Monday, March 30, 2020

Pandemic Day Ten--The Danse Macabre


Our world is no longer ours, but it has a soundtrack and illustrations most folks don't know about. So play the soundtrack as you read this piece, and I'll share some truly extraordinary art. The arts are where I find my self-expression, and so I'll use them as I try to make sense of the last ten days. 



The soundtrack (hit play then read):

 

And back to our world as we all try to reclaim it as our own.

Danse des morts--1493 painting by Michael Wolegemut
On the surface, nothing seems to have drastically changed. The spring is settling in. Leaves are fleshing out the trees. Crocuses, daffodils, and forsythia are blooming in my yard. When I stepped outside a few minutes ago in the earliest hours of a new day--March 30th, 2020--I could smell all the scents of an early Ohio spring, driven up the cliff this road winds along the edge of by the soft howl of winds still lingering from the storms that crashed overhead all last night and early today.

But now? Now we're dancing to a horrible new tune and we don't know the steps.

We all had ample time to prepare for this, frankly. Years. All the bug-out people we laughed at a few months ago aren't worried about finding toilet paper somewhere tomorrow. Most of the rest of us are. I'm not because I'm married to the kind of man who's just built for crisis management. Sent him out for milk and he came back with twenty rolls of toilet paper, sixteen rolls of paper towels, and six boxes of tissues. Sent him out the next day for bread and he shows up with ten pounds of ground beef, five pounds of chicken, and a huge pork roast. My husband is a handy guy to have around. I'm lucky in that respect. 

But there's no guarantee matters will remain this way. Now that the quarantine--yes, I'm calling "social distancing" what it really is at its core--has been extended for a full month I find myself wondering how things will transpire after Pandemic Day Twenty...or Thirty...or Seventy-five. 


Koper Regional Museum 16th Century fresco
 I'm no different from anyone else these days. I read the increasingly grim news, watch the briefings, lose my temper with idiots disseminating misinformation online, and then go back over all the news I've just tried to absorb in the hopes that I've missed something...that somehow, things are getting better and they're back on track. 

Then I have to force myself to realize that no, things aren't getting better at all. 

Three days ago, America had 1000+ deaths from COVID-19. Yesterday, that total had doubled. Tragically, that exponential growth is only too easy to calculate, and if I told you "you do the math", you'd be able to do that math easily and in your head. Math, never my favorite subject of learning, is even more loathsome now than it's ever been.

Facts and figures combine, dancing in front of my eyes like a mural on a medieval ossuaries like a violently spinning danse macabre and no one gets to sit this dance out. We're all dancing to a tune hummed by a virus and composed by microorganisms so tiny but oh so easily capable of felling the strongest humans it pirouettes around...then into...then through until finally the melody fades and man meets his mortality.
St. Nicholas Cathedral-Tallinn, Estonia
fragment 16th century painting

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the Danse Macabre was an allegorical reference to the inevitability of Death in times of plague or epidemic. In some of Europe's oldest extant cemeteries, the Danse Macabre was portrayed by artists as a bacchanalia shared by mortals and the Grim Reaper, where they danced wildly, drank freely, and had orgies--a last hurrah before everyone's dance ended.

Math, music, melody, macabre, mortality.

A pandemic with a soundtrack.

A way to tell Death to go fuck himself or to bring you a new bottle of wine. 

You probably recognized the music, but not many people would recognize this as the Danse Macabre, composed by Camille Saint-Saens in 1874. The images are all depictions of the Danse Macabre from medieval Europe. In a harsh day to day life and faced with the horrors of smallpox or the bubonic plague, people looked to what they assumed would be their last few days as a time to sample all of life's pleasures if they could. That's what the Danse Macabre is all about really. I mean--if you're going to have black boils rise on your body with a high fever and terrible pain and you know those boils are going to literally explode, spraying contagious black pus all over everything then who cares if the old guy next door sees your boobs? In a world where "medicine" consisted of drinking nasty potions that were usually poisonous or getting your veins laid open with a rusty knife to allow the "evil humors" to leave your body, your survival rate wasn't all that great. So they celebrated the fun stuff in anticipation of the fatal stuff. 

But for us, things are different. Instead of partying like it's 1999 with all our friends while we wait to die, the world of medicine is totally different. Clean. Sterile, Fighting off the contagion while relieving the symptoms. We don't have a kegger and invite Death to come on in and do body shots of tequila. No, our Danse Macabre is much different.

File:Dance-death-polish-17thC.jpg
The Dance of Death,
Polish painting circa 1670
Politics.

Look--the plague isn't partisan. Coronavirus will kill liberals, conservatives, communists, socialists, monarchists, moderates, and dictators without bias or prejudice. This isn't a Red State/Blue State issue or problem. Look around you right now--is there any political base untouched by this pandemic? No. So if you're too evolved, too educated to get a blindfolded group sex party together to combat "social distancing" with an allegorical medieval character toting a scythe, then you don't need to get your information about the pandemic from a politician/elected official/minister/waste management/Geek Squad/Reddit/old dude down the street/Twitter/Facebook/partridge in a pear tree/Grim Reaper/blogger.

You need to listen to the DOCTORS. Because right now? Medical researchers and physicians are the only ones who are providing information regarding the virus dispassionately and accurately. If you don't, you might as well invite the Devil to pick you up at five because what the politicians are feeding us as "facts" is actually all spin-doctored propaganda, devised with an eye toward the upcoming election. The doctors don't give a damn about their TV ratings or how much interaction their Tweets are getting. What they care about is advising the public on how best to avoid infection and that's primarily the information we all need.

