Located in the Venetian Lagoon just a short boat ride from St Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy sits Poveglia Island. The island’s recorded history dates back to 421, but is most famously the former home to medieval plague victims and 20th century asylum patients. Poveglia has been abandoned for more than 45 years.
Several buildings still stand on the 17-acre island including a 17th-century fort, a prison, a church and a bell tower. Legend has it that a doctor who routinely performed lobotomies at the asylum threw himself from the tower after having been driven mad by ghosts of the plague victims. It is alleged that tens of thousands of people died and were burned or buried on the island. So many so, that people claim that more than half of the land that makes up the island today is actually human remains.
Television shows “Ghost Adventures” and “Scariest Places on Earth” have filmed episodes there. Fans of “Ghost Adventures” will remember the very compelling episode filmed on Poveglia (aired 11/13/09) where host Zak Bagans claimed to have been briefly possessed by a ghost there. Unfortunately for amateur ghost hunters without the backing of their own television show, access to the island is strictly forbidden as Povelgia has been closed to the public…until today.
Well, Poveglia is still not open to the public. However, on the Italian government put Poveglia Island up for auction in an effort to raise money to cover the country’s national debt. (The online auction closed on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.) Italy reportedly hopes that Poveglia’s buyer will transform the former mental hospital into a luxury hotel. Ghost hunters around the globe will have to wait to see if and when (and how) they will be granted access to the famed Poveglia. Until then, make sure your passport is current!
Summer typically means vacation for many of us, as we hit the road for a week or two of escape from our day-to-day routine. Be it the beach, an amusement park, a cruise, or a family visit, we welcome the opportunity to break away and catch our breath. But perhaps you’re not the tourist trap type, and are looking for a unique change of pace. Something, maybe, that takes your breath away as you try to catch it. Something…supernatural.
The lure of potentially haunted destinations is nothing new. Practically every town in America has its own spooky locale, putting it on the map as local legend spreads. So as you pack up the family car and embark on an adventure, consider the following stops along the way for a chance to beat the heat with a chill running down your spine…
The Moss Beach Distillery – featured on television’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’, this Moss Beach, California restaurant is the alleged home of the Blue Lady ghost. Reportedly killed while walking the beach below the restaurant (at the time a notorious speakeasy) with her lover, this beautiful young spirit is said to wander the building in search of the dashing ladies’ man she left behind. Mysterious silent phone calls, levitating items, unexplained tampering with computers, rooms inexplicably locked from within, and relocated earrings of women patrons are just a few of the eerie occurrences documented at the Moss Beach Distillery.
San Angelo, Texas – supernatural sightings abound in this West Texas town, most notably the spectral appearance of a child in Officers Quarter 1 and buffalo soldiers in barracks 5 and 6 of Fort Concho, as well as the ghosts of two murdered cheerleaders in the halls of Reagan Elementary School. The Sunset Mall is said to host two young spirits, and numerous accounts tell of the haunting of Hardeman Hall at ASU by a murdered student.
The Gurdon Lights – the small Arkansas town of Gurdon is said to be the haunting ground of a railroad conductor who died on the tracks after being pushed in front of an oncoming train. Residents and visitors report mysterious flashing lights that change color in the darkness of night where the unfortunate rail man lost his life, on a stretch of track between Texarkana and Little Rock.
Haunted Charleston – this South Carolina city is practically overrun with unexplained phenomena. Old City Jail is believed to be haunted by numerous ghosts. At one time housing pirates, Civil War soldiers, and a serial-killing couple who operated a boarding house, the jail experiences sightings of lost spirits, sounds of equipment running which have long been out of operation, mysterious phone calls, unseen attacks of force, and disappearing personal effects. Many sources have reported that the cemetery at St. Philips Church is visited by the ghosts of a grieving mother seen kneeling at her child’s grave, and a mysterious Grey Man, believed to be the spirit of a gent who saved the church from burning in a fire he extinguished. The 1843 Battery Carriage House Inn is plagued by a headless, floating human torso in Room 8, as well as a Victorian gentleman in Room 10 and a Confederate soldier walking the grounds. There is no shortage of supernatural activity in Charleston.
