Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Farr Best Theater's Ghostly Import

The Farr Best Theater at 107 N. Main in Mansfield, TX had for most of its life been unencumbered by any rumors of spooky goings on. The movie house was built in 1917 by local magnate Milton Farr and remained a source of entertainment long after his death in 1975. Thereafter, some would say his ghost could be seen... Nope. Just kidding. Not at all. The theater was purchased by Charlotte Martin and operated as The Old Bijou Theater for the next five years. After a period of disuse, it was purchased by St. Lutheran's Church, which held services there regularly for nearly a decade. It wasn't until a local theater group purchased the property that ghostly reports began to surface. And still they seemed to have nothing to do with Milton Farr or any other person connected to the building. In fact, the reports seem to coincide with the donation of a bar pulled from an old Scottish pub by a man named Damon Steele that would serve as the theater's concession stand. Thereafter, lights would turn on and off of their own accord, and items left in one location would inexplicably show up later in an altogether different place. The staff has no idea who the ghost might be, but they've taken to calling him McDougal, an indication they believe he's a spooky Scottish import to this thoroughly Texas town.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


One of the many images cropping up
in the wake of these sightings.
Gárgolas--gargoyles to English speakers--are the new monster craze sweeping the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, home already to UFO sightings, the legendary Chupacabras, and the fearsome Moca Vampire.

The story began in Barceloneta on the north side of the island when something began killing chickens at night over the summer of 2018. The birds were all bit on the neck and drained of blood. Some animals that survived were left in a trance like state.

Eyewitnesses such as Edgardo Santiago Rodríguez described to Primera Hora a muscled gárgola like a "bodybuilder in animal form" with red eyes and a 4-foot wingspan. The creature is said to emit an unearthly scream as it flies about, seeking its prey.

These descriptions seem very familiar to previous tales of the Chupacabras and Moca Vampire.
Alarmists such a gubernatorial candidate from the Omnipotent Extraterrestrial Party, Reinaldo Ríos, believe the creature(s) will soon escalate to human prey as well.

Police in Barceloneta are investigating the strange goings-on with the assistance of locals such as Rodríguez. The group, armed with shotguns, is setting out cage traps in hopes of snaring the creature. So far, their efforts have proved fruitless.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


If you've read Erik Larson's The Devil in The White City, then you need no introduction to the monster that was "Doctor" Henry Howard Holmes, an alias for Herman Webster Mudgett, who in the 1890s murdered many men, women, and children in his building in Chicago that became known as The Murder Castle. However, you might not know that Holmes also built a second such building in Fort Worth, TX.
As pressure mounted in Chicago for his various criminal schemes and suspicions of foul play, Holmes relocated to Fort Worth in July 1894 under the pseudonym O. C. Pratt. There, he and a criminal compatriot of his by the name of Benjamin Pitezel (using the alias Benton T. Lyman) undertook construction on another mixed-use building like one in Chicago on property willed to him by the Williams sisters, two real estate heiresses from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Holmes had met Minnie Williams the year before when the one-time actress had moved to Chicago.  The serial bigamist offered her a job as a stenographer before going to work on her affections as well. However, once he used his charms to gain ownership of her property, Holmes had little use for her or her sister and neither was seen again after July of 1893.

In Fort Worth, Holmes went about constructing his new building at the corner of 2nd and Rusk (later renamed Commerce*) in the same manner in which he had built his castle in Chicago. He would hire workers to begin construction and then suddenly fire them without payment, citing shoddy workmanship as his reason. Then another crew would be brought in to continue. In this way, not only did he erect a building cheaply, but it would be constructed in such a way that no one but Holmes would fully understand its secrets. The three story wooden structure resembled his Chicago abode in many respects and we can only assume it had the same deadly features as well.
But time was running out for Holmes. Unlike in Chicago, Texans weren't putting up with this business of not paying the workmen. Furthermore, Holmes wasn't having much luck with his schemes and it would be a charge of horse theft in Texas that would finally seal his fate.
Holmes was only in Fort Worth for four months before he was off again with a scheme to bilk insurance companies by first faking his own death (a plan that didn't pan out) and then actually collecting on Benjamin Pitezel's life insurance—by killing him.

