Joshua Chamberlain and the Ghost

Joshua Chamberlain

The American Civil War was in full rage by 1863.  On July 1, 1863 the armies were massing around a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.  The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest and crucial in the war.  Joshua Chamberlain was the Colonel of the 20th Maine, promoted after the battle of Chancellorsville.  The 20th Maine was described as a “hell of a regiment”, which was not a compliment.  Apparently, they were unruly and had some deserters that had to be forced back to duty at the point of a bayonet.  I imagine this was par for the course in those days, however.  Chamberlain was told by General Mead to “make them do duty or shoot them down the moment they refused.”  Chamberlain took a softer approach as many of the deserters were men he knew from home.  They were fed and added back into the ranks.  They had orders to head home soon anyway.  However, before they could go back to Maine, they received the call to march to Gettysburg double quick.  They booked it to Pennsylvania, but once they got there it was dark.   This is when things got strange.

According Colonel Chamberlain in his book Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, the officers reached a fork in the road and wasn’t sure which way to go.  The account says, “Suddenly the clouds parted, and the moon shone down upon a horseman wearing a bright coat and a tricorn hat.  Mounted on a magnificent pale horse, he cantered down one of the roads branching off before them.  Turning slightly toward them, he waved them to follow.”  If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.  Hundreds of soldiers were said to have seen this man on horseback.  They followed the man on horseback, who led them wear they needed to be.  Many of the officers assumed this was a Union general, the name General McClellan got bandied about.  However, some of the men remarked on upon the strong resemblance the man bore to paintings of George Washington they had seen.  

On July 2, Chamberlain was ordered to Little Round Top by Union commanders after they realized there were only signalmen guarding the strategic heights.  Once again, the 20th Maine hustled and they only beat the first wave of General Longstreet’s Confederates by a few minutes.  At any case, the 20th Maine were given the charge to hold Little Round top “at all hazards”, and soon they were under heavy artillery fire. The Confederates kept coming and soon there were outbreaks of deadly hand to hand fighting, but the line held.  However, it was a close thing and Colonel Chamberlain worried that the line would not stand another assault and now there was gunfire behind them as well.  There were fears among the exhausted men the Confederates had them surrounded.  They were the last line of defense.  If they fell, the battle and possibly the war and the union were lost.  Here is where things get weird once again.  

According to reports from troops after the battle, a tall man on a pale horse rode into their midst.  He was in an old fashioned uniform and tricorn hat.  Every man on the Union

The 20th Maine’s left flank marker at Gettysburg battlefield. Regimental monument at the center of their lines on Little Round Top. Photo Credit- Cornellrockey04

side who saw him felt his courage renewed.  The Confederates saw the rider as well and focused fire on the conspicuous target, but the rider never fell.  Despite this moral boost, things were looking bleak for the 20th Maine.  They were out of ammo and hope.  Enter the strange phantom.  According to Chamberlain, “Suddenly, an imposing figure stood in front of the line exhorting them to follow.  The rays of the afternoon sun set his upraised sword aflame.”  The men were filled with hope and bravery, and fixed their bayonet and charged into the line of Confederates.  The men of the 15th Alabama were shocked at such a bold move, and didn’t have time to fire a defensive volley.   The Confederates were mowed down by the men of the 20th Maine then caught in a pincer between them and the men of the 83rd Pennsylvania.  Four hundred Confederates were taken prisoner and Little Round Top held.

Rumors went wild after the battle about the apparition and an investigation was conducted and many eyewitness testimonies were gathered.  However, no conclusions were drawn.  Chamberlain survived the war and went on to become Governor of Maine in 1866.  In regard to this strange episode, Chamberlain said, “We know not what mystical power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead.  I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause.  I do believe that we were enveloped by the power of the other world that day and who shall say that Washington was not among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?”  Who indeed?


The Harem Conspiracy

The mummy of Ramesses III, who ruled Egypt from 1186 B.C. to 1155 B.C. Credit: The BMJ

The royal court is never an easy place.  Its full of intrigue and deception and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  This is true today as it was in ancient times.  In Egypt, no one was more powerful than the Pharaoh.  However, in the Twentieth Dynasty, Pharaoh Ramses III was getting old.  He had ruled Egypt for a little over thirty years, and people were getting antsy.  Since he wasn’t vacating the throne on his own power, perhaps it was time to help him along.

Ramses had many wives like most pharaohs, however, unlike most pharaohs he did not name a Great Royal Wife.  This left the harem open to scheming and backbiting of all kinds.  There was the son of a senior wife who was the heir designate though.  This did not sit well with one of Ramses secondary queens, Tiy.  She was ambitious for her son, Prince Pentewere.  Tiy wanted him on the throne of Egypt not his half brother.  To achieve this, she had to get rid of both the old man, Ramses III, and the heir.  Tiy hatched a plan, but to make it work she needed the help of others.  So she started recruiting, and won stewards, inspectors, women of the harem, a priest, a magician and even a general to her side.  Her main co-conspirators were Pebekamen, the chief of the
chamber, and Mesedsure, a butler.  Their plans are outlined in detail in the Papyrus Rollin, the Papyrus Turin and the Papyrus Lee, which are transcripts of their trial.  Spoiler alert.  They did not succeed.

