The Farnsworth House Inn in Haunted Gettysburg, PA

Bob and I stayed at the 1810 Historic Farnsworth House Inn in Gettysburg, PA over Memorial Day weekend in connection with our upcoming book with Llewellyn (“America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests”).

Historic Farnsworth House Inn

Historic Farnsworth House Inn

The history and hauntings will be addressed in the book, but for now, follow me into the house and downstairs into the depths of the basement. 



The Mourning Theatre is held down here (stories told by candlelight). 

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There are many original artifacts from the Victorian Mourning Period in the basement, including these hair wreaths, pictured below. 


Traditionally, when a relative died, a surviving family member cut off a piece of the deceased’s hair and sewed it into the family wreath and hung it on the wall like that was a totally normal piece of art. This was a way for the family to remember their loved one, and especially so if they could not afford the expense of photography. The Victorians were also fond of using the hair in jewelry. I have no idea what sort of weird residual attachments might go along with having that amount of strange, dead, human hair stored in one place that has so many deaths and tragedy connected to the sight. It is worth considering though, when you think about the reasons for the hauntings.

After all that darkness, we headed for the light of the battlefield. It was a haunting place, but peaceful just the same.       

Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg battlefield, near the Devil’s Den area.

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A Visit to the Indiana Medical History Museum

The 1896 Pathology Building is just about all that is left of the former Central State Hospital in Indianapolis a/k/a The Indiana Hospital for the Insane (Circa 1848 – 1994). The two-story building has been preserved as a museum. Admission is just $10.00, and includes a one-hour tour that is highly informative, enjoyable, and tastefully macabre (if that is a thing – I kind of just made it up, but I think that phrase sums it up perfectly).

The museum carries a warning to the public: “Young children and visitors sensitive to topics such as mental illness, death, and autopsy may find the museum disturbing. Human skeletons and preserved organs are on display at the museum.”

Step inside.


Our tour begins in the teaching amphitheater. In its day, the facility was cutting edge, and doctors were diligently working to discover the causes of psych conditions and diseases (dementia / depression / schizophrenia).


Autopsies were performed and organs were kept to be studied.

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The morgue:

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The Anatomical Museum and a lab room. There is a skylight above the marble table because it provided the best light for dissecting.

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I could have spent hours in the library, but the books are fragile, and off-limits. Don’t all of those “American Journal of Insanity” volumes from the early 1800’s look fascinating?!

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Lastly, the photography room:

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Even if you do not have any medical background whatsoever, you can appreciate how far we have come in just 100 years.

Further reading:

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The Galloping Hessian of the Hollow



Sleepy Hollow is only about 40 minutes outside of Manhattan. Made famous by Washington Irving, it wasn’t even called Sleepy Hollow until 1996, when GM closed a plant in North Tarrytown, and citizens elected to get smart and re-brand. Dig the horseman icon at the top of the street signs. Brilliant.



The Cemetery is still there, of course, as well as the Old Dutch Church. As we were walking the grounds, I think I just might have stumbled upon the grave of the Hessian.


I mean, who else would they want to keep locked up?!


It was not hard to imagine (even in the light of day) the Hessian beginning his ride out of that grave, and trotting down the hill. All the graves are lined up, facing this path, as though they are cheering him on while he rides.


There is not much of a bridge left at all. More of a site-marker.


I found a weathered and slightly yellowed copy of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow after we got home from our Labor Day trip to New York. You really owe it to yourself to sit down one of these few remaining October nights and read the story (by firelight, if at all possible). The language is just fantastic. The story has stood the test of time, and it remains today one of the very best scary stories I have ever read.

“There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region; it breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land.”


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On My Bookshelf: Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities, by Michael Kleen

Fall gives me back to school fever, and when I found out that Michael Kleen’s new book combined my love of ghost stories with my longing for school days, I had to get a copy. One of the themes of the book that really struck a chord with me is the importance of legend-tripping in college. Some of us outgrow it, I guess, but even if we do, I think we replace it with another form of travel or even possibly another thrill-seeking activity.

From haunted libraries and theaters, to even your very own dorm room, any area of the campus might have an associated legend. I caught up with Michael and he very kindly entertained my questions below:

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities

I love your explanation of legend tripping as a form of escapism. “By confronting the imagined horrors that await them at their destination, participants expect to be changed in some way.” What are your thoughts on the importance of continuing this tradition into our adult lives?

Legend tripping, like all rights of passage, is important during adolescence and early adulthood. These trips to “forbidden” locations, confrontations with real or imagined danger, and proving one’s bravery to his or her peers can have a lasting impression on individuals and groups of friends. I recently read an insightful argument that ghost stories are intimately tied to nostalgia. Many adults who engaged in legend tripping during their formative years probably retain very powerful memories of those events. I know I do.

Continuing to seek out mysterious places in adulthood is a way to reconnect with those memories, perhaps even to reconstruct them with a new group of friends, or to share that part of your life with someone new. We can develop very real emotional connections to these places, even physical connections (such as writing your name on a wall, for example). Revisiting an abandoned building or bridge where you wrote your name as a teen allows you to encounter a visual reminder of your past.

