Friday, October 26, 2018

Ghosts of UMKC

In honor of all things Halloween, my wife and I went on a local "haunted" tour of the University of Missouri in Kansas City campus.
Wait...that light just turned on, right?

Fascinating history hosted by the very knowledgeable Chris Wolff, unofficial historian of UMKC and author of A Pearl of Great Value: The History of UMKC

I only yawned a few times. Unfortunately, earlier in the day I'd forgotten about the impending tour and made the bad decision of having a heaping bowl of bean-loaded chili for lunch. Talk about hauntings.

All that's left of the University Playhouse. Except, of course, for ghosts!
One of the first stops was the grounds of the (now demolished) University Playhouse. In the 40's and 50's, Broadway actress Vaugn Burkholder worked at the theater, known for prowling the catwalk in an almost obsessive manner. In 1957, she keeled over in the playhouse from a heart attack. After she died, students claimed to have seen her in the rafters. Her high heels tic-tic-tacking across the boardwalk were heard by many. After the building was torn down, some believe her spectral figure still haunts the newer UMKC Conservatory, a replacement for the old playhouse. Hey, ghosts gotta hang out somewhere!

Next was a morbid tale that shed some surprising light on one of America's most notorious, unsolved murder cases. In 1941, UMKC education major, Leila Walsh, returned from a date and went to bed. Later that night, Leila's mother heard a strange thumping sound. She searched the house, found nothing awry. Leila's door was closed, and her brother, George, was sound asleep on the sofa. The mom went back to bed. The next morning, Mrs. Walsh went to wake up Leila and found her dead, savagely bashed with a hammer, her throat slit, and a strip of flesh ripped from her back. Not the best way to start your morning.

Leila's brother, George, was arrested for the murder because some guy claimed he sold the murderer's gloves (found in the yard) to him. The witness was later discovered to be a kook, reneged on his testimony, and said he'd had a vision of selling brother George the gloves. Holy O.J! George was exonerated, primarily on his mother's testimony that he was sleeping during the crime. Plus a chair had been lodged beneath Leila's doorknob.

The Kansas City police were embarrassed, the mob got involved, everything was sorta swept under the rug. Until the KCPD got a call from the L.A. Police Department. Back in 1947, the brutal murder of actress Elizabeth Short shocked the country. Better known as the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder, a name and phone number was found in the victim's purse. It belonged to a World War II veteran, Carl Basinger. Basinger claimed he'd only met Short for a few hours which later proved to be a lie. Furthermore, Basinger trained at Camp Cooke where Short volunteered until leaving due to harassment from a soldier.
I now know who killed her! Probably a little late to collect that reward, though.
More intensive investigation unveiled that Basinger went to UMKC at the same time as murdered student Leila Walsh. Hmmm... Also, the two murders were markedly similar, the signature of a strip of flesh torn from the back a giveaway. Alas, the lame Kansas City PD were still embarrassed by the entire unsolved debacle, didn't want to dredge it up again, and didn't cooperate with the LAPD. To this day, the two murders remain unsolved... OR DO THEY?

Let's move on to the haunted Epperson Mansion! Way back in the early 20th century, long before smart phones (and maybe even dumb phones, too), millionaire couple, Uriah and Elizabeth Epperson (along with organist, Harriet Barse--their living arrangement quite the scandal at the time), built and lived in this kooky mansion. The floor plan's apparently super bizarre, every five feet a new set of steps leading to other honeycombed rooms. 
Not as scary looking in the daytime!

Barse died in the mansion from gallbladder issues (the good ol' days!) and her spirit is said to haunt the mansion. The mansion's closed now, but not too long ago it'd been donated to the university where the music school resided. Students heard footsteps constantly, some saw Barse floating through the labyrinth hallways. Notoriously, an antique car nearly ran a cop down in the driveway and then vanished. And, of course, lights mysteriously go off and on.

