British Spiritual Medium Derek Acorah Dead at 69

Early today, Derek Acorah’s wife Gwen posted a tribute on FaceBook stating her husband was dead. Born Derek Francis Jason Johnson in 1950, Acorah died after entering a septic coma caused by contracting pneumonia. His death closes a chapter on one of Britain’s controversial psychics.

Nearly 20 years ago, Acorah began using his psychic gifts for entertainment purposes. In 2001, he landed the role of lead medium in a new TV show titled Haunting Truths. The show’s name was changed to Most Haunted the following year. Acorah appeared for 6 series. He was ousted after claims of fakery emerged from some crew members. The members fed Acorah “facts” about some purported spirits. Two were named “Rik Eedles” and “Kreed Kafer.” The names were anagrams for Derek Lies and Derek Faker. Acoroh was swiftly removed from the show.

In the past year, Acorah faced new allegations of deception by contacting families of recently deceased people claiming to be able to speak with the decedents. This violated advertising standards.

Not withstanding the above, Acoroh will probably be remembered as hosting one of the worst TV shows in recent history. In 2009, Acoroh live broadcasted Michael Jackson: The Live Séance, where he attempted to make contact with MJ’s spirit. According to media outlets, it was a car crash of epic proportions in bad taste.

Acorah is survived by his second wife, Gwen, and their two children.

Krampus, the Christmastime Monster

Krampus, the Christmastime Monster*

Stories of the dark half-goat, half-demon monster terrorizing unruly children pre-dates Christianity. Its roots come from Central-European folklore with the exact specifics unknown. His name is derived from either Dutch krampen, meaning “pick” or “iron,” or the Austrian “pickaxe.” Some rely on the German translation of “cramp.” Krampus is a Christmastime monster.

The consensus is that the story of Krampus was a pagan morality tale appropriated by Christians. The cautionary tale of Krampus lives on today as a warning to all children contemplating bad behavior, for their “reward” will be living in the underworld (i.e., Hell) for one full year where they will be tortured or possibly eaten. The punishment is severe enough to whip young children into their best behavior.

Krampus Night, or Krampusnacht, begins on December 5th. The saltier companion of Joly Saint Nicholas comes above-ground seeking devilish children. His beverage of choice is Schnapps (a fruity Brandy), go figure, as he swats at misbehaving children with gold painted birch branches.

The unfavorable kidnapping tale alarmed communities in the mid-1900s; therefore, towns were encouraged to tone it down or outright ban such celebrations. However, popularity rose again when the film industry started cranking out Krampus and Krampus-like movies. The 2015 movie Krampus was filmed on a $15 million-dollar budget and grossed over $61 million worldwide. Krampus sells.

While Krampus is NOT the anti-Santa Claus, he is the dispenser of bad news (no presents for you) and discipline. Although the tales mention his eating children, no purported cannibalistic rituals involving Krampus and children have been reported. Maybe the threat of visit was all that was needed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! And…be on your best behavior.

Blog originally published in December 2018.

St. Petersburg’s Comfort Station No. 1

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A story is making the Internet rounds claiming that Comfort Station No. 1 in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida is haunted. It’s not. However, its lack of ghosts should not detract from the stunning architecture that makes it one of the most beautiful and historic public restrooms in the United States.

St. Petersburg experienced large tourism in the 1920s. Hotel construction rose as people came to enjoy the warm winter weather. Architects drew inspiration from Europe building such historic hotels as The Hotel Cordova (1921), the Don CeSar Hotel (1928), and the Vinoy Park Hotel (1925). Shortly after designing the Vinoy, architect Henry L. Taylor (1884-1958) designed Comfort Station No. 1.

At the corner of 2nd Avenue and Bayshore Drive North sits an 8-sided brick building. Topped with Spanish tiles, the octagonal structure is modeled after the Lombardy Romanesque style. Although this is not Taylor’s most important architectural feat, it is one of his most debated.

Bids were taken in March 1927, with permits and construction commencing by the summer. It reportedly cost $16,000 and was completed and operational by May 10, 1928 when a Lost and Found ad ran in the St. Petersburg Times. Ironically, the person who ran the ad found a Masonic ring at the station. The February 1929 issue of The American City praised the facility—both functionally and aesthetically.

Urban legends continue to swirl. The first claimed that Taylor built the facility to resemble St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, situated at 515 4th Street South. Both structures are octagonal and share similar features. The story further claims that Taylor took umbrage to being shorted on the church project and designed the restrooms as an insult. This is factually incorrect. The bathroom was designed and built before the church, where construction began in 1929. Several newspaper articles, namely the September 9, 1992 St. Petersburg Times article, dispels this rumor.

