Christmas City Ghosts of the Holiday Past: Color Them White

Christmas Carriage Ride

Christmas Carriage Ride as seen on the route of the Ghost Tours. Copyright image courtesy of Phil Carlson 2015, used with permission.

In 1937, the Bethlehem Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce started a letter writing campaign to 2,500 other chambers in the United States to ask them to request their local newspapers and residents to designate Bethlehem as the official Christmas City, according to bnewsinsider’s “75 Years of Being the Christmas City: Bethlehem, Pa.”

The Moravians, a Protestant religious church, founded the city on Christmas Eve 1741.

People sent their Christmas cards to Bethlehem’s post office where the staff hand-cancelled envelopes with a seal with the words “Christmas City.” Later, the post office created special stamps for people to paste on their envelopes. In addition to the stamps, people can buy Christmas balls and other items with “Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Christmas City.”

Christmas City: Haunted Tourism

In October 1998 and 1999, the now-defunct Bethlehem Tourism Authority (BTA) and I held walking ghost tours, entitled Haunted Bethlehem, in the historic area. The BTA’s headquarters was in the former Visitor’s Center. I wrote the scripts and served as hostess and expert about ghostly phenomena.

Color the haunters and history white, the shade of the Christmas lights in the Moravians’ historic area. The city swathes the trees in white lights and the electric candles in residents’ windows have white lights. White is the color of spirit, especially during Christmastide. Let’s return to the yesteryears of 1998 and 1999. Due to requests for confidentiality, I haven’t provided some names and exact locations – and I also used pseudonyms.

Two Haunted Hostelries

According to Richmond F. Myers’ book, Sketches of Early Bethlehem, Brother Albrecht’s ghost haunts the Sun Inn. The Moravians built tunnels that ran from the east bank of the Monocacy Creek to buildings in what is now considered the historic area, including the Sun Inn’s cellar, in case of hostile AmerIndian attacks.

There’s a legend that Brother Albrecht hid records and valuables in the room. His ghost, allegedly, guards the treasure. Experients have felt cold spots, breezes and a presence in the cellar.

Hotel Bethlehem has three known ghostly residents, May Yohe, Francis “Daddy” Thomas and Mrs. Brong, according to “Rooms with a Boo.” The ninth floor is the most haunted. People have recorded ghostly voices, experienced shower water malfunctioning when there’s no scientific explanation and have seen the ghost of an unknown man. There are cold spots and breezes on the third floor even when the staff seals the windows for winter.

Color them white, the hue of the Christmastide decorations that adorn the historic buildings and the trees outside of them.

Historic Bethlehem Haunts

The Brethren House served as a hospital during the Revolutionary War and people claim that they saw the ghost of a contemporary nurse peering out of a window.

Brethren in Bethlehehm

The Ghost Tour featured the haunted Brethren. Copyright image courtesy of Phil Carlson 2015, used with permission.

Neville Gardner, who owns Donegal Square, told me that there is poltergeist activity in the building, including faucets that turn on by themselves. His store is on the site of the house where Lafayette stayed when he was recovering from battle wounds. According to legend, his caretaker’s daughter fell in love with Lafayette and was heartbroken when he returned to France.

My parents’ historic High Street first floor apartment was haunted. Mother had ghostly encounters. Before each incident, the room became chilled; she felt uneasy. She saw ghosts of a family of four, a man in jockey shorts and a woman in a wrap-around skirt. She felt something creeping up on her bed and heard strange moaning sounds.

My son, Teddy, and I experienced paranormal phenomena in our second and third floor historic Market Street apartment. Poltergeist activity included objects disappearing, then reappearing, sounds of phantom rodent’s claws heard in the ceilings, louvered closet doors damaged when no one was home, whimpering heard in the “coopy hole,” and Teddy feeling something watched him through his bedroom’s transom.

Color them white, the colors of the electric candle’s bulb and Christmas Eve snow.

A Miscellany in Bethlehem

The former Visitors’ Center was previously a nightclub called the Colonnade, where a handy man found a woman’s body at the foot of the stairs in November 1949. Although the District Attorney said it was an accident, people believed that she was murdered and there was a cover up. The BTA’s staff wouldn’t stay alone in the cellar after dark. People experienced poltergeist activity, saw a misty form and sensed an unseen presence.

The Hanoverville Roadhouse’s owner experienced poltergeist activity in this historic fine dine restaurant.

Sheila and Tom Thorndyke, owners of a Westside Bethlehem home said the third floor lights turned on by themselves, they heard phantom footsteps on the stairs, something played with their toddler’s toys and their cat was afraid of something in the vestibule. One day when Sheila opened the door to a closet, she was stunned. There was a white-washed painting of an evergreen tree on the left wall that wasn’t there the day before. They sensed a man’s presence and experienced poltergeist activity and saw apparitions.

