started with the blood of a housemaid. When combing the Dutchess’ hair she involuntarily pulled too hard and it tugged on a snag. Elizabeth got so angry that she hit the girl with the back of her hand with such force that the maid started bleeding and some of her blood was left on the Dutchess’ hand. Later Elizabeth noticed a softness in that particular spot. So, she logically concluded:
– If a few drops of blood can create such sweet youth on my hand… What if I could cover my whole body with blood from young women…
Legend has it that she killed the girls, drained them of their blood, and then used it as a youth elixir, bathing in it. As many as 600 young girls, aged 10 to 14 years, could have been killed to preserve the soft skin of Elizabeth Bathory. And the atrocities intensified after Nadasdy died, although some historians claim that Ferenc was participating in the murders, and maybe even taught Elizabeth something about torture techniques.
Killing the daughters of nobles as well.
In the beginning, the victims were servants, maids, and other local and poor girls. Soon people were getting suspicious though, and they weren’t so keen on sending their daughters to the castle. So Elizabeth started taking in girls from the Hungarian lower nobilities for education, tutoring in courtly etiquette. This was a bit more delicate as they came from richer families. But as they lived together with her and their relatives often lived at a distance from Čachtice Castle, the killings could continue.
With time the rumors spread and even before Ferenc Nadasdy died, the court in Vienna was aware that something was very off with the Dutchess Bathory and the Čachtice Castle. And although she was protected by her name, rank, and at least until 1604 by her husband, the authorities were catching up on her.
She probably got somewhat careless with time. She found that her untouchable position and protective rank prevented her from being confronted and accused of having done something wrong. Incredible as it may seem, beating servants was a common way to negotiate working conditions back then. And that an employee died, was sometimes seen as just an inconvenience. She possibly thought she was above the law.
The arrest of Elizabeth Báthory.
On the evening of December 27, 1610, Prince Thurzo together with his men arrived at Čachtice Castle. They entered and ordered the servants to stand aside. As the party burst into the courtyard they immediately came upon the bloody, battered, and still warm corpse of a young girl with no clothes and seemingly thrown by a doorway without any efforts made to hide or cover the body.
When Ferenc Nadasdy died, George Thurzo who was a relative to Elizabeth Bathory by marriage was entrusted as the heir. In those days, a woman couldn’t hold property. In 1610 George Thurzo was ordered by the parliament in Bratislava to arrest Elizabeth Bathory and bring her to justice. Complaints had been made with increasing frequency. And the new King Matthias, who was in power since 1608, wanted a solution to the flammable situation in western Hungary.
As Thurzo’s men searched the premises, the bodies of two more brutally murdered girls were found inside the manor house. When entering the tower, a stench revealed numerous identically tortured, killed, and now decaying bodies in the lower dungeons.
Elizabeth Bathory was immediately arrested but left in the Čachtice Castle. Four of her servants, A boy named János Újváry, An elderly wet-nurse, Ilona Jó Nagy; her friend Dorottya Szentes; and an old washerwoman, Katalin Beneczky, were all brought to Thurzo’s residence in Bytca for questioning.
The four servants were cross-examined separately supposedly under torture. Then their separate testimonies were scrutinized for inconsistencies. They all claimed they could not oppose the Countess, and that they were innocent. Still, they were sentenced to death in three cases. Two were to have their fingers torn away and then be burnt alive. One was to be decapitated and then burnt. The fourth servant doesn’t appear in the documented sentences.
Elizabeth Bathory appeared in Thurzo’s private court on January 2, 1611. The testimonies were overwhelming, very much thanks to a young priest, Reverend Janos Ponikenusz, who was appointed to the church of Cachtice. Much like the young solicitor Jonathan Flynn Harker in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, Reverent Janos was horrified by the stories he was told by the peasants when he first came to the village. They narrated of Vampires and unholy beings in the Čachtice Castle… And they told him of the young girls who disappeared after having taken service with the Countess. Reverent Janos produced hundreds of ordinated, well-articulated testimonies from the villagers, and he largely contributed to the documentation of the case.
The four servants’ testimonies also put weight on the accusing side.
On the evening of the 2nd of January, Elizabeth Bathory was sentenced to life imprisonment in her own castle, for having tortured and murdered 50 young girls.
Five days later a higher court overlooked the sentence, and it is here we find the figure of 650 murdered girls. A testimony, a maid in Čachtice Castle by the name of Zusanna, said that she had found a register in Elizabeth’s chest of drawers listing her victims and that it totaled 650 names. The court confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment.
The hauntings… Or not the hauntings
So… Is Čachtice Castle haunted?
What usually happens with old buildings with a dark history, is that they are targeted with tellings and stories. The Čachtice Castle, with its incredibly bloody and violent past, has a strong attraction to anyone with paranormal ambitions. And there have been hundreds of claims of sightings. Mostly of young girls crying, an old lady, or a figure that is interpreted as Elizabeth Bathory herself. This latter ghost appears with her arms stretched out wide as if she wanted to embrace you. She has no face.
As often is the case, the stories are many but the substantial evidence is little or absent. The paranormal experts have very little to weigh in.
A few examples of actual and fictional documentation.
In 2008 Ghost Hunters International, the TV series spin-off of Ghost Hunters on SciFi visited the Čachtice Castle, only to reach the verdict… Non-haunted.
The Slovacchia group, Paranormal Project official (PPO), investigated the property in 2018 with no or non-convincing results.
The Australian blogger Amy of Amy’s Crypt spent the night there in 2018, but not even she found anything significant. Although the Catacombs underneath the Castle are accessible and most of the sightings have occurred there, nothing was documented.
As I see it, Čachtice Castle is another of many historical buildings that because of a troubled and dark history are tied to hauntings and ghosts. But this beautiful ruin in the beautiful, hillside landscape with green grass, trees, lakes, and rivers just doesn’t hold any ghosts or phantoms. It does not seem to be a paranormal site at all.
The Political Background to the atrocities in Čachtice Castle.
The political background is an interesting topic. Because there are quite a few circumstances that could have led to a guilty sentence. There were people with ambitions, and groups with agendas around the Countess at the time. And they all had interest in seeing her put away.
Elizabeth Bathory was raised a Calvinist. And she was a devoted and religious woman all her life. The Kings of the powerful Empire of Austria and Hungary, first Rudolf II, and then Matthias were Roman Catholics. They both held the title Holy Roman Emperor and as such, they pledged allegiance to the Vatican State and the Pope.
King Rudolf was an intellectual who preferred spending his days studying occult arts. But his successor, King Matthias, who was crowned King of Hungary and Croatia, and Archduke of Austria in 1608, and even before that gradually had started taking control of the Empire, was a man of action. He fought, compromised, and withdrew, all to gain political and military advantages.
The Bathory Family was very powerful though. Even the King had to be careful when dealing with one of their kin.
At the beginning of 1600, we are in the middle of the counter-reformation. The Congregation of the Holy Office was a potent religious section of the Roman Catholic Church, backed up by Cardinals, Bishops, and other officials. They had the power to sentence anybody to death for witchcraft if they so choose.
The Economical Background to the atrocities in Čachtice Castle.
The war with the Turks was expensive for the Empire. The Habsburgs had to spend enormous sums of gold, to keep Europe safe. And Austria, and even more so Hungary, were the first targets of Ottoman aggression. And the wars just kept on coming, causing a strain on the economy.
King Rudolf had expensive taste. All the way up until his death, he collected art pieces, paintings, sculptures, and curiosities of various nature. But he also collected Artists, Scientists, and Alchemists, who were patronized and brought to his castle in Prague. Even an impressive collection of exotic animals roamed the Castle and gardens. All this was consuming large quantities of gold.
In this context, it’s interesting to know that Elizabeth Bathory was extremely wealthy. And not only did she have land, estates, and gold… She also had demands on the King. She and her husband had lent huge amounts of money to the crown, and now when she was alone, and Ferenc Nadasdy was dead and couldn’t bring back loot from the wars, she wanted the King to repay his debts. It’s said that she often traveled to Prague to get her money.
Due to her Family’s reputation and status, Elizabeth considered herself more or less untouchable by common law or political wrath.
The Trials one more time…
So, let’s consider the facts one by one:
Elizabeth was arrested on December 27, 1610. (This is in the middle of the holidays…)
She was trialed on January 2, 1611, only six days afterward. In the meantime (while the celebrations of the new year were continuing…) the servants were cross-examined, the witnesses were gathered and the documentation and all other testimonies were prepared.
On the evening of that same day, she was sentenced to house arrest for life.
All this happened in Prince Thurzo’s private court, where all personnel swore loyalty to Thurzo.
Reverent Janos was a priest of the catholic faith, while Elizabeth was a Protestant; Calvinist.
No mention of blood as a cure for aging, nor anything about bathing in blood is ever mentioned in the documentation from the trial.
She was finally sentenced for having tortured and murdered approximately fifty young women.
Historians have concluded that the sentence was a way to keep the wealth within the family, and to not cause damage to the family name from what had come forth about Elizabeth. Thurzo was a relative and a friend of the family. He had to avoid a witch trial or having her sentenced to death at all costs. Because if Elizabeth Bathory was to face a death sentence, for witchcraft or not, all her belongings would fall into the hands of the state, i.e. King Matthias.
In fact, the court on January 7th seems to have been set up for that purpose. To no avail though, as Thurzo managed to convince the court of the correctness of the sentence from the 2nd of January.
The Elizabeth Bathory fate and legacy.
After the trial, she was walled-in inside her castle. The exterior windows were bricked up. Only small openings for air and food were given to her. For four years she dwelled inside the shadows of her beloved citadel. On August 21, 1614, Elizabeth Bathory collapsed on the floor of her dining room. She died shortly after at the age of fifty-four.
