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Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Walk Through Life 10/22/16

West Virginia State Penitentiary, Moundsville, West Virginia

  When we drove upon this massive stone structure, all we could say was “Wow!”. There was no doubt we were at the right place. Our first view was the twenty-four foot high walls, which we later found out were five feet deep. We drove around until we came to the main entrance. It is Gothic in style, complete with turrets and battlements. To look at it just brings out the excitement in anyone interested in ghost stories!
  The penitentiary opened up for operation in 1876. It was commissioned during the Civil War when West Virginia succeeded from Virginia and found themselves without a prison. It was denied several times, and Governor Arthur Boreman was told to use the existing county jails. The press got involved when nine inmates escaped from a jail. Boreman finally received the funding to build in Moundsville, West Virginia. Prisoners were used to build the structure, which at first included the Wagon Gate, a home for the warden, a hospital, a kitchen, dining area, offices, a facility for women and a chapel. It housed 251 male inmates. The second phase included workshops.
  Some of the inmates had jobs to support the prison. There was a bakery, a tailor shop, and a wagon shop. In 1921, a coal mine opened up in the area. This mine helped supply the prison with coal, so some of the prisoners were sent to work at the mine. At the turn of the century, prison conditions were reported to be good. Many of the prisoners were productive. A school and library were built to support education and rehabilitation.
  Gradually, the conditions worsened and the prison was listed on the United States Department of Justice’s “Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities” list. Due to overcrowding, three inmates had to share the tiny cells, two on the bunk beds, which were attached to the walls, and one on a pallet on the floor. Gambling, fighting, murder, and rape occurred daily.
  January 1, 1986, a deadly prison riot was launched. A small group who called themselves The Avengers, plotted to take over on a holiday when many guards would call off work. Conditions of the prison had deteriorated. There was disease due to insects and bad plumbing. The third floor of the prison did not have heat in the winter and was stifling hot in the summer. Prisoners could pick the lock of their cells and would roam freely. Security had become lax. At around 5:30pm The Avengers took action. Six guards and a food service worker were attacked and secured with handcuffs. None of them were seriously wounded. However, in the two days of rioting, three inmates were killed by other inmates. The governor was sent to the prison for negotiations. New rules and standards were set.
  Later that year, the Supreme Court ruled that the conditions were not suitable and the 5’x7’ cells were cruel and unjust punishment. The prison was shut down. Even as bad as this prison was reported to be, Charles Manson requested to be sent to Moundsville. His mother was once housed in the women’s facility and he still had family in the area.
  On record, ninety-four men were executed. Eighty-five were hung in the Wagon Gate. In 1951, the State began to use the electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky”. Nine men were electrocuted until the State abolished the death penalty in 1959. There were thirty-six homicides, and numerous suicides. With all the death, anger, and hatred that went on inside these thick walls, there has to be ghosts!
  The prison is now used to bring in a profit. It is used as a museum to learn of the justice system, to look at the artwork of talented prisoners, to learn of prison history, and yes, you can visit “Old Sparky”. For Halloween fun, there is the Dungeon of Horrors. The spooky feel of the prison is intensified by the haunted house effects. From March until November, you can use ghost hunting techniques and get locked in overnight. During any of these events you have a good chance of encountering a previous inmate.