Before my parents moved to High Street, our family lived in a Main Street ranch-style house built in 1954. The play room had a fireplace, wet bar, shuffleboard court, laundry room and a closet with a built-in aquarium. Teddy was alone in the playroom when he said he saw a “monster” in the furnace enclosure. One night, when he was in bed by the window, he saw something white and filmy flap in and out through the screen. After my parents sold the house, in 1973, I discovered my brother and cousin felt something was watching them in the playroom, as I did.

Color them white, the shade of the Light of Heaven and Spirit.

Ghost Appears during Walking Tour!

We entertained our guests with true stories about the “otherworldly Bethlehem” and provided a “real ghost,” Mr. Pepper’s. In 1998, I led a group on the walking part of the tour after I gave my “kick-off” talk, stopped at a darkened store front’s window, pointed to it and said, “It’s Mr. Pepper’s ghost!”

The group looked at the window and saw their reflections. The “ghost” is an illusion that charlatan mediums used in their heyday. They looked at me. I said, “You saw your reflections. Mr. Pepper’s ghost. Parapsychologists just wanna have fun.” They loved it.

We incorporated this in the 1999 tours. Before they began, a reporter asked me if people would see a ghost. Maybe he thought I was joshing him or that I was being bold, but Pepper’s “ghost” appeared on command.

Paint this white, the color of some people’s faces when they thought they would see a real ghost.

Unique Street Lights

Bethelehem’s unique street lights cast a soft glow on Walking Ghost Tours. Copyright image courtesy of Phil Carlson, used with permission.

A Charming Legend

John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder, best known for his missionary work with AmerIndians, lived on Bethlehem’s Cedar Street, renamed Heckewelder Place in his honor.

People began avoiding taking livestock to graze by the Lehigh River. They saw the ghost of a woman who drowned herself in the Lehigh. According to legend, Heckewelder confronted the ghost. He demanded to know why she was scaring his people. She told him that when she lived in the Old Country, her husband was cruel, so she drowned their baby to free him from abuse, then fled to Bethlehem before killing herself out of remorse. She was doomed to remain earthbound until it was her time to die. When Heckewelder told the townspeople, they no longer feared her. When her time came, no one noticed her absence.

Color her white because she was able to enter the Light, according to the legend.

Haunted Christmas City

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has many haunted places, although it’s better known as the Christmas City, Yuletide tours and for its history. People can take walking tours through the historic area, dine in excellent restaurants, shop in a haunted store, stay in a haunted hotel, visit the Sun Inn and attend various events in the city. If they are lucky enough to see a ghost, she or he might be white, the color of cartoon ghosts.

black cat

During The Burning Times, Both Women and Cats Were Persecuted

black cat

The Europeans feared cats as familiars of witches. Image by Iphis.

The Burning Times, usually accepted as being between the 1400s to the mid 1700s CE, was the peak of witch hunts, persecutions and executions, according to Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft – although ill will towards cats occurred early in the Dark Ages.

If this historical era had a color, it would be black, like The Black Death – the Bubonic Plague that killed about 1/3 of Europe’s population, evil magick and the color of mourning.

Burning Pagans

St. Augustine advocated burning Pagans who would roast in the everlasting fire of Hell with the devil unless the Catholic Church saved them. Later, Protestants preferred hanging in England and the New World. In Scotland, Germany, and France, the churches strangled witches by garroting or hanging; however, they burned many alive, including, famously, Joan of Arc.

People in the Dark Ages and the Renaissance believed that some animals, especially cats, were witches’ familiars, or devils in disguise, who suffered the same fate. They considered black cats as the most evil and, at times, the devil himself.

Church Condemns Cats as Familiars

Roni Jay notes in The Kingdom of the Cat that people associated cats with female saints who fell into ill repute. The Pagan goddesses were the first targets of the church, along with women who could not retaliate. The authorities associated the cats with goddesses and so they became a target as familiars.

Familiars, according to the witch hunters, were minor demons that the devil sent to help the witches in their evil work. These demons appeared in the form of the witch’s pet or another animal such as toads, dogs or owls, and adopt animal behavior so as remain undetected. As the story goes, familiars could go to places where the witch couldn’t without revealing her identity. Often, when a witch suffered imprisonment, her persecutors would watch to see if her familiar appeared to help her.

Own a Cat? You Might Be a Witch

Jay wrote that there were new fabricated tales about cats being demons in the guise of these animals. The church taught people that the devil invented cats. Furthermore, they added that the devil himself would appear in the guise of a cat.

