Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Brick in the Mouth Kept Vampires Away?

How do you starve a vampire? Back in the 16th century, you put a brick in his or her mouth.

When archaeologists began digging in a 16th century graveyard on the Lazaretto Nuovo island north of Venice, they uncovered more than a hundred corpses which had been buried in a mass grave during a vicious plague epidemic that swept the area in 1576. Among the bodies they unearthed was that of a woman thought to have been about 60 years old when she died of plague. Someone had shoved a brick in her mouth.

Since the causes and origins of epidemics such as the Black Death were not understood at the time, medical and religious texts of the time often attributed the rise of plagues to vampires. This viewpoint was supported by the dead themselves. Gravediggers often encountered bloated bodies, sometimes with hair and fingernails still growing, and blood seeping out of their mouths. While we understand now that these phenomena are the natural result of decomposition, to the people of the day they indicated that the person was “undead.” The buried vampires would then cast spells that would spread the plague and swell their own ranks. Eventually, it was thought, the vampire would become strong enough to rise from the grave.

The best way to kill a dead body involved shoving a rock or brick into the mouth of the “vampire.” This was usually done by a priest or gravedigger, probably accompanied by appropriate prayers and other incantations. The elderly woman seems to have been the only one targeted as a vampire. No other corpses in this particularly cemetery appear to have suffered the same fate.

There is one other possible explanation for the brick: Was this really an attempt to stop a vampire, or was it a case of a husband’s revenge against a nagging wife?

If you’d like more information, here’s a good place to start.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Was That Owl Trying to Tell Me?

I’ve had a few strange experiences in my own life over the years. One of them involved a great horned owl I encountered late one night while working as a security officer watching over an empty building. I’ve never forgotten that night, or my odd “conversation” with the great bird, but I’ve always wondered what it was trying to say.

Since I’ve written the story elsewhere, I won’t repeat it here. But if you’d like to know what happened, just go here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crabs Are Getting Bigger - Is Carbon Dioxide to Blame?

A recent study of blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and other areas shows that crabs and other crustaceans are growing at up to four times their normal rate. But the same conditions are causing oysters and scallops to grow at a rate of one–fourth of their normal speed. So what’s causing this ecological chaos? It looks like it’s carbon dioxide that is gradually falling from the air into the world’s oceans. And that’s bad news for the oysters.

A research team from the University of North Carolina’s Aquarium Research Center, led by marine geologist Justin Baker Ries conducted a study in 2009 in which they raised crabs in high- carbon tanks. They found that the creatures grew bigger and bigger, but that they actually ate fewer oysters. They also found that while the animals grew bigger and faster, which helped make them less vulnerable to predators, they spent much of their energy producing new shells rather than gaining flesh.

Oysters and scallops, on the other hand, are growing much more slowly than normal because of the same carbon dioxide levels. Smaller oysters are easier prey, so the number of survivors living to adulthood is almost certain to be lower than it was in the past despite the crabs’ loss of appetite.

Maryland and Virginia have worked hard to improve oyster populations in Chesapeake Bay.  One of the reasons is that oysters filter pollutants from the bay’s waters. Over the last hundred years, however, drops in oyster populations have reduced the filtering cycle in the bay from once every three weeks to approximately once every three years. Some experts predict the current trend will continue so long as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise.

It is hoped that a way will be found to stabilize the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Oysters help to increase biodiversity in the bay’s environment and are credited with helping to reduce erosion on shorelines.

Seafood lovers are also losing out. Even though the crustaceous are growing faster, they are no meatier than their ancestors. Fewer, smaller scallops and oysters also will negatively impact the fishing industry.

Can the denizens of Chesapeake Bay and other affected areas adjust to the new levels of carbon dioxide in time? We can only hope that “life finds a way.”

There’s more discussion about the crabs and their potential effect on Chesapeake Bay here

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Powers, Arizona’s Haunted Hotel

The Gadsden Hotel, built in 1907, is listed on the National Historic Register. It has appeared in movies and early in its history served as a home and meeting place for nearly all of the region’s great movers and shakers. A white marble staircase and gold-leaf topped marble columns decorate the lobby. A 42-foot Tiffany stained-glass mural and stained-glass skylights illuminate the mezzanine. So what’s that translucent cowboy doing sitting on the couch?

There have been so many incidents that the hotel keeps a logbook to allow guests and staff to record their experiences, which seem to occur year round. There are so many reports that no one thinks much of them any more. The reports are kept in binders behind the front desk. Hotel employees take the ghosts in stride, and their unseen guests seem happy and not vindictive.

Room 333 seems to be a particularly active area. One woman reported that she was joined in bed by an invisible visitor. Apparently her experience was somehow soothing and not frightening, and she did not ask for a different room. One guest reported that his golf clubs flew across the room. Televisions sometimes turn on and off in that room.

Some of the spirits appear to be cowboys and someone saw a Mexican soldier. A young boy and a well-dressed woman have also been seen. A housekeeper reported being slapped in the face by an unseen hand. A Florida man checked into the governor’s suite but raced into the lobby a few minutes after entering his room, claiming that a woman was taking a shower in the bathroom.  When he and a hotel staffer checked, the shower was completely dry and empty. The guest decided not to stay.

While a few guests have left when they learned the hotel is haunted, many others come to stay when they find out about the ghosts. The hotel’s manager declined an invitation by a priest to conduct an exorcism. She believes the ghosts are actually good for business.

The Gadsden has been investigated by amateur ghost hunters and has appeared on television.  Visitors have sent eerie photographs of phenomena they say they witnessed, including a photo showing the image of a translucent cowboy sitting on a couch in the lobby.

If you’d like to read more, go here

Thinking about booking a stay? Here’s the Gadsden Hotel’s website: