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 Articles ~ Ghost hunting and beyond ~ Famous Hauntings

Borley Rectory

The tiny parish of Borley is located in a desolate, sparsely populated area near the east coast of England, near the Suffolk border. It is a lonely place and would be largely forgotten if not for the fact that it is the location of what came to be known as “The Most Haunted House in England”.

Local legend had it that a monastery had once been located on the site and that a 13th century monk and a beautiful young novice were killed while trying to elope from the place. The monk was hanged and his would-be bride was bricked up alive within the walls of her convent.

Harry Price got involved in the case after a newspaper carried a story about a phantom nun at the house on June 1929. Price was asked by the paper to investigate and he was told about various types of phenomena that had been reported there, like phantom footsteps; strange lights; ghostly whispers; a headless man; a girl in white; the sounds of a phantom coach outside; the apparition of the home's builder, Henry Bull; and of course, the spirit of the nun.

This spectral figure was said to drift through the garden with her head bent in sorrow.

It would be during his investigations of Borley Rectory that he would become the best known and most accomplished of the early ghost hunters. He coined the idea of the “ghost hunter's kit”; used tape measurers to check the thickness of walls and to search for hidden chambers; perfected the use of still cameras for indoor and outdoor photography; brought in a remote control motion picture camera; put to use a fingerprinting kit; and even used portable telephones for contact between investigators.

Many of Price's accounts from Borley were obtained firsthand, as he claimed to see and hear much of the reported phenomena like hearing bells ring, rapping noises and seeing objects that has been moved from one place to another. In addition, he also collected accounts from scores of witnesses and previous tenants of the house, even talking to neighbors and local people who had their own experiences with the rectory.

Even the original tenants of the house, the Rev. Henry Bull family had encountered the spirits. He had become pastor of Borley Church in 1862 and despite local warnings, had built the rectory on a site believed by locals to be haunted. Over the years, Bull's servants and his daughters were repeatedly unnerved by phantom rappings, unexplained footsteps and the appearance of ghosts. Reverend Bull seemed to regard these events as splendid entertainment and he and his son, Harry, even constructed a summer house on the property where they could enjoy after dinner cigars and watch for the appearance of the phantom nun who walked nearby.
Harry Bull inherited the rectory and the job as parson when his father died in 1892 and stayed on until his death in 1927.

However, Bull's successor, Rev. Guy Smith, quit the rectory just one year after moving in, plagued by both the ghosts and the house's deteriorating state.
Messages on the walls
The ghosts at the rectory had been relatively peaceful, but all that would change in October 1930 when Smith was replaced by the Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife, Marianne. Their time in the house would see a marked increase in the paranormal activity. People were locked out of rooms, household items vanished, windows were broken, furniture was moved, odd sounds were heard and was only the beginning. 

However, the worst of the incidents seemed to involve Mrs. Foyster, as she was thrown from her bed at night, slapped by invisible hands, forced to dodge heavy objects which flew at her day and night, and was once almost suffocated with a mattress.

Soon after, there began to appear a series of scrawled messages on the walls of the house, written by an unknown hand. They seemed to be pleading with Mrs. Foyster, using phrases like “Marianne, please help get” and “Marianne light mass prayers”. 

Because most of the poltergeist activity occurred when Mrs. Foyster was present, Price was inclined to attribute it to her. However, he did believe in the possibility of the ghostly nun and some of the other reported phenomena. To him the rectory did not fit into preconceived notions of a haunted house, which was one of the reasons that it would go on to gain such a reputation.

Despite the implications of the phenomena centering around Marianne, Price maintained that at least one of the spirits in the house had found the rector's wife to be sympathetic to its plight. This was the only explanation he could find for the mysterious messages.
The house after a fire in 1938
He believed the writings had come from another young woman, one who seemed to be from her references, a Catholic. These clues would later fit well into Price's theory that the Borley mystery was a terrible tale of murder and betrayal in which the central character was a young nun, although not the one of legend.
The Foysters moved out of the house in 1935 and with the place now empty, Price leased the house for an extended, around the clock, one year investigation. He ran an advertisement in the personal column of the Times on May 25, 1937 looking for open minded researchers to literally “camp out” at the rectory and record any phenomena which took place in their presence. 

After choosing more than 40 people, he then printed the first ever handbook on how to conduct a paranormal investigation. A copy was given to each investigator and it explained what to do when investigating the house, along with what equipment they would need. The researchers were allowed a wide latitude when it came to searching for facts. Some of them employed their own equipment, others kept precise journals while others turned to sťances.

