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A beautiful mid-19th century castle in the north-east of Italy may be responsible for cursing an entire European dynasty, and may even be held indirectly responsible for the start of World War One. The Curse has it that anyone who sleeps in the place will die a violent death in a far country, and that was the grim fate which befell many of its occupants.
The Victorian era was a notable one for extravagant building projects. It wasn’t unknown for aristocrats and tycoons to build grandiose dwelling-places for themselves, usually in a style which harkened back to a romanticised view of the Middle Ages or an elusive Arthurian era. Those stern, forbidding Victorians were keen romantics at heart, and the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was no exception.
It is said that Ferdinand fell in love with the area, near Trieste, after sheltering there during a storm. He chose to build a beautiful castellated castle on the rocky spur, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea, and dedicate it as a monument of love to his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. Building works were begun in 1856 and continued for another 4 years. The couple couldn’t wait to move in, and inhabited the ground floor whilst the building work was in progress.
The couple were to enjoy their romantic idyll for only a few short years. In 1864 he and Charlotte sailed to Mexico, to take up his new role of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, an idea encouraged by Napoleon III of France who wanted a monarchist ally in the New World. Their short 3-year sojourn in Mexico was a disaster. Maximilian was a conservative in outlook, whereas his new subjects were liberal. There was also the problem of the American Civil War, which was just coming to a close, and the Americans’ objections to any European meddling in the affairs of the New World. Things came to a head in 1866 when Maximilian refused to pull out of Mexico, in spite of Napoleon III urging him to do so. Charlotte sailed back to Europe, to desperately drum up support for her husband. But it was to no avail. After trying to hold out in a siege, Maximilian was executed by firing squad on the morning of 19 June 1867.
Poor old Charlotte, whose mind was already in meltdown due to an acute (and probably justified) persecution mania, suffered a complete mental collapse. She spent the rest of her days in seclusion, at Bouchout Castle in Belgium, still deeply in love with Maximilian right until she passed away in 1927, at the age of 86.
If that isn’t enough romantic tragedy, there is then the legendary Mayerling Incident. The castle had passed into the hands of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth of Austria. On the morning of 30 January 1889 their only son, 30-year-old Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria – who was married to Princess Stephanie of Belgium – was found shot dead, alongside the body of his young mistress, 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge of Mayerling, deep in the Vienna Woods. The incident, thought to have been a suicide pact, caused an enormous scandal and political ructions, and has since spawned numerous films, radio plays, operas, ballets, not to mention conspiracy theories.
The Curse doesn’t stop there. Oh no. It would next strike Rudolf’s mother, the Empress Elisabeth. I think it’s fair to say that the Empress – who went by the nickname Sisi – was the Princess Diana of her day. She was very tall (for a woman), beautiful, a fashion icon, was beloved for her charitable works, and hugely popular with the public. Her beauty regime became the stuff of legend. It was said that she would spend 3 hours every morning simply tending to her long, lustrous hair, and she kept her slender figure due to a rigorous exercise regime. She also seems to have been plagued with an eating disorder though. At times of extreme stress she would stop eating for days on end. At the age of 30 she decided that she would sit for no more official portraits, as she wanted to be remembered for being young and beautiful.
She loved travelling, and in 1898 the 60-year-old Sisi travelled to Geneva, with her lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray de Sztara et Nagymihaly. One morning the two ladies left their hotel on foot to catch a steamer. Unfortunately, a young Italian anarchist, by the name of Lucheni, was also in town. He made it clear he had come to Geneva “to kill a sovereign”. It didn’t matter which one. The victim was irrelevant. The statement was all that mattered. Poor Sisi came into his firing-line. He ducked under her parasol to get a look at her, and stabbed her in the chest with a sharpened needle file. Sisi manged to walk onto the steamer, but she died less than hour later. On her death she had willed it that her jewellery collection was to be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to her religious and charitable organisations. Her death would see an outpouring of public grief which would be reflected nearly a 100 years later, with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. As for Lucheni, he was declared sane and sentenced to life imprisonment. He would hang himself with his own belt 10 years later.