Do you find the idea of a haunted library unsettling or oddly comforting?

I love libraries and old books–places where you can literally smell the history. When I was a kid, I used to enjoy looking in books to see the last date they were checked out. Sometimes that was several decades ago. I like the idea that something of the past remains, like a spiritual manifestation of a custodian of this collective knowledge. So to answer your question, yes, I find it comforting.

What legend do you think is the most far-fetched or hard for you to believe, and which do you find the most believable?

I treat all legends as equally believable and far-fetched, because I’m not very interested in questions about the truth or falsehood of legends. All legends are acts of creative storytelling. You could have one legend about the ghost of a suicide victim at college and it be completely made up, or you could have a legend that was based on a real suicide, but elements of the story are fictional. You have to, at some level, assume all these stories are false. However, there is a legend about a dorm that was designed to fly safely off its foundation in the event of a tornado, and I think that’s pretty far-fetched.

When I was reading the stories of the librarian ghost in Williams Hall, I was thinking to myself: “Wait a minute. That sounds likeGhostbusters!” Then you wrote the exact same observation a few sentences later. Do you see this type of phenomenon often when conducting interviews, as far as witnesses seemingly being influenced by popular culture and the media when they are reporting their stories? If so, do you think it is an innocent happening, or do you think people sometimes just mirror what they think they are supposed to say they saw based on what they’ve seen in the movies and may have already read in print?

I think media is very influential when it comes to legends and ghost stories. Let’s say someone actually sees a ghost, or encounters something they can’t explain. How do they describe something that may have only happened for a few seconds out of the corner of their eye? There may not be words in the English language suitable to describe what the person encountered. So they pull examples from popular culture–movies, TV shows, newspaper articles, stories they heard from other people–to fill in the blanks. People do this when describing crimes as well, and that involves an actual physical event! It’s been shown that reports of encounters with ghosts and UFOs increase when articles in the newspaper or TV news reports focus on those subjects. It’s not clear, however, whether people just feel more open to talking about those experiences, or whether the media somehow influenced them to be more susceptible to having those experiences. I do know that when a legend in one part of the country becomes popular in the media, it has been known to spread to other parts of the country. Those are called migratory legends. The crybaby bridge and vanishing hitchhiker motifs are just two examples of that.

Speaking of interviews, have you ever come across a participant who seeks payment in exchange for a story? If so, how do you handle this?

I have not encountered that, but I would not be opposed to paying for a story if it was something that was really crucial to my research. Some people just need that extra motivation. You always have to be careful, however, of people who are just coming forward with a story for financial gain. You can find someone to say anything for the right amount of money.

It’s a dark and suddenly stormy night and you find yourself trapped outside alone in the elements on your way back to your dorm room. Do you seek shelter in the archives of the haunted library or run for cover into the tunnels?

Hm, I would definitely seek shelter in the haunted archives. That sounds a lot cozier and you’re less likely to run into jumbo sized sewer rats.

I’m captivated by the Capital Hotel. Any news or tales you can share that didn’t make it in the book?

Yes and no. Pretty much everything I know about Vishnu Springs and the Capitol Hotel related to its importance as a legend tripping destination for students from Western Illinois University is in the book, but there is a lot of history I left out because it was just meant to be an overview. So nothing new to report, unfortunately. I would like to know when WIU intends to open it back up to the public.

In the beginning, it is explained to the reader that the legends are retold as a way of explaining strange occurrences and are passed on in order to warn or inform others. And yet, the most chilling truth of all is presented later in the form of the fate of Shannon McNamara. “As Shannon McNamara’s murder taught a whole generation of my fellow EIU alumni, you can be intelligent, popular, athletic, and happy, and evil might still find you.” This sentence stuck with me, and still covers my entire body in chills. This is the scariest story to tell in the dark because it is real, and there is really nothing you can do to guard against it other than stay strapped, I guess. This isn’t really turning into much of an interview question, but I guess I just want to listen to you talk about this theme/truth some more.

We like to think of the college years as carefree. For most people, it’s a time to party, experiment, and reinvent yourself before moving on to adulthood. It is definitely all of those things, at least in contemporary American society. But there is the flipside of the coin. Some students experience loneliness, social rejection, disappointment, failure, and broken hearts. Most of the legends and ghost stories on college campuses focus on these unfortunate individuals. Ghost stories tell students, “this could happen to you if you’re not careful,” which is an especially poignant message among people who are still in denial about their mortality. But as you point out, this turns out to be a false hope. In reality, tragedy also befalls normal, happy, and well-adjusted students. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent a killer from striking, or a tragic accident befalling someone. That is the real horror. It is a reality almost too horrible to face, so we tame it by turning it into a story with a neat little moral at the end.

Any upcoming announcements? Any updates on the witchcraft in Illinois book?

I’m currently deployed overseas, so I don’t have any upcoming events. My book on the cultural history of witchcraft in Illinois is still in review at the publisher. It is an academic publisher, so the editing and revision process is especially long. Even though it can be discouraging at times, in the end, I think this process will make it a much better book. As for right now, I’m continuing to try to promote Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities as best I can.

