Monday, November 10, 2014

Pikeville's Octavia Hatcher Urban Legend

First of all let me apologize to our readers for not posting in so long. I have had so many irons in the fire, working on different projects, that I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write anything up.  I’ve been doing a lot of work outisde, and since it would seem that winter is now upon us I am hoping that the bitter cold will allow me more time inside to give the Medicine Show some attention.  My favorite side project was when I was invited to the local middle school to tell local ghost stories to the youngins on Halloween.  The students and faculty seemed to really enjoy it, but I’m quite sure I had more fun than any of them.  Speaking to them DID motivate me to pay more attention to a project I had put on the back burner for a while, putting together a book of local haint tales.  I have been super busy this month collecting more spooky stories for the book and am very excited to be working on it again.  So without further adieu, let’s get to one of those local legends...

I went to an alumni event at Pikeville College back in the spring.  I arrived on campus early, parked behind Allara Library, and walked to the old cemetery adjacent to the parking area to the familiar plot surrounded by a fence.  Inside a life size effigy of Octavia Hatcher stands over her grave.  Near the foot of the statue is another smaller one of a baby.  I took a few pictures through the fence and paid my respects to Octavia. 

Walking back toward campus I saw two college girls, looking at different headstones.  One cement ground-level vault, I guess you would call it, had cracked years ago, and the girls stopped in front of it.  I could see them talking excitedly as I walked in their direction. 

When I got to where they were, they sheepishly looked at me and said hi.  I said hello, and asked if they were waiting on something to come up through the cracks, jokingly.  One of the girls said, “Is it true that this place is haunted?” 

“Don’t mind her,” the other girl said.  “She’s a little crazy.”

I smiled.  “Over there at that statue is Octavia Hatcher’s grave.  That’s where you want to go,” I told them. 

“Does the statue really turn around on Halloween?” The same girl asked.

“Well, that’s up for debate,” I said, and told them some of the story behind the legend.
I heard the legend of Octavia Hatcher in the first month that I lived on campus, what seems like many moons ago.  There are different versions of the tale, but a little history fact checking leads to at least some known truths.  I worked on the college newspaper, and for the edition that came out the week of Halloween a friend and I wrote up Octavia’s sad tale. 

James Hatcher was one of Pikeville’s most successful businessmen. He had ventures in several different areas including logging, coal mining, construction, and politics.  In 1931 he opened the Hatcher Hotel, which stood where the East Kentucky Expo Center stands today.  It was hailed as fireproof, and known for having Hatcher’s favorite quotes painted on the walls.  The hotel featured a small museum which included a functioning iron lung, medicine’s newest marvel at the time.  Also on display was a custom-built coffin Hatcher commissioned for himself long before his death.  It featured a mechanism that allowed the coffin to be opened from the inside.  While having your coffin made years before death, much less with such features, may seem odd, James Hatcher had good reason to be wary. 

Hotel Hatcher

In 1889, at the age of 30, Hatcher married Octavia Smith, who’s family was among Pikeville’s first settlers.  Two years later they had a son, Jacob, named after Octavia’s father.  Sadly, as was so common before modern medical practices were available, little Jacob only lived a few days, and died.  Following the infant’s death, Octavia fell into a deep depression and became very sickly, taking to bed. Her tragic life came to an end just a few months later, when she fell into a coma and was then pronounced dead on May 2, 1891.  Pikeville was experiencing an unusually warm spring, so James Hatcher arranged for a quick burial, skipping the embalming process.  Octavia was buried in a family plot at the Pikeville Cemetery.

Shortly after Octavia’s burial, others in the Pikeville area began falling into similar coma-like states, to awaken after a few days and recover fully.  Research led doctors to find that the sleeping sickness was caused by the bite of a certain fly.  When word reached James Hatcher that people were waking up from their death-like states, he went into a panic and arranged for an emergency exhumation order.  

Standing on the hill that looks out over the city of Pikeville, James watched in horror as the coffin was opened.  Inside, Octavia was now certainly dead, but it was obvious that she hadn’t been that way when she was buried.  The coffin had not been airtight, and allowed Octavia what has been estimated to have been days more of life, buried alive.  The lining of the coffin was shredded.  Her fingertips were bloody and her face was scratched and frozen in an expression of terror.  Unable to escape Octavia eventually died, already having been laid to rest.  

