history

Connecticut Phantom Crash, 1997

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I have spent a fairly long time on a fairly ancient laptop, as far as laptops go- the machine I had been running was over a decade old. It finally died outright, for all intents, this weekend and I bought a tablet/2-in-1. The machine itself works much, much better so hopefully I will be able to blog more consistently now (and I do mean actually be able-it was taking me close to half an hour to write three or four paragraphs). I am trying to figure out the battery patterns on this machine, though. I’ve never seen a computer that decides when or if it’s going to charge and I don’t know if it’s a battery issue or if this is deliberate.

 

I will admit that this is a very vague story, but one that I really wish was better developed online (even if it were to be truly folkloric).

The development of new technology will eventually become reflected in the folklore of the era. So we start  with phantom armies, and move into phantom carriages, trains, cars. Therefore it’s really only natural and probably a matter of waiting for the development of ghost planes and phantom crashes.

One of these crashes is claimed to have taken place in Westbrook, Connecticut in 1997. There were witnesses to the crash-though the reports were admittedly odd. Eyewitness claims stated that there were no waves kicked up from the plane, let alone wreckage. However rescue crews were sent out and nothing was ever found of the supposedly downed plane.

The crash report is vague and sounds suspiciously like at best a misidentification and at worst an outright fabrication. However this is not the only case like this on the books in the United States. Reports of phantom plane crashes in various forms ranging from distress calls and sounds to full visual sightings may date as far back as 1955-and may become more common as aircraft and air travel become that much more ingrained in culture.

List of phantom crashes

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Anoka

Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

I said last week that it was impossible to track the beginnings of Halloween.

We do know that it’s linked to early harvest rites that were often further linked into death and renewal nights (Samhain being one of them).

(A minor sidetrack, I said years ago that I didn’t see the connection between Samhain and fae faiths. Being too trained not to, I have readjusted that stance in the years since. I’m just too lazy to go back and readjust that entry. But, yes, I’m willing to meet people further up the road on that one, though I’m still not sure that that the mounds were the main drive of that holiday.)

(A complete sidetrack, speaking of faeries and Halloween. Try coming up with a fast, simple, yet thorough way of describing the sluagh and the Wild Hunt to someone who knows absolutely nothing about fae lore.)

Once the Catholic church rose to cultural dominance, the holiday that we now call Halloween began to take shape-but we don’t have a set, easily verifiable date to look at and say, ‘this is the year that it tipped over into what we would recognize as Halloween.’

Except for the United States and a city called Anoka.

Prior to the 1920s, there was really nothing to control children and teens from heavy pranking during events such as Nut Crack and Bonfire Nights. Halloween was practiced, but it was mainly a home-based holiday with parties and other events held on private property. While there was limited practice of treat or treating at the time, it was not as well established as a cultural icon as it would be in later decades. The pranking aspect of the holiday was in full force, leading up to Halloween night proper.

Towns would wake up destruction from the annoying but not necessarily completely damaging such as eggings and toilet paper to outright destruction of property and thefts.

In Anoka Minnesota, a town leader named George Green held a meeting in 1920 to address the pranking issue in a manner that would fulfill the population’s desire for social outlets, interesting enough to divert attention away from pranking and other less than desired activities, and community minded. What the town decided to put together was the first known civic Halloween event-which solidifies the town as the birthplace of American Halloween as we know it (sorry Salem, you have nothing to do with this one).

The events included a giant bonfire that has been held every year since, other than years affected by World War II in the 1940s, a giant parade, and mass distribution of candy. According to Anoka’s history website, the event has changed over the years to account for changing tastes; at one point, a giant snake dance was involved.

Was the Anoka the first place in the United States to shift into a ‘modern’ style Halloween? Probably not. In fact, I would be more surprised if it was. But Anoka has been acknowledged as the first place to fully ritualize it as a community event. Therefore, in a sense, you can date American Halloween to Minnesota, 1920.

 

The Fate of Elmer McCurdy

Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

So October is here.

I let my hair down in October-this is the month where I really don’t care how dark the story is.

Originally posted in 2013.

I was reminded of this story while we were standing in at Frightworld last weekend. It’s not so much a Halloween legend-in fact, sadly, it’s not a legend at all-but still, it’s creepy enough that I’m going to call it a seasonal legend anyway.

I will say that the story has made the jump to urban legend status anyway as the story that I was told on Saturday involved New Jersey, when the details of the case place it in the Midwest and West Coast.

