Rewind the Clock at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park

Visitors report strange encounters with unseen entities under the glittering lights of this a lakeside resort town in central New York.

  • The first Sylvan Beach amusement park opened on Oneida Lake in 1886.
  • A Lady in White is seen and felt in the abandoned Yesterday’s Royal Hotel.
  • Sylvan Beach appeared in an episode of Ghost Hunters in 2013.
  • Zoltar the wise gypsy will tell your fortune at Carello’s Carousel Arcade.

Carnival rides, roller coasters, fun houses, arcades, sparkling lights on warm summer nights reflecting off the lake, these are the sights and sounds of Sylvan Beach on Oneida Lake in central New York. For over a century, vacationers flocked to Verona and Sylvan Beaches in the summer, leading the area to called the “Coney Island of Central New York.”

Today, visiting the local amusement park and beachfront is like stepping back in time. After the lights go down, many visitors and employees have reported encountering the unseen among the old buildings, leading the Sylvan Beach Amusement Park to be featured on the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters in 2013.

Prior to European settlement, the Oneidas and the Onondagas, both members of the Iroquois Confederacy, lived in the Oneida Lake region. They called the lake Tsioqui, which means “white water.” Remnants of their fishing villages are still occasionally uncovered around the lake. During the early 1800s, Yankees from New England poured into the area, looking for more fertile land.

James D. Spencer and his sons began real estate speculation on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake in the 1850s. They recognized it as a prime vacation spot, and hotels and amusement parks soon sprung up. Carello’s Carousel Arcade (independently owned) opened in 1896, and children can still ride their original wooden carousel. Unfortunately, the original fun house at the park burnt down. The oddly named Laffland was installed in 1954. Its deceptively cheerful clowns have been terrifying children for decades.

Sylvan Beach Amusement Park features many rides and games, including Kiddieland, Laffland, the Bomber, Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, Rock-O-Plane, Bumper Boats, arcade, Treasureland, Bonanza Shooting Gallery, and the Galaxi Coaster. Other well-known Sylvan Beach businesses include Yesterday’s Royal, Harpoon Eddie’s, and Eddie’s Restaurant. Yesterday’s Royal is closed down and currently sits empty, alongside several other amusements and local bars. Hopefully they will reopen in the near future.

Continue reading “Rewind the Clock at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park”

Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean

51znevyguwlHurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624-1783 by Matthew Mulcahy is a revealing look at an obscure topic. Historians rarely give weather such an in-depth treatment, so it’s interesting to see how these weather events affected Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Quite a bit, as it turns out. Hurricanes influenced colonists’ morale, their perception of the natural world, health, social order, and economy. Hurricanes were an ever-present disruptive force that compelled colonists, and plantation owners in particular, to change the way they did business. They also caused an untold amount of damage to crops, human capital (slaves), and shipping throughout the region. Colonists had to rebuild and replant after every major hurricane in addition to meeting their basic survival needs, which put strains on every other aspect of colonial life.

Hurricanes undermined colonists’ morale by challenging the concept of improvement and by testing their faith that they could “dominate and transform” nature. British colonists came to the Caribbean with a sense they were pursuing a divine mission, so when hurricanes destroyed everything they built, their faith was shaken. “The threat from hurricanes helped create a sense of fragility and uncertainty among colonists as the possibility of violent destruction and chaos hovered over the region each year,” Mulcahy argued.

Central to the colonists’ sense of themselves was the belief they were taming and improving nature, but the destruction wrought by hurricanes demonstrated that nature would not be so easily tamed. Ironically, some of the “improvements” made to the Caribbean islands, such as the cutting down of trees, made colonists more vulnerable to the storms. Taken together, these effects caused some colonists to question whether they could successfully transplant English life and culture to the Caribbean.

Continue reading “Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean”

Dark Planet: Visions of America

dark-planetDark Planet: Visions of America, released in 2005 by Illuminati Pictures, portrays four youth subcultures as they are lived on the streets of the contemporary United States: skinhead, straightedge, black metal, and zealot. The documentary’s creators, Jason “Molotov” Mitchell and his wife, Patricia “DJ Dolce” Mitchell, are a new breed of conservative Christian, combining traditional values with a hipster ascetic. Both provide video commentary for WND.com. But “Molotov” Mitchell is familiar with subcultures and life on the streets. A former punk, Mitchell spent a year voluntarily living on the street and converted to evangelical Christianity in the late 1990s. D.J. Dolce appears in the documentary, but her relationship with the director, “Molotov” Mitchell, is not revealed in the film.

Dark Planet features interviews with members of all four subcultures. Three (skinhead, straightedge, and black metal) have evolved out of music scenes, and the fourth (zealot) was formed around evangelical Christianity. Zealot was the only subculture in this documentary that has not received much attention in literature about youth cultures, and seems to have been entirely made up by the filmmakers. Zealots, like straightedgers, reject drugs and alcohol, but also oppose pornography and feminism. They do not shy away from tattoos, piercings, and body modification.

Continue reading “Dark Planet: Visions of America”

The Southwestern Ghost Town of Fairbank

A collection of sun-bleached houses, and a desecrated hilltop cemetery, are all that remains of this once prosperous silver town.

  • Fairbank was the last stop on the railroad before Tombstone.
  • It was once the scene of a train robbery.
  • Some visitors report seeing strange lights in the graveyard at night.

