Colma, California

Real estate has always been heavily in demand in San Francisco.  So much so that the town residents passed an ordinance in 1900 outlawing the construction of any more cemeteries in the city, and then passed another ordinance in 1912 evicting all existing cemeteries from the city limits. The dead were sent off to the necropolis of Colma, south of the city.  With most of Colma’s land dedicated to cemeteries, the population of the dead outnumbers the living by over a thousand to one. This has led to Colma being called “the City of the Silent” and has given rise to a humorous motto, now recorded on the city’s website: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”   It’s also great to meander the impressive city of the dead and visit some of the great luminaries of early California history.

Here’s a great article about the history of cemeteries in San Francisco. (Thanks to Eleanor for the link.)

Morbid Sightseeing Alert!

When I was dating the girl in DC earlier this year, I made a trip to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.  Was it a rip-off at $21.95 compared to the great low cost (free!) of the Smithsonian museums?  Certainly it was.  But were there interesting things on display here?  Yes, there certainly are, including Gacy’s Pogo the Clown outfit.  So then isn’t it worth it?  Well, kind of, I suppose.

But the point is: It’s closing at the end of the month!  So, get out there now or wonder if it will ever open anywhere else for the rest of your life!

I’ll hurry up and put out my travelogue this week (if work allows) so that you can see what you’re missing if you choose not to make a trip.

Crime Museum Is Closing At The End of September

(Thanks to Ear for the heads up!)

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.

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!

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (Los Angeles, California)

From Urban Daddy:  “Half the hotels in Los Angeles claim to be haunted by the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, but this is the only one with a view of the Tropicana Bar and Pool. Bonus: the spirit of Monty Clift is known to hold court around Room 928. And nothing is scarier than undead method actors…”

Hotel Monteleone

Hotel Monteleone (New Orleans, Louisiana)

From Urban Daddy:  “According to legend, the spirit of a lost child haunts the 14th floor (actually the 13th). Locked doors open on their own. Elevators stop at nonexistent floors. Mints mysteriously show up on pillows. Okay, that’s probably housekeeping.”  I’m impressed that the hotel is so proud of their hauntings that they even have a page dedicated to them on their website.  Bravo!   (Thanks to Anne for the suggestion.)