Posts Tagged ‘Prison’

Today the gaol in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia is open for guided tours and is the only surviving intact goal for the period of the 19th Century in Queensland. It was officially known as Brisbane Jail but gained a more local name of Boggo Road.

In 1903 a female prison was built, later known as Division 2 and is the surviving building. It has been heritage listed. Division 1, built in 1883, was demolished during an overhaul to provide an oval and recreation facilities in the 1960’s. Division 1 saw 42 hangings one of those was Ernest Austin who was the last man executed in Queensland in 1913, under the oval on the former site was a facility that became known as the black hole. It is where the prisoners were subjected to punishment of what I presume was pretty darned awful. It was used until some time in the 1980’s.

During the 1970’s the inmates undertook protests, hunger strikes and riots hit the headlines. The prison conditions were outdated and inadequate. In 1989 Division 2 building was closed down and 1992 they closed Division 1 and it was demolished in 1996. A modern prison for women operated adjacently until 2000 and was taken down in 2006.

Ernest Austin is alleged to be a member of the Boggo Road Gaol ghost collection. Legend has it that he was not at all sorry for his crimes and mocked the crowd that gathered at his the gallows for his execution. He said he would return from the grave to cause more suffering, he went on to haunt the prison, lock eyes with his victims and then drive them into madness.

It seems this story doesn’t fit so well with the records that suggest his last words were to beg forgiveness. For some reason he is said to haunt Division 2 but was hanged in the demolished Division 1. It seems this story may be an urban legend or an old story that crossed into the area after the original building was destroyed.

StateLibQld 1 111256 Entrance to Boggo Road Gaol, ca. 1936.jpg
By Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain, Link

Venice, Italy is a phenomena in history of it’s own, having not joined the Kingdom of Italy until 1866 it has been quite independent until Napoleon and the Austrian forces came into play in 1797. Venices history is pulled in by a variety of influences, countries and a unique collection of islands that are man made around it’s lagoon.

A famous spot in the city is the Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Sospiri, it was named by Lord Byron in the 19th Century and yet was built back in 1602.

The bridges purpose was to connect the new prison to the interrogation rooms located at the Doge’s Palace. The bridge was supposedly to offer the convicts one last view of the beautiful city before they were forever locked away in the prison below.

It seems though that Byron may have romanticized this, as the windows from the bridge are covered in stone grills. By the time the bridge had been built the prison would have been more used for petty criminals. The times of summary executions and inquisitions were over.

So what of ghosts? It is said that you can hear sounds, strange noises and the shuffling of feet but it was so busy when we went really all you heard was boats, tourists, workers and Venetians trying to carry on with their lives around the lagoon.

A more romantic tale is that couples in love should take a gondola ride, hope to time it so that the bells of St Mark’s Campanile are tolling and then kiss. This should bless you for eternal love.

(picture taken July 2013)

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J Tunis’ wife Lula was dying of cancer in the 1930’s, and having tried every method of cure available, they prayed for some sort of assistance where the medical world had failed. Norman Baker came to them from the Baker Institute, Iowa and Lula was in his hands with the last of their hopes on a recovery, he was a medical maverick with a new cure. He dressed in a white suit with a lavender tie, owned a radio station and preached a gospel… that he would use alternative medicine and cure the common man!

Unfortunately with this great claim was a man experienced in great lies. He was a former magician, inventor and radio host who then turned to a Cancer Doctor without a day of training in the medical profession. The magic elixir was nothing more than watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol and carbolic acid.

Tunis later testified against Baker, she endured terrible needle treatments and that it did nothing. She begged to go home and he took her back home only to have Lula dead by Christmas. Normal Baker wanted to sell himself as a pioneer of medicine and that it would be his story of a personal battle, in fact brought and paid for as a biography. What he actually did was make thousands of pounds from the sick and dying and Lula was not a unique victim of this man’s “cure”.

The scandal was made more prominent because of his history of radio broadcasting and that had also been often done illegally, he was determined to allay fears that the cure was actually harmful and drank a massive dose of it himself. He put on a show for all those people that were gunning for blood and he one of those other events was to do open air surgery on a 68 year old man!

A doctor from his Baker Institute opened up the skull of Mandus Johnson, he then applied his cure to the cancerous brain tissue whilst he was still conscious. Cancer is cured, he claimed, and now that he had their attention he launched an attack on America’s Medical Association. He charged them with choosing profits over patients and said that he would remind the people he was fighting for them.

