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Our weekly roundup of fascinations around the world and the web. Happy Halloween!

Vintage Halloween postcard from the New York Public Library Picture Collection, via Public Domain Review

The science of fear
“Scare specialist” Dr. Margee Kerr discusses the history and brain science behind self-scaring, and why some people enjoy it more than others. The far-ranging interview touches on strong childhood "lightbulb memories," unethical social scientists, 17th-century Russian Ice Slides, and why a haunted house makes for an excellent date night. [via The Atlantic]

Al the days of the dead
Many cultures have festivals to celebrate and honor the dead, and Smithsonian rounds up six of them. From Korea's Chuseok to Nepal's Gai Jatra, many celebrations include a mixture of ancient traditions and colonial or religious influence, and some even involve costumed revelry. [via Smithsonian Magazine]


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If Halloween is the time of year for frightening tales of apparitions, night monsters, tombs, and vampires, these hauntingly normal ghosts of the Southwest dispel the myth that the supernatural beings are always out to haunt us. Sometimes, they are just doing what they do best — being themselves. Here are five tales of the odd and unpredictable way that some ghosts are reported to hang out in the afterlife.

article-imageIllustration from "Phantastes: A faerie romance" (1894) (via British Library)

Miss Julia Lowell: The scorned prostitute who can’t stop working
Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee, Arizona

The demise of Miss Julia at Arizona's Copper Queen Hotel is much like the demise of many a scorned woman. One night, she serviced a new client, fell madly in love, wanted to marry, and, after he revealed that she wasn’t marriage material, decided to kill herself. While one might think that this Miss who never became a Mrs. would be freed from the shackles of her job, nearly a hundred years of sightings logged in the book at the reception confirm that she’s more active than ever.

Our scorned prostitute, as flirtatious and alluring as always, only appears to men in scantily-clad attire and dances seductive stripteases at the foot of their beds. Sometimes she whispers in their ear, sometimes she appears with a bottle of liquor in her hand, and sometimes she flits around the hotel, tapping only on the doors of male guests. Poor, poor Julia — never a vacation day for this lady of the night.

Mr. Thomas James Wright: The poker player who’s stuck in his room
Room 18, St. James Hotel, New Mexico

The St. James Hotel is no stranger to supernatural sightings and is reputably swarming with ghosts. Perhaps the most unusual is Mr. Thomas James Wright, an ill-tempered poker winner who was shot from behind after he won the rights to the hotel in a tense poker match. His murder was grizzly: he slowly bled to death, right outside of his room.

As you can imagine, he is not a happy ghost, and before the staff permanently locked his room, he would haunt people by pushing them down in the hallway or turning into a ball of angry-looking orange light above their heads. Today, though, the room is still locked (but the staff have kindly decorated it with a coat rack, a rocking chair, paraphernalia from the Old West, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a poster of a half-naked woman), so while he can't really do much haunting these days because he apparently can't get out of the room, he can still be heard bumbling around, grumbling, and refusing company.

article-imageParlor at St. James Hotel (photograph by Cyborglibrarian/Flickr)

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As the international medical community works to deal with the current Ebola outbreak, a lot of work is being done to isolate the disease vector, the animals that carry and spread the disease. Most theories currently point to bats as the carriers, although there is more work to be done before this is accepted as truth. This conclusion would not be surprising, however, as bats are known vectors for many other diseases. After years of diligent study, scientists have often been able to pinpoint not just the species that spreads the disease, but also the specific location where it began. Here are four such instances. 


Marburg Virus: The Kitum Cave

article-imageHerd of elephants inside Kitum Cave, photo via Dr. Ian Redmond

In the 1980s, a new strain of Marburg — a hemorrhagic fever virus similar to Ebola — proved fatal to a Frenchman and a Danish teenager, both of whom had visited Kenya's Kitum Cave. Kitum is one of five "elephant caves" in Mount Elgon National Park, so-called because it has been dug out by a variety of animals seeking the salt in the cave's walls. Elephants in particular use their massive tusks to break off chunks of the wall, which they masticate to extract the salt. The cave is also home to a large population of fruit bats, which were proven, after decades of study, to be the Marburg vector: the virus was propagated by inhalation of powdered guano.


Lloviu Virus: The Lloviu Cave

Schreiber's long-fingered bat, image by C. Robiller/ via Wikimedia

Though it has not yet been shown to be pathogenic for humans, the Lloviu Virus, a filovirus like Ebola, has proven deadly to the bats that carry it. It was first discovered in 2002 in the Spanish cave Cuevo del Lloviu, and was also traced to substantial bat die-offs in other caves in France and Portugal. This was the first time a filovirus was found outside of Sub-Saharan Africa or the Phillipines, suggesting that filoviruses may be mutating.

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article-imageThe entrance of the Lemp Mansion (photograph by Scott Neale)

St. Louis, Missouri, has always been a beer town. There, 1854 was known as “the year the beer ran out” because the city’s residents simply drank it all. But in the days before Anheuser-Busch was king, another brewery, now decaying in the shadows of the 140-acre Busch complex, was synonymous with St. Louis lager: Lemp. Their name, affixed to the top of their highest tower, still looms above windowless grain silos and casts a pall over the red brick warehouses surrounding them.

article-imageThe Lemp brewery tower (photograph by Scott Neale)

For a place to feel as dead as the Lemp brewery does, it has to feel alive first. After William Lemp moved his father’s brewery to this site in 1864, the complex was as lively as Sir John Falstaff, the namesake of Lemp’s most popular beer. William and his wife Julia built a brick mansion near the brewery where they lived with their eight children: Anna, Billy, Louis, Charles, Fredrick, Hilda, Edwin and Elsa.


article-image The ceiling in the front parlor of the mansion (photograph by Scott Neale)

The new brewery complex was situated on top of natural caves that were perfect for storing ice and aging beer. William took full advantage of the underground space and even made tunnels that connected the house to the brewery. But something snapped in him when his favorite son Frederick died of heart failure at 28.

William had the largest mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery built for him, as if he knew his family would need such a monument sooner rather than later. From then on William seemed to sink into the caves under the house. Eventually he avoided the outside world entirely and walked to work and back home through the dark tunnels. In 1904, a month after his close friend and fellow brewer Frederick Pabst died, he excused himself from the breakfast table at Lemp mansion, returned to his bedroom, and shot himself in the head.

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To convey the lives of the people buried beneath them, and the expectations for what comes after death, symbolism has long been part of tombstones. Below is our guide to some of the most prevalent cemetery symbols. 


Graphic created by Michelle Enemark, text by Allison C. Meier. 

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