About Comtesse DeSpair

The Comtesse DeSpair sits in sullen silence in The Castle DeSpair, obsessively reflecting upon the horrible void in which we exist. In her spare time (of which she has nothing but), she collects morbid trinkets and reads voraciously about the history of torture. She stores her trinkets in The Asylum Eclectica (http://asylumeclectica.com/). The Comtesse is hideously disfigured and thickly veiled at all hours. Once, an unfortunate servant caught a glimpse beneath the veil and was driven to madness. The Comtesse loves thunderstorms, darkness, and solitude.

Wolhusen Mortuary Chapel

Wolhusen Mortuary Chapel (Lucerne, Switzerland)

“If you wander the streets of Lucerne, you’ll doubtlessly cross the Spreuer Bridge at some point. It’s probably one of Switzerland’s most notable series of Totentanz (Dance of Death) paintings with 45 of the original 67 panels still intact. However, 20 kilometers outside the city, in the quiet suburb of Wolhusen, one of the most unique Dance Of Death paintings is housed in an unassuming mortuary chapel. What makes it so special is that there are actual human skulls set into the plaster of the large mural that circles around the ceiling.”  (Thanks to Howard for the tip.)

Sing Sing Prison Museum

Sing Sing Prison Museum (Ossining, New York)

Sing Sing_0409sm

Sing Sing Your Life!
July 19, 2003

Since I had recently read the book Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House I decided that when I visited New York, I had to stop by Sing Sing and see the infamous prison for myself.  I knew that there was a derelict section which comprised the original 1825 prison block, and that was what I most wanted to see.  I also knew that it was inside the prison complex so I probably wouldn’t see much anyway.  But still… I had to pay a visit.

The town of Sing Sing isn’t called Sing Sing anymore – it’s called Ossining.  The boring people who live there changed the name to try and separate themselves from that infamous prison.  Of course, I don’t get that at all.  You’d think they’d want to celebrate their morbid claim to fame?  But then again, I’m “different” from most people.

Anyway, I drove around the prison, which is situated in a lovely location along the bank of the Hudson River, and took a few photographs. I didn’t realize at the time that taking photographs of active prisons is a no-no! I found that out when I got yelled at by a mean man up in a tower. I kinda figured that, you know, all the historic marker signs in the area meant that it was a historic place that we could document, but I guess that was my naivety showing.  In any event, I got a few shots in before he doused my fun with ice cold water just like they used to do to prisoners in the shower baths!

After I finished my abbreviated prison documentation, I drove up to the Ossining Visitor Center (aka the Caputo Community Center), where they have a little exhibit dedicated to the prison.  I have to admit, the exhibit disappointed me. There was a recreation of a modern prison cell, a replica of the infamous electric chair Old Sparky (dammit, I want my electric chair replete with the sizzled blood of the condemned on it!), and some exhibits showing old illustrations and photographs of the torture techniques perfected inside.  Two authentic displays were an iron door from one of the original 1820’s prison cells, and a display of shanks that had been confiscated from prisoners. Truly a study in human ingenuity!

There’s talk these days of turning the power house at Sing Sing into an expanded prison museum, and my fingers are crossed that this comes to fruition because Sing Sing deserves better than this little display.

Museum of Sepulchral Culture

Museum of Sepulchral Culture (Kassel, Germany)

sepulchral

This sounds like a goth dream come true!  A museum that blends death-themed modern art with ancient coffins, tombstones, hearses, framed death notices, memorial photography, embalming equipment, mourning clothing, etc.   Here’s an article that goes into greater depth on this fascinating museum:

German Museum of Death Anything But Morbid

Thanks to Steve ORourke for the link.