A law forbade all mentioning of her name in Hungary for one hundred years and the memory of her soon faded. She became a legend, a myth, a ghost similar to the many Vampire- and monster tales of Transylvania and the eastern parts of Hungary.
And maybe there’s where she slowly became what she is today… The legendary Blood Countess who bathed in the blood of Virgins to conserve her youth and beauty. A female vampire, just as intriguing and fascinating as Count Dracula.
Today Čachtice Castle is a ruin. It is open every day during office hours and can be visited with or without a guide.
The Film Bathory Countess of blood from 2008 by the Slovak film director Juraj Jakubisko is based on the life of the Countess. Back to the top of the page
No, Čachtice Castle is not haunted. There are even doubts about how evil and cruel Elizabeth Báthory really was. She was a murderer, but maybe she was also a victim of political, religious, and economical ambition among her opponents.
The extra star is for Čachtice Castle’s extraordinarily spooky history…
Sometime in the late 1990s, the French freelance photographer and filmmaker, Francis Freedland, was contacted by an amateur cave explorer. The young man said he had something he wanted to show him urgently. When they got together, the photographer was confronted with a video cassette, containing footage from the famous Paris catacombs.
They sat down and started rolling the video. At first, nothing strange occurred on the screen. It’s filmed in first-person, subjective angle. You see the narrow corridors, every now and then interrupted by a doorway or a smaller passage to the right or to the left. The walls are hard soil, as is the floor. As he walks along, certain parts seem even more narrow, or lower in height. But it’s still nothing extraordinary or uncommon.
Francis was already aware of the fact that people sometimes go down there to explore. It’s forbidden and it’s dangerous, but he knew that sometimes the human race wants a bit more adrenaline than just going to work and coming back again.
The hunted explorer
He turned and was about to ask his companion what’s so special about the footage they were watching when the young adventurer signaled at him to watch…
– Look, he said… Watch this!
And suddenly the pace of the video increases a little. In front of Francis’s surprised gaze, he saw how the maker of the film down there in the underground accelerates. First, it’s hardly visible, but after a short while, you can hear that his breath is faster… Nervous. His steps become more irregular, and after a short while, he is running. The focus of the film moves up and down, left and right, and soon it’s so shaky that it becomes impossible to follow the course. The man is now running and panting heavily, faster and faster until he drops the camera. The video footage stops, framing the wall and a piece of the tunnel ahead from the floor, while the steps of the man seem to continue ahead in the darkness.
After that, the camera continues filming that static image until it runs out.
So what is the video showing? A man who’s panicking from not being able to find the way out? … Or did it show a glimpse of something more sinister? Something lurking deep down under the glamorous boutiques and large Avenues of the French Capital? Something that hunts whoever dares to enter his realm?
What are the catacombs?
Catacombs are tunnels, rooms, and chambers under the ground, originally used as burial places. The word, Catacomb, is of Greek origin, but the significance is uncertain.
The most famous are those in Rome, Italy. The oldest are in Paola near Valetta in Malta. But there are Catacombs in many places, especially in the Mediterranean area. Other famous catacombs are Paris, Kom El Shoqafa in Egypt, Odesa in Ukraine, and Brna in the Czech Republic.
Most can be visited by tourists, but only with guides, and in certain well-lit, restricted areas. Some are very big. The Odessa catacombs have a total length of more than 1500 miles.
And why were they built?
The ancient catacombs started out as burial places, like the ones under the eternal city of Rome, Italy. In the 2nd century, the first Christians started burying their dead underground. As a part of their beliefs, they couldn’t burn their diseased as the Pagans did, cause how were they supposed to present themselves after the final Armageddon if they didn’t have a body?
And as putting decaying corpses down into the ground inside the city walls was forbidden, for obvious reasons, their only alternative was to bury them outside the city walls. The churches were small, the cemeteries were limited, and the Romans didn’t care much for their religion anyway. Soon it became crowded around the temples, To resolve this, they started digging down into the ground to be able to put the bodies of their loved ones to rest… In the catacombs.
Myths about the catacombs in Rome.
That meant every church in Rome had its own burial cave underneath the churchyard. With time these became bigger, with more space and more graves. But they still had to respect the boundaries of the area of the site on top. They couldn’t dig out horizontally into the neighborhood. So, they dug down. Some corridors of the Roman catacombs are as high as 20 meters or more, all flanked by burial chambers.
The catacombs in Rome are separated from each other. It’s not one big labyrinth.
The catacombs in Rome were never hiding places for the Christians to evade the Roman oppressors. The Romans knew very well where they were, the entrances, and who was in charge. It was all perfectly legal, and official in every sense.
The same type of catacombs dug for the same reason, can be found all over Italy… And all over the Roman world, even further away than that. The idea of burying people in caves and tunnels underground lived on even until the 20th century. Rosalia Lombardo was the last person to be buried in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. She died in 1920, at only two years of age.
Other famous Catacombs can be found in Lima – Peru, in Vienna – Austria, in New York, in Bambang – the Philippines, and many other locations.
If we determine the catacombs as not necessarily and exclusively a final resting place, then the list grows significantly. In the US there are many underground structures to visit. In Beijing, China, there’s an underground network covering more than 30 square miles, constructed in the 1970s. Or just think about the vast Củ Chi tunnel network used by the Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnamese war.
Be careful where you walk… There could be a void under you.
The haunted catacombs in Paris.
If the Roman catacombs are very old… Separated in many different networks, and reasonably tidy, well documented, and accessible… The Paris underground tunnels are very different. The mysterious video presented to Francis Freedland, couldn’t have been from Rome. The Roman catacombs are just too limited and well-lit.
Under Paris, on the other hand, there’s an enormous spiderweb of corridors on five levels. Some parts are easily accessible, and you can go there with a tourist guide who tells you everything you need to know. But there are miles and miles of haunted catacombs that are much scarier, and much more dangerous… And they are much more recent than their Roman namesake.
In the late 1700, the authorities in France were becoming concerned about the overcrowded cemeteries in the Capital. The city was growing fast and all the corpses in and around the small cemeteries were becoming a severe health risk. The stench especially around the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery, the oldest and largest graveyard in Paris, was overwhelming. And when in 1774 a part of a basement wall collapsed under the weight of the many cadavers, spilling dead and decaying corpses all over the neighboring streets, something had to be done… And quickly. So Luigi XVI closed all cemeteries inside the city and started planning for the removal of the already buried to abandoned querries further away.
Not too far away though, just about outside the city gates, would be perfect. And the first and easiest spot to dump them was Barrière d’EnferGate of Hell, a tollgate, on the border of the city.
The quarries under the city.
Because in Paris, unlike in Rome, there was no need to dig. The tunnel system was already there in form of old Lutetian limestone quarries Most of the city was built of Lutetian limestone and all that material had been extracted from underneath the city, leaving a huge web of old mines, tunnels, and chambers.
At first, they just dumped the bones, but from 1810 they started organizing and placing them in an arranged fashion. The enterprise was led by Inspector Héricart de Thury, who either had some macabre stylistic urge or was highly ironical. Anyway, he started building rooms, and chapels, and he arranged the bones and skulls in artistic patterns.
He practically created what is today a site that attracts half a million tourists a year.
The burial parts of the tunnel system, the ossuary, which is what attracts the visitors, is about a mile. One mile of corridors, rooms, and crypts, decorated with human remains in form of skulls, basins, and legbones.
But the total length of the haunted catacombs is supposed to be as much as 200 miles, maybe even more. Nobody knows. 200 miles of winding, dark corridors in five levels… Full of dead people, or even worse, maybe not entirely dead…
So are they really haunted?
While the haunted catacombs of Rome isn’t a common statement, the haunted catacombs of Paris definitely is. And it’s very easy to see the reason why. The Parisian network is scary. It’s huge, and it’s partly unmapped, so you can easily become trapped down there with the dead bodies and the skeletons. It’s a terrifying thought and not just a thought. Many people actually have met that fate, not being able to find their way out.
Philibert Aspairt was a doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grâce hospital. In 1793 for some reason he went down through a staircase located in the hospital courtyard. He was found 11 years later and could be identified only cause he still had the key to the hospital on him. He was buried on site.
The movie… There’s always a movie…
Two movies, actually. The first was Catacombs, directed by Tomm Coker and David Elliot and starring Shannyn Sossamon, released in 2007. The second was As Above, So Below, written and directed by John Erick Dowdle and starring François Civil and Perdita Weeks. Both created with lots of footage of narrow tunnels, dark shadows, deep pits, and scared teenagers. It’s effective.
There’s a very obvious pattern when it comes to hauntings. Any type of publicity, Tv, Movie, News, anything, boosts the general scariness of a place. And before the movies, there was the very famous TV-series, Scariest Places on Earth, Season 1, Episode 2 from 2000 hosted by Lind Blair.
And we’re back to where we started. Because Francis Freedland’s videotape formed the base for a part of that episode. Freedland together with the camera crew and a guide, went down into the tunnels to try to find the origin of the video film. And maybe find the exact spot from where it was shot.
To cut the story short, it is a frightening experience. But not because of any hauntings on spooky findings. The chill you feel when you watch the footage comes from a sense of claustrophobia. The narrow corridors, the low roof, the tight passages, and the panting voices… Well, you know the style. It’s kind of disturbing, but there’s no real substance.
So, the haunted catacombs, it’s all a scam?
There are at least three strange facts about this video:
Why on earth would anybody drop the camera? He could have been attacked but in that situation, he must have tried to do anything not to lose the only light source he had. Even if he was chased.
The total of the film has never been made public. It is supposed to be around 40 minutes, but all we have ever seen is the last minute.
The timing. Freedland states that the video was found in 1993, but the first evidence of it is from 2000 when Most haunted places on earth sent the episode. Why didn’t he go to the police? Why didn’t he try to investigate earlier?