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was said to have laughed at the idea of any curse on the castle. This probably wasn’t a wise move. His death would prove to be the most infamous of all. His assassination, along with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in the streets of Sarajevo, in June 1914, would light the blue touch-paper which would spark the world into a horrifying global conflict. There is a wild rumour that a fortune-teller had told Ferdinand that he would one day “let loose a world war”. Some have voiced scepticism of this one, and admittedly it does have a feel of All Wise After The Event about it, but it is also said that Ferdinand told friends, only a month beforehand, that “I know I shall soon be murdered”.
There is also yet another wild rumour that Ferdinand had shot a white stag on a recent hunting-trip, which was considered spectacularly unlucky. This isn’t as famous as the Urban Legend about Ferdinand and Sophie’s cursed car though. It seems the Habsburg family are awash with curses. Much that has been written about the cursed car seems to have been total fantasy, most particularly the one that it was destroyed in a World War 2 air-raid. From what I can gather, the car is still on public display – complete with bullet holes – in a Viennese museum.
At the end of World War One, the area of Trieste, including the castle, was handed to Italy. The next occupant became Prince Amedeo, Duke d’Aosta. During his tenure the Duke extensively restyled and modernised the castle, installing running water, central heating, telephone lines and even a couple of lifts. He was a supporter of Mussolini, and became Governor-General of Ethiopia in 1937. He died, possibly from complications from TB and malaria, in a British-run Prisoner Of War camp in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1942.
A Wartime occupant of the Castle was said to have been Austrian Nazi Fredrich Rainer. Although he was reputedly sentenced to death, for crimes against humanity in 1947, and a copy of his death certificate was sent to his widow, there are some rumours that he was never executed, and was still alive in the 1950s, working for the Yugoslavian Department of State Security. They are just rumours though, and somehow I doubt the Curse let him fall through the net.
Up until 1954 the Castle was occupied by British and then American military. I’ve even seen a fatal heart-attack suffered by one American general, in 1951, blamed on the Curse, although he was taking part in the Korean War at the time, but hey, who knows? Finally, in 1955, it was restored to its former glory and opened to the public. Since then it has become a popular tourist attraction, and I can only hope that the fee-paying public, who clearly very much appreciate the stunning beauty of this waterside castle, have finally laid the abominable Curse to rest.
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Several years ago, back in the 1990s, I was contacted by a reader of one of my ghost books, asking if I’d heard of the Wantage Monster. By then I’d been living near Wantage, in south Oxfordshire, for a few years, but I had to confess I’d never heard of this strange character. My correspondent sent me some fascinating old press cuttings about the case, dating back to the early 1970s, which were certainly an eyebrow-raiser. It would seem that sleepy old Wantage had had its very own Yeti, or Mothman!
Anyway, life rumbled on, and I didn’t come across any mention of the Monster again until I read about it in one of John Hanson’s Haunted Skies books. So I did a bit more digging around, and I came across a local news article from 2014, in which a journalist was trying to trace the eyewitnesses to the creature, but whether he had any success I couldn’t discover. Forty years is a long time after all. I even quizzed my elderly neighbour about it, who has lived in the area for over 50 years, but she said she’d never heard of it.
Here then are the few known facts about this intriguing case:
At 5:30 AM on the morning of 25 September 1971 Herbert Halstead of the newly-built Stockham Park housing estate, on the outskirts of the town, was driving to work, when his car headlights picked out a strange creature. He described as having “a big white head which appeared to have two large eyes”.
This weird thing was also seen by 18-year-old Linda Milne, who said she saw a tall hairy creature with broad shoulders and large glowing red eyes, going into the woods near the old Wantage canal. She said it moved very quickly. Linda was quoted as saying she had no idea what it could have been, only that it had left her feeling very frightened.