The AMA retaliated against the man and his growing institute, stating that even the open air brain surgery was nothing more than a trick. The whole in the man’s head meant that when they opened his skull what they saw was a part of an inflamed skull, a medullary portion. The AMA were also able to get his radio license revoked meaning that the radio method of damage was not renewed in 1931 as he had hoped. Following this a steady stream of relatives of former patients began to come forward to testify.

Finally he was issued with a warrant for practising without a license. He then fled to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and started another radio station that was out of the legal reach of the Federal Radio Commission. He was there until 1937, with another smaller cancer hospital but appears to have become restless. He pleaded guilty and served a one day sentence then he tried to bid for Iowa’s senate seat but failed and left Muscatine for good.

He ended up in Arkansas, purchasing the Crescent Hotel, a majestic Victorian hotel that had fallen on hard times. It was the “castle in the air” and was soon the new Baker Institute location. He made the same scam as he had done in the previous town, conning more people with the same terrible behaviours and after two years the Federal Authorities were closing in. 1939 they finally arrested him.

1940, Little Rock trial, Norman was found guilty and the court of appeals declined his application, the cancer cure was declared a hoax. He arrived at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve a four year sentence. It’s possible that the treatment he gave did nothing but hasten the deaths of the poor people he preyed upon. Norman Baker was therefore resigned to being nothing short of wonderful, instead he was Inmate 58197.

He was released in 1944 and retired to Florida, he lived comfortably until his death in 1958. He was a monster and he was happy to arrange the deaths of people in order to profit. And with this history? Yes you guessed it, there are a wide variety of haunted legends about the place. Perhaps there are some replay ghosts or even active intelligent hauntings, but for now I think his story alone was gruesome enough.

NormanBaker-PrisonPhoto-SMALL IMG_1388 CrescentHotel

This is also known as the Mansfield Reformatory and I am quite sure a lot of people that watch ghost hunting shows or read up on American hauntings will be familiar with this one. It was built between 1886 up to 1910 and was in operation until 1990 until it was ordered closed by federal ruling. It has been used in films and various television shows, one of the most famous is most likely The Shawshank Redemption.

A lot of it has now been demolished but what remains has been opened as a museum and tours are available. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed in 1995 and are working on stabilising the other buildings. The East Cell Block is the largest free standing steel cell bock in the world, it is listed at six towers hight and until 1959 the superintendent was Arthur Lewis Glattke, he was respected by the workers and inmates alike. He was even responsible for some reforms such as piping in radio music into the cell blocks.  Helen, his wife, died following an accident where a handgun was discharged when she went to reach for a jewellery box in the family quarters, three days after this she died of pneumonia *this was 1950* and in 1959 he died in his office of a heart attack.

OSR is not one of the prisons with the most hardened of criminals but none-the-less it has a wide and varied history. One former resident became infamous for his part in the Brink’s Robbery 1950. Frank Hanger was beaten to death there by inmates, 1932, during an attempted prison escape. The harshest violence was reported to be in a place known as “the Hole”, which was for solitary confinement, and some prisoners managed to hang themselves. One prisoner allegedly set himself on fire.

Whether or not you are interested in the ghostly aspect I would say if you get a chance to visit (or have) I’d love to hear what you think of the place. Historically it deserves preserving as it looks like a wonderful building if nothing else.

Or the Covenanters’ Prison, is in Edinburgh. A historical part of the city too as it has had burials there since the 16th Century and has some notable figures there. 1200 Covenanters were imprisoned in a field to the south of the Churchyard and later in the 18th Century the field became part of the churchyard with vaulted tombs and got it’s nickname.

A sweet story of the Greyfriar’s Bobby also comes from here, a loyal dog that guarded his grave. His headstone is at the entrance to the cemetery and the grave of his master John Grey, an Edinburgh police officer, is buried around 30 metres north to the cemetery entrance. The stone is modern as the grave was originally unmarked.

This is also a good place to see Mortsafe’s (search my earlier posts for more on those) amongst burials of some notable historian’s, architects and Colonel Francis Charteris, a member of the Hell-Fire Club.

As with all things I seem to write about, we’re into the supernatural now. Rumours have it that Greyfriars cemetery is haunted.  One has been attributed to “Bloody” George Mackenzie buried 1691, he causes bites, bruises, scratches and many visitors report strange feelings.