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Posts Tagged ‘history’

This past weekend (June 11 & 12) saw a large Paranormal Expo hosted at Bolton Mansion (the first annual of many around the Philadelphia area) and what an amazing success it was for all involved!  After a week of heat indexes hovering around and above the 100F mark, the weekend itself turned out to be far cooler, with perhaps a bit more clouds than we would have liked but far better than melting.

For those unfamiliar with Bolton Mansion, it is a historic site located in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  With part of the house dating back to 1687, built by Phineas Pemberton, the house at it stands today was completed in 1790.  It has seen much history and the Pemberton’s were actually neighbors of William Penn (Pennsbury Manor is not far from Bolton Mansion).  Today it stands as a testament to time surrounded by more modern homes and winding roads.

Bolton Mansion

Like many sites, Bolton Mansion is in need of repair and lacking funding by no fault of their own.

Board member, Florence Wharton, took it upon herself to start a paranormal program at Bolton Mansion in hopes of raising funds.  The paranormal programs at Fort Delaware and Fort Mifflin have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for those sites so Florence knew this might be a feasible way to help the site while getting the history of the site to people who may not have otherwise visited, let alone heard of Bolton Mansion.

Amy Bruni and Dustin Pari share their stories from Ghost Hunters

She organized a paranormal expo with the help of Dave Newman of Fairless Hills Paranormal and Dawn Sutchko-Reichard of PPI (Private Paranormal Investigators).  There were, of course, many volunteers but these three really put their blood, sweat and tears into it.  They booked the talents of Dustin Pari and Amy Bruni (both of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International fame), John Zaffis (Syfy’s Haunted Collector), the Scared! crew of Brian J. Cano (also currently seen on Haunted Collector) and Christopher Mancuso, author Charles J. Adams III, psychics Michele Livingston and Joseph Tittle and Pennsylvania Paranormal Association with their dog Ben, who has been featured on Animal Planet’s The Haunted.  Many local paranormal organizations came out in support and shared their experiences and information as well.

Charles J. Adams III shares stories.

One highlight was when Charles Adams dressed up for the audience as he shared some of the thousands of true ghost stories he’s learned over the years.  For those unfamiliar with his work, he has authored such books as Philadelphia Ghost Stories, Montgomery County Ghost Stories, Bucks County Ghost Stories (which includes a ghost story from Bolton Mansion itself!), New York City Ghost Stories and many, many more!

John Zaffis signs one of his books for a fan.

John Zaffis’ new Syfy show, Haunted Collector, has only just started airing but he’s been a fan favorite for years.  Coming from a family involved with the paranormal, he now runs the Paranormal and Demonology Research Society of New England.  He has a museum full of items believed or thought to be possibly haunted or possessed and has spent many years helping individuals in need.

Overall, the expo was a success because of all those who came out to support Bolton Mansion, to meet old friends, make new ones and overall have fun while raising money for a great site.

If you missed it this year, fear not, there is already talk of next year’s expo ;).

Be sure to stop by the Friends of Bolton Mansion site!

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Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, Rocky and the Philly Cheesesteak.  In the summer the weather is generally hot and… and you really don’t care about any of this.

Whether you’ve been to Philadelphia before or not, there are the ‘must see’ places such as Independence Hall (please do NOT break away from the group to look for hidden objects like in ‘National Treasure’ – it will not end well!), the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ House, etc.  So, to make those tourist-packed visits a little more interesting here are some interesting tidbits.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell wasn’t always the Liberty Bell.  In fact, the large, cracked bell was actually given to Philadelphia in 1752, twenty-three years before the Revolution started.  It was just a bell, a very large bell, back then.

Betsy Ross’ house?  Not really her house.  It is actually her neighbor’s house but she probably stopped by a few times to ask for some sugar or eggs.  Her house burned down in the 1800’s.  Another interesting fact, after her death, Betsy Ross was buried and re-buried three different times.  Her current resting place is next to the house.  During your tour of the house, pay close attention in the cellar.  Do you hear anything?  It is rumored the cellar is haunted by a whistling ghost.

Betsy Ross House

And Independence Hall?  When the Declaration of Independence was signed it was among the hottest summers in Philadelphia – with no A/C!

Not far from the Betsy Ross house is a very small, cobblestone alley called Elfreth’s Alley.  It is quaint.  It is original.  It is the oldest, continually occupied street in the United States!  Pretty cool, huh?  Not only have the likes of George Washington and Ben Franklin walked down that very street but so have Sylvester Stallone, Nicholas Cage and Cameron Diaz.  And just a bit further away is the house that Edgar Allan Poe called home when he lived in Philadelphia.