Pebekamen procured wax figures from a man named Pehuybin, which was supposed to disable the limbs of people.  These figures were secreted into the harem and more magic spells were performed to weaken the targets and evade any guards who might try to foil their plans.  This magic was done by the court magician and Ramses’ personal physician.  Messages were sent from one of the harem wives involved to her brother who was a captain of archers to “stir up the people” against Ramses.  This was going to be a full on decapiter plot with a matching revolution.  However, the plotters ran into problems as someone must have gotten scared and ratted them out.  Tiy, Pentawere and dozens of others were put on trial.  In the Papyri, it is suggested Pentewere was convicted.  Ramses’ other son became Ramses IV.  The coup ultimately failed.

One thing remained unclear, however, how far did the plot go?  There was confusion around whether Ramses III died a natural death later or if the plot had succeeded in killing him.  There were some stories of poison or that Ramses III survived the initial attack to die at a later date.  In 2012, a team revisited the mummy of Ramses III and performed a CT scan.  They found the mummy had a serious wound in his throat.  In the paper discussing their findings, the team wrote, “The large and deep cut wound in his neck must have been caused by a sharp knife or other blade,” the team wrote in a paper on their findings, published in the British Medical Journal on Monday (Dec. 17). They added that the cut, which severed his trachea, esophagus and large blood vessels,
would have killed him instantly.”

There is also question around what happened to Pentewere.  After being found guilty, he would have most certainly been put to death.  However, what happened to his body?  No one is quite sure, however, there is an unidentified mummy called Unknown Man E or the Screaming Mummy.  It was discovered in 1886 with an agonized expression on his face, which led to speculation of poison or being buried alive.  A 2008 National Geographic documentary investigated the possibility that Unknown Man E was Prince Pentawere.  The Papyri indicate Pentawere was given the “option” to commit suicide instead of being executed.  He may have used poison to take this option.  The mummy of Unknown Man E contains all its organs and is wrapped in a goat skin, which is not inline with typical mummification procedure.  Goat skin was considered ritualistically impure in ancient Egypt.  All of these things, may be interpreted as evidence punishment into the afterlife.  However, it was a kinder punishment than if he was executed as his body would have been burned and his ashes scattered.  This would have excluded him from any sort of an afterlife.  A genetic analysis of this mummy showed that Unknown Man E shared the same paternal lineage as Ramses III, which “strongly suggest[ed] that they were father and son”.  


The Solway Spaceman

16299110_404685153206906_7613634159618126078_nWhile out with his family in 1964 local historian, fireman, and photographer Jim Templeton took three photographs of his five-year-old daughter while at Burgh Marsh overlooking the Solway Firth in Cumbria, England. Templeton claimed the photograph shows a background figure wearing a space suit and insisted that he did not see anyone present when the photograph was taken. The image was reproduced widely in contemporary newspapers and gained the attention of UFO specialists and fans.

Templeton said the only other people on the marshes that day were a couple of old women sitting in a car at the far end of the marsh. In a letter to the Daily Mail in 2002, Templeton stated, “I took three pictures of my daughter Elizabeth in a similar pose – and was shocked when the middle picture came back from Kodak displaying what looks like a spaceman in the background.” Analysts at Kodak confirmed that the photograph was genuine.

In 2014, UFO author David Clarke stated the “spaceman” was most likely Templeton’s wife, Annie, who was present at the time and was seen on other photographs taken that day. “I think for some reason his wife walked into the shot and he didn’t see her because with that particular make of camera you could only see 70% of what was in the shot through the viewfinder”. Annie Templeton was wearing a pale blue dress on the day in question, which was overexposed as white in the other photos; she also had dark bobbed hair. It has been argued that, when using photo software to darken the image and straighten the horizon, the figure increasingly appears to be a regular person viewed from behind.

Today, the picture still fascinates and excites people who want to Believe.


The Paris Catacombs

Paras Catacombs Photo Credit-
Paras Catacombs Photo Credit-

The city of Paris is built on top of rich Lutetian limestone deposits, and it was this stone that built most of the city.  This stone had been quarried since the time of the Romans, mostly from suburban locations away from the main areas where people lived.  Mines were haphazard and not locations were not documented, and once the vein of stone was quarried the mines were abandoned and forgotten.  As the city of Paris grew, people ran into the mines when they were building with disastrous results.  A series of mine cave-ins in 1774 highlighted the undermining of the Left Bank.  So what to do?  Fill them with bones!