Sadly, we weren't able to enter the haunted mansion. But as we stood on the cobblestone driveway, a light went on in the now abandoned mansion, then went off. I saw it. Some others (including our guide) remarked on it. My wife totally Scullied me, said it was a reflection from an outside light. (Whatever. The damn mansion's haunted and I saw it with my own eyes! I want to believe, Scully!)

Then...someone said, " guys smell that? It's like... It's like...sulfur."

Quickly, I stepped away from where I stood. Said, "Whoa, that's weird." Although hellish smelling, it wasn't sulfur. More like hours-old chili.
Speaking of hauntings, have you guys visited the very strange and haunted town of Peculiar County in Kansas? Perfect for Halloween reading, it's just a day-trip away (best not to travel at night, though.).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Hell-Spawn Hound-Dogs!

Tis the season for all things spooky and wondrous, so I thought I'd relate a true tale of haunting that's at least ONE of those things.
For circumstances beyond her control, my daughter's moved back into our house. It's just like the old days (good!), but instead of one hormonal teenager, we now have a mob of out-of-control kids on our hands (not so good!). My daughter has two dogs--crazy and untamed--and they're haunting the entire neighborhood.

All day long (and into the night), their baying continues, a sound more likely heard on the foggy moors of Devonshire. These dogs--one big, the other little--haunt my every waking moment and slither into my nightmares. Needy as toddlers, the dogs trip, push, fight, holler, broke one of my ribs, and destroy everything in their path. Nothing is safe, nothing is not considered too yummy. Nothing.
I've already written about Baron, the devil-spawn Houdiniesque hell-hound who escaped me on a day watch. At the time, I thought his bigger, younger bro, Merle, was the angelic one of the twins of terror. That's no longer the case. One time Merle escaped my daughter and proceeded to knock down every trash receptacle along the block. Just for fun.

Couple days ago, I kicked both of the lil' debbils outside. The usual hijinx ensued: barking, digging, eating out of the compost pile. Whatever, at least they were entertaining themselves. I took advantage of the brief respite and prepared lunch. In the kitchen, I looked out the window, wondering what hellish tortures they'd newly unleashed on my poor neighborhood. Suddenly--worse than Jason, Freddy or Michael--a small furred face, a supernatural hellhound, popped into the window. I shrieked, not afraid to admit my lack of manliness in the face of terror. Just as suddenly, he vanished! Baron's about eight inches tall. How he made it up to the window is beyond me.
I lay in bed at night, fearful for my sanity, my health. These dogs are truly of a preternatural bent. Baron can fly, for Gawd's sake! Merle knows how to open doors and gates! No one's safe!
Speaking of all things scary, it's time to bone up on ghost stories, and I'd like to give a shout-out to my (kinda, sorta) true, historically-based (somewhat) spooky tale, Ghosts of Gannaway. Read it by candlelight!  But without your dogs. They know things...

Friday, October 12, 2018

What's that smell?'s love!

Something smells very, VERY funny. Click to explore that scent.
“The Smell of Romance.” Hmm…

Let’s consider that for a moment. Doesn’t really evoke love, does it?

Yet as a writer, I stubbornly—stupidly?—keep striving to incorporate all five senses into my tales while my characters grapple and rassle in the name of romance. 

Sight? Easy-peezy, lemon-squeezy. Sound? Sure: heavy breathing, groans, moans, and hands ruffling over corsets and what have you. Taste and touch I’ll leave to the erotica writers.

But the sense of smell’s a curious quandary, a puzzle for this writer. Generally (and without trying to sound sexist, gotta be careful these days), women writers are more successful in describing the scent of love than men, I think. Yet—and I see this constantly—most female writers who dare to venture into olfactory romantic territory, tend to comment on the male partner’s scent of “musk.”

Well, I dunno from “musk,” but I’ve been in more than my fair share of men’s locker rooms and the only scent that comes to mind would be dirty socks (and that’s putting it politely). I looked up the definition of “musk.” Ms. Google says “musk is a pungent and greasy secretion from a gland in the male musk deer.”

Go figure. Even if men could secrete such an odor, I wouldn’t think it’d be an attractive one. I don’t see a lot of musk-scented air fresheners hanging in cars. Yet I read about this masculine scent... All. The. TIME.