A more detailed sighting was made by two 14-year-old boys, who said they were chased by it on the Stockham Park estate. They described it as “8 ft tall, off-white in colour with furry skin, large eyes a foot apart and with horns and a pointed beard”. The boys scaled a fence and the creature did likewise. One boy, Derek Bull, said he was so frightened by the thing that he crashed his bike into a tree. The police searched the area but found nothing.
To add even more strangeness to the case, the boys added that they had seen a disc-shaped object take off from a nearby field. Apparently there were many reports of UFOs in the area. Scrolling through a list of of UFO sightings for that year, I found a very intriguing case from around this time in Banbury, north Oxfordshire.
On 27 September, 2 days after the sightings of the Wantage Monster, Len Delman, a lorry driver, was driving onto the new Bodycote flyover, when he saw what he thought was a man in a white suit, standing in the road directly ahead of his vehicle. He hit the brakes, coming to a halt, fearing he may have run over the man. He jumped out and went behind his lorry, but found no one there. Coming back around the front, he saw in the headlights what he described as a “spaceman”, 7-8ft tall, with big, staring eyes, and a pack on his back from which two tubes led to the head.
Len sounded his horn repeatedly, and the strange apparition jumped 3ft in the air, ran across the road, and leapt over the hedge. Two other lorry drivers arrived upon the scene, and Delman watched a disc-shaped object take off from the field where the figure had disappeared.
There is a mysterious epilogue to this story, because Len Delman disappeared. Police attempted to find him, but with no luck. His flat was left abandoned with everything in it, and his lorry was parked in the company bay with his personal items still in it. He was never seen again, and his family speculated that he had been taken by aliens. Though a local news story I read simply recorded him as having “gone underground” – possibly to escape journalists and UFO investigators.
When I read compendiums of British paranormal happenings, Oxfordshire tends to get dominated by Oxford University ghosts (ad nauseum), and yet it has plenty of other weird happenings. The problem is that Oxfordshire can be a bit of a tight-lipped county, and they don’t get recorded that much. The Wantage Monster is a case in point. And yet, when I recently did a YouTube search for the area where I live (which is only a mile-or-two from Wantage), one of the first vids to come up … was about a UFO sighted in the sky here in January 2012. I hope it didn’t bash into any of the military helicopters which we have constantly circling around.
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The original recipe, which I adapted this from, included carrots in its list of ingredients. I’ve been put off Carrot Cake ever since reading someone described as having “breath that smelt of Carrot Cake”, so I left them out [that + I didn’t have any in the house]. If the prospect of Carrot Cake Breath doesn’t faze you in the slightest then I’ve included carrots in the ingredients below.
200g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
half a tsp nutmeg
150g butter, at room temperature
150g brown sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten
2 carrots, grated (optional)
1 mushed-up banana
2 tbsp milk
200g soft cream (I used Philly) cheese
40g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 orange
Chopped walnuts (optional)
- Line and grease 8″ round cake tins, and line with baking parchment. Preheat oven to 180degsC / 350degsF / Gas 4.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon rind. Add the beaten eggs.
- Fold in the flour mixture, then add the mushy banana, raisins and milk (this is also the moment you add the carrots, if want them).
- Spoon the mixture into the tins. If you have a fast oven also cover the top with aluminium foil to stop the surface getting charcoaled. Bake for 1 hour. At the end of that time do the magic skewer trick. If it comes out clean, then the cakes are cooked. Set aside to cool.
- When sponges are cool, do the filling and icing as follows. Cream together the soft cheese, icing sugar, lemon juice and orange rind. Smooth half over one sponge, place the second sponge on top, and then smooth the remaining icing over the top. Decorate with chopped walnuts if you like.
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Hot Chocolate, fronted by the gorgeous Errol Brown, were a very successful soul band who had a string of hits in the late 1970s/early 1980s, with songs like So You Win Again, Everyone’s A Winner, and It Started With A Kiss. In May 1980 they seemed to take a departure from their normal output with a track called No Doubt About It, which is about a man witnessing a UFO sighting. The catchy song became another hit for the group, peaking at No.2 here in the UK.
