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Mysterious America

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater

This old theater is one of the last surviving buildings from Tombstone, Arizona’s Wild West days. Do some of its infamous patrons still remain?

  • The Bird Cage Theater opened in 1881 and closed in 1889.
  • The theater operates as a museum, with hundreds of artifacts from Tombstone’s past.
  • At night, the sounds of laughter, yelling and music have been heard, as though the parties of the Old West were still raging.

The Bird Cage Theater at 535 E. Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona, is one of the only surviving buildings from Tombstone’s Wild West days, the rest having been destroyed by two fires that swept through the town in 1881 and 1882. The Bird Cage Theater opened in 1881 and closed in 1889. In those short years, it gained a notorious reputation as a house of gambling, entertainment, and prostitution. As many as 26 people were allegedly murdered there, and there are over 120 bullet holes throughout the interior.

In 1882 the New York Times called it “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Legendary figures like Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, George Randolph Hurst, Johnny Ringo, and Wyatt Earp played poker and drank the night away there.

The Bird Cage Theater is also rumored to be haunted with the ghosts of Tombstone’s tumultuous past. TV shows like Ghost Hunters (2006), Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab (2009), and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (2011) have all aired episodes about the theater. I’ve had a longtime interest in the Old West, so when I visited a friend in Arizona in 2009, we had to take a trip out to Tombstone. The Birdcage Theater was one of the places we visited. It is packed full of memorabilia and artifacts from the past.

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Mysterious America

Romance & Mystery at Heart Island’s Boldt Castle

An unfinished castle wins the hearts of visitors to New York’s Thousand Islands region each year, but its sad history continues to linger.

  • George Boldt began construction on this magnificent mansion for his wife in the 1890s.
  • Louise Kehrer Boldt died of an illness in 1904, and George sent a telegram ordering workers to stop construction.
  • Boldt Castle sat empty until 1977, when it was turned into a tourist attraction.
  • Some visitors have reported seeing the ghost of Louise fluttering through the halls.

The stone walls of a majestic castle rise above the waters of the Saint Lawrence River, creating a romantic visage on tiny Heart Island. Today a major tourist destination, for decades the structure sat abandoned to vandalism and decay. Despite never having been lived in, rumors of Boldt Castle’s haunted halls have spread throughout the Thousand Islands Region of Upstate New York.

In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction on this six story, 120 room castle. It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt.

Louise purchased Heart Island, where the castle was to be built, in 1895 for $1. The architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt designed the castle, for which Boldt spared no expense. It contained tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, drawbridge, alster tower, and a dove cote.

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Mysterious America

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion’s Stately Lady and Phantom Feline

Something from the past still lingers at this southern Alabama antebellum mansion.

  • Built in 1855, the mansion survived destruction during the Civil War.
  • A.S. Mitchell and his family maintained the grounds during the twentieth century.
  • Some visitors claim to have seen a phantom cat and the ghost of a lady looking for her lover.

A stately, Greek-revival style Southern mansion with tall, Doric columns sits off Springhill Avenue in Mobile, Alabama. Built in 1855 by Judge and Congressman John Bragg, brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a simple, yet elegant example of antebellum architecture. Today it is a museum that carefully preserves its antebellum splendor for weddings and events, but visitors say something intangible has also remained. Some have reported chance encounters with the willowy fur of a phantom feline–as well as a forlorn and mysterious lady of the manor.

John Bragg purchased this 3 acre plot of land, then on the hinterland of Mobile, in May 1855 for $7,500. The mansion he built was 13,000 square foot and served as a seasonal home for his wife, Mary Francis Hall, who hosted parties and entertained guests from Mobile’s high society. They spent the remainder of the year at their plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. Mary was 21 years younger than her husband, and the couple had six children. She was 42 years old when she died in 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War.

During the war, Judge Bragg had all the oak trees on the property cut down so that the Confederate defenders of Mobile could more effectively fire on advancing Union troops. On Mary’s insistence, they moved all their most valuable possessions out of the mansion to their plantation. Ironically, Union soldiers burned the plantation and all their possessions, but left Mobile largely unscathed. Their oak trees were replanted in 1865 using acorns Judge Bragg had saved. Today these trees beautifully decorate the front lawn.

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Mysterious America Reviews

An Honest Assessment of Get Out

Written and directed by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele and MADtv, Get Out (2017) is the story of a young interracial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), meeting Rose’s parents for the first time. By all appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) have no idea Chris is black. They seem to be friendly and progressive, if not awkward, but all is not what it seems.

