Ghosts

October 31, 2017 – A recent CBS poll states that 48 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts. So, if there are such things as ghosts, there must be haunted houses. After all, ghosts have to live/haunt somewhere.

If you’re among the 52 percent who believe ghosts are a bunch of hogwash, you may be interested to know that the United States government at one time kept track of haunted houses. There are more than 25 legendary haunted houses in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s visit a few:

Close to my home, in New Hope, Pa., there is a striking list of haunts. New Hope claims to be one of the most haunted towns in the country, and with a history dating back about 500 years, that’s not surprising.

The Logan Inn located on the main road through New Hope is said to have four ghosts. Room #6 is the most requested by ghost hunters who spend a night hoping to experience the super natural. Many guests claimed to have seen a man’s reflection in the bathroom mirror, only to have it disappear when they turn around, and others say two ghostly children have greeted them. A Revolutionary War soldier has been spotted walking the halls and in the bar, and in the hall a portrait of a Colonial woman, who was famous for wearing lavender perfume, hangs for all to see. Many have claimed to smell the scent when they pass her by.

A little further south, in Washington DC, the most famous house in America, the White House, has a reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in the country. Among those who believe are former President Harry Truman, Kennedy’s Press Secretary James Haggerty, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and the late Maureen Reagan, daughter of President Ronald Reagan. All have claimed to come in contact with a past resident of the home from Abraham Lincoln to Dolly Madison, and William Henry Harrison to Abigail Adams.

Winston Churchill also claimed Abraham Lincoln visited him when he spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Upon Churchill’s next visit, the English leader refused to spend the night in the White House altogether.

Across the Potomac River from Washington, Virginia’s list of haunted houses is just as impressive. The small town of Fredericksburg alone has eight famous haunts. One is Kenmore, where Col. Fielding Lewis, who organized Virginia’s Militia, is spotted reading a newspaper. Another Belle Grove, once a wealthy plantation where a young woman who was murdered still roams. In Colonial Williamsburg, a woman named Lady Skipwith haunts Wyth House, and in Alexandria, the ghost of William Ramsay, the city’s first mayor, has been spotted in the upper windows of his old home. Also in Alexandria, the home of Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and the father of Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate forces during the Civil War, is haunted by a little boy. Locals believe the boyhood spirit is Robert.

Happy Halloween!

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Celebrate Halloween with the Master of Suspense

October 23, 2017 – Halloween is perfect for an Alfred Hitchcock marathon. He may not be the classic horror film director, but he is the “Master of Suspense”.

Here’s a list of my top ten favorites. Considering the man directed 53 films from 1924 through 1975 – I haven’t seen them all, but I did see more than half – this was a bit more difficult than I expected.

10. Psycho – Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in a spine-tingling horror film that focuses on a young man tormented by his past and his mother. Aren’t we all? Not my favorite Hitchcock film by far, but arguably his most popular or at least his best known, so it earns a #10 spot on my list. That, and it’s still hard not to think about this movie, especially whenever I step into the shower while traveling.

9. The Birds – Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are headliners in this Hitchcock classic, but those nasty birds are the real stars. The plot has the feathered creatures mysteriously attacking anyone and anything in their way. This was the first Hitchcock movie I remember seeing as a child, and it had a huge impact on me. Just like the Night Galley earwig episode that had me sleeping with cotton in my ears, this movie made me wary of our feathered friends for a long time.

8. Rear Window – This film, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, takes spying on your neighbors – and who doesn’t enjoy that – to extremes. Long considered one of the Master’s finest, a photographer (Stewart) is laid up with a broken leg, which leaves him plenty of time to watch from his rear window, and allow himself to get caught up in the drama that his is neighbors’ lives. And what drama that becomes.

7. Vertigo – In this strange film, James Stewart, with Kim Novak this time, both find themselves caught in a never-ending spiral of deception and obsession. Stewart plays a private detective who must search for the truth behind the death of a woman he loved. One of the most interesting characteristics of this movie is the way Hitch filmed it in a dreamlike haze.

6. The Man Who Knew Too Much – It’s Doris Day’s turn to star with Jimmy Stewart in this Hitchcock thriller about an American family accidentally caught up in an assassination plot. This was a remake of Hitchcock’s early 1934 movie, which is interesting on its own. How many directors get to remake their own movies? It also introduced the world to the Doris Day classic hit, “Que Sera Sera”. No offense to Day, but check out Pink Martini’s version of “Que Sera Sera”.

5. Strangers on a Train – Hitchcock used a lot of trains and train references in his movies, whether actually filming on a train, or just used as a Freudian symbol, as in “North by Northwest”. “Strangers on a Train” starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman in a must-see classic tells this tale of strangers who take on each other’s murders. It’s one of Hitch’s only movies to use all B list actors, but it’s still one of his most intriguing. It also inspired the Danny DeVito comedy, “Throw Momma from the Train”, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

4. Spellbound – Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman play the amnesic impersonating a famous psychologist and the doctor who wants to save him even if he is guilty of murder to perfection in this Hitchcock thriller. The fact that this is a black and white movie from the early 1940s, adds even more intrigue and suspense to the plot.

3. To Catch a Thief – When Hitch combines romance and intrigue with a seaside resort on the French Riviera, and stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, how could he go wrong? Grant plays a reformed jewel thief who is suspected of a rash of burglaries, and Kelly, the woman who is drawn to him, yet worried she’ll become his latest victim.

2. North by Northwest – Cary Grand and Eva Marie Saint star in a heart-stopping suspense tale with a little bit of everything mixed in. You’ve got your classic mistaken identity, a man who is falsely accused, a chance meeting on a train, and a beautiful blonde, a little voyeurism, and Hitchcock spins it all masterfully. Not to mention a nice trip across the U.S., from the streets of New York, to the cornfields of Illinois, and the majesty that is Mount Rushmore.

1. Notorious – Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a classic tale of love and betrayal. Grant plays a FBI agent who must send the woman he loves to seduce a Nazi conspirator. Like Casablanca, I can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it because it has everything from great acting to heart-wrenching romance, and plenty of suspense. Not only is it my favorite Hitchcock, but also it might be my favorite movie of all time.

Celebrating the Written Word

October 16, 2017 — This Friday is The National Day on Writing and that’s cause for celebration.

Selecting a day to honor the written word began as a project by the National Council of English Teachers to encourage people to share why they write. If you visit their website you can view video clips of several popular writers commenting on this topic.

The site also asked writers to tweet why they write. Here are a few responses that caught my eye:

1. “It’s cheaper than a shrink.”
2. “I can’t always say what I want to be heard.”
3. “To retain sanity.”
4. “To become a better person.”
5. “It’s the first thing I was good at.”
6. “There are restless characters clamoring to get out.”
7. “Because I can lie things into existence.”
8. “It comes out a heck of a lot better than when I speak.”
9. “It’s the least destructive addiction I could find.”
10. “Who says I have a choice?”

While I can relate to most many of these responses, especially #8, my answer is a little more simplistic. I write because it makes me happy.

It’s that time of year, Charlie Brown!

October 9, 2017 – Walking through the mall this weekend, I noticed that the friendly newsstand outside of Macy’s is stocked up and ready to sell 2018 calendars. Front and center was the Peanuts Wall Calendar, which I buy my son each Christmas. I also pick one up for my cubicle at work. It’s tradition.

It is too early to pick them just yet, but it got me thinking that Charlie Brown season here once again. Soon we’ll see promos for television specials like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and yes, even “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Good grief! It’s the best three months of the year.