Monday, June 9, 2014

Old Idaho Penitentiary - Boise, Idaho

I have a thing for old prisons and jails, the older the better, and if they just so happen to be haunted, I find them even more interesting.   The Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise fits the bill perfectly, I always make it point to visit if I'm in the area.  Construction was completed in 1870, however the first prisoners didn't walk through the door until 1872.  It remained in operation for 101 years, finally closing it's doors in December, 1973.

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During its years in operation the penitentiary was home to over 13,000 inmates. The maximum number of inmates housed at one time was approximately 600.  Despite the length of time the penitentiary was open, and the large number of people that passed through it's doors, it's somewhat surprising that only 10 inmates were executed here.

Six of the 10 executed were hung on wooden gallows which were erected in what is known as the rose garden.  The inmates were in charge of tending the roses which grew here, and it's said that they were the most beautiful roses in all of Boise.

Cell House 5, which was built in 1954 housed the maximum security inmates and was complete with "Death Row" and a gallows.

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Surprisingly enough of the ten executions carried out at this penitentiary only one was done in this cell house.  Raymond Snowden, known as Idaho's Jack the Ripper was executed here on the 18th of October, 1957.  Unfortunately for him, his neck did not break and he dangled at the end of the noose for 15 minutes until he suffocated to death.

In the years since the prison closed its doors to inmates numerous people have reported seeing ghostly figures and hearing odd noises when there is no one else there.  Some of the reported activity includes people seeing inmates tending the roses in the rose garden, hearing men talking in the cell houses, and even a ghostly cat has been spotted a few times. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

In Memory of Dirk Groen

While dragging my new husband through the Ogden City Cemetery I happened to see the grave of Dirk Groen.  While not completely unusual, I found the inscription interesting and mentioned to my husband that this guy was a young guy and we wondered what caused his death.

Turns out that Dirk Groen was a 20 year old guy who had recently been discharged from the Army after serving during WWI.  He first got a job for the railroad and then was hired by the Globe Milling & Elevator Company as a carpenter. 

While he was working on some scaffolding on Saturday, August 30th, 1919 Dirk somehow fell from the scaffolding suffering a skull fracture of which he would not recover.  He was declared dead at 4pm, having lived about an hour and a half after the fall.

Groen's father and step-mother filed a workers compensation claim against the Globe Milling & Elevator company asserting they were dependent on at least some of Dirk's wages.  Workers compensation laws were new at this time in the United States.  Utah didn't pass the Workers Compensation Act until 1917 and the Groen's claim (and eventual win) was one of the first of its kind in Utah.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Grave of a Watchmaker: William Samelius

Much to the disappointment of my children, I often like to stop by the local cemeteries and wander around taking pictures.  They usually get dragged along with me....hey it makes for an interesting childhood, right?   My favorite local cemetery is the Ogden City Cemetery.  It's close to where I live, it's old, has some really amazing stories, and it has a lot of very unusual graves.  It seems like even though I've been to the cemetery  numerous times, I always seem to find something new every time I go.

During my last trip I noticed a very large monument that looked interesting so I stopped to take a closer look.  In the center of the monument was an inscription that read: William H Samelius - Dean of American Watchmakers. His contributions to horology during a long and vigorous life are immortal.  He had the joy of working with the finest fabric of God's universe. The measurement of the passing of time.

I realized that a husband and wife are buried here, and I was intrigued by the small clocks with specific times next to their names.  I wondered if each clock was set to time of their deaths?  I didn't know who William Samelius was, so I decided to get home and see what I could find out.  I also wanted to see if I could prove my theory with the clocks was correct.

It turns out that William Samelius was a very well known and respected watchmaker.  He ran the Elgin Watch College for many years and had also published numerous books on the subject of horology and watchmaking. He moved to Ogden from Long Beach in 1960 after marrying Mabelle Greenwood at the age of 87. 

Unfortunately for Mr and Mrs Samelius, his life in Ogden was short lived.  William Samelius died on November 5, 1961 at the age of 88.  His death certificate states the time of death as 2:30pm.  Interestingly enough, the time on Mabelle's clock reads 2:30.  His clock is set to 4:50.  Because not enough time has passed to allow me to access Mabelle's death certificate I'm not able to see what time she passed away.  I'm willing to bet it was 4:50 and whoever did the monument mixed up the times.