In the 1100s, soldiers created the Knights Templar, a group regarded as noble and brave, to guard people making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. These knights began to garner wealth and power. They became corrupt, abused their power and were disliked, feared and no longer trusted.

In the 1300s, the Inquisition accused the Templars of heresy. They arrested, jailed and brought all of those living in France to trial for heresy. Under torture or its threat, many knights confessed to devil worship and said the devil appeared as a black cat. The knights even confessed to sacrificing young girls and babies to him. Other groups of people confessed to the same sins under torture.

Authorities deemed that even owning a cat served as evidence that one was a witch. People believed that witches could shapeshift into cats and cats, into witches. The last witchcraft trial in England took place in the 1700s. The woman was convicted only because she confessed that she talked to the devil in feline form. As “witches” were being persecuted, so were their familiars, usually, their cats – often before the witches’ trials started.

witch brewing love potion

People persecuted cats as Witch’s Familiars during the Dark Ages. Here is a witch with a black cat familiar at her feet, titled “The Love Potion,” December 31, 1902. Image by Evelyn De Morgan.

Then the church declared an open “war” of persecution of cats, not just as familiars, but, in and for themselves.  According to Donald Engels, Pope Gregory IX stated that a link existed between cats and the devil in his papal bull, ‘Vox in Rama,’ resulting in persecution such as the burning of 962 cats in Metz, France.

Cat Throwing

According to Jay, people in Ypres, Belgium, threw cats from the Cloth Tower until authorities outlawed it in 1837. People speculated that this began as a rejection of Paganism and worshiping Freyja, resulting in Ypres becoming a center for cat persecution during the Burning Times. The tradition started again in 1938 when people threw velvet toy cats from the tower, now honoring cats instead of hurting them.

There’s a parade that includes statues of Bast and Freyja in a carriage drawn by two cats, and a huge Knight Templar. The people wear cat costumes and choose a Cat Queen. The queen and her jester climb up the Cloth Tower. He throws toy cats to the audience.

Black History

The Dark Ages and Renaissance eras were both known for silencing some scientific discoveries. Paganism and other religions were persecuted, and devastating episodes of the Black Plague decimated populations. The safety and reputation of both women and cats remained dark whenever authorities needed scapegoats for political and leadership problems.

Little Bighorn Battlefield’s Haunted Past: Paranormal Phenomenon Reported

Haunted Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, courtesy of the National Park Service<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

The Sioux Nation’s Hunkpapa Lakota, Sans Arc, Oglala Lakota, Miniconjoux and Blackfoot tribes as well as allied Cheyenne tribes fought against Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Calvary by Montana’s Little Bighorn River on June 25, 1876.

Most Native American warriors survived.

According to reports, Little Bighorn’s paranormal phenomena include ghosts, poltergeist activity and electronic voice phenomena (EVP).

Custer’s Last Stand

According to Dee Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and History’s “Battle of Little Bighorn,” tensions between the Native Americans and federal troops escalated with the discovery of gold on tribal lands. On June 25th, Custer’s 600 troops entered Montana’s Little Bighorn Valley although over 300 did not participate in the battle itself.

Word came to the tribes about an imminent attack, so Sitting Bull gathered his warriors and ensured the women’s and children’s safety while Crazy Horse left with a large force to meet the assailants. Custer tried to reorganize his men, but they were quickly defeated.

In addition to Custer, over 260 troops and other Army personnel died at Little Bighorn. Historians believe that the only US Cavalry survivor was Captain Keogh’s horse, Comanche.

Hauntings on Battlefields

According to paranormal terminology, the phenomena, such as phantoms, and EVPs reported at Little Bighorn are ‘residual hauntings,’ ones that witnesses see, hear, smell, taste, feel by touch and/or sense. In spite of these attributes, the residual hauntings have no intelligence, because they’re energy imprinted on time and space. Experts theorize that traumatic experiences and violent deaths cause the phenomena.

Park Ranger Sights Phantom Warriors and Horses

According to Norman and Scott, in their unpublished “Interview with Mardell Plainfeather, April 6. 1990,” Mardell Plainfeather, who was a park ranger at the time, had a sweat lodge near the Little Bighorn battlefield. She gave an elderly man permission to use her lodge, and after he finished his rites, he asked Mardell to make sure the fire was out.

Mardell and her young daughter, Lorena, went to the lodge, poured water on the stones, then went outside. Mardell then saw two warriors and their steeds on a bluff, about seventy feet away, in the bright moonlight. When she checked for evidence that they were there on the next day, however, she found none.

