Marietta Ohio Ghost Trek

Marietta Ohio Ghost Trek
Marietta Ohio- during their Ghost Trek!

Friday, July 3, 2015

West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia

The Moundsville and Wheeling West Virginia areas have been on our list to visit for some time.  We were finally able to get there recently.  Seeing the old prison was a major priority.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary opened in 1876, and closed as a functioning prison only 20 years ago.  The place has witnessed it all.  Riots, murders, jail breaks, executions.... you name it. 

For a COMPLETE history of the place, check out Sherri Brake's book, "The Haunted History of the West Virginia Penitentiary."  Her book is a HUGE 600 page volume covering all of the haunted history, and all of the documented physical stuff.

So, we arrived at the former prison early for a tour.  We were joined by another couple from Ohio that would be visiting the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum later that evening.  They obviously had a fun day planned!  Visiting these two giant West Virginia landmarks sounded like a great way to spend a day!

We bought our tickets and explored the small museum area in the front before our tour.  Then, our guide Chuck started the tour.

Chuck gave us some facts about the facility and its history.  He started in the front area, where visitors used to come to see their loved ones in prison.  He pointed out lots of amazing pieces of art that had been completed by inmates displayed throughout.  One area was decorated with cartoon characters, as this was the area where kids would visit.  It looked like it was painted to be appreciated by the young visitors.

Some art prints, made by one former inmate were available in the gift shop.  Money from the sales went to charity and families of the inmates victims.

Early on in our tour, I thought our tour guide Chuck was making a dark joke about the place's past.  I quickly realized that he was not.  He was very serious about all that had happened here.  We also realized, as our tour continued, that our guide had actually worked at the prison!  He was there for almost a decade before it closed.  Having a guide with that kind of personal connection was a huge bonus!  Chuck had stories... and he was very open about his own experiences.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary has become legendary over the last few years for it's reported paranormal activity.  A very famous photo of a shadow person has been seen by just about everyone.  Well, Chuck showed us the spot where the photo was taken (see the hallway photo on the left).  He also took the time to show us other similar photos taken inside of the retired prison.  He mentioned that all of their late night ghost tours usually book up quickly. 

We were there during the day though, so we felt pretty safe.  We were allowed to explore the old kitchen area, which feels very creepy now.  We were also taken to a basement area with no light at all.  A couple of flashlights offered little illumination.

I did want to mention that this was a very informal kind of tour.  Chuck let us explore casually at times on our own.  This is a very "hands on" experience in a lot of ways.  Chuck let us pull the lever to lock the cells (which was just as cool as it sounds).  I felt more like I was exploring an extremely cool old building with some friends- one of whom used to work there.

Chuck pointed out areas where various things (mostly bad) happened.  With his first hand knowledge and the time he personally spent there he obviously knew a lot.

Chuck spent some time talking about the prison's electric chair, which was last used before he worked there.  He did know about the times it had been used, and how it was made.  He explained how the chair was used early on.  A drawing was held among the guards to see who had to "push the button."  There is more to the story....... but I could imagine the anxiety felt among all of the guards before an execution.

We learned that the prison is still used for training.  Obviously they get a lot of tourists.  AND, the West Virginia State Penitentiary is still a beautiful piece of old architecture in a beautiful area.  There are many positives here.

Right across the street from the prison is the Grave Creek Mound.  We walked to the top of the mound and enjoyed the view of the prison from there.

This is an amazing building in a great town.  I can't stress enough about how much history and beauty is packed into this underrated area.  If you appreciate unbelievable structures, strange history and stories of ghosts, the West Virginia State Penitentiary is a must visit.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wheeling West Virginia

Not too long ago, we visited Wheeling West Virginia!  We also spent a chunk of time exploring this area of West Virginia and nearby Ohio.

I have been in this neck of the woods before, but there is surprisingly a lot to see and do here.  There are historic sites, toy museums, restaurants, and small, interesting religious communities.

We divided our time up among Wheeling, Moundsville, Marietta, and Sugarcreek.  More on each of those places later.