See, the end result of the Danse Macabre has always been the same. Once the music ends, the dance is over for all the dancers. They leave their mortal shells behind for the death details to pick up and they follow the Grim Reaper into Death. And if you get your "facts" from a politician, that's the outcome you're risking.

So yes, our world doesn't seem to have changed much on the surface of things. But we all know--whether we admit it or not--that everything is totally different now than it was a month ago. We're facing a legitimate crisis that supersedes any global threat of my lifetime. It doesn't matter when this pandemic is finally brought to a close because COVID-19 is going to leave behind a world that's lost its innocent belief that our society is too advanced and tech-savvy to fall prey to a microbe.

Hopefully, we'll all end up wiser when this is over. One of the best ways to ensure that happens is to decline the temptation to twirl in the arms of Death during our ultra-modern Danse Macabre. Politicians aren't going to solve this pandemic. They're as qualified to cure you as those medieval "physicians" with their rusty, bloodstained knives and their possets made of stones from a goat's stomach crushed with ivory and mixed with donkey bile.

Whatever you do, sit out the Danse Macabre. For all our sakes.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Real Pandemic Hidden Behind The Coronavirus Is Not What You Think

I think we've all wondered at times if the world could survive a crisis. 

For those of us who were kids in the 1970s and 80s, the catalyst of disaster was nuclear weapons. I'll never forget the day that I finally figured out that "duck and cover" wouldn't do anything but give us something to do right before we died. I was ten. 

Then, of course, terrorism became the boogeyman. Not so much in small town or small city USA, which is where I've lived most of my life but in big cities. Washington. Los Angeles. 

Manhattan. 

The past decade or so the agent of dystopian fear has been more imaginary. The Walking Dead, aka the zombie apocalypse. Yeah, not too scary for me. I write horror for fun. 

But now? Now we're looking at an antagonist that shouldn't have ever existed--a pandemic that so far cannot be halted with modern medicine. The fears of a pandemic have been an on-again, off-again nightmare for the past twenty years. Pretty much started for me when those f**king idiots were sending around anthrax in the wake of 9/11. Whether it was ebola or SARS, there was always something lurking around the corner that fizzled out before it impacted too many people in Europe and the US.

Until now.

I don't have words of wisdom for you that will explain all this. I don't have the medical training to discuss anything more than the most minor factoids that the CDC and common sense would dictate. That being said, however--

Politics is something I can write about.

Here's the situation in a nutshell. The past 12-15 years, the American government has been stagnated by party politics. No, I don't give a damn about either party. When you get right down to it, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans who are just as bad as the Democrats. I'd love to stack some more party names into that statement, but the fact of the matter is that we have no other viable parties. Corruption, back room deals, big industry and pharmaceuticals, special interest groups, PACs and SuperPACs, religious organizations, and lobbyists--that's who really controls the American government. Not the voters.

Not us.

Never has this been more apparent than now, during a global pandemic, when the US government couldn't get its shit together long enough to cross the aisle and come up with solutions to the crises now facing us. Yeah, I know. You've heard me snarling about the two-party system for years. But now it's no longer just a personal dislike. The COVID-19 virus has got me spooked and I'm not afraid to say it. And in the meantime, while you and me and billions of other people worldwide are staring down the barrel of the pandemic shotgun the United States government can't even agree on what's necessary to supply aid to its citizens who already are having to deal with supply shortages on food and other necessities, loss of pay for folks who live paycheck to paycheck or who are tipped employees, and a medical system that's already overwhelmed at the front end of this outbreak. With models of the outbreak leaning toward the peak infection rate in the US not coming until July, take a good look around you.

We're living in a REM song.

An article from The Atlantic over the weekend by Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer traced the nightmarish incompetence of the federal government to give the medical and research sectors the ability to assertively track, diagnose, and treat the coronavirus. Their article also gave viral expert and research scientist Trevor Bedford a platform to share some truly alarming facts.

If there is one thing about the novel coronavirus that you must understand, it’s that it is a firecracker with a long fuse. Here is what the explosion looks like: Every six days, the number of people infected by the disease doubles, according to estimates from Bedford and other epidemiologists. At the start of February, Bedford now believes, the United States had something like 430 infections; if American interventions have done nothing to slow the disease’s spread, then his simple calculations show that more than 120,000 people could be infected by this weekend. Because of the great uncertainty, it’s probably most appropriate to give Bedford’s range: About 60,000 to 245,000 people are now infected with COVID-19 in the United States.

So if the current models are correct and Americans won't see the virus peak until July, we're looking at four and a half months of dealing with the ramifications of the coronavirus. Think about it: life without schools, churches, and for most Americans their jobs and/or income. Sheltering at home turns into an elongated vigil, and when you do have to run out to the store or the bank then you face three weeks when every little cough or sneeze feels significant. And if you catch coronavirus, you face quarantine for weeks by a medical community that's woefully understaffed and undersupplied.

There is no one person to blame. The blame can be spread around evenly between Democrats and Republicans, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the CDC and state and local health monitoring facilities. The CDC didn't confirm community transmission of COVID-19 until February 26 even though there were already at least sixty known cases in the US.

And the White House. Oh yes, plenty of blame to be slathered onto the Oval Office where the President of the United States first mocked the virus and delayed federal response to the eruption of the medical and financial impacts of COVID-19 through January, February, and over half of March before Trump assembled his too-little too-late task force. And no, that's not partisan. That's a fact. Just a few examples:

At a February 10 campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire: "And by the way, the virus, they're working hard. Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away."

