Posts from the ‘Haunting and Paranormal’ Category

Ode to Lambertville – an Update

Some time ago, I wrote two posts (here and here) featuring discussions on Lambertville High School and the legends associated with it. This was an ordinary high school up until its closure in the late-1950s, but it had become famous by way of a few unfounded ghost stories that were so colorful and intriguing they inspired several documentaries, a number of articles, a high ranking on paranormal investigation lists, a movie and a wiki page. The site also became a favorite travel destination for people all over North America.

The particularly interesting aspect regarding Lambertville has been its historical significance. For years, Lambertville held the distinction of being one of the oldest standing high schools in the United States (built in 1854). This impressive status understandably tends to excuse the fact that half of the present structure came as a result of a fire that broke out in 1926 (curiously, the date over the front and rear doors to the newer west wing read ‘1924’). As time went on, the so-called mysterious history of the school spurred on many stories and legends. The most famous one is that of “Buckeye Billy,” the ghostly football player who allegedly died in a freak accident during a football game in the 1930s. These stories have endured and captured the imaginations of many for decades and still do.

Now, a new development has occurred.

As of 5 October of 2012, Lambertville High School is no more—the owner Merrick Wilson finally razed it after authorities applied legal pressure to have the dangerous structure removed.

Many fans, however, are saddened by this, including local teens and a host of paranormal investigators. I am too, but only because we have lost a piece of history. Still, I understand and agree with the reasons behind this necessary action; I would have felt extremely disappointed by the news of injuries or deaths in the deathtrap. Residents who live near there feel relieved as well.

One lingering question is. .. Will this be the end of “Buckeye Billy” and the various other legends indigenous to this place? Probably not; such lore has become ingrained in the psyches of many who will not let these stories go so easily, even though testimony by city authority and previous students have debunked them over the years. Old legends die hard. For this reason, the memory of Lambertville will live on.

As for me, I never bought into the ghost stories as much as the history and how that history could have generated so much lore. High schools generally do not do that.

That does not mean I do not believe in spirits or a spiritual world; some places, in my view, are conceivably haunted. I acknowledged before that my mind is open to such possibilities, but that I am not one to jump to conclusions based on stories passed down. Any serious research requires evidence; constant objectivity is a sign of responsible behavior for any researcher who yearns for concrete findings or facts. Although the “spooky” or “creepy” appearance of an abandoned structure might be indicative of paranormal involvement, it is far from being absolute or conclusive evidence of it.

What is an Abandoned Building?

I make no pretense or excuses regarding my belief in spirits and a spirit world, along with haunting events, nor do I feel the need to; I have my reasons for believing the way I do. I find the subject tremendously fascinating and intriguing.

That said, I find it interesting that many people automatically jump to the conclusion that an abandoned building is or must be haunted. I scrutinize anyone who submits or adheres to such untried or unproven expectations.

There are many reasons why a building might be abandoned, among them fire, lack of a buyer, structural damage and other dangerous circumstances. Abandoned buildings are merely structures that are unoccupied and unused. Could one viable reason be a haunting? Yes, but that is not the ONLY reason.

The mayor and police commissioner have said the same thing about the old Lambertville High School, that it is merely a dilapidated structure, nothing else. The old legends tend to get in the way and create manifestations where they likely do not exist. Reasons behind the eerie effects were attributed to creatures (rats, squirrels, raccoons, etc.) scuttling across dirty, debris-cluttered floors; wind blowing through creaky boards, lights from vehicles passing by on Interstate-129; and the voices, movements and flashlight blades of other explorers in another part of the school. These same authorities have asserted that no deaths ever occurred on the property, and have explained the circumstances behind the school’s abandonment: the consolidation of the school system back in 1959 and the subsequent transfer of the students from Lambertville to Hunterdon for the following year. The community held a picnic on the site after graduation to commemorate the school. The city was to reuse the building, but that objective never materialized. Demolition expenses were too high, and so the building sat unattended—that is it. In light of this, one should question the ghost stories.

“Are the naysayers trying to cover something up?” some might conjecture. My response to that would be: Do you have evidence of that? If not, then your conspiracy theory is just as questionable as the ghost stories.

In order to determine if a structure is truly haunted, one thing a researcher should do is to conduct a background check on said facility. Has anyone died in it, especially in a violent nature? Was it erected on a cemetery or other burial ground? Do any manifestations have a rational or natural explanation? Is there any kind of energy generator situated nearby? . . .

Researchers reach their conclusions through this process. In addition, everything—including the background information—should remain dubious until confirmed. Yes, this is not as fun as going with the imagination, but it ensures that beliefs reflect some aspect of reality and other reasonable factors and are therefore rational and respectable in nature.

Quite often, researchers acquire much of this evidence by going to a location and gaining insight through personal exposure. This is, to an extent, ironic, considering many people who do this misconceive the nature of their encounters by allowing their imaginations to lead their way. This is why one’s frame-of-mind is important when conducting research; if the investigator’s mindset is not open to multiple possibilities, the research is faulty if not questionable.

Under the current circumstances regarding the old Lambertville High School, however, all of this seems moot, but it is not the end as far as viable research is concerned.

Other Avenues . . .