This is the strange, sad case of a mummy, an amusement park…and the Six Million Dollar Man.

The story goes that Elmer McCurdy was killed in Oklahoma after engaging in several thefts in 1911. Mccurdy was embalmed, and apparently the work of the local undertaker was so good that they dressed him up in his best clothes and set him up as a sort of local attraction. This went on for years with entertainment companies wanting to buy the corpse but the funeral home he was housed in refused the offers.

After several years, two men came forward who claimed the corpse as family-but in reality were intending on cashing in on the body the same way the funeral parlor had. This was the beginning of McCurdy’s second-life entertainment career, wherein he began to appear at amusement parks and as a prop in several films.

Eventually, the Six Million Dollar Man crew became interested in using the ‘prop’-which is when it was discovered that it was an actual corpse that had been shuttled around. In 1977, McCurdy made his way back home where he was finally buried-under cement.

Art and the Folkloric Mind

tumblr_nrajfwneSl1qkevp7o1_500I choose my Facebook cover art by what calls to me-the image has to instill some sort of intense, almost knee jerk intense, reaction.

I change the art roughly around the sabbats, though there’s no religious or spiritual angle to that. It takes me a couple of months to get tired enough of a picture to want to change it.

My current cover is the drawing above- Skull Crowned with Snakes by Henry Weston Keene. It is an illustration dating to 1930 for a novel by John Webster.

There is something about this image that makes me feel that this is the best fit for the period between Mabon and Samhain. Not for the obvious death/skull connection to the season, though it seems like everyone and their stock lists have thrown themselves into a frenzy over the sugar skull craze (a craze I’m of two minds about-I would love to find Samhain merchandise so I’m all for the extension beyond the secular Halloween, but on the other hand…I doubt Walgreens cares much for religious exposure. They do care about profit, though).

We have been watching Hell on Wheels (…and I might have already watched Depp’s Sleepy Hollow three times in the next week) and I have a weird personal theory that deliberately or not the show is telling Norse mythologies. That’s the type of mind set I’m in right now-I’m planning October’s blog theme in my head and while I want to do my normal ‘scary’ folklore I keep finding myself on what is sometimes called the Shadow path-where it’s not so much as scary as dark, and the dark is only scary because we’re trained to see it as such. The Shadow is actually a Jungian concept and its presence in our lives is actually an extension of our selves.

There’s definitely darkness to this piece, and admittedly something slightly overblown and overly ripe. But it’s also regal in a way, like if Death held Himself iron rod straight because He knows that regardless of how we play, He’s always going to win that hand. Snake is a personal symbol of mine, and Snake for me stands for awareness of self. I know I’m projecting, but art for me is about the personal as much as it is the intended symbolism. This is the Shadow for me.

I’m tempted to use the Hermit card as my blog image for next month. Let’s light these shadows, and see what the next spoke brings.

 

Belief, Authenticity, and Other Potentially “Assertive” Topics

myth and meme month
I’ve been making my rounds through the blog world the way that I do on Sundays and it seems like one of the running themes over the past couple months is the question of authenticity and ‘reality’ of belief, especially when those ideas intersect with the Pagan mindset.

To break down an (apparently wide spread) discussion the question of the late summer is this: does it actually matter if something was made up, say, 15 years ago-just to pull a random date out of the air-versus 1,500 years ago if there is a potential for what happened 15 years ago to have happened 1,500 years ago?

To really give you a shorthand: what do we do with the implication that it’s all made up anyway?

I’m going to ramble a little and give you one of my all time favorite Pratchett quotes, as a practitioner of a minority faith trained in sociology:

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

The voice of Death in Pratchett’s novels is always presented in all caps.

For me, the simplest answer is this: it doesn’t matter if the myths, the superstitions, the folklore, the whatever name you want to give it, are ‘real’. That’s not the point. The real question is, what role is this belief playing in your life, and is that role a healthy one? Are you finding comfort out of this? Is this your excuse to lash out at people and establish your sense of social superiority?

The (potentially) uncomfortable reality is that if we know that some of the ideas that are floating around Pagan thought right now are current to say the last 100 years or so, there’s no reason to think that a lot of what is just accepted as part of various mythos were just made up as well. There’s really no reason to assume that some folklore and myths weren’t the period’s version of the Charlie Charlie Challenge that just seemed to be popular enough to make it through to now. But that’s not really the point, because the social function of any religious type thought really isn’t the what stories the thought is telling, it’s what role and support it’s playing in the social thought and structure of the believer.

