The Bélmez Faces

One of the craziest hauntings on record was originally reported from Spain in 1971, when strange faces began appearing in a small house in Bélmez. The case first came to wide public attention in August, when Maria Pereira, a housewife in the small village, discovered that a female face had "formed" on the hearthstone of her kitchen fireplace. She tried to scrub the face from the stone but it seemed to emerge directly from the concrete. She even had the face covered by a second layer of cement, but it showed through that. Then the faces began appearing on the kitchen floor, sometimes disappearing later in the day or changing expressions.

The house soon became a local tourist stop and Mrs. Pereira began charging an admission fee to see the faces. Hundreds of people began flocking to the house, until local political and religious authorities ordered the sight-seeing to stop.

Luckily, by this time Dr. Hans Bender of the University of Freiburg in Germany had learned of the case. Germany's leading parapsychologist, Bender decided to investigate the cause in collaboration with Spain's own Dr. German de Argumosa. In order to test the faces, the two investigators fastened a plastic plate over the kitchen floor. It was left there for several weeks and removed only when water condensed under it. The faces continued to form even under these controlled conditions. They consistently appeared through 1974, and although Mrs.Pereira had a new kitchen built onto her house, it didn't take long before the faces began appearing there, too.

Professor Argumosa personally witnessed the materialization of a face on April 9, 1974, and photographed it, which was fortunate, since it later disappeared. The use of photographic documentation rules out any suggestion that the faces were hallucinations or chance configurations in the concrete.

In order to test further for fraud, Argumosa and his colleagues checked to see whether the faces were fashioned from artificial coloring. The results of this chemical study were published in November 1976 in the Schweizerisches Bulletin für Parapsychologie and it showed nothing suspicious.

The cause of the curious haunting has never been firmly established. Some of the local townsfolk dug up Mrs. Pereira's kitchen and found some old bones buried there. Rumor has it that the house was built over an ancient cemetery, a resting site for Christian martyrs killed by eleventh-century Moors.

The Ghosts of the S.S. Watertown

Tragedy struck the oil tanker S.S. Watertown when it sailed from New York City to the Panama Canal early in December 1924. Two seamen, James Courtney and Michael Meehan, were cleaning up a cargo tank when they were accidentally killed by gas fumes. Their bodies were buried at sea in proper maritime tradition on December 4.

The ghosts of the S.S. Watertown appeared the next day following the ship in the water. The disconcerting phantoms seen day after day by the ship's captain, Keith Tracy, and by the entire crew, seemed determined to follow the ship right through the canal.

Captain Tracy reported these eerie events to his head office when the ship docked in New Orleans, and officials from the company suggested he photograph the phantoms. He eventually delivered a roll of film with six exposures to the Cities Service Company, which had it commercially developed. While five of the shots revealed nothing unusual, the sixth exposure clearly showed the two faces slowly following the ship.

The Handprint in Cell 17

In the 1860's an 1870's, the United States was wracked by violent labor unrest. Working conditions in the Pennsylvania coal mines were terrible - one long, hazardous day's work paid an average of fifty cents - and the mostly Irish-immigrant miners were frequently at odds with their bosses, most of whom were of English and Welsh descent.

To fight the mine owners, a secret society called the Mollie Maguires was formed. The Mollie Maguires directed the first strike against mining companies in America. But their resistance went further: They incited riots and killed about 150 persons.

The owners bought the services of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which placed undercover agent James McParlen in the ranks of the Mollies. McParlen's subsequent testimony would send twelve members of the group to the gallows. In 1877 "Yellow Jack" Donohue was convicted of the murder of a foreman of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. Three other men were sentenced to hang as well for the murder of another mine foreman. Two of these men went stoically to their deaths. But one - Alexander Campbell - swore he was innocent.

As he was being dragged from his first-floor cell, number 17, Campbell rubbed his left hand in dust from the floor and pressed his palm against the plaster wall. "This handprint will remain here for all time as proof of my innocence," he shouted. He repeated this vow over and over again as he was led struggling to the gallows, where after the trap was sprung he took fourteen minutes to die by strangulation.

Campbell was gone but the handprint remained, just as he said it would.

In 1930, when Robert L. Bowman was elected sheriff of Carbon County, he vowed to remove the handprint, which was becoming taken as proof of a terrible injustice in the county's history. In December 1931 a work crew came to cell 17 and removed the section of plaster wall containing the handprint, replacing it with a new wall of fresh plaster.

The following morning the sheriff entered the cell, where he was horrified to see the faint outline of a hand in the still-moist plaster. By evening a black handprint was fully visible.

Although the cell is now kept locked and is opened only to an occasional visitor, the handprint remains there to this day.

As late as 1978 a private citizen who sneaked into the cell tried to paint over it, only to have the print reappear minutes later in the fresh paint.

James Dean's Porsche

Sometimes it is the thing itself, a fabulous jewel or ill-fated ship, that seems to harbor and perpetuate a curse. Other times, a public figure may become inexplicably intertwined with a particular object, provoking the hand of fate.

This could be the case with the Porsche in which teen legend James Dean crashed and died in 1955, tragically ending what many considered one of the most brilliant and promising Hollywood careers of all time.