Just goes to show that you never know who you might find buried in your local cemetery.  It could be someone who had a huge impact on daily life and have been mostly forgotten in death.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jessop Family Cemetery

It should come as no surprise that I have been interested in all things creepy since a very early age.  I would say by the age of 8 I had seen almost every cheesy horror movie out there, Vincent Price was one of my favorite actors and I read every creepy book and magazine I could get my hands on. I think my parents kept hoping I would grow out of it, but unfortunately for them 26 years later my love for everything creepy and macabre has only grown. I grew up in Arizona, but spent almost every summer in Maryland and Pennsylvania visiting family.  One of my aunts always fed my fascination with ghosts by telling me all sorts of scary experiences and urban legends that were popular in and around Baltimore County.  I distinctly remember one summer day we were driving down Paper Mill Road and as I was staring out the window I noticed a small break in the trees and a small cemetery at the end of this path through the forest.  I can't remember if we stopped that day or a few days later but I remember begging my mom to stop so that we could go check out this old creepy cemetery.  Thankfully my mom was up for the challenge and we eventually made our way down the path to this very old, very small cemetery.

We would visit that cemetery every summer that we went back at least once, just to walk around and look at the creepy old graves even though I had seen them all many times before.  I grew up and the trips to Maryland became less and less frequent and I always kind of wondered what the story behind that cemetery was. By the time I started exploring the paranormal, urban legends, and cemeteries as an adult I had no idea what the name of the cemetery was or how I could even find out.  I tried searching everywhere for some mention of an old family plot, but being that there is a couple thousand miles between Utah and Maryland it's a little difficult to do adequate research.  So like a genius I finally asked my aunt and she said oh yeah that's the old Jessop family cemetery. Duh!  The cemetery is all that remains of Charles Jessop's land, which he inherited from his father.  In 1800 Charles designed and built a house he named Vaux Hall.  This house was located near to the family cemetery, but was demolished when Loch Raven Reservoir was created in 1881.

Charles was described as "a man of remarkable beauty of the manly type." He married Mary Gorsuch and they had a total of 15 children, almost all are buried in the family cemetery. He was a farmer and was also responsible for the layout and construction of some of the roads in the area, the biggest one is Falls Rd.

While doing the research on this cemetery I read that there were a couple of other family cemeteries that were flooded when the Loch Raven Reservoir was built.  Some of the graves were moved to church cemeteries nearby, and it looks like at least one may still be under the water.  I'm glad this very old cemetery was able to stay as is.  These are my favorite types because they just don't make them like this anymore.

This cemetery will always be my favorite because it really was responsible for sparking my love and appreciation for cemeteries.  Every cemetery is full of people who once lived vibrant lives and you'll never know who you'll find buried within.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Emo's Grave - Salt Lake City

The Legend: If you circle the Moritz Mausoleum three times while chanting "Emo, Emo, Emo" and then look into the mausoleum you'll see the red glowing eyes of "Emo" staring back at you.

The History:

One of the local legends I've had a lot of people ask me about is that of Emo's Grave.  Emo's Grave is a mausoleum located in the Jewish section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.  The mausoleum is visible from 4th Street just East of 990 East.  You won't find the name Emo anywhere on the mausoleum, however as it in fact belonged to a man by the name of Jacob Mortiz.  

Jacob Moritz  was born in Ingenheim, Germany in February of 1849 and immigrated to the United States in September of 1865 at the age of 16. After spending a couple of years in New York City working at the F.M. Schaefer Brewing Co, he moved to St Louis where he worked for Anheuser-Busch. Determined to try his hand at mining he eventually made his way to Helena, Montana.  It's unknown whether he wasn't successful at mining or just wanting to get back into brewing but in 1871 he moved to Salt Lake City and opened the Little Montana Brewery.

Within a few years Jacob's brewery became immensely successful and he built a much larger, state of the art brewery on 10th East and 5th South, renaming it the Salt Lake City Brewing Co.  Part of what was once an enormous brewery is still standing and is now the Anniversary Inn.