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Another regret I have is that I will never have the chance to explore the site myself, not for ghosts, but for the sake of claiming I was there and have captured the essence of what the place was like. That can only happen through field research. I would have also liked to gain further insight on its layout, but I can always seek out the structure’s various blueprints when the time comes (yes, more than one variation likely exists, considering the school’s redesign in the 1920s). I would never trespass and would have attempted to get permission first. As a writer and researcher, I have various [serious] projects in the works that revolve around this sort of thing. Details and accumulation of information are relevant for several reasons. I do have other avenues to take, however, so not all is lost—and these options are far safer.

One option, which I have already started, is to collect data from a variety of sources, including websites and videos, and organize them for future use. Many online sources, a few of them reputable, offer a plethora of information that has helped me learn the basics on Lambertville, its history, its architecture and its multitude of stories. Information should always be double-checked to ensure it is trustworthy and its source(s) reliable.

Other options involve seeking out and interviewing key people, such as those with some knowledge of the school and those who once attended it. Many of the latter are easy to find through old school records. Those students who graduated during the second half of the nineteenth century are out of consideration because of the fact that they are dead. Still, digging for information unearths interesting tidbits. This is one of the great things about conducting research. Researchers should never seek out specifics; those interested in learning about something need to keep their minds open and follow through to seek whatever they can find. The journey is much more fruitful and exciting that way. Why? Researchers never know what they will find—they might stumble across something even more beneficial than what they had expected at the onset.

As I explained in my previous posts on this blog, images, though limited in their ability to permit spectators the multi-sensual perspectives that on-site research will allow, can provide insight through close and ongoing study. Although these images cover years of change due vandalism and deterioration, the use of scrutiny and deductive reasoning can help me fit together several pieces of the puzzle. In fact, such changes offer insight into the deterioration process itself brought about through various contributory factors. Still photographs and videos alike can disclose a lot of valuable information to use in various ways. I like this process; it is time-consuming, but it is intellectually stimulating and exciting. I would rather work at creating my own knowledge than have it simply handed to me. The former is much more rewarding.

An example of the above is something culled from my growing collection of pictures of the old Lambertville High School. By looking at and comparing the details apparent in the images, I am able to situate certain rooms on certain floors in certain areas, and I am able to scale the floors that way. I have done that to some extent, at least for the west wing; the east wing was essentially nothing more than a pile of rubble inside a brick shell. In this way, I can get an idea what the school layout was once like.

The graffiti also added to the overall feel of the school and alluded to the character of those people who frequented the place. Many individuals, including a host of paranormal investigators, somehow deemed the chalkboard drawings mysterious in nature because they apparently mirrored children who, according to legend, died there. Their existence gave the theory of the children a sense of legitimacy because viewers could actually see them. Still, the likelihood some talented unknown drew these depictions to create a stir renders that theory questionable. Nevertheless, explorers and thrill-seekers alike took the images seriously; long before the razing of the building, they tore out every chalkboard. These particular drawings were among the first to disappear.

In the end, whatever means of research one conducts, that person can extrapolate information in a way that makes the resulting knowledge her or his own.

Provable Information

The provable aspect was its architecture. This I found quite interesting on many levels, with regard to not only style and layout, but also nineteenth-century construction. When gazing upon the structure in present-day, we cannot help but consider the fact that staff and students from an era long-passed actually conducted educational affairs here. Some sections of the east wing stood since before the American Civil War. This was truly a treasure trove of historical knowledge reflected through the item itself.

“How can this be?” you might ask.

The answer lies in the fact that the genuine article rests before us to study fully through all the relevant senses—visual, olfactory, auditory and tactual. This opportunity is not restricted to simply viewing a video, but in physically interacting with it. Many explorers to Lambertville High School, though breaking trespassing laws and risking their safety, knew this very well. They touched the crumbling brick and old chipped plaster, strolled down the musty hallways, passed through the actual doorways and witnessed the sunset from the classroom windows just as students and staff had eighty years ago. In essence, these explorers learned by transporting back into time and having the same relative experiences as those who had lived far in the past.

When it comes to the architecture, we also see the style: the small, slender windows on each staircase landing and in each room’s recess chamber, and the trim, which bore little-to-no relief, offering a sense of simplicity that avoided ostentation without sacrificing elegance or attractiveness. Pasty sea green doors featured three rows of near-square glass panes under which were stenciled identifiers, such as teacher’s names and class subjects, that gave us a feel for the interior design common in the early twentieth century (and even earlier). In addition, time left behind a number of desks and chairs upon which sat many teachers and students long forgotten. An old faceless clock, which wound up in the woods, bore testimony to a particular someone’s office tastes. Perhaps that person was a principal from years ago. These design features are non-contestable because they are real and therefore speak to us about the physical appearance and consistency of the school without receiving any objection or challenge to that effect.

The razing of the old Lambertville High School was to protect the well-being of future trespassers, but with it went an equally valuable piece of human history.

Final Thoughts on Lambertville

Lambertville High School was nothing more than a simple decrepit building deteriorating over the passage of time, but it was also unique. The legends created a world that, much like that of Disney, inspired and fired the imagination. The “What if . . .” factor was and still is a guiding force for those who believe, or want to believe, in something more . . .

In the end, Lambertville is physically gone, but it will always remain in our collective consciousness, perhaps because of her legends, perhaps because of her history. Whatever the case, she will live on in all of those who remember, and that is really all we can ask.

Side Note:

By the way, I DO enjoy ghost stories; they intrigue and enthrall me. My primary question is: What spurred them on? They couldn’t have appeared out of thin air; something must have inspired them. In this sense, ghost legends are based on some reality, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. My goal is to investigate these cases and see where they originated and what basis they have.

