Category Archives: Texas

E is for Elizabeth Short, Elisa Lam & Emma Voelcker

We take a look back at three females who’s lives were cut tragically short.  In two of the instances, their deaths are still surrounded by mystery.

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Top Haunted Sites of 2018

This may have been the most difficult collection I’ve had to put together so far.  This list of the Top 10 coolest haunted locations I visited in 2018 could’ve easily been a top 20 or 25 without any fall off in quality (I’m considering doing a video of a larger countdown, so subscribe to my YouTube here so you won’t miss it).  So, keep an eye open for other notable mentions throughout.  What are the criteria?  It’s a combination of these three categories:

  1. the location is famously haunted (bucket list trips)
  2. exceptionally unique stories or history associated with the place and
  3. Did we experience any paranormal activity on site?

bucktownpubEvery location mentioned on this list is a place I’ve visited for the very first time in 2018.  Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the release of “Voices from the Chicago Grave,” I’ve made it a point to revisit every location covered in the book.  This is an ongoing process, but it was great to see places like the Bucktown Pub (pictured right), the Frank Nitti suicide location, the Grimes sisters site, Mount Carmel Cemetery, investigate the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre location and more alongside Illinois archeologist Dan Melone and/or Wendy Lynn Staats of the “See You on the Other Side” podcast.  Keep following us on Instagram @WhatsYourGhostStory to continue visiting and investigating the most haunted locations in America!

10  Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, New Orleans, LA
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There may be no more paranormal an experience than joining the paranormal rock group Sunspot on the road, which I did for the first time in 2018.  After a show, we swung through the oldest bar in the South.  Built around 1770, this building was likely owned by pirate and Battle of New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte, his brother or a close accomplice.  Whatever the ownership provenance, it’s very likely that Lafitte did business here and knowing Lafitte, it wasn’t on the up-and-up.  It’s one thing to read tales of a dark, masculine presence in the building, observing the room from a shadowy corner, as is the most frequent claim, it’s another for a member of the staff to show you a picture of the shadow figure on their phone, which is what we were treated to.

9  Coral Castle, Homestead, FL
Quickly moving from the historically haunted to the roadside attraction oddity, I visited a site so unusual, there are many believers think the place was built by aliens, or at least with the help of alien technology.  I can go on about the place, but who can tell the story better than the show “Ancient Aliens”?  The segment even end with a classic Georgio-style, “I’m not saying it was aliens…” line.

I will say, the place is downright impressive and captivating whether you are into the theory that this entire structure was built by hand by a single, somewhat frail man or that the man was an alien.  Either sounds just a probable.  Also, not mentioned in the AA segment, two people claimed to spy on some of the construction and claimed the massive pieces were moved by sound!

museum-of-the-weird-austinI should give an odd shout out to the Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX, which houses tons of fascinating exhibits and, in fact, is so weird that Johnny Depp lived next door at one point.  The main highlight is the “Minnesota Ice Man,” an alleged Bigfoot corpse kept preserved on ice since the late ‘60s.

8  Hale’s Bar Dam, Guild, TN
Hale’s Bar Dam is a big, imposing structure with a very long and dark history.  Even before construction, the Native Americans of the area considered the area cursed, or at the very least too dangerous to tread on.  A hydroelectric dam was constructed over these dangerous waters in the early 1900s and the death toll rose quickly.  Construction never really stopped due to the constant need for repairs caused by building on unsteady ground.  Sadly, the deaths continued as well.  Use of the dam was discontinued in 1968, but the power station remains, haunted by any number of people who died here.

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The location was featured on an episode of “Ghost Adventures.”  That particular episode was perhaps most notable due to the location getting hit by a tornado during production.  However, they did also capture a compelling human form moving around on thermal camera.  We got a private tour of the structure by someone who had some wild personal experiences.  Be sure to click on the image to the left to see a video from our visit.