During the year that Price leased the rectory, several breakthroughs were made in communications with the spirits. One sťance would later give Price the material that he needed to solve, he believed, the mystery of the haunting.
During a sitting, an alleged spirit named Marie Lairre related that she had been a nun in France but had left her convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, a member of a wealthy family whose manor home once stood on the site of Borley Rectory. There, her husband had strangled her and had buried her remains in the cellar.

The story went well with most of the Borley phenomena, namely the reported phantom nun and the written messages. Price theorized that the former nun had been buried in unconsecrated ground and was now doomed to haunt the property seeking rest.
The Borely Rectory as it is today. The house no longer stands.
In March of 1938, five months after Marie's first appearance, another spirit promised that the rectory would burn down that night and that the proof of the nun's murder would be found in the ruins. Borley Rectory did not burn that night, but exactly 11 months later, a new owner, Captain WH Gregson was unpacking books in the library when an oil lamp overturned and started a fire. The blaze quickly spread and the rectory was destroyed. 

Price took this opportunity to excavate in the cellar of the house and discovered a few fragile bones which turned out to be that of a young woman. Possible evidence? Price concluded, there was something to the story of the murdered nun.

A Christian burial for the bones appeared to provide the ghost with the rest she had long sought and a service was later conducted by the Rev. AC Henning in the small village of Liston, less than two miles from the rectory.

Price wrote about Borley Rectory in two books entitled The Most Haunted House in England (1940) and The End of Borley Rectory (1946)

The photo on the left appeared in LIFE magazine in 1944, during the final demolition of Borley Rectory. It  is an enlargement from a larger photograph and shows what some claim is a "floating brick", suspended in the air by the spectral occupants of the rectory. Skeptics say that it was merely a brick thrown by a workman that was accidentally captured by the LIFE photographer.

The building itself was finally demolished in 1944. However, its legacy still continues today and it retains its reputation as one of the world's most famous haunted houses.


The Winchester Mystery House

The history begins at the height of the Civil War when Sarah Pardee met and married William Wirt Winchester, the son of the manufacturer of the famous Winchester Repeating Rifle. They had one child, Annie Pardee, who died of marasmus about one month after birth. Then, about 15 years later, William died of pulmonary tuberculosis (March 7, 1881).

Mrs. Winchester was deeply upset by the deaths of her husband and daughter and seems to have consulted a spiritualistic medium. Reportedly, the medium explained that the spirits of all those who had been killed by the rifles her family had manufactured, had sought their revenge by taking the lives of her loved ones. Further, these spirits had placed a curse on her and would haunt her forever. But the medium also stated that she could escape the curse by moving west, buying a house, and continually building on it, as the spirits directed. In this way, she could escape them and, perhaps find the key to eternal life.
The only known photograph of Sarah Winchester.
Whether Mrs. Winchester believed the medium or not is unclear, but she did move to what is now San Jose, California in 1884 and purchased an eight room farmhouse from Dr. Robert Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell came to San Jose from Kentucky by wagon train. He built the farmhouse in San Jose and lived there with his family (wife and 9 children) until he sold it to Mrs. Winchester. The family remained in San Jose from 1848 until at least 1932, when Dr. Caldwell's daughter Caroline died.

Mrs. Winchester immediately began her never ceasing building project. With a great deal of money and very few responsibilities, she satisfied her every whim and notion by keeping a staff of 18-20 domestic servants, 10-22 carpenters and 12-18 gardeners and field hands constantly busy. She had no master plan for a house and according to her carpenters, built whenever, wherever, and howsoever she pleased, always directed by the spirits. As a result of the constant building, tearing down and remodeling, the mansion's form shouldered its way ever higher into the skyline as its great bulk crept over the surrounding acres, engulfing several outlying structures over the southeast section of her 161 acre estate. She built steadily, 24 hours a day for 38 years, until her death in 1922.

During the 38 years Mrs. Winchester worked on her mansion, local people would pass by the estate and would wonder at the strange and mysterious construction. Many would try to explain it to others. From one telling to the next, many strange stories would arise.

Frequently, these stories would be recounted to Mrs. Winchester and, according to her niece, Mrs. Marion Marriott, would upset her very greatly. Many of these stories have been retold so many times, they have become part of the legend of the house.