In a February 26 briefing at the White House: The infection seems to have gone down over the last two days.  As opposed to getting larger, it’s actually gotten smaller.  In one instance where we think we can be — it’s somewhat reliable, it seems to have gotten quite a bit smaller.

In a February 27 meeting with African-American leaders: "It’s going to disappear.  One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.  And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better.  It could maybe go away.  We’ll see what happens.  Nobody really knows."

And all sorts of other examples, which you can find for yourself in this cross-referenced article on the Mercury News.

But, it's not just the Trump administration who are guilty of screwing the biggest and most infectious pooch the US has faced since the 1917-18's Spanish flu epidemic.Both sides of the aisle have been tinkering with federal legislation to alleviate the disaster-in-the-making coronavirus, ticky-tacking so that pet projects can also benefit from emergency legislation. And just last night, the Democrats killed an Emergency Economic Relief legislation in the Senate--$1.8 trillion dollars of legislation desperately needed to help Americans financially and shore up the US stock market.

You know--maybe there were valid reasons for voting that aid package down. Maybe there were inherent flaws or oblique advantages for the big-pharmaceutical corporations that support Trump and other Republicans. But in the end, that doesn't matter to most Americans. What does matter right now is feeding their kids or finding things like meat, milk, fresh vegetables, and paper products in the grocery store. And as we stare into the face of what's looking dangerously more like another depression instead of a recession, Americans don't give a damn about someone getting a bridge package in Timbuktu approved. All they care about is getting the help they need, and it's glaringly obvious that nothing is more important to the politicians in Washington than scoring off their opponents no matter what they toss aside in the process.

So yes, Americans. Your government has failed you yet again, only this time we're not talking about some stupid impeachment trial. We're talking about decisions being made, legislation being killed, delusions being reported as fact. We're talking about a legislature that doesn't seem to care how many people are sick or dying because all they really care about is winning their reelection campaigns. We're talking about a President of the United States who's now glorifying himself as the hero of the pandemic by keeping COVID-19 when just in the past month he's mocked the virus, downplayed its importance, stalled a federal response that might have saved lives, and turned the pandemic into a polarizing morass of conflicting information so heinous that his own team has to step forward and correct or refute what Trump said just moments before.

We're talking about the real pandemic in this country: a two-party political system that should be held responsible for the spread of the virus in America and every single death that occurs because the patient was not diagnosed early enough or the hospitals and physicians don't have the equipment they need to help.

The real pandemic here? The escalating inadequacy of the federal government to effect positive change on behalf of its citizens. That's the real diagnosis of this disaster. The federal government is nothing more than a roiling, diseased collection of Typhoid Marys infecting the American way of life. And even when there is a vaccine for coronavirus (and we're realistically looking at 1-2 years before there's any sort of preventative or cure for COVID-19) the self-injected infection of the federal government will still remain and the citizens of this country are the physicians who are baffled about how to halt the spread of the disease.

Physician, heal thyself. Eliminate the real disease that's centralized in DC. Kick them ALL out and start over because this catastrophe could have been avoided with just one politician willing to take a stand on behalf of all the rest of us. We were failed by the people we elected to represent our basic existence in this nation.

So yes, physician, heal thyself and remember that there is a cure for the real pandemic here. It's called "Election Day".

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Preview--House of Wills: It Feels Evil

Author's note: This preview was written sitting inside the main chapel of the House of Wills the first day that the Travel Channel's show, It Feels Evil, was shot. But there was literally no way to suspect that the investigation would take the turn it did. Present initially as a writer, not an investigator, I was quickly sucked in with the rest of the team as we tried to decipher just what in the hell was going on in that place. Or to us, to be honest.



When the team pulls into the parking lot of the House of Wills in Cleveland, Ohio the wind howls around us while rain slashes against the crumbling building. Perfect conditions for a landmark paranormal investigation. The team heads into the building for its first look at the location, and there’s a definite sense of unease pulsing around all of them. Although it’s still daylight, the interior of the building is dark. The central chapel would be pitch black and silent if it wasn’t for the thunderstorm pounding outside and the chamber open to the sky. But despite the wind that is shrieking through the narrow corridors and winding staircases, the air is heavy…humid…and smells of decay, death, and rot. I always thought something about the building was disconcerting.

Sitting inside it, I now see why. 

The House of Wills has a definite sense of purpose. A will of its own, if you’ll pardon the pun. The atmosphere is watchful and definitely sports a malevolent edge. There’s no way to escape the isolation of this ravaged beauty on a June afternoon that feels more like March, but it’s only inside the building that one gets the sense that something’s not quite right.  

The House of Wills is cold, cold, cold and its atmosphere presses in upon you like the grave.  

Through the gaping windows on the second-floor gallery, the sky looks orange and the tree branches are whipping from side to side. The chapel has gone from repressive to malevolent. The House of Wills is nothing like it was in its heyday. Once it was a Turnverein, a German social club that promoted the ideals of Eugenics—a theory which would become the foundation of Hitler's genocide in WWII—in the twilight of the nineteenth century. Then, in a staggering reversal of purpose, the building served as a Jewish school in the dawn of the twentieth century. Most famously it was a funeral home that was one of the largest African-American-owned businesses in the US for over three decades. This ruined building went, within the space of fifty years, from a building whose owners espoused beliefs that led to the Holocaust but then became a power structure at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.  

How would such an volte-face affect a building? Is that conflict at the heart of the alleged haunting here?