A couple of things really struck me on this trip.  For one, we found some great coffee shops again!  You know how picky I am about good, unique coffee shops- and it seems that after our trip around Lake Michigan, I just stopped finding them.  I assumed all of the independent shops were gone.  Luckily, I found two that were perfect tens.

Oh, and the religious communities....  we spent time in Sugarcreek Ohio, which is populated by a large Amish community.

We have been around Amish quit a bit, and I have always admired how they do things and I have always found them friendly! 

We also visited New Vrindaban in West Virginia, which is a Hare Krishna community. 

Check out these photos of Wheeling though.  There is a lot more going on there than you might think.....

Monday, June 29, 2015

Haunted St. Augustine and St. Johns County by Elizabeth Randall

I picked out several weird and odd books on St. Augustine that I wanted to read.  Luckily, I found many on the legendary town that were well done.

"Haunted St. Augustine and St. Johns County" by Elizabeth Randall is easily one of my favorite "Haunted" type of books to come around in some time.

For one thing, this book came out in 2013, so it is a pretty up to date volume.  Also, Randall takes a very fact based stand in her ghost book.  Sure, she interviews people who have worked at the sites, but there is a lot of researched history in this book.  She is very clear when she gives a legend, and she is also clear about the generous amount of specific names and dates she uses.  Additionally, unlike many similar books, she includes a large bibliography section in the back!

Elizabeth Randall covers one tragic event in St. Augustine in a more professional manor than most.  The death of two people in 1944 that is covered by probably every ghost tour in town is mentioned.  The author does cover some of the ghost sightings, but she focusses more on the known history of the location.  She discusses a thorough history of the site, given to her by an employee.  She also gives information from the coroner's report. 

Randall does let the reader know what she thinks about some of the sites trying to snag the many tourist dollars with their ghostly legends.  She is a bit critical of one location cashing in on a $25 per person ghost hunt. 

Elizabeth's way of thinking could easily help any traveler prioritize the stops they want to make while in town (while also thinking about their budget).  The above mentioned attraction can be admired from the outside.  You can walk by, take some nice photos and be happy.  You will have an extra $25 to spend at one of the exciting restaurants Ms. Randall mentions (one with an amazing and strange history, a resident ghost, AND that doesn't charge an admission fee).

I thought it was pretty interesting that the book has a chapter on the still unsolved murder covered extensively in the out of print book, "Bloody Sunset in St. Augustine."  It was good to see a recent mention of this case.

I read this book pretty quickly, as it is 120 pages.... BUT I felt like it was packed with very usable information.  You get a whole lot more for your money with this one.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Pearl Shop- St. Augustine Florida

I wanted to quickly mention a cool little place we walked in to in St. Augustine, The Pearl Shop.

Getting a piece of jewelry is becoming a habit when we travel.  Finding something nice, yet affordable is part of the fun.

This little hidden away shop was a great find, and I just wanted to give them a quick endorsement as a favorite jewelry dealer in St. Augustine!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oldest House in America, St. Augustine Florida

This undated postcard mentions on the back-

The old Spanish Mission Building on St. Francis Street is without a doubt the oldest building in America.  It was erected by the Monks of St. Francis who came to St. Augustine with Menendez and used by them as a Chapel until 1590.  It is now private property, open to the public as a historical museum.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Night View of Grady Bridge, Connecting St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida

This postcard was sent from Tampa in 1929!  A friend mentions to another friend in New York that the Bridge is 6 miles long!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gandy Bridge, Between St. Petersburg and Tampa Florida

This undated postcard shows the Gandy Bridge, Six Miles Long, Spanning Tampa Bay Between St. Petersburg and Tampa Florida.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in St. Augustine

On our tour of St. Augustine, our great guides pointed out several buildings with direct links to Martin Luther King Jr.- and the Civil Rights movement in the 60s.

The Woolworth's lunch counter where four African-American teens were denied service (and arrested) in 1963 is displayed at the current Wells Fargo.  This Wells Fargo is where the Woolworth's was located (the doors still have the Woolworth name on the door handles).  Here is a nice article about the display.