I remember at the time thinking it was a bit of an unusual track for them, but perhaps not so. During this era UFOs had very much gripped the public imagination, largely thanks to the massive success of the film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, which had been released in 1977. At around the same time The Carpenters had had a hit with the song Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft. It would seem nobody could get enough of UFOs. Incidentally, 1977 was a bit of a seminal year in UFO folklore. It was also the year of the Wow! signal, the Broad Haven Triangle, and the Colares UFO flap, sometimes known as the Brazilian Roswell.
Here in Britain we saw the release of the TV docu-drama Alternative 3, about a secret government plan to evacuate an elite few from Earth due to impending disastrous climatic changes, and relocate them to Mars. The film was intended to be an April Fools joke, but due to a technicians’ strike, it didn’t get aired until 3 months later. It had an Orson Welles/War Of The Worlds effect, with many people believing it was all true. Because of the Climate Change theme it covers, it now has a prophetic feel to it. 1977 also saw the Southern Television Broadcast Interruption, when an alleged alien voice interrupted a teatime news broadcast on Southern TV, to warn humanity to get rid of all its evil weapons before it was too late [fat chance]. Although the broadcast is largely regarded as a hoax, no one has ever come forward to claim responsibility.
In the following year, 1978, punk singer Poly Styrene of the band X-Ray Spex claimed to see a UFO after leaving a gig in Doncaster. It had a profound effect on her at the time. She felt objects crackling when she touched them, and believed she was hallucinating. Her mother sought medical help, and Poly was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned. Poly said later that being removed from the public eye was a good thing. In an interview with the Independent newspaper in 2008 she described what she had seen as “a bright ball of luminous pink, made of energy – like a fireball”. She described it as the moment that changed her forever. Sadly Poly passed away in 2011 at the age of 53.
Very recently I was browsing through Albert Rosales’ book Humanoid Encounters 1970-1974, where he records being told a fascinating story which occurred in North London. Valli Kemp was a stunningly attractive Australian model, actress and artist, who had arrived in Britain in the early 1970s to appear as a contestant in the Miss World competition. She would go on to star alongside Vincent Price as his beautiful assistant in the cult British horror film Dr Phibes Rises Again!
Valli stayed in London for the rest of the 1970s, living in a cottage in Totteridge Lane, in the borough of Barnet, North London. She would move back to Australia in the early 1980s, citing the deplorable state of the British film industry at the time (it had reached its nadir then), and tempted home by the burgeoning Australian movie scene.
Anyway, she told Rosales that she had seen flashing lights and a cigar-shaped craft several nights in a row in the sky over her house in 1974. She invited several of her friends to come and see, but many did not want to know. Valli also claimed she had encountered a tall man-like figure with blond hair, pale skin, wearing a black uniform, complete with a black skull cap. He carried a device under his arm which seemed to be a breathing apparatus. A friend who also saw the figure collapsed in shock.
The spaceman told Valli that she must tell King Hussein of Jordan (whom she knew apparently) to try and forge peace in the Middle East. Hot Chocolate visited Valli in 1979, and also saw a spaceship over her cottage. Presumably this is what became the inspiration for No Doubt About It, released the following year. The video accompanying the song, which you can find on YouTube, has a very Close Encounters feel to it, with stony-faced alien women and people standing motionless in front of a bright light.
Totteridge Lane has another dubious claim to fame when it comes to UFOs though. Dr John E Mack was a highly respected and prominent Ufologist and author. He was a Harvard professor who was famed for his researches into the alien abduction phenomenon. On 27 September 2004 Dr Mack was visiting Britain to attend a symposium on T E Lawrence. After attending the symposium dinner he decided to walk back to the house where he was staying. It was late at night. As he stepped off a curb near Totteridge Lane he was knocked down by a bloody fool of a drunk driver. He died very shortly after.
Actress and New Age author Shirley Maclaine caused some controversy in recent years by claiming that Dr Mack had been deliberately murdered, saying that another man called John Mack had also been knocked down by a drunk driver in another part of London at the same time. Some cite Dr Mack’s death as another on the list of UFO investigators who have met untimely ends. Others say it’s all a lot of nonsense, and it’s very likely Dr Mack simply had the sheer rotten bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We all of us hang on the delicate thread of Fate.