Current owner, artist Eric Freeman, is high priest of a religion he co-founded with the grandson of Anton LeVey. LeVey took Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic cult and his writings on magick and turned them into a religion (and profitable business venture) in the San Francisco of the 1960’s.  Freeman uses the  former House of Wills not only as his curated art gallery, but also for religious purposes.

There’s never been a place more perfectly suited to be haunted, but that’s not what brings the team to Cleveland. The House of Wills was designed to channel, store, and conduct energy.  The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by renowned area architect Frederic Striebinger, a thirty-second degree Mason, in 1900. 

That energy is what we're chasing.

This chapel was once a consecrated site, where thousands of families attended the Christian last rites of loved ones. But since the death of J. Walter Wills in 1971, the building’s been desecrated, first by the family who owned it, then by the gangs and drug dealers who took it over when it was abandoned. Now, the building would be almost unrecognizable to the people who once loved it. 

Something inimical and cautious lurks among these relics of Egyptian grandeur—fake relics, of course. A reproduction sarcophagus shares the space with a massive carved head of Baphomet, the horned god of Satanic worship, and the crumbling plaster of art deco glory. This old building still possesses dignity in her aged splendor, but has been cannibalized by her own children and desecrated by her own community. You can tell that desecration has been dark for it is never daytime in this place.

In the House of Wills, it is always night. 

On the former chapel's stage, an ornate casket sits upon a bier, flanked by two massive red-upholstered chairs that look like thrones. In front of one throne, ritual candles await their time to burn. The uses the building is put to are painfully obvious. The House of Wills is decaying faster than its owner can repair it. For all practical purposes, there’s nowhere in the world better suited to the task the team has been set: researching what we're beginning to believe may be a demonic attachment.  

I have to wonder if it's wise to expect this team, several of whom have been battling against their own demons for years, to attempt contact with any diabolical agency. The House of Wills, therefore, is both a battleground and a research facility, but hopefully will lead us all down a path that hopefully will lead to greater knowledge.  

Is it worth the risk? I'm not sure.

I have to be honest: this is one of the few places that has ever creeped me out instantly. I'm as sensitive as a brick so I'm used to everyone else around me being able to sense there's something about a site that just isn't right. Other folks have the instincts that lead them to paranormal activity. Tim Wood, our lead investigator, is one of the best guys I've ever seen when it comes to that. I tend to get dragged into paranormal synchronicities (like what happened when we were conducting the Zozo experiment) or I piss something off and get slapped upside the back of my head (like numerous trips to the haunted fields and cave involved in the Bell Witch haunting).

But in this moment, right after I first set foot into the House of Wills, I'm overwhelmed by the cold certainty that this is not a place to be trifled with. 

Aside from the general decrepitude of the building, it's pouring rain outside. And inside. That's rendered almost every square foot of floor into a slick, threatening expanse to navigate. Despite the fact that it's summer, the interior of this building is freezing. I'm usually the person who walks into an alleged haunted site without concern, automatically looking for anything that could debunk evidence previously caught by other teams or witness accounts. At the House of Wills, that's not possible. 

Not just because it's spooky. This place plays to a lifetime of horror movie tropes.

But something in this building feels like it's aware, and it knew we were coming. The House of Wills is anticipating...something. Or someone.

Naturally, that sends me straight into "blame Tim" mode.

Always has to be Tim's fault, right? I mean my research is rarely targeted by some supernatural entity...unless Tim's involved. Then all kinds of crazy stuff happens. But this trip is different. The crazy stuff started before I started the car to drive up here. I'm starting to think whatever is gloating at me in the House of Wills sent me a direct warning at home yesterday...the day before I left for Cleveland: 

Be careful. I'm watching you. No one involved in the shoot knows what I'm about to relate except the executive producer and Tim.

Yesterday, I was packing for the trip in my office, so my suitcase was open on the bed. I was talking on the phone when all of a sudden, a section of the ceiling collapsed. Flooring, drywall, insulation, and God knows what else fell all over me and my nearly-completed packing. 

Ever have to dig insulation out of a suitcase? I don't recommend it. Not fun. 

Aside from a sizable lump on my head, the way the whole incident went down was baffling.

Evidently something heavy in the attic had fallen between the floor joists onto the drywall, bringing a full three-foot section down in the middle of my office. Missed my bookcases, thankfully. I would have been hugely pissed if my books had been screwed up. In fact, the majority of the material that fell went smack dab into the middle of my suitcase. 

Except for one chunk of drywall. That smashed me in the head.

Here's the kicker: everything was dry. Not wet. As for whatever had caused the collapse, there wasn't a sign. It was almost like someone had stepped between the joists and stepped directly on the drywall. The incident made no sense in the normal, mundane everyday would we all inhabit.

But shivering in the dark chapel of the House of Wills, that "accident" makes perfect sense after the fact. The irony of trading one collapsed ceiling for another is too pointed to miss.

I was being warned by something that maybe this little jaunt to Cleveland wasn't such a great idea. Me being me, I shrugged it off and came up anyway like I'd been double dog dared by Flick on the playground. Nothing like a challenge, right? 

But as I sit here, with the storm lashing the building and the day waning into nighttime, I have to wonder if accepting the challenge was the smart thing to do. I have a good idea what might be lying in wait for us now that I've taken my first steps into this site. A familiar miasma, hovering over everything. The difficulties the film crew are having to combat. The mood of the investigators. The sense that something is just not right. 

I've felt this supernatural aura before. This is the first haunted location I've ever walked into and immediately had to evaluate my judgment as a result. I have no idea what's about to happen, but I have the feeling that it's going to be bad. 