Pittsburgh – Pennsylvania’s most haunted city boasts a wide variety of places of eerie interest. Carnegie Library is built on top of an old cemetery, and nightly visitations from displaced spirits are reported. Room 947 of Carlow College is allegedly haunted by misty apparitions who scratch on the walls. The second floor of Byers Hall on the CCAC North campus is closed off, but witnesses claim to still see visions of a nanny who hung herself as the ghost of her young charge looks on. The Civic Arena is said to come alive with the citizens of the neighborhood that was demolished to make way for its construction. Mario Lemieux, star player for the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, has claimed to witness shadowy figures in ’20s-era garb wandering about the building. The Dixmont Mental Hospital is the home of multiple ghost sightings, and at the Fort Pitt Museum (the location of the Battle of Grants’s Hill during the French and Indian War), guards have spoken of people appearing on security monitors who weren’t actually there. The 10th floor of Kaufman’s Department Store is rumored to be haunted by one of the Highlanders killed in the war. And the Livermore Cemetery is said to be haunted by the victims of a flood, with reports of apparition sightings and items missing from parked cars in the cemetery.
St. Augustine, Florida – the oldest city in the United States is also considered to be one of the most haunted places in the country. Castillo de San Marcos (or The Old Fort as it is more commonly known by locals) is often spoken of as the city’s most haunted location, having been built in the 17th century and seeing more than its fair share of battle. Sightings, strange sensations, unexplained sounds and more abound in this notoriously supernatural setting. The St. Augustine Lighthouse is also a hotbed of paranormal activity, with sightings of three young drowning victims swinging on the swing set and appearing in windows. Ghost hunters have captured shadows on film believed to be the spirit of an old light keeper and have recorded an unknown woman’s voice, in addition to many other unexplained sounds. The St. Francis Inn, the Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche, the Huguenot Cemetery, Flagler College, and the Ponce de Leon Hotel are just a few of the many places in St. Augustine purported to play host to the supernatural.
New Orleans. Galveston. Gettysburg. Key West. San Francisco. Chicago. Salem. Savannah – the list goes on. Obviously, there is no region of the US that is immune to visits from beyond. Wherever your travels take you this year, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be close to someplace spooky. So go see the world’s largest ball of string next year, and take a tour of haunted Americana this summer. You never know who may hitch a ride back with you…
How to make a haunted house
The key to making a period ghost story that’s genuinely scary is attention to detail. Here, the team behind The Woman in Black explain how they created the film’s air of menace
The Observer, Saturday 4 February 2012
Scare story: The film was brought to life by insistence on authentic period detail for the haunted house and everything in it. Photograph: Nick Wall
The aesthetic of a horror film is the most important thing about it. If you get that wrong, everything is ruined. “In any film, the colour palette and the overall look are such important elements,” explains Chris Moore, location manager for The Woman in Black. “But even more so in a period horror film, because you have to believe that you’re in that period every step of the way. If there are any errors and the audience “sees” something they shouldn’t, then they’re back in the 21st century, it breaks the illusion and suddenly the “Woman in Black” is just a woman in makeup.”
The Woman in Black
Production year: 2012
Directors: James Watkins
Cast: Ciaran Hinds, Daniel Craig, Daniel Radcliffe
More on this film
There was no danger of that on this set, where every nuance was scrutinised. If the film were more upbeat, the attention to vintage detail could be described as lavish. Instead, with the film’s haunting tone, it comes across as both disturbing and macabre. The atmosphere is predictably dark: there is a lot of candlelight inside and mist outside, handprints on the windows and dogs barking at blank space. The film features hundreds of original vintage artefacts, all showcased to maximum effect: taxidermy figures, bizarre children’s toys, creepy porcelain dolls, eerie family portraits with the eyes scratched out. The lighting and grey and sepia colour tones throughout are crucial in the film, and the cinematography has already been praised in online film forums.