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“Scientist Missing On Antarctic Walk” read a headline in the Chicago Tribune in May 1965, which makes it sound as though he’d gone out for a gentle stroll, or a sponsored hike. In fact, Carl Robert Disch walked out one morning during a grim Polar winter, and has never been seen since. His story beguiles because no trace of him has ever been found, and there are many vary strange elements to his tale.
Carl Robert Disch, aged 26, worked as an ionospheric physicist at Byrd Station, Antarctica. He was part of a team investigating radio noises for the National Bureau of Standards. Disch was stationed at the radio noise building, which was situated about 7000 feet, just over a mile from the main station complex. At 09:15 on the morning of 8 May Disch left the building, and set off with a purposeful tread to the main complex. It was a journey he had done 25 times before, and so was well experienced with it. The temperature was a forbidding -45 degs F (-42 degs C), but Disch was well equipped in his Polar gear.
When he hadn’t arrived at the main complex by 10:00 AM, a vehicle search-party was organised. At 11:30 his trail was picked up leading to the south-west corner of the skiway, about 4 miles away. The search-party returned to base to refuel, and then spent the next 3 hours trying to pick up the trail again. Hampered by 35 mph winds, they returned to base at 18:00, and at 19:50 everyone was drafted in, and a human chain was formed to the end of the skiway. Flares were fired from the aurora tower, but by now the weather had deteriorated so much that they were deemed to be of not much use, and discontinued.
Over the next few days more attempts were made to find Disch, but the weather was proving to be seriously troublesome. Blowing snow, the seasonal darkness, and temperatures plummeting to -79 degs F (-61 degs C) all made conditions extremely difficult. Disch was never found, and on 14 May, a memorial service was held for him in his hometown of Monroe, Wisconsin.
Many strange stories have sprung up around Carl’s disappearance. There is the case of his favourite husky dog, who was also said to have vanished without trace a short while afterwards. There were also stories of mysterious lights in the sky, and odd engine noises. There is also the question of why Disch walked out so resolutely. On the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station website, they quote a colleague who said that Disch had stormed out after a card game had gone wrong, with Disch possibly accusing someone of cheating. It’s easy to imagine that in an isolated place like that, such a thing would get blown out of all magnitude. Another quote is that Disch had walked out to escape a colleague who was a nice guy, but terminally boring!! Carl got so fed up of listening to his monotone that he’d walked out, never to be seen again.
An engaging Urban Myth (if you can have an Urban Myth in Antarctica) has also come out of the Disch case. In 1971, it is claimed, a message arrived at McMurdo Message Center, via the AA2 Weather Circuit. The author of the message claimed to be Carl Disch. He said: “To the world I am dead. They believe that my body is but a pinpoint frozen here to the surface of this white continent. I say to you, I, Carl Disch, live. Do not for one moment think that it was a mistake. Everything was planned. They pushed me, tormented me and bored me with their shallow lives”. He goes on to claim that he was a genius, and had been adopted by an elderly couple when he was very young. He wrote that he had seduced his dog away using tinned oysters soaked in barbecue sauce. He talks about the intense loneliness he now feels: “the endless singing of the wind almost drives me mad. I begin to long for human companionship”.
It seems to be largely accepted that the message is an imaginative hoax, and it’s hard to see how Disch could have survived 6 years on his own in such an alien environment, with no access to a natural food source. But nevertheless the tales of the scientist’s disappearance, missing dog and the lights in the sky in that enigmatic land continue to engage anyone with a love of the mysterious.
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The Art Bell Coast To Coast show is a Californian-based late night radio talk show, devoted to weird and wonderful subjects such as UFOs and other paranormal phenomena. It has been running since 1984. Being a Brit I’ve heard very little of it, apart from a recording of one interview, where a traumatised caller claimed to have escaped from Area 51, which was being run by evil inter-dimensional beings. A week later the caller returned, sounding much calmer, and claiming the whole thing had been a practical joke. On 4 October 2002 Art Bell interviewed the kind of kooky character which the show seems to specialise in.
