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Cold Spots

Cold Spots – The Winchester House

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San Jose, California – It has been the inspiration of movies, books, and imaginations, the subject of documentaries and television specials. If ever there were a “poster child” for haunted houses in America, it would be this one. Four acres of sprawling confusion attracts gawkers and the curious, but when the tourists are gone, the hallways are not quiet. No workmen are seen, but the building continues in possibly the most famous haunted house in America, if not the world. And it was built out of equal parts guilt, fear, and, some say, craziness.

No one can doubt its influence, and few dispute the fact that the Winchester House of Mystery is, in fact, haunted.

Winchester Mystery House

Over the past ninety-nine installments of Cold Spots, we’ve gone to some pretty interesting places, some well known and others obscure, in every state of the union. For this, our 100th installment, I wanted to do a story about one of my favorite haunted hot-spots. If you already know about the Winchester House of Mystery, you share my fascination. If you don’t, you’ll find out why this house is one of my favorite haunted locations in the world.

Winchester Mystery HouseHistory
In 1862 Sarah Lockwood Pardee married into the famous Winchester family, makers of the Winchester repeating rifle. It was a storybook marriage, with the cultured young lady and her husband taking part in the highest levels of society and using their massive fortune to enjoy life to the fullest. However, just four years later, the couple faced tragedy when their infant daughter died of a mysterious illness. Devastated, Sarah fell victim to a depression that lasted the rest of her life.

Fifteen years later Sarah’s husband, William, died of tuberculosis, which brought the young widow to the depths of despair. Desperate for answers as to how much tragedy could befall someone like her, Sarah sought out a psychic. The medium told Sarah that the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, ALL of them, were seeking revenge against her family. The psychic also told her that Sarah was next. But, she said, there was a way out.

Winchester Mystery HouseAt the suggestion of the psychic, Sarah moved out West and purchased a large farmhouse. According to the psychic, she had to make room for all the dead souls, and to do so, Sarah began one of the strangest and most interesting home improvement projects of all time. She began expanding the house, believing that as long as she continued building, the spirits would be appeased and wouldn’t kill her. Construction began courtesy of plans Sarah reportedly got during séances, which she held nightly. And construction never stopped. Until the day she died, Sarah had workers building around the clock, seven days a week, to make room for the ghosts. She hired the best cabinetmakers, carpenters, and artists to continue her dream, and the house is now well known for its design anomalies.

So dedicated to the house and her mission was Sarah that, when a massive earthquake struck and destroyed a large portion of the house in 1906, the workers didn’t even bother clearing away the rubble and just built on top of the collapsed section. She took the earthquake as a sign that she’d been spending too much time on the front section and subsequently ordered the front thirty rooms sealed. Construction continued until her death in 1922.

Winchester Mystery HouseGhosts
While most homes are haunted by echoes of the past, the Winchester House is the only one where the ghosts were invited by the builder. In fact, there have been so many ghost sightings in the various rooms and hallways that counting them is close to impossible. Given the nature of the haunting, some believe that there are hundreds of displaced spirits still roaming the halls. Some place the number even higher. Most reports come in the form of phantom footsteps, unlocked doors, and cold spots, but there are a few that are stranger than most.

One common apparition is that of a man who has appeared in hallways and in photographs. When seen, he appears to be working on the house, repairing the damage that age brings. He wears heavy carpenter’s overalls and is believed to be one of Sarah’s workers who is still trying to build onto the house. Others have smelled chicken soup cooking in kitchens that haven’t been used since Sarah died. Other guides have heard their names called from empty rooms.

There are two apparitions seen most often in the house. The first is a worker with a dark moustache in white overalls, who is always seen pushing a wheelbarrow. Dozens have seen him and identified him from an old photograph that hangs in the gardener’s toolshed. The other appears to be Sarah Winchester herself, still walking the grounds, her dress black and her face covered by a black veil. While many ask if she’s part of the promotion of the house, no such person has ever been employed there.

