The Legend of Bonapartes Cave

Missing jewels, exiled European royalty, old bones, and a lakeside cave make this unassuming spot one of Upstate New York’s most enduring mysteries.

Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), older brother of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, saw his fortunes rise and fall with his more famous brother. He once reigned as monarch over two kingdoms, amassing a small fortune before Napoleon’s downfall. How did a lake in northern New York come to be named after him?

In 1794, Joseph, a French lawyer and diplomat, married Marie-Julie Clary, and in 1806 Napoleon crowned him King of Naples. During the ill-fated French occupation of Spain, he reigned as King of Spain and the Indies. After Napoleon’s defeat and exile in 1814, Joseph fled to Switzerland with a trove of diamonds and jewels, but made plans to leave Europe. Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 sealed his fate, and Joseph landed in America in August 1815 under the assumed name “Count de Survilliers”.

James Le Ray de Chaumont, son of a prominent French supporter of American independence, had purchased large tracts of land in northern New York and the Delaware Valley, where many French aristocrats had fled after the French Revolution. Using his stolen wealth, Joseph purchased land along the Black River in Upstate New York from James Le Ray. He named the lake at the heart of his Black River property Diana, but it would come to be known as Lake Bonaparte.

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Loyal to the Grave

This black, cast iron dog stands in silent vigil over the grave of Florence Bernardina Rees in Hollywood Cemetery, 412 S. Cherry Street in Richmond, Virginia. Florence (1860-1862) was less than three years old when she died of scarlet fever. Her parents were Thomas B. and Elizabeth S. Rees, who to my knowledge aren’t buried nearby.

According to folklorist L.B. Taylor, Jr., the dog used to stand outside a shop on Broad Street, and Florence would pet it and dote on it as if it were real. When she died, the owner placed it by her graveside. Another legend says the cast iron Newfoundland was placed in the cemetery to avoid being melted down and turned into bullets during the Civil War. Whatever the reason, visitors love leaving tokens of their affection for little Florence.

Florence Bernardina Rees (1860-1862)

The Terrifying Truth Behind Crawford Road Bridge

The sinister reputation of haunted places are often unearned, but in the case of this remote Virginia bridge, the truth is more horrifying than fiction.

Click to expand photos.

A remote road in Virginia’s Historic Triangle holds secrets, or at least that’s what storytellers say. Otherworldly phenomena is responsible for events ranging from electronic disturbances to car accidents, and real-life murders have darkened the spot’s already sinister reputation. “Bad vibes” and “negative energy” make some locals steer clear.

This object of morbid fascination is a concrete bridge, built in the 1930s, where Tour Road passes over Crawford Road in the woods north of Newport News Park, south of the Yorktown Battlefield where George Washington defeated Lord Cornwallis in 1781. Crawford Road bypasses Yorktown Road between I-64 and US Route 17, but there’s not much to see aside from occasional wildlife. This remote patch of wilderness lends itself to unusual stories.

The most popular legend involves a young bride forced into a loveless marriage. Rather than spend the rest of her life with a man she loathes, the woman hanged herself from the Tour Road overpass. Since then, a ghostly woman in white can be seen standing on the bridge, only to reenact her sickening plunge. Cars swerve to avoid a lone specter in the road, or experience engine trouble while driving through the narrow tunnel.

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The Angel of Death Victorious

Bronze and polished granite monument to entrepreneur Francis Henry “Frank” Haserot (1860-1954) and family at Lake View Cemetery, 12316 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. Known colloquially as the Haserot Angel or “Weeping Angel”, this statue was sculpted by Herman Matzen and titled “The Angel of Death Victorious.” An inverted torch symbolizes life extinguished. Dark streaks emanating from the angel’s eyes have given rise to a legend that the statue weeps on Halloween.

Francis Henry Haserot (1860-1954)

From Sorrow to Serenity

Monument to Mead Belden (1833-1876) and his first and second wives, Sarah Elizabeth Hubbell (1834-1855) and Amelia Gertrude Woolson (1844-1864) and their family in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. Mead was a Freemason, a clothing merchant, and senior partner of Belden & Van Buskirk. Later, he was involved in construction and helped build canals and reservoirs.

Mead Belden (1833-1876) I

According to legend, either a ghostly bride or bride and groom have been seen descending the stairs to the bottom of the hill. The following eyewitness account appears on a sign for the Oakwood Ghost Trail: “Me & my friends spent the night in Oakwood one night. Over by the stairs graves in the west of the cemetery, I looked to my right and saw the bride and groom. They were beautiful, but they were bloody and they vanished before our eyes.” It’s unclear how this story is related (if at all) to the Belden family.

Where to Order Tales of Coles County

Legends live right outside your door!

The 6th and final edition of Tales of Coles County, Illinois is finally here! If you already own a previous edition, or are hearing about it for the first time, this is the one to buy! 232 pages of hidden history, ghost stories, legends, and lore from one of the most fascinating areas of the state!

Where to order:

Tales of Coles County, Illinois is divided into three parts: Tales, Legends and Lore, and Hidden History.

‘Tales’ takes an entertaining look at local history through vivid historical fiction. When four students from Eastern Illinois University are stranded during a violent storm, they seek shelter with an elderly couple who give them more than they bargain for. After one night, the four will never look at Coles County the same way. With each story, they learn more about the place they’ve come to call home. The Second Battle of the Ambraw, the Charleston Riot of 1864, the Coles County Poor Farm, events surrounding the Airtight Bridge Murder, and the Blair Hall Fire of 2004, all are told.

In ‘Legends and Lore’, Michael Kleen reveals over a dozen hidden stories from the from the area’s past and present, including ghost stories, folk tales, and other legends and lore. When did a poltergeist terrorize one rural family in Pleasant Grove Township? What is the real story behind the “Mad Gasser of Mattoon”? Why do they call one stretch of road “Dead Man’s Curve”? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this definitive volume.

‘Hidden History’ examines events some believe are better left unremembered. What is the history of Coles County’s ghost towns? What were some of its most infamous murders? What happened in the Tornado of 1917? Never-before published information about Mattoon’s battle with Prohibition and even a local chapter of the KKK is inside.

Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures: a Fantastic Window to the Unknown

Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk are known for their “Road Guide” series on haunted places in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which I consider to be excellent resources. Published by On the Road Publications in 2011, The Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures is a solo project by Chad Lewis.

It shares many of the same features as previous Road Guides, but focuses entirely on crypto and mythological creatures. This makes the book particularly interesting, since the prospects for running into an unknown creature are slightly better than an ethereal specter.

Although organized by case number and not in any explicit order, the chapters in The Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures do seem to be arranged by type of creature. The first three chapters are devoted to evil beings, the next seven to aquatic monsters, then aliens, werewolves, gnomes and halflings, bigfoot, and finally, a vampire.

It seems Wisconsin has its share of nearly every type of mythological creature, some of which are clearly influenced by the heavy concentration of residents with German and Scandinavian heritage. Each chapter includes directions, a summary of the lore, a short history, and an investigation log explaining what the author encountered when he visited. There is eyewitness testimony when available, and even sketches and photos.

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Tales of Coles County 6th Edition is Now Available!

The release date for Tales of Coles County, Illinois – 6th and final edition is here! Find your copy on Amazon.com and Kindle. If you already own a previous edition, or are hearing about it for the first time, this is the one to buy! 232 pages of hidden history, ghost stories, legends, and lore from one of the most fascinating areas of the state!