Really bad.
Author's note: By the end of that episode shoot, it was apparent that this time we had all miscalculated what the effects of putting this investigative team into that location would be. 
Disastrous. 
You can check out what happened at the House of Wills tonight at 11 pm EST, 8 pm PST in It Feels Evil on the Travel Channel. Basically, it's a master class on 'why you shouldn't ignore your guts when investigating'...for all of us. 

Additional note: As I was preparing to schedule this post for release, the same section of the same room's ceiling just collapsed. Again. Apparently, I've pissed something off. 
Again.



Friday, December 27, 2019

Victoria's Black Swan Inn—Historical Dossier LSF/It Feels Evil


Author's note: This document continues our investigation into paranormal research, and was submitted to the producers of It Feels Evil as a comparison piece for/against the website currently maintained by the owner and on her website prior to the investigation. Sorry it's a little late--holidays and all that.

A few things to remember when looking at this website—many paranormal groups (including Ghost Adventures) have taken that website as gospel and reproduced it word for word. Never accept a “history” on a website as fact. Also, if there are paranormal instances cited throughout a history article, up to and including the names of alleged spirits and even what they say/do, that usually means someone doesn’t want you looking at the real history for whatever reason and want to distract you with a “look at what our ghosts do!!!” moment. But if the history is wrong, chances are that one or more of the alleged spirits is either what a psychic claimed to have sensed or imagination, providing a false validation of what’s really going on. So let’s take a look at what the o want us to think and what we know:

Website--From before 5000 B.C. to around 1000 A.D the area was the site of Native American encampments. Artifacts from this time can still be found here. Archeologists (sic) have provided evidence showing that Native Americans once lived in the area where the house currently sits. There have also been signs of a sweat lodge where Native Americans performed rituals. An ancient Indian burial ground is thought to be under the house.

Fact—okay anything from 5000 BC to 1000 AD isn’t Native American. It’s prehistoric. We’re talking about predating the Incan and Mayan peoples, and the dates cited cover both the archaic and the late Prehistoric period. HOWEVER, the period after 1000 AD is and should be the points of reference here. There’s no record of archaeologists (correct spelling) ever documenting evidence that proves Native Americans lived on/near the land where the house sits. There’s certainly not any record I can find of a dig conducted there. There’s no record of a sweat lodge. There’s no record of an Indian burial ground either, and if there WAS one under the house we should be able to record that by getting into the crawl space. (If there’s no crawl space, then there’s no way whatsoever that anyone knows what’s under the house for the simple reason that no one can get there.) All that being said, the area around San Antonio was occupied relatively continuously by indigenous people until the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Native American tribes were continuously forced west by the encroachment of European settlers and it would be odd if they hadn’t camped near a water source, especially during the summer when these tribes migrating for hunting.

According to the San Antonio Office of Historical Preservation, there were hundreds of Native American tribes in central Texas during the historic period from 1700 AD on, but these tribes are the worst documented in the historical and archaeological records.


Website: On September 18, 1842 General Adrian Woll, Sam Houston and his men massacred more than 60 Mexican soldiers during the bloody Battle of Salado. Their bodies were left to rot where they fell. Only one Texan lost his life, Steven Jett, during the battle.



Fact: That the battle took place there is apparently close to the truth, but General Adrien Woll was the French-Mexican general of the Mexican troops, while the Texans were led by Colonel Matthew Caldwell of the Texas Rangers. Woll commanded over 1600 Mexican and Cherokee troops against Caldwell’s militia of right around 200. There’s no mention of Sam Houston being anywhere close to this battle, since in 1842 he was serving his second non-consecutive term as President of Texas and was in, appropriately enough, Houston. Caldwell’s militia defeated Woll, who retreated back to Mexico, leaving his 60 dead behind. And yes—only one Texan lost his life and was interred properly while the Mexicans were left to rot.

Website: The Prescott House was built on the property after the civil war.
Sebastian L Rippstein (2/4/1824 - 7/14/1896), born in Switzerland, and his wife, Hemrieke "Betsy" Ackermann Rippstien (6/1/1834 - 9/15/1911), born in Germany, settled the land in 1867. The San Antonio Conservation Society shows that they built a stone house barn and milking barn on the property. Their children were Gustav Juilan (1851-1920), Henriettta Rippstein Seay (1854-1932), Bertha "Betty" Dorthea Rippstein Schaefer (1858-1920), Ida Rippstein Benfer (1870-1951), and Albert Rippstein (1874-1941).


Fact: You can see on this map the layout of the battle. About a third of the way down, you see the dark square that represents the Prescott house on top of a hill overlooking the river. What I find interesting about this is that there’s no mention of the Prescotts ever owning that property. (more on this confusion later) The first structures built on the property were built in 1867 by the Rippstein family, German immigrants who started a dairy business. The barn and dairy barn are purported to have been built by them. But the house that’s there now is NOT the house of the Rippsteins as best I can tell and definitely isn’t the Prescotts’ house either.



Now in this next shot, you can get a glimpse of the Black Swan Inn with the huge barns behind it, a cemetery in front of it, and across what appears to be a major road is Salado Creek. The historical marker for the Battle of Salado Creek is just outside and to the west of the gates to the BSI on Holbrook Road, which is the thoroughfare between the BSI and the Salado River…

Wait a second. I have to wonder where in the heck is the Salado River on BSI’s side of the river? Because of the claims of a natural spring on the property, you’d logically think they’d be on/near the river. Also, topographically, it’s obvious that the battle itself was fought with the Texan militia blocking the Mexican army’s advance from positions tight up against the river and behind the Prescott house which is right about where the road is today.