Winchester Mystery House

Present Day
The mansion is now open to guests and offers tours of the house and grounds. While on the tour, people get to see the impressive structure in all its glory, from doors that open over open air, staircases that end at the ceiling, and small doors (for small ghosts) next to normal doors to the impressive rooms that show Sarah never used anything but the very best for her otherworldly visitors. It has inspired more than its fair share of movies and stories, most notably Stephen King’s Rose Red. Now at a sprawling three acres and 160 rooms, there is enough weirdness and beauty to impress even the most jaded visitor. And with volumes of ghost stories reported by guests and workers, the house is cemented as one of the most treasured places of its kind.

Best Times
The Winchester House is open to the public every day, year-round. Due to the number of ghosts reported to inhabit the house, there’s no way to give a best time to visit. The best bet is to visit and be observant because one never knows who or what will come walking around the next corner.

To find out more about this house and see some truly incredible photos, as well as their schedule, be sure to visit The Winchester Mystery House Official Website.

Winchester Mystery House

See you next time!

Scott A. Johnson

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Cold Spots

Cold Spots Special Report: The Last Exorcism and the Most Haunted Places in Louisiana

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In honor of the Lionsgate release this Friday of Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism (review here), which fictitiously tells the tale of some really spooky goings on in Louisiana, we thought this to be an opportune time to dig up the real life dirt on some of the state’s most infamously haunted places and legends!

Louisiana, most notably New Orleans, is famous for its food, its music, and its alcohol. It’s also known for its darker side, one filled with ghosts and Vodoun, weird subcultures and things that lurk in its many shadows. To do a list of the top ten haunted sites in the city would be to grossly overlook some of the more fascinating aspects of Louisiana. Bearing that in mind, we’ve geared our list to include some of the most frightening, most fascinating and most haunted people, places and things.

Dare you take the ride?

Beauregard-Keys House

10. Beauregard-Keys House

Like so many places in the world, the Beauregard-Keys House is the victim of rumor and vicious lies. Years ago, claims of re-enacted bloody battles captured the imaginations of the curious with stories of men with missing faces and blood dripping from their bodies making the rounds. The owners scoffed and rebuked the claims, stating that they’d never heard anything so ridiculous in their lives. They did, however, admit that the place was haunted…by a cat and a dog. As a bit of curiosity, and adding to the unfounded ghost reports, the house was once home to chess master Paul Munni, who went insane late in life and ran down Ursaline Street, naked, with an axe. While rumors abound, there have been no confirmed reports of activity based on his breakdown.

Chretien Point Plantation

9. Chretien Point Plantation

Sunset, Louisiana, may not get all the attention of Baton Rouge or New Orleans, but it has its share of haunted and paranormal locations. One of the town’s beautiful bed and breakfast establishments, Chretien Point, boasts a history of murder and rumors of unmarked graves and buried treasure. In 1839 owner Felicite Chretien, a cigar-smoking, card-playing businesswoman, had a reputation for being as tough on her plantation as any man. Her business dealings led her to work alongside famous pirate Jean Lafitte, who sold stolen goods and slaves from her home. However, pirates being pirates, he decided to change their arrangement by stealing Felicite’s jewelry and other wealth. Late one night a group of pirates skulked into the house, bent on filling their pockets. When one ascended the stairs, he was met by Felicite, who held a sparkling necklace in her hand. In the other she held a pistol, which she used to shoot the pirate dead on the eleventh step. The others realized that she was no ordinary woman and fled. Her slaves cleaned up the blood and buried his body somewhere on the property, where it remains today in an unmarked grave. Also on the site are numerous unmarked graves of Confederate soldiers. Today the house is alive with the sounds of phantom boot-steps and apparitions of not only the pirate but also of Felicite and her daughter-in-law, Celestine.