Dallas Thompson was a 31-year-old personal trainer. He had spent much of his younger life in Hawaii, and now lived in Bakersfield, California, where he was registered “legally blind”. His disability had been incurred after a terrifying car accident 5 years previously, in which he had barely escaped alive. He said his blindness had been caused by seeing “a light so bright that it burnt my eyes”.
Also during the accident Dallas said he had had an NDE, a Near-Death Experience. During it he had a vision of the future in which a forthcoming pole shift would result in the deaths of at least 2 billion people [I’m not sure how]. He believed that a safe haven existed inside the Hollow Earth, and he wanted to lead people there. He said the Hollow Earth was a huge cavern, populated by many different tribes, both ancient and modern, both human and reptilian. Some are natives for the lost civilisations of Atlantis and Lemuria. Fantastic stuff.
He was obsessed with the Hollow Earth theory, and said he believed monks regularly travelled through holes to visit a Tibetan village called Sham-bala, which was the inspiration for the village of Shangri-La, an idyllic place in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In Shangri-La no one ages. Dallas said that time is different inside Hollow Earth, that people can live there for thousands of years. (I can’t help being reminded of C S Lewis’s Narnia stories, where years can pass in Narnia, which only take a few minutes on Earth).
Dallas said that on his following birthday , on 24 May 2003, a film crew would accompany him to the North Pole, where he would locate a portal, which had first been reported by Admiral Richard E Byrd when he flew over the area at the beginning of 1947.
Inevitably Dallas was dismissed as a “loon” by many listeners, but others were more concerned for his safety. One caller warned him about the so-called Well To Hell, a crater in Siberia from which people claim to have heard the anguished voices of tortured souls in Purgatory. Dallas said he knew there were “negative spaces”, but that he would avoid them.
Dallas’s plans soon accumulated a lot of media interest, and donations begin to pour in to finance his extraordinary expedition. This was an immensely difficult time. It was the months immediately running up to the Iraq War, and I wonder if people wanted distracting from the awful state of the world.
On 29 December 2002 – although I’ve also seen it listed as January 2003 – Dallas posted a final message on his Yahoo site, saying he had received over 5,600 emails every few days. He also said that although his book Cosmic Manuscript had been a great success, and had topped the bestseller lists in Canada, he was pulling it from sale. The reviews had also largely been positive, with one reviewer on Amazon.com saying that “the author is on a mission to spread love and light throughout the world”. But there was also a troubling one-star review in which the critic charmingly called the other readers “babbling Moon bats”, and said that Dallas had in fact plagiarised whole segments from his own book, word-for-word, and that he (Dallas) had gone into hiding as a result. I found that someone had closed the Comments section on their own blog piece about Dallas because of this, because it had resulted in the kind of tedious slanging match the Internet all-too-often specialises in. No one needs that sort of rubbish in their lives.
Well certainly that was the last that was heard of Dallas. The much-anticipated expedition to the North Pole didn’t take place, and Cosmic Manuscript certainly appears to still be long out-of-print. BUT I also found a science-fiction novel called Eyes Wide Shut: An Enigma by a certain Dallas W Thompson. Using the Look Inside feature I found some biographical details of the author, in which he said he had been born in Bakersfield in 1944, and attended the University of Hawaii. He went on to join the United States Air Force, and is clearly well-travelled. He writes about the need to publish the book in fiction format because of classified information. The book was published in Kindle format in November 2011, so it would seem Dallas was still very much around … except the ages don’t add up. The Dallas interviewed by Art Bell is said to have been 31 in 2002, meaning he was born in 1971, not 1944. Quite some difference in age there. The author of Eyes Wide Shut would now be in his early seventies, not his mid-forties.