In 1889 he married Lahela Louisson from Hawaii, and she joined him in Salt Lake.  They were both extremely active with the local Jewish community, he served as President of Temple B'nai Israel and she was the leader of the Hebrew Ladies' Relief Society. Not only was he a successful brewer and businessman, he was also involved in Utah politics, with the Liberal Party. Despite the fact that he made his fortune by the production and sale of alcohol, and also that he was involved in the less popular liberal politics, he was embraced by Utah's Mormon population and from all accounts was extremely popular and well liked.  

Over his 39 years in Salt Lake City, Jacob Moritz grew his brewery to be one of the largest outside of Milwaukee.  His beer was sold throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and even parts of California.  At the height of his success he also owned over 36 saloons.  

In October, 1909 he was issued a passport and shortly thereafter he and Lahela left the United States to go to Europe.  Mr Moritz had been in poor health for a few months, and they thought the rest and relaxation, along with the many mineral springs would do his health good. By June of 1910, they had made their way to Germany and it was there that Jacob Moritz succumbed to the affects of lung and stomach cancer.  His wife and siblings were present when he died at the age of 61. 

And here is where the legend of Emo's grave begins.  According to the newspaper article that announced his death, Lahela had her husband cremated, with the intention to inter his remains in a mausoleum located in the Jewish section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.  Lahela returned to the United States from Europe on the 23rd of July.  Jacob's remains were sent "in bond" and arrived on the 25th.  His remains were interred in the mausoleum sometime after July 31st, but I could find no mention of a funeral or any type of ceremony.

Shortly after his remains were placed in the mausoleum the rumors about "Emo's grave" began.  It's not known who or what started these rumors, or where the name Emo originated. Lahela remarried not long after Jacob's death and moved with her new husband to California.  Eventually Jacob's remains were removed and given to his family but it's not known where they were eventually reinterred. I suspect they were probably taken to California and possibly even buried with Lahela upon her death in 1959.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Frank Yentzer - The Ghost of Ogden's Union Station

By far my favorite place to investigate has always been Ogden's Union Station.  It's close to where I live, has amazing architecture, has a decent amount of paranormal activity, and it's one of the first places I ever investigated. The Union Station has quite a few stories to tell, most which remain untold, but their most well known ghost story is about the man who was supposedly killed by a falling clock tower.  If you ask Union Station employees about their ghosts, this is usually the first story they tell.

Prior to the building that currently sits on the end of 25th Street there was a large Victorian depot that also had a few hotel rooms at the South end of the building. It's most distinguishing feature and an important part of this story was the large clock tower that stood in the center of the building.  It opened in July of 1889 and by all reports the people of Ogden wanted a new "modern" station by the early 1900's stating it was too small, extremely dark,  and outdated.  Union Pacific however did not want to invest money into a new building and so it remained until the evening of February 13, 1923.

At approximately 7pm that evening a porter who was staying in the dormitory on the second floor of the southern wing of the building came running into the telephone operators office to tell them there was a fire.  While no one knows if the fire was his fault, or even the identity of this man, what is known is that someone was pressing a pair of pants, the iron got too hot and caught the pants and eventually the building on fire.  

The Ogden Fire Department arrived quickly and by 2:30 the next morning the fire was extinguished.  Amazingly there were no injuries or deaths during the fire.   The people of Ogden immediately assumed  they would finally get a new depot, but their hopes were quickly dashed when Union Pacific announced a few days later that they would simply repair the damaged depot.

Frank Yentzer had been employed at the Union Depot for four years and had only been promoted to cashier a few months prior to the fire.  He had moved to Ogden with his wife and young daughter from Illinois and by the time of the fire, their family had grown to include a 6 month old son.
Monday morning, February 26th probably started like any other day for the Yentzer family.  Frank would have made his way from his house on nearby 28th Street over to the depot to begin his duties as cashier.  His wife Helen would have started her day at home with the two young children.  The only difference this day is that instead of the cashier's office being inside the depot, it had been moved temporarily to the train platform until they could finish repairs on the interior.

While they tried keep the depot running as smoothly as possible they had workers throughout the building trying to repair the damage quickly.  One of the most damaged portions of the building was the large clock tower that was right in the center of both wings.  Right behind the clock tower, located on the edge of the platform was the facade of the building which had large decorative stone cones on both corners, near the roof.  On that particular day there was a crew of men working on the opposite side of the building trying to repair the roof.