Some feel Mrs. Winchester was a very sane, although eccentric, person. If she had actually believed that she would have eternal life if she kept building, why did she leave a will? Those who worked for her usually stayed for 15 or 20 years. One carpenter stayed and worked for 36 years.

Most would say that such a place must still harbor at least a few of the ghosts who came to reside there at the invitation of Sarah Winchester. The question is though, do they really haunt the place? Some would say that perhaps no ghosts ever walked there at all.... that the Winchester mansion is nothing more than the product of an eccentric woman's mind and too much wealth being allowed into the wrong hands.
There is no question that we can regard the place as one of the world's "largest haunted houses", based on nothing more than the legend of the place alone. Is this a case where we need to draw the line between what is a real haunted spot .... and what is a really great story?

Is the Winchester Mansion really haunted? You will have to decide that for yourself, although some people have already made up their minds.

There have been a number of strange events reported at the Winchester House for many years and they continue to be reported today. Dozens of psychics have visited the house over the years and most have come away convinced, or claim to be convinced, that spirits still wander the place. In addition to the ghost of Sarah Winchester, there have also been many other sightings throughout the years.
In the years that the house has been open to the public, employees and visitors alike have had unusual encounters here. There have been footsteps; banging doors; mysterious voices; windows that bang so hard they shatter; cold spots; strange moving lights; doorknobs that turn by themselves.... and don't forget the scores of psychics who have their own claims of phenomena to report.

Reports of ghosts and spirits to continue the tradition of Sarah Winchester's bizarre legacy? Or could the stories be true? Was the house really built as a monument to the dead? Do phantoms still lurk in the maze like corridors of the Winchester Mystery House?


Having noticed Alcatraz's potential as a fortress to protect America's new acquisitions, American Military Governor John Charles Fremont purchased the island from Francis Temple. Fremont expected a sizable compensation from the U.S. government in exchange for the island, but the government invalidated the sale and seized the island without paying Fremont anything. Fremont and his heirs filed countless lawsuits over the matter, but were never victorious.

Although the U.S. Army surveyed Alcatraz numerous times, possession of the island did not occur until 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War and ceded California to the U.S.  On November 6, 1850,  President Millard Fillmore signed an executive order that established Alcatraz as a military fort to protect the new boom city of San Francisco from possible invasion by hostile seafaring vessels.

Plans for defenses on Alcatraz were approved with 53 guns drafted into the plans. The plans included blasting away chunks of the perimeter of the island to create steep slopes thereby making the fortress difficult to invade on foot.

$500,000 was budgeted to complete the building of defenses on Alcatraz. Shortly after building began in early 1854, however, it was decided that an additional 155 iron seacoast cannons needed to be added to the final construction plans to make the island a topnotch fortress.

On June 1, 1854, the lighthouse on the island was completed and became fully operational. This was the first lighthouse to be built on the Pacific coast. At the outbreak of the Civil War, it was decided that Alcatraz needed to increase its weaponry in order to be an effective fort. 124 cannons were added to the defense plans.

It was also during the Civil War that Alcatraz became a military prison. Its first inmates were two naval officers and two soldiers that would not take an oath of loyalty to the U.S.

During its use as a prison, Alcatraz held many military offenders, as well as several notable civilian inmates.
April 15, 1865- When news of President Lincoln's assassination reached San Francisco, altercations broke out between defenders of Lincoln and those who were celebrating the news. An order was put out that anyone publicly cheering Lincoln's assassination would be arrested. A total of 39 civilians were jailed on Alcatraz under these pretenses. They were released after serving two months on the island.

Things ran smoothly on Alcatraz until the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898 brought about a huge increase in prisoners on the island. It was decided upon that Alcatraz needed major renovations in order to accommodate large numbers of prisoners in secure structures.

In preparation for the planned renovations, the armaments on Alcatraz were slowly removed until, by 1901, there were no fully functional weapons remaining on the island. In all its years as a military post, the weapons on Alcatraz had never been fired in hostility.

In 1933, the prison facility was formally turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During 1934, Alcatraz became an escape proof, maximum security prison, where only the most hardened convicts were brought.
The first residents of the newly created Alcatraz received numbers 1-32, with Frank Bolt having the distinction of being Federal Prisoner #1 while serving a five-year sentence for Sodomy. He was followed by Charles Copp (Robbery and attempted Assault); Leon Gregory (Robbery, Assault and AWOL); Joseph Harrison (Sodomy); Forrest Henry (Robbery and Assault); Clyde Hicks (Sodomy); Ralph Hills (Robbery and Assault); Albert Hoke (Robbery); Alan Hood (Sodomy); and Frederick Holme (Sodomy and False Enlistment) to round out the first ten inmates. Al Capone was the first celebrity on the first train to Alcatraz, arriving in August 1934. He was given number 85.