Octavia was reburied, but James was so heartbroken he was never the same.  He commissioned a life-size statue of Octavia, holding baby Jacob in her arms, which was placed on top of her grave.  The statue was placed so that it looked down upon the city of Pikeville, and James could look up at it from the hotel.  James Hatcher lived until 1939 when he passed away at the Hotel Hatcher.

Over the years Octavia’s tragic story has evolved into an urban legend.  The tale has been told with several variations.  One version tells of Octavia dying while she was still pregnant and mourners at her burial hearing a baby crying from inside the coffin.  They were astonished when it was opened and they discovered the baby had been born from a dead woman, only to die itself days later.  

As the legend spread teenagers and college students would visit the cemetary, often drinking and daring one another to go near the grave.  Vandals eventually broke the arm holding the baby off the statue.  The small stone infant now lies at the feet of the larger effigy, which has now been placed atop a marble base.  A fence with a locked gate now stands around the site to further deter would-be vandals.  A small plaque was also placed there, describing the details of Octavia’s death. 

Interviews with people who live near or have visited the cemetery have revealed stories of hearing sounds like a kitten or a baby crying.  When people went closer to investigate, the sound stopped when they neared Octavia’s grave.  Others claim to have heard a woman crying.  Pictures have been taken with a strange mist appearing near the statue, although the weather was clear.  Some people claim that Octavia’s apparition walks around the cemetery from time to time.
Pic taken that alleges to show a light mist across the statue
Perhaps the most often told, yet untrue, aspect of the legend is that on Halloween and/or the anniversary of Octavia’s passing, her statue rotates 180 degrees, symbolically turning her back on the city that allowed her to be buried alive.  For decades people gathered around the grave on those dates to see what would happen.  On Halloween the year that we had written the article about the legend for the college newspaper, it seemed like half the student body showed up hoping to witness the event.  The version of the story we had heard stated the statue turned at midnight.  As midnight passed and nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the crowd began to dwindle away.  When it got 1:00 am and nothing had happened, the remaining few of us also returned to our dorms.  

I later learned that a group of college students in the 1980s finally admitted to sneaking to the cemetery and turning the statue around themselves.

After I had told the legend to the two college girls, the one who had been interested was only encouraged more.
“Let’s go over there!” The girl who had asked about the haunting said.  “Thank you!”
I walked back to campus smiling, knowing that another generation of students were passing around the legend of Octavia Hatcher, and at least some of them wondered if parts of it might be true. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Mandela Effect: Real-Life Alternate History

Do you remember the cute family of bears that appeared in children’s books and on their own television show in the 80’s, usually teaching their audience moral lessons. The Berenstein Bears, right? A growing number of people believe we as a population somehow slipped through a glitch in the matrix into a parallel dimension, with small changes to reality being apparent.  One such change is the cute family of bears, whom current history shows were called the BerenSTAIN Bears.  I know one letter isn’t that much of a difference, but in this case it completely changes the pronunciation of the name.  Growing up my brother and I were Berenstain Bear fans, regularly watching the cartoon, and owning several books.  I even had the little action figures and the house they lived in.  I was an avid reader, and cannot imagine how I read all those books and never noticed I, along with everyone I knew, was pronouncing the name wrong.  

Seems The Simpsons folks remember Berenstein Bears as well

This mispronunciation was brought to my attention by my brother, who learned of it while reading about the Mandela Effect.  Have you ever heard a news report of some public figure’s death, only to think, ‘hmmm, I thought they had died years ago,’? Online forums on sites such as are filled with comments from users who were bewildered to learn of Nelson Mandela’s passing in 2013, because they clearly remembered him dying while he was imprisoned in South Africa decades ago. Some fringe believers assert that our timestream has somehow blended into another, perhaps of a parallel dimension similar to our own, resulting in the occasional glitch where histories don’t match up.  

Mandela in prison

Another oft cited example of the phenomena is the outcome of the ‘Tank Man’ incident in Tiananmen Square, China.  The iconic photo below is known the world over, but what happened to the brave guy who stood up to the tanks? The answer from the timestream that I’m familiar with is that no one actually knows what happened to him, but that he walked away from the standoff.  It seems, however, that a large number of people recall seeing video footage of the tanks rolling over the protestor and killing him gruesomely.  The graphic images made for vivid memories for those who swear they saw the footage.