Shortly before 2pm a gust of wind blew the roof support loose, and as it fell it knocked one of the large stone cones (estimated to weigh 250lbs) loose sending it crashing through the skylight of the temporary cashier's office, striking Frank on the head.  He was killed instantly.  There were two other men working in the office at the time, one was slightly injured on the hand and the other escaped unharmed.

The public outcry after Frank's death finally forced Union Pacific to demolish the damaged depot entirely and rebuild.  The new Union Station was built on the original stone foundation and can still be seen in the basement today.  While Frank Yentzer might be the popular choice for the resident ghost of the Union Station, I believe he is simply one of many left roaming the depot.

Union Station ConstructionUnion Station Construction

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ben Lomond Hotel - Ogden, Utah

The Story:

In the 6 years that I've been investigating reportedly haunted locations throughout northern Utah, one of the places that people always want to tell me about is the Ben Lomond Hotel in Ogden.  Ogden has always been one of my favorite cities to investigate in because it has a very wild past, most of which is focused on or near a 3 block area known as Ogden’s Historic 25th. The Ben Lomond sits at the Eastern end of 25th Street, on the other end of 25th sits another favorite spot of mine, the Union Station.

The Ben Lomond Hotel has a few ghost stories floating about the internet. As with other locations I've researched, the truth behind the Ben Lomond’s past was far more interesting and tragic than I could have imagined.  Before starting my research I tried to find as many stories of the hotel’s ghosts as I could, just to see if maybe some of these stories had a basis in fact.  The most popular tale involves a bride who came to the hotel on her honeymoon and tragically drowned in the bathtub of room 1102. Shortly after her death it’s said that her son arrives at the hotel to gather her personal belongings and he was so distraught over her death that he commits suicide in the adjoining room, room 1101.  Oddly enough no mention is ever made about her groom!

It seems the 11th floor is the focus of most of the stories.  In addition to the bride, it’s also said that a woman came to live at the Ben Lomond during WWII to await her son’s return as he was serving in the war.  It is said she died in room 1106 either passing from natural causes not knowing that her son had died tragically, or hearing of her son’s death and dying from a broken heart. Other suggestions about who may be haunting the hotel are Mrs. Eccles, wife of a former owner, and a hotel clerk that was murdered in the lobby.   The activity that has been reported is: phone calls from unoccupied rooms on the 11th floor , elevators randomly stopping on various floors, the scent of old-fashioned perfume, cold spots, disembodied voices, doors slamming, and even full-bodied apparitions.

The History:

The Ben Lomond is considered one of Utah’s three grand hotels, and the only one of those three that is still in operation as a hotel. Since its construction in 1927 it has held the title of the largest hotel in Ogden, and also the tallest building in the city, with 13 floors. Although a hotel has stood on this corner since July of 1891, the Ben Lomond is not the original hotel.  The original hotel was called the Reed Hotel, and it was open from 1891 until 1926.  The Reed was 5 stories tall and had 140 rooms, as well as a restaurant on the 5th floor that gave diners a great view of the nearby mountains.

The Reed Hotel recorded its first death three days before the hotel officially opened on the 30th of June 1891.  Mr. William B Steele was found dead in bed around 10pm, finally succumbing to the effects of tuberculosis.  Mr. Steele was the brother-in-law of one of the hotel's proprietors and had recently moved to Utah in order thinking the drier air would help with his condition. Maybe this was a foreshadowing of things to come because from 1891 until the Reed was remodeled into the Bigelow eight more deaths occurred inside the hotel.

Most of the recorded deaths were due to old age or other natural causes.  But there have been more than a couple that were really tragic deaths.  The first was a suicide that occurred on the 8th of September, 1902.  A couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Van Alen had recently moved into one of the hotel’s apartments. Mrs. Tide Helen Van Alen was reported to have suffered from various ailments and one morning after her husband had left the hotel to go to his office down the street, Mrs. Van Alen shot herself in the head.  When Mr. Van Alen came home at lunch to check on her, he along with the bell boy found her lying dead in bed. Mrs. Van Alen was only 38 years old.  The Van Alen’s occupied two rooms on the 3rd floor of the Reed Hotel facing 25th Street.