Guards armed with machine guns, insured there were no escapes. Many convicts found Alcatraz the end of their career in crime, as well as the end of their lives. 

For 29 years, the fog enshrouded island, with its damp, cold winds and isolation, made Alcatraz one of America's safest prisons.

The shell of steel and reinforced concrete confined ruthless men to a life of deprivation, rules and routines that proved almost intolerable. When one adds the fact that the convicts could hear the party boats pass by, and see some of the San Francisco city lights, it is little wonder that some preferred death to this kind of isolation. Failure to acquiesce to prison rules resulted in confinement in ‘D’ block, the treatment unit. Here, men could leave their four-by-eight cells only once in seven days for a brief, ten-minute shower.
Life was hard on Alcatraz, just the way that Warden Johnson envisioned it. His motto was "Take each day of your sentence, one day at a time. Don't think how far you have to go, but how far you've come." For many prisoners, Alcatraz became synonymous with hell.

There were a number of escape attempts from Alcatraz, but the bloodiest occurred on May 2, 1946, involving Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Clarence Carnes, Marvin Hubbard and Miran Thompson. It cost the lives of three inmates and two guards, with 17 guards and one prisoner wounded. The trial afterward, resulted in the execution of two more convicts who took part in the aborted escape.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy officially closed the doors of Alcatraz on March 21, 1963. From 1963 to 1969, the prison was unoccupied. Today, it is maintained by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Some of the more haunted locations on Alcatraz appear to be the Warden’s house, the hospital, the laundry room and the cell block ‘C’ utility door where convicts Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard died during their escape attempt in 1946.
The most haunted area of Alcatraz is the ‘D’ cell block, or solitary, as it was often called. To most of those who go there, a feeling of sudden intensity pervades the cells and corridor. Some rangers refuse to go there alone. It is intensely sold in certain cells, far colder than normal -especially in cell 14-D. This cell is oftentimes so cold, that wearing a jacket barely helps -even the surrounding area is twenty degrees warmer. It is no wonder the area is called ‘the Hole’.

A former guard related his stories about cell block ‘D’, particularly cells 12 and 14, and the frightening remnant energy lingering in the subterranean portion of the prison. During his stint in the mid-1940’s, convicts were often confined in one of the 14 cells in ‘D’ blocks. Cells 9-14 were called ‘the Hole’, because they contained no windows, and only one light which could be turned off by the guards. The darkness made it seem like a hole in the ground -hence the name. On one occasion, an inmate was locked in ‘the Hole’. Within seconds, the inmate began screaming that someone with glowing eyes was in there with him. Tales of a ghostly presence wandering the darkened corridors in clothing from the late 1800’s were a continual source of practical joking among the guards, so the convict's pleas of being ‘attacked’ were ignored.

The man's screaming continued well into the night, until there was silence. The following day, the guards inspected the cell -the convict was dead, a horrible expression etched on his face and noticeable hand marks around his throat. The autopsy revealed that the strangulation was not self inflicted. Some say he was strangled by a guard who had enough of the man's screaming, although no guard ever admitted it, even to the other guards.

A number of guards who worked on Alcatraz from 1946 through 1963 experienced something that was possibly paranormal  at one time or another. From the outer rim on the grounds to the depths of the prison, there was constant talk of people sobbing and moaning, horrible smells, cold spots and seeing the ‘Thing’ with the glowing eyes. Even groups of phantom prisoners and soldiers have appeared in front of startled guards, guests and the families who lived on the island.

Sometimes the old lighthouse, long since demolished, seemed to appear out of a dense fog, accompanied by a ghostly whistling sound and a green flashing light which passed slowly around the island. The spectacle would then vanish before the startled eyes of guards and visitors. Phantom cannon shots, gun shots and screams often sent seasoned guards falling flat on their stomachs thinking that prisoners had escaped and obtained weapons. Each time, there was no explanation.

A deserted laundry room would sometimes emanate a strong scent of smoke, as if something was on fire. The sensation of the choking smoke would drive guards out of the room, only to return a few minutes later, the area now completely smoke free. The phantom smoke occurred many times over the years.

These are but a few of the stories from Alcatraz.

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