This is Peele’s first film, and it has gotten nearly universally positive reviews, which I’ll admit, perplexed me at first. When I saw the preview, I thought it was a joke, like the horror movie spoof “Ghost Tits.” It looked like something from MADtv or The Chappelle Show, which makes sense since Jordan Peele is mostly known for sketch comedy. Critics said Get Out was “the smartest horror movie in ages,” “fresh and sharp,” and “masterfully and subtly crafted.” I had to see if it lived up to the hype.

Critics love to exaggerate positives and negatives, and there’s definitely some of that going on with these reviews, but Get Out is a solid, well crafted horror film. The preview doesn’t do it justice. The music, scares, characters, editing, foreshadowing, actors and actresses–all of it works.

The characters are genuinely creepy. We’ve all walked into situations where we had to meet people for the first time and they were a little odd or off putting. Get Out ratchets up that feeling and adds a racial element into the mix to make it more believable. The audience second guesses themselves along with the main character. Is there something wrong with these folks, or is it just culture shock?

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Mysterious America

The Many Mysteries of Rogues Hollow Road

A headless horse is among the phantoms said to haunt this formerly rough-and-tumble holler near Doylestown, Ohio.

  • Rogues Hollow was a nineteenth century mining community known for its rambunctious residents.
  • According to legend, a low-hanging branch decapitated a horse along the trail, and its spirit returns.
  • The bridge over Silver Creek is one of Ohio’s many “crybaby bridges.”

Rogues Hollow is a geologic depression and former town located south of the village of Doylestown in northeastern Ohio, a few miles southwest of Akron. Though long defunct, the road and bridge of the same name has long been a magnet for legends. Today, Doylestown celebrates its unique heritage with the Rogues’ Hollow Festival, an annual event which takes place the first Friday and Saturday of August.

Though one of many “crybaby bridges” scattered throughout rural Ohio, Rogues Hollow’s notorious history makes it unique. Rogues Hollow was formed after centuries of erosion by the meandering of Silver Creek, and the area was settled in the early 1800s when coal deposits were discovered. In 1958, Russell Frey printed a collection  of area history called Rogue’s Hollow: History and Legends. He described the mining community as rough-and-tumble, full of taverns, violent episodes, and tormented spirits.

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Mysterious America

The Phantom Keepers of Pensacola Lighthouse

A case of mistaken history has led to rumors this antebellum Gulf-Coast lighthouse is haunted.

  • The current lighthouse, on the north side of Pensacola Bay, replaced an older lighthouse located on the bay’s southern entrance.
  • According to legend, the first lighthouse keeper haunts the new lighthouse, which was built in a different location 18 years after his death.
  • Pensacola Lighthouse was featured in a 2009 episode of Ghost Hunters.

Since Ghost Hunters came to the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum in 2009, there have been no shortage of articles about its legends. I finally had the opportunity to visit this historic site shortly before Halloween in 2014.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the lighthouse and former keeper’s house was decorated for the holiday. Fake spiderwebs and cheesy Halloween decorations were everywhere–making for some interesting photos.

Pensacola Bay has long been a strategic harbor, and  even today, it is used for military purposes. The lighthouse sits on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, home of the Blue Angels. Ships have long needed safe passage into the harbor. The first lighthouse was built in 1824/25 for $6,000 on the south entrance of the bay. It was 40-feet tall.

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Mysterious America

Hochelaga Inn’s Lady in Black

A woman dressed in black is believed to wander the halls of this beautiful French Victorian-style bed & breakfast.

  • John and Harriet McIntyre built this home in 1879.
  • Private entrepreneurs converted the mansion into a bed and breakfast in 1985.
  • Passersby have reportedly seen a ghostly woman wearing a black, Victorian-style dress sitting in a chair by the front window.

This charming 21-room French Victorian Mansion is located at 24 Sydenham Street in the historic Sydenham District, just a few blocks from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. It operates year-round as an upscale bed and breakfast. Guests come for more than relaxing evenings, however. The Hochelaga Inn is widely believed to be haunted by several ghosts, including a woman in black and a spectral child.

John and Harriet McIntyre built this home in 1879. Harriet was a relative of Sir John Alexander Macdonald. Macdonald, renowned for his drinking and public corruption, was the first Prime Minister of Canada. After John McIntyre died, the Hochelaga Foundation, a branch of the Bank of Montreal, purchased the inn to house its traveling employees. The stables were located behind the mansion, where the carports are today.

Private entrepreneurs converted the mansion into a bed and breakfast in 1985, and Ron and Anne Boyd took over management of the inn in 2002. Guests have reportedly experienced a variety of ghostly activity, and it is a frequent stop on local ghost tours.