7  Elmwood Cemetery, Centralia, IL
elmwood-cemetery-violin-annie2One of my favorite investigations of the year took place at the Southern Illinois Cemetery of Elmwood, where a legend surrounds a beautiful monument to H. Annie Marshall, better known as “Violin Annie.”  The legends around Violin Annie are more plentiful than the facts. The basics are that this gravesite belongs to a girl who died tragically young. In life, quite clearly, she played the violin. Speaking on the legends, there are countless tales of hearing violin music waft through this cemetery at all hours. The uniqueness of this monument, plus its easy access (near the front of the cemetery, just two dozen feet from the access road), makes it an easy candidate for urban legends. Does that mean the area isn’t haunted? Of course not. The restless adventures of “Violin Annie” may very well be legit. It’s also possible that thousands of people over the years, visiting this site, hoping to hear violin music, have impacted the area, imbuing it with a psychic residue from the living. If Annie’s consciousness is here, we brought a trigger item in the form of violinist Wendy Lynn Staats to play songs and simple scales to see if we could coax a musical call and response. With several cameras rolling and even more microphones scattered around the area, it will take some time to dig though all the recordings, but our fingers are crossed!

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Full Spectrum video still of Wendy Lynn Staats playing violin at “Violin Annie’s” gravesite.

6  Sanatorium Hill, Madison, WI
This location is one I feel I’ve just scratched the surface on.  The grounds of Sanatarium Hill claim all sorts of paranormal phenomenon, including physical contact in the form of hair pulling.  To get the full story, check out the video below.  Other haunted institutional locations visited this year include Knoxville’s Lakeshore Mental Asylum, Elgin Mental Health Center & the Green County Asylum in Monroe, WI.

5  Robert the Doll locations, Key West, FL
robert-the-doll-key_westDipping as far as we could possibly dip into the Florida Keys, we found ourselves at the home of Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats and a doll that can move on its own. “Robert the Doll” has been a story so sensational, it’s no surprise that people assume the movie “Child’s Play” was based on this legend. In 1904 a young Eugene Otto was given a doll in a navy uniform.  It did not take long before this doll began terrorizing the family, especially little Eugene.  Massacring his other toys, and flipping his furniture over, the parents were understandably suspicious, however even they heard voices and laughing coming from Eugene’s room that were not his own.  Eventually the doll was banished to the attic, where it remained peacefully for decades. Currently the doll itself is on display at Fort East Martello Museum where it apparently does not like being on display.  If you are bold enough to take a picture of Robert without first asking his permission, legend has it that you will be besieged by extreme misfortune.  There is a nearby wall of the museum covered with letters addressed to the doll from people desperately asking Robert’s forgiveness.

keywestcemeteryI was in Key West with family.  My parents have both been exceptionally supportive of my unorthodox line of work.  They’ve attended paranormal conferences to watch me speak and my mom even joined for an exploration of Bachelor’s Grove and was pinched by an unseen hand in the process. They were all for visiting the museum until we took a ghost tour that lead us past the home where the events took place. Upon hearing the full story, I was no longer asked, “Hey, do you wanna check out that museum today?”  I had previously been vague, offering only that there was a “famous, haunted doll on display.”  Not wanting to push them or, honestly, expose myself to something truly negative (just in case), we never visited Robert. However, by total luck and coincidence, we did take a walk through the Key West eugeneottograveCemetery and, coincidentally (again), I stumbled across the grave of Eugene Otto!  I was able to conduct an EVP session at his grave site. While nothing came of it, I do always urge investors to try poking around at all locations associated with the tale you’re investigating, not just the main target. Travel Tip: you can now rent out the room where Robert was banished for decades as the Otto house is now a B&B.

