Sunday, September 1, 2019

Newsletter #6: September 2019

Hello friends! I'll spare you the details of how much fun I had by the lake this summer and get straight to the good part: it's almost Spoopy Season. I am going to a work conference in New Orleans in a few weeks, and it has been a lifelong dream of mine to travel to New Orleans, so I plan to spoop it up in the Big Easy with a healthy dose of haunted places...and food, history, magick, music, and that other kind of spirits. Here is a recap of summer fun, as well as what's coming up next for me this fall:

Recent Publications

"Lakeview, Chicago," tinywords Issue 19.1
Summer 2019

Fellow poet Gabriel Rosenstock translated one of my haiku into Irish. You can hear it by pasting the Irish text into this synthesizer:

shrunken tumors...
the sun-painted walls
of my childhood room

siadaí craptha...
ballaí sheomra m'óige
péinteáilte ag an ngrian

("shrunken tumors" was first published in Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku #26, 2011)

Upcoming Publications

The chapbook of poetry I have been working on, apparitions, is still hanging in the balance as I await news from publishers. The collection has taken on several variations since I first conceptualized it and put out a call for contributions in 2017. I was hoping for news by the end of the summer, but more realistically it might be news by the end of the year. This tiny book that will likely top out around 40 pages has taken more than three years of crushing anxiety, hard work, fear, and sadness (speckled with brief intermittent moments of jarring gratification) to complete. I am looking forward to making it happen but want to find a good home for it first, so please be patient as the project continues to inch forward.

Likewise, good news may be coming down the pipeline, and is timelier than ever, for the anthology about the lives and experiences of children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, which I was asked to co-edit and contribute a piece to. In the meantime, I am waiting on two other poetry publications to come through, and look forward to sharing those with you soon.

Join me at the Chicago Ghost Conference in October!
Recent Appearances

The Scary Stories documentary is now available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime Video and all major VOD platforms! Word on the street is that you can even find it at Walmart. I also got a chance to see the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie, and really enjoyed it!

As always, Season 2 and Season 3 of The R.I.P. Files are available on Amazon Prime Video. Season 2 has been airing again on Really TV in the UK and continues to stream on UKTV Play. The show is also streaming on Apple TVPluto TV's Conspiracy Channel, Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Stream's Gaia Channel, and other VOD platforms.

I was delighted to learn that I am also a featured author on Illinois photographer, historian, and cemetery enthusiast Angie Johnson's Beneath Our Illinois Roots website.

Upcoming Appearances

Jonathan and I spent some time in Baraboo, Wisconsin this spring filming for a new Travel Channel haunted history program that will likely air at the end of October. I don't know firm details or even what the name of the program will be, but I will be announcing them far and wide as soon as I do! I spoke on the topic of Native American burial mounds in and around Wisconsin, and we shared some ghostlore from the Baraboo area. I also did some consulting this summer for Season 2 of Travel Channel's Paranormal 911, and am looking forward to seeing that air in the near future. Here are my other fall appearances, not including ghost tours. My plate is overfull, so I am taking it easy this year:

Storytelling Session and Paranormal Tour at Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens in Rockford, Illinois
October 4, 2019 at 7 p.m.

Haunted History of Chicago Presentation at Mather's—More Than a Café in Portage Park, Chicago
October 14, 2019 at 1 p.m.

Snakes: Myth and Magic Presentation at Chicago Ghost Conference
October 20, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Stay awesome everyone, and have an adventurous, cozy, and happy Halloween season. Thank you and Happy Hauntings!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Guest Post: Witchcraft in Chicago's Stockyards, by Michael Kleen

Note from Amelia: This is my 50th blog post! And to celebrate, I'm letting another blogger do all of the work. Welcome Michael Kleenwriter, photographer, fellow storyteller, and longtime friend. I had the honor of hosting Michael's documentary, Tinker's Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage. He shares this fascinating story and partial excerpt from his unique volume on an oft-overlooked topic in Midwest lore, Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago was known as a hub for the meat packing industry. Thousands of immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, flooded into the southwest side Back of the Yards neighborhood to work at the Union Stock Yards. Upton Sinclair famously wrote about this area in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

These immigrants, mainly Bohemians, Moravians, and Slovakians, brought their folk beliefs with them when they came to the Windy City, including a strong belief in witchcraft. We will never know how many accusations, confrontations, and strained relationships this belief caused, but occasionally an accusation of witchcraft made its way to the courthouse and into the press.