Director James Watkins hinted even in pre‑shoot interviews that atmosphere and feel would be key and that most of the film would be shot “in-camera” (ie any special effects would be created on camera and not modified afterwards). “We probably don’t have enough money to have lots of CGI. The way we shoot it, the sound design and all those things will contribute. There’s an opportunity to make a great British ghost story that’s classy and scary.” As Daniel Radcliffe, who plays solicitor Arthur Kipps, has said of Watkins, “He knows what buttons to press to frighten the life out of you.”
Set decorator Niamh Coulter and production designer Kave Quinn went to great lengths to research the period intricately, uncovering all kinds of unsavoury insights into the Victorian psyche. Props master Jamie Wilkinson explains: “Niamh had all this wonderful imagery on the walls [during preparation]. It was quite a grim time for death, and the Victorians seemed to really thrive on it. It was a morbid time. They painted pictures of their dead children.”
Wilkinson adds: “It was common to carry a picture of a dead person or a lock of their hair. So Daniel’s character has a locket on his fob chain [with a picture of his dead wife]. They even took pictures of their children as corpses and kept them on the wall. They used to sit their [dead] children next to a teddy bear on the couch and that would be the last memory of that person. That vogue lasted for 20 or 30 years.”
The children’s toys are no less spooky. Wilkinson says: “All the automatons were in the script, and James [Watkins] was very specific about what he wanted, particularly the monkey with the clappers and a very scary clown. We found all of it, none of it was made.” Wilkinson says he found the tea-drinking monkey, the clowns and the porcelain dolls’ heads particularly creepy. “I think they are creepy for anybody.”
All the artefacts in the film are Victorian originals. “Some were sourced in the UK and some imported on loan from a dealer in the US. About 80% came from one American collector. The only thing we did make was the zoetrope [a moving picture cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides]. It’s like a Victorian Rubik’s Cube. We had to modify it for the shot, to make a scaled-up version so you can see the ghost’s eye looking through.” It was a particularly satisfying film to work on as a props master, he says, because “everything is seen and photographed and it looks so rich. Very often you go to all this trouble to make and source props and the effort is not seen.”
The action in the film takes place in and around a small, remote village and nearby Eel Marsh House, the place haunted by the Woman in Black. The whole feel of the area is very claustrophobic. In reality, it was shot across 15 different locations. “We shot a lot at Pinewood Studios,” says Wilkinson. “There was one special set there and others at smaller studios in London. There were other locations in Essex and Yorkshire. The house itself was in Peterborough, an actual house we dressed up.”
The shoot for the entire film was nine weeks and they only had a week to get the haunted house ready. In real life it is Cotterstock Hall, a perfectly unscary, lived-in residence which had been previously used in a children’s TV drama. “We put ivy on the exterior and we aged and cobwebbed the doors. We just put layers and layers on. We had a greenery department to dress 100 feet of garden with benches all overgrown,” adds Wilkinson.
Location manager Chris Moore had a very specific brief for the haunted house itself. “It was all about isolation. The director and the production designer wanted the house to be taller rather than wider. It’s got a foreboding about it. There’s this idea that it’s standing over Arthur Kipps as he approaches it. We went with that house because of the colour of the stone as well. It has something about it you can’t quite put your finger on. It just feels eerie and isolated.”
The local village also needed to be special, Moore adds. “The director wanted ‘a village that looks like it has been dropped from the sky’. A friend of mine scouted a hamlet in the Yorkshire dales, and when I went there and drove over the hill, there it was, looking exactly like it had dropped from the sky. The nearest village is 15 miles away.”
During filming there was much excitement locally when “Harry Potter” was spotted. “He was here,” reported writer Bridget McGrouther. “Staying in our pretty little village of Grassington in the Yorkshire dales. Imagine our surprise when we walked into our local, the Devonshire Hotel, to find Daniel Radcliffe sitting there.”
The locations for The Woman in Black have already been hyped as “poised to become tourist hotspots” as part of a new trend for “location vacations” for film buffs desperate to see the original settings. The film includes scenes shot at the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex, the Colne Valley Railway in East Anglia and the Tudor palace of Layer Marney Tower near Colchester in Essex. (Personally, I’d just like to say one thing: if, having seen the film, you do decide to visit any of these places, you might want to take a massive industrial torch with you for use at night as well as someone very large and comforting to hold your hand at all times. I’m not sure I will ever be able to look at a stretch of marshland ever again without shuddering.)