Sometimes I even see men’s odors described in books as “musty.” Again, my assistant, Ms. Google helped me out. “Must” is even worse than “musk.” The definition reads “having a stale, moldy, or damp smell.” Ever so eloquent, Urban Dictionary goes on to add “the smell of armpits.” Clearly, you ladies don’t like the smell of us men. (Psst…you would be right).

Male writers, on the other hand, stumble around, attempting to describe how female characters smell. A lack of male vision keeps the scents narrowed to two options: some kinda floral arrangement or food. Which says A LOT about where men are coming from: their stomachs. I’m guilty of it, too. “She smelled of vanilla, touched with a dash of cinnamon.” (Apparently my character's ready to eat the female character. Just toss in some fava beans and a nice chianti and we're set.)

So, class, the takeaway from this lecture is men smell like armpits and women smell like food. There’s gotta be more to it than that. And as a writer, I vow to go on olfactory high alert until I’ve upset the cliché cart and created some new scents.

In Peculiar County, everything smells fishy...

Friday, October 5, 2018

A crazy, screaming, big dumb guy running down the street carrying a jar of peanut butter!

Yes, that's me. And this is a true tale of Shakespearean woe and trauma.

Let's back up a bit.

My daughter's dog is a furry sociopath. Sure, he's cute. Supposedly a pure beagle (I suspect there's a little dachshund mixed in), there's a lot of Houdini in Baron, because this guy can escape out of any situation, any circumstance, any enclosure.
Devil Spawn!
We have a fenced in back-yard, perfect for entertaining canine pals of all sorts and sizes. On occasion, I watch Baron and his younger, bigger brother (a particularly sloppy--but very lovingly sloppy--"coon hound"), Merle. It hadn't been a problem. Until now.
Sweet angel (even though he knocked me over and broke one of my ribs).

Last time I doggy-sat, Baron had found a way into the next door neighbor's yard, where a day care is in full-swing. Things got screamy, barky, and cryesque.

Totally MacGyvering it, I fortified our fence. Up and down the perimeter, I wedged in logs, bricks, stones, bones (where'd those bones come from? Must've been left over from my neighbor, Bob Burdella. Look him up.) along the fence. Safe and sealed.


Last Friday, Baron got into the day care yard again. How, I don't know. Naturally the little jerk never comes when called, so the trick is to ignore, then lure him in with food. I let his brah, Merle, inside, thought Baron would come whining at the door like last time.

But I heard nothing. I went outside, couldn't spot the lil' hellspawn anywhere. 

Panic reigned! I didn't think to even grab a leash, but had the mindset to snatch a jar of peanut butter. Into the street I ran, panting, sweating, near tears, craning my head in every direction. Screaming "Baron, c'mon boy, look what I got!" while holding at arm's length my jar of peanut butter (generic, yet crunchy). I'm surprised the S.W.A.T. team didn't lower on me from a task force helicopter, crazy man unleashed in the mean streets of suburban Kansas.
Incredible man of action!

Of course, the cow-patterned shirt was an unlucky sartorial choice, just kinda adding to how crazy I looked.

After twenty minutes, I spotted Baron down the block, a minor miracle with my crappy vision. I pursued. He ran. Fun! The chase continued. Soaking wet, panting like a respirator, I finally cornered Baron into a fenced-in backyard three blocks away. I knelt, stuck my finger in the peanut butter jar, held it out... Warily, the brat came toward me. And I snagged him!

Three blocks--three horribly long blocks--I carried him beneath my arm, cursing, smacking his butt. Crisis averted. 

I SO didn't want to have to give my daughter bad news that I'd lost her dog on my watch. Even though it nearly put me in the E.R. or jail.

Hey, speaking of screwed-up Kansas shenanigans, check out my first short story collection, Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley. Every band-aid of Kansas creepiness is ripped off, no shying away from the humorous horror of the Midwest.
Take the plunge! (Not responsible for any emotional damage.)