But that’s not all. As you can see, the big barns are behind the BSI, but on the map of the battle the barns the website claimed were part of the Prescott property are not there. There’s one outbuilding shown on the property, and it’s tight up against the big house. So the barns currently on the BSI property can’t have anything to do with the Prescotts, and were probably built in/after 1867 when the Rippsteins bought the property.

There’s a reason for that (and subsequently a reason that the big house wasn’t built until 1901-02). Many European farmers built two story barns with the animals on the ground floor and the people on an upper floor. They do that in Europe for the extra heat the animals give off. Obviously in Texas, this would suck profusely 7 months of the year. My guess is the “stone house barn” referenced on the website is what the owner’s talking about. That means the Rippsteins and the Mahlers, who bought the property twenty years later in 1887, lived in a residence inside/above the cows in the barn below until having the first house built on the property—but that house wasn’t the house that’s currently there.

Website: German immigrants, Heinrich "Henry" Mahler (9/2/1840 - 4/18/1925) and Marie Biermann Mahler (7/15/1850 - 7/25/1923), bought the property on January 10, 1887. They built the first house on the property in 1887 (Bexar County Appraisal District shows 1902 and San Antonio Conservation Society shows 1901 for the year built). Their children were Samuel George Mahler (1/21/1876 - 4/21/1937), Louisa Catherine Mahler Prange (11/1/1879 - 1/10/1918), Sara "Suzie" Mahler Schlegel (2/27/1882 - 3/23/1958), Daniel Henry Mahler (11/11/1884 - 5/27/1950). They also built a milking barn and named the farm Bluebonnet Dairy. Henry and Sam were known as the Cotton Kings. The Mahlers ran the dairy farm here until the mid-1930s.

Fact: What makes this odd is that the website claims the Mahlers built the house in 1887 BUT the San Antonio Conservation Society AND the Bexar County Appraisal District don’t show a house (that didn’t involve cow storage) built on the property until 1902/1901 respectively. Also, why were Henry and son, Sam, known as the “Cotton Kings” when they were running a 200-acre dairy farm? Shouldn’t they be known as the Cow Kings or the Cream Kings instead? So there are multiple red flags here that lead me to believe substantial parts of this section of the history have been manufactured instead of researched.

Website: After Mahler’s wife passed away, he followed suit two years later from lovesick grief. Heinrich also haunts the Milking Barn and roams the property, including inside the main house. His daughter, Sara "Suzie" pulls pranks in a building located behind the Black Swan.

Facts: Case in point. First off, there’s no way anyone dies of grief. That’s BS until and unless a proper medical association assigns “lovesick grief” as an actual diagnosis. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Second off, again with stating anything paranormal-related as an actual fact. This continues to deteriorate as the "history" continues. Note that Suzie is Henry's daughter. This becomes important.

Website: Carl Mahler from Germany had a daughter named Sophia Louise Mahler Meyers, a spinster who lived in the house until she was 82, but haunts the house as an 8-year-old girl singing and laughing and known for playing tricks on people.

Fact: There’s no context for this. We don’t know who Carl is, or why he lived there. This is the first time he's mentioned. Same thing for his daughter, who is apparently stuck there as an 8-year-old girl. But here's the most telling clue that something about this "history" stinks to high heaven. Just one paragraph ABOVE this claim, it's stated that a sweet little Suzie was the daughter of Henry Mahler. There's no Carl mentioned, or a Sophia despite them purportedly both living in the house as part of the same family. Now there are TWO mischievous girl ghosts that are the SAME AGE.  This is the result of either historical confusion--possible--or haunted house myth-making--probable. The website can't even keep its own story straight, but still presents this all as "fact" or "history" when it's patently a fiction. To me, this is a strong indication that someone hopped onto a free genealogical website, where date/name confusion is pretty much the order of the day on any family tree, without double-checking through vital records.

All this does is create a scenario where a paranormal investigator or—even worse and more dangerous—a paranormal tourist takes a cheap voice recorder into the location to talk to “Sara (Suzie)” or "Sophia" the sweet little girl prankster ghost and accidentally summons an entity to interact with her/him. The lie becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you're part of an investigation team that does not perform legitimate historical research on a property and instead relies upon an owner's website or a previous paranormal group's findings, your team can be sent blind into a dangerous paranormal event without the proper preparation or protection. That's why research is legitimately the most important segment of an investigation and cannot be skimped.

See, anytime you use a voice recorder or call out a spirit, that’s conjuration and an amateur isn’t aware of that. There’s no telling what can and will respond…and follow you home. This is irresponsible on the owner’s part—first, by putting what psychics or an EVP or an odd feeling someone translates into “little girl ghost Suzie” down on the HISTORY page as FACT. Second, by attributing paranormal or supernatural events as being the actions of a specific named entity, the owner is creating a false narrative or mythology for the location. There isn’t really any way to prove the claim on any front.

An investigator can, perhaps, after a LOT of investigation, feel fairly confident in a hypothesis about a historical figure being part of a haunting. Usually, that’s in residual hauntings—like Lincoln’s ghost in the White House, for example. A person who witnesses a full-bodied apparition and later is shown a group of pictures of people who lived on the property and recognizes one of the photos as being the ghost he saw can create a reasonable assumption the entity is that historical resident. But either of these types of confirmation is extremely rare.