  A group of us, friends and family, went for the overnight lock-in. There were about sixty other people with us, so we knew that conducting investigations were going to be hard, but the place is big, so we were not walking on top of each other. During our preliminary tour, we learned of the key places known to have paranormal activity. One area was a basement room called the Sugar Shack. It was the recreational area when the weather outside was bad. The guards didn’t monitor the area very well since there was only one door and no windows. Since security was lacking, it was a place for gambling and fighting. No murders were reported to happen there, however. We were told by our tour guide that occasionally a spirit will be seen digging here, but no one knows why. Sitting in the Sugar Shack in the dark was not pleasant but we stayed there for a while. We did not collect any evidence of paranormal activity there, but the energy is so heavy you can almost feel the violence. All the fake blood and random items left from the Dungeons of Horror didn’t help make the atmosphere any more comfortable.
  Another basement room was what looked to be an old kitchen. It has a large cooking fireplace along one of the walls. This section is called “The Hole” and was used to house R.D. Wall. He was favored by the warden and was given this section as his cell. Some inmates labeled him as a “snitch” and attacked him while he was sitting in his bathroom. He was skinned alive and burned. There have been reports of him haunting his old cell. One of my friends was touched by unseen hands while she was sitting in The Hole. On her digital recorder she recorded a male voice talking about a key. When I went into The Hole, the only activity I found was a bat.
   We spent some time in the hospital and psych ward. The hospital ward was below the warden’s quarters. Lana and I kept hearing footsteps pacing above us. We knew the section was off limits to visitors, and were wondering if anyone was able to sneak up into it. The entrance to the stairs looked to be very secure, so we were pretty sure we heard phantom pacing from the warden’s quarters.
  The North Wagon Gate is one of the oldest sections of the prison. Not only did wagons enter and leave here, but the hangings were conducted here. One of our recorders picked up the EVP “Carl Monroe”. Could he be a prisoner that still lingers here? I was not able to find any information on him.
  For me, the most fascinating and active place in the prison was “Red’s Cell”. William “Red” Snyder was in the area that housed the most dangerous prisoners. Red was put in prison for killing his parents. While in Moundsville, he had other prisoners killed. He was known for being a fan of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives”. Red was not friendly with many of the other prisoners and was a loner. The graffiti on his cell walls show that he was a racist and had an interest in the Aryan Nation. One day in 1992, he had a disagreement with another prisoner, Russell “Rusty” Lassiter. When the guards opened cells, Rusty rushed out and “shanked” Red. Before the guard could pull out his gun and stop the attack, Lassiter had stabbed Red thirty-seven times. On our tour, we were told that Red was the most active of spirits, especially if you discuss his favorite soap opera.
  My son and his friends spent some time in Red’s cell. They had a digital recorder and asked the question, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” The spooky answer was “I’m gonna take a nap”.
  Lana and I sat on the bunk of Red’s cell for a couple of hours. We tried very hard to get something, anything to happen. Lana’s husband joined us in the cell occasionally, but it was very tiny and with him inside it was crowded. (We had a hard time picturing three people living here!) He preferred to walk the hallway and take video. We were very disappointed to have had no activity to report. We did catch an odd EVP, however. Lana and I were discussing that we hoped we could get some evidence to prove that the prison was haunted, but we were rather disappointed. A man’s voice came on our recorder that said, “I’m still alive”.
  After the lock-in was over, Lana and I were in the gift shop buying tee-shirts. One of the tour guides Maggie, asked us if we had any experiences. We told her that we didn’t really, and even tried to get something to happen in Red’s cell. She told us that she was once a guard in the prison and knew Red. After the prison was shut down, and the tours had started, she was in on a Sunday cleaning up the water bottles and other trash the visitors left. She walked past Red’s cell and heard a familiar voice say “Morning Mag”. She automatically said “Morning, Red” and then realized she just talked to a dead man.
   This building almost has to be haunted with the horrible history that it holds, even if we didn’t come home with many personal experiences or exciting video.