And that leads us to the famous TV series. It is beyond any doubt that The most haunted places on earth on occasions created and invented facts to make a good show
More interesting facts about the haunted catacombs of Paris.
The whole city is constructed on top of a tunnel web that is reasonably superficial. This fact makes constructing heavy buildings somewhat risky. And Parisian law states that the owner of a property not only owns the surface but also what’s under it. So if the house collapses, you, yourself are responsible.
The tunnels were originally outside the city gates, but as Paris grew, they became well inside the city limits. The biggest risks for sinkholes are therefore in the suburbs. The city center is regarded as safer.
It’s estimated that there are remains from over six million people down there. That would mean that there are more dead than alive in Paris today.
And the bones are still down there. While the skeletons of the Catacombs in Rome have been moved or stolen, the dead in Paris are all there… At least most of them.
In 1880 an innovative French farmer found out that the Catacombs were perfect for growing mushrooms. A few years later more than 300 mushroom farms were set up down there, and the cultivation continues even today, but on a smaller scale. These are the famous Champignon de Paris.
During WW2 the resistance used the catacombs for transport. Interestingly, so did the Germans. They even set up a large bunker right under Lycée Montaigne, one of Paris’ most famous schools. Fortunately, with both parties moving about in the 200 miles of tunnels, there was little risk that they would run into each other.
In 2017 thieves drilled their way into a basement from the Catacombs straight underneath it. They got away with 300 bottles of vintage grand cru with a market value of more than 250.000 euros. The operation was meticulously planned and the bottles were never found again.
Although most people would avoid the forbidden and haunted catacombs, there is a community of adventurers, the so-called Cataphiles. These are to a certain degree experts in where to enter, how to behave once down there, and, most important of all, how to exit the catacombs. It is a very secret community with no names or identities and with a fixed, and determined conduct.
Among those, there’s an even more secret group called…
Their goal is to explore, restore, and improve hidden corners of Paris. They frequently go into the Catacombs and they are responsible for many extraordinary features. And they’re not only young hipsters, and yuccies, but also more prominent and older members of society… Architects historians, and entrepreneurs. Here are a few examples:
In 1981 the group stole the complete mapping of the catacombs from the ministry of telecommunication. And from there they’ve managed to pull off a long list of amazing endeavors. They are not only a nuisance to the authorities but they actually fix things too.
In 2007, they restored the famous clock in the Panthéon together with the clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Viot.
2004 the Police discovered a complete movie theater underground. Complete with a bar, a kitchen, and seats carved out of the rock. They had pulled electricity from the surface and even had a motion-detecting CCTV setup that triggered recorded dogs barking if someone would close in on their hideout. When the police came back after three days all they found was a note saying “Don’t search for us”. All the equipment was gone.
So, in the end, where does it leave us? Are the catacombs underneath Paris haunted or not?
No, they’re not. Francis Freedland’s video clip is probably a fake… Done by him, by someone else in Paris. But probably by the creators of Most haunted places on earth. They did these things, you know.
And for the rest, there is no indication whatsoever that anything sinister or ghostly happens down there.
But it’s still creepy. And the creepiness obviously comes from the fact that the not so haunted catacombs of Paris are vast. Even though people move around down there, the graffiti on the walls is a good testimony of that… There still are 200 miles of tunnels to get lost in. 200 miles of dark, damp, narrow, rough, and largely unmapped tunnels, in five layers down all the way to 100 feet under the surface. And they are full of human bones. If that’s not scary… I don’t know what is.
On August 25, 2017, the Spanish film Veronica premiered in Madrid. Director was Paco Plaza from Spain, and among the cast, Sandra Escacena debuted as an actress in a movie. She played the main character, Veronica. Sandra would receive international recognition for her performance. She also won a few important prizes in Spain for her role.
The film reached a bigger audience when Netflix released it the year after. From there, horror enthusiasts all over the world started appreciating the dark history. It’s a scary movie, a sure bet for anyone who likes that kind of stuff. And if you’re curious about the Ouija board and you’re interested in what can happen when things don’t go the way you want, then Verónica is definitely for you. Rotten Tomatoes had an impressive 90% approval rate for the Spanish horror movie.
Another additionally disturbing fact about the movie is that it’s based on a true story…
The Vallecas Case.
The movie, Verónica, is loosely based on what is known as The Vallecas case. Estefanía Gutierrez Lázaro died in 1991 after a series of disturbing events in her family’s apartment. These hauntings were supposedly connected to an Ouija-board seance a year before, which released one or more demonic entities… Possibly involving the girl’s grandfather. Some of the manifestations are documented by police in an official report after an intervention on November 27, 1992, less than a year after Estefania’s tragic death. For the movie, the director, Paco Plaza, added characters, radically changed the plot and compressed the time perspective from over a year to only a few days.
So much for the movie… But what actually happened? What is the real story behind the famous Vallecas case?
Here we go…
On the early morning of November 27 (some claim November 19), 1992, the local police got a call from someone in the Vallecas-area, a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Two squad cars were immediately sent to the address, Calle Luis Marin nr. 8. The house was a 12-story block of flats, not very different from all the other blocks of flats in the many of Madrid’s suburbs.
For the six police officers, it could have seemed like just another assignment… Teenagers partying too loudly, quarrels within the family, or some other violent expression, probably from a frustrated unemployed father.
But at arrival they were met by the whole family, parents as well as children outside on the street. They claimed they had been awoken in the middle of the night by strange sounds, bangings, and shadowy figures moving around in the apartment. They were terrified and preferred to stand on the freezing street rather than face whatever was haunting their apartment.
So, Inspector José Pedro Negri summoned three of his colleagues and they went in together with the father of the family. Once inside the house, things started happening, so scary that even the experienced police officers were terrified. The doors of a cupboard that one of the policemen had closed seconds before were violently opened right in front of their eyes. The same cupboard was then seen shaking violently. Loud noises came from the completely empty balcony. At one point a crucifix was torn from its wooden frame and found on the middle of the floor.
The Police report.
These observations are not only anecdotical but they’re in the official report Inspector Negri wrote after the events. This file exists with stamps and all and is obviously a very strong piece of evidence. In the report, a sudden chill in the bathroom is mentioned, as well as a brown slimy substance on one of the bedside tables.
This kind of official document is extremely rare when it comes to paranormal activity, especially from members of the police and military, who normally are not easily impressed. This makes the Vallecas case very unusual. In fact, Negri’s testimony has been scrutinized and turned upside down and inside out many times. But, the police inspector hasn’t withdrawn his statements. In numerous interviews and TV encounters, he has confirmed what happened, and he has kept his story more or less intact throughout the years.
It should be mentioned though, that the report is just like any other police report. It doesn’t say anything about strange phenomena. It includes sober observations… For example, it confirms that the cupboard doors opened in front of their eyes, but it doesn’t mention anything that could be interpreted as supernatural. Doors can open for a multitude of reasons.
But let’s step back in time…
In March 1990, a day like any other, the 16 years old Estefanía Gutierrez Lázaro made her way to school, passing the normal activity of the awakening city. This is the periphery of Madrid, and it’s not very fancy… A bakery, a supermarket, a newsstand, etc. Estefania entered the school and attended the classes of the day.
Somewhere between morning and afternoon, for some reason, the young girl went into the bathroom with some of her friends. It was probable that the students had a gap in the schedule due to an absent teacher. Whatever the reason was, the party decided to invoke spirits with the help of a Quija-board. They had already used the Ouija before and were comfortable with the rules and the mechanics behind it.
One of Estefania’s friends had recently lost her boyfriend in a motorcycle accident, and she wanted to see if she could contact him in some way. Supposedly Estefania too wanted to contact somebody. Namely her grandfather on the mother’s side, who had died just months before.
What then happened is also reasonably well documented.
The teacher Dolores Molina burst into the bathroom ripping the Ouija board from the pupils, breaking it, and then started yelling at them to return to class. At that point, the glass of the board was filled up with a strange smoke, It then exploded, and the smoke floated away to Estefania who inhaled it. The girl fainted and was led away to the nursery.
From that moment, Estefania became increasingly psychotic.
In the weeks that followed, Estefania started to show signs of mental instability.
She had trouble sleeping at night.
She suffered from hallucinations. And she heard voices, many of which came from the bathroom on the other side of her bedroom wall.
She sometimes went catatonic for 15 minutes or more, when she laughed uncontrollably, or she talked incomprehensibly or uttered only guttural sounds.
Her relationship with her family worsened with time, and her seizures became more frequent and more violent.
On one occasion Estefania and her mother were locked inside the bathroom. The door that immediately before was open, closed by itself, and the persons outside the door weren’t able to open it. When Estefania’s father was ready to kick it down, it suddenly opened by itself. Estefania’s bed was situated adjacent to the bathtub but on the other side of the wall. The family later said that the paranormal activity was focused around the bathroom, and especially around the bathtub. This is also where Estefania claimed the voices came from, on the other side of the bathroom wall.
On several other occasions, she attacked her siblings, without remembering anything afterward.
At one time she requested that her father’s family must not be informed of her imminent death. Furthermore, she said she needed a photo of herself together with her father, Maximo, inside the coffin.
Estefanias medical records.
Estefania’s parents consulted a number of specialists to try to help their daughter. But that didn’t result in any relief. None of the physicians could determine the cause of her illness. At one point, she was pre-diagnosed with Epilepsy, but her symptoms were supposedly not typical. She was treated for it, but without resolutive results.
This is an important piece of information, though. Concepción, the mother of Estefania, had Epilepsy as well and received treatment for it long before anything strange started happening.
Estefania died on July 14, 1991. She had suffered a severe seizure some days before and on the evening of July 13th, she went into a coma in her house. At around 11 p.m. she was transferred to Gregorio Marañón Hospital where she died three hours later at 2 a.m. Cause of death: Pulmonary asphyxia caused by a convulsion.