Myrtles Plantation

8. Myrtles Plantation

Where would any list of haunted Louisiana be without mention of the world famous Myrtles Plantation? Named one of the world’s most haunted homes, this St. Francisville plantation has been a hot spot for those seeking the paranormal for decades. Built by “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, the house has seen ten murders, and it can be hard to separate the facts from fiction. Among the many ghosts said to inhabit the house are children who died within months of each other of yellow fever, a young woman with curly hair, and a woman in a green bonnet. There are reports of the grand piano playing itself and of apparitions too numerous to detail in a list such as this one. However, the most famous ghost is known as Chloe, whose tragic tale is undoubtedly the cause of most of the paranormal activity in the house. A slave, Chloe was one of Clark Woodruff’s favorites, and he carried on a torrid affair with her while his wife, Sarah, was pregnant with their third child. When she was caught eavesdropping on the family, Clark had her ears cut off to set an example. In retaliation she poisoned a birthday cake, which killed Woodruff’s entire family. The other slaves, fearful that Woodruff would take his rage out on them as well, dragged Chloe from her bed and hanged her, then weighted the body with rocks and threw it in the river. Chloe has been seen, heard and photographed on the grounds ever since.

St. Louis No. 1

7. St. Louis No. 1

Imagine walking along one square city block, contained in which were more than 100,000 people. Now realize that all those people are dead. That’s St. Louis No. 1, the most famous cemetery in all of Louisiana. And because every dead body is buried above ground in crypts, the place is less a traditional cemetery than it is a necropolis. Among the names buried there are “Dutch” Morial, the first African-American Mayor of New Orleans, and Bernard de Marigny, who brought the game of craps to the US. Other names that make the place popular among tourists include mad woman Delphine LaLaurie and the queen of Vodoun, Marie Laveau. While legends pop up about supposed apparitions and haunted activity in the place, most of those turn out to be urban legend. Still, its appeal is undeniable. Haunted? Maybe not. Spooky? You bet.

Castle Inn

6. Castle Inn

What used to be a 7,200-square-foot mansion and bed and breakfast is now, thanks to the Garden District Association of New Orleans, for sale. Whoever buys it may be in for more than they bargained for, as the house comes complete with a couple of interesting permanent lodgers. The first, while certainly startling, isn’t at all frightening. Described as a little girl, she appears and seems only to want to play. The other apparition is enough to send even the most jaded of ghost hunters fleeing from the building. Though his name is unknown, he is believed to be a slave who burned to death in the wood shed. Whenever he is seen, he appears horribly scarred, and he “smokes.”

St. Louis Cathedral

5. St. Louis Cathedral

New Orleans’ St. Louis Cathedral is a breathtaking sight to behold. As beautiful on the inside as out, she looks over the square, and none who pass cannot feel her gaze. And while many know the place to be haunted, few know by whom or, more importantly, why. On mornings after it rains, a single plaintive voice can be heard singing Kyrie on the square. Anyone who has heard it says it’s beautiful and gives the listener chills. Imagine the chills it would give if they knew the singer last drew breath in 1769. His name was Pere Dagobert, and his voice can be heard all the way from the cathedral to St. Louis No. 1, where he sang in a funeral procession. Those being buried were townspeople who stood against the Spanish and were executed. Their bodies were left to rot in Jackson Square, but Dagobert, against Spanish orders, performed a mass for them and had them buried. If you hear his voice, consider yourself lucky.

LaLaurie House

4. LaLaurie House

Followers of Cold Spots already know about the frightful events of the famed LaLaurie House and of the insane woman who is the cause of the haunting. Her name was Delphine LaLaurie, and she tortured and murdered hundreds of slaves inside the house … and got away with it. Among the most gruesome finds came when firemen arrived at the house to put out a kitchen fire. Inside they found a cook slave chained to the stove, who claimed to have started the fire herself. Better to die in a fire, she is reputed to have said, than to be subjected to Delphine’s madness. Further inspection revealed a hidden room in the attic where slaves were found nailed to the wall, many with their internal organs pulled out and wrapped around their necks. One slave had a hole in his head from which a “stirring stick” protruded, and another was found stuffed into a dog kennel, her arms and legs broken and reset at odd angles so she would fit. They also found a bucket of human heads, another full of severed genitals and a pit under the kitchen filled with human bones. Over the years the house has heard screaming in the night and has seen numerous apparitions. Though the house is a private residence now, once owned by Nicolas Cage, there are still whispers of the dead walking the halls. For the complete story check out our Cold Spots article.