Maybe, just maybe, the stories reflect an actual haunting; perhaps they are true. I am always excited to find out . . .

Sources and References

Articles

Abclocal.com: “Haunted” NJ High School Being Torn Down.”
Beacon, The: “Lambertville: Officials Happy School Is Gone.”
Connolly Architecture
Frank E. Burd. “Education,” Hunterdon Schools.
“History of the City of Lambertville. Hunterdon County, New Jersey”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “Couple Recalled Lambertville High School Before It Closed”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School’s Demolition Draws Near in Lambertville.”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School Reduced to Rubble in Lambertville.”
Wiki Page: Lambertville High School.

Blogs and Websites

Abandoned New Jersey
Amazon.com: Only Go There at Night
Antiquity Echoes
Buck’s Lore
Chasing Midnight
Chimney Hill
Exiles Magazine
Flickr Images: Lambertville High School.
Kitty the Dreamer Hub Pages
Lambertville High School, The.
Lost Destinations
Lost in Jersey
My Abandoned Buildings.
Nick Explores.
North Jersey Exploration: Lambertville High School.
Parainvestigator’s Report.
Quality Control.
Super Goop, The.
Surreal New Jersey.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School, The: Chalkboards.
Wikimapia: Lambertville High School.

Documentaries and Videos

Best Records: Lambertville High School.
Lambertville School: Videos from Around the Local Hunterdon Area.
YouTube: Lambertville High School (part I).
YouTube: Lambertville High School: a Documentary.
YouTube: Old Lambertville High School Documentary.
Veengle.com: Abandoned Lambertville High School.
Zomobo: Lambertville High School.

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What Do You See in the Darkness? – An Update

In line with my previous post (see here), I thought it was time to follow up on an older post (here) with some clarification and elaboration due to a few updates I have on the subject matter, namely that of a particular (and peculiar) photo supposedly taken some time ago at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a famed institution in northern Kentucky—one purported to be haunted.

First, I want, and need, to make a clarification, lest some readers jump to the wrong conclusion regarding my original post in relation to the rest of the blog. In said post, I made it sound as if the place actually is haunted. As a responsible researcher, I cannot do that without concrete evidence to substantiate the claim. Widespread belief isn’t enough, and I am not one to buy into sensationalism. What I meant when I described the alleged haunting there is, should a place actually be haunted, that place would be Waverly Hills, considering its history of despair, pain and death. Places known for having a traumatic history are said to be those where the spirits of the dead linger on. Although that assertion makes some degree of sense, whether or not that is true is up for conjecture and evidence to conclude. Assuming the theory is true, however, hospitals would be among those locations where spiritual activity is the strongest. This was the premise of my initial point before, and I stand by it even now.

In my original post, I linked a particular image, unlike the rest I have seen, that appears to be an EMF containing indistinct but definite shapes (here it is). I asked readers to look at it, study it, and then share their perceptions on it. A few people actually did so, and a couple of interesting discussions ensued. Again, that whole post revolved around the assumption that Waverly Hills is haunted and that the image in question is authentic.

A point of caution here: Many visuals are hoaxes and are clearly bogus, so we cannot jump to the conclusion this image does contain anything genuine. The hazy shapes we see in the darkness might have been engineered in one fashion or another for the sake of creating a stir, or they might be something else, such as dust (this IS an old place) . . .

The shot was taken at Waverly Hills (sorry, Mike), as we can see by this picture I discovered later on a Flickr stream. The heart drawn underneath the square opening in the wall to the viewer’s right and the marring in the doorway to said viewer’s left are identical to the details in the EMF. This picture shows where the investigator took the shot, or this might have been one possible photo used to create the mysterious image in the dark, if that image is, in fact, a fake. If it isn’t, and it is real, this is the place where something unexplained once took place, unless the EMF device malfunctioned . . .

Sorry, but I have to consider all possibilities, if said possibilities are viable in the first place. I would dismiss something that doesn’t make sense or isn’t conceivable in any way. Objectivity and rational thinking go hand-in-hand.

Okay. Moving on . . .

As I continued my searching, I came across a blinking presentation made by Stephen Wagner, a paranormal researcher at About.com (Take a look). He offers one interpretation of what he sees in the darkness, although his outline appears incomplete.

What do you think?

The great thing about seeing/reading/hearing another person’s interpretation or beliefs on something is that we gain insight from a different point of view. We might agree or disagree with it, but at least we learn to think of things in different ways. This is important for conducting research and accumulating knowledge. Some people believe in spirits and the paranormal; others do not, claiming such a belief is irrational. Yet others think it is possible to apply scientific principles and rational thinking to prove the existence of the paranormal. As a matter of fact, some scientists have even taken up the challenge. Whatever the case, the advance in research requires an open mind to many different possibilities without expecting anything definite either way.

With regard to Waverly Hills, the debate has been no different than any other situation involving the paranormal: Some individuals with certain sensitivities have insisted the place is haunted, while others have experienced nothing discerning paranormal activity. The former claim that not everyone possesses the sensitivity to see, feel and hear certain things, which explains why not everybody encounters such activity. Skeptics continue to disregard all of this, which is a good thing; a certain degree of skepticism is essential to remaining objective. Over the years, several observers have claimed to witness a variety of things. Such phenomena involved manifestations that include “shadow people” and voices (both recorded and aurally perceived). One could feasibly assert that these experiences are/were due to wild imaginations spurred on by old stories and subconscious expectations. Cases of the unknown, especially those having a paranormal nature, are tough to prove to everyone’s satisfaction, but the discussions are intriguing and captivating just the same.

