It served me right for trying to guess what might please the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Longtime readers know that I’ve never been able to do that in the past even after all these years of trying. I probably should have waited until closer to Halloween. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this series — the exact locations of events even more than the stories themselves — and I still had a few spooky places on my mind. Bear with me one more time and then we’ll return to our regular content.
Riverside Hospital. Photo by reivax on Flickr (cc)
One doesn’t hear much about Typhoid Fever in the Western world anymore. This bacterial infection causes fever, headaches, body pains, weakness and rashes in its most virulent form. It might take weeks or months to fully recover. Sometimes it even kills. Typhoid practically disappeared when society started focusing on cleanliness and once antibiotics became the norm.
Some people appeared asymptomatic. They carried and spread typhoid without suffering any ill effects. That condition befell Mary Mallon, and Irish immigrant who lived in and around New York City. She cooked for several wealthy families and she didn’t believe in washing her hands before handling food. Good cooks found easy employment so she simply left each family after they contracted the disease and the cycle repeated. Outbreaks followed her several times as she switched to different families between 1900 and 1907. Authorities finally tracked her down and quarantined her at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island (map). The hospital sat within eyesight of New York City, safely separated from the general population by the East River. Newspapers dubbed her "Typhoid Mary" and the name stuck.
Mary disavowed all responsibility and refused to be tested. Even so, the hospital released her after three years, stipulating that she must never work as a cook again. She kept that promise for a few years. Then she changed her name to Mary Brown and started cooking once again. The previous pattern of typhoid infections followed her. Once again authorities tracked her down and quarantined her, this time for life. Mary remained at Riverside Hospital from 1915 to 1938 until she died at a ripe old age… of pneumonia.
The Headless Horseman
A Ride in the Hollow. Photo by Jessie Hodge on Flickr (cc)
The Headless Horseman starred in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a short story published by Washington Irving in 1820. In this fictional account, the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his nemesis Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt both sought the favor of the same young woman, Katrina Van Tassel. She dashed Ichabod’s hopes one evening at a party at her home.
Crane left dejected, riding on horseback through spooky woods thought to be haunted by a headless horseman. According to the legend, a Hessian soldier fighting in the American Revolution lost his head to a cannonball and he wanted it back. The spectral figure chased Crane through the eerie forest, as Crane raced towards a bridge at the Old Dutch Burying Grounds that supposedly marked safety. The ghost threw his decapitated head towards a terrified Crane. The next day they found his horse and a splattered pumpkin, but Crane was never seen again. The story implied that Brom Bones played on Crane’s superstitions and orchestrated the whole thing to get rid of him.
Of course, Washington Irving created the story as a fictional work. However he used a real setting. Sleepy Hollow existed as did legends of a headless spirit wandering there. Irving lived nearby so he set the story in a familiar place. The area came to be known as North Tarrytown. It fell on hard times long afterwards as the 20th Century wound down and a local General Motors factory closed. That’s when the village voted to change its name back to Sleepy Hollow to hopefully draw more tourists and help the local economy. They also erected a sculpture of the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane near the spot where the bridge stood in the story (map).
Jack the Ripper
Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1. Photo by Ewan Munro (cc)
Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel in the East End of London for three months of 1888. The serial killer victimized prostitutes in slums, cutting throats, slicing abdomens and removing organs from bodies. As in the case of Typhoid Mary, an overly-competitive press in search of lurid headlines seized upon the story and sensationalized it to the point of frenzy. Numerous deaths were attributed to the killer, and dozens of theories spun from the imaginations of armchair detectives during the next century and beyond. Nonetheless, only five murders could be attributed to Jack the Ripper with any degree of certainty. These became known as the "canonical five" in the parlance of those who studied such things.
Much of Jack the Ripper’s London went the way of the wrecking ball a long time ago. However, a pub called The Ten Bells included a tenuous connection to two victims of the canonical five, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly. It still exists (map). Annie may have patronized the pub on the morning of her murder; and Mary Jane supposedly attracted clients on the street outside its doors.
Mothman. Photo by jmnecrikt on Flickr (cc)
A strange creature tormented residents near Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. It flew low over the treetops, a devilish figure with outstretched wings they dubbed Mothman. Allegedly it followed cars, killed farm animals and generally harassed and scared locals in a rural area outside of town near an old TNT plant. Then, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River that connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed. It happened during the evening when many people were returning home from work. Forty six people died. Witnesses claimed Mothman sightings that same evening and many locals blamed the creature for the tragedy. Some also claimed an appearance of a mysterious Man in Black soon thereafter, and speculated Mothman might be an alien connected to UFO sightings.
Encounters seemed to curtail although the old stories became the basis of a book called the The Mothman Prophecies in 1975 and a film of the same name in 2002. Point Pleasant loves its Mothman too. Entrepreneurs there erected a statue (map), opened a museum and started an annual Mothman Festival. Someday, as I finish my county counting efforts in West Virginia, I will stop there and see if I can spot Mothman myself.