Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer Readin'

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The heat at the heart of this socio-scientific conflict isn't nearly as oppressive as the summer temps that have already invaded much of the country. And the humidity! It's as sticky a massage session with John Travolta.

To that end, it is high time to think about those vernal literary gems with which we while away many a scorcher.

To be honest, there has been precious few items on my horizon as of late, so I have gone back through my little black book to seek out some past summer flings. Among these would be anything by the combinative genius of Preston and Child who take intelligent thrillers to new heights with the Holmesian protagonist, FBI agent A. X. L. Pendergast and his strange, Addams-esque world. My favorite on a hot, dry day when boredom settles like dust across a parched landscape would be Still Life With Crows. In this adventure, Pendergast finds himself stalking a serial killer through the parched landscape of western Kansas, against a backdrop of Indian legends and small town secrets.

I would also recommend the pair's Thunderhead, which follows Nora Kelly's journey to discover a lost Anasazi city and the fate of her father through the mysterious and vast Canyonlands of Utah. Native American witches, fascinating archaeology, and cinematic writing make this taut, intelligent thriller something of a movie for the mind. Summer reading at its best.

Caleb Carr's The Alienist is a smart thrill ride through 19th Century New York city as a unique team of detectives attempts to unravel the mind of a killer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Visitors Still Encountering Mystery at Marland Home

The Marland Grand Home was the residence of early Oklahoman and one time Governor  Ernest Whitworth Marland, tenth Governor of Oklahoma.  The man had come to Ponca City to visit the nearby 101 Ranch.   He remained to build a vast oil empire. He was the founder and president of Marland Oil Company, now Conoco/Phillips Inc.  (Ponca City

The 22-room mansion was built in 1916 and included architectural features of a hanging staircase, an indoor pool, and many innovations.  The style of the house is part Italian, part Prairie, and part Edwardian and all impressive.  At its peak as a stylish private residence it covered eight acres which included designer gardens and an 8 hole golf course.

Today, it houses a museum and space rented for special events. Recently, at one of those special events, there were clues that perhaps past residents or visitors returned to attend another day of entertainment in the old house. 
While attending the Northern Oklahoma Literary Arts Book Festival, two authors reported they shared similar, and unexpected, experiences.   Taking photos to promote their books and the event, they discovered their digital cameras draining of power, taking extra long time to function and being non-responsive.  Having fresh batteries in the equipment one author offered his camera for use and the very same thing happened: camera drained of power and became strangely unresponsive.  Soon, another person, a visitor, offered to take photos and email them to the others. Smiling the authors agreed.  In minutes, however, the smiles were perplexed looks as they all looked at their new cameras and phones wondering why they had all ceased to function correctly.  Others attending the event also noted patches of hazy fog in the pictures and similar anomalies from previous occasion

Friday, May 11, 2012

Borley vs. Ballentin--Did These Haunted Homes Share Similar History or Did Ballechin Serve As Archetype For One Of England's Most Haunted Homes?

Ballechin House
In the sometimes controversial, yet unceasingly popular, case of the Borley Rectory haunting (one investigated famously by Harry Price), we can see striking parallels to an earlier haunting in Perthshire at Ballechin House in 1892.

Price was certainly aware of these uncanny comparisons, but did he draw the right conclusions? Price seemed to have remarked upon them only as if they were another layer in the mystery of Borley. Did he, I wonder, consider that Ballechin was a template for reports given by witnesses such as Rectory owners, Mr. and Mrs. H. D. E. Bull and Mrs. E. Byford?

Some of the remarkable similarities are laid out as follows:

Both are large, rambling homes in remote locations built upon the remains of earlier homes, dating back hundreds of years.

Legends of suicide, murder, death, and scandal abound at each.

Both contain a "Blue Room," the focus of many reported phenomena.

Both houses were reported as inexplicably cold by visitors.

Each possessed a patina of Roman Catholicism about them, which factored greatly into reported events. For example, phantom nuns appeared at both locations.

Both houses endured poltergeist activity, nocturnal manifestations that plagued sleepers, and apparitions (a headless man named 'Old Amos' at Borley; a unnamed legless man at Ballechin).

Exorcisms performed at both.

Dogs hated these places.

Maids did, too.

Renters and tenants were known to leave quite suddenly, and in the case of a Spanish family at Ballechin, forfeit 9 months rent just to leave.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Bridgend Suicides: Psychological Contagion or Indication of Something Sinister Afoot ?

In something as inexplicable as the Bridgend Suicides of South Wales, a rash of hangings in a small British community over the past few years, it's not hard to start looking at the supernatural for explanations.

How is it that, even given the phenomenon known as 'Copycat Suicide' or the 'Werther Effect', that nearly 80 people in such a small population could kill themselves in a decidedly similar fashion--all within the last five years? At its height, the Suicides were clustered closely together and seemed to radiate outward from a single "patient zero," a high school student. When his friends and classmates began to follow suit, it was a disturbing if not wholly unexplained series of deaths. However, when Bridgenders unconnected to such teen despair--nay, any despair--began to unaccountably take their own lives in the same exact manner, locals became alarmed. Accounts attest to perfectly contented individuals, many of whom were looking forward to future plans, simply hanging themselves from trees, rafters, etc...

With explanations as occluded and insubstantial as the mists that frequently shroud this community, one can't be blamed for wondering if the Devil has come to Bridgend. Can evil manifest without cloven hooves and spread like a virus through a community like this? Is it something as simple as Copycat Suicide when individuals untroubled by emotional turmoil or psychological dysfunction take the same route to a sudden end?

Bridgend can, according to many, be a dismal place to live. It doesn't often inspire hope in its denizens. And indications are that in the early cases (those involving high school kids) that something of a suicide pact may have been at work. But can such a thing run amok to such disastrous proportions in a relatively small community?