Footnote:  My daughter and I were watching a special on television about Moundsville and its ghosts. The tour guide Maggie was on it and was with a local paranormal investigator. Rusty Lassiter was being released from prison and they felt the need to let Red know. They entered his cell with a digital recorderr. After they told Red’s spirit that Lassiter was released, a voice was recorded saying “I already know”. My daughter and I both recognized the voice. It was the same voice on our recorders!


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Walk Through Life 10/13/16


Monument of General Turner Ashby, Harrisonburg, Virginia


I was going to write a story but this article was so fun, I thought I would share it. Article found at

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, California 90038

Tour the multitude of graves at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
If you want to see several stars all in one place, then the place to go is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Of course, the stars that you'll see there are all mostly long dead and gone; I say mostly. Founded in 1899 and located on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery not only is it the resting place for hundreds of Hollywood's stars and other famous persons, but it remains a fully operating cemetery to this day still performing new burials and cremations every week. Today its owner was once an adviser on the television series, Six Feet Under.
Some of the famous stars buried here include Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, Peter Lorre, Marion Davies, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, and Charlie Chaplin Jr. Recent additions, in the past few years, include Fay Wray of King Kong and guitarist Johnny Ramone.

Cecil B. Demille's Grave
Other colorful characters of note include the director of "Ten Commandments", Cecil B. DeMille. During the making of that film, he buried his enormous Egyptian sets in the dunes west of Guadalupe along the California Coast. His large tomb, containing two matching stone sarcophagi, is fairly easy to find on the road going to the left from the main gate. The grave site is located on the right side of the road.

Griffith J. Griffith
Another person buried in the cemetery is Griffith J. Griffith, the eccentric and wealthy businessman responsible for donating Griffith Park to Los Angeles. Granted, he thought the land was cursed and that a ghost stalked it, but still, his donation of the land followed by the willing of even more money after his death helped build the second largest park in California and contributed to the construction of the Griffith Observatory. History can ignore the fact that he tried to kill his wife because he believed that she was conspiring against him with the aid of the Catholic Pope.

Benjamin Siegel
Next up, on our listing of colorful characters is Benjamin Siegel also known as the Mobster Bugsy. Benjamin Siegel was assassinated at his girlfriend, Virginia Hill's mansion in Beverly Hills. Although he is buried in the giant mausoleum in the back right hand corner of the cemetery near Paramount Studios, his ghost is said to still haunt Virginia Hill's house as well as the grand hotel, the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

The water tower at Paramount Studios can easily be seen from the cemetery
So after all the dead and resting residents of the cemetery, we finally get to all the dead and non resting residents of the cemetery. If rumors are to be believed there are at least three separate ghostly entities lurking within the grounds of Hollywood Forever Cemetery and perhaps even countless more wandering around the edges and spooking the other nearby properties. Originally located on 100 acres, forty acres of the cemetery were sold to Paramount Studios and RKO pictures along the south facing part of the property long ago in the twenties. Paramount Studios is still there, although RKO pictures, maker of King Kong, is no longer around. With its close proximity to the cemetery, Paramount Studios has been described as one of the most haunted of all the movie studios in town. If the stories are true, many of the ghostly dead will walk straight through the walls from the cemetery and into the movie studio. The stages of Paramount Studios that are located the closest to the cemetery report seeing spirits clothed in thirties and forties garb. Additionally they report hearing mysterious footsteps wander through the studios and equipment turning on and off.
Located a few feet from the cemetery on the Lemon Grove side, is one of many entrances into Paramount Studios. However, this one is often used by the studio's ghostly visitors. Apparently some of the ghosts will simply stroll in walking straight through the gate, where as others will actually poke their heads (and occasionally walk) through the wall separating the cemetery from the studio. Needless to say, the guards on the night shift at the gate are not exactly pleased by the uninvited visitors wandering in and popping in through the walls. Guards have even reported the specter of Rudolph Valentino strolling into the studio through the Lemon Grove gate.

Rudolph Valentino's 'Temporary' Crypt
One of the many ghosts that possibly resides within the cemetery though isn't Rudolph Valentino but instead a ghostly woman in black who visits him bringing flowers. Valentino at age 31 died on August 23, 1926 following surgery for a gastric ulcer. It is suspected that 100,000 fans gathered outside the funeral home in New York City. It is even rumored that a wax replica was utilized at the service in order to protect the real body of Rudolph Valentino safe from his "adoring" fans. As his body was brought back to California, fans gathered in railroad stations across the United States to simply catch a glimpse of the train carrying him. And in Hollywood, over 80,000 mourners visited the Hollywood Forever Cemetery when Valentino arrived there to be interred. Even a plane flew overhead raining thousands of rose petals down on the proceedings. Valentino was placed in a temporary spot in the Cathedral Mausoleum. Rudolph Valentino was entombed in the second hallway on the left side of the Cathedral Mausoleum. He can be found in the far left corner of the third alcove. The spot was only supposed to be temporary. A grand and large memorial was suppose to be designed including several life sized statues of Valentino. The temporary crypt came from Rudolph's friend June Mathis who owned two spots next to each other within the cemetery. Sadly she suffered a heart attack less than a year after Valentino's death and in now laid to rest in the crypt next to him. Valentino's family purchased from Mathis's widower the crypt that Rudolph resided in later when all plans for Valentino's memorial had fallen through, thus making the "temporary" home his permanent home until this day.