The phenomena referred to as the Mandela Effect was a theory brought forth by writer Fiona Broome. Discussing her memory of Mandela dying decades ago with others backstage at DragonCon, Broome realized she was not alone in those memories.  Her website features discussions on numerous examples of real-life alternate histories. 

I’m sure by now you’ve thought, ‘these people just remembered these things wrong.’  The human memory is a tricky thing, with complex chemical processes involved in storing information in the brain.  It is odd, however, that so many people have the exact same ‘false memories.’ We could almost chalk the whole Mandela Effect theory up to tinfoil hat enthusiasts having a little fun, if it wasn’t for the Berenstain Bear thing.  I’m positive the books I read were Berenstein, and that glitch makes me wonder if somehow these people who remember historic events differently may have experienced some sort of timeslip.  

Most of us believe Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968 outside a hotel in Memphis, TN.  Part of the population may have caught a glimpse of a parallel world with an alternate timeline, because they remember him being shot by a handgun at close range.  King was actually killed by a sniper shot by James Earl Ray, or so they would have us believe (another conspiracy for another blog). 

The Mandela Effect is not limited to historical events.  There are many people who remember being taught to spell the word ‘dilemma’ with a N: dilemna.  ‘Definitely’ is another such word, with many folks remembering an A in the middle, ‘Definately,' and ‘Parmesan’ as ‘Parmesean’ (which includes me).  

As a matter of fact, all areas of memory are subject to the Mandela Effect.  When I heard ‘chartreuse’ a dark maroon color came to mind.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it is actually a bright neon green.  It seems I wasn’t alone in thinking of a maroon color, as many users commented on a thread about the subject.  Some neighsayers wanted to point to word association, saying we were confusing chartreuse with chardonnay, which is a deep red, but I can attest that wasn’t the case.  Then there is the paradox argument of how do we know colors look the same to other people, but that’s a whole other tangent.  

Maroon and actual Chartreuse

There are entire websites dedicated to humorous misunderstood song lyrics; a lot of people think Jimi Hendrix said, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy,” in "Purple Haze."  That’s not the case with Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.”  While reading about the Mandela Effect I learned the song says, “I apologize a trillion times.”  I remember jamming out to this song back in college and singing “I apologize a THOUSAND times.”  Apparently so did many others reddit users.  It would seem that sometime since the song was on the Top 40 charts, a timeslip occurred or we meshed with another parallel reality where Andre 3000 and Big Boi apologized a trillion times.  I had to go back and listen to this song to believe they didn’t say a thousand times, like I remembered. 

This phenomena is also known as the “Alive Again Effect,” with people clearly remembering the deaths of people, to find out later they are alive or learn years later they have actually died (again?).  There are people who remember Henry Winkler passing away while Happy Days was still being filmed and the show dealing with the loss of the Fonz.  Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Ed Asner, and Mohammed Ali are among those still living that many people have memories of reports of their deaths. Some people remember the televised funeral of the Reverend Billy Graham, although he’s still among us today.   A lot of people were shocked to learn of the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, because they were sure he had already been dead for years.  The same was true with Bea Arthur, Walter Cronkite, Jack Palance, and Larry Hagman.  Instead of remembering a false death, it seems that several people remember Patrick Swayze making a full recovery in 2009 after battling cancer.  In our current timestream, he passed away. 

A strange example of the Mandela Effect we found on forums is a large number of people who remember the Syfy show Ghost Hunters originally being called TAPS.  The acronym TAPS is the name of the group featured on the show, The Atlantic Paranormal Society.  All evidence (in this timestream) says the show was never called TAPS, although one user even recalled the lead investigators Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson having a conversation during an early episode about the name change.

The pop star we know as Katy Perry seems to have chosen the stage name Kate Perry in an alternate dimension, that some people must have slipped into.  Forum users were visibly shocked to learn that early in her career Katy didn’t use the name Kate, as they clearly remember reading and hearing.

A very large number of people recall a portrait of Henry VIII in textbooks and on documentaries, featuring him holding a turkey leg in his hand.  Skeptics argue they have confused the well-known portrait below with a caricature in an early cartoon, but believers do not accept that.  There does seem to be something clutched in his hand, but it’s obviously not the turkey leg that I, too, recall seeing.