Our tour guides told us that when King was in town, he actually stayed in different houses each night for security reasons!  It was exciting seeing those homes!

Unfortunately, a very significant place in relating to the Civil Rights movement in St. Augustine is no longer there.  The Monson Lodge was destroyed and replaced in 2003 by a Hilton.

The tour guides and the town itself have done a great job of acknowledging this part of St. Augustine's past.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Old postcard of Fort Marion and Old City Gates in St. Augustine Florida

The back of this old, but undated postcard states-

The upper view shows Fort Marion.  This ancient fortress, on the Matanzas River, was originally built in 1565.  It was destroyed in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake.  The present fort was finished in 1756.
The lower view shows a section of the Old City Gates, all that now remains of the wall, which together with the moat, once protected the city on the North.  Built by the Spaniards in 1743.  Rebuilt in 1804.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Postcard of the Arch, Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida

Still on the topic of Castillo de San Marcos, the back of this undated postcard says-

This arch without a keystone, supported heavy guns during Spanish occupation.  Viewed by 150,000 visitors each year.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Old Fort Marion Arch and Stairway, St. Augustine, Florida

Here is another old postcard showing Castillo de San Marcos that was most likely published before 1942, when it was still called Fort Marion.

"Showing the ramp over which guns were transported to the terreplein.  In Spanish days there were no steps."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hot Shot Oven, Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida

Here is another old postcard showing Castillo de San Marcos that was published before 1942, when it was still called Fort Marion.

"In this oven shot were heated to fire at wooden vessels.  At the rear may be seen bullet holes in wall where prisoners were executed."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

1906 Postcard showing Castillo de San Marcos in Florida

This great postcard from St. Augustine was sent in 1906!  I removed the address from the front.  It shows Castillo de San Marcos.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

On this trip to St. Augustine, we took the tour of Castillo de San Marcos!  Of course... I don't think I have ever heard anyone call it that.  I think it is generically called "The Fort".

If you are in St. Augustine, you see the Fort.  The thing is huge, and very visible from just about everywhere.

In fact, it is spectacular from the outside.  You can walk all around it from the outside- without buying a ticket.  One evening, after it had officially closed, we went over and had coffee on a bench near it, admiring the Fort, the Bridge, the water, and the city.  It was a very perfect moment.

Some have become too cozy with the Fort.  One of our tour guides told us that he has witnessed more than one relic hunter with a metal detector escorted away by the police.  This historic site is monitored closely.

I don't want to rehash the history of a site- check out the official National Park site for that- but it is more than three centuries old.  It has changed hands six times among the Spanish, British, the Confederacy, and the US government.  Each take over was peaceful.  Additionally, Castillo de San Marcos was used as a military prison to hold captured Native Americans during the Indian Wars in the West.

It is so much fun exploring an old structure like this.  And, like the other Forts we have visited lately, the National Park service is pretty generous about allowing access.  You can literally just walk around and investigate casually.

Oh, they also shoot cannons right outside of the structure too!  A short walk away, at the Fountain of Youth, they also fire cannons!  So, several times a day it seems a tourist can see a cannon in action!  How cool is that?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Old Postcard of Hotel Ponce De Leon, St. Augustine, Florida

The back of this undated postcard showing the Ponce De Leon Hotel in St. Augustine says-

Built in 1885.  One of the famous East Coast System hostelries.  Spanish style of architecture.  Cost $2,000,000; considered one of the finest hotels in the world.  Has five acres of roof.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

St. Augustine Coffee Shops

I did make a point to stop by several coffee shops in St. Augustine!  We were able to stop by Crucial Coffee, The Kookaburra, and City Perks Coffee.  

All were in the main downtown area of St. Augustine (walking distance from the Gates and the Fort).

I liked them all.... though, these are busy areas, and none of the shops provided much inside seating space.... which is to be expected in this area.  A couple did have a couple of tables inside.  Outside seating was pretty common though.