Those who wish to acquire facts on Waverly Hills should first go to two reputable sites (here and here) for information on the hospital and its history. Wikipedia is another one worthy of attention in this case. Having that background will allow researchers to develop a solid foundation before deciding whether or not the site is actually haunted.

Again, one should never jump to any conclusion without evidence or confirmation of some sort. Still, gazing at this picture, getting lost in it and thinking about the myriad of possibilities is exciting and fun.

Just remember to keep your feet on the ground and stay rational.

If anyone has further information on this image, please feel free to share. I urge Sarah Biddle, who supposedly owns the original image, to chime in with her insight. I would like to know more about it.

What Do You See in the Darkness?

When I was recently conducting my research on Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, I came across a variety of interesting images: vintage and current. The place was erected between 1924 and 1926, when it finally opened, and has seen a lot of despair, pain, suffering and death in its long tenure as, first, a tuberculosis hospital, and then as a geriatric center during the 1960s and 70s. It finally closed in the early-1980s due to allegations of abuse. which fueled the rumors of the structure’s haunted nature even more.

This is indeed a very unique place with stories going back decades. Most of the legends, such as the death toll of 63,000, were dispelled some time ago (the sanatorium never held that many patients, so how could that many have died there? The actual death count fell somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000), but the results of various paranormal investigations have concluded the old hospital is haunted nonetheless, which is no surprise. Six-to-eight thousand deaths are still a staggering amount and more than enough to substantiate the suspicions of a paranormal state, especially since most of those deaths were traumatic. Tuberculosis was a terrible and relentless disease at the time, and it did not discriminate or go easy on its victims. Naturally, Waverly Hills Sanatorium would have many lost and despondent souls lingering within its walls.

In any case, the visuals I found allude to history and haunting. Depictions regarding the former were insightful; the latter offered some convincing and some not.

There is one image in particular that stuck out to me and drew me in. I found it at this site. The image appears grainy, as if drawn with charcoal, and so I thought it might be a fake. The webmaster of the site, however, alludes to its authenticity that it was taken at Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Still, the image doesn’t match real photos of passageways at Waverly Hills, such as this one and this one, but a friend identified it as an EMF shot (which explains its grainy appearance), and not one taken at the sanatorium (he suggested somewhere in the western part of the United States, perhaps in Colorado or Nevada). To any of this, I cannot be certain or attest either way, but I would be curious to find out.

Now, look close. There’s something in the darkness. What do you see? Share your observations here, but please, don’t go to the site until after you have studied the picture, as the webmaster’s assessment will likely influence your visual perception.

And that is the whole point: Perception means everything in research; it plays into our understanding of why we study and how we organize data and and how we develop our knowledge on a given subject. The exercise challenges observational and perceptive skills. A few of my friends did the same, and I will share their results with you at a later time.

So go ahead and try. Tell me what you see.

Mysteries of Lambertville: Putting Research and Influence into Writing

Urban Legends: Real or Unreal?

Urban legends, such as those created and maintained through stories of Lambertville High School, are always assumed to be just that, with no basis of reality, at least not in the major sense with all of the ghost stories prevalent throughout history and the various cultures of the world; most of these stories are believed to be figments of the imagination or tales conjured up through pranksters or hearsay or those weird inexplicable phenomena witnessed by people who find no logical source but that are, again, assumed to have a rational explanation.

Still, with all of the accounts that continue to emerge and be passed along throughout time and space by people from all walks of life—those of imaginative capacity and those who are “respectably level-headed,” as the learned and prominent in society—not all urban legends can be untrue or non-factual, can they? What if some of these urban legends were based on some actual truth in reality? After all, many encounters have been investigated and still remain unexplained. Some even have scores of witnesses.

Such a case would be Columbine High School. The dreadful event took place on 20 April, 1999, almost eleven years ago. Two disturbed high school students burst into the school library and murdered several students in cold blood. Some bodies were even tossed out the windows for terrified onlookers to see. No one ever believed that such a situation could happen, until it did—more than once.

Virginia Tech, even more recently (17 April, 2007), echoed that long-ago scenario, and it occurred in another part of the country (the former in Colorado; the latter in Virginia, farther east). A troubled Asian student burst into a hall while classes were in session and open fired, killing many, this time including instructors.

Both events and others like them have left lingering nightmares in the minds of those who witnessed them or knew those involved—effects that will likely last a lifetime. The country, as a nation, will never forget these horrible scenes and the lives lost. Such indelible impressions have shaken a nation and scarred its conscious so deeply that no one will escape the damage incurred.

As far as haunts go, however, Columbine has already begun manifesting the paranormal residue of its own story based in reality. Accounts reported by both students and teachers attest to feelings of being watched, oppressing pain and apprehension, voices and screaming throughout the school (but especially near the library), orbs and even sightings of mysterious figures. Could this be a result of so many minds still under siege by a persistently lingering nightmare that many are unable to forget? That is entirely possible. Yet, how can one explain the uncanny similarities between accounts, especially with regards to students now attending the school who were too young to remember the actual event of eleven years ago? To those who have experienced these phenomena, the series of variable manifestations are certainly unwaveringly real.