Comfort Station No. 1 is sometimes called “Little St. Mary’s” or “St. Mary’s Comfort Station.” These are tributes to the similarities between the restroom and the church. While Taylor left no indication as to his reasoning on the design, some postulate that the restroom was a prototype for the large Byzantine style church.

One online tale also claims that Taylor himself haunts the station. Hardly. He built larger, more glamourous buildings to spend eternity.

Another Internet story refers to an elderly woman named “Agnes” who chats ladies up at the sink. After hours searching several online databases, I was unable to find an elderly woman who was alive in the 1930s (she reportedly was wearing clothes of that period) who died around the pier. Using a preconceived old-fashioned name doesn’t make the story true.

The comfort station sits along the retaining wall at the entrance to Pier Approach Park. Over the decades, the park consisted of several large piers: The Railroad Pier (1889); The Pier Pavilion (1895); The Electric Pier (1906); The Million Dollar Pier (1926); and The Inverted Pyramid Pier (1973). Engineers grew concerned by the saltwater erosion on the pilings; therefore, the pier is undergoing another rebuild/renovation.

There are numerous reasons why people hear sounds in the comfort station. First of all: it’s an oversized bathroom. The water lapping against the seawall also creates sounds. Hide tide, low tide; they all make waves. Boats entering/leaving the yacht basin. Acoustics against the tiles. Wildlife hovering about or scurrying underneath. In addition, fog and mist are frequent weather occurrences. Not one tale references actual investigations conducted to debunk.

Historic and old buildings are not necessarily haunted. I’ve visited this location numerous times (I used to live 16 blocks from here and would walk to the park). Never did I have an experience. Further, never did I hear about experiences. Visit Comfort Station No. 1 and reflect on a time when motorists did not have public conveniences and the one progressive city that took up matters by erecting a classic pit stop.

Andy Warhol’s Memento Mori Collection

In 1968, famed modern artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) suffered a near-fatal stabbing. This was the impetus While flying back to the Ito his interest in the dead and death itself. While flying back to the United States, Warhol stopped in Paris. In 1975, Warhol purchased a human skull either from a flea market or a taxidermist. He also painted in the memento mori tradition—reminding his audience that we, too, all shall die.

“Remember you must die,” or memento mori, is the artistic expression incorporating the inevitability of death. Although many view this artwork as morbid, the intent is to inspire audiences to live their lives.

The Andy Warhol Museum, https://www.warhol.org/, displays Skulls (1976), large paintings of skulls juxtaposed with pastel colors. In addition, the current exhibition, Andy Warhol: Revelation, highlights the pop artist’s struggles between his Catholic faith and his homosexual lifestyle. Audiences exit the exhibit staring at the religious commercialized advertising of “Repent and Sin No More.” The collection offers insight into his struggles. It closes on February 16, 2020.

Adding to the theme of death are two taxidermed animals on display at the museum. “Cecil” is a 1930 stuffed Great Dane. Warhol purchased the stuffed dog sometime in the 60s for $300. Warhol believed the dog belonged to famed Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille (founding father of modern American cinema). Unfortunately, Warhol was scammed. “Cecil” is encased in glass and majestic, just like the stuffed lion that is perched on a rolling cart inside the Archives. Both were viewable on my trip in November.

Warhol’s “bold palette is at odds with its morbid content.” It exemplifies the modern memento mori artwork being created.

The Weeping Glass—Uniquely Curious

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Tucked in the Allentown neighborhood 5 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh sits the most uniquely curious shop. The Weeping Glass opened in 2017 and features ephemera, hand-crafted items, and artwork. Stop in and be amazed.

Kelly Macabre Noir and Aaron Doctor, also known as Dr. Morose, created the annual traveling sideshow Morose and Macabre’s Atrocity Exhibition featuring a “cavalcade of the beautiful and grotesque, brought to life by a cabaret of bizarre entertainers, artists, and artisans.” It is only fitting that they opened a shop to house these creations. Various altars are situated throughout the compact store. Private collectors display taxidermied animals in small vignettes.

Once a month the store hosts “Midnight Death Parlor,” a performance whereby a tragedy is told by candlelight. This month added a séance to its schedule. Located at 817 E. Warrington Avenue, the store is open Wednesday-Friday, 1-8 PM; Saturday, 12-8 PM; and Sunday 12-6 PM.