New Orleans Axeman

3. New Orleans Axeman

Though not technically supernatural, this unsolved mystery involves murder, chaos and an assailant who claimed to be a demon from hell so it qualifies as one of the most bizarre stories in New Orleans History. The Axeman stalked New Orleans for a year and a half, claiming victims by decapitation while they slept. While most of his victims were grocers, his single most bizarre act came in the form of a letter dated March 19, 1919. In it he claimed that at 12:15 am the following Tuesday night, he would again visit the town with his axe but that he would spare those who were playing jazz in their homes at that exact time. The entire city huddled into the homes of friends, neighbors and bars to “jazz it up,” and for that night no one died. At least four more attacks were recorded, and several suspects were named, but the identity of the Axeman was never confirmed. Some consider him the Godfather of New Orleans jazz.

Sultan's Palace

2. Sultan’s Palace

While we’re on the subject of unsolved mysteries, there’s one of the most famous houses in New Orleans, the Gardette-LePrete House. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it may be because it is most well known by another name: The Sultan’s Palace. On this site a mysterious Turk and his harem of more than a hundred women and young boys were found butchered in one of the most chilling events of New Orleans history. Blood streamed from under the door and pooled in the streets, and when the doors (which were locked from the inside were forced open, they discovered every man, woman and child had been hacked to bits. As a direct result horrifying phenomena have been reported from the sounds of partying in empty rooms to blood-chilling screams that echo through the halls. And lest anyone forget just whose house it was, the Sultan himself has appeared before numerous visitors and owners. Read more about the Sultan’s Palace in the original Cold Spots article.

Madame Marie Laveau

1. Madame Marie Laveau

People travel from all over the world to leave gifts at her grave and to visit her former home. Her name is the most well known in all of New Orleans, and her picture seems to pop up everywhere when visiting the Big Easy. There are three things New Orleans is best known for: food, music and Vodoun. For the last one there is one name that stands above all, the queen of all things Vodoun, Madame Marie Laveau. While much about her is steeped in myth and rumor, what remains is that she was the most powerful elder of her religion, so much so that many people believed she transcended death. One of the more famous tales about her occurred shortly before she died, when the aged priestess went into her house, only to re-emerge an hour later looking like a young woman again. It was later confirmed that the woman who exited the house was in fact Marie Laveau…the second. Marie’s daughter looked exactly like a young version of her mother, and when Marie the first died, the second took up her Vodoun practice, staging elaborate ceremonies for curious onlookers. Today people travel to her grave in St. Louis No. 1 to leave gifts and offerings and to mark her tomb with three “x” marks in hopes the priestess will grant them a wish.
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Look for the Daniel Stamm directed The Last Exorcism, which was produced by Eli Roth, in theatres on August 27th. Check out the official The Last Exorcism Facebook page for more; then dig on the official The Last Exorcism website here.

Cold Spots Special Report: The Last Exorcism and the Most Haunted Places in Louisiana (click for larger image)

Scott A. Johnson

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Cold Spots

Cold Spots: Country Tavern Restaurant and Pub

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Nashua, New Hampshire – It sits in an unexpected place, a rustic and quaint farmhouse between a car dealership and other modern businesses. While some may look upon it with curiosity, the cars in its parking lot are very telling. Outside one can smell delicious food as it is prepared, and it is hard to imagine that anything could possibly be wrong within the restaurant’s walls.

As with any other place that was built nearly three hundred years ago, history has a way of reminding the present that things were not always so serene. This quiet little farmhouse has seen tragedy. But unlike many, what it saw was so angry, so brutal, it left a mark in the form of a woman who can never rest.

What would be the greatest sin? Infidelity? Murder? Infanticide? And to what limits would a person go in a jealous rage?

Country Tavern

There are no words to describe the emotions a person endures when confronted with betrayal because none seems quite strong enough. In many such cases where words just won’t do, what happens is an animalistic expression of rage and pain.