A forgotten cemetery on a sun-baked hill in the desert, rattlesnakes coiled on an old wooden porch, and tumbleweed drifting through dusty, abandoned streets all bring to mind the quintessential southwestern ghost town. Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank is just such a ghost town.

An American Indian village known as Santa Cruz once occupied the site, but white settlers soon arrived to displace them. Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881. It was originally known as Junction City and then Kendall, before residents finally decided on Fairbank in 1883. It was named after Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, founder of the Grand Central Mining Company.

On February 15, 1900, the Burt Alvord gang attempted to rob the express car on the Benson-Nogales train as it was stopped in Fairbank. Express Agent and former lawman Jeff Milton, who was the son of the Confederate Governor of Florida, John Milton, foiled the robbery when he threw the keys to the safe in a pile of packages.

During the shootout, he mortally wounded “Three Fingered Jack” Dunlop and wounded Bravo Juan Yoas. Milton himself was seriously wounded in the arm, but pretended to be dead when the outlaws finally boarded the train. The outlaws were unable to open the safe and fled with only a few dollars. “Three Fingered Jack” died in Tombstone.

Continue reading “The Southwestern Ghost Town of Fairbank”

Reclaiming the ‘Spirit’ of Halloween

halloweenIs Halloween an evil holiday? Is it secretly pagan? Is Halloween too dangerous for children to celebrate? These are all questions that, sadly enough, many parents ask themselves every year. When I was a kid (way, way back in the 1980s), I can remember trick or treating with my older sister (when I was very young) and then when I was older, with a group of friends. We trick or treated at dusk, or when it was dark, and then afterwards we joined our parents for a Halloween party at a neighbor’s house. Nearly every home was decorated in some way for the holiday.

Years later, when I was in college, I joined my then girlfriend for Halloween at her parent’s house in a small town in central Illinois. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Parents actually drove their kids from house to house and walked them to each door (the few that came). The idea seemed to be “hurry up and get away” from your neighbors as fast as possible. As we drove through town, we saw very few homes decorated for the holiday. Where was the sense of community I had experiences as a child? As I’ve gotten older, particularly in the last several years, Halloween seems to have turned into just another excuse for twenty-somethings to dress in “sexy” costumes and get drunk. What happened to my favorite holiday?

Scott Richert, editor of Chronicles Magazine and the About.com Catholicism expert, has written a series of enlightening articles about Catholicism and Halloween, why Christians should celebrate the holiday, and where a lot of misconceptions about Halloween come from. These articles will be interesting to secular-minded readers as well. I’ll summarize them below, but you can read all three at these links: “Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism,” “Why the Devil Hates Halloween,” and “Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?

Continue reading “Reclaiming the ‘Spirit’ of Halloween”

Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana

the-x-files-t-1920x1080_v2Suburban Gothic is a form of Dark Romantic storytelling set in a suburban environment. Traditionally associated with aging Victorian mansions, crypts, and other macabre settings, the neat rows of white picket fences, manicured lawns, and modern tract housing of the suburbs may seem like an unusual home for Gothic tales. The suburbs, however, are a logical place for writers and filmmakers to express American Gothic sentiment, and episodes from two television shows in particular, The X-Files (1993-2002) and Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), help us understand why.

American Gothic is our unique expression of Dark Romanticism, a broader nineteenth century literary and artistic movement. In early nineteenth century America, Romanticism gave rise to two opposing artistic and intellectual movements: Transcendentalism and Dark Romanticism. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, and that humanity is perfectible. In contrast, Dark Romantics like Edgar Allen Poe (who described Transcendentalism as a disease) believed humans were inherently fallible and prone to sin and self destruction. The modern Suburban Gothic tale is essentially a Dark Romantic argument against Transcendentalism.

In the nineteenth century, some Transcendentalists tried to put their ideas into practice by building utopian communities away from what they considered to be the corrupting influence of modern society. The idea that a carefully planned community could create a new, happier, and more productive life lived on into the twentieth century. As cities become overcrowded, the growing middle class sought refuge from high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were designed to alleviate  inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2 made it possible for millions of people to buy mass-produced homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

Continue reading “Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana”

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

Ghost Hunters by Deborah BlumIn her groundbreaking book, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Deborah Blum has masterfully retold the story of the birth of spiritualism and the scientific pursuit of “psychical research.” In the late nineteenth century, William James, renowned philosopher and psychologist, and a small group of eminent scientists staked their reputations, their careers, even their sanity on one of the most extraordinary quests ever undertaken: to empirically prove the existence of ghosts, spirits, and psychic phenomena. Deborah Blum artfully retells this story. Along with Raymond Moody’s The Last Laugh, this book should be required reading for any aspiring investigator of the paranormal.

The cast of characters in Ghost Hunters reads like a who’s who of late nineteenth and early twentieth century luminaries. Blum, however, leaves no one out of her narrative. Scientists, theologians, performers, mediums, lovers, poets, working class families, and con men all share the same stage. Biographic surprises lurk behind every page. Even those familiar with the father of pragmatism and psychology, William James, are usually ignorant of his role in the investigation of paranormal phenomenon at the turn of the previous century. Other names appear. Alfred Russel Wallace, the forgotten coauthor of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland), and even Samuel Clemens were all members of the British Society for Psychical Research.

Continue reading “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death”