Victor Sleeth was an assistant superintendent for Armour & Co., the meatpacking company that defined Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Armour & Co. opened in Chicago in 1867 and by 1910 employed over 8,700 people at the Union Stockyards. Victor’s 22-year-old wife, Mary, had contracted consumption. She was in the advanced stages of the disease when her sister, 21-year-old Augusta Wilke, an assistant foreman at Armour & Co., called in a 50-year-old nurse named Mary Vogel.

Vogel attended to Mary Sleeth for a month, until Mary died on February 2, 1919. On Monday, February 24, William L. Sehlke, a masseur and husband to Mary Vogel’s other sister, Martha, went to the Stockyards police to ask for warrants for the arrest of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke.

William and Martha Sehlke told the Chicago Daily Tribune an incredible tale. According to the Sehlkes, Mary Vogel was a witch and Augusta Wilke was her understudy, and they sought protection from her slander and sorcery. Augusta allegedly told Martha that Mary Vogel believed Martha was a witch and had poisoned her sister for the benefit of two other witches, a Mrs. George Hellman and Mrs. Marian Sleeth, a widow and Mary Sleeth’s sister-in-law.

In turn, Martha accused Vogel of being a witch. Father Phillips of the Franciscan Fathers of St. Augustine Church told reporters he went to Victor and Mary Sleeth’s home, where he found Vogal burning salt in the oven and incense in the rooms. “She was making motions with her hands, and I told her to get out, and she did,” said the priest.

According to Martha Sehlke, “Mrs. Vogel was burning salt and incense. She got a lamb’s heart and put some new pins in it and burned it. This was to find out which of us ‘witches’ would be around that day and to cast a spell over the one that would come.” After her sister’s death, Martha alleged that Vogel sent for William Wilke, her brother-in-law, and a week later he died.

Public record does not reveal if this dispute was ever resolved, but it demonstrates a continued association between witchcraft, sickness, poison, and a breakdown in social relations. The traditional tools of witchcraft—incense, salt, pins, organs—remained in use even in industrial-era Chicago following the First World War.

Was the proceeding case an isolated incident, or does it reveal an undercurrent of belief in magic and witchcraft in early-twentieth century Chicago? In 1903, the Chicago Daily Tribune investigated this question and concluded, “That more people believe in witches in Chicago than ever believed in them in Salem, or any of the other witch centers of old, sounds like a joke, but it is a solid fact.”

Based on cases investigated by the Chicago Police, the Tribune concluded Chicago was home to not hundreds, but thousands of believers. The strange case of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke is a fascinating glimpse into that world.

Michael Kleen is a writer and photographer with an interest in history and the unusual. He has written several books, including Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History, and directed the documentary Tinker’s Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage.

"Witchcraft in Chicago's Stockyards," copyright 2019 Michael Kleen

Monday, July 1, 2019

Ghost Story #6: A Friend's Deceased Mother

While I was writing Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State, my Uncle Bernie sent me more than 30 stories from throughout his life in the form of hand-written letters. After Maryland Ghosts was first published in 2012, and featured most of his Maryland stories, we turned his remaining letters into an unpublished collection to share with family and friends called The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life. Here is another one of my favorite stories from that collection:

Roanoke, Virginia (Roanoke County), 1993

An unusual thing occurred while visiting an old friend of mine, Joe Ed Philips, who is now deceased, at his 900-acre farm in Roanoke, Virginia.

His mother had been deceased for years. Her nickname was "Mud." Joe Ed could not pronounce the word "mother" as a young child, so "Mud" was close enough and the name stuck!

I was unpacking in my bedroom, which had been his mother's room at one time. I heard heavy footsteps in the attic, and shared this with Joe Ed before dinner.

I had taken steamed lobsters for our dinner, and Joe Ed and his girlfriend made an extraordinary grouse pie and a huge homemade blackberry pie. This was two years before I met Debra, so I traveled alone for the visit.

That night, after this great dinner, we all turned in for bed. I hadn't been sleeping long when I heard heavy footsteps again in the attic…then, a little later, in my bedroom.

I had a pistol and flashlight by my side. The moon was bright and shined nice soft light through the window, the kind that only the moon can create. I could see no one, but the heavy footsteps continued and stopped at the end of the bed I was in.

I turned on my flashlight to be sure no one was playing a trick on me, as Joe Ed had a great sense of humor. There was no one there and suddenly, the end of my bed levitated off of the floor with a jerk, and stayed off of the floor for about five minutes.

Finally, the bed settled back down to the hardwood floor with a thud.

I told Joe about the experience the next morning over breakfast. Joe Ed said it was probably just "Mud" checking out who was sleeping in her old bed…

"A Friend's Deceased Mother," copyright 2019 Bernard W. Masino and Amelia Cotter (first appeared in The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life, 2013)