Another aspect of the Mandela Effect has more geographical implications on different timestreams.  The locations and size of Scotland and Wells are remembered differently than they appear on our current maps.  New Zealand is also often remembered as having a significantly different location. 

Is the Mandela Effect simply a lot of false memories getting together on the internet, or something more? String Theory, with its multiverses, could explain how one reality could slip into another. Actually, String Theory and M-Theory could possibly explain away every paranormal event ever described, but that’s another blog as well (or perhaps a book one day).  If the universe is vibrating, perhaps examples of the Mandela Effect are some kind of cosmic feedback.  We would write all these examples and the many others out there off as false memories, if it weren’t for the Berenstain Bears.  I was always big on spelling and grammar, and I am sure I would have noticed the difference at some point.  If you have experienced any of these types of memories, or have your own examples, please let us know!

Links of Interest: 

Buzzfeed article on Mandela Effect with a lot of examples

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sin-Eating in Appalachia

The Appalachian culture is rich in history and custom.  Many beliefs and traditions, such as snake-handling Christians, are often viewed as strange by the mainstream.  When I started researching an ancient practice I had heard about, I was surprised to find that Sin-Eating had a not-so-distant history in Europe and right here in Appalachia.  The Sin-Eater was a societal outcast and would be summoned upon the death of a loved one, to come wearing their dark cloak and hood and cloak and eat a meal that had been placed upon the corpse, usually reciting whispered lines, thus absolving the deceased of all their worldly sins, thereby affording them passage into heaven rather than being damned to wander the earth.

Traditional Sin-Eater cloak

Throughout history many professions have risen from death rituals, including the undertakers and morticians of today.  In days of old, professional mourners were hired to wail and lament the passing of a family member, while others were hired to sit with the dead until the time of burial.  While sin-eaters were paid for their services, it was a very small amount of money.  There was a dark stigma attached to the sin-eaters, who were believed to carry the sins they ate along with them, the sum of which made them unclean and evil in the eyes of their neighbors who shunned them.  The question has been put forth of who eats the sin-eaters' sins.  It was commonly believed that for voluntarily taken the sins of others upon them, the sin-eater was damned to eternal life in hell.  

Tracing its origins to ancient Egypt and Greece, the practice of sin-eating also stems from the Catholic rite of absolution, the forgiveness of sins by a priest as near the time of death as possible.  In order for those who died unexpectedly to be absolved, sin-eaters became common in Wales and Ireland in the 18th and 19th century, with immigrants bringing the practice with them to the mountains of Appalachia. 

While the ritual of sin-eating varied by region, the sin-eater usually lived in a remote area away from others.  The practice was somewhat taboo, and few accounts survived.  In Appalachia, the sin-eater seemed to be an anonymous member of the community, his identity secret while he lived a regular life in his community.  The sin-eater would be summoned upon the death of a loved one, and would enter the home, where the family would have prepared a meal and placed it on the chest of the corpse, or passed it over the body.  Once the food was eaten and the sin-eater would say something to the effect of, “I give easement now to thee…and for they earthly sins dear woman, I pawn my own soul.”  His job done, the sin-eater left without saying another word, only to appear again when he was summoned.  

The practice seems to have died out around the turn of the 20th century in Europe, though a handful of reports continued through the 1930s.  In America, tales of sin-eating persisted in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia were claimed to occur through the 1950s, with alleged accounts occurring in remote areas within the last decade, although these reports have not been validated.  

An episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, titled ‘Sins of the Fathers’ featured a sin-eater. The 2003 movie The Order, Heath Ledger plays a priest who is a sort of sin-eater and can be found on Hulu. Francine Rivers’ 1996 book The Last Sin Eater was adapted into a film in 2007. While not the best movie ever made, it tells the story of a community of second generation Welsh immigrants living in the Appalachian mountains and a dark secret they share.  It is said to portray the ritual of sin-eating closely to what actually occurred in the mountains long ago. 

Overlook the foreign language dubbed over the dialogue and check out the ritual:


Like many old traditions, sin-eating seems to have died out in Europe and Appalachia, but whispering here and there allude to the possibility of sin-eating still being practiced in remote areas of the mountains.  If anyone has a first or second-hand account of sin-eating, please contact us!

Links of interest:
Funeral Customs - includes section on sin-eating
Watch The Last Sin Eater - complete movie on Youtube