Museum of Criminal Anthropology

The Museum of Criminal Anthropology (Turin, Italy)

In 1876 Cesare Lombroso, a forty-year-old former army surgeon and the medical superintendent of a lunatic asylum at Pesaro in northern Italy, published a treatise on criminal man, L’Uomo Delinquente, which claimed that his lifetime study of more than 6000 criminals had shown that they tended to possess certain well-developed physical characteristics.  In Lombroso’s view, habitual criminals tended to have wide jaws, high cheekbones, long arms, and large ears (approximately square in shape), as well as an unusually narrow field of vision.  In 1898, Lombroso founded this museum under the name “the Museum of Psychiatry and Criminology” to display his collections.  There are 400 skulls in his collection, Also on show are drawings, photos, criminal evidence, anatomical sections of “madmen and criminals” and work produced by criminals in the last century. The exhibits also include the Gallows of Turin, which were in use until the city’s final hanging in 1865.  And, best of all, Lombroso’s own head is on display in a jar!

Saint Roch’s Campo Santo

Saint Roch’s Campo Santo (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Dan writes to recommend this cemetery:

I too have been to both St. Louis #1 and #2, and while they’re the famous cemeteries in New Orleans, they’re not the prettiest. My favorite one is Saint Roch’s Campo Santo, which is located inland from the Bywater area and down-river from the Treme. It’s on St. Roch street. It’s small, 1 square block, but contains some truly amazing grave sculptures and ironwork; very picturesque! The 14 stations of the cross are done in near-life sized marble sculpture, and inset into the walls surrounding the cemetery. It also has a small very creepy chapel dedicated to St. Roch. The altar is set atop a bloodied corpse of Jesus, while off to the side of the altar there is a small antechamber filled with syncretic christian/animist offerings to various Voodoo saints. It is well worth the visit!

I don’t know how it fared after Katrina. I was there in 2002 and made a short black and white movie about the cemetery, spending a couple days in filming there in complete safety. As with most cemeteries in NOLA, it’s owned and maintained by the Catholic Church.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Waverly Hills Sanitorium (Louisville, Kentucky)

Charles recommends this location, which is now open for tours:

Waverly Hills south of Louisville on Hwy 31W (Dixie highway) was once a TB sanatorium (my grandmother spend a year there in the 30’s). There is a tunnel from the building to the incinerator about 300 yds or so away through which the dead were gurneyed so that no one could see how many were dying there. It was a geriatric center in the 60’s for a while (my mother worked as the receptionist there, and my rock band played a concert there for the patients when I was 13 years old), then went into disrepair, was full of graffiti and a site for yearly hallowe’en haunted houses. There were many apparitions reported in the building. In the late 90’s a couple bought it and are restoring it and offer tours.

Marshall House

Marshall House (Savannah, Georgia)

Marshall House

The Marshall House is the oldest hotel in Savannah, built in 1851.  During the Civil War it was used as a military hospital, and when it was renovated in the 60’s, they found bones under one of the rooms that they ascertained were amputated limbs from soldiers.  It’s no wonder this place is considered to be haunted.

Teri-Lynn Koch wrote to tell me of her unexplained experiences when she stayed at the hotel:

I stayed in one of the balcony rooms. The first night I came in through the window and didn’t want to drop my phone so I tossed it onto the bed. My mom watched me do this before she went to her room. After climbing through the window I went to get my phone and it was gone. I had to have my mom call it and it was in the front pocket of my purse where I keep it when I go out.

The second night, I took my shower and climbed into bed. After turning off the lights, I felt someone running a finger down my arm the way a significant other would.  It was a light touch but scared the crap out of me. I turned on the lights and told it that was not acceptable behavior and to go away. Luckily it did but I am positive the Marshall House is indeed haunted!

 

Lisa concurs with Teri-Lynn’s opinion.  Here’s her account of a sleepless night at the Marshall House:

I just spent two nights at the Marshall house with my friends.  My husband and my friends are non-believers.  However, after the pictures I took clearly of a face, which moves  along the hallway (the staff said I had the best pix they had ever seen) and my friend took some too which also show the face.  Then, last night, there was no sleep in our room…..”someone” kept tucking in the covers of my bed, and once even lifted the corner of the mattress as if making a “hospital corner”.  I can tell you I was awake most of the night!