So, the same Dallas Thompson, or a different one, who also just happens to have links with Bakersfield and Hawaii? (They could well be two entirely different people). Why did he disappear after 2002? Some argue he was nothing more than a scam artist, who had raised enough money out of people, and probably thought it was wise to beat a tactical retreat at that time. If he had plagiarised someone else’s work then he might have thought it sensible to simply to pull the book, and leave the scene. Some believe he did take off on his mission and disappeared. Could it be that all the attention he was getting simply got too much for him, and he decided to retreat from public view? He writes of the thousands of emails he was getting. It’s very easy to think that all alleged fantasists are complete narcissists, revelling in all the attention, but some might be genuinely taken aback by the interest they generate, and don’t welcome it. Thousands of emails in only a few days would be pretty tiresome for most of us.
Anyway, it would seem that, even in this day and age, the whole concept of Hollow Earth – which would be ludicrous to many – still has plenty of interest in it yet.
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The English county of Essex has more than its fair share of strange and weird stories. It is rife with tales of ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft, sightings of odd animals, and UFOs. Borley Rectory – described as The Most Haunted House In The World – was once situated on the Essex/Suffolk border. During the English Civil War Matthew Hopkins, the notorious Witchfinder General, spread terror in the area, interrogating, torturing and executing anyone he suspected of being a witch.
During World War 2 the village of Great Leighs was home to a poltergeist outbreak, which was thought to have been caused when a boulder was moved to widen a road leading to a military base. Local legend had it that the boulder covered the grave of The Witch Of Scrapfaggot Green, and she wasn’t happy about being disturbed! The phenomena ceased when the stone was moved back to its original spot in October 1944. The village of Canewdon has a long history of witchcraft, dating back to Tudor times. The last recognised witch was one George Pickingill, who died in 1909. He was known locally as “a cunning man”, whom people went to when they needed magical help. It seems that most of his antics were fairly benign, although it is said he wasn’t averse to placing the odd curse on people.
Within the parish of Canewdon lies Wallasea Island, described on Wikipedia as “one of the most tranquil places in Essex”. But Wallasea had a dark secret for centuries. Situated on the marshes was a strange building known alternatively as Tyle Barn, Tyle House … or The Devil’s House. It was a ramshackle farmhouse, and its dark history seems to go back hundreds of years. Local folklore has it that the Devil took up a beam, threw it into the air, and then told labourers to build a house where it fell. It became known as the dwelling-place of a demon.
Back in the time of King Charles II, during the second half of the 17th century, the house was known as the Demon’s Tenement, and was the home of a witch called Mother Redcap. Apparently Mother Redcap was a fairly common name for witches. There are accounts of Mother Redcaps in other counties too, such as Sussex, Lancashire and Cambridgeshire. Another inhabitant was a man by the name of Davill or Daville, which of course is very close to Devil.
By the 20th century the house had acquired quite a reputation in the area. Witnesses spoke of sudden drops in temperature there, hearing the flapping of wings, and experiencing a sense of dread. Locals believed the house was permeated with an atmosphere of evil, during to devil worship and Black Magic practised there many years before.
During World War 1 an army sergeant pooh-poohed the dark stories, and said that he would spend a night alone in the house, and basically show everybody what a load of a old hooey it was. The following morning he was found pale and shaking, and flatly refused to speak of what had happened.
During the early years of World War 2 came one of the most disturbing stories of all. A farm labourer was working on the site, when he heard his name being called, and then the words “do it, do it”. He went to a nearby barn, collected a length of rope, and went into the house, where he threw the rope over a beam, preparing to hang himself. Suddenly he found a terrifying creature staring down at him. He described it as a black shape with large, glowing yellow eyes. Fortunately the sighting of this strange being shook him out of his morbid reverie.
The house was bombed during the War, but would finally meet its end during the devastating storms of 1953, when on the night of 31 January the North Sea Flood killed hundreds of people along the East Coast of England and Scotland, as well as Holland and Belgium. The Devil’s House was swept out to sea in the carnage. It is said that the marshes in the area have now inherited the dark reputation of the Devil’s House.