After her death, not only did the family have to cope with the grief and sorrow of having lost a much-loved sister and daughter, but the strange phenomena in the apartment didn’t stop. Immediately after the funeral, there was only very light poltergeist-activity. Small objects moved, doors opened and closed. But as time went by the phenomenon increased.
After Estefania’s tragic death, things got out of hand…
The hauntings became more frequent and more violent with time. And, according to Concepción, much of the activity was concentrated in the bathroom, and at the specific time when Estefania had gone into a coma on the evening, July the 13th. All this made it perfectly clear that the hauntings were connected to the deceased daughter.
So, the hauntings were tied to the bathroom, the time in the evening… But also in some way to the mother of Estefania. Concepción had been complaining about the bathroom long before anything started happening with Estefania. She said, she could hear a voice calling her from there, saying:
The relationship between her and her father, the grandfather of Estefania, hadn’t been good. The father had passed away of senile dementia a short time before his granddaughter. But before that, it seems like he quarreled a lot with Concepción. The two had even developed a certain dislike for each other. The family has claimed the grandfather was somehow behind at least some of the paranormal activity.
This supposedly happened in the apartment after the death of Estefania:
A shadow of an elderly person was seen moving in the hallway of the apartment.
On several occasions, laughter was heard. This too seemed to be coming from an elderly person, and the family interpreted it as from Estefania’s grandfather.
On one occasion, one of the family’s dogs was thrown several meters across the living room.
On at least one occasion, Concepción felt a cold touch on her bare skin, on the wrist, and on the ankle.
A glass was thrown against one of the children.
In all this, doors that opened and closed, things that moved, and other “normal” paranormal phenomena continued but with increasing strength.
After some time, the family was so scared to go into the bathroom, that they always had someone accompanying them.
The Vallecas Case – Scrutiny…
So, where does all this lead us? What can we read out from the strange and intriguing Vallecas Case, the tragic life of Estefania Guttierez Lazaro?
First of all, most of this is hearsay. We depend on what the family has to say about it. And to be absolutely clear, when referred to the family, very often the substance of the facts comes from Estefania’s mother, Concepción. She is the one in the center, almost all of the paranormal activity happens around her, or at least when she is around. As we will see further along, not all members of Estefania’s family have the same experience. But let’s go to the experts…
What do the medical experts say?
Estefania was on her way to being diagnosed with Epilepsy. She also received treatment for it. Her mother suffered from the same disease, and Epilepsy has a genetic factor, important or less important. I don’t know anything about the symptoms, or anything else about the disorder, so I can’t determine if Estefania’s symptoms were typical, or not. If her sudden death could have been caused by some effect of her last seizure, or not.
This is what Mayoclinic.com has to say about Epilepsy. Symptoms may include:
A staring spell
Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
Loss of consciousness or awareness
Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety, or deja vu
It has frequently been stated that Estefania’s death couldn’t be explained. That the symptoms and her sudden and severe illness were somehow unexpected, and difficult to comprehend. But the autopsy doesn’t reveal anything strange at all… Nothing at all. Not even the physician that conducted the autopsy, Dr. Gregorio Arroyo has anything to say. Her death was a tragic complication of an Epileptic seizure. And a number of other pathologists have examined the death certificate and come to the same conclusion.
What does the paranormal expertise say?
Concepción contacted a long row of experts in poltergeist and paranormal activity during these years. She tried in any way she could to rid herself of the curse she was convinced lived inside her house. Some of these so-called experts confirmed that there were strange things going on, while others were more skeptical.
It is obvious that many of the supposed experts/investigators went along with her ideas just to profit from them. One seer from Seville offered to rid the house of any evil spirits for a sum of approximately $2000… About three months of pay at the time for poor Maximo.
Another charlatan acting under the pseudonym of “Tristanbraker” convinced Concepción that it was actually her father that haunted the house. Others suggested that the spirit was much more evil and was known as Crápula… A real demon.
This is how tense the situation was… Tristanbraker is the gentleman on the right in the dark suit.
The last physical poltergeist phenomenon happened on All Saints’ Day of 1993. A photograph of Estefanía was burnt. Concepción found the frame lying face down on the floor. When she turned it over, she saw that only the photographic paper was scorched. Neither the frame nor the protective glass had been damaged, nor had the surrounding objects or the floor.
Many paranormal investigations were made, mostly by self-proclaimed mediums and with dubious methods. The only thing they seemed to have achieved was to feed the family’s fear and to influence them even more.
What do the locals, the neighbors say?
Two things are important here:
The neighbors, and the locals around the house, at school, at the bar, etc. when asked, deny any strange supernatural occurrences. They normally blame all of the excitement firstly on the movie. Because before the film came out in 2018, nobody cared about their neighborhood. It was
as forgotten as are all the other millions of forgotten suburbs in the big cities all over the world. Secondly on the poor mother. She was mentally vulnerable and infiltrated with a lot of superstitious nonsense.
The family sold the house. But they sold it in 1998, six years after the event with the police. And they sold it for other reasons than that it was haunted, as the paranormal events diminished with time and stopped definitely in 1996. The new owners never had any experience of any paranormal activity.
Lastly – The interview in 2018.
In September 2018 the online newspaper, El Mundo, published an interview with Estefania’s two brothers, Ricardo and Maximiliano Gutiérrez. The two brothers were 16 and 10 years old in 1992. Their version of what really happened is very different from what could be interpreted from the official tellings… The story you’ve read so far.
They were in contact with the film company, the director, Paco Plaza consulted them, and they gave their approval. Even though they don’t like all the attention her sister has got from the film-project, they still say they don’t have anything against the movie…
– The movie has nothing to do with the Vallecas case the way we experienced it.
About all the hauntings inside the apartment, bangings, voices, opening doors, they say that they were very young at the time. But it was their mother who was deeply involved. She truly believed that someone or something haunted them, and in that context, they too believed in what she said.
They were not allowed in the bathroom alone. Not because they were afraid, but because the mother said it was dangerous.
They claim that Estefania was a wonderful and caring sister… Like a mother to both of them, smiling and warm. Furthermore, they say nothing happened immediately after the Ouija-board incident. And Estefania wasn’t very interested in the occult. She had used the Ouija board a few times but as an innocent game. Their fears started many months later, and their opinion is that their mother influenced all of them.
The Police report according to Ricardo and Maximiliano.
So, why were they all in the street, waiting for the police to arrive?
– Our parents had asked us to go down to the street to meet the police. Then, when they arrived, mom began updating them on the number of supernatural phenomena they were to encounter, already in the elevator on their way up.
And all the strange things that happened during the police’s inspection?
– It is very curious how, just a few days ago, the chief inspector José Pedro Negri , declared in Cuarto Milenio that the doors opened and closed violently, dozens of times.
– In a Tv show in 1993, he said: “The closet door was opened, I made a visual inspection of it and I did not see anything strange… “
It’s obvious that a door that opens once is very different from a door that opens and closes violently many times. It’s just not comparable. And we can’t say for certain what really happened.
And the strange noise on the balcony?
– That was me, Ricardo says. Mother asked me to throw something from a second adjacent balcony. She didn’t believe the officers were impressed as much as she had hoped, so she told me to go out on the other balcony and throw something. I did just that, but the stone I used hit a metal pantry and the sound was much louder than I had intended.
In the same TV program from 1993, the chief inspector stated…
– That noise could possibly have been produced intentionally. In fact, along with the wardrobe, that was the only phenomenon that we witnessed on site. The rest occurred before our arrival.
The brothers have been criticized for the interview. It has been suggested that they did it for money. The two men state that no fee has been paid to make them accept to participate.
The Vallecas case – For or Against
The story in the Police report is very convincing, even though it’s sober and rational, just like you would expect. As said earlier it is very difficult to impress officers of the police force. They tend to not accept anything that goes out of the ordinary, and they are perfectly right to do so. That is why it’s so important in this case.
There is a second report, though. Or actually a first, written before November 1992. And there are other statements from the police constables on site, but who didn’t write any reports. These are not completely in accordance with the report by Inspector Negri
Reading his text, you still don’t really get the idea that the house was full of ghosts or demons. The words are more about a series of observations. Some of which are difficult to explain.
In the end, the Vallecas case could very well be about the problematic situation for a family with issues in a neighborhood with issues. The two brothers also claim that practically all of the children were bullied at school. Estefania possibly because she was overweight. The fixations of their mother were amplified by unscrupulous homemade experts and charlatans. Her illness as well as Estefania’s disease escalated into a completely intolerable and destructive situation.
Even though there are other testimonies that are in tune with the original Vallecas Case study, such as the narratives of the teacher Dolores Molina. She confirms the Ouija board, the glass, and the smoke. It is still difficult to regard the evidence presented so far as conclusive.
Just like with so many other claims of paranormal activity, it comes down to if you believe this or that… Do you trust Chief inspector Negri, and Concepción, or do you trust Estefania’s brothers, some of the other police officers, the physicians, and the average Joe at the bar?
Reading about and researching the Vallecas Case and the tragic death of Estefanía Gutierrez Lázaro, I still get a curious feeling. Any way you twist and turn the events, there still are things that cannot be explained easily. And maybe that is one reason why Plaza chose this story for his film over any other. This story is intriguing and occasionally it gives you the chills…
The Vallecas case is, though not completely, still reasonably convincing. At least some of the evidence point to real poltergeist events. Estefania’s brothers wouldn’t agree and nor would some of the mediums involved. But it makes you wonder…
You might wonder how something could ever be this beautiful… Coming in through the opening of the Bay of Port Chatham in the sunlight, a warm summers day, The green mountains surrounding the grey gravel-shores. The dark, almost black water mirroring white clouds, every now and then shadowed by a huge bald eagle searching the untouched nature for its prey.