Obsession or Destiny Fulfilled?

The protagonist of my novel, Hallowed Halls, encounters similar manifestations. Nothing so unusual about that, only that he is drawn by forces beyond his control to pursue them in a dire need to uncover answers and is uncertain as to what he might find, even as he is succumbed into what he senses as real. This is subjective, of course, until others from his clan, without knowing anything about his situation, become involved and experience the same overwhelming manifestations that purposefully interact with them as well.

This is a case exploring what it would be like if such urban legends were actually true or based on some fact. My protagonist (and later his comrades) conduct research on the haunted place and discover the horrible event that happened there so many years before, so long ago that it has been left forgotten, except by those who were there and have managed to survive. The answers reveal a story that is surprisingly not as much science fiction, fantasy or as supernatural as human. THIS is enough to weigh upon the heart and mind because it involves actual people. It is such a sad ordeal that no one can or would want ignore it. An obsession turns into a need to help others who are lost, and that attempt, the protagonist learns over time, is his destiny, whether he is ready for it or not.

Both Lambertville High School and Columbine play a part in this story’s development, mainly because these are real-life places with real-life stories. Although the legends of the first example are unproven and are assumed by lingering manifestations continually permeating the place eerily destroyed but still standing, the latter has a confirmed account that correlates to the phenomena experienced by those there.

Another chilling point testified by Columbine is the fact that such a possibility of an in-school massacre is, in fact, true, since it actually happened. Such a scenario, though one that no one wishes to imagine, is indeed not beyond the realm of feasibility. As ugly and as tormenting and as disconcerting as it is, such an occurrence forces us to keep an open-mind and never underestimate what is possible and what is not, and never to assume anything is considered too farfetched to be conceived or believed. The protagonist of Hallowed Halls learns this lesson all too well, as do all of those around him, including those who have died.

Another aspect that correlates between Lambertville and Hallowed Halls are the echoes that ring over time through several means to grip the minds of those in the present. Such signals take the form of visual manifestation, such as the mysterious artwork of students on the blackboard and other various images throughout the site to sounds vibrating in the inner conscious, such as calling voices and laughter of those from an earlier time to even the deeply embedded feelings of presences sensed. These are common, true, but they are nonetheless profound on those who experience them, whether young explores at the Lambertville ruins, attendees at Columbine or the protagonist in Hallowed Halls, who encounters his own array of inexplicable visuals and sounds directed specifically at him. They all share similar experiences that draw and tie them to the past where they learn more about their surroundings and themselves. This is the true nature of any haunting, and though it is skeptically contested by many, it is an experience prevalently shared by an even greater number of people than those who deny it. There is no concrete evidence to substantiate any of this, of course, but, then again, those who have experienced such phenomena do not need evidence—their own sensations and how they are affected by said phenomena are absolutely real enough. Perhaps that’s all that is necessary to create impressionable meaning in the human mind.

This is what gives the story of the novel its strength, persistence and solidity, as well as the assurance that so many people will be able to relate to it over time. This is an urban legend that is all too human, just as the readers are; the human factor is what makes the story as real to the reader as the ghostly experience does to the individual. If this is the case, as apparently it is, the story is well-justified, as it achieves its intended purpose.

Lessons on Writing

As writers, we all learn more about writing by actually writing. It’s not too out-of-line to say, then, that each writing project we complete as writers teaches us lessons on writing while simultaneously improving our skill in writing. The two, therefore, go hand-in-hand.

What have I learned about writing through Hallowed Halls?

First: that the characters themselves create the story, just by being the entities they are. If the writer knows and is confident in her/his characters, the story will flow out and write itself. Yes, I already knew this, but this experience has reminded me that such a notion is not merely an ideal, but indeed a truth in creative writing. The Characters are everything; they are the essence of the story. If a writer underestimates them, s/he is wasting time with the story. First thing a writer needs to do—regardless—is to get to know the characters. Before I even started writing on the story itself, I delineated pages upon pages of life story for each of the characters. That took hours, days, even weeks, but it was necessary, and by the time I was done, I knew exactly what the story would be from beginning to end. Yes, some details fluctuated, but the essence of the entire story was already there and out, so I felt confident when I started on the actual novel. All this came to be because I knew my characters well beforehand.

“But if it isn’t going into the novel, why waste your time writing it out?” Many of you might say.

The answer: It doesn’t matter. Not all of the details of a character’s background should go into the body of the novel. The important thing is that you, the writer, must know your characters well enough to write about them.

A fine example would be that which lies in a different field of writing—journalism. One does research on a given subject to familiarize oneself with the subject so that one can write about it, even if much of the information obtained remains unenclosed in the final product. The writer gains an in-depth understanding regarding the overall nature of the subject so that s/he can write about it confidently without the need to include everything.

A writer isn’t wasting time by developing character backgrounds. The principle described above applies to creative writing and the characters one creates. Writers need to know their characters, how they think and feel and what makes them tick, how they relate to others and what motivates them, their families, their childhood friends, their enemies, their issues and pathologies (we all have these). In doing this, the writer IS writing the novel because all of this serves as the basis for the story upon which the novel is founded.

Another important point I accomplished through writing Hallowed Halls relates to foreshadowing. This not only alludes to future developments in the novel’s story, it also ties together the many elements of the plot so that everything is unified. This is done through the employment of metaphors and similes, setting, dialogue, structure, even font. As I mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, modifiers are of the essence. Nouns themselves can and do serve as modifiers for themselves. If such elements are used correctly and innovatively, foreshadowing will be effective.