Those left alive are forced to deal with the aftermath. Those who die, sometimes, must still endure. Their rest can never be assured until that cycle of pain is broken. Many houses and buildings see this kind of mark in their history. The symptoms are eerily similar, no matter the exact circumstances. But no matter the origin, the result is the same. The house is haunted.

Country TavernHistory
Originally built in 1741, the home that would become the Country Tavern was, at one point, owned by English sea captain with the last name of Ford. As was the custom at the time, Ford married a woman who was much younger than he, a twenty-two-year-old beauty named Elizabeth. It was her charge to stay and care for the house while he was away. However, being young and full of life, she was unprepared for the life of the wife of a sea captain. His journeys took him away from the home, often for months at a time, leaving his young wife alone. As was inevitable, the young woman began catching the eyes of other men in the community.

After one excursion, which kept him away for almost a year, the captain came home to find his wife had given birth to a baby girl. Unfortunately for his wife, he knew there was no way he could have fathered the child. In a rage, Captain Ford locked his wife in a closet and murdered the baby, which he buried somewhere on the grounds. When he released Elizabeth from the closet, she went mad with grief over the death of her child and attacked the captain. He stabbed her to death and threw her body into a well on the property. No mention of the captain’s fate is found, but one can assume he got away with his crimes.

Ghosts
Whether verifiable or not, the story of Elizabeth Ford left a lasting impact on the building, made all the more poignant because of the many sightings and phenomena that have occurred there over the years. Most often described as a “woman in white,” she continues to walk the grounds and inside the restaurant, seemingly in search of her dead daughter. Employees and guests most frequently report items moved and disembodied footsteps from unoccupied areas of the restaurant. Others have witnessed items launched across the room where they shatter against the walls. However, most agree that she is rarely malicious and is normally fairly benign.

Her most common practices involve playing with children who visit the restaurant, but she has also been known to play with women’s hair in the restrooms. Beyond the disembodied movements, cold spots, and odd sounds, there are rare but numerous reports from people who have actually seen her. Dressed in a flowing white gown with blue ribbons in her long white hair, she’s been sighted through windows, both inside and out. Many photographs taken in the building contain odd anomalies that are not easily explainable.

Present Day
The building now operates as a restaurant and pub, one of the most successful in the city. Inside the feeling of the old world is kept with antiques and a homey atmosphere. Still, the presence of Elizabeth is felt and recognized. Although a psychic came in the late 1990’s to try to give the poor woman some peace, she has reportedly not moved on. The owners include her story on the back of their menus and even named a chicken dish (which sounds delicious, by the way) for her. The phenomena have reportedly slowed in the past few years, but they have not stopped completely.

Country Tavern

Best Times
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to Elizabeth’s appearances or phenomena. She appears when she wants, to whom she wants. And if she doesn’t like what you’re doing, she’s the sort who will let you know in no uncertain terms. However, judging from the remarkable menu, the best time to visit the Country Tavern is whenever a person is hungry. With every night of the week themed around specials like “Beer and Steak Night” and “Martini, Chicken and Veal Night,” it seems that visiting the Country Tavern is a no-lose situation. Just remember to keep your eyes open … and to tip the waitstaff. For more information about the place, including their calendar of events and menu, visit the Country Tavern Restaurant and Pub website.

See you next time!

Scott A. Johnson

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Cold Spots

Cold Spots – The Bristol Opera House

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Bristol, Indiana – Rehearsal isn’t going well. Actors are missing their cues, songs are not quite up to tempo, and someone keeps moving the props around. From backstage a blood-curdling scream is heard in the women’s dressing room. When the actress, half-dressed and terrified, storms out the door, the director stops her and tries to explain. The man in the dressing room isn’t a pervert; he just doesn’t like musicals very much. And that she saw him means he likes her. Oh…And he’s been dead for years.