Whatever its previous pedigree, from the moment Dean died behind the wheel, the Porsche took on a jinx of its own. After Dean's death, car enthusiast George Barris bought it first, but as it was being removed from the tow truck it slipped and broke a mechanic's leg. Barris sold the engine to a doctor and amateur racer, who installed it in his car. The car subsequently went out of control during competition and killed its owner. Another driver in the same race was injured when his racer crashed while using the drive shaft from Dean's Porsche.

The body and chassis of the Porsche had been so badly damaged during Dean's original accident that it wound up on display in a travelling road-safety campaign. In Sacramento it fell off its mounting, breaking a teenage viewer's hip. Then it was moved to the next stop aboard a trailer truck that was hit by another car from behind. The driver of the colliding car was thrown out, run over, and killed by the cursed Porsche.

Another race driver almost died after using two tires from Dean's death car. The tires blew out simultaneously. Meanwhile, the touring display continued to suffer its indignities. In Oregon, the truck's emergency brake failed, sending it slamming into a storefront. While mounted on supports in New Orleans, the Porsche itself literally disintegrated breaking into eleven parts.

The sports car - and Dean's accompanying curse - disappeared while being shipped back to Los Angeles by train.

The Crystal Skull

Crystal quartz is enjoying an immense revival in popularity today because of its alleged spiritual properties. But the same material fascinated our ancestors. The Greeks called it crystallos, or "clear ice." In Egypt, as early as 4000 B.C., foreheads of the dead were adorned with "third eye" quartz crystals thought to enable a soul to see its way to eternity. Traditionally, the preferred medium for the crystal balls by seers and psychics has always been the highest-grade rock quartz.

But the single most compelling quartz object known is the so-called Mitchell-Hodges Crystal Skull, variously thought to be Aztec, Mayan, or Atlantean in origin. Even its original discovery is much disputed. It was reportedly found by eighteen-year-old Anna, the adopted daughter of vagabond adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hodges, in 1927, while excavating the ruins of Lubaantun, "City of Fallen Stones," in the jungles of British Honduras. After three years of digging at the ancient Mayan site, Anna uncovered the life-size, rock-crystal skull in the debris of a collapsed alter and adjoining wall. A matching jawbone was found twenty-five feet away three months later.

The Mitchell-Hodges team excavated extensively in the area. In fact, it contributed heavily to our present store of artifacts and knowledge about pre-Columbian civilization in the New World. But Mitchell-Hodges himself was also known to be a devout believer in the legend of Atlantis. Indeed, it was the faith that a link between Atlantis and the Maya could be confirmed that drove him to dare the jungles of Central America in the first place.

Rock crystal, unfortunately, cannot be dated by conventional means. However, the Hewlett-Packard laboratories, which studied the eerie skull, estimated that its completion would have required a minimum of 300 years' work by a series of extremely gifted artisans. On the hardness scale, rock crystal ranks only slightly below diamonds. Why was it so valued by whoever wrought it that they spent three centuries patiently polishing a piece of non-native stone?

The mystery of the crystal skull deepened when the two pieces were attached, and it was learned that the clear cranium rocked on the jawbone base, giving it the appearance of a human skull opening and closing its mouth. It could have been manipulated by temple priests as a divinatory oracle.

Other properties attached to the crystal skull are even more peculiar. The frontal lobe, for example, is said to cloud over sometimes, turning milky white. At other times it emits an almost ghastly aura, "strong with a faint trace of the color of hay, similar to the ring around the moon." Whether the product of an overwrought imagination, or stimulated from within the skull, those who keep company with it for long periods of time report unnerving experiences that effect all five senses, including ethereal sounds, smells, and even ghosts. The skull's visual impact is hypnotic, even on the skeptical.

Whatever its powers, though, a fatal curse on its owner does not seem to be part of the parcel. Mitchell-Hodges himself hardly let the skull out of his sight for more than thirty years, during which time he survived three knife attacks and eight bullet wounds. At his death on June 12, 1949, aged seventy-seven, he bequeathed the skull and its mysterious heritage to his adopted daughter, who first found it in the Honduran jungle. The skull, with an estimated value of $250,000, has remained in private hands.

The Archduke's Fatal Car

Environmentalists frequently assail the modern automobile as the curse of the twentieth century. Some cars have been indisputably cursed, but hardly in ways foreseen by the Sierra Club.

The open limousine in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones, was assassinated seems to have been such a car. His wife died with him in the assassination, which led to the outbreak of World War I.

Shortly after the opening of hostilities, the car was taken over by Austria's General Potiorek, who was subsequently disgraced at the battle of Valjevo and died insane. A captain on his staff next assumed ownership. Nine days later the officer struck and killed two peasants, swerving into a tree and breaking his neck.

The governor of Yugoslavia acquired the cursed convertible after the end of the war, but fared little better, suffering four wrecks in four months. In one of the accidents, he actually lost an arm. The car was then passed on to a doctor, who six months later overturned in a ditch and was crushed to death. A wealthy jeweler then purchased it - and committed suicide.

The disasters continued when another owner, a Swiss racecar driver, crashed in the Italian Alps and was hurtled over a wall to his death. A Serbian farmer who forgot to turn off the ignition while the car was being towed became the next victim as the car lurched into motion and ran off the road. The last driver was garage owner Tibor Hirschfield, who was returning from a wedding with four companions. Hirschfield's friends were killed when he tried to pass another automobile at high speed.

The car was subsequently installed in a Vienna museum, where its blood lust seems to be satisfied, at least temporarily.

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