In this case, these definitive identification of entities as the historical residents on the property is just creating a reckless and ultimately reckless mythology for the site, making it more dangerous for investigators, paranormal tourists, and residents alike. (Author's note post-investigation: this also generates an interesting factor when the subsequent investigation led the team to a doll as the apex of the haunting. You'll note that the owner of the BSI states in an interview that someone goes into that room every couple of weeks to "talk to the dolls". That's a conjuration, and may be the entire reason the inn has any intelligent haunting at all. Chances are correspondingly greater that this is a dark or demonic entity, lured in under the guise of sweet little Suzie, and may have taken up residence in the doll. Annabelle, anyone?)


Website: Henry and Sam Mahler were known as the Cotton Kings. They lived on the property with 200 acres after Marie died.

Henry and Marie's son, Dan, and his wife, Mary Mahler, lived on the property with 237 acres. They sold the house and surrounding land to two sisters and their husbands in 1941.

Katherine S. Joline Holbrook (9/17/1883 - 1/27/1950) and Joseph "John" Younger Holbrook (4/6/1879 - 9/3/1960), along with Mary Blanche Joline Woods (7/8/1887 - 1/17/1976) and Claude B. Woods (10/31/1882 - 1/17/1935) purchased the property. The sisters called the house White Gables. They conducted extensive remodeling, adding two wings to enlarge the mansion to accommodate the two families. The house was then called "White Gables". After purchasing more land a second house was built in 1901 but it later burnt down.

Fact: Here’s where the ‘history’ contradicts itself directly. Earlier on the page, the website states that: Henry and Marie Mahler bought the property on January 10, 1887. They built the first house on the property in 1887 (Bexar County Appraisal District shows 1902 and San Antonio Conservation Society shows 1901 for the year built).Then the Holbrooks/Woods family purchase the property and evidently adds the two wings to the house, and then a second house was built in 1901 but it ultimately burned down. But this narrative doesn’t match up precisely.

At first, the website claims the “Prescott House” was built AFTER the Civil War. But—in 1867, the property was purchased by the Rippsteins, who I’m assuming lived over the dairy barn as would be normal for them as German/Swiss immigrants. So what happened to the Prescott House, that the website claims was built after the Civil War?

In 1887, then, the Mahlers bought the location “and built the first house” on the property, a fact that’s disputed by two different agencies in the Appraisal Department and the Conservation Department, which have the dates for this house as 1901 or 1902. Now we have the Holbrook/Woods family adding two wings and building a second house that burns down. What we DON’T have anywhere on this website is an undisputed and definitive date when the house that exists on the property was built.

In the book  Battles and Men of the Republic of Texas by Arthur Wylie, however, the author states that:

After forming 140 Texian volunteers Caldwell marched for Cibolo Creek, twenty miles from San Antonio. A little later Caldwell moved his camp thirteen miles closer to the city along Salado Creek near the Prescot (sic) House. Altogether, about 220 Texians had been assembled to fight the Mexicans…

This version of events is backed up by the Texas State Historical Association. So there was a house close to the Black Swan Inn called the Prescott house that pre-dates the battle, and as was pointed out earlier the current building is not in the proper location on the map to have been the Prescott house.

So my best guess without actually going in person to the County Clerk’s office and digging out plat books is that the Prescott house was not on the property now associated with the Black Swan Inn, that the first two families lived over the barn in an old-country ‘house barn’, and that the first possible date for the current residence to have been built is the 1901/1902 date that the Appraiser’s Department and the San Antonio Conservation Department have listed on official San Antonio documents.

Therefore the house currently known as the Black Swan Inn wasn’t erected until 60 years after the battle, and has nothing to do with the battle save for the fact that the Mexicans rode over it on their way to be shot to pieces by the Texians holed up in the creek bottom.

That would also discount any possibility of a Rittspein/Mahler historical figure haunting the current house, because they would never have lived there. This would be an easy mistake to make for any amateur researcher, who wouldn’t be able to untangle the “house barn” mystery and subsequently ended up with multiple “first house” possibilities on the property.

Website: Attorney Hall Park Street, Jr. (11/10/1909 - 8/4/1965) and Joline Woods Street (12/15/1912 - 12/22/1959). They inherited the house in 1952 from Joline's mother, Claude Woods. After the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook and Mr. Woods, Mrs. Woods lived in the house with her son-in-law, Park, and her daughter, Joline. During this time a second story was added to the main house. While Park and Joline owned the property Earle Stanley Gardner visited the house and wrote some of his famed Perry Mason television series scripts here. Joline died of breast cancer in 1959. Park, Jr. was later found dead in 1965 hung by a neck tie with his hands tied behind his back...the death was ruled a suicide. They were survived by their daughter, Joline "Jingles", who was only 19 at the time and their son, Hall Park Street III. (no vital records found). Park Street supposedly committed suicide by hanging himself in the house, though this has been a highly controversial subject. A psychic consultant with Syfy's television program Sightings communicated with former resident, Hall Park Street, whom he believed was murdered in a south wing closet, then moved to another location, where the murderer made the death look like a suicide. They believe Street was killed because of a treasure he still guards in the south wing. Others believe that Heinrich ghost drove Park to commit suicide. The most unnerving spectral presence at the property is that of a man who has been spotted stalking angrily all over the house. Rumor has it that he is the ghost of Hall Park Street. Is he perhaps looking for his beloved wife Joline, whose spirit is also said to haunt the Inn after tragedy struck her at the tender age of thirty-eight when she died of cancer. Dressed in a luxurious white gown with a beaded jeweled medallion in from of headband with a feather at the back over her dark hair, this is a very beautiful female spirit roams the property aimlessly, especially around the gazebo, but Park and Joline never seem to meet.