Tell us how to keep up with you.

People can keep up with me through my websites, and

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The Art Institute of Chicago – Where it is Always Halloween?

I was at the Art Institute a few weeks ago, and for some reason, all I saw was death.

It started with Charles Ray’s “Unpainted Sculpture.”


Dig the “Jesus is Lord” decal on the upper left (rear). I knew it was a death car as soon as we walked in the room. Why else would it be here? Thankfully, it wasn’t the actual car, and what we were seeing was an exact replica cast in fiberglass.


We walked around the car, and even though I knew I wasn’t looking at anything “real,” I still felt really screwed up about it. It was an exhibit, and it was put here to be observed and talked about, but it feels sort of wrong to talk about. Yet here I am. I don’t know who the driver was. It would almost make me feel better somehow to know, although I don’t know why. It wouldn’t change anything. Maybe the message is that death is faceless, nameless. A force that will one day come for each of us, and all that will be left are shells of materials around us. We won’t be here anymore.


That message taken at face value is macabre and ominous, and totally depressing. But, it doesn’t have to be. There’s no sense getting down about a fact that you are powerless to change. And in that letting go, is freedom. Besides, only empty soulless people even believe in death. It is a change in circumstance, to be sure. But it isn’t real, you know.

The artist could not be reached for comment, but the placard on the wall said: “After studying automobiles that had been involved in fatal collisions, Ray eventually chose a wrecked 1991 Pontiac Grand Am that he felt held the presence of its dead driver.” Is there a ghost in the machine? I don’t know, but I’m sure it happens. The scene was uncomfortable, as though I was having a glimpse of something private, something that no other human being was meant to see.

“Unpainted Sculpture” was not a permanent exhibit, but the remaining images that continue to haunt me are.

Frances Bacon’s “Figure with Meat,” 1954

No further explanation is needed. This is very similar to the first Bacon painting I saw (in Des Moines, of all places). The guy made Halloween art, plain and simple. It looks like something that should be hanging on the wall of a haunted attraction. How he ever got himself into museums, I will never know. This fact proves that many artists are famous for shocking the conscience rather than for creating anything of substance beyond the shock.


Kurt Seligmann’s “Magnetic Mountain,” – 1948

Fascinating, but totally weird. Interesting factoid – Seligmann authored a history book about the occult (The Mirror of Magic), and was readily acknowledged by the Surrealists as an expert magician. I’m going to steal a phrase from Bob. When we were out in Bisbee, Arizona, he called that town Beetlejuice on Drugs. That’s what I call this painting. I’m not saying it isn’t interesting or thought-provoking, but it creeps me the hell out.


Yve Tanguy’s “The Rapidity of Sleep,” – 1945

Does it mean you have slipped away into Freddy Krueger’s Dream Land, or that you are dead, sleeping the ultimate sleep?


Salvador Dali’s “Inventions of the Monsters,” – 1937

You can always count on Dali to put together something that will totally rock what you think the world is. He tapped into his dreams, churled them around, and came up with his image of a world without a safe haven. What I want to know is – was he actually the great prophet of the modern age?


Giorgio de Chirico’s “The Philosopher’s Conquest,” – late 1913, early 1914

This one is less obviously macabre, but macabre it is in fact, still. I saw his “Gare Montparnasse” painting at the MOMA last year, and was blown away. The artichokes are nutty, but he has the clock and the train again, which we know are symbols of death.


Rene Magrite’s “The Banquet,” – 1958

I love this one. Although, the more I look at it, the more convinced I become that I am standing inside the painting. The scene is a crumbling European castle full of royal vampires, and they have just arisen from their coffins because the sun is now setting. They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Wait! That line is for when the zombies are coming, not the vampires.


Sweet dreams. Happy early Halloween!

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Introducing October Sky Designs – Journals by a Writer for Writers

I am working on a new project that excites me more than anything else I have ever created. The product line is an infant, but will be growing rapidly as time permits.

So far, I am working on a line of journals (or notebooks, depending on your naming convention preferences). I am personally sourcing the old (and in some cases, actual antique) hardcover books shown in the photographs, and using premium paper products to handcraft unique old-world style notebooks. I am throwing away my Moleskines. As a writer, I can tell you that I have spent a lifetime trying out various mass-produced notebooks. I started using the Moleskine line in my late 20’s, and that was as close as I ever got to satisfaction until now.

I absolutely recant the virtues I previously extolled upon the Moleskine line in print circa 2013. I have held my own creation in my own hands and now there is nothing else that will do. The Writer’s Pages line meets my exceedingly high expectations in every category that a writer would be concerned about when selecting a journal or notebook:  aesthetics, individuality, timelessness, products that inspire you to sit and think and to write/create/build/live/travel, with the inclusion of higher quality premium paper products (along with five envelopes for storage, in response to the Moleskine’s lonely little one in the back).

There are two lines today: Writer’s Pages, and Haunted Asylums journals.

My photos of two of the spec books:

Bird 1

Bird 3



More details can be found at my new site:


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The Old Charleston Jail

Llewellyn ran my article about the Old Charleston Jail yesterday. The full article can be viewed here:

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