Aside from Old City, what else is there to do or see in Philly?  How many weeks do you have?  If museums are your forte, take a stroll along the Franklin Parkway.  Museums include the Rodin Museum, Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The Barnes Foundation is scheduled to open to the public in 2012.  Take note, each of these museums can take all day, especially if you discover the walk-through beating heart of the Franklin Institute.  Other notable stops on or near the Parkway include the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Philadelphia Free Library and Boathouse Row.

Boathouse Row at Night

Two other museums of note worth visiting.  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  It sounds stuffy, yes, but it’s actually far from it.  Exhibits include some of the best displays of Egyptian artifacts, Meso-America and Asia.  Thanks to Penn being a top school in the field of archaeology (and having such graduates as Zahi Hawass), they have obtained some of the most important artifacts to understanding past cultures.

The second museum is a medical museum that is part of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.  A word of advice, unless you have a stomach of steel, do not have a big lunch before visiting the Mutter Museum.   There are walls of skulls, drawers of objects removed from human stomachs (after people swallowed many of them… including a toothbrush!), and jars upon jars of specimens from two-headed fetuses to tumors.  They even have a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland.

Looking for something other than stuffy museums (though a walk-through beating heart is far from stuffy!!), then check out Eastern State Penitentiary.

Interior, deteriorated prison cell of Eastern State

It’s old, it’s a former prison, it’s creepy and it’s supposedly haunted!  Inmates included Al Capone and a dog.  Yes, a dog.  If you’re visiting around October, be sure to check out their Haunted Prison event.

There’s plenty more to do outside the city as well.  Take a visit to the Pirate House (aka the Plankhouse) in Marcus Hook.  An active archaeology site, it is believed to have been frequented by not only Blackbeard but many other pirates who were known to hang out in Marcus Hook.  Sadly no, neither Jack Sparrow nor Johnny Depp have set foot there.  On a sidenote, the Plankhouse is also believed to be very haunted.

Valley Forge is filled with historical stuff but it is also a popular recreation park now as well.  During the summers, Valley Forge also has archaeology excavations going on so be sure to stop by Washington’s Headquartersto check it out.

Line of canons at Valley Forge. Image © 2011 Traci Law

A fun fact for Valley Forge?  We all know how they arrived there in the middle of a cold, snowy winter.  We all know they had to build log cabins and find ways to keep warm and fed.  But did you know that there was actually a hanging at Valley Forge during that time?  Deserters from the Continental Army were caught and at least one is known to have been hung from a tree at Valley Forge.  There is also a cave system that runs underneath the vast park but don’t try to find any entrances – they have all been closed off and for a very good reason – these caves were dumps for asbestos years ago!

There are many, many other sites to be seen in and around Philadelphia, including New Jersey and Delaware.  From forts dating back to the Revolutionary War to Longwood Gardens to New Hope to Laurel Hill Cemetery, there is something for everyone.

Oh, and the food!  How could I forget to mention the food!  Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, water ice, soft pretzels, cheese fries and Wawa coffee (no, we do not put cheese in our coffee – not yet anyway), be sure to try the endless amounts of artery-clogging food Philly has to offer.

Philly Cheesesteak

Philly soft pretzels

**All images are believed to be public domain unless otherwise noted.  Please contact if you believe there is a violation.

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Edinburgh, Scotland is probably the best example I have to use as a way to see everything, including the fun touristy things.  Obviously Edinburgh Castle is a must.  It’s there, it’s big, it’s a castle, it’s historic and, it’s not *really* a typical tourist trap.

Then there’s Mary King’s Close.  A well-preserved part of Edinburgh’s past with the original street and homes that were long built on top of but… it’s also supposedly haunted.  So that kills two birds with one ticket!  Greyfriars Cemetery is another must stop.  It’s old, it’s creepy, it’s also supposedly haunted and it is a photographers dream… not to mention if you walk down the right street you can also pass the building where it’s rumored J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book – which is a must for any Harry Potter fan.

 
(Above: Covenanters’s Prison. 
    Now closed to the public)
 
 
I was fortunate that on the day I was at Covenanters’ Prison there
   was a ceremony starting to which they invited me in to watch.
 

Other ‘must see’ places within Edinburgh itself include St. Giles Cathedral – I actually spent five hours photographing in there one time!  Another, and this is an odd one and by no means based solely on my love of coffee but the Starbucks at 128 Princes St – it has one of the most amazing views of Edinburgh Castle!  However, for convenience, there is also a Starbucks along the Royal Mile for that much-needed refill as you explore the more historic side of Edinburgh.  I am sure there are plenty more tourist sites to see in Edinburgh that I’ve missed (Holyrood being one of them – it’s still on my list).