4  Bell Witch Cave, Adams, TN
bellwitchcave-hauntedComing straight off the bucket list is a MUCH fabled tale of “America’s most well-documented haunting,” as it’s always called.  The story of the Bell Witch is too vast and spectacular to fully cover in a blurb, but I will tease that it involves a curse, mythical creature, disembodied voices, an intensely violent invisible entity, a homicide blamed on a ghost and some of the paranormal activity was even witnessed by a man who would become president.  You’d think this would be so rich a story that it would make for a great movie.  Well, they tried.  Wendy and I visited the location, then watched the movie before then shooting a new episode of “A Ghost Hunter Watches.”  Check that out below:

3  Seider Oaks & Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
shaol-creek-seider-oaks-haunted-austinMost of the time I find an incredible location with a colorful story… the type of place where I’m dying to find some paranormal evidence, that’s exactly where I’ll find nothing at all.  This was not the case at the darkly impacted Shoal Creek in Austin, Texas.  A Native American massacre of a settler family in 1839 could be enough to generate some paranormal activity, but this area was also the site of skirmishes and battles through the years and countless unmarked burials.  When the banks of the creek flood, taking with it lose dirt, it is not uncommon for more and more human remains to be unearthed.  A recent flood unearthed the remains of a solider who served with General Custer.  There are also multiple tales of gold being hidden in this area by criminals who were apprehended before being able to reclaim their hidden loot.  Might their spirits be the ones still occupying the area, keeping their gold hidden?  Shadow figures are seen in the area and disembodied voices are heard.  Visiting the site in the middle of the afternoon with Mike & Wendy from Sunspot and our local contact Vic Hidalgo, I tried an EVP burst session (a shorter EVP session, reviewing the recording on the spot) and it did not take long before voices did appear in the recording.  It was not clear what was said, but the presence of voices that were not own own was unmistakable.  Another trip to Austin to investigate further is already planned for the spring.

Speaking of Austin, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time at the haunted and historic Driskill Hotel and we were able to see the amazing sight that is upwards of a million bats emerging from under a bridge at sunset.  See video of the bats here.

2  Old South Pittsburg Hospital, South Pittsburg, TN
After meeting the proprietor of the “OSPH” at the Haunted America Paranormal Conference in Alton, Il, we headed down to check out the abandoned, haunted hospital.  After hearing claims of creatures crawling up the walls, our guard was high.  Indeed, simply walking into the structure, a feeling of nervousness set in immediately… very possibly a psychic impression, moreso than intimidation.  “See You on the Other Side” hosts Mike & Wendy heard a shuffling sound in a room followed by a growl.  I followed the sound of scratching on a hallway wall around a corner, onto the ceiling, then back down a wall to the floor.  Thinking I was chasing a scurrying mouse, I stomped on the ground to see if I could make it come out from hiding.  Instead a loud phantom footstep landed behind me, letting me know I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

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We ended up setting up ghost hunting gear in a hallway where people have observed an 8 foot tall shadow figure.  Using an array of cameras including a full spectrum camera, we filmed a music video, hoping to elicit a response from the music.  I don’t think we got anything in the process, but not all experiments end up paying off.  Still, we got a fun video out of it!

senabaugh-tunnel-hauntedAnother location, rife with urban legend-y glory that really deserves to be somewhere on this list is the Sensabaugh Tunnel in Church Hill, TN.  There will be a video of this location coming out later this year, as Wendy and I went out looking for children ghosts in this remote, spooky locale.

1  Horsman Ridge Cemetery, Shelby County, IL (Also called Tower Hill Cemetery, Williamsburg Hill & Ridge Cemetery)
horsmancemetery-haunted-illinoisAre you ever caught in the difficult situation, trying to decide, “Do I want to look for a ghost, a UFO or a crypid today?  Maybe I wanna look into a place that has ties to the ultra creepy phenomena of Black-eyed children.  Well, you’re in luck!  This is the one-stop shop!  Down in very rural and very remote southern Illinois, at the end of a dead end gravel road on the top of a wooded hill is Shelby County’s pioneer cemetery.  When it comes to cryptids, the threat of coming across a werewolf-like creature (better known as an up-right canine in cryptid circles) would be enough, but there is also a winged dragon-like creature seen flying over the area.  As long as you’re looking to the skies for dragons, you might as well keep an eye open for UFOs as well while as lights have been spotted in the skies and cows have been mutilated here.  Indeed, the unnerving black-eyed children have been spotted here and occasionally appear after the fact on video recordings.  That said, the ghostly encounters here probably get the adrenaline pumping the most:  An elderly man charges out from the woods, seemingly ready to attack you, but he vanishes moments before striking!  Wendy and I spent a couple of hours here, but had no experiences ourselves.  This is a place I definitely want to visit again and spend a lot more time on site.  Unlike many outdoor locations, this cemetery is so remote there is no fear of audio interference from a neighboring house or school, nor is there a blanket of traffic noise interfering with EVP recording.