One should keep in mind, though, that the most efficacious foreshadowing is, believe it or not, the most subtle. Nothing destroys a storyline like foreshadowing that SCREAMS what will be to come. Never underestimate the intelligence of the reader; if they are paying attention, readers will pick them up quicker and easier than the “in-your-face” references, probably because the former are naturally and casually presented, as they are in life, and are therefore more profound.

An instance of the subtle foreshadow would be a conversation between two characters who are joking. An off-the-cuff slur is made that will come into play later on. Do NOT elaborate or explain this right then and there, as the foreshadow will lose its power and so the story will lose its strength. A writer should simply make the slur and move on. Unnecessary explanations and descriptions are not only redundant (please see post on “redundancies”), but also interferes with the flow of the story and bloats the content.

The overall irony about composing a novel is that despite all of the writing that goes into character developments, minimal referencing will make the final product.

A conscientious writer should never underestimate the power of a single word, as long as it is the RIGHT word.

As for Hallowed Halls, this is only the beginning; more writing development and lessons to learn will come with the revisions. That’s where the REAL writing takes place.

I am looking forward to it . . . .

The Mysteries of Lambertville

This is the first of many musings discussing research and how such influences have shaped and driven my works. Perhaps some of this insight will inspire other writers the same way such insight has inspired me.

Also, I must maintain an unbiased perspective, to consider all alternatives, ideas and other possible notions regardless of my personal views or beliefs, in order to develop an intriguing, balanced, credible and realistic story. Ironically enough, opposing arguments contribute to the premise of my novel as much as supporting arguments do.

In the end, I try not to think to hard on these points, but to remain laidback about the whole thing. The well-developed and naturally flowing stories emerge easier that way.

Echoes from the Past

Recently, I found myself becoming absorbed in one intriguing find that serves as a major influence for a novel I am writing, not only because the site correlates in ambiance with a major setting in the story, but also because it speaks to me with distant voices reminiscent to the voices that speak to my story’s protagonist. These voices echo from the past, like those of some resonating entity penetrating me with such a force that pulls me to the site. Everything this place represents is covered in mystique that has captured my imagination.

‘What place is this?’ you may ask.

This is a place known as Lambertville. No, it’s not an abandoned military base or some obscure American Civil War battlefield—it is, of all places, an old high school.

Lambertville High School, in western New Jersey, has a long history filled with more than just a few inexplicable if not interesting stories. A once-lively place consisting of a small building and a bell tower, the school is now a decrepit hulk, resting under a veil of trees on a hill overlooking New Hope, Pennsylvania. The roof and third floor are gone, and the interior is a cold darkness screaming with a sense of foreboding.

This place has come to be what I consider the ‘Titanic’ of abandoned high schools, and for good reason—the mysteries behind this place are more than just imaginary.

A Legend Built on Mysteries . . .

According to a tribute stone erected at the site, the school was built in 1854—before the Civil War. That means Lambertville was open for classes during a time prior to that long-ago war serving as but a distant memory to us today. That’s how antiquated the school is. The stone rests in the ground near the center of the western wall, situated so that it may watch the sun set everyday. Painted graffiti scrawled across its face reflects the vandalism it has endured over the years, but the stone refuses to falter. Truly inspirational and extraordinary indeed!

This is but the first mystery. The tribute was erected by the class of 1927, after a fire gutted most of the school back in the early-1920s (the date carved into the brick over both doors—‘1924’—provides some indication as to the time period). The fury that consumed Lambertville came about as a result of unknown causes, though some enthusiasts believe the culprit to have been a boiler explosion (common in many stories regarding school fires). The tribute is reminiscent of a tombstone. Even more eerie, that representation was apparently intended.

The story goes that this fire took the lives of 150 students and some staff and that the stone is in memory of them. Other indications related to these deaths resonate here as well: the disturbing chalkboard drawings that depict praying and burning students, voices and laughter on the top level, steady footsteps, and messages scribbled along the walls here and there that allude to some horrible tragedy long ago . . .

Still, city officials, graduates of the high school (from the 1950s) and others who have studied the background of the place have attested that such an event never occurred, that the deaths are all hearsay and fiction created by someone’s imagination. Supposedly, the fire was at night when the school was empty, despite the inference through historical records that students used to live on the upper level during the school’s early years. When did this arrangement change? I don’t dispute any of this. These sources serve as greater authorities on the subject than I, but I am curious.

I have to ask, though: Who would conceive such stories and why? Every story has a basis of reality somewhere. Whatever that reality is, this mystery has grabbed the attention of so many people, many of whom have visited the school from all over the United States. They have taken pictures as if the place were some vacation spot, and then subsequently posted those images on their own respective websites. Hell, the school even has a page on Wikipedia. No other abandoned high school can make that claim.

So I ask again: Who would conceive such stories and why?

The chalkboard theory, which leads into another mystery, seems to have been true; as the website alluded to above actually features images of students drawn in elaborate detail.