Still, if you sense an undetermined dread, a sudden feel of disturbance, as if you were observed by someone… Or something. Then, you’re not alone. Because this is one of the scariest spots on the American continent.
And the villagers’ sudden escape from the once small but prosperous settlement, is one of the greatest mysteries in the history of Alaska.
A short history.
In 1786 a British ship sought refuge in Chatham Bay during a storm. The Captain’s name was Nathaniel Portlock of the Royal Navy, and that name was later given to the cannery plant on the southern shores. But it would take more than a hundred years before anything else than wilderness was to be seen here.
After the US bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867 southerners started to come to the new land for hunting and gold mining opportunities. In late 1800 small villages started to pop up around the fishing industry. And especially on the Kenai peninsula the canneries, cold store and smoking facilities were the main business-activity.
In 1912 a cannery opened in Port Graham some 15 miles away on the northern side of the tip of the Kenai peninsula. In 1915 a cod and halibut cold storage plant was built in Port Chatham. A chrome mine opened opposite the inlet, in Chrome bay, two years later. A small settlement started to grow, around mining, fishing, and fish processing. In 1921 it even got a Post office, and soon it felt almost like a real town.
In 1928, a small salmon cannery was opened in Portlock/Port Chatham, and two years later, in 1930, a bigger cannery was built by the A. N. Nilson Company. For a few decades these plants offered a stable income for a handful of people. Because we’re talking about a small place, even for Alaska’s standards.
The famous Port Chatham-horror.
But something wasn’t right. Some sinister entity, in and around the Bay, started to show its presence to the villagers. It began right when the first settlers got there, but it became more and more difficult to ignore it as years went by. Most of the workforce in the facilities were of Russian-Alutiiq extraction. And they already had an idea about what was lurking in the forests…
What they referred to is a big hairy Bigfoot-like creature that walks on two legs, much bigger and stronger than a human. From being a silent threat, only to those who venture too far into the wild at night, the sightings became more frequent … And closer.
And when people started to disappear and die, the villagers finally abandoned Port Chatham more or less overnight. Leaving their homes, and livelihood behind. The last man to leave was the Postmaster. In 1951 he locked the door to the local post office, never to return again.
Here is a list of what happened in Port Chatham in the first half of the 20s century.
Andrew Kamluck was murdered in 1931. Someone, or something, hit him over the head with a piece of heavy log moving equipment. The piece of machinery was found more than 10 feet away from the body, and it was too heavy for one man to lift, let alone to swing it and strike a standing man.
Around the same time a gold miner went to his claim never to return. According to the Port Graham elder, Simeon Kvasnikoff, no traces were ever found of him, nor at his cabin, neither anywhere else. It was as if he had disappeared from the surface of the earth.
Tom Larsen, a local sawmill owner, was out chopping wood for fish-traps, when he spotted a big hairy creature on two legs on the shore. He ran to his cabin to get his gun. When he came back, the creature was just standing there, looking at him, without running away or charging him. Larsen could never explain why he didn’t fire his rifle at it.
During WW2 the workers of the Cannery plant often went into the forest to hunt, never to come back. Some bodies were later found mutilated and dismembered in a way that no animal would or could do.
In the 40s a group of hunters were tracking a moose. On the path, they found 18 inches long footprints They concluded that something else was stalking the animal other than them. At a certain point they found an opening and signs of a fight. The only prints moving away from the site were the 18 inch footprints they had seen earlier. It was as if the unknown predator had killed the moose, an animal of at least 500 pounds, possibly 1000, and carried it away, on its shoulders.
In 1973, three hunters took shelter in Port Chatham during a three-day storm and claimed that each night something walked around their tent on what sounded like only two feet.
In 1905, the workers of the cannery refused to go back to work, as they were afraid of the hairy man haunting the neighborhood. Only when the manager of the plant hired armed guards to watch not only the fish cannery, but also the village, did they agree to come back to work.
Trees were being pulled up with the roots for no apparent reason. Sometimes they were put back upside down, with the roots pointing upward.
So, where’s the truth in all this?
Was Port Chatham really haunted? What was it that frightened a whole community to such an extent that they preferred to leave their home and just run? Was it a Sasquatch, a Bigfoot, or was it something even more sinister?
Let’s look at the facts. Because this is not New York, London or L.A… It’s Alaska, a huge desolated State with wildlife, harsh weather and nature, and generally difficult living conditions. People who go missing aren’t all that unusual. It’s twice as common in Alaska as elsewhere in the USA. And big bears can be mistaken for many things.
This poor bear walks on its back legs, because the front paws are injured. You can see the right front paw being contorted (1.02). Scientists say bears can walk reasonably well on two legs.
But let’s look at the evidence one by one.
The first issue: The sudden escape.
The town was abandoned in the late 40s or the early 50s depending somewhat on who claims it. The post office was closed in 1951, that’s reasonably verified. Now, Portlock/Port Chatham isn’t the only abandoned village in Alaska. There are at least 50 small towns just like this one, some say more than 100, in the northernmost State.
Alaska’s history is a chain of entrepreneurship, dreams, prosperity and failure. Many came up north to set up business, and start a new career. Some succeeded, while others didn’t.
Fishing was a big industry, but after the war, the ships became bigger, and the need for local storage and refining slowly became obsolete. The boats cooked, canned, and stored the catch directly on the ship. The cold facilities, and canneries that took the hardest blow were the small ones… Like Port Chatham.
A. N. Nilson Company, the owners of the Portlock Cannery, started a second plant in Seattle’s Ballard area in 1950. Closer to the market and easier to manage.
The mine at Chrome Bay was very active during the WW2, but immediately after, the demand for chrome dropped drastically, and the mine closed.
In this context, it’s not difficult to see why people moved away from Port Chatham to bigger urban centres like Nanwalek, and Port Graham. And I haven’t found anything to suggest that the migration was hasty or unplanned.
The second issue: The hauntings.
Some of the testimonies are obviously exaggerated or simply wrong:
The workers of the cannery that demanded armed guards back in 1905 is a strange statement. In 1905 there was no cannery in Port Chatham. There were fishers and hunters, but no big, single employer to whom you could possibly direct any demands. It sounds strange.
There were many more testimonies of people who went missing, as well as people who were killed by something. But, as said before, this is Alaska. People go missing every day. More than 2000 disappear every year in Alaska. Many of which are never found again. And people get assassinated. I can’t find it extraordinary that a gold miner is killed at his claim… Especially if there was gold in it.
It is also true that there are other abandoned towns in Alaska. Many of them have their own stories, their own hauntings, and some even had their inhabitants fleeing “overnight”.
What do the locals say?
Well, while some locals say that Bigfoot/Sasquatch is very real, others deem it as a hoax. The opinion here is divided… For or against, Yes or no. Even though no evidence has ever been presented as proof of an actual specimen, many people, especially among those who are familiar with the big open forests, swear they exist.
It has also been suggested that the thing or things that haunted Port Chatham was supernatural… A paranormal phenomena. This is a less popular explanation though.
… And the experts, what do they say?
As the creature of Port Chatham often is regarded as physical and natural, no investigation of paranormal activity has ever been done. And the investigations of Bigfoot creatures around the bay are not very serious, to say the least. A few youtubers, a pseudo-exploratory full length movie, and a local radio show, that’s all.
And we don’t have any documentation… None at all. No photos, no videos, not even reliable police reports. All we have are stories.
Rests the single fact that the town, or towns were abandoned… Maybe suddenly, overnight, but more likely. over some time. This fact alone is actually a very important part of the history. Abandoned settlements are not uncommon in Alaska, and it’s a fact that both the mine and the cannery closed before and around 1950. Still, the escape isn’t perfectly natural or 100% motivated…
Alaska after WW2.
Because it’s not entirely true that everything died out with the closing mine and fish cannery. Fishing for the King Crabb started to generate massive incomes in Alaska in the 50s. And in the 60s oil started to become big business. Especially the Cook Inlet filled up with new oil rigs. So it wasn’t like everybody shut down and moved out.
Many moved to the bigger centers, more for practical reasons. And that was obviously a part of a more general transfer of people from the countryside to the cities. Something that happened more or less all over the planet, after the war. But Port Chatham lying right in the middle of the new opportunities, seized to exist in a very short time… The plants closed, but why was the transfer so definite, and so complete?
Because there is more…
The last piece of the puzzle is connected to the Alutiiq, or the Sugpiaq, as they are sometimes called. The natives of western Alaska.
To the Alutiit, the whole area around Port Chatham has a bad aura. Just the fact that they have a name for the dreaded hairy beast that runs the forests, and watch sawmill owners from the shore-line. He’s called the Nantiinaq. And he’s not like the average Bigfoot, a shy forest-man who does everything to stay as far away from people as possible. An overgrown Gorilla, who is dangerous only if you get too close and you stalk it.
No, the Nantiinaq is a deadly predator. A monster who kills people for no obvious reason, just to tear their limbs apart. A creature that actively hunts humans… An enormous, hideous murderer, bigger than a Grizzly and meaner than a Wolverine.
There is a bit of a confusion about the names of the settlements in the bay. Some say that Port Chatham and Portlock were two different settlements, built very close. The cannery was called Portlock, and so were their products. I would refer to the town as Port Chatham, and the plant as Portlock. Anyway, it’s probably correct to imagine one single village next to the cannery.
There were two more villages in the bay, though. Alutiiq-villages… Axu’layik, and To’qakvik. The Alutiit had winter- and summer quarters, and at least Axu’layik was a winter settlement. As such the houses were built for permanent living, dug down and planked on top. The natives houses were small but warm and functional. They were well built and fit to withstand the harsh environment and keep the people inside alive.