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Upon putting this list together, one thing became clear…. This list is impossible to create the year.  There are too many wonderful locations to cover.  The Wonder Bar in Madison, WI should be on this list.  The Old Slave House in Equality, IL should be on this list.  The Brown Hotel in Louisville, the Red Wood Room in San Francisco, the Palace Restaurant in Sault Ste Marie, MI, the Sutter Home Vineyards in Napa, CA…..they call belong on this list.  So, stay tuned to our YouTube as we do a top 20+ countdown.  This year was so spectacular because of the support of so many amazing people.  What really made 2018 amazing was all the support from Dan Melone, Mike Huberty, Jordan Murphy, Allison Journlin, Lisa Van Buskirk, Chuck “C.E.” Martin, Vic Hidalgo, Kathleen Wickes, Chelsea Duke, my parents and my partner in life and in the field, Wendy Lynn Staats.

I do have to take a quick moment to thank everyone who organizes paranormal conferences and to encourage everyone else to attend them!  It’s a tremendous opportunity to meet people with similar “out there” interests and a great place to share information and theories! They played a big role in our 2018.

2019 promises haunted excursions in Hawaii, a return to searching for rebobs in Napa Valley and trips from New York to Los Angeles.  Happy New Year to one and all.


Haunted Road Trip Pt 2: Cadillac Ranch to Stull Cemetery

Let’s pick up where we left off on our weird and spooky Tucson to Madison road trip. In part one we covered ghost and UFO-related locations across Arizona and New Mexico, visiting haunted hotels and eating at haunted restaurants. I’m a sucker for classic Hollywood, so I’ll take a moment to again, point out how cool the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM is. If you haven’t had a change to read that article, check out part 1.

Our departure from lunch in Santa Fe’s haunted High Noon Restaurant, sent us east towards the Texas panhandle. In true form, everything really is bigger in Texas… even the Holiday Inn, which boasted rooms as big as convention halls. Exaggeration, yes, but it was some serious bang for the buck.

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Cadillac Ranch

The next morning, waking up in Amarillo, there was one way to start the day… by hanging out in the middle of a farm field. Cadillac Ranch has been standing for over 40 years just south of Route 66. The 10 cars, arranged chronologically from a ’49 model to a ’64 show the progression of the iconic Caddy tail fin. The original location was a wheat field 2 miles closer to the city, but was moved in 1997 to keep it further from the growing metropolis.

Perhaps most amazingly, the location is still completely free and unmonitored. Curiosity seekers are welcome to visit and explore the oddity as they wish. The original plan wasn’t to provide a canvas for people across the country to leave their mark, but that’s what it’s become. Half used spray cans litter the area, allowing anyone to grab the contraband-turned-art supply and add their own little flair to Cadillac Ranch. After 40 years, I think there’s more paint than metal here. For a great gallery of photographs of the ranch over the years, including the unthinkable – graffiti-free pictures of the cars, visit this site: The Story of Cadillac Ranch.

CadillacRanch

We didn’t have to go far to visit our first haunted location of the day as Amarillo also houses “The Nat,” a haunted castle from 1922. Well, a castle-style building anyway. It was built to house an indoor swimming pool (“Nat” being short for natatorium), but within four years of opening, the venue was completely repurposed. A dance floor was built over top of the pool and a stage was added. The ghosts that still reside seem to come from this incarnation of the building.

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Two-page ad announcing the opening of The Nat in July 1922.