Dalí Tarot Deck Re-Issued

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Salvador Dalí was commissioned to create a tarot deck for the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. Unfortunately, Dalí’s work came at a steep price—a price that was too high for the producers, who, instead, hired artist Fergus Hall. Dalí was undeterred and published a 78-card deck, titled Dalí Universal Tarot, in 1984. The deck was available in the Dalí Museum gift store in St. Petersburg, Florida. I decided against the purchase then; however, I may be able to live with the cheaper re-issued deck.

Taschen Books has re-issued (and renamed) the Dalí Tarot deck. The set comes with a booklet and is priced at $60. Dalí added his surrealist touch to the images. His sense of humor is also evident. For example, he painted Roger Moore, the actor playing James Bond in the 1973 film, as “The Emperor.” Dalí’s wife and muse, Gala, is portrayed as “The Empress.” Dalí himself is “The Magician.” The deck is ideal for tarot deck collectors.

For those who can’t wait to purchase, enjoy a free tarot reading at http://www.dalitarot.com/.

For more information: https://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/art/all/44640/facts.dali_tarot.htm?change_user_country=US&gclid=Cj0KCQiAk7TuBRDQARIsAMRrfUbBZr1ZQeTBYnr4Ih05kvhrZVcC-HNbjLmsDY5Ql3myeKLBFsxz43kaAl-yEALw_wcB

Welcome to Pittsburgh!

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Tomorrow I head up to Pittsburgh, PA for the annual MAPACA (Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association) Conference. This year I am presenting my paper titled: “Travel Channel: Singlehandedly Delegitimizing the Paranormal Field.” My show is an early Thursday event scheduled at 1:45 PM. Upon my return, I will post excerpts of it. I’m looking forward to returning to Pitt–it has been many decades since I visited.

13 Tantalizing Morsels about Michael Jackson: Thriller

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Michael Jackson: Thriller (1983) remains the best music video ever produced. Here are 13 facts regarding the iconic and popular video.

  1. John Landis, fresh from directing An American Werewolf in London (1981), called the music video a “musical horror movie.”
  2. Thriller incorporates horror movie elements creating a lasting homage to the genre. MJ transforms into a were-cat, not a werewolf.
  3. MJ sought to change the music video genre and music listening by forcing radio stations to give equal airtime to artists of color.
  4. Costing nearly $900,000, Landis and MJ negotiated with cable provider Showtime and cable channel MTV to pay between $250,000-300,000 each by offering exclusive limited broadcast rights to The Making of Thriller.
  5. Two famous people were on set for the filming: Fred Astaire, legendary actor/dancer, and former first lady, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. MJ also brought his pet boa constrictor, Muscles, to the set.
  6. At the time of release, MJ was a Jehovah’s Witness and feared retribution from the church. He asked Landis to destroy the video. Instead, Landis penned the opening disclaimer.
  7. Landis called the short-film a “vanity” coming-of-age video addressing puberty.
  8. A popular urban legend claimed that the UPC barcode was MJ’s telephone number. Callers were surprised when employees of a hair salon in Washington state answered.
  9. Horror movie legend Vincent Price earned roughly $1,000 for 2 takes. Price recorded a rap to accompany his voiceover; however, the rap was cut from the final video.
  10. Nine million videos of the short film were sold. Today, the official video has over 625 million views on YouTube.
  11. The original title of the song was “Starlight.” Rod Temperton was brought onboard to re-write, and he renamed the song.
  12. Spoofs of the famous dance scene persist in popular culture. Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi’s spoof in Boy (2010) is a must-see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-TiQXCJtRk
  13. Dubbed as “innovative” and “inventive,” “Thriller remains a quintessential Halloween music video/short film. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA.

And the Winner Is…All Go on Display

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Technically, the winner of the Creepy Doll Contest was the circa 1850 handmade doll missing her right arm. However, the History Center of Olmsted County (Minnesota) announced that all 9 contestants will be on display from October 29-December 1. Joining them will be 15 additional dolls from their collection. For more information, visit https://www.olmstedhistory.com/?fbclid=IwAR3C7joW_JaVfJY_YlsKD70zbwz6oS1dPdIaJqbXTit2_wxgk74_-eq_-ak or https://www.facebook.com/OlmstedHistoryCenter/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARAUEc0oDD__OCdpZPi7dZDIp0IjzgSzzzvAVClq1NxB5TtGKS6fWf4RzMMQvtqm0n1ikY5ZYZaSRNoY. Seems the contest was a huge success!