Theater folk are a superstitious lot. Among them are innumerable traditions, all designed to appease the muses and give them a good show. In many theaters it is bad luck to wish an actor “good luck,” hence the “break a leg” call. In some wearing another person’s costume ensures tragedy. In many one is never to be addressed as an “understudy” or at least never by the part he or she is understudying, lest some tragedy befall the lead actor.

Bristol Opera House

No matter the theater there are two things that remain constant. First, while they all have their individual traditions, a few of them are pretty much universal to the theater crowd (never recite a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a theater if you wish to be welcome backstage). Second, and most important to many performers, every theater has at least one ghost.

Bristol Opera HouseHistory
There isn’t much remarkable about the history of the Bristol Opera House. Research shows that it was built in 1896 by Cyrus and Horace Mosier and that it opened with a production of “U.S.S. Pinafore.” What is known is that, like many other buildings that are over 200 years old, it has been a number of different things in its life. From a music hall and cinema to a skating rink, the stately old building saw itself deteriorate slowly. By 1940 the old building was crumbling so badly that it could only be used for storage and was marked for demolition.

In 1960, however, the Elkhart Civic Theatre company saved the site by leasing it for performances. It took them more than a year of hard labor, but it reopened in 1961 to large crowds and a theatrical tradition. Before that, however, a strange legend was born.

During its original run as a theater, the owners took pity on a man named only as “Percival,” whose house had burned down. With his family homeless, the owners did the charitable thing and let them stay in the theater until they got back on their feet, in exchange for Percival’s service as a handyman. History doesn’t show what happened to him, or his family, but Percival must’ve enjoyed his time in the opera house because it seems that he never truly left.

Bristol Opera HouseGhosts
There are actually several ghosts in the building, though at least two of them appear to be nothing more than wishful thinking. “Frank” and “Tad,” first identified by a psychic with an Ouija board, have never actually been sighted, nor have there been any recorded incidents attributed to them. However, the other three can be frighteningly real. From behind stage left a little girl is often seen peering through the curtains at the audience, as if trying to count the filled seats. The actors call her “Beth,” and several actors claim to have seen her. The second, a woman referred to as “Helen,” is believed to be a middle-aged woman whose role in the theater is decidedly protective of the producers and directors. Seldom seen, but often felt, many feel that her purpose is to protect other from the other entity when he throws a temper tantrum.

The third entity is none other than “Percival,” the handyman who sought shelter in the building in his family’s greatest time of need. Reputedly the source of missing tools, misplaced props, and electrical problems, Percival has been seen by many of the actresses hanging around in the women’s dressing room as well as frequenting the right-side aisle of the theater. He has grabbed actors, pulling them backward when they go to make their entrances, and is believed to be the source of many strange noises and cold spots in the theater. Why would the production team think odd noises were the work of a ghost instead of just an old building settling? Because when they address him (always as Percival, never Percy) and ask him to quit, the noises stop. While he is generally considered a benign spirit who just loves the old building and the women that work therein, it is also a well known fact that Percival hates musicals.

In addition, there is a belief that more spirits come to the theater that are otherwise unconnected to it. An investigation of the theater by a ghost-hunting group and a psychic put forth the notion that, in the building’s sub-basement, a vortex exists through which restless souls can enter the theater. They are, according to the psychic, attracted to the energy and excitement the actors pour into their performances.

Present Day
Since the 1960’s the Bristol Opera House has been the home of the Elkhart Civic Theatre company. It is through their hard work, determination, and passion that the building survives and thrives as a living theater. Largely recognized as one of the best community theaters in the Midwest, and in the United States in general, the company continues to operate a tight schedule of productions including comedies, dramas, children’s theater, and musicals.

Bristol Opera House

Best Times
Percival and the others appear at random, often in the wee hours during rehearsals or during set construction. However, they have made their presence known on numerous occasions during performances. The best bet for getting a glimpse of the phantom handyman or any of the other entities who reside in the opera house is to purchase a ticket for one of the many shows performed, and keep your eyes open. For more information about the Elkhart Civic Theater, such as performance times and dates as well as other events, visit their website.

See you next time!

Scott A. Johnson

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