Eventually, the law caught up with him in November 1894 when Pinkerton agents tracked him down as he was preparing to flee the country from Boston. He was arrested on an outstanding warrant for horse theft in Texas.  Over the next few months, his secrets became unraveled and by October 1895, Holmes was being charged for the murder of Benjamin Pietzel. It was only during the process of the trial that the full scope of his crimes came to light. Holmes confessed to 27 murders in total. Some believe he was being modest and the number was much higher. However, there are critics who charge that he was being boastful, and that in fact he didn't kill nearly as many people as he claimed.

Meanwhile the property in Fort Worth, which the Fort Worth Gazette called "the Rusk Street fire trap" was auctioned off to pay back creditors. After his trial, the Pratt Building (as it was usually termed) was even advertised as Holmes' Castle. It continued to serve as a cheap hotel for years afterward before eventually being torn down at some undetermined point. It periodically shows up in newspaper advertisements under various names, such as St. Elmo Hotel, but by the 1930s the property is no longer mentioned. It may have been demolished around this time, sat abandoned, or was simply such an abysmal flop house that advertising was no longer warranted. The area in which it stood was located had changed into one of automobile sales and service businesses.

The site of the hotel is now occupied by a small single story 1981 brick addition to the historic Plaza Hotel building next door, as well as a portion of the Flying Saucer pub's outdoor patio. Not much of the area looks as it did in Holmes' day. Fire station No. 1 still stands since its construction in 1907 and the Plaza Hotel began as the Inman Hotel in 1908, but there's hardly any trace of the buildings that stood there only 10 years prior.

Rumor was that there were strange chutes built throughout the building that led to the basement. Perhaps these were merely laundry chutes, but it's also true that in the years after Holmes' execution, subsequent newspaper accounts would confuse what happened in Chicago and what never had a chance to happen in Fort Worth. Still, there were rumors of strange smells coming from the alley side of the building at the time. Some believed his death trap had already claimed victims.

One can't help but wonder what ghosts stalk these bricked streets when the susurrus of restaurants and bars quiets in the deep hours of night.

*In Holmes' day, Commerce Street was Rusk Street after Thomas Jefferson Rusk (1803-1857), a famous general at the Battle of San Jacinto, signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and later the new Republic's commander-in-chief and first chief justice prior to moving on to the US Senate. In all, Rusk was a seemingly ideal candidate to join the ranks of other notable men for whom the north-south streets in downtown Fort Worth are name. However, in 1909, business leaders were requesting a name change to Commerce Street. The reasons for this aren't clear. It could be that Rusk Street, being the heart of Hell's Half-Acre (a term many communities had for the area in which brothels and saloons were located) was becoming synonymous with vice, corruption, and murder. Over the years, three police officers were gunned down on Rusk Street. Given this atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that Holmes' would have chosen the location for his hotel of horror.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Mysterious Eltanin Antenna

On August 29, 1964, the USNS Eltanin was surveying the sea floor off Cape Horn when the crew photographed a strange object 12,808 feet down that has since caused much controversy. Is it a common but strange looking organism? Or is it, as some believe, submerged alien technology?
The peculiar, antenna-like object superficially resembles a number of jacks (as in the game) stacked atop one another into a thin tower with spokes radiating from the main column, each ending in a round node.
Some, like paranormal authors Brad Steiger and Bruce Cathie, believe the "antenna" is an alien artifact that is part of a vast network of extraterrestrial communication.

Others believe there is a simple biological explanation.

Many have noted its resemblance to the strange carnivorous sponge known as Chondrocladia concrescens.

While the antenna appears far more regular and rigid than the more organic looking sponge images I've seen, I suppose there are probably variations within the species.

For instance a famous illustration by Alexander Agassiz' 1888 tome Three Cruises of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer "Blake" shows a drawing of a rather limp specimen that was likely pulled from the sea; whereas, a more modern full color still from an underwater camera shows something that more closely resembles the antenna, albeit with more branches and nodules in a less regimented arrangement.

To make things more complicated, I cannot find any references to the size of the antenna, nor is there anything to give the anomalous image a sense of scale. Is it 10 inches? 10 feet? 100 feet?

And finding anything about Cladorhiza concrescens online that doesn't reference the Eltanin Antenna isn't easy. So, I can't get a sense of how large those sponges grow either.

Ockham's razor compels the logical mind to accept that the most likely explanation is that the antenna is simply a peculiar sea sponge. Still, I feel there are a few questions not satisfactorily answered. I suppose that's why the mystery endures to this day for some.