Little Big Horn’s Electronic Voice Phenomena

According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, electronic voice phenomena (EVP) occurs when tape recorders capture an unexplained voice or voices. Deciphering EVPs is often time-consuming and tedious because the words usually aren’t clear and are often whispered. Most recordings last under a minute.

Paranormalists have recorded EVPs on the site of Custer’s Last Stand. They feature the original recording and slower versions. There are chantings and the voices of women, men, and children on tape recorded at the battlefield.

Haunted Little Bighorn Battlefield

The traumatic events and multiple violent deaths at Little Bighorn make it an ideal location for unusual paranormal phenomena, giving parapsychologists fertile ground on which to study and research.

Lorraine and Ed Warren: Lectures, Demonology, and Fakery

Image by clarita.

To prove their point, the Warrens lectured and showed tapes and slides of their “case.” Image by clarita.

In 1997, self-proclaimed “parapsychologists” and demonologists Lorraine and  Ed Warren gave a lecture in Cedar Crest College’s Alumni Hall auditorium.

Lorraine, who considered herself “psychic,” warned people not to play with a Ouija board because it was treacherous and “can open doors.” The Warrens showed slides of what they called “spirits,” played an audiotape of “demonic” vocalizations, and talked about experiences they claimed they had.

According to Peter Noah’s The Morning Call article, the Warrens’ lecture scared the audience, mostly students. Were the Warrens demonologists, ghost hunters, or just plain frauds?

Scary Audio Tapes and Slides: Part of Warren’s Lecture

Slides of “ghostly images” of the dead made some people leave before the lecture ended. One senior said that, at first, she didn’t believe the couple was genuine, but she started to believe and became frightened. She said she was “going to need some serious therapy now.”

In spite of the frightening presentation by the Warrens, it’s actually easy to fake photos. In 1917, ten-year-old Frances Griffiths and her teenaged cousin, Elsie Wright, took pictures of fairies in Cottingley, Yorkshire, England. They appeared so authentic that they fooled photography experts and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Elsie sketched the fairies, using Princess Mary’s Gift Book as a model.

When the Warrens played an audio tape of vocalizations from a “demonically plagued home,” almost half of the audience left the auditorium.

Ghost Hunters or Demonologists?

According to Noah, organizations like the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) have doubts about demonology and ghost hunting. He wrote that Executive Director Patrice Keane said the society is primarily involved with researching different types of exceptional human events. Keane added that “‘Ghost hunter’ sounds like something out of a Dan Aykroyd movie.”

Interestingly, when I called the ASPR to talk to Ms. Keane, she told me that she’d never spoken to Noah, and had no idea who the Warrens were.

According to Loyd Auerbach in his book ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists, although the Warrens are self-proclaimed parapsychologists, the term “demonologists” is a more apt description for them. Their primary stated goal is to battle the devil and demons, not to adhere to the principles of parapsychology. This is evident in their focus on exorcisms and demons.

Ed Warren Claimed he Attended 200 Exorcisms 

Exorcism was a frequent activity for the Warrens: One example of an exorcism Ed claimed he attended was the 1986 Smurl Haunting case, in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. As usual, the duo found three spirits and a demon du jour. There was no scientific or psychological investigation. Father Robert F. McKenna, a member of a Catholic order that the Church doesn’t recognize and a frequent collaborator with the Warrens, performed the exorcisms.

The Warrens Debunked

Noah wrote that the Warrens claimed they investigated 5,000 alleged cases of paranormal activity. In reality, they base their major claim to fame on the debunked Amityville Horror, a hoax created to make money that many parapsychologists, skeptics and others debunked.

Ed Warren died on August 23, 2006. According to The New England Society for Psychic Research, N.E.S.P.R., his son-in-law, Tony Spera, is now the director of the organization and partners with 87 year-old Lorraine.

The Warrens have made a lot of money with their act. Ed once said that a cynical public is the greatest protection demons have. In reality, as debunkers’ research shows, a naïve public is the best protection charlatans have.

The Amityville Horror: A Scam Debunked

Amityville Horror House after the Façade was Changed<br /><br /><br /><br />

Amityville horror house after the façade was changed. Image by Seulatr.

The Dutch colonial revival-style house on what was 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, NY, was the scene of a real horror – Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his parents and four siblings on November 13, 1974.

Later, George and Kathy Lutz and William Weber, DeFeo’s defense attorney, created a huge scam that they foisted on an innocent public – which in turn spawned more scams and lawsuits. After all this, we should be calling the case “Scamityville.”