Wilkinson’s scariest moment in the finished film? “It definitely has the scare factor. The rocking chair does it for me. Even though I had read the script loads of times, when I saw it on film I finally realised why you see the chair rocking. I jumped on more than one occasion.”
Moore was less easily spooked when he saw the film for the first time recently. (He laughs long and hard at me when I tell him I could not watch most of the film because I was so petrified, then adds: “So was my wife.”) You can’t get that sucked in, he says, “when you’ve worked on it and you know all the angst you’ve had to sort the locations…” The most terrifying moment for him was on set. The entire crew had an uncomfortable moment while shooting one particular scene at the train station. “It was the first time I had seen [the actor playing] the Woman in Black. It was two o’clock in the morning in October. All the crew were, like, ‘Woah’.” He shudders. “Every member of the crew was saying, ‘That was a bit too scary for me’.”
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel – haunted luxury in the heart of Tinsel Town!
Located on Hollywood Boulevard just one block west of the Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is one of the few remaining treasures of the glamour of Hollywood’s heyday. Founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries that included Douglas Fairbanks and Louis B. Mayer, the Roosevelt was conceived as a spot for east coast movie makers to stay while working on the west coast. Iti s notable as the location of the first Academy Awards ceremony, taking place in 1929 and lasting all of five minutes as Fairbanks and Al Jolson handed out thirteen(!) Oscar statuettes. The Roosevelt has hosted its share of celebrities throughout the early days of Tinsel Town, with visits from the likes of Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Will Rogers. The Roosevelt currently offers 320 rooms, 38 suites, 65 poolside cabana rooms, valet parking, and celebrity spirits – it is rumored that the ghosts of Marylin Monroe and Montgomery Clift now roam the Roosevelt.
Clift stayed in room 928 while filming “From Here to Eternity”, and is said to have been witnessed pacing the halls, reciting his lines and playing the trumpet. Many reports state that loud noises can be heard emanating from the room, and numerous incidents have occurred in which the room’s telephone is mysteriously taken of the hook.
Monroe often stayed in poolside suite 229, and witnesses claim that her image can be seen in the full-length mirror that once hung in that room (it is now located next to the elevator on the lower level), while a number of visitors claim to have seen her dancing in the ballroom.
Of further note is that there is said to be a cold spot, some 30 inches in diameter, in the Blossom Ballroom – the very hall where that first Academy Awards ceremony was held.
Did Oscar curse the hotel, offering up an unlucky thirteen statuettes in 1929? One could speculate. Whatever the catalyst behind these legendary hauntings, when planning that next trek to explore haunted America, you may want to plan on a short stay at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Who knows WHO you might bump into in the dark…
I was born a Coal Miner’s Haunter…
I came across this post from a few years back on the Zillow real estate blog, detailing the alleged haunting of country music legend Loretta Lynn’s home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee (special thanks to the article for giving Ms. Lynn’s home address!).
And you thought country music was scary before…
Ghost trains and headless soldiers and suicidal brides…oh my!
Although I now consider myself an Atlantan at heart, after close to thirty years of residency here, I still feel strong attachments to my childhood in western New York (most of which are food-related). Born in Niagara Falls, I spent my first twelve years exploring the local neighborhoods and getting into the kind of mischief that kids get into on a regular basis. My friends and I spent most days locked out of our houses (and our mothers’ hair), finding any number of ways to entertain ourselves. It was the late 60s and early 70s, so we were very much on our own in terms of entertainment resources – no cable, no video games, no cell phone texting, no home theaters – so imagination was THE media for us.
Nothing stoked our imagination more than the local legends we heard from neighbors, friends and relatives (I was at least twenty years old before I realized that the dreaded tale of the murderous Little Lee Baker – who kidnapped children in the middle of the night and went wild on them with long, razor-like claws – was fabricated by my older brother in an effort to hold sway over our terrified minds…). To this day I am intrigued by ghost stories and the like (I have a few of my own that I simply cannot explain away logically), an interest no doubt sparked by the eerie legends surrounding some of western New York’s most notable landmarks. From suicidal brides flinging themselves over the powerful waterfalls of the mighty Niagara River to abandon train stations ripe with ghostly activity to spectral children swinging at night in the playground not far from our home, western New York offers up a bevy of tales to rattle even the biggest of sceptics.