Poster for "The Sheik"
After Valentino had finally been laid to rest; however, the real mystery began. On the anniversary of his death, the crypt was visited by a mysterious woman in black. Clad from head to toe, including a black veil, she left roses at Valentino's resting place. Every year, she returned. One suspected rumor was that the woman was Pola Negri, who claimed to have been engaged to Valentino at the time of his death. Friends and family seem conflicted on the veracity of her claim. Others thought it was a fan mimicking one of Valentino's works where a woman dressed completely in black visits Valentino's grave year after year. In the forties, a woman named Marian Watson came forward and proclaimed that she was the Lady in Black, that Valentino had proposed marriage to her before he died, and that he had fathered at least one of her children. Other women also came forward with outlandish claims of their past lives with Valentino. Finally a woman named Ditra Flame came forward. Supposedly when Ditra was very young, she became seriously ill and was in the hospital. Valentino was friends with Ditra's mother and came to visit the sick girl, bringing her a single red rose. He told her "You're not going to die at all. You are going to outlive me by many years. But one thing for sure - if I die before you do, you please come and stay by me because I don't want to be alone, either. You come and talk to me." Ditra recovered shortly after Valentino's visit, and after he passed away, remembered what he said, visiting him yearly, but never publicizing her story. She finally came out when too many pretenders began appearing. By 1954, she sadly became one of many Ladies in Black visiting his grave, causing an annual memorial service. Frustrated at the large production that was being made out of her annual trip; she stopped visiting for many years before resuming, wearing street clothing in 1977. In 1984 she passed away, and was buried in San Jacinto, CA, her tombstone identifying her as the Lady in Black.
Other recognized Ladies in Black are Estrellita del Regil who visited Valentino's crypt from the 1970s through 1993 before illness prevented her from continuing her annual visits. Now a yearly memorial service occurs with hoards of Ladies in Black all competing with grief over the dead actor. Some are even cross dressers, one is even an African American woman named Diane Whitmore, dressed all in white trying to start yet another tradition. Despite all these new Ladies in Black, many visitors still believe that the original Lady in Black, whoever she may have been, still spiritually visits the grave, placing flowers at it, her ghostly presence still paying her respects to the deceased and honored actor once known as "The Sheik".
Also haunting the cemetery is supposedly the ghost of Clifton Webb who died in 1966. Webb, the original "Mr. Belvedere" in three different movies released between 1948 and 1951, haunts the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum. Strange lights, drafts of cold air, smells of cologne, and whispered voices have also been reported coming from or in the mausoleum. Clifton Webb's ghost is also rumored to haunt his old house at 1005 Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills. Even while alive, Webb believed that his house was haunted by a ghost, and after his mother died, he believed that her spirit moved in as well. So if you add in Webb's own spirit there could be as many as three different ghosts residing within the Beverly Hills house. Webb also has been reputably haunting an old throne like chair that he gave to his long time friend and psychic Dr. Kenny Kingston. The chair occupies a place of honor in Kingston's home, surrounded by velvet ropes. Kingston reports that the chair has moved multiple times during his séances. It also apparently loathes having women sit in it, forcefully ejecting them from it if possible.

Virginia Rappe
The last spirit said to reside with Hollywood Forever's walls is the ghost of Virginia Rappe. Virginia Rappe attended a party on Labor Day in 1921 in San Francisco at the Saint Francis Hotel. The party was in celebration of a recent contract that Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, a famous comedian and actor at the time, had recently acquired. During the party, Rappe became ill; an ambulance was required to come get her, and a few days later she died at the age of 26. A scandal immediately ensued with claims that Arbuckle had raped the young Virginia. After three amazing trials (the first two ended up with hung juries), Arbuckle was eventually found not guilty, but his career never recovered. Now, in Hollywood Forever Cemetery an icy coldness seems to surround the site of her grave. Additionally the sound of sobbing has been heard in the area as well. Is Virginia still suffering from her traumatic ordeal?
Today the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a beautifully kept cemetery with several visitors every day. The cemetery continues to build providing new burial locations for future inhabitants. A map is available for five dollars in the flower shop to the right of the entrance. It shows were many of the famous stars are located throughout the cemetery


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