Fact: Okay here’s where things get egregiously wrong. Thanks to the August 7, 1965 edition of the San Antonio Express and News, the fact-checking for this section of the website was easy. HALL PARK STREET JR DID NOT KILL HIMSELF AT WHAT IS NOW KNOWN AS THE BLACK SWAN INN OR ANYWHERE ON THE PROPERTY AT ALL. Street committed suicide at his home in the affluent Oak Park neighborhood, 401 Northridge Drive, which is 2.9 miles away. He also didn’t bother to mourn his first wife, Joline, all that much because he was already remarried at the time of his death in 1965. So there is no treasure in the south wing that Street was killed over and the murdered/moved. There is no chance that the vengeful ghost of Heinrich Rittspein drove him to suicide when Street was a nine-minute drive away from the property in his new house when he killed himself, and absolutely zero possibility that’s he’s stalking the house because he’s heartbroken over Joline’s death.

So no, they aren’t trying to find each other in vain.

What this IS representative of, however, is the worst kind of mythology creation that is perpetrated by someone needing to exploit the paranormal for reasons other than research/investigation. As for Street’s son, Hall Park Street III—while the owner claimed to find no vital records for him, I did find him—still living, in Austin, TX after a 30 second Google search. He can be found at https://www.parkstreets.com/ where he has this to say:

A native Texan born in San Antonio, I am the son of a noted lawyer and my godfather was the world's bestselling author of his time, Erle Stanley Gardner, of Perry Mason fame. My father was a member of the Court of Last Resort, a group of lawyers and forensic experts who worked to get prisoners they felt unjustly convicted new trials. Some of my fondest memories of my father was us driving from one state prison to another where he interviewed prisoners. I always got a kick out of seeing my dad in the opening credits of the TV show they made about the Court of Last Resort which showed for two seasons. I grew up in what is now one of the most haunted houses in Texas. It was spooky but not as spooky as it has been made out to be.

Bolding mine, for emphasis. He’s now a renowned photographer based out of Austin after careers in the law and foreign importing, and can be reached via his website. Might be a worthwhile on camera interview depending on how the investigation goes. I assume that Hall Park Street III, therefore, has vital records for anyone who cares to look.

The remainder of the “history” section on the website is modern, taking us through the Mehrens’ ownership, who bought the house in 1973. I would assume that either Joline the younger lived in the house between 1965 and 1973—she was 19 and evidently a recent bride in Wisconsin when her father committed suicide--or that the house was rented out after Joline the elder passed away in 1959. The Mehrens sold the house to Werner Schmidt in 1980. The house went into what appears to be some form of seizure, ending up as the property of Sunbelt Self-Storage in 1987 before being ultimately sold to Jo Ann Marks Andrews Rivera in 1991. She named the property the Victoria's Black Swan Inn, and built up a paranormal tourism site/B&B/Events business while living with her family on the site.

Other information on the location: Recent reviews of the Black Swan Inn have included growing accounts that the property is not just run down, but falling apart and filthy. There are reports of insect and rodent infestation—highlighted by the Ghost Adventures episode where they left a static cam rolling on the owner’s children all night due to her claim that something was ‘pinching’ them as they slept. Turned out to be a fat, juicy rat instead.

There have also been negative reports left on the quality of the food at catered events, at the rudeness of the owner and the staff, and on a few occasions “absolutely ruining” weddings held there. Refusing to turn on the air conditioning for a summer wedding in Central Texas is a recurring theme, as is the owner taking drinks out of people’s hands and pouring them out. Take that FWIW.

The Rivera family appears to live on the second floor of the main house, and the house didn’t have a second story until the Street family added it between 1952 and 1965. So any paranormal phenomena up there should be surprising.

Conclusion: There’s a long provenance of modern paranormal teams gathering evidence at the Black Swan Inn, but there are no contemporary reports of paranormal events prior to Ms. Rivera’s ownership of the property. The ties to the Battle of Salado are tenuous, the stated history of the house is so unreliable that there’s not even a solid date of when the building was even built. And the suicide or murder/suicide the website wants prospective clients to believe happened in the house actually occurred in a different house almost 3 miles away.

The overall purpose of the website is to push the paranormal agenda to the exclusion of anything else in my opinion. The “history” in the history/about section of the website is peppered with references to spirits that are allegedly the former residents of the house despite the house not even being built yet. So this isn’t a history. It’s a mythology, comprised of historical half-truths and what psychics have said about the property despite the constant contradiction or even downright falsehoods (like the Street suicide) in order to make this house appear more haunted than it evidently was when Hall Park Street III grew up.

All this being said, though, considering the uses to which the house is put, the weekly ghost tours and ghost hunts, the scrying closet’s constant use and the seances in the room outside it, what you have here is a paranormal time bomb. IF there’s a haunting at this location, I’d find it almost impossible to attribute activity to the former residents on the property. I’m more inclined to think that whatever is contributing to the ‘escalating’ negative activity on the location is the result of the constant conjuration going on there, opening doors without knowing how to shut them again. That would strand human entities there, probably pissing them off. However, that open door leaves the house and ground vulnerable to demonic infestation, which much be strongly suspected headed in.

Author's note, post-investigation: It's my opinion now that the investigation is completed that the paragraph above this one was the correct prognosis for the paranormal activity in Victoria's Black Swan Inn. The team, therefore, caught no evidence to support the owner/website claims save with a doll most likely empowered through regular and ritual conjuration.