My earliest recollection of paranormal curiosity comes from Old Fort Niagara. The fort stands on a bluff above Lake Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls, and acts as a centuries-old guard to the entrance of the Niagara River (dating back to 1726). It played a vital role in the struggles of France, Great Britain and the United States to assume control of the Great Lakes region. It also holds an important place in shaping the destinies of the Iriquois people. Now a national historic landmark, notable for its rich collection of 18th and 19th century military architecture, it became a popular destination for our summer weekends. We loved the opportunity to explore every darkened nook and cranny, imagining the many bloody battles that claimed the lives of soldiers for years and years. Visitors have spoken of many varied ghostly occurences, everything from shadow people to floating candles to spectral German Shepherds howling at the moon (perhaps explaining why police dogs will not enter the fort chapel, rumored to play host to unseen benches being dragged about). Often we led ourselves to believe we had discovered some chilling blood stain on the rough stone surfaces, concocting our own thrilling versions of what transpired upon that fatal spot…
Yet the thing that spurred us on the most was the local legend of the unfortunate French soldier who fell prey to jealous rage, losing his life – and head – in a tragic love triangle. It is said that two French officers stationed at Fort Niagara during peacable times both fell victim to the beauty and charms of a young Iriquois maiden. Each desired to win over the woman, and a rivalry was born. One August evening the two – drunk with anger and liquor – confronted each other outside the fort and dueled, challenging one another to a deadly swordfight. Ending quickly, the duel did little to quench the anger and frustration of the victor, and in a last attempt at vengeance he proceeded to decapitate the body and threw it into the Niagara River, where it was lost forever. His anger now subsiding, the surviving duelist soon realized that he must dispose of the body, lest his actions be discovered and he would have to face the consequences. He removed the heavy cover of the well at the entrance of the fort and dumped the body into the deep darkness, knowing this well was seldom used and it was unlikely the body would be discovered any time soon.
Soon he slipped away to unite with the Iriquois maiden and left his military station – and murderous deeds – behind, never to be seen or heard from again. Had he been arrested upon discovery of the headless body, there may have been some official record of the incidents, but circumstances and the time period prevented any such record from existing and we are left with nothing but legend. More than likely the events would have eventually been written off as nothing more than two restless young soldiers abandoning their posts and forgotten altogether, were it not for the numerous sightings of a headless apparition wandering around the grounds on dark nights. People still claim to spot this hapless soul searching in vain for the head that was taken from him, in an eternal effort to finally find some peace in the afterlife.
I admit I’ve never actually seen a ghost or experienced any unexplained activity at Old Fort Niagara, but I can say we always felt a chill when touring the grounds. Whether it was our own overactive young minds or actual paranormal presence causing that looming feeling of dread may never be known, but one thing is for sure – something about that fort and its tragic history sparked a flame inside me that to this day prevents me from completely writing off the existence of the unexplained.
Next up, we’ll take a spin through Central Terminal – Buffalo, New York’s infamous haunted train station…
PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 14 (UPI) — Syfy says it is developing a new reality series about U.S. schools that are alleged to be haunted.
The hourlong series from executive producers Mark Burnett and Seth Jarrett is called “School Spirits” and will tell supposedly true ghost stories in colleges and high schools across the country. The stories will be told in first person narratives through the testimonials of real students, teachers, parents and staff who have encountered the paranormal activity, Syfy said in a synopsis.
No potential air date has been announced.
“Paranormal encounters at high schools and colleges often become legendary stories spanning and touching generations,” Mark Stern, Syfy’s president of original programming and co-head of content for Universal Cable Productions, said in a statement Friday. “We’re very excited to partner with Mark and Seth as they bring these compelling, firsthand stories to life.”
Pennhurst Asylum one of the most Haunted Places in America opened last year as a Haunted Attraction.
Check out the Trailer for the event!