Wait, what?  Let’s back up a bit.  In Roman times, both the Right and Left Bank of the Seine were inhabited.  The first burial grounds were on the southern outskirts of the Left Bank settlement.  Once the Romans left and the Franks invaded, Parisians abandoned the Left Bank and its burial ground.  Because the Right Bank was extremely marshy, cemeteries were put on high ground right in the center of town.  This continued until 1780, when the edict was passed that no graves could be intra muros, or within the city walls.  The problem was there were cemeteries from the previous centuries of life in Paris. On May 30, 1708, the basement wall of a property adjoining the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents collapsed under the weight of the mass grave behind it.  Even before that, people in the area said the smell of decomposing flesh was so strong nothing could cover it.  Disease was running rampant.  Something had to be done.

On April 7, 1886, the former Tombe-Issoire quarries were blessed and consecrated.  From that moment on, the “close de la Tombe-Issoire” became a nightly progression of black covered wagons carrying the millions of Parisian dead.  The remains from five cemeteries were moved into the newly christened Catacombs-  Saints-Innocents, Saint Etienne-des-Gres, Madeleine Cemetery, Errancis Cemetery and Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux.  It took twelve years to transfer all the bones into the Catacombs, two years for all the bodies in the cemetery of Saints-Innocents alone.  Some of the inhabitants of the Catacombs were famous.  These included François Rabelais (between 1483 and 1494 -1553), Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1698) and Charles Perrault (1628 – 1703), the sculptor François Girardon (1628 – 1715), the painter Simon Vouet (I590 – 1649), the architects Salomon de Brosse (1571-1626), Claude Perrault (1613 – 1688) and also Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646 – 1708).  During the French Revolution bodies were buried directly in the Catacombs. The Swiss Guard who were killed storming the Tuileries palace and the victims of the massacres in September 1792 were all taken there..  Those notables are Lavoisier (1743 – 1794), Madame Elisabeth (1764 – 1794), Camille and Lucile Desmoulins (1760 – 1794 and 1771 – 1794), Danton (1759 – 1794) Jean-Paul Marat (1743 -1793) and Maximilien de Robespierre (1758 – 1794).  The final transfer of bones was done during the renovation of Paris by Georges-Eugene Haussmann, and was completed in 1860.

Paris Catacombs Well Photo Credit-
Paris Catacombs Well Photo Credit-

During this time, the Catacombs were cleared for visitors by Hencart de Thury, the Inspector of Quarries, and by 1814 people were touring the place.  The Catacombs are open to the general public today, but only part of the tunnel network.  It has been illegal since 1955 to enter any other part of the Catacombs.  The long maze of dark galleries and narrow passages are 20 meters beneath the Parisian streets in the very heart of Paris.  The bones are arranged in designs and patterns that are beautiful if not a bit macabre.  Above the entrance, the Alexandrine verse “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort” [Halt, this is the realm of Death ] is written.  This is only one of the many poetic verses that accompany the bones in their resting place.

Urban explorers called Cataphiles have explored much of the off limits sections illegally, and some of the spaces have been repurposed by them.  In fact a secret amphitheater complete with a movie theater, seats, restaurant and fully stocked bar was found.  There was an Airbnb contest in 2015 to stay in the Paris Catacombs Halloween night.  Brazilian Pedro Arrunda won after submitting an essay on why he was brave enough to spend the night there.  He and a guest were rewarded with a double bed in a candle-lit stone chamber, as well dinner, a violin concert and a storyteller to get them in the Halloween spirit.

I’m not sure I’d like sleeping with the remains of roughly 6 million people, but to each their own.  And on that note, sleep tight, dear readers


Sources available on request

The bizarre case of Clarvius Narcisse

14910324_358796457795776_8876916620078186167_nNarcisse age 40, arrived at a Haitian hospital on April 30, 1962. He was suffering from a fever, and he felt like bugs where crawling on his skin. Doctors noted a general physical deterioration, and immediately gave Narcisse a room. On May 2, 1962, he was pronounced dead. His family laid his body to rest in a cemetery near his village, l’Estere. He was placed in a coffin, nailed shut, and set within the earth. This should have been the end of his story.

In 1980, sixteen years later, Narcisse reappeared with a strange and hard to believe tale. He tells that after his funeral, late at night, his body was dug up by a man that had cursed him. He claimed the man was a powerful Haitian vodou sorcerer. The sorcerer beat Narcisse, bound him, and gave him a strange potion. He took Narcisse to a sugar plantation where other zombie slaves awaited. There, he put Narcisse to work, continuously injecting him with doses of the potion to maintain his zombie-like state. He claimed that he had become a lifeless husk bound to the powerful man. When the sorcerer died two years later, Narcisse escaped and roamed around for sixteen years until he found his way home.

Narcisse’s death and reappearance, is well documented, but what happened within the sixteen year time span is where things gets complicated. Some researchers believe the strange concoction that caused Narcisse to enter into a death-like coma was a combination of tetrodotoxin and bufotoxin (toxins from the puffer fish and toad) that where administered through the skin. The single greatest advocate for this was a graduate student from Harvard University, Wade Davis, who published two popular books based on his travels to Haiti. Subsequent scientific examinations have failed to support the presence of tetrodotoxin, that was central to the claims reported by Wade.

We may never know what actually happened to Narcisse, he passed away for the second and final time in 1994.