I’m not trying to discount the role of authenticity entirely. There are times when it’s completely valid (I sort of dance around it in a lot of my discussions of fae lore-that whole issue of ‘why are you thinking that fae are small and beautiful and gentle? Because they kind of aren’t, according to the people who interacted with them in a religious sense’). There are times when it’s not even valid, it’s necessary, in relation to the development of social thought and social history. The point I’m trying to make, in terms of the social functioning of mythology, is that -all- myth and/or religious thought was ‘brand new’ at some point, it didn’t drop out of the sky fully formed, and there were liberties taken with the modification of stories and myth telling.

I do not use liberties here to imply something dirty or a deliberate muddying of a myth, just that even with texts that we see, symbolically, as fully formed, there was a point where the mythology was still being developed with the story being dependent on who was doing the telling.

Example: The P and J versions of the Garden of Eden story presented within Genesis.

So maybe the question isn’t ‘is it authentic?’, the question is ‘is it authentic to the era under discussion?’ with a dash of ‘what is the structural function of the myth in the lives of the people claiming to be believers?’

The Death Card

myth and meme month

September is Myth and Meme month, where I look at obscure myths or folklore/social memes that are currently making their way through social media. I have decided this year to also look at things as I find them, themes that I don’t normally write about or have encountered in the past. That will include a certain amount of weird history.

This is a story that I suppose that I did know in passing, but without the history to root it into, I assumed it was a plot point and nothing much else. This symbol shows up in Apocalypse Now, when the soldiers leave behind death cards to prove that they were there.

The Ace of Spades has become the death card in modern symbolism over time-the image is used to suggest a character is about to die or that the card in itself is just plain bad luck. The logic that seems to make the most sense to me is that the spade is a shovel and a shovel digs graves, therefore the card is associated with death. There are more complicated logics than that, but that is the one that in its simplicity strikes me as most likely closest to the truth.

There appears to have been a habit among American troops fighting in Vietnam of dropping the ace of spades behind them after leaving battlefields, or leaving them on corpses, or in other high visibility areas. Part of the logic of the act presumes that the Vietnamese fear the death card more than the Americans, so the card would function as a form of emotional weapon. But that connection seems vague at best, and assumes a certain level of familiarity with folkloric imagery. Many of the theories that I came across surrouding both the start and usage of the cards really does read like stereotypical urban legend development-I didn’t see anything, but I knew a guy who…

It might be that the actual ‘start’ of the act will never be identified fully and something about the image struck so hard and fast that it became a symbol to the Americans more than anything else. It might also not be a terribly common or widespread act, but the wearing of the card-or other usage of the symbol- happened frequently enough to enter into military urban legend.

The Texan

I’ve honestly been avoiding the Civil War ghosts because I feel like I can’t do the history justice in the scope of this blog.

I am the woman who got very upset on Facebook this morning over people deciding that Norse women were warriors because of swords being present in burial sites, even with the lack of any further historical data to back up what the role of the swords were.

Point being, there are situations where I end up sort of digging at my face and moaning, but the historical record?! What does the historical record say?! Social media is enough to give a sociohistorian a stroke.

So at the risk of driving myself into a frenzy, the story of the Texan goes like this;

Sites of large scale death and tension are often the obvious location for hauntings, and there are few areas of the United States that can be identified that way as the battlefields of the American Civil War. One of the most ‘popular’, as in familiar, of those battlefields is Gettysberg.

The level of violence that occurred at Gettysberg means that stating the area, which is now a national park, is haunted is almost sort of ‘obvious’, as in, while I don’t necessarily ignore ghost stories that come out of the places we would assume to be haunted I’m almost more interested in the stories that come out of places that aren’t known for it. But the bare foot ghost, the ghost referred to as the Texan, also is woven into my own personal paranormal history; it is one of the first ghost stories I remember hearing as a child.

The ghost is always seen in a similar manner-tourists or tour guides will see a man, wearing a hat and barefoot, near the area of Plum Run stream. The tourists are sometimes actually lost or at least turned around but the guides are generally aware of their location. Regardless, the ghost will point and say ‘what you’re looking for is over there’. Sometimes he disappears then and sometimes he wanders off and is gone by the time the tourists will make it around the hill.

The clothes make him a member of the Texan militia, and that is pretty much the sum of his story. It’s a fairly short, but deeply ingrained, ghost story in a place that’s almost expected to be haunted.

10 National Parks and the Monsters and Ghosts Who Supposedly Live There

Ghost Encounters at Gettysburg