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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Oct 2, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelIt’s October. And October means scarecrows, harvest parties, the last of our summer fruits and vegetables, and the scariest of holidays – Halloween

I’ve researched the scariest places on Earth for you, so you can make your reservations to travel to one or more of these sites for your upcoming Halloween adventures. If you’re tired of the typical neighborhood All Hallows Eve parties, take a look at these fabulous destinations and book your flight.

One of the most interesting, exciting, gruesome, dark and freaky adventures I’ve ever had was in Paris. Actually, it was a self-guided tour through the catacombs 60 feet under the streets of Paris.

Paris catacombs

Paris catacombs

You will find yourself wandering through walls of bones. The air is thick and stale, smelling of dirt. After all, this is an underground crypt you are walking through, and it contains the exhumed remains of 6 million Parisians. There were so many skeletons that no one could keep track of them. Bones were separated into piles of tibias, fibulas, skulls and the like … you’ll notice the walls are actually decorated with the bones in intricate fashion. Bones are stacked in piles to form the walls of the ossuary, or form bizarre circular, decorative columns with periodic skulls protruding from the piles. It is definitely a macabre site to see.

While the catacombs are not recommended for children, persons with nervous dispositions, heart problems or respiratory problems, I found it utterly fascinating. The Paris catacombs, aka Municipal Ossuary, date back to the 18th Century.

Paris catacombs

Paris catacombs

The catacombs came about on Nov. 9, 1785, when the Council of State decided to prohibit further use of their “cemetery of the innocents,” which had been in use for 10 centuries but had become a source of infection of local inhabitants. Therefore, all of the contents of the cemetery were removed and placed underground in the Ossuary. The transfer of all of the bones was not completed until 1814.

The catacombs were visited by notables such as Charles X, Francis l and Napoleon III. The catacombs in their current state opened in 2005 for public visitation. The website lists specific dates for visits to the catacombs including Oct. 7, 11, 14, 16, 18, 21, 15 and 28. Contact information when you arrive in Paris is:

Catacombes de Paris

1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau)

75014 Paris

Tél. : 01 43 22 47 63

Fax : 01 43 22 48 17

Although the web site states it is open every day, other visitors have told me this is not the case. It is best to check in with the catacombs before your arrival, and secure your tickets before you leave.

Edinburgh Vaults

Edinburgh Vaults

While you’re in Europe, you can hop on over to Edinburgh, Scotland, to view the vaults under the great city. The Edinburgh vaults are also called the South Bridge Vaults, since they are underneath the arches of the South Bridge.

These vaults were originally established in the 1700s for wealthy merchants to store their goods, but they were also used for illicit purposes including the practice of hiding bodies of people by known serial killers Burke and Hare for their medical experiments. The vaults were simultaneously used for taverns, cobblers, blacksmiths and other tradesmen.

As you can imagine, the air quality underground was not good. Eventually all of the businesses moved out, and the poorest of the poor moved in. But eventually, they, too, left.

As you would imagine, these vaults took on an unsavory reputation when scoundrels took them over for their criminal activities. Before long you could only find murderers, prostitutes, thieves and black marketers.

The vaults are now used for ghost tours, private events, weddings, restaurants and night clubs.

If you prefer not to walk through the Paris Ossuary, you might find a plate of Haggis and a ghost tour in Edinburgh more to your liking. One caution: Watch out for the South Bridge poltergeist. He is reputed to have attacked visitors. People have left with cuts, scratches, bruises and burns.

Tower of London

Tower of London

As long as you’re in Edinburgh, you absolutely must take a flight to London and go to the Tower. The Tower of London is 900 years old. It is a castle and a fortress. It has seen many uses throughout those 900 years including a royal residence, an armory and barracks, the royal mint, the keeper of the crown jewels, and a holding jail for famous and infamous prisoners. Monarchs, queens, princes, clergymen and common criminals were held here.

It is reputed that Richard the Third killed his two nephews, Edward and Richard (ages 12 and 9), so that he could ascend to the throne himself, which, of course, he did. Wives Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were executed by Henry the 8th here, all through the use of the chopping block. As such, the Tower of London is supposed to be one of the most haunted sites in London.

Lately, a headless Anne Boleyn is one of the most frequent visitors to the Tower. Other wandering ghosts include Sir Walter Raleigh and young Richard and Edward. Other chilling happenings can be heard throughout the complex including footsteps, instant chill in the air and screams when no one is near.

Transylvania

Transylvania

I am sure everyone has had a fascination with Count Dracula. I grew up with those movies, which scared me enough that I hid garlic under my mattress until my mother found some spoiled garlic as she was changing the sheets one day. That ended that form of protection. I had to revert to my earlier “hiding” under the sheets after that.

I am sure that Bram Stoker was the cause of many childhood nightmares of the day. But it is interesting to note that Count Dracula was actually based on a real life Romanian royal named Vlad Dracul. His nickname was Vlad the Impaler. Apparently he had a fondness for killing his enemies by impaling them. So, this brings us to Transylvania, Romania, our last Halloween spot to visit in Europe. You can find traces of our not so friendly Vlad the Impaler at Sighisoara, Vlad’s home town. He is buried in Snagov Monastery, where you can find his gravestone, and at Bran Castle, which is one of Vlad’s homes. I suggest you pack some garlic in your luggage and put some in your pockets, too. You’ll never get a silver bullet or a gun past TSA, so bulk up on that garlic.

If none of these European delights have piqued your interest, how about a trip to Australia? You could dive the Great Barrier Reef, visit the Daintree Forest, Prince Phillip’s Island Fairy Penguins, climb the Sydney Bridge, or even visit the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum.