The Genuine Amityville Horror

According to Douglas B. Lynott’s The Real Life Amityville Horror, on November 13, 1974, 6:35 PM, Joey Yeswit called the Suffolk County Police to report that a man ran into a bar and said someone killed his parents. When he and others investigated, they discovered a ghastly scene and more bodies. Responding Amityville police officers discovered the bodies of Butch’s parents and his four siblings. It became evident that Butch was the killer.

William Weber was Butch’s defense lawyer during the trial. The key issue was whether or not Butch was insane at the time of the murders. Finally, the jury found him guilty of six counts of second-degree murder and the judge sentenced Butch to twenty-five years to life in prison for each count. He’s still incarcerated.

The Alleged Phenomena

In her book, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote that Kathy and George Lutz (now both deceased) and their three children, Daniel, Christopher and Melissa, bought and moved into the DeFeo house on December 18, 1975, knowing it was the scene of a grisly mass murder. They then, allegedly, experienced supernatural phenomena which included:

  • Mysterious voices
  • An unseen brass band
  • Windows and doors opening and closing on their own
  • Plagues of flies
  • Phantoms of hooded forms
  • Green slime seeping from ceiling and walls
  • Offensive stenches
  • Cold and hot spots
  • Objects moving by themselves
  • Mysterious cloven hoof prints in the snow
  • George possessed by an evil spirit
  • Telephone service affected
  • The priest who tried to help being attacked
  • Kathy beaten and scratched
  • Personality changes
  • An incubus
  • Encounters with Jody, a demonic ghostly pig

The family left the house on January 14, 1976. Jay Anson, who never spent time in the house, wrote the book, The Amityville Horror. Prentice-Hall first published the book in 1977 and touted it as non-fiction.

Amityville Horror Debunked

According to Loyd Auerbach’s book titled ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists, after the Lutzes moved out, the American Society for Psychical Research’s Dr. Karlis Osis and Alex Tanous and the Psychical Research Foundation’s Jerry Solfvin and Keith Harary investigated. Ultimately, they found the stories were fake. One clue came from seeing a sample of Butch’s handwriting – on a contract for profits from a book and a film.

Reporters from The National Enquirer, CBS and self-proclaimed “parapsychologists” Lorraine and the late Ed Warren were also present. The Warrens would later base their claim to fame on their “investigation” of Amityville.

According to Lynott, after the Lutzes fled from the house, George called a respected parapsychologist, the late Dr. Stephen Kaplan, to ask him to investigate the house. Kaplan doubted George’s veracity during the initial conversation, and his reading of The Amityville Horror confirmed his doubts. This led to his writing The Amityville Horror Conspiracy, co-authored by his wife, Roxanne.

The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center and the Amityville Police Department also debunked the scam. Even the Lutzes repudiated some parts of their fantastic story. The best piece of evidence? George Weber admitted in a radio interview, and to the press, that the Amityville haunting was a hoax concocted to make money.

Amityville Horror Spawned Lawsuits

Jim and Barbara Cromarty, subsequent owners of the house, experienced  nothing paranormal, but curiosity seekers invaded their privacy because of the book’s notoriety. The new owners changed the house’s façade and address in an attempt to protect their privacy, and sued Prentice-Hall and Jay Anson – they received an out-of-court settlement.

Father Ralph Pecararo, “Mancuso,” in the book, sued Prentice-Hall and the Lutzes for distorting his involvement in the “haunting” and invasion of privacy, eventually settling out of court. Parapsychologist Anita Gregory sued for libel and won.

Weber sued for his share of the profits from the book and original movie. Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said evidence showed that the Lutzes were acting in a way consistent with having a book published. This was another out of court settlement. The Lutzes sued Weber on the basis that this was not a hoax, but was reality. They lost.

The Controversy Rages On

The original book initiated more books and movies, courtesy of the Warrens and others, including author Hans Holzer, who purported The Amityville Horror was real, perpuating the scam.

According to William Grimes’ article, “Hans Holzer, Ghost Hunter, Dies at 89,” Holzer and “medium” Ethel Johnson-Meyers investigated the house in 1977 and alleged that she channeled a Shinnecock American Indian chief’s spirit, who said the house stood on an ancient Indian burial ground.

Holzer, in his book, Ghosts True Encounters with the World Beyond, adds that a “white” person “dug up a skeleton” and there was fighting. According to Holzer, there’s still anger and when a white man is there, he’s a “vehicle for possession,” like Butch. Guiley’s Encyclopedia entry refutes this, however, saying that the tribe didn’t bury people there because they believed demons infested the site.

While experts debunked the Amityville scam beyond any reasonable doubt; unfortunately, due to those who perpetuate it to make money, there are some people who continue to believe it was a genuine case of haunting and possession.