The next 70 years witnessed an evolution of music, hosting big band groups, classic rock groups including Buddy Holly and continuing to book acts all the way to the much more contemporary Dixie Chicks.

Today, however, the building is wall-to-wall antique mall. The upstairs loft, previously a gambling hall (unconfirmed), is the site of frequent cold spots and where a women in white is seen. This woman has a red mark on her front. Amazingly, this has not lead to legends of a woman being stabbed to death here, but rather the victim of a ruthless wine stain.

People have seen a couple still dancing the night away on the dance floor. The room is also the site of easily the most rockin’ residual haunting I’ve ever heard of: a phantom drum solo! The opportunity was too rich, so I had our award-winning drummer in residence, Wendy Lynn Staats of the paranormal rock band Sunspot, take the stage and hang out where the drum kit would be set up. Unfortunately, our phantom performers were not enticed to show off in front of a fellow drummer.

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Wendy in her natural environment – on a haunted stage.

Talking with the clerk, he conveyed a story to us about seeing a woman and young girl walking through one of the aisles around closing time. When he approached to let them know they were closing soon, the two vanished.

This sounds like an active site that possibly got much more active with the addition of thousands of antiques. It’s always possible that cherished objects still have attachments associated with their previous owners. This would be an amazing, but impractical location for a ghost hunt. I only hope the Nat has a good security system with sound; essentially a nightly paranormal stakeout.

WizardOfOzLiberal2Our journey took us to Kansas, which meant one thing: odd attempts to capitalize on the “Wizard of Oz.” Liberal, KS contains a replica of Dorothy’s house and in my opinion that’s a liberal use of the word “replica.” In fairness, we didn’t give the place a fair shot as we arrived at closing time and could only explore the exterior. The kitsch and oddity factor is exactly what you’re looking for in a roadside attraction.

CoronadoLiberalJust across the street, however, was some serious history. It was the estimated location where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado at least temporarily set up shop during an expedition in 1541. He spent more than a month exploring central Kansas looking for a fabled kingdom of gold. Clearly Coronado returned without riches, but also without his guide, who he killed in anger.

Stories of frustration turned to those of inspiration when we drove through the nearby town of Greensburg, KS. The town captured our attention as it was evident from tree damage that a tornado was in its recent past. In 2007 95% of the down was decimated by an F5 tornado (the most extreme on the Fujita-Pearson scale). The tornado itself was wider than the entire city. However, rather than rebuild as quickly and cheaply as possible, the town became the first in the nation to build all of it’s structures at platinum levels according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Greensbug is now known as the “greenest town in America.”

We rolled into Pratt, KS in time for an amazing Midwestern meal at Club D’Est, but unfortunately too late to buy a drink (travel tip: BYOB, box wine travels well).

Starting our final day in central Kansas, we were in great position to visit one of the most famously haunted sites in all of America… but not before one more roadside oddity.

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The name “Truckhenge” might make you think you’ll be seeing a replica of Stonehenge created with trucks. However, that would be attributing way too much organizational credit to this site. I hope that doesn’t sound too snarky and judgmental, because this is a “must see” location. As much as this place is an explosion of folkart, it’s also a constant protest against the bureaucracy who wanted owner Ron Leesman to clean up his property, citing that a flood could wash his collection of antique, immobile trucks down the nearby river. Rather than clear them out, he embedded them, turning them into political billboards, none more iconic than the nose-up pick-up truck declaring “Rise up!”

TruckHenge2TruckHenge3However, the trucks are just a small percentage of the overall experience. Ron himself greeted us when we showed up unannounced. Beer in hand at 11am, he showed us his collection of carvings: dozens of faces he carved into logs. It was clear he had a joke for each and every piece. Peacocks roamed the grounds as we were invited to take a drive. You literally drive through this guy’s backyard along a track, viewing the art he’s created with found items and empty beer bottles and cans. He’s also become something of an amateur archeologist too, having located ice age-era fossils of camels and mammoths in the neighboring quarry. There is no admission fee, nor is there even a donation box.