The Alutiit weren’t depending on the employment from the cannery and the mine, in the same way that the Euro-Americans were. They had a different relationship to the land, and they wouldn’t be as soon to leave as the southerners.
Still they left. Axu’layik as well as To’qakvik were abandoned just like Port Chatham, and it seems to have happened around the same time. I think it would take more substantial motifs to leave your home, than just to leave a place where you work… To run away from where you were born, where you grew up, where you met your first love, and where you were supposed to give up your breath in the end.
Nanwalek elder Malania Helen Kehl, who was born in Port Chatham in 1934 explained in an interview: “
– My parents, along with the rest of the village, grew weary of being terrorized by a creature the Alutiiq called a Nantiinaq, meaning half-man, half-beast…many of the residents refused to venture into the surrounding forests, and over time, abandoned their homes and the village school, and moved…
I believe it’s plausible that many people would leave a small settlement because there are no more jobs. I thinks it’s possible that Port Chatham was abandoned because the small industry closed. These things happen all the time. Opportunities arise, and then the production stops and people move away again. It’s not unusual or particular in any way.
But when the natives suddenly left their hometown… Now, that is much more difficult to explain. And if all these people, natives and not, moved away in a very short period of time, then that one fact could be a sign that something wasn’t right in Port Chatham… That someone, or something forced them away rather than the transfer being just something they did to find new jobs and more prosperity.
I can’t say I’m convinced that Bigfoot exists, but I am convinced that something happened in Port Chatham… Something other than an industry shutting down.
Exactly what it was that caused them to move out, has never been confirmed. But the supposedly evil creatures have never been debunked either. And they could still be out there… Waiting…
Just a few miles south of Venice, Italy, inside the lagoon, there’s a solitaire triangle-shaped island. It is one of many deserted islands around Venice… Islands that once were flourishing with people, and live stock, houses, and squares, but which now are home to rabbits and seabirds.
Poveglia is different only through it’s name. While names like Madonna del Monte or Isola Campalto slumber away in the shallow waters, Poveglia has become famous all over the world. And its fame is intimately connected to paranormal activity.
Poveglia – Known from TV.
In 2000, The Fox Family created a series called The scariest places on earth. The idea was to let an ordinary, or reasonably ordinary family, travel to haunted and scary places, and document their experiences. Episode nr. 23 is called The Island of no Return and the destination was obviously Poveglia. The episode aired on August 19, 2001, with a follow up on August 24, 2001.
The style was innovative, and the series was a success. It continues for five seasons 2000-2002, and 2005-2006. In the Poveglia episodes the history behind the hauntings is thoroughly explained. And this is how it goes:
The Bubonic Plague hit Venice more than 60 times from 1348 until late 1700. Every time it brought sufferings beyond our imagination. On occasions the effective Venetian quarantine system could block it before it became explosive, but other times that was not the case.
1348, 1423, 1575, and 1630 stand out as years when the epidemic killed between a third and half of the city’s population. The other waves of disease, around 60 in 450 years were less disastrous thanks to an effective quarantine. The word quarantine derives from the Italian word for 40, quaranta, and it determines the number of days persons and goods had to wait before entering the city.
Still, in times of pestilence the two quarantine-islands, Lazaretto Nuovo, and Lazaretto Vecchio, weren’t enough. And that’s were Poveglia comes in, at least according to Fox Family. Those who were most severely ill, were shipped to Poveglia. But the island wasn’t really a hospital. It was just a place for people to die. They were dropped off and that was that.
In the program, it’s stated that in some parts of Poveglia Island as much as 50% of the soil consists of ashes from burnt human bodies.
The mental institution
But the horrors do not finish there. In 1922, after being abandoned for many years, an asylum was built. New ideologies were at hand and a brand new leadership. The Fascist state needed places to put away the mentally ill.
However, at some point in the 20s a particularly dogmatic, and eager fascistic professor became chief physician on the island. In those days lobotomy was thought of as a normal and efficient therapy for mentally ill patients. And as they didn’t really have any anesthetics, and the patients were mad anyway…
It is said that the screams from Poveglia could be heard to Lido, and even all the way to Venice on calm summer nights.
The doctor died in 1942 and that too is a disturbing story. All through the 20s and the 30s patients and personnel had been complaining about strange lights, shadows, and voices around and inside the buildings. But nothing was ever investigated or done to prevent such phenomenon. In 1942 the doctor finally snapped. He ran through the rooms and out in the open as if he was possessed, Screaming in fear he rushed to the old bell tower, up the stairs and threw himself out the window.
Somebody said that he didn’t die on impact, but a fog rose from the trees behind the building, closed in to cover his body, and choked him to death.
The final years of Poveglia – the haunted island.
After the war the island was made unreachable. Poveglia became strictly forbidden and illegal. You can’t reach it without bribing some courageous taxi driver, or having your own boat. And you would still risk a heavy fine.
The locals don’t go there anyway, it’s too risky. Screams, and cries for help are still heard from the dark ruins… And it’s said that fishermen, still catch human bones in their nets if they try their luck too close to the shores of the scariest place on earth… Poveglia.
Poveglia after Fox Family.
For 20 years there has been a steady flow of mostly young people, youtubers and non, going to Venice just to experience one of the scariest places in the world. Just search Youtube for Poveglia, and you’ll have a vast choice.
Unlike many other haunted locations, the tourist industry of Venice doesn’t depend in any way on the ghost related tourism. Venice is already a huge tourist magnet as it is. And as Poveglia doesn’t offer anything by itself, there’s no money in it for anybody… Maybe except for the Taxi driver who will take you there. That fact alone could actually indicate real paranormal activity on Poveglia Island… Real supernatural sightings.
But it doesn’t, it doesn’t prove anything. And the reason is simply that all I’ve told you so far, all that The Scariest Places on Earth claims, and all that’s said in all of the other videos out there… Well, it’s simply not true.
How to do a TV-show.
The problem was that Fox channel did a TV-show, nothing else. They put in footage and info to make an interesting program. The The Scariest Places on Earth-series was even involved in a few controversies regarding payed actors, and falsified information. The way I see it, they were doing good broadcasting… A show. It wasn’t the news, it wasn’t a documentary… It was a TV-show.
But somehow, their statements became common knowledge and then somehow they became actual facts.
Seven years after Fox Family, Travel Channel created their own version of reality-supernatural-TV: Ghost Adventures. The layout was the same and in 2009 they too visited Poveglia. And the same story about the Plague victims and the mad doctor was told. Their program was even aired on Friday the 13th of November 2009, to make the most of the ghostly feeling.
So, what is the truth behind it all?
The true truth is that Poveglia never was a Plague island. And it never was a real hospital. In late 1700, Venice’ two hospital islands Lazaretto Vecchio and Lazaretto Nuovo, were old and they had suffered flooding (Not unusual in Venice…). So the city-council discussed building a brand new facility on Poveglia. The plans were only carried out partially and only from 1814, though.
When the very last plague-infected ships came to Venice in 1793 and 1799, they were sent to Poveglia Island. 12 sailors died. We even have their names, and we know where they were buried.
In early 1800 it continued hosting arriving ships and sailors. But at this time the Bubonic Plague was over in Venice. It played an important role in the 1831-1837 cholera pandemic. And victims were buried in the new cemetery on the island.
And there was no asylum. There was a geriatric clinic. Venice in the beginning of 1900 was still a big city, with a big population. And it seemed like an excellent idea to offer green and healthy surroundings for the elderly of the crowded city. Poveglia was the perfect place and work began to prepare it with good living conditions.
When doing so, they built a psychiatric clinic to treat any mental illness. That very sign on the wall, probably inspired someone to invent the story about the mad doctor. We cannot say anything for sure about the treatment of the patients there and then, We just don’t know. We don’t even know the name of the chief Physician.
The 20s and 30s were full of nationalistic ideologies and ideas about the purification of races. Surely the way they looked at psychological problems, and general treatment of sick and elderly, was very different from what we think today. But the geriatric clinic at Poveglia was like any other geriatric clinic during that time… No more no less.
It closed in 1968. And that’s when the last inhabitant left the island.
What do the locals say?
Well, the locals don’t say much at all. At the most, they raise their eyebrows and ask:
– What? Which island is infested by ghosts and phantoms, did you say?
Because in Venice, nobody would dream of regarding Poveglia as haunted. There are other islands, and other places, even inside of Venice that are much more disturbing. Poveglia is just a calm, deserted piece of land were the Venetians sometimes go sunday afternoons to have a picnic under the fruit-trees.
And what about the scientists… What do they say?
CICAP, Comitato italiano per il controllo delle affermazioni sulle pseudoscienze (Italian Committee for the Control of Pseudoscientific claims), are astonished. One should be aware, that this is a more sceptical association than many other national societies investigating paranormal activity. But they are quite baffled by the interest that Poveglia suddenly has developed, mostly in the US. To them, Poveglia isn’t even worth investigating.
To conclude in the same line of reasoning. Poveglia isn’t haunted, and it isn’t very scary, more than the possible threat of falling roof tiles. There’s just nothing there. The buildings are falling apart, the nature is reconquering what man has made, and the rabbits are multiplying rapidly.
The island do have a very interesting history, though, A history of wealth from trading, wars, political intrigues, and exile in Venice. But in that history, there aren’t any thousands of dying plague victims, and there is no mad doctor.
No, Bhangarh Fort isn’t haunted. Although it is strictly forbidden to enter after dark, it is not because of all the ghosts roaming the site. Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan is a wonderful place to visit and spend a relaxing day. It has an intriguing and fascinating history, and it’s right at the border of the Sariska Tiger Reserve. And that is more likely the reason why it’s a bad idea to walk around there at night.
Where is Bhangarh?