I don’t know about anyone else but whenever I travel I have to rent a car!  I cannot stand not being able to get where I want when I want.  Obviously going from the US to the UK, driving can be a tad tricky with that whole left side of the road thing so for the more daring, rent a car!  There are so many things to see within driving distance of Edinburgh or, better yet, plan a route that takes you in a loop and stay at any of the many bed and breakfasts or even some of the hostels (the one in Inverness is a castle and, again, supposedly haunted).

For anyone who is interested in the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the paranormal, Angels and Demons or history, Rosslyn Chapel is an absolute!  Located just south of Edinburgh in Midlothian, it is a tiny chapel with a lot of history and a lot of mystery.  Built in the mid 15th Century, it was rumored to have been the hiding place of the Holy Grail, a vortex to the ‘other side’ and a theory states that many of the designs and symbols located throughout the chapel are related to the Knights Templar and the Freemasons.  Legends and rumors aside, it is well worth the visit for anyone.  Be sure to take time and wander down a small path beside the chapel that goes along a cemetery.  That path will lead you to the remains of Roslyn Castle (though don’t go too far, there is a private home now at the end of the drive).

 
Once there, if you follow another path down the hill, you can walk around the
   exterior of  the current home and see that it is built on top of the old castle.
 

A stop by Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans, is always a nice ‘hey look there’s the exit let’s stop’ stop.  Do not, however, plan your day around it.  It’s random remnants of an old wall.  Well worth a quick stop to be able to say “been there, done that, got the pictures.  There should be an exit somewhere near Roslyn.

Stirling is another great little stop.  Easily done as a day trip (along with other things thrown in), be sure to stop at the Old Town Cemetery and Church of the Holy Rude just below Stirling Castle – one of the best kept secrets of Stirling.  I have not yet made it to St. Andrews but I hear that is also a ‘must-see’ trip that can also be done as a day trip from Edinburgh or book a room and stay the night there.

For those who are interested in the more paranormal aspects of Scotland – I highly, highly recommend taking some of the evening ghost tours available most nights in Edinburgh.  Take more than one!  I took one that took me to Greyfriars and had access to Covenanters’ Prison the one night.  The other night I took one that ended inside the Edinburgh Vaults.  They all will walk you through the town and do a wonderful job of combining actual history with the legends and rumors and ghosts.  And, for another day trip outside of Edinburgh, no ghostly visit would be complete without a visit to Glamis Castle, believed by some to be the most haunted place in Britain!

Overall, Scotland has it all.  If you have the time, drive around.  See the Highlands, see the Isles, see it all!  Often in my travels I try not to repeat a visit to a place but there are two exceptions – Vancouver, B.C. and Scotland.

*All statements are based upon my own experiences and opinions.

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This series of blogs focuses on traveling beyond the normal tourist sites, while still visiting said sites.  It gives insight into what other options are around and available.  Most travelers want a unique experience when they visit somewhere but what is considered unique to one may bore another to tears.   As always, the information is based solely on my own experiences and opinions (have to keep those lawyers happy!)  :).

Almost everyone when they first start to travel go to the big tourist attractions, whether it be the Louvre in Paris or Big Ben in London, there are just some sites that you have to see, especially if you are not used to traveling.

And there is nothing wrong with that!

However, if you have been bit by the travel bug (not to be confused with bed bugs), then you know how annoying many ‘tourist’ sites can be.  What to do?  How do you find those ‘off the beaten track’ places especially if you are in a country that speaks a different language?

Aside from the typical travel books there are plenty more resources available in this age of technology.  The tools I use most are Google and Flickr (for visual images of places I may be interested in visiting).  With very rare exceptions, I plan on renting a car and just driving around when I go somewhere with just a very basic layout of a route.  In 2009 I even finally braved driving in the UK with that whole ‘drive on the left side’ thing – still not London though.  I’m not that insane yet.

Once you have a place (or places) picked out the next thing to take a serious look at is your own, personal interests and hobbies.  I am a photographer but also work in archaeology and historic preservation as well as the occasional ghost hunt and I adore old buildings, especially ruins.  But for too long the general idea has been if you are someone interested in history or art you should focus on just one aspect when traveling such as visiting all the museums.  Why?  As much as I love museums, living in the Philadelphia area, I have access to many museums on a regular basis from D.C. up to NYC.  So, unless it’s a very unique or unusual museum filled with pieces not normally seen around here, I skip it.  With the exception of the British Museum, I will only stop if it’s a small, hole-in-the-wall museum such as the ones in Sighisoara, Romania – seriously, who could pass up seeing a torture chamber museum? 🙂  Traveling should be fun, not only educational!