Yet there are simple explanations behind this one. One woman who claimed to have graduated back in 1954 said in a personal account that she knew the art teacher who had drawn them on the boards before leaving the school. She never explained why the teacher would do this, and I find it problematic for that reason. Also, even if a teacher from the 1950s had drawn these images, it’s doubtful that said images would have lasted so long without fading, being erased, or marred in someway (though there are methods to freeze chalk on a blackboard). Vandals would have assured and even facilitated this. Another possibility is that, at some point, an artist thrill-seeker could have drawn the images on the boards to generate excitement. If is true, apparently, s/he succeeded.

Alas, all the chalkboards are gone now, likely stolen by souvenir-hunters who wished to hang them in their basements or sell them on eBay. Needless to say, the place is a smorgasbord; everyone goes there to snatch up something before the building finally collapses. It’s not like the owner is protective of such items; if he wanted anything in there, he would have had it removed and stored away long ago. Before long, nothing will be left except the shell itself—and maybe the ghosts, if there are any.

As for ghosts, or spirits, there are other stories as well. Take, for example, the case of Buckeye Bill, probably the most famous mystery associated with Lambertville. This entity and the story on which he is based have become a unified legend.

The year was 1935: Lambertville and New Hope high schools engaged in their famous football game. During the game, one of the New Hope Buckeye quarterbacks caught the ball. A pile-up ended his attempt to make a touchdown. When the players rose, everyone stood horrified to see that the quarterback lay dead with a broken neck, his head twisted 180 degrees (his face was over his back). The parents of the New Hope student body subsequently insisted that the school no longer sponsor football. To this day, New Hope High School does not have a football team. This entire story is supposedly documented and true, although it doesn’t serve as evidence to substantiate the paranormal stories that were to follow.

As the legend goes, if one stands on the front landing to the main floor of the west wing and challenges Billy with “Billy, I challenge you to a game of football!” a football is said to fly from within the darkness and slam into the challenger’s face, breaking her/his neck. Another variation of this legend assumes that if one stands on the old football field (which lies up the hill, assuming anyone can ever find it) and cries “Billy, I challenge you to a race!” a breeze sweeps overhead and/or a pair of red eyes appears and a deep voice growls “run to the other end of the field or die!” If the challenger doesn’t run or runs and doesn’t make it to the other side, s/he dies.

This second variation derives from a questionable event that also occurred back in 1935 immediately following the game that had claimed the life of Buckeye Billy. Allegedly, five boys were on the football field. One jokingly challenged Billy. A pair of eyes appeared and said “run or die!” The boys jumped, startled, and four ran while the fifth didn’t. Three made it across the field, but the fourth stumbled and could not be found. The next day, the authorities found the last two boys at the field. They were dead and their heads were turned 180 degrees. The story is supposedly true, yet it was passed along as hearsay, perhaps by someone who might have wanted simply to scare his friends. Teenagers can be and frequently are this way. Personally, this story sounds too fantastic to be true, so I am inclined to adhere to a great deal of skepticism.

By the way, this is the story around which the movie Only Go There at Night revolves. Five friends go on a thrill adventure to a supposedly haunted high school in New Jersey where two get killed and, upon investigation, the police come to realize that the killer might not be a living human being (i.e. a spirit, presumably based on Buckeye Billy). The simple difference here, however, is that the five boys live in present-day, not seventy-five years ago. I haven’t yet seen the movie, but the fact that these boys are going to a supposedly ‘haunted’ high school suggests that a significant amount of time has past since the school was in use for classes. The premise here seems to consider, among other things: What if the legends WERE true?

Let’s also keep in mind that several thrill-seekers have gone to the school at night and have challenged Buckeye Billy according to version #1 (the stair landing scenario) and nothing happened. Does Billy choose when to come out? Could something else explain why nothing happened? I don’t mean to mock this, because I do believe in spirits and a spirit realm, but if nothing happened, the story would be difficult to believe and/or accept. That’s not saying that there isn’t some aspect of reality on which the legend is based. After all, as said, every story has its origins in some basis of reality.

Still, how could a story like this be true? What could have possibly caused this? Why would Billy have red eyes and threaten the lives of those who ‘challenge’ him? And at a high school he didn’t even attend? The story seems farfetched, but that’s only because we don’t know the account on which it’s based, the story that inspired it, and there likely was one. What was it? Was it the experience the five boys had in 1935?

If these stories and legends are not true, where did they originate?

Yet, another fire broke out soon afterward, but the exact year is not known. This event resulted in no deaths or injuries, but significant damage still incurred and repairs initiated. Apparently, Lambertville was developing a pattern of attracting fire.

The school finally closed its doors somewhere between 1954 and 1959 (sources conflict on the date). The closing had nothing to do with the fire as commonly believed, but to zoning issues and the need for city expansion. The Lambertville community had outgrown it and the area consolidated all students into the larger South Hunterdon High School, which is still in operation today. Not only does this new structure easily house all the students in one place, but a single school cuts down on city expenses and minimizes taxes involved. The old high school was disregarded at that point, but it was not razed.

Also of special note is the strange fact that the school closed one century, perhaps to the year, from the time it was constructed and opened. The second fire occurred around this time, but, as said, the specific year is not known.

After sitting empty in excess of ten years, Lambertville High School reopened for business—literally. During the 1970s, a private machine press company occupied the basement and changed the area into workspace (the equipment is still there, though not operational) while families rented the upper level and had the total run of the building. It’s admirable that the high school, instead of being destroyed, took on the role of a shelter for homeless families who might have even worked downstairs. How convenient and surreal, considering the structure’s earlier past.

