Category Archives: Travel

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater

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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Badlands National Park, South Dakota

In the spring of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Badlands National Park with an old friend. On the way, we ran into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City. The storm cleared up the next day, but left a dusting of snow all over the Badlands.

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Growing up in Illinois, I had no concept of “wide open spaces.” It’s incredible to see golden, unbroken prairie stretching to the horizon under a big blue sky. At the Badlands, the earth just seems to fall away into huge rippling land forms. I got this shot of my friend (a better photographer than I’ll ever be) in action at the canyon edge.

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Badlands National Monument was established on January 25, 1939, and it became a national park in 1978. It consists of 379 square miles of land, offering hiking trails, camping sites, and  educational visitors centers. People even come to find fossils.

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Romance & Mystery at Heart Island’s Boldt Castle

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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Bragg-Mitchell Mansion’s Stately Lady and Phantom Feline

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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San Pedro Ghost Towns

The San Pedro River flows north from the Mexican border near Sierra Vista, Arizona, to the Gila River north of Tucson. As a source of water, it was invaluable to both native peoples and white settlers alike. Many settlements sprang up in the San Pedro Valley, especially after silver was discovered in the nearby foothills. Prospectors flocked to the area. Today, much of the area is protected in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and ruins of once-prosperous settlements can be found in the surrounding desert.

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In 1858-59, T.F. White and Fredrick Brunckow sought their fortunes in the hills near the San Pedro River. They struck a claim roughly eight miles southwest of Tombstone. Brunckow brought several men with him, including John Moss (Morse), David Brontrager, and James and William Williams. He built a small adobe cabin and supply shelter and hired Mexican laborers to dig the mine.

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In July 1860, William Williams went to Fort Buchanan to purchase supplies. When he returned, he discovered most of his companions, including Brunckow, were brutally murdered. The Mexican laborers fled with whatever supplies and equipment they could get their hands on. According to Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, as many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.

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Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881.

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The Many Mysteries of Rogues Hollow Road

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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