The first accidental death came a few years before the Reed Hotel was demolished. On the 26th of September, 1921 a newly hired cook by the name of Asugi Nakano fell 3 stories down the elevator shaft to his death.  No one saw the accident, but witnesses thought he mistakenly assumed the freight elevator was waiting at the third floor.  The doors opened, he stepped inside and fell to his death.

In 1926 the Reed Hotel was almost completely demolished and on its foundation the new Bigelow Hotel was built.  The Bigelow opened on June 3rd, 1927 and boasted 350 guest rooms, each with a private bath.  There were also 11 dining rooms, including a coffee shop.  The Bigelow's dining rooms each had their own theme ranging from an Arabian styled coffee shop, a Florentine palace ballroom, and an Old Spanish business meeting room, two English themed rooms, and a Japanese themed tea room.  When it opened, it was by far the nicest hotel Ogden had ever seen, and was a great place for travelers getting off the train at the Union Station to relax.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the next death to occur, except this time it was a murder. On March 9th, 1929, the Utah Canners Association hosted their annual convention at the Bigelow Hotel. Dan Rowland, who was attending the convention, had invited a few friends up to his room on the 12th floor to have some drinks before heading back down to the ballroom for more dancing.  One of the people invited up was a man by the name of Edward Spelman.  He happened to be staying at the hotel and somehow was introduced to Dan and his group of friends.  While in the room, the wife of one of the friends had too much to drink and decided to lie down for a while as the rest of the friends went downstairs to dance.  Spelman left with the others, and then at some point came back to the room and was later caught by Rowland "attacking" the unconscious woman in bed.  Rowland was trying to get the attacker down into the lobby of the hotel and while walking towards the elevator, Spelman raised his hand to strike Dan and missed.  Dan Rowland immediately swung back, hitting Mr. Spelman on the chin. It was a lucky strike because Spelman went down, hitting his head on the wall, killing him almost instantly.  It was later discovered he died from a ruptured artery.  Dan Rowland was later charged and acquitted of Edward Spelman's murder.

The name of the hotel was changed to Ben Lomond after it was purchased by Marriner S Eccles in 1933. For a few years everything was quiet at the hotel.  That changed in 1939 when two young men got out of a cab in front of the hotel, had some type of argument with a bell boy outside and headed straight for the elevator.  They asked the elevator operator to take them to the top floor.  She later said that she felt like something was strange with the men and took them back down to the lobby to see if she could get some help. No one was in the lobby to help her and before she could stop them the men got back into the elevator and took it to the top floor. The men made their way to the window at the end of the hallway on the south end of the building and one after another leapt to their deaths.

From 1939 until 1950 there are no recorded deaths at the hotel.  The last recorded suicide took place on July 16th, 1951.  A local teacher by the name of Donna Anderson jumped from a 9th floor window on the north side of the hotel. She landed on top of the roof below.  I found at least two more deaths between 1951 and 1974, both occurred inside the hotel and both were due to natural causes.

And then in 1976 the most horrific and most recent murder in the history of the hotel took place. On Sunday, October 24th shortly before 2am the body of hotel clerk Henry Topping, Jr was found on the floor of the lobby.  He had been brutally murdered, stabbed to death, 44 times. The police later captured and convicted a 15 year old boy for his murder.

Is it possible that I missed something? Sure, but the chances of an unnatural death (i.e. murder or suicide) not being mentioned in the paper are slim.  I have searched every local paper from the period of 1930 – present. I also searched all the Weber County death certificates from 1904 until 1961. I didn’t find any evidence of a bride dying in a bathtub on her wedding night, or the subsequent suicide of her son.  There was also no mention of a woman dying at the hotel during WWII. 

As you can tell, often times the truth of a location’s history is a lot more interesting than its legend.  Every building, if it’s old enough has a story to tell, you just have to go look for it.  The Ben Lomond is a great old hotel.  The architectural detail is amazing, it’s one of those things you just don’t find in the modern hotels.  While the hotel staff continues to report paranormal activity, it’s never been described as threatening or dark.  If you want to stay at a possibly haunted hotel, I strongly recommend you make a reservation!