They all had great coffee, which I wasn't expecting!  Some coffee shops in heavy tourist areas really slack in having a quality product (a particular shop in Savannah comes to mind), but all of them in St. Augustine were great!

They ALL had good, fresh coffee, great staff, and nice, clean shops!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Random Thoughts on Friday

I usually like to avoid mentioning the passing of a celebrity.....  There are PLENTY of sites that cover such things.

BUT, I wanted to say a little something about the recent passing of folk musician Jean Ritchie.

When I was going to Berea College in the 90s, I remember her playing around.  At that time, I had NO IDEA that she was such a legend.  She was just a sweet local lady who you would see playing around the area.

This might sound weird too, but I think she greatly influenced the way that I experience live music (she made me the music snob I am today).  I still have very high expectations when It comes to live music- it doesn't matter if I am at a stadium show, or a small coffee shop in Berea.  I am let down if the performer isn't exceptional.

It took me a while to realize that the lady playing a dulcimer at small venues in Berea was actually not just an exceptional Berea musician, she was one of the best of the best in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Old postcard showing Logia of Hotel Ponce De Leon, St. Augustine, Florida

Noted on the back of this unused postcard is that the Logia is "a favorite lounging place for the guests during concert hour."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Indian Burial Ground- Fountain of Youth Park, St. Augustine, Florida

This old postcard that would likely not be marketable now, says

"On April 13th, 1934, while preparing to set out full grown orange trees, workmen came in contact with human bones.  The Smithsonian Institute at Washington was immediately notified.  They sent Dr. M. W. Sterling head of the Department of Ethnology, under whose supervision the excavations were made.  In his report he states that in his opinion these skeletons were part of an ancient Burial Ground, made during the early mission and military period of the Spanish regime, which dates after St. Augustine was established in 1565.

There are over one hundred skeletons exposed in the exact position as they were found, housed in an appropriate building of Indian Communal design."

These skeletons are no longer on display.

Monday, June 8, 2015

World War Memorial in Memorial Park, Jacksonville, Florida

Here is another undated old postcard from Florida.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hotel Ponce De Leon, St. Augustine, Fla

"Built in 1885.  One of the famous East Coast System hostelries.  Spanish style of architecture.  Cost $2,000,000; considered one of the finest hotels in the world.  Has five acres of roof."

This postcard was sent in 1930, the sender tells their friend in New York that they are on their way to Miami.

This is one of the spectacular hotels in St. Augustine I mentioned before!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Old Postcard of the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Florida

This undated postcard mentions on the back-

The Lightner museum of Hobbies, the only one of its kind in the world.  Gift of O.C. Lightner, publisher of Hobbies Magazine, Chicago, Illinois, to the City of St. Augustine.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cafe Alcazar in St. Augustine, Florida

The Café Alcazar in St. Augustine is easily one of the nicest places I have had lunch.

It is dizzying as you walk through this area.  There are a few huge and beautify buildings.  There are churches and museums, and a few former hotels that are now museums that seem to go on forever.

The Lightner Museum (formerly the Hotel Alcazar) is one of these amazing spots.

Inside of the museum is what was once the largest indoor swimming pool in the world.  That area is now the Café Alcazar.

We asked our very friendly waiter about this.  He showed us a large postcard of the place back when it was a swimming spot.  The dining area has changed very little from the time it was a water filled!  Having a meal in an old historic hotel pool was pretty cool!

Still, this is an upscale restaurant, and they know it.  No corners were cut.  Everything was clean and neat.  Our waiter talked to us at length about the facility, our food, and he gave us directions to some local sites we asked him about!

AND we really enjoyed our meal.  I had a very tasty veggie burger and fruit.  The meal was fresh and flawless.  The veggie burger was probably the best one I have had in my life.

It didn't seem like these guys were making much of an effort to advertise.  We noticed a small sign for it as we went by.  I think they are trying to keep the atmosphere small and cozy.

But I have told you about it!  You are in the know!  Eat there the next time you are in St. Augustine!