Just about 300 miles southwest of the slopes of the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, there’s an abandoned, eery, ghost town called Bhangarh. We are of course in India, in the Rajasthan State, on the Aravalli Range, less than 200 miles southwest of Delhi.
Bhangarh was until the 1700s a flourishing and lively town. But then something happened and from late 1700, nobody lives there anymore. Though we don’t know exactly what it was that caused everybody to leave, there are quite a few theories. The most well-known are two and they involve spirits, witches, and black magic.
The legend of Guru Bahu Nath.
The great ruler Bhagwant Das decided to build a fortress on the Hill in the 16th century. Bhagwant Das was both a religious and a superstitious man. As the land formally belonged to an ascetic, named Guru Balu Nath, the Raja figured it would be safer to ask him for permission before building. Old hermits, that possessed knowledge in witchcraft had to be taken seriously and be respected in those days. Guru Bahu Nath gave his permission but under one condition. The shadow of the Fort must never fall on the simple cabin of the magician. Years went by and when both Raja Bhagwant and Guru Bahu Nath were long forgotten, the shadow finally reached the old shack. Bhangarh Fort had been fortified with higher walls, and the century-old curse engulfed the whole of Bhangarh, causing everybody to leave.
The Legend of Ratnavati.
There was a beautiful princess of Bhangarh, named Ratnavati. A magician nearby called Sinhai fell in love with her. But as magicians seldom play fair, he put a magic love potion in a bottle that he then gave to the princess to use for massage. But Ratnavati, who was a clever young woman, poured the whole bottle of potion onto a boulder. What then happened is unclear, but it seems that the boulder rushed down the mountain to find its love… Sinhai. It reached him, jumped on top of him, and crushed him. But before expiring, the magician cursed Bhangarh. To be struck down by grief and despondency, and to slowly succumb to its utter desolation just like him.
So, Bhangarh Fort became world-famous for its paranormal activity…
Today it is strictly forbidden to enter the Fort area at night. ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) has put up signs at several spots in Bhangarh warning against staying on the premises after sunset and before the sun rises. The reason for this could be multiple.
Though the site is very big and it is possible to enter through holes in the collapsed wall or by jumping it. The police guard the premises with dogs, so you would have to have very light feet and know your way around, so as not to be caught and fined. One who successfully stayed a whole night inside the fort is “Anonymous”. Here’s something from his story at Quora.
Me and my friends bribed the gatekeeper with money and drinks, and he let us stay in the Bhangarh Fort area but only inside the Hanuman Temple, with locked doors, as that’s the only safe place. “He said that there were some supernatural activities happening outside the temple at night and he was often called out by somebody in his wife’s voice asking him to open the gate of the fort… It was around 12:45 (when there was a power cut). We heard something tapping on the car parked outside… Suddenly we heard the guard shouting, asking for help as somebody was taking him away…I can still recall the voice. I went down the stairs chanting Hanuman Chalisa to see what happened. But the guard was asleep… One of my friends lost his mother in those days. He heard his mother calling him by his nickname telling him she was outside and asking him to join her… This continued all night, we recited Hanuman Chalisa, held each other’s hand, cried, and shouted for help, the sounds never stopped. Sometimes it would be the tapping on the car and sometimes we would listen to the voices of people we knew well.”
And people do get lost there…
Yes, there have been disappearances, and people have died. But does that mean Bhangarh Fort is haunted? Well, to confirm that, we probably need a bit more documentation than a story from Quora, be it a good story… Written by the very famous Mr. “Anonymous”.
Bhangarh Fort is situated just south of the Sariska Tiger Reserve, in a hillside and forest landscape. The wildlife is impressive with Tigers, Hyenas, Leopards, Wild Dogs, and every other kind of big animal.
Tiger attacks are an increasing problem in India. But while reports of Tigers killing people are big news, other animal attacks are not. In India, around 50 people die every year from Tiger-attacks. But the casualties from f.ex. raging elephants are almost 10 times as high. The conclusion is that the hazards of dangerous animals are very real and substantial in India. Most of the missing persons in the area can be attributed to animal attacks.
All this put together, makes the closing of the Fort area at night, very comprehensible. So are the sounds, voices, and rumors that can be heard from inside the closed site. If you’ve ever been in a jungle at night, you would know what I mean. The ASI confirms that the signs and closure of the Fort at night are exclusively to avoid encounters with dangerous animals. Not because there are any paranormal activity.
About the abandoned village surrounding Bhangarh Fort…
There have been many explanations for why the Bhangarh Fort area is deserted. Excessive taxation could be a motif. So, could the lack of water, political reasons, or the big famine of 1783.
A very interesting new study by Professor Harsh Bhu, and Professor A B Roy published in the multidisciplinary science journal, Current Science, suggests that Kudhara, an equally abandoned village some 400 miles west of Bhangarh, was hit by an earthquake. This could be the reason why it was abandoned “overnight”. The researchers found damages to the buildings that couldn’t have come from normal erosion such as fallen joists and pillars.
In Bhangarh, there’s yet another story about the curse that prevents any building from being completed, as in building the roof. It is supposed to fall in every time. At Jauhari Bazar, today called the Ghost Market, houses are all roofless.
Kudhara has legends similar to those of Bhangarh, about the evil Salim Singh and a girl from the village. The Kudharans too left the village abruptly, and they too cursed it when they left.
And there are many villages like that, in the bigger area. Villages that declined during 1700 and 1800, and that now are ghost towns. Some of these are also claimed to be haunted, just like Bhangarh.
What do the locals say?
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that a steady water supply allowed people to move back. Now, tourism makes up a big part of the local market, and the rumor Bhangarh Fort has as one of the most haunted places in India obviously makes a huge difference. I could easily imagine that without that reputation, the Fort would be much less attractive from a tourist point of view. Especially in a country that has old temples, historical buildings, and archeological sites on every street corner.
Most of those you come in contact with if you visit Bhangarh Fort would confirm the sightings of transparent boys, dancing girls, and experiences of screaming and crying voices. Those would be taxi drivers, shop owners, guards, and other employees in the tourist business. Just like on many other haunted places, they need to enforce the myths for commercial purposes. There’s no doubt that paranormal tourism is a big market, and it’s growing. To be able to attract tourists you need stories, and the stories have to be credible.
But the purpose of this article is to understand if there actually is any proof of paranormal activity in Bhangarh Fort or the village nearby.
If you, instead of taxi drivers and souvenir sellers, talk to ordinary people in the neighborhood, you get a very different picture. Most of them would say, there is nothing supernatural in the old ruins… None whatsoever.
And lastly, what does the research say?
The possibly most famous Paranormal Investigator in all of India, Gaurav Tiwari, who tragically died under unclear circumstances in 2016 was convinced that Bhangarh Fort was not haunted. He visited the Fort in 2012 and concluded that it had no negative or paranormal energy whatsoever. Gaurav Tiwari visited more than 6000 sites with claimed paranormal activity during his short life.
B.R. Singh, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist of the Jaipur Circle declares that the site is not haunted. As the main responsible for archaeological research and protection of the cultural heritage around Jaipur, he is the one who is responsible for the site. Although not an expert on ghosts and haunted places, his words should still carry weight.
Another paranormal investigator named Jay Alani also denies any ghosts roaming around Bhangarh Fort at night.
So, no. I would say that Bhangarh Fort is a wonderful place to visit, and an interesting piece of Indian history. But it’s not haunted. I would love to be wrong, but until someone comes up with something more substantial than anonymous stories I am not convinced.
Is Pendle Hill, Lancashire, one of Britain’s most haunted sites?
Is Pendle Hill haunted? No, it’s propaply not. There have been sightings but none are such that we can exclude explanations other than supernatural causation. Speaking about hauntings and ghosts and such always comes down to what you want to believe. In this article, I will lay out some of the historical facts and how they relate to the very few anecdotal evidence that exist around Pendle Hill.
The background to the Witch trials
On a cold spring morning in the year 1612, a pedlar was walking on the road from Colne to Trawden Forest. This particular road is in England, Lancashire, some 20 miles west of Leeds. Back in the 1600s, this was a poor and dangerous part of the country, with bandits and thieves never too far away. The pedlar surely was watching his steps carefully as he wandered on with his merchandise on his back.
At a certain point, he spotted a young woman, dressed in ragged clothes, and with a friendly but soiled face. But John Law, as the pedlar’s Christian name was, didn’t slow down his pace. The girl asked him for some pins, but John still didn’t take any notice of her.
The curse that led up to the Pendle Witch trials.
We cannot say for sure how the two person’s interaction was. Maybe John was offensive, or maybe he was just a bit too friendly. Maybe the young woman was too perky and forward, or maybe she did try to steal the pins after all. What we do know though, is that the outcome of that meeting was to become one of the most famous witch trials in the history of Britain. And 8 women and 2 men would be executed by hanging before the year had ended.
The woman threw a curse at John, and he fell to the ground. He managed to stagger to an Inn close by, and there he lay down.
This is the name of the cursing woman and the reason why we know that she cursed John in the first place, is because she confessed. As soon as she got news of the pedlar’s condition, she was overwhelmed with remorse. She came to visit John, to beg him for forgiveness. And there the story could have ended.
But fate wouldn’t have such a simple conclusion.
John’s son, Abraham, denounced the occurrence to the newly appointed local magistrate, Roger Nowell. This was a very ambitious, and zealous clerk, and he immediately summoned Alizon, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James. And anybody who knows anything about the methods that were used to obtain confessions from witches during the witch-hunts in Europe knows where we are going from here.
The bad timing for the witches of Pendle Hill.
Three circumstances are important.
King James l was an eager witch-hunter. He strongly promoted hunting down enemies of the church, and he had written the famous witch-hunting-tutorial Daemonologie a few years earlier.