I very rarely fully plan out an itinerary – mostly because I’m just not that organized.  The other reason, however, is far too often I have found that once I arrive at a destination there turns out to be things I’d rather see or tours I’d rather go on than what I had initially planned.  One of my biggest regrets is not having taken the Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London though, in all fairness, I was running a 102 fever that whole week from strep throat so I’m sure the others who did take that tour were more than happy I stayed away.  Why Jack the Ripper?  Why not?  Sometimes it’s very important to remember in the midst of experiencing a place or culture that you also are allowed to have fun!  Although, on another trip to England, I did finally get to Sherwood Forest just to be able to say I was where Robin Hood was :D.

So in the weeks and months to follow I will be posting a blog about traveling beyond places I have been to over the  years.  It may be a city or it may be a country.  Please feel free to share any of your unplanned adventure stories as well.

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The idea of introducing paranormal into historic sites is a relatively new idea, at least in the U.S., and is still quite controversial at times.  Almost always the concern is that the history will be lost and the site will simply become known as a ‘haunted house’ which is  a legitimate concern.

So how does a historic site walk that fine line?  Should they walk that fine line?

When I was working at a Philadelphia site in the early 90’s I had actually mentioned the idea of at least letting it leak out that this particular site was haunted.  Not so much promote it nor have ghost hunts at the site but even then a ‘haunted’ site was likely to have more traffic than a non-haunted site.  The idea was shot down.  They were focused on making sure the site was recognized for its history and it’s importance in the founding of this nation (the site dates back to the 1690’s).  Given that anything to do with paranormal was still not mainstream, I understood and life went on.

Then the TV shows happened.  First Most Haunted out of England became a huge hit there and eventually made its way to this side of the pond where it became a hit here as well.  Not soon after, Syfy introduced their American answer to MH with GhostHunters.  And so the wars began.  Yet despite all the bickering over who was faking evidence and who was better or science vs feelings, the real winners in the television wars were the sites featured each week, whether it be a castle or pub in England or a fort or restaurant in the US, tourism was up and so was income.

So began the dilemma for many sites.  Gettysburg Battlefield has long since put their foot (and the law) down and made it illegal for anyone to conduct any ghost investigation on the battlefield – a very understandable stand given the reverence and respect it deserves.  That, however, has not deterred those in town to build an entire tourism industry on hauntings.

In 2009 I was working with Delaware Ghost Hunters.  We had been asked by Fort Delaware to help them with their October Paranormal events.  It was a new venture for both of us.  Each weekend visitors paid to come out to the island where they could be part of their own paranormal investigation.  We were the paranormal team that would answer questions and help them out while the fort provided their own employees to talk about the history.  In just that one month over $70,000 was raised to go towards funding the site!  Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia averages about $40,000 per year with their paranormal programs.  Most recently Graeme Park in Horsham, PA and Bolton Mansion in Levittown, PA have asked for help with establish programs for this additional, and much needed, income.  Each program is set up with respect to history and with the intent of never allowing the paranormal aspect to overshadow the factual history and importance of these sites.

Still, despite the numbers, there are many board members of many historic sites that are 100% against the use of paranormal programs for raising funds.  Are they wrong?  No.  Because of TV there are many paranormal groups that have formed consisting of members and founders who have no interest nor appreciation of nor respect for the history.  These are the groups that give this venture a bad name.  I, personally, have witnessed many times when some paranormal investigators have gone into a site and sat in chairs that they weren’t supposed to or picked up museum objects that were off limits and yes, even broken things and given the attitude of “we’re here to help you, this isn’t my fault”.  Why do some feel that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want or touch whatever they want?  Because they do it on TV.  Unless special permission is given it is never okay to touch museum pieces whether it be china or furniture.  It is actions like that by a few that have given sites and board members the absolute right to be hesitant about the paranormal community.

However, despite the mentioned concerns, the fact is in today’s economy many sites are up against the wall with choices of either close altogether and risk a house or building being torn down or destroyed by neglect or finding a way to meet in the middle with the paranormal world to bring in an additional income that could be the difference between open doors or padlocked doors.

Somewhere, somehow, the paranormal community and the historic community must find a way to work together to survive.

**All views are my own based on my own experiences.

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