Beechwood Lunatic Asylum

Beechwood Lunatic Asylum

The Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, previously known as the haunted Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, is located in the town of Beechworth, Victoria, Australia. It was closed in 1995 after having been in operation for 128 years. The description of the hospital and grounds sound lovely on the surface: There was an orchard, kitchen gardens, fields, stables, a barn, a piggery, tennis courts, a cricket pavilion and a theater.

But there were also high walls to keep residents inside. From the outside, the walls looked small and sloped, but from the inside, they were formidable and suggestive of imprisonment. Once admitted, almost no one left the facility alive. Two signatures were required to enter, but eight were required to leave. It is believed that up to 3,000 people were incarcerated at this asylum until death.

Patients were subjected to inhumane treatment, neglect and abuse. Medical experiments were conducted on them, and they were subject to being held down in chairs that were spinning so fast that they would bleed from their eyes, noses, ears and mouths.

Today, the empty rooms are believed to be haunted by ghosts of patients, nurses and doctors. If you’re interested in a tour of the facility, you can find information at the Beechwood Ghost Tour site, https://asylumghosttours.com. You can take a tour or opt for a sleepover to get the full effect. Or you can book your convention or wedding there on the lovely grounds.

Perhaps you’d be more interested in traveling within the U.S. to see some of our most interesting and more local sites. Let’s begin with the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo.

For the most bone chilling time, you might want to ask for room 217, which is where author Stephen King wrote “The Shining.” Load up a version of the film on your laptop and head out. You could even sit in the same chair that King did while writing this horror film.

To top it off, the hotel has its own ghosts. You can check out the billiards room, the ballroom, and room 407, which is most famous for housing our visions from the nether world.

stanleyhotelThe hotel is well known not only for its location, but for the beautiful architecture, as well. Some would say it’s absolutely magnificent. It was open in 1909 and continues to be a popular hotel for Colorado visitors to the gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Stephen King fans and those seeking ghosts. The hotel conducts weekend séances, has a maze in front of the hotel, brings in illusionists, hosts weddings and other events, offers fall color tours, and much more.

theshiningBut you are interested in ghosts. There are evening tours that are offered through the most haunted places in the hotel. They will introduce you to the paranormal phenomena surrounding the hotel. You will see the basement rooms of the concert hall, the famous tunnel after dark, and learn where Flora and F. O. Stanley are still said to be seen. And they encourage you to take photos. The age limit is 10, so the younger kids will not be able to attend.

Tour Office

Lower Level of the Stanley Hotel

333 E. Wonderview Avenue, Estes Park, CO 80517

970-577-4111

StanleyTours@Stanley Hotel.com

http://www.stanleyhotel.com

 

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden

Another Halloween place to visit can be found at the Lizzie Borden B and B. Who doesn’t remember the childhood rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” Well, this is your opportunity to stay in that same house in Fall River, Mass. Apparently Lizzie denied the whole incident and told a jury she was safely ensconced in the family barn while her stepmother and father were being hacked to death in their home. While it was proven she purchased cyanide and that she burned her clothing after the murders, Lizzie was acquitted of the murders.

There are many reasons why they prosecution could not prove their case. There were many people who would have loved to see Andrew Borden dead due to his shady business dealings. In fact, he was the most unpopular man in town. He was the head of its largest bank and owned a great deal of property. He made many enemies along the way, to be sure. Many people including a maid, other businessmen and neighbors were investigated for the crime.

There was no solid evidence in this case, which to this day remains unsolved. There was an axe that was found, but it was clean, and the handle was broken. Fingerprinting was not a common way to gather evidence in the day. The clothing that Lizzie burned no longer existed. The prosecutor had no physical evidence to present.

When the gruesome testimony was presented, Lizzie fainted, which convinced many on the jury that she could not have committed these horrible murders. The newspapers had a field day outlining the many other potential murderers who hated Andrew Borden.

Lizzie and her sister inherited the estate and lived there for the rest of their lives, Lizzie traveling to New York and Boston often for her love of the theater. Lizzie moved across town into a lovely home, and the sisters became estranged.

So if you’d like to spend an evening at the Lizzie Borden B and B, you can do so. You will be able to tour the property, stay in the bedrooms of the parents, Lizzie, or her sister Emma, enjoy the same breakfast that the family shared on that fateful day, and perhaps even watch a reenactment of the events of Aug. 4, 1892.

New Orleans St. Louis. No. 1 Cemetery

New Orleans St. Louis. No. 1 Cemetery

Another great site to visit in the U.S. would be New Orleans. New Orleans has lots of great tours including vampire tours, cemetery tours, ghost tours, voodoo tours and on and on. You could keep yourself amused for weeks.

If you stay in the lovely French Quarter, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of New Orleans during the day, visit the most wonderful restaurants in the world, eat beignets for breakfast, drink chicory coffee, and at night, take a tour to the creepy crawly St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. It is said this cemetery is presided over by a voodoo priestess. It is known for being the city’s most haunted cemetery. You’ll be invited to make a wish or cast a spell at the tomb of Marie Laveau, the infamous Queen of Voodoo in New Orleans. A guide will take you through an intricate maze of mausoleums, and you can learn all about the practice and tradition of voodoo in New Orleans.

Be on the lookout for a red-eyed black cat or a ghostly snake, two of the incarnations of Marie Laveau that are said to haunt the cemetery. Just a note of caution: The cemetery is known for local thieves and muggers, so be on the lookout for them, too.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

 

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