With the reign of King James, after decades of conflicts, the protestants had finally defeated the Catholic church in Britain. At least at a political level. And Catholics were regarded as suspiciously close to witchcraft already because of their strange and dark rites. The territory around Pendle Hill had many prominent Catholic families.
We already talked about Roger Nowell. His role in this story was probably decisive.
So, the accused started throwing testimonies, and allegations around. First on each other and then, when asked, on people outside the family. And that list obviously contained the enemies of the family and others that were particularly disagreeable… Such as Anne Whittle, the matriarch of the Chattox-family, and her daughter Anne Redfern.
The Chattox were something of competitors to the Device family on the cunning-folk market.
For the poor, going to a doctor, or getting help from a solicitor was out of the question. If something went wrong, be it health-, legal-, or other practical matters, you just had to fix it yourself, or with help from friends and family. If that wasn’t enough, you could turn to someone knowledgeable in herbs, medicine, and spells. These women, because they were almost always women, lived right on the border of what was considered good and legal, and what was thought of as malicious and illegal. And they were the first to be accused of witchcraft.
11 people were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. After 4 months in a cold, damp, filthy, and small cell, where all the prisoners shared space, 10 of them were brought in front of the judge. Elizabeth Device’s mother, Elisabeth Southern, also called Demdike, had died in jail. She was 80 at the time.
A 12th indictee, Jennet Preston was prosecuted in York.
Roger Nowell had one key witness. The daughter of Elizabeth, and the sister of Alizon and James… Jennet Device. She was 9 years old. When she was put on a table to make her testimony, her mother, Elizabeth, was so furious, that she had to be taken out of the courtroom.
With a steady voice and without hesitating, she spilled the terrible truth out on all those present at the assize. Her mother was a witch, her grandmother was a witch, and even her siblings were in on it. She sold out her whole family.
Then she went on accusing a whole lot of other people, who had attended a meeting at the Device’s house on Good Friday that same year. All of them dealing with black magic.
Witchcraft and the court hearings.
To a modern reader, having a nine-year-old as a witness can seem dubious. Small children can’t always know what’s right or wrong, and they certainly do not fully understand the consequences of their words. Even in those days, that was a general idea, and small children weren’t normally considered trustworthy enough to be brought into a courtroom.
But King James had changed all that. In his book Daemonologie, he had declared that, when it comes to fighting witchcraft, any witness is credible… Children, mentally disabled, people with a conflict of interest… In short, anyone. And normal reasoning wasn’t always practiced.
Since witchcraft is a supernatural force, all common sense went out the window.
If the accused had an alibi, then she could have killed him anyway, with a spell, from a distance. If it wasn’t a murder but an accident, then the witch could make it seem that way to not raise suspicion. If someone else had done it, then the witch could have changed form and physical characteristics to resemble that person.
There simply was no way to really get off the hook.
… And so, nine of the ten accused were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. And it was mostly based on the witness of a nine-year-old.
One person didn’t really fit in. Alice Nutter wasn’t poor, and she wasn’t accomplished in herbs and powerful brews. She didn’t associate with any of the other accused. But she had one suspicious quality… She was Catholic. It is probable that Jennet, or whoever put the words in her mouth, just threw in Alice Nutter as a bonus… That, and the fact that she owned land.
To perform the Catholic mass was a felony compared to high treason. And the King had made it illegal not to attend the Potestantic mass or not to take communion during that mass. Alice Nutter didn’t admit anything and pleaded innocence until the end. She actually didn’t say much at all. Possibly because she couldn’t reveal her and her family’s engagement in the heretical religion.
On the 20th of August 1612, at Gallows Hill, Lancaster, 8 women, and 2 men were hanged by the neck until dead. These were
Alice Grey was found not guilty.
Jennet Preston was executed in York on July 29, 1612.
Elizabeth Southern (Demdike) died in prison.
So, are these witches still haunting Pendle Hill?
First of all, Pendle Hill is a truly magical place. Its naked, grass-covered slopes and the isolated position would be a perfect background for any paranormal activity, true or invented. And anyone driving the deserted, narrow roads up the hill, or between churchyards and ruins at night, is likely to see all kinds of things, regardless if they’re there or not.
And there have been numerous sightings of ghosts, spirits, strange lights, mists, and even UFOs on and around the hill.
But are there any documented, verified, really true confirmed encounters with anything that’s not of the normal, everyday world?
First, let’s look at where these encounters are supposed to have taken place…
The most haunted spots are these.
The Malkin Tower, where the Device family lived, was demolished shortly after the trial. Today there are many locations for that building proposed by historians. The only thing we know is that it was on the east or south side of the hill.
One possible location is here:
Another is here:
Other possibly haunted spots are Faugh’s Quarry, where the old Demdike supposedly met with the devil.
… Or this whole area:
… Or the churchyard of Saint Mary’s church in Newchurch:
Possibly because it’s a castle, and those are obvious hot spots when it comes to haunted sites. It is on the other side of the hill though, and the ghosts you find there could be of a different nature and perhaps not connected to the witch trials.
Lancaster Castle is where Elizabeth Southern aka Demdike died and where all the witches spent four months before trial.
The sightings are not limited to certain buildings or geographic spots, though. People have had strange encounters all over the Pendle area. Even up, on the hill, as far as the summit lights and mists have been observed.
A few of the many observations…
Ashley Firth caught this image in spring 2019 when walking down the hill. It supposedly was a mist that appeared right in front of her showing one or possibly two faces. It then disappeared rapidly. Read the full article here.
Mists are very common when documenting ghostly phenomena. Very often they have natural origins.
Christine Hamlett snapped a photo in autumn 2015 at the Saint Mary’s churchyard in Newchurch-in-Pendle. Read the full article here.
In early autumn 2014, Alan Pickover met with an eerie ghost at Waddow Hall at Waddington, north of Clitheroe. He was monitoring the plume from a chimney stacks a few minutes after midnight when he spotted a huge hooded shadow making its way toward him. Alan retreated to his car and drove off.
… And then came television…
In 2004 the British paranormal reality television series, Most Haunted, came to Pendle. In October they made a three-day live Halloween-special transmission from various locations around the hill, and of course, it was a huge success. So big, in fact, that the series anchor, Yvette Fielding, afterward declared that the episode was one of, if not the most disturbing experiences she had ever had.
TV-series on the paranormal are generally not a good source of documentation. The technique involves the usual handheld camera moving around too fast to be able to get a good look at what’s going on. And since they always film at night, with the night-vision’s grey/green-ish colors it’s even harder to get any good visual on the images.
The medium, Derek Acorah, who tragically passed away in January 2020, conveniently used a whole lot of information that was easily accessible from any website or book about the Pendle-witch-trials. Even the most famous names, Elisabeth, and Anne Device, as well as Demdike were used.
It’s still interesting documentation. Especially the second day.
After that, the sightings peaked.
From 2005 all the way up until 2015, Lancashire had 81 reported encounters of non-explained supernatural phenomena. Of those, no less than 23 were witches, which is 28% of the total. And that’s statistically a very big part. This is in line with the usual effect a TV show of this type has on the frequency of sightings. When a location gets publicity, the reason for that publicity is reinforced. In this case with more witches being seen.
Proof isn’t proof until it’s proven…
But unfortunately, none of these witches cared to leave any sustainable proof of their existence. The photos and videos are open to interpretanìtion, to say the least, and many of the supposed encounters were made by, or in presence of, people who have a lot to gain from any positive exposure in this field.
In the area around the hill, there are numerous companies offering witch-hikes, ghost-walks, sleep-over, and tours in haunted hotels, and other locations. And much of the tourist sector in the area benefit from the witches even if it’s just indirectly. It’s simply good business.
But good business doesn’t mean it can’t be true. It is still possible that Pendle Hill really is a haunted territory…
What does the research say?
Research is a big word, and when it comes to paranormal phenomena, the implication often outgrows the topic. Not much science is investigated in researching paranormal activity. I will refer to two British societies.
The SPR – Society for Psychical Research in London, England, has no reliable documentation of paranormal activity in the Pendle Hill area.
The ASSAP – Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, England, has no reliable documentation of paranormal activity in the Pendle Hill area.
We don’t have very much to go on here. Yes, there are loads of testimonies and flickering lights on greyish out-of-focus filming, but that isn’t convincing. Adding the obvious historical background, and commercial interest in the sightings, I can’t give Pendle Hill a positive verdict.
It’s a truly awesome place for anyone who wants to spend some time in the barren countryside of east Lancashire. And the history of the witches is fascinating, as is the Hill itself, and the wonderful villages around it. But when it comes to haunted spots, it’s just not compelling. The witches that were brutally tortured and executed in thousands all over Europe have all the reasons to seek revenge. And the thousands and hundreds of thousands of women who were oppressed, exploited, humiliated, and abused in the centuries that followed, and are so even today, are all entitled to justice… In this world or from the world beyond.
Demdike, Elizabeth, Anne, and all the others are seemingly quiet, though. What we can do is to let our voices be heard and to speak for them. And to speak for all the other women in this world suffering from persecution and injustice.
I give Pendle Hill one extra star for the documented historical background. As well as Yvette Fielding’s of Most Haunted statement that Pendle Hill is one of the most disturbing experiences in her career.
The history is fascinating, and the surroundings are beautiful, but when it comes to paranormal activity I would give Pendle Hill…
So, what happened to the young Jennet Device?
We don’t know how she managed after she sent her whole family to the gallows. But she turns up again in the records in 1634 when she’s accused of having killed a woman with witchcraft. But in 1634 the King was dead and King Charles I was in charge. He was much more of a skeptical, and he promoted sustainable proof rather than religious fanaticism.
The main witness was a boy named Edmund Robinson, aged ten. When he finally cracked up and admitted that he had made it all up, he referred to an old story he’d been told. A story about ten witches on the slopes of Pendle Hill…