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Within 20 minutes we transport ourselves from an anti-establishment art exhibit to the mouth of Hell itself (well, according to legend anyway). Where do you start when you discuss Stull Cemetery? The rural, out of the way location is one legend heaped upon the next. The church and cemetery date to the mid 1850s, but we don’t know when the first reports of the supernatural started surrounding this area. A 1974 article in the University of Kansas newspaper serves as some of the first hard evidence when it comes to a folklore timeline and the advent of the internet really helped spread stories.

Legend has it that the location is visited twice a year by none other than Satan himself, on the spring equinox and on Halloween night. When the roof caved in on the aged stone church, witnesses there on rainy days observed that no rain would land within the now unprotected church. As of 2002 the church was fully bulldozed, making it impossible to confirm or deny these claims.

StullCemeteryChurchThere’s the legend of a stairway, always described vaguely as as being behind and to the right of the church. This is a magical portal of some sort. If you toss an item into the the stairwell, you’ll never hear it hit bottom. The few people that have attempted going down the stairs have never returned. If “Eleven” goes missing during season three of “Stranger Things,” this would be a good place to start looking as it’s believed this is the literal doorway to the other side.

Wendy and I spent at least an hour investigating this site with no luck in locating such a staircase or anything in the ground that might indicate a filled-in staircase or foundations. While that sounds like a sure “case closed,” it actually feeds into the well-constructed legend that the staircase only reveals itself on rare occasions. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to this story as I haven’t found legends to decipher if it relates to a time of day, anniversary, etc. or if it’s the witness themselves who are the key to the stairs revealing themselves. Of course, the likelihood that it’s all manufactured storytelling, is also possible.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that while stories may get blown up and exaggerated over time, they come from some element of truth. So, where is that truth?

Did early settlers practice séances or other occult practices here? Was a tree on this land used to hang witches? Yes, these are even more of the claims related to this site.

New friends and fellow road tripping paranormal nerds, Greg & Dana Newkirk of Planet Weird made a visit to the site in 2016 and were shocked to see the Stull Cemetery grounds randomly on fire with no obvious cause. It was almost as if Satan had emerged up that mythic staircase and just forgot to wipe his feet before exploring our earthly realm.  Feel free to check out their video below, but note that they misidentify the location of the church.

When Wendy and I visited Stull in 2017 is was a rainy day, so there were no flames or smoke. However, fresh scorch marks were apparent and scattered around the grounds. There’s no obvious culprit for this.  Note the black marks on the ground in the image below.  We will have our own video about this site that shows the burn marks in the future.

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Interestingly, one of the few real life documented tragedies to take place in the small town (Stull’s peak population only hit 50 and has since been absorbed by the town of Lecompton) involves a young boy wandering into a field was was on fire and burning to death. When trying to explain a documented paranormal phenomena, one has to cast a pretty wide net based on historical facts. I, myself, have a lot of work to do when it comes to research here. For one, is that boy buried at Stull Cemetery? If so, the connection between his death and the random fires is somewhat compelling. Also, skeptics claim the 1974 article was a hoax that has since gotten out of hand. If that’s the case, locating paranormal allegations in the ‘60s or earlier will be able to debunk the skeptic claims. It may seem funny to debunk the debunkers, but the lack of detail in those claims is exactly what a skeptic would point to, to discredit a paranormal claim. Either way you cut it, facts have to be backed up by documentation.

We love the more recent story too that talks about a local news crew that got permission to stay overnight at Stull Cemetery. Their goal: To debunk the Satan visitation story (or to grab the interview of a lifetime if he shows up). Despite having consent from the property owners and doing work that would ultimately demystify the cemetery, police kicked them out at 11:30. “What are the police covering up?” has been the understandable reaction of the ghost-believing public. Perhaps one day we will start to put some pieces together, whether it’s debunking the claims or understanding the paranormal truths of this area.

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Thank you for joining us on our paranormal road trip! We hope the insight from this post and the previous one give you some fun, spooky & weird options when visiting Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. One last tip – if you find yourself in Kansas City, don’t pass up the BBQ!