When the last fire broke out around 1992, the city decided not to rebuild. The families disappeared and the business apparently moved on without taking its machinery. That’s odd, isn’t it? I say that because the last fire supposedly destroyed only the upper floors, not the main floor or the basement (had the fire consumed those lower levels as well, nothing would have remained there; they would now be in the same condition as that of the upper floor), so there was no reason to leave this equipment.

The chaotic state which resulted from this final conflagration is the same in which the building is today, except that over the years the second floor collapsed in on the main floor in some areas, especially the east wing, which is essentially nothing more than four walls enclosing a great heap of rubble. Some classrooms and offices on the main floor there are still accessible. The upper-floor corridor in the central hub has caved in, exposing the hallway beneath to open air. Trees have sprouted in a rough terrain of dirt and grown throughout these upper levels, creating the appearance of some ancient ruins. Cracked doors are suspended or lie askew. Window panes are shattered and their frames wrenched or obliterated. The west wing windows are blown out and nothing more than a row of six large square holes. Rusted pipes twist around like weird sculptures. Sections of walls still stand amidst piles of scrap consisting of timber and bricks. Plaster, which was at one time shiny white and pristine, is now chipped or completely stripped away. Sooty tiles are among what little remains of the showers for a non-existent gymnasium. A few scorched girders dangle precariously around a chimney that, once stately, shoots up in the air like some aged sentinel attempting to continue standing guard over its charge.

When one realizes that this is a century-and-a-half-old high school with a unique and legendary background, not something typical of the inner-city ghetto, the feeling becomes quite surreal and sobering, indigenous to a history struggling to maintain itself, but in some morphed, dreamlike manner. The sight is unbelievable, but it’s real, though many people question whether or not some deeper aspects of it are a part of the physical world or something else only sensed.

This is possibly the ultimate mystery. We know how the devastation occurred, yet we have no evidence that the fire had a particular source, like a flame out of thin air, just as the previous fires. The effect on the mind when one views the chaos reflects on the mystique of deeper meaning resonating there, whatever that meaning may be. Amidst all of this incredible destruction, Lambertville High School continues to live on.

Final Thoughts . . .

Lambertville High School is indeed a spell attraction. Even I have found myself pondering about this place, although I wonder from time to time why. After all, it is only an abandoned building, dilapidated and crumbling; an empty shell that people who have attended it have claimed is or was nothing more than a regular high school.

Or, again, is it something more?

This place has not become a legend for nothing. Several high schools in the United States have ghost stories connected to them, yet THIS one inspired a movie, a plethora of websites and a wiki page. As said, droves of people from all over the United States have traveled to see and explore the site. In fact, some have scheduled vacations to the place, as if this abandoned building were an attraction that cannot be missed, like the haunted house at Disney World.

This, I guess, is the final mystery, the great irony.

The reason: THIS high school is real, actual, not fabricated or imaginary. That fact alone is more than enough to create a spell on the human mind. The paranormal legends associated with it make it even more magical, regardless of whether or not such phenomena are true or real. Visiting the school allows one to become a part of that legend, a part of the reality.

The mysteries of Lambertville are likely never to be resolved, and that’s fine because the longer the mysteries last, so will the legends, and as long as these legends persist, Lambertville will never die.

Lambertville High School, as said, serves as one of the main inspirations for my novel Hallowed Halls, which is another story reflecting the possibilities of spiritual haunting and what it would be like if such haunts were real. Again, I believe in a spiritual realm, as I have had encountered some profound experiences. There is something to it, and I am thoroughly compelled to explore that conceptualization in light of human nature and how we’re driven to learn about the forces within and around us through life and death, just as the case is with Lambertville.

In the follow-up, I will discuss more about how Lambertville and another growing legend of death, based on truth—Columbine in Littleton, Colorado—relate to the novel with regard to similarities, differences, parallels and background development.

Those who are curious to know more please stay tuned . . . .

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I wish to thank Lostdestinations.com, Surrealnewjersey.com, WeirdNJ.com, The Goop blog and Randy Kline (a.k.a. StangGT), whose Lambertville High School photostream can be found at Flickr.com, for providing their photos. Great pictures, guys! Anyone interested in reading up on or seeing more images of Lambertville High School please feel free to visit their sites as well as those listed below . . .

Lambertville High School:

Buckstore

Experience Project: Get the Paranormal Report

Forgotten USA

Hub Pages: Haunted Places – Lambertville, New Jersey

Lost in New Jersey

Spectral Review: Lambertville High School

STU of Doom

The Lambertville High School Story

Other [Haunted] High School Stories:

Forgotten Ohio

Forgetten Ohio – Stivers Middle School

Ghost Village

Newsweek.com – Ghosts of Columbine High Schools

OMA Haunted.com – Columbine High School

Snopes.com – Discussion on Columbine

StrangUSA – Discussion on Columbine

Unexplainable.net – Article on Columbine

Unexplainable.net – Haunted High Schools in the United States – Columbine

Your Ghost Stories – Real Ghost Story – Columbine

Reminder: I do believe in spirits, but that doesn’t mean that I automatically believe these stories; I am fair and skeptical about everything without evidence, which is why I ask questions. I included ghost and haunt sites to show how prevalent in number these sources are with regard to Stivers Middle/High School, Lambertville High School, Columbine High School and others. That’s how one conducts ongoing research—by asking questions and following through with leads to form her/his own conclusions. I encourage everyone to do the same